Let’s get value for money spent on railways


The government’s transport budget is largely  spent on the trains. They have a report which says that our railways are far less efficient and far costlier to run than comparable overseas systems. The government has said it intends to seek out better value for money. The need to control UK public spending demands more urgent attention to securing just that.

The first thing to address is the imbalance between the trains they run and the trains people want. They run too few trains with too few seats at peak hours on the popular commuting routes. They run too many trains with too many seats on many less popular routes and at less popular times of day. They need to increase capacity at peaks, and they need to get better at selling tickets for off peak and cross country.

The railway executives tell me they are now working on new signalling and braking systems which could increase capacity. Being able to run just 30 trains an hour on excellent routes right into the hearts our cities at peak times is a luxury we cannot afford. They must rapidly find ways to increase capacity by say 50%, increasing train frequency to 45 an hour from 30 an hour. Then they could provide a better timetable at peaks, and offer more seats so there was less overcrowding.  They also need to sort out the leaves on the line/wrong kind of snow syndrome, by adding more traction to commuter stop start /trains.

The approach to ticketing seems complex and expensive. Either tickets should be inspected on trains by on board inspectors, or checked at entry and exit from the platform. Combining elements of both systems is wasteful. Control onto and off the platform is likely to be the cheapest way of doing it, and can be done by automatic equipment in the main. If there is a problem checking first class tickets in first class carriages, this can be done by catering staff as part of the payment and checking system for the food and drink offer.

The cross country and long haul railway is probably most productively used for freight. The railway needs to be more interested in single wagon  marshalling and single load  business. Rail freight has grown since privatisation, and there has been improvement in the offer. The old nationalised industry was only interested in trainload contracts. A whole generation of new business parks was built with motorway access instead of branch line connections to the railway as a result.

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  1. Julian
    Posted July 31, 2012 at 5:28 am | Permalink

    I agree with most of what you say but you seem to be suggesting guards on trains should be abolished (first class tickets in first class carriages can be checked by catering staff). Guards perform a valuable safety role and provide a human face to the railway companies. Also, the huge subsidies paid by first class passengers presumably more than pay for them.

    • Paul Danon
      Posted July 31, 2012 at 5:56 am | Permalink

      What about the guards who spend the whole journey hiding and/or making garbled announcements? Is that the human face?

      • Patrick Loaring
        Posted July 31, 2012 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

        The trains I’ve travelled on in the last year have “Train Managers” who check the tickets and obtain payment from people who don’t have a ticket. I think the train managers replaced the guards but I may be incorrect on that one.

      • alan jutson
        Posted July 31, 2012 at 4:14 pm | Permalink


        Yes often wondered if they ever listened to themselves, most speak far too fast, not loud enough, and certainly do not pronounce words correctly or clearly.

        Far, far better to talk slowly, loudly and clearly, even if you think it sounds dumb yourself.
        Always a good idea to repeat the message as well, just to make sure everyone has a chance to understand the information.

        It is so simple really !

        • Jeremy Hummerstone
          Posted July 31, 2012 at 7:12 pm | Permalink

          “Always a good idea to repeat the message as well
          There is a great deal too much repeating of messages as it is. I wish they would keep quiet. So refreshing to be on a German train where the message is simply “Next stop X”, with no nonsense about “taking a moment to familiarize yourself with the information on the seat in front of you” and reminding you to pick up your luggage.

          • lifelogic
            Posted August 1, 2012 at 4:44 am | Permalink

            Indeed the endless tedious and over loud announcements are a very good additional reason to go by car and listen to Byrd, Bach or something.

    • wethec
      Posted August 2, 2012 at 1:03 am | Permalink

      Getting rid of guards, ticket examiners and other workers will surely help train companies to reap more profits – but they are not necessary the best options to provide commuters a better service. It, of course, does not help the unemployed in this country either.
      Instead of looking in to how more profits can be made available for the train companies, Government should be looking in to providing best services for the commuters – and the best way forward is nationalisation of the rail service. Not only the profits will then be used for public benefits, Government can also re-channel the big bonuses enjoyed by top rail officials for the good of railways and its commuters.

      • David in Kent
        Posted August 2, 2012 at 7:15 am | Permalink

        I do not see how a ticket collector on a train can be said to be providing me with a service.

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

          David the Kent. Was that his only and main point?

  2. lifelogic
    Posted July 31, 2012 at 5:41 am | Permalink

    The trouble with more trains at peak hours is that you perhaps have only 2 hours a day each way Monday to Friday of this peak. The trains, drivers and staff then sit about unused for the rest of the time or return empty. Is it worth the investment in new stock for such little use? Even in rush hour the best occupancy you are likely to get is about 25% depot to depot with the return journey empty or you need expensive large storage areas in town centres.

    The car on the other hand can drop dad (or mum) at work, kids at schools, pop in to Waitrose, go for a game of golf and pick up a new shed for the garden from B&Q, then the kids from school then dad from work again then drop the kids at Scouts and swimming lessons.

    • lifelogic
      Posted July 31, 2012 at 5:46 am | Permalink

      Ticketing and ticketing queues are absurd and absurdly complex you often miss train due to the ticket queue and the complexity means you can spend more time on the internet working out which ticket/route to take than the length of the journey. You also then have forced inflexibility with times of journeys fixed. Even though the other train that you many want to change to are often nearly empty – so it should not matter to the train company one jot which you take.

      • Michael Lee
        Posted August 2, 2012 at 1:15 am | Permalink

        If you’ve previously noticed that there are long queues at the ticket office and still often missed your train, you should consider starting out earlier. Are you in training for a gold medal in whingeing?

    • lifelogic
      Posted July 31, 2012 at 5:53 am | Permalink

      Finally train are not green, contrary to BBC, Libdem, Cameron “think”. All things considered track, stations, staff, the empty returns, the (often double) journey to the station at each end, the indirect route needed to connect, the manufacture of the trains, the ticketing, the security, electric supply generation and transmission losses they are worse than cars, inter city coaches and planes in general in c02 terms.

      Not that I accept the c02 exaggerations anyway.

      • Disaffected
        Posted July 31, 2012 at 10:05 am | Permalink

        Messrs Cameron and Osborn do not care about green. They took a 75 minute flight on a Boeing 747 with the US president to watch a basketball game instead of going through the detail of the budget or the communication strategy for the budget. I suspect a focus group told them green was good.

        Both need to start looking at the detail beneath the surface and understand what they are reading. If they want to presenters get a job with the BBC.

        • lifelogic
          Posted August 1, 2012 at 4:48 am | Permalink

          Indeed like most “greens” (Cameron/Prince Charles for example) they believe in it for other not for themselves. I suspect that despite the attempts by the BBC to brain wash the population that cheap non green energy and real jobs is more popular than green – now that no one sensible believes the c02 exaggeration scare hoax.

      • Peter Geany
        Posted August 2, 2012 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

        When it comes to commuters we need to do all the things that John Redwood says BUT and it’s a big BUT. This must be done with low cost efficient up-to-date flexible rolling stock. And that does not mean wasting money on electrifying our lines. That huge cost adds nothing to the rail.

        The modern high speed diesel rail Car as used by Cross Country and others could easily be adapted to a form of hybrid drive and just as in the case of our Hybrid city buses you can reduce the installed power to match the cruise requirements using the recovered power to aid acceleration where most fuel is used. Get rid of first class, or reduce it as it just takes up too much space.

        There is so much that could be done to reduce the running cost of these trains and it may then provide us with something that can be exported. Because other countries and emerging nations don’t have the money for electric trains, but often want something better than the bog standard short range commuter train that we once had a lead on but seem to have ceded to the Germans.

      • Lindsay McDougall
        Posted August 3, 2012 at 8:56 am | Permalink

        Yes, given the low average occupancy of trains and the use of heavy rail rolling stock, as soon as you put a second person in an average car it is more environmentally friendly than the average train. This is on the basic of comparing emissions per million passenger-km.

        The difficulty lies in getting that second person in the car. So many people commute alone that the average peak time car occupancy is (was) 1.2 people. America uses high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes quite liberally. There are many hilarious stories about tailor’s dummies etc being placed in the front passenger seat.

