Recent Transport Articles

London cyclists need to make themselves heard to improve safety

by Guest     July 16, 2013 at 8:40 am

by Christian Wolmar

Another day, another cycling death in London, yesterday. That makes it two in two weeks, both killed by HGVs which are the cause of most cycling fatalities in the capital.

The London Cycling Campaign has already announced a protest ride, to be held in Russell Square today, at 6 30 pm, following from the demonstration on Friday following the death of the French Boris bike rider at Aldgate a week ago. Several hundred came to that demonstration but, in truth, there needs to be a bigger more forceful response from the cycling community and its supporters.

The fantastic growth in cycling in London in recent years has not been met by a commensurate response from those in charge of our transport and road systems. The increase has been organic, not the result of any government action or stimulus but, rather, a realisation that cycling represents a cheap, health, environmentally friendly way to travel.

Despite vaguely supportive words, the London mayor has failed to realise that this fantastic surge in cycling is a game changer on London’s roads. We need roads that are cycle friendly, where bikes are given priority wherever possible and where high speed traffic is discouraged. More cyclists on the roads would, in fact, lead to a reduction in risk as has happened in countries like Holland and Denmark which have a higher proportion of cyclists than the UK.

There were 16 deaths in London last year, the highest number since 2006, and a 4 per cent rise in serious injuries (a much more accurate assessment of risk since the numbers are greater)

Indeed, in the past year there have been three deaths on what was supposed to be the mayor’s landmark project, the Cycling Superhighways, all on the Aldgate to Bow route. This is a terrible mishmash of blue lines on a very busy road with no protection for cyclists which, remarkably, cost more than £10m to create. Super, it is not.

Thankfully, with the appointment of Andrew Gilligan as the mayor’s cycling adviser, a more coherent and radical policy towards cyclists is being introduced, but Gilligan is still hamstrung by the mayor’s insistence that nothing must be done to impede traffic flow. Without a re-allocation of road space to cyclists, the dangers will persist.

In the Netherlands, when there was a spate of child cycle deaths in the 1970s, the protest by parents of the victims led to a change in policy, ensuring that cycle safety was taken seriously. We need a similarly vocal movement on our streets to bring about quick change.

One policy I advocate is reducing the number of freight lorries in central London at peak times. Several other European cities already havesuch rules. Conversely, in London, there is presently a night time ban on HGVs – implemented in 1985 when lorries were much louder – which dramatically increases HGV congestion during the day.

Separating lorries from cycles at peak times is an urgent priority and greater flexibility on delivery times is c part of the solution. We need more than warm words from the mayor. We need leadership and action on this key London issue.

Christian Wolmar is a transport commentator and broadcaster, who is seeking the Labour nomination for the London mayoral election in 2016. @christianwolmar

The press is finally waking up the Boris bus disaster

by Tim Fenton     July 8, 2013 at 9:15 am

At long last, after more than a year of being told that the much-vaunted New Bus For London (NB4L), a.k.a. the New Routemaster, was unable to keep its occupants warm in winter or cool in summer, the press has woken up to the fact that this obscenely expensive vanity project has not even produced a usable end product for its additional full life cost of well over half a billion pounds.

And the problem the NB4L has is as obvious as it is insoluble: you cannot reliably heat (in winter) or air condition (in summer) a vehicle that has a thwacking great hole in the back of its bodywork. Last winter, there were complaints about how cold the buses were, especially downstairs. There will be more next winter, for the problem remains unsolved, because there is no solution to be had.

Some pundits, like self-appointed engineer Harry Mount, have convinced themselves that this is all about “The terrible design fault with modern windows – they don’t open”, which is total crap. It is because the bodywork is all too open. “When the air con breaks down, as it has this week, there’s no refuge from the heat”. It is working, Harry.

Had the BozzaMaster been designed only with conventional automatic doors which only open when required for passengers to board or alight – like the twin-staircase three-doorway double deckers operated by the BVG in Berlin – all would be well. The wilful insistence on both air-conditioning and an open platform at the rear was a guarantee of failure.

So now the Standard has picked up on the sauna that is the upper deck of the NB4L, and moreover its editorial had demanded that something be done. The story has been deemed sufficiently important for the Mail to lift it, suggesting that other papers will pile in later. But nothing can be done while that rear platform is open. Were it to be closed all day, the travelling environment might improve.

But that would merely underscore what a colossal waste of money the NB4L has already become. And, as Boris Watch has noted, there are questions to be answered as to how Heatherwick got the contract to design this vehicle. They had no previous experience in the field, had not gone through any process of competitive tender, and have produced a bus that is too heavy, as well as too hot.

