Improving Network Rail

Network Rail is a costly, inefficient public sector body now being put under new management. I have been making some proposals for better financial, operating and engineering performance .  I will share some with you today and others in a later posting.

I am pleased that Network Rail is  now rightly categorised as an arm of the state. All its debts now count as part of the state’s indebtedness, and all new borrowings will be state borrowing. This also means that in future management will need to clear its spending and borrowing plans with Transport and Treasury Ministers, which is only right as they are spending taxpayers money and pledging the nation’s credit. I  lobbied for this change.

The  positive results of this change include no further borrowing by Network Rail in foreign currencies. This is a potentially expensive and risky way of borrowing, as we saw towards the end of the last decade when sterling devalued substantially. It also means that Network Rail will not take out additional derivative exposures, which have proved expensive in recent years. There remains the outstanding issue of what should Network Rail do with its current open derivative positions on foreign currency and interest rate exposure. The sooner they wind all this up the better. The government does not have a policy of paying investment banks to  hedge its own interest rate or currency risks.

The new management is also rightly being charged with doing a better job at managing the large property estate. The government should expect to see more sales proceeds from selling surplus or development property, and to see a more enterprising approach to the use and improvement of its extensive land holdings. In the past Network Rail has often been reluctant to work with developers to improve important real estate holdings, or even to allow the development of adjacent private sector land by making access or bridging the railway expensive or impossible.

Network Rail owns land in many town and city centres which could  be helpful in mixed use developments close to the railway. The business can get free or subsidised station rebuilds, additional car parking and bridges to replace level crossings out of suitable development projects. It needs to be more positive and friendly in its approach to such improvements.

Network Rail needs to clean up and tidy the railway estate. As I travel around on the railway I see all too many abandoned piles of old rails and sleepers, weed throttled sidings, piles of building materials and other waste just left by the side of the tracks. Some of this has scrap value. Some can be used. Some of the sidings could become useful track for mainline by pass, or useful sidings to park working trains. Some of the land may be surplus to railway needs.

On many provincial stations there is all too little retail and service offer.  On some stations at night there is not even a working toilet, let alone a  café or newspaper and magazine shop to help while away the hours of waiting and travelling. Commuter stations often lack shops to buy a ready meal or pick up  breakfast in the morning. There are business opportunities to  be seized by franchises.

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65 Comments

  1. Antisthenes
    Posted January 9, 2016 at 6:31 am | Permalink

    The perennial dilemma how to make a public sector body function efficiently, competently and less wastefully. In the private sector that is relatively easy as there are rewards for well run businesses and penalties for when they are not. Network Rail, the NHS, quangos, BBC and the like are all protected entities that do not have to compete for business as their finances are provided by the taxpayer by force if necessary. Apart from sanctions against individuals who work in these bodies there is no way to make them perform better. However sanctions have there limitations they are difficult and costly to enforce and frequently unable to be used and it does not address the systemic structural flaws. Work place cultures and mind sets are not altered.

    The answer of course is to divest government of these bodies and put them into the private sector. Quite easily done if the will is there for most of the public sector businesses that are direct providers to the general public. Those that are not direct providers it is difficult or impossible to privatise so we are stuck with having to accept that they are not going to perform well. In those cases we should exam whether those bodies are as necessary as they are believed to be. Probably some are not so be rid of them. If we are to have government bodies that are bad performers which little can be done to change that then the fewer we have of them the better.

    The major drawback to putting the public sector in order is that those tasked with doing so are politicians who are themselves motivated not by profit and loss in the private sector sense but purely by political and ideological considerations. Certainly they can be sanctioned by not being re-elected but as we all know that does not happen as being elected or not is dependent on other sometime far less important reasons.

    • libertarian
      Posted January 9, 2016 at 10:47 am | Permalink

      Antisthenes

      I’m a small state, free market, low tax believer.

      However private businesses are no better at running these things than the public sector.

      Do you really believe that BT and the mobile phone companies or the energy industry etc really offer quality customer service and infrastructure ?

      No they don’t and its for the same reason the public sector doesn’t. They are too big, they are monolithic near monopolies who are detached from innovation, creativity and their customers.

      In Japan the worlds most advanced users of rail services there are more than 600 private companies involved. I had a debate with an RMT union rep the other day who told me “do you know how many rail operating companies we have? 300 Its a shambles” My reply was and yes we have 1 network operator and its a shambles.

      The rail network needs to be broken up into regions and with companies operated locally in each region ( to some extent at this stage I dont care if they are taxpayer or shareholder owned)

      Its the same with the NHS privatisation is no better than public sector all the time the structure is the same. Top down monolithic organisations are a feature of the 20th century NOT the 21st. In the 21st century small is beautiful

      • Antisthenes
        Posted January 10, 2016 at 10:08 am | Permalink

        Unfortunately you are not looking any further than your nose and equate seeing one swallow as proof that it is summer (mixed metaphors perhaps but English grammar has never been my strong point). Certainly the private sector is riddled with flaws which are at least being constantly addressed by the markets. However government monopolies have considerably more of them which it is unable to do much about as the mechanism is not cannot be there to do so. Change is introduced but slowly and quite often those changes do not improve but make things worse adding more flaws.

