It is so glorious to be right

Andrew Gilligan today:

But the internal DfT report, “Productive use of travel time and the valuation of travel time savings for business travellers,” says that most of these supposed gains are illusory.

It says that the DfT is relying on the \”unsupportable\” assumption that time spent on trains is unproductive and demands \”major changes\” to the \”1960s\” method used to calculate the HS2 business case. No such changes have been made.

With laptops, wi-fi and smartphones now making long-distance train carriages an extension of the office, the actual amount of extra work produced by HS2 may be almost nil, the researchers find.

The research, based on extensive fieldwork, found that up to 82 per cent of business travellers did some work on train journeys and almost half of all train travel time by businesspeople was spent working.

Timmy in January (admittedly, riffing off something by Idle):

We’ve had a technological change: time spent in transit is no longer wasted time, in fact if you talk to people these days I’m sure you’d find many of them claiming that sitting on a train, on a plane, with the internet running, is more productive than much time spent in offices.

The business case for HS2, in fact for pretty much any \”fast rail\” is now irredeemably fucked. By the internet.

22 thoughts on “It is so glorious to be right”

  1. “you’d find many of them claiming that sitting on a train, on a plane, with the internet running, … is more productive”

    absolutely. people bring snacks and coffee to your seat as well. actually, it’s better on the plane with the internet off, because you can’t be interrupted. the worst part is unpredictable timing for connections (including airport connections), airport security, idling in railway terminals (usually without work areas), and generally the overhead associated with the primary travel.

    they’d do better improving existing commuting and north/south/cross-country rail transport.

    I wonder how disruptive self-driving cars will be, as well.

  2. More specifically, the reason for building HS2 is, and always has been, capacity and not speed.

    The UK needs another railway line from London to the Midlands, because the current network can’t handle the volumes of (passenger and freight) traffic required. Building new railway lines is significantly cheaper than upgrading existing ones, as the WCML fiasco shows, because of the opportunity cost of closing lines to upgrade them. And if you’re building a new line, then it’s barely any more expensive to design it for high speed than for regular speed.

    The “20 billion quid to save 20 minutes off London-Birmingham” has always been spurious bullshit, so it’s no surprise to see Gilligan touting it.

  3. The thing about cross-country rail is that nearly all transport demand in England involves routes that involve the London metro area or the Midlands. Road is adequate for most cross-country demand, and cross-country services tend to require huge subsidy as it is.

    Dealing with a lack of capacity between the southeast and the midlands by upgrading cross-country routes would be as useful as, say, dealing with the problem of a legacy of unskilled Commonwealth migration by stopping Chinese uni students from getting visas. So the government will probably do it, then.

  4. john b,

    The UK needs another railway line from London to the Midlands, because the current network can’t handle the volumes of (passenger and freight) traffic required.

    What are the numbers for that? How many people travel from each individual station to each individual station on the Birmingham to London line at particular parts of the day?

  5. Don’t know; don’t care. Luckily, there are people whose job it is to both know and care. Here’s the route capacity analysis for the UK mainlines. p51: “it is clear that the [WCML] route is now full over key route sections… only a radical solution will provide the necessary capability and capacity”.

  6. “it is clear that the [WCML] route is now full over key route sections… only a radical solution will provide the necessary capability and capacity”.

    So why not build parallel routes as by-passes for those key sections? Why duplicate the whole lot in one go?

  7. john b,

    Luckily, there are people whose job it is to both know and care.

    Unfortunately, that report isn’t written by those people, is it? It’s written by employees of Network Rail. Unless, of course, you think that Network Rail have no self-interest in getting more railway lines built.

    Most rail demand is for commuter travel of less than 1hr which doesn’t fit with people taking a direct service from London to Birmingham, which is where this adds extra capacity. It doesn’t add more capacity for High Wycombe or Beaconsfield.

    If they published statistics on season ticket sales, my guess is that it would demolish their case.

  8. So why not build parallel routes as by-passes for those key sections?

    Because plain-line track is relatively cheap, while junctions are expensive and also run into the “opportunity cost of having to close the main line to install them” problem.

    It doesn’t add more capacity for High Wycombe or Beaconsfield.

    It directly adds more capacity for Rugby, Bletchley, Milton Keynes and Watford: once HS2 exists, WCML stopping patterns and fast/slow provision no longer needs to be focused on headline speed. You can swap the first-stop-Warrington trains for fast trains to Milton Keynes; then you can add extra stops to the current semi-fast trains to Milton Keynes, and so on.

