Better railways?

It no longer surprises me that whenever I write of railways enthusiasts rush to defend every last feature of current or past railway operations. They go on to assume I do not know how railways currently work, and allege that railways can never be improved but have to be run according to current or past methods. It makes for a depressing debate.

In the real world business strives for constant improvement. Innovators review every feature of how cars or phones or computers work and seek improvements to steal a competitive march, to lower costs, embellish specifications, enhance performance and wow customers. Railways in the eyes of their UK enthusiasts are usually stuck in a twentieth century time warp, with many wanting to go back to nationalised British Rail and some still in love with steam traction. The railway industry need not be immune to the same insistence on change and improvement that we see in most competitive business sectors.

The industry is moving on more than some enthusiasts realise.The heads of the industry understand that they control fabulous straight routes right into the centre of our main cities, and appreciate they need to use these routes more to help us move the rising numbers of people wanting to travel. The industry accepts that improvements are possible. These include lighter trains that accelerate and brake more quickly; better signals that allow more trains to use track safely; better timetabling to reduce conflict between fast and slow trains; more passing points and platforms to allow more use of track by more trains; and removal of bottlenecks, as recently undertaken at Reading station.

Competition is the main driver of progress. We allow limited competition in train provision through the franchise auction process. More importantly we now allow some contestability of the franchise, which can create new routes and services as challengers to the incumbents. As the government reviews the present structure of the railways it needs to examine how reuniting track and trains in single companies might assist, and how such regional monopolies could be kept honest by allowing challenge from other companies to offer competing services.

The car I currently drive has so many more better features that the car I drove twenty years ago. It is much more fuel efficient, safer, with new on board navigation technology, better tyre life, longer service intervals and with an initial price no higher than I paid in the last century to buy an equivalent car. It shows what competition can do. I do not think it is perfect and I urge the industry to improve as they can on what they have sold me. Why not the same optimism from railway buffs? Why do they think their current railway could be perfected by making it a state monopoly again?


  1. Lifelogic
    January 16, 2016

    Indeed but the trains have little reason to innovate as there is so little real competition in the industry. The main use of trains is so often just as a government excuse to do property development and force compulsory purchases of others peoples land.

    Perhaps the first thing the government might do is to stop all the huge subsidies for trains and the large over taxation of road traffic and allow them to compete on a level playing field for a change. Stop blocking all the roads and provide some more roads, bridges and tunnels to meet the road demand. This using all the money paid by motorists. There is plenty of room you can have bridges, tunnels, flyovers, double decker roads. Congestion is in effect a damaging tax that helps no one, damages the economy, causes extra pollution and does not even raise any tax.

    If trains are as green and efficient as they claim, why do they cost so much? Why is it that (even after these large market distortions) it can still cost four times as much to go by train as by car? This even for a single person, let alone five or seven? Not even including the taxies/buses/tubes also needed at both ends.

    The problem we have is the “BBC think”/John Betjeman, golden era, dream world view of trains. We need far fewer Betjemans and rather more Dr Beechings. In fact more physicists and engineers in general. We also need a proper hub airport. But the pathetic, green crap, Cameron cannot even get this started. All thanks to his foolish choice for MP/Mayor the “green” Zak, who understandably looks set to come a rather poor second anyway.

    1. Lifelogic
      January 16, 2016

      I see that Michael Portillo on This Week, made the very sensible (and surely rather obvious) point that if the UK does vote for BREXIT it will be very unlikely to happen. The cast iron and no if no buts politicians, the establishment, the Tory Party leadership, the Lords, the bureaucrats, the BBC and the EU will close ranks to ensure it does not happen.

      There will simply be a further renegotiation (perhaps ever a real & substantive one this time rather than the current farce) to be followed by another referendum. The voters will be told to get it right this time. We have seen it all before.

      The logic of this is that the only way to vote is for out. This as even if you are for IN you will get a rather better IN deal further down the line anyway.

      1. JoeSoap
        January 16, 2016

        No the logic of what you are saying is the only way out was to vote UKIP last year. You’re also saying many people including our good host were conned into voting and standing as Tory MPs last year on a false premise.

        1. Lifelogic
          January 17, 2016

          Well if we vote for Brexit I am sure a new and better deal will be rapidly negotiated and the UK will be told to try to get the right answer as they see it. This to try to keep the UK imprisoned in this anti-democratic, disaster area. If so nothing to lose and everything to gain by voting out, even if you for in.

          I hope it will be for out (both times) and we will shall see if I am right.

          1. Jerry
            January 17, 2016

            @LL: The point you miss is that the EU has very little hold over the UK, certainly no Euro, so even if the EU were to try and tell our government to “try again and this time make sure the plebs choose the EU way” it is very likely to increase the anti EU vote!

        2. Jerry
          January 17, 2016

          @JoeSoap; “the only way out was to vote UKIP last year.”

          Doing that last year would have assured our continued membership of the EU…

          1. Anonymous
            January 17, 2016


            We’re still going to stay in the EU.

            Were those who switched from UKIP told that our PM would be advised on a strategy for staying in by Peter Mandelson ?

            Anyone who thinks we are going to come out of the EU is mistaken.

          2. Jerry
            January 18, 2016

            Anonymous; “We’re still going to stay in the EU.”

            I take it that you plan to vote to stay in then? I noticed, in passing, that the Mail on Sunday had the headline that the opinion polls are showing the Brexit vote up, at 56% (and climbing presumably).

            The average UKIP supporters doesn’t seem to understand what a Referendum is by the looks of things either…

    2. Jerry
      January 16, 2016

      “Perhaps the first thing the government might do is to stop all the huge subsidies for trains and the large over taxation of road traffic and allow them to compete on a level playing field for a change.”

      Of course we see what will happen then when ever the train drivers or signalling staff strike, your beloved roads become gridlocked, and don;t say build more roads, that was what the M25 was all about, what do they call the M25 even on a good day (in other words no blocked lanes or lower speed limits applied) – something about it being a big parking lot.

      Oh and if we were to build ever greater numbers of roads, or widen existing roads, soon we would have the 16 lane super motorways they have in the USA, and to think that people get up set because someone wants to build 60n houses in a field some place…

      “There is plenty of room you can have bridges, tunnels, flyovers, double decker roads.”

      Says someone who apparently, so he has implied before, lives in tranquil semi retirement in the Channel Isles…

      “We need far fewer Betjemans and rather more Dr Beechings.”

      Sorry to say Mr Lifelogic, what we actually need are far more people like Betjemans (look beyond his ‘old romantic’ verse) who have a clue, or at least people willing to find that clue, not just people so remote from reality whist having a rant [1], that they would not know the differenced between a DEMU and EMU and why one might be a better investment than the other, or understand that given the same over-all length why the train (or indeed motor bus or coach) will have significantly more people in it even if the private motor car has the maximum number of designed for occupants -and to think you keep going on about physicists and engineers!…

      [1] or having a pre-conceived solution to the problem they are were asked to investigate -strange how his uneconomic country railway station survived though, so he could still catch his train up to London

      1. Mark
        January 16, 2016

        The answer is to move people’s jobs close to where they live, which is increasingly possible for many with modern communications.

      2. libertarian
        January 16, 2016


        Your pathetic rant has nothing to do with what you objected LL saying about subsidies. Unless your only argument is that rail should be taxpayer subsidised in case the rail workers go on strike.

        Oh and that brings us to what this article is about which is innovation in the rail industry . Driverless trains would do a lot to fix strikes too !

        1. Jerry
          January 17, 2016

          @libertarian; Your pathetic rant has nothing to do with what you objected LL saying about subsidies.”

