Heathrow madness

The decision to go ahead with the third runway at Heathrow makes no sense on any criterion. The business case is thin in the extreme. Most passengers are leisure travellers and in any case over a third are transit. All these businesses which support it should examine the proposal using their own economic models. If there were really a great shortage of air capacity in London, then the price of air tickets would be soaring. In fact, the opposite is the case, with air fares lower than at any time in their history. And that’s not just a product of the downturn and low cost airlines.  It results from the fact that there is an adequate supply of seats.

 I need hardly comment on the environmental aspects. While much of the opposition is based on climate change, there are other reasons too – the whole of this side of London is going to be turned into a mass of roads and warehouses, which will blight the area for miles around. And as for the noise – it seems inconceivable that anyone will want to live there. In any rational economic assessment, the reduction in land values and house prices ought to be taken into account.

Interesting that as a sop, the government has opposed mixed mode use, presumably for environmental reasons which is ironic to say the least. As for the rail part of the announcement, that is thin in the extreme. All Hoon has said is that a high speed line will be considered – something that was actually in the 2001 and 2005 manifestos – and that work on electrification will proceed, which was happening anyway.  Moreover, high speed trains cannot replace much of what a new runway would provide. There are a limited number of destinations that can be served by high speed trains and several of these already have excellent rail services from London – Manchester, Paris, Brussels and presumably soon, Amsterdam. Even timings to Scotland are not that bad if security and travel to the airport are taken into account.

The argument that Heathrow risks losing out to other airports is equally laughable. London has five airports and while it is useful having hubs, faster connections between them would reduce the need for a new runway.

But here’s a prediction. None of this will ever happen. All that coverage saying that Sipson is doomed and the airport has been given the go-ahead is wide of the mark. Either the proposal will be thrown out by the Tories or, by concerted opposition or, when serious money finally needs to be invested in it, the rationale will have disappeared. As one of my correspondents put it, no runway decision has ever survived a general election. This one will be no exception.

The interesting question is why does Labour do this? Why is it so in hock to business? My theory from talking to ministers is that they have no understanding of the private sector, only a fear that it will turn against them. So they feel compelled to give into them at any turn.

  • RapidAssistant

    What makes me angry about all of this is that it always keeps getting sold to us by politicians as something that will benefit “the whole of the UK”. Well I have issues with this for two reasons:

    1. The fragmentation of the airline business has meant direct links to North America and Asia to secondary cities such as Birmingham, Glasgow and Manchester – meaning that if people from the regions wish to travel long haul they don’t have to change planes at Heathrow. And in any event, if a lot of people I know is anything to go by – they’d rather connect through Amsterdam or Frankfurt than suffer Heathrow. So why do we need an even bigger “megahub”??

    2. Remember that HS1 and the Channel Tunnel was painted as being for the benefit of the nation – today few living in Wales, Scotland or the English regions would argue with the opinion that the Channel Tunnel and its rail link benefits anywhere other than London and the Home Counties. A high speed rail network would bring prosperity and open up new opportunites across the whole country. Will a bigger Heathrow enrich the lives of communites in Northern England or Scotland? Don’t think so. They can fly to whereever they need to go from their own local airports thanks to low cost airlines.

    Yet I don’t believe for five minutes that the Tories’ promise of HS2 in lieu of a third runway at Heathrow either – this is coming from the same party responsible for the disastrous privatisation of the railways after all. When we have a Conservative government in 2010 it’s my guess that HS2 will be quietly chucked in the dustbin as it “doesn’t provide value for money”.

  • Ross

    Agreed. My guess is that the difference has been forgotten between the UK’s national interest (“having direct air connections to the places which need them”) and BAA’s commercial interest (“we want LHR to get as large as it can, because that’s how you make money out of a fixed-cost asset”). The provincial UK can quite as easily be connected to the rest of the world via AMS or FRA, CDG or even, in some cases, Dublin.

    One policy suggestion would be a policy rule which means that the only domestic passengers who could use LHR would be those in transit. Otherwise, get to London via rail or another airport (and LCY has a lot going for it). Another would be freeing up the market for ‘slots’ – this would also mean selling Gatwick, but that is under way anyway – and then we could see how much the
    market does value the scarce resource of LHR landing slots.