    • lifelogic
      Posted July 31, 2012 at 6:01 am | Permalink

      In general the, relatively short distances, in the UK make freight usually cheaper by truck/boat – as you probably need a truck at each end of the train journey anyway unless you have a purpose build line – to for example a power station for a continuous coal supply. Transferring the load twice makes little sense logistically or in cost terms.

      (Assuming we will still be allowed to use coal by the EU) ,

      Lets unblock the roads, get rid of the, absurdly phased, traffic lights and the other road blocks/islands and build a few bridges, bypasses, parking and underpasses please.

      • David John Wilson
        Posted July 31, 2012 at 10:38 am | Permalink

        One area of freight traffic that could be improved is the transport of containers to and frtom our ports. If one or two inland container terminals were to be built and rail transport to and from these to our container ports the volume of lorries tranporting containers along our motorways could be considerably reduced.

        • Jerry
          Posted July 31, 2012 at 8:33 pm | Permalink

          David, that is the idea behind the recently announced “Electric Spin”, the weak link for trainload container traffic in the UK has always been the M3 and A34 corridors to/from Southampton and the Midlands, anyone who has ever travelled those two roads will have seen the countless lorries travelling to and from the Southampton container port – an extra day, on top of the six weeks spent on the high seas from the far east, to transfer the container from the south to any point north, east or west of Southampton isn’t much of an issue most companies.

          I have to agree though, love or hate the fact, there is no real alternative to the lorry+ load travelling within the UK, who in their right minds would send freight by rail that -even with a following wind- is likely going to take twice the time and possibly cost twice as much as delivering the load direct to its end destination by road. The logistics just don’t work out in any other way, and this is why BR stopped bothering with wagon loads and local railheads back in the late 1950s and 1960s. The other problem with local railheads, for companies that deliver direct by road, is that,due to having to deliver and pick up containers from such local railheads it would mean many companies are likely to need extra lorries (not less, as the Greens would wish for) with all the added expense each lorry brings, although these lorries would do less mileage pa.

          So yes I have to agree with “lifelogic”, lorry load freight is here to stay and we need to accept that the road transport industry has to be set free again.

          Cue the Greens having palpitations at such thoughts…

      • Michael Lee
        Posted August 2, 2012 at 1:23 am | Permalink

        Let’s just stop reading this whingeing drivel from lifelogic.

    • Bazman
      Posted July 31, 2012 at 9:39 am | Permalink

      So everyone drives a car into the centre of London and parks it for the day? Oh! I see the market will sort it out. Get a taxi and if we change the traffic lights. Problem solved!

      • lifelogic
        Posted August 1, 2012 at 4:55 am | Permalink


        Why do you always argue with things I have not actually said? Some train commuter routes and intercity routes clearly make sense as does the tube for congestion reasons and the fact that the investment in track has already been made.

        But new investment in roads makes far more economic sense than in trains in general mainly for reasons of flexibility.

    • uanime5
      Posted July 31, 2012 at 7:41 pm | Permalink

      The main problem is that all employers want all their staff in the office at the same time, so everyone travels to work at the same time and leaves at the same time. Unless the hours people work are more spread out trains will continue to be crowded at specific times and empty at most other times.

      • lifelogic
        Posted August 1, 2012 at 4:58 am | Permalink

        Indeed but it is not just employers it is staff with school children and other demands who often want those hours too. More flexible hours would help as would a better mix and office and residential building to reduce travel needs.

      • Lindsay McDougall
        Posted August 2, 2012 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

        The problem with flexitime as operated by government and by large companies is the economic efficiency inherent in reduced communication. For this reason, many flexitime schemes specify 10 till 4 as core time when you must work.

        With young, dynamic companies, flexitime works differently. You come in as early as you can and if the work is there you work as late as you can, often without overtime. This is not an environment for most women, who have more sense and less ambition.

        Sorry, I have wandered a little off subject; flexible hours do ease the peak hour transport problems.

        • Lindsay McDougall
          Posted August 3, 2012 at 8:20 am | Permalink

          Sorry, the first sentence should include ‘economic INefficiency’.

    • Greg Tingey
      Posted August 1, 2012 at 8:03 am | Permalink

      All on its own, presumably?

      • Mark
        Posted August 1, 2012 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

        Google it!

        try “Nevada google car”

    • Lindsay McDougall
      Posted August 3, 2012 at 9:22 am | Permalink

      While we are on this subject, I recommend that you google ‘Paul Withrington’. Paul is Director of Transport Watch and a scourge of the rail industry. He is a doyen of the (now defunct?) rail to road conversion society, which proposed that railway lines to London be tarmaced over and converted to tolled roads.

      I came across him when he was a principle objector at a public inquiry, in about 2001, into a proposed expansion of the West Coast Main Line. The barrister neutralised him by getting him to accept that all of his proposals were contrary to government policy. Not all of us found that arguement to be a clinching one.

      That particular project was shelved by Railtrack because the cost estimate kept on increasing (on line improvements are very disruptive).

      Paul is now about 70 and is still active, vigorously opposing HS2.

  3. Paul Danon
    Posted July 31, 2012 at 5:53 am | Permalink

    Problem was we pretended to privatise the railways but didn’t. Instead, we handed monopolies to private companies and subsidised them to make a profit. If there were a true market in tickets, the trains would be almost full all the time. Witness the nearly-empty train overtaking traffic on a crammed motorway; someone’s got the pricing wrong. Non-privatisation has meant that nationalised attitudes persist while shareholders get dividends. Staff see passengers as a nuisance to be policed (especially on the tube) and railways see their business as moving rolling-stock around, not getting people to places on time.

    • lifelogic
      Posted July 31, 2012 at 7:25 am | Permalink

      Even if you gave out free tickets at non peak times they would not be full people can to travel when they want to/or have to travel. To fill them all the time you would have to pay people to travel on them.

      Indeed they can never be “full” as that would mean no one could get on at the next stop – other than the same number as got off there. On a commute people usually get off in town, near the destination not half way!

    • Cary
      Posted July 31, 2012 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

      Privatisation is not the same as liberisation. Introducing competition between train companies has proved impossible and misses the points as trains do not compete against each other but against other forms of transport. The current business model is flawed; separately control of tracks from trains (and the ownership of trains from their operation) makes no sense. No-one has an incentive to look at what’s best for the railways as a whole.

      You either run the railways as a single private sector monopoly (with a strong regulator in place) or a public sector monopoly with a board of directors recruited from the private sector (much like the old British Rail).

      • Jerry
        Posted July 31, 2012 at 8:57 pm | Permalink

        Cary, your point is very valid except that it doesn’t need to be a single private or public monolithic entity, the railways could be run as five septate railways, akin to the old “Big Four” that were nationalised in 1948 to form BR. Even then there are, if correctly regulated, options for true competition if ‘track running rights’, joint lines and through workings were allowed for.

        The way things are at the moment, with so many TOCs accessing the tracks managed by and the responsibility of Network Rail is a total and utter mess, the only people benefiting are the corporate lawyers…

    • Greg Tingey
      Posted August 1, 2012 at 8:04 am | Permalink

      We have the most expensive railways in Europe – and it is the fault of sucessive governments

  4. Mike Stallard
    Posted July 31, 2012 at 6:02 am | Permalink

    The EU has had a very big part in all this. It has its own Directory for trains. It has its own coordinated plan for trains. It even has its own fat controller too.
    The government should not be running the national train set. I wonder how many other (not our host) MPs and Cabinet members regularly commute to parliament (not first class).
    All there seems to be is interference and the usual empty promises.

    Round big cities, trains can make a huge difference because they carry a lot of people very conveniently and cheaply. Why has the government (or Transport for London) got anything to do with that? Why?
    Is it because there is a lot of money to be made?

    • lifelogic
      Posted July 31, 2012 at 7:33 am | Permalink

      Trains are not remotely cheap even after the subsidy and tax distortions – they are far more expensive than cars and coaches (certainly full cars) and far less flexible too. Also hugely vulnerable to union strikes, terrorism and any line blockages. They need lots of staff too which is part of the cost/vulnerability problem.

