Saturday, December 25, 2010

Another story about our British cousins and HSR

The article, below, is not about Birmingham, Alabama. It's about the somewhat older Birmingham, in Great Britain.

And, it's about the 'HS2,' the high-speed rail line intended for the route from London to Edinburgh, through the Midlands.

It's important to track what they are doing because of the many similarities to our situation in California. And, if anything, they warrant a train far more than we do. The UK is a rail culture where cars are far more expensive to own and operate, and where rail travel has been a central part of transit for everyone.

Clearly, HSR is becoming viewed as having serious down-sides. It's overly expensive; that is, it's cost/benefit ratio is being challenged by a lot of people who ordinarily don't think about such things.

The highly inflated promises of economic rewards is viewed with ever greater skepticism.

Also, the, these trains iare hugely invasive and wreak havoc on their surroundings, both during their construction, and thereafter, upon completion.

One way of thinking about is is 'over-reaching.' The promoters of these trains are not visionaries, despite their claims. They are marketeers who thrive on the transfer of large amounts of funds from the public coffers to their croneys in various related industries. This pattern has been repeated, time after time, and just about everywhere on this planet. As we've pointed out numerous times, it's also been amply documented. ( A 267% increase in demand???)

The Brits. are making great efforts to stop this project. We should do the same here in California.


Rail industry consultant dismisses high speed link 'benefits' as a myth

Dec 24 2010 by Jonathan Walker

The benefits of the proposed high speed line from London to Birmingham are a myth and the cost of creating the route risks taking resources away from local projects, a senior rail industry figure has warned.

Chris Stokes, former executive director of the Strategic Rail Authority, has warned that “heretics” like him were being ignored as the Government announced a formal consultation on the route this week.

Mr Stokes said existing rail lines may be able to meet demand between London and Birmingham and that capacity on the West Coast Mainline, which Network Rail said would be full by 2024, could be increased dramatically.

He said improvements to the Chiltern Line, which also runs from London to Birmingham, would make it an increasingly attractive option for travellers.

Ministers face continued opposition to plans for high speed rail services, although the proposed line, which could cost £17 billion, continues to have the firm backing of Birmingham City Council and Birmingham Chamber.

However, Staffordshire County Council, Coventry City Council and Warwickshire County Council have opposed the scheme.

The line, which would see 250mph trains travel from London to Birmingham within 49 minutes, is due to begin in 2016.

Transport Secretary Philip Hammond has announced changes to the proposed route, designed to limit the impact on residents living nearby, but this failed to reassure many of the residents’ groups and MPs who have expressed concern.

The cross-party consensus in favour of high speed rail was also in doubt as Labour’s shadow Transport Secretary, Maria Eagle, warned that it would be considered as part of a full review of Labour policy led by Birmingham MP Liam Byrne (Lab Hodge Hill).

Mr Stokes is a former deputy director of Network South East and executive director of the Strategic Rail Authority, the regulator created in 2001. He is now a rail industry consultant.

He said: “The cost of the full network now being planned, going up to Leeds and Manchester, could be £30 billion.

But it is not a good use of taxpayers’ money. And it could actually take resources away from improvements to existing services such as the West Coast Main Line.”

Mr Stokes also set out his concerns in an article for magazine Modern Railways, in which he analysed the arguments set out in a report by High Speed Two Ltd (HS2 Ltd), the company set up by the Government to investigate the case for a new rail line.

The HS2 Ltd report predicts a 267 per cent increase in demand for long distance travel on the West Coast Main Line and high speed route by 2033.

But while official statistics show that demand for rail services has increased significantly in the past 10 years, demand for travel in general has actually fallen slightly.

In other words, the rail’s share of a saturated market has grown, but the market itself is shrinking.

Mr Stokes said: “HS2’s supporters argue that the project will pump prime economic growth in the regions. An equally credible alternative is that it will make Britain even more London-centric than it already is.

“For example, will the West Midlands benefit from a kick-start to its economy - or will it gradually become a satellite of London, a place where the back office jobs are located because it is cheaper and the staff can be paid less?”

The HS2 report predicts there will be wider economic benefits of £3.6 billion but most of this will come from planned improvements to local services in the region – which will also result in less congestion on the roads – rather than improved services between London and Birmingham.

Prime Minister David Cameron has suggested high speed rail will help reduce the wealth gap between the north and the south.

But Mr Stokes believes northern cities such as Leeds and Liverpool might benefit more from improvements to local and regional services.

Many rail industry experts, including representatives of Virgin Trains, which runs long-distance services on the West Coast Main Line, have warned that a new line is needed because the existing one is running out of capacity.

But Mr Stokes argued far more could be done to increase capacity on the West Coast Main Line – and some of the required changes are already in the pipeline.

He said: “The first step is to recognise the capacity uplift already in the pipeline. An 11-car Pendolino will have 150 extra standard class seats, an increase of 51 per cent on the present capacity. It is probable that one, possibly even two, first class vehicles could be converted to standard with minimal revenue loss, giving a further capacity increase.”

Improvements to the Chiltern Line between London and Birmingham will make this a more attractive alternative to commuters too, he said.

And the business case for HS2 makes a series of assumptions to argue that travellers will jump at the chance of shorter journeys, he said.

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