Unfinished business, part 1

The final public act of the High Speed Rail (London-West Midlands) Bill Select Committee before the dissolution of the 2010-15 Parliament was to issue its First Special Report of Session 2014-15. The purpose of this document, as stated therein (paragraph 20), is in order that the successor committee’s Members “might benefit from [the original committee’s] reflections on progress and evidence to date” and to enable the retiring committee to “signal some sensible ways forward for programming and petitioning procedure”. Although it is not a stated purpose, the report also provides some petitioners who have already been heard with feedback on the Committee’s reaction, and some tips for those yet to appear in Committee Room 5.

For me a key statement of the Committee’s attitude to mitigation proposals is expressed in paragraph 75 of the report, which considers the costs of tunnels, a key element of many such proposals. We are told that the “merits of tunnels should be assessed on the basis of their own cost and potential benefit, not their percentage contribution to overall project costs” and it seems reasonable to assume that this principle extends to cover any design change requested to reduce impacts. If this policy is to be the touchstone for the assessment of community proposals, then I fear that any improvements being sought by petitioners that involve additional expense seem doomed to be turned down, as it is likely to be very difficult for petitioners to demonstrate that a financial benefit will arise from changes designed to reduce environmental and social impacts, and even more difficult to value that benefit in monetary terms.

Whilst I can understand the Committee’s determination not to be seen to be profligate with taxpayers’ money, I think that, by not taking a more holistic view of the project and its impacts, the Committee is missing out on an, indeed the only, opportunity to mould HS2 into a form that is somewhat more sympathetic to the land and communities through which it would pass than has been achieved to date. What is required, on the parts of both the Committee and the Promoter, is a recognition and admission that the original environmentally aware design philosophy of keeping the track low in the landscape was abandoned when it became clear that this was not possible to achieve this aim within the constraints of a budget set, somewhat arbitrarily, early on in the project’s life (see footnote).

Some honesty on this point could, perhaps, lead to a decision by the Committee to tolerate a loosening of the purse strings in order to allow at least some of the worst effects of HS2 to be alleviated. A small increase in the budget ceiling could provide an appreciable pool of money for the Committee to use to say yes to the worthiest proposals set before them, without needing to look at the benefit-cost ratio for each proposal separately. Even a modest 5% increase in the budget for Phase 1, would make close to £1bn available, which would be sufficient to allow the go-ahead to be given to a number of the proposals that the Committee has been asked to consider.

Had the Committee adopted my suggested approach towards mitigation proposals then the “recommendations” for particular locations set out in paragraphs 37 to 79 of the report might have been less depressing. There are no particular surprises in this section of the report, as most of it will have already become known to anyone who has followed the “statements by the Chair” that have been published at intervals. However, what stands out, particularly now that these pronouncements have been drawn together in a handful of pages of text, is that even when the Committee accepts that the impacts of HS2 will be significant upon a community or locality it is very reluctant to press for substantial design changes, unless these are acceptable to the Promoter. Petitioners who are still waiting to be heard by the Committee will surely get the message that they are unlikely to secure anything other than minor or non-controversial mitigation measures. They are also unlikely to find much reassurance in the comment made in the report that the Committee “were content with the Promoter’s existing assurances or with the position as planned under the hybrid bill” in the case of “some 40-45% of the petitions” that it has heard so far (paragraph 31). Neither will they be cheered by the news that only in “of the order of 10%” of cases did the Committee decide that “a specific, early decision would be desirable” (paragraph 30).

Whilst the report (in paragraph 8) confirms that the Members of the Committee have “the power to amend the Bill”, it also explains their apparent reluctance to use that power (paragraph 32):

“HS2 Limited seeks negotiated settlements with petitioners and other parties as and when proper and possible. It is right that they do so, as agreements are more likely to achieve practical and appropriately detailed solutions than decisions imposed by a panel such as ourselves.”

It is of course preferable for improvements to the design sought by local communities and those that represent them to be achieved with the full cooperation and agreement of the Promoter, but in order to ensure that HS2 Ltd remain sufficiently responsive to proposals the Committee really must believe, and demonstrate, that it is prepared to use its power to amend to override any objections raised by the Promoter where this is necessary. Time will tell if the Committee has the resolve to do this; I don’t think that this has been demonstrated to date.

(To be continued …)

Footnote: The Committee were assured by Tim Mould QC last summer that: “The railway has been designed to be low in the landscape, taking advantage of natural topography and landform to shield the line both visually and aurally from those who live and work along the route” – see paragraph 66 in the transcript for the session of the HS2 Select Committee held on the afternoon of Tuesday 1st July 2014. For my own views on this claim please refer to my blog A change of heart (posted 18 Apr 2013).