        You are missing the point there is a difference between the public sector which is a monopoly and those in the private sector who would aspire to become or try to act like one. In the end that which remains in the public ownership will always be confirmed monopolies but those in the private sector who aspire or try to be one will always be thwarter for two reasons the most obvious is because of market forces. The other one is rather ironic the government a monopoly in itself has compiled laws that are designed to ensure that monopolies in the private sector is not legally possible.

    • Lifelogic
      Posted January 9, 2016 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

      Indeed one vote every five years (for the least worst of two or three candidates that have a chance of winning) is the only control the voters have. It is in effect no control at all. Thus the state sector is largely out of any control at all from people or customers it claims to serve.

      Politicians, as you say, have little interest in improving the delivery of services, so they rarely even try. Best to let sleeping dogs lie even if they are killing thousand each year.

      Employment protection in the state sector means there are virtually never any sanction for incompetence or poor performance. Even with this huge & unnecessary death/suffering each day at the NHS nothing is ever done that would address it.

      On top of that you have the state sector unions funding political parties and employing MP as “consultants” and the likes. What hope is there for tax payers expecting some real services to be delivered?

    • Nig L
      Posted January 9, 2016 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

      Agree totally and JRs ideas as with the Environment Agency are eminently sensible but what a nightmare, 630 MPs all making suggestions based on their own common sense and constituency needs and part of the problem, none of them understand the true nature of change management. All (most) of JR’s needs will only be achieved and sustained through excellent leadership driving quality and ownership through the business top to bottom. My guess with Network Rail is there is still too much old BR culture.

      Jacqui Smith was not a very good Home Secretary, but one thing she did say was refreshingly honest and accurate in relation to so many Ministers, namely she wasn’t capable of doing the job.

      The real problem and you will not admit is because you are a professional politician is that people are appointed for political reasons with only lip service to their other abilities.

      David Cameron once wrote an essay at school stating that Yes Minister was not true to life. When he got to be Prime Minister, he found it was.

      Every (new) Minister should have to go to Insead, obviously not to do an MBA but I cannot believe they couldn’t tailor a package to give Ministers, some of whom have done nothing apart from Politics an insight into executive/project/change management.

      Instead of suggesting a few coffee shops,however sensible, Mr Redwood start hammering at poor management (Policians, Civil Servants, Operators) and how to improve it. You may then achieve real progress.

  2. Excalibur
    Posted January 9, 2016 at 6:48 am | Permalink

    JR: “Network Rail needs to clean up and tidy the railway estate.”

    I could not agree more, JR. I wrote to John Prescott on this issue some years ago regarding the engineering debris at railway stations and alongside the tracks around the city of Lincoln. Nothing was done, of course. There must be a huge monetary value in the disused and discarded material throughout the country. Railway preservation societies could use some of it, I’m sure.

    • Anonymous
      Posted January 9, 2016 at 9:58 am | Permalink

      Excalibur – I know that a year ago the metal was being recovered and sold (the funds returned to local engineering budgets.)

      This was done because the metal value had risen and made the excersise worthwhile.

      The removal of spoil can extremely costly these days and is often worth leaving on site if it does no harm.

      Railway preservation societies would fund the removal of materials if the costs weren’t so prohibitive.

  3. Lifelogic
    Posted January 9, 2016 at 7:17 am | Permalink

    But it is the state sector. Network Rail staff will not really care if it is well run or not, so long as they get their pay and pensions. The question is how will the Government actually ensure that the management and staff of this organisation are suitable motivated so they act in the interests of tax payers and rail users for a change?

    The politicians never seem to manage this with anything else the state runs after all. Look at the priority in three letters, rationed, endless delays and countless mistakes, NHS as an appalling example of failure. The politician are the only people with any interests in ensuring this after all but clearly it is not a high priority for them. That is surely their job to ensure tax payers get value. Perhaps the first thing to do would be to change employment laws to easy hire and fire so people actually felt some pressure to perform.

    I see that the absurd BBC1 this morning is very concerned that male models get paid less than female ones. Has no one at the BBC got any understanding of markets rates and supply and demand? I assume anyway that they all nearly all self employed and charge what they can get. If female models are worth more in the market such is life women, spend nearly twice as much on clothes after all. Next they will be suggesting the top female footballers should get the same as premier league players regardless of how many people want to watch it.

    Life is not fair, can the BBC not understand that? The prettier models doubles earn more too, such is life just get over it.

    • Anonymous
      Posted January 9, 2016 at 9:39 am | Permalink

      Lifelogic – 90% of the people you see on the railway in orange vests are working for private contractors in the cold winds of the private tender market.

