Transport and environmental policy: pathetic and doomed whoever wins the next election


3:06 pm - September 30th 2008

by DonaldS    


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It costs me about £25–30 in petrol to drive the 55 miles from my home in Hackney to Brighton, and the same 55 back again. First Capital Connect is asking north of £90 for a return ticket for our family this weekend, starting from London Bridge. So if there’s a traffic jam on the northbound M23 this Sunday evening (inevitable), you can blame me.

If I lived in Florence, a family return trip of similar length to Livorno (birthplace of the PCI, home of the cacciucco) comes to about €33. From Brussels, a weekend rail trip to Bruges, 90km away, would cost us just over €49. A slightly longer journey in France, from Lyon to Chambery and back, comes to €59.

Such comparisons might seem mundane, trivial even. But it’s in the aggregation of everyday decisions, not position papers or pie-in-the-sky conference speeches, that policy succeeds or fails. In 11 years, New Labour has shown zero interest in affordable rail travel; they think more spying, and more “compliance” is the answer to congestion and pollution. The Tories, bless ‘em, think that more private capital (and less regulation) is the way to go. So far, then, that’s an F all round.

Also published here.

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About the author
Donald is a regular contributor to Liberal Conspiracy. He is a travel journalist, editor, author and copywriter. In the wake of the 2005 General Election, he co-founded and edited The Sharpener for a couple of years. He writes the occasional book or newspaper article for money, as well as sharing his thoughts here for free. Also at: hackneye donaldstrachan.com
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Environment ,Transport

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Reader comments


Agreed completely, this is the one area that all parties just don’t have a clue about solving

To give them their due, the National Rail website says you can get the trip for 2 adults and 3 children (I don’t know your family circumstances, of course, but that may be what you can fit into a car) for £41.25, if you have a Family and Friends Railcard (cost: £24 for 1 year). So if you spread the cost of the card over a few journies, it’s not so bad.

Yeah, and a kick in the nuts isn’t as bad as being stabbed in the face.

And as a self employed person who might like to get themselves up to Leeds from London for (quite reasonably) a meeting before midday I might as well cut my leg off unless I book several years in advance.

What the fuck is a coach company doing running a rail service. When there are engineering works, funnily enuf there are loads od fucking coaches waiting to feery you.

Unity, if you are the details guy, look into that particular ‘tender’.

Here is a post from my business partner who struggles ‘up North’

“If you’re allergic to public transport stories….look away now.

The problem with having bus companies running railways is that there is no demarcation with ‘competition’. Bus companies believe in buses first and foremost and therefore at the least excuse will substitute a bus for a train, regardless of the circumstances.

A second problem is the inability of the TOCs (Train Operating Companies) and National Rail Enquiries to supply any sort of coherent information at a national level. One of the great strengths of the railway system is the standardisation across the country and the fact that there is really a single system of tracks, regardless of the absurd bureaucratic manouveres of government to make the running as complicated as possible.

Today as an example.

I boarded the 9.35 ‘Cross Country’ (once Virgin rail – really, who in their right mind would let Richard Branson take them into space? He can’t run a railway that would take anyone easily from Crewe to Manchester). Just before the train left the station, an announcement was made that the train would ‘not stop at Doncaster’. Which was a bit annoying as the 9.30 east coast mainline (now National Express, until recently GNER – the tender process was run over a Christmas holiday period and was just within the absolute MINIMUM of EC procurement rules) was just leaving. Now don’t ask why, but that WAS going to stop at Doncaster.

Before York I asked the guard the options. Number 1 – get off at York and wait an hour and might get to Lincoln at 1.50pm. Option 2 – stay on the train to Sheffield and get the 11.44 to Gainsborough; where there would be a ‘replacemement bus service’. I opted for option 2 but knew deep down inside this was a terrible mistake. From hitch hiking days I know that it’s always best to slowly move towards ultimate destination. NEVER travel in the opposite direction, even for a short distance.

So then I find myself in Sheffield, on a train that’s late, but I still have time to get on the 11.44 – except that turns up at 12.06 (these precise times are important). And that gets to Gainsborugh Lea Road and 13.03. And the ‘connecting bus to Lincoln’ has left at 12.45 – and the next one will be at 13.45. Although there were three buses there – but all on their break. I don’t have a problem with that – but surely it could have been organised a bit better?

