Empty trains


               I have been looking into high speed trains. I have made three day  return journeys to Manchester and Leeds recently and decided to take the train.  I have been hoping to win some green plaudits!

               On each occasion I have wished to be in those cities in time for the start of the business day. This has meant driving to London and staying overnight there, in order to have a chance of getting to the London terminus in time the next morning by tube. It would take me three hours by train to get from home to the correct London station, meaning there are not early enough trains to do the job.

              On two of the three occasions the early train north was delayed by more than 20 minutes before leaving owing to the non arrival of some of the train crew. On each occasion the trains were practically empty. I counted numbers on one journey. There were 13 people in a 67 seat Standard carriage, 1 person in the 30  buffet car seats, and 13 people in the 123 1st class seats in 3 first class carriages. It is hardly a green way to travel, to propel all that huge weight of carriages at high speed burning electricity, a secondary fuel. There is both  the power station energy loss and the inefficiency of the electric motors. Fuel burn per passenger must have been higher than going by car.

                When the trains were moving they went quite fast enough. The problem with the total journey time was the delay in leaving, and the time to and from the station to commence and finish the journey. It was difficult to understand why we need more capacity on these routes, given the poor showing of passengers for what should have been the morning rush. Had I attempted to get on a commuter train or a train from Reading at the same time they would have been crowded.

                     Returning one day on a lunch time train after making my speech in the north, we were told there would be no hot meals “owing to staff shortages”. There was no great commercial drive to serve passengers better and make more money as a result.

                       There are no seat belts on the train, though they travel considerably faster than a car is allowed to travel on a motorway. The luggage is placed on open shelves above passengers’ heads. Seats and tables have hard edges. At the very least the train companies could put in netting or hatch doors to restrain the luggage in case of accident.


  1. Mike Stallard
    March 27, 2011

    The slackness and couldn’t care less attitude of the staff which you mention is so sad but, I regret, is becoming general. Trains, although they are the love of my entire life, are now out of date technology.

  2. lifelogic
    March 27, 2011

    Rarely do train or buses make environment/energy sense it is a BBC/government/state sector/quango myth. Bus occupancy can be as low as six on some routes, trains as low as 10% depot to depot. They take indirect routes with connections are inconvenient, inflexible, need taxi/bus connections and (tracks & stations for trains) and staff who also use fuel. That is why they cost so much relative to taking a car even after the tax subsidy bias.

    People think they carry a lot of passengers as people tend (by definition) to catch the fuller ones are peak times (in built statistical bias in the passenger sampling). Over the whole day they are largely empty such as commuter trains returning against the flow to the depots.

    Coach travel inter city is however quite good on energy use as they have better occupancy rates.

    “One red bus is greener than 56 cars” or whatever the bus advert was was always a lie and many quangos push this green socialist public transport myth at great public expense.

    The Liberals and Dave even seem to actually believe it.

    There are energy losses at the power station, in transmission to the line, in running the line transmission system, heating and lighting the stations and trains, running signals and points, the staff use of energy, shunting train the the right place, getting to the station and more.

    That is why Dr Beeching correctly closed down many of the nonsense lines we should close some more.

    JR perhaps you should ask some question on actual passenger miles and overall energy use of trains stations and staff for the train/track operators.

    What would save energy is reducing congestion on the road caused by deliberate road obstructions in town and poor road infrastructure out of town.

    Watch out for big opposition from the BBC, the Lberals, Call me “Dave” and Sir John Betjeman.

    Reply: I have tabled some questions on seat occupancy rates.

    1. lifelogic
      March 27, 2011

      There is also a lot of energy used in the ticketing and booking systems, security, scheduling, advertising and these staff to take into account.

    2. lifelogic
      March 27, 2011

      Thanks for tabling the questions. Please make sure they give truthful depot to depot answers then adjust for the connections, the indirect routes, infrastructure, etc. There is nothing green about trains in general at all. This even if one does believe in the great new green religion with its occasionally revolving huge new crosses on all the hills.

      High speed trains are even worse – with fewer stops so more indirect overall journeys and more wind resistance at high speed.

      1. Electro-Kevin
        March 27, 2011

        The same frontal area as a coach or lorry.

        1. lifelogic
          March 27, 2011

          It is not just the frontal area that matters the air resistance is all along the train.

          1. Electro-Kevin
            March 27, 2011

            I’m sure all this could be measured scientifically.

          2. lifelogic
            March 28, 2011

            Indeed it can be and is and high speed uses much more fuel than low and tend to stop less meaning people travel further by car bus taxis to get on. Often doubling part of the journey.

    3. Bob
      March 27, 2011

      And if rail is so efficient, why do I so often see railway rolling stock being transported by lorries on the motorways?

      Just tarmac over the lines and watch traffic congestion disappear.

    4. Lindsay McDougall
      March 28, 2011

      On passenger trains, low seat occupancy occurs during off peak periods, because surplus trains are run as a deliberate act of social policy. With cars, it’s the opposite. Occupancy is higher in the off peak than in the peaks. So much for the environmental case for passenger trains.

      If you want genuine environmental gains on trains, look at rail freight – provided the wagons are fully loaded. Light loading can occur but it’s usually not deliberate. Unlike passengers, goods don’t have the vote.

      Reply: I was travelling during the peak.

      1. Lindsay McDougall
        March 28, 2011

        Yes but you were travelling out of London in the morning. I’ll wager that the trains into London were a lot fuller.

  3. lola
    March 27, 2011

    Suppose you did not take the £19Bn out of the ecconomy to build HS2? It might be used to increase the energy efficiency of more time and convenience efficient personal transport. No functionary can decide on the relative merits of these choices – only the ‘free market’ can do that.

    HS2 is a vanity project.

    1. Derek Buxton
      March 27, 2011

      I think you may find that it stems from an EU edict, something to do with a high speed rail network across the EU in which our involvement would be London to the North. There is also an ego effect for the proposer of it.

    2. Stuart Fairney
      March 27, 2011

      Exactly, the very opposite of the John Galt line. If it made any sense at all, someone would be trying o do it sans government.

      They aren’t. This should tell us all we need to know.

