Engineering works on the line

Getting back to work yesterday should have been easy, as the numbers of people travelling to work seemed well down. Fortunately I did not go by train and tube, as Westminster tube station was closed for engineering works, along with the Circle and District lines westbound and a large section of the Jubilee line. Some mainline trains were also still disrupted by the well advertised engineering works that have overrun and caused chaos at Christmas.

I understand the need to carry out engineering works. I understand the aim to do them when the country’s workforce is on holiday, though that disrupts people who want to travel to visit families and friends over the holiday period. This Christmas it seems that engineering works overran Network Rail’s planned times, leaving the railway struggling to meet demand and failing to keep people properly informed of what limited service is available. Once again the railway did not wish to provide a service on the holiday itself.

On Sunday morning I heard a review of the papers by three celebrities on Radio 4. They majored on condemning the appalling lack of service on some mainline train lines, loosely related to the papers they were meant to be reviewing. The high point came when Barry Cryer opined that we needed to nationalise the railways to sort out all these problems! Mr Cryer was apparently unaware that all the current engineering problems are the result of actions and inactions by Network Rail, the nationalised owner of the track and signals. He made no mention of the very highly paid Chief Executive of this nationalised company, a state employee, who thinks being on holiday is more important than sorting out the failings of his(and our) railway to do the engineering works on time and to keep travellers informed of changes to services. Worse still, the audience in the studio clapped his wish to see Network Rail nationalised as some of them are also unaware of our collective ownership and mismanagement of most of the railway’s assets!

As nationalisation clearly is not the answer, what is? In the short term a change of management would be a good idea. Surely the state could hire a better Chief Executive for less money than the current one? Someone with a sense of public service and duty, who would want to supervise when things might go wrong or have gone wrong. Better directions to Network Rail on what is expected, and a vigorous attack upon poor management to get more efficient use of the assets is the least that should happen. Longer term we may need structural changes in how our rail system is financed and managed.

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  1. Richard1
    Posted December 30, 2014 at 6:55 am | Permalink

    It is extraordinary that calls by leftists for renationalisation of the railways gets a cheer – even from the highly selected audience of a TV studio. Peoples’ ignorance that Network Rail is nationalized is very extraordinary also. Likewise failure (by anyone over 40) to remember quite how bad the railway was when it was nationalized (when by the way it also used to serve far fewer travelers).

    Let’s by all means change the management of Network Rail. But lets also recognise that rail is fundamentally an expensive an inefficient method of providing transportation, and in particular that it offers very poor return on public investment.

    What about instead looking at superfast broadband to cover 100% of the population? That would be a fraction of the cost, would benefit far more people and offer far greater returns than rail investment such as the absurd HS2.

    • Lifelogic
      Posted December 30, 2014 at 9:05 am | Permalink

      “But lets also recognise that rail is fundamentally an expensive an inefficient method of providing transportation, and in particular that it offers very poor return on public investment.”

      Indeed trains usually are inefficient, other than for a few commuting some intercity journeys. The main problem is the need for a special dedicated track and fencing off of this track, the staff needs and costs, the ticketing costs, the power it gives certain trade unions, the fact that should a line get damaged you often cannot easily go round it, the problems of connections at each end (often a car making two there & back journeys), the endless boring announcements, the dreadful food, the last minute cancellations……..

      • Bazman
        Posted December 30, 2014 at 10:57 am | Permalink

        As pointed out to you on numerous occasions without reply trains are more efficient in carrying large number of passengers over long distance. The idea that trains could be replaced by roads is just stupid and has been shown to you before.
        Could you please tell us why Europe the rest of the world is investing in rail in particular high speed rail and why we are so far behind in this? You believe this is a good thing and indeedy should be spending less? Trundling along in your old a car cheerly waving to 1950’s passers by stopping occasionaly to have a flask of tea out of a whicker basket is as real as you get.

        • libertarian
          Posted December 30, 2014 at 4:06 pm | Permalink


          Maybe but passengers don’t make long trips on the whole and the rail network covers more local/commuting than intercity.

          Here’s the stats

          The average trip length is just 7 miles

          64% of all trips are by car
          22% walk
          6% Bus
          3% Train

          On long distance travel the figures are these

          Car 78% of all long distance trips
          Train 9%
          Coach/bus 5%

          95% of ALL trips were less than 25 miles in length

          36 million drivers 80% of households have a car

          Far from being stupid roads long ago replaced trains as the major form of long distance travel

          Evidence and full stats here

          • Richard1
            Posted December 30, 2014 at 8:42 pm | Permalink

            The great advantage of roads are their flexibility – they take you from start to finish when you want to go, and their reliability – they never go on strike.

        • waramess
          Posted December 30, 2014 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

          “……..trains are more efficient in carrying large number of passengers over long distance.”

          If that is true Bazman then let’s privatise the lot, line by line, and see it prosper against road and air competition or, if it is unable to operate profitably, then let it fail and let shareholders take the pain whilst others, more able pick up the pieces from the liquidator.