          Says someone with an obvious pathetic knowledge of the railways industry… Without subsidies many lines and services would not run, people would be forced to either remain at home or use their private cars, when ever this happens due to strike action it results in grid locked roads in the traditional commuter areas.

          “Oh and that brings us to what this article is about which is innovation in the rail industry . Driverless trains would do a lot to fix strikes too !”

          No it would not as it would only need any one of the main computer centres to be switched-out for no trains to run at all within its own area and with a cascading shut-down further afield as tracks become blocked by stranded trains (and passengers [1]) that can not proceed into the already shut-down area(s), thanks for proving once again that you (like so many ‘thinkers’ on this site) have little idea as to how such systems work in the real world were systems MUST fail to the safe-side.

          [1] possibly taking it upon themselves to de-tain and walk along the track

        2. Anonymous
          January 17, 2016

          Libertarian – There are many reasons to automate trains but stopping strikes isn’t the first. There hasn’t been a major strike by drivers on the mainline network for decades.

          ‘Driverless’ can never really mean driverless. Even the DLR has riders (Train Captains) who are trained to override systems in the event of breakdowns of the train and signalling. They have a right to be unionised.

          The Train Captains were not put there by the unions but by government bodies.

          A long range, open, network means that trains are mostly in remote locations – there is even more reason to have Train Captains on those than there is on DLR !

          Your savings by going driverless can never be total. If you did decide to go completely driverless then a method of getting fitters (qualified to drive broken trains) to remote locations would need to be devised and this (I’m being serious) would necessitate the use of helicopters in some places.

          Heaven forfend more than one breakdown happened at the same time. The costs are truly horrendous when a train blocks a running line and holds up other services.

          How much unionist power do you think mobile fitters would be able to command ? How would you stop them going on strike ?

      3. Lifelogic
        January 16, 2016

        It is not the overall length that counts it is the useful miles of people and goods moved door to door given the land used for track or road. Roads win almost every time. They are also far cheaper. Trains spend most of the day and reverse computer journeys empty and you often need two way taxis are each end too.

        Just look at the stats and the ticket prices..

        1. Jerry
          January 17, 2016

          @LL: Of course the number of passenger in a given length matters, the fact that you can not grasp this simple fact just proves that you are no physicist and engineer, nor even a mathematician!

          Oh and for Lorries to carry the sort of loads that block and marry-go-round freight trains carry would make Australian style “Road Trains” look tame and very short.

          1. Lifelogic
            January 18, 2016

            Not the passengers in a given length of train (as you have the length of track in front of and behind the train too). This too is being “used” as it is needed to run the train. The useful passenger mile per area of land used it usually rather worse than roads.

          2. Jerry
            January 18, 2016

            @LL; Oncer again you miss the point.

            Capacity of the vehicles used for the daily commute;

            Cyclist; 1 (or 2 if a tandem..).
            Car; perhaps a maximum of 8 people.
            Mini-bus; 24 max.
            Standard bus or coach; ~70.
            Train; anything from 160 to 1000.

            Only someone without a mathematical clue or with an ingrained hatred of trains would claim that the private motor car is the more efficient (even more so when the average private car has only the driver in it, whilst most commuter trains are standing room only and fit to burst)! The only possible way the motor car is more efficient is when more than the average briefcase/laptop bag is being carried. Now had your argument been based on Mr ‘White-Van’ Man and his daily work-load you might have had a point…

      4. Edward2
        January 16, 2016

        You started by saying you were going to ” deal with this post by way of…facts” Jerry.
        Yet when I read your post I found few actual facts which countered the original article which simply called for innovation and improvements to the UK rail system.

        1. Edward2
          January 16, 2016

          Should be linked as a reply to your 11.12am later very long post
          Apologies for the error.

          1. Jerry
            January 17, 2016

            @Edward2; That is because you (so obviously) know nothing about railways, their history and thus the modern industry, thus can not be expected to understand.

          2. Edward2
            January 17, 2016

            No need to be quite so rude Jerry.
            Still bigging yourself up as the expert on everything.
            Everyone else knows nothing apparently.

          3. Jerry
            January 18, 2016

            @Edward2; I speak as I am spoken to…

          4. Edward2
            January 18, 2016

            Unlike you I don’t continually claim to be an expert on every topic.
            Nor state regularly that everybody else is ignorant.

      5. Lifelogic
        January 18, 2016

        Why can I not say build more roads, underpasses, bridges and road tunnels?

        That is very clearly what is needed to reduce congestion and resultant pollution caused by this congestion.

    3. Bob
      January 16, 2016


      ” stop all the huge subsidies for trains and the large over taxation of road traffic and allow them to compete on a level playing field”

      Exactly. It’s a tiny minority of people that regularly use trains, and yet the majority of us have to pay huge subsidies for them.

      If the massive revenue from taxes and duties on motorists were invested in road infrastructure instead of propping up our inefficient railways we would have the best transport infrastructure in the world.

      1. Lifelogic
        January 18, 2016

        Indeed the large subsidy of trains and large over taxation of road users (plus the under provision of road space) is a very damaging distortion of market forces. Destroying wealth and hugely reducing the nations ability to compete. Ensuring capital is allocated to the wrong things.

    4. Bazman
      January 16, 2016

      I come back to this site after a few months of not looking and for sure you are putting you ignorant right wing views that have little to do with reality probably caused by living one suspects on an island. No matter how many facts, reason and laughably logic you spout the same nonsense. You have been pointed to the impossibility of just having roads many times and the efficiency of trains.
      Cuts have been the problem in many cases such as the floods and it would be interesting to see how much scrounging you would be doing had any of your properties been flooded. Lets just let the market sort out the floods would not is suspect be your idea then.
      When a point is made have a think as you do not own the facts answer some of Jerry’s points if you are so clever. You know in any argument that you would lose. It not about facts with you and many Tories though is it? Facts are only relevant when they are i9n your favour. Harrumphing and spouting right wing drivel about the subject is not a factual argument. Come out from under your stone to be squashed please.

      1. Edward2
        January 16, 2016

        It’s not “ignorant”
        It’s just your opinion.
        We live in a democracy so you have your opinions.
        There is no automatic right yours are any better.

        1. Jerry
          January 17, 2016

          Edward2; [in reply to @Bazman]

          It’s not “ignorant”

          It is if it is if the comment is based on zero or incorrect facts!

          “It’s just your opinion.
          We live in a democracy so you have your opinions.”

          Indeed but the same applies to all, including yourself, @Lifelogic and @libertarian et al.

          “There is no automatic right yours are any better.”

          That depends on if the comment is based on factual knowledge or just ignorance…

        2. Bazman
          January 17, 2016

          Opinion is not fact and he is constantly putting forward his opinions on as this. Such pollution is just green crap, the market will solve all problems except when it does not do it in his favour and so on. There is a right and wrong and this is wrong. This a fact not an opinion edward.
          Where are his replies to any challenges made to his general nonsenses? Exactly.

          1. Edward2
            January 17, 2016

            You both exhibit the traditional pompous smugness of those on the left.
            The know it all, only we have the correct answers attitude.
            Your responses to others you disagree with is always via abuse and rudeness.
            Here we have Bazman comparing those who are of a different opposition to him to (unchecked ref ed)
            Very democratic.

            Unlike public meetings you are unable to shout down or interupt your opponents on here.
            And that is the brilliance of the Internet.
            The left cannot achieve their usual tactic of trying to shut down debate by intimidation.
            And we can see clesrly how much it riles you both.

          2. Lifelogic
            January 18, 2016

            I have never suggested the market will solve everything and some sensible regulation is clearly needed sometimes.

            If you make any coherent points that can be understood I do reply.

