Private fears in public places, part 2

(… continued from Private fears in public places, part 1, posted on 8 Jun 2017).

When, in 2002, Virgin Trains introduced the Class 390 “Pendolino” trains into service on the West Coast Main Line (WCML), the tilting technology allowed the general speed limit to be increased from 110mph to 125mph, thereby reducing journey times. In his Modern Railways article HS2’s Conventional Compatible Conundrum the magazine’s Industry and Technology Editor, Roger Ford, observes that at the completion of Phase 2a 70 per cent of HS2 services from Euston will still employ the legacy network “to reach Stafford, Liverpool, Manchester, Preston, Glasgow and other destinations”. If current thinking prevails, and HS2 conventional compatible very high speed trains (“CCVHSTs”) do not employ tilting technology, then sectors of HS2 journeys on the legacy network will be subject to the 110mph maximum and take longer than they do now, thereby offsetting some of the gains made from the sectors run on the new high-speed tracks. Mr Ford recalls that “back in 2012” it had been estimated by HS2 Ltd that “the absence of tilt would cost 11 minutes on London-Glasgow timings”.

However, as is true for many choices that we have to make in life, it is not quite that simple. The ability to tilt when negotiating curves adds weight and complexity to rolling stock, and HS2 Ltd has assumed that a CCVHST incorporating tilt technology would be limited to a maximum speed on the high-speed track of 300km/h rather than 360km/h expected if the capacity to tilt is not accommodated. So journeys on the high-speed sector would, in fact, take longer for tilting trains, offsetting gains to be made on the legacy network. To add to this there is a problem foreseen when, and if, captive high-speed trains are introduced onto HS2, in that running trains with different maximum speed capabilities on the same track can reduce capacity. This is because a faster train following a slower one will need to maintain the safe operating distance throughout its time on the high-speed track, necessitating either increasing the spacing between train paths, or leaving unused train paths to act as buffers; either way capacity is reduced.

HS2 Ltd has also advised that it is envisaged that a number of (unidentified) minor linespeed improvements will be made to the northern WCML, allowing non-tilting train journey times to be reduced; these improvements are not regarded by HS2 Ltd as bringing any journey time improvements for tilting trains. It also appears that no account has been taken of the possibility, through implementing in-cab signalling, of increasing the maximum linespeed for tilting trains to 140mph; an improvement that Virgin Trains has been lobbying for.

These appear to show that, on journeys north from Euston, there would be no overall journey time gains from employing tilting technology. It is clear that Mr Ford is sceptical about this evidence (see footnote 1), although he is not very expansive in explaining his reasons why.

With the travel time information that the Government has provided for a tilting train running at 300km/h on the HS2 track in mind, Mr Ford extends his analysis into a consideration of the advantages that might be gained by reducing the maximum operating speed for HS2 from 360km/h to 320km/h. He notes that when Phase 2a is operational the journey time estimate from Euston to Crewe is six minutes less at 360km/h (non-tilt) than 300km/h (tilt), and estimates that this difference would be about five minutes on that one-hour journey with a maximum operating speed of 320km/h.

Mr Ford gives the following examples from around the world where, despite having the capability to operate at 350km/h, railway administrations have chosen to run at 320km/h or lower speeds:

  • French Railways’ LGV Sud Europe Atlantique has a design speed of 350km/h, but trains will run at a maximum 320km/h
  • Despite trials demonstrating that it is technically feasible to operate the Hitachi ETR400 trains supplied for the Italian high-speed railway at up to 350km/h the services will be limited to a ceiling of 320km/h in service
  • Whilst trains on the Wuhan-Guangzhou route in China ran up to 350km/h when the service began, the maximum speed has subsequently been reduced to around 310km/h

Mr Ford quotes that France’s SNCF made their decision because operating at the higher speed “would raise fares sharply for a marginal gain in time, everything from maintenance to energy costs would have risen exponentially, which simply wasn’t worth it”.

(To be concluded …)

Footnote: He precedes this section of his article with the digression on Professor Frankfurt’s paper On Bullshit that I refer to in part 1, in order “to put what follows in context”.

Whoops!

One trait that I have developed as the result of my bitter experience of the HS2 project is distrust, contempt and, yes, even hatred of politicians and the system that they employ to screw us, so I can’t begin to express my joy at the total omnishambles that we have all witnessed following the 2017 General Election polling day. The outcome of a process that I had previous characterised as an “unwanted and unwarranted distraction” (see footnote 1) has left bodies strew all over the battlefield and has resulted, in my view, in every political party, save for two in Northern Ireland and the Scottish branches of the two main national parties, finding themselves with little to celebrate.

I feel that our Prime Minister, for now, fully deserves the copious layer of egg that is adhering to her visage for perverting the clear intention of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 (see footnote 2) and for taking us mugs so much for granted. Her punishment is severe: her credibility is shot, her future is uncertain, to say the least, she is stuck with Philip Hammond and she finds herself in thrall to the Democratic Unionist Party. For the Conservative Party it is the last of these that is likely to be most significant – although the Tories have retained “and Unionist” in their full party title, I doubt that the regressive, homophobic and misogynistic tendencies of the party that was the creation of Protestant fundamentalist leader Ian Paisley will chime very well with more forward-looking politicians in the Conservative Party (particularly the gay ones), and I don’t foresee a very happy marriage. I expect, however, that, for as long the two parties can tolerate each other, Northern Ireland issues will gain prominence in government thinking and that there will be an early announcement that HS2 is to be extended to Belfast.

