30 Jul 2012

IEP <> HS2 - how joined up is the thinking?

Nothing much has been said about the interaction between HS2 and IEP. The latter provides for 27 years from 2015 - which brings us up to 2042. If HS2 goes ahead at all, a substantial amount of it will be built by then, and there will also be significant running of trains on both HS2, at around 300 kph and the classic network at 200 kph. HS2 will be constructed to a wider European envelope to accept trains such as the French TGV and the German ICE.

How does IEP fit into this scheme of things?

IEP discrepancy in figures?

According to Agility Trains, the £4.5 billion package covers the supply of 596 carriages. The Railway Gazette report refers to an "overall package", with "financial close" covering the supply of 369 vehicles, and "commercial close" for a further 227 vehicles for the ECML. So presumably the £4.5 billion is for 596 vehicles, but this is not exactly clear.

29 Jul 2012

IEP value for money?

I have done a bit of research of my own on whether the IEP is not such bad value for money as it appears at first sight. The initial figure appears to £7.5 million per vehicle, but of course it is substantially less, since it is a supply-and-maintain contract and also includes a lot of infrastructure work to accommodate the 26 metre long vehicles. Presumably, also, it includes a major half-life overhaul and two other refurbishments in between, over the 27.5 year contract period.

Nevertheless, the figure is probably on the high side, though not outrageous. On the other hand, if a decision had been taken to hold to the present 23 metre standard vehicle length or even slightly shorter, much of the infrastructure work would not have been needed. If a further decision had been taken to retain locomotive haulage, existing depots would, with some upgrading, have largely sufficed.

According to a report by Arup as part of the McNulty Value for Money Review, published in 2011, "capital costs account for 31% of the whole life costs for an illustrative fleet on an undiscounted basis. However, translating that figure into lease costs whereby the capital costs are financed over (typically) the life of the asset, can take that figure up to around 60% - depending on how the costs are discounted." That the first costs are critical is important therefore, especially taking into account the cost of finance. But getting at comparative figures is not an easy task in view of all the things that have been included in the package deal.

The alternative would have been a locomotive hauled fleet of about 600 vehicles and 100 locomotives, which would have amounted to about £900 million, ie £1.5 million a piece. This is slightly lower than the cost of an EMU fleet, because these have traction equipment in most vehicles and control equipment in at least half of them. ETMS boxes, for instance, are expensive items which have to go into each unit. In reality, however, 600 hauled vehicles would not have been needed now because the fleet of mark 3 vehicles could have been retained for the residue of their 60-year life, to between 2035 and 2045. And it looks as if the IC225 stock, which entered service in 1992, will also pay an early visit to the scrapyard.

So the Foster review of the IEP project was right after all. The disgraceful thing is that it was shelved and the project pushed through regardless. One of the difficulties is that MPs and ministers seem to have little understanding of the issues involved. But put plainly, it looks as if the same amount of money could have paid for a larger fleet and enabled existing stock to continue in use to the end of its service life. One has to ask what is the use of appointing expensive consultancies to produce reports and then ignoring what they state with perfect clarity?

27 Jul 2012

High Court grants HS2 opponents hearing

Opponents to HS2 have been granted a hearing by the High Court, and the right to seek a judicial review against the scheme. Unfortunately, the grounds for the appeal relate to compensation and environmental issues rather than the economics of the project itself. The latter, however, has already been brought into question by the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee in a report published earlier in the month.

25 Jul 2012

IEP contract now awarded

Blå Tåget

The IEP contract has now been awarded to Hitachi. No surprise there. It just shows the power of civil servants to push through a project even when, as in this case, it was conclusively shown to be poor value for money. The alternative to the IEP might have been this - a fleet of conventional hauled vehicles and up-to-date Euro-locomotives such as the TRAXX, seen above in on-hire service. This would have bought the flexibility which the IEP investment does not.

