Transport subsidies and popularity of modes

According to the Department of Transport’s figures people travelled around 680 billion km by car van or taxi in 2009, and travelled 50bn km by train. This gave private sector vehicle travel 85% of the total passenger kms, and rail just 6%. This demonstrates that people overwhelmingly prefer car to train , or find they have no choice but to use the car for many journeys owing to an absence of train services for their needs.

Previous contributors to this site have explained why cars are so much more popular than trains. They go when you want, where you want. You can be late for your car but your car is not late for you. You can often go door to door, as most people park their car very near to their home, and can drive a car to a park next to the shop, lesiure facility or workplace of your choice. You can take heavy luggage, work tools and belongings with you by car which you could not carry when walking to the station or bus stop. You can stay in the dry when it is raining, and keep warm in winter with the heater on. You can drive the shopping home, however much bulk you have bought.

It is true you cannot work in the car if you are also driving. You can listen to a radio programme or music of your choice, receive a call on a hands free phone or talk to a fellow passenger. The train may allow you to eat and to work, but limits your freedom of conversation and noisy entertainment.

The Department of Transport in its most recent Business Plan sets out to spend £13.1 billion this year compared to £12.7 billion last. It is talking of rail projects totalling £69 billion over the years ahead, with HS2 the dearest, followed by Crossrail which is now underway.

In the current year the department plans to spend just over £2 billion on national roads, and £4.3 billion on railways. In other words, the mode of transport that is used for 85% of the journey miles is getting less than half the money spent on the travel mode that accounts for just 6% of passenger miles. So each rail mile attracts thirty times more spending than each road mile. If you add in the relatively small sums spent on local roads, the imbalance is still very great.

The reason is of course rail travel is very heavily subsidised. The comparison is even less favourable to motoring if the high motoring taxes are factored into the equation. Some rail fans like to claim that motoring does not pay enough to take account of road damage and pollution. The evidence abounds that motorists pay many times over the costs they make the state and the neighbours incur, whilst trains are generously endowed with public subsidy.

The last government spent little on expanding and improving the road network. More needs to be spent, preferably raising private capital, on new road capacity. We also need improved junctions, and more bridges over railway lines and rivers in busy areas. We need to make roads safer by learning from railways that you need to keep other users away from fast moving vehicles. We need trains to learn from cars that better brakes, better adhesion to the track or road, and safety belts, increase safety markedly.

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  1. Peter Huntington
    Posted July 13, 2012 at 5:24 am | Permalink

    Trains are one of the safest modes of transport and do not create as much noise and other environmental problems as cars. England is one of the most densely populated countries in the world. We are simply running out of room for new roads if we are to protect what is left of our countryside, especially in the SE. I support a rail subsidy for these reasons.

    • Leslie Singleton
      Posted July 13, 2012 at 7:18 am | Permalink

      The noise made by Nimbys and “running out of room” (which we are not–though lines thick enough to see on maps make it appear as if we are) are two different things. The answer is to give much more compensation to people who suffer from new construction–and why not if the new route has value? More Birmingham Bypasses and HS2’s could then be built ad libitum.

      • lifelogic
        Posted July 13, 2012 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

        HS2 is cost perhaps ten times what it would be worth finished even less good value than wind farms why build it at all. That is at what they say it will cost now too.

    • lifelogic
      Posted July 13, 2012 at 7:31 am | Permalink

      They only account for 1/14 of the journey made by car so of course they cause fewer problems. If there were 14 times as many and 14 times as much track it might be different. To spend £4.3 billion on railways and £2 billion on national roads that carry 14 times the traffic is totally insane. Even then they cost load more than cars and lack flexibility.

      Small improvements to the road network, the odd flyover or bridge here or there better phased lights and a new bridge at the Blackwall tunnel or by pass could make a huge difference to congestions. Why government obsession with trains it is completely insane and against any ration assessment of transport? It is rather like their religious obsession with the absurdly expensive wind farms.

      I blame the BBC as usual and Sir John Betjeman. Trains do not all things considered (track, stations, staff etc.) even save co2. Furthermore you put your transport system in the hands of the Unions. So it they decide not to run trains at say Christmas or Boxing day tough, if they decide to strike tough!

      • lifelogic
        Posted July 13, 2012 at 7:43 am | Permalink

        You say “We are simply running out of room for new roads” well the same applies to rail if you put 14 times the traffic on them how many new rail tracks will you need? Many factories and houses and miles from the nearest rail track, how do you carry heavy good to the stations?

        Anyway we can have fly overs, double decker roads and road tunnels where needed get some honest and sensible engineers on the job. Many rail track could be usefully converted to far more flexible roads.

      • lifelogic
        Posted July 13, 2012 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

        And yet more cost heaped on industry and pointless jobs I see. It is one insane measure every day almost.

        “Mandatory carbon reporting that will be launched in April 2013.
        Mandatory carbon reporting applies to companies listed on the London Stock Exchange (just initially I assume), and its impact is likely to be felt throughout business.”

        Indeed it is in loss of profits, loss of jobs, wasted money and resources and loss of industry to more sensible places. Well done Cameron and our anti business secretary yet again!

    • alan jutson
      Posted July 13, 2012 at 7:49 am | Permalink


      Yes we are an overcrowded Country, and that is the real problem which is not being resolved, as our population seems to increase by 250,000 each year, through immigration alone.

      More people means more houses required, more roads required, more trains, more schools, more hospitals, more job competition, more spend on infrastructure needed, etc, etc.

      So many people, such little room, and what does Government do about it ? diddly squat, other than fiddle around the edges..

      • Graham
        Posted July 13, 2012 at 9:45 am | Permalink

        Quite right Alan,

        Complete lack of joined up thinking all round.

        The quality of life here is falling to third world levels because of overcrowding. The exact same logic on transport applies to healthcare where the World Health Service (NHS) will never catch up as demand grows from incomers.

      • Cliff. Wokingham.
        Posted July 13, 2012 at 9:45 am | Permalink

        Yes, and they all congregate in the already highly populated areas because that is where the work and other facilities are.

        We need to either control our population size better….About Forty million maximum was once considered sustainable or we need to repeat the exercise of the 1960s and build new towns with new businesses, homes, roads etc. How we pay for that I don’t know.

        What politicians need to accept is that to get people onto public transport, it needs to run at a time that suits people that have to get to work, be affordable, run to where people need to go to and be safe and reliable; sadly this is not the case at the moment. In the past, workers could get a worker’s return before 07-00am, now this is one of the dearest times to travel and few buses/trains run at these times. It seems all too often that timetables are created to suit the operators, rather than the customers, especially in relation to the buses. I don’t know what it is like in the rest of the country, I can only comment on Wokingham’s services.

      • Sue
        Posted July 13, 2012 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

        I concur. Limit the population and protect all the resources we have. Our rate of population growth is unsustainable. Stop all permanent immigration now and ensure those that shouldn’t be here, are sent home. Put a limit of EU migration and repatriate those that have never worked and are living on benefits. They have no business being here. The EU does have the 3 month rule which either the UK government is not aware of chooses to ignore.

        The last time I took a train I had 2 suitcases and a child and it was an horrific struggle. I will never do it again. Taking my car was easier and more convenient.

      • Mike Stallard
        Posted July 13, 2012 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

        Actually matters are worse than that.
        The composition of the immigrants matters a lot.
        People who arrive willing to fit in and to accept our little ways are OK. For example, Pakistanis play cricket as well, if not better,m than we do. Africans play football and control a lot of the track events at the Olympics. Eastern europeans run our local factories.
        (etc – I have deleted examples of people who do not fit in)

        • Bob
          Posted July 13, 2012 at 6:28 pm | Permalink

          “(etc – I have deleted examples of people who do not fit in)”

          I’d love to know what was censored from this comment.

      • uanime5
        Posted July 13, 2012 at 6:22 pm | Permalink

        You don’t need to worry about the Government fiddling around the edges because Osborne’s Office for Budget Responsibility has said that we need more migrants in order to cut the deficit as quickly as possible and defuse the pensions time bomb. Unsure what will happen when the immigrants need a pension or how it will help the 2.61 million people who are unemployed.

    • Alan Wheatley
      Posted July 13, 2012 at 8:31 am | Permalink

      Rail needs room too. One of my objections to HS2 is that the Chilterns are being used as a means of travelling between London and Birmingham rather than for the benefit of the people living there. The countryside here comes off a poor second.

    • libertarian
      Posted July 13, 2012 at 7:42 pm | Permalink

      We heard all of these rail is better arguments where I live. We have HS1, it turned out to be a load of nonsense. It ACTUALLY costing £10bn MORE than they said it would. The cost of a ticket is THREE times higher than it was before HS1. Why? because the government/rail lobby vastly overestimated the number of people who actually use it.

      Rail is a 19th century travel method in a 21st century world.

      So how about a bit of innovative thinking?

      Politicians declared war on small business and the self employed with such stupid legislation as IR35, AWD, WTD paternity rights, holiday sickness mandatory pensions etc.

