High speed could be expensive distraction from existing railway 42

March 8th, 2010 TSSA Journal

Towards the end of this month, we will get the government’s White Paper based on the work by the HS2 team which will set out a route between London and Birmingham down to the last few inches. Everyone apparently wants a high speed line. The Tories, the Libdems and belatedly Labour have all embraced the idea. Environmentalists say it will be green, the CBI says it will be good for the economy and the unions reckon it will create jobs.

 There is much excitement among the media stimulated by squabbling between various towns in the Midlands and the North about where a line should go. The Sunday Times even ran a story complaining that the Tories had not funded the line north of Leeds and therefore it might not even go to Scotland.

 It looks, therefore, like a no-brainer. Given the political consensus and the universal approval, what can stop it? Well, actually, lots and the idea that the line could be built without serious damaging effects on the rest of the rail network is fanciful.

 The whole project is being caught up in its own hype and a reality check is urgently needed. Lets first put the overblown story in the Sunday Times to rest. The story is about a line which will not even start to be built until 2015, with a completely unquantified cost and- except you can be sure it will be more than any number so far quoted – and a purpose which has never been properly specified. The line, at best, would not reach Scotland till 2025. Yet, here they are getting up a head of steam over the details of something that may or may not happen in fifteen years time. That is like much of the coverage of HS2, quite literally much ado about nothing.

 The Tories are partly to blame. They claim that their proposal is fully funded and worked out. It is, wait for it, a line that will go from London, probably via Heathrow, to Birmingham, Manchester and then through the Pennines to Leeds. That is complete madness. If the line had an L shape, and stopped in the intermediary cities, it would hardly be faster than the existing two hour service between Leeds and London. It’s a typical politician’s plan, trying to include everyone but unable to stand up to rigorous analysis.

 Moreover, the Tories plan to fund the line partly through the private sector which will only make the scheme more expensive since it has no hope of being commercially viable. But even they admit that £15bn out of the supposed £20bn cost will have to come from the public sector, or £1.3bn per year during the 12 year construction period.

 Even if assuming that these figures are not underestimates, this shows the real danger of a high speed line. There is no way that it would be built without demands being made on the existing rail budget. During a 12 year period, there is almost bound to be an economic downturn and halfway through construction it would be impossible to cut back on the construction costs as the contracts would be let. This is not a zero sum game. The money for investing in the high speed line would ultimately come out of the budget for the maintenance and improvement of existing lines, especially in hard times.

 HS2 therefore represents a significant threat to the existing railway. You only have to go to France to see that while the TGV services are undoubtedly wonderful and far better than any services on this side of the Channel, their lignes classiques are characterised in many places by old trains, irregular services and rundown stations. France’s investment in high speed lines has been at the cost of the old railway.

 There are plenty of other reasons why a high speed line is unlikely to be built, Its environmental credentials are dubious, the state of the economy is unlikely to warrant it, rising energy prices will impact on the railway and new technology may well reduce the need for business travel.

 The focus of the investment programme should, therefore, be on improving and adapting the existing railway. Given that load factors on the railways are still load, except at peak times, there is plenty of spare capacity. You only have to look at the vast empty spaces in first class at most times of the day to realise that.

 Indeed, abolishing first class would create a vast amount of extra capacity, far more cheaply than building a new line. If capacity is the main problem, then investment needs to be targeted at bottlenecks. The priorities for the investment programme beyond 2014 has just been examined by the Commons Transport Committee in a report published on February 15. The report highlights the fact that investment in railways is currently at a historic high and most of that is untouchable because it is committed in Network Rail’s current five year plan. Rightly, the committee warns that the next five year period, starting in 1914 is likely to be much tighter and says that this requires prioritisation.

 That is undoubtedly right and my instinct is that the railway must focus on modest but significant schemes – infilling electrification, reopening lines on the cheap through the use of development money, boosting capacity by clever pathing and maximising use of existing track, reducing costs of running branch lines through flexible arrangements and so on.

 This may sound unexciting and modest but it isn’t. Quite the opposite. The railways could be operated far more efficiently than at the moment, and spending money on bottlenecks and small scale schemes could lead to radical improvements.

 There must, though, be room for some major schemes. By 2014, London will have benefitted from a huge proportion of the investment in the railways – Thameslink, Crossrail, HS1 commuter services, East London Line, the PPP on the Underground and so on. So rightly, the MPs – who of course have vested interests but never mind that – are seeking to see major schemes such as electrifying the Midland Main Line and improving the Manchester hub which has become a major bottlenecks.

 The railway is going through a fantastic period of investment which is bound to be cut back once these large schemes start to come on stream. After such a bonanza, it would be unrealistic to expect that a north south high speed line could be built without detracting from much-needed investment programmes. Sure there is a potential capacity problem, but it is not big enough to justify a scheme costing upwards of £30 billion. Let’s focus on Britain’s lignes classiques and forget the pipedream.

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  • Bill

    Now that I have seen the plans, I too am struggling to see the economic and environmental sense of building a new line instead of massively upgrading what we have already at a fraction of the cost. The whole thing could be done and dusted within about five years.
    Thing that worries me is the scarcity of people (CW an honourable exception) arguing against HS2.

  • Dan

    It is interesting to me that most of the main stream media comment is about Birmingham – London journey time. That is important, but for me the real thing of interest is things like Birmingham – Paris / Brussels / Amsterdam / Cologne journey times. That is where the real advantages come – including the real time advantages (Brum – London time advantage fairly minimal) – also where the difference in terms of getting the UK to kick its addiction to short haul flying – if the fares are set correctly of course – and some more serious environmental benefits can flow.

    It was interesting to see Lord Adonis / Norman Baker and Ms Villiers on Newsnight last night. Ms Villiers was the only one in the cast in the true tradition of a Transport Minister…ie not really knowing very much about the issue….

  • David

    I agree with Dan’s comment about Theresa Villiers; moreover, the first comment I saw recorded as coming from the Tories was that the plan was flawed. As there’s so much to take-in, from the various documents released into the public domain, I couldn’t see how they could reach a conclusion so early, as they had declined a pre-publication viewing; I still haven’t read it all, but its interesting to see that Tory proposals for both a Heathrow detour and an un-natural route from London to Leeds via Manchester were considered and discounted.