Details of the contract for the first tranche of the Hitachi fleet are given here on the website of Railway Gazette International. The initial deployment of 369 vehicles on the Great Western, from 2017, will be as follows:
  • London - Swansea
  • London - Oxford - Hereford
  • London - Gloucester - Cheltenham
  • London - Bristol
A further deployment of 227 cars will be delivered for East Coast by 2018:
  • London - Leeds
  • London - Edinburgh - Aberdeen/Inverness
The contract has options for further sets, which could operate on the following routes:

Great Western:
  • London - Penzance
East Coast:
  • Replacement of IC225 sets
  • London - Cambridge - King's Lynn
West Coast:
  • London - Northampton
The contract, worth some £4.5bn, comprises trains, maintenance depots, and route upgrades, with Network Rail undertaking the infrastructure upgrades to allow the new trains to operate on the network. Agility Trains is the contract partner for the DfT for the delivery of trains, maintenance and daily service delivery, with Hitachi Rail Europe as sub-contractor in charge of supplying the trains and ensuring that they reliably perform day in and day out. The contract guarantees 27.5 years of usage of the trains.

As part of the contract, Hitachi will provide 596 carriages of electric and bi-mode trains for the Great Western Main Line (Phase 1) and the East Coast Main Line (Phase 2). The fleet of 595 vehicles, made up into 92 trains, will be maintained in newly built and upgraded facilities, including new depots in Swansea, Bristol, west London and Doncaster.

Because the contract is to supply and maintain the trains and also includes a lot of infrastructure work, it is difficult to compare with supply-only costs, which are typically between one half and one third of lifetime costs. No doubt someone like Roger Ford will be putting the numbers through his crunching machine and will come up with an assessment which will give some indication of where this is value for money.

But whilst it is not directly comparable, it is worth pointing out that a fleet of 600 hauled go-anywhere vehicles and 100 locomotives would have had a first cost of, say, £600 million for the vehicles and another £300 million for the locomotives - that is a total of around £900 million. It would also have avoided the need for spending to adapt the infrastructure to accommodate longer 26 metre vehicles, and existing depots could have been upgraded. It is also what many in the industry actually wanted.

In principle, therefore, the decision seems unfortunate. It looks like bad value for money. It would also have been a good thing if the new generation of trains could have broken away from the practice of fixed formation trains and recovered the flexibility provided by locomotives and carriages, enabling the continued use of older vehicles to provide peak capacity. As it is, with a "tight-fit" solution, this order commits the railway to retaining its bizarrely complex fares structure because yield management becomes so critical to the economics of the operation.

Worse still, the length of the vehicles means that in due course the opportunities for cascading the stock onto other routes will be almost non-existent. A fleet of shorter hauled vehicles, around 22 metres in length, could have been wider, at 2.78 metres, and operated over pretty much the whole system.

Some of the proposed later deployments, such as London to Oxford, Northampton and Cambridge , are strange since these are essentially commuter routes, and the Oxford line forms part of the recently upgraded route to Worcester and Hereford. The 26 metre end-door vehicles are going to be highly unsuitable for commuter services, whilst the Cotswold line is not a high speed route anyway and would be best served by detaching part of the train at Oxford and running in push-pull mode to Hereford.

The replacement of the IC225 sets from 2018 is premature. They came into service in the early 1990s. The mark 4 fleet of just over 200 vehicles ought to have a 40 year life which would see them running at least until around 2030. But this order also implies the premature withdrawal of the mark 3 fleet of well over 1000 vehicles built between 1975 and 1985 and now known to have a 60-year life. That is throwing away a lot of resources. At a time when funds for the railways are supposedly scarce and there is a long list of projects crying out to be done, this looks as if the authorities have, yet again, got their priorities badly mixed up.

Don't miss the video simulation, by the way, nicely done.

17 Jul 2012

Another £4 billion to be invested

The proposals announced yesterday add another £4.2 billion to the already committed £5.2 billion of rail investment for 2014 to 2019.

The new schemes envisage the electrification of the Midland Main Line as part of a high-capacity 'electric spine' passenger and freight route from Yorkshire and the West Midlands to Southampton. Routes to be electrified at 25 kV 50 Hz as part of the electric spine are:
  • Southampton port - Basingstoke;
  • Basingstoke - Reading;
  • Oxford - Leamington - Coventry;
  • Coventry - Nuneaton;
  • Oxford - Bletchley - Bedford;
  • Bedford - Nottingham/Derby;
  • Derby - Sheffield; Kettering - Corby

This makes a great deal of sense, since it consolidates the electrified network. The reopening of Oxford to Bletchley as an electrified line from the outset is a welcome surprise. In addition to these are the extension of the GW proposals to take in Swansea, the Welsh Valleys, the Windsor, Henley, and Marlow branches, and the connecting link between Acton and Willesden.