          • Bazman
            Posted December 30, 2014 at 6:18 pm | Permalink

            There would be no railways if there was 100% privatisation except the most profitable routes which would be plundered. The rest of the infrastructure would be sold off and when questioned the railway companies would say they have a business to run and it is not their fault.
            Europe and the rest of the world must be going down a dead end with all their investment in railways libtard? The increasingly large numbers of commuters also must not have discovered what you are saying is right despite the large costs of rail travel verses the car. They need to drive into London instead and not just to the supermarket. The fools!
            Helicopters are far better and efficient in my opinion though.

          • libertarian
            Posted December 31, 2014 at 11:12 am | Permalink


            Don’t EVER try and run a business you haven’t got a clue. If you shut down most of the rail network the so called “most profitable routes” would no longer be profitable as they would have to bare all the infrastructure costs on their own.

            The biggest investors in railways are China and India both of whom have incredibly low ownership of cars.

            Japan is the biggest user of rail systems of the developed countries. They have the most advanced trains including hi speed, hover and monorail. The Japanese rail network is operated by 100 totally private companies.

            Deutsche Bahn and approx 500 private railway companies operate a total of 23,496 powered rail vehicles in Germany. Like Network Rail Duetsche Bahn is a private company owned by the government.

            France has the largest nationalised rail network in Europe however it has the smallest percentage of total journeys. The vast majority being made by car.

            So Bazman please explain who in Europe it is that we should be copying

          • Bazman
            Posted January 2, 2015 at 9:08 am | Permalink

            The prices would just be set at whatever the train company like to cover any running costs and maximum profit. The can now do thsi the government pays nothing and has no influence other than basic health and safety which the company runs there trains on the bear legal minimum. The rich have their own carriage at the front the middle get robbed blind in the next set of carriages and the cheapest get standing room in a cattle truck. Its economics.
            German trians are good and quite cheap a very useful facility for the state and its citizens. Russia china and India are very large countries so even if everyone had a car long journeys would be to far.
            Americas train system which is ever expanding why is this given their massive and very good road system?
            Driving is good for short journeys and none is saying driving is bad only deluded people like yourself are saying it can replace railways. Remind us why so many use the railways here especially to commute to London?

      • Anonymous
        Posted December 30, 2014 at 11:41 am | Permalink

        Then why the public outcry when they’re closed to the public, Lifelogic ?

        One good thing about privatisation is that it managed to fragment the railway unions. They must now bargain on a regional basis.

        • Lifelogic
          Posted December 30, 2014 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

          The problem was they shut down at the last minute without any notice disrupting many peoples travel plans.

          If trains are so efficient why do they often cost about five-ten times more than sending people door to door in a full car? And that despite the fiscal subsidy bias against cars.

          • Bazman
            Posted December 30, 2014 at 11:41 pm | Permalink

            Its called infrastructure and not all costs/benefits are related directly to the train. They need subsidy and most countries do this. If we are to compete should we not also subsidise trains or should we just lag behind. Roads cannot be built to make trains unnecessary. Third world infrastructure as long as it complies with dogma? Is the rest of Europe without trains? Maybe in you tax haven you do not even need a car? How sensible.

        • Bazman
          Posted December 30, 2014 at 9:04 pm | Permalink

          And so must the fare payers when buying a ticket. How much did this cut massive payouts to bosses. Remind us.

    • Alan Wheatley
      Posted December 30, 2014 at 11:16 am | Permalink

      Richard1, I agree with your point about broadband.

      Those living in high population density areas (which by and large have better broadband coverage) and who argue against themselves having to fund, through their taxes, the roll-out of high-speed broadband to low population density areas should realise the increased customer base that results.

      However, the mess that is Broadened Delivery UK, introduced under Labour, has got worse under to Coalition.

      • Richard1
        Posted December 30, 2014 at 8:45 pm | Permalink

        Broadband in the UK is very poor by comparison with most countries, including many developing countries. Its a huge hindrance to entrepreneurial activity and even to fashionable political causes such as flexible working for women. The fact that the political establishment is more or less united in thinking HS2 is a better way to spend c. £100bn is a sign of how inadequate our political structures are, and the people who nowadays manage to rise through them.

        • Alan Wheatley
          Posted December 31, 2014 at 2:26 pm | Permalink


          The political irony is that HS2 attracts lots of opposition where as some of that money spent (sensibly) on broadband would receive lots of support.

  2. Lifelogic
    Posted December 30, 2014 at 6:58 am | Permalink

    Exactly, but why do so many people think this way? It is because of sloppy, institutionally left wing organisations like the BBC constantly misinforming them. That and the fact taht most people do not feel they have enough scientific or specific knowledge to question the BBC bogus “experts”. Experts who clearly often do not even understand what “positive feedback” is or what units energy can be measured in as they frequently illustrate.

    Thanks to “BBC think” many people also think using trains, buses, walking and cycling are more “environmental”. In fact, door to door, all things considered (tracks, staff, food production, connections, convenience, time) and fully accounted for, they rarely are. Yet it is still widely believed they are.

