Evidence to the Williams railway review

This week I met the Williams rail review team and gave them some analysis and proposals for improving the railway. They are reviewing the current system and will be offering policy proposals to the government. I will send them a formal written follow up.

General aims

The prime aim of the railways should be to provide safe and reliable transport for people and goods in the UK.

The Review needs to consider how we can improve the traveller’s experience, placing the customer at the heart of railway reform and improvement. Any structural changes proposed should be ones that will promote improved travel for customers. Greater choice is likely to be a guiding principle to ensure a better passenger experience. This in turn will require more capacity at popular times on popular routes. Punctuality and reliability are crucial to passenger satisfaction.


The railway is most useful for commuters and peak time business users wishing to get to work and back at times when the roads are congested, and seeking to travel long distance in a timely way. These essential trips are the ones most liable to shortage of capacity and shortage of choice of trains to meet the requirement.

The industry typically runs just 20 trains an hour on any given stretch of track. On main routes into large cities this can mean just two or three trains an hour when we could do with a multiple of that from any given station along the route. In my case there are only 6 trains between 7 and 9 in the morning to Waterloo from Wokingham, a popular route where more choice and capacity would be welcome.

The railway needs to speed up the introduction of digital signalling to give full system visibility of where every train is, with feedback to each train to ensure no collisions. The railway accepts this could lead to a 25% increase in capacity. In due course it may provide a 50% increase in capacity. The London underground can now manage 30 trains an hour on modernised lines. Effective capacity could also be improved by selective investment in short additional sections of track to allow more overtaking. All too often a fast limited stop train gets caught behind a slow stopper, disrupting timetables. This will be a much cheaper option than building new long haul railway lines. It will also boost network safety.

Home to work, home to holiday travel

Travellers want to know the time it takes to do their whole journey, not just the time from one station near departure to one station near destination. We also want to know how easy or difficult getting to and from the station is going to be. The railway industry has to work with Highway authorities, car parking businesses, bus and taxi firms on total journey times, costs and hassle.

Station car parking needs to be cheaper, more plentiful and easier to get to. Highways authorities often do few favours to stations, delaying access to station car parks by restricted road space, aggressive lights,unhelpful one way systems and limited roadspace on the main feeder roads. This puts off potential train users who may find it cheaper and faster to head away from the town centre where the station lies to get directly onto the motorway and trunk road system to do the whole journey by road.

Bus services need to be more easily accessible for travellers visiting new places. The train companies could make information available on trains about the main public transport options at each station for those needing advice.It is time there are display screens in carriages with more journey and connection information for those interested, with an option of interactive service on a travellers phone or tablet.They should also offer real time information about the journey and estimsted arrival times, to allow re scheduling of your day where a train is running late. For tourist and leisure travellers there could be more information available about the places beibg passed and visited.

(to be continued)


  1. Dominic
    May 10, 2019

    Your view is that the railways are to be used as a method of safe and efficient transport for people and goods. Normal people accept this interpretation. In opposition to this sensible stance is Marxist Labour.

    Labour and the rail unions see the railways, not as a conduit for transport, but as a source of total political power and leverage which may explain why they intend to nationalise the entire system, both rolling stock and rail infrastructure

    Lenin once stated that to control a nation you must first control its railways.

    What plans are in place to prevent a Marxist Labour government from nationalising the rail industry and using this as a political and economic tool against those they despise?

    The Tories really need to wake up from their clueless slumber rather than closing their eyes to this threat.

    1. jerry
      May 10, 2019

      @Dominic; For most of BR’s existence it was under the control of Tory govts, indeed back in 1951 it would have been quite possible to return the railways to their pre 1948 existence (the GWR, LMS, LNER, and the SR, also LT [1]), the Churchill govt chose not to, instead they reorganised the BTC, then in 1955 they chose again not to reverse nationalisation but to modernise BR into an integrated system.

      Coincidently, you do realise that Amtrak in the USA is in effect a nationalised entity, although now operated at arms length, being set up originally if I recall during the Nixon administration.

      [1] all of which were themselves a political construct from the early 1920s due to the parlous financial state of some of the smaller constituent railway companies of the time, or the operating difficulties found in the fragmented railway system before the ‘1923 Grouping’.

  2. Lifelogic
    May 10, 2019

    All good points but if you have enough trains at peak hours they you have a lot of trains and staff do nothing for the rest of the day and you have to store them somewhere.

    If parking is expensive it creates extra traffic as people get someone to drop them off and pick them up. Thus four car journeys rather than two so not very green for journey overall. An electric bike perhaps, but it would probably get stolen too often given levels and current policing or lack of it.