    Living in the provinces, I am all for direct flights as opposed to lengthy transfers. Where I live has a direct flight to Dubai; a direct flight to Singapore would be more than appreciated! If you go to blog sites likes airlinequality.com, you will see what people think of LHR, and how much effort people make to avoid it. A third runway will make no difference to this.

  • Agreed on nearly all counts. There are plenty of spare seats from London to European destinations. I regularly fly from Poland to the UK for £30 including taxes. I’m currently trying to plan the same journey by rail and it is almost impossible to do it for less than £100. If you need to travel within a week it can cost over £200.

    Why does Labour do this? Why does any political party in any Western democracy break most of its election promises on coming into power? Because winning an election costs serious amounts of money. By the time you have bought yourself into power you owe so many favours to so many sponsors that ‘we the people’ get left waiting for the train that never comes.

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  • Paul O

    I don’t want an extra runway at Heathrow and agree with all that is said here but equally I don’t want a new four hundred mile runway from London to Scotland under the guise of a high speed railway, I don’t think that is environmentally sustainable or desirable either. If you look at somehwere like the Lune Valley from a hillside and not in a car on the M6 or a train on the WCML then what you see is a beautiful landscape already desecrated by the industrial revolution in a way that is beyond belief, ( OK a high speed line might go up the East Coast but its still 400 miles of stone, metal and concrete, another scar on the landscape – sorry to upset any train spotters, I am one myself btw ). I prefer to see schemes brought forward to improve speeds and capacity on secondary routes so that feight can be taken away from the WCML & ECML in the way that Railtrack was proposing before it went bust but on a grander scale, re opening missing links is I feel ok, such as the GCR, Also guage enhancement so we can maybe run double deck on the WCML & ECML and four tracking is ok but a wholesale brand new high speed route through virgin countryside is I feel not the way we should be going. OK its probably cheaper to build a new line of route but I don’t think it is environmentally acceptable to do so.

  • Paul O

    Ahh I would like to add four tracking is ok in certain areas but I wouldn’t say the Lune Gorge is one of them, the point I’m making above is that a new line up the west coast has a choice it either completely destroys the Lune Gorge, goes west and destroys the Lake District National Park or East and destroys the Yorkshire Dales national park, or as would probably happen it goes up the East Coast but why should this happen, just because the East Coast is generally flatter it doesn’t mean it is any less valuable as unspoilt countryside. All this just so we can go between London and Scotland slightly quicker, like Christians India article of a fews days ago, do we really need to be so obsessed with speed and time, is it so economically vitalor is it just perceived as so. Can we widen this deabate to a wheter we should tear the countryside up making new high speed railways debate as well. It’s not just roads and runways we should be fighting to contain.

  • RapidAssistant

    Paul – as you say I don’t think that there is any risk that the Lune Gorge could be quadrupled even if if they wanted to (it’s my favourite section of the WCML and when I am driving in the car on the M6)…..but there is a wider issue here.

    I am cynical also about HS2 and where you could actually put it, lets face it the three existing north-south main lines were built during the Industrial Revolution when neither the Midlands or what is now the M62 corridor wasn’t as built up as it is now – and of course planning laws weren’t as strict as they are today. As Christian points out in his articles, the planning and political hurdles that would need to be overcome in order to agree on a route would be a minefield that could add years to the timescale – which would easily outlive the life expectancy of any administation in Westminster. Look how long London’s Crossrail has taken.

    At the end of the day there are existing trackbeds and underused routes which can be brought back to life and carve out another north south main line – as you say reviving the GCR; then you could link it to the S&C somehow, then complete the entire Waverley link from Carlisle to Edinburgh and electrify the whole lot.

  • Dan

    Well, probably none of this will happen (No HS lines, no runway) but lots of land will be blighted for ages. Runway will be cheaper than HS lines so has a greater chance of happening – but who knows when. Tories won’t drop it when they are in power (unless it has become a touch stone issue like Routemaster was for Boris – forcing him to go ahead with at least the design comp) – but I can’t see Heathrow being one on a national scale.

    If it were built it is amusing to think that millions of homes will become that bit less desirable, despite being in ‘prosperous’ SE. Would that force southerners to finally throw in the towel and move to outside the SE where quality of life is so much better. Sadly not as they are a stubborn breed and many scared of ‘north of Watford Gap’ (many in fact scared of north of Watford high street I suspect).