And it’s hot around that cramped area into which the engine, electric traction pack and exhaust system have been shoehorned in order to accommodate an open rear platform and all that oh-so-stylish sweeping glass exterior.

How long will it be before a journey on the 24 up to Hampstead Heath is cut short by overheating, or, worse, fire? What was that about bendy buses being hot and hazardous?

Why has Labour re-committed to HS2 even before a policy review? [updated]

by Paul Cotterill     July 5, 2013 at 10:30 am

I’ve followed the HS2 debate fairly closely from the start, not least as then represented one of those areas of the North that Peter Mandelson now refers to as a possible “rail desert” if HS2 were to go ahead.

In 2009, I was “broadly supportive” but had concerns about the negative unintended impacts.

By early 2010, when I’d read the documents and surrounding research, I was clear that HS2 was a bad idea, and that regional and local rail projects should take precedence. When the Coalition came in, I was duly outraged at the way poor research methods gave way to downright lies about what research had been done.

So it was with some sense of relief that I wrote of Maria Eagle’s breaching of the HS2 consensus in February 2011, when she stated that:

Labour will next month launch a root and branch review of our transport policy with nothing ruled in or out.

It would be irresponsible to make cast-iron spending commitments for beyond 2015 before we have listened to the public and come to conclusions about our future priorities.

Finally, I thought, this was a sensible decision to look at the whole HS2 thing in the round, review that actual research and the actual cost-benefits, and come to a decision based on what would be best for regional economies (and even pro-active regionalization of the economy) rather than on political calculations about how “modern” the party needs to look.

The transport review was duly launched.

It comes as a surprise, therefore, now to read in the FT that Maria Eagle is apparently saying the absolute opposite of what she said in 2011:

Labour’s transport spokeswoman, Maria Eagle, gave a “cast-iron guarantee” that the party would proceed with the project if it won the 2015 election. “It is what we are signed up for,” she said.

Perhaps I’ve missed something along the way, but I’ve seen nothing to indicate that this apparent change of view is the product of the party’s transport review; the review is mentioned in the National Policy Forum’s 2012 Annual report, but there is no reference to HS2, and there is no evidence that I can see of any review of HS2 ever actually being carried out as (apparently) promised.

If it had been, then presumably Maria Eagle would have said so, as a way of putting Mandelson in his place. The website created for the review is dead, as is the twitter account.

So while I’m glad that the consensus now does appear to have been broken, albeit four years too late, this does reflect badly on Labour’s policymaking process in opposition. Perhaps the days when major policy proposals came to conference for a yes or a no vote (even if they were then sometimes ignored by the PLP) weren’t so bad after all – at least we knew where we stood.


Labour’s transport team have now responded. They say Maria Eagle addressed HS2 (as a decision was needed sooner rather than later) in 2011 in this speech.

Labour’s Shadow Transport Secretary Maria Eagle told Liberal Conspiracy:

Labour is clear that a new north-south rail line is needed to deliver the major increase in capacity needed on Britain’s rail network in the years to come. Labour reviewed this scheme as part of our Policy Review but found that none of the alternative options that have been proposed could meet the capacity challenge on our rail network.

All would involve billions of pounds and major disruption to the existing network during construction, yet wouldn’t deliver anywhere near the extra capacity of a new line, would not cut journey times and would not enable any further transfer of freight from road to rail. Labours is supporting the legislation that is before parliament now to enable preparatory expenditure on the scheme, will support the hybrid bill when it is introduced and will continue to provide the long term cross-party support necessary for the successful delivery of this project.

Under pressure from Labour the Government has set out more details on the cost of the new north-south line, with annual budgets to 2020/21. It is essential that the escalating costs are kept under close scrutiny by Ministers. While long-term investment in Britain’s future is vital it must also be value for money for the taxpayer.

Why Labour should turn against HS2

by Sunny Hundal     July 4, 2013 at 8:25 am

At their summer reception yesterday, IPPR’s Nick Pearce joked to me that I finally agreed with Peter Mandelson over something.

It’s true. I’m glad that Mandelson has finally converted to an argument I’ve been making for a while: that High-Speed Rail 2 is a bad idea.

In one sense the economic and social arguments for and against HS2 have become redundant. The costs are so large and the payoff so minuscule that it’s bizarre to argue that HS2 will seriously regenerate the economy or provide massive payoffs in speed, the environment or re-balancing the economy.