 

Taking the register

There are many calls upon a backbench Member of Parliament’s time, and I am sure that most would not welcome the commitment to attending up to seven half-day sessions a week that membership of the HS2 Select Committee entails. Even a Member who is wholly committed to the important work of acting as a court of appeal for the unfortunates impacted by the HS2 proposals is bound to find occasions where other obligations must be satisfied, drawing him or her away from the delights on display in Committee Room 5.

Provided that they turn up for divisions and find their way into the correct lobby, MPs are largely left to organise their own time and many, somewhat controversially, manage to pursue outside interests in addition to their parliamentary and constituency duties. I am sure that Members of the HS2 Select Committee must find any alternative that presents itself to the humdrum routine of committee business a temptation and, in these circumstances, it seems churlish to check up on attendance. However, the transcripts that are published of each session of the Committee provide a list of Members present on the first page, so I have not been able to resist monitoring how well the Committee has been attended and summarising this data for all public sessions held in the 2010-2015 Parliament in the histogram reproduced below.

HS2_SC_attendance_2014-15On the face of it, the Members deserve to be congratulated on their diligence; full attendance has been achieved at about 39% of sessions, and has only shrunk to the quorum of three at a tiny 3% of the sessions. The Chairman has led his committee by example; he has only failed to be listed in the transcript as occupying the Chair on one occasion, and even then he did attend for part of the session. Three other Members have supported him ably, with individual attendance records ranging from 88% to 96%. The final two Members have not been quite so dedicated, with individual attendances of 70% and 56%.

But attendance percentages calculated this way can flatter the contribution that an individual Member is making. This is because it is only necessary to turn up at some stage during the session to be listed on the transcript as an attendee. Generally this does not pose a problem, as most Members appear to appreciate that, in order to do justice to the evidence presented, it is necessary to be present for most, if not all, of each session. Indeed, where it has been unavoidable for one of the more conscientious Members to absent themselves for part of a session, it has not been unknown for the petitioner present to be treated to an explanation and an apology.

However, the Member with the worst attendance record also appears to be the one who has spent the least time in sessions when present. I witnessed this myself when I watched the Committee proceedings from the public seats one Monday in December last year.

It being a Monday two sessions had been scheduled, the first in the afternoon starting at 2pm following by an evening session planned to start at 7pm. It transpired that there was to be a ministerial statement in the House of Commons that afternoon that Members of the Select Committee wished to attend, so the afternoon session was shortened to run from approximately 2pm to 3.30pm and the evening session lengthened by starting it at 4.30pm approximately; the evening session continued until approximately 9pm, with two breaks for divisions in the Chamber.

If you look at the attendance list on the front page of the transcript for the first session you will see a full complement of six Members listed as attending, and the same is true in the transcript for the second session. However, the video records for the two sessions tell a different story. The recording of the shortened afternoon session starts with sound only, video not appearing until 14:24. However, the regular views of the Member’s seats that are shown during the approximately one hour of video recording that is available, confirm that only five members were present throughout. My recollection, as an attendee, was that this was indeed the case for the whole of the first session.

The complete video recording of the second session shows the sixth Member arriving at 17:01, about one half-hour after the start of the session, and then revealing an empty chair where that Member was sitting at 18:47, a situation that pertains for the rest of the recording. So the sixth Member was only in committee for a maximum of 106 minutes that day. Taking both sessions together, and excluding breaks for divisions, the Committee sat for 291 minutes that Monday, so the sixth Member was present for very slightly more than one-third of the time.

The story so far

When the 2010-2015 Parliament was dissolved on Monday 31st March the HS2 Select Committee ceased to exist. It will however be reborn, like a phoenix from the ashes of its predecessor, once the House of Commons resumes normal business following the 2015 general election. With one exception, we can expect to see the same faces sitting at the U-shaped table in Committee Room 5. That exception, as I forecast in my blog Welcome to another fun-packed year in HS2 Land, part 1 (posted 2 Jan 2015), is Mike Thornton, who failed to convince his constituents in Eastleigh to re-elect him.

The empty chair at the Committee’s table would appear to leave the business managers of the House of Commons with three options:

  1. Leave the place unfilled.
  2. Appoint another Liberal Democrat to take Mr Thornton’s place.
  3. Appoint a candidate from another party to take Mr Thornton’s place.

The first option is perhaps the simplest and avoids introducing a new Member who has not had the benefit of the many hours of evidence already heard. It would, however, increase the work pressure on the remaining five Members, who might also struggle on some occasions to achieve the quorum of three necessary for the Committee to sit.

