Sunday, 18 August 2013

HS2 Madness

The more I look at HS2 the more I'm convinced it's an utter mistake. For Keynsians looking at the proverbial helicopter dropping fivers at random it's a failure - the spending will come too late and be too uncontrolled. For Brummies hoping to attract more visitors or customers it will be a failure - the line will work in reverse, drawing even more trade, money and employment to London and the South East. The government's travel-time / cost figures are fatuous and close to the point where even the most mendacious of ministers can't defend them. Saving seven minutes on time spent in the train but spending ten extra minutes navigating the new concourses laid out like retail game-traps isn't a good deal. Then of course there's the noise, mess, destruction and upheaval, and by far the greatest cost - that of lost opportunities.

Forget Edinburgh's incompetent stupidity; light rail has been a success when it's built by the English. The DLR, Croydon's trams ad the new rail lines linking south and east London have been spectacularly successful. It doesn't have to be fast or expensive - using disused track routes and linking with portions of mainline trackspace, these bendy little routes weaving in and out of later development are heaving with happy passengers. 

An Ipswich to Colchester light rail route via Hadleigh, Bentley and Capel would end the misery for thousands; the extension in north Norfolk of lines closed by Beeching and similar elsewhere are all schemes for which there are no shortage of private operators in the wings; all they need is a bit of encouragement, a spot of cash and a little bit of Parliamentary time for enabling legislation. 

But creating small, successful, independent light rail companies is simply not on the agenda of a government obsessed by the big corporates, obsessed by the sexiness of anything measured in tens of billions (and the prospect of some of that funding, er, 'sticking' later on) and obsessed by the stupidities of Stalinist grossism.


right_writes said...

"But creating small, successful, independent light rail companies is simply not on the agenda of a government obsessed by the big corporates, obsessed by the sexiness of anything measured in tens of billions (and the prospect of some of that funding, er, 'sticking' later on) and obsessed by the stupidities of Stalinist grossism."

And it's certainly not on the agenda of a local town hall that where public transport and European infrastructure is concerned do only what is specified by the central government in Brussels.

Any sane argument is null and void in such circumstances.

Sceptical Steve said...

As I see it, HS2 is almost a satire on the way our country is run.

It's a project no-one in the UK really wants, one whose whose costs will almost certainly end up being treble the current headline figure, and which is pushed by a corporate European agenda.

The greatest embarrassment is the sight of our "local" politicians having to defend the project, when they must be aware that there are better ways to spend the transport budget.

The case for HS2 is so weak that I just can't understand why the general public hasn't seen this for what it is.

G. Tingey said...

The latest "study" is by a Marples/Beeching type cartel who want more motorways & airports, they are the corrupt bastards I'm afraid

Budgie said...

Raedwald said: "The more I look at HS2 the more I'm convinced it's an utter mistake." I completely agree with you, Raedwald.

There are infrastructure investments that would be beneficial though. As you highlight, in London public transport is needed. That is true because London is such a vast urban area with high population density so cars make less sense.

Yet out in the sticks it is often road improvements that are needed. A motorway connection through and under the Peak district between Sheffield and Manchester would benefit the entire southern Yorkshire and Lancashire area, for example.

Anonymous said...


It's part of the EU interrail network. We are so lucky, because we have been chosen!

It HS2, it is incumbent upon the taxpaying public of Britain to build a railway into the heart of England, not for the paysan [oh no!] but for the 'royalty' which will be using it to travel in first class comfort all the way from Brussels and Stasbourg.

Get your facts straight R - ;~)

We lucky majority, buying the tickets for the few.

Anonymous said...

Should that not be "paysants" ?
The city will be able to commute from their estates in the midlands, to their towns-houses, and thence to "work" (planning more economic disasters like PPI (18 billion-pound fraud, and counting) and mortgages to those who have no money)
Of course, they work for companies who are based "abroad" (Virgin islands etc) and so pay little tax, so the average Joe and Josephine has to pay for their railway to be built.
If someone wrote a book about all these expensive schemes it would have to be in the fiction section..

Anonymous said...

