Trains to Manchester are not busy

 

           I took the train to Manchester. I had pre booked a heavily discounted first class ticket months ago.  My outbound ticket cost £59, and my return ticket a very reasonable £34.50.

          The Monday morning train was scheduled to depart at 9.00 and arrive at 11.07. It did leave on time, but half way into the journey we were advised that the train had to divert, and would arrive half an hour late. My previous journey  to Manchester, going on the first train in the morning from Euston, was more than half an hour late owing to late departure through the absence of train crew.  Surveys show that the thing that matters most to passengers, including me, is punctuality. We can plan our days if the trains run to time. We are much  less concerned about major investment to lop twenty minutes off the journey time, than we are about not suffering a 30 minute delay to a stated time.

           There were just 8 people in a 42 seater carriage on Monday morning, despite the Conservative conference potentially boosting trade. I asked one of the staff about the low level of use. He replied that this Monday was busier than usual, and assured me there were some more people in other carriages. I could see through the glass door panels that the adjacent coaches also had a substantial number of empty seats.

            The train I came back on was the last train on that day. It meant leaving Manchester at an early 21.25. Train schedules do not allow you to go to an evening event or have dinner at normal times, and return to London. That train did exactly what it said on the ticket. They even managed to provide  a white bread sandwich, a cake, and a cup of tea within the £34.50 price, for all those of us who had not yet eaten. There were just 10 people in the carriage.

            What do I conclude? Once again  I have seen no evidence of a shortage of train capacity on the London-Manchester railway. One way to increase capacity and to encourage more business would be to run later trains as well. Punctuality is the key to persuading more of us to use the trains more of the time. We need to fill the existing seats more, before worrying about a whole new railway.

 

PS: MPs do pay for their own travel and accommodation for party conferences. I think that is right. I suspect the taxpayer pays for the travel and accommodation of all the public sector lobbyists, BBC reps etc

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43 Comments

  1. lifelogic
    Posted October 6, 2011 at 6:25 am | Permalink

    Indeed cannot have been very green with that occupancy – better to take a mini bus and build a few new houses on the track perhaps. This is why they cost so much in fares and subsidy. They only make sense on a few routes.

    Also add in your, perhaps, double journeys at each end if dropped of and parking charges if not.

    Why do they claim to be green the only advantage is that you can read but then the loud announcements are very annoying too?

    They could save over 20 minutes just by simplifying the timetables, fare structures and ticketing. Why on earth do they want HS2?

    If you want a cheap ticket it usually takes about an hour to work it all out and book.

    • lifelogic
      Posted October 6, 2011 at 9:16 pm | Permalink

      Other problems with trains apart from their large Co2 emissions and very high cost compared to cars are:

      They often do not run at the times when you need them.
      Tickets are inflexible if delayed.
      You cannot call on route.
      They do not go door to door and need connections.
      They do not take direct routes.
      One incident snow, leaves, a left bag, can bring the whole thing to a standstill
      They are run mainly for the benefit of staff and are likely not to run over certain holiday periods or not have enough capacity on some peak trains/days.
      The Union stranglehold
      They need staff who may take a sicky, be sick or just over sleep.
      They are more vulnerable to vandalism/copper theft and terrorism.
      They need expensive track all fenced off and secured but underused relative to roads.

    • Elephant_never_forge
      Posted October 6, 2011 at 9:19 pm | Permalink

      HS2 only proposes at present to lop the time of the journey to Brum not that it will actually deliver for each journey

  2. Mick Anderson
    Posted October 6, 2011 at 7:12 am | Permalink

    It would be far cheaper to spend the money on making the trains run on time than waste countless billions on HS2. The gains would be greater, too!

    This is really the whole economic problem in a nutshell – don’t address the real problem of inefficiency and waste that will give big gains. Instead spend vast sums on ridiculous bling that probably won’t give any improvement at all….

    • Elephant_never_forge
      Posted October 6, 2011 at 9:22 pm | Permalink

      the £2Billion per year spend for HS2 is about the same overall spend to the Trasury as ONE HUNDRED THOUSAND jobs at a 30,000 salary when NI and Tax and then VAT on spend from the remainder is taken into account.

      these jobs north of Birmingham would better solve the North – South divide and probably appear many years before even the most optimistic opening date for HS2 services

  3. cronshd
    Posted October 6, 2011 at 7:33 am | Permalink

    John, please do all you can to stop the white elephant that will be this government’s equivalent of the pointless NHS project.

    Why is it that ministers feel the need to make their mark in history?

    What is your current assessment of the likelihood of HS2 going ahead?