      • David John Wilson
        Posted July 31, 2012 at 10:45 am | Permalink

        My experience of doing a regular commute over a period of twenty years either by train or car is that the number of times I was delayed while travelling by car far exceeded those while travelling by train. The costs of travelling by car exceeded those of travelling by rail because the car parking and rail tickets were about the same. Travelling by train was quicker even including the fifteen minute walk to the station.

        Far too many people knock commuting by train without doing a proper comparison.

        • Mark
          Posted July 31, 2012 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

          The real problem with using cars for city centre commutes is the need to park. If cars could instead be redeployed productively, much of that problem would evaporate. That’s something, along with the ability to reduce congestion that automated vehicles will be bringing to the party in the not so distant future.

        • lifelogic
          Posted August 1, 2012 at 5:00 am | Permalink

          Yes but the car and car fuel is hugely over taxed and road space under invested in.

          While trains are hugely over subsidised and largely untaxed.

          • Greg Tingey
            Posted August 1, 2012 at 8:05 am | Permalink

            You just hate railways – just like Redwood.

            No “logic” in your so called arguments at all

          • lifelogic
            Posted August 1, 2012 at 7:57 pm | Permalink

            The logic is to let them compete, but on a level (fiscal and no train subsidy) playing field and see what people and industry actually prefer. I am not anti train at all – just anti “BBC think” train religion and market distortions and government bias.

          • Bazman
            Posted August 3, 2012 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

            As I have pointed out to you there would be no train service without subsidy so all the traffic would be on the roads. Is that acceptable? No it is not.

      • Mike Stallard
        Posted July 31, 2012 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

        There is a place for trains. In Bangkok and Singapore where the traffic really is a problem, the sky train provides a very quick and clean service. It is also cheap and there really do not seem to be that many staff either.
        But the Victorians had not invented cars really…….

    • uanime5
      Posted July 31, 2012 at 7:44 pm | Permalink

      Given that only the UK has these problems and the rest of the EU doesn’t the problem is likely to be closer to home.

      • lifelogic
        Posted August 1, 2012 at 5:01 am | Permalink

        The EU does indeed have similar problems.

        • Greg Tingey
          Posted August 1, 2012 at 8:07 am | Permalink

          Not in the Germany I’ve just returned from!

          • lifelogic
            Posted August 1, 2012 at 8:03 pm | Permalink

            I do not know as I only go to Germany rarely – mainly if I get given Bayreuth Festival tickets – alas non for a while now.

            Certainly in Spain, Italy and France they have the same problems and despite a huge state subsidy too.

  5. Alte Fritz
    Posted July 31, 2012 at 6:05 am | Permalink

    Regular use of the railway illustrates much waste, such as the ticket inspection example. If that is visible, then there will be a lot of unseen waste. There is no shortage of passengers who want and pay for a good system.

    One problem is that rail companies have learned the Soviet style of knack of replying to complaints with a torrent of propaganda which refers to a wholly mythical rail system. Northern Rail recently put up two directors for a meet the public session at a local major station on a Monday afternoon between 3 and 5. Who on earth is available then? History does not relate what became of those brave souls who were prepared to put their complaints in person.

  6. barnacle bill
    Posted July 31, 2012 at 6:24 am | Permalink

    Mr. Redwood you failed to address the problem of all the layers of companies and shareholders who all want a slice of the subsidy cake our government offers them in the railways.
    Sort that out, then there would be more money available for investment and lowering fares.
    Not disappearing off to Cayman Island bank accounts!

    • Bazman
      Posted July 31, 2012 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

      Or even buying their own mansion, laird and luxury cars such as Aston Martin and Lamborghini. Not bad for driving a gravy train. Of course he has to be paid that as he would not work for less and has a very strong union in this 50% taxpayer funded company. What this genius doing now? Can’t seem to find him. Fishing and laughing I’d think.

    • Greg Tingey
      Posted August 1, 2012 at 8:08 am | Permalink

      As set up, quite deliberately, by the nice Mr Major’s government!

      • lifelogic
        Posted August 1, 2012 at 8:10 pm | Permalink

        Please do not say those words “John & Major” as it is not good for my blood pressure. Not that Heath, Wilson, Blair, Brown or Cameron are are much better. I suppose at least Major has they excuse he was rather dim and did not cause many pointless & counter productive wars on the basis of clear lies.

  7. Andie Wilkinson
    Posted July 31, 2012 at 7:07 am | Permalink

    A new signalling system will allow an increase in the frequency of trains but this is a long way off being rolled out across the network and does not deal with the lack of seats we currently have at peak times. This is the biggest issue both short term and long term particularly with passenger growth at record levels.

    Since privatisation the industry has improved as a whole and there has been a lot of innovation (with the fare payers benefiting greatly)
    but that is sadly vastly outweighed by the excessive amount of bureaucracy. The DfT are a major contributor to the bureaucracy with their constant gerrymandering and this stifles progress.

    The fare system is far to complex and nobody understands it (least of all those wanting to travel by train) and has to be simplified and, dare I say reduced.

    Freight always gets a bad deal. Your suggestion about single wagon load marshalling was one that was first introduced under BR. A lot of places had their own sidings so BR was able to run the consignments directly to where the customer was. It just wasn’t efficient and eventually lost out to road. A lot of the sidings were closed, severed from the main line and redeveloped. Single wagon loads do exist today, albeit providing the customer puts their consignment in a container and gets it to/from a container terminal. It can of course be better.

    The announcement of the investment is welcomed, however it could have been better spent in different areas within the industry.

  8. Lord Blagger
    Posted July 31, 2012 at 7:41 am | Permalink

    Pie in the sky without any numbers.

    What should happen is that all subsidies should be axed.

    Those that get the benefit, should pay for the privilige.

    If they don’t want to pay the real cost, what does that say about the economics?

    • Mark
      Posted July 31, 2012 at 5:17 pm | Permalink

      The real question is who benefits? In the case of commuters, I’d suggest it is their employers who are the real beneficiaries of having a workforce turn up for the same starting time in a central location. The employees have little option but to comply if they wish to retain their jobs.

    • Leslie Singleton
      Posted July 31, 2012 at 6:02 pm | Permalink

      Blagger, It is by no means so simple as that. Thus those that “don’t want to pay the real cost” will take the car and clog up and damage the roads which means a very real cost to the rest of us–and not just an “accounting” cost, far from it. Reasonable and sensible subsidies to keep the cost of rail down to prevent that make sense. It was vandalism as I have said before to shut down many lines, in particular those that took passengers from (the original) Alexandra Palace (station behind the Palace) and Noel Park in North London easily and quickly in to Central London (or TO the Palace, not to mention its frying pan Race Course – now shut down of course – in the opposite direction from London). Crazy just to throw away those through routes already in place. Makes me ashamed to have been an accountant.

    • lifelogic
      Posted August 1, 2012 at 8:11 pm | Permalink

      Indeed let us see how many want to pay the real cost. Very few I suspect other than MP and BBC employees on expenses.

  9. Martin
    Posted July 31, 2012 at 7:50 am | Permalink

    It is very interesting to compare London Underground with National Rail.

    With the Underground I can buy and use tickets without any manual checking. National Rail seems stuck with practices that are Victorian.

    Long distance tickets are the same. If I am lucky an “innovative” part of the Rail Network might let me print my ticket and seat reservation at home. Usually the Victorian rules continue to apply. A plane ticket from London to Manchester can be bought without visiting ticket offices or using ticket machines.

    • Greg Tingey
      Posted August 1, 2012 at 8:09 am | Permalink

      You can print your own tickets on almost any rail service, both here & abroad, now – it’s improved a lot in the past year

      • Mark
        Posted August 1, 2012 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

        Home printed tickets don’t work in the automated gates at my station.