FFS, why don't they just fix the 17,000,000 potholes in our roads? Stop us all driving round like demented drunken learners, trying to avoid them all. It would mean jobs for and money for thousands of people and the country as a whole would benefit and finally (and here's the rub) it would improve the UK's transport system no end.

Coney Island

G. Tingey said...

You COULD NOT POSSIBLY re-open the electrified Woodhead railway route though, could you - much too sensible.

Much as I loathe the EU - not true.

English Pensioner said...

I don't know if the proposals for the US high speed train in a tube between LA and San Francisco are practical, but we certainly should be doing something more than using last century's technology for something which at best won't be completed by the middle of this century. We should be a world leader in innovation, not following behind using obsolete ideas which haven't changed in principle since Stephenson's Rocket, ie wheels on rails pulled or pushed by a locomotive of some kind.

Sebastian Weetabix said...

@Tingey - you are not entirely right about EU involvement in this case. Google the TEN-T scheme. Integration of high speed rail networks is a classic EU 'Grand Projet', instituted in 1996, intended to further European integration by having inter-operability on high speed rail. If I remember correctly, the welsh windbag Pillock was transport commissioner at the time.

I think it sums up the EU perfectly. An over expensive, top down project using an essentially 19th century technology to solve a problem that doesn't exist to deliver something nobody wants - except possibly Siemens.

Anonymous said...

Why waste money on trams and light rail? They are just 'show' projects.

A reserved bus way is far cheaper and more flexible. No deed no re-route underground services and if needs must the buses can divert onto the normal roads.

Just keep those damn bikes off the route (the only reason to have tramways).

cosmic said...

Anon 18 August 2013 12:32

I believe the story is more nuanced than "the EU made us do it".

It's that if we choose to undertake a major upgrade of this route it has to be done in line with TEN-T requirements, but we don't have to do it.

The history seems to be that it started life as a Nu Labour feel-good election gesture. It's not clear that they were entirely serious about it, that is it was always a gesture to be quietly forgotten.

Cameron inherited it and has chosen not to cancel it, probably for some reason such as the Tories are not doing well in the North and Midlands and this is showing he's doing something for them. If so, it's not the only example of him chasing some supposed electoral advantage aimed at an elusive section of support by chucking money at it, while assuming that his traditional support will grin and bear it. Increasing spending on foreign aid is another one.

I guess he's put himself in a position where he can't climb down without serious loss of face. Over the years, there have been a lot of projects which have been sustained by the view that it's only public money being wasted and it's far better to do that and let the project eventually fizzle out, than fess
up and can it.

Anonymous said...

This is being driven by the EU. If you go onto their website and look at "transport", their idea of "harmonisation" is that they control trains, planes, and buses. They care nothing for England's green and pleasant lands. The Chilterns mean nothing to them. When will the public wake up and see that Cameron is a good little European.

Anonymous said...

HS2, saving a few minutes while actually on the train makes a negligible difference to journey times, which are predicated by the waits on platforms, and for this particular route, the difficulties of getting to the termini. Even ordinary rail travel is inconvenient if you have a family travelling, or more luggage than you can easily carry - which often rules it out for the middle-aged onwards. Sometimes you need the car anyway to get to the station in the first place, and once that is the case, the marginal costs of doing the long legs of the journey by car are small compared to the rail ticket.

Sceptical Steve said...

Based on the case we've heard, I can't imagine how anyone would think that HS2 makes sense, i.e. that it's a good idea to spend such a huge sum to lop a pathetic few minutes off the journey times of a privileged few passengers.

However, there must surely be a more credible case for using the new high-speed lines to release the old lines to carry a huge increase in freight and thereby relieve congestion on our roads?

Could someone who understands the issues please help? Have I missed something obvious?

PeterMG said...

Electric trains use more primary energy that do diesel trains, and if the electricity is generated from the combustion of Coal or Gas then it produces more pollution that the latest certified diesels. Rail is old technology, it is inflexible, we move 40 to 60 tons of iron along the track to move 50 People. Buses consume far less energy per passenger mile yet because the average 50 seat coach is only 10 to 12 tons. We are told that trains are green, yet the facts never back this up.