It has now become an entirely political calculation. And this is where I think Labour is badly missing a trick.

The Labour leadership’s thinking in favour of HS2 is summed up by Steve Richards in the Indy today. As a senior shadow cabinet minister put it to me, we have show that Britain is still capable of (and needs!) large engineering projects and investment in infrastructure. The Labour leadership think accepting that we don’t have money to spend on HS2 would make it more difficult to make the case for other big infrastructure projects. Austerity would infect even long-term investment too.

I think that calculation has some merit. But I also think there is a strong political case against HS2.

For one, Labour could argue that the Coalition is now wasting billions on rail just so well-off people can get into London slightly quicker.

Secondly, Labour should be saying they would instead use a large chunk of the money for an unprecedented affordable house-building program. That would not only create more jobs, cost less and make life immediately easier for so many more people – it would help Labour’s key constituency of voters. Labour hasn’t committed to anything serious on house-building as yet.

Thirdly – it can be about looking prudent with money. Labour can paint HS2 as a gigantic white elephant with negligible benefits to look ‘fiscally responsible’ and prudent with money (their current obsession), instead of salami-slicing small bits of social security spending. If you want to make an impression with voters then go large – stop pussy-footing around.

If I was a Labour spokesperson I would put the argument against HS2 this way.

“Labour think HS2 has become a huge white elephant project which offers small benefits to well-off travellers who can get to London slightly faster. It doesn’t represent good value for money for ordinary taxpayers, and we admit we were too gungho about large projects in the past that did not always deliver value for money.

“We would divert a chunk of that money towards a massive housebuilding and schools programme, which offers real investment in our future and better value for taxpayers.”

BOOM! The Conservatives would be in tatters.

The growing opposition to HS2 cannot be ignored any longer

by Guest     July 3, 2013 at 1:43 pm

by Christian Wolmar

At last, opposition to the HS2 rail project is extending beyond the Chilterns and is starting a debate that should have been had three years ago.

There has always been something deeply worrying about the fact that all three main political parties are in support of the plan to build a high speed railway line linking London with Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds when the case is so weak and the cost so high. The parties have been outdoing each other in attempts to show that their support is unyielding in the face of growing evidence that the whole project is unsustainable.

But outside Parliament, informed opposition is growing. The National Audit Office is querying the figures, the New Economics Foundation has produced a list of better uses for £33bn (it was before the recent cost rise announcement which now suggests £50bn including rolling stock) and on the Right several think tanks are questioning the case for the line.

As the line’s supporters have become more desperate, they have been clutching at straws to justify the ever mounting cost of this massive project. First it was to speed up journey times and to improve the environment, then to boost capacity, then to bridge the north south divide and finally to create jobs and ‘agglomeration benefits’. But none of these stack up.

The environmental case collapsed when, early on, it was revealed that the effect would be carbon neutral according to the HS2 Ltd own study, when the impact of construction is taken into account.

The benefits in the business are based largely on journey time reductions made by those travelling when, in fact, these savings are largely illusory. Not surprisingly, the business case has looked weaker as the project has been scrutinised and the recent announcement of increased costs, bringing the scheme up to £50bn including rolling stock, was a further blow.

On the North South divide and regeneration, the experience of high speed lines around the world suggests that when two cities are linked, the bigger one is most likely to benefit – in other words, Britain will become even more London dominated. Prof John Tomaney of the School of Planning at University College London, who researched the effect of high-speed lines across the world, said: ‘The argument that high speed can reshape economic geography has been used in several countries around the world… but in practice there is very little evidence that building a high speed rail line heals north-south divides.’

As a long time supporter of the railways, I would love to throw my weight behind the project but right from the beginning it has been apparent that there is no real justification for such a massive expense. England is far smaller than France or Spain, with economic activity concentrated in an area already well served by fast and efficient trains.

Plus, the way that a swathe of excellent blocks of social housing will be demolished all because the cheaper option for Euston has been chosen is nothing short of a scandal. All the opposition has so far focussed on the Chilterns, but it is Camden council tenants who are most affected with the demolition of 600 homes and possibly more.

Ask any transport planner how they would spend £50bn in an effort to improve both transport and the environment, and HS2 will not be the answer. As Alistair Darling pointed out last week, there are far more congested trains on London commuter trains that desperately need expanded capacity. Trams, buses, even trolleybuses, as well as far better cycling and walking facilities would all do much more for the environment than this dubious expensive grand projet.

Labour is fearful that opposing the project would be seen as betraying its northern heartlands which it is claimed the project will help. In reality, the alleged benefits are tenuous at best and cheaper, more transformational public transport alternatives exist.

