Chairman Pip's Railway Thoughts

It’s time to speak on HS2

Posted in Customer service, Great Britain, High Speed, Infrastructure by Chairman Pip on 7 September 2013

I have maintained a silence recently as I have had the feeling that people are getting a little irritated by my ramblings. However, I have felt moved to speak my mind over what has come out over the last few weeks from the anti HS2 brigade as they continue their campaign to have the project stopped by any means necessary, which often will mean publicising half-truths and occasional (almost) fabrication which is picked up and run with by the media. A few weeks ago, the Institute of Economic Affairs published a report entitled The High Speed Gravy Train: Special Interests, Transport Policy and Government Spending, which somehow came to the conclusion that the cost of constructing High Speed 2, far from being the £42bn that the government have budgeted, could end up costing as much as £80bn. This was immediately jumped upon by the media, with the story being top of many news sites and programmes (indeed, I do recall that it was the top story on BBC News’ early evening bulletin on the day it was published). Upon inspection of this so-called “report”, it becomes clear that the conclusions reached by the author, Dr Richard Wellings, are so much horse hockey (or “guff and hogwash” as Ben Ruse, the spokesman for HS2 Ltd, described it). And the reason for this is that Dr Wellings has reached the figure of £80bn by including a massive tranche of projects that, while no doubt important in High Speed 2’s connectivity, are nothing to do with HS2 itself. Amongst the projects that Dr Wellings has included under the HS2 budget are:

These are included in spite of the fact that the People Mover connection at Birmingham Interchange is already included in the government’s published HS2 budget, the Manchester Airport Metrolink extension is already under construction, Meadowhall is already connected to the Supertram network, the capacity and electrification schemes in Yorkshire are under way and come under Network Rail, and a spur to Liverpool was never even considered as part of HS2. But, even more than the fact that a number of the rationales for his conclusion are bogus, is this:

It is also probable that some of the schemes will never be built for various reasons…

Which means that the banner conclusion is based on theories around things that may not actually come to pass. And yet still this was trumpeted by the media, while the rebuttal of it barely warranted a mention, being halfway down the English news section of the BBC News website.

Then of course you get such as happened yesterday when I opened the newspaper, and read the following headline in Frederick Forsyth‘s column:

Scrap the HS2 white elephant

I spoke about Mr Forsyth’s continuing opposition to HS2, and how he uses his column to push this, back in March. In that, I made it clear that in my opinion, because he lives in the Cotswolds (and the route will probably be fairly close to where he lives), he is somewhat biased in his view that the project should be abandoned. He goes further now in deciding that it will be a “white elephant”. I’ve found a good definition of white elephant:

…a valuable but burdensome possession of which its owner cannot dispose and whose cost (particularly cost of upkeep) is out of proportion to its usefulness or worth.

How it’s possible to declare something that has not been built as a white elephant is beyond me, as I would have thought it would take a number of years of use to determine whether said thing is not worth its cost. Mr Forsyth must be a soothsayer. Or else, he is particularly vicious when it comes to opposing HS2, denouncing anything released by the Government or HS2 Ltd as being the work of “official propogandists”. Never mind the propaganda put out by those opposed to the project. He warms to his theme by restating yet again the view that all the line is for is to get a few “wealthy businessmen” to Birmingham a few minutes faster and raising the suggestion both of longer trains and double deck coaches. Well, first of all, while HS2 is certainly about improving timings, making it faster to get between various major destinations (which is what everyone fixates on), the fact is that the first and major issue has always been about capacity on the existing network, which is fast running out. No amount of piecemeal capacity enhancement on the West Coast Main Line, which would be enormously disruptive and likely to cost as much, pro-rata, as just building a brand new line, is going to create the new capacity that is needed. Having the vast majority of fast trains on a separate line means that more trains for commuters can be put on the existing network, not to mention making room for more freight. Thankfully, the DfT have finally picked up on this as a the thing to push first and foremost. As for the suggestion of just making longer trains or taller trains, it’s clear that Mr Forsyth knows even less about the railways than I do, given that longer trains means again expensive and disruptive work to make the capacity for them (perhaps he should look at the work done on the Thameslink route to extend platforms), while there has only been one experiment at running double decker trains in the UK. European countries can run such trains because the loading gauge is significantly more generous than it is here. While again it is possible to increase the loading gauge, it is phenomenally disruptive, as evidenced in the case of the gauge enhancement around Southampton that ended in 2011.

In the most recent issue of Rail, Nigel Harris’s editorial is scathing about the industry and its lack of vigour in promoting HS2, and how the project needs a vocal champion, suggesting that Sir David Higgins, who was the Chief Executive of the Olympic Delivery Authority, and delivered London 2012 on time and on budget, would be an idea choice. It is certainly the case that somebody needs to be out  there, bigging up HS2 to the country (notwithstanding the excellent rebuttal of the IEA report Alison Munro gave on BBC Breakfast in the face of hostile questioning from the interviewer). I’ve said before that we need new capacity on the railway network, and that HS2 is the way to go about it. I’ve also said that it is wrong to simply look at the bottom line when it comes to infrastructure projects like this, because on their own, they won’t make money. You have to look at the bigger picture, of the benefits that the infrastructure will bring to all sorts of areas of the economy, in order to see why these things should be built. And they should be built.

Mix and Match

Posted in Great Britain, Metro, Rolling stock by Chairman Pip on 18 July 2012

It’s just over thirty years since what is described as Britain’s first light rail system, the Tyne and Wear Metro, opened for business. Since then, six new systems have opened of which only one, the DLR, isn’t a tramway. Now, the first of the second generation tramways are coming up to the time where they will be replacing their original fleet, with the announcement that Metrolink are to withdraw the last of their T-68 vehicles to have a single fleet of the new M5000. Having had a think about the various light rail systems, it seems that Metrolink is in the minority when it comes to having a uniform fleet; although Midland Metro will replace its existing fleet with a new one, Supertram and Nottingham Express Transit will be purchasing new vehicles to expand their fleets as a result of the expansion of their networks, while the remainder already operate mixed fleets:

I’ve often seen rail operators dispose of vehicles for the sake of uniformity, with the intention of reducing their maintenance costs – obviously having a single fleet means you only need a single source of parts. But on the flip side, for those operators who have a relatively new fleet of vehicles and who are looking to supplement this with a few new ones, opening a production line for a small order (as would have been the case with TfL’s newest 6) would be prohibitively expensive, while replacing the entire CR4000 fleet would also be a waste. Metrolink are in the position that, with their massive network expansion, they needed a massive fleet expansion, and its original fleet is approaching the time when it would need to be significantly overhauled. Which I guess makes it swings and roundabouts as to whether it’s worth having a mixed fleet.

“Manchester’s oldest Metrolink trams to be replaced”
“Nottingham’s new tram design unveiled”
“First tram-train gets go-ahead for Sheffield to Rotherham”

A Balloon and a Flexity 2 in Blackpool – the idea of a mixed fleet may be the only option in some cases

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