Inevitably, however, these schemes point to fresh possibilities. Why not electrify from Leamington to Birmingham, and the routes out of Marylebone, including those to Aylesbury and Banbury? This would re-create a second electrified route between London and Birmingham. Adding in the short stretch of former Great Western main line from Old Oak Common to Northolt Junction would then make it possible to reinstate the old GW main line service from Paddington to Birmingham, taking the pressure off overcrowded Marylebone.

There are other possibilities as well. Bristol-Birmingham-Derby makes sense as an electrified route. And why not reinstate and electrify the Peak Forest line from Ambergate to Buxton, thereby re-creating a second main line from London to Manchester.

With two main lines between London and Manchester and London and Birmingham, what need would there be for HS2?

The projects also casts further doubt on the Inter-City Express project. With London to Swansea fully electrified, what need is there of bi-mode trains when conventional EMUS will do the job perfectly well? And with proposals for converting the class 220/221 to dual mode or straight electric traction, there would appear to be little requirement for more.

Uncertainties of this kind suggest also that a more prudent rolling stock option would be to purchase more locomotives and hauled vehicles. This gives both flexibility and spare capacity at relatively lower cost, since older vehicles such as the mark 3 fleet can be used to provide back up at peak periods.

The proposal for 25kv overhead electrification between Basingstoke and Southampton has probably raised a few eyebrows because the line is already electrified on the third rail system. Conversion of the Basingstoke - Southampton route from 750 V DC third rail to overhead electrification will 'test the business case for the wider conversion of the third rail network south of the Thames'.

The third rail system is of course an anomalous legacy. It is inefficient and special measures are needed to keep it running in ice and snow. On the other hand, maintenance costs are low, and it is not prone to the widespread dislocation that occurs when overhead wiring is damaged, which is not so very uncommon. With the need to provide additional clearances, the cost of conversion could be high. The figures are worth establishing but this proposal sounds like whim rather than well-considered policy. The changeover costs on the system as a whole would be astronomical.

Even re-electrification between Basingstoke and Southampton would be problematical. Unless both systems of electrification are to remain in place for the foreseeable future, dual voltage trains would have to run out of Waterloo on services to Southampton and Weymouth, which sounds expensive and inefficient. Even with the most carefully planned and phased changeover, the Southern would be plagued with two systems of electrification for a decade or two. It is hard to see how this could ever be justified. Whilst less than ideal, the class 92 locomotives could be used in third-rail mode south of Basingstoke, and it might be possible to boost the power supply with additional feeder stations along the route.

Looking at the overall picture, this is welcome news. But it damages still further the business case for HS2. As suggested above, it would be a better investment to consolidate the electrified network so as to eliminate diesel traction south of Manchester and east of Bristol, which is where the vast majority of the population live and work.

7 Jul 2012

Breakdown, Swedish style

Swedish X2000 train breakdown, originally uploaded by Henry░Law.

Five hours in a forest in a broken down train. Both pantographs had been wrecked by a fault in the overhead wire. It took over three hours to get a rescue locomotive from Hallsberg, and another hour and a half to couple it (a freight shunter) to the train, after which it was dragged to Hallsberg, by then about five hours late.

The good thing was that SJ staff handled the incident well. The adjacent track was secured and passengers were allowed off, everyone was kept informed, arrangements were made to ensure that every single passenger reached their destination, and food was laid on free of charge at Hallsberg. You could not have asked for more.

However, it shows yet again that overhead electrification is less robust than third rail except in icy weather, and that there is also a need to standardise coupling and braking systems, so that breakdowns can be dealt with efficiently, when they happen. Whether this supports the case for bi-mode trains is another matter. Perhaps there is a need for more stand-by locomotives but in a big, sparsely populated country like Sweden they are always likely to be a fair distance from the average breakdown.

Damage to overhead electrification equipment is not unusual and when they happen they cause widespread disruption. One has to wonder why anyone has suggested, as they did earlier this year, that Britain's extensive third rail system need re-electrified with overhead wire.