How could we have a smarter railway?

There was a lot of interest yesterday in the history and performance of the railway. I was asked what would I recommend.

I voted against HS2 and would complete as elegant an  exit as possible whilst of course completing the section to Birmingham currently under contract. I would accelerate the introduction of digital signals which increase capacity substantially and improve safety.

I would break up Network Rail , re uniting track and trains around mainlines into  London terminuses as franchises fall in. The regional or line companies created could be opened up to private capital progressively on new and different franchise terms. All these companies would be subject to open access challenge. Freight companies and challenger passenger companies could compete for the increased number of track slots available. If any regional/line co sought to exclude from reasonable access there would be an appeal to the Regulator who would be under a duty to allow fair competition.

100 Comments

  1. Javelin
    April 27, 2024

    I see railway problems as falling into two camps.

    1. Short term motivation to run the railways on time when there are no problems with the infrastructure.

    2. Long term investment in infrastructure. I think this conflicts with dividend payments.

    You can play around with various configurations in your head how this might work. I would end up with the short term motivation being linked to profit and the long term investment being linked to a shared responsibility with Government.

    Same with all utilities.

    1. Lifelogic
      April 27, 2024

      Why would the operators invest long term (or at all) when their businesses are likely to be grabbed off them by Labour in circa 12 months?

      1. Hope
        April 27, 2024

        I think any type of railway cannot be sustained without addressing national security issues of energy, steel production, population growth, food production, acting independently in industry without EU level playing field rules- state aide, employment laws, energy, environment ie vassal state.

        The EU prevents the UK acting in its national interest, your party was given the mandate to leave and govern for its people, yet it CHOSE not to!

        Railways pale into insignificance, I cannot see the population fixated with home deliveries from Amazon and like being interested in railways because they want their goods fast and without delay. Railways cannot or will not fulfil this current demand by the population. Even commuters are better off working from home because cannot fulfil any reliable requirement to travel to….work!

        How much land confiscated for HS2? We hear and read about the largest solar farm now approved replacing good agriculture land for growing food! Your govt. is beyond help and devoid of any intellect to govern on our behalf. Your govt has repeatedly farmed out responsibility and decision making to EU,UN,WHO and many many quangos.

        JR,
        Does your govt or party have any regard for any national security issues which affect our way of life or does it fixate on minor issues to grab a headline or divert attention from really important issues? Does your party have any regard for our nation or its people by putting them first before other countries, organisations, or minority causes that most people would dismiss as utter rot?

        1. Donna
          April 28, 2024

          Well said. The Not-a-Conservative-Party has REFUSED to govern in the national interest, despite being given a clear instruction and mandate to do just that.

  2. Mark B
    April 27, 2024

    Good morning.

    It is good that you have a plan for the railways. But is there any real demand other than on commuter routes / times ?

    It was mentioned here yesterday by a fellow contributor that at the weekend some services are closed. Whilst it is understandable that this has to happen is there anything more that can be done to attract people onto the rail at times of low service ? I propose three things :

    a) A cap on rail ticket prices, no matter on the length of the journey, on services run out of commuter times.
    b) A cheaper ‘out of busy hours’ season ticket.
    c) A combination ticket for events. eg. A reduced ticket price to an event when a return rail ticket is purchased as part of the package. Making both going to the event and the journey much cheaper.

    It costs no more to run a train half full than completely empty so, we need to encourage people to use it more.

    Finally. We need to sort out the complexity of ticketing and onward journey travel. But that is for another post.

    1. Peter Wood
      April 27, 2024

      Look at the cost like airlines do. For any route, what is the Total cost per available seat-mile?
      Compared to other forms of competition. Why does rail cost so much?

      1. miami.mode
        April 27, 2024

        In a word “infrastructure”. Airlines only need a strip on concrete plus a nominal sum per passenger for the airport admin plus flight control.
        In recent memory there have been rail disasters from incursion by vehicles via bridges and level crossings and it is incumbent on the railways to protect themselves from idiotic road users at enormous cost including installing crash barriers on road bridges and suchlike.

        1. Peter Wood
          April 27, 2024

          I’m suggesting the railway need to review the economic rationale for it’s existence. Understanding it’s costs are a part of that. If we have lower cost ways of achieving what the railway provides, then why keep it.

      2. Timaction
        April 27, 2024

        Indeed. How many people use the railways and how often? What percentage of the travelling public is that? How do the tax payer subsidies/costs compare on investments per mile by roads, air travel? Are we getting value for money? Is it a strategic national interest? If so, why is steel making, heavy industry, manufacturing, mass immigration exported and imported? The immigrants wouldn’t pass Tebbits cricket test let alone fight for my Country, just claim my confiscated taxes in benefits. We desperately need Reform!!!

    2. Lifelogic
      April 27, 2024

      Is there any demand? Well if they stopped subsidies and taxes trains at the high levels cars are taxed to have fair competition demand would surely half at least. What is the logic in taxing road hugely but if the vehicle is on rails it gets huge subsidies?

