A very expensive 5 year plan for the railways.


  Some of you write in to say it would be better if we had a nationalised railway. I have good news for you. Network Rail is effectively a nationalised industry, taxpayer owned and financed. East coast mainline is a nationalised company running a mainline railway. The remaining private sector franchise train companies run under strictly controlled requirements and conditions set out by the Rail Regulator, effectively a branch of government.

         Under Labour the successful privatised industry which boosted traveller numbers and freight activity was gradually renationalised by the backdoor. So much so, that the latest 5 year plan has all the wit and wisdom of the old Soviet five year tractor production plans. It weighs in with a massive 958 pages. It proposes a spend of £38.3 billion over 5 years.  Network Rail will receive only 30% of its income from its customers, the train companies, with 60% coming from government grants.

        Over the five years the borrowings of Network Rail will shoot up from £31.7bn to £49.6bn.  This will include financing for £12bn of “enhancements to Britain’s rail network to ease congestion and improve performance” (not including HS2). We are told that within this “projects totalling more than £7bn do not yet have clear delivery costs or plans.”

                 Within that programme electrification accounts for the biggest item. Why? We are asked to accept “Electrifying the railway will bring many more benefits for both  passengers and freight users, most notably the ability to run more frequent trains with shorter journey times and less environmental impact…”

               This is a curious proposition. Electricity is a secondary fuel, so the energy losses are usually greater than with a primary fuel like diesel. There are substantial energy losses in the power station, there are transmission losses, and then losses with the inefficiency of the electric engine. A diesel train only has one of these energy losses. If the underlying electricity is primarily generated from gas and coal there is no great Co2 advantage  either.

            When I last tried to use the East coast mainline, which has been electrified, the train I was booked on was unable to depart owing to break down. I was told this was quite a common problem with the electric trains on that line, and the staff knew the routine when it happened. Electric train systems are also more vulnerable to bad weather than diesel lines, as the overhead gantries and power cables are especially prone to damage in bad conditions.

           There is investment we need on our nationalised railway. We need investment on busy lines like Great Western to improve signalling and throughput of trains, to lengthen trains and some platforms, to replace dangerous level crossings with road bridges, and to increase track availability at bottlenecks and over busy sections into main cities. Surely these should be priorities over electrification, and surely these should be the ones they identify if they are going to spend another £7 bn on as yet unapproved projects.


  1. Leslie Singleton
    November 11, 2013

    Agree with you on electrification, having never understood the need for it–just something more to go wrong, and routinely so as I remember. On a different tack, or track, has anybody anywhere, including here, ever come up with credible critical comment or any adverse comment at all on why we are not cheaply and easily and quickly reviving the Great Central (“Manchester to Milan” as the admirable letter in the Torygraph had yesterday) instead of wasting eye-watering sums we would have to borrow on HS2 which won’t even connect to HS1 nor anywhere much else for decades? Is it because, like non electrification, it is deemed to be old-fashioned? More terrible wrong judgement from Cameron.

    1. Alte Fritz
      November 11, 2013

      Andrew Gilligan’s recent article in the Telegraph made the same point. The visionary who built the Great Central, Sir Edward Watkin, would have had the nous to raise private money for such a project. But we now seem to have public bodies who are in thrall to the construction industry which will benefit most. It is an unpleasant alliance of big private capital and municipal socialism given that, locally, Labour is right behind HS2.

  2. Mike Stallard
    November 11, 2013

    John, every time you speak about the railways – and you do it very cogently and after considerable thought too – I always ask how much DG MOVE is involved. So far you have not answered.

    If the EU is driving this forward, then, honestly, anything any of us say is just hot air.

    If not it is a scandal.

  3. Andyvan
    November 11, 2013

    As is the way with all government run entities logic and reason soon depart and are replaced with schemes that are backed with political correctness and public relations but aimed primarily at enriching special interests with political connections. The railways were only nationalized because they were run into the ground during the second world war and they became a target for socialists. If they had remained as they were built- privately owned and run, we would see the most efficient use of fuel and resources because that would make the most profit. I understand that profit is a dirty word to a lot of people but it is the best way to get good service. Introduce politics into anything and it is degraded and ruined. Show me an industry where that isn’t true.

    1. uanime5
      November 11, 2013

      The railways were never built to be privately run and the countries with the most efficient railways have public sector railways, not private sector ones.

      Also people object to train companies making a profits because these train companies make their profits via above inflation ticket price rises.

      1. Edward2
        November 12, 2013

        “The railways were never built to be privately run”
        You need to do some checking Uni
        The railways were built up by private companies regionally starting with the Stockton to Darlington line.

        1. APL
          November 12, 2013

          Edward2: “You need to do some checking Uni”

          Uanime5 other than being a funny fellow, is an incitement of the modern education system.

          *If* he is typical of the output of the state education system, then we really would be better off throwing all the teachers out of work and shutting the whole lot down.