      Why not ENCOURAGE self employment, why not INCENTIVISE people to work at home and undertake fewer journeys of any kind. Why not invest in 4g broadband and encourage more Skype conferences/client meetings.

      Road congestion in the South East’s major towns is almost exclusively caused by the anti car measures bought in under the last government.

    • Michael Lee
      Posted July 13, 2012 at 8:55 pm | Permalink

      Horses for courses

      A course that I have in mind is Birmingham to London, and the horse is an iron one. The Virgin Pendalino train from Birmingham New Street to London Euston takes less than 90 minutes. Were this 21st century train not running on 19th century track, the journey could perhaps take less than an hour. I could drive to Central London, but I prefer not to bother.

      • Michael Lee
        Posted July 13, 2012 at 11:21 pm | Permalink

        Horses for courses #2

        But from where I live in Birmingham, there isn’t a local station from which to ride the iron horse to the city centre. This journey requires recourse to the horseless carriage, and encountering assorted suicidal maniacs. The dangers of driving in Birmingham are escalating to those in Bangkok. Driving in Thailand is on the left. In Bangkok in practice it is optional; on the left, on the right, down the centre, along the pavement, the choice is one’s own. The technique is to look for a space in the traffic ahead…and aim for it. Whoever gets there first wins.

        Horses for courses #3

        To reach Bangkok from Birmingham requires an intermediate trip to Heath Row. After alighting from the iron horse at Euston, a subterranean journey to Green Park then a connection to Heath Row is required, which can be tedious. Alternatively, frequent coach shuttle services from Birmingham direct to Heath Row are inexpensive and comfortable. There is a two man crew and a commentary is provided. Being myself a Brummie, I don’t require the services of an interpreter.

  2. Brian Taylor
    Posted July 13, 2012 at 5:49 am | Permalink

    Thank You John Redwood! Keep up the good work, the information you provide is priceless. Here in east Anglia, we have a rail service to London,but is still cheaper to drive,the car park at Diss station is very often full,suggest a Multistory car park at Stratford would give the customer a choice!

  3. Mike Stallard
    Posted July 13, 2012 at 6:06 am | Permalink

    I love trains.
    To take the train, I have to take a bus or taxi for some 10-15 miles. Then I have to buy a very expensive ticket and wait for the train. Then there is a lottery of getting a seat and another lottery for if the train is running. I am debouched usually a long way from where I want to go which means another taxi or a walk. Then there is the return journey to look forward to.
    I get free buses and they run just past my door.
    My car is waiting for me now in the garage and it does 60 mpg. It accompanies me like a dog wherever I choose to go when I choose to go.
    Go figure!

  4. ian wragg
    Posted July 13, 2012 at 6:19 am | Permalink

    Trains are not as environmentally friendly as the Green lobby would have us believe.
    The old diesel/electric commuters run on average about 30% full and belch large amounts of exhaust fumes and the electrified trains just move the pollution to the major power station. Taking into account very few journeys are populated by people in walking distance from both stations, I think they are not all they are cracked up to be.
    Trains are a 19th century solution to mass transit but today we are more sophisticated in our choice of travel.
    Like wind farms, trains will not redce our carbon footprint one iota but they make politicians and Siemens feel good

    • lifelogic
      Posted July 13, 2012 at 10:46 am | Permalink

      They are not environmental at all and try getting back from almost anywhere a midnight? They can only work efficiently when lots of people want to go from A to B at the same time with no stop offs on route and little luggage. Not the real world usually.

      • lifelogic
        Posted July 13, 2012 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

        Mind you one between Heathrow and Gatwick would work very well (especially after the two new runways are build). This as there would be lot of people wanting to go from A to B and B to A and they would not have cars to hand, having just got off a plane.

  5. Pete the Bike
    Posted July 13, 2012 at 6:43 am | Permalink

    When money is spent on the roads it is often on the most pointless of projects. A motorway widening project near Portsmouth achieves nothing except allowing those with powerful cars to overtake on an incline and then push back into line a mile further on. The cost was £27m. A few miles east at Chichester bypass several roundabouts cause congestion and chaos on a regular basis. There a couple of flyovers could have been built for that money and would have eliminated thousands of hours queuing with engines running every week. Every year millions are spent putting up stupid signs by the side of urban roads that simply confuse the eye and contribute nothing to road safety or utility. I cross literally dozens of road junctions in the course of a week that have traffic lights when a roundabout would not only cause far less congestion but also incur far lower installation and running costs. If you tune your self to look at things around as you drive you can see waste and bad design everywhere. Reason is highway departments do not use cost benefit analysis correctly or even at all.

    • lifelogic
      Posted July 13, 2012 at 10:48 am | Permalink

      The reason is that motorist are not deterred from travelling at peak times by cost only by congestion. Congestion is regulating the road use. Price should be used electronically and the money should be used to increase capacity as needed.

    • barry laughton (@kil
      Posted July 13, 2012 at 5:07 pm | Permalink

      Motorists are a cash cow for governments, county councils and town councils. Road tax, fuel tax, parking charges and fines not to mention VAT on maintenance. Trains are a complete liability to the government and the taxpayer. Railways should be abandoned.

      • lifelogic
        Posted July 13, 2012 at 9:39 pm | Permalink

        Not quite abandoned certainly kept to a few commuter and intercity routes that work economically.

      • Matt
        Posted August 26, 2012 at 11:52 pm | Permalink

        Great idea, lets see how London does without railways. Hate the place anyway.

    • Mark
      Posted July 13, 2012 at 8:07 pm | Permalink

      Perhaps the additional capacity falls foul of this:

      Not every addition to the road network is helpful.

  6. Martin
    Posted July 13, 2012 at 6:52 am | Permalink

    I notice you have had two of these road/rail debates on here this week. Its a pity that the present SE England runway policy which is costing the economy money isn’t covered.

    Should the airlines ask the EU to sort out the SE England runway policy as Westminster can’t make a decision?

    • lifelogic
      Posted July 13, 2012 at 9:40 am | Permalink

      The solution is simple – a new runway at Gatwick and Heathrow and they can even have a high speed train (as they like them so much) to link the two in say 15 mins. One hub with 5 runways as is needed. The only problem is lack total of direction from Cameron and the idiotic Libdems.

      • Cliff. Wokingham.
        Posted July 13, 2012 at 9:51 am | Permalink

        On South Today (BBC) last night, they said that a direct railway line from the Thames Valley(Reading) to Heathrow is going to be built. They also stated that a Japanese company was going to build the trains and that the contract for the train construction ran into £Billions…..Why can’t we build our own and keep the money and jobs in the UK?

        • lifelogic
          Posted July 13, 2012 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

          Because all the engineers earn more in the city flogging dodgy “investments” to people perhaps.

      • backofanenvelope
        Posted July 13, 2012 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

        Why not have second runways at Gatwick and Stanstead and upgrade Southend? Then connect them all by dedicated rail lines. The Southend-Gatwick section would be ideal for the estuary airport if it ever comes about.

        • lifelogic
          Posted July 14, 2012 at 9:48 pm | Permalink

          Heathrow is rather nearer the centre of gravity of the UK population.

    • Mark
      Posted July 13, 2012 at 10:02 am | Permalink

      I looked at Greening’s new draft aviation strategy:

      It’s full of threats to take unilateral action to reduce aviation’s carbon emissions and pile on additional taxes. If that is the basis, then it will soon be a question of which airports should we close.

      • lifelogic
        Posted July 13, 2012 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

        Well if you have a socialist, green wash leader – Cameron and the mad LibDems to keep happy too everything has to be green washed to death.

        The whole of government and the BBC has attached itself to the great global warming exaggerations so no one can admit the truth now. I assume eventually they will claim to have solved the “non problem” and just move on. Alas trillions will have been wasted first.

    • barry laughton (@kil
      Posted July 13, 2012 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

      Airports and airlines contribute to government coffers and are given no government strategy or help, important as they are to the economy.

      • Matt
        Posted August 27, 2012 at 12:00 am | Permalink

        But the fuel is not taxed; I consider that a subsidy.

  7. Mick Anderson
    Posted July 13, 2012 at 6:55 am | Permalink

    Even with the massive subsidies offered to rail, tickets are still very expensive. Unless you can book a train ticket a long way ahead, it costs me about the same for an afternoon return ticket to Waterloo as driving in, even paying through the nose for parking and congestion charge. There’s only a couple of pounds difference, and it’s worth that for convenience on an occasional run into London, especially if you’re not going all the way into the centre. If two people are travelling it’s just no contest. Is it as simple as the train companies taking too much in profit, or is there a very expensive Government licence to run trainsas a significant factor?

    Road maintenance is a complete joke. On the rare occasions they spend any money around here, it’s normally wasted on making the roads less convenient and less safe putting obstructions in – rarely on repairing the age and frost damage to the infrastructure (you can see and feel the change in road surface quality as you cross into the next county). It’s especially true of those roads under the maintenance of the local Council, who presumably don’t even directly receive any of the over-taxation applied to motorists. Designing obstructions to force cars to stop and start wastes fuel, causes air and noise pollution and distracts the driver, quite apart from the extra wear and damage caused to suspension, brakes, clutch, door mirrors….

