Navigating through this website is easier with the navigator frame which should be to the left of this window. If it is not there then click here to turn it on!
Alternatively there is a system map at the foot of this page.
More information about this website & why it was created can be found by visiting this website's "front" pages (link opens in a new window).
The contents of this page primarily refers to our mainline railways, although some of the solutions promoted also include light rail (trams & streetcars).|
The Enough Stick, How About Some Carrot page (link here) looks at (central) government actions and public transport investment & disinvestment in a more general way, and also includes a small section on how - despite its fine words - the British government's actions give the impression that it is actively working to stifle (link here) new and expanded light rail systems in our towns and cities.
Investment, Disinvestment, Double - Dealing.
Looking at the railways from WW11 to privatisation - including how some aspects of the system's retrenchment in the 1960's seem to have been performed with less than honourable intent...
Looking at a few ideas for growing the rail system to meet the requirements of the British people plus alternative solutions for quieter rural lines & other routes which are not reaching their full potential.
After WWll the railways were in a bad state. Years of heavy traffic, bomb damage and little maintenance had left a severe backlog of necessary works resulting in slow journey times. The 'big four' private railways (LNER, LMS, GWR & Southern) put forward plans for reconstruction which, realising that the post-war environment would see increasing competition from both private motoring and air traffic could have successfully re-vitalised their rail services - for instance, the LMS was looking at using American style trains where even the third class was more comfortable than first class in British trains.
These private railways also realised that there was some wasteful duplication of lines which could be 'thinned' without adversely affecting the overall services, whilst some routes would never be economically viable but were of such strategic (or localised) importance - for instance: in rural areas where the railways were a community's lifeline with the outside world - that an advantage could be gained by striking a deal with national / local governments to provide financial support for them. (ie: subsidise!)
At the time these ideas were ignored because the newly elected Socialist government had other ideas and included the railways in its plans for national ownership. This led to many business-minded railway industry leaders leaving the industry and being replaced by (well meaning) civil servants whose primary aims were (and still are) their own careers. The net result of all this was that instead of the immediate postwar years seeing frantic action to rebuild and modernise the war-ravaged railways there was stagnation - firstly between 1945 & 1948 whilst nationalisation was in progress and then for several years more whilst the new owners took stock of their domain.
Nationalisation also afflicted our other public transports - even those already owned by local governments - for instance locally owned power stations powered locally owned urban electric street transports, but when the electricity was nationalised the tram & trolleybus operators found their energy costs increased considerably. With oil cheap and seemingly plentiful (and air pollution from exhaust fumes not an issue in the public awareness) this sudden hike in the cost of the electricity became another significant factor in the disinvestment - aka 'closure' - in our urban tramways & trolleybuses.
Meanwhile whilst the public transports stagnated private motoring, commercial road haulage and air travel did develop, taking much business away from the railways. Amazingly, in the name of 'transport integration' it became policy to encourage many types of freight to switch from rail to (government-owned but later sold-off) road transport. Not surprisingly these road services prospered with the extra traffic. The long term financial implications of this for the railways can only be imagined...
|Even in the mid 1930's the Great Western Railway had a small but expanding fleet of diesel railcars - this example is AEC Railcar No.22 and was constructed in 1941. Image sourced from the free online "Wikipedia" encyclopædia
(link opens in a new window).
Although electric services operated over a few routes, and trials with diesel powered trains had began in a small way even before WWll, not only were the overwhelming majority of services still operated by steam locomotives but even in the mid 1950's new steam locomotives were still being designed and built. Almost all the modernisation plans that the private railway companies had been contemplating before the war were dropped.
Admittedly there were some sound reasons for continuing with steam traction, including that it was a well tried, proven technology, the infrastructure to support it was in place & fully operational and that it used British sourced coal (ie: not imported oil). However steam traction was (and is) both dirty and very labour intensive. Plus, in an era when environmental issues were just beginning to come into the public consciousness the pollution caused by steam engines was becoming seen to be part of the problem, especially in urban areas. The pea-souper smogs of the 1950's eventually lead to the introduction of Clean Air which resulted in a significant reduction in urban coal-sourced pollution, although a generation later oil sourced air pollution had become - in its own way - equally life-harming... and this still remains to be tackled.