          He does serve a useful purpose though, anything uanime5 asserts, 10:1 it’s wrong. So even in his ignorance, he serves a public service.

  4. David in Kent
    November 11, 2013

    While I am no more of an expert than I suspect JR is, I thought the main advantage of electrification was to allow much heavier freight trains and faster passenger trains without increasing the number, size and weight of the engines required to pull them.
    However I do agree with JR that the factors limiting capacity have much more to do with signalling, level crossings and bottlenecks than loads and acceleration.

    1. Acorn
      November 11, 2013

      For the same weight, an electric train (25kV pantograph electrics) has three times the horsepower of a diesel-electric train. Pure diesels are shunters and DMUs with one engine and mechanical gearbox drive on each car, terribly unreliable and too slow.

      A TGV needs about 9 megawatts (12,000 BHP) of electric motors to accelerate it out of a station and get it to 186 mph. The TGV that set the speed record to 356 mph was running about 18 MW of electric motors (23,000 BHP). HS2 will need that sort of horsepower to do 250 mph with acceleration and braking to match. Try doing that with a diesel engine that will fit in the width of a UK train chassis and a tanker for the diesel fuel.

      We need more engineers in Westminster and Whitehall me thinks 😉 .

      1. stred
        November 11, 2013

        Interesting that our planned TGV-HS2 will use twice as much energy as a normal continental one in order to do an extra 64mph. When we are all being told to save electricity by insulating our homes, which will be heated by wind and diesel backup, this does not seem to be joined up thinking in Whitehall.

      2. Iain Gill
        November 11, 2013

        The whole justification for HS2 is capacity. Capacity could easily be provided by 125 mph trains, and diesels can easily provide that speed with current technology.

  5. IKBrunel
    November 11, 2013

    John, sorry but you have got it wrong on electrification.
    Electric trains are significantly lighter than diesels, saving energy. They also have regenerative braking again saving energy. Large power stations are more efficient than diesel traction engines – you can put more heat recovery in the cycle when you don’t have to transport it around (cooling towers on a train anyone?). Finally the proportion of coal going into our electricity will fall dramatically over the next 10 years as old stations reach end of life. So your assertion that electric trains don’t save C02 is incorrect.
    On reliability, electric trains have a tiny fraction of the number of drivetrain components of a diesel, so the rolling stock is more reliable. Modern overhead lines are much more resilient than older designs. That is one of the reasons why HS1 ( an electric route) is the most reliable line in the UK by a long margin.

    1. Bob
      November 11, 2013

      I smell vested interest. Do you supply the cabling or trade in scrap metal?

    2. Bazman
      November 11, 2013

      This is correct. Though there are some disadvantages the advantages outweigh this.
      Russia has a huge amount of railway electrification despite it truly massive size and often harsh geography.

      1. Alte Fritz
        November 11, 2013

        I knew it! Baz, you really are the Fifth Man!

    3. Iain Gill
      November 11, 2013

      no reason a diesel/electric couldnt do regenerative braking using batteries or similar.

    4. Acorn
      November 11, 2013

      IK, you are correct. The Pendolino ETR 610 uses an electrical brake system which injects brake power back into the catenary system, enabling energy consumption savings of up to 8%. Redwood Rednecks will not understand any of this, but you have to love them anyway, because they are so easy to rip-off when selling them dodgy financial investments. They will never admit to their peer group that they got conned. They always vote conservative, and they get screwed every time and they never realise it.

    5. lifelogic
      November 11, 2013

      Lighter trains do not save much energy on a train that travels at a fairly constant speed & does not make many stops and starts – only on acceleration does it make much difference and it usually does not repay the huge investment in electrification gantries and their costly maintenance and unreliability.

      Electrification on balance saves no energy and little carbon unless it is all nuclear power.

      1. Bazman
        November 12, 2013

        The electric locomotive has many advantages in mountainous terrain, including better adhesion, greater power at low speeds, no requirements for fueling or watering, and regenerative braking. Long, deep tunnels provide poor ventilation. The ventilation problem also limits the frequency of trains through these tunnels.
        Extremely high-traffic lines can readily recoup the high capital investment of electrification by the savings accrued during operation.
        Suburban commuter trains are an ideal subject for electrification since electric multiple units possess rapid acceleration, fast braking (sometimes regenerative braking) and the ability to change direction without running a locomotive around. It also reduces diesel locomotive emissions in relatively high-density areas.
        Work on completing electrification of the Trans-Siberian Railway finished in 2002 and tonne-kilometers hauled by electric trains has increased to about 85% in Russia.
        Now they may all be just wasting their time with this electrification, but despite these pseudo scientific PPE BBC green wishy washy fantasises the enginners keep having probably because of grants like nuclear powered windmills get, over the years many countries such as Canada, Russia and the USA have been pursuing electrification for their railways systems. for these reasons.
        Now tell us again why diesel is better overall and not some specific purpose such shunting.
        No reply lifdogic? You will not be repeating how diesel is better again I take it then? You will? We see… Ram it.