    The overriding problem is that almost all at the BBC are innumerate arts graduates largely ignorant of science, maths, engineering, logic and reason. They operate on a sort of short hand lefty belief system. Car/Planes bad Bikes/Electric cars good, public sector good profit motive and private sector bad. The endlessly even have deluded Bishops/religious figures and thought for the day types bombarding us with half baked, vacuous drivel. Why not some independent engineers, sound economists and physicists who could explain the real problems of power production and transport systems to the public? After all nature will not be fooled by government PR and Propaganda.

    The phrase the constantly used by these BBC types is “the government should invest in X Y or Z”. But clearly governments can only “invest” by first taking money off people or businesses who would. nearly always. have invested it far better (or by borrowing it which largely amounts to the the same thing).

    The same problem (of innumerate arts graduates largely ignorant of science, maths, engineering, logic and reason) infects this government to its very core. Why else would one no promote Peter Lilley and actually sack Owen Patterson types yet retain the C Huhne, Ed Davey and in the past the Gummer, Yeo types?

    Vote blue get entirely bogus green crap and all pay through the nose for it is the message. When Cameron types look at statistics they think what can I selectively use from this for PR and to con people to vote for us. When engineers/scientists look at figures they tend to think what does this tell me that might help me improve things.

    • JoeSoap
      Posted December 30, 2014 at 8:39 am | Permalink

      There is also the “nice” factor.
      Cameron will never turn round like our host and tell the Scots that all their arguments about being “independent” end up worth less than a pile of beans when they need to send their first case of a serious disease straight to London. I think it unlikely that the French would send a French national to London for Ebola treatment.
      Sometimes you have to say “I told you so”, and he is just too full of “bonhomie” to do so. He’d rather promise the world and then deliver nothing.

    • willH
      Posted December 30, 2014 at 9:08 am | Permalink

      Nice to read such good sense Lifelogic.

    • Bazman
      Posted December 30, 2014 at 11:16 am | Permalink

      Pig ignorant right wing nonsense is not science. No matter how much proof is put forward you want more. Except when the the evidence is overwhelming then it is harrumphed and ignored as we have seen in engineering proof given to you if it does not fit in with deluded ideology. Such as cycling a bad and inefficient method of transport over short distances when all common sense says otherwise. This is scientific thinking?

      • Lifelogic
        Posted December 30, 2014 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

        I do not say cycling is bad but (all things considered food fuel etc.) it is not environmentally better and it is circa 15- 30 times more dangerous in cities too.

        • Bazman
          Posted December 30, 2014 at 11:34 pm | Permalink

          Farting produces more airborne dirt than cars in London does it? As pointed out to you before no more calories needed to be consumed as most people consume to many already in the form of cheap sugars and fats. Pseudo non-scientific nonsense pretending to be fact. The dangers need to be addressed like in other forward looking progressive cities, but not in the form of Boris bike vanity nonsense which should have been spent on public transport for those without access to a car. Write some sense for once man.

          • Lifelogic
            Posted December 31, 2014 at 11:44 pm | Permalink

            You have indeed pointed it out but you are just wrong even the document you cited largely agreed with my position. Perhaps you should have read it.

          • Bazman
            Posted January 1, 2015 at 9:22 pm | Permalink

            You are seriously telling us we need to eat more calories if we are to ride a bike given the amount of overweight people in this country and these calories will come from fine wine and salmon? You cannot see the wood for the trees and are producing an argument to fit your own deluded views as many right wingers do. A calling for extreme capitalism whilst not being able to last a day in a country like that. A concern over health and safety of cycling but little concern of health and safety in the work place. Not being able to ride a bike or a fear of riding a bike across London is the real reason and not unconnected.

          • Bazman
            Posted January 2, 2015 at 9:18 am | Permalink

            The document, if you read it to the end said what I wrote above. You are taking the parts you want to be the truth and citing them as the whole story.
            The crux of the argument is that humans eat to many calories often produced and transported by oil and these can be used for transportation in an efficient way which is a bike. It does not say driving is more efficient than cycling only that cycling is inefficient for these reasons. Your dislike of any physical activity is your own personal problem and you use safety, fairness and efficiency to back you own bias in any subject in all other cases you dismiss and harumphh these factors as foolish academia like all other right wingers.

    • Bazman
      Posted December 30, 2014 at 9:18 pm | Permalink

      There is little respect for anything scientific or skilful by swathes of deluded righty whingers. Medicine is just human plumbing, trades are just learned skills by monkeys. If you can do the work why should you be paid more? Science in general is hocus pokus. Anti intellectuals are across the right wing spectrum except when pseudo science proves them right. Any real science if it contradicts their beliefs is harrumphed like a false god. Has been for centuries. Bacteria? Little animals living all around us that we cannot see?! How foolish! What fools believes this?! Managers and money managers are seen as doing magical work on the other hand against all laws and rules and should be rewarded even for failure as they cannot fail by their own judgement. We all know where pig ignorance and fantasy lies.