Before almost every journey a steam locomotive requires to be coaled & watered, the fire must be started and built up to create the steam that provides the motive force, two crew are needed to operate it (driver and fireman), at the end of the day's journey(s) the engine needs cleaning out, the clinker, ash etc removing from the fire box, plus many other tasks which can take much time both before and after journeys - - all these being tasks which might create much employment but in an era of rapidly rising pay rates also served to increase operating costs significantly.
It was as late as 1955 that a modernisation plan was finally launched which, amongst other things was going to see wholesale replacement of steam engines with diesels and, for a mere handful of routes, electrics. However by now it was too late - post-war fuel and raw material rationing was ending and road transport really taking off - so by leaving it so late to modernise the railways had virtually thrown away any advantage they had had in land transport. Worse still, partly because the modernisation had been provoked by spiralling financial losses into "doing something" "in a hurry" poor planning, a lack of overall vision of how to modernise plus insufficient fiscal controls and even - in some cases - the 'wrong' type of investment pushed up costs without always achieving the required (expected, hoped-for) results.
Named Evening Star the last mainline steam locomotive to be built by British Railways was constructed in 1960. It had a very short career, being withdrawn from regular use in 1965, which in a way was crazy as steam locomotives typically had working lives of at least 50 years - if not much longer. Although withdrawn Evening Star has been preserved and is sometimes steamed at railway preservationist living museums.
On the mainline railway the mainstream use of steam locomotives ended in 1968, although they continue to be used on a handful of leisure based passenger trains for nostalgic reasons.
When looking back it is easy to take the view that the railways had become like an almost fossilised lumbering giant, or stuck in a time warp, and they was doing things because thats how things had always been done - even though technology was changing and there were more advanced ways of doing things.
However it seems that the railway decision makers had been taking longer term strategic views and were planning modernisation to be a slower, more controlled process. For the mainlines it was felt to be better to electrify immediately - even if it had meant that the use of steam locomotives would have lasted a little longer. The decision makers wanted to avoid dieselising first and then electrifying later, because whilst this would have been cheaper in the short term the subsequent 20 - 30 year delay whilst the diesel equipment became life expired would effectively result in the task, and expense, being passed to the next generation. In addition, it was recognised that instead of using imported oil (which would negatively impact upon the nation's balance of payments) electric trains used electricity that was generated from home produced coal - something that helped create work for British coal miners.
Instead however there was the hurried dieselisation, leaving a legacy whereby some mainline routes which it was expected would have been electrified still remained diesel powered 60 years later. (eg: Midland Main Line between London St Pancras & Yorkshire and the Great Western Main Line between London & South Wales / South West England.)
|Rail closures were indiscriminate with even lines in densely populated urban areas closed as an easy alternative to trying to attract more passenger traffic.||A typical scene at many larger stations nationwide - empty, unused 'trackless' platforms resulting from rationalisation following the termination of services.|
The 1960's - the axe man cometh.
By 1961 the loss of traffic - and financial deficits - had become so serious that the civil servants (under the direction of a Government Transport Minister who owned a road-building company) appointed a new Chairman to the newly formed British Railways Board who was specifically given the task of making the railways pay. To do this a survey was undertaken of the British railway network designed to find out which parts were profitable and where the losses were being made. In 1963 a report was published (called "The Reshaping of British Railways") which for the first time gave an accurate description of the state of the network.
It had been suspected a lot of the rail network was under used and therefore uneconomic, and the report confirmed this, revealing that only half the routes covered the cost of operating them, and that half the stations appeared to produce about 95% of all the revenue.
Following this, in 1965 a plan was finalised which recommended only about half of the 17,000 miles of track be retained - with about 3,000 miles of the remnant being considerably upgraded.
In the eyes of many people, had they fully enacted, what was being proposed would have considerably reduced the scope and effectiveness of the railways to a point whereby they would have been (almost) completely killed off. Indeed, had these short-sighted plans come to fruition then apart from a handful of high profile lines the railways would have been reduced to little more than urban transport providers serving a few major cities only. Crazy as it now seems, the intention was even for busy trunk routes such as the London - Edinburgh ECML (East Coast Main Line) to terminate at Newcastle-Upon-Tyne - as the end of a single track freight branch!
