Tag Archives: high speed

On Track?

Surely Grandad is not the only one interested in any news of progress on that very expensive but largely forgotten project – HS2? You remember – the one that was announced seven years ago …

man6

But there certainly seems to be few investigative souls pressing the government and their contractors for any news of progress on the ground. True there is a government paper – Overview of the HS2 project, setting out progress so far and next steps – available on the official website. Unfortunately it does lack much relevance to 2019 since it is dated March 2015. In other words it is four years out of date!

This month’s postings on the official site cover the designs for Old Oak Common station and which construction teams have been selected for the Euston and Old Oak Common contracts. But these official postings cover little about the projected costs involved. However today’s press reports putting the cost at £1,000 million – just at Old Oak Common – have not been denied.

Now it is hard for the general public to keep track of all the elements of complex, extended projects – but just take a look back on this single element; Old Oak Common station. In October 2014 this website pointed out the issues around this station. Then London’s Mayor, Boris Johnson, had ruled that an HS2-Crossrail interchange station would not receive any extra funding – so Kensington and Chelsea Council had underwritten the £33 million involved. With the way that project costs are climbing that £33 million will eventually pay for little more than the contractor’s tea breaks.

In 2014 politicians decried a proper interchange station at Old Oak Common – calling it Wormwood Scrubs International. But now comes the prediction that this critical hub will serve 250,000 passengers a day – more than 90 million a year – when it opens in 2026(!). It will replace London Victoria as the second-busiest station in the UK, after Waterloo. If that is true then it will be much busier than Euston.

Politicians still claim that they are unfairly treated when their confident pronouncements are dismissed as rubbish by a long-suffering electorate. But it seems that lies about HS2 are just as common as those about our relationship with Europe – and so many other things these days.

Don’t Start From Here

Now that the HS2 project has become an unstoppable political necessity it must be time to think through how to get the best out of it. And starting at the beginning; a serious question has to be – why start at Euston?

The HS2 route planned for getting out of central London involves a tunnel all the way from Euston to Old Oak Common and beyond. There it will connect with the Crossrail project and, unsurprisingly, the station may be renamed Crossrail Interchange.

OldOakCommon1

Even with the existing plans there are clearly huge savings to be made in time and cost if HS2 simply started from Old Oak Common. When you also consider that all the trains to and from Euston are planned to stop at Old Oak Common – most passengers from Birmingham would find it quicker and easier to leave HS2 at the interchange; even if it did not reduce the fare. Switching to Crossrail here would provide travellers with direct services to far more districts of London than Euston would. Also the Interchange is planned to link with the existing Heathrow Express service and the Great Western Main Line.

Eliminating the low-speed HS2 section from Euston would also reduce the journey times to and from Birmingham. And if the plans were revised further so that the HS2 and Crossrail tracks actually connected – rather than being just close by- then trains could run directly between Birmingham and all points served by Crossrail to the east.

So who could be against a logical scheme that reduces costs, saves travel times and links with more locations?

Well at this point we get back to politicians. Conservative MP Theresa Villiers has rubbished the Old Oak Common interchange plan as being Wormwood Scrubs International and Mayor Boris Johnson ruled that the interchange station would not receive any extra Crossrail funding. It is still on the plans only because Kensington and Chelsea Council underwrote the £33 million involved. MP Philip Hammond has said that it is not an option to .. Lug your heavy bags down a couple of escalators along 600m of corridor and then change trains at a wet suburban station somewhere in north west London. Not the brightest of endorsements but then I assume that Mr Hammond must actually live at Euston Station or has a civil service chauffeur on call. Certainly anyone arriving in London by train or plane from almost anywhere will have to lug their heavy bags down a couple of escalators, along 600m of corridor and change trains more than once to get to a wet main line station somewhere near Euston Road

Now there was a plan to make Heathrow the interchange point with HS2 but that seems to have disappeared – like the unresolved objections to both the detail of and the overall case for HS2. Despite everything Old Oak Common station remains the key interchange on the detailed HS2 groundwork plans as at this morning. So it seems that we are heading for yet another compromise where everyone gets second best …

Feedback

MollyCD1Eurovision 2014 – The UK entry – Molly singing Children Of The Universe – has stayed around 5th in the betting for the past few weeks. No doubt the UK betting is weighted in her favour but some expert commentators are predicting a much better British result this time around. However a number of Molly’s promo CDs have already been seen for sale on eBay – unopened. And the Eurovision favourite, Armenia, is still well ahead.

With events in Copenhagen, Denmark starting in just six days time get ready for many hours of BBC coverage next week.