    Landscape wise I can’t see an HS line making it north of Manc – Leeds urban band – although it should do. Best places for HS lines – right beside M-Ways or what about in a widened central reservation….maybe not quite feasible but nice idea for minimum blight (might need to narrow the M-Way to 2 lanes to make space, but why not?)

  • RichardW

    Dan – you should overcome your regional prejudices and accept the national view of this debate. The country’s population is increasing and predicted to go on doing so; therefore our national transport needs will have to be addresed somehow. I am not at all convinced there needs to be a third runway at LHR, but I am totally convinced that the north-south rail link should be built. I don’t like losing countryside any more that anyone else, but having experienced what the French have done and how much easier it now is to NOT use the plane, those of us who support the railways should get our act together and lean our support on to High-Speed links (north-south first, then how about an east-west one).

  • Dan

    Richard – I’m with you on this. I’m a keen supporter of a N-S HS line – and it should go on to Scotland (via the North East IMHO) – however, I’m doubt it will ever get built. Politicans only do big projects here when they are forced – either by large lobbies or by being embarrased by foreigners (and it takes a lot to do that – HS1). The rail lobby (indeed the whole public transport lobby) is a minnow compared with the car / truck / road construction lobby – although I must say the airline lobby punches above its weight – after all not many people use a plane more than a handfull of times per year, but they are good at getting what they want.

    I spent the 1st 20 years of my life in S E England – so I’m not too regionally prejudiced I hope – I just can’t beleive why any one who was not forced to do so would live there when life is so much better elsewhere. Whenever I go back I think ‘these people must be masochists to put up with this quality of life day in day out’!

    See my recent post on how an HS line could regenerate English regions to show that I’m a keen supporter. However, as others have said a re-opened GC for freight migth be more socially useful and environmentally sustainable – supported by a loorry road user charging scheme to level the playing field and permit better use of the M-W infrastructure.

  • Paul O

    Adding to what has been discussed here, if the UK population is set to increase further and we are now I believe the most densely populated country in Europe. Should we be putting our money into a Dutch Style rail system of frequent trains that connect conurbations along a route instead of spending vast amounts on speeding up the journey of a few business travellers who can afford such a premium service.

    Looking at London – Manchester.Three trains and hour and a journey of just over two hours. Is the expense of a super fast TGV line to knock another 40 minutes off really necessary or good value . Or should we continue to improve the WCML services by further infrastructure improvements to the WCML itself, plus investment in longer, higher capacity, more comfortable and suitable trains. By infrastructure I’m thinking, develop a secondary frieight route, seriously upgrade Rugby – Stafford via Birmingham so its not as painful when Trent Valley is closed, build the Stafford bypass and upgrade & electrify Bescot – Ruegely at same time. Continue to push towards 140 mph, Guage enhancement for double deck, the list goes on.

    Also consider Manchester itself. Is Piccadilly the best end destination? Should some of that High Speed money be spent instead upgrading the Manchester rail infrastructure so that the London trains can continue further and serve the very large towns to the north of the city like Bolton, Bury, Rochdale & Oldham? Would this not be a major improvement worth far more to passengers than knocking another 40 mins off their end to end Piccadilly – Euston times?

    Also, If Manchester is to get money for a new London service by a new route, Do we simply measure the benefits in speed? For example. What about about the value of a reopened Midland Line through the Peak District with Midland Mainline services extended to Manchester from Derby? This service isn’t going to break any speed or time records ( although the Midland Pullman diesel timings were impressive considering ) What it would do is provide a direct inter city rail connection between Manchester and the big towns and cities of Derby, Loughborough, Leicester, Bedford & Luton as well as a few smaller ones depending on where it stopped. I believe these enhanced journey opportunities are also major economic benefits but sadly we are fixated with spending lots of money to speed a few Port Jowelled, Claret Swilling businessmen on an expense account jolly day out between point A & B. If that is such a priority why do the southern stretches of the M1 / M6 Motorways have so many junctions. Why not just London, Birmingham, Manchester?

    I’m not saying anything is in or out here. I just worry that we may possibly be far too fixated with big, super fast, expensive, non stop trains when in fact our densely populated country may require something else.

  • Quote:

    “The interesting question is why does Labour do this? Why is it so in hock to business? My theory from talking to ministers is that they have no understanding of the private sector, only a fear that it will turn against them. So they feel compelled to give into them at any turn.”

    I feel a “The Legacy Of Adrian Montague” article coming on….

