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Rail News Blogging #26

by DoDo Sun Jun 30th, 2013 at 11:54:57 AM EST

The themes are: privatisation, international/intermodal freight, low-cost innovation in urban rail, and new high-speed infrastructure.

Earlier this year, Romania wanted to privatise CFR Marfă, the freight branch of its state railway, but on 15 May, the transport ministry rejected all three bids. I commented that "They still think this doesn't have to be a fire-sale." Indeed two weeks later, they resumed the process with the same bidders. Why? Because sale by June was a promise to the IMF and the IMF stuck to the deadline.

Things continued like a comedy: in the week before the IMF deadline, the two bidders with foreign capital withdrew for various reasons, and the sole bidder left standing was named winnerpending EU approval due to the winner's then 70% market share...

Here is a CFR Marfă loco and train far from home, on the way from Budapest to Slovakia:

On the same day CFR Marfă's majority was sold, in Bulgaria, where similar freight branch privatisation plans were hampered by anti-austerity protests and a bank freeze on the railway, the privatisation was called off by the new Socialist government.

Elsewhere, Argentina is going in the other direction. Back when the country was a neoliberal model in the nineties, the government privatised all railways on a concessional basis. The main result was a catastrophic neglect of maintenance. The government began to take back railways from troubled operators, and now revoked the concessions of the largest freight operator, owned by Brazilian logistics giant ALL.

International/intermodal freight

  • To reduce freight train noise, a key factor is braking: conventional brakes use cast iron ("P10") brake blocks pressed to the wheel surfaces, which not only produces a screeching sound when braking, but increases rolling noise (the dominant noise component at normal train speeds) by roughing up the surface. This can be solved with composite ("K") brake blocks – in new wagons; but, to be able retrofit the hundreds of thousands of existing wagons, you need a material that produces roughly the same friction forces as cast iron. This so-called "LL" brake block was very hard to find, it took a decade (much longer than foreseen) and multi-year tests with a dedicated train all across Europe. But now the LL brake block has been approved and first wagons were equipped.

  • At long last, seven years after the first trial run, a regular direct freight shuttle was launched between Germany and Turkey. Transit traffic can now also use the second Danube bridge between Bulgaria and Romania, opened 14 June. Now if only gaps in electrification would be eliminated...

  • The austerian governments of the Iberian Peninsula 'compensated' service and investment cutbacks by moving ahead with freight corridor projects. One runs across Northern Spain towards northern Portugal, with a major gap in electrification on the Spanish side of the border. Now for the half of this section until Salamanca, the works have been awarded. Meanwhile, on the Mediterranean Corridor, the re-gauging/dual-gauging project (see RNB20) is moving forward with first tenders awarded (covering the Barcelona and Valencia ends of the line).

  • CargoBeamer is one of the novel systems which attempt to make truck transport more efficient (see description with diagram). This one saves space and accelerates loading/unloading with side-shifting pockets (so that trucks don't have to drive along the entire train and above the bogies). Regular trains were launched this month, between the first two terminals in Wolfsburg, Germany (on Volkswagen premises) and Bettembourg, Luxembourg. At the latter, there is transfer to the trains of the rival Modalohr system (which has rotating pockets).

  • Wagonload traffic, when different cars of a freight train have different origin and destination, was the strongest-shrinking freight sector in recent years in Europe, for various policy reasons (see Wagonload traffic: the market won't deliver). Xrail is an initiative of European former state railways to change that by international cooperation. This could now have practical results in the form of joint capacity management, announced for 2015, and they complemented their network with a key region, adding terminals in Northern Italy.

Low-cost innovation in urban rail

Vinci and CAF launch low-cost light rail | International Railway Journal

Vinci, France, together with CAF, Spain, have launched Nextram, a light rail package which could be 30-40% cheaper than conventional systems for cities with a population of between 150,000 and 200,000 which up to now could only afford a bus solution. Nextram, which has been developed during the last two years, comprises two main innovations. One is a double-layer concrete trackbed which is only 50cm deep combined with low-height rails. This enables the track to be installed in sections to minimise disruption during construction.