It is time the Labour Party start asking the same questions as Margaret Hodge and her colleagues on the Public Affairs Committee and take the lead on giving this project the proper scrutiny it deserves.

Christian Wolmar is a transport writer seeking the Labour nomination for the 2016 London mayor election.
On Twitter @christianwolmar and website

Behind Osborne’s smoke and mirrors today on transport spending

by Guest     June 26, 2013 at 4:44 pm

by Andrew Allen

In his spending round statement, the Chancellor has pretty much done what we feared he would.

First and foremost, he has shifted a huge chunk of government spending from revenue to capital. That’s right – despite the Coalition Government’s poor record in getting anything built, the Chancellor’s big idea for kick starting the economy is to spend £300bn on infrastructure by 2020.

Although we won’t get the detail until Danny Alexander speaks tomorrow, it appears certain that a huge tranche of money will go on new road projects.

Schemes like the A14 in Cambridgeshire and Mersey Gateway Bridge will doubtless be announced yet again and be joined by zombie schemes resurrected from the infamous 1989 Roads to Prosperity White Paper. All this will be highly controversial, lighting the blue touch paper for a new wave roads protests.

It won’t help the economy either. The likelihood of any new scheme being under construction and creating jobs by the time of the next election is minimal. All while the backlog of road maintenance continues to grow.

Now approaching £11bn, tackling this backlog would not only do more to help business than new road plans, it would also create jobs more quickly.

Another thing the Government could do to help more people get back to work would be to invest in the bus network.

While the Department for Transport’s bus support appears to have been saved from the axe, local authorities budget have been hit.

Their buses support is primarily aimed at those on lower income – exactly the people who have no other way of getting around, and certainly won’t benefit from shifting transport spending to road building.

Andrew Allen is from the charity Campaign for Better Transport – which calls for affordable green transport for all.

This budget completely ignored public transport

by Guest     March 20, 2013 at 4:06 pm

by Andy Allen

As usual, transport debate around the Budget has been dominated by fuel duty. The decision to leave fuel duty at its pre-Budget level was no surprise, it is important to note that there were no parallel measures to help those who rely on public transport.

Train users will see a continuation of the decade-long policy of above inflation fares rises. Bus users have seen fares rise by a third in the last five years, and things could get worse with financial support from both central and local government under threat.

While fixing fuel duty will garner some positive headlines, when you couple it with rising costs in public transport it begins to look socially and environmentally regressive, locking people into car dependency and punishing anyone with no access to a car.

Elsewhere, the threatened long list of major road schemes which government intends to support was once again absent. But the ducks are being lined up.

revious announcements have drawn the planning system’s teeth where schemes deemed to be of national importance (by everette). Local Enterprise Partnership and Local Transport Boards have been put to work drawing up lists on favoured transport project – the majority of them so far announced being roads.

Now we have a £6bn infrastructure spending pot available in 2015-16. The next stage will come in June when more details of spending plans are announced.

Rather than going for big new roads, to makes more sense for road users and job creation if we tackled the £10bn maintenance backlog.

Andy Allen is from the Campaign for Better Transport

50 years on: how UK railways became a political battleground

by Guest     March 11, 2013 at 2:33 pm

by Andrew Allen

Campaign for Better Transport is commemorating the 50th anniversary of the notorious Beeching report, a document that cemented the railways as a political battleground.

Beeching and the officials and Ministers behind him wanted to reduce the railway to a profitable core. Although not all his recommendations were acted on, over 2,000 stations were closed, passenger services were removed from 6,000 miles of track and 67,000 jobs were lost.

On the left, some view the closures as little short of treachery. Elements on the right see the state funding the railways still receive as evidence Beeching didn’t go far enough.

It is tempting to conclude that this was a battle of left versus right. A new book, Holding the Line, reveals a more complex reality. Post-Beeching, railway sceptics on the right have had limited influence over Conservative transport policy. More surprising, as recently as the 1970s senior Labour figures wanted to close the railways because they were transport for the wealthy.

Beeching believed he was preparing the country for a future based on road and air travel. While travel by road and air has grown, demand for rail has rocketed, too. As many people use the railways now as in the 1920s – and on a much smaller network.

After years of neglect and a botched privatisation, the railways are getting the investment they deserve. A £9bn investment programme is underway and major projects such as Crossrail and HS2 are actively supported.

There is a strong case for going much further, and this is where the political battleground lies.