            If trains are so good and efficient whey do they need so much subsidy and cost so much more. Where cars are over taxed, cost much less and go directly door to door with perhaps even 7 people and luggage.

          3. Jerry
            January 18, 2016

            @LL; [in reply to Bazman] “I have never suggested the market will solve everything and some sensible regulation is clearly needed sometimes.”

            Which @Bazman agrees, but you only seem to want it regulated when it means you gain, your comments appear to take the attitude of “Head I win, Tails you loose”…

            “If you make any coherent points that can be understood I do reply. “

            Cough and splutter… Isn’t that what @Bazman says to you, what is more when he replies to our host he is able to remain on topic, it might not be what the right or capitalists want to hear but he does stay on-topic!

            “Where cars are over taxed, cost much less and go directly door to door with perhaps even 7 people and luggage.”

            Except that is not the average commute, and were the majority of the rail subsidy are paid. Oh and there is nothing much more door to door than living within walking distance of a railway station and working within walking distance of a railway station, even if we add a short bus or car ride [1] to either end. Mr LL, do you have a personal chauffeur by any chance?!

            [1] something should be done about the rip-off car parking charges at railway stations

          4. Bazman
            January 18, 2016

            Why is so much of the world investing in rail in particular high speed rail if this is the case, are they deluded? You have been explained the efficiency/inefficiency of rail compared to other forms of transport and this can be easily found on the internet. The idea that roads can replace roads for passenger use is dingbat. It has been put to you a number of times why and I will not waste time repeating why again.
            Another one is green crap. The pollution in many cities and the deaths of many thousands a year from air pollution. A lack of sustainable clean energy in the world. Is this green crap. Now come up with a sensible replies to these easily understandable coherent points. They may well be not relevant on you little island, but for millions here and abroad they are.

  2. Mike Stallard
    January 16, 2016

    ” some still in love with steam traction”
    Guilty m’lud.

    State interference is deadly. Why? Because it is always top down. And the people at the top are so often simply ignorant of what is going on. They take their salaries (massive, but still not enough) and then are in the Bahamas when the floods come.
    The underlings – for that is what they soon become (doctors please note) – are desperate to fit in and keep their jobs. They are strongly unionised.
    Very soon it is all about the organisation keeping itself safe and not about improvement.

    That is why the railways should be freed up as much as possible. That way, (John Lewis) people feel they are working for railway and they improve it.

    But will DGMOVE allow it?

  3. Antisthenes
    January 16, 2016

    I worry about peoples sanity who believe that the public sector should be the providers of goods and services not the private sector. That profit is a dirty word, legal tax planning is abhorrent and rich people should be taxed and hounded out of existence. They are demanding that the very things that brought our ancestors out of poverty and has given us our incredible standard of living that we enjoy today should be scrapped. On top of which they demand that government should take responsibility for their actions and provide all their needs using not their money but other peoples if necessary.

    Does that appear rational, reasonable and fair except in a few exceptional cases? It does not. It appears to me that these people are deluding themselves especially as their reasons for promoting such policies and practices are based only on envy, nostalgia, ideology and denial of evidence that proves beyond any doubt that private sector provision works whilst the alternative never has and never will.

    1. Margaret
      January 16, 2016

      I am concerned about those who instead of giving sensible level headed arguments about issues attack the sanity of others , The more objective the argument is , the easier it will be to stand alone and represent the truth. Personality politics where others think they have the right to be abusive are long past their sell by date. This is progress; it is changing people first. Ethics will lead and all citizens who have endured the nasty arguments and grouping together of bullies will not stand for this abuse any longer. They will not stand for a point of view called non sense when reason has been executed far beyond the capabilities of the abusers.

      1. Antisthenes
        January 16, 2016

        Are you quoting from Mein Kampf or the communist manifesto or is it just your own gobbledygook . What actually is your point and what in my comment do you disagree or perhaps agree with.

        1. Margaret
          January 17, 2016

          The point is in the first sentence.

        2. Jerry
          January 18, 2016

          @Antisthenes; The point you miss is that “public sector” can also mean profit, just not share dividends, as proved by East Coast Trains.

          I often question the sanity of capitalists who can not understand this, after all for employers and the wider economy being able to get employees to and from work cheaply/easily is surely common sense?

    2. oldtimer
      January 16, 2016


    3. Spotter
      January 16, 2016

      Antisthenes: It is you who have generalised.

      Some things work better privatised and some things work better under government control.

      Do you disagree ?

      And if you do disagree are you not afflicted with the same insanity that you diagnose others with ? Quite clearly the armed forces provides a service which can be relied upon.

      For the record I doubt very many people are as black-and-white on the issue as you make out.

    4. Bob
      January 16, 2016


      “I worry about peoples sanity who believe that the public sector should be the providers of goods and services not the private sector. “

      You just have to cast your mind back to British Leyland and the GPO. Remember all those newly built cars standing in muddy fields because no one wanted to buy them? And the days when you had to apply and wait for six to twelve months for a telephone junction box to be fitted just inside your front door? I don’t think the iPhone would exist if it had been left to the GPO.
      I wonder what advances there would be it the health service was run by the private sector? Would we have had #MidStaffs? or still be waiting two weeks to see a GP?

      1. Jerry
        January 18, 2016

        @Bob; “Remember all those newly built cars standing in muddy fields because no one wanted to buy them?”

        You mean like how Fiat used to store their car body shells (sometimes not even in primer), now look at Fiat, don’t they also own a 20% stake of Chrysler in the USA?

        There are many reason why any product might stand in storage, from no customers (due to external to the company, economic reasons), over production to poor design/build quality.

        “And the days when you had to apply and wait for six to twelve months for a [GPO] telephone junction box to be fitted just inside your front door?”

        No, that was for a new line to be installed, not a modification to an already installed line, and the reason was not because of the GPO was a government owned company but because of technical restraints. New lines were provided on the base of qualifying need, no company ordered phone line took anything like six months never mind twelve, more likely six weeks – assuming that the GPO didn’t need to lay a complete new telegraph line in the road or via poles just to read the address.

        “I don’t think the iPhone would exist if it had been left to the GPO.”

        That might have been a good thing, some times things would have been better had they not been invented – and we would have been non the wiser either!

        1. Ted Mombiot
          January 20, 2016

          Quiet day Jerry?

    5. Lifelogic
      January 18, 2016


  4. Margaret
    January 16, 2016

    The strange way of thinking is that progress for some reason is confined to the private sector. We are just experiencing Tim Peake’s space station expertise. Which private firm paid for this? Some are just behind the times and stuck in perceptions categorised by those who wanted to make a fast buck.

    Why do so many people trot along with the flow repeating the same old garbage, blinkered to what all institutions can do to progress ?

    Can you not understand that every part of progress is due to what people can do together and those holding us back are those that lambast history and do not try to improve on original models. Foundations unscrupulously taken down and rebuilt as tack which changes with the wind will not last.

    1. Anonymous
      January 16, 2016

      Margaret – You’re right.

      There is good and bad in both public and private sector. It is silly to suggest otherwise.

      Your Dysons have produced goods with ideas formed and tested in state funded university laboratories.

      1. Lifelogic
        January 18, 2016

        There is indeed good and back in both sectors but in general the bad in the private sector goes bust. The bad in the state sector can continue almost for ever and often does. There is thus far more bad in the state sector. They care not what they pay nor what value they get. It is not their money nor they who benefit from the “public service” they provide.