For MPs packing their satchels for the new term at Hogwarts Westminster the distribution of seats between the parties is likely to result in unwelcome restraints being placed upon their freedom to roam, as the Whips are likely to require their charges to be ever-present in the precincts of the Palace of Westminster and available to take part in divisions, unless pairing arrangements are reintroduced. Also leave of absence for those much-coveted overseas “fact-finding missions” is likely to be hard to obtain. We should expect to see ambulances parked in New Palace Yard, bringing hardly-breathing Members to make up the numbers and vote, perhaps, for a final time, with death being the only possible excuse for missing a division.

The Labour Party must, of course, share in the blame for the election being held as, without their votes, the Prime Minister could not have obtained the consent of two-thirds of the whole House necessary to carry the motion that a general election be held. I have never understood why Labour MPs went along with this; surely there couldn’t have been a man jack of them at the time who thought that they could win a general election. I guess that it might have been seen as “running scared” if they hadn’t have picked up the gauntlet that Theresa May had thrown down, but it was as sure an example of turkeys voting for Christmas as I have ever seen.

As it turned out, a fortunate Labour Party was blessed with the gift of a totally-incompetent Tory election campaign, the ability to write a very seductive manifesto safe in the knowledge that they were never going to have to deliver on its promises, and having a leader from the old school of socialist politics who, in contrast to the underwhelming campaign performance of Mrs May (see footnote 3), can more than hold his own on the stump. The result was that they did much better than most expected, and the relief in party circles was so great that they appear to be treating the outcome as something of a victory.

However, this “victory” has to be put into perspective. After the 2017 election Labour holds 262 seats, four more than they managed to win at the 2010 general election – a result in 2010 that was seen as a failure then and led, ultimately, to the Leader of the Party standing down. Sadly for the Labour Party, the 2017 result will actually serve to strengthen the position of the current parliamentary party leadership, boost the strength of the left-wing faction in the grassroots and prolong the current situation of the Labour Party being widely viewed as unelectable (see footnote 4). Paradoxically, a really bad performance by Labour might have been the better outcome for the long term, allowing a much-needed cleansing of the Augean Stables to take place.

Whilst the Liberal Democrats improved their occupation of the Commons benches by two, surely many fewer than they were hoping for, their share of the vote actually dropped slightly, they lost a former leader and the present one only just held on with his majority slashed from 8,000 plus to 777. The Party remains, at 12 seats, a long way from the heady heights of the 57 seats secured at the 2010 general election.

As all three of the above parties have been enthusiastic supporters of HS2, I revel in their misfortune and rejoice at the collective good sense of my fellow electors in bringing all of this hardship down on their heads.

Another party that notionally supports HS2, on the probably mistaken assumption that high-speed tracks will reach Scotland one day, is the Scottish National Party (SNP). Although, the party won 35 Westminster seats, the second-highest number in its 80-year history, this was well down on the 56 seats that it held in the last Parliament, resulting in a few tears being shed on election night. Perhaps of more concern for supporters was that the SNP share of the vote fell from 50 per cent in 2015 to 37 per cent and they lost two of their big hitters in Alex Salmond and Angus Robertson – I shall miss Mr Robertson’s ability to rattle Theresa May at PMQs.

The two parties that oppose HS2, UKIP and The Green Party, did not have a good night at all. UKIP’s downward spiral into extinction continued: its share of the vote fell off a cliff from 12.6 per cent in 2015 to 1.8 per cent and its leader has resigned in the wake of this debacle. The Green’s share of the vote more than halved from 2015 (3.7 per cent down to 1.6 per cent), but a very impressive, trend-bucking performance by co-leader Caroline Lucas saw them hold onto their one Commons seat (see footnote 5).

Whilst the continued opposition of these two parties to HS2 is appreciated, I don’t think that the combined Commons forces that they can muster, at one MP, is going to hinder the future progress of HS2 through Parliament, even when that single Member is the formidable Ms Lucas.

Whilst I am on the topic of Commons opponents of HS2, I must record my regret that the representative in the 2015-17 Parliament for the constituency that borders on mine, Warwick and Leamington, lost his seat. Chris White consistently used his vote to oppose the passage of HS2 Phase 1 through the Commons and I am very grateful to him for that. My own MP, Jeremy Wright, who equally consistently failed to take part in HS2 divisions, increased his share of the vote by a couple of percentage points but suffered a reduction of 40 per cent in his majority.

I am also pleased to note that Members who have spoken out against HS2 in the Commons have been returned, notably Cheryl Gillan, Sir William Cash, Michael Fabricant, Jeremy Lefroy and Chris Pincher.

