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Muddle on track
Apologies for missing out October, but in the post Covid pandemic (well, sort of) there have been lots more demands on my time than during the serene lockdowns. Moreover, there is no shortage of news on railways and transport.
Just to pick up on a couple of issues, the announcement of the creation of Great British Railways has been followed up with a long period of silence and even the promised investment plan seems to be stuck somewhere in the corridors of Whitehall (though rumour is it will be published this week). Meanwhile, despite all the huffing and puffing at CoP 26, the UK government’s proposals on decarbonising transport seem to rely mostly on developing electric vehicles rather than on more obvious aspects such as reducing the need for travel and encouraging people to use railways, or even walk and cycle. There is even yet more money being poured into the bottomless pit of driverless car development.
Government policy towards the railways is an incoherent mess. On the one hand, we have ‘restoring Beeching’ with the, albeit welcome, reopening of the Exeter – Okehampton line and a handful of other initiatives, and yet on the other we have the prospect of severe cuts to existing railway services because the government is cutting some £500m per year allocated to support them – and there is the prospect of further cuts as the Treasury is also imposing a series of cost-cutting measures on the industry too.
Moreover, despite a commitment to decarbonisation and support for rail travel, yet again rail fares will rise by nearly 5 per cent in March – delayed from the usual January increase – while the fuel tax duty remains unchanged, as it has for more than a decade. You could not make it up!
I got a lot of calls from the media about the Salisbury train collision which was the subject of a series of completely wrong statements from industry sources. An early statement from Network Rail suggested it was a derailment in a tunnel caused by hitting an object which, as a result, had affected the signalling. This latter part of the statement was of course total nonsense as any fule knows that signalling fails safe if anything goes wrong. There are, as ever, numerous questions to be asked around this accident such as the speed of the train which passed a signal at danger, but the most important thing is that there were only relatively minor injuries, something of a miracle given that my sources suggest the impact took place at around 40 MPH.
On a personal front, I spent much of August and September talking to former and current Crossrail executives trying to work out what on earth went wrong and what had happened in the three years since the hardback edition of my book was published. Well, all will be revealed when the paperback version, much updated and revised, will be published early next year, in time for the opening of the railway which will be in February at the earliest but more likely March or April. The Queen is on standby!
My book on the history of BR is now in production with Penguin and will be published in early June in time to be part of the debate about the future of the railways. Also, my agent has sent out my synopsis of a book about the role of railways after the Normandy invasion – an amazing, yet untold, story that I am hoping to write over the space of the next few months.
I have also restarted giving talks mostly in real life, though also have done several via Zoom. My seminar on how to make a living as a writer produced by CNT Associates is now on You Tube here and this Tuesday, November 16, I will be discussing electric vehicles for Intelligence Squared – you can get a free ticket here.
If you want me to speak at a meeting on any of my books or on any aspects of transport, do get in touch via the website.
So plenty of new material on the site: Rail columns here, here and here; letter in The Times on rail fares; an piece for Labour List arguing why the Silvertown tunnel scheme should be scrapped and a couple of articles for a new magazine on the failings of innovation (with Pearl Ahrens) and on the wonders of Zurich
The paperback of my Cathedrals of Steam is now out – yours for a tenner inc p and p – just email me firstname.lastname@example.org
And finally….my superb web desginer, https://www.