    Will it make any difference at all writing to my MP about it?

    (I am not located in the area impacted by this).

    Reply: there is growing opposition. Yes, writing to your MP could be helpful.

  4. Alan
    Posted October 6, 2011 at 8:05 am | Permalink

    Hmmm … maybe trains FROM Manchester are busy?

    The articles on transport systems are always thought provoking.

    I suspect that the costs of transport systems are largely the result of the infrastructure they need. Trains and cars require a road from start to end of the journey, not to mention signs, signals, services and stations, police, etc. Aircraft require only an airport at each end. Air travel is therefore intrinsically cheaper than trains or cars.

    Cars have the benefit of being extremely convenient, so much so that people will actually buy their own so the transport operator does not have to pay for them. If cars could drive themselves then trains would lose their few advantages – that you don’t have to drive them yourself, that you can work and think whilst travelling, and that they are safer.

    The only one of those advantages of public interest is safety; road transport is far too dangerous. However autonomous cars that can drive themselves safely should be available in the next 20 years. They would have most of the advantages of trains with the additional benefit that people would be willing to buy their own.

    I wonder if the money being spent on HS2 were instead spent on research into autonomous cars we could introduce them sooner and so get a more useful result, and save many lives. Come to think of it, we don’t have to spend money on it; the car industry will do it by themselves.

    And then there’s telecommunications…

    Reply: there were loads of spare seats from Manchester when I travelled

  5. Graham Swift
    Posted October 6, 2011 at 8:37 am | Permalink

    HS2 is a waste of money. Sensible price structure is more important. Prices at the moment are far too high. Lower prices would get more people to use the trains.

  6. alan jutson
    Posted October 6, 2011 at 8:46 am | Permalink

    John

    Looks like you got a bargain on the price, but then you knew well in advance the date you wanted to travel.

    Business and personal travel is usually much more short term on advance dates, and thus the cost considerably more.

    Friend of ours who recently had to travel to London from Reading on business paid a small fortune, managed to get a seat going, but on the return, the train was delayed by 30 mins, and as such was overcrowded to such an extent that an announcenment was made that the train was too full, and that until some passengers got off, it would not be leaving. Thus some passengers had to wait another 30 mins (total one hour) before starting their journey

    That said, an advance booking on the Wokingam -Gatwick route which we took when going on holiday was £40.00 return for four people, excellent value and an excellent service, but again it does not run all night, so if you plane is delayed on its return flight, you could be sleeping in Gatwick terminal until service resumes in the morning.
    We regarded it as a risk worth taking given our flight times, but if your return flight landing time is within a couple of hours of the service finishing, then a difficult choice to calculate, especially if you have older passengers or children.

  7. Nick
    Posted October 6, 2011 at 8:50 am | Permalink

    HS2 – onward and upward into more and more debt.

    After all those Manc MPs have to have another 20 minutes shaved of the time to get home. What’s billions and billions? Time is money.

    Same for London to Birmingham on a Friday and Sunday night the other day.

    Very simple solution to it all.

    No Subsidy. None. Axed over night. No ticket regulation. Same for the buses. Same for taxis.

  8. frank salmon
    Posted October 6, 2011 at 9:08 am | Permalink

    John
    Your train journey was subsidised to the tune of around 50%. People not travelling to Manchester paid the rest of your ticket and no doubt for your ‘meal’. If you had gone by car you would have been more punctual and you would have contributed tax rather than soaping from non users. You only needed a briefcase and an overnight bag – so you were an ideal candiate for the train, but when I go places I take a car load with me – so I can’t use it, yet I still have to subsidise you as well as paying tax.
    The railways are huge loss makers, so later trains would involve huge extra subsidies. The trains are run by bureaucrats, for themselves, so later trains would almost certainly be exponentially more expensive to run as well as being caught up in night time repair work.
    What you really needed was a decent coach to take you on a dedicated motorway lane (an extra one, built by road tax funds). It would have taken you all the way directly, instead of into London from Wokingham and then out again to Manchester Picadilly. And how did you get from Paddington to Euston? On a subsidised tube? How long was your total journey?
    A good policy would be to end all subsidies for public transport and then build a profitable transport network in response to demand and supply, providing concessions only for those who need it. It sounds old fashioned, but it works.
    And by the way, the carbon footprint of you and your fellow passengers must have been huge. Do you think for a moment the data relating to train use and carbon footprint is at all accurately assessed, either for the network now or into the HS2 future?
    I was hoping you would say you should have gone by car, but then of course you’d not have been able to work on your excellent blogs etc.
    On this one though, I’d say ‘be careful of what you wish for’.