      They have to sort out their own pensions as well as how to get themselves to site for a night shift or over Christmas.

      • Anonymous
        Posted January 9, 2016 at 9:43 am | Permalink

        Lifelogic – Clearly you’ve no experience of running a large and hazardous engineering project – of a hundred thousand parts – whilst running a service at the same time.

        Perhaps the army might do it better, eh ? Our nationalised army, that is.

        • Lifelogic
          Posted January 9, 2016 at 7:22 pm | Permalink

          I very much doubt if our armed forces would do it any better. Their procurement department would almost certainly order trucks without engines, cranes without cables just as they order vastly expensive “air” carriers without aircraft.

      • Lifelogic
        Posted January 9, 2016 at 6:32 pm | Permalink

        Network Rail senior staff that is.

      • libertarian
        Posted January 9, 2016 at 7:49 pm | Permalink

        Anonymous

        And clearly you’ve no experience of running a business. I can assure you the people in hi vis jackets do NOT have to sort out their own pensions. Employers get to do that , TWICE thru NI and now also auto-enrolment .

        Every single employee of what ever organisation has to get themselves to work, what a bizarre statement.

        • Anonymous
          Posted January 9, 2016 at 8:55 pm | Permalink

          Libertarian – Get to work at a remote location literally in the middle of nowhere – sometimes a hole in a fence in an isolated country lane in the middle of the night. When (by nature of the work) there is no transport to get them there.

          Of pensions. These firms use the self employed, temporary contracts etc. Hire and fire at will.

          • Anonymous
            Posted January 9, 2016 at 9:08 pm | Permalink

            Libertarian – For most people doing Network Rail’s work it is not the cosy sinecure that Lifelogic describes.

          • libertarian
            Posted January 10, 2016 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

            Dear Anonymous

            Really ? really? thousands of people work in remote locations. Thats why we have cars and vans !!!

            You are clearly as I said completely ignorant of employment.

            Self employed are businesses and have to provide pensions or if they are the sole EMPLOYER they provide their own its one of the benefits of being self employed. Temporary workers have all the same rights as permanent workers, do try and keep up.

            Oh and as self employed people they are allowed to claim the costs of getting to isolated places to work which full time employees aren’t !!!!

    • Jerry
      Posted January 9, 2016 at 11:41 am | Permalink

      @Lifelogic; “But it is the state sector. Network Rail staff will not really care if it is well run or not, so long as they get their pay and pensions. “

      But that is true of most private enterprise too, unless pay is linked to a bonus culture and we all saw what that can bring in the banking industry, indeed some (but not all) of the problems with Railtrack were caused by just such a culture, profit being a higher priority than all others.

      “The question is [how to] ensure that the management and staff of this organisation are suitable motivated so they act in the interests of tax payers and rail users for a change? “

      Don’t worry Mr Lifelogic, there can’t be many NR employees (be they management or staff) who do not think about the safety of the tax payer and passenger before breakfast, before lunch, before dinner, whilst many may well even dream (or have nightmares) about safety, if for no other reason than they are far more likely to be the first to be affected when safety regimes break-down. Those Fail… sorry, Railtrack days are behind the taxpayer and passenger, thankfully.

      • Lifelogic
        Posted January 9, 2016 at 7:29 pm | Permalink

        True large private enterprise businesses can get like that sometimes, but they go out of business fairly quickly and get bought out. There is nearly always pressure from the owners and managers to ensure they perform.

        True some director are hugely over paid for running companies into the ground in the RBS, Tesco, Equitable Life style. The auditors and accounting rules have much to answer for too.

        • Jerry
          Posted January 9, 2016 at 10:32 pm | Permalink

          @LL; The problem with the railways, or any safety critical industry (we could be talking just as much about the airlines or the oil industries for example), there is no saving grace for the company to even start to fail – this was what happened to Railtrack and ended in the Hatfield derailment, and later happened to subcontractors of Network Rail [1] before NR finally took all work back in-house, even if it does cost more – what price safety…

          [1] rail crashes at Potters Bar (2002), and at Greyrigg (2007) plus the Tebay rail accident of 2004 where Track workers killed due to beaches in H&S

          • Edward2
            Posted January 10, 2016 at 9:56 am | Permalink

            It is always a “breach of health and safety” when there is an acident.
            Its the way the law works.
            But my view is that there is little correlation between ownership, be it private for profit or nationalised State owned in terms of accident records.
            It is about culture and training and laws as much as anything.

          • Jerry
            Posted January 11, 2016 at 8:51 am | Permalink

            @Edward2; My reply to you seems to have been deleted for telling the documented facts about the accident at Tebay, oh well…

          • Edward2
            Posted January 11, 2016 at 10:49 am | Permalink

            I’m sure it would have made for fascinating reading as usual Jerry.

