Britain’s neglected railways

A day spent on Southern and Southeastern trains filming with Richard Wilson for Despatches was instructive in showing how the railway system is still constrained by lack of investment. We took the train from Victoria to Hastings, and my god is that a slow service, not helped by a six minute stop at Eastbourne so the driver can get from one end of the train to another.  Two hours to Hastings, barely 80 miles from London, must make it one of the slowest routes in the country – perhaps readers have other suggestions for similar slow trains?

Clearly commuting from Hastings is barely feasible except, of course, a better alternative would have been if the section between Hastings and Ashford had been electrified. This would have opened up a whole section of southern England to faster services and yet it did not pass the cost benefit test a few years ago when the SRA looked at it. It would also have allowed south coast trains to go directly all the way from Ashford to Brighton and beyond, again providing an important service.

When there is so much focus on HS2, it is instructive that there are still such obvious gaps in providing a coherent railway system that is inclusive of the whole country. Hastings, after all, is a pretty poor town and deserved better. It does have a shiny new station, with good bus links outside, but sadly this too looked to have been done on the cheap as the iron girders holding up the bus shelter roof were already rusting which is hardly surprising given the sea air. They already look shabby, a shame given that money has clearly been spent but penny pinching will mean much is wasted.

Heading back on the high speed train from Ashford, the vibration was very noticeable. I tweeted this last night, and a couple of responses suggested that some of the trains had been altered, but certainly not the one I was on. It really is a source of embarrassment for Hitachi and Richard and the crew were very surprised at how bad it was, given the newness of both track and trains.

  • Christian wolmar

    Dispatches is due on March 14th

  • Michael Weinberg

    “A LIBERAL Democrat government would go full steam ahead and re-open the railway line between Buxton and Matlock, it emerged this week.

    In 2004, a Derbyshire County Council feasibility report concluded it would not be financially viable to revive the line, which carried express trains to Machester and London before closing in 1968.

    But if successful at the ballot box on May 6, the Liberal Democrats would make cuts to the major roads budget and establish a fund allowing councils and transport authorities to bid for cash to re-open and improve lines and stations across the country.

    High Peak Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Candidate Alistair Stevens commented: “Our plans will re-open thousands of miles of track, including between Buxton and Matlock.”

    LD’s Ha Ha!

  • Percy

    Theres a far broader coalition of groups and organisations in favour of a re opening than just the Lib Dems, even Poptastic Pete Waterman has said it must be so and as we all know when the 21st Century George Stephenson of the railways says this is a good idea, then without any question of a doubt it must be. ( He makes a good point about DCC passing the buck to Central Government ).

    Matlock Mercury

    Pop producer calls for Peak District rail line’s reopening

    Published on Thu Oct 30 09:32:43 GMT 2008

    Pop producer Pete Waterman has backed calls for a former railway line to be reopened – saying it is vital for the environment.

    The keen railway enthusiast voiced his views in an interview with the Mercury after presenting BBC television programme The Golden Age of Steam on Sunday.

    The show looked at the Matlock to Buxton line and whether it was possible that the link could ever be reopened.

    And for anyone who does not welcome the idea of restoring the rail link he said: “That attitude in this century is not acceptable. It is an amazing part of the world, we have to get cars off the road, especially that travel through the national park.”

    Reopening the line, which closed in 1963, would see up to 920,000 fewer car journeys in the A6 corridor by 2041, according to a 2002 Derbyshire County Council report, but the cost to re-open and maintain the line has never been justified by the authority.

    Pete said: “The council are passing the buck on the plan, just to get the government to pay for it.”

    A spokesman for the Peak District National Park Authority said they had always backed the possibility to reopen the line, but added: “A difficult balancing act would need to be made between the benefits that a railway line could bring in terms of taking traffic off the roads and the impact that a line would have on the wildlife, flowers and plants in the national park.”

    Jackie Statham, managing director of Peak Rail, agreed that she would like to see the line reopened.

    She said: “I would like to see a mixture of both steam and diesel, but I’d hate to see Peak Rail simply swept away. Our volunteers have worked so hard for what we have.”

    But Pete said high speed diesel trains would be the only way to get from Derby to Buxton, and then on to Manchester.

    “Someone would have to deal with the steam train lads at Darley Dale, and also the cyclists – and we only need to build one big bridge, that’s it.

    “We are living in a different world, even from five weeks ago, it’s not the same place, things like transport have to change.”

  • Percy

    I think seeing as we are talking public money in this thread and whether the country is or isnt broke its worth considering todays headlines on Sky News – Protesters Invade Barclays Over Tiny Tax Bill which is about protest group, UK Uncuts, protest that large British Companies are involved in extensive & very large Tax Avoidance that us PAYE minions are not capable of.