  4. Sean Lever
    March 27, 2011


    Yes the assumption that trains are energy efficient applies to all forms of mass transport; it only stacks up at higher occupancy levels. The bus that arrives at Wellingborough station rarely drops of or collects a passenger, the service only survives on subsidies.

    1. lifelogic
      March 27, 2011

      Yes and you can only have high occupancy levels if a lot of people want to go from A to B at exactly the same time, do not wish to call at C or D on route or carry much with them.

      This is rarely the case, other than for a few inter city routes and some commuting. With commuting the trains have to start empty then slowly fill up at each stop and return mainly empty too. Occupancy above about 25% is thus unlikely even if it arrives in town very full.

      Yet a further problem is certain peaks like holiday periods and Christmas when they cannot cope with different travel demands and have insufficient rolling stock. Or stock in the wrong place and staff who want to be on holiday too.

      They also are vulnerable to union blackmail/exploitation and terrorism.

    2. Stuart Fairney
      March 27, 2011

      Back when I used to leave home at 6.30am to beat the traffic, I used to see the early bus with precisely two people on it. The driver and one passenger.

      I could not help but ponder who had the “greener” journey; me paying heavy taxes for petrol, the car, the road, my insurance, VAT on repairs etc or the guy whose journey I was subsidising.

  5. Roger
    March 27, 2011

    The staff attitude is almost certainly a result of low morale. I am a driver for a Train Operating Company and feel I am very professional, but the company doesn’t bother to hide its contempt for its employees. It cares even less about the passengers. An unnecessarily draconian disciplinary policy, plus endless edicts, diktats and policy initiatives from the vast numbers of managers (things work much smoother at the weekend when they’re not here as they don’t all want to stick their oars in!), plus all decision making done at the – remote – centre, lack of investment (they won’t even spend money on providing technical and safety publications we need all combine to gradually grind you down.
    I guess some staff can’t hide it any more.

    Reply: I agree that managers need to motivate and encourage their employees.

  6. Iain Gill
    March 27, 2011

    most of the people are going in the opposite direction

    ive lived in lots of places and done it into london, i lived in coventry for a while and got the train into london every day, its expensive crowded but doable if you start and end near enough the station at each end

    few people would live in london and travel the other direction every day for work, its just not economic that way around

    on “There is both the power station energy loss and the inefficiency of the electric motors” most of the energy loss is in the transmission between power station and train i imagine

    you are right about the culture of poor service from the staff, and on some of the trains the repeated loud announcements which disturb any attempt at work

    the best train services for me are the sleeper trains between london and scotland, you really can leave london last thing at night sleep through the journey and arrive fresh for a day in scotland, which cannot be done flying or any other way, also have the friendliest staff

  7. Dan Mosley
    March 27, 2011

    John, your last paragraph is rather unfortunate. One of the reasons trains are so expensive is excessive safety regulation. This has the effect of forcing people to use cars, a much less safe form of transport. Additional safety measures, on an already very safe form of transport, are not the answer.

  8. alan jutson
    March 27, 2011


    All travel of any kind when you have a schedule/deadline to meet, is fraught with potential delay and problems in the UK.

    By car you suffer no end of road works (no 24 hour working to get the job done faster) and possible road closures due to accidents now being a crime scene.

    By train as you correctly summise it is the journey at each end which is a problem, and on commuter lines at peak times very often overcrowding and standing room only.

    By Air it is the journey at each end, and the 2 hour (minimum) check in rule.

    Airport and train station car parks are very expensive, and do not encourage their use. City centre car parks are often a second mortgage job.

    Our trains are expensive and a total confusion of prices exist, and where different operators run services to a common station, an integrated timetable seems like fantasy.

    Our roads are overcrowded and of poor quality, fuel is expensive, and parking a lottery.

    Air travel unless you are covering a long distance is a waste of time, due to check in times.

    The fact is we are a very overcrowded Island with far too many people living in a small space, I think we are the country with third highest density of people per square mile in the world.

    The simple fact of life is you pay through the nose now, no matter how you travel, and unless you have no actual fixed time scale to meet, travel is a very stressful experience.

    Can only contrast the above with a recent train holiday in Switzerland, where trains run to the second, carriages and windows were clean, staff very helpful, information (platform use and timetables) easy to understand, fares very reasonable, and above all simple to understand.

    All the above makes us as a Country less efficient, and adds to business costs.

    Good to see you operating your own survey, I wonder how many other MPs would even think of doing so, or would even care.

    1. lifelogic
      March 27, 2011

      Switzerland also has a sound currency, is out of the EU, has lower tax rates, better services, better roads and is attracting lots of our finance industry as a result.

      1. zorro
        March 27, 2011

        On the subject of roads, the Windsor relief road is still a nightmare – cones and no-one doing any work….Who awards/monitors these contracts? It’s a joke when you see what the Japanese did to that piece of motorway within six days of it being damaged by the earthquake.

        Again, the maintenance companies are having a laugh at public expense a lot of the time. I know that we complain about public servants being wasteful, but I can tell you that the biggest chancers most of the time are private companies taking the proverbial on the back of public contacts!


        1. lifelogic
          March 27, 2011

          True but that is the fault of the state sector buyer who contract for the job and should make sure they get value.

        2. alan jutson
          March 27, 2011


          Yes got caught up in the Windsor reief road the other day, as you say, no one working.

          More locally we have a pedestrian Island in Wokingham on the A329 being modified at the moment. Yes traffic flow restricted to one lane, alternate traffic flows each way, via traffic lights, work due to last for 3 weeks (planned). Traffic at peak times now backs up to the coppid beech roundabout and then into Bracknell, waited for 25 mins before I could turn off.

          Think they realised their error after a few days, and now lights are only used and road restricted when they are actually working on site.

          Widening of the A 329 from Coppid beech roundabout to coppid beech hotel (about 400 yds) took nearly a year last year.

          1. David John Wilson
            March 27, 2011

            Perhaps at last pedestrians will be able to cross that junction. Something which for the last few years has been almost impossible except at quiet times. Its about time motorists sacrasficed a little for the benefit of those who don’t drive.

          2. alan jutson
            March 28, 2011

            David John Wilson

            Not against an island at all. All for pedestrians being given safe places to cross. Just making a point about how long it takes to modify, and the disruption it has caused.

