Getting the railway budget on track

The UK spends a very high proportion of its total government transport budget on railways. It is embarking on a mega project to put in HS2. It could get more railway capacity much more quickly at a much lower price if it made some changes and stopped HS2.

There are overloaded lines – assuming we return in due course to something like previous levels of train travel. They can handle more trains if the government accelerates its plans for digital signalling, which can raise the capacity of track by at least 25%.

If you look down on  the UK at rush hour without virus effects, you will see a pattern of crowded roads with cars bumper to bumper trying to get in or out of the cities. Nearby you will see brilliant straight line railways into the heart of the city with nothing on them. The reason the tracks are so empty is the need to enforce 2 mile or more gaps between trains, given poor braking, the heavy weight of the typical train and the inadequacies of older signal systems. If every train was linked in  real time to a network control system and had complete visibility of the track ahead more trains per hour could be run safely on  the underutilised track. Station capacity needs to be raised in some cases particularly at terminals to accommodate. Lighter trains with better brakes would also help.

Putting in more short sections of by pass track would also assist. Too often in the congested system a fast train gets stuck behind a stopper and cannot keep to timetable as a result.

Railway management needs to answer some Important questions about the current state of the railways. How will demand pick up? What is the new safe level of use? What action can be taken to get costs closer to revenue? Do the railways think they will now lose permanently a portion of the crucial commuting traffic into main cities which is such a large proportion of revenue? They have depended for many years on charging high prices for peak hours season tickets from people who had no choice but to use trains.

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  1. Mark B
    Posted July 26, 2020 at 5:37 am | Permalink

    Good morning.

    The level of occupancy on trains is slowly beginning to ‘resume’ to something like it was. I am loathed to use the word, ‘new normal’, as I think this is doublespeak and therefore false. But I am hearing more and more people, especially those that both travel far and can work from home liking the way things have turned out. For them this would be a much better way for them to work, and I think this needs to be encouraged by employers.

    The problem with trains is, if I wanted to go from A to B I would have to journey into London first and then on to the Tube. The Tube is a bottleneck and not at all pleasant.

    We also need to look at electrification and supply to it. There needs to be more joined up thinking in government. If we want / need more trains then we are going to need more energy to run them. Where is that going to come from and when ? I say this as no matter how well you increase the infrastructure and number of trains you will have to accept that the ultimate limiting factor is energy capacity. So you need to address that side of the equation. Problem is, you have just decided to ban an alternative fuel source for cars and go over to electric. So how are you going to power all this ?

    A classic can of arse and elbow and left and not knowing what the right hand is doing me thinks 😉

    • Fred H
      Posted July 26, 2020 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

      I think you will find it hasn’t reached 20% occupancy yet.

      • Lynn Atkinson
        Posted July 26, 2020 at 9:14 pm | Permalink

        Everybody travels by train under duress.

        • Martin in Cardiff
          Posted July 27, 2020 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

          I have spent a lot of time travelling by train on the Continent.

          I love it.

  2. BobDixon
    Posted July 26, 2020 at 5:45 am | Permalink

    Knock HS2 on the head tomorrow morning.whats the latest on Crossrail?

    • mancunius
      Posted July 26, 2020 at 7:06 pm | Permalink

      I’ve never understood the argument for Crossrail. The London/Reading service takes a mere 23 minutes on a decent train. There is already a non-stop express from Paddington to Heathrow. I can see the need to speed up the existing service between Paddington and Maidenhead (which wouldn’t be difficult to achieve, if it didn’t have to crawl between every nether-cum-wallop on route.) But what is the felt need for direct transit between Maidenhead and Whitechapel, Forest Gate and Romford? Or is it just to push up house prices?

  3. Bryan Harris
    Posted July 26, 2020 at 6:01 am | Permalink

    All too true – The railways have been allowed to go to pot.

    I still find it amazing that HS2 is still going ahead – it’s potential has been exagerrated beyond reality.
    We’re not in the EU any more, we don’t need high priced vanity projects

    HS2 should have been at the top of the white elephant’s list to cut.

    • NickC
      Posted July 26, 2020 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

      Bryan H, “HS2 should have been at the top of the white elephant’s list to cut.” Along with the Boris bridge – the final nail in the coffin of the UK.

      • DavidJ
        Posted July 27, 2020 at 6:49 am | Permalink

        Boris bridge indeed – a politicians dream with no Engineering input and no proper feasibility study. But beyond that do we really need another direct connection to the EU via Eire?

  4. oldtimer
    Posted July 26, 2020 at 6:06 am | Permalink

    Non state owned businesses are being extremely careful with their cash disbursements because of C-19. They must adapt to abrupt changes in demand and the cash consequences of lower sales. Many also face uncertainty about future levels and patterns of demand and have adopted a wait and see approach before committing to new capital expenditures. Others have benefitted from the C-19 fallout and are expanding. Railways do not belong in this latter category. They are spending as if there is no tomorrow to worry about. It will end badly.

  5. Mike Stallard
    Posted July 26, 2020 at 6:10 am | Permalink

    I live in Wisbech Cambs with a superb track laid and ready, but closed down about 15 years ago. The town is doughnutting very fast as people move up here out of an increasingly dangerous and unpleasant London. The surrounding villages, where I live, are now sprawling suburbs. And lots of people work in London too.
    Our MP, Steve Barclay no less, promises and promises, but still – no railway!
    We so badly need to cut out that bureaucracy which stifles all progress and to allow development.
    In the 1840s a railway was built from Cambridge to Spalding, some forty miles away, in a couple of years. Come back, George Hudson!

  6. Nigl
    Posted July 26, 2020 at 6:20 am | Permalink

    And an extra tax, obscene car park charges. It should be free, a voucher issued with the train ticket as proof of travel.

    HS2 etc not due to be completed until the mid 2030s what b use us that? My train to London is now slower than than many years ago and at peak times was a bear pit. When penalties for late arrivals were bought in I am sure the measured time was deliberately set ‘slow’ to reduce the chance of pay outs.