The other main cost-saving initiative is to use metre-gauge uni-directional LRVs. As these only have one cab and doors on one side, they will be cheaper to build and maintain than dual-direction vehicles.

I'm a bit at a loss at why this is considered innovation. There are several European tram networks that are metre-gauge and/or uni-directional, for example Antwerp.

Alstom launches modular light metro system | International Railway Journal

IRJ at the 60th UITP Congress Geneva: Alstom has developed a modular light metro system called Axonis which is designed to be quick to build and economic to construct and operate.

It includes a modular viaduct which has a width of 6.8m and a height of up to 14m, Alstom's Appitrack slab track system which was originally developed for rapid installation on light rail lines, Alstom's new Urbalis Fluence simplified CBTC for driverless operation, and a power supply system designed to reuse 99% of braking energy. A 750V dc third-rail electrification system is envisaged.

There have been several novel light metro systems over the past 2–4 decades which were developed with view to lower costs, but they either failed or were modified for higher capacity (and cost). So I'm not too expectant, but the technologies included could be useful anyway.

New high-speed infrastructure

The latest addition to the Spanish high-speed network, the south-eastern extension Albacete–Alicante, was opened on 18 June. Although service starts with a fall-back train control system (ETCS Level 2 is still being commissioned) and thus with a lower top speed, journey times reduce by 50 minutes, with another 15 minutes off once ETCS L2 is ready. What's interesting about this project is that part of it was originally built in broad gauge, as a major cut-off of the old Madrid–Valencia line.

In related news, in the first four months since the introduction of flexible ticketing in Spain (see RNB20), high-speed ridership grew 14% year-on-year, boosting seat occupation to 75%. Ticket sales even grew 18%. Considering the recession, this is a success; but considering that the traffic boost was 38% in the first two weeks, the effect is decaying.

After another six months of delay compared to plans, 9 June saw the opening of the new low level of Bologna Centrale station for high-speed trains, along the cross-city tunnel opened a year ago and used only by non-stop Milan–Rome trains up to now. Italy is facilitating the high-speed rail passage of all urban areas with separate projects called "urban nodes". In Bologna, only the reconstruction on the surface remains to be finished; other than that, after the recent station opening in Turin, only Naples (20142015) and Florence (2016) are still in the works.

The country worst-hit by austerity (both in general and on railways), Greece, was working on a complete upgrade/replacement of its most important line between Athens and Thessaloniki with a modern double-track electrified railway for 200–250 km/h. The combination of insufficiently researched difficult geology (highly deformable clay and strong shear forces...) and inexperienced construction firms led to major trouble on the single biggest superstructure: the 9,036 m, bi-tube Kallidromo tunnel, south of Lamia (and near Thermopylae). Construction first started in 1997, but it had to be abandoned in 2002. After re-tendering three times, the second attempt started in 2006, with opening planned for 2010. But completion needed a third tender for additional works in 2012, and this year the first tube of the tunnel finally holed through on 22 May.

:: :: :: :: ::

Check the Train Blogging index page for a (hopefully) complete list of ET diaries and stories related to railways and trains.

On the bonus photo below, a normal local train on the line along the Danube left Zebegény, Hungary:

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sat Jun 29th, 2013 at 02:21:37 PM EST
Compare and contrast. Status of Spain's high-speed network in February 2011 (click to enlarge in-page):

... and now:

My drawings atop a map from Wikimedia. Legend:

  • Dark red: in service
  • Red: in construction(some of these are built as broad-gauge line upgrades, but prepared for quick re-gauging, 25 kV/50 Hz electrification resp. 're-voltaging' and use at 250-300 km/h)
  • Blue: commitment to start construction in the near future in the last few months
  • Light blue: lines promised in the past by one government or another, but not advanced at present