    In view of all of the work which has gone into the planning, I’m surprised about one omission. The northern end of High Speed 2 ends with a connection into the WCML near Lichfield, but if it was to split on the approach to this city with a line using the A38 corridor to the Alrewas/Central Rivers area, a second northern terminating point for High Speed 2 could be established with a junction with the former MR Birmingham-Derby line; this would give immediate benefits from High Speed 2 for the Derby/Nottingham part of the East Midlands (which is really one conurbation of about 1m people) and Sheffield. There is, of course, provision for a junction for a route into the East Midlands, Sheffield, Leeds, and ultimately Teeside and Newcastle using the M42/A42 corridor, but it would be years after completion of phase 1 before this would be completed – if at all. Moreover, from a political point of view it would be a winner; a few more miles of track through open country, not too expensive to build, and immediately a few more million people directly benefit from the construction of High Speed 2.

    But – like Christian – I’m not convinced new high speed railways are what we need in the UK. Most of us live within 200-250 miles of London, and I was surprised to read recently that there about 6m people living within an hours drive of Derby; this is the sort of population density not found in France or Spain or Italy, were long distances between conurbations means high speed railways make sense. A combination of restoring track uplifted years ago to make single track routes double again, restoring four-track routes (such as on the former GWR line through Birmingham’s southern suburbs), grade separation, longer trains, more platforms, re-routing services (just because the Victorians decided trains should go from A to B via C means they still have to go that way!), and some re-openings would, I believe, be far more beneficial than building completely new high speed railways.

    Also, do we really need the restrictions of various sorts imposed upon Channel Tunnel trains? If these were eased and some/all of the French inter-regional services which terminate at Lille were extended through to St Pancras, the ICE service from Frankfurt to Brussels was extended through to London, and a few completely new services were introduced (just look how many Ryanair flights there are to Milan Bergamo, for example), what effect would this have upon short haul flights?

    Finally, if Heathrow is so important to rail, why haven’t services been introduced from the Midlands/North directly to the airport? After all, the infrastructure exists – down the Chiltern Line then via the Greenford Loop to the GW main line, then into Heathrow. There would, of course, be problems with rolling stock for such a service, but there must be ways of overcoming this; TC’s possibly, diesel worked on non-electrified lines, then electrically through the Heathrow tunnels?

  • nick sloan

    If the roads and exisitng railways were not already congested at certain peak times and flights did not pollute and were on time and you didnt have to get to the airport hours before the flight goes then maybe we wouldnt need another railway. But if we do need more railway capacity then a new line would be cheaper then upgrading the exisitng network (wcml anyone?) and may as well be high speed.

    Why do we think we are so different from almost anywhere else ? and why do we have to be son convinced that it wont be done properly and that it will over run and be over budget ?
    Why cant we be positive and say yes we can do it and do it well and on time and budget ?

    People are always going to have the desire or need to travel. rail travel is the most efficient and least damaging form of transport. The existing network is already so overstretched that the timetable is hard to maintain. Why should we have to stand on a 125 mph train when we could relax in a seat in more comfort at 250 mph ?

    The stduies have shown that every pound spent on hsr will generated at least two pounds of benefits. We could use these benefits to maintain and improve the exisiting network so I suggest that any future government bill on hsr not only safeguard the existing network but ensure that all monies raised by hsr stay within the industry.

    As far as the Chilterns is concerned I think more tunnelling will be required and that also a parkway type station will need to be built so that residents of the area can benefit from hsr and not just suffer the inconveniences of its construction and operation.

  • Michael Weinberg

    Careful Nick: this site is full of nay sayers vis- a- vis British HSL’s. You’ll get branded a loon!
    The UK is ‘different’. We couldn’t build it anyway.
    We’ve got no money: Nobody would travel on it anyway.
    It would unbalance the UK to the SE/Midlands/NW!
    Upgrading is cheaper(?). There’s more pollution with HSL’s etc etc.
    Dont forget these are all railway enthusiasts and Christian makes his living telling everyone why the railways are so expensive/awful/a mess. The media love him!
    I’m waiting for the RAC foundation to explain why we dont need any more major roads!

  • Anoop

    One needs to carefully study the geography of the UK as well as the current rail network and services before being able to consider whether a high speed line is a good idea.

    Personally I think that Birmingham is too close to London for high speed rail to be useful. Time travelling to and from the high speed terminals is more significant than the journey time between the cities. It would be better to spend the money for the Birmingham spur on a metro instead.

    Similarly a London-Manchester or Birmingham-Manchester high speed line would be of limited use because it would duplicate the upgraded WCML. London to Manchester in 2 hours is already faster than plane or car and there would be minimal benefit in reducing it further.

    However, a line from London and Heathrow to Birmingham International and then to the East Midlands (e.g. Leeds / Newcastle) and Scotland would be useful for the following reasons:

    1. Track congestion on the ECML, WCML and MML limits the number of services that can be provided. It also makes it difficult to close a line for maintenance, or provide an alternative route in case of disruption. An additional main line would therefore be useful. The ECML is particularly congested because of the two-track section at Welwyn.

    2. Cross-country services are generally slow and unevenly loaded, and may usefully be split into local services and faster long distance services. Regional services are often very slow. Birmingham International could become a new hub for fast cross-country services (e.g. Bristol to Newcastle), which would reduce congestion at New Street.

    3. Provide rail access to Heathrow (from cities other than London). The new high speed trains could enter Heathrow Terminal 5 services via a western spur and then replace the Heathrow Express services to Paddington. No need for a new Heathrow station. Reduce vehicle and domestic air traffic at Heathrow.

    4. Faster London-Scotland journey times, reducing the need for domestic air services on these routes, thus reducing air traffic congestion at Heathrow.

    What about speed? There is a compromise between speed, cost and environmental damage. I think 250mph is too fast, and this figure has been chosen for political impact only. 160-190mph (depending on terrain, like existing high speed lines in France) is reasonable.

  • nick

    I think they have studied it thats why they made the announcement

    I agree that maybe 250 mph is optimistic but as I say if we are going to build new lines which give more capacity they may as well be at least somewhat faster.

    The point is the route will duplicate existing ones but these are at or near capacity at some points already pun not intended !

    If I am awake much longer I will hear the first train rumbling over Welwyn Viaduct so I know all about that bottleneck and the cost to widen it – better to put the money into hsl !

    I would like to see a statement that by the time the line is built that the electricity generated be from mostly renewables or at least gas to further improve the environmental credentials. This has been required in california I believe.

    Finally I find it strange that Rail magazine often comments that there needs to be a concerted voice supporting the rail industry and lobbying for it so I have always found Christian;s comments on hsl very negative. There are enough critics of railways as it is and I dont think it helps if a so called expert and rail industry spokesperson keeps putting the boot in !

  • welwyn nick

    also i think the point is that as most of the population of England and indeed therefore the UK live within 250 miles of London this actually is a plus for HSL as it means that most people will be within an hour of the capital and visa versa

    We must also remember that there is life North of Watford Junction. HSL is also about connecting Manchester Leeds Newcastle and by extension Scotland.