    • Lifelogic
      Posted January 9, 2016 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

      Sorry:- The prettier models doubtless earn more too, such is life just get over it.

    • Margaret
      Posted January 9, 2016 at 9:21 pm | Permalink

      Which is exactly why we should nationalise track , coaches .. the lot ..every one ought to get used to it.

  4. Denis Cooper
    Posted January 9, 2016 at 7:57 am | Permalink

    Well done for getting the government to agree to make a start on sorting out this mess.

    • Anonymous
      Posted January 9, 2016 at 9:51 am | Permalink

      Denis

      If professional bankers made a mess of their core function (banking) then it is no surprise that Network Rail made a mess of their second function (banking) too. But praise to them for getting their core function – a safe railway operating with completely unforseen passenger loadings – right.

      Their projects are all long term. The funding (in sterling) sits around for a long time – when our currency is being debased with QE and low interest (caused by bankers) it must have felt like stuffing money under a mattress… so they tried to make good on this.

      It backfired. If it hadn’t they would have been heroes and we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

      However. They did get their land ownership right. They didn’t sell it off rock-bottom like politicians did our gold ten years ago and now they have something to trade. However they must be careful how they release it in order to maintain its value.

    • Lifelogic
      Posted January 9, 2016 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

      Well they agreed that the N H S was Cameron’s priority in three letters – about six years ago – but it has just got worse and worse. It will continue to get worse until they change the system, break it up and start charging. But no one has the courage, so all the pointless deaths, suffering, delays and the dreadful service will just continue.

      As people are taxed to the hilt by Osborne most will be unable to pay to go elsewhere and so will have to lump it. Nothing will change. The open door immigration for mainly low paid workers will ensure there is even more pressure on services and less money to fund them. It is the same for schools, universities and indeed nearly all of the state sector.

  5. JoeSoap
    Posted January 9, 2016 at 8:53 am | Permalink

    Indeed well done !
    You might like to tell us how much taxpayers’ money was wasted paying off the old useless management.

  6. alan jutson
    Posted January 9, 2016 at 8:55 am | Permalink

    Let us hope that the new set up will be rather more efficient than the old.

    Cannot for the life of me understand why Network Rail in its old form, was able to run on such a loose financial basis in the first place for so long.

    How many other Government organisations/Quango’s need to have their bumps felt, and given a work over, given a dose of reality and bought into line.

  7. Jerry
    Posted January 9, 2016 at 9:06 am | Permalink

    I am shocked by your entry today John, you seem “pleased” that Network Rail has in effect been formally Nationalised, you seem “pleased” that NR is no longer conducting much of its corporate accounting within the usual capitalist free market environment. So as far as the rail infrastructure is concerned it is back to the future, hello British Rail Mk2…

    “Network Rail owns land in many town and city centres which could be helpful in mixed use developments close to the railway”

    That is of mixed blessings, on the one hand it does help NR finances, it also helps civic regeneration, but careless disposal of land can stop future railway modernisation, new station or Intermodal freight transfer sites, and perhaps even the extra ‘loop lines’ and sidings you call for. For that reason please allow NR and the TOCs be the best judge of their current and future estate needs.

    I agree with you about the need to clean up the railway estate, especially the trackbed (for one thing anything not bolted down or to heavy for one or two people to physically lift unaided is both a target of theft and more seriously criminal vandalism [1]. But that also costs money, or means an extra hour or two of NR maintenance occupation, that has a knock-on effect with regards finances and the passenger experience – very few rail passengers like alternate buses!

    All that is left now is to tackle the many problems with the TOCs, but that might be a step to far for this government…

    [1] in the past train derailments have been caused by such items deliberately placed on tracks

  8. JJE
    Posted January 9, 2016 at 9:29 am | Permalink

    It might be worth looking at those currency derivative contracts carefully before unwinding them given that sterling is looking weak at the moment. I agree they should never have been entered in to but let’s make sure they aren’t abandoned at the point they might be useful.

  9. Mike Stallard
    Posted January 9, 2016 at 9:30 am | Permalink

    The curse of the 21st century is bureaucracy. Bureaucrats do not like to leave their offices. They shower professionals with useless and time wasting paperwork. Their aim is a quite life. They do not like energy or risk or visiting their underlings.
    Their effect is, of course, too frequently disaster. The NHS is full of it. So is the Education Service (although this has successfully ben cut back). The Floods have a lot to do with dredging failure as you noticed. John Prescott did his level best to make Network Rail safer. And it is.
    But at the end of the day, they get paid anyway. The main object of the exercise is to keep their jobs safe and their pensions locked away.

    Network Rail seems to be very much this kind of sloppy, self centred, uninterested kind of organisation. Best of luck with reforming it!

  10. agricola
    Posted January 9, 2016 at 10:22 am | Permalink

    Some good suggestions that maybe the new management will see fit to take up. For sure they should be discouraged from dealing in foreign currencies. My advice when I gave it to buyers of engineering components from overseas was buy forward the currency you need to cover the widgets you are buying. You then know exactly what they will cost. Realise that your business is engineering not currency dealing. If you wish to be a currency dealer take yourself off to the City.

