30 November 2010

Some decisions on infrastructure and rolling stock - but are they enough?

Now that the Government has decided on its priorities, at least in part, on transport, we have a clearer idea of its intentions. Crossrail will go ahead as planned though there have been modifications, especially in the design of the stations so as to save about GBP1bn. Thameslink also escapes the hatchet, though with certain delay so as to spread the cost over a longer period.

The GWML electrification scheme, to Bristol, Cardiff and Swansea, has not been decided upon. However, the much mooted extension of the Crossrail project from Maidenhead to Reading is now being turned into an extension of GW surburban services through Reading to Didcot and Oxford on one hand , while to Newbury on the other. It has not been stated whether these are part of Crossrail or not.  

There is a certain logic here since the rolling stock needed will be commuter stock so it makes a logical operational decision to take advantage of the "wires" to run electrical commuter stock under them to the limits of where they will go. The rolling stock needed for the West and South Wales services are long distance and that is where the decision has been postponed until the New Year.

The electrification projects approved in North West England are:
· Liverpool to Manchester via Newton-le-Willows
· Huyton to Wigan
· Preston to Blackpool North
· Manchester to Preston via Bolton
These are basically fill-ins which, more than anything, will facilitate the use of electric traction units using the already electrified WCML between Liverpool and Manchester with Glasgow and Edinburgh. This a long overdue decision since many of these connections were only available with a train change at Wigan or Preston, or the use of diesel units for the whole journey when they were only needed for a short non-electrified section - a gross misuse of resources. Other commuter opportunities are also opened up especially with the extension from Preston to Blackpool which will result in a greater, more efficient use of material. The material used will be cascaded, and should be renovated(though the DfT says nothing about this) from the Thamelink lines which will receive new stock.

HS2 is to go ahead but no definitive route has been decided upon. We suspect that there will be little change (just tinkering) from the route as laid out by the previous government (in March 2010). The present government will just choose its moment to make the route known so as to reduce the negative political impact among its own supporters as much as possible. The no news with regard to the electrification of the MML from Bedford to Nottingham, Sheffield and Leeds was received with great disappointment. However, we suspect that a lot will depend on the final route of HS2 from Birmingham to Leeds. A great part of this route will pass through the aforementioned cities. Therefore, they might get a better than anticipated service when the route is finally announced. Thereafter, the electrification of the MML from Bedford to Nottingham will be a logical fill-in in the next stage.

The main content of the announcement made on 25-11-10 refers to the number of new rolling stock to be purchased. The figures mentioned are about 2100 new carriages, "including vehicles" for the Thameslink and Crossrail projects.The net gain in carriages is calculated to be in the region of 1850. The Intercity Express replacement programme complements this but as yet is still undecided. 

We feel we have to make a comment which has nowhere been made up to date.

One rapid way to increase the numbers of locomotives and coaches on the railway network is to cut a deal with Eurostar.

Eurostar trains were built to British standards(limitations) with a narrower gauge and a dual traction system so they could run on the third rail DC system into Waterloo. Since these limitations no longer exist on HS1 into St.Pancras, then the stock is superfluous to needs and Eurostar will be thinking about replacements for that stock. If the UK government were willing to pay a fair price for the stock (which is only about 15 years old) Eurostar might be persuaded to bring forward its replacement programme so as to have a more modern, more comfortable and a more standardised fleet, thus reducing its own running costs. 

This would be of special importance if DB is to be allowed to run trains into St.Pancras with underfloor traction units and not the end traction units used at present on Eurostar trains.

The UK government would benefit by obtaining a large number of traction units of dual standard together with a large number of coaches which can be used on any long distance line, all at a knock-down price. The timetable, for introduction of the vehicles on to the UK network, might even be quicker.

2018 (Thameslink & Great Northern routes)

Programme end 2
The dual standard locomotives are what Thameslink needs and will need for trains on the differing systems both north and south of the Thames. They might not be appropriate for stopping commuter services but certainly would work for fast limited stop services. The future network envisaged for Thameslink would run from Peterborough and Kings Lynn, as well as Bedford, to various destinations on or near the south coast. The locomotives might also be useful for both passenger and freight traffic on the Southampton to Birminghan corridor. This would especially be the case as the GWML has been confirmed as being electrified from Reading to Oxford. This could then be connected to HS2 and so open the rest of the electrified network - especially the WCML.

The number of coaches for these services might be more than needed which opens the possibility of cascading them to other lines.

What we need is some lateral thinking on the whole question of fleet renewal. This idea could be quicker and cheaper than alternatives.

24 September 2010

Maybe BA has found a new way

With our last blog in July we questioned British Airways´(BA) strategy and its focus. Apart from the intended, now cleared, merger with Iberia to form International Airlines Group (IAG) there seemed to be no clear way forward for the company to compete with its two Europe main rivals Air France/KLM and Lufthansa.

In this summer period several movements have taken place which have altered the picture. Either BA has changed its ways or its incorporation into IAG has made it rethink its strategy. Before we comment let us look at what has happened in two months.

At a news conference on 27th July last "oneworld" members American, BA and Finnair announced the incorporation of "Air Berlin" into the alliance planning to complete the process early 2012 just before the opening of the new Berlin Brandenburg hub airport.