    January 16, 2016

    Aside from the largely insurmountable physical overall speed damper which any increase in traffic on either road or rail enacts on itself and on the other,the hysterical ideology of building bigger and more unmanageable cities with daily cross pollination of work is the key problem.Example: a plumber from City A …travels daily 20 miles to do work in City B whilst a plumber from City B… travels daily 20 miles to do work in City A.
    Governments find the resultant clogging of travelling arteries and wastage of human time as: “Growth of necessary infrastructure “; “Obvious growth of business activity.” ; “Better Railways ” ( for ticket sales increase from plumbers ) and “Better Road Usage” (for more plumbers travel on them )

    One senses the spiritual presence in all this of the Prime Ideologist Rt Hon Mr Cameron.
    I heard him on TV yesterday attempting to justify his stance on trying to get rid of President Assad. Again he said that President Assad is the Chief Recruiting Sergeant for ISIS. Mr Cameron’s illogical belief-system holds that if we do not help certain Syrians to get rid of Assad, those self-same Syrians will be more enthusiastic in getting rid of Assad and simultaneously and increasingly wish to bomb, shoot and maim us in the UK. Aye, Mr Cameron obviously likes playing at trains too.

  6. Leslie Singleton
    January 16, 2016

    I wonder about the deleterious effects of enforced equality. Given the huge demand at both the top and bottom of the income, and mindset, scale especially on the trains I offer two thoughts, viz First, at the top, bring back Motorail (Car on train) very much including Sleeping cars–Get on train in the evening and wake up to breakfast in say Inverness, saving night in hotel plus mileage etc (so mitigating high price) not to mention road clogging etc, not to mention two extra days in Scotland. Done it, or rather did it, many times and as I say the demand was huge; Secondly, bring back some sort of Third Class–Amid the no-doubt-outraged howls from Brotherhood of Man types, passengers using Third Class (mainly commuters) would travel in carriages much akin to Tube carriages, meaning unashamedly geared up for standing (straps etc all along the aisle) and of course much cheaper. The latter would shift a lot of people (just like the Tube as I say–I am not proposing some sort of new horror story) and create room for more civilised travel (whisper it softly but perhaps with actual corridors–A pox on modern aircraft-style carriages) in Second Class, which itself would still be packed a lot of the time. Give up the silly pretence that everyone can have a seat in the Rush Hour. This would reflect reality and I cannot see why it would not increase Revenue at little extra cost whilst letting more people travel. Of course nobody would be forced in to any particular class–passengers would have what’s called a choice. Here endeth the Lesson (as against the “Reading”).

  7. agricola
    January 16, 2016

    Though I think you have done railways to death in your diary, to the point where I begin to wonder what you are avoiding discussing, I will contribute.

    They were a critical part of the industrial revolution and during the steam age they had a degree of glamour. Not overlooking the fact that they generated some disgusting filth and particulate. As a schoolboy in the late 40’s I remember a visit to the Crewe engineering works. The atmosphere was satanic and unbreathable. How the workers survived I know not. Investigation would probably discover that they did not for long.

    To the best of my knowledge up to WW2 they were private companies and mostly successful. Even now, properly run, they take a lot of beating as a mass transport system. For sure they could be better run as private concerns, but a private concern might prefer to take a blank sheet of paper and look at all the possibilities for mass transport rather than to take over a creaking, in effect, nationalised industry. I would hesitate to try and set up anything in the UK because there are too many vested interests and protected snails to get in the way. If we ever sort out our airport capacity where politics, vested interests and snails are also a handicap then I would look to air to move people for distances over a hundred miles.

    1. Lifelogic
      January 16, 2016

      Flights and personal door to door transport with auto drivers eventually is the future. Especially in the small UK and ships and trucks for heavy goods. Train for a few special situations.

      1. Bazman
        January 16, 2016

        This is clueless drivel. Where did you get this from and are all other countries investing in high speed rail deluded? Robinson Crusoe arguments that even when taken down are still spouted with religious zeal.

      2. Anonymous
        January 17, 2016

        There’s no chance that that door-to-door transport might run… empty, is there, Lifelogic ???

        1. Bazman
          January 18, 2016

          Can’t afford a taxi lielogic. Then what? A small simple easily understandable point for you, so why no reply?

        2. Bazman
          January 18, 2016

          Well? Can you not unsdertand this point?

    January 16, 2016

    Human beings only seem to be able to manage and process bite-sized pieces of information;hence the term “sound-bites”: “thinking in boxes” : “thinking in silos” ” mental frameworks”; or, something akin to Plato’s famous Cave story.
    So it is with railways and roads.

    To the point: the more bite-sized railway interactions stop functioning as such in practical terms as for example: Bradford to Leeds; Leeds to Wakefield; Wakefield to Sheffield; Sheffield to Derby; Derby to Birmingham;Birmingham to St Pancras and take on more of the behaviour of an integrated conveyor belt system : BradfordLeedsWakefieldSheffieldDerbyBirmingham St Pancras then the in-built problems of an integrated conveyor belt thwart the very nature of what is required of a system carrying individual passengers whose eventual destination and utility has nothing whatsoever to do with the “conveyor belt” and its operation.

    In plain English, the more a railway is synchronised like a conveyor belt system: the more any obstacle that leads to any one conveyor belt stopping or slowing down has an immediate and not just as at present a knock-on effect to the whole system. None of its parts in such synchronisation can function independently to alleviate stranded ware as such independent action leads the whole system to be out of sync and unable to work effectively when the original slowing obstacle is removed. One sees this in the as yet not totally synchronised aeroplane system where for example Flight 333 is delayed leading to delays by a knock-on-effect to other interconnecting flights, and aeroplanes being in the wrong places at the wrong times elsewhere. Planes can be diverted, passengers deplaned and sent via other airlines and routes. ( or indeed via rail and road ).Not possible with a synchronised railway/road system. For the most part the passengers will be increasingly stuck.

    Governments have failed to view the railway system with anything but childlike eyes. Mummy and Daddy via Father Christmas and Birthday presents giving little Johnney a few extra pieces of track, another coach or two and Oh Golly a spanking new railway station with a plastic fir tree. How larger and larger it becomes.Gosh!

    In other words, the railway system at present is a series yet a separate set of continuums. The flaw in further development and synchronisation is the theology of the Perfect Conveyors. A false God.

  9. alan jutson
    January 16, 2016

    People with vision tend to invest and run Private industries.

    Politicians still seem to be in charge of the railways, as they set the rules for franchises, Network rail, rail track and the like, whilst still offering a subsidy, that is the big difference.

    The so called last attempt at privatisation, was simply a dogs dinner which destroyed a single timetable, but did not privatise other areas properly so now we have the worst of both Worlds.

    Yes it is being used by more people, but then the population has grown by millions of people, as well and the roads have also become more congested, with parking at an expensive premium.

  10. acorn
    January 16, 2016

    Interesting JR that you are now in favour of vertical integration of the components of the rail transport system, when you were against it when you privatised it horizontally. That, to deny the natural monopoly that the very high (sunk) costs of track infrastructure caused!

    You go on with this simplistic, naive, competition mantra, but every time you apply it, you bugger up something. Trains; Electricity and currently Education; finally, I expect the Holy Grail of privatisations, the NHS. You gave away for pennies, two of the three UK train leasing companies, Porterbrook and Eversholt, that sold on generating billions in profits for a few spiv city bandits.

    If you do some value chain analysis, you will discover that the French and the Germans got it correct with trains. The UK comes out as more of a natural monopoly than both of those. (Qatar Gas LNG at South Hook, Milford Haven is a great example of how to own and operate an integrated value chain.)

    Reply I wrote the minority report in government in favour of privatising track with trains.

    1. Jerry
      January 17, 2016

      @JR reply; “I wrote the minority report in government in favour of privatising track with trains.”