Appointing a replacement Liberal Democrat would leave the political balance of the Committee unchanged. However, the representation on Commons committees is supposed broadly to reflect the strength of parties in the House, and there is surely a question of whether the severely diminished ranks on the Liberal Democrat benches continue to justify having representation on the HS2 Select Committee. It may also be that the pool of Liberal Democrat MPs may prove to be an insufficient resource to allow one Member to devote hour after hour to serving the Committee.

If a new member is to be appointed from another party then the obvious choice, based upon strength of seats held in the new Commons, would be the Scottish National Party. However, although HS2 has considerable implications for Scotland, the building of Phase 1 may be viewed by some as an English matter, and getting the Scot Nats involved could be controversial for this reason.

The new Parliament will assemble on 18th May for two days to allow Members to be sworn in and elect the Speaker, but business will not really get underway until the Queen’s Speech is delivered by Her Majesty on Wednesday 27th May, and then debated. At some stage, the House of Commons will renominate the Members of the HS2 Select Committee, including deciding on any replacement for Mr Thornton.

No plans have yet been published for the reconstituted Committee to resume public evidence sessions, but my understanding is that these are unlikely to commence until early June.

In my blog Checking the score (posted 29 Dec 2014) I reproduced a calendar summarising the business of the HS2 Select Committee during the year 2014. A similar calendar for 2015 is shown below.

HS2_SC_meeting_dates_2015_dissolutionAs was the case in the 2014 calendar, the dates surrounded by blue dotted lines fall within recess periods. I have only been able to show these up to the end of the break for the general election, as it will be for the incoming government to decide the recess dates for the 2015-16 session. Based upon recent practice though, we can expect MPs to vacate Westminster for the last two weeks of July and all of August, returning at the beginning of September for a short session before again vacating SW1A for about four weeks for the party conference season. Two further recesses are likely to be scheduled before the end of the year: a week’s break in November, and the Christmas break taking a further two weeks out of the days available for business in 2015.

Assuming that the Select Committee follows the same pattern as it did for June to December last year, which was to follow the prescribed recesses with the single exception of the first week of the party conference break, my estimate is that there are nineteen weeks available for it to sit in the remainder of 2015.

As I did for the 2014 calendar, I have encased days on which the Committee was scheduled to hear petitions in solid red lines; these amounted to 34 days up to the date of dissolution. Dates that I have circled in black are days on which not all of the scheduled sessions took place.

If last year’s business is also taken into account, up to the dissolution of the 2010-2015 Parliament there have been 140 sessions, morning afternoon or evening, scheduled to take place, and petitions were actually heard on 101 of these scheduled sessions, so 39 sessions were “lost”. By my count, 373 petitions have actually been heard, and a further 134 have been scheduled to be heard but the petitioners have not appeared before the Select Committee – these 134 are the main reason why committee sessions have been cancelled on the day, or at short notice.

In Checking the score I discussed the difficulty of arriving at a figure for the total number of petitions that have been “dealt with” for the purposes of the hybrid bill process, since some petitions may be withdrawn before being scheduled and some petitioners who have deferred to allow negotiations with HS2 Ltd to take place may, nevertheless, find it necessary to appear before the Committee at some future stage. In addition, some petitions that have been heard by the Committee may require further intervention by the Committee and this could involve an additional appearance by the petitioner, although it is expected that any such intervention will generally be by correspondence.

Since the promised “list of petitioners who have withdrawn” that I referred to in Checking the score has, as far as I can see, failed to materialise on Parliament’s website, I have no better information on petitions that have been withdrawn without being scheduled than was provided by the list that was made available to the Rt Hon Cheryl Gillan MP in a House of Commons written answer; this answer has enabled me to identify five such petitions.

So my estimate of the number of petitions dispensed with by the 2010-2015 Parliament, which is probably an underestimate, can be derived from the sum of 373 heard, 134 scheduled but not heard and 5 withdrawn without being scheduled; a grand total of 512. This is the product of 77 scheduled days of hearings, so the average rate is 6.65 petitions per scheduled day. The calculation that I made on the same basis in Checking the score for the rate at the end of 2014 yields a rate of 3.72 petitions per scheduled day, so the Committee has significantly increased its rate of dealing with petitions, and I can only expect a further speeding up as the business moves to the Chilterns where many petitions share common themes, and even common words.

Notwithstanding, if for convenience we assume that the Select Committee at least maintains the current rate of dispensing with petitions, then where will the process have reached by the end of this current year? Based upon the 19 weeks that I speculated above will remain available for the Committee to sit in 2015, and assuming that the Committee is scheduled to sit four days a week – something that has not regularly been achieved – then the 76 sitting days remaining available this year will allow a further five hundred petitions to be disposed of, making the putative total at the end of the year around one thousand.