    I’m led to believe ( by newspapers, BBC, etc ) that we have approx 500 billion national deficit and are cutting approx 60 billion from public spending yet we unconditionally gave the banks between 850 billion and one trillion GBP ( nowadays this latter fact is not mentioned in reports about the first two facts). Who should take the hit? If we hadnt given this no strings money to the banks then would UK finances on these figures be in profit or, would UK have gone down with banks? We were told at bail out time that we’d never been here before, unchartered waters, so best course unknown. The current, then shadow Chancellor said it wasnt a good idea, then said it was. Could it be that if we had let the banks go down lots of struggling companies and ordinary household mortgage payers would have found themslves no longer owing any money and consequently cash rich and able to bolster the economy or is that socialism? then again is what the banks got socialism and a licence to carry on harrassing the borrowers who, and this is where it gets murkey, borrowed money that possibly never existed because banks can lend about 15 times more than they actually have on deposit and when its all going to plan ( as in the past prior to 2008) they get real hard earned currency that does exist back or they re possess the bricks and mortar that were purchased with this fantasy on paper money. Then to confuse it all even more it seems the Government may have borrowed more money that actually doesnt exist from a central bank that doesnt have it to take on these debts from banks who lent money they never had in the first place.

    Taking all this info into consideration and the lack of any straight answers its no wonder that I may be confused but I certainly know that smell coming from the Treasury, the Banks and the Politicians, its cow muck, no its manure, no its B******T.

    Excuse me if I dont get too excited about business case methodology etc, its hard to when the foundations of our current profit and loss GBP empire are already built on deceit of the PAYE classes.

  • Peter Hooper

    I see there are proposals for more regional control of rail infrastructure via devolved business units :-

    which leaves me wondering whether this combined with extended franchises would allow TOCs to develop business plans for their region based on sound business cases (rather than pipedreams).

    Once again I refer to the Chiltern Railway’s Evergreen projects where considerable improvements are being carried out in return for an extended 20 year franchise; re-laying of old track, double tracking, station refurbishment and new build.

    “The CRCL franchise requires the company to develop and invest in major works
    along the route, and over the past decade the company has both specified and
    managed a range of infrastructure projects. The Evergreen 3 project is preceded by
    the Evergreen 1 project which comprised 18 miles of track doubling between
    Bicester and Aynho Junction, near Banbury, and Evergreen 2 which included
    various measures to improve line speed, extra signalling between London and
    Bicester and two extra platforms at London Marylebone – a 50% increase in capacity – which was completed in 2006. Other projects delivered by Chiltern
    include new stations at Warwick Parkway and Aylesbury Vale Parkway, new
    depots at Wembley and Stourbridge Junction, and restoration of the previouslyderelict
    grade 2-listed Birmingham Moor Street station.”

  • Malcolm Bulpitt

    Whilst not defending either Banking or Government actions in recent years I suggest that people do not get carried away with less than accurate media reports. Firstly, to the best of my knowledge Barclays was the least indepted of all the major banks & never went cap-in-hand to Government for a bail-out so basically they owe the taxpayer nothing. Secondly, my basic understanding of tax law is that the Government allows some, or all, of the previous year’s losses (which Barcalys incurred) to be offset against the next year’s profits before the tax amount is calculated. This is probably why the politicians are not screaming as loudly as the inaccurate media headlines on this one. As a Barclays press statement, which in fairness the BBC TV News did run, correctly notes that the company have played strictly by the tax rules. As with everything, please read the small print!

    As I have suggested previously can we please get back to transport issues.

  • Stuart S

    I hate to throw a bit of cold water into this debate, but I understand that Chiltern Railways Evergreen 3 project is being paid for from Network Rail’s ‘credit card’ and is not direct investment by DB. It seems odd for them to be increasing their debt levels to improve a secondary line between cities already well-served when there are many more obvious primary routes between provincial cities that would benefit from upgrading.

  • Peter Hooper

    @Stuart S

    This was from a presentation by Chiltern Railways to Buckinghamshire County Council

    My understanding is that Phase 1 is directly funded by Chiltern Railways, whilst Phase 2 requires loans over a 30 year period (which exceeds the 20 year Chiltern franchise) and as such is carried on the Network Rail “credit card”.

    I do not claim to be an expert, but this does not seem unreasonable to me, particularly as Phase 2 will form part of the proposed East West rail link.

  • Percy

    Talking of Chiltern, longer franchises bringing in investment and the demise of Wrexham & Shropshire leaving Shrewsbury and Wrexham out in the cold once more I wonder if the current invitations to tender for the new longer WCML franchise which are now taking place will produce any bold ideas such as electrifying Wolverhampton – Shrewsbury – Wrexham – Chester – Crewe. That way the Euston – Chester services could run anticlockwise to pick up a Wolverhampton – Euston slot at Wolverhampton and Euston – Wolverhampton services could run clockwise to Chester and pick up a Chester – Euston path. At a stroke inter city services to / from Telford, Shrewsbury, Wrexham & Chester are transformed. Who knows if it’ll ever catch on though.

    Also worth mentioning as its been ignored in this thread so far maybe due to guage is the other big re opening actually taking place this year of 25 miles of new re laid, re opened railway from Portmadog to Caernarfon in North Wales. Hats off to the Festiniog Railway, who fought the public enquiries, made the case and accessed the grants to get this line re opened, a positive example to other railway operators in the UK of how its done. If you can do it in rural Wales where sheep outnumber residents surely we can do it in the more urban parts of Britain.

  • John from Rye

    As Christian is well aware, the commuting route from Hastings to London is not via Eastbourne – it is the SE Mainline via Tonbridge. Not that this is particularly fast either as it is painfully engineered and line speeds are not high.  The route via Ashford would really come into its’ own now, but the service operated by 2 car Class 170s has shown enormous growth of passenger numbers already. It is capacity of this little line that is now beginnning to creak.