    If the “local” (London resident) MP could be bothered to live in the area, perhaps someone with a little influence would back our cause. As it is, it’s not his family car being damaged by the poor roads – he literally doesn’t notice the problem.

    Some people will complain that if Richard Beeching hadn’t closed all the branch lines there would be a better infrastructure. This misses the real problem in that the vast majority of those lines closed were not sustainable at the time. However, the real error was in allowing small patches of the graded lines to be sold off and built on, effectively prohibiting the re-opening of the lines. Management gained a relatively small amount of money at too high long-term cost, as those branch lines might well be viable now.

    • Tad Davison
      Posted July 13, 2012 at 10:58 am | Permalink

      Same applies to Cambridge. A two-lane traffic island on the inner ring road is to be singled in order to reduce speeds and make it safer for cyclists. I use that island regularly, and excessive speed isn’t a problem. It isn’t an accident black spot either, and even cyclists have expressed concerns at the proposals as they will feel ‘pinched’ with less room.

      These planners seem to forget who pays the most. We motorists, and not forgetting road hauliers, are always being clobbered. The idea surely, is to make traffic flow more freely, not limit it and actually cause artificial congestion.

      And the local bus service fails miserably. I live on a bus route with a regular service. Rarely are there more than four passengers on board, yet there are dedicated bus lanes all over the place, limiting road capacity by half in an instant.

      Parking charges are also exorbitant. It can cost twenty-five quid to park in Cambridge for a single day, then they wonder why city centre businesses are so poorly patronised.

      It’s madness heaped on madness. We need to get the country and the economy moving, not throw obstacles in the way for the most spurious of reasons.

      I’d like to see the government take the initiative and make local authorities reverse these stupid hare-brained schemes that are thought up by some public sector council official with nowt else better to do than mess around and make themselves feel important.

      Fewer motorists means less revenue at a time when the government needs to maximise the tax take, or am I missing something?

      Tad Davison


      • lifelogic
        Posted July 13, 2012 at 7:14 pm | Permalink

        You say “Rarely are there more than four passengers on board, yet there are dedicated bus lanes all over the place, limiting road capacity by half in an instant.”

        Indeed what on earth is the point of halving the road capacity just to allow perhaps 4 empty nearly empty buses an hour to go down half the road. Is it moronic ideology or the desire for more fine income?

        • APL
          Posted July 13, 2012 at 10:46 pm | Permalink

          And don’t get me started on those stupid bus stops that now stick out into the left hand lane, so that when the bus is at the stop *NO* traffic may pass if the oncoming lane is full.

          A deliberate attempt to foul up the roads

          • lifelogic
            Posted July 14, 2012 at 9:51 pm | Permalink

            Indeed totally insanity one bus with perhaps 4 passengers holds up 40 cars with perhaps 65 while someone fumbles for their change.

        • Francis King
          Posted July 14, 2012 at 9:23 pm | Permalink

          Bus lanes do not halve the capacity of roads. They stop short of junctions, and it is at junctions that the capacity bottleneck is located – hence no effect on capacity.

          The ‘stick out’ bus stops are there to stop car drivers parking at the bus stop.

          • lifelogic
            Posted July 15, 2012 at 7:14 pm | Permalink

            They do not always stop at junctions, often they have their own advantaged traffic lights too.

            You say “The ‘stick out’ bus stops are there to stop car drivers parking at the bus stop.”

            Surely you do not believe that do you? They are clearly there to prevent cars overtaking them and hold the cars up.

    • A different Simon
      Posted July 13, 2012 at 11:03 am | Permalink

      “However, the real error was in allowing small patches of the graded lines to be sold off and built on, effectively prohibiting the re-opening of the lines.”

      Was it a genuine error or was it like being in a hurry to cut up harrier jump jets so no future Govt has the option of putting them back into service ?

      • Tad Davison
        Posted July 13, 2012 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

        That also happened with thr TSR 2, a plane years ahead of it’s time, and one that could have saved our aircraft industry. Healey reckoned the jigs and the airframes weren’t destroyed on his orders. Makes one wonder exactly who is in control, because it doesn’t seem to be the government.


        • A different Simon
          Posted July 13, 2012 at 11:15 pm | Permalink

          I rarely give Healey the benefit of the doubt but take him at his word in this case .

          For sure the Government aren’t in control .

          One could say that they pass control to the banking community , mainly international , as soon as their spending exceeds taxes and they decide to compensate by borrowing which innevitably will have to be rolled over .

          When you boil it down it’s the rich and powerful vs the rest of us and the rich and powerful always win . Always has been that way and probably always will be .

          The majority , by which I mean anyone earning less than double the national average wage is heading back to serfdom .

          People forget that democracy is about making the people responsible for the debts run up by their leaders and that all that balloney about “government for the people” is just a sales job .

          …. and as a regular in the Crispin who passed away over Christmas told me referendums are an ad mans dream .

    • A different Simon
      Posted July 13, 2012 at 11:03 am | Permalink

      “However, the real error was in allowing small patches of the graded lines to be sold off and built on, effectively prohibiting the re-opening of the lines.”

      Was it a genuine error or was it like being in a hurry to cut up harrier jump jets so no future Govt has the option of putting them back into service ?

  8. JimF
    Posted July 13, 2012 at 7:29 am | Permalink

    The local bank is using the Think City electric car in Switzerland to commute between branches, even in the Alps

    It is conceivable that good trains for longer journeys combined with this transport for local journeys could make a dent in the need for more combustion-engine driven cars in the UK.
    I think we should maintain our existing roads and expand our rail network.

    • Mark
      Posted July 13, 2012 at 10:12 am | Permalink

      CHF 34,900 is about £23,000 for a vehicle the size of a SMART car with a range of just 100 miles between 8 hour charges. That makes it an expensive green bling choice.

      • lifelogic
        Posted July 13, 2012 at 7:19 pm | Permalink

        Probably less than 100 miles if the batteries are old, the heater on and it is a hilly route a silly expensive “I am being green” gimmick for most.

        A bit like PV and wind turbines in windless Notting Hill.

  9. Brian Tomkinson
    Posted July 13, 2012 at 7:31 am | Permalink

    What happened to Philip Hammond’s pledge, when Transport Secretary, to shift the government onto the side of the motorist? Little sign of it, just more cheap talk from an incompetent government.

  10. Old Albion
    Posted July 13, 2012 at 7:34 am | Permalink

    Trains were supposed to attract people away from the roads. Since the sell off of the system to the private sector, fares have rocketed. Different companies charge differing prices for a similar journey and travelling a long distance, where more than one companies’ trains are required, is a financial nightmare.
    I’ll stick with my car thanks.

  11. James Reade
    Posted July 13, 2012 at 7:35 am | Permalink

    All those factors about how cars are wonderful at no point takes into account the obvious externality of cars – congestion. Congestion is what makes you late when using the car. If it’s not queues on motorways and trunk roads, it’s multiple cars parked on small roads, creating annoyance and irritation for other users.

    If road users do feel they are being penalised for this, it is perhaps because they don’t accept or realise this negative externality of their selfish actions.

    You talk about level crossings, and they are really about the only time rail users get in the way of road users, and while they are a nuisance and in an ideal world would be replaced, they are pretty minor in the grand scheme of things.

    Car usage also encourages a lazy lifestyle. I used to drive door to door my 75 mile commute. I now use the train, and I have to (shock, horror) walk 20 minutes to the local station, then change twice, again involving walking, and then walk 10 minutes from my final destination to my office. I feel much healthier even for that short amount of walking.

    Another negative externality imposing costs upon the NHS of our over-use of the car.

    I’m quite happy that more funding is going to the railways, and I’d have thought you’d be quite pleased too particularly with the news that those of us West of Heathrow will soon (ok, 2021) not need to change at Paddington or Hayes and Harlington or Reading to get to Heathrow? A few less cars jamming up the M25 around Heathrow not a good thing?

    • Mark
      Posted July 13, 2012 at 10:22 am | Permalink

      Perhaps you should move closer to your work. By having a commute that is ten times further than average, you are contributing greatly to rush hour occupation of train paths or roads when you drive.

      Rush hour congestion for commuters over more normal distances is not their fault, but rather than of their employers who demand they turn up for work at similar times and work in centralised locations.

      • Bazman
        Posted July 13, 2012 at 5:05 pm | Permalink

        Or his work should move closer to him?

    • Lindsay McDougall
      Posted July 13, 2012 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

      (1) For some reason you appear to rule out additional highway capacity. Why?
      (2) Road junctions of inadequate capacity cause far more nuisance and delay than level crossings.
      (3) We would need to worry far less about lazy life styles if we stopped making medical care free at the point of consumption. And I would be happy if electric windows were to be scrapped.
      (4) What sort of funding for the railways? Financially viable investment or more subsidies to provide a ‘social service’?