    Reply: Indeed, I did go on a subsidised tube. I had to drive to London and stay overnight in my flat in order to get the morning train.

    • Electro-Kevin
      Posted October 6, 2011 at 9:41 am | Permalink

      Frank – The buses you propose wouldn’t carry anywhere near the loadings of the railways, nor at the speeds. Mr Redwood was enjoying the surplusses of a railway that had done its morning rush for that day.

      Don’t forget that if there weren’t subsidised railways you’d be sitting in gridlocked traffic unable to get anywhere. So the subsidy goes some way to sparing drivers the ordeal of fuming in traffic jams and wear and tear on the roads. As a driver -enjoying more flexibility than train travellers – you ARE enjoying the benefits of these subsidies (though I’m the first to agree they’re not always best spent.)

      There is always the argument that we could rip up the railways and tarmac over them.

      Two reasons why we shouldn’t.

      – we will never achieve rail speeds

      – mutli carriage roads always require significantly more width than rail

      I suppose that you could argue that if the rail network didn’t exist we wouldn’t bother to invent it here.

      Well it happened once already didn’t it ? I anticipate that you might argue that this was all before personalised transport to which I shall respond :

      It has been decided that Britain will be a country of masses – so transport for the masses it is then.

  9. Electro-Kevin
    Posted October 6, 2011 at 9:24 am | Permalink

    I fundamentally agree with you on this. I think HS2 is a vanity project when the money could be used to make the existing railways more useful.

    The argument goes that HS2 would free up capacity for passengers and freight in that region. I don’t know without someone better than me extrapolating the figures properly and than means doing an unbiased and properly conducted passenger count. 9.00am is after the morning rush – most commuters are at work by then.

    I too despair at the early ‘last’ trains. It means that people can’t really use the railway to get to events. I also despair (I won’t declare which company I work for) that we work round the clock hours – finishing at 1.30am or starting at 03.00. We’re there grafting all the hours. So why do the trains finish so early at key stations ? How does London Underground provide such late services ? Final departures at midnight if I recall from my last visit.

    By the way I should add that (presuming this is Virgin) the West Coast has a committed workforce and the staff there are well motivated. I doubt the absense of crew was anything to do with someone forgetting to set their alarm clock as there are usually plenty of spare crews rostered to cover such absenses. It’s more likely that earlier disruptions have caused displacement of crews.

    This is where the key difference between rail and any other mode of transport arises and why integration of private companies is more problematic within this system. The infrastructure is fixed and there are limited passing points. The fortunes of an operator are very much dictated by the fortunes of the one in the section ahead.

    Unlike air or sea every inch of the journey means wear and tear on infrastructure which is costly – especially now that we’re having to contend with cable thefts which are occurring at an alarming rate.

    reply: There were even fewer people in my carriage when I took the first train out of Euston on a couple of occasions over the last year.

    • Electro-Kevin
      Posted October 6, 2011 at 9:48 am | Permalink

      Is that first class perchance ?

      How early was the first train (I don’t travel that region btw) And the net flow is usually towards London at that time of day.

      Part of the problem is the concentration of work in one area of this country and the unaffordability of London living. As well as the points I have made to Frank (above) I might add that pressures on London property prices (hence wages) would become even worse.

      • Electro-Kevin
        Posted October 6, 2011 at 9:49 am | Permalink

        Add to my last:

        … if we didn’t have a subsidised railway.

        (Management of those subsidies is a different subject btw.)

        • Electro-Kevin
          Posted October 6, 2011 at 10:04 am | Permalink

          PS, I don’t think it’s right that MPs should pay for their own way to party conferences and I’m one of the few that sympathised over expenses.

          The money is not that great for what you have to do.

  10. Richard J
    Posted October 6, 2011 at 9:25 am | Permalink

    Absolutely right, Mr. Redwood, although I rather doubt that the HS2 fanatics will let the facts get in the way of a shiny new railway.

    Next time you go to Manchester, try driving. As you trundle along the M6 in three lanes of traffic going at 55-60 mph if you’re lucky, you may well conclude that what the nation really needs is additional motorway capacity. Not of the ridiculous M6 Toll variety, however, which is so underused that one could safely travel at 100mph, if the law permitted.

    • lifelogic
      Posted October 6, 2011 at 8:54 pm | Permalink

      It is clearly absurd to have two parallel similar roads one free one a toll charge half price on both.

      reply: Why? It can be a good idea to have a “free road” and a paying road for those in a hurry.