High Speed Trains – The House of Commons have voted 452 to 41 in favour of progressing the massive HS2 project on to its next stage. And future votes are also likely to crush any opposition arguments by sheer weight of numbers; given that all the party leaders are in support. This level of support makes the outlook very good for the big engineering companies – who will be hoping to move their Crossrail teams over to the HS2 projects without a break. So buy  your civil engineering shares now – but sell up before things get messy. Corporate sponsors will be laying on the champagne and caviar in Westminster in the short term but in five or so years time the politicians will be keen to deny any responsibility for re-thinks, overruns or failures.

MelScot3Scotland’s Vote – In a surprising development both politicians and the general public seem to be taking a much more serious interest in the issues that a Yes referendum vote would raise. Perhaps because some polls have shown a significant shift towards victory for the Yes campaign both sides are upping their game to try to influence the electorate.

The No outcome is still the most likely – at 1/3 in today’s betting – but plenty could be convinced to cast their vote for Independence; if only because they may never get another chance. And because the eligibility of voters depends simply upon their place of registration – rather than place of birth or adopted nationality – there could be some unexpected results come September.

Repeat Of History? – As the situation in Ukraine increasingly takes on the guise of a train wreck happening in slow motion we are lucky that none of the Western leaders have been prodded into escalating their military involvement. But the spectre of a NATO-Russia conflict has been already been raised by a Kiev government out-played and out-gunned by thinly disguised Russian forces in Crimea. Perhaps the EU should now stop trying to expand its membership eastwards. Political alignments are a big issue for a re-born Russia. It’s not as simple as extending the number of nations in Eurovision.

Trainspotting

Many Grandads will look back to the days of steam railways with a touch of nostalgia. Trips to the seaside, a day out in big city or a visit to an exhibition with, perhaps, the added incentive of seeing some new engines to be marked up in their Ian Allen guides.

man6But then much of the railway network was axed by politicians switching their spending of our money to roads. Railways were out, motorways were in. Large areas of the country were left without rail links as buses took over the routes. It was left to grass roots volunteers to rescue and restore a few fragments of what was so quickly abandoned.

But today those roads have filling up with traffic and the politicians want to spend more of our money subsidising the building of new railways.

One of the biggest of these projects being Crossrail. Work on this started in 2009 and is not due to be completed until 2018. Then it will run for 118 km linking Berkshire with Essex via central London – and involve 42 km of tunnels. Unlike existing London Underground lines it will be powered 25,000 volt overhead lines – the same as the electrified mainlines it links with. And the new Crossrail trains are expected to have a maximum speed of 160 kph. A bit faster that most commuter services. This massive project is expected to cost around £15,000 million – but that figure may not include cost of the trains or their power generators.

Meanwhile the final, final decision on HS2 has yet to be made – even though the supporters (and those already employed) are pushing on. Seemingly unconcerned about the railway’s long-term viability. A key incentive for both groups is short-term financial gain. The employees have well-paid jobs on a high-profile project and, even in the increasingly unlikely event that final approval does not come, they will still get a payout and a boost for their CVs.

Reading the supporters websites it seems that the biggest are either civil engineers lined up for decades of profitable contracts or local authorities hoping to get expensive amenities paid for out of someone else’s budget. No supporter group seems to be putting up any money themselves or carrying any risk. It’s a no brainer for everyone that gains.

But will our children and grandchildren thank us if it all goes wrong? And it might since few if any supporters seem prepared to put their reputation and personal wealth on the line as backup to some of the fanciful benefits being promised?

For example, HS2 supporters (Centro, Birmingham City Council, etc) claim that the two new Birmingham stations will add 50,000 jobs and £4,000 million per year to the West Midlands’ economy. Great headlines but not supported by any detailed analysis and lacking any process for tracking what actually happens. But these huge benefits cannot be for free. Take the jobs promise. In order to provide 50,000 jobs employers would incur salary bills of £1,350 million per year. They would need to generate 3 times that in gross sales – or around £4,000 million per year – to make the business profitable. And where would these extra sales come from? Not from those 50,000 extra workers – because they only earn around one third of that. Will anyone loose their job, pension or assets if these promises are just pie in the sky?

HS_Steam1Of course not. HS2 is a project being sold as a grand vision – something above the mundane trivia of measurable results. Imagine the crowds cheering the first sleek, super-fast train as it accelerates away on its 45 minute flight to Birmingham. Like a modern day version of the Coronation Scot or the Flying Scotsman steaming out of London on its record breaking run. The style and glamour of the 1930s are reborn.