    Wonderful investment in main London stations, Reading etc. Nothing elsewhere, depressing cold scruffy, probably still recognisable by the Victorians. Network Rail any improvement now nationalised? Somehow I doubt it.

    I love train travel but have zero confidence or expectation in any improvement.

    Grant Shapps having to lobby against his own anti car policy because it has created a ghost town in his constituency suns it and him up.

    Ps. He and thousands of others will have to quarantine coming back from Spain. Most/all will not have the virus so will be forced to do ‘nothing’ if you run a business, tough, for no reason.

    Are ‘you’ people b****y mad? Get a testing regime, a self test kit handed out to all travellers on their return with an overnight turnaround. 14 days for nothing, lunacy.

  7. agricola
    Posted July 26, 2020 at 6:21 am | Permalink

    These are permanent ongoing questions, unanswered by the railways or government.over many years. Where is the Network Rail plan in answer. What is the latest cost prediction for HS2, what is the user fare plan to maximise it’s use, or are we just creating a mobile Dome. We now have the impact of home working and video conferencing that if adopted sensibly could negate a lot of the drive for rail expansion. I get the impression that government thinking is well behind the curve.

    • DavidJ
      Posted July 27, 2020 at 8:39 am | Permalink

      Network Rail made no sense in that it opened up the probability of disputes between the privatised train operators and itself. In the best operations that I find in other parts of the world the track and trains are owned and maintained by the same company. They are usually far cheaper too.
      Competition exists naturally between various forms of transport based on convenience, cost and availability. Trying to establish competition between various train operators using the same track doesn’t work; railtracks are not the equivalent of roads.

    • Harold Armitage
      Posted July 27, 2020 at 10:45 am | Permalink

      Most important of all, how much will the tickets cost?
      (Doubt if I can afford it!)

  8. Adam
    Posted July 26, 2020 at 6:24 am | Permalink

    A sustained shift to working from home would deduct trains and many of their problems. Hold your horses: you might need them instead!

    HS2 wastes. Even so, it is prudent to sacrifice the large sum already spent than try to ‘save’ that by sacrificing the remaining 90% or so in vain.

  9. jerry
    Posted July 26, 2020 at 6:26 am | Permalink

    So our host want every train to be of the same design, or at least acceleration and braking characteristics, with the same ULW, just as they are on on the LU or DLR for example, fine, he even suggests the need for such new trains, good. Now for the spanner in the works, what is going to happen to all the fright trains which can simply never have the same braking curve as those (hypothetical and now standard) new passenger trains, nor for whatever reason might these every heavy freight trains be able to meaningfully use those (hypothetical) new loop lines he talks of, when actually -like in North America- freight trains are often were the real revenue is…

    There are some fundamental questions to be asked, of govt, the industry and their customers, before discussing new trains and signalling systems. It is not fair to put to put the onus on to just rail management as you have.

    I can foresee a day when our railway network is akin to that of North America, yes a few highish speed passenger corridors but most of the network governed by the needs of moving ever heavier (and perhaps longer) freight trains – Covid-19 might just have brought that day much closer.

    • NickC
      Posted July 26, 2020 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

      Jerry, JR was talking about a 25% increase in capacity which implies a reduced gap, not zero gap. That would leave ample space for some variations in ulw, gvw, and the (partly) consequent braking and acceleration characteristics.

      • jerry
        Posted July 27, 2020 at 6:48 am | Permalink

        @NickC; No one was talking about a “zero gap”, that’s easy, just couple two or more trains together. In fact the old Southern Rly. was doing that in the 1930s -couple two (comparable to modern day operating methods) mainline trains, going to two or more different destinations, for example Brighton, Eastbourne and Worthing, together and run as one to/from the diverging junction station(s), splitting/coupling the relevant portion as necessary.

        The problems start when people believe headway gaps can be made shorter, that is were our host gets the 25% increase from, but doing so has just removed the safety margin for some types of existing trains. If signalling headways could be reduced cheaply, thus raising capacity, using the myriad of differing trains all with differing braking and acceleration characteristics don’t you think the railways would have already done so? This is why our host acknowledges new trains might be needed, and I agreed.

        If your reply, Nick, was meant to be in regards the question I actually posed, freight trains, some of which can be 3,000 tones gross… Sorry but if you think such trains can brake to a stop, in an emergency, in the same distance as a modern light weight passenger train then you’ll need to have your ideas on the laws of Physics peer reviewed first!

        • NickC
          Posted July 27, 2020 at 11:51 am | Permalink

          Jerry, What a long and turgid straw man argument from you! Making gaps between trains shorter (but not zero!) does not require “every train to be of the same design, or at least acceleration and braking characteristics, with the same ULW” as you first claimed.

          • jerry
            Posted July 27, 2020 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

            @NickC, Physics is obviously not your strong point if you think a 3000 tome train can stop in the same distance as a 500 tome passenger train.

    • agricola
      Posted July 26, 2020 at 5:36 pm | Permalink

      Your fright trains can run 22.00 on day one to 06.00 on day two when you are in the land of nod.

      • jerry
        Posted July 27, 2020 at 6:54 am | Permalink

        @agricola; No good for example a steel works needing their delivery of iron ore at Midday.

        On the other hand, how about City office workers only working the night shift, 10pm-6am, leaving the railways clear for both freight and leisure travel during the day?!… 😮

        • a-tracy
          Posted July 27, 2020 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

          I wonder if we could get to a point where freight trains run with automated driverless engines at night? Then running lots of long-distance trains at night wouldn’t be an issue to staff.

          • jerry
            Posted July 27, 2020 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

            @a-tracy; What do you not understand, that steel works wants the ore train to arrive at midday, not midnight!

            Night shift crewing is not the problem, lots of freight is already moved at night and has been for the last 100 years and more.

            The thought of a 1000 – 3000 tone freight train, perhaps carrying very hazardous chemicals, being driver-less and reliant on modern technoligy will put the fear of God up most rational people. Just think, the same sort of software bugs in a locomotive control system as was found to be the cause of two recent air crashes…

  10. oldwulf
    Posted July 26, 2020 at 6:28 am | Permalink

    Is there any truth in the rumour that Mr Johnson might turn the HS2 route into a giant cycling lane into (and out of) London ?