The new PP government (elected in November 2011) was a bit less brutal than its anti-rail-anyway Portuguese counterpart: they continued construction that was already begun (albeit at a slower pace), and stopped "only" all tendering (all the blue to light blue changes), later going ahead with only a few projects (up until now mostly in Galicia). But they go about it in a sneaky way: for example, the construction of the (Zaragoza-)Castejón-Pamplona project was supposed to start tendering in 2011, then nothing happened and the government kept mum, until they came forward with plans for a standard-gauge extra track along the conventional line as replacement project.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sat Jun 29th, 2013 at 02:25:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]
France gives up on its high-speed rail projects: PM Ayrault has stated he entirely follows the conclusions of the report put in this week by PS deputy Philippe Duron on transport infrastructure investments up to 2030.

All high-speed line projects are abandoned (or pushed off to a far-off future), with the exception of the Bordeaux-Toulouse LGV (now vaguely scheduled for sometime between now and 2030).

Here's a map from Le Parisien. The abandoned rail projects are in orange.

There is no money for infrastructure, you see. What money there is will go to improvements in existing infrastructure.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Sat Jun 29th, 2013 at 03:30:15 PM EST
Ugh. Of these, Paris–Calais and the Pyrenees crossing did strike me as castles on a cloud, and the other two in the south fall under the "not without a long-term vision" category, but the two non-high-speed projects and the western and southern branch of the LGV Rhin-Rhône are a real shame. And the argumentation is idiotic.

I see in the article that the end of the eastern branch of the LGV Rhin-Rhône and the Poitiers Limoges spur were relegated to "second choice" (whatever that means). What about LGV PACA (Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur), Montpellier–Perpignan, and the second line to Lyon? Did they escape the axe or were they axed earlier?

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sat Jun 29th, 2013 at 03:52:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Here's a list of the LGV projects put off until who-knows-when:

Le gouvernement démine la fin du tout-TGV - Libération The government clears the way for the end of the all-TGV - Liberation
la plupart des projets de lignes à grande vitesse (LGV): Marseille-Nice, Bordeaux-Espagne, Paris-Normandie, Paris-Orléans-Clermont-Lyon, Poitiers-Limoges, Montpellier-Perpignan, achèvement des lignes Rhin-Rhône, etc. Seule la LGV Bordeaux-Toulouse serait lancée d'ici 2030. Et encore, seulement dans le scénario optimiste (c'est à dire dépensier), que le gouvernement n'a pas encore validé.Most projects of high-speed lines (LGV): Marseille-Nice, Bordeaux, Spain, Paris, Normandy, Paris-Orleans-Clermont-Lyon, Poitiers, Limoges, Montpellier, Perpignan, completion of the Rhine-Rhône lines, etc.. Only the LGV Bordeaux-Toulouse would be launched by 2030. And then only in the optimistic scenario (ie spendthrift), that the government has not yet validated.

All three you mention are on the list: Marseille-Nice, Paris-Orléans-Clermont-Lyon, Montpellier-Perpignan. And note that even Bordeaux-Toulouse is still conditional.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Sat Jun 29th, 2013 at 04:06:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Damn Google Translate thinks hyphens are commas.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Sat Jun 29th, 2013 at 04:07:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
So what heralded itself a year ago came to pass. My comment still stands:

As for the French government's austerian logic, it makes no sense on the medium term: spending in the next few years would be mostly already committed state contributions to the on-going PPP projects, like LGV Bretagne (which started construction on 27 July).

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sat Jun 29th, 2013 at 04:31:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Or see this chart from Dernières Nouvelles d'Alsace:

The blue lines are postponed sine die. Note Lyon-Turin.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Sat Jun 29th, 2013 at 04:17:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Poitiers - Limoges is a short route across flat country. Given the size of limoges and what that would mean for that region, I'm surprised that such a relatively cheap spur has been abandoned.

keep to the Fen Causeway
by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Sun Jun 30th, 2013 at 06:37:36 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I see in a link to the article that the department of Haut-Rhin organised an on-line signature collection against the cull of the LGV Rhin-Rhône branche est, with over 13,000 signed.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sun Jun 30th, 2013 at 11:54:19 AM EST
[ Parent ]
SNCF and the French state made a strategic decision long ago to commit to high-speed lines on new infrastructure, to let the existing rail system to chug along and/or close down progressively, and to completely ignore the median option of higher-speed services on existing or improved lines.