      • lifelogic
        Posted July 13, 2012 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

        “Road junctions of inadequate capacity cause far more nuisance and delay than level crossings.”

        Many are deliberately “engineered” to cause delay giving priority to the tiny numbers of buses and bikes over cars and constricting the junctions with bus lanes and huge islands and silly anti-car light phasing.

    • wab
      Posted July 13, 2012 at 8:09 pm | Permalink

      Congestion is not a real externality, it is something the government has a monopoly control over and is a cost it imposes on motorists, it is not a cost which motorists impose on non-motorists. Pollution, on the other hand, is an externality. You would think that an economist would understand the difference.

      So-called environmentalists always claim there is no point building more roads because they will just fill up with traffic. Well, that is a fatuous argument (when everybody is in a car in rush hour, that is the maximal amount of traffic there will ever be, and we are within a factor of 2 of that). And somehow the same argument is never applied to trains, where we are told we have to increase supply because those poor little London commuters (who earn double what everybody else earns) are all squashed into a tin can for an hour or two. The one difference between drivers and train passengers: the former pay for their journeys, the latter do not. Who is selfish?

      As for the “lazy lifestyle”, this is typical sanctimonious and puritanical middle class claptrap. I don’t think academics in particular should talk about lazy lifestyles, since being an academic is about the laziest lifestyle of them all.

      • lifelogic
        Posted July 14, 2012 at 9:57 pm | Permalink

        So-called environmentalists always claim there is no point building more roads because they will just fill up with traffic.

        This is clearly nonsense people do not want to spend all their lives driving, reduced congestion and some will drive more and make an extra journey or two, but most will just spend less time in traffic jams. If you must ration do it by road costing not congestion. That way you have money to invest in the network.

  12. lifelogic
    Posted July 13, 2012 at 7:36 am | Permalink

    Regarding safety on trains it is probably better to spend money on avoiding train crashes with electronic systems and the like rather than having seat belts. Trains are large and heavy and do not usually hit something large enough to makes them decelerate very quickly.

  13. alan jutson
    Posted July 13, 2012 at 7:44 am | Permalink


    Thank you for your post today which puts the cost of road/rail travel in perspective.

    Clearly we need to have a good rail service into major cities as there is simply no room for sufficient cars to either use the roads or park if there were no trains.

    Equally clearly, it would seem that the motorist is subsidising a whole host of other government spending projects, except road improvements.

    When do you really think the war on the motorist will really end ?

    • Mark
      Posted July 13, 2012 at 11:01 am | Permalink

      I spent time working in Houston – a city that has no commuter rail network at all, although it does have the most extensive bus network of any US city. Part of the time, I used that service which managed to take me 8 miles in 25 minutes into Downtown. Driving was also feasible, and under 20 minutes including underground parking right next to the offices. It can be done without rail.

    • lifelogic
      Posted July 13, 2012 at 7:21 pm | Permalink

      When do you really think the war on the motorist will really end ?

      When they have no more money left to mug them for!

  14. JimS
    Posted July 13, 2012 at 7:48 am | Permalink

    The steel wheel/steel rail combination has proved to be remarkably successful. However it places a natural limit on adhesion and hence the acceleration and decceleration forces that can be applied through the wheel.

    Fortunately this natural limit on acceleration means that seat belts perform no function except in the extremely rare event of a collision. For the individual* seat belts are of little use in a car they would be of even less use in a train. (* for the individual the risk is low, collectively the lives saved becomes significant).

    Can better adhesion be achieved? Well we’ve had railways for nearly 200 years and not managed it yet. Solutions like rubber tyres don’t work because they greatly increase the rolling resistance and waste energy. Far better would be to apply the acceleration and decceleration forces by some other means, ropes, air-pressure, propellers and linear induction motors have all been tried in the past. Once aeroplane-type accelerations have been achieved then seat belts would be obligatory for comfort reasons alone.

    Reply: Having seen the way people were flung out of broken train windows in a derailment I am keen on seat belts.I am proposing rubber on commuter stop-start trains, where the extra friction is needed.

    • Tad Davison
      Posted July 13, 2012 at 11:12 am | Permalink

      John, they have rubber tyres on the trains on the Paris Metro as I recall


    • alan jutson
      Posted July 13, 2012 at 11:31 am | Permalink

      Reply to reply

      The Paris metro uses Rubber tyres.

      Do not know how long they last, but they give a smooth ride.

    • JimS
      Posted July 13, 2012 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

      Fortunately people don’t get flung out of train windows often and people know that so you would never get people to wear seat belts . Better to expend the effort on making sure trains don’t collide.

      Rubber tyres on mixed-traffic routes wouldn’t work as signalling systems are designed on the basis of maximum train stopping distances i.e. steel/steel so there would be no gain. It is quite likely that rubber traction tyres would leave rubber deposits on the rails which would degrade the steel/steel performance making the situation worse.

      Rubber tyres are used on the Paris and Montreal metro systems, where they contribute considerably to heat problems in the tunnels.

      • Mark
        Posted July 13, 2012 at 8:26 pm | Permalink

        The Paris metro lines that use rubber tyres have concrete running tracks of a different guage, allowing the track to be shared with regular trains on steel tracks.

    • A different Simon
      Posted July 13, 2012 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

      How are you going to wear a seat belt when you are standing in the isle because there are not enough third class carriages ?

    • lifelogic
      Posted July 13, 2012 at 7:27 pm | Permalink

      To reply:

      I think any safety money is probably far better spent avoiding derailments and collisions. I do not think, knowing the engineering/physics of it that I would bother to wear a seat belt on a train even if they were provided.

      The chance of it making a difference is very, very, slim indeed I suspect.

  15. oldtimer
    Posted July 13, 2012 at 8:07 am | Permalink

    One important reason for the continued success of the motor vehicle is the pressure of intense competition between manufacturers. This evident both from the variety of configurations on offer, providing consumers with a wide choice of products, and also from the unrelenting drive for more efficient products. A comparison of vehicle fuel economy today with that of ten or twenty years ago clearly demonstrates that. And that is just considering the functional benefits of car ownership. For many, ownership also fulfills an emotional need for self expression that the railways do not and cannot provide. Such appeal makes it easier for governments to tax road users – and offers an opportunity for car manufacturers to differentiate their products to appeal to such instincts. It is very telling that the railways for consumers only survive because of huge subsidies.

    The Japanese high speed trains are one of the few train services to offer effective high speed functional appeal – versus cars along the length of Japan, albeit at very high cost. But, as anyone who has travelled on them soon discovers, they are not equipped to take any luggage, beyond aircraft sized hand luggage. Suitcases must travel separately by truck, usually arriving 24 hours later than you do. Not the most convenient mode of travel after all.

  16. alan jutson
    Posted July 13, 2012 at 8:13 am | Permalink

    On another topic

    G4S security at the Olympics.

    Can you please confirm that this contract was/was not signed up for by Labour, before the Conservatives were in office as is being suggestewd by some reports.

    Seems of yet another example of private industry running rings around a government department, allowing 18 year olds (if press reports are true) to be recruited as security guards.

    If Labour did sign up this contract, why is this government taking the flack.

    Why do they simply not say to the attacks made by the opposition.

    Yes another fine mess you have got us in, another disaster of yours that we have to resolve, more taxpayer expense for your mistakes.

    Having said the above, someone should have been keeping an eye open.

    • zorro
      Posted July 13, 2012 at 3:07 pm | Permalink–but-g4s-will-not-pay-penalty-7939668.html

      Classic… penalty clause in contract……

      ”The Home Office Permanent Secretary and the Locog Chief Executive were absolutely clear to us when they increased that contract that they were confident G4S could deliver. We asked them, ‘How can you double or nearly triple the numbers at this late stage and expect them to deliver?’ But they told us they were confident they would.”

      The above was in evidence given to the Public Accounts Committee……

      The initial contract, for around 70-80 million pounds was signed under fag end Labour government when it was understood that they would need 10,000 personnel (including army) to secure the sites. Later, when this government has been in power, it was decided that they actually needed 23,000 people (including army) to secure the sites…….The cost of the contract under G4S then shot up a factor of 3 to almost 280 million pounds. It seems that they would be paid in a form of a cost per extra employee, but seemingly no ‘penalty clause’ for not deliveering what they signed up to do.

      So initially Labour followed by continuity Coalition except at a far greater cost.

      Confidential papers obtained by the Daily Telegraph indicated that the fee charged by G4S for “programme management” rose dramatically as the number of staff required grew.

      ‘G4S was initially contracted by Games organiser Locog in 2010 to provide 2,000 security staff for £86 million, but that figure has since risen to 10,400 personnel in a contract now worth £284 million. The Daily Mail today reported that the people employed will include A-level students.


  17. Acorn
    Posted July 13, 2012 at 8:18 am | Permalink

    Can we divert some of the Rail subsidy to the Bus and Coach sector. When I got my Bus Pass, I deliberately started using it; first time on a bus for years. Frankly I was very impressed with these modern hi-tec buses and coaches. And, they tend to go where travellers want them to go. Trains are still going where someone wanted them to go a hundred years back. In fact, in Southampton’s main shopping area, if you blindly step into the road, you are likely to be hit by a bus before a car. It’s great and it works. . (Caution: this link contains references to “green” transport.)