  3. JoeSoap
    Posted December 30, 2014 at 8:24 am | Permalink

    I think that when you have the mess that is currently the present rail system or present NHS, you have a recipe for misunderstanding amongst the public and radio presenters alike.

    For rail, the distribution system is public, but the operators are private and the total system is a mess. Who is responsible for informing the public when trains don’t run? It might be the fault of the distributor or the operator. Nobody really knows or cares, and nobody informs the public when there are problems. Perhaps it should be the duty of the regulator to obtain and offer communication to customers about late/non-running trains, to press for compensation for passengers and to press for changes in the system when needed?

    For the NHS, the public perception is the reverse, of a public system but the issues are similar.

    • Anonymous
      Posted December 30, 2014 at 11:54 am | Permalink

      The railway is …and isn’t a mess.

      People may laud the Victorians for their great engineering works but they killed an awful lot of people carrying them out. From navvies to the travelling public themselves.

      The railways have never been safer than they are today. In fact Network Rail runs the safest railway in Europe and that’s official. Better than France and better than Germany it this respect.

      People who are not engineers simply don’t understand the complexities of engineering – nor the unexpected problems which can arise given only a very short timescale to complete the job which also includes the set-up and take-down of a safe work site within that schedule.

      Yes. The Victorians had a greater output – but they also took greater risks.

      Yes. The Germans are more efficient at engineering – because they value engineers and have more of them.

      I notice that the most prominent critics of Network rail engineering are people whose only real skill is writing (not you, Dr Redwood !) The journalists.

      Perhaps these critics ought to have put their talents towards engineering instead and our country might be better for it.

      On the other hand… I doubt they would know one end of a spanner from the other.

      • Anonymous
        Posted December 30, 2014 at 11:56 am | Permalink

        PS, I agree. The head of NR might have anticipated that things would go wrong and should have been available.

        • Anonymous
          Posted December 30, 2014 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

          PPS – (in anticipation of the comment about safety, to which my PS applies, being published)

          We have a writer (Ross Clark) in the Daily Express saying “the weekend’s disaster…”

          While I agree that the disruptions were horrible what ‘disaster’ is he talking about ?

          There were 2000 sites manned by 11000 engineers over Christmas undertaking incredibly complex work which included the installation of bridges and flyovers – high voltage electrical installation and safety critical (nowadays extremely hi tech) signalling.

          Those grown up (and level headed) engineers averted ‘disaster’ by taking the brave decisions to extend their possessions of the lines to complete work only until they were satisfied that things were safe and I don’t doubt that some of them (having written dissertations for their degrees) could write a convincing article for the Express whereas Mr Clark might not be able to spend a weekend supervising a civil engineering project nearly so convincingly.

          Perhaps their only crime was to not demand three days for work instead of just two.

          So what word does Ross Clark use for a catastrophic train crash if ‘disaster’ applies to over running engineering work.

          That the work was purposefully undertaken in the middle our longest public holiday means that he can’t even claim this to have been an economic disaster.

          This is not to understate the the severe disruption and heartache for people – but it pales into insignificance in comparison to a real ‘disaster.’

          This is not to comment on the pay scale for Network Rail executives but they do have an onerous amount of responsibility probably consider not being on a charge of manslaughter today as being a mark of engineering success.

          • JoeSoap
            Posted December 30, 2014 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

            This is inexcusable. There are basically 2 issues.
            1 The lack of basic information about what was happening DID nearly cause a disaster of overcrowding both ahead of and in stations including Finsbury Park. Does Hillsborough ring any bells? A similar scale of disorganisation here, but this time we got lucky.
            Lack of communication about delayed trains caused thousands of people to be unnecessarily delayed.
            2 Apparently “engineers” turning up with the wrong track-laying equipment TWICE was a major cause of the delays. Lack of skills, leadership and planning, all rolled into one.

            For a crowded island, we are lousy organisers and we place no real value on engineering and technical capability and the ability to plan and organise. When you roll this all together with an ambitious project over a public holiday period in freezing temperatures, you are asking for disaster.

          • Anonymous
            Posted December 30, 2014 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

            *Correction* 200 sites.

            Joe Soap


            So you say. But it didn’t happen. There was no ‘disaster’. The inquiry will tell us how close it was so shall we wait for that ?

            Delivery of the wrong plant: I’m sure that mistakes were made. They weren’t compounded by relenting to time pressure and opening too early forsaking rail safety. I don’t doubt for a minute that heads have already rolled at the grunt’s level on that one.

            “We are lousy at organising things in this crowded island”

            Well actually we are not ‘lousy’ at it. We do remarkably well bearing in mind that we are – as you say – crowded. And isn’t it a great pity that such a densely populated island can produce so many people who can talk and write a great deal but so few who can turn a spanner or slew a track over ?

            We agree that this is because dirty-handed trades are not respected here whereas bluffers and slickers are .