  6. Martyn G
    November 11, 2013

    John, you say “Surely these should be priorities over electrification, and surely these should be the ones they identify if they are going to spend another £7 bn on as yet unapproved projects?”

    Absolutely right and it would not surprise me if nowhere in the 958 pages would it be possible to identify a scientific or engineering input. Talk about left and right hand of government disconnection, with the left hand busy closing power stations and spending billions on windmills and other extraordinarily inefficient generating sources whilst the right hand is planning to hugely increase the demand on our failing power sources by electrification of the railways. Madness – is no one in government solidly connected to the real world?

  7. Brian Tomkinson
    November 11, 2013

    I’m pleased you have raised this. I was wondering just why there is all this talk about the need for electification but no explanation of the benefit. Your points about the disadvantages of electicity being a secondary source of energy and its vulnerability are well made. No doubt many ignorant supporters of this including, your colleagues in government, see it as part of their mission to save the planet.

  8. alan jutson
    November 11, 2013

    As many of us have said, the railways were never privatised properly in the first place, it was a mishmash of ideas, and your points seem to prove that.

    Thus we have all of the costs and inefficiency of a nationalised industry being run by politicians, without any of the overall control and integration of a National integrated Timetable or fare structure.

    Given the above I wonder why train franchise companies are prepared to invest at all, given the short term franchise agreements they have to get a pay back.

    Another reason why HS2 is likely to be an absolute fiasco.

    1. Robert Taggart
      November 12, 2013

      Solution – BR PLC – with Chris Green as Chairman.

  9. Bert Young
    November 11, 2013

    Thank goodness I am not a rail user ; the tales I hear of the parking problems , the delays , the overcrowding , the horrendous costs and the sheer turmoil it creates in peoples lives , is enough to put anyone off . Years ago I did commute between High Wycombe and Marylebone ; the parking then at High Wycombe was free , there were always seats available and the trains ran on time ; the overall costs involved were reasonable ; when my programme of business life included many evening meetings and appointments , I gave up commuting and rented a pied a terre . I am amazed at the number of individuals who now put up with all the consequences . An overall approach to the management and investment of the rail system is a prerequisite to obtaining an integrated and smooth running operation . Creating priorities in the medium to long term strategy can only be done this way . The same applies to Water and Electricity. Open market competition has not worked and should be abandoned in these areas ; the UK is too small a market for it to be split up .

    1. Anonymous
      November 11, 2013

      Bert – What did you expect a poor country on the slide to look like ?

  10. Iain Gill
    November 11, 2013

    Great post John.

    Picks up one of my posts here a while back, but that’s fine. Funnily enough I saw the Chancellor use a long complex argument I had laid out here during the Conservative party conference, so he either reads this site or mystically came to identical conclusions in rather detailed ways.

    Now if someone could just listen to me on the ICT work visa and immigration issue there may actually be a chance of winning the next election?

    Yes electrification is not the answer to everything many folk imagine. It is certainly not always the greenest answer. It is certainly a lot more vulnerable to weather and vandalism. The way the East Coast line was electrified with the posts further apart the further North you go (I kid you not), means that by the time you are in Scotland the posts are very far apart and the wire blows all over the place making the line much less reliable.

    If I was the Conservative party I would read the train enthusiasts magazines over the last 12 months, and ruthlessly copy the best ideas from correspondents – you will get much better ideas than from the leaders of the rail businesses.

  11. S Matthews
    November 11, 2013


    Just a niggle. Many so called diesel engines are in fact diesel electric. The diesel acts as a generator so there are conversion losses. However your point is taken, a modern diesel electric is likely to be more energy efficient than an electric only engine. The big advantage of electrification is that we can generate the electricity from cheap coal and fracked gas, not expensive diesel fuel……..wait a minute!

    1. Anonymous
      November 11, 2013

      Diesel engines have to carry the weight of their own fuel.

      That said the weight of a 25kv transformer is not insignificant and carries more oil than a diesel engine.

      You are right, S Matthews. High powered diesel locos are electrical generators on wheels. Getting the fuel to remote fuel points also adds more inefficiency to the power supply chain.

  12. formula57
    November 11, 2013

    A related and “good news” headline @ http://www.macrobusiness.com.au/2013/11/coalition-abandons-high-speed-pie-in-the-sky/ – albeit from Australia where the new Coalition has cancelled “a high-speed rail link along the East Coast [that] would cost taxpayers $114 billion (in 2012 dollars) and take 45 years to complete”. Macrobusiness says “Leaving aside the fact that the project was planned decades into the future, and could therefore be considered “pie in the sky”, it also represented a massive waste of taxpayer funds

    A helpful precedent I would hope. At least it shows we are not alone in facing maladroit plans for rail investment and good outcomes can be brought about.

  13. George Boyle
    November 11, 2013

    I am sorry to say your comments about rail electrification are way off beam.