  10. Bracknell Lib Dems
    Posted July 31, 2012 at 8:06 am | Permalink

    It’s nice to see Conservatives starting to admit that rail privatisation hasn’t delivered the efficiency and cost improvements that were promised and in fact many performance indicators are much worse than under British Rail or in comparison to other European countries.
    Discussions about railways in the UK focus mainly on management, organisational structures & staffing levels in the typical left / right battleground of workers vs managers. The simple fact is railways in Germany, Belgium etc. are more efficient because they modernised their infrastructure decades ago and are now reaping the rewards of that investment. UK railways under public and private ownership have refused to make that long term investment. If you want an efficient and cost effective railway system you have to be prepared to replace Victorian railway bridges and track layout to allow double decker trains to run and replace third rail and diesel systems with overhead electric lines with its lower operating costs. How many hours do drivers waste queuing at traffic lights waiting to pass under a single lane railway bridge; that is rarely if ever included in the economic cost of replacing bridges. Now is the time for infrastructure investment to get the UK economy moving again.

    • Jerry
      Posted July 31, 2012 at 9:43 pm | Permalink

      If you want an efficient and cost effective railway system you have to be prepared to replace Victorian railway bridges and track layout to allow double decker trains to run

      Hmm, and re bore every under gauge tunnel to allow higher trains! Also,even if the cost of totally rebuilding the railway system to a larger loading gauge wasn’t an issue, double deck trains are not always the answer, station stop times need to be taken into equation. The old Southern Railway experimented with specially designed double deck trains that fitted the UK’s restricted loading gauge. Whilst the number of passengers per-train increased, so did the station stop times, thus the total passenger through put per-hour worked out the same or even less.

      and replace third rail and diesel systems with overhead electric lines with its lower operating costs

      Operating costs might well be lower, infrastructure (installation) costs are far higher with overhead electrification, this is exactly why the third rail system was chosen by the Southern Railway when they had to decide on what system to standardise on in the early 1920s (having inherited both from the constituent pre group railways, but enough of railway history…).

      • stred
        Posted August 1, 2012 at 9:18 am | Permalink

        Interesting that a double deck train was developed, which fitted the gauge by Southern, but abandoned because of longer times to get on and off. When we used a double decker in Sydney, I think there was an anouncement that the train would be stopping and passengers were expected to get moving with no noticeable longer stop times. Perhaps the elfin would prevent this in the UK. Or how about top entry exit steps on platforms.

        Double deckers would solve the station lengthening problem and allow an increase in capacity more quickly. Or perhaps the train companies don’t really mind full fare paying standing sardines.

      • Bracknell Lib Dems
        Posted August 1, 2012 at 11:06 am | Permalink

        I’m sure there is a technical debate to be had regarding railway modernisation. Generally it’s the make do and mend attitude of conservatives that has held back UK railways for generations, whereas citizens in more progressive countries have the benefit of a modern efficient transport system. There are always excuses not to do something. All railway projects are unlikely to make a profit in strict financial terms but they provide social benefits which are hard to quantify on a balance sheet. As the Secretary of State for Transport, Philip Hammond (a Conservative) said: “If we used financial accounting we would never have any public spending, we would build nothing …. Financial accounting would strike a dagger through the whole case for public sector investment”

        Regarding your argument that you would have to re-bore under every bridge to allow double decker trains to pass under; I doubt that you would have to lower the track much under bridges because you would be replacing a thick deck and circular profile brick bridge with a thin deck square edged profile bridge. Besides many of the these Victorian bridges are crumbling and require expensive regular maintenance. There is no good reason why it should take much longer for passengers to get off of a double decker train. This is just an organisational issue, the train operators just need to make sure passenger information is given in good time and encourage passengers going to the end of the line to use the upper deck. If they can do it in other countries, why not here?
        Yes it’s true that overhead lines will be expensive to install but over its operating life it will save money.

  11. alan jutson
    Posted July 31, 2012 at 8:09 am | Permalink

    My Daughter and her Husband went to the Olympics equestrian event at Greenwich Park on Sunday, from Twyford Station total distance about 30 miles.

    Route they were given as best to follow, train from Twyford – Paddington, underground to Charing cross (althougth advised not to get off here as it would be busy), then another train to Blackheath and then a 20 min walk.

    Suggested journey time 3.5 hours, they were informed to get there 2 hours before event was due to start to clear security, thus they should plan to be there by 8.00 which was impossible.


    No fast trains running from Reading or Twyford so journey to Paddington took one hour 20 mins.

    Nothing running into Waterloo from Wokingham any earlier.

    First train to run that day was 6.28 and surprise surprise it was packed, as it was a short train.

    As it happend they got there on time, but only because there was no hold up with security.

    Thus having got up at 5.00am being driven to the station only a couple of miles away by myself at 6.00am they arrived at the venue for 9.30am, this from the depths of Berkshire.
    Had security taken 2 hours, they would have missed the first GB rider competing.

    The train companies only had 7 years to get the timetable right. They failed !

    • Jerry
      Posted July 31, 2012 at 9:52 pm | Permalink

      The train companies only had 7 years to get the timetable right. They failed !

      More to the point, in BR days special/extra trains would have been the norm, quite possibly direct through trains to the nearest BR over-ground station. Even without any of the above they would have at least run extra coaches in the trains – such luxuries are simply not available to the TOCs these days as there is little or no spare stock and what there is costs to much to hire-in on a as and when basis.

      Not sure of the latest situation but a few years ago it was often cheaper to move railway stock by road than by rail, go figure…

      • Greg Tingey
        Posted August 1, 2012 at 8:13 am | Permalink

        All the “surplus” rolling stock was got rid of (“inefficient” – supposedly)
        Moving rail stock by road is a by-product of the tories privatisation fisco.
        It’s because of a percieved “risk” of moving s”omeone else’s” wagon / caoch / loco over “your” bit of track or operating area.
        Quite insane – noting to do with actual economics. everyting to do with politics and stupidity – thank you Mr Major!

        • Mark
          Posted August 1, 2012 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

          I thought the tracks are all owned by Network Rail, who allocate train paths?

    • lifelogic
      Posted August 1, 2012 at 8:19 pm | Permalink

      Sound a great day out to me 4.5 hours one way. I would rather have gone for a walk with my ipod, on the cliffs or played a rather geriatric game of tennis any day or just watched a recorder consort/string quartet in a local church or something. Rather cheaper too.

  12. Liz
    Posted July 31, 2012 at 8:20 am | Permalink

    The two old Eurostar platforms at Waterloo have still not yet been brought back into use on the commuter routes and ticket inspection and access to platforms is a hit and miss affair on the Waterloo-Reading line, which must result in considerable loss of revenue. Trains are not a cheap option for families, or groups of two or more, when the car will win every time.

  13. Adam
    Posted July 31, 2012 at 8:36 am | Permalink

    The mechanism by which the rail network was privatised is ludicrous in the extreme and creates a system of conflicting interests.

    Network Rail, as a govt. quango, is measured on its ability to “deliver value for the taxpayer”. This translates to doing things on the cheap. Since they don’t have to run any trains themselves, why do they care if the odd line breaks in cold weather, or if electrical wiring cannot cope with a warm day before the Olympics?

    The rolling stock is owned by big leasing companies, usually backed by banks or major private equity houses. Since they don’t have to runs any trains either, they consider the public to be a nuisance that depreciates their assets. They spend as little as possible. Hence our trains are old-fashioned, ugly, slow and dirty in comparison to our European neighbours’.

    Finally, the train operating companies are effectively subsidised to run trains to rigid DfT timetables. They have few ways of cutting their costs, so in order to make a profit their executives hike the fares up. They have no competitors so there is no incentive to be competitive.

    All in all, a complete mess. I fear that no amount of DfT meddling will fix this. The only possible way to create a railway network that competes with SNCF or Deutsche Bahn is to emulate them: a single govt. controlled (but privately run) company responsible for running all long-distance services, maintaining rolling stock and infrastructure. Local services could be farmed out through local tenders at either Whitehall or County Hall level.

    • Lindsay McDougall
      Posted August 1, 2012 at 10:33 am | Permalink

      Why should it be government controlled? That only leads to unncessary costs, rigidity, subsidies and a “the second verse is the same as the first” mentality. I don’t want a government body specifying off peak frequencies and fare levels. These are business decisions. As for environmentally friendly railways, run trains full or nearly full (but preferably with little or no standing) and schedule accordingly – this is broadly compatible with maximising profits / minimising losses.