      • lifelogic
        Posted October 7, 2011 at 8:40 am | Permalink

        Because – you have expensively build the new asset “the new parallel motorway” the asset need to be used to the full. If the state offers “free” (the state paid for option in parallel) then most traffic will take the free one and the new asset will be under used the free one over used with more wear, more accidents, more congestion on it.

        It is unfair, tax subsidised competition by the state and results in assets that have been build at vast expense being under used . If you have an asset use it to the full and make it sweat.

      • lifelogic
        Posted October 7, 2011 at 8:44 am | Permalink

        As a parallel argument – Do you think if would be helpful for the state to offer a “free” but much slower and very crowded flight say – Heathrow to New York to undercut BA and Virgin Atlantic using out taxes and half empty their planes?

  11. Michael Kellett
    Posted October 6, 2011 at 9:46 am | Permalink

    I suspect that like the majority of Virgin Trains on the Preston to London Euston route, which I take regularly, the first class carriages on your trains were almost empty whilst the standard class carriages were packed full, due to the exorbitant prices charged by Virgin to those unable to book more than two weeks in advance. This is not an energy efficient way of operating – nor efficient in any other way except perhaps in generating revenue. And on the question of punctuality, I have to say that I have not experienced any problems on the Preston-London route (although I have not taken it in the last few weeks) but in the last two weeks have travelled several times to Birmingham and once from Birmingham to Basingstoke and every train was late by up to 25 minutes. Is there a network wide problem?

  12. John Holmes
    Posted October 6, 2011 at 9:56 am | Permalink

    How contemptibly arrogant.

    You travelled first class, couldn’t even be bothered to do more than look through the glass doors to judge how busy standard was (presumably for fear of getting too close to the great unwashed) and you weren’t travelling at peak times. If you want to pontificate on the railways try travelling like a normal person – i.e. on commuter trains and in standard class.

    One way to solve over-crowding would be to have less room for first class. If trains can’t find enough space for paying customers, they should be given seats in first class. Why should first class passengers retain their perks whilst standard class are treated like cattle?

    reply: I agree about priorities and I do sometimes travel standard at peak times, which is why I recommend spending what railway money we can afford on new capacity and better standards on commuter lines at peak times. I regularly travel on the tube at peak times. My point about the Manchester run is there is no shortage of capacity – whenever I use it there are plenty of empty seats. There is no need to snarl at me or pretend I do not know what public transport is like.

  13. Andrew Allison
    Posted October 6, 2011 at 9:59 am | Permalink

    The Taxpayers’ Alliance hosted a fringe meeting in the Freedom Zone in Birmingham during the Lib Dem conference. I had a meeting with some activists that day too. I caught a train from Hull to Doncaster, which was on time. My train from Doncaster to Birmingham arrived in New Street one hour late, due to signalling problems. I experienced the same delays on my return journey. It took me three and a half hours to get there, and three and a half hours to get back. I was on the train longer than I was in Birmingham.

    HS2 will not assist me. It is a white elephant that will plunge us further into debt and increase the taxes we pay. We all need to fight the plans as strongly as possible.

  14. Disaffected
    Posted October 6, 2011 at 10:00 am | Permalink

    John,
    I do not feel sorry for MPs having to pay for their train ticket. The expense scandal showed that 302 of 658 MPs were overpaid or fiddled their expenses, only a handful appeared before court. Why were so few referred to the police for investigation when there was clear evidence to investigate?? Secondly, MPs still get RPI inflation linking to their pension and a large number get a furnished second home paid for by the taxpayer to bolster their pension. I think most public sector workers would like a bonus of a house to help them in retirement. Some MPs were not satisfied with this they then flipped their homes to avoid tax despite being exempt from tax on benefits in kind like the rest of the public. Why MPs think they should be exempt from tax, changes to inflation index that they impose on the rest does not bode well for credibility when claims are made that we are all in it together or that we are in dire fiscal circumstances. Many MPs demonstrate personal greed and self interest comes before national interest. How about MPs being accommodated in the Olympic village at the end of next year instead of being bought second homes which they keep for life?? Australian MPs have an accommodation block.

    Reply: They are not bought homes for life. They buy them with their own money, or on a mortgage which they pay off themselves. Mortgage interest is no longer allowable, either. I have no problems if the state wishes to offer accommodation instead of the rents the taxpayer now funds for MPs who rent flats.