    It is true that electricity is a secondary fuel in this sense, but most diesel trains are diesel electric ie the diesel engine is generating electricity to drive the train wheel electric motors. Instead of the efficiencies of scale of a large power station, diesel trains are using thousands of small diesel engines to generate their electricity.

    Electric trains use electricity generated from any source, including renewable and nuclear something diesels cannot do.

    The big thing you missed is that electric trains regenerate when braking. Thus a Virgin Pendolino puts electric back in the wires for other trains to use which provides 19% of the total power requirement of the fleet. This more than outweighs any transmission losses in the wires from the power stations. Again this is something diesels cannot do.

    Electric trains are our insurance for the future. They can use renewable, nuclear or hydro power and, given the right investment, will ensure we would not be held to ransom by imported gas, oil or coal.

    1. Anonymous
      November 11, 2013

      Regenerative braking also saves millions on brake shoes.

  14. Neil craig
    November 11, 2013

    The problem is that for roads most of the choice is at the customer level so we have had a century of innovation with automated driving coming soon. Whereas rail is run top down (even before it was nationalised it was run by a few big companies) so trains are visibly little improved over the Victorian types and automated driving (orders of magnitude easier on rail) is rare. Modern technology could make rail work if there were the political desire.

  15. stred
    November 11, 2013

    The argument for a nationalised railway is more to do with the amalgamation of track and trains. When the system was split, an army of lawyers, accountants and managers became necessary in order to allocate responsibility and costs. It would have been possible to privatise the railways into regional companies owning track and trains, providing there was a way of ensuring that they let competitors use bits of each others track where necessary.

    1. Anonymous
      November 11, 2013

      Hear hear.

  16. John B
    November 11, 2013

    All Government policy nowadays has as its primary aim to meet ‘decarbonisation’ of the economy. Private business, house building for example, because of regulation forced on it has as its primary consideration ‘decarbonisation’.

    You must then view electrification of railways in those terms, consumers have become the sacrificial victims in the climate change sect of the environmental religion. Secular rulers have ever understood the power and benefit from supporting religion as an effective means of crowd control and means to take the crowd’s money without too much fuss.

    The railways have been de facto nationalised since 1914, so Government has had a vested interest in justifying its involvement by influencing the public to use it rather than other forms of transport.

    It has done this by distorting the transport market with regulation and taxation against other forms, by subsidy and favouritism for rail and of course in the name of the Ecogod, road transport has been demonised so that travelling by road, particularly by car is a mortal sin.

    In addition Government monopoly over the road system has allowed it to obstruct road transport merely by preventing construction, improvement and repair.

    Absent Government involvement surface transit may have evolved quite differently. Perhaps no more railways or railways of a different sort.

    At the start of the Industrial Revolution, canal transport was developed by private investment out of need, to provide a transport network the length and breadth of most of Britain.

    The railways came later as a competitor, quicker, cheaper and killed off Britain’s network of canals and transport by water.

    Had Government nationalised the canals at the onset, would we have railways?

    Supposedly the argument against State control of any of ‘the means of production, was won not least by the disaster of the Soviet Union, China and elsewhere, but the failure of Britain’s own experiment with this after 1945 and the revolution that Baroness Thatcher started in the 1980s and supposedly adopted by Labour afterwards.

    What are we to make then politicians who still cling to State collectives like the NHS, BBC, education, railways, market distortion in the energy industry with regulation, subsidy and taxation, trying to pick winners by ‘investing’ taxpayers’ money in their favourite cause, particularly when these politicians supposedly are Conservatives and such practice is entirely opposite to economic freedom a cornerstone of Conservatism?

    Even you Mr Redwood think the taxpayer should be forced to ‘invest’ in State projects aka ‘infrastructure’ rather than letting consumer driven market forces determine where resources, labour and capital are best used.

    Reply I do not recall advocating enforced investment where competitive free enterprise investment is possible.

  17. lifelogic
    November 11, 2013

    Indeed electric trains have few advantages other than that the polution is remote at the power station they are aften less efficient that a modern diesel and much more expensive due to the supply gantries and as you say less reliable too.

    We have no over capacity problems in trains if they stop subsidies and charge fares that cove costs they would have far fewer passengers too. Lets have a level playing field with cars and trucks and see which is more efficient by which people choose to use.

    The last think the country need is HS2 line, which helps no one for 15? years causes huge blight and disruption and will never pay back more than perhaps 25% of its cost at best.

    But to government trains bikes good car trucks, planes bad – though they use rather alot of cars and planes I note and get their deliveries by trucks.

    1. Bazman
      November 11, 2013

      You need to get your facts right on the advantages and disadvantages of railway electrification stop spouting pseudo science as fact like PPE graduate or a BBC Lefty loon with a degree an English Lit Dingbat. Should all subsides for railways be stopped there would be no railways except for a few profitable lines being plundered. The passengers and freight would then be on the roads which would not be able to cope no matter how much they where expanded. More PPE art graduate righty nonsense. All as pointed out to you before with no reply. leading me to believe you are deluded.