Now at every stage I tried to get any sense out of anyone on ‘National Rail Enquiries’ I got nothing but wrong and conflicting information. Personally I find the attitude of ‘thank you for your patience’ (which they extract) and ‘I’m sorry sir…’ really freaking irritating. I would rather surly customer service but trains that ran to some sort of timetable.

I wondered, really did wonder whether GPS and mobile phones are used in the rail network, to at least try and put things right when they go so wrong. It wasn’t just my journeys; every station I went to today was running late trains and that included Newcastle, Sheffield and Newark Northgate.

But what’s the purpose of this minute detail? Well, partly if ‘national rail’ or WHOEVER RUNS THE FREAKING RAILWAYS ever does a google search on RAIL COMPLAINTS then they might find this. It might be an interesting use of a faceless and frankly useless organisation using the web to pick up customer feedback through web 2.0.

And partly because the receptionist at the Town Hall I turned up for a quite important meeting is an absolute star. I arrived 2 hours late, fuming, had missed my dinner, been half way round the country on various trains and buses, none of which ran to any sort of timetable. I had been taking deep breaths all the way to the main doors trying to calm down before I meet some clients; I spent a couple of minutes just saying what a rotten day I’d had so far; and she listened sympathetically, emphasised and made me laugh. What a great set of skills. And it made me realise that ‘front line staff’ are actually in many instances therapists as much as ‘customer services representatives’.”

What a fucking joke people

Yep, it costs me 93 a quid a month at present for a fucking poxy two zone travel card, any more rises and soon it’ll more financial sense to run a car to work and back…

“it costs me 93 a quid a month at present for a fucking poxy two zone travel card”

…whereas I view the £900ish per year that gets me unlimited travel anywhere I might want to go in London (c’mon, what’s worth bothering with in z3-6?), a quid for a trip anywhere in London if I do need z3-6, and 33% off all travel in the southeast, as pretty good value.

@ #2, #3 – given that the railcard cuts the trip to a comparable price to the European journeys Donald cites, it’s hardly in ‘kick in nuts’ territory. And if you have an annual season ticket valid within the southeast, then you get the same railcard benefits automatically.

Yeah john b, you a SE region/railcard whore – go to Newcastle or Leeds. Read #4.

#2 Barney

Fair point, but you only reveal another problem by making it: I *didn’t even know that railcard existed*; and actually getting the website to spit out the fare you quoted has taken me 5 mins. or so, too, and I’m pretty competent. The fare structure is Byzantine.

Plus I’m trying to compare like with like; there are railcards in all 3 of the countries I mentioned which would make them cheaper again.

And anyway, I’m still not tempted… rail replacement bus from Three Bridges this weekend. No, ta.

#6 John B

I’d agree with you 100% on London travel: no complaints there. I often take my little one on the N London line, or whatever it’s called now, and the buses under Ken improved no end. Cheap, regular etc. But try to get away from London by rail—especially if you don’t book well in advance, or don’t qualify for one of the railcards—and you’re back to what I wrote originally. Frankly, without a policy on affordable rail travel, you don’t have an environmental policy worth shit.

…and a journey like Brighton is particularly irritating, as it’s too short to book cheap tix in advance but long enough to be quite expensive for a lot of you (for me, rail vs car is a no-brainer for almost all journeys; if there were 5 of me then it’d be rather different). But the Family Railcard is a really good purchase if you’re going to do any journeys with kids, ever.

In general, the railways in GB are actually quite cheap most of the time if you know what you’re doing – but they make it insanely hard to find out what you’re doing (the number of people with annual season tickets who don’t know that these give a discount on all trains in the SE, for example, not to mention the lack of family railcards). I’ve not been able to work out whether that’s through ineptitude or policy…

Sorry, but if rail travel outside London is managing to cost as much as 1 and a half times the amount of car travel for half of the journey then it is solidly in kick in the nuts territory.

Commuters get a good deal, but those trying to be supposedly sustainable and environmental on a less regular basis get hit hard in the pocket for doing so.

Replace “good deal” with “ok deal”

John B

> for me, rail vs car is a no-brainer for almost all journeys

Really? Even if you have a sudden need to travel from London to Manchester at the wrong time, and haven’t booked in advance? Or are trying to get information about onward connections on one rail company while talking to another? Or, it seems, are travelling from almost anywhere to almost anywhere at a weekend and don’t fancy the rail replacement bus? It’s generally way easier for most people just to get in the car, I’d have thought. And that’s a problem.