    How much CO2 would be saved by playing the European cup finals this year in the UK rather than Madrid and Baku? But they will not do this they only virtue signal never take real action.

  3. David in Kent
    May 10, 2019

    Somewhere in your submission the phrase ‘good value’ should appear. How this is achieved is another matter but continuing downward pressure on the price of tickets and reduced cost of subsidy should be an aim.

    Reply Yes, in next part

  4. Lifelogic
    May 10, 2019

    Lots more tosh from the Environment Agency, Lord Stern and Baroness Worthington (English at Queen College) on PM Climate Alarmism. These dopes really do seem to think CO2 concentration is some kind of world thermostat. Why waste billions on expensive intermittent energy, export jobs and damage the economy so hugely? Scientific and economic illiterates. Just adapt as needed to any climate changes that will occur in whatever directions that might be.

    Waves hitting coasts have always eroded them and always will. World CO2 is going to go up regardless of what the UK does. The “renewables” in the UK save virtually nothing in CO2 anyway in world terms it is irrelevant even if you are a CO2 devil gas religion.

    1. Bryan Harris
      May 10, 2019

      @lifelogic – Totally agree.

      This is our government in lemming mode – The global establishment has decided alleged MMCC is rea,l while the UK government is being advised only by those that benefit from CC subsidies – Pure lunacy – The government has lost the ability to think for itself, or even be impartial.

  5. Peter
    May 10, 2019

    Digital signalling may allow more trains per hour but points failure may put a spanner in the works. The same applies to suicides on the lines and also vandalism. Current reliability into London Waterloo seems to have got worse.

    Another huge irritation is engineering works at weekends and public holidays. This discourages leisure travel but the rail companies love any excuse to replace a train with a cheap replacement bus. They are quids in. Franchises make most of their profit on huge public subsidies so are not concerned about fare revenue or passenger convenience outside peak travel time.

  6. Iain Gill
    May 10, 2019

    Train car parks should have mandated minimal security precautions, such as decent CCTV coverage. Some car parks are empty simply because your car would get knicked if you used it. I think often it’s intentional by the train companies as they want to use the land for something else, and need statistics to show the car park is not being used.

  7. Bryan Harris
    May 10, 2019

    There are many ways travel on railways could be improved, and as one who suffered for many years as a commuter, I am in no way biased.
    Many delays happen because a train has broken down, which delays trains behind it – Surely additional track can be installed to route subsequent trains around the stalled train, or indeed use some other means to get the stranded train onto a secondary track.
    I won’t talk about the annual lunacy of leaves on lines, however a major gripe I have is how trains that don’t stop at all stations are called ‘FAST’ – What a misnomer. Fast to me would be a train traveling at high speed that actually beat the times achieved when lines were first installed.
    Our Fast trains are pathetically slow and annoying to be on, somewhat like watching paint dry.

  8. Fred H
    May 10, 2019

    A very good short review of the UK rail situation. Automatic train location has been possible for many years, but not undertaken. This reduction of the gap between trains is a major part of the problem. Similarly a high percentage of commuters wish to go into city centres, but have to endure frequent stops along the route. The building of a few passing places would enable more direct services to avoid a number of stops, speeding up the whole process. Capacity can be increased by removing First Class on rush-hour services.

  9. Julie Dyson
    May 10, 2019

    Working from home in the computer games industry, I consider myself blessed in being able to avoid the daily rat race. When I do have to travel I will only do so outside of peak hours.

    The above quite obviously disqualifies me from making any worthwhile comment on these proposals, although it might be useful to point out that any “serious” computer games player over the past few decades could probably tell the Williams team that the best way to speed things up is to simply pay more attention to actual station placement. Place (or now, move) the multitude of smaller stations to side tracks, off the main lines, and thereby allow the express trains to zoom by while slower trains are picking up local passengers. The difference that would make to timetables is potentially enormous.

    Yes, I know, this is the real world we’re talking about and not a computer game simulation, but when you start with grievously flawed logic (one track, fast and slow trains, and frequent stopping at stations on the main line) then this is the mess you end up with. It’s time to address that basic flawed logic.

  10. jerry
    May 10, 2019

    The LU is a totally different type of railway system, every train on a given line is of the same type (so acceleration/braking patterns is as identical as make no difference), they each stop at the same stations as the one in front and the one behind, as the DLR shows one does not even need a driver on such systems – the same can not be said of the ex BR system. I do wish some would stop trying to compare apples with pears.