      Vertically integrated private regional rail monopolies are just about acceptable provided there is strong competition from air, car, bus and road haulage. Let’s have a road building programme and an extra runway at Gatwick, plus extra capacity at regional airports where needed.

      What public transport modes would benefit from are lower subsidies and less government interference.

  14. J Mitchell
    Posted July 31, 2012 at 8:47 am | Permalink

    I don’t think that Mr R has travelled on a cross country train recently. They are invariably packed. The thing that pigs me off about trains is that those of us whose lives are not pre-planned pay most and get no seats, whereas those of us who can book in advance get heavily discounted tickets and a reserved seat.

    • Greg Tingey
      Posted August 1, 2012 at 8:13 am | Permalink

      Exactly as Mr Major planned …. oops

  15. forthurst
    Posted July 31, 2012 at 9:13 am | Permalink

    “What should happen is that all subsidies should be axed.”

    This would be contrary to the government’s policy of supporting Labour’s property bubble in order to ensure continuing stagnation in the wider economy.

    • forthurst
      Posted July 31, 2012 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

      …response to Lord Blagger’s post.

  16. Bazman
    Posted July 31, 2012 at 9:15 am | Permalink

    Like the energy tariffs the ticketing of trains is a scam. That is where it begins and ends.

  17. Simon George
    Posted July 31, 2012 at 9:31 am | Permalink

    Let’s not forget that by building segregated infrastructure for cyclists that demand for other forms of transport would be reduced very significantly. http://cyclelondoncity.blogspot.co.uk/2012/06/us-transport-secretary-embraces-cycling.html

    • Mark
      Posted July 31, 2012 at 4:59 pm | Permalink

      The Dutch had the benefit of the German efforts to construct motorcycle routes for their messengers during WW II, many taking advantage of pre-existing drainage channels so necessary in the low lying flat Dutch landscape. The largest cycle parks in Holland are at major railway stations: cycling to the shops is often more difficult, with provision for cars not cycles. In the over 30 years that I have known Holland, I’d say that cycling has reduced (although I often cycled to work and for leisure when I last lived there).

      Most US cities have much more space than cities in the UK to accommodate special cycle lanes. Cycling in the UK is certainly much less prevalent than in my youth, when many workforces lived near to factories and cycled to work. Today commute distances have increased, and the population is ageing, both of which will mitigate against willingness to switch to cycling. Most of the dedicated cycle routes I know see very little use, and many simply serve to reduce the lanes available to regular traffic, thus contributing to congestion.

      • Simon George
        Posted July 31, 2012 at 7:33 pm | Permalink


        Cycling is no problem for most 40 to 60 year olds so an ageing population is not a deterrent to cycling. What is a deterrent is the dangers of sharing roads with motorists which is why most children do not cycle. If children were provide with segregated cycle lanes to school they would use them with a huge decrease in traffic congestion and improvements in child health.

        Holland , Germany and Denmark have reversed car-centric policies by providing segregated cycling infrastructure with hugely beneficial results and there is no good reason why the same cannot be done here despite the multitude of protestations that motorists will come up with.

    • alan jutson
      Posted July 31, 2012 at 5:22 pm | Permalink


      All well and good, but pray tell me how much will cyclists be prepared to pay for these expensive cycle lanes to be built.

      They are just closing one in Brighton at a cost of £1,000,000 I hear, through lack of use.

      Their used to be an excellent one which ran the length of the Great West Road from Hounslow West to Brentford, looks like its now gone into disrepair after 50 years of little use.
      It was used extensively 40-50 years ago when industry was booming along that stretch of road.

    • lifelogic
      Posted August 1, 2012 at 8:21 pm | Permalink

      Nonsense they just block the road for the main traffic that actually pays for the roads.

  18. waramess
    Posted July 31, 2012 at 10:18 am | Permalink

    Just properly privatise the lot then you won’t have to worry yourselves about how to run a rail system. Sell off entire systems to the highest bidders; you won’t get much for them but you will rid yourselves of a problem.

    Don’t do what Major did, just sell off the London to Birmingham line in its entirety and then supervise for safety, but nothing else.

    The problem with state ownership is that there are always “other” politicians who know how to do it “better” and they never do.

    Allow the free market to invest its own capital and then manage it to secure a return rather than allow politicians the luxury of messing with our capital and invariably losing it.

    Perhaps the problem with politicians these days is they are always attempting the art of the “possible”, forgetting that they are talking only of their perception of the possible.

    Margaret Thatcher went for the “impossible”; that was the denationalisation of state owned industries in the face of the Labour party commitment to greater nationalisation.

    Maybe we need less timidity from our politicians these days and a far more robust push for a right wing agenda.

    • uanime5
      Posted July 31, 2012 at 8:05 pm | Permalink

      Time and time against the free market has been shown not to invest capital for long term profits but to try to extract the maximum short term profits without investing any capital. Then once the cash cow has been milked dry they sell the carcass for whatever they can get.

      • lifelogic
        Posted August 1, 2012 at 8:25 pm | Permalink

        Well if they think the government is just going to rob it off them later through absurd regulations, huge taxes and planning/other controls they might well do that and invest the profits better elsewhere.

      • Lindsay McDougall
        Posted August 7, 2012 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

        It is a feature of nationalised industries that current expenditure is nodded through whilst capital expenditure is suppressed by the Exchequer. You should try to come up with an explanation as to why equities usually outperform fixed interest on a medium to long term basis.

    • Bazman
      Posted August 2, 2012 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

      Land and infrastructure would be sold off for houses and scrap. Leaving the most profitable lines to be plundered with minimum health & safety. When question the companies would reply that they have a railway to run. Putting all the extra traffic on the road being non of their business. Regressive and retarded argument.

  19. Lindsay McDougall
    Posted July 31, 2012 at 10:41 am | Permalink

    A lot of people have attempted to make money out of single wagon freight on the UK railways, including the formidable Ed Burkhart – who ran Wisconsin railway freight operations with success for many years and came to the UK to help. All have failed because the costs are too high; if track access charges are waived, such services are given low priority relative to passenger trains, leading to customer dissatisfaction.

    • Lindsay McDougall
      Posted July 31, 2012 at 11:20 am | Permalink

      I’ve just followed up by googling ‘single wagon rail freight’. There is some interesting stuff from Europe. Single wagon rail freight makes up about 50% of the European freight market but it’s not profitable. Meanwhile, SNCF, the French railways and a nationalised industry par excellence, has announced the ending of its single wagon freight operations – because they are losing £20 million a year and the French government has pulled the plug.

      • David in Kent
        Posted July 31, 2012 at 6:00 pm | Permalink

        Surely the reason that freight is given low priority and is unprofitable is that it is not subsidised like passenger traffic. Until we decide that we are going to reduce that subsidywe are not going to see much of the change suggested by JR.

        • lifelogic
          Posted August 1, 2012 at 8:29 pm | Permalink

          It is unprofitable because it fundamentally is not the best way to move things in general. Simple as that the logistics are that trucks are usually cheaper, more flexible and better for most purposes in the small UK.

          • Bazman
            Posted August 2, 2012 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

            Most railway systems in the world are run by subsidy as it is very difficult to make a profit from railways. It’s called infrastructure and has many benefits for the population and business. You seem to be under the impression that the main benefactor of any business should be a few share holders and not the country as a whole. The rest just of the population who are unable to afford the services provided or an alternative if there is one can just sod off. If a company is not benefiting the country then the question should be asked as why they are able to operate here and for what reason.
            What do you propose? No upgrading of the railways and all the money spent on the roads?

          • Lindsay McDougall
            Posted August 3, 2012 at 8:24 am | Permalink

            Yes, Bazman. The costs of a transport service should, to the maximum extent possible, be paid for by the people that use it. Transport is an industry, not a social service.

          • Bazman
            Posted August 3, 2012 at 6:23 pm | Permalink

            Transport is part of the infrastructure and benefits everyone like sewers and clean water. It is paid for by the people that use it in the cost of the goods, taxes and the purchase of tickets and vehicles/maintenance. Are you really that simple or just stupid? I have had a deeper discussion with my six year old daughter on how nationality is determined for Olympic competitors down the pub.