            Quite why pedestrians would want to cross at that point is not really clear to me, as just open fields are on one side of the road at this point. Crossing places already exist a few hundred yards down the road where there are houses on both sides.

  9. Anoneumouse
    March 27, 2011

    Seat belts a netting + ongoing maintenance thereof = another £60 per ticket between Manchester and London

    Bravo Mr Redwood, go and get yourself a hot coffee from the buffoon car

  10. Simon
    March 27, 2011


    What was the price of the return ticket please ?

    It winds me up to see people of all ages with their feet on the seat opposite , transfering parasites from dog faeces onto the fabric so children can rub them in their eyes leading to partially blindness .

    I have never bought a first class train ticket but if I worked somewhere where it made sense to take the train I might .

    Reply: I do not have to hand the ticket receipts – the fares were very different depending on the time of the train concerned- they were all booked in advance so they were discounted on full fare, but it was sitll expensive.

    1. VIVID
      March 28, 2011

      If you need to rest your feet, take your shoes off before putting them up!

    2. sm
      March 29, 2011

      I would expect the cost of the ticket exceeded the marginal cost of the fuel?Particularly if there is more than one traveller.

      You could mandate that all subsidised lines sell a majority of empty tickets at an e-auction just minutes before departure based on recent prior loadlevels.

      Rail just seems expensive at the margin for price sensitive or non reimbursed travel.

    3. HJBbradders
      March 29, 2011

      My daughter, who lives in Cambridge, visited us in Derby a couple of weeks ago. She wanted to travel by train in the one direction as she was returning by road. She checked the price of a ticket for a single journey from Cambridge to Derby, via Leicester; it was £45. She then checked the price of a single ticket from Cambridge to Leicester and then a single ticket from Leicester to Derby, i.e. two separate tickets, but not having to change trains at Leicester. The total price of the two tickets, which she purchased, was £15.
      You could not make it up. Quite outrageous.

  11. Bob Gibson
    March 27, 2011

    Agree the ‘green’ credentials of rail v road are probably much exaggerated. I recently have undertaken a short series of lectures in Luton. From a Leicestershire base I found East Midlands Trains exemplary in timekeeping, but with a bizarre fare structure.

    The entire future UK transport infrastructure needs very careful planning and needs to be viewed across all modes – air, rail and road. HS2 is not the answer; it is very wasteful of resources that would be better invested on a much wider distribution around the country.

    Heathrow Airport and London’s future as an international aviation hub is especially
    worrying. None of the major of the political parties seem to be able to grasp the issue and certainly none appear to have any practical solutions.

  12. Steve Cox
    March 27, 2011

    It struck me after the Madrid train bombings how inter-city trains are a prime target for terrorists. People with suitcases (which could be full of high explosives for all anybody knows) have to either stack them in the communal storage area at each end of the carriage, or else try and wedge them between the seats. Then people are free to wander off to the buffet car, and nobody knows whose suitcase is whose. What is there to stop a terrorist from planting a suitcase with a few kilos of C5, or whatever explosive is currently flavour of the month, in a busy carriage, then disappearing as if to go and get a coffee, but actually getting off the train and then at a safe distance detonating the explosive remotely? Of course, as a regular traveller between my home station and Reading for Heathrow, the last thing I want is airport-style security measures wrecking the journey and possible adding lengthy delays to it, but it does make you think. Why is there such a manic infatuation with airline security when passenger trains are left as wide open targets? The same goes for airport terminal buildings. Forget blowing up an aircraft, if you are a suicide bomber intent on carnage just detonate yourself inside a busy terminal (a la Moscow). Why is security for airlines rock solid, whereas security at airport terminals and railway stations is at best dodgy, while security on crowded trains is pretty much non-existent?

    1. FaustiesBlog
      March 27, 2011

      Body scanners are already being put in US train stations. We’ll have to fight tooth and nail to keep them out of ours.

      1. zorro
        March 27, 2011

        And then you ask yourself if it is so easy and these terrorists are really intent on destroying our culture and identity, why hasn’t it happened more often?

        When you think about it there really is nothing to stop anyone committing an outrage on a train or land-side at an airport. But in nearly 30 years, in the UK it has happened on very few occasions by Islamic terrorists (I know that the IRA used terror tactics more often).

        Could it not be that the actual threat by Islamic extremists is over-exaggerated?


        1. APL
          March 27, 2011

          Zorro: “Could it not be that the actual threat by Islamic extremists is over-exaggerated?”

          Wasn’t the government reported threat from salmonella in eggs exaggerated!

          Wasn’t the AIDs epidemic (that was going to kill ANYONE who contemplated any sort of sexual activity AT ALL, during the ’90s) exaggerated!

          SWINE FLUE, BIRD FLU, exaggerated!

  13. Jonathan
    March 27, 2011

    There are trains to Manchester from Reading, and it is probably quicker to use them from Wokingham rather than go through London, and also cheaper. On the times I’ve been on them, they have been extremely busy between Reading and Oxford and very busy for most of the rest of the journey. The only positive thing I can say about punctuality is that it is better than it used to be.

  14. Paul B
    March 27, 2011

    Commuter trains (e.g. in to London) are always going to busy. Even the platform for Waterloo trains from Wokingham is busy of a weekday morning.

    People just don’t have an alternative for this type of day-to-day commute and will therefore put up with the expense and length of time it takes to get into London.

    For the longer one-off journeys you mention (e.g. for a meeting), the train is an extremely inconvenient, expensive and unreliable way of travelling.

  15. Mike Fowle
    March 27, 2011

    Much of what you say is undeniable. I do like trains and feel they still have an important part to play in transport. Imagine all the cars on the road if all commuters came by road. But any honest appraisal must take into account the points you make (and Lifelogic also makes). A massive factor is the rail unions – because trains are so vulnerable to industrial action. On a lighter note I’m glad you weren’t caught out as Richard Wilson was because he didn’t have his rail card with him (Dispatches).

    Reply: So I hear. No, I am not old enough for a rail card.

  16. FaustiesBlog
    March 27, 2011

    Doesn’t this high speed rail project come under the remit of the Trans-European Transport Network Executive Agency?


    If so, no wonder it makes no sense.

    1. Alan Wheatley
      March 27, 2011

      I have read elsewhere that “suspicious minds” have attempted to find a direct link to HS2, but there appears to be none.

