Wrong trains, wrong price

The pound has just halved against the yen, so the government proposes buying a huge number of new coaches and locos from Japan at a very high price with little UK manufacturing offset. When will they ever learn? The Unions are rightfully up in arms about it. The Opposition has to say it is the wrong deal at the wrong price, and point out the country cannot afford this kind of open ended expensive commitment stretching far into the future.

If we are ever going to be competitive at making machines now should be the time. We have unemployed people, cheap capital, and a collapsing currency. We need to plug the huge hole in our balance of payments. If they must order Japanese items, they must make it a condition of the contract that we make and buy more of the kit here in the UK under licence.

The trains in question are too heavy and too fuel inefficient. Green ideologues often tell us to go by train to save the planet. They actively promote more train travel, whilst condemning all other forms of mechanised movement. These trains represent too small an improvement on the heavy fuel inefficient ones currently using our network, and will prevent us hitting greener targets for trains for years to come. All forms of mechanised travel create CO2 emissions. Rail travel can be a bigger contributor than road travel, given the low loadings on many of our trains (30% seat use overall) , the poor efficiency of the engines, and the way we generate the electric power some of them use.

If the government were serious either about saving the planet or about saving our economy it will recognise this is a bad deal and decline the sign the detailed documents. These trains are too dear in every sense.

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11 Comments

  1. Brian Tomkinson
    Posted February 14, 2009 at 9:17 am | Permalink

    The problem is that the BBC has accepted the Hoon spin on this and broadcast his misleading message. The alternative argument has received very little publicity.

  2. oldrightie
    Posted February 14, 2009 at 9:36 am | Permalink

    Dear Mr Redwood,
    This consortium are all under the auspices of The UAE’s control. I really believe that Gordon Brown exchanged this deal for borrowing purposes from the UAE. This to pr-empt the need for scarce IMF funding. Watch our for further such “deals” over the coming months as part of giving away the last remnants of our Nation’s assets, its peoples’ productivity. I have a small piece on this.

  3. oldtimer
    Posted February 14, 2009 at 10:04 am | Permalink

    It surprised me that the Japanese quote could be competitive, given the simultaneous rise in the Yen and the fall in the pound against the US$ – a foreign exchange double whammy if ever there was one.

  4. Bazman
    Posted February 14, 2009 at 10:41 am | Permalink

    Why get upset about a few trains? A Japanese one will be far superior to a British one.
    British commercial shipbuilding is dead and is seen as progress. All the luxury liners flying British flags with names like ‘Pride of Britain’ are built abroad. Often in cough! splutter…..France.
    How long will it be before the government decides to buy nuclear submarines and warships directly from America allowing millionaires to cheaply moor their yachts in the last of the world class shipyards.

  5. Dr Nick Ashley
    Posted February 14, 2009 at 10:49 am | Permalink

    The track isn’t going to be upgraded nor resited into more or less a straight line re West coast and East coast mainlines. So these here wonder trains will still only manage a sluggish 125 mph, unlike real Japanese bullet trains. Personally I would have given the contract to the outfit in Derby. But hey, I’m a bit of a patriot and believe in British Jobs for British, not Japanese, workers. Now where have we heard that phrase before? Ah ha!………..

  6. Lola
    Posted February 14, 2009 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

    to move a KG of mass from point a to point b requires X amount of energy, however it goes. Times a factor for efficiency. Efficiancy includes for load factors and the like. If you do this sum carefully you will find that rail, with its hugely costly infrastructure, comes out very badly, except on commuter routes and for bulk cargo and for long distance with high load factors. Heavy trains only compound the inneficiences. It is less polluting for a family to travel from London to Newcastle by a small light turbo diesel car than it is to take the tain. And it is of course hugely cheaper.

  7. Demetrius
    Posted February 14, 2009 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

    Again the government goes for the big toys, instead of looking in detail as to what is really needed, and the real costs of what is involved. Trains that are much faster require more track space. So what happens to all the other trains? The new trains will be at a premium fare rate, so who can pay these? In the South Eastern Railways there will soon be such trains. They will cost much more, only give limited improvements and will mean the slashing of other services and sharp fare rises for all those who will not have access to them or can afford them.

  8. James Strachan
    Posted February 14, 2009 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

    Well, they all had a nice day out on the Hitachi trains bought to run from Kent to St. Pancras.

    So what do you expect ?

  9. mike stallard
    Posted February 14, 2009 at 9:45 pm | Permalink

    Erm….
    I thought that Mr Major privatised the railways? I thought, too, that New Labour agreed to this privatisation?
    I realise that Railtrack is pretty well publicly owned, but do not understand the details.
    So what business has the government – of all people – got in buying trains anyway? Shouldn’t this be left to the operators?
    I would like you to suggest just one government front bencher who has experience with running a railway. (Does being in a Union count though?)

    reply: it’s a massively subsidised industry which means government has a big role

    • alan jutson
      Posted February 16, 2009 at 10:38 am | Permalink

      If it is massivilly subsidised. And I agree.

      Why is it that we have probably the most expensive train fares in the World.

      Is it because the whole structure is so complicated that it is grossly inefficient. Rather like so many Government Departments, the Tax System the Benefits System etc etc.

      Had a look around the Swindon Steam Railway Museum a couple of weeks ago (viewed York a couple of years ago). Perhaps getting old and re-living my youth and a bit of our history.

      Perhaps it was not the most efficient system then, but at least we produced it all ourselves and thus created work for thousands also made you feel a little bit proud of what we could do.

      No chance now, not enough Manufactuiring Industry or skilled workers left

  10. Jonathan Bryce
    Posted February 16, 2009 at 12:52 am | Permalink

    Taking up Lola’s comments about train CO2 emissions, it is actually only slightly worse for a family of four to travel to Newcastle in a Hummer than a CrossCountry Voyager.

    Voyagers emit 74.1g of CO2 per passenger km.
    http://www.virgintrains.co.uk/gogreener/tandc.aspx

    A Hummer emits 327g per km
    http://www.vcacarfueldata.org.uk/search/vehicleDetails.asp?id=20809
    Which works out at 81.75g per passenger km if you have four people in it.

    A Landrover emits 244g per km
    http://www.vcacarfueldata.org.uk/search/vehicleDetails.asp?id=17956
    or 61g/km per passenger if you have four people in it, so you don’t need a small diesel car to be more environmentally friendly than a CrossCountry Voyager.

  • About John Redwood


    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

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