Air Berlin´s Austrian affiliate (49.9%) "NIKI" will become an associate member of "oneworld" while no mention is given to AB´s Swiss affiliate(49%) "Belair" nor to its German subsidiary "LTU".

Air Berlin´s sponsor is BA. While this incorporation will be tremendously beneficial to "oneworld" - filling a huge gap in Central Europe with its large affluent population in the three countries - it is not so easy to see the benefits for IAG.

Speaking in Mumbai on September 5th to announce the codeshare agreements made with "oneworld" partner Kingfisher, BA´s CEO, Willie Walsh, also announced IAG´s intention to take over and/or merge with several other airlines. From an initial list of over 40 candidates this has been reduced to 12 probables. Though WW did not mention any airline by name he suggested the main areas to be looked at were China and India.

As a result of this speculation became rife. The Guardian , Airline News, Breaking Travel News, among a host of other news sources, including Arabian Business.com, all provided lists of candidates for joining IAG.
To understand what is going on all these manouvers should be looked at as a whole not in isolation. The invitation to Air Berlin to join "oneworld" is a surprise to most people. "Oneworld" up to now has been looked upon/ or presented as an exclusive alliance of the best full service airlines. AirBerlin has been looked upon as a low-cost carrier which has moved up-market but is far from being a quality full service carrier. Maybe our perception is now wrong. However, without doubt it offers to fill up that empty space in central Europe which has been "oneworld´s " Achilles´ heel. It has been mentioned as a candidate for IAG thus providing a strong presence in Central Europe, however, it would be a very big mouthful to swallow, at least initially.

On the other hand other factors may have made BA look at the market in a different way. Way before it went bust Mexicana announced it was in difficulties which suggested that the full service airlines were not immune to problems even in such a large market as Mexico. On the other hand it has subsequently been revealed that Malev was days away from closing meaning that Central Europe could well have been left without any "oneworld" members. The partners in the alliance had no control over the events but surely had knowledge that one, or both, of its members was in difficulties.

Now it appears that Aer Lingus(EI) is talking to different alliances with the idea of joining one. "oneworld" is at an advantage as BA already codeshares with EI on the London-Irish routes and it was a member of this alliance previously. However, it is not the only suitor as EI´s CEO, Christph Mueller said to Bloomberg recently(14-9-10).
Whatever the state of the game let us look at what has been mentioned and try to put things into perspective.

Firstly in Europe.

Iberia has a large minority shareholding(45.85%) in VUELING. This has its main base at Barcelona and is a hybrid with low-cost flights combined with codesharing with Iberia. It is Iberia´s second carrier supplementing in Europe what Iberia cannot or will not provide.

AIR NOSTRUM - Iberia Regional is a francisee but does a good service for Iberia in supplying passengers from lesser airports both in Spain and in Europe.This is a strong candidate to be incorporated into IAG to protect Iberia´s backyard.

FLYBE. It claims to be the biggest regional airline in Europe. It has a strong presence at lesser airports in the UK while it has just signed an agreement with Finnair to provide regional services in Finland and across the Baltic. BA has a 15% shareholding which was obtained by selling BA Connect to Flybe. BA has had a hands off approach codesharing some flights while, inexplicably, permitting Flybe to negotiate a wide ranging code sharing agreement with Air France to feed passengers on to its flights. Maybe BA has decided to pull in the reins.

SUN-AIR Scandinavia is a BA francisee based in Billund (Denmark). The agreement was originally signed in May 1996 for Sun-Air to operate as a licensee linking BA services at Copenhagen, Oslo and Stockholm. It does not seem to have fulfilled the original intentions. The company did not even fill in the gaps left by the demise of Sterling in Denmark. However, the potential still exists to be a link between BA and Finnair in Scandinavia.

FINNAIR. This is an airline with good connections to the Far East. Now that it has signed the aforementioned agreement with Flybe it could find itself with better feeds for its long distance services. It is too small to continue on its own so is a strong candidate to enter IAG.

MALEV. This airline has been mentioned as a candidate for IAG but with its financial problems being aired recently probably nobody would want to touch it with a barge pole.

MERIDIANAFLY. The link with BA is very tenuous as BA only has one codeshare agreement with Meridiana between London and Florence. However, the company has a strong presence in Italy, both domestically and with European and Intercontinental leisure flights, which is an appealing market for IAG. This company must be on the shopping list.

The Americas.

American Airlines has always been looked upon as a strong candidate to merge with BA. However, the US government has not made any moves on the limitation of foreign airlines having no more than a 25% shareholding. This is something BA has already experienced with its attempted investments in US Air and UNITED. The Americans would undoubtedly want to be top dog in any merger. Hopefully, the Iberia part of IAG would put a damper on that.

Another question is LAN(now established in Chile, Argentina, Peru and Ecuador).

It has just decided to merge with the Brazilian airline TAM to form a holding group called LATAM while retaining their own brands. There might well be reticence on the part of both to immediately submerge into IAG without enjoying the benefits of the merger and the possibilities of expansion as a South American group. While LAN has been a member of "oneworld" for some time TAM has only just entered into Star Alliance(May 2010). One can see a big battle between the alliances to incorporate the other member. LAN is extremely important for "oneworld" while TAM is the only Latin American member of Star - all this is more important since the demise of Mexicana. This will be a battle to watch and is certainly not decided as yet. It could be a candidate for the future.