      However, HS2 is in step with with the EU’s policy objectives for an integrated transport approach throughout the EU, so no doubt the UK are earning Brownie Points from our EU masters with this project.

  17. Cliff.
    March 27, 2011


    You must be a very rich man to be able to go by train;-)
    How did the cost of the ticket, especially if it was a “Turn up and buy on the day” ticket, compare to the cost of driving? I looked at the national rail rail enquiries web site for a return ticket, off peak, from Wokingham to Bristol for my wife and I, and was shocked to find a return would cost me £39-00 each!!

    The last government part destroyed public transport by removing the fuel duty relief for local buses, when they did this, fares increased overnight.

    There just seems to be little joined up thinking by governments.

    Reply: I purchased tickets in advance which are cheaper than full fare on the day returns, but it was still dear. I did not of course charge this to Parliament.

    1. Cliff.
      March 27, 2011

      Dear John,

      Please don’t think I inferred that you put these tickets onto your parliamentary expenses account; I know you are a man of integrity and one of the best value MPs in the house. If the trips were for your work in connection with your role as MP, then you should claim, if they are connected to your other interests, then you should not; I trust you to make the right decision and would never question the validity or integrity of any claim you make.

      It may surprise you that I am sick and tired of hearing about expenses in the media. The whole expenses scandal, in my opinion, were for two things only;-

      1) To save a financially ailing newspaper, and
      2) To distract the public from other bad things being done by the Labour government at the time.

      It is ironical that the media always use the “Duck House” to represent the expenses scandal even though, it was never actually paid; we have all put in an expense claim at sometime in our working lives on a “suck it and see” basis; admittedly, usually for food or drink whilst working away from the base, but I suspect most of us have done it.
      I cannot believe the way the media were able to whip up such a reaction on purely a politics of envy basis; it seemed the whole argument was based on the idea; “I don’t get expenses whilst flipping burgers in McD’s or stacking shelves in a supermarket, so why should MPs?”

      As far as I’m concerned, the ONLY people that acted illegally were a very small minority and the courts have sorted most of those out. It seems that the party leaders, egged on by their PR gurus and whipped up by the media, wanted to be seen to be doing something and adopted a similar attitude to expenses as they are, again whipped up by the media using the politics of envy, to tax and the question of avoidance and evasion. The leaders blurred the line between expenses that were claimed legally under the old rules and those that they felt were wrong morally but still technically legal, we now see the leaders, especially the LibDems, blurring the line between tax evasion, which is illegal and wrong, and tax avoidance which is both legal and sensible.

      We are seeing another couple of examples of “scapegoating” now, to distract the public from the bad things happening here;-

      1) The anti banks and bankers agendas. (More politics of envy.)
      2) The wall-to-wall coverage of the events in Libya.

      Reply: thanks for your moderate and considered reply. I do not claim any travel expenses, even when these are for Parliamentary business, given the financial problems of the public sector.

      1. Bazman
        March 27, 2011

        Lets nail this envy thing once and for all. Tell it to your children.
        As a reasonably intelligent middle aged man I am not ‘envious’ of anyone. The problem is social justice and fairness. The bankers created a financial meltdown for their own gain aided and abetted by sycophantic MP’s of all parties and western nationalities. The MP’s expense scandal was a symptom of entitlement and privileged way of thinking that the public used to focus their anger. Working people and the forcibly unemployed are not being told by bankers and MP’s that we have to tighten or belts and work harder when most people have been slogging for the last ten years for people who believe capitalism only exists for the working poor and private jets are a right. If you are that stupid to believe the protests in London are about envy then I wonder how most of you hold down your soft and privileged jobs. Not by intelligence and talent that’s for sure. Communists and Tories are both sides of the same coin.

      2. alan jutson
        March 28, 2011


        I am with you on expenses claims with regard to travel>

        If an MP (any MP) is HAVING to travel as part of their primary functon as an MP, then they should claim travel expenses, as would any businessman who is working on Company business.

        John by your actions (of not claiming) you could lead yourself open to the charge of, You can only afford to be an MP if you are wealthy.

        Claiming for family and children to travel to visit, given some press coverage of late, is of course something completely different, and should not be allowed.

  18. Lindsay McDougall
    March 27, 2011

    Brilliant, Mr Redwood, but it’s wasted on us. I suggest that you copy your blog verbatim to David Cameron, Philip Hammond and Teresa de Villiers and see what reaction you get.

    1. Derek Buxton
      March 27, 2011

      Most likely none!

  19. Electro-Kevin
    March 27, 2011

    The train you were on probably formed half a dozen services that day. To get both it and its crew from one starting point to another would have meant some light passenger loadings at certain times here or there. At other times of day you would have seen it packed to the gunnels. At certain stages of a train’s route it will be busy, at others it will not. They work on circuits coordinated to arrive at a crucial point in the working day.

    Popular train services do not just magically appear on the platform at departure time. Nor are they stabled all day long to do a single rush hour trip. Where would they go for night time refueling, lavatory discharge and maintainence ?

    Their movements are carefully coordinate to get them in the right places at the right time for key services. It is a complex task. And then there are the unknowns. A sudden upsurge in passenger loadings for no apparent reason.

    The alternative is this: all of those people on the trains taking to the roads in their cars instead. Could the roads cope ?

    Prior to Beeching our railways were far more flexible and far reaching – not so now. The move over to private transport in the form of motor cars has made us all more oil dependant and increased the remoteness of the locations people live from where they work (mea culpa.) This is one of the reasons why the economy stalls in cold weather.

    Seat belts are fitted on planes because of the very real risk of turbulence – not because of the risk of crashing. The excellent safety record of train travel means that risk of being involved in a train accident is proven to be so low that seat belts would be uneconomic – ditto safety nets for baggage. Plus enforcing their use would be very difficult indeed – put simply the vast majority of passengers would not use them. You may balk at the idea of economics being involved in this safety decision but it has been deemed that the money is better spent on safety systems such as TPWS, routine examination of rails for corner gauge cracking, new radio systems in driving cabs et al. There is also the Network Rail televised crossing campaign. This all costs a lot of money. As an ASLEF Health and Safety rep I agree with this prioritisation wholeheartedly.