    I think we forget that the M40 and M50 and M62 can be as crowded as the m25 and that the rest of the UK is a poor rail relation comapred with London. Pacers anyone ??? Bit of a shock after A TGV ! Well bit of a shock anyway or actually lack of shock absorbers!

  • Peter Davidson

    Dan: “It is interesting to me that most of the main stream media comment is about Birmingham – London journey time. That is important, but for me the real thing of interest is things like Birmingham – Paris / Brussels / Amsterdam / Cologne journey times. That is where the real advantages come – including the real time advantages (Brum – London time advantage fairly minimal) – also where the difference in terms of getting the UK to kick its addiction to short haul flying – if the fares are set correctly of course – and some more serious environmental benefits can flow.”

    Dan – happy to see that someone else is focussed on the real issue here. HSR strategy in the UK and political/media disposition towards it provides us with a symbolic metaphor with all that is wrong with the way Britain is governed, and by extension, the way our society is structured.

    Britain is an exemplar of a highly centralised unitary state. Political, legal, social, economic and technical spheres of human activity (to plagiarise an oft used business analysis tool) in the UK are chanelled almost exclusively through a London-centric focus. Attending a meeting for your business/organisation you belong to – almost certain that it’s being held in London! Special sporting/artistic/cultural/political event – almost certainly in London!

    That true HSR in the UK currently consists of a spur line linking London to the burgeoning mainland European network sums up this entrenched mindset. Christian Wolmar seems happy enough with this status quo, presumably because he sees no problem. HSR? I just jump in a taxi and shout, take me to St. Pancras – sorted! If that blinkered attitude doesn’t grate sufficiently, those living in the far flung British provinces only need to remind themselves about who funded St. Pancras and HS1. Quite frankly, CW’s approach makes my blood boil with rage.

    HSR only works if it is viewed on an exclusivley pan-European perspective. Should Mr. Wolmar’s doom laden forecasts not come to pass and if I am lucky enough to board a High Speed Rail service originating out of my Region (NW.England) the very last place I’ll be going to is London!

    Someone needs to bang a few heads together amongst our London based movers and shakers to ensure that direct services via an HS2/HS1 link are integral to any HSR infrastructure construction programme!

  • http://none Peter

    I agree. Who really wants to go to London? Not if we can avoid it.
    There’s such an immense amount to absorb from the reports, appendices etc. that I doubt any politician will spend the time to know what they’re talking about. Perhaps that explains the Tory stance? On the overall premise of HSR, I don’t argue.
    On the subject of Regional/European through services, the report’s assessment is about 600 pax/day which equates to 1tpd(?). For that a tunnel from OOC to Barking(!) is required; all 29 km of it at a cost of…zillions. Dead duck. The fact that an HS1 to NNL connection already exists, or that there are six tracks at both Stratford and Ebbsfleet seems to have escaped the authors.
    Euston as a terminus is daft. If the platforms are to be lowered ?m to accommodate HS2, what gradient is required for the classic lines to climb Camden Bank? The original E lasted 130 years. This one is barely 40. It’s got over 50 years left. Leave it alone to decline gracefully as a regional and commuter terminus. The architect’s proposal to re-create the Doric Arch is just patronising. A bit of sparkly dressing. Oh dear!
    Atkin’s St.P proposal 2 has far better connectivity (a word the reports batter you with). Half a site already exists and the demolition and disruption would be no worse than at E.
    SKM please note, it takes a very fit person to walk from E to St. P in 15 minutes. I can do it but I arrive breathless with legs like pins. It takes my WCML train to be just a few minutes late into E and I miss the ongoing HS1 domestic. My overall journey time is then 20 minutes longer than pre-HS1 domestic service. The dis-benefit of HSR? And there are a lot of buildings in the way of a people mover so that won’t get done.
    The main fault of all the assessments is a failure to appreciate that we don’t all live at, and want to get to, the end of the preferred alignment. The time savings generated benefit few and are really operational savings. For most of us, similar savings could be achieved by decent attention to the rest of the network; meshing timetables, cross-platform interchange, better quality trains off the main lines and speed ups where possible. In other words, a proper integration of the network. My weekly journey requires four trains southbound and five northbound. It’s 180 miles as the crow flies and takes between 4½ and 5½ hours. There is no point in HSR if you spend 20/30 minutes waiting for connections at each node. HSR will also starken the contrast between the business railway and the social railway. Also published are reports on alternatives. How about getting on with those now, not 2017?

  • http://none Peter

    I’ve read through most of the guff now and what a lot there is! Very detailed proposals for this stage of the game. But what does it amount to?
    The proposal is a London – Birmingham railway followed by a Grand Junction railway. Also, an isolated (re)built terminal in London with poor connections and poorer dispersion. So poor in fact, even after 6½year’s rebuilding, that the punters are to be encouraged to debark at Old Oak Common.
    Haven’t we had all this before; about 150 year’s ago?
    Our motorway planners didn’t learn and what did we end up with? The Midland’s morass, and a wriggly by-pass that the govmint has the nerve to charge us for.
    Rethink called for?

  • Luke

    You’re all crazy. More ill-informed unambitious faux-pragmatic anti HSR diatribes. The upgrade to the WCML delivered half of what it set out to do with massive disruptions to services with cost and time overruns, eventually costing the same as HS1 for minimum benefit. Patching up existing lines is the most inefficient way of increasing capacity and delivers none of the modal shift or economic benefits of a north-south high speed line, as seen all over the world where it is tried. Our despicable miserly ‘let’s just fix what we’ve got’ attitude (plus privatisation) has crippled our rail system for the past few decades and if people like Mr. Wolmar get his way will continue to do so. Our classic lines have had enough investment. Roll on HS2, and let’s be glad that Adonis is running things rather than a penny pinching tremulous mandarin.

  • RapidAssistant

    Clearly HS2 will be scuppered because ministers are trying (as they are with IEP) to make it an all singing, all dancing project that will be all things to all men – forgetting that there are three lines (four if you count the GCR/Chiltern route) required at present to serve all the major conurbations to the north of the Home Counties.

    It boils down to the question that – do we really need as much transport in the first place?

    Maybe more companies should decentralise their operations away from the South East so that people don’t need to travel to London in the first place. There is the argument of course that if you provide more transport capacity, you will simply the monster even more and encourage more movement of people and goods to the South East – just like the HST did 30 years ago, and like the railways did when they were originally built for that matter.

    The whole thing is academic really, when you consider that Adonis probably won’t be transport secretary in two months’ time.

  • RapidAssistant

    oops should have said “feed the monster even more” above – touche!!!