    Funny how the Big four and BR used to be able to adapt to capacity issues, could the problem be more to do with how trains are designed these days, how the railways have been funded for the last 60 or so years, and even our obsession with speed -faster trains need larger head way, meaning less line capacity, unless all trains are the same type and all stop at the same station (yes I know some train can pass others but only if the fixed infrastructure allows), which returns us back to the start of my comment….

  11. Andy
    May 10, 2019

    Mostly sensible ideas.

    But the problem remains that we are largely still travelling on a Victorian network.

    Capacity is limited by the fact that slow commuter trains have to share tracks with faster Passing places are not good enough – as they still require slow trains to stop and they severely restrict capacity.

    We need double tracks – with faster services split completely from slow ones. And, yes, we need some new lines like HS2, HS3, Crossrail and Crossrail 2.

    Also, why on Earth are rail companies STILL not using smart ticketing? Oyster transformed London travel – and that came in 20 years ago. And yet at my local railway station – not far from London – I still have to buy a paper ticket. I have to buy another separate ticket for the bus. Why? I should be able to tap my card or phone and pay like that.

    Finally – you forget cyclists. In my local town – and the adjoining one – almost nobody lives more than a 10 minute cycle from the station.

    Cycling is cheap, environmentally friendly and healthy. And yet few so it. Why? Because it is dangerous and often difficult.

    Changing rules and investing properly in cycling could be a game changer. By this I mean more dedicated cycle routes, fixing pot holes and allowing sensible cycling on footpaths and pavements along busy roads.

    Then we need proper bike racks and space on trains for cyclists to take bikes on so they can continue their journey at the other end.

    1. jerry
      May 10, 2019

      @Andy; “we need some new lines like HS2, HS3”

      No we do not, HS1 (the shared bit with the South Eastern ‘Javelin’ trains) serves a limited number of stations, the same will happen with HS2 and any HS3, HS4 etc.

      What the country could do with, and this is the real problem not just on the WCML (which HS2 is meant to be a solution for), is alternate routes for very much slower freight, this could be done and at significantly lower costs, possibly with with far less environmental damage with regards new civil engineering works, by using pre-existing routes that were closed during the Beeching cuts but are still identifiable. Even perhaps if it means relocating a very small number of housing and industrial estates or even by-passes and the such. such schemes could even perhaps allow a restored rural passenger service in some areas.

      HS1 was an unfortunate necessity, HS2 is nothing but a vanity project…

      “[cycling] is dangerous and often difficult.”

      No it is not, so long as cyclists obey the rules too and use some common sense…

      “and space on trains for cyclists to take bikes on so they can continue their journey at the other end.”

      Why do cyclists have to take their bikes on a train, along with secure cycle parking why not have cycle hire points at all major stations, assuming one doesn’t want to use PT or walk… Surely parents have far more need, if not right, to have space for prams and push chairs, never mind the disabled in wheelchairs?

      1. jerry
        May 10, 2019

        @Jerry; Sorry, that should have read …the shared bit with the South Eastern ‘Javelin’ trains) ONLY serves a limited number of stations, the same will happen with HS2…

        1. jerry
          May 11, 2019

          and I still forgot to add the word not …the same will NOT happen with HS2… Duh, sorry!

  12. a-tracy
    May 10, 2019

    You talk from a London centric point of view. Your rail services, carriages and prices are so much more superior than those in the North West believe it or not!

    At our local station disabled people and women with heavy cases can’t even get from the Car Park to the London bound side of the track because of a stepped bridge crossing, there used to be a car park on the other side of the road bridge but that now belongs to a pub and there is nowhere to legally stop on that side to help someone with cases. There is no connecting public transport to the town centre and taxi to do that mile is expensive (no uber), the car park is also too small. Trains stop infrequently and don’t go to the two local main Cities that people work in. So the public don’t use the service because its too poor we have to drive 40 minutes to the large station and pay £12 per day parking!! This all makes using the train a strain.

    The services that are run from the local station are not advertised to the local community and are frequently replaced by slow buses. If more people did want to use the service they couldn’t park! The railways just don’t think they have to do any local advertising or sales, they expect business just to rock up, this is because they are subsidised and the Greens just want more top ups to give to people who don’t give a monkeys for serving the public’s needs. If they were all private companies including the track companies having to keep their line viable they would have to do so much more. Like most public services that get paid no matter how poor the local service offering, well serviced areas get subsidised by people with little or no service and Councillors excuse themselves by saying ‘if you don’t use it you’ll lose it’ patronising drivel – we don’t use it because its rubbish.

    Reply I think the points I make cover your worries precisely and are not rooted in London. I represent Wokingham

    1. jerry
      May 10, 2019

      @a-tracy; You raise some good points, but they all come down to either how the railways have been or are now expected to be fund themselves.