  15. Winston Smith
    Posted October 6, 2011 at 10:16 am | Permalink

    As with all means of transport, people want to travel at times convenient to their lifestyles. Hence, inter-city rail travel is generally over-booked from Friday afternoon to Sunday night, depending on the direction of travel. The major contributory factor, IMO, is the over-centralisation of business, transport, govt, tourism, culture and sport in London. This is one area where politicians can make a difference and help spread the wealth around the nation. For example, why do we continue to subsidise London museums and art galleries to the tune of £200m at the expense of regional equivalents? Would tourists refuse to visit London because they had to pay a few pounds to visit the Tate?

  16. David Hope
    Posted October 6, 2011 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

    Whilst some trains like that are half empty, others like those coming into Leeds from surrounding areas are bursting to capacity. We do seem to have the wrong priorities.
    I’d add that I find the times trains run frustrating, you have to face the horrors of the M25 (and the many under underinvested, at capacity roads) if you want to return late on from London.
    Finally, I can’t help but feel that certain routes might be more popular if you didn’t have to book a month to two months in advance to be affordable for a lot of people. We need genuine competition, not the current route monopolies if we are to have sensibly priced rail that attracts non business users at all times.

  17. Dr Bernard Juby
    Posted October 6, 2011 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

    Some years ago British Rail ran a very popular train from Birmingham up to London in time for the theatre and then a late one back again for the return home.
    It was always full.
    It only ran a short time before it was taken off. The reason given was that it was too popular!
    These people aren’t even fit to run a railway in Toytown!
    I was once told by a train-time programmer that trains were only profitable when running and that stopping and starting to allow passengers to get on and alight was time-consuming and unprofitable.
    These people live on a different planet.

  18. Rollo Clifford
    Posted October 6, 2011 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

    Dear Mr Wokingham, Had I Mr Taunton wished to do the same journey to london the fare would have been £75 each way first class and discounted. Whats Manchester got that we have not? Answer – more subsidies and less unemployment for a start. I can get to New York and back cheaper than Paddington to Taunton!

  19. Peter Maddock
    Posted October 6, 2011 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

    Thank God I am 82 years old. Having read the Comments and the Problems of Rail Travel in Britain I am reassured that it is not I who is approaching the onset of dementia.

  20. Alex
    Posted October 6, 2011 at 5:18 pm | Permalink

    “Trains to Manchester are not busy”

    May I applaud your insightful research into this major subject. I understand that not only did you examine your surroundings in your atypical first class compartment, made observations into one of the other carriages but you also asked one of the railway staff for his opinion.

    The British people should be grateful to you, sir, for undertaking this research on our behalf, and we can only stand in awe of the wisdom that allows you to make multi-billion pound voting decisions on our behalf on the evidence of a single return journey.

    reply: thank you for your ill researched sarcasm. I have travelled several times to Manchester and found the trains little used. I also did walk through the whole train to confirm that there were many empty seats. I have also read various documents about the capacity project for the railways.

  21. Bazman
    Posted October 6, 2011 at 7:20 pm | Permalink

    Makes you wonder why many European countries have high speed rail links especially Japan who abandoned 300mph trains to concentrate on improving the efficiency of the 200mph ones. China however been testing a 300mph train last year. Even the Russians have one.France has Britain has 113 km of high speed rail. Guess how many France and Germany have and is under construction? The fools.
    The utilities and the railways have the same deliberately confusing array of prices and discounts. So what does that tell us about the whole system? That’s right it’s a scam to allow a certain group of people to make free money. The commuter rate before 09.00 being the biggest scam and turning the railways into a middle class mode of transport. Is it right that a whole carriage should be off limits to second class ticket holders when the train is packed? These must be for the upper classes. Where is my stainless steel carriage at the back with the channel down the middle of the floor and no windows?

    Reply: Indeed. Why don’t they sell off the empty first class seats to the highest bidder in standard class to make a little more money and to help create some more comfort. I remember having a standard fare ticket for a long journey to the west country on a crowded route. There were plenty of empty first class seats. The premium charged to occupy one was too high for most people, so they stayed standing, and the first class seats stayed empty. Madness. the railway had less revenue and more disgruntled passengers.

  22. BobE
    Posted October 6, 2011 at 7:59 pm | Permalink

    Trains only work for busy commuter lines into/out of major Cities. The rest should be converted to motorways. If its further that Manchester(4 hours by car), then Fly. Short hop. Trains are 1800s and serve very little purpose in a small country.
    They can work in large countries like France and Germany but the UK is just too small for them. Motorways are far more efficient.

  23. William Barter
    Posted October 6, 2011 at 8:02 pm | Permalink

    John, don’t you think there is a bit of a risk in extrapolating from a couple of personal experiences to a judgement on national strategic infrastructure investment such as HS2? Is it possible that your experiences were not truly representative? Might it even be possible that the nature of your journey will have tended to ensure that you saw trains that were less than full rather than anything that could be called a representative sample?