  • Dan

    Couple of points: Whilst I am a supporter of HS the key issue IS the one about the impact on the rest of the railway, and this IS very important. One only has to look at HS 1 to see how the opp was taken to ask for a premium fare (presumably for a suggested ‘better’ product) and also a recast of the non HS timetable that slowed down services for certain users on the Kent classic lines. This is not ideal (along with the utterly daft decision not to run the Javelins at their design speed of 140mph – what is all that about?).

    But in other modes do better products cost more with improvement over time? I suspect a 1960s Ford Anglia cost more in relative terms then than a Ford Focus costs now – and the latter will be more reliable, more comfortable and capable of higher speeds.

    I bought a second hand 1967 BR southern region timetable recently and looked at the service on a line I use regularly – London – Eastbourne/Hastings. The journey time is no more than 2 minutes different now – are we really saying it is acceptable over that over almost HALF a century there has been no reduction in journey time (improvements have probably been delivered in service frequency, cost reduction through less staff – eg signalling staff, quality of modern trains – if you like cramped seating of course!).

    Also, here in the East Mids – Regional Railway routes have probably seen little improvement in journey times since the introduction of diesel trains in the 1950s. It’s pretty shocking really.

    On another matter – this is interesting. Not sure who Mr Tomasky is, but this blog entry on Eurostar is interesting because it comes from a US perspective where he makes the comparison with Amtrak in comfort terms (important to recognise that he is talking about Amtrak East Coast service – the only bit that could claim to be relatively modern).

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/michaeltomasky/2010/mar/19/transport-eurostar

    He makes a good point – why is product quality so poor in terms of on board comfort / services compared with what US users would expect?

    This will be critical for HS2 – why is there always the presumption that passengers should expect cramped airline style seats – when the alternative of your car gets ever more comfortable and the interior environment ever more controllable.

    Why is comfortable public transport with relatively cheap fares such a no no in the UK?

  • David

    Interesting post by Dan; I agree with most of what he says, but I’m not sure I agree with him completely.

    There certainly have been some journey time improvements in the East Midlands since the 1950s, often introduced concurrently with Sprinters/158s/etc; but these have often been countered by journeys being split as a consequence of either privatisation or the actions of the SRA. Examples are the splitting of the Crewe-Skegness service into Crewe-Derby and Nottingham-Skegness ones, the abolition of through services from the East Midlands to Worcester, Hereford, Shrewsbury, etc., and the isolation of Lincoln – all it really has to the west now is a stopping service through Newark and Nottingham to Loughborough and Leicester, which is totally wrong for a city of Lincoln’s size and importance.

    As for on board service/comfort/etc., I think this is more subjective. What I consider to be a comfortable seat won’t be the same for everyone; I hate the Antolin ones fitted to Pendolinos and Voyagers, only find their’s in Meridians slightly better, but I like the Lazzerini ones fitted to the MML and Central Turbostars. As for first class seats, I also find the Antolin ones uncomfortable (after a couple of hours I get-up and walk to the toilet, even if I don’t need a physical needs break!), and as a general rule I find the Chapman/Primarius first and standard class seats fitted to various vehicles to be the most comfortable.

    But we then have to consider seat spacing; my view is that too many seats are crammed into modern British trains, and (in the East Midlands) the class 156s and158s used on local services compare unfavourably with the class 120s used in the past. Moreover, the class 120s (and the Birmingham and Cravens sets they replaced) usually had seats aligned well with windows, so – if you could ignore the rattles! – the journey was quite a pleasant experience; of recent builds, Turbostars/Electrostars aren’t bad for seats v windows, but the Voyager/Meridian family are terrible, even in first class.

    Regarding on board service, this seems to be going “backwards”; I find the present service on Cross Country far worse than when Virgin operated this route, and this applies to both first and standard class. My experience has been that the first class service is poorer in that the customer hosts seem to spend more time “doing nothing” in their preparation/etc area at the end of the first class vehicle (on at least one journey, I wasn’t asked if I wanted a tea or coffee until I’d been on board for over an hour) and in standard it seems to be a case of having a drink at the time Cross Country wants to serve you, rather than when you want to drink one. But again, its personal preference, I guess; some passengers won’t mind be served at their seat from a trolley when the host gets round to them, as they will prefer this to walking to a buffet car.

    East Midlands has also got worse; they removed trolleys from the Norwich-Liverpools, dropped free teas and coffees in standard class on former MML services, and have reduced the service level in first class. The frequency at which teas/coffees are offered seem to have been reduced, on my last trip there weren’t any free newspapers, and (more importantly) no wine!

    As Dan says, these need to be considered for HS2; I also believe they need to be considered for for IEP (or whatever replaces it), and for future franchises. For a decision needs to be taken by government as to what the role of railways is to be; is it just to be something which moves commuters in our major conurbations, with some provision for long distance journeys, or is to provide an attractive alternative to the private car. We seem to be focusing on getting people from London to Birmingham, etc., in the minimum amount of time, but speed can’t be the key decision maker for most people traveling south from the Midlands; if it were, why are so many cars crawling along the M1 when their occupants could make their journeys much quicker by rail?

    Comfort, cost, convenience, and service must be factors considered by many when making their modal choice, and if this is ignored when specifying trains and service levels for HS2, it will not be a commercial success; after all, Wrexham & Shropshire’s service to Marylebone isn’t fast, but those who use it seem impressed by the quality of its rolling stock and the on-board service provided, and this must have some effect upon the numbers of people who use it rather than the faster alternatives involving a change to Virgin at Wolverhampton (for passengers living north thereof).

    As Dan asks, why is comfortable public transport with relatively cheap fares such a no no in the UK? And to that must be added the question, why isn’t a reasonable standard of service provided on long distance services?

  • Dan

    Good points David – re interior comfort I was talking about seat spacing, windows etc (not seat design which as you say sort of varies person to person) – sounds like you agree here.

    As for service, again I broadly agree – XC is now very poor and hard to know what staff on board actually do service wise – clearly this is cost driven and not acceptable for long distances. eg if you took Derby – Oxford on XC and compared it with road you’d get better quality of food at an M1 services – and that is not an overlong train trip. Imagine if you took XC to Cornwall! I now try to route myself away from their trains where I can. Std Class is very cramped too.

    EMT trolley on Liverpool service is returning I think I read – and although I enjoyed the free tea on MML I’m not sure how important that was. I’m not bothered about free wine in 1st as I don’t really drink it – so I’d rather have a cheaper fare, but your point is well made – at least a fruit juice of quality could be offered as an alternative and I’m not sure it is. As far as I know they (EMT) have reduced the wine to services at certain times in the eve peak (when the cheaper tickets are not available) in a way that makes some sense – but it does ‘look’ mean. I do give them credit for offering a hot food menu on china in 1st on many trains during the day (although the ‘heat and eat’ is no substitute for a restaurant car in 1st and Std class IMHO – which MML did away with on privatisation of course), and the full english option on Saturdays marks them out as the only TOC offering quality food at the weekend – so it is not clear cut with EMT.