  11. Nigl
    Posted July 26, 2020 at 6:49 am | Permalink

    And now a report states that despite the eye watering amount spent (wasted?) by Network rail we have failed to match the pace of electrification of other countries and £30 billion is needed to meet green targets.

    You have been talking about digitalisation, more capacity for as long as I can remember and still we get Public Sector’s mantra ‘nothing/little happens/changes‘

    Is it worth bothering to make the effort?

  12. GilesB
    Posted July 26, 2020 at 7:00 am | Permalink

    Does anyone deny that separating operation of the track and trains has been a total disaster?

    Let’s go back to a unified entity.

    Coordination was sacrificed to the shibboleth of competition. Competition is not a goal. And not desirable in all circumstances. Competition is a tool which in some circumstances helps contribute towards motivating management towards efficiency effectiveness and innovation. It is not the only way.

    Network industries are natural monopolies and should be regulated as such.

    • NickC
      Posted July 26, 2020 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

      Giles B, Indeed let us go to a unified railway business (or two). The separation of track and trains was brought about by gold plating EU Directive 91/440. Fortunately after 31 Dec we can ignore that, and the subsequent EU Directive 2012/34.

    • Lynn Atkinson
      Posted July 26, 2020 at 9:27 pm | Permalink

      We were compelled to separate trains and track by the EU – their trains cross country borders and their tracks do not. So the one size fits all was enforced on this island too. What a mess!

      • Martin in Cardiff
        Posted July 27, 2020 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

        How come that things are not a mess on the Continent, generally speaking?

        • NickC
          Posted July 27, 2020 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

          What, zombie banks, as much as 20x worse NPLs than our banks, worse debt and deficit than us, Target2 imbalances, up to 50% youth unemployment, and no national control of your currency, are not a mess? You are odd, Martin.

  13. BeebTax
    Posted July 26, 2020 at 7:11 am | Permalink

    HS2 is such an appalling waste of money, but so typical of the way governments latch onto big eye catching projects where they can boast of having spent huge sums of (our) money on our behalf. It’s so much less attractive and easy for them to spend money on the boring stuff that would really improve things (signalling, bypass lines etc).

    Opposition to HS2 needs to be revitalised. The excuse of a post Covid world where the widespread acceptance of video conferencing means we don’t need to knock a few minutes off travelling times between London and Birmingham would save face. The daft Huawei decision has been overturned; it’s time now to do the same with HS2.

  14. peter
    Posted July 26, 2020 at 7:25 am | Permalink

    Do the railways think they will now lose permanently a portion of the crucial commuting traffic into main cities which is such a large proportion of revenue?
    They have to answer that one before any of the others make sense!

  15. Anonymous
    Posted July 26, 2020 at 7:30 am | Permalink

    From teading City blogs I can’t see anything like a return to above 50% commuter traffic.

  16. bigneil(newercomp)
    Posted July 26, 2020 at 7:33 am | Permalink

    A train is of NO use to me at all. After a life of very hard physical work, with the end result of
    that graft, not being able to walk very far, even after decades of visits to osteopaths , basically I go nowhere. I have my car, because I HAVE to.

    • Anonymous
      Posted July 26, 2020 at 8:16 pm | Permalink

      Sorry to hear it.

      You sound like a good bloke to me.

      • Mark B
        Posted July 27, 2020 at 5:07 am | Permalink


        He does.

      • DavidJ
        Posted July 27, 2020 at 8:43 am | Permalink


  17. Peter
    Posted July 26, 2020 at 7:35 am | Permalink

    ‘Railway management’ ? What is meant by that?

    Don’t expect innovations from franchises. They have a plan of how much they can make from the existing structures with very generous funding from the government. If things don’t work out they quit. It’s a very simple model.

    • Fred H
      Posted July 26, 2020 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

      Franchise railways means limited time, limited investment, nothing done unless it might produce quickish profit.

      • glen cullen
        Posted July 27, 2020 at 9:40 am | Permalink

        Its not a Franchise, it’s a tender arrangement with a guaranteed profit ?

  18. Everhopeful
    Posted July 26, 2020 at 7:38 am | Permalink

    It is all just too depressing.
    Will we honestly ever have a railway again?
    The virus has all but gone yet the govt. is increasing “measures”.
    An economy might be set back by a devastating plague but why annihilate an economy in order to cope with a disease?
    There won’t be much of an NHS ( clap, clap) in future will there?

    • Anonymous
      Posted July 26, 2020 at 8:18 pm | Permalink

      There are lots of things that have gone with lock down (not CV19)

      The UN predicts up to 1.9bn jobs gone. That’s a lot of death and starvation.

      Trump was absolutely right. The cure must not be worse than the illness.

  19. Richard1
    Posted July 26, 2020 at 8:12 am | Permalink

    The dept of transport has been scratching around for years for analyses to back-solve into the logic of HS2. The most recent one (after all the green crap arguments were debunked) was a calculation that X million business person hours at a valuation of £Y each would be saved, and it turned out that XY was greater than the then estimated cost of HS2 (about 1/3 of what it is now).

    But if we are no longer to rush daily in person into city centres why do we need a huge new line in order to do so? This has the makings of an historic white elephant. Use the virus as an excuse to dump it and focus as suggested on local transport links – and much better ubiquitous broadband, which would add far more value.

    • Andy
      Posted July 26, 2020 at 7:08 pm | Permalink

      It is deeply ironic how all of you moan repeatedly that the economics of HS2 don’t make sense – and then you bang on about Brexit, which is the most economically damaging policy imposed by a country on itself ever.

      Ah – but Brexit isn’t about economics you say. I know this. It is about foreigners which is why lorry parks and tens of thousands of bureaucrats won’t help you.

      • Anonymous
        Posted July 26, 2020 at 8:20 pm | Permalink

        HS2 is all about EU interconnectivity. I suspect the bridge to Ireland the same !!!