Footnotes:

  1. See my blog Fess up failure fuss, part 2 (posted 31 May 2017).
  2. In moving the Second Reading of the Bill in the House of Commons, the deputy Prime Minister claimed that “The Bill has a single, clear purpose: to introduce fixed-term Parliaments to the United Kingdom to remove the right of a Prime Minister to seek the Dissolution of Parliament for pure political gain” – see Column 621 in House of Commons Hansard for Monday 13thSeptember 2010.
  3. Although she has regularly trounced an apparently hapless Leader of the Opposition at PMQs.
  4. Whether this is a true reflection of the abilities of the Labour front bench is immaterial, as it appears to be the widely-held view of the electorate, fuelled by media that is mostly hostile.
  5. Ms Lucas won 30,139 votes – almost twice as many as second-place Labour – and almost doubled her majority from 7,967 to 14,689. Her share of the vote increased by 10.4 per cent.

 

 

Private fears in public places, part 1

I must confess that I am not a regular reader of Modern Railways magazine, a publication that styles itself as “essential reading for professionals in the railway industry as well as individuals with a general interest in the state and developments of the British railway network”: I am certainly not in the former category and, unless it serves my interest in debunking HS2, I’m not a keen member of the latter camp either. So I was grateful to be tipped off that there is an article in the June 2017 issue of this periodical that I might find of interest – and I did. This article is authored by the Industry and Technology Editor of the magazine, Roger Ford, and he uses it to disagree with some of the basic engineering choices that have been made by those responsible for defining how HS2 will be realised (see footnote 1).

Aside from a handful of notable exceptions (see footnote 2), members of the railway industry have been remarkably reticent about exposing deficiencies and defects in the HS2 proposition. I attribute this not to any lack in such shortcomings, but to a realisation that, despite HS2 being more of a political grand projet than a well-targeted and beneficial intervention in the UK railway network, it does represent £50bn plus, and probably plus plus, of railway investment that would be likely to evaporate should the project be cancelled. On top of this, it seems that the majority who earn their living from the railway industry are in thrall to HS2 Ltd in one way or another, either by direct employment or under direct or indirect contractual arrangements.

So I was quite surprised, albeit pleasantly so, by the extent of the criticisms levelled at the project in the article by someone who, as well as being an expert in the field, is also closely in touch with industry sympathies.

First off, the article made me painfully aware that I have not been keeping up with reading the unending reams of printed paper that HS2 Ltd and the Department for Transport (DfT) produce about the project – if railways were built on paper, then HS2 would have been operational years ago! I have learnt from Mr Ford that what I have been calling “classic-compatible” trains are now officially referred to as “conventional compatible very high speed trains”, which Mr Ford abbreviates to “CCVHST”. I have also learnt that the decision has been taken that all of the initial fleet of up to sixty train sets to be purchased for Phase 1 will be CCVHSTs” – I should have picked these points up when I looked at the Pre-Qualification Technical Summary in preparing Checking the shopping list (posted 23 May 2017), but I’m afraid that I skipped the relevant section in my haste to get to the nitty-gritty on noise.

In his article, Mr Ford takes some time out from his detailed technical analysis to undertake what he describes as a “slight digression” into philosophy. It is clear from this excursus that Mr Ford is as disappointed as I am with the quality and interpretation of the information that the promoters of HS2 have employed to justify the project and its engineering choices. He refers to a paper by philosopher Henry G Frankfurt, which debates the distinction between lying and “bullshitting” (see footnote 3). It is clear that Mr Ford does not want to go as far as accusing HS2 Ltd of lying, which Professor Frankfurt describes as stating something that one knows to be untrue in a conscious act of deception, but does regard some of the statements emanating from the Company as bullshitting, where the originator is unconcerned whether his statement is true, or not: a lie will always be a falsehood; bullshit may be true or false.

Whilst he recognises that it is generally regarded less of an affront to be accused of lying rather than of bullshitting, Professor Frankfurt appears to rate the latter as the greater sin. According to him, “it is impossible for someone to lie unless he thinks he knows the truth”, whereas the bullshitter “does not care whether the things he says describe reality correctly”.

My preference is to ignore, or more correctly circumvent, Professor Frankfurt’s philosophical distinction by describing output from HS2 Ltd and the DfT that appears to blur the distinction between truth and falsehood as “spin”, which the Oxford English Dictionary defines as “the presentation of information in a particular way; a slant, especially a favourable one”. My understanding of that simple definition is that it can encompass both lies and bullshit, and even a combination of the two.

In his article, Mr Ford debunks a particular example of DfT spin (or perhaps, he would say, bullshit), offered in response to suggestions that the planned HS2 maximum operating speed of 360km/h is unnecessarily high. He quotes the DfT’s response to this suggestion as:

“Reducing the maximum speed of trains from 360km/h to 320km/h would result in trains taking longer to complete their overall journey. This means that, unless we buy more train sets, we will not be able to run as many train services on HS2 and therefore capacity will be reduced.”

This unconventional use of the word “capacity” – a quality that most engineers would regard as determined by the infrastructure rather than the size of the fleet of trains – appears to be yet another bogus argument promulgated by the HS2 camp to associate higher speed with increased capacity, a matter that I recently addressed in my blogs Fess up failure fuss, part 1 (posted 27 May 2017) and Fess up failure fuss, part 2 (posted 31 May 2017).