    The points you make in the last 2 or 3 paras of your message are very well made.

  • Dan

    on MPs allowances:
    “First-class travel will be scrapped; MPs will only be reimbursed for standard tickets unless they can pre-book a first class ticket for less than the standard class fare.”

    I actually think this is daft – it’s quite reasonable for people working to be able to travel 1st class –
    BUT
    We might start to see an improved level of comfort and service in standard class though!

    or they might simply drive now instead…

  • http://birmingham2london.blogspot.com/ PJDC

    Thoroughly agree with Dan’s comments on XC though there do remain some friendly and helpful first class hosts – the trouble is that XC seem to be constantly cost-cutting…

    However, have to take issue with the comment on EMT: ‘only TOC offering quality food at the weekend’ . Come to the West Midlands and enjoy superb food every day on the Wrexham & Shropshire services (and their standard class stock beats most other TOCs’ first class offerings for comfort!).

  • Dan

    PJDC – yes, didn’t mean to be over critical of the XC staff – I assume that their managers do not really want them out front facing passengers with quality service of that sort. The problem with XC is that I don’t think they see themselves as an ‘Inter City TOC’ any more – and probably nor does DfT – seems to be an assumption that their customer base is primarily student types going from regional city to city for university terms and seeing friends and and pensioners visiting family – but this is not true. They seem to have given up competing with road really, with slack timetabling too.

    Once upon a time XC would have been the perfect candidate for hand me down quality but old rolling stock which would have been more approp for its market. Without privatisation, IC125s on other lines would have been replaced by now (by an equally good product) and they would all be running on XC services doing good service for pre retirement duties.

    As for W&S I take your point and it looks absolutly superb, but in this respect I don’t think we can say we are really comparing like with like – just 4 trains a day with the final southbound one departing at 15.25 and last north out of London at 18.33 – I’m not sure how many people would find this an acceptable level of service if the ‘subsidised’ TOCs were not all part of the picture. All credit to them for what they do, but I don’t think it is a true comparison?

  • David

    Regarding Dan’s comment about HSTs ending their days on XC if there hadn’t been privatisation, BR had worked-up plans for something like this, based around the IC250 Project for the WCML. The introduction of these new electric trains would have resulted in Mk IIIs an DVTs being cascaded to XC, were they would have worked with new diesels – class 48s – in (if I remember correctly) loco+5 Mk IIIs + DVT on the shorter workings, with HSTs on the longer ones; all would have been refurbished to the same design, and there weren’t any plans to alter interior seating layouts (although TGSs would have been altered and re-positioned on HSTs – they would have been made into through vehicles and positioned with the guard’s compartment next to the buffet so that people queuing through the gangway into the adjoining coach wouldn’t interfere so much with passengers travelling in that vehicle).

    Regarding on board service, in my experience I’ve found it very mixed in mainland Europe and often its far worse than here in the UK. Its particularly bad in France, which is something I’ve always thought to be strange as it’s a country which is very food focussed, and is there any on-train service at all in Belgium? Bruxelles to Luxembourg is roundly three hours and Brugge to Liege is just over two, and here in the UK we would expect some kind of refreshments to be available if we travelled on an IC service for these lengths of time.

    BR was often made fun of with comments about curled-up sandwiches, but we tend to forget just how much they expanded on-board catering and widened choice. Back in the days of steam, there were excellent restaurant car meals provided on some services – seems strange now in the age of the microwave to think that there were vehicles which were nothing but kitchen cars – but there wasn’t the service frequency, journey times were longer, and the option of just buying a tea or coffee (or even a beer) wasn‘t available; but by the mid 1960s, frequencies had improved on IC services, journey times had reduced through electrification or the introduction of diesel traction, buffet cars were quite common, and by privatisation the availability of drinks and hot and cold snacks had become something which was expected. It had changed from something of real quality for the few, to something generally of a lesser quality for all but with a higher quality offering at certain times (like breakfast); that’s what we now seem to expect as the norm, and when it gets reduced as part of cost-cutting measures, we aren’t happy!.

  • Ian Raymond

    Dan, David et al… in terms of the overall quality of experience on XC, yes it is very poor indeed. I use it regularly for trips from the NW to Devon (6hr+ journet time total!), but the coach design is so poor (no escape from that underfloor rumble, appalling lack of luggage space compared to MkIII) and frequenctly no refreshments beyond a cup of tea that I am abandoning the ‘green credentials’ of a lifetime and investing in driving lessons. Oh yes, and most of the time anyone from the NW who dares to travel to the SW is ‘forced’ to endure the rugby scrum of New Street following the loss of the direct links.
    It says something that having travelled this route since 1988 and all the peer pressure in my younger years that only now as I approach 40 is the service so unappealing as to persuade me to use the roads.

  • Michael Weinberg

    There was an interview some time ago in ‘Modern Railwys’ with the then new MD of Cross Country where he actually stated that people with a lot of luggage shouldn’t use his trains and that most people only went a short distance so the facilities on board needn’t be very extensive.
    I thought at the time this spelt the end of Cross Country as an ‘inter-city’ type service and so it has proved.
    He simply doesn’t want passengers to travel from Dundee to Plymouth as this might mean they’d demand a better service.
    He seemed to imply anyone daft enough to travel a long distance on his trainsdeserved to be uncomfortable!

  • Ian Raymond

    Yep, and his approach is something for which FlyBE and AirSouthwest are queuing up to shake his hand for…

  • RapidAssistant

    Ian – as you say I was on a XC service run by an HST in the early days of Virgin (probably 1999/2000 if my memory serves me correctly) and the standard of service was comparable with BR InterCity days. Comfortable rolling stock, comprehensive on-board buffet etc.

    Just two years later the same service (Glasgow-Birmingham) was then operated by a Voyager, with horrendous overcrowding and the smell from the blocked toilet was enough to put me off for life. Haven’t had recourse to go anywhere near a long distance journey on one since….seems like Arriva have managed to make an even worse hash of it from what you say!

  • David

    I can’t remember seeing the interview in ‘Modern Railways’ referred to by Michael Weinburg, but it shows that there was a considerable change in usage of XC during the Virgin era. In the late BR period, the average length of journey on XC was considerably more than on other IC routes, and they had a very loyal user base; only problem was they typically made only one or two return journeys each year! Often they were oldies (like me!) going to see relatives or on holiday to the West Country, and there actually were people who made very long journeys. But even if average journey lengths are now much shorter, there still needs to be adequate space for luggage; this isn’t provided, for if it was aisles and vestibules wouldn’t have more obstructions than are found on an assault course.