        • Martin in Cardiff
          Posted July 27, 2020 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

          No, it isn’t – I’m no enthusiast whatever – it’s part of a pan-European, entirely voluntary project.

          • NickC
            Posted July 27, 2020 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

            Yes, it is. Once the decision to have an HS2 is made, it must become part of the EU’s TEN-T. That is very much about EU interconnectivity and rules.

          • Martin in Cardiff
            Posted July 28, 2020 at 6:52 am | Permalink

            The conception has the participation of non-European Union countries such as Ukraine, Norway, and so on.

      • Edward2
        Posted July 26, 2020 at 8:46 pm | Permalink

        Ridiculous attempt to link Brexit to HS2.

      • DavidJ
        Posted July 27, 2020 at 8:44 am | Permalink

        Rubbish. That title belongs to Heath’s signing up of us to the EU.

      • NickC
        Posted July 27, 2020 at 11:54 am | Permalink

        Andy, We’ve just saved another £60bn or so by being on our way out of the EU. Leave is not all about the economics, but the economics are better out of the EU anyway.

    • Richard416
      Posted July 27, 2020 at 9:07 am | Permalink

      We don’t seem to have learned very much from the Blue Pullman.

  20. Lifelogic
    Posted July 26, 2020 at 8:22 am | Permalink

    Where is the logic for subsidising trains and hugely over taxing cars? Trains are no greener when you consider the door to door journey, staff, stations etc. They are often less flexible, at great risk of the unions holding you to ransom and often hugely inconvenient and impractical for many trips. It is just another idiotically and damagingly government rigged market, like healthcare, universities, schools, energy, employment, housing … we should kill all this market rigging dead and give people real freedom and choice.

    Despite this market rigging a train can still easily cost 30 times what taking the family by car can cost. This even before the extra taxes you pay for all this market rigging.

  21. agricola
    Posted July 26, 2020 at 8:34 am | Permalink

    Reference the sudden requirement for 14 days lockdown on return from Spain. Why are government not using the tools available. For instance why are returnees from Spain not tested at the arrival airport to give an almost instant measure of the size of the problem plus dealing with any infection detected. This blanket panic reaction could be the final nail in the coffin of the tourist and airline business. Nobody will be booking trips to Spain for the foreseable knowing that the penalty is a further two weeks in lockdown. What could well happen is the total ignoring of such strictures. The number of illegal raves suggests there is an appetite for ignoring a government motivated by panic.

  22. Sir Joe Soap
    Posted July 26, 2020 at 8:38 am | Permalink

    Probably time for a complete rethink. Out of the box.

    Guided lightweight pods carrying 2-4 people each which divert off at departure and arrival points, and which you order online? They self-clean and dry after each use? Pickup and drop battery packs at each departure and arrival point?
    Then the only reason for track is if that reduces fuel usage over part of the journey. Maybe even convert track to a low wear version which dovetails with the pod using roads to reach the final destination?

    Again, we’re an island. We don’t need to agree this with other countries. Press the button and initiate change just as the railway pioneers did 200 years ago.

    • Andy
      Posted July 26, 2020 at 7:12 pm | Permalink

      This is precisely what companies like Uber and Tesla are working towards. Uber all but negates the need for a car – as one can be with you in minutes. Tesla all but negates the need for a driver – as the car drives itself. Put the two together and you have the future.

      We just need the Tory luddites in government to catch up with the law and make it all legal. A hard job when most of them seem to think it is still the 1950s.

      • Anonymous
        Posted July 26, 2020 at 8:40 pm | Permalink

        Luddite is a pejorative term.

        These cars will be unaffordable to most and you well know it.

        They will always need a qualified and sober driver present.

      • Edward2
        Posted July 26, 2020 at 8:49 pm | Permalink

        Luddites are generally thought to dislike change.
        Doesn’t that make you a luddite?

    • Lynn Atkinson
      Posted July 26, 2020 at 9:31 pm | Permalink

      If it were Johnson alongside Cummings, we would have a hope.

  23. Ian Wragg
    Posted July 26, 2020 at 8:39 am | Permalink

    There are many rural lines that could be reopened thus relieving much road congestion.
    HS2 has never been more irrelevant. The virus has demonstrated that we don’t need to shave 10 minutes off the journey to Birmingham because that’s all it will save.
    The passenger numbers are never likely to materialise and prices will be exorbitant.

  24. Philip P.
    Posted July 26, 2020 at 8:45 am | Permalink

    It would have been good to see these sensible ideas discussed and perhaps put into practice before. Sadly, the measures the government took in March have put paid to all that. It remains to be seen whether even the Elizabeth Line will have the take-up to make it cost-effective, never mind HS2.

  25. Gordon
    Posted July 26, 2020 at 8:51 am | Permalink

    Unfortunately you can’t look down at the UK without virus effects. Boris and his buddies have ended that with their absurd lockdown and mask policies. An awful lot of people have experienced life without the misery of traffic jams and train frustration and they like it so home working is here to stay. As the long term effects spiral travel will not get back to previous levels. The total failure of government “experts” and all the attendant central planning that we suffer in this once free country will continue to wreck the economy and government spending will soar to match. The best hope we have is that the establishment crashes before it does too much damage.

  26. Raymond
    Posted July 26, 2020 at 8:52 am | Permalink

    A major problem in improving the railway network and operations is disaggregagation resulting from privatisation. The railways are a natural monopoly. I hope it is not discourteous to say this on a platform provided by one of the most eminent Conservatives of the past decades, but I think the railways should be nationalised to allow integrated planning, avoid wastage, and minimise usery.

    • Andy
      Posted July 26, 2020 at 7:21 pm | Permalink

      It is perfectly evident to anyone who has used a train that rail privatisation has been a disaster. I have no qualms with private companies running services but the way rail was privatised simply gave companies monopolies.

      Three or four different operators running services on the main routes would have been a better option. They could then compete on price or quality. Instead, on most routes, there is a single operator. This is why water privatisation has failed too.