But it was just 26 years between the inaugural run of the Coronation Scot in 1937 and the Beeching Report in 1963. A report that was the basis for the closure of over half of the nation’s railway stations.

Today we have around 20 years before the first high speed train reaches Leeds. By then will the new politicians in government be looking to get rid of the financial millstone that the railways have become? And if so will some volunteers come forward to run heritage high-speed trains on the redundant mainlines. And so history would repeat itself … with only the names changed.

Higher Speed Rail

While the government’s  HS2 railway project continues to spend millions just on preparations there are other – and much sooner – changes being proposed by commercial operators. Alliance Rail, part of the Arriva group (and so part of Deutsche Bahn) have been putting out proposals offering new services along the existing East and West Coast main lines.

GNERHitachiThe latest proposal is for direct express train services on the East Coast Main Line (ECML) between London King’s Cross and stations in West Yorkshire / Lincolnshire starting in December 2017. The headline points for them being a two-hourly service to Leeds calling at a new East Leeds Parkway station with 6 trains a day continuing to Bradford and one to Ilkley, all 7 calling at Leeds’ Kirkstall Forge station. Also up to 4 trains a day to Cleethorpes via Doncaster, Scunthorpe and Grimsby. These new services expect to use the latest Hitachi Super Express trains capable of running at the route’s maximun speeds.

However this is not the only bid on the table. Last month Alliance Rail also proposed an hourly express train service on the East Coast Main Line from London King’s Cross to Newcastle and Edinburgh starting in December 2016.  This service would use new nine-coach Pendolino trains to cut the present Edinburgh journey time from an average 4 hours 20 min to 3 hours 43 min (compared to 3 hours 38 min via HS2 but that’s not available until 2033).

Both of these routes are under the GNER brand – but Alliance Rail have further proposals under their GNWR brand covering the West Coast Main Line. There are no less than three new services here for 2016 – a 2 hourly train from London Euston to Leeds (via Milton Keynes, Rugby, Lichfield, Crewe, Stockport, Huddersfield); a 2 hourly train from London Euston to Bradford Interchange (via Milton Keynes, Rugby, Lichfield, Crewe, Warrington Bank Quay, Manchester Victoria, Halifax) and up to 7 trains per day split between London Euston to Carlisle (via the Cumbrian coast) and London Euston to Blackpool.

Now parent company Arriva have had a hard time with train service submissions to the government. According to our calculations they have had 5 franchise bids rejected over the past two years. But at least these proposals by Alliance Rail are framed under Open Access rules and so might have a slightly better chance of success.

Hopefully they do succeed since they have a lot going for them. They are strictly commercial offerings with no tax payer’s money committed that will provide improved services on new routes that could be available decades before HS2 has spent all of its £43,000 million budget (excluding power and operating costs). But the downside is that other Open Access services have not always been a commercial success with Grand Central loosing money every year and the Wrexham & Shropshire services lasting less than 3 years before closure.

Built In China

Here in the UK some politicians have taken a break from their self-appointed world policing roles to support a deeply unpopular rail scheme known as HS2. man6The aim of the scheme is to build a high speed rail link from London to Birmingham and then extend it north to Manchester and Leeds. It has already been covered here several times before. And despite not yet being approved project staff are in post and more are being recruited – in London SW1 of course.

This week the latest ministerial line is that this project is too important to be stopped. It has to go ahead no matter what. [Remember ministers saying that the banks were too big to fail – so had to be bailed out; no matter what]. This approach suggests politicians are loosing confidence in the scheme and having to resort to arguments that seek to ignore the substantial risks and growing public mistrust. Which is a pity considering that it is the public that are going to have to pay for it. [Perhaps ministers need to be made personally liable for their wasteful schemes]

Back in 1833 when the first project for a railway from London Euston to Birmingham Curzon Street was launched it was funded by raising capital from investors. Today few, if any, investors seem prepared to carry the obvious risks of HS2 themselves – instead they fall on the tax payer.

But if that approach is irrelevant ancient history how about this example. In 2011 the Beijing-Shanghai high speed rail link opened. It had cost £21,400 million and taken 39 months to complete – for a distance of 820 miles. The typical travel time is 4:48 and the most expensive ticket in 2011 was £170. The route also carries high speed freight. So that puts the HS2 project in some sort of world context. The British project is already expected to take much longer and cost much more to build – yet the route is much shorter and for passengers only. And no one is denying that ticket prices will have to be much higher – even if subsidised by the tax payer ad infinitum.