    Ian Raymond commented on New Street. If I remember correctly, a condition of the current franchise is that Arriva had to come up with ways of reducing congestion in Birmingham, and their timetables suggest passengers should change at other stations; but the last time I tried to book a cheap ticket from Derby to Bristol, all I could get were ones which required a change at New Street. No direct tickets were available at all.

    I wonder by how much actions such as this by XC add to the congestion at New Street, for I’m sure some people must take-up this option? Moreover, would Arriva then count this journey as two short ones to support their argument regarding XC demand?

  • Ian Raymond

    Yep, try booking from Liverpool to the Southwest – only tickets changing at Birmingham are shown, and even then never any ‘cheap’ ones (£110 return is the norm).

    But to return to David’s comment on the 26th, the whole situation with XC throws up what is likely to come from HS2; are we going to see more ‘jam ‘em in to the gunwhales’ attitude to maximise capacity, dreamt up by civil servants in the DfT who will never use the route + complicit rail managers wh pay lip service to passenger comfort, or is there the possibility there will be something produced with an edge of quality which will attract motorists / airline users?

    Unfortunately, I’m thinking it’s more likely to be the former, filled with users ‘pushed’ off the roads/airlines by fuel costs/taxes, rather than ‘pulled’ by something which people actually want to use and can feel proud of (and not just attracted by the speed, either). Oops, there goes my cynical streak again.

  • David

    But Ian, a change of trains at New Street is necessary if you travel from Liverpool to the South West, and two companies are involved – London Midland and XC, whereas there is a direct XC train from Derby to Bristol every hour; but when I searched, none of the cheap tickets that were available were on the direct trains, but (say) a Nottingham – Cardiff as far as Birmingham, and then on a Manchester – Bristol/South West train for the remainder of the journey, hence my comment about increasing congestion at New Street by causing passengers to change trains when not really necessary.

  • Dan

    Good point David – yes, I think you are spot on – those split ticket journeys just go in the stats as short trips – after all the stats are surely generated by ticket sales data (the obvious way) not some fancy journey modelling based on travel surveys or such things.

  • Ian Raymond

    OK David, didn’t really get the initiial point, and having done some checking the same situation as you quote seems to exist for Manchester – Bristol, so well spotted.

    However, re: my comment note there used to be two well-used through services a day direct from Liverpool until the start of the 00s – just because some mandarin dictates one franchise should change shouldn’t (in a sane world) mean users suddenly have to pay through the nose. (In a sense, as changing is an added significant inconvenience one might almost say the fare should go down…) ;)

  • David

    I guess you’ve all seen the BBC News report about the Lib Dems proposals to divert rail funds to rail and to carry out a programme of rail re-openings; I get the impression this is in addition to new High Speed railways.

    Very little detail on the Lib Dems website, but there must be more details somewhere as I heard a professor from Liverpool John Moore’s University rubishing them on the radio, claiming that they were muddled and the maths didn’t add-up; but he seemed to be implying that all would be re-constructions (like Lewes-Uckfield) whereas some must be re-openings as mention is made of a line from the Midland Main Line to the Birmingham – Derby one which I presume is the still in existence Leicester – Burton line. I’ve also seen a suggestion that the East Lancs Railway should become part of the national network.

    Anyone know anymore?

  • http://www.christianwolmar.co.uk Christian Wolmar

    I have blogged on the Guardian website about the LIbDems proposal, much as the good professor says, I suspect:

    The Liberal Democrats are back in woolly-hat territory. You can’t really go wrong if you propose reopening railway lines and reversing Beeching cuts. Indeed, mere mention of the B bogey figure is guaranteed to attract the support of thousands of rail supporters across the country.
    So Norman Baker’s proposal to open swathes of the railway shut down by Beeching hit all the right buttons and received a surprising amount of coverage, which was largely favourable except, of course, from the roads lobby because he proposes to shift most of the spending on roads to rail.
    While he should be commended for daring to support rail rather than road investment, there is an element of fantasy around his figures. Spending an extra £3bn on the railways will get, at best, a hundred or so miles of track reopened, not thousands of miles, and that is not necessarily the priority for the railways – although his constituents in Lewes would love the Lewes to Uckfield line to be reopened, creating a direct service to London and relieving pressure on the Brighton mainline.
    The initial task for whoever sits at the head of the Department of Transport after 6 May – and it is not inconceivable that it might be Baker himself – is ensuring that existing commitments on the railways are adhered to. Baker is being rather churlish in criticising his friend Lord Adonis, the current transport secretary, for concentrating solely on high-speed rail, as we are in the middle of the biggest rail investment boom since the 1950s with Crossrail, Thameslink, the electrification of the Great Western line, major station redevelopments at Reading and Birmingham, and countless smaller enhancements by Network Rail.
    This is big-bucks stuff, with perhaps £40bn being committed to these schemes if they all see the light of day and rather more important than reopening a few branch lines, welcome though that would be. Therefore Baker’s suggestion that rail investment has been neglected in recent years under Labour is misleading. Sure, there are not many reopenings being promoted by the current government but while there is a good case for a few, most of the easy ones have been done: since Beeching, 200 miles of track and 350 stations have been reopened. The pace has slowed greatly since privatisation because of the cost and the complexity since train operators have to agree to changes in their contracts if a new station is opened or section of track is reinstated, and the bureaucratic nature of Network Rail has pushed up costs enormously.
    Baker, too, ducks the issue that the whole system needs radical reform. Ditching the failed franchising system should, therefore, be the first priority as the current structure makes rail investment far too expensive. Decision-making needs to be devolved. The real issue is not only ensuring that the current huge programme of rail investment is maintained, but also working out a way of drawing in money for smaller schemes like those proposed by Baker.
    The clue is to be found in where current investment is going: London, Scotland, Wales, even Northern Ireland – all places to which considerable power over transport matters has been devolved. Wherever power is given to local people over transport decisions, rail schemes are favoured over road projects. This is why there are far more coherent local transport policies in Europe than in Britain. To bring about Baker’s dream of new and reopened lines, transport spending needs to be devolved to regional government rather than being centrally controlled from Whitehall.

