Monday, 28 February 2011

I'm starting to like Philip Hammond.

Two stories from The Daily Mail:

Exhibit One: Motorway speed limits could rise to 80 mph to shorten journey times and boost the economy under a radical review of road safety, Transport Secretary Philip Hammond signalled today.

He is concerned that anti-car campaigners have for too long used 'road safety' as a convenient excuse to both stymie raising speed the limit on motorways from the current 70mph, and to push for more 20mph zones* in urban areas - even when they are inappropriate.

Exhibit Two: Residents’ groups, some councils and several Tory MPs are firmly against the [high speed London-Birmingham rail link] and there are concerns that the planned 2015 start date for the scheme will be hard to meet. The 140-mile first phase could cost £17 billion and plans for extensions to northern England and Scotland will take until the 2030s.

Mr Hammond said: "Until now, the people who are opposed to it because it is in their back yard have made all the running. Now that we are getting to the real crunchy bit, the people who are going to benefit from it – which is everyone in the UK except those who have got it in their own back yard – are beginning to mobilise and articulate the significant benefits that will be delivered."

* I'd say that this is up to the people living on each individual street to decide.


Electro-Kevin said...

The HS rail link is not only objected to by 'back yarders'. There's me, for example. Nowhere near it but can see it for the ego trip the project really is.

Why do we need a sexy high speed link in a country our size ?

Surely it would be better to maintain the clapped-out rail infrastructure already in existence with the money.

80mph on motorways. More tax ... I mean fuel required at that speed of course.

View from the Solent said...

"More tax ... I mean fuel required at that speed of course."

But it is not compulsory to drive at the maximum allowed speed.

Mark Wadsworth said...

EK, the economics of railways is that they always pay their way in the end (it is just that there is a colossal mismatch between who pays and who benefits).

As to the extra fuel used and hence tax collected, that's a bonus as it's an entirely voluntary tax. I'm sticking to 65 mph myself (as VFTS suggests).

The Stigler said...

He's a small businessman made good, and there's very, very few of them in the Conservative Party.

But I'm not sure it will do much for the economy by raising the speed limit. We don't have the capacity during (or around) peak periods to go at 70 let alone 80.

The best single change the government could make would be to ban lorries from overtaking uphill. They're barely going any faster, so take ages to overtake, creating massive congestion behind.

Mark Wadsworth said...

JT, part of the problem with lorries is that they are restricted to 56 mph (i.e. 80 kph) in the spirit of EU harmonisation, so the overtakee is sticking doggedly to 55 and the overtaker can only inch past.

Apparently, 56 mph is lower than the optimum speed for fuel efficiency for lorries, which is low 60s.

Longrider said...

* I'd say that this is up to the people living on each individual street to decide.

I'd agree with you.

Robin Smith said...

Yup. It will increase wealth producing power. Rents will rise. Landowners will get even more in relation to actual work done. Wealth divide will grow wider.

This is a law of nature. While private property in land exists.

So what, who cases about having even less freedom and life as a quasi slave?


Mark Wadsworth said...

RS, that's a separate issue. In any event, the NIMBY position - that hanging on to their inflated land value trumps all other considerations is even worse than 'spreading it around a bit'.

Curmudgeon said...

I agree with Kevin that the HS rail link is a colossal waste of money that could be much better directed elsewhere. If it was worthwhile, then the Nimbies could go to hell, but it isn't.

From the point of view of economic efficiency the best thing to do with speed limits is to raise the limited HGV speed from 90 to 100 km/h. 80 mph on motorways for cars, while desirable, would make limited difference to real-world journey times.

Mark Wadsworth said...

Curmudge, how do you calculate that?

Let's assume that £17 bn is a fair reflection of the cost (ha!), you then have to work out (1) what profit the railway will make over running costs, then (2) you work out how many additional thousand or million man hours of productive work can be carried out every year which you multiply by (3) value per hour, and take the NPV of (1) + (2) x (3) and compare it with the £17 bn. Remember, railways generate their own demand, so more people will be using it than there is demand for now.

Bayard said...

Mark, except that the prospective demand appears to have been totally overstated.

