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Friday 21 June 2013

TPA – Rail Hypocrisy

You have to hand it to the dubiously talented collection of non-job holders at the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance (TPA): their ability to read from the “public bad, private good” script knows no bounds, even when it comes to building new rail lines, which those following the HS2 debate might have thought they would invariably oppose. Because the TPA has discovered a private sector rail proposal.
More guff from Tufton Street

This is the Windsor Link Railway (WLR), which describes itself as “An integrated transport plan for the region around Heathrow, solving a range of national and local transport and social issues”. The Windsor Link in question, the key proposal which underpins the whole raison d’être of the scheme, is the idea of linking both rail lines that currently run into Windsor and Eton.

The scheme has been enthusiastically supported by a number of local Tory MPs, including Adam Afriye, Zac Goldsmith and Michael “Oiky” Gove. So the TPA has joined the chorus of approval, telling “Private rail proposal could save taxpayers £1 billion”. And here, the way in which the TPA treats public schemes like HS2 diverges dramatically from its approval of WLR.

WLR has, as far as can be ascertained, not presented any kind of independently audited Benefit/Cost Analysis (BCA). This does not trouble the TPA, although the BCA presented in support of HS2 is routinely picked over and rubbished by them. HS2’s need for some of its route to be in tunnel is also picked out by the TPA, with the clear inference that this means there will be cost overruns.

But WLR’s central proposal – the link between the lines which at present run into Central Station (from Slough) and Riverside Station (from Staines) – depends on tunnelling. A cut and cover tunnel is WLR’s preferred solution, and this is a construction method that has not been used – apart from for stations, as on the Jubilee Line extension – since the 1800s.

Then, cut and cover was used for much of what is now London Underground’s “sub surface lines” – the Metropolitan, District and Circle – in central London. There was disruption on an enormous scale. Even with modern construction equipment and techniques, there would be significant disruption in Windsor and Eton were this link to go ahead. There would also be the potential for cost overruns.

And that is before one considers the proximity of Windsor Castle, the River Thames and the twin centres of Windsor and Eton. Whether the locals would be so supportive once the diggers move in is apparently not considered. None of this concerns the TPA: it is private, therefore it is good. The question of where WLR is going to raise the money is also, predictably, not allowed to enter.

Nor is the question of what happens if it runs out. So no change there, then.


Windsor Link said...

Tim, there's a business case presented on the WLR website, if you could be bothered to read it before going off on a rant ;) Cut-and cover was used for the Canary Whaft station box and I think that was built before 1800! Also, the bottom-up construction method that WLR could use is a lot less disruptive. Anyway local residents have already been consulted on disruption and most agree it is worth it. Of course there is more work to do, and the scheme may yet prove to be impossible for technical or financial reasons, but that in itself doesn't make it a bad idea.

There is no simplistic public-sector-bad-private-sector-good from the WLR. Our point is merely that as private a private promoter we have an incentive to keep costs down, which does not always apply to government officials. We have found, based on work so far, that a solution for connecting to Heathrow could be half the price of other proposals and potentially save the taxpayer £1 billion pounds, leaving more money for other schemes that may be in more need of subsidy and state ownership for social reasons. What's not to like?

Unknown said...

Generally fair - TPA is not consistent. However, that doesn't affect whether or not this is a good plan, which it may turn out to be. Also, it is not true to say that cut and cover hasn't been used since the sub-surface lines were built. The Picadilly line extension from West Hounslow to Hatton Cross is mostly exactly that.

Tim Fenton said...


I did read the business case, hence the qualification of my remarks on it. And I also mentioned the Jubilee Line extension stations (Canary Wharf was not the only one done that way).

And that was 1800s, not 1800. Small difference.

I look forward to seeing a more detailed engineering analysis, and please save me the schtick about public sector projects not having to keep an eye on costs. Leave the TPA to read from their phrasebook.

SteveB said...

I've had a quick run through the Windsor Link website, under the weather so may have missed bits. It seems to me that TPA have grabbed some sound bites and ignored the less convenient parts.

The huge saving to taxpayers seems to be based on this scheme being costed at less than other schemes which haven't got funding anyway. If we accept their figures it's a billion pounds cheaper than things that probably wouldn't happen anyway. But it still requires taxpayer funding and it mostly uses traffic feeds from the existing subsidised railway.

But the real elephant in the room is that WLR are promoting the schemes connectivity to HS2, including an aspiration that the Heathrow branch is also built !! Err, the TPA would like to see the whole HS2 project scrapped.

So what happens to the business case if HS2 is removed from the grand plan? And if current rail subsidies are cut making the fares on the feeder routes higher?

The TPA may support WLR but I'm not sure the feeling is mutual!

PS - 0/10 for the name. We already have a Windsor Link. It's in Salford and trains have been using it since 1988.