Faster trains, slower stations

This government often lacks a sense of irony and timing.

This week they proudly announced 20 minutes had been lopped off the train journey time from a London station to Paris, after substantial taxpayer expense.

At the same time they announced that they intended to introduce some security scanning at larger stations, including St Pancras, and make it more difficult to get a car anywhere near the station.

When I asked Jacqui Smith sometime ago to explain why they introduced such time consuming security at Heathrow but not at railway stations, I did so in the hope they would streamline the airport system. Instead the government, as always, has opted for levelling up misery rather than levelling down government encumbrance.

We may discover after further large expenditure on physical barriers and security systems at St Pancras that passengers lose the 20 minutes gained by a faster train in more delays getting to the station and on the station before being allowed to board the train.

It is high time transport experts and Ministers started thinking about total journey time, not just about station to station journey time. For many people in southern London a cross channel train from St Pancras is going to take a lot longer than one from Waterloo, as they will take longer to get to the station, whilst for those to the north of central London they will have a gain. It is important that we do not go from redistributing the pain to inflicting more on anyone trying to reach and use a station.

Improved security should come from improved concourse monitoring, better intelligence and intelligence inspired checks on those who might be terrorists, rather than on blanket checks on everyone.


  1. Nigel Sedgwick
    November 17, 2007

    John Redwood writes: “When I asked Jacqui Smith sometime ago to explain why they introduced such time consuming security at Heathrow but not at railway stations, I did so in the hope they would streamline the airport system. Instead the government, as always, has opted for levelling up misery rather than levelling down government encumbrance.”

    I am not convinced that this was a good question.

    Though no expert in the matter, I would have thought that the death, injury and damage done by a successful terrorist attack against an aircraft is significantly greater, on average, than against a train (or other ground-based target).

    Thus, there is surely greater benefit per unit cost (including inconvenience), in more stringent anti-terrorist measures for aircraft than for trains.

    That does not mean, or course, that some of the more draconian measures at airports are, themselves, worthwhile. On this, it is surely clear that things have gone too far and that the patience of the public is nearing exhaustion.

    Best regards

    Reply: Not so – a train carries more passengers than a plane. Everyone is 100% dead. The point is that some of the security at the airport is unhelpful to preventing attacks. There is so much concentration on making it difficult to get airside that it leaves people more vulnerable to surface attack at check in.

  2. Peter Turner
    November 17, 2007

    If the government introduces security measures at our larger stations how will this protect us when a terrorist, with a bomb, boards a train at a smaller station to avoid security and then travels to the larger station to detonate?

    reply: It doesn't. But why assume the measures at larger stations will make people safer there? Terrorists adjust their plans to whatever "security" measures there are in place.

  3. Neil Craig
    November 17, 2007

    Time spent in the station is one of the reasons I have said we should be changing the rail system to a fully automated one. If trains had no drivers & were computer controlled it would be possible to send off a single carriage unit every couple of minutes rather than a 12 carriage one every half hour.

    It could also work after the pubs & clubs close & would, in practice increase capacity while reducing running costs.

    Money is currently being spent on automated car driving systems but trains obviously require orders of magnitude less computer capacity.

    Reply: I agree trains would be more attractive to busy people if they were more frequent. The problem is the technology of steel wheels on steel rails allied to heavy carriages which we use in the UK does not permit more frequent services owing to saefty.

  4. Neil Craig
    November 20, 2007

    That is a point I am going to think about Sir. That railway carriage technology has almost stagnated in the time that cars have gone from a man with a red flag to today is evident. It might be worth junking all our trains & getting the firms that build minibuses to make such carriages, with electrification of the lines & platforms lowered to pavement level. I believe that a fully automated transport system is the next quantum leap in personal transport & that rail lines & perhaps overhead monorails are the most practical way to achieve it.

  5. Bazman
    November 21, 2007

    The monorail, guided bus and the like are nonsense. High speed and local trains along with the car are the answer.
    How about employers providing subsidised, cheap affordable housing near to their place of work for their employees as part of their salary/wages. Like the railways and shipyards did in the eighteenth century?
    Where I am from much of the housing was built this way terraced houses for the labourers to villas for the bosses. Good quaility housing and still in use today.
    This would make them think where to set up business a bit more carefully and not head automatically to the south east and London.
    Roads, housing and business are obviously linked so why should they be indirectly subsidised? They certainly do not want to pay for anything and often do not even belive they should.
    If a company is in this country and does not make Britain a better place to live for everyone. i.e the greater good. Then why are they here?

  6. Simon_C
    November 22, 2007

    It's nonsense to spend money on "securing" *some* stations, when terrorists can just drive down the road and get onto a train at a smaller station.

    The money would be far better spent on police/security officers in all stations and trains wandering around, both in undercover and uniformed, picking up on unusual behaviour. This is just security theatre, like about 50% of airline security is.

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