EELV has a rather seductive vision of what level of service such a system could provide  : mouse over the shockwave map to see travel times. The site is light on technology (they talk of passive pendulum trains for higher speeds on existing track) and there are no costings, but this neglected sector probably offers some pretty quick wins for the "heart of France".

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II

by eurogreen on Mon Jul 1st, 2013 at 08:27:02 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The killing of the north-south freight corridor and the east-west electrification alongside the future high-speed projects are good indicators of what you can expect in terms of increased spending on conventional lines from this government. An either-or thinking with regards to spending on upgrades vs. new lines is wrong, whether it comes from TGV proponents or opponents: in both cases, the either-or should include other modes of transport.

On higher-speed services on existing or improved lines: these make sense, and happen in France too (in connection with the little electrification that is being done, some of it coupled with connecting high-speed lines), but it's not as unproblematic and cheap and all-applicable as (IMHO unfortunately) thought by many Greens (not just in France):

  • whether you use passive or active tilt trains, they only compensate acceleration felt by passengers, but not track forces thus you need to spend on strengthening and specially maintaining the track, in addition to the higher procurement and maintenance cost of the (often problematic) tilt trains;
  • upgrades to 200-250 km/h often involve re-alignments, which is little different from constructing a new line;
  • even without re-alignment, you need to increase track distance, which means the reconstruction of all existing adjoining infrastructure;
  • in addition, old lines go through inhabited areas which need expensive protection for the higher speeds (sound barriers, over- and underpasses or instead cut-and-cover tunnels);
  • the underground can hide lots of nasty surprises (water pockets, buried wells, unmarked cables etc.) which will add to the cost and time of a full upgrade;
  • on the demand side, the point of considering other modes of transport still applies: for example, Lyon–Nantes in 4h30m is just not competitive with air;
  • disregarding cost issues, the faster you go with expresses on a conventional line, the higher will be the speed differential with freight and local trains, limiting capacity;
  • capacity on existing lines can be constrained already, and not just on conventional lines: the LGV Sud-Est is pretty congested and the second Paris–Lyon line via Orléans and Roanne (paralleled by tow of the 250 km/h sections proposed in your link) would be for relieving it.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Mon Jul 1st, 2013 at 09:49:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The killing of the north-south freight corridor and the east-west electrification alongside the future high-speed projects are good indicators of what you can expect in terms of increased spending on conventional lines from this government.

To put it another way: SNCF likes high-speed lines because high-speed trains bring profit and would like to toss branchlines and thin out rural local trains because they don't. The Court des Comptes and the new government doesn't like high-speed lines because they are high up-front investment which will bring back the money on the long-term if at all. Thus whatever they say, they like major investment in conventional lines with much lower probability of bringing the money back even less.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Mon Jul 1st, 2013 at 10:01:35 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I know one of the authors of the site, president of the Transport commission of the Rhone Alpes region (co-responsible with SNCF for regional services). I should try to get him to engage here, but I doubt if his English is any good.

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II
by eurogreen on Mon Jul 1st, 2013 at 10:57:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
They've done their homework :

While the report of the Mobility 21 Committee, presented last week to Jean-Marc Ayrault, does not classify the "POCL" (Paris-Orleans-Clermont-Lyon) as a priority among rail infrastructure projects,  the Greens of six regions (Rhône-Alpes, Auvergne, Limousin, Burgundy, Centre and Ile de France) have devised a solution that is less expensive than the original project, and greener.