      Zero tolerance to “hate crimes” says lots of TFL adverts on the tube & yet the police have 99% do nothing agenda on shoplifting, burglary, muggings, fraud, online and phone scams, knife crimes…

      1. Peter
        April 27, 2024

        There are too many cars. As a child in Paddington we could play in the streets, given the light traffic in those times. Neighbours would takes us on pleasure trips at the weekend.

        Over the decades, traffic levels mean there is little pleasure or use in car ownership in London. I cannot park on Waterloo bridge these days. I cannot even park anywhere in Kingston or Wimbledon without paying for the privilege (except for big supermarkets and golf courses).

        Car is useful for travel in the evenings or journeys that are not heading directly in towards London.

        Had a lovely day at London Transport Museum in Acton Town yesterday. Marvellous historic buses and Tube carriages on display and being restored. We travelled to the museum on public transport.

        1. IanT
          April 27, 2024

          If I lived in London and had a Freedom Pass that enabled me to get on Buses, Underground and Overground anywhere inside the City, I might well do the same. But I don’t live in London.

          We drove to our Grandsons Birthday party last week, complete with presents and Grandmas home-made Birthday Cake on the back seat. About 90 minutes of mostly Motorway and the same back – door to door. My car reported 42mpg, so just under 4 gallons used. It cost about £25.30 there and back at our current pump price (£1.46) in first class comfort and music of our choice. The cheapest day return today for us would be £95.60. Station to Station is 2hrs 10mins with two changes. My wife walks with two canes and has a Blue Badge (stairs are very slow going) and we would need taxis at both ends. I would be left ‘carrying the cake’ so to speak, with any presents in my backpack.

          I do remember pre-car days, in fact I was 10 before I ever went in one. Going to the “Seaside” was a day trip on the Charabanc with other family members (including en-route pub stops od course). Having a car gives so much more freedom to do things simply not possible (or affordable) on public transport. I have no wish to go back to long walks from the nearest station (or bus stop) in the pouring rain, even if we could manage that now. We have people living in London making national transport policy who seem to think everyone just pops in and out of the tube or jumps on a bus. Our nearest bus stop is 5 minutes walk away and there are just two buses a day. The Council wants us to ‘Get on your Bikes’ – I want them to do the same!

        2. Sharon
          April 27, 2024

          When my children were little, we would drive up to see the lights in Oxford street, go to museums etc. we parked for free, then we had to pay, then it got prohibitively expensive, so we stopped going.

          We did use the train and underground a bit during school holidays, but now I’m not happy on public transport. I’ve had a few disappointing journeys, toilets closed etc. It’s put me off.

        3. Lifelogic
          April 27, 2024

          Too many cars – well perhaps but 90%+ of travel is by road – and if the trains did 90%+ and went everywhere at all times of day you would doubtless be saying “too many trains and train tracks”. Plus the cost of the trains would be about 10 times as much.

          Taxpayers brace for £100bn money-printing bill – as George Osborne says it’s ‘not my responsibility’…” I can’t speak for the current situation – that is not my responsibility any more.” Thank goodness for that.

          So what was his responsibility – ratting on his IHT promise, lying about Brexit damage, failing to prepare for a likely leave vote outcome, taxing landlords on money they have not even made (in effect at over 100% doing huge harms to landlords and tenants), supporting the insanities of net zero and HS2, wrecking the economy with too much tax, endless waste and far too much government…

          1. IanT
            April 28, 2024

            And now clearing out the British Museum… 🙂

      2. Donna
        April 27, 2024

        I’ve been working this week but finally got to watch Dr Campbell’s podcast regarding Genetically Modified Organisms yesterday. It seems that the correct authorisation procedure for the gene therapies (they’re not vaccines) was not followed and their use is therefore illegal – with the individuals who authorised their use personally responsible, not the organisation they work for.

        No wonder the Government is desperate to avoid any discussion about excess deaths.

        I recommend everyone watch it.

        1. Wanderer
          April 27, 2024

          @Donna. Thanks. Watched the video. It was compelling and really, no-one should miss it (especially out MPs and NHS executives).

        2. Paul cuthbertson
          April 27, 2024

          Donna – Nothing can stop what is coming, NOTHING and the ENORMITY of what is coming will shock the world.

          1. margaret
            April 28, 2024

            If you have prior knowledge of a future event or revelation then please let us know so then we can arm ourselves adequately with either physical or intellectual defence.

    3. Lifelogic
      April 27, 2024

      Not much and would be far less still if trains were not hugely subsidised and roads not hugely over taxed in blatantly unfair competition. What is the logic for rail tracks good but roads bad?

      1. Bloke
        April 27, 2024

        Brunel proved his propeller was superior with a tug of war.
        Straight train rain lines designed with parallel motorways and buses at both ends would sort out what pulls demand: Straight COMPETITION.