> I’ve not been able to work out whether that’s through ineptitude or policy

I’d say it’s just the logical outcome of how we privatised rail. It’s a mess—run for shareholder convenience, rather than passengers or the environment. It’s almost impossible, I’d say, for government even to have an affordable rail policy with things structured the way they are.

You are right about having to know your way around, though. (But do so in Europe and those prices I quoted are even cheaper, btw.) Come to think about it, I did know about that family railcard, but such is the complication and frustration involved in pricing up a sodding rail journey, I clean forgot.

I used to have to go to Leeds from London (and back in a day…) and no matter how much it cost there was no way I would drive because it was “cheaper”. No way, and the ppl I worked for thought that too. 2.5 hours to Leeds from London on GNER, online/on the web and ‘productive’ with half way decent coffee and a snack beats the shit out of headbanging up and down the M1 in my car. Fortunately.

Dunnit & hate it.

Having not had to do this for some months I can’t comment on the dodgy coach company that somehow won the contract for the rail company but #4 says a lot

As someone who is just about to lose my young person’s railcard and has just got access to a car I have been thinking a lot about this issue recently.

I am a pretty novice driver (I passed and then didn’t drive). I was a bit nervous about using the motorways but now I have got over that fear I cannot see me making the journey to my mother’s (20 mins from oxford and hardly in deep rural country) by public transport again, unless the bus service is improved massively.

She lives in a large village (certainly the biggest settlement in any direction for 5 miles) but the nearest decent and regular bus service to oxford is 4 miles away. It’s quite clear that the bus company (stagecoach) is not being given enough of an incentive to improve services and prefers to run buses along the main roads which miss a lot of larger villages. This must force a lot of people into their cars. The fares are truly eye-watering on top of that.

At the moment the general thinking in westminster seems to me to revolve around forcing people out of their cars, rather than encouraging them onto public transport, despite the guff we hear; they let petrol get more expensive, plan to charge people for every metre they drive, allow roadworks to run and run and run (how long have they been working on the M1?!). It’s not good enough. I don’t expect every journey to be catered for but I am shocked at how much easier and quicker it is to drive (I know, very naive).

If you look further you can find even more instances of big differences between public transport costs in UK and places on the continent. For example I pay £76 a month for my travel card in London, including student discount, while a friend of mine who lives in Marseilles pays £220 per year!

#16 Soon – London has a population ten times that of Marseilles. It’s not really a useful comparison IMO.

18. Winston Smith

Much as I dislike New Labour Prescott`s excellent white paper `A new deal for transport` laid out exactly what was needed for the UK to develop a European-style integrated transport system. The reason it went nowhere was due mainly to the power of the British motor lobby (aided by the UK`s right-wing press) who portrayed almost everything in it as being an attack on the Englishman`s inalienable `right` to drive wherever and almost however he (or she) pleases, regardless of the impact this has on others or society in general.

Transport policy should be central to any truly socialist program, and shifting the balance of power away from the private car user towards pedestrians, cyclists and public transport users (the UK has the least subsidised public transport system in Europe) would be an example of true egalitarianism in action.

In days gone past the ruling elite in the shape of the `Gentleman motorist` ensured that both transport policy and the law favoured the private motorist. Nowadays the power of the motorist comes not from the social class they are drawn from but from their very numbers. Unfortunately the attitudes formed in the early days of the early days of the car towards motor vehicle use, other road users and issues such as speed limits enforcement still persist today. Similarly, many modern drivers have the same individualist, essentially selfish attitudes toward motoring and other road users at the worst `Motorcrat` of 100 years ago. (`I am I and She is She- the rest get out of the way. Truly, the hand which rules the motor rocks the world.` as Punch put it).

It is no coincidence that those countries with the best developed public transport systems, and which are the most walking and cycling friendly are those with a long history of egalitarian idealism, such as Holland and Denmark. In comparison the BMW and 4×4 driver, hostile to regulation, cyclists and taxation is the perfect mirror of Britain`s might is right, look after number one society.

John B – your comments are very disingenuous. When I was living in Amsterdam – not normally quoted as a bastion of customer care – and wanted to travel to, say, Enschede I took it for granted that the staff would get me the cheapest price ticket. When I took a trip to Hamburg, the staff bnought me a travel card so that I could get a discount. Where is this service infrastructure after 11 years of mega-taxing Blair-Brown in the UK? In the UK, I buy a ticket to manchester at the station -£300. over the internet, £45. This is simply farcical. And, as a result, I do everything possible to avoid travelling on disgusting UK rail services, with all their in-trip mindless commentary. Do I need to be reminded every 5 minutes that I am in carriage 9 of 12?