In the second part of this blog series I will look at the technical arguments advanced by Mr Ford for requiring the CCVHST to employ tilting technology and for reducing the maximum operating speed.

(To be continued …)

Footnotes:

  1. The article is HS2’s Conventional Compatible Conundrum, Modern Railways, pp 26-29 June 2017. Online access to this magazine is only available to subscribers, and articles are not freely available online. A summary of the contents of the article is available, however. Roger Ford trained as a mechanical engineer with a locomotive manufacturer and has been a writer, specialising in railways, for around forty years, whilst pursuing a parallel career as an independent railways consultant.
  2. Chris Stokes, Lord Berkeley and those promoting HSUK spring to mind.
  3. The paper is Frankfurt H G, On Bullshit, Raritan Quarterly Review, Volume 06 Number 2, autumn 1986. In his paper, Professor Frankfurt also offers the word “humbug” as a more gentile near-equivalent to bullshit.

 

Second class post

In my blog He came forth and saw a great multitude, part 1 (posted 20 Mar 2017) I report that a letter from the Chairman of the House of Commons Treasury Select Committee had, apparently, not been answered by the Secretary of State of State for Transport. In my blog He came forth and saw a great multitude, part 2 (posted 24 Mar 2017) I present my take on observations made in the Chairman’s letter about a recalculation of the business case for HS2 that was published towards the end of last year, and express the hope that the Department for Transport (DfT) would provide some much needed clarification of what I describe as an “apparently confused situation”.

Thanks to a comment on part 2 that was subsequently posted by “john” – thanks john – I have now been able to access to the letter that the Transport Secretary sent in reply. This letter is dated “23 Jan” and, as is normal for Whitehall correspondence, this date has been added in manuscript by the Secretary of State when he signed the letter. Despite this date of signing, it was not put before the public eye until 24th April 2017, when it was posted on the Treasury Committee’s website. As far as I am aware, no explanation has been provided for this two-month intervening period. I think it is unlikely that we can blame postal delays, so either the DfT held back the letter after it had been signed by the Minister, or the Transport Select Committee were tardy in publishing it – we will probably never know.

Whilst it may have been long-awaited – at least by me – I have to confess a feeling of anticlimax now that I have read the Transport Secretary’s letter. In all honesty, I don’t think that the contents of the letter, and the annex that provides more detail, have added much to my sum of knowledge regarding this matter. Far more helpful has been that I have, at last, been able to access an e-published copy of the document Summary of Key Changes to the Economic Case Since 2015. As I explained in He came forth and saw a great multitude, part 2, I was unable to locate a copy when I authored that blog in March this year (see footnote 1). When, at the end of May, I repeated the Google search for this document in preparation for this current blog, it comes up at the very top of the list, and the published date, according to the portal website was 15th November 2016! Notwithstanding this little mystery, I am grateful to have been able to read it now, although it would have been helpful to have done so when I was preparing He came forth and saw a great multitude.

In his January 2017 letter to the Transport Secretary, the Treasury Committee Chairman observes that without the latest update in passenger demand predictions the benefit-cost ratio (BCR) would have fallen dramatically as a result of the November 2016 revision of the business case for HS2, making the project “scarcely worth the candle”. In his reply, the Transport Secretary cries foul on this comment, pointing out that “removing the demand update would significantly dampen the impact of the other changes that were made when updating the analysis, so the impact would be significantly smaller” than the 1.6 reduction suggested by bar chart that had been provided by HS2 Ltd (see footnote 2). In fairness to the Transport Secretary, this interdependence is remarked upon in Summary of Key Changes to the Economic Case Since 2015, which cautions that “care needs to be taken when interpreting the results” of the analysis (see footnote 3), but the document is also fairly unequivocal in stating (see footnote 4):

“Overall the increase in demand drives a 30% increase in benefits and 21% increase in revenues. This results in the BCR including wider economic impacts increasing by 1.6.”

The preponderance of the assumed passenger demand increase in the factors that influence the economic case is, perhaps, even more evident from examining the raw data that is presented in a couple of tables in Summary of Key Changes to the Economic Case Since 2015 (see footnote 5). These show that, in 2011 prices, the predicted total transport user benefits have increased from £61.4bn in November 2015 to £65.5bn in October 2016, with the increase in predicted passenger demand alone contributing an additional £17.7bn to the October 2016 figure.

Whilst I am prepared to accept that there may be other factors linked to the effects of changes in the level of predicted passenger demand, the impact that the revised demand prediction has had is so great that I can’t see any such linkage exerting an appreciable influence on the BCR hike of 1.6 that has been reported by the DfT.

So I feel that the Treasury Committee Chairman’s comments about the dependence of the business case on the level of passenger demand assumed – assumptions that are at best an educated guess – remain valid.