Also, I agree that this is a DfT ego-trip. No consideration appears to have been given to achieving additional capacity at less cost, e.g. rebuilding the Great Central.
It seems fairly obvious that the cost per minute saved is exponential, but no attempt appears to have been made to find the most cost-effective maximum speed for the trains. It seems more likely that the DfT have started with a maximum speed (possibly just a bit faster than the French and Germans?) and worked from there.

Mark Wadsworth said...

EK, C, and B, to be honest, the existing London-Birmingham service seems absolutely fine to me (regular service, quite quick, not too pricey - but I've only taken it two or three times), but if the NIMBYs are against something then my knee-jerk response is to be in favour.

Mark Wadsworth said...

C, agreed on lifting lorry speed limit more important (why on earth you express this in kph not mph is unclear to me) but seeing as so many people drive 80 mph, raising the speed limit merely legalises what a lot of drivers consider normal.

What they should make illegal - if anything - is tailgating. Any driver who leaves less than three seconds gap between him and the car in front should have his licence revoked for life IMHO.

Ed P said...

The link would make good economic sense only if it were to be a seamless continuation of Eurostar. It's not going to attract sufficient business travellers, arriving from Paris or Brussels, if they have to get off at St Pancras and transfer. They'll continue to fly - it's quicker & much cheaper.

Mark Wadsworth said...

Ed, it seems that they've ruled out St P itself for the London end, so it's going to/from Euston, but Euston is only a few hundred yards away from St P, surely they can built a travelator or something?

Old BE said...

My guess is that whatever route the line is to take out of London can't start at Pancras for some reason. I am assuming that from Euston to outer London the line will be in a tunnel. Perhaps the existing underground infrastructure cannot tolerate another tunnel, or something?

Anonymous said...

Exhibit 1: agreed.

Exhibit 2: not agreed. I'm not convinced by the supposedly wonderful economic argument for this. I'm also not convinced the government has looked at other possible ways of achieving the benefit. It was a big ego-trip by the last government, and the egos of this one seem sadly to be just as big.

Bruce said...

Sure, you can run the high speed rail link through my backyard... but I insist the trains do no more than 20mph.

neil craig said...

The Greens, who favour anything train related, are ignorant of the fact that fuel economy drops off as speed increases so trains are unlikely to be much more fuel efficient than aircraft. This will also be reflected in ticket price and it is difficult to believe that cost based tickets will not drive people back to the roads or teditional trains. Perhaps the assumption is that we will not have to pay for it because ticket prices will always be subsidised by some other taxpayer.

john b said...

On HS2, the important thing to remember is that "cost per minute saved" isn't anything like exponential. As long as you're building a new railway, the difference in cost per km between 140km/h (Crossrail) and 300km/h (HS2) is negligible.

This is because 'fast trains', 'track that can handle fast trains', and 'signals that can handle fast trains' are both negligible parts of the whole railway construction process: planning/legal costs, tunnelling and civil engineering account for the vast majority of project costs, and they don't change based on linespeed.

If you accept more rail capacity is needed, a 300km/h project like HS2 is the only sensible way to deliver it. If you don't accept more rail capacity is needed, then you're wrong but unlikely to be persuadable.

St Pancras doesn't have the physical capacity to be used as the HS2 terminus unless you were to build a new station underground. This would be a massive pain in the arse from an engineering point of view, since you'd need to dig out a new four-platform-minimum station below the Thameslink station, more than 30 metres underground, under a listed building, with no real surface access, while keeping the whole complex above open on weekdays.

However, under current plans, the line will have a direct link to HS1 in the form of a new tunnel that diverges before the train reaches Euston - so from Birmingham, you'll have something like 4tph to London, and 1tph that misses out Euston and goes to Paris via Stratford.

Neil: air resistance is not all that significant here - a 300km/h Eurostar only uses 25% more energy per seat than a 200km/h Pendolino.

siorsyn said...

South Wales M4 has a 50mph limit on a large stretch of it, guarded by average speed cameras. It has made a huge difference to travel time.The traffic flows nicely.Apparently, this can be explained by wave theory.

Every penny of the above mentioned £17bn should be spent on infrastrucutre in Wales, to make up for the disgraceful (if unsurprising) negligence of our rent-seeking colonisers. Alternatively, fuck off and let us build it ourselves. Just MHO!