      Is that minority report publicly accessible?

      1. Jerry
        January 17, 2016

        @JR non reply; I’ll take that non reply as a No! then, pity. 🙁

        Oh and I do not mean that in any sarcastic way, I would have genuinely been interested in your minority report, for that was my preferred method of privatisation.

        Reply I am not the full time research assistant of bloggers to this site. The railway issue was settled many years ago. I do not check what archives have been released or whether something I did in writing and orally at the time has been published.I am preoccupied with the present and future, not with things I did in the early 1990s. I do recall publishing something through the CPS as well close to my time in government, but it does not come to hand on my shelves to check how that was written.I do remember I was writing up a big seminar with a range of views.

        1. Jerry
          January 18, 2016

          @JR reply; Thank you, understood, I will have a search of the CPS site. Oh and I really didn’t expect you to be our research assistant!

  11. Mark B
    January 16, 2016

    This is indeed one of your better articles with many points that I strongly agree with. Competition, real competition, does indeed bring many benefits. Look at TV’s, mobile phones and charges, computers and the like. Where ever there is ‘real’ competition, there are always constant improvements.

    The problem with rail as is with water, is that you cannot so easily apply these same market place principles as the nature of the service cannot easily be transformed into one where other providers can operate.

    My suggestion would be to make the property of such bodies owned by the State but, the maintenance, management and provision provided by the Private Sector. We already do this via Qango’s. Private bodies like the EA that take State money and use it to fulfill their role. Only, the difference here, is that the State should not provide monies but the consumer. The provider would as part of their contract provide a service for a fee for a set period of time. Any profits that are to be made must be made through greater efficiency without sacrificing the quality of the services provided.

    Should a private company not be able to do so, then the contract can be opened up to others but the assets (eg trains and track) would still be in public ownership. Also, as the State would be buying things such as new trains, it would have far greater buying power so help to keep costs down.

    Your thoughts Mr. Redwood MP

  12. Atlas
    January 16, 2016

    I thought the biggest cock up was the way Major sold off the railways to a myriad of middle men. You rightly mention competition; it is a pity it does not work in the Energy Sector as advertised.

    What the Railways are really about nowadays is providing subsidised travel into London…

    1. Bazman
      January 16, 2016

      And providing high living standards for a few elite at the expense of the many.

    2. Anonymous
      January 17, 2016

      Atlas – And dispersal of London wealth to the provinces. A good thing, no ?

  13. Tad Davison
    January 16, 2016

    If my memory serves me correctly John, you had a Jaguar XJS around twenty years ago. A good car in its day, but as you say, modern cars are so much better and more efficient in almost every way.

    I confess to being a railway enthusiast. I probably have well over 30,000 railway photographs in my collection. I love railways of the past, but I’m not so besotted with a golden age of railways that didn’t really exist, that I harken back to it and wish to re-establish it in the twenty-first century. Things have moved on.

    Railways have their place in the modern context, but I don’t use them. They’re often an expensive way to get squashed like a sardine with standing room only, and unbelievably, a lot of trains are cancelled because they can’t get the staff to drive them, despite a train driver’s job being more highly remunerated now than at any time in railway history.

    My car is far more convenient and cheaper than any short-haul public transport (if anyone’s interested, they can see it in the latest edition of Vauxhall’s V magazine either in the printed version or online). It will do nearly 80 MPG on a run, and I can get 60 MPG around town without even trying! At speed it is so quiet my wife and I can talk to each other without the need to shout (something we have trouble doing at other times).

    The dreaded Co2 figure so seized upon by the environmentalists, is also vastly lower than cars of yesteryear, so I would like to see extra road capacity created, rather than the ridiculous policy of actually creating congestion with hare-brained schemes like the ones we have in Cambridgeshire! In my car, I can go where I want, when I want, door-to-door, and railways will never be that versatile.

    Tad Davison


    1. Frank
      January 16, 2016

      Excellent. Finally a railway enthusiast who says cars do a better job. Post this to all public sector workers, the BBC the Labour Party. We need to move on……

      1. Jerry
        January 18, 2016

        @Frank; “cars do a better job [than railway]

        Far to simplistic…

        Cars are no good at transporting 1000 people in the same vehicle, to all arrive at the same time at the same place. Nor do cars or lorries do a better job of transporting 1000 tonnes of stone, coal, oil or what ever… Clue, the motor car is basically personal transit, railways (and coaches) are mass transit, and the London rush-hours for example are mass transit events even when people use personal cars, hence the road congestion whilst the railway are usually just busy.

  14. ian wragg
    January 16, 2016

    The only time I would consider using the railways is at the weekend but of course this is always subject to massive delays due to essential maintenance.
    mainland Europe doesn’t seem to suffer from this.
    To get to my place of work for 6 am it takes about 75 mins by car door to door. Besides it not being possible to get there for 6 am when I did take the train with a change at Sheffield it took nearly 3 hours. It also cost be £30.
    The trains were crowded and non too clean. Not a pleasant experience.

  15. libertarian
    January 16, 2016

    Absolutely John , your opening paragraph sums up very well one of the problems with large numbers of the public. This also counts for things like manufacturing, so many contributors on here keep telling us that we are a banking based economy and not manufacturing whilst completely being unaware that manufacturing has moved on since the 1950’s and now includes vast amounts of service sector based technology. New manufacturing processes and robotics have fundamentally transformed manufacturing. Oh and for all the bank slayers out there you need to know that the markets are stepping in and starting to bypass the failed banking organisations and systems. Watch this space FinTech, Blockchain & other technologies are radically about to transform the banking sector too.

    No industry is immune to innovation

    Its called evolution

    1. Richard1
      January 16, 2016

      Indeed. there was more of this drivel from Ken Livingstone on Any Questions “we’ve allowed our manufacturing industry to disappear” as if there is something sensible ‘we’ could or should have done to shore up industries which could no longer compete. Nor is manufacturing these days a labour intensive sector, much of it is automated and that trend is sure to continue. Prosperity can only be assured by innovation and competitiveness, most likely to be achieved with less rather than more state intervention.

      1. Jerry
        January 18, 2016

        @Richard1; “as if there is something sensible ‘we’ could or should have done to shore up industries which could no longer compete.”

        You mean like other nations did, and some still do?

        I’m not saying that there should not have been root and branch reforms, but did we really need to throw the baby out with the stagnant water, with the right care ‘baby’ could have once again become competitive.

        I see another 1000 jobs are being lost in the ‘UK steel industry’, how many are being lost in China, India or for that mater Germany or France…

  16. Jerry
    January 16, 2016

    Sorry for the lengthy comment but your diary entry actually covered a lot of ground that needs dealing with by way of some background facts.

    “They go on to assume I do not know how railways currently work”

    Of course you know how they work, what you fail to grasp is why they work, many of your own and other contributors ideas are a bit like wishing to radically reinvent the wheel, it can’t be as it still needs to be a circle!

    “and some still in love with steam traction. “

    Hardly, you do realise that the first all electric (passenger) mainline railway was opened by the Southern Railway in 1932 between London and Brighton [1] and by 1945 plans were afoot for non passenger trains to be hauled electrically too, three ‘prototype’ locomotives having already been built, in fact this would have already happened by 1945 had it not been for WW2 – and of course the same railway (and it’s predecessors) had been running an intensive south London suburban electric service since well before WW1.

    [1] followed by the ‘Mid Susses (via Horsham) line to Portsmouth and the ‘Portsmouth Direct’ (via Guildford) schemes by 1937, plus the extensive outer suburban schemes to Maidstone and Gillingham in Kent by June 1939, with other schemes suspended due to the outbreak of war. Oh and all these electric trains operated without a second person in the cab, just the ‘Motorman’ and guard.