    Body side windows have been strengthened in light of recent crashes in order to prevent passengers being thrown on to the track during an accident. They have deemed this to be more effective than seatbelts. Our representatives were involved in this development.

    As for the quality of staff on the railway. One can only say that service varies as it does anywhere. Sadly it’s not always as we want it to be and I’m sincerely sorry to hear of it or witness it. But remember that we are now well into the privatisation era. I think the benefits of market forces have done a great deal to improve professionalism in this regard.

    Most railway staff have worked in the private sector and a surprisingly large amount of them hold university degrees (proper ones) or have served apprenticeships in organisations such as the RAF and the Royal Navy, or have been teachers, policemen, firemen. This month’s ASLEF journal features a former research chemist who has just qualified to drive trains. She is by no means the first.
    The railway has been keen to bring in new blood and extremely proactive in changing the worst parts of the BR culture. There is obviously still work to be done.

    Reply: The point I was making was that there was so little demand for what should have been the prime peak hour service to a couple of leading northern cities for anyone going to work there that day.
    I had to go and see the results of the Ufton Nervet rail crash in my constituency. It was horrible to see how passengers must have been tossed around inside the derailed carriages amongst the free moving luggage. It makes sense to require car drivers to put luggage in the boot and for planes to restrain luggage behind hatches. It couldn’t add much to the cost of a train to put some netting on the luggage space and for the guard when walking through to check its fixing.

    1. Electro-Kevin
      March 27, 2011

      PS, I am utterly shocked by ticket prices on some services.

    2. Electro-Kevin
      March 27, 2011

      Reply to Mr Redwood,

      Thanks for your reply and sorry that you had to deal with that incident. I knew the train driver involved.

      The travel at the time of your journey tend to be towards the Metropolis rather than the other way around. One of the big assumptions with HS2 is that it will regenerate midlands cities in terms of work. As your experience seems to indicate, it may result in more people choosing to migrate in order commute towards London whilst reaping the benefits of cheaper housing elsewhere.

      Perhaps it’s not the railways that are the problem, but a failure to disperse our work properly.

      However, those train movements won’t have been entirely wasted in terms of logistics – getting those trains ready for busier services elsewhere later in the day. There is such wastage in every form of mass transport. Even aeroplanes and cruise liners are ferried empty at times.

      There is no legal requirement for car users to put luggage in boots. (Some vehicles do not have boots.) As an ex police officer I know this.

      The overhead lockers in aeroplanes are mainly to cope with turbulance and not with accidents.

      Making such alterations across every fleet of trains in Britain will cost millions upon millions of pounds. Having spent the last year in negotiations with management I know how difficult it is to fund and fit something as basic as driver’s sunblinds across a fleet of a mere 20 units. Blood out of a stone. Far more complex than one ever imagined in terms of getting the trains out of service and provide a team of fitters for the time to it takes to make the alterations. But for all that you have a point and I’d like to see the netting done too.

      If you really want to make a difference to passenger safety then you could do no better than scrap HS2 and spend a small portion of the money instead on turning every half barrier crossing on the mainline railway into full barrier operation.

      In fact – not wishing to seem ungrateful – but why were we given the cheaper TPWS signal protection system (a great improvement) over the more expensive but utterly brilliant ATP if there’s the money to build a spanking new route ?

      1. Electro-Kevin
        March 27, 2011


        “Perhaps it’s not the railways that are the problem, but a failure to disperse our work properly.”

        By that I meant Britain’s workforce, not the railway’s.

  20. Alan Wheatley
    March 27, 2011

    Trains can be effective and efficient means of transport in some circumstances, but that does not make them first choice for all circumstances, as the anecdotes from contributors well illustrate.

    Railways peaked over a hundred years ago.

    The future is to minimise journeys, not to find ever more ways of making ever more. A nation-wide fast and dependable broadband service and good quality video-conferencing facilities will minimise the need to travel to meetings and conferences.

  21. Alte Fritz
    March 27, 2011

    Until recently I was a regular user of the Manchester/London service. Punctuality was generally pretty good as were staff. Virgin operates an over complicated fare system,with walk on fares being ruinous. Increased frequency of services sees some near empty trains running; having said that, most trains ran with worthwhile numbers of passengers. Turn around times are too short; carriages become very dirty by the evening.

    Beeching and succcessors damaged the infrastructure to an extent that it cannot now cope. Privatisation was botched largely in the EU inspired separation of system and trains. It is now difficult to do an efficient long distance journey other than to or from London. Such journeys are generally very expensive and slow.

    Even so, there is demand for train travel which I witness each week on over crowded long, middle and short distance trains.

    Some contributors to this post have made ignorant criticisms of a means of transport which is unbeatable when properly resourced. Put bluntly, short of walking, there can be no worse option for most travellers than the car.

  22. English Pensioner
    March 27, 2011

    I suspect that you only had a small item of baggage and were able to use a taxi where necessary as you were on business.
    I tried to imagine how I would make such a trip by train via my nearest station on the Chiltern line with, say a week’s baggage. Cab to station, another cab from Marylebone to main line station, and cab at destination. Getting baggage from cab to train and vice versa. Dubious meals on train.
    No way! Throw the baggage into the car, no need to minimise the amount that I take with me, and no need to touch it again until I arrive. Drive up the M40, I’m almost at Birmingham by the time I’d get to the main line station. Decent meals on the way if you look in a pub guide or on the internet before setting off. Transport readily available at destination if needed.
    Use the train – you’re joking.
    Even if the proposed high speed train accomplished the journey in zero time, I still think that I’d use the car.

  23. anthony.scholefield
    March 27, 2011

    Also a reminder to notice the outbreak of roadworks allover london and south east as councils spend out their budgets before the end of March.

    Keep the good times rolling!

    1. Jeremy Poynton
      March 27, 2011

      Roadworks scheduled for Bank Holidays, natch.

  24. ferdinand
    March 27, 2011

    How silly of me to think that train companies run their trains according to demand. The train companies are granted licences if they agree to run too many or too few trains and get paid for that. Also I don’t see floods of businessmen fleeing to Birmingham every day on high speed rail to excercise ‘growth’.