        1. Lifelogic
          April 27, 2024

          Pretty dam obvious it would be better as paddles push the water down, then back then lift it up wasting much of the energy. Propellors largely just push the water back and with far less splashing and turbulence.

          Also fairly obvious that cars that can go everywhere directly and door to door with professional drivers and without tracks are rather better and far cheaper than trains. If you have 200 people who all want to go from London to Manchester at the same time without end connections and an existing track perhaps a train is good but in the real world they have end connections, want to go all very different times, need a car when they get there, have tools, luggage, drop offs or pick-ups on route…

    4. Peter
      April 27, 2024

      MB,

      ‘ It was mentioned here yesterday by a fellow contributor that at the weekend some services are closed.’

      This rarely happened under the nationalised British Rail.

      It happens now because all parties involved can get away with it. Weak regulators never question the need for it, or why more work cannot be done overnight.

      Franchises love it. They still get their subsidy but replacement bus services are cheaper to run than trains. Franchises also love to use

      shorter, four carriage trains at weekends because they also cost less.

      Reply Sunday and bank holiday closures were quite common under BR

      1. IanT
        April 27, 2024

        I can only assume that you are not old enough to remember travelling on British Rail Peter. Dirty trains, old stock and never on time. The last time I travelled up to London, the carriage was clean and arrived just a few minutes late. It wasn’t that cheap but with ULEZ (for some) 20mph zones and high parking costs, driving into London is no longer quick or affordable.
        If I’m honest, I don’t care very much about the ‘nationalisation’ of the railways because a) we already own quite a lot of it and b) I don’t intend to use them very much. However, I wouldn’t expect any great improvement in service levels or pricing, most especially under a Labour Government.
        Speaking of which, much as I regret this current Government’s distinctly lack lustre performance, anyone who thinks Labour will be any better needs their heads examined. Voting Labour currently is a bit like jumping into a deep, black pit and then thinking “this might not end well” on the way down.
        The Country has not got too much to look forward to in these respects I’m afraid.

      2. margaret
        April 27, 2024

        Reply to reply , The C of E was also a greater influence.

      3. Lifelogic
        April 28, 2024

        Indeed they were as were bus replacements.

    5. Bloke
      April 27, 2024

      If a service isn’t needed, why attract more people to use it?
      Users tend to be happy paying what their services are worth.

      1. Lifelogic
        April 27, 2024

        Indeed and a train can easily be 10-20 times the cost of a full car per person door to door. Often totally impractical to do the journey at all by train.

  3. James Freeman
    April 27, 2024

    How can we encourage significant new investment in track and upgrades to existing infrastructure? 

    The Victorians built a massive rail network from scratch across the UK and Commonwealth at zero cost to the taxpayer.

    We could do the same today by allowing developers:
    * A monopoly for a set period on the new track.
    * Negotiate a fair long-term deal to take over or access other network parts needed for their project.
    * Buy up land around their proposed stations before development.
    * Grant other operators access to the new track. However, they would determine terms rather than the regulator, ensuring a more flexible and investor-friendly approach.

    Investors would profit from increases in land values, offsetting their costs. In return, they would take on all the project risks.

    With each project requiring approval from Parliament, this proposed approach would develop the network faster and more efficiently than now. It would lead to the construction of homes near rail infrastructure, reducing car reliance. We could then reallocate the investment money to new schools and hospitals.

    1. Lifelogic
      April 27, 2024

      “The Victorians built a massive rail network from scratch across the UK and Commonwealth at zero cost to the taxpayer.”

      Well yes, but that was when they had little or no competition from far cheaper, more flexible, more efficient and convenient cars, trucks and coaches. Just horses!

  4. DOM
    April 27, 2024

    What propels a train from A to B?

    We don’t need a ‘smarter railway’. We need a depoliticized railway. We need trains with drivers to drive them who aren’t union lackeys and want to do their job to the best of their ability rather than indulging in union led destructive action to force the industry back into the cozy world of the public ownership.

    I suppose the RMT-ASLEF campaign to force the rail industry back into public ownership will now happen. Victory to the RMT and ASLEF. Defeat for the party in government who only had to expose the poisonous tactics of these unions rather than appeasing them

    1. IanT
      April 27, 2024

      Having recently watched a Tesla (with 12.5 FSD) driving itself around a busy city very well indeed, why do we need train drivers these days? The technology required to drive a train safely is way simpler than that of a car.
      I’m encouraged to think that when I can no longer drive myself, it might not matter, if my car can do it for me. But whilst I have lived long enough to see self-driving cars become a reality, I very much doubt I will be around to see driverless trains in the UK (outside of the DLR of course). Certainly not under a Government Labour in hock to the Unions.

    2. Neil
      April 27, 2024

      We also need competent executives who don’t bleed the business dry as CEOs have done for 30-40 years.

      It’s a worse problem than the unions. They are bad enough; why do train drivers need to earn more than bus drivers?

