Professor Lewis Lesley comments on the recently announced plan to purchase expensive High Speed Trains from Hitachi

(Letter originally printed in The  Guardian but heavily edited…………)
Dear Editor,
Whilst commentators have been arguing about how many jobs and where, no one has raised the question of “value for money”. At £5.4m per carriage, these are the most expensive trains ever in real terms. As a comparison for the same money, 30,000 high speed luxury motorway coaches could be got, increasing the total size of the UK Bus and Coach fleet by 50%. Or over 300 medium haul jets each carrying 200 passengers. Similarly ready to run TGV’s from France would be able half the price. These are the same as the Eurostar trains run at 125mph (rather than 190mph) by GNER between London and Leeds for some years to provide more capacity.
As a straw in the wind, the City of Cologne is faced with renewing its 30 year old rail carriages, at €3m each, they have instead opted to refurbish for another 30years at only €1.6m each. Refurbishing the HST’s would be better value than new TGVs. The £3bn saved could be used for electrification of some main lines, eg. GWR or Midland.
With renewable power, railways are the only transport system that can be fossil fuel independent and carbon free.

Or the money could reopen important links to relieve congested motorways, eg M62 between Leeds and Manchester. This is another opportunity lost to expand UK railways and provide a genuine alternative to road transport for passenger and freight movements.


Professor Lewis Lesley

30 Moss Lane,

Liverpool L9 8AJ





7 comments on “Professor Lewis Lesley comments on the recently announced plan to purchase expensive High Speed Trains from Hitachi

  1. Dave A,

    The difference between UK and other EU cities is that the EU cities have applied on an incremental basis measures to calm and restrain traffic, so that the network continues to flow smoothly. This includes priority for public transport, so that it does not grid lock. In the UK the Govt. only sees Congestion Charging as a solution. The London system reduced traffic in the control zone by 24% but increased in the rest of London by 3% by displacement. Car is the dominant mode of transport in all London except for the very central area. We might contrast this to the “ring of steel” put around the City of London after the IRA bombs. This reduced traffic in the City by 50%, at a pro-rata much lower capital cost and virtually no running costs. The Congestion charging zone costs £120m pa to operate, producing £180m in charges, and a surplus of only £60m pa, trivial in comparison the £1500m pa subsidy to operate the buses in London.

    Sadly most transport/traffic policy is not made by transport planner/ engineers but by politicians. I am reading the war diary of Lord Allenbrooke, who makes a similar comment about politicians including Churchill. The difference then was that the military commanders were on the front line and responsible. When Hitler took command of the Battle of Stalingrad, the Germans lost, the war. Micro managing from the centre does not work, as I witnessed when I lived in communist Budapest in 1984 & 5.

    Best wishes,

    On 22 Feb 2009, at 08:52, Dave Andrews wrote:

    > Dear Lewis – please send your full letter and we will publish it.
    > By the way I tried to travel to Fred’s house this Saturday evening
    > from Wimbledon to Croydon – the whole roads were grid locked – at 8.00
    > pm!
    > This would not happen in a continental city with trams such as Antwerp
    > or Grenoble.
    > Fred could not be convinced!
    > Cheers
    > Dave A

  2. Dear Lewis,

    I suspected that your letter had been heavily cut, but I could not help having a bit of fun!

    At least now your full letter has got wider dissemination. And who could seriously disagree with what you say?

    Because the people having financial responsibility for the railways, have been “de-engineered”, we are getting a sequence of half baked decisions.These are unlikely to make the railways any more economic than they are now, and are not providing even replacement manufacturing or technical jobs. let alone new ones.

    One of the sweeteners for the decision to buy trains from Japan has been that there will be maintenance work for several decades. Well wherever the trains were manufactured this would be the case.

    Can I suggest that you get your letter off to Modern Railways, which has been throwing cold water on the proposed specification for the HST replacement train sets.

    My own feeling is that we could continue with the present set up, with no more electrification, and simply run the existing diesels on biofuels. I guess we would not need more than one million tonnes per annum for this purpose.

    Best regards


  3. What Lewis says is indeed sensible but the use of Bio-diesel would be a mistake.

    We could move to Bio-gas operation this has happened in a few places such as Sweden.

    Us operational people also see the considerable waste of money on the UK transport network. This could be invested in giving the UK a good transport system.

    As a matter of interest why did you not take the tram from Wimbledon to Croydon?

