Timmy elsewhere

At the ASI.

The internet and HS2. Kills the business case as currently presented.

JohnB will be by soon to claim different, but the cost benefit analysis currently being used does indeed depend upon the value of working time saved by passengers.

29 thoughts on “Timmy elsewhere”

  1. Skype and cousins don’t just kill the business case, but pay for the funeral and the ham sandwiches in the bar parlour afterwards.

  2. One argument I’ve heard is that it’s not about high speed, it’s about capacity. The existing routes are full and even congested, therefore we need a new route. If we’re going to build a new line it might as well be high speed, since there’s not much difference in cost. Let’s not forget that the West Coast Mainline upgrade cost an eye-watering £9bn.

    Having said that, it’s still pointless if it can’t pay for itself in fares and economic growth.

  3. Andrew M,

    One argument I’ve heard is that it’s not about high speed, it’s about capacity. The existing routes are full and even congested, therefore we need a new route.

    They’re not congested. The proposal is based on them becoming congested, which is based on some dodgy numbers about the growth of rail.

  4. Yup, definitely not congested. Only half or even a third full when I’ve been on the London – Manchester line.

    Possibly full at peak times (I don’t know), but nothing that a bit of flexibility can’t solve.

    The tech man in the Spectator said this about HS1 years ago – you’d get much greater productivity gains for much less cost by putting in free wi-fi.

  5. Well john b doesn’t seem to have arrived yet so if I may act as his Vicar on line, for which I’m sure he won’t thank me, Andrew M is largely correct. The pro argument is as much about capacity as time saving, in fact it’s a much stronger argument and no capacity isn’t just or even mainly, about train loadings it’s about line capacity. If you are going to provide an intensive service that doesn’t pack people in like a commuter train then you need more trains and there is a physical limit to how many of those you can get on any given line. The problem is that HS2 is only going to Brum and personally I doubt if it will ever go any further so the amount of capacity created is not as great as it might be. A big upgrade of the Chiltern and GW routes with a reopening of Snow Hill to heavy rail and the through route to Wolverhampton and beyond would perhaps help more. It would be good if we still had the Great Central as well which was built to a better loading gauge with room to expand and could easily have been upgraded to a useful high speed ( not TGV standard though ) line.

  6. I should clarify there before someone pulls me up, Snow Hill is already open to heavy rail I’m referring to the building of the Metro on the trackbed of the old GWR main line beyond which has stymied any re-opening.

  7. I’d buy the capacity argument if all the people who supported it didn’t trot out lines like;

    “If we’re going to build a new line it might as well be high speed, since there’s not much difference in cost. ”

    Which just isn’t the case. Yes the track, signals and so on are similar whatever the speed of the line, but the route isn’t. The faster the line, the shallower the curves and the more tunnels and cuttings you need and the more compulsory purchase and compensation you have to pay for.

    A slower line could have tighter curves so could follow a route further from existing settlements, so the land compensation bill would be lower and there would be fewer cuttings, less tunnelling (green or otherwise) and all in all there would be less opposition to the scheme. Plus of course a simpler route means less risk and as £6.5 billion of the £16 billion cost is itemised as risk that’s not to be sniffed at.

    So for those who argue this is about capacity please start arguing for a drop in the line speed. However if you insist that high speed is important then at least stop pretending high speed costs ‘almost’ the same as current line speeds – it just doesn’t.

  8. Phil
    Do you really think there would be less opposition to building through the Chilterns if your lower tech solution was adopted ? No one has built a new non high speed main line in this country since the Great Central London extension in 1900, so really you can’t be certain that your solution would be much cheaper also if you’re taking it through a heavily populated area avoiding “existing settlements” is pretty difficult.

  9. View from the Solent

    Higher speed does not lead to an increase in capacity. Maximum capacity is achieved by filling the line with stationary nose-to-tail trains.
    As in some other subject I vaguely remember, it’s a trade-off. The faster the trains, the greater the separation needed, because the stopping distance varies (roughly) with the square of the speed. Speed vs capacity. Who decides on the relative importance, and how?

  10. That’s the art of train timetabling and traffic regulation, too complex to go into here but that’s part of the point of HS2, it’s able to run at a higher speed precisely because there are no slower trains to get in the way. The capacity released is on the slower lines where there are now more pathways ( as space for a train is known ) available for those slower trains, including freight which tends to get ignored but is an important aspect of the West Coast main line. The question is will enough people use the new line to make this a viable proposition ? I’m sceptical myself and think that alternative uses for the investment are more likely to be cost effective, such as large scale electrification for instance.

  11. Incidentally VftS, modern trains have much more efficient brakes and are able to stop in shorter distances than in the past, this combined with modern in-cab signalling and what is known as ‘moving block’ whereby a train driver receives information on what speed to travel at rather than the state of the line ahead allows more trains to be run.

  12. So would a seperate 2nd line that is not high speed be beneficial? Or could the existing line system be widened to take more track for a cheaper price than buillding a totally new line?

  13. There are problems with widening existing lines it’s not cheap and causes disruption for a start, in fact the West Coast main line has only just had a major upgrade, to say this didn’t go according to plan would be a major understatement. Building any new line will be expensive and as I point out above it shouldn’t really be necessary as far as Birmingham is concerned as there are other routes that can be upgraded. HS2 only starts to make sense if it goes on to Manchester and Leeds at least but if that happens at all it wont be for another twenty five years minimum.