      Electricity has been better because I can choose supplier. I choose to pay more for my electricity than I need to because I want to use a green energy supplier. I could pay less and pollute the planet but I choose not to.

      The obsession the Tories had in the 80s and 90s with selling things off has caused huge damage to our country. The fact is that some things – railways being one – are better run by the state.

      • Edward2
        Posted July 26, 2020 at 8:51 pm | Permalink

        You are too young to remember how awful a nationalised rail system was.

        • Martin in Cardiff
          Posted July 27, 2020 at 6:39 am | Permalink

          It was a simple dream, compared to the shambles which unfolded through privatisation.

          • NickC
            Posted July 27, 2020 at 11:56 am | Permalink

            Simple dream, Martin? BR was simply a nightmare.

      • Lynn Atkinson
        Posted July 26, 2020 at 9:33 pm | Permalink

        Of course it was a disaster. The form was dictated by the God Forsaken EU. Everything they touch turns to ashes.

        • Martin in Cardiff
          Posted July 27, 2020 at 6:40 am | Permalink

          How come Italy, France, Germany etc. have such good rail services then?

          • NickC
            Posted July 27, 2020 at 11:57 am | Permalink

            Martin, They don’t. Why do you always fall for Jonny Foreigner’s propaganda?

          • Lynn Atkinson
            Posted July 27, 2020 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

            Because the system was designed for the continent where trains cross borders. So the tracks remain in different (local to the country) ownership, but the trains remain in the same ownership whether they cross a border or not.

          • Martin in Cardiff
            Posted July 27, 2020 at 6:55 pm | Permalink

            I use them myself, and form my own view.

            I’ve been generally impressed.

          • Fred H
            Posted July 27, 2020 at 7:12 pm | Permalink

            not in my experience they are not! And thats between main cities – try suburban services if you can find any.

      • miami.mode
        Posted July 26, 2020 at 9:42 pm | Permalink

        Try getting out more. Numerous routes and stations have more than one operator.

  27. Robert Blakey
    Posted July 26, 2020 at 9:03 am | Permalink

    ‘Lighter trains with better brakes would also help.’

    How about a proper, extensive, rolling programme of electrification so we don’t have so much rolling stock carrying heavy diesel engines & full fuel tanks around the network?

  28. RichardP
    Posted July 26, 2020 at 9:27 am | Permalink

    I totally agree that the HS2 money can be much better spent on other parts of the railway network. I don’t think people are too bothered about saving half an hour or so on their journey providing they can get to their destination reliably and comfortably.
    I was surprised that you made no mention of freight. It will take some time for the effect of Project Fear to wear off sufficiently for people to have confidence in public transport. A golden opportunity therefore to cut congestion, road damage and pollution by putting freight onto the railway. This would be especially welcome in Kent which has become the Truck Park of England. Many lorries come through the Channel Tunnel on a train and then drive long distances across the UK, why can’t they stay on the train until they are closer to their destination?

    Posted July 26, 2020 at 9:27 am | Permalink

    Getting the Conservative Party back on track would be far more appropriate. With Cameron, May and now Johnson at the wheel you are heading for a derailment

    • Lynn Atkinson
      Posted July 27, 2020 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

      Too late! All the wheels are already off.

  30. David Cooper
    Posted July 26, 2020 at 9:48 am | Permalink

    In the case of HS2, one pertinent question is “If it opened tomorrow, what would be the cost of a return ticket from Birmingham to London, and how would this compare with the current ticket price?” HS2 is, after all, supposed to be a means to an end, not an end in itself.

    • Fred H
      Posted July 26, 2020 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

      the price would likely give you a coronary.
      New St to Euston – -Using the 8am and return 4pm – journey time roughly 1hr 20 mins= £184.

      • agricola
        Posted July 26, 2020 at 5:51 pm | Permalink

        BHX to London City Airport £20 or £40 return. Walk on walk off, journey time 45 mins. You might have to put in a 2nd runway at London City, but at no cost compared to HS2.

        • Fred H
          Posted July 27, 2020 at 7:11 pm | Permalink

          so I’m in Wokingham, and want to get to the area of Birmingham New St. Do I travel to Euston in 10 years time to go HS2, or to City airport and on arrival at BHX airport travel on 7 miles to the centre?
          Or maybe just get in my car and drive it in half the time, and a fraction of the cost?

  31. Anonymous
    Posted July 26, 2020 at 9:58 am | Permalink

    It should be evident now that the railways have been thrown into a fatal decline in usage. There is no case for HS2 now.

    Why this is going ahead is for a similar reason to why we’re having the inconsistency on face masks.

    Are they face masks are face coverings ? It doesn’t matter but if you’re wearing a medical grade face mask you must handle it like one, by the straps only, the right way up and it must be of the correct thickness – if you choose a face covering, say a tubular cycling scarf, then hey, none of this matters.

    And then the inconsistencies of when and where to wear them…

    The reason for face coverings isn’t to stop the disease. The reason for HS2 isn’t to transport people.

    I think Frederick Forsyth has it right here:

  32. glen cullen
    Posted July 26, 2020 at 10:06 am | Permalink

    Sir John, you rise a lot of interesting ideas, questions, arguments, suggestions

    However, they all pale into insignificance if HS2 continues

  33. Iago
    Posted July 26, 2020 at 10:40 am | Permalink

    Sensible suggestions, but a nation the size of the UK cannot survive immigration of 600,000 plus year after year by people with whom we share no values. Your government has now lied about its intention to limit immigration to the tens of thousands for years and years, even before the artful term ‘net migration’ was invented. It is morally bankrupt, a global government which appeases the enemies of the UK. I do not see how you can support it. Withdraw from the Conservative party; they would not be able to kick you out of parliament for another four years.

    • Iago
      Posted July 26, 2020 at 10:49 am | Permalink

      a government uninterested in the independence of the UK

    • Anonymous
      Posted July 26, 2020 at 8:27 pm | Permalink

      It isn’t meant to survive it.