          • Lindsay McDougall
            Posted August 5, 2012 at 11:50 pm | Permalink

            If Bazman had been around in Dr Beeching’s time, he would have opposed shutting any of the old, archaic, branch lines that were progressively becoming a millstone round the nation’s neck. I’d also lay a bet that he would have kept going those archaic, trade union dominated industries that business couldn’t afford – like ‘hot lead’ newspaper printing that cost a fortune and turned the Telegraph and the Times into profit free zones.

            We don’t have “the infrastructure” because it’s pretty but because it’s useful. Different parts of the infrastucture benefit different people and some don’t benefit anybody at all. Also, you can’t lump users and taxpayers together as if they were one big happy family. Their interests diverge.

          • Bazman
            Posted August 6, 2012 at 8:26 am | Permalink

            And you would be putting the same argument forward on the building of the electricity grid and no doubt have the same views on internet infrastructure, access and speed.

  20. Neil Craig
    Posted July 31, 2012 at 10:58 am | Permalink

    Automated driverless rail with many single carriage uinits (like buses but cheaper) is simple & inexpensuve with today’s computers. They would greatly increase capacity, be available 24/7 and substantially reduce running costs. They would also make delivery of container loads anwhere there is a railway easy.

    The spin off of that would be a considerabkle increase inj economic capacity. Yet more proof that our politicians are not remotely interested in getting out of recession when it would leace a small lobby (train drivers) temporarily annoyed.

    • Mark
      Posted July 31, 2012 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

      It doesn’t even need to be rail: then the trucks can go onto the regular road network to complete their journeys.

    • Greg Tingey
      Posted August 1, 2012 at 8:15 am | Permalink

      Only works id all train-speeds are identical.
      Errr, now what?

      • Neil Craig
        Posted August 1, 2012 at 10:11 am | Permalink

        You mean the way congested roads don’t work unless all traffic is moving at the same speed?

      • Mark
        Posted August 1, 2012 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

        Have you driven on a motorway lately? All those trucks going the same speed limited by speed governors?

        Perhaps you only look inside your train carriages.

  21. Mike Fowle
    Posted July 31, 2012 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

    I think it’s jolly kind of lifelogic to let you comment on his blog, John. Your thoughts seem very sensible by the way.

  22. boffin
    Posted July 31, 2012 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

    Enough of the tree-scrutiny; let’s stand back for a moment, and survey the forest.

    The rail industry was mired in a Victorian mindset for a century too long – it clung, for example, to the absurdity of ‘vacuum brakes’ against all technical logic for generations.

    Its customers remain trapped in a Victorian mindset, upholding the absurdity that employees must attend in physical proximity in great numbers in city centres, as if smelling one another were essential to the pursuit of business.

    That remains the key problem. Overcoming this megalith of purblind human stupidity is on track to take about as long as it did to end the brakes idiocy.

    Parliament’s track record in these things has not been good, and there appears to remain in that place the collective ignorance which was once loth to believe that metal wheels could gain traction on rails …. and knew that an iron ship would sink like a stone.

  23. BobE
    Posted July 31, 2012 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

    The train class system should be axed. If everybody travelled in a ‘single class’ then the elite would soon get things running properly. At the moment second class can be ignored as the upper class travel in expenses paid first class.
    Trucks outperform trains on our small island. This is evident by the number on our roads. Trains cannot beat the triple load/unload problem. Most intercity routes would be better converted to motorways using hydrogen powered cars.
    Bob E

    • Greg Tingey
      Posted August 1, 2012 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

      Ridiculosly slow
      London-Leeds, even at present: 2 hours – by car? How long & tired @ end of jopurney

    • lifelogic
      Posted August 1, 2012 at 8:33 pm | Permalink

      Yes but petrol, diesel and then gas cars/trucks and perhaps electric when they have fuel cells and batteries that actually work in the real world. Lets get Fracking.

  24. A.Sedgwick
    Posted July 31, 2012 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

    “If there is a problem checking first class tickets in first class carriages, this can be done by catering staff as part of the payment and checking system for the food and drink offer.”

    Just abolish first class.

    • Jeremy Hummerstone
      Posted July 31, 2012 at 7:21 pm | Permalink

      Just abolish first class.
      On the East Coast line that would mean losing our G&Ts.

      • Bazman
        Posted August 3, 2012 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

        Good point well made Jezer. What’s next? I’ll tell you what’s next. Dry trains.

  25. Simon
    Posted July 31, 2012 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

    Roads and rail get similar amounts of public money – 10 billion pounds a year.

    Before privatisation (and subsequent NGO-ing of railtrack due to the deadly failures of the private sector), British Rail received 2.5 billion in subsidy (corrected for inflation) the obvious explanation is that privatisation of the rail network has failed horribly.

    Of course, it was never privatised in a way that would lead to competition, only corner cutting (as opposed to cost saving).

    The same has been true of energy supply (rather than retail provision) and water supply. It’s very hard to have competition in some areas.

    If my experience of privatised nation health provision is anything to go by, we aint seen nothing yet. I am not looking forward to the day I rely on a private medical company in Wokingham that is not paid by the patient seen.

    • lifelogic
      Posted August 1, 2012 at 8:35 pm | Permalink

      But rail is a tiny fraction of the travel actually done.

  26. Michael Cawood
    Posted July 31, 2012 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

    Saying that we should bring back single wagon load freight is not practicable. This is one of the main inefficiencies that were put an end to by Dr Beeching. There are now no facilities for the railways to operate a single wagon load business anyway. All station goods facilities and large marshalling yards that would be needed have long since been swept away. To provide these facilities again would cost billions.

    • Mark
      Posted July 31, 2012 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

      Solution: use automated trucks instead. No need for marshalling yards, no double handling costs, flexibility of destination and origin.

    • Greg Tingey
      Posted August 1, 2012 at 8:16 am | Permalink

      Single CONTAINER load is practicable, though, isn’t it?

      Trails are being considered.

      • Jerry
        Posted August 2, 2012 at 7:46 am | Permalink

        The economics will be the same as before I suspect, even if the engineers can invent something that saves time, money and actually works this time…

        How many times does someone have to re-invent the square wheel before people realise that, whilst it is great for stopping what-ever from rolling down a hill it is a total waste of space for all other functions normally attributed to a wheel!

  27. Derek Emery
    Posted July 31, 2012 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

    “Value for money spent on railways” – isn’t that an oxymoron? Few use railways for journeys outside of around London with only 6% of all journeys being by rail.
    It seems par for the course for the coaliton to spend money and create policies on what benefits a smallest possible percentage of the public.

    Only about 2% are gay and far less than 1% are on company boards so gay marriage and women on boards affects fantastically minute numbers. Oxbridge is only so big so getting more poor there will probably change far less than 1% of lives.

    When are we going to have policies that benefit the other 90+% of the public? When (if ever) will it be our turn?

    Railways are basically extremely expensive and an inherently limited form of travel until they invent quantum stations which can be many places at once getting around the access problem.

    Another limitation is that the trains and carriages themselves are very expensive (i.e. not just the ground equipment), running to millions of pounds and far far more expensive than buses. Much of railway travel is peaky at times of traveling to work. This means massive investments are lying idle for most of the 24 hours. It also means that the same trains that are standing room only at peaks are nearly empty off peak . This makes it hard to get a return from having extra trains to cope with peaks as inevitably these will be standing totally idle off peak. Pity government doesn’t have people who understand balance sheets.
    You cannot increase capacity by having longer trains as then all the stations would have to be increased in length which will be very expensive and not always possible. you would have to increase the block size so I’m not sure of how much you would really gain overall.

    Mainline trains have had block signalling for many many years. Moving block would increase capacity but has to be passed as safe by the railway inspectorate. So far they have not passed this for routes where there is mixed traffic which is most of the mainline routes.

    …The railway needs to be more interested in single wagon marshalling and single load business…
    This was the idea behind TOPS many years ago but has hardly become big time.