    If Network Rail do own lots of land in cities then get it converted to the building of affordable , purchase or rent, homes. Then all the modestly paid essential workers in cities such as firemen , nurses and policemen can afford to live near the job. I hope it all works out.

    I notice with relief that some of the wiser less parochial minds in politics have realised that the arguments within the Brexit campaign are not party political. Nigel Farage MEP, Tom Pursglove MP Con, and Kate Hoey MP lab have decided that they can together put the case for our departure from the EU on January 23rd. in Kettering. I hope you will consider joining them on what is a matter of national sovereignty rather than party politics.

    I also note that those ministers who are pro EU feel free to make their case as of now, whereas those who wish to leave the EU have to keep quiet until CMD decides that negotiations have concluded. A situation that requires strong protest in the HoC with some sharp, less sycophantic questioning at PMQs. Learn something from Nigel’s questioning and condemnations within the European Parliament.

    • Chris
      Posted January 9, 2016 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

      I agree wholeheartedly with your comments in the last 2 paras. David Cameron still has little to fear form his eurosceptic MPs for as long as they fail to take effective and belated action.

  11. Bert Young
    Posted January 9, 2016 at 10:23 am | Permalink

    Further comment is really unnecessary ; the blog says it all . Keep the restrictions in place and make the management accountable .

  12. oldtimer
    Posted January 9, 2016 at 10:29 am | Permalink

    Congratulations on getting this first step accomplished. But, as others have already commented, the political mindset is very different from the business mindset. In business the one constant is adapt or die. It is the driver of change for better products and services. That clearly has not been the driver for Network Rail or its previous, bloated Board. It is unlikely to be the primary driver for the new structure either. The future of HS2 will be a revealing case of the future direction of travel – will it be politically driven or commercially driven? I will watch with interest – as I am sure you will too.

  13. Margaret
    Posted January 9, 2016 at 10:39 am | Permalink

    Haven’t we read this post before?

  14. Denis Cooper
    Posted January 9, 2016 at 11:04 am | Permalink

    Linus removed ed as I was unable yo read them

    I realise that the UK government has not followed the German example by publicly issuing an insane open-ended invitation to hundreds of thousands of illegal migrants to make their way here, and is taking advantage of our comprehensive treaty opt-out from the EU’s common immigration and asylum policy to be much more selective about who is taken in and much more restrictive in numbers, but surely we have a right to know who is being allowed in and what is being done to settle them.

  15. Anonymous
    Posted January 9, 2016 at 11:25 am | Permalink

    John Redwood. Thanks for lobbying the change. I think you are right on this and the improvments that can be made to Network Rail.

    Its employees are not the goons that some of your contributors or Daily Mail journalists like to make out.

    The problems come from the recent state of economic flux and a jump in the wrong direction.

    Historically the problems come from the fact that Britain – half a century ago – embarked on a winding down of the railways and then privatised it. This was done not to provide a railway but to abrogate responsibility for further winding down and to sell off assets to realise the family silver. BR was run on a shoestring. People forget this when they denegrate it.

    Since 1997 there has been an unplanned renaissance in the railways due to:

    – a huge and unexpected influx of people

    – a policy of making it impossible to drive into cities as part of the green agenda

    Lack of historical investment, badly structured privatisation (the intent of which I believe was never to provide a railway but to diminish it) mass immigration and the green agenda are all contributing factors to present difficulties.

    Putting the finances in the charge of government which is racking up debt at alarming rates does not inspire confidence either, I’m afraid.

  16. Colin Hart
    Posted January 9, 2016 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    Following the absurd claim by Amber Rudd that leaving Europe will endanger our energy supplies, how long before we are told that leaving the EU will put investment in our railways at risk?

  17. The Active Citizen
    Posted January 9, 2016 at 11:51 am | Permalink

    Thank you for lobbying for these changes JR. In the unlikely event that the Leave side wins the Referendum, and there’s then a major shake-up within the Conservative Party, perhaps you could be persuaded back into a ministerial position?

    On the question of public spending on the likes of Network Rail, is there not a case for establishing a new form of auditing oversight for publically-funded organisations?

    We have the National Audit Office, but quis custodiet ipsos custodes? From everything I’ve experienced in my life, public officials are the last people I would put in charge of any investigation of commercial matters. If we want real value for money, we have to bring the expertise of the commercial sector to bear on the vast areas of public expenditure.

    As a starter for ten, what about a pilot project?
    A team of 6-7 successful former directors of small and medium and large businesses could be assembled, to tackle one NGO/public body/nationalised industry/agency and look at a discrete area of public spend.