    Forgive me if anything I am about to write is teaching you to suck eggs, but, given your business pedigree, your blog comments seem to show a surprising lack of appreciation of the nature of rail demand, business cost structures, pricing and yield management.

    A railway is a service industry. It therefore exists to deliver a service at a time when people want it. People being people, they like to be up and about during the day, and work in similar places at similar times. If they have to travel to work, the natural consequence for the service industry that takes them to and from work is peaks of demand – colloquially known as rush hours, but in practice covering about three hours in the morning and three hours in the evening. The morning demand tends to be towards the major locations, such as London, and the evening demand away from them. This shouldn’t be a surprise, other businesses have peaks and troughs of demand as well. Supermarkets, for instance, seem to me to be busier on Saturday mornings than on Monday afternoons.

    So you caught a train at about 0900 from London, which would arrive in Manchester soon after 11. That’s not exactly a rush hour train, is it? But think what the coaches of that train had just done, before you came on the scene. They will have arrived in London at about 08:30, won’t they? That sounds like a rush hour train to me, and I’ll bet that it was full. As you crossed Euston concourse to find your nine o’clock train, you might have noticed that actually the station was pretty busy with people getting off trains, but obviously you are a bit of a night owl and at nine in the morning may not be taking everything in.

    But now comes a crucial difference. Unlike supermarkets, the railways actually do something to manage their peaks and troughs of demand. That train arriving in London at 0830 will have been not just full, but full of people paying eye-wateringly high fares. That’s so that people who don’t really mind when they travel are not going to crowd out the people who really do mind, whilst one trip like that in the morning, and one back in evening will pretty well pay for the train, the track it runs on, and the crew who work it in each case. Whatever it does in between those trips can be done for hardly any more extra costs than the fuel it uses and the marginal wear and tear on the train and track. Getting technical, this means that railways have high fixed costs and low variable costs, and the way to make the best of that is work the assets hard.

    So a railway company is perfectly happy for trains to run outside the peak periods or against the direction of peak flow, doing some work, and earning something, as opposed to doing nothing but occupy some prime city centre real estate, whilst earning nothing at all. After arriving at Euston, it can’t stay in the station until the evening, because the station isn’t big enough. Not daft, are they? Running a lightly loaded train in the middle of the day isn’t bad use of capacity, it’s good use of assets that are paid for by the peaks and available outside the peaks.

    That also means that the advertisements can say there is a train every twenty minutes between London and Manchester, rather than that there is a train every twenty minutes except at such and such a time and on such and such a day, or when market day falls the day after a blue moon in leap years. You politicos are only too keen to accuse the railways of making things complicated; do give them some credit when they try to keep things simple.

    But things get even better. We now have a train that costs almost nothing to run, so any revenue we can get onto it is good. But if the eye-wateringly high fares were to be charged, there won’t be any. So the railways offer cheap fares, as a positive inducement to people to travel by rail at all, and outside the peaks when they do. That of course is when you politicos accuse the railways of having complicated fares structures. In the next breath you then say that pricing should reflect not just peaks but shoulder peaks ad every hour in between the peaks more closely, and it seems not to occur to you that that isn’t going to make anything simpler for anyone. The art of railway pricing lies in separating people with more time than money from people with more money than time. Why isn’t food cheaper in supermarkets on Monday afternoons than on Saturday mornings? Don’t ask me, you’re the businessman, I’m only a redundant stationmaster.
    Investing to cater for peaks is not a bad thing. The peak demand that we actually see is demand that remains after quite energetic use of a pricing mechanism. That means that not only are the numbers of passengers high, but the fares yield is higher, as are the economic benefits especially of time savings. Frankly, the peaks will make or break a transport project of any sort. Off-peak revenue is the icing on the cake.

    So really, the nature of your journey, and the fact that you set out to use cheap tickets, means that by definition the trains you experienced were lightly-loaded. Then trying to use a couple of lightly-loaded off-peak trains as an argument for not investing in HS2 is about as sensible as arguing that there should be no more supermarkets until the ones we already have are packed out on Monday afternoons, or that there should be no more road schemes until the M1 is as congested at night as it is during the day. Neither roads nor supermarkets use a pricing mechanism to spread the peaks.

    Later last trains? Lovely idea. But the number of people who want to get back to London around midnight must be limited. However, that’s the beauty of high speed trains – leave later, arrive no later.