  • Thought-provoking as ever, Christian. Whether you think Heathrow should have a third runway or not, it is plainly a crucial decision for the future of our country. So will our MP’s be bothering to vote on it? No, of course not. They’ve got far better and more important things to do – like making sure we can’t find out about their expenses. With a few honourable exceptions, what a pathetic, craven bunch the current crop in the Commons is. And will they bother to stop Labour turning us into a police state? If you don’t already know the answer, see

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/henryporter/2009/jan/14/statutory-instruments-parliament

    Btw have you noticed Ed Miliband is Sec of State for Energy and Climate CHANGE – that doesn’t mean improvement – maybe his job is to make things worse.

  • RapidAssistant

    The other side to the High Speed argument (as Paul has already touched upon) is time. Even by today’s standards, the WCML upgrade has all but killed domestic flying between London and Manchester even before VHF came in. Consider that if you used the fastest methods to expedite the journey by using on-line checkin, then use the Heathrow Express to get to the airport etc etc. And lets face it, few people would ever leave it all to the last minute anyway – most would prefer to get to the airport early in case of the unforseen. Say an hour then between leaving the centre of town and the plane actually taking off is what most would risk.

    By this time the train is well past Rugby – and probably nearer Nuneaton…..you’re well past the half way mark long before the plane has left the ground.

    So on that score nothing is really to be gained by going any faster – the North of England is in that respect, licked already. It still doesn’t solve London-Scotland however which is still one of the biggest domestic air routes in Europe. It’s big enough to support four major carriers (BA, BMI, EasyJet and Ryanair), plus a couple of regional ones. Having compared the journey by rail and air manys a time the fact remains that it currently the two are head-to-head on total journey time (about 4.5 – 5 hours). Psychologically people go for air because the distance gets covered in an hour and therefore makes them feel they are saving time – not thinking about the journey time to airports, taxi time, stuck at Heathrow waiting on a gate, time spent waiting to collect luggage etc etc etc.

    It’s a fallacy to say that rail competes withdomestic flights on speed therefore. The choice people make boils down to two things:

    1) The Hassle Factor: Time spent geting to airports, all the security arrangements (IMHO stupid and OTT), checking in luggage, waiting on luggage, sitting around.

    2) Price. Getting a cheap airfare (even on a full service carrier like BA or BMI) at short notice is a darned sight easier than getting an Advance ticket on the train 6 weeks in advance. On more than one occasion I’ve managed to get Glasgow to Heathrow with British Midland for £70 return all in. And this was ONE WEEK in advance. Compared to the headline fares for either Virgin or NXEC (£102 return Saver, £200-odd full) – as they say in America – “you do the math”. Even allowing for the costs of even the Heathrow Express to get into town you are still quids in flying.

    I feel these are the issues which need to be concentrated on first.

  • Dan

    Rapid – good points – it’s amazing when you think about it – how rail must have thrown away the Anglo Scottish market (like they are now throwing away market to Cornwall with Newquay airport) – back in the early to mid 80s I think only business people would have flown – all those Mk 3 sleepers could have provided for a market rail allowed airlines to capture I guess.

    On firday night I was in pub with 2 friends – they are going to Glencoe for a few days next month – and flying. My partner said ‘go on the sleeper!’ – whilst for one of the people going she replied ‘It costs too much’ – although I’d bet she’d never looked – she just thinks it costs too much – which is a shame as her partner had wanted to go by sleeper!

  • SteveB

    I think that a proposed high-speed link from central London via Heathrow to the Midlands is bonkers. By all means link Heathrow to the WCML somehow, but why duplicate the Heathrow Express?

    Perhaps we should consider bypassing London for rail travel to Europe. Is there a case for a proportion of Eurostar services (the ones that stop at Ebbsfleet, perhaps) to continue to the re-vamped Birmingham New Street. How much would that shave off Birmingham-Paris rail journeys?

  • RapidAssistant

    Dan – re. the sleeper – the trick is to bypass the Central Reservation System and instead go straight to the “Bargain Berths” section of the First ScotRail website. FSR sell all-in (travel + berth) discounted tickets in £19, £29, £39 and £49 increments the closer you get to the departure date. It’s ticketless like an airline – the only part of the rail network that operates in this manner. The Lowland train (i.e Euston-Glasgow/Edinburgh) is the easiest to get a good deal on, plus you arrive at more sociable hours in the morning.