Jean-Charles Kohlhaas, vice president (Europe Ecologie Les Verts) of the Rhône-Alpes region in charge of transport, said: "The lines that serve the heart of France are almost all electrified, and the track curves  allow speeds up to 220 km / h instead of 160 km / h maximum today. Our project requires suppression of level crossings, the construction of some new sections ... and a few other amenities. "Travelers will not be boarding a TER (regional express) or a TGV, but a whole new generation of trains: the THNS or "train with high level of service."

The investments needed to complete this project? 6 billion euros. A sum equivalent to one third of the money needed to set up the initial POCL (20 billion euros). The issue, ultimately, is to respond to the saturation of the Paris Lyon line, a scenario which, if you believe the 21 members of the Mobility Committee should occur in fifteen to thirty-five years.

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II
by eurogreen on Wed Jul 3rd, 2013 at 06:00:12 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, at least part of the homework. (I should have noted already that they probably did consider capacity issues on the lines affected, because most of those are less busy and the lines from Paris are bypassed by a new Y line.)
  • By curves allowing 220 km/h, do they mean curve radius or superelevation, too?
  • What about track distance (in curves as well as on straight track)?
  • Are sound barriers and re-signalling covered under "a few other amenities"?
  • Have they done a ridership forecast with the lower top speed, especially on the Paris–Lyon and further relation? (I don't see how a connection significantly slower than the existing line can do much in helping relieve it even on the Paris–Lyon relation, much less further on.)

Also, was there a reaction to the dropping of the project to complete the Nantes–Lyon electrification (see Le Parisien map in afew's first comment), which would be part of the EELV plan, too, complemented by some new sections (orange line)?

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Wed Jul 3rd, 2013 at 07:43:20 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Naples (2014)

A joke, right? The constructions sites for the subway (which still doesn't reach the main station) have very optimistic completion dates posted, which have long gone.

by gk (gk (gk quattro due due sette @gmail.com)) on Sat Jun 29th, 2013 at 04:19:38 PM EST
I don't know about the subway, but the date for RFI's urban node project was indeed revised to 2015 since I wrote that passage into my draft...

I nodi urbani - L'attuazione - RFI

Sono in corso i lavori di attrezzaggio tecnologico della bretella di collegamento tra le linee AV Roma-Napoli e Napoli-Salerno. Con l'attivazione degli interventi - previsti entro il 2013 - saranno possibili servizi AV provenienti da Roma con prosecuzione diretta verso Salerno. Mentre la fine dei lavori per la realizzazione della nuova stazione AV, progettata da Zaha Hadid vincitrice di un apposito concorso internazionale, è prevista per il 2015.

Complessivamente i lavori proseguono con il 76% di avanzamento.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sat Jun 29th, 2013 at 04:40:18 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Hello there,

I wrote a reportage on the Kallidromo tunnel (a sad saga, with probably the end in sight at last) for Today's Railways Europe.

You should see the text in the present issue (still haven't got my copy).

PS. The link needs some correction, I think.

by nfotis on Sat Jun 29th, 2013 at 04:45:25 PM EST
Here is a disaster of the first order:

We're out of beer.

Long since out of of beer. It ran out before the train was even halfway to the destination, a quiet meadow at 9,400 feet above sea level on La Veta Pass.

Now, rumbling down on our return course to Alamosa after 3 hours of beer tasting in the sun, there's not a drop to drink and everyone looks tired and blurry. The toilets are nearly filled to capacity and we're running an hour late, thanks to one passenger who was escorted off in handcuffs. Sources said it was for being a drunken idiot.

by asdf on Tue Jul 2nd, 2013 at 05:50:49 PM EST
Ugg, plenty of loos and plenty of water would have saved that one methinks.

A 3 hour journey after a beer fest demands good and plentiful loos.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Wed Jul 3rd, 2013 at 03:30:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Perusing recent news about the British Highspeed 2 project, the cost explosion is colliding with the political consensus on building that project. A cost increase by 10 billion pounds to 42.2 billion (50 including rolling stock) has prompted criticism. Former supporter Peter Mandelson warns HS2 will be an 'expensive mistake'
But his opinion shifted as the "understanding of the costs and benefits" changed. The original cost estimates were "almost entirely speculative", he admitted. "Perhaps the most glaring gap in the analysis presented to us at the time were the alternative ways of spending 30bn."