    I stress the different sizes of companies they should have experience of, because I’m fed up with seeing only former directors of very large companies appointed to tasks like this. Most large companies have far more in common with government bureaucracies than they do with the enormous numbers of smaller and enterprising businesses which employ so many people in the UK. The new team should have former directors of small and medium-sized companies in it, from whom the Team Leader should be drawn.

    The team should operate under whatever rules the NAO operates under in terms of having the right to inspect all elements of the detailed accounts of the body in question, and should have a roving brief to look at value for money and to investigate all aspects of the organisation’s operations.

    I’m almost certain that if the pilot project were correctly set up, it would come up with startling results in three to six months. It would be self-funding many times over, and could then be replicated.

  18. Mitchel
    Posted January 9, 2016 at 11:54 am | Permalink

    The new New street station in Birmingham is a good example of what can be achieved when the state sector and the private sector get together.Although there has been no extra capacity for train passage(which is apparently needed),the privately owned shopping centre above the station has been transformed.Previously a gloomy,run down shopping centre dominated by cheap,unbranded fashion stores and pound shops,it has been changed beyond recognition with a massively increased retail offering(and relatively upmarket too with a number of brands not previously represented in Birmingham) and a plethora of enticing dining and drinking options.It is clearly attracting the crowds too.

    • Jerry
      Posted January 9, 2016 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

      @Mitchel; “The new New street station in Birmingham is a good example of what can be achieved when the state sector and the private sector get together.”

      That is what was said about the old 1960s rebuild of the original 1854 New Street station, in twenty to forty years time I wonder what people reading your comment via the ‘Way-back machine’ will think of the current wave of station rebuilds – assuming that they have not had yet another rebuild since!

      • Mitchel
        Posted January 11, 2016 at 9:58 am | Permalink

        I am sure you are right that the eyesore that New Street station had become was vastly inferior to its Victorian predecessor (as was the case with Birmingham’s wonderful red brick gothic library also demolished in the 60s)but that is not the point,we can’t resurrect them and something had to be done-the ’60s shopping centre above the station had become a total failure and the station too cramped and lacking in facilities -an extremely poor advertisement for a Birmingham which is supposed to be the UK’s second city.It may well be in 20 or 30 years time the current station will not be well regarded but it has certainly revitalised the area for the foreseeable future.Are you suggesting that nothing should have been done?

    • Edward2
      Posted January 10, 2016 at 10:00 am | Permalink

      Totally agree with you Mitchel.
      New Street is a brilliant new development which is also encouraging use of the train instead of the car by people who were put off by having to use the previous dump which the old station was.

  19. Pete
    Posted January 9, 2016 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

    In short Network Rail is an absolutely typical public sector organisation. Inept, inefficient, bad at identifying opportunity, terrible at serving customers, worse at managing finances and resources.
    Replacing existing management with another lot of overpaid public sector chair polishers will likely have zero effect.

  20. Bill
    Posted January 9, 2016 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

    The disgrace is that commuters have to travel in overcrowded trains while paying full price. Parking at the stations is expensive too. We can do better and in my opinion money being dished out to HS2 should be put into improving commuter services. Again, we can have double decker trains and longer trains.

    More than this we need a good East-West line across the country – try travelling from Hull to Liverpool. And more than this again, we need an attempt to calculate what sort of future demands will be if (a) working from home by internet connection increases (b) new towns are built (c) swathes of new houses are built on brownfield sites.

    Is there a connection between housing and transport within government or is the whole thing left to chance?

    Does anyone consider what high speed broadband will do to passenger numbers? Has the government even thought about this or is it all short termism?

    • Jerry
      Posted January 9, 2016 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

      @Bill; “Again, we can have double decker trains and longer trains.”

      No we can’t, as has explained before (in the case of DD trains, only the other day. To have DD trains there needs to be a larger loading gauge than the standard British one, to change the loading gauge means rebuilding bridges and tunnels. If you have longer trains then the platforms need to be longer at every station the train stops at, not always possible, especially at many mainline (city) termini and junction stations were the trackbed is already of a fixed formation (without major civil engineering).

      What we could do is have more trains in any given distance but that means reducing the signalling safety headway (the distance needed to stop short of the train in front in an emergency), there are two ways to achieve this, one is more efficient brakes but there is only so much inertia the unrestrained passenger, their luggage, coffee cups and laptops etc can withstand before one or all take an involuntary trip down the inside of the carriage – usually until they meet with an unmovable object, such as a passenger sitting with their backs to the direction of travel or part of the carriage structure, the other is to reduce the line speed – thus more people are able to travel in a given time period but it takes longer…

      “Is there a connection between housing and transport within government or is the whole thing left to chance?”