    Even if you are planning to travel on a conventional ticket (Open or Advance) you are better going direct to FSR, as I’ve had my fingers burned before by booking on thetrainline.com – they sell you a standard return ticket to London but the Web is flawed as it doesn’t automatically sell you the sleeping berth part of it. Your ticket only entitles you to travel in the seated coach, which if it is fully booked already – there’s been stories of some people who have been turned away at the platform despite holding a valid ticket for the service. Bizarre!

  • RichardH

    There’s no point comparing point to point times for rail vs air for bsuiness travel. Businessmen are not likely to be travelling office to office, they’re likely to be going from home to a client office. The choice of mode will be purely on door-to-door times. If you live south or west of London you’ll probably get yourself to Gatwick or Heathrow. If you can get to Euston in under 30 mins you might take the train. It would take some miraculous connections to persuade someone from Sussex or Surrey to go by train to Manchester. And even if you lived 15 mins walk from Watford Junction I doubt you could guarantee being on a fast northbound within an hour of leaving home.

    As for keep on matching infrastructure to probable increasing population demand, it’s time a government stopped chasing events and instead dictated them. The population doesn’t have to keep increasing. There’s not enough work for the number already, and very soon there won’t be enough tax from the the few who are working to keep the rest.

    Final point. If anyone was serious about global warming the treaty keeping tax off aviation fuel would be rescinded. Then we’d find the true demand for honestly priced air transport.

  • Dan

    Rapid – yes – Bargain Berths well known to me – I suppose my point was that it was psychological – person concerned ‘believed’ rail to be extortionate for sleeper service. Good tip that lowland has more discounts though – worth bearing in mind.

    Richard H – yes, this is very true – but of course if the person lived in Kent, not Sussex, they might go to Ashford or Ebbsfleet and take the new internal HS1 service and in theory swap direct on to an HS2 line at St P – they would beat the person from Sussex who went to Gatwick for a Manchester flight – poss even before HS2 is built even with the walk along the road to Euston. And in Kent they would not have to put up with the flight path noise either!

    I’m not sure about population change – much of this is down to living longer – employment driven migration will plummet now due to economy, and from personal anecdote I know a good few people in my age group who have emigrated (Aus, NZ, EU), just as a I know people who have come to work here from abroad.

  • RichardW

    Paul
    HS Lines engender rail use on the whole network – French and German experience proves it, & it’s even beginnign to show in USA. The whole network would benefit. Also It’s not helpful comparing the situation in UK to that in Holland – Holland is about the size of Wales. 400 mile plus journeys are what we are talking about here. I’ll be travelling Peterboro to Glasgow soon on business and boy would I appreciate a HSL to take me there.

  • Paul O

    Richard W,

    “400 mile plus journeys are what we are talking about here”

    Are we? Your talking about a journey from Peterborough to Glasgow a distance of just over 320 miles if you take the shortest route and about 370 miles if you go via Edinburgh. Under that criteria only London – Glasgow and beyond is 400 mile plus. So generally as a rule in the UK we aren’t currently talking about 400 mile plus journeys, unless we get really ambitous and link scottish cities north of Edinburgh and Glasgow but then someone will say not enough density of population. Theres no saying that a high speed line will go through Peterborough anyway it may take the old GC route up through the midlands and miss Peterborough altogehter in which case a seriously upgraded 4 track ECML with a secondary frieght route mirroring it would serve you better. But all this is just picking at detail when in fact the facts are we already have to build up and invest in what we’ve already got to make it better because it already passes through places of economic activity that need their existing connections improving, add to that the environmental impact considerations, carbon footprint, the fact that if its to be of any use at all it has to be affordable and by default that means state sponsored in a big way which judging by another 300 billion thats gone to the banks today doesn’t look likely to happen when you also consider that there is a big existing railway already sucking money out of the treasury and wanting more for electrification. I wouldn’t get to excited about a high speed line because its doubtful one will ever get built for a multitute of reasons.

    A new high speed line on environmental grounds makes no more sense than an extra runway at heathrow, both are environmentally unsustainable and should not be built. In fact if we are talking about the most environmentally friendly of travelling between London and Scotland it may possibly be four people in a Toyota Prius hybrid and sod the train.
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/telegraph-view/3607501/The-case-for-the-car.html

    And here is a lovely little nugget from this weekends news releases
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2009/jan/18/motorways-geoff-hoon
    If the motorways aren’t getting any, what hope for the railway we have let alone a HS2.