      1. lifelogic
        November 11, 2013

        “Should all subsides for railways be stopped there would be no railways except for a few profitable lines being plundered”

        Well that clearly shows they are largely pointless and inefficient without irrational subsidies. They make little sense in the small UK other than for a few commuter routes and the odd intercity route. The roads could cope just fine they carry 94% of traffic anyway already. A few flyovers and a little widening is all that is needed.

        1. Bazman
          November 12, 2013

          What about freight will all that be on the roads too? How would all the roads cope with all this extra traffic? A few flyovers and a wide of widening? Anything that has a subsidy is irrational and pointless? Like housing benefit and especially nuclear power? Your head is in the clouds with right wing think.

          1. frank salmon
            November 13, 2013

            Bazman. The logical case for investing in road transport above rail transport is overwhelming. Only a lunatic would believe that we have the balance right.

  18. Atlas
    November 11, 2013

    Agreed John, the priorities are wrong in the Network Rail 5 Year tractor plan.

    I imagine the electrification is meant to be part of move – championed by Cameron – to shift all transport to electricity as its only source of motive power. Presumably we are meant to rely upon wind power for all this extra energy as well – God help us.

    We could do with somebody at the helm who actually understands energy.

  19. Bob
    November 11, 2013

    What does it say about an industry that it receives huge taxpayer subsidy and yet it’s fares remain prohibitively expensive?

    Compare it with door to door road transport which generates enormous amounts in tax and duty including tax on duty and provides a far more convenient and efficient mode of transport?

    What sensible industry would actively discourage customers?

    Rush hour commuters are being asked to walk or cycle instead of taking trains on a London Underground line in an attempt to reduce overcrowding.

  20. Andrew
    November 11, 2013

    Thank you for writing about this.

    I’ve only recently become a fan of electrifying the railways. I remember growing up seeing electric trains running from a nearby station, and thinking how slow and odd they seemed compared to the 125s from my town’s station. I can well believe what you’re saying in terms of reliability and weather sensitivity.

    The reason I’ve become a (perhaps reluctant) fan is because of the question of power generation. The thing that I like about electricity is that it is a secondary fuel, and by far the most transferable of all such, even with the associated energy losses. I like that because I think we need better methods of power generation, and those tend to be static and remote from the point of use.

    At the moment burning hydrocarbons is pretty energy efficient, and engines are scaleable to the size of vehicle, from moped to train to 747. It’s just that, in terms of clean air and with a desire for expanding energy consumption (not to be wasteful, but to do more, including for people currently in poor nations to have a better standard of life), I don’t think hydrocarbons are satisfactory in the long term.

    As far fetched as this sometimes sounds, I wish we as a nation could successfully pioneer nuclear fusion power. There’s enough work going on globally to mean that we’re edging towards it, but I must confess that I’m impatient, especially since it would seem to enable so much, including efficient trains, and a greater energy supply for homes and businesses, without carbon emissions or other forms of air pollution, and without long term waste issues.

    So that’s the reason for my support of electrification. Absent that I’d agree with you on prioritising things like decreasing congestion into cities, etc.

  21. Stephen J Henstridge
    November 11, 2013

    Diesel versus electric: Most Diesel railway engines in the UK & elsewhere are, as far as I know, of the Diesel-Electric variety — a Diesel engine drives a generator to produce electricity to power the motors that drive the wheels. So, there is still loss due to energy conversion. How this compares in efficiency with all-electric I do not know, but it would be interesting to see some figures if anyone has them. Pure Diesel engines are really only efficient on light-weight engines, such as rail-cars.

  22. Mark B
    November 11, 2013

    Mr. Redwood MP said;
    “. . . . with 60% coming from government grants.”

    Don’t you mean Taxpayer subsidies ?

  23. Antisthenes
    November 11, 2013

    We know that nationalized businesses increase costs, waste and are inefficient and discourage better ways of doing things. Yet great swathes of the public, politicians and bureaucrats call for them wanting to return energy and water companies to public ownership. Indeed private ownership of these companies is far from perfect but that is mostly due to their structures that tend to be monopolistic in nature coupled with restrictive and costly regulations and ideological policies. The answer is not more government control but less and restructuring so that greater competition and choice is introduced on the lines that Mr Redwood suggests from time to time in his articles including this one. However while insufficient numbers of us do not see the follies of socialism and the madness’s being advocated by Labour and other left wing parties and the unions we are in for a very bleak future where costs are going to continue to outstrip our ability to pay for them.

  24. oldtimer
    November 11, 2013

    Is this the same Network Rail that is not scrutinised by the appropriate select committee? I believe it should fall within the remit of the Public Accounts Committee. If they are not up to the job, could the Treasury Committee be persuaded to take on the job? It has a Chairman ready and able to ask the awkward questions.