    Reliability? Very important. What wrecks reliability is when a small incident causes escalating delays all across the network. This happens when trains get out of order compared with the timetable, and a fast train ends up behind a slow one instead of in front of it as planned. Or when trains timed to pass over junctions simultaneously on non-conflicting routes get in the wrong order, and what were planned as “parallel moves” become series moves. HS2 will be much less exposed to these risks than a conventional mixed-use network – all junctions will be grade-separated, and there will not be a mix of fast and slow trains, just fast ones. Probably the biggest single action to improve reliability would be giving separate railways for fast and stopping trains, long-distance and short distance trains.

    So come October 13th, you will be supporting HS2, won’t you?

    reply No, I do not make my judgements just on one journey. I had the same experience when I caught the rush hour train out of Euston, the 6.36 to get to Manchester for 9 am. I have not had any difficulties booking seats for any time train to and from Macnhester. The return trains at lunch time are also pretty empty. The business case for HS2 is poor.

    • William Barter
      Posted October 6, 2011 at 8:44 pm | Permalink

      06:36 from Euston? Against the direction of peak flow. Return trains at lunchtime? Err – lunchtime not peak time. Yesterday I caught the 0652 from Milton Keynes into London – the train had started at Birmingham, no seats left in First Class and the rest of the train bulging at the seams. There is no capacity on the line to run any more trains at these times. And on that line the commuter trains are normally 12 coaches already, with 3+2 seating, and even so people have to stand from Euston to Leighton Buzzard, 40-minute journey. And at the current actual (not forecast) rate of growth, demand will double within 13 years. Virgin Train have achieved their demand targets for the WCML ten years earlier tha forecast. Frankly, you are fortunate to be able to choose your trains and normally to be travelling off-peak or against the peak, but my point is – do not just assume that your experience is all there is to it, spare a thought for the rest of us. Commuting to London is so bad that in the past year I have turned down two job offers because I cannot face it any more, and am extremely fortunate to have found an opening that demands travel only 3 days per week. HS2 is the only possible solution to this, by clearing fast through trains onto their own railway so that the rest of us can have a proper local, commuter and regional service that allows us to do a decent day’s work.

      Reply: the 6.36 is clearly the commuter train if you want to do a morning’s work in Macnhester. It is not counter flow – if you are commuting to Manchester.Of course Milton Keynes to London is very busy in morning peaks – London commuter services are all very overloaded and need new capacity urgently. The whole idea of HS2 is to encourage commuting to Manchester from London, not to encourage Mancunians to get jobs in the capital. Why can’t you all grasp that my case is we should spend more on improving commuting lines into the main cities, especially London, rather than expand inter city capacity where current capacity is clearly not being used fully.When I use commuter trains the crowding is dreadful. When I use inter city to the north I have usually found it with plenty of empty seats.

      • William Barter
        Posted October 7, 2011 at 8:27 am | Permalink

        What you can’t seem to grasp is that commuter capacity at the London end of the WCML is severely restricted because we are having to cram commuter trains onto the same tracks as InterCity trains. The problem is worst in the evening when there are only two fast trains to Milton Keynes and Northampton per hour, because the commuter and InterCity peaks coincide, and priority in capacity allocation goes to InterCity. The scope for running extra trains is negligible, the scope for running longer ones very small, unless you spend pretty well the same as HS2 would cost on extra tracks, new flyovers, longer platforms at restricted legacy sites for stations chosen by the Victorians and then built around. And end up with a more expensive, slower railway that is more destructive of property and amenities than HS2 would be.

        HS2 is first and foremost about capacity. Those commuter and InterCity trains are both full. I don’t think you actually read my first message, where I explained to you why it is commercially advantageous to run frequent trains off-peak even if each is lightly loaded. That is why your personal observations of off-peak train loads are not relevant to peak traffic.

        Reply: I regard the trains I travelled on to be the busier ones – the first in the morning to get you to Manchester for a morning’s work, the 9 am and the last train back. I agree that we may need extra new shorter tracks for reliable commuter services into London, where there is a chronic capacity problem at peak.

        • William Barter
          Posted October 7, 2011 at 10:03 am | Permalink

          Do you indeed. In that case you are simply wrong. The dominant flow is towards London in the morning and away from London in the evening, and if you have sampled any of these trains you did not say so. Look in Network Rail’s Route Utilisation Stratgey for details.

          In respect of the early morning trains from Euston, they do good business, maybe not carrying as many passengers each as the trains towards London, but for the reasons I explained to you at the outset, trains that arrive at Euston have to go out again, they cannot stay there until the evening. So three trains per hour arriving means three trains per hour departing, even if the traffic for them is lower than on their inwards workings. That does not matter, as they have earned their keep on the inwards trip, and advertising a standard 3 tph service drives up demand overall. It is the right thing to do to maximise payments from the TOC to the government – what you want, surely?