... The economic benefits of HS2 were "neither quantified nor proven" and failed to take account of how the money might be spent on other projects instead, he added. These included upgrades to the east and west coast mainlines and improvements to rail services in the regions and provincial cities.

The current transport secretary and his predecessor are defending the proposal:
He said analysis of the costs and benefits of the line from London to Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds had been "robust and thorough". "The analysis shows building the new line was cheaper - plus we'd be benefiting from improved connectivity, reliability, speed and avoid - bar Euston - most of the disruption of a conventional line upgrade."

... "We must build on that consensus by providing up to date and detailed evidence of the benefits that HS2 will bring, including the creation of 100,000 jobs and the economic return of 2 for every 1 invested through linking eight out of our 10 biggest cities.

A 1:2 cost-benefit ratio is a tall order. And this is "cheaper" than what exactly under what concrete objective?

A funny aside: 50bn question: do we want faster trains or limitless clean energy? - "For the same money, you can either shave 35 minutes off the journey between London and Birmingham, or develop fusion power". Fusion power as a source of limitless clean power is orders of magnitude less likely than an economically successful HS2 project.

Schengen is toast!

by epochepoque on Wed Jul 3rd, 2013 at 02:12:50 PM EST
Ah, Mandelson. Regarding upgrades as alternative, Adonis (who, being the minister to kick in the re-start electrification in Britain, can't be accused of ignoring conventional lines) said what I would have said:

Lord Adonis defends HS2 following claims it is an 'expensive mistake' | UK news | The Guardian

Adonis said the case against upgrades was proved by the £10bn upgrade of the west coast mainline, which "only delivered a fraction of the benefits of HS2".

The WCML upgrade was the perfect example of a major upgrade much more expensive than originally planned even after scaling down, but it's not the only one.

A cost increase by 10 billion pounds

British government adds £10bn to HS2 project | International Railway Journal

...This increases the so-called contingency fund for the project to £14.4bn.

Justifying the increase to members of parliament, the secretary of state for transport, Mr Patrick McLoughlin, said: "While I expect the final costs to be lower than those I have outlined... this is the right way to plan the project." The increased budget also takes account of design and environmental changes made to appease people objecting the project.

That said, I keep thinking that the HS2 project is over-priced.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Thu Jul 4th, 2013 at 02:54:25 AM EST
[ Parent ]
That's British - possibly Anglo - infrastructure.

I've been making myself a central heating controller with the Raspberry Pi. Last night I was trying to find a case for it.

Farnell - who are electronic suppliers to industry - sell US-made metal boxes for $1300.

Now, these are steel boxes with a good IP rating.

But $1300 for a box? And not a very big box at that?

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Thu Jul 4th, 2013 at 05:52:04 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Have you considered a biscuit tin?
by njh on Fri Jul 5th, 2013 at 12:26:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]
What - you think I can afford oil heating and biscuits?
by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Fri Jul 5th, 2013 at 04:12:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Two more interesting quotes from Adonis:

However, he had earlier complained that when he was planning the line the transport department had no experts in high speed rail. "It only happens to be one of the most important and significant developments in international transport... How many experts were there on international high speed rail? None at all," he said in a speech at the rightwing think tank Policy Exchange on Wednesday.


Adonis said politicians could have endless debates about the costs and benefits of big infrastructure projects, but "what we do at the moment is nothing".

Well not exactly, consultancy fees probably get paid...

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Thu Jul 4th, 2013 at 07:13:35 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Liberal conspiracy - Christian Wolmar - The growing opposition to HS2 cannot be ignored any longer

At last, opposition to the HS2 rail project is extending beyond the Chilterns and is starting a debate that should have been had three years ago.