In He came forth and saw a great multitude, part 2 I report that the DfT has changed the assumption about how demand would increase with time by removing the demand cap (see footnote 6). I speculated that this change might be “significant” in the BCR calculation: this speculation would appear to receive some support in Summary of Key Changes to the Economic Case Since 2015. The document admits that, with the demand cap applied, “the impact of this increase in forecast of demand would have been relatively modest, as the effect would have been just to bring forward the cap year … by around 7 years to 2030/31”. The approach now being taken, which leads to aggregated passenger demand over the coming years being much greater, is to “fix the forecast at 20 years in the future, rather than on a particular level of demand”, meaning that demand has been “assumed to grow until 2036/7” (see footnote 7).

Finally. one other gripe that I express in He came forth and saw a great multitude, part 2, that both the Transport Secretary’s letter and Summary of Key Changes to the Economic Case Since 2015 serve to reinforce, is the predilection that the DfT has slipped into of quoting point BCR figures that include wider economic impacts when assessing value for money (VfM), presumably for no better reason than this usually enhances the VfM rating.

Footnotes:

  1. See footnote 5 to He came forth and saw a great multitude, part 2 (posted 24 Mar 2017). The document is not listed on the portal webpage which is linked from footnote 5 on page 10 of High Speed Two Phase 2b, Strategic Outline Business Case: Economic Case and a Google search for the document failed to return any relevant results.
  2. The bar chart is Figure 1.2 in the publication High Speed Two Phase 2b, Strategic Outline Business Case: Economic Case, Department for Transport, November 2016.
  3. See paragraph 1.1.8 in the publication High Speed Two Summary of key changes to the Economic Case 2015 to 2016, Department for Transport, November 2016.
  4. See paragraph 4.2.7 in High Speed Two Summary of key changes to the Economic Case 2015 to 2016.
  5. See Table 1 on page 5 and Table 6 on page 13 in High Speed Two Summary of key changes to the Economic Case 2015 to 2016.
  6. The demand cap is a maximum level of passenger demand that it is assumed will be reached at some time in the future, specified as a maximum demand level. Once the cap is reached, demand is assumed to be level in all subsequent years.
  7. See paragraph 4.1.6 in High Speed Two Summary of key changes to the Economic Case 2015 to 2016.

 

Fess up failure fuss, part 2

(… continued from Fess up failure fuss, part 1, posted on 27 May 2017).

Another gladiator who has entered the arena, armed with a freedom of information request, seeking a correction to Sir David Higgin’s “misspeaking” when giving evidence to the House of Commons Transport Select Committee and the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee, is FoI specialist Dr Paul Thornton (see footnote 1). Dr Thornton’s request to HS2 Ltd for information (see footnote 2), made on 28th February 2017, seeks to establish what action has been taken by the Company as a result of being notified by Mr Marriott that Sir David Higgins had misinformed Parliament, or of becoming otherwise aware of this.

The response that Dr Thornton has received provides a number of confirmations:

  • HS2 Ltd has not corresponded with either parliamentary committee by way of apology, clarification or correction in respect of Sir David’s evidence.
  • HS2 Ltd were first made aware that there was a challenge to the accuracy of Sir David’s evidence by Mr Marriott’s FoI request submitted on 11thFebruary 2015.
  • HS2 Ltd and the Department for Transport (DfT) have not exchanged any correspondence about the matter.
  • There appears to have been no HS2 Ltd internal correspondence generated by Mr Marriott’s FoI request.

The response also attempts to “spin” the context of Sir David’s comments, by raising some very loosely associated observations on the possible relationship between passenger demand and speed, and the incorrect assumption that this putative relationship could affect the “capacity” of a new railway. The explanation is also advanced that Sir David’s comments were made “in the context of wider discussions about how HS2 will increase capacity”. What is totally missing from the response is any acknowledgement that Sir David’s comment was factually incorrect.

What this response tell us, I think, is that FoI requests are handled at a relatively low level within the HS2 Ltd organisation, and that any matters arising are unlikely to reach the attention of the Company’s executives, let alone end up on the desk of the Chairman and Chief Executive. So the FoI request is probably not the appropriate vehicle for tackling an issue like putative factual inaccuracies in evidence given to Parliament.

Nevertheless, this apparent limitation has not stopped Dr Thornton from following up his information request to HS2 Ltd by a similar request to the DfT, made on 7th April 2017 (see footnote 3). The response that he has received confirms that the DfT has also not corresponded with Parliament about the accuracy of Sir David’s evidence, nor has there been any internal correspondence within the DfT relating to the matter.

The request has, however, revealed one further item of evidence relating to the issue, which is a set of brief notes of Sir David’s Transport Select Committee appearance made by the Head of Public Affairs for HS2 Ltd, which were circulated to various members of DfT and HS2 Ltd staff by email. These notes report the comment about twice the speed meaning twice the capacity but, unsurprisingly, do not make any observation on the veracity of the statement.

So the evidence from FoI requests is that the appeals for an admission and correction have not only fallen on deaf ears, but have probably failed even to reach the ears of those in a position to authorise such a move.