  34. Barry
    Posted July 26, 2020 at 10:43 am | Permalink

    “Nearby you will see brilliant straight line railways into the heart of the city with nothing on them. The reason the tracks are so empty is the need to enforce 2 mile or more gaps between trains”

    Interesting you should mention that. Flying has always struck me as a far more potentially dangerous business than operating a railway, which doesn’t have gravity to worry about, but its safety record is a testament to the sophistication of the technology that has been invested in it. Before Covid, on a clear day you could see several aircraft on final approach to land at Heathrow, but we can’t operate a 2 mile stretch of track without risking a crash? Something very wrong here.

    • Anonymous
      Posted July 26, 2020 at 8:32 pm | Permalink

      The secret is (would have been) to have LONG trains operating at optimal intervals.

      Obviously… a car with one passenger in it looks a lot more productive than a train with 1200 passengers in it when observed from the air without the benefit of X-ray vision.

      None of this matters now because the railways are dead… this is because London is dead.

      The country is dead.

      The UN predicts 1.6bn jobs lost because of the *reaction* to CV19.

      • DavidJ
        Posted July 27, 2020 at 8:52 am | Permalink

        No doubt the UN would welcome that as as step down the road to enforcing its various “Agendas”.

      • Barry
        Posted July 27, 2020 at 10:56 am | Permalink

        “None of this matters now because the railways are dead… this is because London is dead.

        The country is dead. ”

        Ridiculous comments. Why do so many people on the internet feel they have to exaggerate?

  35. JimS
    Posted July 26, 2020 at 10:47 am | Permalink

    The coefficient of friction between a steel wheel and a steel rail is 0.2 at best.

    It’s a law of nature, which trumps SI, acts of parliament, EU directives and the fancies of politicians.

    It also dictates the maximum rate at which a train can brake which is still enough to throw standing people to the floor and bury them in luggage from overhead racks.

    More trains arriving at terminus stations either means shorter unloading/unloading times or more platforms, which needs more space, not something very common in big cities.

    • NickC
      Posted July 26, 2020 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

      JimS, The coefficient of friction for unlubricated steel to steel is about 0.5 – 0.8. That reduces for any lubricant – water or leaves for example. The 0.2 figure is for oil lubricated steel.

      You may be correct, at least for some, that the handling capacity of stations may be the limiting factor. However some stations have had track removed over the last 50 years – so some extra space is available.

  36. Clive Higgins
    Posted July 26, 2020 at 11:20 am | Permalink

    We continue to pay the price of the Department for Transports disfunctionality. It has the “normal” departmental default culture that favours grand projects. More projects equals more budget, equals more people equals greater power and a larger empire. HS2 is destroying conservative votes and providing nothing for the newly acquired northern constituencies.
    Far more near instant jobs can be created by re-starting the mothballed rail projects that were cancelled to move the money to HS2.
    There are 1.3 million jobs that could be created by taking the telephone infrastructure monopoly away from BT. A simple instruction to Openreach “everywhere there is a telephone handset you will take a fibre optic” is all thats needed. Then just watch as the digital world creates a truly modern world, that just happens to be a green one as well.

  37. Treacle
    Posted July 26, 2020 at 11:49 am | Permalink

    I think few would disagree with this. But unfortunately we have a Prime Minister who is in love with white-elephant vanity projects. So we’re stuck with the eye-wateringly expensive and totally pointless HS2, and we may well find outselves committed to paying hundreds of billions into an equally pointless bridge linking Northern Ireland with Dumfries and Galloway.

    • Lynn Atkinson
      Posted July 26, 2020 at 9:36 pm | Permalink

      He just looks in the mirror and sees a white elephant vanity project.

  38. Ian
    Posted July 26, 2020 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

    Tarmac over the rails, once that is done, the Government will then have no expense .Unless you want to move people very fast indeed by firing them in capsules down an over ground Tube
    What we have now is dead on its feet, so no HS2 please, put that money in the above ?

    • Anonymous
      Posted July 26, 2020 at 8:36 pm | Permalink

      +1 but you need to have junctions introduced and the benefit of 125mph travel long-distance will have been reduced to 70mph – with crashes and fatalities.

      There is also the fact that station closures will impact local house prices.

  39. ian
    Posted July 26, 2020 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

    There is no cure for the basket case Brittan’s railways or anything else in Brittan, at the end of March this year the government paid out over 9 billion pounds to bail out the railway workers pension fund which should have been paid by the railway companies but went to their profits instead, that’s years of none payment.
    At the moment the gov is rolling all the loses on to network rail which was already over 50 billion pounds in debt and will have to take over all the commitments that the railway companies had enter into with ticket sales way down and more than likely will never return to normal as for HS2 it a case of being taken to court for loss of earnings by companies involved and costing billions in compensation or going ahead, another half baked project to go with privatising the railways in the eighties which never really worked and when you now look at house ownership which was the con party slogan of the eighties and still is, well for homeownership to now stand at 62%, to say it has been a fairly bad performance is an understatement even countries like Portugal are at 75% homeownership and their gov has been a committed socialist government for many years, so where does that leave the con party in the political arena.

  40. NickC
    Posted July 26, 2020 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

    Separating track/infrastructure from train operation is ludicrous. It is a left-over from the gold-plating of EU Directive 91/440 – yet another unwanted interference by the eurocrats.

    Railways should be privatised into two vertically integrated rail transport businesses, one based around the West coast mainline and the other on the East. The government should retain golden shares to prevent unwanted takeovers.

    • Sea Warrior
      Posted July 26, 2020 at 5:52 pm | Permalink

      I disagree. I would have favoured the railways mirroring the air travel industry. Imagine one state-owned entity owning and providing the track and signals (airways and ATC infrastructure) and then having a number of railway companies (like airlines) competing for business.

      • NickC
        Posted July 27, 2020 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

        Sea Warrior, True, reducing government involvement to the minimum is important. However, air is universal and global, and exists as a given without installation by man. In contrast, rails have to be permanently installed, and are specifically designed to work continuously with the trains. The two mediums (air and rail) are not comparable. That means the scope for operational similarity is limited.