          I am glad you accept that there is a problem with commuter crowding – in the absence of HS2 what solution would you propose?

    • lifelogic
      Posted October 6, 2011 at 9:03 pm | Permalink

      The business or the green case for HS2 is non existent, as is the case for PV house bling and buy back electricity tariffs. What then is the real driver of this madness. Is it by any chance private profit somewhere in the development, EU head office commands, or just Cameron/Clegg insanity and the need for a vanity project for their egos?

      What do you honestly think JR?

      Reply: They see it as a green project, arguing that it will substitute for airline passengers. The business case shows the single largest source of passengers is people who would otherwise have gone by the existing trains.

      • lifelogic
        Posted October 7, 2011 at 8:49 am | Permalink

        It is clearly not green (even if it is painted in green wash) planes and slightly slower trains are greener anyway in fact – and they do not need capital investment.

  24. Martin
    Posted October 6, 2011 at 9:56 pm | Permalink

    Part of the problem with long distance trains is that the railway company needs a float of empty seats for turn up and go passengers paying expense account fares.

    The TOCs have improved the long distance fare pricing models to be more like airline ticketing models but as you mention they need more work.

    I still reckon that upgrading East Coast mail line north from Kings Cross is better but the railway industry still sees the Euston line as a priority. Note the HS2 to Birmingham is not much use for passengers from the north as trains to Kings Cross are already faster than taking a detour to Birmingham.

    Capacity issues would be better addressed with higher bridges to permit double decker trains (e.g. would help Waterloo-Wokingham commuter line). I don’t know why the power that be don’t try it on one commuter line and see how it plays out.

    • William Barter
      Posted October 7, 2011 at 8:37 am | Permalink

      I have personally studied use of double-deck trains for two separate government agencies on two separate routes, South West Trains and c2c. Those are the lines with fewest tunnels and bridges in the suburban area (but not none – look at those viaducts over the line where the Victoria lines pass over, and Wimbledon shopping centre).

      What kills it for the SW lines is not height but curvature, which without a major rebuilding of the station area and approaches prevents running of longer coaches – 20 metre coaches is the maximum for platforms 1-4 at Waterloo. The coaches need to be long, to accommodate staircases within the vehicles. Each coach has to have two, however long it is, and within a 20 metre coach two staircases takes so much passenger space that we found it would add only about 15% capacity. Lengthening trains as they are actually doing is much cheaper for what you get.

      On c2c the idea is quite feasible as an end state, but what kills it is the transition. Double deck coaches would need different diemnsions for platforms and electrification wires, which are incompatible with single deck coaches. So there is no transition state inwhich both can run – the whole railway would have to be closed for several months and not reopened to traffic until all work is complete – its not the sort of thing you can do in a series of weekend blocks.

  25. Andrew Allison
    Posted October 7, 2011 at 11:06 am | Permalink

    Having looked through the comments, too many people are really missing the point. Try commuting into Leeds or Manchester at busy times on the local commuter routes. Just like the Milton Keynes to London line mentioned earlier, the trains are packed. I caught a commuter train last night from York to Hull. It wasn’t standing room only, but it was at around 90% capacity. HS2 is not going to assist those people using those trains. It will not reduce the amount of passengers on those trains.

    You can already travel to Leeds from London in around 2 hours 15 minutes. There is a frequent service, and if you are travelling to Doncaster, you can get a train roughly every 15 minutes, and the journey time is 1 hour 40 minutes. There is plenty of time for those on business to get on with some work. It’s the same story for those travelling to Birmingham and Manchester.

    In my experience, even when trains on the East Coast mainline are busy, I can always find a seat. I don’t hear people complaining that journey times are too slow, unless there are delays. Indeed, many people who are travelling for leisure enjoy the time to relax, have something to eat, or read a book.

    I just cannot see how HS2 is going to make a blind bit of difference to the vast majority of people who travel by train.

    • lifelogic
      Posted October 7, 2011 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

      You say “I just cannot see how HS2 is going to make a blind bit of difference to the vast majority of people who travel by train.”

      It clearly is not going to make any difference for most – but I am sure some will get rich from it at the expense of the tax payer and the people on the route.

  26. Pauline Jorgensen
    Posted October 9, 2011 at 9:59 pm | Permalink

    Might I suggest that next time you fly? Much more enjoyable.

  • 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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