South African Airlines has been mentioned as a candidate for incorporation into IAG. Though it is a very interesting morsel we doubt if the SA government would want its flag carrier to be swallowed up. It is already a member of Star Alliance.
BA on the other hand has an 18% shareholding in Comair of South Africa. This airline provides domestic and regional flights connecting to BA´s services at Johannesburg and Cape Town. It also has a low cost airline, Kulula.com working mostly in the domestic market. It seems logical that IAG would take advantage of the stake to build up its presence in South Africa.

Middle East.

Royal Jordanian is already a member of "oneworld" but has not been mentioned as a takeover candidate as yet. However, Gulf Air was mentioned in Arabian Business.com(23-9-10)

With Emirates, Qatar Airways and Etihad making concerted, and so far quite successful, attempts to become important airlines with hubs in the Gulf, the other Gulf airlines are feeling the squeeze. That does not mean that "oneworld" or IAG should ignore the Gulf. Quite the opposite. It is another area where a presence is necessary. There is also a history of BOAC having a shareholding in Gulf Air. Therefore, maybe the mention is not so much wishful thinking as at first it appears to be.


The first candidate to be mentioned in all the press was QANTAS. The reasons for this are twofold. Firstly in March 1993 BA invested in a 25% stake in the airline - which it subsequently sold. More relevantly, though, in 2008 while negotiations between BA and Iberia were going on, Qantas proposed merging with BA. This seemed logical but irked Iberia and came to nothing.
Now Qantas seems not to want to merge with BA but go it alone in Asia. (according to Airline news of 22-9-10)

Notwithstanding that, there may be a future in a merger if both Qantas and IAG are looking at Asia for expansion. Qantas has two lost cost affiliates called Jetstar. The Australian company is 100% owned while the one based in Singapore is 49% owned - as required by local law the majority has to be owned by Singaporeans. These provide for Qantas to extend its reach in (South East) Asia.

Air Asia, which is a low cost carrier flying out of Kuala Lumpur to regional destinations together with its transcontinental subsidiary Air Asia X (flying to London and soon to Seoul,Tokyo and Paris(?)) have been mentioned as candidates for takeover. One analist suggested that such a move was unlikely while Malaysia Airlines was a better fit for IAG.

Cathay Pacific,together with its subsidiary Dragonair, a founder member of "oneworld" was mooted and flies out of Hong Kong. The problem in this case is the position of the Chinese government. As any investor in HK over the years since the return of HK to China have found that despite the economic system in HK being different to the mainland they have been "persuaded" to reduce their shareholdings in HK businesses to less than half.

If such is the case in Hong Kong then the other Chinese candidates mentioned,

"Air China, China Southern and China Eastern as willing recipients of foreign investment", then IAG will come up against the barrier of a 25% investment as a maximum.

The other market which has been focused on is India. Kingfisher has been accepted as a candidate for entry into "oneworld" with BA announcing codesharing agreements with the airline. Probably for that reason it has been looked upon as a takeover target. However, at the moment the Indian government does not, as yet, permit any foreign participation in its airlines. Thus this company is not an immediate target.

Whatever the future decision of the Indian government to allow foreign shareholdings, it is likely to be a minority foreign participation - probably 25% initially.

That being the case in both China and India, does IAG want to be a minority shareholder of any such airline? or will it be looking more longer term when such restrictions might well be eliminated?

We can now say that though BA seemed lost in July its new grouping, IAG, seems to be more focused in September. Time will only tell what IAG will do but without doubt the merger will be and has to completed before anything noteworthy happens - are we looking at two years down the line, 2012?

15 July 2010

British Airways has lost its way

On the day(Tuesday 13th July 2010) that British Airways´ affiliate company FlyBe signs an agreement to codeshare its flights with Air France it seems to us that BA has lost its way with its obsession with the US market and its desire to form ever closer links to American Airlines. Let us look at this tragic comedy of errors which has turned Britain´s main flag carrier from the most important European carrier into the third bit player trying to survive with no coherent strategy.

1-With the inheritance of the occupiers´ German routes into Berlin, Deutsche BA was formed to try and build on that experience. The results were not to its liking so short termism prevailed and the subsidiary was taken over firstly by "easyjet"(a wierd arrangement) and then by AirBerlin. Thus BA withdraws from the German market(Europe´s biggest) just as all Europe´s markets are about to be opened to free competition.

2-BA built up a subsidiary in France called Air Liberté. The results were not to its liking so short termism prevailed and the subsidiary was sold. Thus BA withdraws from the French market just as all Europe´s markets are about to be opened to free competition.

3- KLM twice offered itself for merger with BA which fell through. Then it suddenly decided to merge with Air France which apparently has proved more successful than anticipated. Previous anti-monopoly worries suddenly went out of the window thus opening the whole European market for consolidation.

4- Swiss was handed on a plate to BA and was set to join oneworld but then (through frustration??) changed its chairman and fell into the lap of Lufthansa. This airline was the perfect fit for BA and its partners in oneworld at a crossroad in Central Europe providing two potential hubs (one in a French speaking market while the other is in a German speaking market). The results for Lufthansa have proved tremendously beneficial with regard to revenue and traffic.

5- BA´s licensee BMED was snatched from under its nose by BMI. This reduced BA´s attraction through Heathrow to the benefit of the Star Alliance through BMI.