      No doubt what is now a pub car-park instead of being for the use of rail passengers is due to Network Rail or who ever maximising their income from their property portfolios, others suggest that there should be more passing loops either at stations or elsewhere but how many times have we heard our host and others advocating the selling off of currently disused railway land over the years – once sold it is going to be damned hard, if not impossible, to get the land back into railway use.

      Then you say there is no public transport from the station to/from were the passengers live or work, and that taxis are to expensive (nor any Uber), why might that be, because who ever owns the station charges the taxi companies for the privilege of parking on their forecourt perhaps, thus not only do the taxi fairs have to reflect that experience and at best limits who can provide a service (thus Uber would not be a convenient service even if they did exist in your locality), and why no integrated PT, because the bus network as deregulated in the 1980s perhaps…

      @JR reply; Outer London in effect then! Brighton is even further from London than Workingham but try claiming that is not a commuter area for London, even as far back as the 1930s, hence why the Brighton main line was electrified by the old Southern Railway!

    2. a-tracy
      May 10, 2019

      The average journey time between Wokingham and London Waterloo is 1 hour 15 minutes. The fastest journey time is 1 hour 6 minutes (it does seem a little on the long side when you can get 170 miles from our major station in just 1hr 40 mins to London central).
      On an average weekday, there are 81 trains per day travelling from Wokingham to London Waterloo. You’re only 40 miles away from central London and I suspect a lot of your residents commute and regularly travel to London (that’s why I suggest you look at this from a London centric viewpoint). You say there is ‘only 6 trains between 7 and 9 in the morning to Waterloo from Wokingham’ that’s a lot we have one train per hour to a major railway interchange station the town has over 33,000 residents and is growing. They put in hundreds and hundreds of new housing without a thought of public transport for them, before building on green land why couldn’t a driverless light railtrack be laid from the railway station to the Town Centre first and the furthest point from the railway/industrial estate to the other end of town this would cut down on buses and open up career opportunities? Not to be able to get to main Cities cuts down on cultural opportunities, evening entertainment, freedom for teens, job opportunities, people only live here because it is affordable but then transport costs hurt them.

      1. Iain Gill
        May 10, 2019

        in practise a lot of people drive to Reading station and catch the train to Paddington from there…

  13. Everhopeful
    May 10, 2019

    The doing away with slam door trains discriminates against the claustrophobic.
    Ditto the terrifying electric door loos now on trains.
    Claustrophobia is a disability which is never taken into account.
    Rail travel is now impossible for a sufferer.

  14. Dan Rushworth
    May 10, 2019

    HS2? Big Axe?

  15. acorn
    May 10, 2019

    The vast majority of the UK’s out of date infrastructure problems are due solely to visionless Westminster politicians, pretending to be systems engineers yet incapable of engineering their way out of a wet paper bag with Brexit written on it.

    The Victoria line reckons it is doing 36 trains an hour at peak times, mind you the average speed of an underground train is 20.5 miles per hour. Digital signalling does not increase how fast you can accelerate a train out of a station or decelerate it into a station.

    Anyway, concerning travel information, have you tried Google Maps directions set to “Transit” on a mobile phone? Takes care of your last paragraph.

  16. KZB
    May 10, 2019

    The other side of the coin is, outside London, workplaces are sited on the outskirts of town on windswept business parks. These are situated to take advantage of motorway junctions, definitely not railway stations.
    HS2 should be cancelled and the money used to build new local services which serve the places people live and work these days, rather than where they used to live and work in Victorian times.

  17. Lynn Atkinson
    May 10, 2019

    I shouldn’t be, but I’m shocked that you have had to explain what the railways are for! I hope you will accept the problems of dealing with our failing commercial and residential properties, most of which need refurbishment. The Govt. demands the luxury rate of 20% VAT on these refurbishments. This results in derelict high streets and frustrated start up entrepreneurs.
    I hope the next Tory leader will have the capacity to deal with these big issues instead of shuttering on about believing in motherhood and apple pie. No more woolly thinkers PLEASE! A clear understanding that whatever Government touches it turns to ashes!

  18. Barbara Castle
    May 11, 2019

    I’m not an engineer, but we have to think differently, so is there such a thing as building up when it comes to the rail network, as we’ve done with housing? An additional (fast?) line above an existing one delivers additional capacity without using as much land, and could potentially present a solution in some areas. Just an idea…….

  19. ferdinand
    May 11, 2019

    One of the principal criticisms of stations is that they have outsourced the parking to private operators who do not have the rail customer’s interests at heart. All station car parking should be under the direct control of the station because the parking users are rail customers.

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