    1. Antisthenes
      November 11, 2013

      In my opinion select committees are almost a waste of time as too often the members are ignorant of the subject, lack investigative competence and are motivated by scoring political points. For them to be successful and give a truthful picture of whether those before the committee are behaving ethically and in the nations, their companies and customers best interests those committees should have with them competent forensic research assistants who can advise them of the relevant data already available and what and how questions should be asked and framed so as to extract the maximum amount of information and actually get to the truth. To give an example of how incompetent committee members can be Margret Hodge mp said in one select committee meeting that the tax people should do test cases in the courts against companies on tax matters. If she had looked it up she would have seen that the tax people had done so but had lost because EU tax law supersedes UK tax law. The tax people did not set her right on this probably I suspect for two reasons one they did not wish to volunteer information and two they did not want to cause more enmity by embarrassing her with the fact. She tells us her (own tax arrangement ed) is above reproach and obeys the tax laws implicitly. As far as I can see she, her committee and many politicians castigate many companies for doing exactly the same thing of obey the tax laws implicitly.

  25. HS2lurker
    November 11, 2013

    Off topic a bit, but have you seen comments by Profs Graham and Overman re the much hyped KPMG report on benefits of HS2? This is Treasury committee Nov 5, Q97-102 in particular. It seems quite extraordinarily poor estimation methods were employed in order to forecast productivity gains from connectivity.

    Should add, no axe to grind either way on HS2, just curious at the way cost/benefit being calculated.

    1. Mark
      November 13, 2013

      Also worth noting is KPMG’s disclaimer at the front of the report, which says in effect – use at your own risk, and do your own research, since we won’t be held liable for at all for the conclusions reached. All that is missing is a statement that the conclusions were as requested by the client.

  26. Terry
    November 11, 2013

    Does anyone in the DfT know what they are doing? Or the Treasury? Or the Cabinet?
    These people seem to be totally focused on carbon reduction in everything and I would like to know why.

    This misprioritised idealism is going to bring down the whole country but they remain in denial over their extremely unhealthy (for the economy) obsession with such a naive proposition to “save the world”.

  27. Bob
    November 11, 2013

    Off topic re the BBC #equal pay:

    The BBC has paid seven times more to Labour than Tory MPs over the past year to appear on its programmes.

    The corporation has shelled out nearly £40,000, but more than £32,000 of that went to Labour representatives compared to just over £4,650 to Tory MPs.

       From the Telegraph

    1. uanime5
      November 11, 2013

      Could this difference be due Labour MPs generally being from the Shadow Cabinet, while the majority of Conservative MPs weren’t ministers? After all minister may simply ask for more money.

      1. Edward2
        November 12, 2013


  28. Mike Wilson
    November 11, 2013

    Clearly no real thought has been given to this. Open up our mines, dig out the coal and build a new generation of steam locomotives.

    That would give those of us struggling with our energy bills the opportunity to scavenge along the railway lines looking for lumps of coal.

    On the locomotives, young offenders in chains could do the shovelling.

  29. forthurst
    November 11, 2013

    “It weighs in with a massive 958 pages.”

    Who produced it? Was it the Department for Transport? If you fill the civil service with Arts graduates why expect expect to get otherwise? You don’t expect solutions, surely? Who will read it?

    With the railways we have the privatisation of profits and the nationalisation of losses, much like the banking industry. This formula is nonviable.

    Deutsche Bahn is currently run as a private company 100% owned by taxpayer, although privatisation of a minority has been mooted. When the EU complained about the trains and track being in the same company, DB simply put them into separate subsidiaries. it appears to be running many subsidiaries abroad including in the UK, Arriva and DB Schenker Rail, profitably. So Deutsche Bahn has expanded as a transport infrastructure company abroad, as the UK has sold off its utilities to foreign businesses; I thought this only happened to third world countries following a visitation from the IMF/World Bank?

    The privatisation of British Rail by John Major (personal attack left out ed) has been a total disaster; apart from the manufacturing facilities, everything else should have been kept in one company. Many private businesses are profiting from the railways but the taxpayer is absorbing ever increasing losses.

    Reply The Report comes from the Office of Rail Regulation

    1. forthurst
      November 11, 2013

      “Reply The Report comes from the Office of Rail Regulation”

      I see the ORR is well furnished with Non-Executive and Executive Directors as, of course, is Network Rail; that’s just the track. Actually, I suspect ORR of being Civil Servants in camouflage. Their Annual Report on Page 21 contains a very odd section labelled. “Sustainable Development” which itemises how much CO2, Waste, Water, Finite Resources (which includes Electricity (Renewable) Kwh!) they have produced/used as a by-product of their essential activities, all neatly tabulated. Strange.


      How many Non-Executive and Executive Directors does it take to run a whole railway?

