Thursday, September 25, 2014

High Speed Two Should be Turned on Its Head! North End First!

High speed two is going to be the biggest civil engineering project in Southern England since the Channel Tunnel, and in fact both for their day , the biggest in the whole of the UK.

With the Scottish Referendum behind us, now the media is trying to paint many positive pictures about the benefits of Union, which must seem a bit trite for those follk living in the 'North of England' Traditionally or colloquoally considered to start northwards from an imaginery line from Stoke in the west to Sheffield in the East. A massive investment is to be made in infrastructure which benefits the wealthier,  high employment area of England first.

The real benefits will be firstly in jobs in the south east and London in particular where a new route is proposed with a new major terminus rebuilt at Marlebone potentially, or integration to St. Pancras International with a N London route. No matter what the route, it will be expensive and so far indications predict the first sod or pnuematic drill will sound in Greater London such that land there is bought first before the expected up tour in the economy.

So it is difficult to see the real wisdom behind the project when you think that the long-term overheating London economy could do with moving jobs north,  rather than bringing more people into London. In this , the public sector could lead the way by moving more administration jobs out of the capital and the south east, which has in fact been an on /off strategy in UK politics with the DVLA in Swansea,  Student Loans Office in Glasgow, Tax Help Line Office in the NE and so on.

House and Property Prices as a Potential Capitalist Alterior Motive?

I am very against distortions in markets caused by governments,  and this by all means has two means by which it distorts the UK economy as a whole.

Firstly it will influence property prices, even if compulsory purchases keep the direct acquisition price down. Any removal of housing stock and commercial property in London and the suburban home counties will push up prices elsewhere.  More directly there will be a need for many workers and managers, who will be drawn for such a large project from the whole of the UK as for the "Chunnel" and they will need accomodation, be that rental , hotel or bought for the senior management.

Secondly it is not about prices in London, but also about overcoming the percieved future needs for labour in London, mainly in the finance sector, which can at times struggle to attract enough people in some disciplines or has to pay them large salaries. With daily commuting from the nearer end of the West Midlands being much easier and with higher capacity at rush hour, suddenly London gains new suburbs like Coventry, Knowle and Dorridge. Lucky cockneys eh?

So therefore there can also be a major boom in house prices there too.

This is as far as the first part of the 17bn, and rising, will go in the first phase and if there was not a continuing upswing in the economy, it may well only go that far for quite some time.

Benefits of HS2 for the 'Up North'

There will be some benefits for the folk north of birmingham. Average speeds south of Brum' will increase from 70-90 mph for express trains, to 140 mph with peak runnng of 186 mph. This then secures a sub one hour run from say Birmingham International or new station. The trains are likely to be similar to the current class 395 which run on the Kent HS1 route, although the route may also be suitable for current tilting 390s. I imagine that in fact both will run, with different train operating companies buying access to different 'diagrams' in railway speak. Some diagrams by virtue of capacity on the route and intermediate stops, will maybe be 120/140mph peak speed, suitable for through services from the North and Scotland, currently running these Pendolinos. Class 395 type high speed trains could and indeed should be able to run on ordinary track and thus reach all the major cities in the North currently wired up to the West Coast Main Line (WCML)

There in lies several benefits. With a faster corridor to London, more services can be covered with any given number of trains which are economic to run on it. In other words, if a train can be routed down there be that a 395 or an older 390, then if there is a profit to be had it will run, and then that train itself will be able to do more runs per day to-and-from say Manchester.

To a point this is a win-win for passengers and T.O.C.s and railtrack or who ever owns the track bed of  HS2. However it means that there can actually be more competition for through trains from HS2 to Manchester and so on, thus pushing track access charges upwards if they are deregulated or reviewed in light of more demand by the renationalised Railtrack. Also HS2 could lock people into the benefits of the 45 minute reduction and companies will then expose themselves to super inflationary track access charges or a milking strategy will be rolled out against passengers, where the old WCML services have been locked out by new line services. This is acheived quite simply by terminals reaching capacity such as Piccadily or Glasgow Central. Once you own enough diagrams in and out of Manchester for major inter city trains then, you can block out peak time competition by literally sitting on the platform for the time currently allowed to disembark passengers, clean the train and allow for safe alightment.

We have seen the privatised rail industry as a super inflationary sector for passengers on the most attractive, non subsidised routes. Why this should be reversed with such a potential displacement of capacity is doubtful, Trains running at 186 mph top speed use a lot more energy than those running at the current top speeds of 100mph and 125 mph  depending on section of the WCML. The per mile track access charges for HS2 will be far higher than for WCML. It will be expensive and once commuters are locked into jobs in the south, prices will rise above the rate of wage inflation.

So the benefits for HS2 part 1 are dubious when actually examined under an economic historical precedent.

However when HS2 part 2 goes ahead, then that boosts inter city traffic within the whole area, making it much more attractive than the car. For trips to london, it makes it quicker than flying, although it has to be said that if you need to travel city centre to city centre, then currently Manchester and Leeds (ECML route) it is quicker by train, while Glasgow is only an hour slower than by plane when transport to the airport, check in, security, boarind and disembarking are taken into account. But do you need to get from Leeds to Manchester in half an hour if it is going to cost you sixty five quid each way? Are we not best served with more electrification of existing routes, more intra regional expresses and more London through services?