The closures actually began before the report had even been published - often against very bitter local opposition - and in 1964, seeing the railway's popularity with the general public, the Labour Party (led by Harold Wilson) included in their general election campaign manifesto a promise to halt them. However, within a week of taking office his administration reviewed the issue and instead accelerated the closure program. It is very much a matter for dismay but such two-faced behaviour is typical for politicians.
It could even be said that the closures were forced upon an opposing population in spite of / with contempt for their needs and wishes. Many, many former rail users had no desire to learn to drive and buy a car but not seeing the replacement buses (where provided) as offering a viable alternative the railway closures gave them no other option. There is a lesson here which even now (2006) politicians and British transport planners are yet to learn.
The closure program only slowed down when in 1968 Harold Wilson's government finally acted upon ideas similar to those of the private companies some 25 years earlier and created a framework for local transport authorities to offer financial support for socially necessary but financially unremunerative lines. Co-incidentally(?) this was just in time for another general election - which he lost. (Of course the ideas were re-packaged first so as make sure they looked different from the proposals of the private companies). However by this time much damage to the railway system had been done and although the wholesale closures had been stopped there were still more closures to come...
Among the last lines to close was a busy mainline linking Edinburgh and Carlisle which in 2000 became an urgent candidate for reopening and the 'Woodhead' line between Manchester & Sheffield which as recently as 1954 had benefited from very significant investment in both electrification and the building of a brand new tunnel under the Pennine Hills. (See below).
Whilst changing demographics would have justified some of the closures the real question is why the rail industry just 'sat back like lambs led to slaughter'? In just a handful of cases were attempts made to save branch lines by introducing new cheaper - to - operate diesel trains, yet judging by the very successful results it seems that had this become policy a lot more lines would have survived.
Perhaps the reasons why so little was done to try to save more branch (and main) lines include:
Incidentally, in some cases the trains were replaced by motor buses, but so few people transferred to the buses that they too were withdrawn. As stated earlier instead most people found themselves resigned to having to learn to drive, and going by car. There is a lesson here which even now (2006) politicians and British transport planners are yet to learn. (see below for possible alternative solutions to closure).
Once closed, forever closed?
Once a line was closed the assets (trackbeds, etc) were often sold off, with the rapid building of housing (or commercial properties) over the former alignments even being quite deliberate and apparently often specified in the land sale contracts. This was done to stifle the possibility of the line being resurrected at a later date.
Could local community - run operations have been profitable?
In some instances proposals were published by local people to create small private / independent railway companies which would take over lines that had been scheduled for closure and run them under local management. However, whilst it seems that "officialdom" were happy to allow railway preservationists to run operations as leisure / tourist lines the possibility of business-minded people actually trying to meet "real" transport needs - and doing so in a financially profitable way - was so abhorrent that every possible attempt was taken to stifle such enterprises before birth.
There would be several reasons for this, including:-
The last point begs the question that whether despite their fine rhetoric the unions were really more interested in the politics of power (their own!) than the true well-being of their members, their members' jobs, or the railway system? If so this could be seen to suggest that their ulterior motives were even more self-serving than the politicians, who at least were accountable to Parliament and could be voted out of office.
Financial sleight of hand?
Research for this section of this web page seems to have uncovered what could be described as financial sleight of hand, double - dealing, and even (perhaps unintended) potential corruption.
Already mentioned (above) are the facts that in the early 1960's there was a government minister for transport who also owned a road building company. It is left for readers to draw their own conclusions with respect to what decisions might have been taken in a less than wholly impartial manner - and what might have happened had the minister been someone who was not already involved in the road transport industry. Also already mentioned is the fact that the civil servants (etc) who decided which lines were to close had vested interests (ie: their own careers) in making sure that their decisions could never be proven mistaken.
However, it also seems that some of the decisions were taken using data / statistics which had been biassed (or even stage-managed) to give the desired information. For instance:-
The Sham of the Public Consultations.
Although the public believed that they were being consulted on the proposed closures it seems that the public inquiries which often formed the consultation process were nothing more than mere "PR" exercises, or in other words, destined to be little more than Soviet / Nazi - style "show trials" where the decision (to rubber stamp government policy) was already a foregone conclusion.