Now if the proposed high speed lines had linked Plymouth (or even Cornwall) and Cardiff with Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen and also connected directly to the Channel Tunnel then perhaps there would have been a better chance of spreading the promised benefits nationally. Scotland may even have felt part of the United Kingdom again. And if the Chinese project team from the Beijing-Shanghai link could come to build it for us – at half the cost and in a quarter of the time – it would be winners all round …

Feedback

Cyprus Gives In – Four months on from the announcement and officials have just agreed to a 47.5 percent haircut with international lenders on deposits exceeding €100,000 in the Bank of Cyprus. This will allow the bank to come out of administration but then it will face new problems as account holders look to move their money elsewhere. The bank is already closing branches and firing staff but worse could lie ahead.

DAB Radio Hangs On – The Goverment’s decision on the future of DAB radio has been pushed back until December – the latest possible date that still meets the 2013 target. Considering the volume of radios still being sold it seems highly unlikely that the DAB will reach the targets promised by its promoters. Even with all the Internet radio / Freeview / Freesat included volumes are still below target. Another compromise (fudge) coming up.

HS2 and Short Memories – An enormous range of benefits are promised if high speed trains run north of London. But few seem to recall that this has all been promised before. When the first high speed links were agreed part of the justification was the links north of London. And this got further than a promise with someone (the taxpayer I guess) funding new high speed trains to run to Leeds, York, etc. These trains were actually built and then tested on the East Coast Mainline. However there were always technical issues that stopped them going into service. And eventually the northern Eurostar plans were scrapped – along with the promised economic benefits. Soon some ex-Eurostar trains appeared on regular service with GNER on the London-Leeds services – issue free.InterCity125

In the real world the East Coast Mainline still has “slam-door” [Type 43 Inter-City 125] diesel trains in regular operation. Trains that pre-date the original electrification of the line in 1988. But at least there is some progress here. Hitachi Super Express trains are planned to be built at a new factory at Amazon Park, by Heighington railway station Newton Aycliffe, County Durham. Construction of the factory should now have started with train production beginning in 2015 and aiming to be in normal service on the Great Western Mainline by 2017 and the East Coast Mainline by 2018. Some £5,700 million has been committed to a construction programme involving over 800 carriages / power cars.

The biggest improvements for passengers would come about not through HS2 or even these Super Express trains – but through more carriages and the elimination of pinch points on the network; where fast services are blocked by stopping services running just ahead. This would need some longer platforms and more four track sections – but would benefit far more actual travellers than HS2. Current restrictions mean that the new trains are only planned to have nine or ten passenger carriages – whereas existing Eurostar trains already have eighteen.

Smart Meters – Over recent days British Gas has launched its advertising campaign to convince customers that their new smart meters are going to be a big consumer benefit. It will be interesting to see how many are convinced. But, given the numbers that claimed they did not know what they were doing when they bought useless insurance and investment products, British Gas may get plenty of takers. The lawyers will be lining this one up for the day when all the current mis-selling cases stop raking in the fees.

It’s Only Money

It’s less than six months since the proposed high speed rail links north from London were covered here. But even before the approval process has been completed the costs are climbing. The previous £34,500 million has now moved along to £43,000 million (and is being quoted at 2011 prices). So that’s £8,500 million more that in February.RoseHS2

However some MPs have checked their idiot’s guide to railways and discovered that – unlike roads – the scheme would also need to include building vehicles that could use it. Since there does not seem to be any freight demand (Royal Mail replaced their trains with trucks a few years ago) or car transporters or sleeping cars then the vehicles needed will be standard passenger coaches. Railnews gives an estimate of £8,000 million for building these trains – but other sources are quoting up to £11,000 million.

But if the MPs read on further in their idiot’s guide then they will spot that – again unlike roads – the scheme will also need provide power for the trains. I suspect that the HS2 supporters have, so far, said that electricity needed will simply be taken from the national grid – and forms, therefore, an operating cost excluded from the build costs. But with ironic timing comes the latest warning that Britain risks of running out of electricity generating capacity during the coming winters. And that the government are now facing the prospect of reopening old power stations to meet demand.

So simply plugging the new train sets into the mains won’t be a good enough plan. To be truly self-sufficient HS2 would need two separate power generation sources. But it could get away with one by being part of the national grid. So at least one new power station should be added to the project cost – even if it is not used solely for powering the HS2 trains. That’s so the trains can be kept running over the winter without having to cut off Birmingham’s power supplies. One guess is that a modest power station would add £800 million (?) to the ever-growing total.

Any project that has increased its budget estimate by £17,000 million in less than six months is bound to increase by much more before completion. Time to revise that estimate of ticket costs – and London-Birmingham for £300 return now looks much too optimistic. How about £450 return – on advance purchase and before inflation gets added to all these estimates?