    …They have a report which says that our railways are far less efficient and far costlier to run than comparable overseas systems…

    I’m not sure how much to believe this. A train will cost virtually the same in most countries as will the ground equipment. Unless these countries have workplaces running say six shifts per day to equalize the passenger traffic they will have similar costs.

    They will have to maintain the track and trains and have similar interest rates to pay back loans. My guess is that more money is thrown at railways abroad which does not have to be accounted for which is bound to make their books look better.

    I wonder just how many railways would remain if they were privately and had to make a profit. I suspect the answer is none.
    Compare the subsidized railways with the road system which has always been used as a means to generate large sums for the exchequer from the various taxes.

    • Greg Tingey
      Posted August 1, 2012 at 8:17 am | Permalink

      Your delusions and mis-statement are so numenrous, I don’t know where to start.
      They tried your solution in Los Angeles – look how well that turned out?

  28. John Ruddy
    Posted July 31, 2012 at 4:11 pm | Permalink

    While your views are welcome in the debate on the future of our railway system, you seem to be unaware of why the railway currently behaves in the way it does.

    The reason why we dont have enough spare coaches for peak times, or that railfreight isnt interested in small wagon load traffic is because successive governments – beginning with the conservative government of the 50’s, but especially with the conservative one of the 80’s and 90’s (I believe you had a role in that one) forced our nationalised railway system to reduce its dependency on the taxpayer, and focus only on profitable traffic.

    The Speedlink service was discontinued in 1991 expressly to meet the targets set by the then Secretary of State – Malcolm Rifkind. Perhaps you could ask him why?

    • lifelogic
      Posted August 1, 2012 at 8:37 pm | Permalink

      “forced our nationalised railway system to reduce its dependency on the taxpayer, and focus only on profitable traffic”

      Sounds sensible to me.

      • Bazman
        Posted August 2, 2012 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

        It is not remote sensible. You are in effect proposing to run down the railways and put the traffic onto the roads.

  29. Simon George
    Posted July 31, 2012 at 7:01 pm | Permalink


    Your question about cyclists paying for “expensive” cycle lanes is the wrong one. Roads are paid from general taxation so everyone who pays tax pays for them. Motorists do not pay hypothecated tax for the roads. Cycle lanes are not as expensive as roads and result in the benefits of reduced congestion, noise and pollution together with health benefits.

    The decision to close the Brighton cycleway is plainly a political one by an anti-cycling council which has cancelled plans for successive components of cycleways which would have linked to increase the use of existing ones. The suggestion that the cycleway is not used is very much in dispute and I think it is unlikely the council will get away with it’s reprehensible plans to demolish it.

    • Mark
      Posted July 31, 2012 at 10:05 pm | Permalink

      Isn’t Brighton Council run by the Greens?

      • alan jutson
        Posted August 1, 2012 at 7:30 am | Permalink


        Yes it is run by the Greens, that is why I used it as an example.

        • alan jutson
          Posted August 1, 2012 at 7:40 am | Permalink

          They have also put up car parking charges by a huge amount, so I guess they are anti car as well !

          Also anti nuclear power I understand, but love trees, so you would not be able to burn any wood to keep warm when the Oil and Gas runs out.

          • Jerry
            Posted August 1, 2012 at 9:25 am | Permalink

            Not only all of that Alan but they want to redevelop the bus/rail interchange facilities at Brighton railway station, their grand plan includes reducing the amount of space given over for bus ranks and thus the number of buses that can use the facilities per hour, which in turn (according to the local bus companies) will mean that some bus services around the City will made non-viable due to not being able to stop at the station. Looks like the Greens are anti-bus too…

          • Mark
            Posted August 1, 2012 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

            The first energy crisis in the UK was a firewood crisis (partly brought about by enclosure, but also through felling most of our forests). It provided the spur to develop coal.

    • Jerry
      Posted July 31, 2012 at 10:13 pm | Permalink

      Not so Simon, the VED and fuel excise duty go a very long way to pay for such expenditure, in fact it can be argued that the VED and fuel excise duty subsidises general taxation!

      If both VED and fuel duty was ring fenced, as used to be the case many years ago, the road system would now be second to none and cyclists may well already have those dedicated lanes…

      • Jerry
        Posted July 31, 2012 at 10:17 pm | Permalink

        Oh and forgot, Simon, are you really suggesting that the Green group that run Brighton and Hove are anti cycling?!

        • Simon George
          Posted August 1, 2012 at 9:18 am | Permalink

          The Conservatives won control in 2007 and cancelled planned cycleways. The Greens were the largest party in 2011 so I was incorrect in assuming the Conservatives are still in control. However there is now no overall control so the Greens are not running the council.

          • Simon George
            Posted August 1, 2012 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

            Just checked. Greens and Labour threw out Tory plans to remove the cycle lane so that story is out of date.


          • Jerry
            Posted August 1, 2012 at 5:18 pm | Permalink

            Simon, you still have not answered the question about who is going to pay for these cycle lanes, car drivers contribute to the upkeep of the roads, bus passengers like-wise, rail passengers contribute to the upkeep of the railway system, those who use ships and canals also contribute to the upkeep of the harbours, docks, locks etc. So let us try again, who is going to pay for the building and upkeep of dedicated cycle lanes?

            CED (cycle excise duty) disc anyone (oh and compulsory road risk insurance)…

    • alan jutson
      Posted August 1, 2012 at 7:36 am | Permalink


      Making a cycleway which is seperate from the roads is very expensive, because you either need more land, or need to use part of the pavement.

      If you put a cycle lane on an existing road, you narrow the road.

      Given that cyclists (and I used to be one many years ago), pay absolutely nothing for the use of the infrastructure, do not even need insurance, and many seem to ignor traffic lights, I think they have a rather good deal at the moment.

      I think I would tend to keep quiet, otherwise the government may start finding ways to charge you.

      • Simon George
        Posted August 1, 2012 at 9:31 am | Permalink

        No one pays to use the infrastructure. It is paid out of general taxation so cyclists, most of whom own a car, pay the same as motorists.
        You say cycle lanes are expensive. Roads are far more expensive. If cycle lanes are in the right place they reduce congestion as motorists turn to cycling.

        As for cyclists ignoring traffic lights, motorists do the same, speed, use mobiles, etc. It is not really such a good deal for cyclists, 60 of whom have died on the streets so far this year.

        • Jerry
          Posted August 1, 2012 at 7:51 pm | Permalink

          Simon, two issues with your comment, there are not enough funds available to even keep all the main trunk-roads in good repair, if funds are then taken from that pot for your dedicated cycle-ways there will be even less, this means that even more roads will fall into disrepair, the ones that will suffer most will be those were there is little or no hope of a painted cycle lane never mind the building of cycle-way which in turn puts cyclists having to co-exist on those roads at even greater risks.

          Better for cyclists, and yes motorists, to learn to co-exist better. Car and lorry drivers do need to think “BIKE” but then cyclists also need to think “CAR/LORRY (can the driver still see me!)”. Many of the deaths you cite have been shown to have been far from the sole fault of the motor vehicle driver, some have even been shown to be the direct fault of the cyclist.

          I have personally seen cyclists (and a few car drivers, but at least they have slightly more personal protection…) attempt to undertake articulated lorries when the lorry has been indicating to turn left or it is obvious that the lorry is going to (have to) swing/move to the NS.

          As for your comment about people leaving their cars at home and taking to two wheels, I doubt that many do so as for their daily commute or domestic life. Try getting a weeks shopping for a family of four on a cycle (or even solo-motorcycle for that matter), many business people need to be dressed suitably the moment they arrive at work or at that appointment, it is not always possible to change out of cycling attire especially if the weather is anything like this summers.

          • Simon George
            Posted August 3, 2012 at 9:33 am | Permalink

            As I said, motorists will come up with any number of excuses to preseve the wholly unsatisfactory status quo. Cycling in London has increased massively in recent years and once the political decision is made to reverse car-centric policies and give space to cyclists the benefits will be obvious to all, as they are in Europe.