6- BMI was subsequently bought by Lufthansa and now serves LH´s interests.

7- BA´s licensee GBAir was similarly bought by "easyjet". This reduced the number of slots available at Gatwick and destinations on offer in the southern Mediterranean. Also the company lost a possible vehicle to run BA´s regional services.

8-Some of BA´s regional operations from less important UK airports were sold off to Eastern Airways

9- BA Connect was set up in a half hearted attempt to consolidate(what remained of) BA´s regional operations from Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow.

10-Without being given a chance to work short termism prevailed and the operations were handed over to Flybe in exchange for a paltry 15% of its equity. The franchise agreement with Loganair is broken thus leaving BA with no offers north of Edinburgh and Glasgow. Loganair subsequently signs a codeshare agreement with FlyBe. (so there must still be business to be had)

In our view it would be more logical to build up the stake to at least 40% to safeguard the investment while pushing Flybe into being a better service airline thus becoming an honorable representative of and for BA. (Air Nostrum does a good job for Iberia)

It cannot be understood how Lufthansa has been able to build up regional services in Europe while BA turns its back on the British regions. The connections from the UK to the European continent are now effectively offered to European full service competitors especially when these passengers want to fly long distance but not through Heathrow(as has been shown by FlyBe´s announcement of extensive codesharing with Air France). BA´s Manchester -New York service inexplicably closed down emphasising this lack of support for the regions while Continental, American Airlines fly transatlantic from Manchester as well as other airlines.

11- Brussels Airlines (in the backgarden and a natural ally of BA with tremendous untapped potential) sold a majority stake in itself to Lufthansa.

Aer Lingus was offered for sale by the Irish government which thankfully did not let Ryanair take a majority stake. BA handed over the UK/Irish routes to Aer Lingus some years ago which was not problematic when AL was in oneworld. AL subsequently left oneworld while under the direction of WILLIE WALSH (now the CEO of BA)!!!

BA must take over AL to secure its own back yard. If any non-British airline has any chance of competing with BA at Heathrow or anywhere else in the UK it is Aer Lingus. Most Brits will fly Irish with no second thoughts(look at Ryanair´s success in the UK) while we would look hard at a foreign airline.(What success has Air France had with its Los Angeles flight from Heathrow?). Can you imagine the aggressive Ryanair fully taking over Aer Lingus and running low cost long distance flights from Heathrow? It is one airline that must be won.

13- "
BA´s" CEO walked away from the bidding for Austrian saying it was a better strategic fit for Lufthansa. We cannot understand how he just wanted to hand it to Lufthansa. What better strategic fit is there for BA in Central Europe after the loss of Swiss? Has Malev been proven a better substitute?

Alitalia was on the rocks and nobody wanted a lame duck. However, then the proposal was to merge it with Air One (also participated in by Lufthansa). Alitalia is given the "kiss of life" and now survives in the SkyTeam alliance. Only Lufthansa takes advantage of the weak Alitalia restructuring situation by setting up its Lufthansa Italia subsidiary. BA nothing.

BA´s CEO states in each case that BA is only looking for a commercial alliance - this has got BA nowhere as has subsequently been proved.

BA sets up a subsidiary "Open Skies" very timidly in 2008 as an all business airline just when other similar concerns are going out of business(EOS, Maxjet and Silverjet). "Open Skies" takes over L´Avion to obtain access to Paris Orly and an up and running business with flights to NY-Newark. After initial attempts to fly Orly to Newark and JFK and from Amsterdam to New York(susequently suspended indefinitely), now it flies Paris Orly to Newark while it has just introduced a Paris Orly - Washington Dulles flight. The chic image and name of L´Avion is lost and submerged in the insipid image and ridiculously cheap name of "Open Skies"

However, where are the connecting services to BA, its subsidiaries and its partners in "oneworld"? They do not exist. OS is not in "oneworld" and cannot offer the services of a full service airline in an alliance. To us this seems to be cutting your own throat. American Airlines flies from NY-JFK not Newark, nor does it fly from Dulles. In Paris, of the "oneworld" European partners only Iberia and Vueling fly into Orly; Finnair, Royal Jordanian, Malev, BA and FlyBe fly into CDG.

BA´s CEO expressed a desire to take over BMI "to consolidate BA´s position at Heathrow". We all knew that this was a nonstarter because Lufthansa (with its 20% stake) would not permit it, and the competition authorities would be against any control by BA of more slots at Heathrow.

BA has just been given the go-ahead by the European Commission for its transatlantic alliance with Iberia and American Airlines. The US authorities have given provisional approval to the alliance while are still prevaricating. The price to pay will be for 8 landing/take off slots to be ceded to competitors. This tends to show that the "desire to take over BMI" as expressed in the previous paragraph as being knowingly unachievable and thus a smokescreen

BA announced the start up of a twice daily business service(similar to "Open Skies´") to New York from London City(from October 2009). Then to eveyone´s surprise BA announced the service would land at Shannon to refuel and invent an excuse that US passport formalities will be done there. The real reason is only that the aircraft cannot take off from London City with a sufficient load of fuel for JFK. What is gained by the immigration process at Shannon is lost by the length of the stopover.

BA announces that its London City services are so successful that it is thinking of introducing more business services to Chicago, Washington and Boston. It cannot fly further with the A318 (from Shannon).