Depending upon the amount of extra committee business that arises from additional petitions, it would appear that the Select Committee is currently on schedule to finish its task by the end of 2016.

Footnote: So about 28% of scheduled sessions have been lost, overall. In Checking the score I reported that the equivalent figure for all sessions scheduled in 2014 was about 36%, so the process is becoming steadily more efficient.

Acknowledgement: The background calendar for the image that I have used to illustrate this blog was generated on www.timeanddate.com/calendar.

Degrading practices, part 14

(… continued from Degrading practices, part 13, posted on 6 May 2015).

The second claim made by Joe Rukin in his Stop HS2 blog posted on 13th February 2015 is that thirty-four named West Coast Main Line (WCML) stations could see reduced services to London if HS2 goes ahead. This claim can again be checked by referring to the table that I have prepared that details the before and after HS2 services for each of these named stations.

It will again be helpful to split the thirty-four stations down into the same five groups.

In the case of the first group of seventeen stations only served by long-distance WCML trains both before and after HS2 becomes operational, three stations are shown in my table as being scheduled for fewer stopping services in the peak hour, nine are shown with the same frequency of service and the remaining five are scheduled for a more-frequent service.

Of the second group of six stations currently served by both long-distance and commuter WCML services, and with this scheduled to remain the case, two are shown in my table as being scheduled for fewer stopping services in the peak hour and four are scheduled for a more-frequent service.

In the third group of five stations that would continue to be served by WCML trains, but will also enjoy stops by HS2 classic-compatible trains, two will end up with fewer peak-hour stopping services from WCML and HS2 combined. One would get the same number of peak-hour services and two would fare better than now.

For the fourth group, containing the three stations at which the current WCML direct long-distance services would no longer stop, the replacement HS2 classic-compatible trains will offer the same number of peak-hour stops at two stations and fewer stops at one.

Again no determination can be made regarding the final group of three stations, as the future plans are not known.

Overall then, Joe’s prediction that fewer services will call once HS2 is in service can be shown to be correct for eight of his thirty-four identified stations (Coventry, Stoke-on-Trent, Crewe, Warrington Bank Quay, Wigan North Western, Lancaster, Oxenholme Lake District and Carlisle). So he is on less firm ground with this claim, but can still demonstrate justification for making it.

Joe’s third claim is that some of his stations could see “no services at all to London if HS2 goes ahead”. My table provides no real support for this assertion. The nearest I can find to a station that would lose all current services is Wilmslow, which would get a call by a HS2 classic-compatible train to compensate for the complete loss of WCML services. I should, perhaps, also restate the qualification that we are currently in the dark about the situation regarding direct services to Telford Central, Shrewsbury and Blackpool North.

But, all in all, I think that Joe’s complaint stands up reasonably well. It is certainly closer to the truth than the Government’s [cl]aim, restated by Professor Andrew McNaughton in his presentation to the HS2 Select Committee (see footnote), that “all places with a direct London service today [will] retain a broadly comparable or better service after HS2 opens”. Whether that Government position is an aim or a claim, it is clearly one that will not be achieved, based upon my assessment in the final column of my table. Whilst I explained in part 12 the difficulties in making this assessment, and I have erred towards giving a positive, rather than a negative, rating in each case for this very reason, I feel that these are a reasonable test of the “broadly comparable or better” [cl]aim. I have rated six stations as having a “significantly worse” service post-HS2, indicated by “- -“, and twelve as being “appreciably worse”, designated as “-“. So that’s one more than one-half of the stations listed by Joe that fail the “broadly comparable or better” [cl]aim.

It is perhaps a sign of his desperation to defend the HS2 project with all guns blazing, no matter what the underlying truth may be, that Paul Bigland used blogs posted on 13th February 2015  and 19th February 2015 to attack both Joe Rukin and the contents of his blog.

Aside from the very unpleasant tone of his pieces, in which he brands Joe Rukin a liar and those of us who may give some credence to Joe’s claims as being “really stupid or geographically challenged”, he appears to have done what he accuses Joe of, which is to sound off without paying due regard to the facts. In his repudiation he appears to rely, far too gullibly you might think, on the aforementioned assurance given to the HS2 Select Committee by Professor McNaughton that “where people have a train service to London, after HS2 comes in, there ought to be broadly a comparable-type service”, and the fact of the matter is that, as my analysis has shown, the professor was not able to demonstrate that this would be achieved.