  25. Neil Craig
    March 27, 2011

    The seat belts jibe is an atypical one from you John. Trains, whatever their other qualities, are orders of magnitude safer than road and seat belts would just be another piece of health & safety box ticking.

    I would like to see rail completely automated with single carriage units leaving every few minutes rather than a multicattiage train every hour. That would, apart from reducing costs and increasing capacity, end most of the departure delays which you correctly point out, would speed up travel more than a few high speed lines.

  26. stred
    March 27, 2011

    I had a look at the figures given in Prof MacKay’s book. He is now advisor to HMG.

    An electric train is his favorite means of transport followed by electric cars.
    An electric train, full, runs at 3km/100 passenger km- way below the average car with one passenger at 80.

    However a tube train is rated at4.4 but this is not including total input. When this was studied and occupancy with other activities the figure rises to 15 or multiply by 3.4.

    But this does not take into account the CO2 produced in the UK by generation and line losses etc. MacKay takes this into account by multiplying the CO2 figure of a 20kw/110km by 500 grams per kw hour. The figure then comes out about 100g/kwh, the same as the best diesel car and the hybrid Prius. Some hybrids are much less economical. So the carbon loss is 5 times the figure for electric transport, given in the Kw/100 passenger km measure.

    So the figure for a full electric passenger train can be multiplied by 5 = 15. Then if the same factor for occupancy and overheads is used as the Tube, ie 3.4, the figure jumps to 51. A nearly empty train might be 10 times this- 510, about the same as a jet ski. A 747 full is about42.

    Now the consumption of the ‘average car’ is assumed to be only 33mpg giving a figure of 80kw/passenger km. My Picasso diesel will do 60mpg on a run similar to your trip. The figure in kw/passenger mile is then about 44. If I take 4 in the car the figure is 11. So on a recent trip to Wales from London, we beat the electric train by 1.36 if it was full or 4.6 if the same as the tube, or 46 if nearly empty. We also did the trip in under 3 hours door to door, cutting off detours of over 100 miles.

    Please correct me if this is wrong.

    1. Jeremy Poynton
      March 27, 2011

      Good old CO2. Just been discovered, that as CO2 increases in the atmosphere, so does vegetation (obvious, really). Which is, of course, a good thing. One might say that “global warming” is in fact greening the planet.

    2. simple soul
      March 29, 2011

      How usual is it for your car to be full – or anyone’s for that matter?

  27. Michael Read
    March 27, 2011

    How on earth did you manage to write in detail some 1000 words without once mentioning the single item which is most apparent to those using rail: the outrageous prices?

    The inexplicable absence of comment – in a post which reveals you’ve gone to the trouble of counting the passengers on board, for God’s sake – suggests you are only too aware of what privatisation has created.

    It is a monopoly. Regulation is non-existent. Consumers are being fleeced.

    Now do something about it.

    1. lifelogic
      March 27, 2011

      Outrageous rails prices even after the subsidy to rail and the 20% VAT, road tax, and excessive fuel duty and the speed camera & parking muggings car is far cheaper and more convenient by car almost always.

    2. Jeremy Poynton
      March 27, 2011

      Indeed – and all the worse as the train companies now receive more subsidy than when they were publicly owned.

      All your money is ours.

  28. Jeremy Poynton
    March 27, 2011

    Down here in the rural South West, when we see a train, we all shout

    “Look – it’s a train!”

    And as for the much touted West Coast line, well, every time I go to the coast here in the WEST country, there is no sign of it.

    Please advise.

  29. stred
    March 27, 2011

    I confused the measure of g/km with km/100km for cars. The factor is not 5 but2.2. My lashing of the electric train on the trip should be reduced by 0.44 so I only won by a factor of 2 if occupancy was the same as the tube. On the other hand, if I drove without passengers and the train had only 10% occupancy, the car would still win.

    MacKay also points out that the battery in a Prius only lasts for 10 years and then the car may as well be scrapped as the battery costs £3500. As a car costs 4 years running CO2 to produce, hybrids are way less green than my diesel which should last 15 to 20 years, and which incidentally has a filter to eliminate particulates, like most modern diesels.

    One wonders then at the competence of the civil servants in the Environment and Energy ministries, when they plan to increase parking charges for diesels and hybrids are not charged the congestion fees in London. Then Boris is proudly installing charging points for electric vehicles at huge expense, although we will not have carbon free electricity in the next 20 years.

    1. lifelogic
      March 27, 2011

      “One wonders then at the competence of the civil servants in the Environment and Energy ministries”

      Civil servants are just as happy building a white elephant as dismantling one to build a pink rhino. So lost as some one will pay them and if that is the current fashion they will go along with it.

    2. rose
      March 27, 2011

      “and which incidentally has a filter to eliminate particulates, like most modern diesels.”

      So what is the horrible smell left behind when a (diesel 4 x 4-ed) roars by, and which fills the houses on either side? And what about the noise, especially when the engines are left running while they telephone?

  30. Jeremy Poynton
    March 27, 2011


    I opened the PDF file, and thought immediately

    “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here”

    We are finished as a nation unless we get out of the EU. EU Referendum notes that the entire cost of the useless apparatchik Ashton per annum is c £1 million. The same as a missile used in Libya. (words left out-ed)

  31. James G
    March 27, 2011

    I was told at University that from production to by the time light comes out of a light bulb it is only 5% efficient. An electric motor will have much the same inefficiencies as a light bulb as there are large amounts of heat produced as they are used (much much worse if batteries as the source). If you compare that to traditional combustion engine cars which are now around 40% (and improving still) efficient. It is a myth that electrically driven things such as trains and cars (unless they are true hybrids) are some how better for the environment. You only have to look at the efficiency and therefore the lost energy.

    1. lifelogic
      March 27, 2011

      True a good diesel is better than a battery driven electric in energy efficiency terms.

    2. Alex
      March 28, 2011

      A lot of that 5% inefficiency comes from the inefficiency of the lightbulb. An electric motor is more efficient than that (around 85%), and most of the losses will come from generation and transmission.

      “True a good diesel is better than a battery driven electric in energy efficiency terms.”

      Where did you get that from? A diesel engine on its own is at best 40% efficient in terms of burning fuel to deliver power, but in a car where the engine is rarely operating at the optimal speed and there are losses in the drive mechanism, you would be lucky to get 20% of the energy created by combustion to power the wheels. On top of that you have to consider the energy in refining the diesel and transporting it to the petrol station. Not very efficient at all.