    • Graham
      Posted July 13, 2012 at 9:59 am | Permalink

      Fine if you live in or around cities but fails on all counts in more rural areas.

      A couple of buses a day into a nearby town or city is only just better than no service against which to organise your life.

      • lifelogic
        Posted July 13, 2012 at 4:59 pm | Permalink

        Indeed a bus only works if you have lost of people travelling at the same time the same route.

        • Acorn
          Posted July 14, 2012 at 8:27 am | Permalink

          Workers tend to do that. Study how travel to work areas have changed (TTWA) on the ONS site.

  18. Alan Wheatley
    Posted July 13, 2012 at 8:22 am | Permalink

    A interesting and reasonable analysis. Also nice to know that contributions have an impact!

    To which I would add a further comparison. The cost of a journey moves in favour of the car the more people in the car. Why would, for instance, a family of four pay for four rail tickets rather than the “single” cost of the car.

    Also, if you have a car it is costing you money whether you use it or not. So having incurred the fixed costs of depreciation, servicing, insurance and tax, it does not make much sense not to use the car.

  19. Lord Blagger
    Posted July 13, 2012 at 8:22 am | Permalink

    1. Hypothecate road and fuel tax for the roads.
    2. Remove subsidies from rail.

    HS2 etc. 65 Billion. Cost of a DLR extension 150 million.

    For the cost of the fantasy rail upgrades so MPs can get home quickly, at subsidised prices, we could have 433 DLR extensions across the UK. That’s assuming no economies of scale.

    As usual, MPs are bonkers. Or, more likely, corrupt.

  20. Alan Wheatley
    Posted July 13, 2012 at 8:26 am | Permalink

    A comparison for freight transport would also be interesting.

    • Mark
      Posted July 13, 2012 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

      Data are available here:

      Rail showed a long term decline as domestic coal supply fell, but has had a modest bounce back since privatisation for longer journeys (average rail distance is now ~125 miles rather than ~75 miles). The jump in water from the mid-late 1970s is an artifact of refining UK North Sea oil rather than imported oil. That aside, road has provided almost all the real growth and taken the hits in economic downturns. Rail is about 9% of tonne-km but barely 5% of tonnage.

  21. Sir Richard Richard
    Posted July 13, 2012 at 8:56 am | Permalink

    Speaking as a car user and enthusiast, I don’t really mind spending a few bob on the railways.

    Crossrail will be great if it ever gets finished, drastically cutting down journey times for commuters in London, and taking some of the strain off the tube.

    I agree that HS2 is a waste of money, though. We need more low-speed rail, which would allow rail to regain the advantage of taking you very close to your destination.

  22. barnacle bill
    Posted July 13, 2012 at 8:57 am | Permalink

    Private financing needs to be kept out/off our roads, instead our government should be spending more of our money that they take from us on the roads.
    I don’t mind subsidizing rail but only if it is done fairly and not to enrich private business at the expense of us tax payers.

  23. Trevor Jones
    Posted July 13, 2012 at 9:09 am | Permalink

    HS2 is planned to cost well in excess of £30 billion. Instead of a HS rail line we could build a 6 lane toll motorway for a fraction of the cost and dedicate it to high speed coaches. This would be safe, flexible, cheap, allow journeys to continue off the motorway and be resistant to organised labour disputes. It could also be used by freight carriers in off peak hours. Whats not to like?

    • zorro
      Posted July 13, 2012 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

      OBR state that we need many more migrants SHOCKER…….the greatest Ponzi scheme continues

      Well, I suppose this report along with the potential to remove long term ‘students’ from net migration shows the way the wind is blowing on the ‘net migration pledge’…

      It is just as well that all our migrants are in well paid jobs, do not claim any benefits of any kind whatsover, pay for their own healthcare, do not use the NHS, do not live in houses but rather float invisibly 12 foot in the air, are immortal and never age so that they will never claim pensions…….Oh wait……


      • zorro
        Posted July 13, 2012 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

        They will do anything to avoid tackling the welfare issue in this country and making it worthwhile for people to earn a living rather than do nothing on the dole.


        • lifelogic
          Posted July 13, 2012 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

          Indeed it seems they will.

        • forthurst
          Posted July 13, 2012 at 6:16 pm | Permalink

          …and take away one of their favourite excuses for untrammelled immigration of various flavours?

          • forthurst
            Posted July 13, 2012 at 6:41 pm | Permalink

            …anyhow the alternative of cutting government spending by closing scurrilous quangos such as the OBR with its implied smearing of the English to meet up to third world standards of entrepreneurial endeavour is clearly unthinkable.

  24. Atlas
    Posted July 13, 2012 at 9:50 am | Permalink

    People might consider using the Railways more if there is a station within walking distance. Really the Beeching cuts meant that for many road had to be the only way – this might have fitted the ‘golden vision’ of the early ’60s politicians, but now, with all the increased road use, it looks a little short-sighted.

    Anyway, most talk of railway use is Londonocentric, so I expect it is the ‘individual in the sticks’ who is subsidising the ‘Strap-hanger into London Bridge’.

    BTW: Travel by car wins out when there is more than one of you travelling.

    • lifelogic
      Posted July 13, 2012 at 5:05 pm | Permalink

      You say:

      “People might consider using the Railways more if there is a station within walking distance. Really the Beeching cuts meant that for many road had to be the only way –”

      Well they did not go by rail at the time he made the cuts, so few were using them and that is why they were cut. Many more have cars now so I cannot imagine they would make any more sense now than they did then.

      • Bazman
        Posted July 14, 2012 at 7:54 am | Permalink

        What if you live in a rural area with no transport services and you don’t drive or have access to a car. Taxi? Move somewhere else. There is no such person?
        It’s difficult to complain about the number of cars on the road and the mass of cities with few jobs in the centre combined with companies in outside area without having some form of transport other than the car, affordable for all.
        Why not have silly and pointless planning restrictions against large twin rotor helicopters across London removed? This would allow Russian billionaires to avoid traffic and be attracted to life in London. The extra money could be used to fund rural transport for Doris and her friends. It makes you wonder why MP’s even bother. In the same vein John, could you ask Parliament for me on whether motorcycle theft should be a hanging offence? I’ll take the coughs as ‘ayes’.

  25. norman
    Posted July 13, 2012 at 9:52 am | Permalink

    Surely the government should be forcing people to live closer to their place of employment and limiting leisure travel to defined periods (show me your travel papers)? Doing it for our own good to encourage exercise, reduce pollution, etc.

    We could introduce a new tax, the travel tax, which operates on a sliding scale the further you live from your place of employment. To encourage employers to hire locals it would obviously need an employers and employee element. We could introduce all sorts of exclusions and penalties to increase the complexity and opaqueness of it so no one had a clue what’s going on, just another line on the payslip.

    Reply: Many people choose to live with a partner, so they cannot both live near to their work.

    • lifelogic
      Posted July 13, 2012 at 5:07 pm | Permalink

      Not “forcing” but perhaps “encouraging” – of course if the government were not so keen on destroying, growth and jobs, people might find one closer to home.

    • Trevor Butler
      Posted July 13, 2012 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

      This is irony, right?

    • Tad Davison
      Posted July 13, 2012 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

      You missed out the little man with the toothbrush moustache Norman! I like to be master of my own destiny, and go where I want, when I want, not be regulated and regimented like something out of 1984.

      And what of the teaching profession, where some it’s members purposely live far away from the schools in which they teach, so they aren’t subjected to vandalism and abuse by their pupils?


    • barry laughton (@kil
      Posted July 13, 2012 at 5:45 pm | Permalink

      Government forcing people, love the concept, some would call it dictatorship.

  26. Neil Craig
    Posted July 13, 2012 at 9:55 am | Permalink

    In the style of X-Prizes the American DARPA recently funded the development of fully automated road vehicles. The Prizes totaled $3m (they said it would have cost $100m in conventional funding & might not have worked).

    Since then Nevada has legalised automated cars for general road use.

    Obviously automating rail traffic would be several orders of magnitude easier.

    And our government is still spending billions on subsidising a rail system that would not have been much out of place to Queen Victoria. It is difficult to overestimate how much we are held back by our government bureaucracy.

    • Mark
      Posted July 13, 2012 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

      Automated trains are already in operation on the DLR and the Victoria Line (since it was opened in the 1960s, in fact – the driver is just for show and to keep the unions happy). The problem is not automation, but rather that trains have limited flexibility.

      • Neil Craig
        Posted July 14, 2012 at 10:06 am | Permalink

        Automated single carriage units have far more flexibility than conventional trains.

        That they have to keep a driver for show and to please the unions is analagous to the position when cars were allowed, but only if one had a man with a red flag walking in front.