  5. John McDonald
    April 27, 2024

    Sir John you will still have the problems you have now if your journey requires you to travel via more than one train company. Who has responsibility for your end to end journey ?
    You can only really apply your free market faith if you have a choice of Rail companies to get you from A to B. Trains need track. Parallel tracks for different companies ?. More than one station in the same place ?
    This idea works for air travel for obvious reasons. But the control of the flights is undertaken by one organisation. The Air is free but tracks need investment they don’t make a profit in themselves.
    Engineering sense v Political dogma. Railways are a strategic country asset. Should profits made go to private individuals or worst still other countries ? Do you need to make a profit from railways if they enable other organisations to make a profit which can be taxed ?
    You mention digital signalling introduced slowly. Why this slowness under private ownership of the trains. Why could their profits not fund this ? National Rail could not charge enough for track usage ?
    You can run an electric train without a big battery. Surprised the Net Zero fanatics don’t say more on this point – trains are green. The railway profit model has change with the introduction of the car. But with the introduction of 20mph limits for cars, Perhaps the train is back competing with the horse and cart.

    Reply Signals are the responsibility of nationalised Network Rail. Through ticketing using more than one comlany is easily resolved as by airlines

    1. James Freeman
      April 27, 2024

      My recent train trip involved multiple changes with different train operators. Ticketing was seamless, and I could choose two alternative routes using the same ticket.

      The only hiccup was at the end of the return leg when there was minor chaos over a replacement bus service. Nationalisation would not have solved this, though, as this part of the route is already 100% government-owned!

    2. Know-Dice
      April 27, 2024

      John,
      Air maybe free [at the moment] but airport infrastructure and air traffic control isn’t…

    3. margaret
      April 27, 2024

      Reply to reply , The C of E was also a greater influence.

  6. BOF
    April 27, 2024

    A short while ago, someone on this site suggested fazing out the rail lines and paving them over for roads used primarily for HGV’s, coaches etc.

    This is the best solution I have seen to carry goods and people flexibly and quickly from one major centre to another.

    What a shame it will never even be considered.

    1. Peter
      April 27, 2024

      BOF,

      Paving rail tracks for motor vehicles is a daft idea.

      You would need entry and exit points for these vehicles at each station. Extra parking spaces would be required for additional vehicles at the end of the trip. There is little space for parking at the moment, without adding to it.

      Disused rail tracks often end up as paths for ramblers to use in their leisure.

      1. BOF
        April 27, 2024

        Peter
        Not daft. There are existing access roads to and from every station for entry and exit plus parking at every station. Very little parking would be needed as most journeys would not require a change of vehicle.

        1. Lifelogic
          April 27, 2024

          indeed and we could use all the space they use to park all those trains when not in use!

      2. Mark
        April 27, 2024

        Trains are very inefficient as a mode of transport. Subdividing them into smaller vehicles allows a more frequent service, and one that corresponds more closely with the destinations and origins of travellers. If such vehicles are automated they can also disperse to park up after completing their journeys until called on again. The same applies to freight.

        That describes a 21st century technology. The days of 19th century rail are numbered, particularly in a densely populated country like the UK.

    2. JayCee
      April 27, 2024

      Excellent suggestion. The long term future is autonomous vehicles providing people with point-to-point public transport. This is the next logical step in a transport evolution that started with toll roads through canals, railways, omnibuses and private cars.
      Our public transport approach has not changed since the 19th century. This is unbelievable.

    3. Christine
      April 27, 2024

      They did this where I live. We used to have three large railway stations now we have just one. The central line was converted into a road which takes cars directly from the motorway right to the heart of the town. The old station and the land around it was made into the largest car park in Europe which is only a few yards from the beach and town centre. This was back in the day when the car was king and wouldn’t happen now.

    4. Know-Dice
      April 27, 2024

      BOF,
      There used to be a rail service called Red Star which was a pretty good way of getting goods delivered same day from one part of the country to another.

  7. Cliff.. Wokingham.
    April 27, 2024

    Sir John,
    People have rightly got used to the convenience of their car. It can take you door to door, at a time you want to go and at a still, just about affordable price. That is what the rail services are up against.
    Pre Beeching, it was said you could go almost anywhere by train but, post Beeching, so many of the small branch lines were closed, one became far more restricted in choice of destinations.
    Ticketing is now very complex and the price is eye watering, especially given the quality of service.
    Modern management could learn from the past and consider specials such as worker returns, excursion specials and as suggested above by Mark B, combined event and travel tickets.
    Run the railways as a service for the customers not for the convenience of the staff and managers.

    1. Mark
      April 27, 2024

      Subject only to limits imposed by ORR, rail fares are designed to maximise revenues, and therefore to limit subsidies. That means they will gouge those who have little alternative to taking the train and seek to avoid cannibalising those revenues with fungible alternative fares, yet at the same time they will seek to secure extra revenue from more discretionary travellers.