There has always been something deeply worrying about the fact that all three main political parties are in support of the plan to build a high speed railway line linking London with Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds when the case is so weak and the cost so high. The parties have been outdoing each other in attempts to show that their support is unyielding in the face of growing evidence that the whole project is unsustainable.

But outside Parliament, informed opposition is growing. The National Audit Office is querying the figures, the New Economics Foundation has produced a list of better uses for £33bn (it was before the recent cost rise announcement which now suggests £50bn including rolling stock) and on the Right several think tanks are questioning the case for the line.

As the line's supporters have become more desperate, they have been clutching at straws to justify the ever mounting cost of this massive project. First it was to speed up journey times and to improve the environment, then to boost capacity, then to bridge the north south divide and finally to create jobs and `agglomeration benefits'. But none of these stack up.

Wolmar is an internationally renowned expert on rail. He is also angling to be Labour's next candidate for Mayor of London.

And I still think that the best bet for a high speed line north is to rebuild the Great Central. It just doesn't go near key marginal constituencies which need to be flattered

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Thu Jul 4th, 2013 at 03:00:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
rebuild the Great Central

Well the splitting of HS2 into two phases pretty much precluded the research of a route option loosely along the Great Central, though sections are used or paralleled by both stages (Stage 1 at Aylesbury and Stage 2 north of Nottingham). Upon checking, minimum curve radius was one mile except in cities, and there are a couple of cities crossed in the middle (Rugby, Leicester, Loughboro, Nottingham), so mayor deviations from the original route would have been needed for high-speed use.

My own take on the route is that they should have focused on following existing transport corridors from the onset (they did consider on sections after the public consultation).

key marginal constituencies which need to be flattered

The flattening I find in Wolmar's article is in London:

All the opposition has so far focussed on the Chilterns, but it is Camden council tenants who are most affected with the demolition of 600 homes and possibly more.

As for Wolmar's op-ed, you quote a part which is mostly rhetoric, while he makes several more focused arguments in the article. I react to some at a more general level:

  • I have nothing against the criticism of various parts of and studies for a project, but that's something else than heaping up everything (including the utterings of "several think tanks" "on the Right") in all-or-nothing opposition. My reaction to a number of issues he raises would be "that's a problem, change the plans". My reaction to the increased budget was to look at the benefit/cost estimates and see that even if all of the contingency would be spent, they would remain above 1.
  • Also, total sums are impressive, but the question is, over how many years.
  • What bothers me most is the contrast with local public transport spending at the end. Yet again, I say they aren't rivals but both of them are rivals of other modes: one shouldn't ask "HS2 or commuter rail", but "HS2 or airport expansion" and "light rail or car". Furthermore, it's not like nothing is being done on the London local transport front. Much more should be done. In particular, relieving commuter train congestion would need a long over-due RER-style system, but even what's done on that front has gotten similar opposition (Crossrail 1). BTW, consultation for Crossrail 2 started.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Mon Jul 8th, 2013 at 05:32:06 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The issue isn't the cost/benefit analysis, but that:

  1. The budget is only going to increase. This is the UK. Generally, we don't know how to cost projects effectively. (Cynics might suspect that the real role of HST2 isn't to provide transport, but to provide a corporate hand-out to our infrastructure corps.)

  2. It's a lot of cash, and it could be better spend on other things - like providing next-gen 1gbps broadband to the entire UK. I'm not sure if there's a benefit analysis for that, but I am fairly sure it could be done for around a quarter of the price and my guess is it would kick-start a transformation of the entire economy, with more people working from home, more businesses started in rural areas, more kinds of businesses being created to exploit fast content delivery, being-there-quality VR, open project innovation, and others.

3.You could spend the rest on improved public transport elsewhere in the UK.

Ultimately it's a distinction between 19th century technology and 21st century technology. Rail is a huge cash sink in the UK, and while it provides some benefits, it's based on the idea that you run an economy by shunting people  and stuff around.

It's better than cars. But that kind of transport was necessary in the 19th century and the 20th centuries.