Apparently the law actually assisted these nefarious "media circus publicity stunts" because under Transport Users Consultative Committee (TUCC) rules it was forbidden to cross-examine BR on its figures - so the public had no choice but to accept them as being 100% accurate, honest, truthful, etc. Anyone who did try to question the accuracy of the figures was told to sit down by the chairman, and if they refused to shut up they were ejected from the meeting. Admittedly similar rules applied to public enquiries for investment in (new) roads too, with it being forbidden to question the Ministry of Transport's figures justifying the need for the road improvements.
At least one TUCC chairman is reported to have boasted how quickly he could get the whole thing buttoned up and the line shut, as if he was working on a factory conveyor belt where speed was of the essence.
|The new road scheme to which this sign refers was the controversial M11 link road through east London: the road passes through the Leytonstone area where a new underground line is planned to join and take over one of the Central Line branches - it would have been far cheaper to have completed much of the tunnelworks and station reconstruction at the same time as the roadworks except that government financial criteria were so very biassed against public transport that they made anything so cost effective impossible.|
In addition to roads the Department Of Transport's responsibilities also includes the railways and several other transports; yet it uses a 'road' symbol for its logo. The slogan investing in roads could be continued disinvesting in the alternatives.
The Thatcher Years.
The rail closure / bustitution demon was resurrected under the Conservative government of 1979 (when Mrs Thatcher was in charge) but these plans were thwarted by electoral unpopularity and that many of the loss-making lines slated for closure were in parliamentary constituencies that formed the heartland of Conservative Party supporters. Nevertheless one mainline which her government allowed to be closed was the Manchester - Sheffield route via Woodhead which only a generation earlier had been electrified with a new mountain pass tunnel constructed too (see below).
Instead of closure Mrs Thatchers government instituted some business-led reforms which did, in some cases, turn the tide. For instance: the creation of 'Network SouthEast' and introduction of some 'customer focussed management' led to an unexpected reversal of the steady decline in passenger levels. Some of these business units were even profitable. This created a new dilemma, however - with passenger numbers increasing there was an even greater demand for investment to "grow the railway" and help it cope with the higher numbers of people travelling.
It is an unfortunate fact that until this surge in passenger traffic in the late 1980's the whole rail industry was run in a way which encouraged gradual decline, with it being policy for most routes to have only the absolute minimum in preventative maintenance as required for safety with the intention being that in time it would be cheaper to close the line completely.
As far as passenger services were concerned it was policy that as an alternative to having to make massive investments to cater for passenger growth the government would try to stifle demand by larger than necessary fares increases. Of course pricing people off the trains in this way resulted in more road traffic, air pollution, congestion - & motor fuel tax revenues. A co-incidence??
Mrs Thatchers' government prided itself in being vehemently pro-car / pro-road, equating private transport with 'freedom', people who use public transport as being 'failures', and
totally failing to appreciate the concept of
The ruling Conservative party believed that ideally most (if not all) of investment finance for the railways should be sourced from private industry, and not wholly from government / taxpayer's resources. They also saw some merit in dispensing with the "dead weight" of central planning by people who had little (or insufficient) concept of - or regard for - the needs of passengers often many tens or even hundreds of miles away from central London. This, they hoped would "free-up" the railways and open up railway operations to greater "on-rail" competition. In an attempt to provide a level playing field for competition (both "on-rail" s as well as against the roads) the government felt it desirable to (financially) separate the infrastructure from train operations
To achieve all this they included in the manifesto for the 1992 general election a proposal to return the state owned national railway system to private ownership. In pursuit of this, and immediately prior to the election some investment
in the railways was announced. However whilst this timing was at least partly to be expected (pre-election 'bribes' such as this are not at all unusual) it was also done because there were very many old and worn out trains and government ministers felt that the system
needed making attractive to future investors.
Once the order became settled the many train operators started making some investments designed to encourage more people to travel by train but unfortunately the company which controlled the infrastructure was less than successful (although it paid out good dividends to shareholders) and instead of making the hoped-for improvements in track capacity and reopening closed lines a bad situation became even worse culminating in several serious accidents which it is alleged were due to both fiscally-minded insufficient maintenance and poor maintenance. In the end that company was taken over as a government-owned not-for-profit company. However this organisation too is failing to "grow the railway" (re-opening closed lines, etc) claiming that costs are too high and that the expense of repairing infrastructure which has been allowed to decay whilst under the stewardship of the previous private owners (& the former state owners before them) and upgrading the West Coast Main Line for tilting trains has seen it being financially crippled. There is a problem in that since privatisation the basic cost of the day-to-day operations of the railway has sky-rocketed, as have costs involved in investing in new infrastructure. (see below)
Railway Privatisation 10 years on.