  • Bluecaster

    What seems to be completely forgotten now is that in its last years BR operated a superb NW/SW service. It was called Voyager (no relation to the tatty toy trains of that name). You booked in advance and there were one or two coaches dedicated to the service in each through train. The fare was a little under the standard fare, but more than the cheapest advance purchase as I remember. For this you got a) Help with your luggage and finding your seat from the coach attendant, b) A reserved seat and a guarantee there would be no standing passengers in the coach, c) Free tea or coffee liberally offered, d) Meals as appropriate to the time of day. My wife used the service several times to the west of England. Another advantage was that if the main-line train ran late the staff would arrange onward transport to their branch-line station – on one occasion this involved a taxi from Taunton to Barnstaple for several passengers who would otherwise have been stranded all night at Exeter.
    Sadly Virgin lost no time in axing the service when they took over. So much for the benefits of privatisation. We still go to the West Country from time to time but having tried Cross Country twice now go by car.

  • http://none Peter

    Sorry to go off-topic but I need a soap-box!
    Sat on HS1 outbound, on Tuesday, it suddenly occurred to me that we already have half of Cross-Rail. It’s called Southeastern ‘High Speed’ Domestic Service. Presently it terminates in St. Pancras, for no particular purpose.
    It was the creation of a typical political fudge of JP’s (IIRC) to give L&CR a way forward with HS1 when they were running out of money. But the foresight terminated there.
    Now that the GW is to get electrickery, it only needs tunnelling between east of St. P and west of P and what have you got? Cross-Rail at a fraction of the price.
    Oh, I forgot; it won’t go to Canary where?

  • Michael Wood

    It begs the question whether HSL2 requires to go via Birmingham, it’s adequately served presently to the capital and as also benefited from the massive injection of funds for the WCML upgrade. I would suggest HSL2 or upgrade existing would overall better the countries needs had it been routed via the east midlands utilising much of the MML dequadded and parts of the old GCR formation and routed to Manchester over the south pennines via the old Woodhead route all major cities would be easily accessed, Leicester / Nottingham / Derby / Sheffield and Manchester a junction in the Sheffield area would take the line to Leeds and the north.There would be less disruption to urban areas land and engineering would be less costly.Or is this part of the country just not fashionable.

  • James Wells

    Dr Beeching’s closures were not fully adopted as it became politically too difficult.

    This is still the case but a new Dr Beeching is required. More closures are justified.

    For example the Kyle of Lochalsh line is paralled closely almost the whole way by A roads. There is no case for duplicated infrastructure on this low volume route. The railway was to have been closed in 1974 – the savings to BR then would have been Pnds 200,000 per annum. Today of course they would be much higher. The line is iconic but just how much are the taxpayers expected to bear?

    Very few reopenings could possibly be justified.

  • Dan

    completly disagree James – even taking Kyle line operational costs will have been slashed compared with 1960s levels (reduced staffing alone will have stripped out vast sums). In fact might make more economic sense to close the road to save funds as traffic could be more economically and environmentally better shifted by rail? Sound crazy – but why not?

    Part of public service is about providing infrastructure to places for all sorts of reasons – so this is what you get. It is what Govt is for in fact.

    Musing on: London – Brum is duplicated by I think TWO M-Ways – surely it would be more cost effective on your analysis to close that railway 1st? Would make much more sense in fact as the high cost infrastructure of the WCML could allow a proportionatly higher saving….

    Beeching did some things that were required (although BR existing managers were getting on with the job of closing things down before he came along) –

    Beeching failure was about total inability to see the future patterns of population growth, movement and increased labour force mobility that has required more transport infrastructure and requirment to commute – not just in south east but in regional ex industrial towns and cities too. I don’t criticise inability to see the future (that is best left to Mystic Wolmar and others with such insights…) but at least soem of this would have been predictable

    eg:

    These were the people who proposed the closure of Falmer Station in Sussex (and it closed breifly) at exactly the same time another govt department were funding a large new University mere yards from that station. One can only conclude they were not competent to do the task they were asked. There are countless small examples around the country of this level of foolishness.

    I suspect the good things that Beeching did (and there were some and they needed doing) probably happened by accident rather than intention!

    As an interesting aside if the management team’s salaries were reduced by the same % as the route mileage reductions then we’d have seen less closures and more boosts for services!

    The analogy is valid with other public services – if your local council decide to close down 1 or 2 libraries, find out if the Director of Libraries’ Salary is getting reduced in line with the reduced responsibilities of the job? tends not to happen of course…..

  • http://none Peter

    If you can find the Atkin’s assessment for the MML in the voluminous HS2 report, you’ll see that the alignment precludes quadrupling for a parrallel HSL. The existing bends are too sharp to follow and too many crescents of land would be isolated. Otherwise, I agree with MW’s route; it makes more sense to me.
    And, since through services to the Continent will never be viable….(??) a terminal at St P. makes better sense than Euston.
    BTW, why wasn’t the undercroft at St. P. reserved for HS2 instead of making it into another booring shopping mall? I expect to find trains at a station, not M&S or Boots. What a lack of foresight and a waste of a scarce asset?

  • Colin Wells

    Absolutely agree with Christian’s comments re regional government enabling investment in rail. Pity then that the daft people in the northeast voted against having their own elected assembly! They listened to the Tories up there who were shouting about “another layer of government”, when in fact all regions already have regional development agencies. Wouldn’t it be better to turn them all from Quango’s into democraticly elected bodies? Local people know far better than central government how and where to target scarce funds, as is already shown where there are existing elected regional bodies.

  • David

    When I saw the Lib Dems proposals reported on the BBC News website on Easter Monday, my first thoughts were “good!”; but as I thought more about it, I realised that there seemed to be a mis-match, for no way could thousands of miles of railway be re-constructed on abandoned trackbeds for just £3bn.

    I tried to find more information about these proposals; initially, there was nothing about it on the Lib Dems own website, but when something was eventually posted, it contained less information than had been reported by BBC News. Then there was an interview with Norman Baker (nice bit of local electioneering for himself, mentioning Lewes – Uckfield as a candidate for re-opening!), and a discussion between John Humphry and a professor from Liverpool’s John Moores University who rubbished the Lib Dems proposals, accusing them of muddled thinking, poor maths, etc; but this seemed a bit strange, as they have been quite good at costing ideas in the past.

    But as I thought about the bits of the Lib Dem ideas that had been reported, I concluded that either they were in what Christian described as woolly-hat territory, or else putting forward something which was very radical. For although they have clearly identified some re-constructions (Lewes – Uckfield and Skipton – Colne were mentioned, together with a general comment from Baker about using abandoned track beds), they are also thinking in terms of restoring passenger services to lines which are either currently freight only or mothballed (there’s mention somewhere of Washington as a suitable site for a new station, and this would require the re-opening of the mothballed Leamside line in Co Durham, and surely a new line between the Midland Main Line and the Birmingham – Derby one refers to what was – when first suggested for re-opening – called the Ivanhoe Line). I’ve also seen it suggested somewhere that some “heritage lines” could also be added to the national network; the East Lancs line from Heywood to Rawtenstall has been listed as a possible candidate.

