Friday 25 May 2012

It's all one railway line

In saying that there must be a ‘business case’ for extending electrification to Swansea this week, the Secretary of State has not really said anything new.  The question needs to be asked however – how long does it take to produce one, and why hasn’t it been done yet?  After all, they’ve been in power for two years now, and as I recall, there have been some sort of figures produced before.  Does it really take two years just to review and update work done previously?
Personally, I’m not a huge fan of the vogue for producing ‘business cases’ in any event.  There’s nothing wrong with the concept, but as someone who’s produced more than a few of them over the years, I’m well aware that they have more to do with justifying why the preferred option is the right one than with an objective analysis of the options.  I wouldn’t say that creative writing is the most important skill in drawing up such a document, but it’s up there somewhere.
Figures in themselves are an important part of any story; but they rarely tell the whole story.  And many figures are the result of estimates, which themselves depend on assumptions, which in turn depend on prejudices and preconceptions.  In this case, it seems to me that the government is using the current absence of a business case as a fig leaf behind which to hide whilst they continue to delay.
Another way in which the use of business cases can be used to obfuscate rather than clarify is in the definition of a project.  In the case of rail electrification, the requirement to produce a separate case for Cardiff -Swansea electrification will produce a different answer than if that section were included in a single case for the whole route from Paddington – Swansea.  So the person who decides where to draw the line between projects has a great deal of influence on the final outcome.
It might be argued that splitting the project up into a number of smaller sections is a valid way of determining which bits are or are not viable, but to take that to extremes, a mile by mile analysis would almost certainly conclude that no individual mile was worth electrifying.  And even if the route is split more rationally into station-station sections, the viability of each section will also to an extent depend on what decision is taken in regard to other sections.
The real decision which Gillan and the Government need to justify is the arbitrary one they took to electrify only part of a major route in the first place.  There is a difference between seeing individual projects as part of a wider project to electrify the whole system and seeing it as just a series of projects each of which must be individually justified, and the latter seems to be the view of the government.  It’s a short-sighted way of looking at the question.


Gyndo said...

I asked a question, some time ago, never seen an answer. What is the difference between electrifying the extra miles to Swansea and the extra cost of the duel energy (electric and diesel) trains that will be required if we don't? anyone out there answer it?

G Horton-Jones said...

Re Gyndo

Try Bombardier 4LP-45DP as used by New Jersey and Montreal This train may prove of interest to Wales A few emails should set some bench marks re Price and operating costs

G Horton-Jones said...

Apologies Train is the ALP-45DP

Anonymous said...

John and Gyndo....Surely it should be up to the Secretary of State to justify the bi-modal (diesel and electric traction) rolling stock that would be required to run the GWML if Swansea was NOT electrified. The additional cost of this on the locomotives to be bi-modal is estimated at £59million, just short of the estimated additional £65million cost of full electrification. I had thought of going to London to tell the Secretary of State myself, but I didn't fancy roast beef with custard for lunch and having to sit on her chair-table. A lesson in business - when you are a going concern, a 'business case' is a balancing process of doing something compared with NOT doing something. What's her numbers?

HJ - Comparison of the ALP-45DP to the Hitachi 395s already in service on HS1 identifies severe loss of efficiency by incorporation diesel motors. 125/140mph, 50%/75% power to traction efficiency, 4400kwe/3360kwe at 0.7m/s² acceleration. Both due to extra weight of diesel engines and configuration head end transformers.

Unknown said...

I would be intrigued to see the business plan for the tunnel being built to keep HS2 out of view of Cheryl's house!

A business plan was submitted in October 2011. All that is lacking is an effective voice for Wales at the cabinet table.

John Dixon said...

Apologies for the delay in publishing the last three comments here; holidays intervened...