7 Jun 2016

The Zombie Train that refuses to die

The Guardian has published a couple more articles against HS2, one by specialist rail commentator Christian Wolmar, and another today by journalist Simon Jenkins.

The main arguments in favour will doubtless be wheeled out by the commentators: the need for capacity and the disruption caused by upgrading existing routes. HST itself will severely disrupt services to Euston during the construction period. Capacity can be increased at a fraction of the cost by a variety of measures, provided that it is accepted that the additional traffic will run at existing speeds.

It is not generally known that the Midland main line is, or was, four track all the way from London to Trent Junction, between Nottingham and Derby. This is because the additional tracks are separate, having been added for coal trains which trundled down to Brent sidings, on the edge of London, from a collection point at Toton in Nottinghamshire, where the Midland Railway build a huge marshalling yard. Beyond Derby, the main line to Manchester was severed between Matlock and Buxton, but the route remains intact and could be reinstated at a relatively modest cost, thereby providing a complete new route to Manchester with connections from the East Midlands.

South of Rugby - ie the most congested part of the West Coast Main Line, an additional route could be created by reinstating the Great Central and its associated connecting lines. There is a need to relieve the very busy section through Rugby, Coventry and Birmingham International, but that could be more usefully provided by constructing some kind of metro system and giving back the main line for the London traffic.

26 Jun 2015

Suppressed HS2 report reveals serious cost concerns

The high-speed rail project may be swept up in the latest railway crisis as a 2012 review released under Freedom of Information shows officials believed it was unaffordable.

Article in Guardian

25 Jun 2015

Midland and Trans-Pennine electrifications shelved

It has just been announced that the Midland Main Line and Trans-Pennine electrifications have been shelved due to rising costs and the need to cut back.

It was inevitable that HS2 would put financial pressure on other rail investment and so it has turned out. In a rational world, the electrification of the Midland, and reopening of the direct line to Manchester, would be a priority

The other drain on finance is the Inter City Express or Incredibly Costly Express, Britain's most expensive train ever, which is replacing stock which is good for another 20 years.

The replacement for the 1980s Pacers will also end up being a money gobbler. It is unlikely that the new trains will cost less than £2 million a vehicle.

It is worth getting this in proportion. In 1955, a new railway carriage cost £5000 - around £250,000 after allowing for inflation, but let us double it for luck and allow £500,000. Of course the 1955 design would not be acceptable today. It would need retention toilets, though these need not be on every vehicle, and power-operated doors, though the power operation could be confined to door closure, combined with a locking system. It would also need to be built to contemporary crashworthiness standards, though these should not add significantly to the cost as crashworthiness is mostly about getting the metal in the right place through careful calculation of the design. There are also development and approvals costs, which can of course be hefty, but a decent production run should spread these reasonably.

Adding all these features should, at the most, give a price tag of £1 million per vehicle. With locomotives available off the peg for around £2.5 million, there is no excuse for the runaway costs of new rolling stock.

The other option which the industry refuses to look at is external combustion locomotives with direct drive. These make it easier to meet the current stringent emission standards and, it is claimed by manufacturer DLM, could be produced at a very competitive price given a sufficiently large order.

26 Sep 2014

Even more modest Västlänk alternative

Base from Google maps 
Here is an even less ambitious and expensive way of achieving most of the benefits of Västlänken, the principal aim of which is to improve access to the west side of the city centre. A circular route in both directions, it incorporates some existing tram route, part of a section currently under construction, and about 3km of new route, all on the surface. The most expensive piece of civil engineering would involve replacing or supplementing the bridge over the canal at Skeppbron. With just two additional stops, one outside the Opera House and the other where it crosses Avenyn, close to Heden, it would give a fast route from Järntorget and Haga to the Central Station.

Test the demand first
One of the advantages of this proposal is that the travel demand could be tested at minimal cost, and satisfied without having to wait until 2028, by the simple expedient of running a bus service on the route, initially at rush hours only. In fact, one has to ask why this has never been done? Where is the demand?

21 Sep 2014

Västlänken without tunnels

Base from Google maps
The vote against the Göteborg congestion charge was probably motivated as much by opposition to Västlänken as to the congestion charge itself. This is a hugely expensive project to dig a tunnel in a loop around the city centre, in the some of the most difficult geological conditions imaginable - waterlogged clay alternating with granite. It will take about twelve years to build, result in claims for damage to buildings, involve the destruction of large numbers of mature trees in the city centre and cause immense disruption during the construction period, with huge excavations and massive volumes of spoil to be carted away. It is estimated that it will take sixty years to recover the energy that will be expended in the construction.

There is no justification for it on transport grounds. There are five lines converging on the city, from(locally, clockwise) Uddevalla, Älvängen, Alingsås, Borås and Kungsbacka, four of these being the local sections of the main lines to Strömstad, Oslo, Stockholm and Copenhagen. There is no obvious choice as to which two lines to connect and, indeed, little demand for cross-city traffic at all, so the only benefit might be to reduce reversals at Göteborg Central. Passengers travelling beyond walking distance from the station change to a tram at Drottningtorget on the south side of the station. This is probably close to capacity. However, there is also a tram stop at Nordstan on the west side of the central station and that carries only one tram route (6), thus it has spare capacity.

The main claim for the route is that it will improve communications to the west side of the city centre. The above diagram shows how this could be achieved at a fraction of the cost and within a fraction of the time by the development of an additional tram route. This would commence with a new tram terminus outside the little-used Liseberg station, with trams timed to connect with the trains. The route would then run to Korsvägen, and turn left along Södra Vägen, taking the Chalmers Tunnel to Chalmers university campus and Salgrenska Hospital, from where it would run to Järntorget. It would then continue along the waterfront, past the opera house and turn left to stop outside the Central station at Nordstan. The route would then run to Polhemplatsen, and then follow the route to the south of Trädgårdsföreningen and back to Järntorget, where it would return to Liseberg by the same route. A second route would follow the loop in an anticlockwise direction ie along Parkgatan, passing Heden. Existing tram route 6 might be diverted along this route to avoid Brunnsparken, and the new direct route might also be used by another line, possibly the 11, which would then stop at Polhemplatsen.

This new construction of tram lines would largely alleviate the current poor access between the Haga area and the Central station.

25 Jul 2014