            The middle of the Christmas recess ? When better to do it ?

            I do my best not to travel distance by ANY means over this period.

          • Anonymous
            Posted December 30, 2014 at 5:11 pm | Permalink

            Joe Soap

            Further to my last comment to you.

            The world of subcontracting is pretty merciless and retribution against employees for mistakes is instant. In fact few organisations readily fire people (or demand they resign quickly) with the exception of UKIP (Politicians of other parties are known to cling on to their careers like limpets despite bigger errors than have been made at Network Rail.)

            The subcontractors employed by Network Rail will represent privateering at its keenest and it would be interesting to know if private companies were involved or in any way to blame for some of these mistakes.

            In fact the only way, it seems, to ensure that an engineering project comes in on time is to employ the *very* nationalised British Army’s REME.

  4. formula57
    Posted December 30, 2014 at 9:34 am | Permalink

    ” Surely the state could hire a better Chief Executive for less money than the current one?” It could, but it will not. Just as it could replace Chris Smith at the Environment agency, a man who despite your expectation of some while ago post last year’s Somerset floods that “he will not be there for very long” remains in office still.

  5. alan jutson
    Posted December 30, 2014 at 10:16 am | Permalink

    Yet again the BBC are shown up for what they preach.

    They have a poor choice list of guests, giving opinions on air, who seem to have a complete lack of knowledge and fact.

    Once again we have had a past government cock up with confusing and complicated privatisation, which still requires a taxpayer subsidy.
    We are now going to complicate matters further by spending £80 billion on a high speed railway track that no one really wants, when that same money could be used to better effect by being spread rather wider across the whole network for better gain.

    The simple fact is that when any service is running at or near its full capacity, any maintenance at all is likely to bring the chance of disruption because of a whole range of possible unforeseen problems, as any sensible engineer will confirm.

    The biggest problem we seem to have in this country with our infrastructure is the lack of speed on repairing properly, or constructing new roads, with the use of 24 hour working.

    Why is it we still only work 8 hours per day on most roadworks, and where cones stand like discarded and unused policemen for 16 hours a day.

    Reply Roads and rail track are nationalised, so they impose huge delays and inconvenience on their users. Cf airports, which would not dream of closing main runways for resurfacing during working hours.

    • alan jutson
      Posted December 30, 2014 at 11:19 am | Permalink


      I agree, working out of trading hours is sensible, so why do we not do that on our roads, after all we do pay for Private contractors to both compete and complete for such work.

      But then:

      I seem to recall Heathrow being closed for days a Couple years ago, due to snow on the runways which could not be cleared due to lack of equipment..

      Gatwick also closed for days at the same time as a family member (aged in their 70’s) will confirm having slept in the waiting area’s after being told its all shutdown (all hotels fully booked at the time).

      Face facts John, anything Running at 98% capacity all of the time only requires a small hiccup to cause massive disruption.

      The solution is to surely allow a greater working margin by allowing a capacity increase (Hospitals and Airports), something the Government seem reluctant to do.

      Airports should be commercially funded, so no reliance on the taxpayer as an excuse.

    • Bazman
      Posted December 30, 2014 at 11:20 am | Permalink

      Did you see the disgusting bias interview with Mark Carne on SKY. He was questioned quite severely. Oh it was not the BBC so it is OK and not bias left wing interrogation.

      • alan jutson
        Posted December 30, 2014 at 4:58 pm | Permalink


        Sorry did not see the interview you mention, so cannot comment because I will not pay for SKY.

        We use FreeSat in our house, so no monthly fees to pay.

        • Bazman
          Posted December 31, 2014 at 10:01 am | Permalink

          SKY News is on Freesat alan. That is how I was watching the interview. Channel 132 on my box. Ton of adverts to boot. How do these influence their reporting. Naive to say they do not.

          • alan jutson
            Posted December 31, 2014 at 5:40 pm | Permalink


            How right you are, but I still did not see it, must have either been switched off, or viewing something else.

            So many channels so much rubbish, we tend to record what we want to see, then play back at a suitable time whilst skipping the ads, saves a huge amount of time !

            Quite honestly I get rather tired viewing or listening to the news more than once or twice a day, as I get rather fed up with all of the so called experts peddling their own thoughts.

    • Anonymous
      Posted December 30, 2014 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

      “Why is it we still only work 8 hours per day on most roadworks, and where cones stand like discarded and unused policemen for 16 hours a day.”

      I travel at all hours and see road workers working all hours. Unless you are there 24 hours a day I assume your ’16 hours a day’ is a guesstimate. The cones remain in place because it would take so long to put them out and take them back in between jobs – set-up/take-down of safe worksites is itself time consuming and costly.

      • alan jutson
        Posted December 30, 2014 at 5:06 pm | Permalink


        You may well be correct when talking about absolutely prime locations, but I was talking in more general terms.

        I don’t need to be there 24 hours a day to see whats going on, any good manager or site agent will tell you that.
        Indeed I supervised (and was responsible) for my own construction workforce for 30 years.