20. dreamingspire

First, those bus substitution experiences are nearly always nothing to do with the train operators – they are, directly or indirectly, because the rails are or within the last 24 hours have been unusable through faults or, much more likely, engineering works. Ian Hislop’s programme on TV about Beeching taking away so much of the track is being heavily trailed on TV this week…
Other countries: France may have wonderful TGV services, but I read that rural lines are being neglected, and of course they have three times the land area for about the same population as us (the UK, or perhaps just England, is now reported as being the most densely populated country in Europe); Holland has a much more homogeneous distribution of population than here, so that most of the stations are well used (that Dutch observation came from the top of Network Rail) – indeed, every country is different, so please be careful about comparisons.
Prescott’s 10 year old White Paper energised middle managers in the civil service and local govt, but they were squashed by the 10 year control freakery at the top. It is only now, with the change at the top, that today’s middle managers are hoping to improve things – but above them is layer of mice and the odd rat, and then a layer of people who I believe have been put in to keep the lid on some things while other things are resolved – and do we have some other things to resolve, which maybe were forecast without letting us know.
DfT is, if the rumours are correct, trying to start up a study of ticketing strategy, but the engine is not firing on enough cylinders at the moment.

but if rail travel outside London is managing to cost as much as 1 and a half times the amount of car travel for half of the journey

…for 5 people (or 3.5, depending on how you count kids). That isn’t how most cars are used. Train travel needs to beat average car use to drive modal shift – that’s 1 occupant at peak time, and 2 occupants off-peak – and that’s pretty much exactly what the current fares do.

Even if you have a sudden need to travel from London to Manchester at the wrong time, and haven’t booked in advance?

Pretty much yeah – based on taxman mileage, the fare works out the same (and you can get peak advance fares, which are about 50% the anytime single fare, right up to the night before travel). If I was travelling with a partner/kids, then the dynamics would be very different.

It’s quite clear that the bus company (stagecoach) is not being given enough of an incentive to improve services and prefers to run buses along the main roads which miss a lot of larger villages.

Definitely true. Buses outside London are by far the worst public transport disgrace the UK faces, and (unlike the rail stuff, where they’ve genuinely not done a bad job) it’s an absolute dismal failure by Labour to fail to reverse the Tories’ insane local bus deregulation.

In the UK, I buy a ticket to manchester at the station -£300. over the internet, £45. This is simply farcical. And, as a result, I do everything possible to avoid travelling on disgusting UK rail services, with all their in-trip mindless commentary

Lies: all ticket deals available on the Internet are also available on stations (except a couple of companies who give a 10% discount for web bookings). You need to ask the bloke for an advance ticket, not an open one, which isn’t that difficult.

Seriously, it isn’t that hard once you have a clue what you’re doing. I use http://www.nationalexpresseastcoast.com for all my advance ticket bookings; it books services for all operators and shows all connections; and it always provides the best price for advance tickets (it doesn’t do split-ticket-y things and doesn’t proactively suggest getting a railcard, but those are the only money-saving bits it doesn’t do). If you have internet access, which you do if you’re reading this, you can do the same.

[it's currently showing peak trains from London to Manchester, out 7AM tomorrow and back at 6PM, for £128 return]

France may have wonderful TGV services, but I read that rural lines are being neglected

Absolutely true – SNCF non-TGV services are notably worse than anything in the UK.

#21 John B

> [it's currently showing peak trains from London to Manchester, out 7AM tomorrow and back at 6PM, for £128 return]

That’s €72.20 return on the Eurostar from Milan to Florence and back, almost the same distance to the last km. €150 would get my entire family there and back with the standard family discount.

Which is my point: *not* that we have inferior rail *services* (I’ve lived about half of the last 18 months in Italy, so I know just how shoddy regional rail can sometimes be there–and some of the Artesia services between Italy and France are totally unacceptable to a UK rail user).

The key problem that *affordability* here is shot, with a dash of idiotic complexity chucked in for good measure. Complexity that suits the beancounters and shareholders, but absolutely not passengers.