      • lifelogic
        Posted August 1, 2012 at 8:40 pm | Permalink


  30. Chris
    Posted July 31, 2012 at 7:02 pm | Permalink

    I’m afraid your piece is very London-centric. Some 87% of passenger -kilometres are by car these days. Trains and buses hardly figure except in the SE and London. Out here in the SW, we don’t have trains and buses worth bothering about. Indeed, when I travel up to London on business it is cheaper, quicker and easier to drive, pay the congestion charge and pay for parking. The trains don’t go where I want to go at the times I want to travel, and I have to use the Tube or get a taxi at the London end.

    So, John, if you want to enhance the UK economy better roads for the majority living outside London would help. What happens in the SE is irrelevant to us and from what you say we’re subsidising your travel.

  31. Greg Tingey
    Posted August 1, 2012 at 8:02 am | Permalink

    Oh dear!
    “The government’s transport budget is largely spent on the trains”
    WRONG – roads & planes
    “They must rapidly find ways to increase capacity by say 50%, increasing train frequency to 45 an hour from 30 an hour. ”
    30 trains an hour is one every 2 minutes, including opening the doors, loading/unloading the passengers, and closing the doors.
    “Control onto and off the platform is likely to be the cheapest way of doing it,”
    Gates fail, can’t deal with “wide loads” or awkward circumstances, cost LOTS to install, & are not cheap to maintain.
    “The old nationalised industry was only interested in trainload contracts. A whole generation of new business parks was built with motorway access instead of branch line connections to the railway as a result.”
    Where to start in this catalogue of errors?
    The old BR was TOLD not to bother with individual loads – more money for the corrupt tory lorry-lobby (just like the Rail Mail fiasco a couple of years back!

    Redwood’s facts are not – they are errors.

    • Jerry
      Posted August 1, 2012 at 10:17 am | Permalink

      “The government’s transport budget is largely spent on the trains”
      WRONG – roads & planes”

      Are you sure?…

      The old BR was TOLD not to bother with individual [wagon] loads – more money for the corrupt tory lorry-lobby

      Wrong, British Railways were asked to cut their operating costs, so they cut, amongst other things, the cost of running under used/loss making local goods yards and freight terminals, the fact is, manufactures and traders were already turning to road transport out of choice -for reasons I have already detailed elsewhere in this blog.

      The 1950s Tory government actually invested very large sums of tax payers money in modernising the railways, this included modern freight wagon/container load handling yards etc. in an attempt to try and win back what had already been lost to road transport since the 1930s and not loose any more, by the time Dr Beeching came along with his infamous ‘axe’ the railways had simple lost out to the (largely, pre motorway) road transport industry who could deliver the goods cheaper, quicker and door-to-door.

      • lojolondon
        Posted August 1, 2012 at 5:54 pm | Permalink

        Nice Try Jerry –

        The government spends NOTHING on cars and roads. The fuel tax pays in about 10 times the pitiful amount that is spent on road transport every year. Likewise, air transport is a net subsidiser of the government through fuel and air taxes.

        Get your facts straight before calling people liars!

        • lojolondon
          Posted August 1, 2012 at 5:56 pm | Permalink

          Oops, sorry Jerry, comment meant for Greg Tingey – my apologies!!

    • Mark
      Posted August 1, 2012 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

      How many lines are there into say Waterloo – 8, or 4 up 4 down?

  32. Boldfield
    Posted August 1, 2012 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

    Why would a commertial company be interested in reducing over crowded trains when it would cost the more for the carriages and track charges and they get the same money for someone standing.

  33. lojolondon
    Posted August 1, 2012 at 5:51 pm | Permalink

    Every working day I take the train from Milton Keynes to London Euston. This trip costs £42.80 per day or £520 per month including underground travel. I have been told this the most expensive trip in Europe, based on cost per mile travelled.

    Virgin trains stop here on the way through to the North, giving us a ‘fast’ 35 minute service. London Midland gives some fast-ish services, but most trains stop at about 8-10 stops en route, giving a 45-55 minute service.

    Two massive complaints – Virgin rail does not supply a single train in the morning between 7:15 and 9:19. Virgin does not supply a single return service from 15:43 and 18:43. In otherwise, despite taking a share of the revenue for the tickets, they provide no cover for the vast majority of passengers who want to travel to work in London, leaving all the work up to London Midlands.

    Second complaint. Virgin runs 8-carriage trains. Four of those carriages are First Class, and these run almost empty due to the astronomical price of First class tickets. At the same time, cattle class is absolutely jammed, every day, on every journey, people who have paid over £40 for a trip to London are standing or sitting on the floor, as Virgin attempts to blackmail us to pay the 30% extra for a necessity.

    I am going to write to Virgin, to the SRA and to my MP about this state of affairs!

    • Bazman
      Posted August 2, 2012 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

      How is it possible to run a train with 4 almost empty carriages? What is that all about? You pay for a seat, first class or otherwise. Standing should be made illegal and see how many first class seats there would be. If I was so rich as to be able to afford my own carriage could I hire one every day and everyone else could ram it?

  34. Jon
    Posted August 1, 2012 at 6:32 pm | Permalink

    I think there should only be first class carriages when there is no overcrowding (people standing) in standard class. Seeing empty seats in first when there are 20 people standing in each carriage is not right.

    I think the contracts that are written/awarded to contractors are an area for concern, a license to print money. In a globalised world many industries who’s workers pay for the railways are not seeing automatic above inflation pay rises and great benefits as they try to compete with the rest of the world. These contracts shelter the contractors from that competition and a drain on the rest of us when we are always under pressure to reduce costs and improve output. No where near enough pressure is being exerted there and I don’t see government or the regulator being concerned about it anywhere near enough.

  35. Paul Withrington
    Posted August 2, 2012 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

    It costs the Government six times as much to move a passenger or tonne of freight by rail as it does by the strategic road network. As to capacity, even in central London and in the peak hour the surface rail network is, in highway terms scarcely used. E.g. if all those crushed passengers, were seated in 75-seat express coaches and if the railway rights of way were paved then, in the peak hour and in central London, only one seventh of the capacity available would be used. Outside the peak this vast network is a place of dreams. Just visit a platform at a central London terminal at lunch time.
    The railway myth is so divorced from reality as to beggar belief, a triumph of misguided railway propaganda of at least 70 years standing. See http://www.transport-watch.co.uk/topic-15-london-waste-battersea-and-north-marylebone and http://www.transport-watch.co.uk/sites/default/files/REFORM%20OF%20THE%20RAILWAYS%20_B_.pdf

    • Bazman
      Posted August 5, 2012 at 7:49 am | Permalink

      Just silly. It is not possible or at least economically viable to convert railway track into roads.



      Basically what it is saying is that the existing track, tunnels and viaducts are not wide enough. No doubt some mad on the cheap solution could be found, and if Britain leaves the EU could be implemented leaving us even further behind in railways whilst the rest of Europe invests in more high speed links and ever better systems. As if we are no far enough behind as it is.

    • Bazman
      Posted August 6, 2012 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

      Paul Withrington self-appointed transport ‘expert’ runs a one-man organisation called Transport Watch UK from what looks like his home address in Northampton.
      But the links page saves the best till last: a mysterious connection to the website of Chris Hodge Trucks, a second hand lorry salesman and apparently “the UK ‘s largest dealer of used trucks, lorries, vans, trailers and prime movers”. It is the only link of its kind. Of course. it all starts to become clear. If Withrington’s master plan was realised, and the railways were turned over to bus lanes, wouldn’t that put rail-freight out of business overnight and also clear the motorways of coaches, never the lorry driver’s best friend? Could the mystery funder of Transport Watch be a second hand lorry salesman?

      • Paul Withrington
        Posted August 14, 2012 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

        Transport Watch has support from a range of academics and elsewhere. The so called Campaign for Better Transport, previously Transport 2000, was originally funded by the rail unions. It masquerades as an environmental group, but is in fact a railway lobby group.
        For a flavour of its “arguments” see http://www.transport-watch.co.uk/topic-19-campaign-fo-better-transport
        The Link Bazman refers to provided, long ago useful costs. It is old so we should delete it – particularly if Bazman can provide a better source.

  • 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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