        It really is not difficult to know whats going on, or who is swinging the lead.

        If I go past lines and lines of cones and no one is present, then I can see there is no working.

        When you make the journey early morning, and return along the same route in the opposite direction in the evening, then I think I can make the assumption that people are not going to turn up at midnight.
        Similar situation during the weekends at midday.

      • Bazman
        Posted December 30, 2014 at 9:07 pm | Permalink

        Much is safety related and not understood by the public, especially desk jockeys, though stopping the traffic for two hours to fix some Armco after a crash beggars belief.

    • Anonymous
      Posted December 30, 2014 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

      Reply to Dr Redwood’s reply to Alan Jutson: The roads and rail may be nationalised. The subcontractors working on them and involved in the delays aren’t, however.

      Airports are an appalling experience too in Britain. Why are we shoved through duty free ? (How much fuel is wasted on airliners carrying it btw ?)

    • Bazman
      Posted December 30, 2014 at 8:43 pm | Permalink

      They might cut back on snow removing equipment though and many other facilities as they are little used and are ‘uneconomical’ We have not forgot that one John and niether should you.

  6. forthurst
    Posted December 30, 2014 at 10:18 am | Permalink

    The problems of our railways all stem from the disastrous fragmentation orchestrated by John Major; this has created structural inefficiencies costing the country billions from the artificial profit centres, some public, some private, charging each other for services and service failures whilst the costs for capital expenditures, picked up by the taxpayer, are hidden in the balance sheet of the pretend private Network Rail as Assets.

    It is noteworthy that Deutsche Bahn, whilst following the letter of Brussels’ dictatorial meddling in our national railways, did not manage to create a dog’s breakfast in the manner achieved here; is this because their civil servants or their ministers had higher IQs than ours or what? Their whole railway is nationalised as Deutsche Bahn, but split into discrete operating units for passengers, freight, network infrastructure, and foreign passenger operations.

    The objective of running a loss-making public service is to lose as little as possible commensurate with providing an adequate service, not to lose as much as possible by creating the sorts of inefficiencies beloved of accountants, shuffling money around different cost centres, and in providing spurious profits to private companies who may not pay tax here, whilst deriving their income ultimately from the British taxpayer.

    Reply On the contrary. Most of the railway problems emerge from the nationalised industry which still owns and operates all the track, signals and property of the railway. Service frequency and passenger numbers started to rise after years of decline under a fully nationalised monopoly when the train operating companies were introduced.

    • stred
      Posted December 30, 2014 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

      The point is that, because they are separate companies and responsibilities, they need separate contracts ans hordes of extra lawyers and managers to allocate blame and compenstation. This is added to the ticket price.

      • stred
        Posted December 30, 2014 at 12:10 pm | Permalink


    • Anonymous
      Posted December 30, 2014 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

      The biggest problem is shortage of coaching stock and trains much shorter than BR provided.

      This is partly attributable to an unexpected resurgence in rail usage and an unexpected increase in population.

      It isn’t just Network Rail that gets its forcasting completely wrong. Governments do too !

    • forthurst
      Posted December 30, 2014 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

      Reply to reply:

      The Infastructure was originally privatised as Railtrack, a collection of fragmented assets, masquerading as individual operating companies, from the entrails of British Railways. Railtrack was so popular and successful that a period of national mourning ensued following its renationalisation by Labour. As to the success in achieving greater passenger numbers than under British Railways, this can in part be ascribed to the policies of uncontrolled mass immigration under recent Labour and Conservative governments, leading to ‘white flight’ from some cities, notably London, and a corresponding increase in commuting.

      Train operation requires far less investment and engineering skill than operating the corresponding infrastructure, such that it is within the scope of a bus company. It is also true that, under BR, successive governments refused to provide adequate capital investment in both rolling stock and infrastructure.

  7. Alan Wheatley
    Posted December 30, 2014 at 11:06 am | Permalink

    When considering the way forward is as as well to bear in mind that the only reason we have railways is as a result of private initiative and finance, and that under nationalisation the railways declined.

    It is also worth being in mind that the railways reached their peak over 100 years ago, and their importance as a means of transport has been in decline ever since as better and more appropriate means have taken their place for people and goods.

    The railways remain an import, but niche, player.

  8. acorn
    Posted December 30, 2014 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

    How ironic! In 1994 a Conservative government, privatised the railways; invented and floated on the stock exchange Railtrack plc, which subsequently went bust in 2002. On 1 September 2014, Network Rail (a sort of Quango with undefined legal ownership) was forced to be reclassified by a Conservative government as a “central government body”. (Adding around £34 billion to public sector net debt.) This to comply with European accounting standard ESA10.

    All governments make sure they can claim “plausible deniability”, by having a couple of Quangos or “arms length” agencies, between politicians and any blame if something goes wrong, and fills the media with possible vote losing copy. Witness JR’s post above, “nothing to do with me governor”. Network Rail only became a “nationalised industry” again, on 1st September 2014. JR wants you to think it was never privatised by his Major government and bailed out in 2002.