    In regards to politicians I find that it is only in the UK where they fail to make positive decisions on transport.

    I could name a string of cities in other parts of Europe where they have progressive policies.

  4. Hi Andrew (or anyone else) – as a transport modeller, can you tell us why the morons running our transport systems do not give us proper transport systems like in the numerous continental cities I have visited where one can glide around effortlessly in trams unlike the nightmare that is gridlocked London even on a Saturday night?

    Is it incompetence, stupidity, or the malign interference of vested interests ie the transport lobby?

    Furthermore, why is it that otherwise intelligent people cannot recognise the evidence of their own eyes (they’ve all been there as well) that trams do work in the continent, and that in France the major cities have re-installed them, having taken them out after the war, because they work?

    Is it something in the water here?


    Dave A

  5. From Roger Button,

    Hi Dave,

    I think there are many factors:
    We tend to be more individualistic than continentals, maybe part of our island mentality.
    As a result we have less respect for our towns and cities, we have less civic pride.
    Towns and cities thus have less authority to act in a ‘civic’ way.
    We went overboard on free market capitalism much more than our continental colleagues and encouraged private ownership of houses, and cars.
    Thus we went more for the American suburban model, which is inherently less conducive to public transport.
    British towns are generally built on a smaller scale and have less room for dedicated public transport routes.
    Also, the effects of WWII should not be underestimated. Many tram etc.
    systems were badly damaged, they were also perceived to be ‘old-fashioned’ and so were readily scrapped.

    Anyway, there’s no point in worrying about it. ‘Travel’ is destined to reduce at 5% p.a. from now on so congestion problems will disappear eventually


  6. Plus lack of public support. In Colchester, the latter. – “The answer to congestion is to remove the bus lanes and only let pedestrians cross where they need to “[where is that one might ask.]

    And the planners are hopeless.

    This long exchange might amuse you.

    Pedstrians and vehicles
    From: Mark Barrett
    Sent: 18 June 2008 13:55
    To: Liz Saville ITS & Congestion Manager
    Subject: Pedestrian/cycle network planning and operation; Colchester

    Dear Liz Saville

    I am a Colchester resident and have some questions about pedestrian/cycle network planning and operation. These arise because I think the pedestrian/cycle system in Colchester is poor and deteriorating, and priority is given to road traffic with all the safety, health and climate change impacts that brings. As a pedestrian you are made to walk much further, wait for traffic and suffer health and safety impacts; it is an unpleasant experience.

    There are many questions about walking, cycling and public transport that could be asked, but answers to these specific questions would be of interest:

    · How do you decide the allocation of time between pedestrians and traffic at crossings? Times to WAIT, time to actually cross the road, time before you can cross again?

    The guidelines used by Essex County Council to determine crossing times are those detailed in the Department of Transport’s (DfT) document Local Transport Note 2/95 – The design of pedestrian crossings and is applicable to stand alone signal-controlled crossings, for example Pelican crossings and the newer Puffin (pedestrian) and Toucan (pedestrian/cyclist) crossings. The crossing time is determined by measuring the distance crossed from kerb to kerb. The time pedestrians have to wait for the green man after pressing the button will depend upon the type of road. Higher speed roads generally have a wait time of 30 to 40 seconds with 30 mph roads having 20 to 30 seconds. National guidance on Puffin crossings is contained in the DfT’s publication Puffin Good Practice Guide. Both these documents are available online from the DfT’s website

    · Why do you make pedestrians stop in the middle of dual carriageways, press WAIT again, and wait again? E.g. Balkerne Hill, North Station road. Why can’t you time the lights so we can cross in one go?

    If both halves of a dual carriageway crossing were green to pedestrians at the same time, the majority of pedestrians would not be able to cross both carriageways safely within the crossing time. Many of these crossings, including the two sites mentioned, are on roads with heavy traffic flows and close to roundabouts. Ensuring that pedestrians push a button on each half of the crossing avoids traffic being stopped unnecessarily if no pedestrians are waiting to cross.

    · How do you decide to stop pedestrians crossing the roads with barriers? This makes pedestrians walk 5 or 10 times the distance to cross the road. E.g. Southway, Balkerne hill, North Station road etc. etc. etc.

    Barriers are used to direct pedestrians to a safer/defined crossing point. We aim to provide crossing facilities as close to the pedestrian desire line as possible, given the geometry of the road and the design requirements set by DfT.