(Note, too, btw, that if I roll up at Milano Centrale tomorrow morning before departure I can get that same fare. You can’t.)

Fair point, but it annoys me when people overstate their case by mentioning the £300 fare that almost nobody actually ever has to pay instead of the £128 fare that they do (seriously, how often do you have to make an intercity journey in the morning which you’re not told about until after midnight the previous night? I’m working in an industry where short-notice travel is far more common than almost any other, and this has still /never/ happened to me…)

24. douglas clark

Well,

The complete fuck up was Beeching, and it all went to hell on a big lorry ever since. Of course privatisation was a load of nonsense, a twitch of a dying Thatcherite regeime, but the method, seperating track from trains was designed to fail. Or make millions for QC’s.

It stunk, and it still does.

“The complete fuck up was Beeching, and it all went to hell on a big lorry ever since.”

No. The complete fuck-up was the Modernisation Plan of 1955, which wasted a billion pounds *in 1955 money* on a new build of steam locomotives which would be scrapped as hopelessly uneconomic within 10 years; a massive upgrade of sub-wagon-level freight facilities, which would be closed as hopelessly uneconomic within 10 years; and a build of new diesel trains specced and built for largely political reasons by different regions, which were mostly scrapped within 10 years.

After that, it’s unsurprising that cost-cutting was required. Most, although not all, of the cuts made under Beeching were essential – the lines that were cut were largely those with negative benefit/cost ratios (i.e. not just non-profitmaking ones). In a world where cars, buses and lorries exist, rural branch lines don’t even make environmental sense, much less economic sense.

“but the method, seperating track from trains was designed to fail.”

Again, this is rubbish. The disaster in privatisation was separating responsibility for track maintenance from people who understood engineering, because Railtrack was an outsourcing company not an engineering company. Operationally, outside of closed metro systems, track was separated from trains anyway (BR’s train operational sectors – Intercity, Network SouthEast, etc – were not geographically aligned with or run under the same management as its track sectors), and there’s no reason why it can’t work. Indeed, it /does/ work, and running it in any other way would be at least as problematic.

(unlike pre-1945, almost all freight traffic and a large proportion of passenger traffic crosses any sensible ‘regional’ boundaries you could list. The East Coast Main Line includes trains run by five or six freight operators, First Capital Connect, National Express, Trans Pennine Express, Cross Country, Hull Trains and Grand Central; from starting points ranging from Plymouth and Inverness through to Liverpool and King’s Lynn. Who exactly would run the track from where to where, and how would you stop them disadvantaging other operators?)

Oddly enough, Ian Hislop has an article on Beeching on the BBC site today.

It’s weird in a couple of places – why the fucking hell can anyone sane think that “argument to romantic notions of rural England or the warp and weft of the train in our national identity” should have any merit in determining trapnsport policy? – but overall highlights why something akin to Beeching’s work was necessary (I’d agree with Hislop and the commentators that selling off for development, rather than mothballing, closed lines was short-sighted, although I’m sceptical that anyone could rationally have predicted that would be the case in 1964…)

…whereas I view the £900ish per year that gets me unlimited travel anywhere I might want to go in London

How lovely for you, not everyone has the kind of money to front nearly a grand to pay for our shitty transport.

“…for 5 people (or 3.5, depending on how you count kids). That isn’t how most cars are used. Train travel needs to beat average car use to drive modal shift – that’s 1 occupant at peak time, and 2 occupants off-peak – and that’s pretty much exactly what the current fares do.”

No, for *one* person. I wasn’t even talking about families. When you start talking about families the car journey becomes even cheaper by comparison. Example in point, annecdotal as it may be I am honestly not for a second believing this is the only overpriced journey… 1 person, travelling single direction to Cornwall from bristol. £49. At a distance of around 160 miles this is half a tank of petrol which currently costs about £20. This is for one person remember, and it is over twice the price than traveling by car.

How lovely for you, not everyone has the kind of money to front nearly a grand to pay for our shitty transport.

Oh, stop it with the “prolier than thou” bollocks. Most employers will give you an interest-free season ticket loan, even if you don’t have a grand in the bank. In any case, it only costs about £50 per year more to buy monthly seasons (plus an extra £20 for a Network Railcard, which has most of the annual season ticket discounts).

1 person, travelling single direction to Cornwall from bristol. £49. At a distance of around 160 miles this is half a tank of petrol which currently costs about £20.