    I would also add that electric traction was not the preserve of the SR and LU system, both the old pre-war LNER and LMS were installing such commuter systems before WW2, and in the case of the LNER was planning the electrification of the Manchester to Sheffield (“Woodhead”) line before WW2, the scheme being finally realised and completed in the early 1950s.

    “In the real world business strives for constant improvement.”

    We all want constant improvement (non more so than the railway enthusiast), but there is a difference between constant improvement and constant cost-cutting, not least when it comes to the fare paying passengers safety – just because something works on a ‘closed loop’ (not necessarily literally) railway system it doesn’t automatically mean that the the same system will work were there are a lot more conflicting movements or were trains can quite literally become isolated by location. What is suitable for the DLR (or some far off commuter railway in another country) doesn’t automatically mean it would be suited for operating trains through the Severn tunnel for example.

    “Competition is the main driver of progress.”

    As it always has been, first came the Omnibus (horse-drawn, tram or motor) and then the motor car, hence why the LSWR and LBSCR invested in electric traction for their south London commuter lines, and the Southern Railway carried on after the 1923 groupings. The pre-WW2 railway companies introduced demountable containers, that could be moved between railway wagon and motor or horse drawn vehicle in response to the competition of the motor lorry (and what is more, the motor transport services were free to chose what they carried, the railways were legally bound to transport what ever they were presented with, hence why the pre-WW2 railway system was very adapt at transporting ‘out of gauge’ loads…

    “We allow limited competition in train provision through the franchise auction process.”

    That is quasi competition, just sharing out the rewards, and as many of the most important fare structures are regulated it is arguable if it is even quasi competition.

    “which can create new routes and services as challengers to the incumbents.”

    How many new railway lines is the government planning, for that is the only way a new route can be created, and as for services, yes new services can be introduced, providing that there is a WTT path for them.

    “As the government reviews the present structure of the railways it needs to examine how reuniting track and trains in single companies might assist, and how such regional monopolies could be kept honest by allowing challenge from other companies to offer competing services. “

    Well at least that is more positive, and as for competition, you mean like how the old GWR, LMS, LNER and SR all competed before WW2. Through trains, operating rights over routes etc. didn’t start in 1994, nor with BR’s own interregional trains in 1945, in fact they didn’t even start in 1923 and the groupings, parliament laid some such rights down in law when permitting the building of the said railway route back in the 1800s. As for commuter lines were competition, even today, is difficult is were the regulation of fares would come in, as it does already.

    “[some rather silly comparison between buying cars and trains, once again trying to compare apples and oranges]”

    When in 1955 British Railway decided that Steam traction had to be replaced there was the same sort of market choice in motive power as found when buying a car, by 1965 there were 38 different classes (in 5 power classification types) of mainline passenger, mixed traffic and freight locomotives either delivered or on order to BR, this doesn’t include the numerous type of shunting locomotive either. Most of these locomotives had been or were being built by private sector engineering companies [2] (rather than BR in its own workshops), such as English Electric, Brush Traction and BRCW to name just three – then of course there were the 38 odd different types of D(E)MU trains, again with most being built by private engineering companies, such as Pressed Steel or Metropolitain-Cammell to name just two.

    Oh and such locomotives and rolling stock orders were often placed with such outside builders even before 1948, even WW2, the LMS had diesel locomotives built by English Electric, the SR’s Brighton Belle trains were built by Metropolitain-Cammell.

    [2] it was a condition of the Conservative governments “Modernisation of British Railways” funding. which was actually a loan to be paid back from revenue income, until written off by Wilson’s post 1964 Government

    Strangely enough though, once in service many of those privately designed and built locomotives were found to have been waste of tax payers money (and not because the basic BR specification was poor), by 1973, of the 21 classes of Diesel locomotives built between 1955 and 1968 there were only 13, and 3 of those would be gone by the end of 1976 – almost all of those 11 scrapped designs had been purchased off-plan from private engineering companies. Make of that what you like…

    ” Why not the same optimism from railway buffs?

    There is the same optimism from railway “buffs” (hmm, does anyone call you a political buff John?), if not more so, try looking on the opposite side of the coin! So Mr Redwood, before trying to insult the intelligence of railway enthusiasts (with your idea that we all want to return to steam traction, again would you suggest that someone who works/volunteers in say a Battle of Britain Museum as being someone who wants a return to WW2?! ) perhaps you would care to check your historical facts… Some of us want a return to the innovative, indeed cutting edge, days when the railways were allowed to do what they do best, that was found in the heyday of the railway between 1923-39, without there being undue political interference as there has been since 1948 -that got even worse after 1994.

    1. Spotter
      January 16, 2016

      Quite right, Jerry.

      We ‘enthusiasts’ don’t harken back to steam but to the days when Britain was at the cutting edge !

      Perhaps you could answer me: in what way were GWR, LNER, LMS and SR competing with each other (except in terms of prestige) ? In so far as I’m aware they all operated on closed regions away from each other.

      Their competition was from other forms of transport.

      1. Jerry
        January 17, 2016

        @Spotter; All the railway companies operated through trains, or had running rights over “joint tracks” meaning that for example the LMS had to allow and find paths in the WTT) for trains of the LNER or GWR, this was common for all the geographical pre-WW2 private railway companies, the LNER and LMS even had such rights into the south London tracks of the SR, also routes served the same large conurbations, for example (to take one example) Nottingham was served by two main railway stations, Notting (Midland) and Nottingham Victoria (LNER) – it was much of this duplication that the Beeching Axe removed, Victoria station closing in 1967.

        Another general example worth noting was the railways of the West Country, many coastal towns in the western side (Atlantic) of Cornwall were actually serviced by Southern Railway, not the GWR as might have been expected, and of those routes still extant have been within the old BR Western Regions since the 1960s.

        Geographical area railway companies can compete, perhaps not in and out of the commuter London Terminus’s but then one would expect (as I said) for those fares and services to be regulated services anyway.

        1. Spotter
          January 17, 2016


    2. Jerry
      January 16, 2016

      @Jerry; Before anyone points out my typos, as they like to do (and then argue about the facts non the less), there were 28 different classes of diesel or electric locomotives by 1965 – not 38.

      1. Edward2
        January 16, 2016

        Truly fascinating.

        1. Jerry
          January 17, 2016

          @Edward2; ” [sic]Truly fascinating.[/sic]”

          It is if one (want to) understand anything about the whys and wherefores of the UK railway system, and why BR failed, and the current system of TOCs will -most likely- fail too, never mind ended up wasting much UK tax payer money.

          Perhaps our host could look out the July 1935 financial arrangements [1] between the Treasury and the four mainline railway companies of the day for how government can help investment and modernisation of the railways – without undue political interference.

          [1] it lead to the setting up of the “Railway Finance Corporation Ltd.” (of 1946)

          1. Jerry
            January 17, 2016

            Sorry, that should have been “of 1936“, not post war.

          2. Edward2
            January 17, 2016

            Even more fascinating that you last post Jerry.

    January 16, 2016

    Paragraph four: “Competition is the main driver of progress”
    As in my TV service?

    30 years ago…With little if no competition, I paid my licence fee, paid for my TV, I switched on and I immediately saw a picture/programme, immediately. ( not in 5mins to 20 mins ,…”awaiting a signal” ) No great big block-out band a third of the screen for several seconds, no interruptions for advertisements, no interruptions telling me what was on screen tomorrow, next week, a month hence, no picture in the top right hand corner of the screen begging me to press a further control button to get a full screen eliminating sound and vision for seconds. No sudden screen block-out by a device asking if I wish to continue watching or cancel some recording of another programme or other requiring my immediate attention. No automatic switch-off of my TV whilst I make a cup of tea in the kitchen requiring me to restart the TV. No massive fluctuations of volume between programmes requiring a control device being permanently sellotaped to my chest to avoid bursting of my eardrums.
    Instead, I have a TV licence, a paid-for TV and the audacity of a company charging me £45+ in addition for providing me with a historically worst service ever.