      The difficulty for rail companies now is that WFH replaces commuting by fast broadband, though perhaps they should be offering the WFH crew trips to the seaside as an alternative distraction to walking the dog or coffee with the neighbours.

  8. Bloke
    April 27, 2024

    Many of the rail services and motorways are already smarting from previous bad decisions and incompetence. The intelligent changes recommended can remedy the numerous faults.

  9. Sea_Warrior
    April 27, 2024

    Hmmm. I think I’d keep the infrastructure together, under state-ownership but contractorised maintenance, and promote multiple operators on the same lines. In short, I’d try to make rail mirror commercial aviation.
    P.S. My most recent rail journeys were in Italy, between Verona and Venice – and jolly impressive they were too. Fare? Ten euro. Frequency? A couple per hour. Trains? Modern and clean. Choice of operators? Yes. Staions? Safe.

    1. Mark
      April 27, 2024

      I recall a very slow journey from Venice to Florence with standing room in the corridors the only option. It was the day of the Bologna train disaster, when th Red Army Faction blew up a train in a tunnel just outside the city, killing 30. I was on an Interail pass with schoolfriends. After a day in Florence we abandoned plans for further time in Italy and headed to Innsbruck which seemed safer and cooler.

      1. Sea_Warrior
        April 28, 2024

        Full marks for flexibility!

  10. Donna
    April 27, 2024

    I enjoy a train journey, but the fact is that the railways are now going the same way as the canal network.

    Their original purpose, to move large numbers of people from A to B and large quantities of freight around the country are (or soon will be) unnecessary.

    The Net Zero lunacy is destroying the kind of manufacturing which generated large quantities of freight which needed transporting around the country. The Covid tyranny has destroyed the commuter business. The railway is too expensive and too inconvenient for families to regularly use it.

    I can’t see any way of making the operation “smarter” which would actually result in it becoming viable.

    Personally, I’d scrap the ridiculous Not-Quite-London to Nearly-Birmingham leg of HS2 and send the bill to Adonis, Cameron, May and Johnson.

    1. David Andrews
      April 27, 2024

      If, in 2024, a railway did not exist in the UK why and where would you build one and what technology would you use to create a profitable, self sustaining transport system? The answer would probably exclude much of the current network depending on how far you are prepared to go with automation and self driving trains as part of the solution. The technology is around to provide innovative solutions. That notional system should be matched against what exists as the basis for what survives and what is closed and shut down. In short the railways need Beeching 2 to cut them down to an affordable size.

  11. Dave Andrews
    April 27, 2024

    There is no solution to British railways. Just keep the commuter routes with private companies and mothball the rest.

  12. JayCee
    April 27, 2024

    I would be interested to hear a debate about a way forward. My concern about linking track and train is that this would create a scenario where the private sector, profit-oriented owner has an effective monopoly on that region. It will be difficult for open access operators to provide effective competition. It may be better to break up Network Rail into privatised regional entities.
    Also your thoughts appear to be somewhat London centric. SW to NE, Lancashire to Yorkshire, E Anglia to E Midlands/North West routes need improving and all these routes would cross boundaries and continue to be marginalised under your proposal.
    What we have does not work, nationalisation would be back to the bad old days. We definitely need change.

    1. Ian B
      April 27, 2024

      @JayCee +1

    2. Mark
      April 27, 2024

      Rail has plenty of competition from road transport, and on longer routes air or even sea for freight. There is a very limited set of operations that are economically viable without subsidies in open competition, so that would severely limit the profits and dividends available. The only excuse for maintaining subsidies is that the road infrastructure would struggle to cope in some heavily urbanised areas were rail to be abandoned without road enhancements.

  13. The Prangwizard
    April 27, 2024

    Goodness knows what system will be best but, before implementing anything, we should do with train drivers to start with in particular what Ronald Reagan, US President, did years ago with US air traffic controllers. Sack them all, and re-hire them if they wished to start again, on new contracts.

    Our nation, England, and society would be much better immediately if we started doing this elsewhere now. Start with civil servants who for example refuse to turn up for work in the office.

    Will it happen, will it H… as everyone these days is a ‘victim’ or ‘sufferer’ and must be satisfied and appeased.

  14. Everhopeful
    April 27, 2024

    The final paragraph of an article on a website called Turnip Rail.

    “Therefore, Terry Gourvish’s figures have shown that in the 1980s and first half of the 1990s BR improved the profitability and performance of its business, reducing the burden on the taxpayer. By the mid-1990s it was one of the most efficient railway operators in Europe, if not the most efficient. Of course, I have only scratched the surface of what actually went on within BR after 1980, and its story in the period was not one of unabated progress. Yet, this data shows that claims by Steven Norris (and others) that BR was inefficient in the 1990s are just plain wrong. Indeed, if privatisation hadn’t happened there is no telling how efficient or productive Britain’s railways may have become after 1997”.