    • backofanenvelope
      Posted July 13, 2012 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

      It wouldn’t have been out of place when she was Princess Victoria!

    • Mark
      Posted July 14, 2012 at 7:28 am | Permalink

      I note Google are calling for their automated car to take over the world:

      But I was amused that they note:

      Asked what problems faced the development of automated transportation, Schmidt joked that “the current biggest problem is that it runs at the speed limit and nobody drives at the speed limit”

  27. Mike Fowle
    Posted July 13, 2012 at 10:22 am | Permalink

    I visited friends in Southampton many years ago by train. When I left, they dropped me at the station and kindly waited whilst I checked the time of the next train. Having been assured that one was imminent, I waved my friends off into the night. When I presented my ticket at the barrier, the chap there said – with a great of satisfaction – “You’ve got a long wait”. When I said that the Information Office had told me a train was due, he uttered the immortal words: “Well, they told you wrong”. Nonetheless, I love trains. I accept the economic arguments, which are unanswerable, but life is more than a balance sheet. Car driving is becoming increasingly stressful and harmful to towns. I noted over years of commuting how dehumanising and aggressive it made people. The same thing happens on the road, but it is more dangerous there. Trains have a part to play.

  28. waramess
    Posted July 13, 2012 at 10:37 am | Permalink

    Privatise all roads over time and remove all subsidies from road and rail and let the best man win. Far too much interferance by government and far too little left to the free market that will service peoples demands and not those of the politicians.

    Abandon planning restrictions on road builders and allow them to build wherever they are able to afford the land leaving government to supervise only the quality of the product being delivered and the repair to the environment.

    Too much to ask these interfering politicians? Far too much. Just take a look at the mess their interferance has caused far and wonder how it could possibly get much worse

    • Bazman
      Posted July 14, 2012 at 7:33 am | Permalink

      In other words a race to the bottom.

      • waramess
        Posted July 14, 2012 at 9:23 am | Permalink

        Why Bazman should you think that government ownership would be a race to the top? Maybe we have had far too much government spoon fed to us over the years.

        People think that without the government NHS, surgery would become impossible and some years ago there was a fear that denationalising water was a dangerous move too far.

        No Bazman, devolving to the private sector with limited government regulation would be a race to the top.

        • Bazman
          Posted July 14, 2012 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

          We should use this for the recruitment of security personnel in the Olympics.

  29. Lindsay McDougall
    Posted July 13, 2012 at 11:56 am | Permalink

    We need to restore motorway speeds to something close to their design speeds. Recently, I travelled east on the southern portion of the M25 on a Friday afternoon, joining at the M3 interchange and getting off at junction 6 (A22 Godstone). There were two short stretches of slow moving queues and for most of the journey speeds were in the range 40 to 50 mph. The cause appeared to be sheer weight of traffic, since there were no signs of an accident. Granted, POETS day has special traffic characteristics but speeds on a motorway should be better than that. More capacity seems to be the answer. You can also say the same about the M6 north of Birmingham and its junction with M6 toll.

    More worrying are the implications for motorway maintenance costs. If you take out a lane during daytime hours a queue is generated, so a lot of maintenance has to be done at night – higher labour costs and possibly less safe. Motorway widening would reduce the need.

    Talking of the M6 toll, I have had speeds of 115 mph reported to me. Do the police turn a blind eye because the time saved by speeding is necessary to pay for the high toll? If we are going to have an extensive toll road network, I would prefer that maximum speeds are enforced (they could be higher than 70 mph but not 115 mph) and that concessionaires are allowed to maximise revenue.

    • Alan Wheatley
      Posted July 13, 2012 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

      I think the private operators of toll roads should be allowed to set the sped limit as they think fit. They would, of course, also have to accept the responsibility that goes with the power.

      The variable speed limit on the M25 and M42 seems to work well, so the M6 toll could also be variable.

      100mph for cars only in suitable circumstances would do nicely. I predict the consequence would be an increase in car traffic.

    • a-tracy
      Posted July 13, 2012 at 7:14 pm | Permalink

      Every Friday for the past four weeks there have been serious road delays on the M6 between J10 and J23 north and southbound. Several accidents on the M6 add to the delays and big problems on all the main trunk roads as drivers try to divert around the incidents.

      I wonder if the plans are still ongoing to use the hard shoulder and traffic management? Alternatively I wonder if motor transport police anticipating the key crunch times specifically Fridays could cruise to control speeds and try to maintain a flow or try to ascertain what is causing the regular problem that can add 1-2 hours on this section.

    • Mark
      Posted July 13, 2012 at 9:30 pm | Permalink

      The traffic management systems on the M25 and M42 are poorly run. I think they like to play with the trainset in the control rooms: reduced speed limits and warnings of queues are left in place long after problems have dissipated, and warnings of problems ahead are slow to appear.

      I had an interesting observation of the latter one day on the M25, when I passed an accident that had just occurred on the other carriageway, blocking 3 lanes near Heathrow/M4 (there was almost no queue of traffic behind it). By the time I was making the return journey having picked something up near Watford there was no warning of trouble as I peeled off at the M40 to bypass the jam which must already have stretched well north of the M4 and lasted several hours as per usual police procedure. Traffic was just piling on into the back of the standstill.

      As to speeds, it isn’t so much absolute speed as speed differences that causes problems. If all the traffic is doing 100 mph and maintaining a reasonable separation that’s probably much safer than having trucks pulling out to overtake at 50-60mph into faster moving traffic.

      • a-tracy
        Posted July 17, 2012 at 11:23 am | Permalink

        Mark, I agree about the M42 and M25, contradictory speed limits within the traffic management system are currently a problem, the Highways agency are also very slow at removing old accident ahead signs sometimes with a result of traffic moving off the main motorways for no good reason, however, the M6 section I mentioned above is becoming a serious problem on Fridays.

        Our theory is that many drivers go on to the motorway network on Fridays in order to go on short break holidays and weeks away at this time of the year, many of these drivers are inexperienced on motorways and don’t realise the braking distances on larger vehicles pulling out of slip roads/service stations in front of them without maintaining a good speed to enter the network, this forces trucks out.

        They like to enter the middle lane as quickly as possible often doing slower speeds than the rest of the traffic was maintaining and don’t move. Once the flowing traffic starts to brake (and often these inexperienced drivers brake more harshly and later than necessary) you get a bottleneck and domino effect until the traffic behinds slows to almost stopping. A new thing is they trust their sat navs implicitly without taking a look at a map book so any deviations or delays and inexperienced drivers panic and lane switch without good timing.

        My son and daughter both passed their driving tests in the past five years, I insisted they had pass plus lessons before I allowed them to use the motorway network and my husband and I went out them on several occasions with different motorway junction connection problems to overcome before we’d allow them to drive solo on the motorway network because I just hear about so many serious accident problems on an almost daily basis now.

  30. White Dragon
    Posted July 13, 2012 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

    I use my car for all the reasons given. I like my car, I use it often and wouldn’t want to give it up. It gives me freedom. I use the railway when I travel to central London, I couldn’t contemplate driving there. I would use it to get other cities but it takes me half an hour to drive to the nearest station with connections. When I do it is always full so it is popular but there are not enough services. I would use the train if I could to get to Heathrow, but I am forced to drive. I worked in Manchester until I retired and when the Metrolink tramservice was built, in 1992 I think, I used that, it was a considerable improvement on the then existing train service. It was clean frequent and reliable. I have spent time in Germany and where I was the trams ran frequently in and out of the city centre. If there were more trains and trams I would use them, they are quiet and clean compared to roads. There should be more trains and trams. I think your percentage figures comparing current expenditure on road versus rail are at best confusing. Where we can build new rail lines and upgrade existing we must, they have a lot of catching up to do, and it should not be an either rail or road argument, we can’t have a rail station in every town and village, but there could be more than there is now I’m sure. We can have urban trams and more rail stations with links, and high speed inter-city trains as well as good roads elsewhere. The whole argument needs de-politicising, and I hate all this talk of fat cats etc. it is merely destructive and self indulgent. I would assert that the railways of the past were destroyed not by Beeching but by thick-headed union leaders and jobsworth and lazy workers together with unimaginative and lazy bosses, in a badly managed and bankrupt country. We can’t do it all at once but it can be done if we stop whingeing.

  31. David Hope
    Posted July 13, 2012 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

    I’d have to agree with the analysis overall. Most people want to use cars but we spend very little on the roads in comparison to trains.

    You only need to listen to the traffic news each day to realise roads are all at capacity and any small accident causes total chaos – new lanes and roads are needed.

    Some would argue that better public transport would get people off roads. However I think this is limited in effect without a huge change. For example in Sheffield if i wish to visit a friend elsewhere in town I would have to walk down to the bus stop, wait ten minutes, get a bus into the centre, then wait, get a bus back out to them. Later i would have to leave early for the last bus. Public transport is often good for getting into the centre but it fails for going in rings or getting out towards the countryside. For all these we need cars.