      Thanks for the laugh Bill, such common sense bit the dust sometimes in the forth quarter of the last century, now it is all about market forces of the here and now. 🙁

  21. Chris
    Posted January 9, 2016 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

    Thank you, Mr Redwood, for all your efforts on this. What seems to be the underlying problem is that they are not geared up to actually serving passengers/making things as easy and comfortable as possible i.e. that is not their primary objective. In some instances, rail experiences are like endurance tests, especially on overloaded commuter trains, or longer distance lines e.g. London to Penzance. The latter (First Great Western) seemed almost ingenious in the range of challenges presented to passengers en route. Why also do they remove the restaurant/refreshment facilities at Plymouth, when there is the long tedious end section of the journey down to Penzance, when passengers from London are likely to be travel weary and hungry?

    With regard to your last para on facilities at stations, I wholeheartedly agree. They are often poor, inadequate or non existent. Could there also be decent indoor waiting areas? Again, it often seems that Network Rail’s prime objective (and the various rail franchises/companies) is not to serve customers, and encourage them to travel by rail providing a comfortable and user friendly service, but to make money and cut costs at the expense of customer satisfaction/the customer experience. Wokingham station is much improved, but Bracknell seems dreadful, despite the so called improvements.

  22. Geoff not Hoon
    Posted January 9, 2016 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

    not so many decades ago government saw fit to privatise the National Freight Corporation with its many familiar names such as Pickfords, BRS, National Carriers etc. The state got out of road transport, can anyone tell me why it should continue to own rail transport which so very clearly has been run very very badly for so long now. Please do not reply that operators are private and not state owned. the procedure and requirements to run a franchise for X years is a farce befitting of Whitehall IMHO.

  23. CHRISTOPHER HOUSTON
    Posted January 9, 2016 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

    Improvements you indicate JR are good. A larger issue which my older generation may appreciate more than the younger is what Amy and Sheldon in The Big Bang Theory almost satirise in their TV sketch concerning “Compulsive Closure Therapy.”

    British managements both private and nationalised, maybe even global managements thwart the idea of Job Completion. Of getting the job done. “If the job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right.”

    I’ve actually observed various managers deliberately killing a young employee’s morale by depriving him of finishing even the most petty job. For example, bored yet he may methodically and in his stride clean 39 steps only to be ordered away before the 40th on some other mission that could have waited. Pointless instructing managers. I have seen managers educated against workplace bullying only to see them implement one of the examples given as a way of bullying even more.
    Traditionally known as “red under the bed”, the modern day anarchist is more likely to be a manager. Clever enough to hide his spanner in the works, by such job non-completion strategies. Workers mysteriously becoming uncaring, slipshod, ill-tempered, volatile.

    More particularly to your point JR. The management class, as such, are pretty much clones of one another. Total organisms with socially and inherited flawed characteristics, confident their treachery and failures reflect on underlings with sure support in their own careers with persons higher up the ladder who were responsible for placing them in the first place.

    I do not know the answer. Stir up, have a revolution in a jar of muddy water and the scum always floats back to the top.
    Maybe one solution is to try to compel managements to have structures of work where individuals are set tasks which require attention by each to absolute completion. Afterwards, managers can busy themselves faffing around those aforementioned 40 steps and nastily saying: “You’ve missed a bit”

  24. Iain gill
    Posted January 9, 2016 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

    Split it into regions and make them compete.

    • Jerry
      Posted January 9, 2016 at 5:50 pm | Permalink

      @Ian gill; Indeed and something some of us have been calling for since 1992…. Although they need to be large enough to provide complete services, have enough and suitable revenue creating capacity.

      Government won’t buy it though, a future Labour are more likely to favour nationalisation, this or another Tory government seem wedded to the idea of multiple franchises and the appearance of customer choice and competition, of course it might be that because the current the mess was created by a Tory government it can not be acknowledged to have failed.

  25. Qubus
    Posted January 9, 2016 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

    I frequently travel on the line from Penzance to Newcastle and return. The standard class is often full with very few non-reserved seats available, whereas first class is relatively deserted. On the one hand, had I paid a few hundred pounds for a first class ticket, I should expect not to travel like a sardine. However, why cannot more coaches be attached? The ratio of first to standard coaches is often something like 3 to 5.

    A different question but, why for instance, is a busy station like Sheffield an open station, whereas Derby, for example, is not; there are always about five employees just hanging around the ticket barrier doing seemingly very little. Is this some sort of security issue or a local decision?

    • Spotter
      Posted January 9, 2016 at 6:04 pm | Permalink

      The last time I travelled the Penzance route the ratio of 1st class was 1.5: 6 with a mini buffet. It seems that FGW/GWR (whatever they call themselves now) have been listening.

      The reason for the limit on coaches is the steep gradients. 9 cars is feasable with good rail adhesion but a failure of one power car on an HST would leave the whole train stranded owing to a low power to weight ratio and would certainly struggle in locations such as St Erth or Plymouth. Also (fellow spotters tell me) the new German engines are governed in output to stop overheating and eventual shutdown. Pulling power has been compromised over reliability.