The Inland Revenue cost the car trip at £64. I believe them. Result: train wins (also, the difference between the single and return train ticket is only £1, whereas the return car trip is another £64).

How do they cost the trip? Based on average mileage and insurance levels I assume? The costs of running a car cannot be brought in to an argument regarding the cost of journeys as far as I’m concerned, so let me know if you mean something different?

I’m not sure how they came up with 40p per mile either. The exact figure is 40p/mile for the first 10,000 miles, and then 25p/mile for the rest.

Let’s charitably assume that they’re netting off the fixed cost of running a car against the first 10,000 miles, with the 25p taken as the marginal cost (after all, service intervals and depreciation both have a significant mileage component, so it’s misleading not to include them on top of the petrol).

In which case, the marginal cost is £40 for the one way journey or £80 for the return – so still significantly cheaper than one person on the train if you’re coming back (which I think it’s fair to assume most people will be).

I still can’t bring myself to agree with the inclusion of running a car, as that assumes that you don’t have a car while you use the train; and that costs are somehow felt immediately rather than more prominently at periods of time AFTER certain mileage.

“I still can’t bring myself to agree with the inclusion of running a car”

Agreed, which is why I’m taking the 25p figure.

“and that costs are somehow felt immediately rather than more prominently at periods of time AFTER certain mileage.”

Not quite sure where you’re at here.

Most cars are serviced on a “xxx miles or yy months” basis; I suppose if you’ve got a car you very seldom use you might find the marginal cost of extra miles is zero because you always run out of months before you run out of miles, but if you travel for work frequently enough for it to be at all important then you won’t be in that situation.

If you’re saying “I don’t have to pay the cash money for servicing my car earlier than I’d otherwise needed to have done until three months down the line, whereas I have to pay the train fare now”, that’s true but irrelevant – the liability is incurred when you make the journey (if a CFO failed to include depreciation in the public accounts, he’d find himself in jail PDQ).

My issues is that servicing of a car is indeed a cost, a yearly one usually, but the cost of that servicing isn’t increased reliably until after a certain mileage on the car. Basically, making a journey in a newer or lesser used car is a negligable factor in servicing costs, whereas it may be a much bigger factor in older vehicles.

Servicing and other such thing are also part of the wider “running a car” budget, which is separate from the journey’s budget.

I do take your point, about the wider long term costs of using a car and where that has a place in considerations…but unlike some others here I’m not talking about commuting, I’m just talking about the supposedly more sustainable option of taking a day trip or a holiday and using the train is significantly less affordable than using the car.

Basically, making a journey in a newer or lesser used car is a negligable factor in servicing costs, whereas it may be a much bigger factor in older vehicles. Servicing and other such thing are also part of the wider “running a car” budget, which is separate from the journey’s budget.

I see what you mean – I’ve genuinely got very little idea how the proportion of car users breaks down between “service and depreciation based on age” and “service and depreciation based on mileage”, but the former group *should* base cost appraisals of train vs car on the cost of petrol and the latter group *should* base them on 25p/mile.

In practice, most people in the latter group probably don’t think about costs in that way, and probably do view the “car servicing” and “making journey x” budgets as distinct and unrelated. That’s a tough one for the railways to deal with – effectively for leisure trips they need *not only* to be cheaper than the actual marginal cost of the car journey, but *also* to be cheaper than the lower, perceived marginal cost…

It’s been 40p a mile for donkey’s years now.

Other than tax bands, HMRC have a charming habit of not index-linking exemptions and reliefs set out in statute until they effectively become useless. Arguing that a 40p per mile limit reflects economic reality is a stretch, to say the least.

The most blatant case is that of luncheon vouchers, which are tax exempt up to 15p. In the 1950s, three shillings was a reasonable lunch. Nowadays, however… (Also, they consider that in certain circumstances £8.5k pa makes one a highly-paid employee.)

37. douglas clark

johnb @ 25,

You don’t scrap infrastructure simply because a few mistakes were made over improvement.

Yes, it was probably a mistake to go for new steam locomotives. I’m not sure what you are talking about when you say:

After that, it’s unsurprising that cost-cutting was required. Most, although not all, of the cuts made under Beeching were essential – the lines that were cut were largely those with negative benefit/cost ratios (i.e. not just non-profitmaking ones). In a world where cars, buses and lorries exist, rural branch lines don’t even make environmental sense, much less economic sense.