He also quotes Professor McNaughton telling the Select Committee that “the purpose of HS2 is to serve cities on the long-distance network” (see footnote 3) and that HS2 Ltd’s future plans have, as a consequence “effectively stripped the long-distance non-stopping services off the West Coast Main Line fast lines and into that now virtually empty railway” (see footnote 4). What Mr Bigland fails to realise, or at any rate tell us, is that HS2 Phase 1 will only serve eight of the thirty-four stations listed by Joe Rukin, and thereby cannot supply anything like the degree of direct relief to WCML long-distance services that Professor McNaughton implies.

At the end of his first blog Mr Bigland quotes Shakespeare to warn Joe Rukin that “truth will out”. That’s probably not the most appropriate reference, as Shakespeare’s words come from the mouth of a character engaged in trying to dupe his father (see footnote 2) – The Bard of Avon was not lacking a sense of irony. Notwithstanding, it is my hope that the facts and figures that I have presented in my blog series will serve to “out” the truth to the satisfaction of Mr Bigland.

Footnotes:

  1. Professor McNaughton’s restatement is recorded in paragraph 186 of the transcript of the proceedings of the HS2 Select Committee for the afternoon of Wednesday 11thFebruary 2015.
  2. The phrase is uttered to his blind father (Old Gobbo) by Lancelot Gobbo in The Merchant of Venice (Act II, Scene 2). The son is “try[ing] confusions” with his father, including passing himself off as a stranger telling Old Gobbo that Lancelot is dead.
  3. See paragraph 170 of the transcript for the afternoon of Wednesday 11thFebruary 2015.
  4. See paragraph 179 of the transcript for the afternoon of Wednesday 11thFebruary 2015.

PS: Whilst I have tried very hard to get my facts, and interpretations that follow, right, I am very conscious that I am not a railway buff, but that some of my readers are. If I get anything in this current series wrong, please let me know.

Important Note: The account of the proceedings of the HS2 Select Committee that is given in this blog is based upon an uncorrected transcript of evidence, which is not yet an approved formal record of the proceedings of the HS2 Select Committee. Neither witnesses nor Members have had the opportunity to correct the record, and it may therefore be subject to changes being made in the light of any such corrections being requested.

 

 

 

Degrading practices, part 13

(… continued from Degrading practices, part 12, posted on 2 May 2015).

Although I have to admit that it’s taken a while to get here – at least any detractors won’t be able to claim that I have not been thorough – I have finally reached the point where, in this posting and the one that will follow, I can wrap up this investigation into the quality of the services to and from London that will probably be on offer to passengers using the current West Coast Main Line (WCML) after HS2 Phase 1 comes into service.

What remains to be done is to see if the table that I introduced in part 12 supports the claim made by Joe Rukin in his Stop HS2 blog posted on 13th February 2015 . To remind you, Joe’s claim is that thirty-four named West Coast Main Line (WCML) stations, as listed in my table, “could see slower, reduced or no services at all to London if HS2 goes ahead”.

Actually, that can be regarded as three claims, so I will take them separately.

Firstly, there is the question of whether passengers using the identified stations could suffer slower services. In order to answer that point I think that it is best to classify the thirty-four stations into groups that face a similar scenario.

The first such group, containing exactly one-half (17) of Joe’s list, is those stations that are currently only served by long-distance WCML trains, and this would still be the case after HS2 is operational; Chester is an example of such a station. Without exception, the “intermediate stops factor” is a higher number after HS2 is operational, indicating that journey times, on average, would be increased; the degree of the increase being marginal at some stations and significant at others.

The second group contains six stations currently served by both long-distance and commuter WCML services, and this would remain the case after HS2 is operational – one such station is Nuneaton. Again, in every case, the “intermediate stops factor” would increase for the WCML long-distance services after HS2 is operational. The picture regarding commuter services is more variable, with two stations gaining in average journey time, three stations losing out and one unchanged.

The third group contains five stations currently served by WCML long-distance services, two of which are also served by commuter services. The post-HS2 indicative schedules show some WCML trains continuing to serve these stations, but with more intermediate stops. In addition, one or more HS2 classic-compatible train paths would serve these stations. So whilst a faster service would be available to passengers taking HS2, WCML passengers would suffer a slower service than is offered now. It is reasonable to assume that the slower WCML services, in competition with the faster HS2, will be made competitive by undercutting HS2 fares – so reduced HS2 journey times will be available to passengers using these stations at a price premium and generally less frequently than now.

There is also a fourth group of three stations (Wilmslow, Runcorn and Warrington Bank Quay) where the current WCML direct long-distance services would no longer run, but would be replaced by HS2 classic-compatible trains. At two of these stations the number of stopping services in the peak hour would be unchanged, but Warrington would suffer a reduction from three to one service. So passengers using these three stations will enjoy reduced journey times, but will lose out on choice and may have to pay more.