All these are illustrations of what concerns us about
BA. It seems to have no logical strategy. A merger with Iberia(not takeover - under less favourable conditions than before) only seems logical as the Spanish can maintain the identity of the airline and direct its operations into Central and South America. But what else? Are you not looking at the possibility of another airline in Central Europe (CSA or LOT)? What plans are there for Eastern Europe , the Balkans, Greece, Turkey. Is RJA a sufficiently connected airline? What about the Gulf airlines to join oneworld? Should it not be better to have Etihad, Emirates or Gulf onboard than being competitors? It is just as well that S7(Russia) and Kingfisher (India) have been sought as suitable partners for oneworld. Thanks be that JAL (Japan) decided to stay in oneworld and not defect to Skyteam. But where is BA going in Africa? - at the moment nowhere. That is one reason why Brussels Airlines(with its partner in the Congo) was important.

The only strategy the airline appears to have at the moment is to turn
British Airways into London North American Airways for high flyers in Business class. This is not good enough,
especially when it flies from an airport which will not be expanded (at least at the moment) and where it cannot get more slots but has to give up some present slots. This is plain madness. We expect better.

05 July 2010

Luton - The Next Best Bet ?

The new coalition government has stated that it is not going to permit the building of a third runway at Heathrow airport nor second runways at Gatwick and Stansted airports.This is despite the fact that as long ago as 2003 it was recognised in the report "The Future of Air Transport " (16-12-03) that "two new runways will be needed in the South East over the next three decades." The government, however, is offering us none, or is it?

A brief comment should be made on why the announcement was made and in the terms used. The 2010 election was the one to be won at all costs by the Conservative Party. They had been out of power for 13 years and were desperate to regain it. The decision had already been made to cancel the third runway at Heathrow just because Labour supported it and it was a vote winner. The LibDem. attitude only reinforced the argument and so the coalition did not think twice about it - at least for the next 5 years(!!). Gatwick and Stansted were added to the list to satisfy the LibDems. though the decision certainly benefited the Tories since the two airports are in highly affluent True Blue country. Cost was not a reason at all because the runways would be privately financed. Noise and exhaust pollution were pushed as reasons but those are smoke screens. Reality would be different with stricter regulation and newer engine efficient aircraft being imposed as the only operable vehicles. The nimbys have won the day without even starting the battle - for a comparison the reactions started over HSR2 have been in True Blue Chiltern country. Thus go back to basics and fight one battle at a time.

What should be noted is what was left out of the statement. Luton airport is without doubt a London airport but it lies in the only Labour strongholds in the region. Thus this is the door left ajar for future use. It is also a potential vote provider, since (to quote the report again),  
"Luton/Dunstable is identified in Regional Planning Guidance as a Priority Area for Economic Regeneration and, along with Bedford, is designated as a Growth Area in the Communities Plan. The continued expansion of Luton Airport has the potential to play a key role in delivering employment-led growth in this area."  What better for the government than to show it is creating employment. Thus we come to the conclusion that Luton airport is going to be the solution of the runway needs for South East England.

However, political considerations are not the only factors. Even though  the report indicates that Luton was the last and least likely option for expansion, in the new circumstances other reasons come into play which make Luton much more attractive as an airport for expansion than any of the others.

1)- As we have already indicated Luton is an area ripe for development, especially since the decline of the auto industry. 
2)-There is an already electrified line from Bedford through Luton Parkway into central London and south to Brighton offering excellent connections both north and south of the Thames for a large number of potential clients.
3)-First Captial Connect trains run from Bedford through Luton to St.Pancras(for the services to Paris and Brussels) and south to Gatwick airport and Brighton.
4)-East Midland trains run services from St. Pancras through Luton to Leicester, East Midlands airport, Derby, Nottingham, Sheffield and onwards to Leeds.
5)-Road access to the M1 is literally "on the doorstep".
6)-Road access to the A1(M)would need the construction of a new road link to Stevenage.(about 11kms. away in a direct line).

The connections are, therefore, much better than any other London airport - to both Gatwick and East Midlands. The access to the airport is good or very good for a large proportion of the Midland and Yorkshire population without having to pass through Central London.

As can be seen from the Google map the runway alinement is WSW-ENE. In the airport´s plans, as published in the said report in 2003, the idea was to either extend the present runway or move it a little southwards and use the present one as a taxiway.Thus increasing the capacity for take-offs and landings. 

The development plans published on the airport´s website at present indicate a date of September 2001 which co-incides with the government´s original plans in 2003 to give the airport a minor role in London´s air traffic. However, it should be said that these plans replaced a much more ambitious plan to develop the airport with two runways (Published in October 2005 and withdrawn in July 2007).

However, if the only alternative for the increase in demand in air in South East England is to develop Luton then the old plans should be dusted off and looked at again. The effects of such a change in policy would go into other areas.

If this option is taken up then the electification of the Midland Main Rail Line(MML) to Leeds is more than likely while being less costly than HSR2 to Birmingham from London. We suggested in our blog Fast Track 3 (points 4 & 5) (28-02-10) 
that with new improved lines from East Midlands airport to Derby-Stoke-Manchester, and to Nottingham-Sheffield-Leeds the service to the Midland cities and those on both sides of the Pennines could provide an excellent frequent and competitive (alternative) service to London and much more accessible to a major airport which Luton could become (and all without threatening to throttle London). 