    Where the railway does need money investing is busy local routes – say the morning trains into leeds that are packed. I find it amazing that we need such large subsidies to improve these though – surely if well run they’d pay for themselves

  32. David John Wilson
    Posted July 13, 2012 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

    My alternatives for my journey to work are:

    1) half an hour by car. Cost £4 parking plus petrol etc. (frequently delayed by traffic), five minutes walk from carpark
    2) three quarters of an hour by bus plus ten minutes walk. Cost £3.50 (frequently delayed by same traffic, rarely on time, three buses an hour). Very crowded
    3) ten minutes cycle, ten minutes by train (four trains an hour, on time except perhaps once a month), nearly always get a seat, five minutes walk. Cost £4.

    Can you wonder why I choose to use the train? There is a huge amount of scope to increase commuting by train outside our major cities.

  33. Arunas
    Posted July 13, 2012 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

    Very, very good point, Mr. Redwood.
    It is too bad that UK finances are dictated by ideology rather than informed economics – be it taxes, environmental sustainability, innovation, or, as it happens, the transport infrastructure (airport acapacity not to be forgotten).

    • lifelogic
      Posted July 13, 2012 at 5:11 pm | Permalink

      Indeed they all want to fly and go by car themselves but don’t want the airports near them and dream of a John Betcheman type train journey while reading a good Miss Marple book.

  34. Graham Hamblin
    Posted July 13, 2012 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

    72 years old and no bus pass my car takes me where I want to go when I want to go and public transport does not. Get freight back on the railways, it makes sense?

  35. Gewyne
    Posted July 13, 2012 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

    Hearing today that seemingly 2.5% of public sector workers work full time for Trade Unions (but paid for by taxpayers) maybe you can invoice the TUC et al and put the money into transport.

    Maybe also sack people who do things like “A prison service official who worked 100% on trade union work was “promoted twice whilst in their trade union role, up to Grade 7 level” which can confer a salary of up to £61,038.”

    How can you promote someone onto more money when they are not doing the job ? Worse they need a extra member of staff on the increased salary to do the actual work…. No wonder the Public Sector costs so much.

    Saw in our local NHS clinic they have a new £14,000 bike shed – that is not used, as the 2 people who do cycle prefer the old bollards at the front of the building where they can be seen by the staff and is easier to access. Apparently they are being rolled out across all the clinics so there’s £140,000 (not including the thousands for NHS staff to do the studies, buying, meetings, and other adhoc estates stuff). What a waste of money – nationally it would be what £3 – £5 million to do this ?

    Shame the money allocated to the public sector is squandered so readily and easily – time for a real shake up of the system… then maybe the country will be able to afford to buy nice things – rail, road, cancer drugs !

    • Tad Davison
      Posted July 13, 2012 at 5:43 pm | Permalink

      Yeah, and the lefties would have us believe greed and underhanded practises are the preserve of the right. Nice to see a little ‘balance’.


  36. Mark
    Posted July 13, 2012 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

    I found these interesting international comparisons of congestion in major cities:

    One thing is clear: we should not take instruction from Brussels in how to manage things! Leeds is worse than London. Speeds in Europe are much slower than in the US.

  37. nicol sinclair
    Posted July 13, 2012 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

    Ok, guys (& gals).Listen out. I live an hour’s train ride south of Glasgow. If I want to get to London on my own, it’s the train. Cost effective especially if I book in advance – I’m a pensioner. If I’m traveling with some (or all) of the family – 2-4 – it’s a no brainer and we go by car.

    All this talk of transport from and to the South of England impresses me not one jot. There is a whole lot of the UK outside the Home Counties and we, too, are taxpayers. I want the extended HS2 so that I can travel in speed and relative comfort fro Glasgow to London, do my business (or pleasure) and return faster that now. Air is a pain in the derriere as one has to arrive at the airport (GLA) eons before the flight is due to depart. Give me high speed overland travel…

    • nicol sinclair
      Posted July 13, 2012 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

      sorry, my laptop can’t spell! Sort out the mistakes for yourselves.

  38. sm
    Posted July 13, 2012 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

    Nothing like sensible infrastructure projects! More bridges/tunnels over rivers where congestion exists, or junction pinch points. At a time of limited demand in the economy its not an unwise way to spend QE money.

    Just a thought if natural gas is such a plentiful, useful fuel and relatively clean burning fuel. Why are we not using this for all vehicles? It could be an intermediate step until other technology takes over, such as fuelcells or similar.

    The cost advantage in the US is pushing transport in this direction whilst probably lowering imports. We also have pipelines which transport this to us already, what with some better storage etc we could rely on this for meeting variable demand in situations where renewables may not be fully utilised.

    • Gewyne
      Posted July 13, 2012 at 6:41 pm | Permalink

      The Us is coming of Coal and going for Gas – they are seeing huge cuts in Electricity prices (great for business and public) and Carbon emissions are heading for their 1990 levels.

      The EU however has legislated against Fracking for Shale gas as it’s seen as not eco friendly – so we are forced to buy more coal, ironically from the US who must be laughing at the win, win situation they are in.

  39. Electro-Kevin
    Posted July 13, 2012 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

    There are a number of reasons why railways are expensive:

    – lack of investment prior to privatisation (including recruitement)

    – botched privatisation itself

    Many of the post privatisation contracts have been involved in bringing the network up to date. TOCs have been making up for demographic shortfalls in key staff.

    The railways are safer because everything is so much more tightly regulated. High speed rail vehicles can make conflicting movements (there is no physical barrier to prevent this) but signallers and drivers are put through rigorous training and monitoring to ensure that they keep them apart and that collisions don’t happen.

    Of the roads:

    Speaking as a motorist myself one wonders how many journeys are superfluous given that most of the vehicle costs are paid up front and one may as well get one’s money’s worth. I note that sports clubs (even lower league) travel far and wide nowadays for no other reason, it would seem, than because it can be done.

    ‘Love miles’ – grandparents deciding to live in Lincolnshire because their London based offspring can drive 200 miles without too much problem.

    To a degree subsidised rail is making the roads more bearable for those who use them. Probably equivalent to investing the money in quite a few roads and motorways.

    • Electro-Kevin
      Posted July 13, 2012 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

      Railway contracts featured in a very interesting BBC documentary recently.

      • Electro-Kevin
        Posted July 13, 2012 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

        PS, I’m not saying you’re wrong here, John.

  40. zorro
    Posted July 13, 2012 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

    More subsidies for banks, and ponzi like pumping of the housing market with cheaper loans to get more people into debt on overvalued assets………Houses are too expensive in comparison to our economic circumstances – they should be allowed to fall naturally, only then can resources be diverted to more productive uses.


  41. A different Simon
    Posted July 13, 2012 at 4:11 pm | Permalink

    A general comment on safety of cars .

    Modern cars have so many safety features that the drivers and passengers are lulled into a false sense of security .

    Combined with this brakes and tyres are better which shortens stopping distances and people seem to think it is socially acceptable to tail gate and since nothing is done about it maybe they are right .

    Being tailgated by a thug in a safety cage whilst on a motorcycle is terrifying and life threaning .

    The cars , most of which are front wheel drive are less demanding to drive and consequently the driver never has to asymilate the type of skills which can get them out of trouble when things do go wrong .

    To summarise , we have reached the point of diminishing returns with regards to road safety and are on the verge of reducing safety by adding features which take the responsibility away from drivers .

    Is it time to start relaxing safety requirements for new cars ?

    • lifelogic
      Posted July 13, 2012 at 5:15 pm | Permalink

      The only thing needed is an alert driver, (not on the phone or texting), seat belts on decent tyres and brakes and a large car is far safer than a small one.

    • Mark
      Posted July 13, 2012 at 7:46 pm | Permalink

      Tailgating is dangerous and can lead to concertina collisions. Not only that, but sharp late braking by tailgaters propagates through dense traffic and actually can lead to full scale traffic jams. The good news is that adaptive cruise control, now starting to be available, will largely prevent tailgating. The bad news is that crocodiles of vehicles tailgating in an automated train may soon start appearing.

      • A different Simon
        Posted July 14, 2012 at 11:54 am | Permalink

        Yes tail gating is dangerous and stupid .

        Nethertheless it must be socially acceptable even when the vehicle infront is a pedal cycle or motorcyle because nothing is done about it .

        As for adaptive cruise control it would appear to relieve drivers of their responsibility and no doubt any accident wouldn’t be “their fault” .

        I’ve actually heard people claim “the driver infront braked too hard” .

  42. BurnleyClaret
    Posted July 13, 2012 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

    British Rail took £1.6 billion in subsidy (inflation adjusted, £1bn in cash terms) in 1993 and now the privatised industry is requiring £4.3bn by the figures in the article. Maintenance costs have not fallen despite technological advances. There was a belief that private companies would be able to find huge efficiency savings from BR, but to everyone’s surprise they weren’t there as BR wasn’t as inefficient as first thought.

    How did you vote back in 1993 Mr Redwood? Are your Conservative colleagues pleased with the outcome despite warnings that splitting track and train would be damaging?