Finally there is a group of three stations that are on Joe’s list (Telford Central, Shrewsbury and Blackpool North) that enjoy a limited, off-peak direct service to/from London. No future plans for these services are given in The Economic Case for HS2, PFMv4.3: Assumptions Report, so it is not possible to reach any conclusions about possible changes to journey times.

Overall then, the plans for the WCML after HS2 comes into operation, as set out in The Economic Case for HS2, PFMv4.3: Assumptions Report, would increase journey times on at least some direct London services provided at twenty-eight of the thirty-four stations listed by Joe Rukin in his Stop HS2 blog. I suggest that this is reasonable justification for his claim that the stations that he has identified “could see slower” London services if HS2 goes ahead.

Over recent years enhancements have been introduced to the WCML aimed at improving the quality of service by reducing journey times. Of these, the most significant was surely the introduction into service of the Pendolinos. However, compared to these previous enhancements HS2 Phase 1 offers a revolutionary improvement in journey times. Unfortunately, this revolution in convenience will only be offered to about one-third of passengers currently using the WCML to travel to and from London (see part 4). Worse than that, many of these who cannot share in the HS2 revolution will be expected to suffer increases in their journey times as the planned consequence of the introduction of HS2. This renders the promotion of HS2 a highly-divisive policy, and Joe Rukin is, in my view, right to raise this as an issue.

(To be concluded …)

PS: Whilst I have tried very hard to get my facts, and interpretations that follow, right, I am very conscious that I am not a railway buff, but that some of my readers are. If I get anything in this current series wrong, please let me know.

Degrading practices, part 12

(… continued from Degrading practices, part 11, posted on 28 Apr 2015).

In his blog that was posted on the Stop HS2 website on 13th February 2015, Joe Rukin lists thirty-four West Coast Main Line (WCML) stations that he claims “could see slower, reduced or no services at all to London if HS2 goes ahead”. Now the operative word here, surely, is “could”, since Joe provides no examples to back up his claim.

Always willing to gather the evidence, I have prepared yet another table that compares the “now” and “after Phase 1 HS2” scenarios for each of the thirty-four WCML stations identified by Joe. Details of the services that will run after Phase 1 of HS2 is operational are as given in the document The Economic Case for HS2, PFMv4.3: Assumptions Report – as I have been at pains to point out in this blog series, these service plans should be treated with caution as they are indicative and are intended “for transport modelling purposes only”. Aside from this caveat, all columns but the final (right-hand) one of the table contain objective data that can be referred back to published timetables or HS2 Ltd documents.

In the final column I have tried to make an “assessment” of how the qualities of the before and after services compare, in the range spanning “- -” (significantly worse after HS2) to “+ +” (significantly better after HS2). This is far less certain ground, as it requires a subjective view to be taken, and your view and my view of the impact of the same set of circumstances may be different. Nevertheless, I regard it as essential to attempt this assessment, however imperfect it may be, as being helpful to the reader wishing to make sense of the large quantity of data in the table to form an overview.

In view of the uncertainty about whether Pendolinos will be withdrawn from some WCML services (see footnote 1) I have ignored the possibility of increased journey times that would result from such a policy in my assessment, so my ratings may prove to be overestimating the quality of post-HS2 services.

I have judged the quality of the service in each case on the basis of the “intermediate stops factor”, which I regard as indicative of journey times, and the frequency of the services scheduled to call at each station. A quick check of the four “intermediate stops factor” columns in my table will reveal that average journey times on services that are shown as running only on the WCML tracks in the indicative service plan will be, with only four exceptions, longer after HS2 is operational. The difficulty in deciding when other service improvements indicated in the table, such as upping the number of calling services, are sufficient to offset the quality degradation brought about by journeys taking longer is problematic. How can you decide how the average passenger will react to such a trade off?

The situation at Stafford is a case in point. This station currently enjoys two direct fast services from London in the afternoon peak hour. Reviewing the timetable for the service over the whole day reveals that the service pattern is one bidirectional service per hour, between Euston and Liverpool Lime Street, that runs non-stop London/Stafford for most of the day, boosted by a second Liverpool service that runs only in peak hours in the direction of main traffic flow, i.e. towards London in the morning and outward from London in the evening. This second service has at least one intermediate stop.

The equivalent WCML replacement services indicated for the after HS2 scenario would run to a broadly similar pattern. However, the hourly, day-long service would be provided by a stop on the London/North Wales service; the directional peak-hours only service is shown Figure 6-3 of The Economic Case for HS2, PFMv4.3: Assumptions Report as being provided by a stop on the London/Crewe service.