There does appear to have been one intervention, however, that has succeeded in getting the matter in front of the Chief Executive of HS2 Ltd. In a blog posted towards the end of last year, Beleben reports on a “complaint” made to HS2 Ltd by an unidentified individual in August 2016 that “asked HS2 Ltd to withdraw [Sir David Higgins’ and Mr Kirby’s] statements, and provide accurate information” (see footnote 4). After the customary delay – nearly three months this time – and lame excuse, a response was sent that explains that the communication, not being related to the “service that HS2 Ltd provides”, cannot be treated as a complaint – a view that I have some sympathy with – but has been regarded as a “general enquiry”. The response gives no indication whatsoever that HS2 Ltd intends to make amends for promulgating misinformation, but merely trots out what Beleben describes as “off-topic waffle”.

The individual – could that be the blogger him/herself I wonder – appears to have progressed the matter by referring it to the Chief Executive of HS2 Ltd, and Beleben reproduces the resulting letter from Simon Kirby in another blog: whilst this letter is dated 14th November 2016 it was, according to Beleben, not “sent out” until February 2017 – perhaps this is a new ruse by HS2 Ltd to cover up the delays that often seem to be associated with them responding to enquiries and complaints (see footnote 5). Like the initial response received by the complainant, Mr Kirby’s letter contains no hint of remorse, nor any indication that a retraction will be issued, but is long on HS2 Ltd trademark “off-topic waffle”. What the letter does prove, however, is that the accusation that the  HS2 Ltd Chairman misspoke to two parliamentary committees has been aired at Board level, so there can be no excuse for the Company failing to inform the committees concerned of what has occurred.

Clearly, further action, of some sort, is required if HS2 Ltd is to be “persuaded” to change its stance on this matter. I suggest that, once the unwanted and unwarranted distraction of the current general election is out of the way, the help of a sympathetic MP is sought to write to the Chairman of both committees and Sir David to request that the public record is corrected.

Footnotes:

  1. I reported on some of Dr Thornton’s exploits in this field in my blog Peering into the laundry basket (posted 19 May 2017).
  2. The request has been given the identity FOI17-1713 by HS2 Ltd.
  3. The request has been given the identity FOI14743 by the DfT.
  4. See the blog Misinformation is not a service, Beleben website, 9thNovember 2016.
  5. See the blog Too much capacity and not enough capacity (at the same time), Beleben website, 29thMarch 2017.

Fess up failure fuss, part 1

On 17th November 2014 Sir David Higgins appeared before the House of Commons Transport Committee to give oral evidence at a session that was billed as an “HS2 update”. During that session he was asked by Committee Chair Mrs Louise Ellman whether he “still” thought that HS2 Ltd hasn’t “always been as clear as [it] ought to have been in setting out the strategic case for HS2”. His reply included the following (see footnote 1):

“I am not sure we were clear enough in the role that the new network provides capacity (sic). It is a bit of a circular discussion because a railway line where trains travel at 220 miles an hour as opposed to 120 miles an hour clearly has nearly twice the capacity because you can have twice as many trains on it.”

You might have thought that this was, indeed, “clearly” the case: it surely makes sense that if you can shift passengers down the same piece of track in half the time, then you can get twice as many of them down that track section in any given time period. Well, if you did think that, then you will have to go to the back of the class with Sir David. According to railways blogger Beleben, Sir David’s claim is “utter nonsense” (see footnote 2).

If capacity is determined as the maximum number of train paths that can be supported each hour, then it is governed solely by the minimum spacing between trains, in seconds, that safety considerations will permit. Since it takes longer to stop a train the faster it is travelling, the minimum safe spacing is, other things being equal, greater for high speed than conventional intercity trains and, accordingly, the capacity for train paths is reduced.

It is ironic, you might think, that in a reply addressing the clarity of HS2 Ltd’s case its Chairman should muddy the waters by advancing a technically flawed argument. Unfortunately, as Beleben comments in his/her blog, “no-one on the transport committee challenged him about it” and “the ‘technical’ railway press has never challenged or debunked the claim”.

Beleben first accused the HS2 Ltd Chairman of “talking nonsense” in a blog that was posted just a few days after Sir David’s appearance in front of the Transport Committee (see footnote 3), so why was the blogger rattling the same cage in a second blog posted some twenty-six months later? The reason, hinted at in a third blog in the sequence (see footnote 4) would appear to be Beleben’s frustration that HS2 Ltd appears to have no intention of putting the record straight. So this misinformation will remain in the public domain – and it was also trotted out by Sir David to the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee (see footnote 5) and by the, then, Chief Executive of the Company, Simon Kirby, in a trade-press article (see footnote 6) – where it will have the potential to misinform decision makers and be quoted as “evidence” of the need for HS2 by politicians and those who have lobbied for it.

Beleben has not been alone in taking umbrage at this affront to the truth.

On 11th February 2015, Mr John Marriott submitted a freedom of information request for “any documentation or analyis (sic) which supports the statements made by Sir David Higgins” (see footnote 7). On 11th January 2016 – yes it really did take eleven months for HS2 Ltd to reply – Mr Marriott received a response that contains the interesting revelation that Sir David had been provided with a briefing note for his Transport Committee appearance that contains the statement “speed provides capacity” and the explanation “a 200mph train moves double the number of passengers a day than a 100mph train does”. Whilst, as Beleben has demonstrated, the former statement is untrue, there is, possibly, an element of truth in the second statement in that a high speed train will be able to complete more trips per day and, therefore, move more passengers that way, but Sir David’s interpretation of his brief, as he put it to the Committee, is clearly wrong in that a high speed railway will not support “twice as many trains” on the line at the same time.