    · How are you meant to safely cross roundabouts when there are no give way lines on exit roads, e.g. North Station road roundabout, south of station?

    Give way lines cannot be placed on exit roads at roundabouts as this would require traffic to slow and almost stop and would increase shunts on the roundabout itself.

    More generally:

    · If you are walking along a main road and want to cross a side road with give way lines, do you have priority as a pedestrian, as do cars on the main road? If not, how can you cross safely when there is a lot of traffic? Do you just wait until someone is kind enough to let you across?

    o The highway code says this to car drivers: watch out for pedestrians crossing a road into which you are turning. If they have started to cross they have priority, so give way.

    o But if you see a car approaching the junction some way off, would you rely on the driver seeing you and giving way and start to cross? Especially as many drivers do not know this part of the code, as angry encounters have demonstrated.

    As you state, the Highway Code makes it clear that pedestrians have priority in this situation.

    All this of course means people are less likely to walk (or cycle) and further exacerbate Colchester’s horrendous traffic problems; and in the desperate attempt to keep road traffic flowing, you further curtail the rights of pedestrian and cyclists even though they are the most benign road users. This just leads to more obesity, global warming and fossil fuel depletion.

    Two general questions:

    · How are local people involved with these planning and operation issues?

    The County Council holds a number of consultation exercises – most recently ion Colchester the consultation on the A133 measures. In addition, changes to existing crossings or provision of new crossing facilities (along with many other changes) are subject to either statutory consultation of legal notice period. These are advertised on site and in the press.

    · What is your plan for sustainability through the reduction of road traffic, fuel use and emissions in Colchester and Essex?

    The Local Transport Plan which Essex County Council submits to the DfT for approval (available on the County Council’s website) defines proposals for managing these issues for the next 5 years. This includes proposals for facilities such as park and ride as well as improved facilities for walkers and cyclists.

    Best wishes


    From: Liz Saville ITS & Congestion Manager []
    Sent: 09 July 2008 17:02

    To: Mark Barrett

    Subject: RE: Pedestrian/cycle network planning and operation; Colchester

    Thank you for your e-mail.

    With regard to the first point you raise, if both sides of the carriageway were held on red then all traffic is stopped for (in your example) 20 seconds, as opposed to each carriageway being stopped for only 10 seconds. In this case, on one carriageway traffic would be held when there were no pedestrians crossing. There is an additional danger in this case that drivers then abuse the crossing and do not stop.

    I hope this explains the calculations behind these timings.

    Liz Saville

    ITS and Congestion Manager

    Ext: 51099

    DD Tel:01245 437099?

    Apologies, I wasn’t clear.

    1. Pedestrian walks from side1 to middle. 10 seconds traffic halt in carriageway 1, carriageway 2 open.

    2. Get to middle, lights then change to close carriageway 2 to traffic and open carriageway 1 (i.e. 10 seconds after side 1) without pedestrian pressing WAIT and waiting for 30 seconds. 10 seconds traffic halt in carriageway 2, carriageway 1 open. Pedestrian goes from middle to side2.

    The close time durations for the carriageways are exactly the same as now (10 seconds each x 2 = 20 seconds) except the pedestrian doesn’t wait in the middle for 30 seconds.

    Effectively, all you are doing is automating the pressing of WAIT in the middle 10 seconds after it was pressed at one side of the road.

    End result: pedestrian crosses road twice as fast and no difference to traffic flow.

    This is like traffic light switching when timed to maintain flow – light1 green, then light2 to go green when cars get to light2 from light1, as for example you do around the St Botolph’s roundabout. If it can be done for cars, why not pedestrians? It is precisely the same logic.

    This, and the roundabout exit road example, illustrate how transport planning is imbalanced towards powered transport, to the detriment of the travel distance, time and safety of pedestrians and cyclists.

    I’m sure you are busy, so if you do have a contact in the DfT to take up this debate I’d appreciate it.

    Best wishes


    Liz Saville

    Many thanks for the clarification.

    Unfortunately, the technology used for crossings does not have the same linking facility as for signals [!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!] and therefore, as far as I am aware, your suggestion is not currently practical.

    Many thanks

    Liz Saville

    Of course, even in Colchester there are pedestrian lights timed to allow a single crossing!

    Best wishes


    Dr Mark Barrett, Principal RCUK Academic Research Fellow

    Energy Institute, University College London

    Room 227, Wilkins Building, North Cloister

    Gower St, London WC1E 6BT

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