    Competition? There are effectively just two companies. One is Virgin Media and the other is BBC ( Sky actually uses BBC facilities and BT facilities as do other companies. Official customer complaints against all suggest poor service and poor customer complaint service as can be seen on their Twitter hashtags.. A nonsense of Competition. Non-existent in real terms and providing a worse service and performance than in the days we were all monochrome and walked rather too quickly.
    Not forgetting the news. The only news in adequate detail: the only truthful news is provided by Twitter and other social media. In that Virgin Media and the BBC/BT allow me to see social media on my computer then “Competition” has done well. The media Twitter and Facebook are, however, not British .If they were, it would take up to 20 minutes to log on.

  18. Demetrius
    January 16, 2016

    As someone who worked on the railways in the ’50’s, with men who joined before WW1 I am as attached to the old railway as much as anyone. Times, alas, have changed, but we are still doing botch jobs based on past ideas. One question I have been asking since the 1950’s is why the linkages between airports and often to major urban areas are still so bad.

  19. BobE
    January 16, 2016

    Off topic but current.
    10pm. The time that Jeremy Hunt wants to redefine as beginning of “unsociable hours” for doctors, when they will be able to claim extra pay, which currently stands at 7pm.
    7.30pm The time after which MPs are allowed to claim expenses for evening meals on grounds that they are “sitting late” in the HOC.

  20. Margaret
    January 16, 2016

    I have just had an experience which is typical of the private sector who want you to stand to attention to their management speak. A private firm which has many branches and has succeeded due to its products alone , has changed over the last couple of years.
    I was asked in a conveyer belt line of people the same thing as everyone else ” Have I got everything I need.” I quietly answered yes. The till operator did not hear me and said in a louder demanding voice ” Have you got everything you need ” I reiterated that I had just said yes . I do not want to enter into their scripted spiel and be bossed about by till operators. I am quite capable of asking for an assistant to help me. Why does the private sector always have to treat people like this and not as individuals . The customer leads , not the management. I went to the manager and asked her why they were so bossy at the till , she said I would sack her on the spot if she did not read out the script.
    Who do they think they are? Then I was invited to spend my time going onto their website to give a complaint!
    Perhaps a notice saying .. Thank Your for your custom might help.

    1. graham1946
      January 16, 2016

      Margaret, don’t shoot the messenger or get upset with him/her. As you found out they have to do it on pain of the sack. They don’t like it any more than you do, but this is the management think of the modern company. This is what they think constitutes ‘service’. The managers responsible get telephone number salaries (unlike the benighted cashiers on minimum wage) before moving on to cock up another firm for even more money and finally being pensioned off with huge benefits, having run their firms into the ground. It doesn’t just happen in the public sector like some here believe.

      1. Margaret
        January 17, 2016

        Oh I am not . I am angry that they are turning staff into bullying till operators.

  21. MikeP
    January 16, 2016

    Cracking reply Antisthenes btw.

    John I’m guilty as charged – I love rail travel – always have, always will, and still use it for leisure after 11 years doing the Waterloo commute and hundreds of trips elsewhere on business. We should acknowledge, as you do, the success of the Reading improvements, Wokingham’s new station, the Dawlish repair work against the odds of nature, new air-conditioned rolling stock around the country, all improving or preserving the service we expect. Equally we should deplore, as you have, Network Rail’s wastefulness, their debris along the line, and poor project and budget management that has delayed the electrification of the Western mainline and the Manchester-Leeds route. The TOCs are no better in places, as on-board catering has been reduced to a minimum and over-crowding is an ongoing bug-bear. Why we haven’t yet got 10 or 12-car trains for Wokingham is a mystery to me.

    And you’re right to demand an element of competition but combining the rail infrastructure with the operators would not be a good move I fear, since it would remove an area of competition that might be possible under different franchise arrangements. There was also a celebrated example years ago of the Carstairs signalman holding up a competitor’s train years ago so his “own” company (LMS) could get through to Glasgow ahead of the LNER train to Edinburgh. We don’t want that temptation again.

    But just as there are several airlines flying to Frankfurt or Paris, so we could require the TOCs to offer alternate services to take us from London to Birmingham, Bristol, Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, Newcastle or Edinburgh. They could differentiate by on-board service and comfort, punctuality would be a challenge since leaving late would affect your competitor too, but then there would have to be a cash penalty for whoever was responsible. But news travels and if one TOC isn’t as good as another on the same route and people prefer the 09:30 to the 10:30, so be it, the loser would have to sort their act out.
    The debate and delay to HS2 is a major issue too since the real benefit to the country is not a faster connection to the “Northern Powerhouse” but to take pressure off the west coast main line so that could carry more freight that currently brings the M6 to a grinding halt. Economic growth would suggest that we still need to widen the motorways as well as implementing HS2, and stop using those stupid stick-on cats-eyes and cones that mess up the road surface when removed, leading to yet more road work upheaval and giving the repairers a job for life. The TRRL should really step up to the plate and come up with a more cost-effective way of coning off road works.
    Anyway, I’m optimistic for rail but it should never be re-nationalised.

    1. Jerry
      January 16, 2016

      @MikeP; “There was also a celebrated example years ago of the Carstairs signalman holding up a competitor’s train years ago so his “own” company (LMS) could get through to Glasgow ahead of the LNER train to Edinburgh. We don’t want that temptation again.”

      Hmm, that sound more like an argument for the return of BR and the single integrated railway system!

      There is nothing in how today’s railways are run that would actually prevent the scenario you paint above from happening again (think about how the compensation culture works), but with larger single TOC operations based on a geographical areas (rather than smaller franchises serving the same destinations) there might still be temptation but less opportunity.

      “The debate and delay to HS2 is a major issue too since the real benefit to the country is not a faster connection to the “Northern Powerhouse” but to take pressure off the west coast main line so that could carry more freight that currently brings the M6 to a grinding halt.”

      Indeed but that doesn’t need HS2, it needs a dedicated North-South freight line built, at a considerable saving in cost and land, by using existing secondary route (were freight and passenger trains could happily co-exist) and disused trackbeds that were closed as part of the misguided Beeching Axe.

      There will be little reduction in Passenger use of the WCML, nor any other line, once HS2 is built because it is not going to stop or even have station provision were people want to travel to/from.

  22. Spotter
    January 16, 2016

    I’m not stuck in a timewarp. I’m merely a pragmatist.

    The ideas you propose are going to require a lot of up-front investment which, actually, I would like to see.

    When you suggest increasing the the frequency of services I am right to ask where the stock is coming from – because it doesn’t exist at the moment. I too would like it to happen – lots of new trains.

    I take lighter trains to mean electric ones – which itself brings problems as we are on a path of power station closures.

    I wasn’t being negative when I questioned your birdseye view of the different transport systems but pointing out that any proper perspective needed to include information on the numbers of passengers per vehicle and their speed.

    Perhaps your new car is an improvement over the one that you bought 20 years ago but that meant people changing their cars every three years, on average. Essentially your new car does exactly the same thing as the old one.

    We are not going to change trains every three years. Eurostar have only just upgraded theres after 20 years – much of the network is still running 40-year-old BR stock and thank goodness BR wasn’t as bad as its detractors would have it or we’d have half the trains that we do.