Especially as there are numerous examples of lines that were closed back then being re-opened at enormous cost now. My local (ish) example being the proposal to (part) re-open the Waverly route. Your attitude matches government short termism to a tee.

I don’t think cars, buses or lorries make any sort of long term environmental sense whatsoever. Rail might do.

The point about having a structure of transport and maintenance under the one roof is that they are not likely to sue each other. It is ludicrous to assume that two branches of the same organisation would be allowed, by their Board of Directors, to sue each other.

It clearly does not work. There are cross subsidies between track and ToC whenever there is a closure for maintenance. It is frankly ludicrous.

(unlike pre-1945, almost all freight traffic and a large proportion of passenger traffic crosses any sensible ‘regional’ boundaries you could list. The East Coast Main Line includes trains run by five or six freight operators, First Capital Connect, National Express, Trans Pennine Express, Cross Country, Hull Trains and Grand Central; from starting points ranging from Plymouth and Inverness through to Liverpool and King’s Lynn. Who exactly would run the track from where to where, and how would you stop them disadvantaging other operators?)

Go back to pre nationalisation. Largely speaking, except for running rights, the owners of the trains owned the track. Where running rights existed they were paid for without a quibble.

As for the ridiculous fragmentation that we see now, who does that serve, except QCs? There wasn’t much wrong with the pre 1947 arrangement.

As far as freight is concerned there was a thing called a Road Railer. Wonder why that never saw the light of day.

Politics, huh! Road lobbyists, etc…..

You don’t scrap infrastructure simply because a few mistakes were made over improvement.

That isn’t the point. The point is that if you give someone £25bn in current money and they waste it, then you’ll be reluctant to give them any more (which is the main reason the DfT has been so culturally hostile to big rail investment over the last 50 years).

there are numerous examples of lines that were closed back then being re-opened at enormous cost now. My local (ish) example being the proposal to (part) re-open the Waverly route.

As I said above, the lack of route safeguarding was silly. However, only a tiny proportion of the lines closed under Beeching are being re-opened, and many of those are based on traffic and demand projections (following massive demographic and economic change) that would have been completely unimaginable in the early 1960s. When a route that makes an operating loss is safeguarded, it’s cheaper to close it and re-open it years later than to keep it running.

I don’t think cars, buses or lorries make any sort of long term environmental sense whatsoever.

To serve a village of 200 people with one shop? Of course cars and buses and lorries make more environmental sense than trains for that kind of market…

The point about having a structure of transport and maintenance under the one roof is that they are not likely to sue each other.

…which might be relevant if there were any examples of TOCs suing Network Rail, which there aren’t. The legal disputes have been between NR and its current or former subsidiaries.

Go back to pre nationalisation. Largely speaking, except for running rights, the owners of the trains owned the track. Where running rights existed they were paid for without a quibble.

But the service pattern was completely different pre-nationalisation, because it was based on, with a very few exceptions, exclusively running along tracks that happened to belong to a particular operator.

BR’s sectorisation plan allowed the introduction of the much more useful ‘grouped by business’ rather than ‘grouped by historical accident’ route system we have today. The current routes work well at meeting the demand for journeys that people actually want to make, given the tracks that are actually in palce.

And if you believe, wrongly, that the TOC/Network Rail interface is a disastrous and terrible source of inefficiency, why on earth don’t you think the same problem would come into play with ‘running rights’ between different TOCs on track managed by the other?

“The legal disputes have been between NR and its current or former subsidiaries.”

Meh, a thinko there. “Its current and former *subcontractors*”, obviously.

40. douglas clark

Johnb,

“You don’t scrap infrastructure simply because a few mistakes were made over improvement.”

That isn’t the point. The point is that if you give someone £25bn in current money and they waste it, then you’ll be reluctant to give them any more (which is the main reason the DfT has been so culturally hostile to big rail investment over the last 50 years).

It is the bloody point. You sound like a management accountant without any conception of value. It is pretty clearly the case that towns that are served by rail have done better than towns that aren’t. Whose to say which towns would have benefitted most from retaining a rail infrastructure to major cities? There is a quite clear clustering effect around decent transport links, especially rail, as you ought to know.

On the question of running rights, sure, there is a train that runs from Glasgow to Penzance, if memory serves me correctly. Yes, it would have to pay fees for running on GWR metals. So what? It probably always did, or there was a mutual agreement about the Penzance to Glasgow train. Running alternately, obviously.