Part of the problems of the WCML and ECML are the bottlenecks where the lines are not four-tracked(at least) and the lines become clogged with mixtures of long distance, regional and local passenger traffic with freight all vying for access. With an electrified MML, as we indicate in the aforementioned Fast Track 3,  upgrading the MML and being able to put on fast trains to Derby, Stoke and Manchester on one hand , while to Nottingham, Sheffield and Leeds on the other, would aleviate capacity on both the WCML and ECML, provide competition and give direct acces to potential clients in the East Midlands, the North West and South and West Yorkshire to Luton airport - all at a lower cost and greater benefit for a greater number than the proposed HSR2 (which will not go anywhere near an airport except Birmingham International). 

Is it not time to think of these alternatives and put them into practice?

We must finish by saying, as we did in Runways in South East England (24-3-10), that we support all the main four London´s airports wishes to increase runway capacity - including a third runway for Heathrow - as we argue in that blog. And we are not alone.

30 June 2010

Airtrack - is it worthwhile?

Airtrack is a rail project by BAA at Heathrow airport Terminal 5 to run trains along the South West Trains network to Waterloo, Reading and Guildford.The trains would leave Terminal 5 and travel south parallel to the M25, passing over Staines Moor, to join the Windsor line just north of Staines. Here the services would join the South West Trains network to travel on to their destinations.

One service would have stops at Staines, Feltham, Twickenham, Richmond and Clapham Junction before terminating at Waterloo. For the other services a new chord (joining line) would have to be built in the middle of Staines so that the trains can turn south. The Reading service would have intermediate stops at Bracknell and Wokingham while the Guildford service would have intermediate stops at Chertsey and Woking.Some Heathrow Express(HE) trains from Paddington would also be extended from Terminal 5 to Staines to provide a connexion to Paddington and maybe even on to Crossrail.The planned frequency for the three main services would be 2 trains per hour(tph) for each.  

The main idea behind the scheme is to provide better connections to the South West lines and at Clapham Junction and Waterloo to other services south of the Thames. The Reading and Woking services would offer alternative connections to the GWML and SWML (to Southampton etc.). The intermediate stops are planned to offer, for both passengers and airport workers, better oportunities to use public transport thus reducing dependency on the car while at the same time reducing traffic jams and exhaust pollution.

Without doubt BAA is also attracted to the lucrative Railair coach services linking Heathrow to Reading and Woking.  

Initially the proposal looks attractive. This is especially so in these constrained times since the project would be privately funded by BAA thus not affecting the public borrowing requirements of the Treasury.

However, this scheme should be looked at again. There are quite a few factors which make it less attractive than it is painted.
Firstly all the services would leave from Terminal 5 so would not serve the other terminals directly. The only exception to this are the HE services to Paddington which would go through the central terminal area (T1,2 & 3) but not Terminal 4. In the document prepared by BAA Heathrow & Arup for HSR2 Ltd. ("Improving Rail Connectivity to Heathrow" 20-10-09)they looked at the problem of availability and facility of connections in detail. Suffice it to quote one passage from the report . "Each time a passenger has to change between trains at each leg of the journey the total end to end journey time is increased by additional waiting time. The impact of this interchange penalty tends to be greater for passengers who are travelling with luggage, such as air passengers, and is particularly high for foreign travellers and those who are unfamiliar with our transport systems." (Point 4.4 Page 13) In this report it is thus recognised that the advantages of the service is lost to a certain degree when there is no direct connection.

Secondly there are problems with train paths. This means that even if the services were tremendously successful then there would be problems in finding room on the network for additional trains. The Windsor and Reading lines, in particular, are crowded so adding more trains, especially at peak times would only be possible by subtracting trains from other services - and that is definitely a non-starter. 

It has to be added that, especially on the Reading line, there are many level crossings. Even with the programmed additional trains many members of the public are opposed because more trains mean more closing times for the level crossings - and this would result in having an adverse effect of the road traffic in all the towns along the line. Apparently, building bridges or tunnels to substitute the level crossings also presents great difficulty in the space available and the disruption caused. 

We think that the scheme on offer is limited and does take into account the bigger picture of improving transport links in the south and south east of England. In fact we laid out a more detailed argument in our previous blog Fast Trax 2 - The case for a southern high speed alternative (SHSL)(24-02-2010)
Points 5 & 6 refer to our proposals to provide new services between Reading-Heathrow-Gatwick and Ashford as well as Heathrow-Waterloo. We repeat one quote to illustrate the shortcomings of Airtrack as presently laid down.
The report (Review of Business Case for AirTrack Scheme Proposals (Assignment Number 2004/00229)) prepared by  Ove Arup & Partners for the Strategic Rail Authority in July 2005 stated
"The AirTrack services that we have appraised would provide two trains per hour from each of Guildford, Reading and Waterloo to Heathrow Terminal 5. To provide sufficient capacity the introduction of these AirTrack services would necessitate the withdrawal of three trains from Reading to Waterloo in the morning peak period, two trains from Waterloo to Reading in the morning peak period, and 5 trains from Waterloo to Reading in the evening peak period. To compensate for the withdrawn services, additional stops to those assumed in the OBC would be required on some AirTrack services between Reading and Terminal 5."
We view CONNECTVITY as the keyword, not narrow short sighted commercial gain. Airports are to be connected to city centres, airports to airports, main lines to main lines, population clusters to population clusters and so on. That is the only way to provide decent public transport and encourage the public to leave the car at home. We laid out our arguments in FAST TRAX 2
and they are there to see so we will not bore you by repeating them. Basically it shows the case for a new line from the GWML at Reading to Ashford and the Channel Tunnel through the two airports. One of the reasons  would be to provide a relief line south of London so avoiding the capital and directing freight  (and passenger) traffic directly through the Chunnel and not blocking the bottleneck which London would become.
The subsequent benefits are substantial. Not only would BAA get its connecting trains but the possibility of direct inter-city passenger services  to Mainland Europe would also be opened up from BOTH Heathrow and Gatwick. This would result in fewer flights from BOTH airports. Is this not what the present government wants?
In Switzerland the direct connecting rail service between Geneva and Zürich airports has been operational for years. This means that the only intercontinental airport with regular services in that country is Zürich, while Basel and Geneva have been able to absorb the increase in holiday and business traffic - mostly  to/from the UK  and other destinations by Easyjet. 