    So there were in fact two opinions of BR and privatisation won. How strange!
    BR was lovely.
    It was also subject to much of the usual propaganda in TV comedy…rendering it apparently not worth having.
    And as ever the sheeple/turkeys swallowed it!
    And now look at what we don’t have!!

    *Terry Gourvish wrote a detailed, official history of BR.

  15. glen cullen
    April 27, 2024

    If the trains don’t run we can alway cycle ….as there will not be any cars in this tory utopia
    ”The net zero crackdown on combustion engines could force the maker of Vauxhall to scale back its presence in Britain, its boss has warned.
    Carlos Tavares, chief executive of Stellantis, said that a law to limit petrol car sales was “terrible for the UK” and would force manufacturers to sell vehicles at a loss.
    If ministers did not make urgent changes to the rules, he suggested Stellantis could be required to slash the number of cars it sells in Britain – and refused to rule out halting sales of some models altogether” net-zero-watch

    1. Everhopeful
      April 27, 2024

      +++
      On the bright side we’ll only be cycling a 15 minute walk max.
      Or there and back…or round in circles.
      Weaving our wobbly way around heaps of rusting cars….

  16. Ian B
    April 27, 2024

    Sir John
    While I broadly agree with you, though the ideology that has ‘sort-of’ crept into your thoughts and to many ways of thinking is that London is the centre of the Universes. For approaching 80% of the UK London is a ‘no go area’ somewhere to avoid at all costs, a place that is hostile to the UK Citizen. Anything that encompasses the Metro Socialist thinking of the London bubble is a flag waver for those that are anti-UK.

    1. Lynn Atkinson
      April 27, 2024

      +1 a friend wandered into Whitechapel by accident last week. Still in shock.

  17. Ian B
    April 27, 2024

    Sir John
    The danger with all these well-intentioned propositions is the ego of those that would be enforced to let-go, need to step aside from their own personal esteem.
    There is no one in this Conservative Government interested in what is right for the whole of the UK, they have spent 14 years electioneering, refusing to manage, fighting the UK & its People, while seeking personal gratification. The notion of serving has alluded them. That means the correct ways to proceed as you suggest will be blocked, turned into vanity projects with ‘jobs-for-the-boys’ first and foremost, nothing would intrinsically change and as those at the top will be those without actual qualifications and experience for the ‘real’ job at hand – nothing would change and the taxpayer will still be on the hook with no one accepting responsibility.
    That doesn’t mean ‘One’ shouldn’t try, its just a recognition that for the most part what we term MP’s and with their overlords the ‘Blob’ they have other interests, personal interests and vanity to preen, looking for their next personal gravy train. If they can all be locked out of the process there is then a glimmer of hope.

    1. Ian B
      April 27, 2024

      As reported in the MsM yesterday George Osbourne has left the UK Taxpayer a £100 billion debt, for his ineffective, inexperienced blundering. 12 years on and we get his bill, his debt, his neglect – to fund.
      So suggesting anyone it this Government and the bulk of our Left wing Parliament would do anything to improve the UK is a remote proposition.
      The UK’s systems can work and work better than for most Countries, but we do not have a bulk of elected representative with your mind-set, Sir John. They are anti UK in deed and action, they refuse to protect Society, so expecting them to be for the UK to move forward is misplaced

  18. RDM
    April 27, 2024

    Your suggestion has some really good points!

    Especially the Strategic Lines!

    If some big company’s, including foreign company’s, got involved, then the main lines into London would do well!

    It’s a bit complex, but with good management, no problem!

    Building in Competition, over time, would be key to their future!

    The Commuter belt; that a lot more difficult!

    For each group (? related lines, on one set of tracks) of inward commuter lines, I would have a strategic operator controlling that one group, and integrating them onto Strategic Mainlines!.

    It’s a pity we couldn’t build massive Car Parks at the end of a commuter lines into central London.

    Initially, we could end up losing some competition, on the commuter belt, but the idea would be to design in competitive alternatives, designing out a monopoly!

    I see Signalling as increasing efficiency, and as you say, increasing capacity.

    But, it would need to be under one, individual strategic operator’s responsibility to gain the most from it!

    Regards,

    RDM.

  19. Original Richard
    April 27, 2024

    In the short term, the implementation of driverless trains.

    In the long term, the conversion of 19th century steel wheels on a steel track to a concrete/tarmac track and rubber wheels, viz, special purpose roads, which would bring down the costs enormously.

    These special purpose roads could be used by licenced private coaches thus ensuring competition with all the accruing advantages of a competitive market. The coaches could be run driverless on these special roads for safety but also capable of being driven on the normal roads if driverless vehicles has not yet been implemented. The system will be far more efficient and flexible as passengers could be collected and deposited anywhere off these special purpose roads, either in town centres, or out-of-town parking hubs etc.

    BTW, I think that if driverless cars becomes feasible, then railways will become redundant. The technology may even reduce the congestion on the roads as travelling late evening or even overnight becomes safe and feasible.