Now I’m not anti-train, they have their place and we would have an issue without their current capacity, but other than as commuter vehicles, and for some very specific bulk freight tasks they are an old and expensive way to move anything. HS2 has never made the slightest sense, which is why it is beloved of the political class. Electrification does not make sense unless we produce all our power by nuclear. There are a hundred easy reasons why HS2 is wrong, and not one I have seen that demonstrates a positive contribution to our economy.

DeeDee99 said...

Well said.

Reinstatement of another of Beeching's "lost lines" in Surrey would take hundreds of cars off the lanes in the Surrey Hills, reducing rush-hour congestion in Guildford.

There was a proposal to reinstate the Cranleigh to Guildford line some time ago but at the time it was found not to be economically viable so was abandoned. But economic factors change: the bed of the line is still in place, intact, and is preserved. So it wouldn't be too difficult a job to put a light railway in place.

But installing light railways that actually serve rural communities wouldn't give Cameron a high-profile "legacy" construction - so it won't happen.

G. Tingey said...

Electric trains are much more efficient, though & can take their power from any source, whereas diesels require - surprise(!) diesel oil.
The reason (now) they use more energy, is because they err ... go faster ...
At an identical constant speed, an electric train will use less power.
Also all recent trains ( built in the past 10 years) have regenerative drives, which means that only the last few mph/kph of slowing-down is reduced using physical brakes - the train is mostly retarded by shoving electrons back into the system.

Also, have you seen the loadings on London - Bristol / S Wales / Manchester / Sheffield / Leeds / Newcastle trains?

And do you really want to DRIVE to those places, rather than let someone else (plus a VERY SAFE signalling system) do it?
And be able to work on the train.
You claim not to be anti-train, but your ignorance of even recent, never mind current practice suggest you are out of touch, to say the least.

PeterMG said...

G Tingey I think you will find that your facts are incorrect. For one, our diesel intercity 125s travel well below the design speed of 148mph, and if we had invested in repowering them with the QSK60 Cummins Engines produced in Daventry rather than the MTU's from Germany they could well have travelled faster than they do so as to preserve engine life of the MTU’s. You only get what you pay for. And of course the faster you go the more energy you need, which is why nuclear power is the only way to power electric trains and preserve a degree of efficiency. Second electric trains that run with a third rail are limited to about 90 mph but diesel railcars can travel much faster and do so. Only electric trains with those troublesome and expensive overhead lines can go really fast.

As for energy used you must be reading the usual BS put out by those who know the general public will never check there facts. If an electric train needs 200KW to travel between Reading and Paddington at 90mph, then it matters little how the power is produced to be delivered to the electric motor on the wheel. Do not confuse comparisons between electric drive and diesel hydraulic drive, very common on older diesel trains. Apples with apples remember.

Electric trains make sense when exhaust gases were full of pollutants such as NOx, un-burnt hydrocarbons, and particulates. I could add Carbon monoxide, CO but that is almost exclusively a product of spark ignited petrol and gas engines. But alas today our diesels are almost zero emissions provided you are a sensible person and don’t count CO2 as a pollutant. And whats more the clever people at Cummins have developed a way to substitute gas on the fly in their big QSK engines produced in Daventry (and no I don’t work for them but it is made in Britain) something that could be of benefit with the abundant shale gas that we will eventually get out of the ground.

G. Tingey said...

The HS2 project is nothing at all to do with the EU.
The EU, (quite rightly, just for a change) would LIKE there to be a better connectivity between countries, using railway – don’t we all?
I mean, my annual trip to/from Germany this year was very pleasant, except for the totally insane & pointless “security check” getting on Eurostar … change @ Brussel, ICE to Köln, have a beer, IC to Rheine ….
Ditto for the return, 5 days later ….( plus an extra beer in Brussel, as well!)
How the countries build HS routes, or not, is up to them.

Anon @ 17.37 19/08/13
Taking an hour (i.e. halving) the journey time to Leeds or Manchester is significant. Ditto SS @ 18.48

Peter MG
Problem, the signalling-spacing is set for 125-130 mph – to re-engine & travel @ 150-155 would mean, errr … moving/replacing all the signals.