      1. lifelogic
        March 28, 2011

        Simple power station at best circa 40% efficient before you even start then losses in transmission, the votage conversions and charging circuits, battery charging, battery standing, battery discharging, drive circuit and motor. Heavy bulky batteries also to carry round in the boot. Large energy of manufacture too and you need a heater in the car which cannot use the waste heat as you can with diesel.

        Far worse overall.

  32. Jeremy Poynton
    March 27, 2011

    EK, even with the mental fuel prices it is almost always cheaper by car around here than public transport. Regardless of the fact that it also about three times quicker. The new HS line if it gets built will get folk quicker from London to B’ham (tho’ I can’t understand why anyone would WANT to go to B’ham), than the train that every once in a while runs from Frome to Bristol.

    1. Jeremy Poynton
      March 27, 2011

      Frome to Bristol. 27 miles by road, btw

  33. Geoff not Hoon
    March 27, 2011

    Mr. Redwood, I had better not name the company but please do not travel by rail from Birmingham to Glasgow which until mid 2009 I did weekly. One pays in advance for the ticket, is ‘sold’ a full english breakfast for £13.00 (probably more now) and then almost every time of my travel there was no dining car even on the train. On arrival in Glasgow passengers are forced to queue to complain at which point they are given a voucher for £4 to get food and drink. Only after my solicitor wrote several times to the chairman of the group did I get monies refunded. I know several regular travellers still waiting for there money to be refunded. I travel by car now, much cheaper, much more reliable and of course I can stop for food when the mood takes.

  34. zorro
    March 27, 2011

    It’s certainly not a good advert for private companies running railways, though I suspect that it has something to do with the way the contracts are awarded on the railways and various responsibilities.

    I prefer to go by car whenever possible, though I do like to go by train on business when necessary. I always try to book tickets in advance, often you can get better deals if you buy two single tickets if you are travelling on one day. I would never drive into London though because of the hassle, congestion charge and lack of parking. I suppose it’s OK if you have a flat and some free parking.

    John, in your case, surely it is cheaper to go from Reading when travelling North?

    In any case, I don’t know what the answer is with trains….. They are an important public service, but prices need to encourage travellers to go on them. It seems a lost opportunity. I suspect that the subsidies which the train companies receive are distorting the market and that the companies are not really trying to get business, as they can count on the government to effectively subsidise them one way or the other.


  35. Bazman
    March 27, 2011

    Years ago I wanted to buy an extra flight ticket from Moscow to London and was told at the airport the cost would be £400 by all the airlines. The prices where competitive when questioned. When the are all charging the same how is this ‘competitive’? I flew back on my flight and was not surprised to find the large plane virtually empty. The extra ticket was bought in Moscow separately for £200 business class. There was cheaper, but they where not trusted.
    Why don’t we completely privatise the railways no subsidies or regulation whatsoever? Let them run free without the dead hand of the state restricting choice and lessening profit. What do the fantasists have to say about this? Lets make then nuclear powered!
    The reality would be that there would be no railway or the most of the railways would be stripped for scrap the land sold off and the most profitable lines plundered. Billionaires would have a private carriage at the front the middle carriages would be ripped off the ones at the back would be stinking and filthy. Anyone questioning the service would be told we are giving the public what they want and have a railway to run not a charity. Pity trains do not run on political dogma and ideology.
    Five people going to London and travelling around on the train or using car? It’s a no brainer.

  36. Arty McBain
    March 27, 2011

    This posting highlights an eternal fact: public transport is rubbish and third rarte at best.

  37. Martin
    March 27, 2011

    I agree with you on this blog is your comment about the over head luggage shelf.
    I can’t help but wonder if in the event of a derailment flying baggage must be a hazard. Seatbelts – it has always struck me as odd that high speed trains have none and even aircraft have cheapo efforts that would be illegal in a car!

    You are obviously an accomplished rail traveller as you can find the quiet trains! – Wish I was as good!

    As others have mentioned don’t forget Cross Country trains to the north/midlands from Reading – they are usually a bit cheaper than services that start from London.

    Often I find that rail is cheaper than road because of city center car parking charges (both council and private car parks are not cheap for a working day).

  38. BobE
    March 27, 2011

    Make the tracks into motorways and use busses for public transport. Far more effective. High speed internet video conferencing should be used whenever possible. Trains suffer from a triple load problem. Start, Run, Finish. This cannot be overcome and so makes trains ineffective.

  39. BobE
    March 27, 2011

    I should have mantioned that we will need to go to Hydrogen fuel. Batteries are a complete waste of time, they also need replacing every three years. Hydrogen can be cracked from sea water using Nuclear energy. This is the only path that can succeed.
    Sorry John for being so late.

    1. lifelogic
      March 28, 2011

      Agreed but other alternatives can be made form nuclear electricity which do not have the same storage problem as hydrogen.

  40. David John Wilson
    March 27, 2011

    Why are you making those journeys via London? There is a good service from Reading direct to Manchester and Leeds isn’t that difficult.

    I agree with some of the comments made about empty buses. The prime example is the 124 service in Wokingham which goes via Waterloo Road. I have never seen a passenger on it.

    Reply: I need to be in London in the afternoons for Parliament, and need my car there to get home again late at night after trains have gone to bed.

  41. Bernard Otway
    March 27, 2011

    I have just been to South Africa,I drove from Johannesburg to Cape Town to visit my mother in law ,left at 5am arrived at my inlaw’s house at 9pm [ 1756 Kilometres] ,when I lived there up till 2008,I lived in Durban I regularly did DBN/JBG/DBN [1300 kms round trip] in one day and did business for a couple of hours as well.This country is TOO crowded and underserved by all forms of transport even Air.If I had flown to Cape Town I would have left
    at say 8am arrived in my inlaws house 5 miles from the airport at no later than 11 am,also by the way go look and compare the terminals at Oliver Tambo and Cape Town to all those in the centre of Heathrow which are SLUMS by comparison and as per a certain critic look like the THIRD world,whereas you can compare SA to Changi in Singapore.
    All you lot in this country [Mine as well I only left here aged 36] just accept the status quo
    let the political class especially the left throw billions down a plughole called the welfare state and the NHS at which you all dutifully Genuflect,don’t mention what you spend on foreign aid etc and then wonder why the East is rising including Australia and New Zealand,let alone look at Switzerland and Norway or Canada,let Cameron take on Blair’s
    warlike mantle and watch him Neuter his cabinet,and then yesterday’s march in London takes the biscuit,read Stephen Glover in the saturday mail as to the countering [NOT] of the
    plain lies about so called cuts spouted yesterday.. I give up, very soon I will be back in the southern hemisphere because if I stay I probably will need sectioning due to the idiocy I see before my eyes driving me crazy.