    It indirectly helps other lines, too, by accommodating freight, and by allowing the High Wycombe line to focus on maximising local capacity, rather than compromising between local traffic and being the second mainline to Birmingham.

  9. Tim A,
    A season ticket only has value for full-time commuters and because they can use it to travel into the city on weekends. Even if you had to travel between London and Birmingham 3 times a week e.g. for meetings, a season ticket would not be worthwhile.

    Anyway, nobody commutes between London and Birmingham, but it does not mean that a lot of people do travel between those cities once a week or however often.

    Network Rail probably does have some self-interest, but I expect that a lot of that report would have been researched by consultants of some sort. These people do actually know what they are talking about, and unlike Ritchie, if they spout nonsense, they will be proved incorrect very quickly. I mean, trains do actually run at 140mph without crashing most of the time.

  10. “Because plain-line track is relatively cheap, while junctions are expensive and also run into the “opportunity cost of having to close the main line to install them” problem.” I’m not persuaded: surely they’d anyway build cross-overs from the old lines to the new, otherwise one problem somewhere blocks a whole line with no ability to use any spare capacity on the other.

    This all reeks of not taking a practical engineering approach but instead just throwing money at it.

  11. John C,

    Anyway, nobody commutes between London and Birmingham, but it does not mean that a lot of people do travel between those cities once a week or however often.

    Sure, but that isn’t most of the demand, and those journeys are often more distributed. I generally meet with people in London after 10:30 simply to avoid the crush and the high prices.

    The primary concern of consultants is serving their clients. If your client is a politician who is committed to a particular idea, you’ll try to come up with something plausible to back it up, because anything else is going to see someone else getting hired next time. One of those big consultancies in suits and shiny offices wrote the report that said the Olympics were going to cost £3bn.

  12. Any proposal to spend public money on railways should be treated with extreme scepticism. Rail is the transport system of the nineteenth century. Unfortunately, fans of Thomas the Tank Engine are both numerous and influential. Any cash available would be far better spent on improving the roads infrastructure.

  13. I’m just outside Birmingham – I can think of a dozen people offhand who commute into London to work from Birmingham. It may be only a fraction of the travellers on any one day but how much capacity of carriages is used between the two cities? I nip to London only occasionally for training courses but on the days I travel the train is far from empty.

  14. Rail is the transport system of the nineteenth century.

    Road is the transport system of the 10th century BC, but that doesn’t stop it from being useful, or people who’d abolish it because of its invention date from being muppets.

  15. I think someone ought to write a paper entitled “Lessons for HS2 from HS1”. HS1 provides an obvious model for the HS2 business case, and from what I know of HS1, the idea that shortening long-distance travel time justifies the expenditure is simply wrong. It will chiefly act to shorten commuting time for those already near to London, and it should be justified on that basis alone.

    HS1 stops at my local station. It is IMMENSELY valuable for commuters to London from areas that used to have slow, creaking and unreliable services: someone I know described the service to Charing Cross from Strood as the “refugee line, stops at every lamp-post”. Are any intermediate station stops planned on HS2? If there are, it is commuters from those stations who will really benefit.

  16. Old Oak Common (interchange for Crossrail & Heathrow) and Birmingham Airport only. But HS1 is quite different from HS2 because – unlike Kent – there’s already a very fast line for commuters on the route, but it’s clogged with trains to Manchester and Scotland.

    HS2 will mean the Pendolini that currently run out of Euston will be able to serve, at high speed during commuterland and between stops, all the intermediate stations on the WCML. Those commuters will benefit massively.

  17. john b

    Different problem, but the effect is the same as far as commuters are concerned. I don’t suppose they care whether the reason for their slow progress is stopping at every lamp-post or stopping to make way for fast trains to the frozen North. Either way, an HS can cut their journey time. So even if HS2 itself doesn’t have intermediate stops benefiting commuters, its business case still needs to include the benefit to commuters on the other line – and I reckon that would be its main justification.

  18. It is, and that’s well-known in transport circles. I genuinely have no idea where the Gillibollocks about the line being justified by 20-minutes-saving-to-Birmingham comes from (although my strong suspicion is that it’s from the Treasury in the hope that they can kill the project, since obviously the Treasury wants to kill all projects that involve spending any money on anything).

  19. To everyone who has contributed to this post and therefore, presumably, cares about the rationale behind HS2.

    Please read Agenda 21 (the single document that permeates the entire bureaucratic mindset) to find the real reasons behind this and other high speed rail projects (notably in the US) linking population/urban “hubs”.

  20. No one commutes from Birmingham to London? Not probative, I admit, but I used to work with a chap who commuted from Leicester to London. Daily.

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