 London Heathrow Airport from West Drayton to Feltham

As with every project these things will take time so will have to be done in parts. We suggest the start should be made with the line from Terminal 5 (at Heathrow) to the Central Terminal area then the curve south to Terminal 4 from where the line is extended to Feltham. This would provide the connection for the service to Waterloo at low cost. The terminus already exists at T5; a curve would be built at T1,2&3; the extension to Feltham would be new - but better with a new chord both west and east; and the new depot is already programmed for Feltham. Thus the three Airtrack services could be started with less disruption while serving all the terminals at Heathrow. The other elements of the SHSL would fall into place eventually but the main part through Heathrow would be in place from the start. Remember that both the Piccadilly extension to the airport and the HE line had to be expensively modified when T5 was built. Let us not make the same mistakes with short-termism thinking. 

Our politicians should take care with their sound bites and think constructively about problems while looking at private interests with scepticism. The ideas expressed here could provide a better solution to transport problems being part of a bigger picture. However, there is still a problem which has been identified and has still not been addressed. The need for a new runway in South Esat England is real and urgent. The present recession only provides a breathing space but the problem will not go away so we will look at it in the next blog. 

10 June 2010

Crossrail - where is it going?

The Crossrail project to connect the west London area lines(into Paddington)to the east London area ones (out of Liverpool Street) has run into some heavy criticism in the run up to the election. It has also been questioned strongly about its viability while the new government has been looking at the possibility of cancelling it since their need to make drastic cuts in all projects in order to reduce the public deficit.

The project has been saved for several reasons, not least the fact that cancelling it would probably has been more costly than continuing with it due to the partnerships involved. The UK government pays only part of the project (directly) while local authorities and businesses pay the major part
together with Transport for London, Network Rail among others. Without doubt there are built in penalties for one party not fulfilling its part. Therefore, if the government pulled out the businesses which have been taxed to pay for it and the local authorities (both within and without the Greater London area) who have been badgered to fork out for it would be, to say the least, rather peeved. It is reported that the government has already spent GBP1000M with its remaining GBP4000M to be paid over the next 7 years - hardly figures which will break the bank while the figures to be paid by the other groupings would come to close on GBP10900M (within budget).

Since the government cannot cancel the project it does not mean
the project is above criticism despite the claim that it will transport 200 million persons per year.
This map of the Crossrail project and the other variants are to be found at

Since this project is more than likely to go ahead we have to look at it to see that it is well thought out or not. Let us firstly look at why it is being built.

The Great Eastern services into Liverpool Street are dominated by a large number of commuter services from the inner M25 area. These provide services to areas of Greater London which are not so well served by Tube lines which, anyway become heavily crowded. With a tunnel through Central London many of the commuters would be able to disembark nearer to their places of work thus taking pressure off stations, like Liverpool Street, and the connecting Tube lines which become heavily overcrowded such as the Central Line. According to Crossrail´s own estimates 10 of the 16 trains per hour(tph) which run from Shenfield into Liverpool Street would be directed on to Crossrail. This would alleviate capacity restraints at Liverpool Street and free up platform capacity for more longer distance commuter and inter-city services. An additional 2 tph. would run on to Crossrail from Shenfield making a total of 12 tph from that destination.

Secondly, 12 tph are destined to run from Abbey Wood (in North Kent) through Crossrail. These would double the frequency of the services through Central London making a total of up to 24 tph in the central section from Whitechapel to Paddington. These services would provide an easy access service to Docklands and on to the City and Central London avoiding overloading the connections for Kent commuters at Woolwich Arsenal, Greenwich and Lewisham, as well as the termini at London Bridge, Cannon Street and Charing Cross.

So far so good, but what about the western end? This is where questions must be asked whether the project has been well thought out or not. According to Crossrail itself 14 of the 24  tph will start/end at Paddington. While Crossrail does not claim to be something it is not, the area west of Paddington does not seem to be well served in comparison with Essex.

The proposed timetable for the Great Western Corridor consists of 4 tph to/from Maidenhead with an extra 2 tph to/from West Drayton. In addition 4 tph will run to/from Heathrow airport - these would be double the frequency of the present Heathrow Connect stopping services to/from T4. This way we reach the 10 tph which are predicted for the western section of the line.