  30. The Prangwizard
    November 11, 2013

    I would be interested in some facts and figures for comparison so as to better understand the arguments. For example, on a given journey, how many electric trains could run in a given period? How many diesel electrics of the present type? And are there more modern diesel-electrics than we have at present which can go faster? I’m betting they would be built abroad? How many passengers could be carried per train in each case? What are the comparable journey times? If platforms were to be lengthened with the existing diesels how many extra passengers could be carried, assuming the engines could pull the extra weight, would the number exceed the electrics’ capacity, and what would the journey times then be? But if we had new and faster diesels would the tracks need to be re-laid to take the greater stresses?

    HS2 is to be all-electric and will have dedicated track I understand because diesel-electrics are just not up to High Speed and neither would the track be.

    As for Network Rail, what case is there for privatisation? I must say I’m not sure of its present ownership but it sounds like the UK State is the owner. It was said that Royal Mail could not be sold, and it took a very long time but it happened. Maybe we could devolve the track between Scotland, and England, and Wales somehow. If Scotland goes independent something would need to be done anyway.

    I presume private companies are prohibited allowed at present from building brand new lines at present, but that could be changed if it be true, and private money could be invested. Something like this may be happening already though – I think Chiltern Railways (German owned) is doing something like that between Oxford and London. This may be the reopening of old track-ways, and Network rail may still be the line-builder however. Am taking a flyer on this subject, haven’t done much research but I hope my questions may have some validity.

  31. Leslie Singleton
    November 11, 2013

    Seems there is more to electrification than meets the eye and I am happy to be educated (I read Chemistry not Engineering) but on the rest of my effort very early this morning–see the very top!– I have read all the above but so far cannot find one word (one never does) criticising a revival of the Great Central.

  32. uanime5
    November 11, 2013

    Electricity is a secondary fuel, so the energy losses are usually greater than with a primary fuel like diesel.

    Given that oil needs to be refined into diesel it’s likely that energy losses from diesel may be greater than energy losses from some other types of fuel.

    There are substantial energy losses in the power station, there are transmission losses, and then losses with the inefficiency of the electric engine. A diesel train only has one of these energy losses.

    Electricity is transmitted at a high amperage but a low voltage in order to minimise any losses caused by resistance in the wires. Energy is also used transporting diesel from refineries to fuelling stations (unless the fuelling station is connected to the refinery using a pipe).

    Just because the diesel engine has one energy loss and the electric engine has two doesn’t mean that the total amount of energy lost will be greater for the electric engine. Especially if energy can be generated from gas or coal then transmitted more efficiently than energy can be generated by burning diesel.

    One final advantage of electric trains is that they draw their power from overhead lines or the third rail, so they don’t need to carry tonnes of fuel with them. By contrast diesel trains either need to refuel at every station or carry large amounts of fuel. So electric trains are generally lighter and have more room for passengers.

    If the underlying electricity is primarily generated from gas and coal there is no great Co2 advantage either.

    It’s easier to add a carbon capture device to a power plant than a diesel train, so electric trains have an advantage even when their electricity is generated from gas and coal.

    1. Edward2
      November 12, 2013

      “Given that oil needs to be refined into diesel it’s likely that energy losses from diesel may be greater than energy losses from some other types of fuel”
      You really need to check your facts again Uni.
      This is not correct.

      1. Bazman
        November 12, 2013

        Why don’t you look on the internet for the advantages of electric trains over steam and diesel and why in the 20th century so many countries have pursued this. They are all wrong like scientist are about global warming and should use diesel instead?

        1. Edward2
          November 13, 2013

          Mising the point as usual Baz
          Uni was claiming something scientific which is plainly wrong.

          I don’t really care if trains run on diesel or electric, as it is something best left to the people who run the train companies to decide.
          As long as the decision is made on proper commercial grounds rather than pseudo science/environmental/political grounds then thats fine.

          1. Bazman
            November 13, 2013

            Commercial grounds meaning maximum profits for the railways and nothing else? As they are massively subsidised as almost all railways are, you are a fool to think this. The next this will be that this proves railways are no use. Simplistic logic as almost all advanced countries are investing in railways. They are all wrong I take it? More takeaway logic.

          2. Edward2
            November 17, 2013

            Tut tut can’t have profits can we Baz
            As usual State enterprises must only make losses and be subsidised by tax payers.

            Transport budget is all about balance and at the moment our leaders want us off the roads and onto trains.
            Its all about controlling us peasants.

            90% of all freight still goes by roads.

          3. Bazman
            November 18, 2013

            Looking at the price of a train ticket 50 miles from London and the number of empty first class carriages how you can say a middle class method of transport such as train are forcing peasants to use them is for the birds. In many cases the peasants have to use a car as they cannot afford the train into London? So much for that argument. In many cases they take the car to the station. Are they just stupid to pay for rip off parking charges on top? No. In most cases their companies pay their fares for them why do they not force them to take their cars then? Do tell?! High fares high subsidies to pay for private company dogma, but used by private companies who no doubt claim to fare back in taxes.
            All aboard the gravy train!
            You will no doubt predictably tell us that this means we should make road transport cheaper as this is the problem. No it is not. Ram it.