      The route was picked by Brunel with lightweight trains sucked along the Atmospheric Railway in mind, so the gradients were not expected to have been a problem. Luckily his compatriot Daniel Gooch (Brunel’s equal in locomotive design at Swindon) forsaw that it would fail and built strong steam engines in anticipation.

      • Qubus
        Posted January 10, 2016 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

        #Spotter,
        Thanks for your informed reply.
        Any comments about so-called “open” stations? The other sort don’t even sell platform tickets any more, so what if I want to see my wife onto the train?

  26. alte fritz
    Posted January 9, 2016 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

    It is hard to see how Network Rail runs up such enormous cost against any given outcome. Many comment on the cost of electrification in the UK compared with other European countries. Higher cost is understandable in our crowded country, multiples of up to four times?

    My own local station allegedly had £4m spent on it a few years back. When the work was finished, it was hard to understand where the money had gone. It looked like £1m worth when finished.

    This is not just a matter of apocryphal evidence. Too many people tell the same tale, so there is something rotten at the core of Network Rail.

    • Anonymous
      Posted January 9, 2016 at 5:45 pm | Permalink

      Alte Fritz – Europe metricates and standardises everything. It builds routes from scratch, bulldozes its way through planning, cares not for rare newts, householder’s views nor Brunelian architecture… and it nearly always takes the shortest route !

      It also takes charge centrally and most of their railways are nationalised with fewer tiers of command.

      They don’t bugger about.

    • Jerry
      Posted January 9, 2016 at 6:02 pm | Permalink

      @alte fritz; “When the work was finished, it was hard to understand where the [£4m] had gone. It looked like £1m worth when finished.”

      Was the work done in-house or did NR put the work out to the cheapest tender, if the work was essential and NR was (perhaps) prevented from tendering for their own contract then perhaps it was indeed only £1m worth of work but the cheapest quote was £4m?! Another (more likely) possibility is that any service disruption for the TOCs needing to be compensated, pushing the total cost much higher than it needed to be.

  27. ian
    Posted January 9, 2016 at 8:30 pm | Permalink

    British Rail would buy things two to three times the price you would pay and then leave the warehouse door open. Good for all elec equipment, wiring fuse block kettle if you see at stations you can buy it on the street.
    Private business make their living this way, any think to do with public and government contracts is their bread&butter, its always been this way to keep companies afloat and will not change, if it did change a lot of companies would have to downsize or go out of business, they rely on it.
    The government know all about it, it called doing business.
    HS2 is no more than 25 billion to you or me but 60 billion for the government, same drugs and equipment for hospitals,

  28. ian
    Posted January 9, 2016 at 8:47 pm | Permalink

    The government would not be in top GDP at number 5 if they paid the right price for things it buys and would be down at number 10 or 12 and would not be able to sit at the top tables in the world for talking rubbish.
    So now you know why you pay through the nose. The G8

  29. ian
    Posted January 9, 2016 at 9:08 pm | Permalink

    This could of been a cheap country to live in if was not for your politician wanting to be in the G8, that why they want house price up and more big contract like hs2, hinkley point and so on to keep GDP up so they have their two pennys worth at talks at world meeting and get nowhere apart from giving away more money.
    You can not do away with trident if you on the G8 and other things.

  30. ian
    Posted January 9, 2016 at 10:42 pm | Permalink

    That’s why they do not want to lose HSBC and Barclays because GDP and leaning over backwards to keep them.
    Instead of getting rid of them and the big debts on their books going bad, the government
    is doing all it can to keep them and their debts which the people of this country are on the hook for and only 40% or so of their business is hear in this country.
    Only because of GDP might go down by 5 to 7 percent if they go and might not be number 5 on the G8 and can not talk at the big meetings and if keeping them go wrong you the people will have to bail them out for billions of pounds just like before so your politician can be at the G8 meetings and NATO and so on.
    These two banks could crush this country, me I would throw them out and save my country billions in liability and the two banks would lend more money to people in this country.

  31. ian
    Posted January 10, 2016 at 2:12 am | Permalink

    I have notice over time on this blog that people like their country to be in the G8 and NATO and other big world institution, so you should not complain about the wasting of money and all the liability that have to be taken on, refugees and overseas people so we have more people living hear than big country like france, big army, trident, big secret service and so on, 12 billion to sit on EU with 27 other country is small beer to sitting on the G8 and other institution even with all regulation because the other have regulation as well, not that I would want to be in the EU I am just making a point.
    So you might say why not waste more money on the NHS and school and so on because the worlds big institution do not want the money spent in your favour they want it spent on wars, weapons and big international projects like climate change, HS2, and what suits them with your money.
    This is the price you pay for a seat at a table.

  32. Rk
    Posted January 10, 2016 at 2:44 am | Permalink

    It may not be government policy… But I think Defra and other central government departments do pay investment banks to hedge the value of their foreign currency income. That makes sense for them individually- but probably would be better if Treasury assumed that risk…

  • 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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