There is both a regulatory case to be made for simplification and also a business case. It would also, incidentally, help the customer :-)

But the service pattern was completely different pre-nationalisation, because it was based on, with a very few exceptions, exclusively running along tracks that happened to belong to a particular operator.

Not really. The service pattern, which is just a buzz word or phrase, hasn’t changed an iota, especially if you look at inter city. What’s the difference between trains running from Cardiff or Bristol to London now and pre 1947? The track and the trains were both owned by the GWR. Intermediate services were also provided by them. You are thurled to the current franchising system which, deliberately, destroys the relationship between track and TOCs. True you now have a multitude of TOCs running over tracks, but that was Thatcher attempting to destroy what was left.

With the exception of freight, which was largely broken out of geographical constraints by privatisation, to no obvious beneficial effect, the train companies do provide geographical services.

You can’t, realistically, pretend that geography doesn’t exist.

Just as a by the way, it costs £21 million a mile to improve a motorway. And all you get is more pollution.

41. dreamingspire

In the depths of the problems of FGW earlier this year, they were pointing out how many of the delays to their services were because of problems with the network, and were very strongly pointing the finger at NR. Had there not been resolution of the real problems within FGW by agreement between them and govt, m’learned friends would have been all over this, including pointing the gun at NR. This week I listened to Andrew Haines of FGW explaining the recovery from the point where he took over, and the next steps – and under questioning he asked for the politicians in the Wesofenglun to get their lobbying act together. Muddling and bickering amongst those politicians is indeed letting down the passengers west of Swindon, and we have to get rid of the non-elected ones in the Regional Assembly (I hear that is under way).
On the difficulties of buying tickets I agree, but the new regime of ticket types is only just working its way through the sales channels. However, more important are the restrictive practices applying to sales of rail tickets, with ATOC controlling licensing of sales outlets and not operating a level playing field. There is new management at ATOC, so we wait to see what happens.
On costs of running a car, I entirely agree that those who only occasionally make long trips by car should use marginal costing in pricing the journey. I used 15p until fuel prices went up; 18p now.

“It is pretty clearly the case that towns that are served by rail have done better than towns that aren’t.”

The only town of any size that isn’t served by rail is Corby, and the claim that it did badly after Beeching is, well, wrong – employment grew up to 1979, plummeted when British Steel closed the steelworks, and then grew substantially from 1990 onwards. The Beeching cuts weren’t about cutting services from towns to cities – they were about cutting services from nowhere to nowhere.

“What’s the difference between trains running from Cardiff or Bristol to London now and pre 1947?”

Not much, admittedly.

What’s the difference between trains running from Bristol to Plymouth now and pre-1947? – half of them have run through from Newcastle, because that service pattern makes the most sense. What’s the difference between trains running from Brighton to London Bridge now and pre-1947? – the majority now go on to Bedford via St Pancras, because that service pattern makes the most sense.

You’re missing the point that that the sectorisation of BR in the early 1980s – under state ownership, and long before privatisation was contemplated – was what broke the track/train interface – and that it had massively positive results in terms of service quality and ridership. So did the franchise system, on the train operator side – it’s just unfortunate that the utterly stupid Railtrack sell-off (done solely to fuck things up for the incoming Labour government, which it did admirably) cancelled out the other effects.

43. douglas clark

johnb,

It depends what you mean by ‘any size’. I am Scottish, and I looked for Scottish towns that don’t have a rail link, however I struck gold with this Wikipedia page:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_British_towns_with_no_railway_station

Some of whom even I have heard of.

There is still archeological evidence of railways all over the place. Cuttings and embankments and tunnels that folk dug and built and burrowed. Allowing that to be replaced with Motorways was an ignorant thing to do, I think.

Transport policy has been too much in favour of road.

I agree that transport policy has been too much in favour of road. However, it’s been in favour of road at the expense of new commuter lines, high-speed lines, capacity enhancements and rail electrification, all of which have substantial net benefits. The closure of meandering routes from Little Sodbury to Great Sodbury, while sad news for romantics and Betjeman fans, isn’t the problem.

45. dreamingspire

What we do get is (a) Community Rail Partnerships, and (b) privately owned railways that are providing a service to smaller towns as well as all the other things that they do as part of the fabric of British society.


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  1. DonaldS

    My first blog post for about 4 months: http://is.gd/3kpg





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