    Paul.

  • RapidAssistant

    RichardW has touched on interesting point for those in the Midlands or Anglia – for Anglo-Scottish travel you are caught between a rock and a hard place; all the cheap flights are from London airports, so you’ve got to travel south to Luton/Stansted/Heathrow. Try flying from Manchester or Birmingham to Glasgow and its a lot, lot dearer. So again the train gets more competitive.

    Paul O – that the Prius is an environmentally friendly car is one of the biggest fallacies going – it still has an engine, and it actually emits more CO2 than a small turbodiesel supermini. Yet it is exempt from the C-charge, and a theoretically less polluting car has to pay. Bizarre.

    On the point of extending high speed lines north of Glasgow/Edinburgh – clearly this would never happen considering that 2/3ds of the Scotland’s entire population live in the Central Belt. Transport Scotland has said in its long term strategy to upgrade and possibly electrify the main lines north of Perth.

  • Anoop

    An additional railway line to the North will provide an important diversionary route in cases of engineering works or incidents. It will cause minimal interference to existing lines during construction, and will make it easier and cheaper to upgrade existing lines in the future.

    A new railway line will not in itself help the environment because it may encourage people to travel more. However this will help the economy, and may help the environment if it reduces flights and car journeys. Also, if railway stations are well located, they will improve the connectivity of the public transport network. Airports do not do so because they occupy such a large area and are located far from city centres.

    If a new railway line is being built, it is sensible to ‘future-proof’ it by building it to a high standard, e.g. making it a high-speed alignment. The exact speed is a trade-off between financial and environmental costs versus benefits; for example if 186mph is deemed too expensive or ‘environmentally unfriendly’, a slightly lower speed such as 160-170mph might be preferable.

    My suggestion for High Speed 2 would be a line from Heathrow Terminal 5 to Birmingham International, with a branch into central London bypassing Heathrow parallel to the Central Line (along the under-used Great Western branch of the GWR/GCR joint line). Heathrow Express trains would be replaced by the new high-speed services via Heathrow to the North. This would provide an important diversionary route for the WCML. It would also encourage development of Birmingham International Airport, providing new jobs in an area which has suffered recently from the closure of car manufacturing plants.

    High Speed 3 would run from Birmingham International to Newcastle via the Midlands, providing a new fast link between the North East and Birmingham (currently a 3-hour train journey, average speed 40mph!).

    High Speed 4 would run from Newcastle to Glasgow via Edinburgh.

    There has been speculation about the relative carbon footprints of various modes of transport. There is a trade-off between comfort and energy consumption, and people use different arguments depending on what they want to gain. People complain about packed commuter trains despite their very low level of energy consumption per passenger. On the other hand, a small car with five people on board uses less energy per person than first class on Eurostar, but does not enable you to relax comfortably at 180mph.

    A few facts:
    – electric trains are more efficient than diesel
    – regenerative braking (i.e. using motors as generators and returning the energy to the national grid) reduces energy consumption by 15-20% on the Pendolino (based on power meters; I think it was from an article in Modern Railways)
    – a fully-laden Pendolino uses slightly less energy per person than a fully-laden Prius (from the same article)
    – many electric railways in Britain (including the WCML) allow regenerative braking. French high speed lines do not.
    – the low calculated carbon footprint of Eurostar is based on predominantly nuclear electricity generation in France

  • Anoop

    Correction: average speed of Birmingham – Newcastle trains is closer to 60mph, not 40mph as stated.

  • Dan

    Christian – on another matter – I spotted a bit in the Grauniad yesterday which sounded like TOCs trying to soften DfT up for service cuts in advance of a Ministerial meeting. This is a story likely to get lost in the banking crisis to a certain extent – but hopefully as the number one media commentator on the TOCs activities you will keep up comment on what is going on.

    Maybe someone should start up a ‘TOC Watch’ site to keep a catalogue of their responses to the economic situation:

    so far we’ve had:
    – job cuts at various TOCs
    – Catering cuts at NXEA (and others in all but name – inc EMT)
    – Remarks about introducing (and then ruling out) reservation charges at NXEC

    no doubt there is more!

  • nick

    If we reduced the amount we all travel we wouldnt need any more runways or wider motorways or even high speed rail links.