Whilst the indicative plans thereby retain the frequency of WCML long-distances services for Stafford, the two replacement services are shown on Figure 6-3 as each having five intermediate station stops on the London/Stafford sector. This will reduce the quality of the service by virtue of increasing journey times; my table shows an increase in the “intermediate stops factor” from 0.5 currently to 5.0 post HS2. I have been provided (see footnote 2) with a reasoned argument that, all other things being equal, a single intermediate stop adds around four minutes to the journey time, and this is supported by the current timetables (see footnote 3). So, an intermediate stops factor increase of 4.5 stops equates to an average journey time increase of 18 minutes, equivalent to a 24% increase on the current best time.

My table also shows that the post-HS2 position for passengers choosing to use the hourly commuter service to travel to and from London will be broadly unchanged, so the overall quality of service offered to passengers on classic WCML services once HS2 is operational will be indisputably worse – the only area of contention is whether a single or double minus grade would be appropriate.

However, an assessment is not that straightforward because Stafford would also be favoured with a single hourly HS2 call by one of the classic-compatible London/Liverpool Lime Street services; this train would offer, HS2 Ltd claims, a 22-minute time saving on the Stafford/London sector, equivalent to 29% saving on the current best journey time (see footnote 4).

So will this single offering be able to redress the balance in the eyes of passengers and overcome, or surpass, the quality reduction that will be evident in the classic service offering at Stafford? That sounds like a call on the judgement of Solomon to me. My own feeble advocacy powers lead me to incline towards voting for a draw, and I have, somewhat pusillanimously, plumped for a “0” in the assessment column, but I would not argue with representations that a “+” or a “-“ would have been more appropriate. It really depends just how much weight you give to the various factors, and someone really keen on high-speed travel, might even try to put forward the case that “+ +” was the right verdict, but I might be more inclined to argue with that viewpoint.

(To be continued …)

Footnotes:

  1. See part 6 of this blog series. Also note that the Beleben blog Quantum of Desiro (posted 21 Apr 2015) makes the claim that “most of the Fast line trains [on the WCML post HS2] would be operated by Class 350 (or similar) units” and that, as a result, “it seems likely that journey times on West Coast would tend to increase, rather than decrease”.
  2. I gratefully acknowledge calculations justifying this figure provided by e-mail by Michael Woodhouse.
  3. The 17:07 Virgin service from Euston, with no intermediate stops to Stafford, is timetabled to arrive in 75 minutes. The 17:33 service stops at Rugby on the way to Stafford and has a timetabled journey time of 79 minutes.
  4. Refer to Figure 4.7 in the document The strategic case for HS2.

PS: Whilst I have tried very hard to get my facts, and interpretations that follow, right, I am very conscious that I am not a railway buff, but that some of my readers are. If I get anything in this current series wrong, please let me know.

 

 

Degrading practices, part 11

(… continued from Degrading practices, part 10, posted on 24 Apr 2015).

In part 10 I provided figures comparing the services available to Coventry/London rail passengers now and those foreseen by the “indicative service specification” presented to the HS2 Select Committee by Professor Andrew McNaughton, Technical Director of HS2 Ltd, on the afternoon of Wednesday 11th February 2015. I concluded that Messrs Elliott and Rukin had been justified in their claims that the foreseen post-HS2 West Coast Main Line (WCML) schedules represented a worse service for Coventry passengers.

In summary, the future plans remove one (of three) long-distance services from the peak-hour schedule and one (of three) commuter services. In addition, the average number of intermediate stops on the long-distance services increases from one to four, by no means adequately compensated by a small reduction in the average for the commuter services (from 6.7 to 6.0). As far as Coventry is concerned therefore, it appears that the Government has failed to achieve its “stated intention” that it will “ensure that all locations with services to London will have services that are broadly comparable, or improved, when HS2 arrives”, an intention that was restated to the Select Committee by the Promoter’s Lead Counsel, Timothy Mould QC (see footnote 1).

There are also putative doubts about increased journey times that Coventry passengers may have to endure when HS2 Phase 1 becomes operational. As I reported in part 10, there is currently a big difference in journey times between Virgin long-distance and London Midland commuter services; a journey from London to Coventry on London Midland can take up to eighty percent longer. I attribute this to three factors:

  • The lower maximum operating speed of the rolling stock utilised for commuter services.
  • The greater number of intermediate station stops scheduled for commuter services.
  • The routeing of commuter services via the Northampton loop.

Despite journey times being an important consideration for the quality of service assessment, this matter was not addressed directly by Professor McNaughton in his Select Committee presentation. In part 6 of this blog series I raised the spectre of the possible removal of the Pendolinos from at least some of the future long-distance services. In this respect the two services scheduled to call at Coventry that are shown in Figure 6-3 of The Economic Case for HS2, PFMv4.3: Assumptions Report look particularly vulnerable since, with the exception of one other service that terminates at Northampton, they are the shortest of the proposed post-HS2 long-distance routes.