  14. There’s no real point in building a normal high speed line to the north when you already have the Midland main line which could be electrified to Manchester and Leeds and possibly beyond. HS2 would, in theory at least, be attractive because of the greatly reduced travel time, otherwise it’s best to carry on improving the infrastructure on existing lines rather than building duplicates.

  15. Make the trains taller too. In Oz and the US, trains have two levels. We are reaping the benefits of being first with the trains and then sitting on our laurels. We have trains designed for the Victorian era with no expansion possibilities.

  16. “We are reaping the benefits of being first with the trains and then sitting on our laurels.”

    I would say the opposite. Because Britain invented trains, there’s a strong constituency of steam-heads who see trains as the solution to any transport problem they can imagine. Trains are a 19th century transport solution which are usually a dismal failure when applied to 21st century transport problems.

    Here in Canada, trains only seem to be used for short commuter runs and slow freight where they make financial sense. When I was backpacking around America some years ago I looked at trains but they didn’t go many places I wanted to go and were as expensive as flying. I bought a bus pass instead, which was less than half the price and went just about everywhere so long as you didn’t mind a six hour wait in Cleveland at 2am.

    What I really don’t understand is: where are all these people who desperately want to travel from London to Birmingham, and why are they so eager to get there an hour earlier yet unwilling to fly?

  17. On capacity: people who think there isn’t any need for extra capacity are simply wrong, as per the Network Rail study I linked to last time.

    On speed vs capacity: it is simply not true that a medium-speed mainline would cost significantly less than a high-speed mainline. The only benefit would be the ability to have tighter curves (high speed trains are good at hills for relatively obvious reasons, so the gradients allowed on LGVs are actually steeper than those allowed on classic lines), which wouldn’t save on expensive tunnels, flyovers or cuttings. I can’t see, given the nature of the modern planning process, how that would make property acquisition appreciably cheaper. The original railways have sharp curves because landowners could legally tell them to shove off at any price, not for money saving reasons…

    On making trains bigger/longer: this can be done, but you need to shut the existing mainline while you enlarge tunnels, rebuild bridges, and so on. We know from the experience of the WCML upgrade that any work which requires you to shut the existing mainline (especially if it needs to keep running on weekday peaks at least) is ruinously expensive, far more so than new-build on a closed worksite.

  18. Edward: you’re right that trains are a crap solution for interstate passenger transport in Canada, because Canada Is Very Big, and it’s made up of a few large cities with barely populated rural areas in between.

    England isn’t: Brighton to Birmingham represent a more or less continuous and integrated economic area, most journeys within that area are of optimal length for trains (ie about 10-200km), and people live and work throughout the area in question. People commute from Rugby to Watford, from Crawley to West Hampstead, from Croydon to Luton, and so on (as well as the obvious flow from all of the above into central London) – it’s all effectively urban mass transit. By removing high speed trains to places further north from the existing mainlines, HS2 massively increases capacity to provide these commuter services.

    Flying from London to Birmingham is *already* slower than taking the train, because of the need to get to the airport, go through security fuckage, and get from the airport (indeed, there haven’t been any flights on the route for years, because they’re such a poor competitor to rail).

  19. Thornavis: I think you’ve refuted your own argument above. Upgrading routes is not a viable way to provide significant capacity increases, for exactly the reasons you suggest. Electrifying the MML will be a good thing (it’s got a positive *financial* investment case – in other words it’s justifiable solely on the money it will save, not on benefits to society), but will only provide slight increases in capacity. Major capacity enhancements would require the kind of work to be done on the MML that was done on the WCML – which would cost more than building HS2!

  20. john b

    Refuted my own argument, was I making one ? I was responding to some of the points raised by others and pondering on the viability or otherwise of the various HS2 alternatives, I mentioned upgrading the Chiltern and GW routes to Birmingham and the west midlands as an extra capacity enhancer for that destination, Chiltern would like to be able to run beyond Birmingham but the bottleneck at New Street prevents it. HS2 is another matter and I’m rather sceptical, I doubt if it will live up the expectations of the pro lobby and the railways in this country have suffered from decades of future predicting that turned out to be wide of the mark.

    Edward M Grant

    That tired old cliche about trains being a nineteenth century solution etc etc. john b has answered it but I will just add that if you’re going to use that sort of argument where does it leave roads ? They date from pre- history.

  21. john b.

    Yes you’re right about the MML, my point was in response to Martin Davies who suggested a conventional route to the north instead of HS2, I was pointing out that we already had one so we didn’t need to build another.

  22. WJohn

    The broad gauge trains weren’t much wider than standard, that wasn’t why Brunel went for it, the purpose was to provide stability and speed, the wider gauge allowed bigger wheels on the engines. It turned out that both were just as achievable with standard gauge.

  23. Thornavis: thanks for clearing that up.

    On gauges, absolutely: GB’s status as the pioneer of railways left it with a narrow-gauge loading gauge despite a standard-gauge track gauge.

    In general, GB-spec rail kit only sells on export to countries with narrow-gauge lines (notably Thailand), since narrowing the wheels is a lot easier than widening the train…

    HS2 would be to UIC gauge, of course, allowing decent sized double-decker trains and also the use of much cheaper off-the-shelf European equipment.

  24. “HS2 would be to UIC gauge, of course, allowing decent sized double-decker trains and also the use of much cheaper off-the-shelf European equipment.”

    Cue howls of renewed outrage from people complaining that our trains are being built by foreigners

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