    • Electro-Kevin
      Posted July 14, 2012 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

      Under BR I used to work 12 days in every 13 to make a living wage.

  43. barry laughton (@kil
    Posted July 13, 2012 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

    All train passengers pay nothing to the government in taxes etc. Road travel in 2009 contributed £32 billion some of which contributes to the rail subsidy. Does not the motorist deserve a better deal?

  44. Jon
    Posted July 13, 2012 at 6:41 pm | Permalink

    What we need are choices, we can find arguments to say post is better than email or reasons why email is better than post but in the end we want and need both. The money has already been spent on the basic road infrastructure. There are motorways all over the country so there isn’t a bill to built a new M1 etc. The cost to put a south to north and west highspead rail motorway will cost.

    When I use the road I want the traffic to flow not be stuck in a traffic jam of people who would use teh rail if they could.

    I can see the sense in separating cycle and moped from cars and freight. I would love to see tunnels into London for either car and freight or for cycle and moped. A high cost but where is the room to build them overland.

    The subsidy for rail I think has a lot to do with the unions, bad contracts and governments that change their minds. I would rather a lot of road transport tax was put on income tax but not much chance of that happening though.

    We need good road, rail and air transport. Its all lacked long term vision, its not a case that one mode is always better than another, we need a basic good infrastructure to them all.

  45. uanime5
    Posted July 13, 2012 at 7:00 pm | Permalink

    It’s no surprise that the Government is having to spend large amounts on the railways; they’ve been neglected for decades and are poor quality compared to most other European countries.

    Unsure if safety belts will be that useful on trains, given that the main hazard seatbelts prevent in cars is stopping the drivers flying out the windscreen when the car suddenly stops. Has any research been conducted on the type of injuries suffered in train crashes and what effect seatbelts would have?

    Better brakes will be difficult to add because if you suddenly stop a train weighing several tons the rear compartments will crash into the fore compartments, possibly derailing the train. The laws of physics (momentum) means that trains can only brake safely if they brake slowly.

    • A different Simon
      Posted July 13, 2012 at 11:32 pm | Permalink

      I suppose that ideally you would want all coaches to provide an equal breaking force , or at least one proportional to their mass including passengers.

      If you could not do that you would want the ones at the back to exert a greater breaking force to keep the string of coaches in tension rather than compression which might lead to a carriage at the front leaving the rails .

      You might be able to establish some sort of eddy current breaking between the carriages and the rail up to the point where the rails are torn out but is it really necessary or worthwhile ?

      I once worked with a guy who had survived both air and train crashes . Not saying he was a jinx .

      Passengers must have a much higher chance of serious injury driving or even walking to the station or tripping off the platform than whilst being on board a train . I suspect more derailments have been caused by cars on level crossings than anything else including deliberate derailments .

      I use trains quite a lot but some people on here will use air transport more regularly .

    • waramess
      Posted July 14, 2012 at 9:31 am | Permalink

      Uanime5, I guess that on past performance you would vote then for continued government ownership!

    • Lindsay McDougall
      Posted July 14, 2012 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

      Oh, dear, that old chestnut “compared to most other European countries”. Why compare us only to European countries? Why not give chapter and verse on the levels of subsidy that these railways in other countries receive? Taxpayers can go to Hell, can they?

  46. Alte Fritz
    Posted July 13, 2012 at 8:27 pm | Permalink

    I drive to work because the train was hideously overcrowded. Am I alone?

  47. Adam5x5
    Posted July 13, 2012 at 8:40 pm | Permalink

    It’s not just the trains which are unreliable, expensive and inconvenient.
    Public transport is completely unfit for purpose – “services” are late, if running at all, cancelled at the last minute with no alternative made available, and ruinously expensive.

    I myself work shifts, which makes public transport completely non-viable. My 20 minute drive to work would take well over an hour on days when it could be used and two out of three weeks I would have to set off the day before my shift and sleep at the bus station or sleep at the train station after my shift. Brilliant.
    That doesn’t even take into account the extra shifts I do at weekends which pose similar problems, or that I occasionally have to shift large heavy pieces of equipment from one site to another.

    On nights out into the nearest city with my friends, it is cheaper and easier to drive into town, leave the car in a car park overnight and be driven in to pick it up the next day than it is to get the train. Not to mention the inherent security of being in a car compared to on a train.

    It would be better to stop the subsidies and allow the market to self-correct on the trains.
    But of course there isn’t a market on the trains, it’s all monopolies with the government picking winners. Always funny to be on a train and hear “Thank you for choosing (Insert operator here) for this journey”. Didn’t have much choice as they’re the only operators doing the journey…

    Maybe the government should stop screwing the motorist and lower petrol duty to sensible levels and stop punishing those of us who don’t have any option other than using cars, 4x4s, lorries and vans for our livelihoods.

  48. Ferdinand
    Posted July 13, 2012 at 9:24 pm | Permalink

    And of course the car achieves this massive popularity in spite of enormous taxation and parking costs. The car is the greatest expression of freedom in the modern world.

  49. Caterpillar
    Posted July 13, 2012 at 10:22 pm | Permalink

    Repeating myself a little from a few days ago, it does seem that quite often the transport discussion is one way – what transport matches the current population distribution, or forecast of it. The feedback possibility usually seems to be missed, namely, high density living and working supports rail links, but commuter rail links encourage/enable high density living (and thus local walking, a sense of space if well designed – Singapore’s population density is 1.5x that of London, move towards infrastructural neutrality …) etc.

  50. Bazman
    Posted July 14, 2012 at 7:28 am | Permalink

    The limitation of driving to work is the fact that realistically only an hour of driving can be done each way at the most. Two hour a day of driving and doing a days work is about the most anyone can do and sustain this for years on end taking into account congestion road works that occur if not every day on the same route, but at least every week/month. Add to this the fuel costs and maintenance of the car which over long periods adds to the cost of driving greatly. Now no doubt someone is going to tell me they drive two hours each way and find it easy. They are almost certainly a desk jockey on high wages or just plain desperate. Another limitation of distance in a car is the type of road. 40 miles of motorway driving is much more easy than 40 miles of hilly B roads like those found in Cumbria. Or driving on the A14 in Cambridgeshire. How long across London in the rush hour? Might be more easy to drive around the M25 and find another job further north/ south?
    A large number of commuters get their tickets paid for by their companies an option not open to many lower paid employees in menial jobs. Makes you wonder why that shop worker in London bothers to work there. Maybe they live in Mayfair and enjoy having a career in a shop like some Hugh Grant film?
    I Live in a town in the geographical centre of the country with major roads less than a mile away and a train station with a high speed link into London full of happy smiling commuters. There is a lot to be said for the quality of life in having a job near to your house in a village with every facility such as pubs, shop, supermarket, post office, school and most importantly a job. Finish work at 5 on a Friday. Pick up wife from work, child from nursery, showered and in the pub of my choice for 5.45 beer/dinner. How much an hour is quality of life worth?
    Living in a village with a post box and a church or comprising of five houses in a field is not village life. Maybe if the government tackled the housing/work/shop/pub/school issues there would be less need for such an extensive commuting system whether that be by road or rail. Leaving the networks to carry goods instead of people.

  51. Derek Emery
    Posted July 14, 2012 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

    The reality is that railway travel is many times more expensive than road travel. Even light rails is drastically more expensive than roads and buses. I doubt a single light rail project could exist without massive grants. As a purely private project they would never get past the first crude estimates. No board of directors would contemplate them as there is no way you could ever get your money back. You would never get enough money back to pay the interest on the loan from all ticket sales even if every other cost including maintenance and staff costs were ignored.

    HS2 will have even higher costs as it is high speed (far more expensive technology all the way through) and therefore enormously more expensive per passenger mile. If the private sector did the accounting it could never happen as the figures would be so bad they would be laughed out of court. I very much doubt that you could pay back the interest charges from ticket sales even ignoring all over costs.

    However our politicians love to waste our money -it’s their fundamental right as politicians. They absolutely love projects that are guaranteed to lose money and cost our children and grandchildren extra taxation thus guaranteed a lower standard of living. Hence there is a need for bold creative accounting in the public sector so that a smelly heap of ordure can be sold as a rose garden.

    Any possible payback from public projects is far in the future and helps to keep the UK debt/GDP ratio eternally rising . Public projects are designed to minimise investment in the wealth generating private sector by quickly taking the money from them before it could be invested back in the private sector to generate more real jobs and more wealth.

  52. Simon Cutler
    Posted July 16, 2012 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

    Mr Redwood
    You are being somewhat short sighted by focussing on the symptoms and not the cause. Instead of considering whether rail is better than road (for the record I believe the former, without question, where rail offers a longer-term sustainable solution instead of head-in-the-sand-look-after-ourselves-same-old-same-old). Put simply, for the sake of generations that follow, two problems need to be addressed immediately:
    1) A population increasing at a terrifying rate both nationally and globally.
    2) A necessity for said population to travel large distances in order to commute to work and visit distant family.
    Provide incentives to reduce both of these and our problems will be solved.

  • About John Redwood

    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

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