Even if the Pendolinos are retained for these two services that will call at Coventry, passengers may expect longer journey times by virtue of the additional intermediate station stops. Whatever, greater clarity regarding the journey times that may be expected is called for as it may have a significant impact upon the quality of the future service offered to Coventry passengers.

There is also the matter of the potential for overcrowding by commuters on services calling at Coventry that stop at either Milton Keynes Central or Watford Junction. As I explained in part 9, long-distance trains on this route are currently protected by overcrowding from stations where and when commuter demand is highest by boarding and disembarkation restrictions. These serve to protect Coventry passengers bound for London in the morning peak from overcrowding on the final section of their journey from commuters boarding at Milton Keynes Central or Watford Junction. Similarly, protection is offered in the afternoon peak from overcrowding out of Euston. However, as I noted in part 9, at least some, if not all, of these restrictions, and the protection for Coventry passengers that they provide, look set to be removed under the plans for WCML services following the opening of HS2 Phase 1.

It shouldn’t really be a surprise that Coventry will do so badly from HS2. Joe Rukin told the Members of the Select Committee that passenger demand after Birmingham passengers had been diverted to HS2 doesn’t necessarily justify three fast trains an hour serving Coventry (see footnote 2). What’s more, this appears to be one opinion that Messrs Rukin and Bigland share (see footnote 3).

I think that we should also take a look at Stoke-on-Trent, since I mentioned in part 1 that Joan Walley, the retiring MP for Stoke-on-Trent North, told the House of Commons that she had fears for the future of the direct London service that the city currently enjoys. The results of a similar analysis to the one that I used for Coventry are:

Long-distance services

Current stopping peak-hour services from London                                                    2

Intermediate stops factor for current peak-hour services                                           0.5

Indicative stopping services after HS2 Phase 1 (Figure 6-3)                                      2

Intermediate stops factor for indicative peak-hour services after HS2 Phase 1         1.0

Commuter services

Current stopping peak-hour services from London                                                    1

Intermediate stops factor for current peak-hour services                                           8.0

Indicative stopping services after HS2 Phase 1 (Figure 6-6)                                      1

Intermediate stops factor for indicative peak-hour services after HS2 Phase 1         10.0

So, on the face of it, Stoke-on-Trent looks likely to fare better than Coventry, retaining the same number of stopping services, but with some increase in journey times due to slightly more intermediate station stops being scheduled. I should caution that the intermediate stops factor for future commuter service (Figure 6-6) will probably be lower than I have calculated as three of the calling stations that I have counted are marked “not all trains stop”. However, to balance this, one of the future long-distance services that will call at Stoke-on-Trent – the one that terminates at Manchester Piccadilly – is marked on Figure 6-3 as running in “directional peak hours only”, so it will only depart Euston in the afternoon peak period and Manchester in the morning peak period; this is not a restriction that applies to the current service.

So I think that it is fair to say that, even if the Manchester and Scotland services continue to be operated by Pendolinos, the Stoke/London service will not be as good as now, once HS2 becomes operational. I will leave you to decide whether the degree to which this will apply is sufficiently slight for the Government to claim that it will be “broadly comparable” to the present service.

(To be continued …)

Footnotes:

  1. Mr Mould’s restatement is recorded in paragraph 275 of the transcript of the morning session of the HS2 Select Committee held on Wednesday 14thJanuary 2015.
  2. “… if you build HS2 and it’s doing London to Birmingham, you can’t necessarily justify those three trains an hour from London to Coventry, if people are expected to go on HS2.” (paragraph 318 of the transcript of the morning session of the HS2 Select Committee held on Wednesday 14thJanuary 2015).
  3. “Clearly, it isn’t the three trains per hour that Coventry, essentially because it is on the way to Birmingham, enjoys today, but the question is what service is appropriate for a city of such a size and distance from London.” (Paul Bigland blog Hs2 Action Alliance & the art of telling porkies, posted on 25thFebruary 2015). For comments on Mr Bigland’s blogs refer to part 1 of my blog series.

PS: Whilst I have tried very hard to get my facts, and interpretations that follow, right, I am very conscious that I am not a railway buff, but that some of my readers are. If I get anything in this current series wrong, please let me know.

Important Note: The account of the proceedings of the HS2 Select Committee that is given in this blog is based upon an uncorrected transcript of evidence, which is not yet an approved formal record of the proceedings of the HS2 Select Committee. Neither witnesses nor Members have had the opportunity to correct the record, and it may therefore be subject to changes being made in the light of any such corrections being requested.

 

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