Mr Marriott followed up with another request (FOI16-1473) seeking the names of the person who had written and authorised the issue of the briefing notes, but this request was turned down: the former was stated to be “not sufficiently senior or public facing in their roles” for their name to be disclosed, and the latter was information not held.

Mr Marriott has had one more try to seek satisfaction (FOI16-1487), but the response that he has received clearly indicates that he has entered a zone of rapidly diminishing returns.

(To be concluded …)

Footnotes:

  1. See Q14 in the transcript Oral Evidence: HS2 update HC 793, House of Commons Transport Committee, Monday 17thNovember 2014.
  2. See the blog HS2 speed and capacity loss, Beleben website, 28thFebruary 2017.
  3. See the blog HS2 chairman: gain public confidence, by talking nonsense, Beleben website, 18thNovember 2014.
  4. See the blog Too much capacity and not enough capacity (at the same time), Beleben website, 29thMarch 2017.
  5. See entry Sir David Higgins under Q251 on page 532 of the volume The Economic Case for HS2 Oral and Written Evidence, House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee, 25thMarch 2015.
  6. See the section Why high? in the article Taking HS2 to completion, Rail Engineer, 29thApril 2016. Simon Kirby is quoted as claiming that at conventional speeds “we’d need a four track railway from Euston to Birmingham, not a two track one, because the speeds are slower and the capacity is less”.
  7. The request has been given the identity FOI15-1459 by HS2 Ltd.

 

Checking the shopping list

A couple of months ago HS2 Ltd staged one of its friendly purchaser/supplier get-together events for potential manufacturers of its fleet of high-speed trains and those rail industry members, and others, who might be interested on the periphery. As one might have expected, the prospect of £billions being cast upon the rail industry’s waters (see footnote 1) was, to thoroughly mix the metaphors, a honey pot that attracted the flies in swarms – the attendance list identifies two hundred and fifty organisations with delegates present.

A few weeks after this monumental shindig was held HS2 Ltd published a Pre-qualification Technical Summary for the HS2 rolling stock (PQTS). This is an outline specification that contains, we are told, “the requirements considered material to bidders”: presumably the intention is that potential bidders will use the document to determine if they will be able to offer equipment that will fit the bill and, accordingly, come to a decision about whether to subject their organisation to the rigours of the pre-qualification process. So, although we can’t expect that all of the i’s have been dotted and the t’s crossed in this document, it should, at least, provide an indication of the direction in which HS2 Ltd’s corporate thoughts are heading.

As anybody will know who is at all familiar with the soul-bearing exercise that I have been engaged in on this site for six years now, I have a bit of an obsession with the impacts that the noise generated by HS2 trains will have, so I was interested to see what provisions for mitigating this noise at source have been included in the PQTS.

The train operational noise calculations presented in Appendix 5 of the Phase 1 Environmental Statement were made based upon the assumption that trains supplied for the HS2 project, both “captive” and “classic-compatible” designs, will be “specified to be quieter than the relevant current European Union requirements”. The magnitude of this assumed noise reduction is stated to be “approximately 3 dB at 360kph compared to a current European high speed train operating on the new track” (see footnote 2).

I am pleased to confirm that this assumption has been recognised in the PQTS, albeit not yet in strict terms. Potential tenderers are advised that the train pass-by noise limit (the “Contractual Pass-by Limit”), which is yet to be set, will not be greater than “that specified in the NOI TSI (see footnote 3). Further, tenderers are advised of the 3dB reduction that has been assumed for the Environmental Statement, the legal requirement for HS2 Ltd to “take all reasonable steps not to exceed the airborne noise levels predicted in the HS2 Phase One Environmental Statement” and the consequent expectation that HS2 Ltd will “invite Tenderers to propose Contractual Pass-by Limits that are lower than that specified in the NOI TSI”. Also, potential tenderers are given the added incentive of being awarded a reduction in the value assessed for the whole-life cost of their solution for each decibel that the pass-by noise is below the NOI TSI limit (see footnote 4).

So, as with so many other aspects of HS2, what the PQTS is offering us falls somewhat short of a cast-iron guarantee, but we do have an indication of intent to meet the airborne operational noise predictions that are set out in the Environmental Statement (ES).

But the operational airborne noise predictions are not solely dependent upon the magnitude of the total noise radiated by a passing train. This is because points all over the body of the train, from the very bottom where the wheels have contact with the rails to the very top where the pantograph rubs against the power catenary wire, will contribute to this total noise, and the extent that each of those points propagate that noise and contribute to the aggregate noise experienced at any receptor will depend upon the height of the point above track level. This height dependence affects both the propagation over the natural terrain and the efficiency of any artificial noise barriers assumed for the calculations in the ES, be they bunds or fence barriers.