    However given that this isnt likely to happen we need to use the form of transport which causes the least amount of pollution per passenger.

    Whilst it is true that high speed railways create more pollution than lower speed railways it is that extra speed which takes people from planes and cars onto trains. A mostly twin track new railway also has far less land take than additional roads or lanes and can be built without destroying villages. There is also much less noise than from planes.

    Since this is a site presumably that rail enthusiasts read and comment on it appears a bit strange that many comments are not pro high speed rail.

    Christians assertion that only a limited number of destinations can be reached by high speed rail and that there are excellent services already sounds to me like part of the Eddington report which was hardly pro rail. Once the Dutch can open their hsl Amsterdam will be within 4 hours of London and less if direct services were introduced. Cologne and Frankfurt are also not that far off this especially with ever higher speeds and LGV Est has greatly reduced Strasbourg times. London to Paris rail traffic has increased at the expense of short haul flights. Direct trains are needed to keep the time advantage however when you consider that even an hours wait equals nearly 200 miles !.

    Accord to Wilkepedia two years ago Amsterdam and paris were the 3rd and 4th most popular destinations from Heathrow at over 3.6 million combined passengers. Frankfurt was 8th with over 1.5 million passengers and Munich 12th at just over 1 million. It would be interesting to see how many passengers fly to these destinations from other UK airports like Manchester and Birmingham which could also be replaced by high speed rail.

    The French Germans Italians and Spanish have no doubt that high speed rail is effective. Californians voted In Novermber for High Speed rail.

  • nick

    note on checking frankfurt journey times would be just over 6 hours which would not be too competitive with air ! But cologne maybe and strasbourg would be just over 4 hours.

  • Ross

    Back to Rapidassistant [#14]; I met someone recently, who told me that she flies fairly regularly from London City to Manchester on VLM. When I asked why, she told me that VLM were actually quite a bit cheaper than the train. Another railway own-goal!

  • RapidAssistant

    Dan – was reading the latest issue of RAIL; not sure if you saw it but NXEC are doing away with the walk-in restaurant service on certain services now and replacing it with an at-seat service for 1st Class only instead a la Virgin West Coast……that’s another one you can to the list. Worrying that they were considering charging for reservations which now penalises those that book in advance. I’m surprised though the TOCs haven’t started levying credit card booking fees like the airlines do.

    Ross – you’re right I’ve noticed that some people are getting cheap deals into LCY from as far away as Dundee. As you say another own goal for the railway.

  • Dan

    Yes, I saw that Rapid – very bad news. I always use their restaurant when on their trains (and travel east mid London vix NXEC so that I can even when it takes longer) – It’s a major cut back for std class passengers just when you’d think business numbers would be on down turn and thus a good way to get marginal extra money by selling meals to std class passengers!

    They’ve avoided the bad publicity that NXEA got as they have had the sense to provide at least some alternative – and keep a tiny number of restaurants (which will probably then be in very heavy demand).

    Meanwhile – have a look at this – you could hardly make it up – asking govt to pay out for 1,000 staff as basically they overbid for their franchises!

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2009/jan/21/rail-firms-call-for-state-aid

    Apols – I’m posting this in the worng thread really – should be against the article Christian has written on this very subject for the Indy elsewheer on the site.

  • Ross

    To RapidAssistant [#29]: yes, cheap deals from Dundee to LCY are not a surprise, considering the train journey is six-seven hours, versus ninety minutes flying – but the thing which is getting my attention is that there are cheap deals from within two hundred miles of LCY, where rail should be more than competitive time-wise.

  • Paul O

    Re Ross #28, VLM not only cheaper in peaks, they fly Turbo Props which are considerably more environmentally friendly than Jets, VLM state that there turbo props are more environmentally friendly than high speed rail see article link below.
    http://www.flyvlm.com/emc.asp?pageId=1325

    I flew VLM Manchester – Brussels and it was really good service, the best bit being that the airport they use in Brussles is virtually downtown and so comapact you collect your bag and are outside in minutes. Going the other way check is about thirty mins before flight because the plane is so close to the check in desks, all in its brilliant and with environmental credentials they are claiming , would I bother taking a high speed train if a line was built, probably not, unless it was very cheap as well as fast and I doubt it would be, cheap that is.