  41. The Prangwizard
    Posted July 26, 2020 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

    I don’t know how the decision-making heirarchy is structured, nor how money is procured and expenditure delegated, but I would have thought that such as the building of bypass lines ought to left to local management.

    Mention is also made of visibilty which from my observation is in many places merely that there are too many overgrown trees and shrubs close to lines. They ought to be removed completely. It would also reduce stress levels on drivers which I imagine they deserve and would welcome. This is surely something local managers should be able to authorise, yet it is clearly not done around here. I fear they are perhaps afraid of tree-hugging lobby groups, not restrained or opposed by our ‘green’ obsessed government.

    If bypasses require government consent because they see everything as part of a master plan there is no wonder, that in this as so many other fields it takes decades to get anything done in this country.

    We need massive deregulation.

  42. Sea Warrior
    Posted July 26, 2020 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

    Sensible thoughts. The government will be going into the next general election with the economy in one hell of a mess. The public won’t be inclined to thank it if HS2 is forging ahead while many people still have an uncomfortable commute. So I’d suggest that the government cancels HS2 – and that crazy bridge! – and spends the original cost-estimate (ca. £40 bn) on a variety of rail and road schemes servicing the needs of daily commuters.

  43. ian
    Posted July 26, 2020 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

    To say that the people have been taken for a ride by the TORY party and their friends for many years is an understatement, it just goes to show how uneducated the people of this country are especially the ones who think they have some skin in the game, maybe now that school are shut their ability to see a con coming might improve, the policy of education, education, education has been a failed policy and only lead to people being thicker so that they can be easier to exploit by the powers at the top of the food change.

  44. John Burns
    Posted July 26, 2020 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

    HS2 Ltd say they are running out of capacity on the WCML south of Rugby. The WCML can have two extra tracks south of Rugby. The Gt.Central trackbed to the Aylesbury bypass still exists, owned by Network Rail. This line once went into Old Oak Common in London. The section from Old Oak Common to Aylesbury still exists and is used, the rest to Rugby is trackbed. The whole of this line can take trains that will easily run at 150mph, and in some section much more.

    We do not have a capacity problem the existing network cannot cope with.

    • Sea Warrior
      Posted July 26, 2020 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

      One of the problems that we face is that everyone at HS2 depends on the project going ahead for their employment. Many are very well-paid. So, can we now take at face-value what the company says?

      • DavidJ
        Posted July 27, 2020 at 9:03 am | Permalink

        It is not just the salaries of those people. Many Engineers welcome a stint on a grand project on the normal salary they might get elsewhere for experience and job satisfaction. This is one such Engineer who would prefer to see sensible government spending and lower taxes.

  45. John Burns
    Posted July 26, 2020 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

    As an aside HS2 is SLOW. Google Maps will tell you that it is 100 miles from Euston to Curzon St in Birmingham. This 100 miles is covered in 52 minutes. This tells us the 100 miles is covered at 116mph, for a 250mph railway.

    The speed cannot be increased on this vital section as a significant percentage of the line is in tunnel.

    As soon as it was known that Continental and Heathrow access was dropped and that this ‘high speed’ railway is slow, it should have been dropped. Look what we have. A slow railway that will cost the equivellent of 1.6 MILLION homes according to Shelter.

    • Harold Armitage
      Posted July 27, 2020 at 10:39 am | Permalink

      Plus few will live near to the stations. Even fewer will be able to afford the tickets.

  46. steve
    Posted July 26, 2020 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

    What’s up Redwood? Truth hurt does it ?

    • Fred H
      Posted July 26, 2020 at 7:13 pm | Permalink

      I imagine Sir John is struggling with watching the slippery slope that the Conservative policies, or misrepresentations, are now on. Of course it hurts – it hurts me! Considering what alternatives exist they are all sinking to the bottom of politics.
      What a future prospect.

  47. acorn
    Posted July 26, 2020 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

    I understand the new Network Rail (NR) Chief wants to break it up into five regions and stop running everything from HQ; letting local engineers do what fits best on their patch. Makes sense to me. (NR) is yet another classic British case of national standards not being commonly owned across the patch but always being centrally commanded and controlled.

    Another classic example; this government has been running everything from Downing Street HQ for the last decade. Even leave voters are now realising the damage its incompetence has done to their standard of living. The latter having no idea how austeritised Local Government has been for instance. (Local Government total resources are now 4% less in CASH TERMS than they were in 2010! £70 billion less in cash terms than they now should be.)

    Anyway, the bright spot is Thameslink, it is fitting the European Train Control System (ETCS) with Automatic Train Control (ATO); which looks like the future to me. Sadly, Crossrail turned down this system because it reckoned it could not achieve its target of 30 trains per hour while using platform screen doors. There are Airports and Metros around the planet that have made that work. Alas, Crossrail is trying to knit together several legacy signalling systems, some signal boxes dating back to the nineteenth century.

  48. Mark
    Posted July 26, 2020 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

    It’s time to start thinking about replacing rail with 21st century technology. Rail routes can be used much more efficiently as dedicated roads for automated vehicles which will free up the existing road network from truck traffic. By limiting traffic to automated vehicles only, the problems of dealing with regular traffic for the automation systems are greatly reduced, allowing speedier introduction. Platooned vehicles are known to be much more fuel efficient. Those who still wish to commute to city centres on these routes would have the advantage of not needing to wait for a whole train, and have the flexibility to ride from close to home to close to their destination in many cases, without stops.

    Those who need to travel longer distances at speeds that the motorways don’t allow can fly.

  49. Mike Wilson
    Posted July 26, 2020 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

    In this age of cloud based phone systems, video calls and remote working, why ooh earth do people commute into cities? Cities should only have the people who love and work in them. Commuting is daft.