    Trains are a huge capital investment and I doubt very many cars will be doing thousands of miles a day 40 years hence.

    We cannot get away from this: Mark Carney (of Network Rail) writes recently that a huge network like a railway needs central control and I believe him to be correct. It is quite obvious that breaking the railway up in linear fashion with competing services has not had the desired results.

    I am rather more pessimistic about things.

    Despite what people say we are actually a poor and indebted country which is tending towards banana republicanism. Such things as our railways reflects this more than it does any thrusting vision of swish modernity.

    We are a country in decline and very soon we won’t even be a country any more. Because the force of the pro EU movement in this country is overwhelming.

    At least we might end up with the Germans or the French running our railways.

    1. Spotter
      January 16, 2016

      “Trains are a huge capital investment and I doubt many cars will be doing thousands of miles a day in 40 years.”

      A company buys a new intercity train costing tens of millions of pounds. You can’t expect them to replace it for decades – like aeroplanes and ships, it will be out of date for most of its working life and this is quite normal in the mass transport industry.

      Cars cannot be reasonably compared.

      What private investor has the money for all the plans that you propose ? Or the appetite to wait a long time for any return on their frighteningly large investment ?

      Slightly off topic:

      In a previous post you mentioned trains passing signals at danger as a problem. Since Train Protection and Warning System (TPWS) was fitted to all trains there has not been a human error collision since Ladbroke Grove. Signals Passed at Danger have fallen dramatically. East Coast have not had one at all this year and even the worst performing TOC is down to a handfull. Trains are stopped long before they can do any damage. This has been a hugely successful innitiative and is a good example of making dramatic improvements to the railway without a total overhall.

      Systems such as ATP (in cab speed governor) and DAS (satnav Driver Advisory System) have resulted in the trains being driven slower than before they were fitted. They have been set to cope with the worst rail adhesion situation and and below average train braking characteristic – unable to assess the real time conditions they standardise speeds below what they need to be.

      The DRL and TFL operate rapid transit systems tending to fast accelaration but slow top speed. Their environment is also relatively enclosed and predictable so is more suitable computerised regulation.

      The situation that would be most difficult to overcome with closing the gap between services on a high speed open system would be stopping in time to avoid a derailed train – which can come to a stand from top speed in a matter of seconds.

  23. petermartin2001
    January 16, 2016


    I would say there is an increasing appreciation that separating the ownership of the rolling stock from the tracks has been a mistake. However putting them back together has led to the objection that we’d be creating “regional monopolies”, if the ownership was private, or a “state monopoly ” if ownership was public.

    The railways would only be a monopoly if travellers didn’t have the option of travelling by road or air. So that term doesn’t really apply.

    Should ownership be public or private? That’s always going to be a matter of political ideology which is never easily resolved by rational argument. However, we could try and take a look at how the ROW does it. Why are European railways so much less expensive than the UK’s for example?

    Rather than conduct our own expensive experiments by chopping and changing every few years, why not just learn, for free, from the best of what others do?

  24. The PrangWizard
    January 16, 2016

    Railways in the eyes of their UK enthusiasts are usually stuck in a twentieth century time warp

    It’s not just many railway enthusiasts who are stuck with a past mind-set. It dismays me to hear the endless stream of references to how we were once ‘the world leader’ in this or that; these references are usually references of pride, not regret, and part of the millstone heritage industry. We are drowning in museums. We will never stop the decline of our nation until we stop living in the past.

    We need more than a renewal of our infrastructure and industry.

    1. Jerry
      January 17, 2016

      @TPW; It is not living in the past but learning from the past. It dismays me when people like you try and dismiss anything older than a year or so.

      “part of the millstone heritage industry. We are drowning in museums. We will never stop the decline of our nation until we stop living in the past. “

      Say that in any other nation than the UK and people would laugh in your face, especially in world leading countries such as the BRIC nations, the USA, Australia, even Germany and much of the EU, etc.

      Oh and when your car has broken down due to its ECU chips having being fried due to a faulty alternator and you have been waiting for hours for the recovery because your g4 era mobile phone has crashed its OS, give a friendly wave to the old romantic driving past in their 1960s technology car – they might give you a lift to an old fashioned pay telephone, they might even give you some 10 pence pieces when all you have is your chip and pin card but no (coinage) cash.

      Or when the commuter train that you are on fails due to a traction current outage (actually ice on the conductor rail), and it is propelled into the next station by some old romantic driving a steam engine pulling a train full of old romantics on a day trip don’t forget to give them all a friendly wave as you leave the station – the last indecent really did happen!

  25. Iain gill
    January 16, 2016

    A lot of buffs would prefer railways were privatised as they were before nationalisation, ie same people responsible for both tracks and trains but split regionally.

  26. Stephen Berry
    January 16, 2016

    JR: “Competition is the main driver of progress. We allow limited competition in train provision through the franchise auction process.”

    Competition is indeed a powerful force for economic good, but how should it work on the railways? Almost 150 years of private ownership of railways seemed to suggest that a single company should own both track and trains. Indeed, improvements to railway infrastructure such as those suggested by John, were naturally driven by the prospect of getting more bums on railway seats. Why the Major government thought it could improve on 150 years of the market remains a puzzle. Now we are left with a further puzzle of what to do with Network Rail.

    Some people on this blog seem to think that the car is naturally superior to the train. But in many cases, rail is not competing directly with the car but with the bus and in this case rail will generally be more expensive but also faster. If you don’t have a car or give the car to the family for the day, how do you most easily get to work in London from Oxford? On some long journeys such as going to Brussels or Paris, at the moment the train would get my choice over the car and the nightmare which is a UK airport.

    Passengers numbers on the railways have risen considerably since privatisation suggesting that there is a future for this mode of transport. If this government were to return the tracks and infrastructure to the train companies, it would be remembered for at least one good thing.

    1. Excalibur
      January 17, 2016

      I concur, Stephen. The 79 milestone from Waterloo is on Southampton Central station. In my boyhood, certain express trains, hauled by steam I hasten to add, completed the journey in sixty minutes. This, despite the severe slack at Northam. I recall watching them hurtling through Eastleigh. The thought still gives me a buzz…..

  27. Original Richard
    January 16, 2016

    “Why do they think their current railway could be perfected by making it a state monopoly again?”

    Whilst I have no idealogical desire for state monopolies I do think that privately owned monopolies are likely to be even worse, which is how our railways (and water utilities) are currently run, particularly when these companies are nationalised foreign companies.

    The problem for the railways is that there is no competition other than the franchises going to the highest bidder who then fleeces the rail travellers in order to make a profit.

    Perhaps an element of competition could be introduced if the state owned the track and stations (as it does the roads) and awarded the running of the trains to the lowest (not the highest) private bidders. The state would of course be fixing the prices and selling the tickets.

    In this model there could even be more than one company running trains on a particular track.

    1. Spotter
      January 17, 2016

      These franchises are won on closed bids. The excellent GNER went bust because of this stupid system.

  28. Lindsay McDougall
    January 19, 2016

    I have always believed that railways can and should be run at a profit. The fact that other EU Member States subsidise more is beside the point. Sanity is something that can be enjoyed by oneself.

    But what about the poor and vulnerable? I hear the outcry. Why not make payments to people and leave the transport market alone. If pensioners are to be helped, why not by means of an annual transport grant per person instead of concession fares? That could eventually be consolidated into their State pension, which is taxable. Why hypothecate income – it deprives pensioners of a little bit of their freedom.

  29. Peter Parsons
    January 21, 2016

    It looks like re-nationalisation is good enough for London (under a Conservative transport minister and a Conservative mayor):

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