    1. Timaction
      April 27, 2024

      Indeed. Hybrid coaches/cars that could drive on or off electrified tracks/ lanes and eventually full electric when technology catches up. To routes people want to go. Every rail journey means a secondary form of transport unless you live near stations by design. Cars/ coaches to drive on off not 19th Century technology that no longer fit for purpose, just like….. windmills!

    2. Mark
      April 27, 2024

      Automated cars allow for much higher traffic densities with platoons of closely spaced vehicles also benefitting from fuel economy due to drafting behind the vehicle ahead. This could also allow increased speeds in quite dense traffic. It would require roads to be well maintained. Pothole damage to a vehicle could lead to a spectacular pile-up.

      1. glen cullen
        April 27, 2024

        Where’s the fun & enjoyment of just going for a drive

    3. Lynn Atkinson
      April 27, 2024

      +1 driverless cars and trains can be interfered with electronically.

  20. Robert Miller
    April 27, 2024

    Just revert to the pre-1948 structure

    1. Mitchel
      April 27, 2024

      “History moves slowly but it has never moved backwards”-Aleksandr Herzen (1812-70)

    2. Mickey Taking
      April 27, 2024

      What – no maintenance, 60mph limit, dirt everywhere?
      You want that back?

    3. glen cullen
      April 27, 2024

      What ….when governments didn’t interfere so much

  21. Bert+Young
    April 27, 2024

    Any business including the railways depends on the quality of its management ; if this is lacking in direction and planning the operating results – of all sorts suffer . Years ago I was on a panel created by the British Institute of Management quizzing and criticising Beeching on his recent appointment to oversee and control the operations of the rail system ; his background then and his subsequent actions did nothing to advance and improve it . Years have subsequently passed and the turmoil still exists .

  22. Bryan Harris
    April 27, 2024

    How could we have a smarter railway?

    Some control exerted by private concerns would help endlessly, ideally with all lines and services under the control of one group.

    Initially there is likely to be chaos as a private group takes over running the trains as they will want to cut out waste, then start growing. A big shake up is clearly required.
    One way they could grow is to invite anyone who want to run a service, using all facilities, to request a slot. or slots.

    There are facilities and land this new group could take advantage of, but the important thing is that overall control switch from government almost immediately.

    To start, HMG would ask anyone interested to form alliances, and they would be judged on their potential ability to run a national train service.

    It is well past time we put some private capital and thinking into a service we so badly need.

  23. hefner
    April 27, 2024

    How comes that Deutsche Bahn has been able to offer a €49/month ticket valid over the whole of Germany, for trains and buses, now for more than a year?
    It proves to be a success for daily commuters and also fill the trains during the week-ends with day-trippers.

    How can French SNCF offer their Ouigo tarif tickets three-four times cheaper than the British equivalent?

    1. Bryan Harris
      April 27, 2024

      Because those at the top want our railways to fail – by making tickets unaffordable they help this happen.

    2. Dave Andrews
      April 27, 2024

      On a recent trip to Germany, my host said that 20 years ago you could have set your watch by Deutsche Bahn. Today you can’t even rely on the train turning up.
      Their focus is more on diversity and inclusion rather than operational efficiency.

    3. Sam
      April 27, 2024

      It’s subsidised hefner.
      Huge losses paid for by the State

  24. Everhopeful
    April 27, 2024

    Elizabeth Line plagued by wear and tear problems.
    As a consequence of the line running more traffic than historically was the case.
    Are more services on the same track really a good idea?
    Plus software is always letting us down.
    Ask my blinking fridge after the power outage last night…Beep…beep….beep…….

  25. Linda Brown
    April 27, 2024

    I think anything with shareholders, especially foreign ones, is a waste of time. They are only in it for pay outs and we need people who will invest their money into the system.

  26. William Long
    April 27, 2024

    As so often what you are suggesting should be an obvious way forward to any thinking person. However, the Conservatives have demonstrated over the past fourteen years that they do not have the political will to make common sense solutions happen, even if they are for the clear benefit of the populace, and the likelihood of anything like this happening under a Starmer led administration is risible.

  27. formula57
    April 27, 2024

    The railways are a mess and your proposals look like a good means of improvement.

    So what choice will we face at the general election, Labour’s doubtful solution offering apparent but not real progress from full nationalization and the Conservative leadership’s muddle on with the present expensive failure?

  28. The Prangwizard
    April 27, 2024

    I do not subscribe to socialism and state ownership as a preference, but in the case of rail I am tempted for both track and trains.

    What is needed is non socialist management.

    Profit from maximising passenger use is needed, simple ticketing, the cutting of waste, and introducing new productivity methods everywhere. In other words a private enterprise management approach. New people to do this and sacking for failure.

    Employees should have no special relations, they must work or not.