  9. libertarian
    Posted December 30, 2014 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

    Railways are a 19th century anachronism in the 21st century.

    In a geographically small island like ours they are inefficient and not cost effective

    1) Invest in total coverage mobile telephony and ultra fast broadband .

    2) Pave over the rail track and make them coach expressways

    3) Improve & expand regional airports instead of adding to Gatwick & Heathrow & M25 congestion

    • Anonymous
      Posted December 30, 2014 at 2:01 pm | Permalink


      2) A 125mph two line express track becomes 60 mph B road.

      Also more unregulated vehicles = more accidents, and we know how the police just love to close roads all day to investigate accidents.

      • libertarian
        Posted December 30, 2014 at 3:45 pm | Permalink


        How many lines on the rail network operate at 125mph? Most lines have stations every few miles slowing things down.

        What is an unregulated vehicle? Why would they be on a coach expressway?

        There were 345 fatalities on UK trains last year there were 70 on coaches/buses

        Intercity travel – planes fly at 500 mph while a train pootles along at 125mph

        • brian
          Posted December 30, 2014 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

          345 fatalities on UK trains last year? I find this difficult to believe. Please show us details of the incidents.

          • libertarian
            Posted January 1, 2015 at 1:54 pm | Permalink


            Don’t be lazy google it yourself, thats how I found the figures.

        • Anonymous
          Posted December 30, 2014 at 6:05 pm | Permalink


          Lines well above 60mph (which is all we should be concerned about) ? The vast majority of them.

          As for the rest, the market is against you – otherwise things would be different.

          As for your accident stats. Surely you’re not including suicides and trespass and people taken ill on trains ?

          • libertarian
            Posted January 1, 2015 at 2:02 pm | Permalink


            I would bet a huge amount of money on arriving at any destination in the UK in a car before a train. The failure of trains are.

            Fixed point to point. Journeys needed at both ends

            Inflexible timing. A car journey of one hour takes one hour whenever I set off. Not true of trains

            No alternative routes for trains

            Unable to visit multiple destinations in one journey on a train without significant time delays, changes and mixed transport

            Not sure how you get that the market is against me when less than 9% of all journeys is by rail. It looks very much to me that I’m in tune with the market and you’re an anachronism.

            I have no idea how the rail fatalities are calculated I just quoted the official figures

    • Handbags
      Posted December 30, 2014 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

      Well said.

      Railways worked when there were no alternatives – but now, ordinary people travel by car.

      It’s time to face the truth and admit that rail travel is a London commuter issue – the rest of the country doesn’t give a damn.

      If Londoners want trains – let them pay for them.

      • Anonymous
        Posted December 30, 2014 at 6:51 pm | Permalink

        Handbags – A simple test for your theory would be to compare house prices within the vicinity of railway stations outside of London with those that have no convenient rail connections.

        Why not ask any home owner near a railway how it might affect their house value if they lost their local station ?

        • libertarian
          Posted January 1, 2015 at 2:07 pm | Permalink


          Did you not read what Handbags wrote?

          He said rail is a commuter issue, and you just confirmed it. People only need to live close to a rail station if they are commuting into a city to work ( mostly London).

          Oh and your theory even then isn’t that good. I live in a small Town in SE England 30 miles from London we don’t have a railway station ( nearest is a country station 11 miles away) Our house prices are very very high.

    • Bazman
      Posted December 30, 2014 at 8:57 pm | Permalink

      You have had the myth and fallacy of converting railways to roads pointed out before to you. Not wide enough to many bridges and tunnels most railway lines being flat needing tunnels and bridges to be built and so on absolute nonsense with no basis other than your delusions.
      More rail is needed to carry heavy freight and good such as coal more of this on the road? As if there is not enough! How many heavy lorries would be needed when the max gross weight is 42 tonne ? Idiotic. I have just driven 260 miles and there was few lorries due to the day of the year and time., but bumper to bumper cars and that was bad enough. Explain. You cannot.
      More and better communications is a given, but not a replacement.

      • libertarian
        Posted January 1, 2015 at 2:17 pm | Permalink


        You were wrong then and wrong now. A coach or lorry is no bigger than a train so there is no problem with bridges and tunnels. Are you so limited in your thinking that you think that all I’m asking is to pour concrete over the existing track? Do at least try to think strategically.

        Rail freight has been falling for decades, 35% of all freight is coal. As you are a fully paid up member of the AGW brigade I’m surprised that you are worried about coal transport as you are against the burning of fossil fuels.

        Your current journey has NO baring on what could be in the future. I know you’re a socialist, I know you’re a minimum wage worker in a scrap metal yard but those of us who are entrepreneurs see things as they could be NOT as they are. Change and innovation. No reason why some of the new routes cannot be designated for freight. The one thing they wouldn’t have is cars. Thats why I called them coach express ways !!!