    Might be better if we give the high speed money to the airlines as a subsidy so they can convert the domestic and short haul routes to turbo props? Bit tongue in cheek that one because I like and support rail very much but there are a I feel quite a lot of trainspotters who have suddenly become concerned about the environment because it looks they they might be able to use the issue to get a bigger train set to ride about on, photograph and number crunch.

    I don’t think we should build any new runways, railways or motorways, possibly upgrade what we’ve got but that it, we have I believe to create an economy that enables us to break the cycle of continued economic growth and consumtion.

    Finally have a look at this all those interested in the debate over which is greenest mode car, plane or train. It’s a PDF file from a recent Rail Proffessional Magazine. Ooooops can I mention them here or do we all have to buy Rail?
    http://www.railpro.co.uk/issues/pdfs/greenest_of_all.pdf

    Paul.

  • RapidAssistant

    You can sum all this up by asking the question “why are the railways so expensive”. After all, even a small jetliner like a Boeing 737 costs about £35 million a piece. That’s equivalent to THREE 9-car Pendolinos. An experienced captain will cost you about £70k (not forgetting a second officer whose maybe 10 grand less). Compare that to about £35-40k for a single train driver. You need to pay a cabin crew and all the ground staff of course. You have to pay to maintain your planes. (and aircraft spares are hideously expensive!) Then there is the massive costs of building and maintaining aviation infrastructure (airports, air traffic control) which probably is as much as what the railway network costs to maintain. And don’t forget that aviation is pretty much free of direct government subsidy (apart perhaps, from the absence of tax on avaition fuel), and has to fend for itself, except of course for the times when the old legacy carriers get the begging bowl out, while the railways are subsidised heavily.

    So why, with all the billions that is pumped into our railways are fares so expensive, why are discounted tickets at peak services so difficult to find at short notice compared even to full service airlines on domestic routes at the same times of the week? Why are people so prepared to suffer the hassle and stress of short haul flying when the no-brainer solution should be to take the train?

    It just doesn’t compute!

  • Ross

    The cost problem lies in the network. In aviation, the “network costs” (airports, air traffic control – ie analogous to what Network Rail covers) is around twenty percent of the total costs of the operation. In the GB railway network that # is comfortably over fifty percent (ie the cost of Network Rail in a year is around £6 bn – the whole system only costs £10.5 bn pa), and the subsidy picks up only half of this cost. In France the subsidy is about 75 percent of all costs, although this has not stopped RFF being left with a huge debt so that SNCF can appear to be ‘profitable’.

    The cost of a high speed line Edinburgh to London would be around £30 bn for 400 miles (£20 bn if we had to replace the conventional line only). Edinburgh Airport has a market value of around £1 bn or so.

    And finally, the whole problem of a railway is that what people are prepared to pay for its services bear little or no relation to what it costs those services to be provided. This problem does not often crop up in other transport modes.

  • Ross

    Another thought is that because so much of the system’s costs are tied up in the network (and even more so for the lesser-used parts of the system), this means that many costs are effectively fixed. Therefore, this means that the only way to save real money is to cut the whole service, not merely those bits at the edges, as you would for a bus operation (where the costs are far more variable).

    Only the heavily-trafficked core of a railway system will truly cover its financial costs. That’s the nature of the beast.

  • RapidAssistant

    I think you’ve nailed it – but it’s fascinating when you look back in history and see how many times politicians have deluded themselves into thinking the railways can be made into a going concern. At the end of the day, the only part of the network that pays its way never mind makes a profit is the long distance trunk routes, and possibly parts of the commuter network. Beeching said this, British Rail proved it with InterCity, and in the privatised railway proved it again when you consider that its only the long distance operators that, by and large, are the ones who have to pay premium payments.

    The question is – are we heading for full circle given the franchisees’ alleged difficulties at the moment???

  • Ross

    Well, in the old BR days and with the accounting rules then in place: freight made a substantial profit; long-distance made a profit; and Network South-east was covering its operating costs. The losses were for the most part incurred in the BR regions, and especially in the rural parts of the system – where the cost-recovery was in the order of fifteen percent, but where no-one had the bottle to cut anything. On the other hand, the Heathrow Express can still turn a profit, despite its infrastructure costs, because demand across the day is stable, and the market is strong enough to support a £15 fare for a 15-minute trip.

    That is the ‘nature of the beast’. Get over it 🙂

  • I feel no-one is here for the emo, sometimes. ,

  • Fantastic post. I will certainly be returning to read more.

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