Alternative Strategy for HS2 Or Just Plain Simple More Sensible Alternatives

My suggestion would be to either turn it completely on its head, and start on the Leeds/Manchester portion or to actually not bother with HS2 as we know it today..

The alternative as I propose and have blogged on before , but here in a shopping list:

#Fully integrate advanced train protection and any resignalling needed for 140 mph running on the current WCML.
#Electrify York-Leeds immediately
# Build a diversion freight route first just diesel using the proposed Aylesbury route or the great central route, to divert the slow 50 - 80 mph freight off the WCML
# Electrify the Birmingham -Oxford- London route and make passing lanes for express services and high speed freights to overtake local or slow frieght services.
# Build new main line interconnectors (which would include the "Aylesbury" route for freight partly) between all the raidal routes out of London, in effect a peripheral m25 and an inner Northern Circle. The outer circle could be as far out as Rugby, Bedford, Reading, the inner circle using mainly existing routes and rail routes which have been made into A roads around North London in particular.
# Electrify Crewe-Shrewsbury-Wolverhampton to allow freight diversion/ displacement and extra capacity northwards.
# Make the WCML four lanes where ever possible in Staffordshire, Shropshire and Warwichshire
# Resurvey Leeds-Manchester and Manchester Sheffield for most cost effectiive routes with 125-140mph peak speed as a target, average speed non stop 100 mph.
# In the WCML southern end past Willesden and Wembly and the frieght terminals, build elevated second layer 2 to four lane tracks over the existing tracks for through expresses, with freight and stopping services using the lower deck.
# Rebuild Marlebone station with a twin level design, and connect this with electrified routes to the Oxford route, the WCML and integrate cross london trains from there and also Heathrow Direct Trains, Stanstead Direct trains, Gatwick via Thameslink
# Interconnection for the midland line would be used for through trains to the Channel Tunnel or connections to this at St Pancras.
# Resurvey the WCML in terms of upgrading current track to 125mph and 140mph, and consider building shorter high speed stretches where geography and land prices / compensation would be a good pay off.
# Consider tunnel sections northwards to Carlisle and in the Southern Uplands in the route to Glasgow which could have maximum time savings and provide new capacity by overtaking slower trains on the existing routes 'above them'
# Move away from standard track access tabulation charges to a highest bid per diagram system,  with long term ownership of diagrams and restrictions on re-sale or under utility in the contracts.

To the layman, this last point is explained as followed
Trains run to timetables and in fact those timetables of course between different operators, are shared with there being only so much capacity on the routes. Faster trains are given priority and  overtake slower frieghts of commuter trains in stretches where there are more than two lines, or  at stations which have extra platforms. Some timetabled trains are more attractive than others for passengers to get to work, or to reach the terminus from local transport in order to set out, often just outside the rush hour so they avoid hiking baggage around through masses of commuters pouring out at 0820-0845.  Some timetabled services are fast through trains, while on others they are as well making additional stops as they cannot go any faster because of slower services infront of them at the key bottlenecks on the network or WCML in particular, in towards N. London and eventually Euston.

Some of these timetables when you consider the complete traffic on the route for the day, are actually quite historic, and it can take time, or innovation to change them. The last changes were the move to 125mph pendolinos (deisgned gfor 140mph actually) and some sections where traffic can go in the opposite direction at the same time.

Current track access charges are pro rata, but amount to a given cost for a company over the years. If they instead bought out right the lease on a given timetable for say 10 years, with clauses on potential improvements to speed, then they could pay a large sum then and only a small running cost if any to track, stations and stabling points.  The most attractive timetabled trains would attract the highest bidders. The least attractive would then have low bids, and be subject to subsidy or public rail operation, but could always there after be open for new bidders to take over them. Railtrack or who ever owns the track bed and stations, then recieves a major investment at the front end which it can use on immediate pressing infrastrutural needs on that route, and also pool for long term developments and as a private company, they could invest that money in other investments in order to make a return to pay for the regular maintainance and so on. For the WCML which is electrified, that cost would most likely need to be a running cost because of the uncertainty about prices over time, and the ability for the supply chain to negotiate cheaper or greener supply purchases.

The train operating companies gain by securing their favoured timetabled trains in terms of cost-return, and over the long term in being able to secure that profitable timetable train over a long time, such that they can lease or buy newer trains to keep up with the demands for safety and reliability en route, while also pleasing passengers. They can then secure long term investment in their businesses to pay for the bid sums, and the operation and upgrades to stock or better leasing agreements with stock owners like Angel Trains.

The government gains because the rail industry has bid a market price they think is  realistic, and competed to win it. Those train services which operators  consider with bids lower than cost of running (which gets complicated) the track, stations and signalling are then considered for either subsidy, public TOC or actually to be reconsidered for actual viability and if the timetabled service could be removed  such that other trains such as freight etc could use up the capacity. 

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