The computer model that was employed to make the ES predictions takes account of this height dependence by approximating the umpteen sources all over the train body to five effective sources at heights above rail head of 0.0, 0.5, 2.0, 4.0 and 5.0 metres (see footnote 5). Equations expressing the relationship of each of these five sources to the speed of the train have been identified in the ES, and these relationships allow the noise levels emanating from each of the five effective sources to be calculated at any speed (see footnote 6).

As long ago as 2011 I was expressing concern about the assumptions that HS2 Ltd was making for the noise generated at the higher levels on the train, resulting from aerodynamic effects (see footnote 7). It is a subject that I have returned to on a number of occasions since, and which I dealt with in considerable detail in a series under the sub-title Impacts of aerodynamic noise on noise mitigation efficiency that I posted towards the end of 2012 (see footnote 8).

On the evidence that I cited in the Impacts of aerodynamic noise on noise mitigation efficiency series, there is fairly general agreement that the contribution made by the pantograph to overall pass-by noise can be significant. In the ES, however, the assumption has been made that pantograph noise at 360kph will be, with the exception of the noise coming from the train power, traction and auxiliary systems, the quietest noise source, and at 12dB below the total noise predicted, will have, in the absence of any noise barriers or bunds, an insignificant impact upon that total noise (see footnote 9). This assumption relies on the belief that a reduction of at least 10dB below the levels of noise generated by “a traditional European HS pantograph” can be achieved if a “more aerodynamic” design is employed, adopting the low-noise pantograph design techniques that have been developed in Japan (see footnote 10).

In spite of the inclusion of a low-noise pantograph in the HS2 rolling stock design specification apparently being essential to realise the predictions made in the ES, particularly where barriers and bunds have been employed for noise mitigation, the PQTS is remarkably reluctant to press home the need. The section in the document covering pantographs (see footnote 11) makes no mention of a low-noise design being required and the section on noise merely tells the potential tenderer that “HS2 Ltd is considering how and whether to specify requirements for high-level noise emanating from [the] roof area of the train, including the pantograph” (see footnote 12).

The published script for the presentation that Tom Williamson, Head of Rolling Stock Engineering at HS2 Ltd, gave to the assembled masses at the launch confirms that he admitted that “aerodynamic noise becomes a real problem above 300km/h and noise from higher up on the train doesn’t tend to be contained by noise barriers” and that he referred to “the low-noise pantograph solution … from Japan”. He also dropped a bit of bombshell regarding the classic-compatible train design – a potential problem that I have not seen referred to before in any HS2 Ltd documentation – that “the constrained gauge of the conventional compatible trains makes straightforward adoption of [the Japanese design] difficult” (see footnote 13).

It strikes me that close scrutiny of how this procurement process develops will be necessary to ensure that HS2 Ltd does not submit those on the route to higher levels of noise pollution than it has so far indicated will be the case.

Footnotes:

  1. Although the surety of receiving a harvest of reward implicit in Ecclesiastes 11:1 can hardly be claimed with certainty for HS2.
  2. See paragraphs 1.2.16 and 1.2.17 in Annex D2 to Appendix SV-001-000 Methodology, assumptions and assessment (route-wide): Sound, noise and vibration, Volume 5 Technical Appendices London-West Midlands Environmental Statement, HS2 Ltd/Department for Transport, November 2013.
  3. The “NOI TSI” is the EU noise specification that has superseded the rolling stock TSI that was in force at the time that the Environmental Statement was being written (2008/232/EC). It is set out in the Annex to the document Commission Regulation 1304/2014 of 26thNovember 2014 concerning the technical specification for interoperability relating to the subsystem ‘rolling stock — noise’ amending Decision 2008/232/EC and repealing Decision 2011/229/EU, Official Journal of the European Union, 12th December 2014.
  4. See paragraph 7.18.1 in document reference HS2-HS2-RR-SPE-00000006, Pre-Qualification Technical Summary, HS2 Ltd, 21stApril 2017.
  5. See paragraph 1.1.27 in Annex D2 to Appendix SV-001-000.
  6. See paragraphs 1.1.28 to 1.1.30 in Annex D2 to Appendix SV-001-000.
  7. For example, see my blog Going over the top (posted 9 Nov 2011).
  8. The individual blogs in the series are Are you taking this seriously? (posted 27 Nov 2012), What do they know? (posted 1 Dec 2012), It’s there for all to see (posted 5 Dec 2012), Or putting it another way (posted 9 Dec 2012), I can hear you (posted 13 Dec 2012) and Being a bit hopeful? (posted 17 Dec 2012).
  9. See Figure 5 in Annex D2 to Appendix SV-001-000.
  10. See paragraph 1.1.40 in Annex D2 to Appendix SV-001-000.
  11. Paragraph 7.5.2 in document reference HS2-HS2-RR-SPE-00000006.
  12. See paragraph 7.18.1 in document reference HS2-HS2-RR-SPE-00000006.
  13. See page 46 of the presentation script HS2 rolling stock: scope and requirements presentation, HS2 Ltd, 28thMarch 2017.