  50. David Brown
    Posted July 26, 2020 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

    A lot of money has already been spent and committed to HS2. The Curson St Station in Birmingham is well on the way to completion.
    Scrapping HS2 will have very substantial abortive costs. However I agree it should be scaled back a lot, Im a bit on the fence about scrapping completely because what happens to all the existing work and expenditure?. May be Birmingham to London only.
    I agree the rail infrastructure needs substantial investment, most other countries pay for this by state tax and that’s what I feel should happen. Rail need to be state subsidized – I pay tax and Im happy for my tax to contribute, in fact when I pay my tax I don’t concern may self on what its used for so long as its used.
    Talking of transport the 14 day self isolation back again for British holiday makers to Spain is insane. Its a kick in the teeth to airlines, airports and passengers. 10 million Brits holiday in Spain the short haul flights are critical and far more important than long haul. I love Spain – sun sea booze music and night life oh yes, thats why I hate leaving the EU because we are now trapped on this island little England mentality.

    • Lynn Atkinson
      Posted July 27, 2020 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

      You are not trapped. You could have moved anytime you liked. You decided to remain in the U.K. – why?

  51. M Davis
    Posted July 26, 2020 at 5:36 pm | Permalink

    Is anyone who matters listening, Sir John? Lets hope so!

  52. Lindsay McDougall
    Posted July 26, 2020 at 6:37 pm | Permalink

    These are all good practical proposals. Progress would be accelerated if we radically revised the ownership structure of the railway system so that railways didn’t need taxpayer support. The investments that go ahead would be those that yielded a positive financial return within a reasonable time scale.

    The way to do it is to create privately owned vertically integrated corridor or regional railway companies. Gone would be the overhead of lawyers, administrators, consultants and leasing companies. The regional companies would own their own rolling stock, be free to run what services they want to run at frequencies of their choice, charging what they want and receiving no taxpayer subsidy. Outsourcing, involving some operations combined with track access charges, and leasing of property at stations, would be permitted. The State would reserve the right to increase competition from road and air transport if the railway companies abused their power. The railway companies would make their own investment decisions.

  53. Original Richard
    Posted July 26, 2020 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

    Covid-19 has demonstrated the deficiency of mass transport systems when individual vehicles are a safer form of transport and internet meetings are quicker and cheaper, particularly one which is un-green, noisy, fuel inefficient and so expensive that only those travelling at the taxpayers’ expense will be able to afford it, such as HS2.

    If a new mass transport system between London and the North is needed at all it should be really cheap to use. To use the aircraft analogy, we need jumbos and not Concordes and by this conversion it would enable the existing HS2 route and termini to be used and still provide jobs and profits for the constructors.

  54. Lindsay McDougall
    Posted July 26, 2020 at 7:14 pm | Permalink

    Permit me to have a second bite at the cherry. On Saturday, ‘i weekend’ published the results of polling undertaken by Opinium and by Redfield & Wilton Strategies. A staggering 82% of people working from home would like to continue to do so. Only 38% had been asked by their employers to return to working in the office. In the case of London, that is understandable. Who wants to spend an hour and a half each way each day in crowded, unpleasant (and now risky) conditions?

    The PM and the Government as a whole will have to face that a lot of home working will continue and that unemployment will rise, particularly among London non-essential retail. The fact that COVID-19 may be expected to spread in public transport carriages that don’t have one metre spacing and the wearing of masks, will mean that 40% payload is the absolute maximum occupancy rate for public transport carriages, indeed probably less.

    Seeing that the UK’s fiscal position is already dire, is there not a case for postponing or slowing down investment in railway infrastructure and airport runways until demand returns to normal (if it ever does)?

  55. DavidJ
    Posted July 26, 2020 at 8:31 pm | Permalink

    HS2 simply has to be stopped. It is far too expensive and will likely put most potential users off through high ticket prices just to save a little time. The current service from London to Manchester is perfectly acceptable in terms of journey time but already over costly in comparison with similar travel in other countries.

    Just get rid of this vanity project which originated in the EU.

  56. Lynn Atkinson
    Posted July 26, 2020 at 9:23 pm | Permalink

    Lord Grey, word has it, would board the train in London and say ‘take me to Falloden’ (his home). My bet is he was the last satisfied commuter. The fact is that trains don’t take you from door to door. It’s a complex trip, always, and expensive and unpleasant and in recent times, potentially dangerous.
    Forget the railways. Use the hardly used railway lines as direct motorways to the heart of every city – that might save them. Get rid of stop/start driving. Improve diesel powered cars, get the government out of all areas of life that are none of their business!

    • Lifelogic
      Posted July 27, 2020 at 4:55 am | Permalink

      “”get the government out of all areas of life that are none of their business!”

      Yes please.

      • DavidJ
        Posted July 27, 2020 at 8:55 am | Permalink

        Excellent comment LL; save us a good deal of money too.

  57. Yossarion
    Posted July 26, 2020 at 10:04 pm | Permalink

    John the line from Chipenham through Bath to Bristol has been put on hold, Now once again the north is to get funding, We know Brunel did it right first time but how can this be justified, when the north talks about the south they talk about London. Oh thanks for the thirty year old repainted ex Rreading Diesel units that now run from Cardiff through Bristol Bath Southampton to Portsmouth.

    • Lifelogic
      Posted July 27, 2020 at 5:02 am | Permalink

      The north also think Londoners are right because the they have expensive houses. In fact many Londoners are poor (in disposable income terms) because they have expensive housing rents and mortgages. Plus we have huge anti-South East taxes. Stamp duty (with the extra 3% on top), inheritance tax, residents parking taxes, congestion taxes and the higher rates of income tax. You might well be better of earning £40K in say Blackpool than earning £100K in London after tax, rent/mortgage, commuting and the likes (in disposable income terms and size of house terms.

      • Lifelogic
        Posted July 27, 2020 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

        Rich not right!

  58. Ian
    Posted July 27, 2020 at 10:22 am | Permalink

    Well said as usual Lynn.
    Yes keep our cars and use them on the new Tarmac rail space for door to door, this maybe where these drive themselves cars can come in , those that still need to go to work and not working at home, this would be better for all of us, quick turnaround for trucks

  59. Harold Armitage
    Posted July 27, 2020 at 10:23 am | Permalink

    Trains. We need longer trains and longer platforms too.

  • 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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