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Monday 9 January 2012

Gilligan’s Travelling Fantasy Island

The Maily Telegraph’s so-called “London Editor” Andrew Gilligan has once again decided to show readers his expertise on the subject of high speed rail travel, with a piece titled “High-speed rail: A £250m lesson for Britain’s rail enthusiasts”. Here, he talks about high speed electric trains with a backdrop showing a diesel powered one. It is not a good omen for Andy The Selective.

Gilligan’s sermon revolves around the “Fyra” service operated along the new high speed line in the Netherlands (known as HSL Zuid), and at the outset he uses the terms “line” and “service” interchangeably, which should sound a caution to those aware of his penchant for selective transcription. Because the “Fyra” service is not the only one operating over HSL Zuid.

Not a success: stand-in Fyra service at Amsterdam Centraal

The new line, as Gilligan mentions, also hosts the successful high speed Thalys services which connect Amsterdam with Brussels and Paris. There is no problem with the finances of these trains. Moreover, there is no problem with the finances of HSL Zuid. The problem is solely with “Fyra”, and is in no small part due to the disastrous decision to buy their new trains from Italy.

More specifically, the new “Fyra” trainsets are being built by AnsaldoBreda, who are using the project as their entry point for the high speed rail marketplace. The trains, which should have entered service in 2008, are still not ready. So, in place of new trains that can do up to 250km/h, the “Fyra” service is using old coaches and hired locomotives to do no more than 160km/h.

Success: Thalys high speed train at Amsterdam Centraal

So it should be no surprise that the time saving for the new service falls well short of expectations, nor that patronage has also been below expectations. This, predictably, is selectively edited out by Gilligan, who conflates the cost of HSL Zuid with the losses of “Fyra” in an act of routine dishonesty. He also equates the “Fyra” and HS2 London-Birmingham time savings as proof of his analysis.

This is complete crap. Moreover, the likelihood of HS2 ordering from AnsaldoBreda, following their lamentable performance on HSL Zuid, is not unadjacent to zero: the trains are most likely to come from Alstom (builders of the Eurostar and French TGV) or Siemens, who built the German ICE3 trains, the latter also operating into the Netherlands, as well as in Spain, and potentially through the Channel Tunnel.

Success: Siemens built ICE3 train in London

Maybe Gilligan lost all the information in the transcription. More likely he merely discarded it as it did not fit his narrative. But the problems in the Netherlands with the “Fyra” service do not mean that HSL Zuid was a bad project, or that it is somehow in trouble. What it does mean is that, as with any enterprise, one should choose key suppliers wisely.

And that, for Telegraph readers, includes suppliers of information.

1 comment:

john b said...

Gilligan is such a prat. I'd predict Hitachi rather than Almost or Siemens, though - given the (deranged) controversy over Thameslink, HMG would be daft to opt for a supplier without a British screwing-things-together plant. And Bombardier don't do 'fast'.