    As Christian points out, where decision making regarding transport has been devolved from central government there has been most investment in rail projects. Substantial legislation would, of course, be required to establish either a devolved government for England as a whole or for the English regions; have the Lib Dems taken this into account and come-up with a system which uses the established local government structure in England? For they seem to be saying that local authorities will take the lead as it is them who will submit claims for funding from the Rail Expansion Fund.

    In his interview on BBC News, Norman Baker also used the term “train companies” when explaining who could submit applications for funding from the proposed fund. He didn’t expand on this, so does he mean a TOC or was he deliberately broad in his language because it is intended that heritage railway companies can also apply for funds? Did he just mean, say, Chiltern could apply for funding for further Evergreen projects (such as an extension beyond Aylesbury Vale to Milton Keynes), or – as he has mentioned Heywood – Rawtenstall – is it also the intention that railway companies like the East Lancs can bid for funds to make their line part of the national network?

    It is, of course, difficult to match £3bn to thousands of miles of re-opened railway, but it could result in hundreds of miles being restored to the network;, especially if heritage railways are to be used; if a commercial case exists for passenger services, it wouldn’t cost much to alter the layouts at Kidderminster and Paignton so that trains can run from, say, Birmingham to Bridgenorth or Exeter to Kingswear, and the recently installed Sheringham crossing could be signalled so that Bittern Line trains could be extended through to Holt. Then, there are freight only or mothballed lines like Leicester – Burton and Leamside; costs for restoring these to the national network should be considerably less than for re-constructing lines on abandoned trackbeds (but a few yards of completely new track will be necessary in Leicester if the station is to be accessed from the Burton direction without reversal). Finally, there are lines like Lichfield to Alrewas, maintained to passenger standards for diversionary use but not presently served by passenger services; costs of restoring these to daily passenger use would be minimal.

    There are also some “blocks” to expansion on some heritage lines which could become parts of the national network. The Ecclesbourne Valley Railway has done very well in restoring the Duffield – Wirksworth line, and they have aspirations to operate a train service through to Derby; but the cost of restoring a connection at Duffield is probably beyond their resources, so the Rail Expansion Fund could provide a source of funds for this work. In this example, a very small percentage of a £3bn fund could result in this branch line being added to the national network.

    One of the major “blocks” to expansion of heritage lines must be Peak Rail’s missing bridge over the A6 at Rowsley; without it, they are restricted to the section between Matlock and Rowsley, and unless one of their members was to have a massive Eurolottery win, the construction of the new overbridge remains, I believe, a pipe-dream. A few million pounds from a Rail Expansion Fund could fund this bridge, and the opportunities this then opens up are considerable.

    Firstly, once over the A6, its relatively easy going as far as Bakewell; a modified connection with Network Rail at Matlock would enable the EMT service from Nottingham/Derby to be extended through to Bakewell, and an onward extension northwards would enable this to eventually run through much of the Peak District to Buxton.

    Secondly, it has the potential to become once again a major trunk route (the same potential exists for a re-opened Harrogate – Northallerton line – as well as providing local benefits, it could be used for XC trains heading north from Leeds towards Newcastle and Scotland).

    But is this what the Lib Dems are proposing? Are they thinking of using local authorities, TOCs and heritage railways to dive forward network expansion? Do they propose to fund connections, bridges, etc., so that some heritage railways can be added to the national network? And if this is what they are proposing, who will own the infrastructure funded from this fund? Or are they just saying “here’s some more money for Network Rail which can be used to fund schemes not already agreed by the regulator”?

    From what I’ve seen thus far, I just don’t know. For by reading the small amounts I have seen published, there isn’t much detail, but I don’t think they are just going to provide more money for Network Rail – if they are just thinking of creating a Rail Expansion Fund which will be controlled centrally and only used to fund Network Rail projects, it doesn’t really add anything (apart from another £3bn!), and to claim that it will result in thousands of miles of track being re-opened is unrealistic and, as Christian says, it just seems as if the Lib Dems are in woolly-hat territory. But on the other hand, if they have recognised that the best rail investment programmes have been where control over projects has been devolved and they are proposing to use the existing local government framework in England, together with TOCs and possibly existing heritage railways, to drive investment forward in small schemes which are potentially of great benefit at a local level, then we may have something quite radical. For funding for schemes such as connections at Kidderminster, Paignton and Duffield, together with signalling of the Sheringham level crossing, could immediately add tens of miles of track to the national network, and a bridge over the A6 at Rowsley opens up the possibility of Peak Rail being extended through to Bakewell and beyond. These all require big bucks for the heritage railways involved, probably putting such investment out of their reach, but would only require a small percentage of a £3bn Rail Expansion Fund.

    If the Lib Dems are thinking on this basis, potentially there is also another benefit to our country; rail infrastructure investment could give a boost to the construction industry, in so doing reducing unemployment in that sector. Small schemes need not be undertaken by large construction companies – just look how the Festiniog Railway has re-built the Welsh Highland, especially on Phase IV; local construction companies have re-built the trackbed (including laying some ballast), and a steel fabricator in Caernarfon has manufactured its bridges. Of course this is only a 2ft gauge railway, but the principles used in its re-building can be carried over to standard gauge projects.

    So, back to my original question; does anyone know anymore about the Lib Dems proposal?

    For without more detail, I just don’t know if the Lib Dems are being radical or in Christian’s woolly-hat territory.

  • Dan

    David – I wouldn’t spend much time musing over what the Lib Dems say – they never get into the position to really implement much stuff – and they know this – there is more detail in your post on piolicy than they will have thought through – with luck they will read it and it will help them firm up their ideas as you do make some very good points about quick financial wins – some of which may (or may not) be worthwhile. But the void in their thinking is the idea that TOCs migth come up with much of this – well yes, but only if they know there is a blank cheque for them as the avg TOC is a subsidy addict.

    Much of this will simply be about Lib Dems bigging up things like Lewes – Uckfield where there are local votes for Mr Baker (and it is a very sensible idea but I suspect that is good luck). As they operate in a ‘political niche market’ they often take local policy solutions and apply them nationally – since this works to reflect positively back on the local areas where they have some votes / power.

    Still – they were involved with the galashields re-opening proposal which is good to see as I recall so perhaps they deserve some credit. I’d be interested in knowing what their record is in local councils when it comes to putting big money into supporting rail schemes, or branch line partnerships etc. Not so sure it is esp high profile. Their hearts are in the right place I suppose….

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