Oh, just noticed anon (a different one?) @ 10.25 19/08/13
Utter bollocks
Try Croydon or Manchester, or any civilised city (Like Amsterdam, or München or Hannover or Karlsruhe or Grenoble & tell me tram are a waste of time.
Meanwhile, as v
Clearly demonstrated by the gross incompetents @ DafT, guided Pus-Ways area disaster, financially & for transport.
The Cambridge Pus-way is SLOWER than the train in 1922.

Matt said...

@Greg: How much do you know about railway signalling and traction systems?

Signalling used to be safe but as time goes on it is becoming closer and closer to consumer electronics (following the fallacy that this reduces cost - it does not, since it creates single-source suppliers and intellectual property issues coupled with obsolescence probably even before installation, let alone during the design lifetime).

Traditional fail-safe design principles are next to impossible to implement with complex computer systems so they have been replaced by a "majority voting" system using intrinsically non-failsafe equipment replicated several times. Corners are routinely cut during installation because the suppliers' "off-the-shelf" solution is often ill-suited to the local requirements. Manufacturers can and do install equipment operating outside their own design parameters - and yes it can, and has, led to wrong-side failures. The increasing use of commercial operating systems (yes, Windows XP among others) on control system computers (not directly responsible for safety functions, but service-affecting nevertheless) has left them wide open to virus and worm infection - and yes it has happened already.

Regenerative braking is great in principle but as electricity cannot be "stored" in any appreciable quantity it is only efficient if another train is accelerating in the local area at the same time. Due to signal headway requirements, particularly under ATO (automatic train operation) the opposite is often true: trains are simultaneously accelerating or simultaneously braking - thus negating some of the benefit of regen.

Some progress has been made on energy stores - predominantly substation based but some on-train - using capacitors or mechanical flywheels. However neither is highly efficient, and more to the point both have the capability to effectively become a "bomb" under failure due to the large amount of energy stored and the very rapid rate at which it could be dissipated.

That's not to say railways have no merit, nor that all technologies used thereon are bad. However, there is a misplaced faith in "all new developments improve the railway" and this is creating a situation which may turn very ugly. At present, the railways are basically being used as a cash pump to transfer money from the public to corporate suppliers and HS2 shows the very worst of this. Unless development and engineering is taken back in-house and subject to a serious review of engineering practices this is unlikely to change.

G. Tingey said...

I have a close persona friend who is a professional signal engineer.
I also frequent (mosty-retired) railway professional circles ( & also work part-time, there, these days for beer money)
So, more than you might think.

Erm - have you noticed the quite dramtic fallin accidents since TPWS was intorduced - the easiest & most frequent cause of accidents on (British) railways now is - fucking idot road-users - most of whom don't seem to appreciate that RED means STOP RIGHT NOW.
You are wrong on regen braking - the load is spread over the wole network. In fact, the more trains are using it, the better - it spreads the loading out.

Your last two paragraphs show your real prejudices, so I'm not buying it.

[ Again HS2 is EVIL - even though the French, Germans, SPanish, Japanese etc have shown that it does work. }
I think it should have started at Newcastle & worked its way southwards, but that's just my opinion ....

Matt said...

@Greg: If required to provide justification, I used to work as a Signalling Electronics Engineer for a major railway operator. I quit because I could not condone the engineering attitudes and shortcuts being taken.

TPWS is a beneficial development, however it is not a truly vital system (it is not "fail-safe in the manner of ATP schemes) and sits on top of existing interlockings and track circuits. Computer-based interlockings are a different kettle of fish, and they are what new stuff is based on (including ERTMS - a complex nonsolution to a simple nonproblem and designed in the way it was for POLITICAL and not TECHNICAL reasons).

Regen braking does "feed the entire network", however I2R losses mean greater and greater efficiency loss the further apart the interacting trains are (especially if there are transformers etc. in between). Furthermore, regen adds to the already severe problems of phase mismatch and harmonic noise created by modern traction systems. Regen onto an AC supply (as per all mainline 25kV stuff) also loses efficiency as it necessitates multiple conversions to/from 50Hz mains frequency. All these problems are compounded as traction supplies are now pretty much universally derived from normal grid mains.