      • libertarian
        Posted January 1, 2015 at 2:24 pm | Permalink


        You clearly didn’t read all of the page you linked us to.

        Most of the data was from 1955 ( thats 60 years ago )

        The biggest issue against seems to have been level crossings. I guess the people that wrote this have never noticed traffic lights on junctions in our roads.

        The report also states clearly that the railway beside the M6 motorway is actually WIDER than the motorway

  10. Cary
    Posted December 30, 2014 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

    Network Rail operates under an odd governance structure where it relies on government funding for its existence but is not directly accountable to the secretary of state for transport, so Patrick McLoughlin seems powerless to stop Network Rail’s boss taking his bonus.

    But rail privatisation has been a failure. John Major pushed it through although Margaret Thatcher had rejected previous proposals as unworkable. The system requires more government subsidy than when it was British Rail, thus making its own contribution to the deficit. Rail privatisation has failed because it brought no new competition to the industry, and that’s because rail services do not and cannot compete against each other; their competition is other modes of transport. And the fragmentation of a business that would be more efficient if vertically integrated has resulted in infrastructure goldplating and timetable manipulation to minimise legal battles on the responsibility for delays.

    Network Rail is a natural monopoly of rail maintenance services and thus its has the same disincentives to improvement as its private sector predecessor, Railtrack. Better to accept that the railways work best as a single vertically integrated business and the have it managed by a board of experienced industrialists on fixed terms contracts, much as British Rail was.

    Reply British Rail performed very badly, lost a lot of business and sacked all too many employees and lost taxpayers huge sums of money. Network Rail is a wholly owned government company, with its debts consolidated on the state balance sheet. As such the S of S can intervene as and when he wishes, as he is the owner’s representative!

  11. brian
    Posted December 30, 2014 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

    Another reason for HS2. We need the extra capacity so that engineering works on our ancient railway system do not deny service to our major cities. Also, we should hire all staff for HS2 with the condition that the service runs 365 days a year.

    • Anonymous
      Posted December 30, 2014 at 6:21 pm | Permalink

      No-one is entitled to Christmas day or boxing day under the present arrangements. Annual Leave must be applied for to get these days off and can be declined – and often are – to cover engineering, security, depot duties.

      (The Christmas stop is purely for track engineering.)

      However, this means that employees are entitled to take their time off on other dates which are always going to be busier than over Christmas Day and Boxing Bay.

      Those working shifts often work Christmas Eve into Christmas Day and start shifts on boxing day (or close to midnight) to get the services positioned for the next start.

      Services run the rest of the time over the period with very limited Annual Leave granted. (Usually only the first three staff to apply)

      • Anonymous
        Posted December 30, 2014 at 6:38 pm | Permalink

        PS, on many companies there is no bank holiday entitlement throughout the rest of the year either.

  12. lojolondon
    Posted December 30, 2014 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

    John, I am afraid the answer is contained in your article above –

    The root of the problem is the nationalised broadcaster – which provides a totally inadequate service. For example, they will invite people like Mr Cryer onto their programme, expecting him to make a passionate plea to nationalise something or other. There will never be an invitation to someone on the other side of the fence. If, for example, they invited me, I would make an impassioned please to privatise the Biased BBC, save £6 Billion pounds every year, making the Labour party pay for all the free promotions and advertising they currently get during the news, on Question Time, on R4, during HIGNFY, etc. But I will never be invited to speak, neither will any other capitalist or free-markets agent. So the bias continues, and the Conservative party allows Labour to keep winning the propaganda game.

  13. Jon
    Posted December 30, 2014 at 7:00 pm | Permalink

    Over more recent times I’ve noticed an increase in over running engineering works. I smell a rat somewhere there. Lucrative overtime rates or deliberately planning more than is reasonably achieved? It’s like a mission creep, over running engineering works are seemingly becoming the norm, the reason I don’t know.

    • Anonymous
      Posted January 1, 2015 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

      Penalties against those causing overruns are enormous.

  14. Stephen Berry
    Posted December 30, 2014 at 8:44 pm | Permalink

    Interesting article in the Daily Mail of December 29th by one Michael Williams in which he makes a number of excellent points.

    After Dr Beeching closed so much of the rail network, there are unused viaducts, bridges and tunnels on the old tracks. Many of these are still in reasonable condition. Many of them are also located in strategically important positions. For instance, one of the old lines closed was the old main line to the West Country around Dartmoor. The West Country economy paid a heavy price when the only alternative route via Dawlish was cut off by the heavy storms earlier this year.

    At a fraction of the cost of HS2, some of these old lines could be rebuilt and reopened. For one thing, there would not be the zillions spent to obtain planning permission.

    We all want to deal with the large upswing in rail passenger numbers since privatisation and the consequent congestion caused, an example of which we saw recently. Reopening old lines in those areas where demand for rail journeys is strong looks like the sensible and cheap solution. Building a hugely expensive high-speed link which ministers can show to the world would be the political solution. What price sanity?

  • 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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