Privatisation saw the railway system become heavily fragmented, with most of the individual companies having their own cost centres, board of directors and shareholders earning dividends etc. Effectively this significantly increased operating costs - but not revenues - with the taxpayer having to "pick up the tab".
For various reasons, including streamlining train operations at busy London termini served by multiple TOCS and a desire to reduce the cost of operating the railway, as some franchises have come up for renewal there has been a process of redefining and amalgamation with the aim of reducing the 20+ TOC's in number. However it remains impossible to return the railways back to anywhere near the (inflation adjusted) operating costs as existed before privatisation.
Although overall passenger numbers have increased quite significantly (see below) track mileage has remained virtually stagnant; indeed if the reopenings (& electrification schemes) which the former British Railways was considering were to be taken in account then it could be said that the railways are still in retrenchment.
The situation has become slightly different for Scotland and Wales, as their national Parliaments now have transport in their portfolios, and as a result they have been more pro-active and a little more successful in growing the railway networks within their respective nations.
However, to say that railway privatisation has been "all bad" would be both wrong and inaccurate. As with everything in life there have been some winners as well as losers. There are some routes where competition has been very fierce, and at least partly based on price, (eg: London - Birmingham, although "TPTB" curtailed one of the three services, in the process reducing its attractiveness) whilst (for instance) in the Manchester area the mainline suburban services have not been as successful as well as many people would have liked or expected for a major city.
With an increase of about 50% since privatisation freight train operations could be said to have been more successful than passenger services operators - although the railways still carry just 11% of total UK freight. So even with Britain rapidly becoming a post industrialised nation there is scope for more growth in railfreight.
|A replica of Stephenson's "Rocket" from 1825 and the disused tilting gas-turbine APT (Advanced Passenger Train) developmental prototype make strange bedfellows at the National Railway Museum in York.
The railways originated in Britain, yet years later we gave up developing more advanced railway technologies and so that instead of exporting advanced passenger trains we must now import them from elsewhere.
|It would be incorrect to suggest that the bank's vast profits were solely from railway privatisation, but as one very successful supermarket's advertising jingle suggests
"every little helps"!
Railway Privatisation success stories
|A Class 165 Network Turbo train calls at Chorleywood Station on the section where it track shares with London Underground Metropolitan Line trains.||Passenger numbers on Chiltern services have grown so much that it became necessary to reverse some of the "downsizing" which occurred under British Railways. This has included restoring some sections of track back from bi-directional single lines to twin track, and, as here, restoring platforms at Marylebone station.|
|This was once part of the mainline Marylebone - Aylesbury - Nottingham - Sheffield - Manchester Great Central Railway route. Nowadays passenger services terminate just to the north of Aylesbury, the pro-railway lobby groups suggest
that more productive use of this still extant rail line would see passenger services extended further north to link in with the West Coast Main Line at Milton Keynes. No new track would need installing as the entire route is still used by freight trains.
Railway Privatisation success stories
Hull Trains is one of the few examples of truly innovative new train operators creating new services that the established train operators did not provide in order to meet public demand. Having been awarded 10-year access rights by the Rail Regulator they increased service frequencies and ordered a fleet of these Class 222 Meridian trains which were introduced in to service in 2005.
However because of a lack of infill electrification and that the train manufacturers are not building (for the British market) twin system diesel-electric / straight electric trains, they have to wastefully travel 160 miles on diesel power over the fully electrified route between London and Doncaster - just so that they can then travel the 40 further miles between Hull and Doncaster, which is not electrified.
The trains actually work on the diesel-electric principle whereby (multiple) onboard diesel engines power an electric drive system. It is therefore most regrettable that they were not designed to also be capable of taking power from overhead wires (and the electrified third rails) on routes where such exist.
The above images come from Brough left and Doncaster right. Doncaster image sourced from the free online "Wikipedia" encyclopædia http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Image:222102_at_Doncaster.jpg
(link opens in a new window).
Passenger numbers increase...