Reopening some of the stations and lines closed by Beeching will help the communities, the economy and the environment. The Government has dipped a toe in the water with its £20m New Stations Fund, but this will kick-start only a few of the smaller projects rather than the strategic line reopenings which could help transform struggling economies, for example on the Ashington-Blyth-Tyne line.

Franchising needs to be reformed to deliver better value along with more accountability to communities and passengers. The experience of Transport for London and Merseyrail shows how this can be done while growing rail use and improving services, station facilities and staffing.

Lastly, spiralling ticket prices threaten to genuinely make rail travel the preserve of the wealthy. Not only do above inflation fares rises need to end, but fares need to come down.

The railways remain a political battleground. The best way to mark the Beeching Anniversary is to build a railway fit for the future.

The expensive reality behind Osborne’s plans for transport yesterday

by Guest     December 6, 2012 at 9:05 am

by Richard Hebditch

The Autumn Statement was heavily trailed as a splurge of new infrastructure spending, with roads featuring high on the shopping list.

But the reality is far more complex. Four major road schemes costing £1bn have been given the go-ahead with funding from central Government. These will be paid for by cuts to other departments.

The Chancellor has found himself unable to announce the reams of projects that some expected. But this does not mean the threat of wasteful spending on unnecessary road schemes has gone away.

Instead, what the Chancellor has done is potentially lay the foundations for future projects chosen by business interests, paid for by PFI money, and underwritten by taxpayers at great long-term expense.

The high profile role given to Local Enterprise Partnerships in delivering infrastructure could lead to schemes going forward on the basis of which business is best connected rather than what is most needed.

The decision to cancel the road fuel duty increase due in January will help some hard pushed people. But there is so much else in transport which threatens to hit the poorest hardest.

Anyone who uses the trains will in January see season ticket prices go up above inflation for the 10th straight year. Buses didn’t warrant a mention in the Autumn Statement at all, but new research we launch next week shows the impact of two years of major cuts to national government support for services.

The announcement of a further 2% cut in local authority budgets in 2014/15 will ensure pressure on budgets remains painfully tight.

All in all, the transport picture looks less than rosy. The business community is set to choose which damaging road schemes the country pays for via unfavourable hire-purchase terms.

Train fares continue to spiral upward while bus services are axed back. The Chancellor’s claim that ‘we are not taking the road to ruin’ sounds very hollow.

Richard Hebditch is Campaigns Director at Campaign for Better Transport

Tories and High Speed Rail: no one’s listening to the TPA

by Tim Fenton     October 11, 2012 at 9:35 am

After the InterCity West Coast (ICWC) re-franchising had to be binned, there was inevitably going to be pressure on the HS2 project, if only because both exercises are being undertaken by Government.

There are plenty of groups out there who want less of that, especially the dubiously talented array of non-job holders at the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance (TPA), who were on the attack in short order.

Chief non-job holder Matthew Sinclair took personal charge, such was the significance of the opportunity. “Transport Ministers face new questions about cost of HS2 after West Coast franchise fiasco” read the headline. But HS2 is not a franchising exercise – it’s firstly a construction project. Operational matters come later, but that does not deter Sinclair.

Concerns have now been renewed that the Government is proceeding with the HS2 project on the back of similarly-flawed assumptions and calculations” asserts Sinclair, while failing to understand that what scuppered the ICWC business was the correct
calculation of the amount that First Group needed to deposit with the DfT in lieu of potential default, which is a different matter entirely.

So what is Sinclair going to do about it? “Our Chief Executive  has today written to Mr McLoughlin outlining the questions that the Department for Transport must answer”. Fighting talk, then. Well, that was six days ago, and yesterday morning the Independent had an exclusive interview with new Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin, and if anything, he can’t wait to get HS2 moving.

The minister “dismissed suggestions that the Department for Transport’s financial modelling errors behind last week’s West Coast Main Line debacle would undermine High Speed Two”, and in my book rightly so. And he “also indicated that there would be no significant compromises on the published HS2 route between London and Birmingham”, so no more ground yielded to the back benches, then.

Moreover, McLoughlin seems keen not only to fast track HS2, starting with bringing forward the necessary legislation in the next Queen’s Speech with the intention of making a start before 2015, but also to publish the route of the next stage of the project, which will take it to Manchester on one spur, and to Leeds and beyond on another. He’s not for backing down, it seems.

In fact, McLoughlin is even looking to build cross party support for the project, observing that Labour are in favour of proceeding. That means that he has consigned the TPA’s letter, and its views, to the bin. So that’s another glorious failure for the TPA.

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