In certain parts of London the undesirable interactions are so bad that numerous rail operators' systems are interfering with each other (and industrial/commercial/domestic supplies) via harmonic problems at bulk supply points. Trust me, I know: I was involved in some of the EMC work relating to this.

I have no prejudices: railways are an intrinsic and useful part of the UK infrastructure. I started working on the railways because I was naturally drawn to them and had a deep-down interest and respect. However, where they excel is urban mass-rapid-transit and long-distance bulk goods. Instead we are being offered a very expensive intercity passenger service duplicating existing routes. I've commented before on my views of how well-engineered automated containerised national rail combined with local rail-to-road goods depots COULD provide a very efficient goods distribution network (c.f. the now-closed Post Office railway but on a national scale).

The French railways are highly subsidised and not as perfect as would be envisaged (people's view of them is generally that of two weeks on holiday, not a life there). UK railways are not as bad as people imagine BUT if we stopped feeding the "we'll sell you lots of unreliable overpriced new stuff" pigs and actually maintained them properly they'd be a lot better.

That is all. Matt.

Matt said...

To add: if the problem is my "last two paragraphs", I take it you see no problem with a large "capacitor car" being present on every passenger train? Now consider yourself as a ticket seller asking prospective passengers "This train is carrying a goods cargo of a couple of hundred pounds of TNT: are you happy to go ahead and book?"

Sounds silly? Well, the TNT (if properly packed) has a very low probability of exploding during the trip. The same applies to energy storage capacitors (and just think how much energy is required to accelerate tens of tons of mass). However, should there be a fault or a derailment, all bets are off...

It is not prejudice. It is the engineer in me looking at the problem from all sides. Blind faith is not acceptable in railway safety engineering (nor should it be in ANY engineering).

Matt said...

@Greg: It appears my original reply disappeared into the ether, however to summarise it:

I used to work as a Signalling Electronics Engineer for a major rail operator but quit because I could no longer condone the engineering decisions being made. I am not prejudiced against railways and consider them to be a necessary part of the UK infrastructure: however they excel at urban mass-rapid-transit and long-distance bulk goods, whilst here we are being offered an expensive and unnecessary duplication of a passenger route.

TPWS is a beneficial development: I did not say ALL developments were bad. However, TPWS is a non-vital system (not truly failsafe in the manner of ATP schemes) and was added as a "quick fix" to make a bad situation better. Mass transit systems have had ATP systems of some form or another for the best part of 100 years (and rigorously implemented for over 50). "Show a red light and hope they stop" was indeed outdated but BR actually proposed proper ATP schemes employing coded track circuits many years ago, though they were rejected.

TPWS sits on top of existing interlockings and track circuits. What I was criticising is the current fad for computer-based interlockings (when I say current, I mean 1980s onwards). These are a maintenance nightmare and are of dubious safety. ERTMS, which any new routes would likely be forced to use, was designed the way it was for POLITICAL and not TECHNICAL reasons.

You are (partially) correct in saying regen propagates to the entire network. On DC traction systems this is not true: it cannot cross the rectifiers and therefore is limited to the area of one substation section. On AC systems it theoretically can cross sections via transformers but I2R (and core losses in transformers) make the efficiency diminish greatly as the separation of source and load increases. AC regen systems suffer further losses due to the need to convert to/from 50Hz at the source and load.

Regen adds to the already huge problems of phase mismatch and unwanted harmonics thrown back onto the supply. This affects not just the railway but also industrial, commercial and domestic users since traction supplies are now almost universally grid-derived. The problems are so bad in some parts of London that several railway lines are/were interfering with each other (trust me, I know: I worked on some of the EMC testing relating to this). The problem was sever enough to warrant regen output to be reduced below its design capacity.

You are not just (or even) "pushing electrons back". You are attempting to match the frequency, phase and harmonic content of a waveform. Hard enough to do well with an audio signal, let alone several MVA of power - especially when your source, load and line impedances are undefined and prone to continuous change.

It is a fascinating area, don't get me wrong, but it is far from simple and there is no "magic bullet". Most systems are sold based on theoretical or, at best, "test track" performance and do not live up to it in real life.