  42. Big John
    March 28, 2011

    Why does the taxpayer have to pay a subsidy ?
    Do they pay the same fuel taxes as road transport ?

    It would be interesting to see how much the tax payer is subsidising the fare on each journey.

    The only thing I can see is we have to borrow more to pay for it, and then pay more on top of this in interest.

  43. Alan Wheatley
    March 28, 2011

    Comparing the cost of going by car and by train remember the fixed costs and the number travelling.

    If a car is needed because for some journeys there is no alternative, then the fixed costs, such as insurance and depreciation, are incurred whether the car is used or remains in the garage during a journey by train.

    For the car owning family, the cost of a journey by car is the same irrespective of how many family members are making the journey, where as by rail the cost increases in proportion to the number of family members travelling.

  44. Bernard Cribbens
    March 28, 2011

    …don’t mean to imply you’re a liar, Redwood… but… where are these amazing, magical empty trains that you refer to? As a commuter, and regular standee due to lack of adequate seating numbers, I would dearly love to know.

    Total piffle.

    But then, why let the truth stand in the way of a good anecdote, eh?

    Reply: I said in my piece that commuter trains into London are very busy if I use them. I reported exactly what I experienced when taking prime time trains to other leading business centres – why don’t you try it if you doubt me?

    1. lifelogic
      March 28, 2011

      People tend to see the full trains because those are the ones they catch. Empty trains are seen by no one!

      Occupancy is thus much lower than is perceived by passengers.

  45. Scary Biscuits
    March 28, 2011

    The railways (and now the banks) are a great example of how Ronald Reagan summarised western fiscal policy: if it moves, tax it; if it keeps on moving, regulate it; and if stops moving, subsidise it.

    Not satisfied with the social and economic benefit that the original railway entrepreneurs brought to Britain, Parliament in 1854 decided that it alone should control the price they could charge for goods transport (their main income, people transport being just a sideline). The unintended consequence of this was to force goods onto the roads. The railways inevitably collapsed into the willing arms of the state and innovation ceased, giving us railway network that struggles on with Victorian electrics in a silicon age. Today’s mess of extraordinarily expensive (and unjust) public subsidy is a direct result of the state’s greed for more tax and its resentment at the success of entrepreneurs.

    The same could be said of the banks.

    In Berkshire, the Windsor Link Railway is promoting the first wholly privately initiated and funded railway for over one hundred years. It connects the historic Great Western and Southern railway regions as well as connecting both to Heathrow. It believes that it can do this profitably and requires no government subsidy.

    If they are wrong, it is its promoters who will pay, not the government or the taxpayer. If they are right, they will not only make money themselves but also vastly improve life for local residents and the region both in an environmental sense and economically – a true example of capitalism’s win-win or, as David Cameron would call it, the Big Society.

    Coming back to HS2, the same principles should be applied. The railways don’t work because the producer interest dominates and the more expensive the railway the better for the bureaucrats and the better for their suppliers. Customers have little voice and no choice – most of whom will pay for it via taxation whether they want to or not. HS2 repeats this mistake by making it a wholly nationalised affair with the government as both promoter and arbiter.

    If the government really wanted to improve transport links, rather than merely to line the pockets of consultants, it should state what it regards as the problems and indicate its openness to private companies competing to provide the solution in their own way and at their own risk, as in any other market. This way things would be built a lot more cheaply and quickly because any additional costs would come out of the pockets of the promotors. Again – capitalism in action.

    Thus the real answer to John Redwood’s question is not to concern ourselves with the details of running a railway. The government should make a bonfire of the regulations, privatise the railways properly and then let the market decide whether they are useful and at what price.

  46. Anne Palmer
    March 28, 2011

    The proposed High-speed Rail is part of the EU’s “Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T) Policy” and the EU’s designs for this Country, and although the UK is (allegedly) to hold a “Consultation Paper” for this EU project, I have already answered the EU’s Consultation Paper which ended September 2010.

    Why is our Government afraid to tell the people that this is an EU project? What are they afraid of? Perhaps it is because it is the EU that is deciding what is best for this Country, which includes giving sovereignty over our skies for the EU’s Single European Sky and sovereignty over our seas for the EU’s Motorway in the Sea-which includes all that is in it and underneath the sea bed, and all in the sky above- and of course sovereignty over our PORTS (I do not think the Dockers will go a bundle on that) but how can EU Ships come and go as they please and without asking permission if the 12 mile limit is still in place? Will we lose the 12 mile Limit? I have had no answer to that yet. Will World Maps have to be changed etc?

    None of this re HS2 will bring in jobs for the Brits, I doubt it for under EU Rules where we are all EU Citizens. Can we afford the many Billions for this? Is this why WE are paying more for everything we buy, our gas, our Electric, water, food? Is this what many people are losing their jobs for? Losing their lovely homes for? To save money to pay for this? To save half an hour off the journey from London to Birmingham which will probably start off late anyway?

    The big question niggling me though Mr Redwood, is why are we wasting money paying for British MP’s when THEY are only obeying EU orders like the rest of us? Now there’s a thought.

  47. S Whitfield
    April 4, 2011

    I think you underestimate the efficiency of the train. Electricity is generated at perhaps 60% efficiency in a modern station. Power losses in cables etc. perhaps represent another 5-10% loss . The direct drive electric motors themselves on the train are highly efficient ,maybe 80-90%.

    Bearing in mind a petrol car only uses 0 – 20% of the energy in the petrol to do useful work (bearing in mind losses in tyres, transmission and the poor thermal efficiancy of a small petrol engine) depending on whether the motion is constant or the vehicle sat idling.

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