However, in our view the investment involved to construct a heavy rail tunnel under Central London with  six major station construction projects for(at least) 12 coach trains seems to be excessive if and when it is only going to be used at a fraction of its potential. The net benefit claims to be a 10% capacity increase which also seems to be unspectacular. Well let us look at this in detail.

This is the First Great Western system map showing the service pattern from Paddington to Reading including Heathrow airport.

In fact the National Rail maps (London Connections and London and the South East) are more accurate. They show the Greenford branch joining the main line (as this does) but the branches Slough-Windsor, Maidenhead-Marlow, and Twyford- Henley-on-Thames are feeder services to the main line with no direct services further.
The point of this is that the proposed 4 tph from Paddington to Maidenhead can probably absorb the present and envisaged passenger demand. This is without doubt so when First Great Western at present programmes 4 tph (both stopping and semi-fast) from Paddington to Reading. The traffic pattern from Paddington to Greenford is 2 tph which will be easily absorbed by the 2 tph from Paddington to West Drayton and the 2 tph extra services from Paddington to Heathrow (to add to the present 2 tph Heathrow Connect services). The 2 tph service to/from Greenford will not run into/from Paddington but to West Ealing. The logical solution is to run the services into/from Ealing Broadway(to connect to the tube services which terminate there) but there exist problems concerning platform space and turnback facilities which make this option impossible at the moment without large investment (though probably worthwhile).

Thus we arrive at 10 tph to connect to Crossrail and run through Central London out to the east. The net effect of this will be to free up platforms at Paddington for other longer distance services.
There has been a suggestion of extending Crossrail services to Reading. This is quite logical and very possible (a) if the electrification of the GWML  to the West and South Wales goes ahead and (b) the planned remodelling and renovation of Reading station goes ahead. It should be said that they are not certainties as yet because of the government´s plans for reductions in spending. However, let us hope that the worst case scenario is a postponement of plans not their cancellation.

Such a Crossrail service extended from Maidenhead to Reading would absorb the stopping and semi-fast services to/from Reading to/from Paddington. The planned capacity to Maidenhead might be sufficient to cover the demand along the line but there is plenty of spare capacity at Paddington with the 14 tph planned to terminate there from the east. There should be no track capacity problems along this route, at least for the next ten years(as envisaged in the GWML Route Utilisation Strategy(RUS) as published by Network Rail on 19th April 2010).

There also exists the possibility of extending Crossrail services past Reading to (a)Basingstoke and (b) Oxford and Banbury. The problem is that while it is possible for Crossrail to operate along the core GWML as far as Maidenhead, and very probably as far as Reading, past Reading the services are not surburban and encroach on the long distance services (and subsequently the franchise) of the Train Operating Company (TOC)First Great Western to which it would undoubtedly object strongly. After all Crossrail itself is also a TOC and, therefore, competition for FGW. 

One solution does exist, however, and that is using the Heathrow Express(HE) services that run non-stop to Paddington. These could run through Central London and even run up to Stansted airport combining with or substituting the Stansted Express (SE) services from Liverpool Street. Both have a traffic frequency of 4 tph which make them compatible. Their running through Central London would alleviate some demand on LUL tube lines while facilitating connectivity between the airports. This is important when there is a lack of runways at one and/or the other airport after having their proposals for extra runways withdrawn. Could not the Heathrow Connect services run to Abbey Wood (thus serving London City Airport) while the HE and SE services connect both airports? Connectivity is the key.

The problem with this solution is that we are then talking about 3 different TOCs with all the differing interests involved. Crossrail will run all the services through Central London and FGW´s surburban services will be transferred to it. HE is owned and operated by BAA. SE is part of National Express East Anglia out of Liverpool Street. Critics of this solution say that any delay on such a long distance service between Heathrow and Stansted airports would have a knock-on effect to other Crossrail services. We cannot see the basis for such an opinion since the same argument applies to the long distance services to/from Shenfield to/from Maidenhead (and even Reading). Obviously a joint service would have to be set up but maybe BAA is against this. It should also be mentioned that with its Airtrack services BAA is planning to run the HE trains out to Staines from T5. BAA is obviously thinking of the perennial goose and golden egg which it does not want to share with anybody. 

We will look at Airtrack in a subsequent blog. 

What have also been mentioned are the possibility of running some London Midland services from Northampton through Paddington and the London Overground service from Watford to Euston through Paddington and Central London. This latter proposal is not really acceptable as it runs over the same tracks as the Bakerloo LU line and would involve running dual sets (trains that run on the third DC rail and overhead AC gantries). The London Midland services are compatible so could be run on the Crossrail line having the connexion somewhere in the Willesden Junction area. However, nothing more of this proposal has been heard.

One additional option is open but we do not know if this coalition government would even consider it. The new HSR2 has been proposed to run from Old Oak Common(near Willesden Junction) to South Ruislip and on to Birmingham. This means that if this goes ahead at least part of the corridor to Bicester will be electrified. This would also beg the question whether the new Chiltern Railways´service from Marylebone to Bicester and onwards to Oxford (after 2013) will be electrified. With 5 tph to High Wycombe and 3tph of those to Princes Risborough(for stops to Aylesbury) these Chiltern Railways services are certainly candidates to connect to Crossrail.

Something must be done to better the options on Crossrail. At the moment it seems like a badly thought out "white elephant".