It's no longer quite so necessary in the 21st.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Mon Jul 8th, 2013 at 05:50:34 AM EST
[ Parent ]
  1. If that's true, then that's true for any alternative project. (See WCML upgrade.)
  2. Is this the claim that broadband will allow everyone to work from home and travel less? I want to see that first in practice. For now traffic is increasing even where there is wide provision of broadband (like South Korea).
  3. I directly addressed this. Spending it elsewhere will do zip to change long-distance traffic patterns on the corridor.
  4. In general, the spend-it-elsewhere, let's-divide-the-pie-differently argument accepts the zero-sum fallacy of neoliberalism.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Mon Jul 8th, 2013 at 06:08:04 AM EST
[ Parent ]
  1. No it's not, because it's a question of degree and basic service provision - i.e. increased traffic load, and the potential to make fares more affordable - vs decreased travel time and (very likely) even higher fares.

  2. Yes, that's the claim. But it relies on intelligent management accepting that telecommuting is an option, not just setting up the infrastructure. Korea's economy isn't comparable because there's far more physical industry there, so there's still a need to shunt people and stuff around in a way that isn't so necessary here. Around three quarters of UK GDP comes from the service sector.

  3. It's not clear yet that spending on HST2 will do anything to change long-distance traffic patterns on the corridor either. Rail in the UK is too damn expensive for non-business commuting, and it continues to be cheaper to drive almost everywhere. Unless I've missed something, HST2 is planing to cut travel times, not travel costs.

  4. Nice bit of evangelical rhetoric. Not sure how it's relevant to a reality-based economic case though.

The bottom line remains that you could spend £10bn on broadband and also buy yourself the equivalent of two projects on the scale of Crossrail - which isn't exactly priced as a bargain - or five projects on the scale of the WCML modernisation.

And here's another view:

In short, the costs and benefits of HS2 are large and uncertain. I prefer instead to focus on the opportunity costs: are there things that we could be doing with £30 billion that would yield a higher return than `£47 billion'? I think the answer is almost certainly yes, in both the area of transport - more intra-city schemes, for example - and more widely.

On the basis of narrow cost-benefit analysis, this conclusion is backed up by the Eddington report, published in 2006. Comparing the figures for HS2 with those for projects that the Department for Transport had on its books at the time of Eddington suggests that HS2 is, at best, in the bottom quartile in terms of returns (and indeed, might be closer to being in the bottom 10%).

One could say that this is irrelevant because HS2 has a critical mass that will deliver wider benefits. But as I have argued, there is a little evidence to support this assertion. If critical mass is important, then we could consider concentrating a large amount of investment in particular cities - for example, Birmingham, London, Manchester and Newcastle. To the best of my knowledge, no one has assessed what such a package would look like in terms of the wider impacts.

One final objection to my negative conclusion might be that `we have to have HS2 because of capacity constraints on the west coast mainline'. Unfortunately, as the Eddington report showed, by the time HS2 is completed, there will be a great deal of congestion all over the transport network. Other schemes to tackle that congestion are likely to deliver much better returns because these aspects are well captured by traditional cost-benefit analysis and, as I have indicated, HS2 does pretty badly on that.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Mon Jul 8th, 2013 at 06:41:06 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Fusion power as a source of limitless clean power is orders of magnitude less likely than an economically successful HS2 project.

ALso, comparing development costs with construction costs...

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Thu Jul 4th, 2013 at 07:22:49 AM EST
[ Parent ]
.. Multiple orders of magnitude, really? You consider the development of a successful fusion power tech to have a likelyhood substantially below one percent?

... How much would you care to wager at those odds?

by Thomas on Thu Jul 4th, 2013 at 01:58:33 PM EST
[ Parent ]
If the time scale is less than 50 years to commercialisation, I'll take that bet.

(If only because I'll be dead before it arrives - as will most of us.)

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Thu Jul 4th, 2013 at 04:53:38 PM EST
[ Parent ]

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