  29. Ian B
    April 27, 2024

    Sir John
    The broad consensus on the ‘Diary’ today is with the right and good management everything is solvable. Then you get to the root of the problem this Conservative Government has proved time and time again that it doesn’t even know what management is, likewise those in the ‘Blob’ have the same impediment. All Governments must be removed as far as possible from the day-to-day running of anything, some would suggest they shouldn’t be trusted with even organizing their own office.
    Then the contradiction is compounded in that the System is a closed club, those likely to get to run any new empires are those that have recently failure as a politician, or are friends of friends, or have their roots in the Civil Service empires – the political connected, not the most able with real-world track records. This type has in the last generation or so have shown themselves as total failures – otherwise the Country would not be in such a state! The elephant in the room is when there is any demand on the Taxpayer to be the funder. A way then has to be found to ensure we have electorally accountable individuals facing the music, naturally this should be an MP, one that is able to read a balance sheet, ask the questions that get to the heart of a service. Here I am afraid PPE Graduates by default have to exclude themselves from anything requiring responsibility – as that is not the qualification or the background needed to manage UK/GB. plc

  30. Dave Ceely
    April 27, 2024

    A free market would do it. Instead we have a communist lite command economy and just look at how far we’ve sunk because of it.

  31. Mark
    April 27, 2024

    The entire rail system was de facto nationalised as a consequence of covid lockdown. Network Rail was nationalised long ago. The ROSCOs that own and lease out rolling stock had their finances guaranteed by government. The Train Operating Companies were all bankrupt and operated under administration and subsidy. The mess saw the government make its Great British Railways proposal a couple of years ago, but the legislation was abandoned. In February the government tabled a new draft bill to unify the ownership of track and stations and rolling stock in one state owned enterprise, which would formalise the reality and leave little that wasn’t nationalised or regulated within a hair’s breadth of being so. There is a new organisation with HQ in Derby that has been established on the assumption that the proposals will go ahead. This is their website

    https://gbrtt.co.uk/

    The Bill is subject to review before it even gets tabled for a First Reading – perhaps why we ate hearing so much about privatisation now. Meanwhile the ORR made an interim approval of the Network Rail 7 year plan for the 2024-31 compliance period, to be reviewed in a couple of years, or perhaps abandoned depending on the legislation.

  32. Roy Grainger
    April 27, 2024

    Is there any railway system anywhere in the world that operates in the way you propose ? If there isn’t there must be a good reason for that.

  33. hefner
    April 27, 2024

    O/T: Isn’t it interesting that Wan Gang, an ex-Audi engineer became the Chinese Minister of Sciences in 2007, and was at the origin of the development of the BYD EVs, making sure with other ministers that China has now access to 50% of Lithium, 60% of Cobalt extracted in the world’s, and produces 70% of the world EVs’ batteries. The result, within China, EVs are less expensive than ICEVs. In 2020 BYD started to put Li-Fe-phosphate batteries in their EVs, next stage is the sodium-ion battery.

    The BYD Seagull (European) model is to become available on the continental European market in 2025 for around €20k.
    The Chinese version of it is sold there for £8k.
    alternatives-economiques.fr, 26/04/2024 ´Voiture électrique: BYD, le constructeur chinois qui a déjà dépassé Tesla’ also on mediarezo.net

    23/04/2024 auto express.co.uk ‘New BYD Seagull will come to the UK in 2025 to rival the Dacia Spring’.

    I wonder what the UK SoS for Science, Innovation and Technology thinks of these developments.

  34. glen cullen
    April 27, 2024

    Another 350 illegals crossing the channel today, on the way to Rwanda

  35. glen cullen
    April 27, 2024

    Conservative MP Dan Poulter has defected to Labour ….along with potentially 300 other tory MPs

    1. Mickey Taking
      April 27, 2024

      A lot did it ages ago, they just didn’t tell anybody, same with the LibnoDems.

  36. margaret
    April 27, 2024

    We need Michael Portillo , armed with Appleton’s and Bradshaw’s history of train routes to give us an opinion.

  37. margaret
    April 27, 2024

    I live in a town with its own very popular steam train . The public delight in the travel and revere the past.

  38. John Holloway
    April 29, 2024

    I would go for full privatisation of the railways, back to something like the Big Four in 1948. However, tax payers money still needed for some investments, such as electrification, and also to subsidise branch lines. We also need a full investigation into road finances. Road users pay a lot of tax but they have never bought the land the roads are on. Roads were common user for pedestrians, farmers driving their animals etc but now dominated by cars. Also, cars don’t follow health and safety. One couldn’t build a factory right next to a pavement with machines whirring round at 30 mph with no protection.

  39. David Boss
    May 2, 2024

    One of the arguments for nationalising the railways is that European countries such as France and Germany have publicly owned railways which are efficient and well run. Is the UK incapable of doing the same?

    Reply The UK has a largely nationalised railway. HS 2 was always fully nationalised with access to enormous amounts of money. Just look what happened.

    1. David Boss
      May 5, 2024

      But why do the French and Germans run their nationalised railways better?

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