    2. stred
      November 12, 2013

      Euani. I am not an electrical engineer but always understood that by using high voltage the size of the conducting cable can be proportionately reduced. This enables more current or amps to be carried and losses through heating are reduced. This is why the national grid uses high voltage lines. Watts=amps x volts is the formula.

    3. forthurst
      November 12, 2013

      “Electricity is transmitted at a high amperage but a low voltage in order to minimise any losses caused by resistance in the wires.”

      Ah ha! Now we know with certitude that unanime5’s knowledge of physical science is well below O level Physics. In future, every time he pontificates about climate, he needs to be reminded of this.

      The heating effect of a current is I^2R which is why the grid uses high voltage transmission lines.

      1. Bazman
        November 12, 2013

        Transmission losses are a factor, but given that the Trans Siberian railway is electric and well over 5000 miles long. Even though they are deluded communists they would not have made it electric for fun would they?

        1. Mark
          November 13, 2013

          In Siberian winter temperatures diesel fuel clouds up and then becomes waxy, before freezing altogether. Even jet kerosene freezes at around -47 Centigrade. There are quite a few hydroelectric power stations along the Trans Siberian route – water still flows underneath the ice in rivers and lakes.

          It was a common sight in Russia to see fires being lit under the sumps of trucks in winter to warm up the engine oil and fuel to usable temperatures. Another trick for petrol engines was to take out the spark plugs and heat them in a gas flame (good tongs and insulated gloves required).

          1. Bazman
            November 14, 2013

            -47 is extreme even by Russian standards. Everything would stop even there except for military vehicles until the temperature got to up about -30 Centigrade. A house I was at was pre revolutionary and basically the rooms were built around two large kilns for heating and cooking. looks like overkill along with the 2′ thick walls and two sets of windows on a 30+ centigrade summers day. I am assured that it is not. Now redundant due to waste heating water from a power station and radiators. The Samovar on the train is interesting. Able to run on any fuel with a digram of the parts needed and dimensions required etched into laminated plastic screwed to the wall. What does that tell you about the Russian winter? Legendary.

        2. Mark
          November 13, 2013

          “for fun”? The Trans Siberian was built mainly with prison labour from the GULAGs, as a glorification of Soviet leaders, paraded frequently on TV news as a great Soviet achievement. Not for fun.

          1. Bazman
            November 14, 2013

            It was not mainly built for this if you bother to look it up, though was no doubt used for this purpose, the gulags where however all over the country.

          2. Edward2
            November 17, 2013

            Mainly holiday trips I suppose Baz as happy commies and their families were given the odd day off from their pitiful existance.

            You are an apologist for the most evil empire that ever existed.

          3. Bazman
            November 18, 2013

            Why don’t you look it up instead of ranting? The communist were only in power for about seventy years. They wanted communism, or at least some did, and got extreme capitalism which is another form of communism without the advantages.
            Stalin was really just another Tsar but even more ruthless. They now live in a gangster state run for the benefit of about a thousand people and we are heading in that direction. A statue of Lenin in Samara points and the joke is he is saying “This way to prison comarades!”

  33. Robert Taggart
    November 12, 2013

    ‘Notwork Rail’ was doomed from its inception – choosing Ian McAllister as Chairman !…
    People had forgotten his crass decision in ’92 or ’93 to raise the price of new Ford cars – by the same amount the then Chancellor Norman ‘Lament’ had reduced them by – upon abolition of the Sales Tax for such (not being an economist – and going from memory – the actual wording may not be precise).

  34. Lindsay McDougall
    November 12, 2013

    Network Rail’s borrowings, as you say about to rocket to £49.6 billion, are off balance sheet because Network Rail is a corporation. Yet everyone agrees that Network Rail are only able to borrow on the money markets because the State will underwrite Network Rail if necessary. My opinion is that you should be crying ‘stinking fish’ very loudly IN PARLIAMENT.

    May I dare to recommend that you take a leaf out of Enoch Powell’s book. Be prepared to embarrass your own side, provided that you embarrass the Socialists more.

  35. S Matthews
    November 12, 2013

    ‘Electricity is transmitted at a high amperage but a low voltage in order to minimise any losses caused by resistance in the wires.’

    Utter garbage.

  36. jon
    November 12, 2013

    I was an HS2 advocate, a rail user and believe (still do) that better transport links from South to North would generate more economic activity in the North. Then in the summer I read that they could put Javelin trains on the west coast (trains used on HS1) for £7bn. Well if they could do that then why are we looking at a £40bn HS2 route? Okay I’m not a rail techi so didn’t realise this point before but surely the cost benefit of that is much more?

  37. Tony Brannigan
    November 13, 2013

    ond comparison may not be completely fair. I don’t beleive that rail franchises give the government a veto over executive appointments at rail companies, or the power to subsequently fire them or issue arbitrary fines…


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