By 2003 passenger numbers had soared by 33% compared to 1995 and the trains were carrying one billion passengers. In 2004 passenger numbers increased by one million journeys per week so that by the end of the year overall rail patronage had risen to one billion 500 million journeys, this being the highest number of passenger journeys since 1959 - when the network was almost twice the current size. By 2006 the number of passengers had soared to 1.15billion - up by 6.7% on the previous year and the highest in 60 years, by 2012 the figure had reached 1.46 billion passenger journeys, and were rising at about 7.8% per year. How many more journeys would there have been if the option of travelling by train had still been a viable alternative choice?
If judged by this growth of passenger numbers than it could be said that railway privatisation has been a phenomenal success.
To a certain extent some of this growth will be because with the partial relaxation of the previously very restrictive government financial restrictions many of the now locally focussed TOC's were able to afford to introduce new trains, and that most of them at least tried to increase passenger numbers ('grow the railway') by operating more frequent services too.
Unfortunately in some cases they almost tried too hard, resulting in some services becoming overcrowded, plus, on some routes, a situation whereby the sheer number of trains trying to use railway infrastructure which was insufficient in capacity (typically because of too few tracks, too few station platforms or inadequate signaling) resulting in on-track congestion which to resolve saw backward facing solutions being utilised - such as a curtailing of formerly proposed expansion and / or some services being reduced in frequency / downgraded in other ways.
At least in part these problems were caused by previous over zealous line closures and "rationalisations" - aka: simplifying / reducing track layouts and introducing signalling systems in ways which also reduced the total number of trains which could travel over them.
Another legacy from state controlled days which seriously curtailed growth in rail services that privatisation (at least temporarily) ended was the policy of "over the top" fare rises designed to limit growth and reduce the need for investment in railway infrastructure. However with some of the latest franchises requiring very large premium payments for the right to operate the franchise so this demon is returning, along with a penny pinching policy of running shorter trains (on routes away from the major London commuter flows), albeit with revenue generation - to pay the premium - being the aim.
So history has shown that despite all the interference by the government, hostile indifference by the civil servants (especially the treasury lizards who only want to know how cheaply something could be done, not how well or whether by going for a cheaper scheme now it will result in further future investments ending up costing more than would otherwise have been the situation), the generations of sporadic & grudging under-investment plus the blatant disinvestment the railways are still essential and popular modes of transport. The rise of both the aviation and motor industries may have partially eroded the rôle of the railways but without the fully functioning nationwide railway network these other modes would be so overwhelmed that they would either seize up or to cope with demand would need far greater investments than the railways themselves received. That there still exists a massive pent-up demand for rail travel is undeniable - - all that is now needed is a new spirit of pro-active enhancements designed to allow the railways to comfortably carry all these willing customers / passengers and therefore truly provide a truly viable & affordable alternative choice to going by either car or airplane...
|Railways are essential for our cities - imagine the congestion if this crowd tried to go by road? To cope with the ever-increasing number of passengers London's Docklands Light Railway is planning to run longer trains.||However it is essential that investment in passenger services is not at the expense of freight trains. (see below).|
The one thing that railway privatisation has failed to achieve is the stanching in the relentless growth of road traffic. Maybe this was never intended - certainly it is not surprising when the fact that in the two decades prior to 2007 the cost of going by car had fallen by 10%, whilst the cost of travelling by public transport had soard by 50% is taken into account. (inflation ajusted figures).
Road traffic levels have now risen so much that many of our roads can barely cope - and many of the remaining rail lines are at saturation point too. But instead of re-opening any of the many rail lines which it could be said should never have been closed (eg:
Manchester - Sheffield "Woodhead" to relieve pressure on the M62 motorway & the many local communities on the A57 "Snake Pass" route which are now plagued with heavy lorries) and building new high speed deviations around the most serious bottlenecks
the rail industry and government want to re-visit the failed policies of the past, especially...
Replacing trains on quieter routes with buses (they have still failed to learn the lessons of the 1960's)
Stifling demand by means of yet more over-the-top fare increases which will send travellers back to their cars (even though our rail fares are already amongst the most expensive anywhere - globally).
Introducing surcharges for travelling at busy times (the opposite of the "workman" fare which used to see reduced fares in the early mornings).
PLUS introducing devious new ways to turn away passengers by abolishing most of the off-peak walk-on discounted rail fares.
Meanwhile, whilst not only is the government rubbing its hands with glee at the expected boost in fuel duty taxation (from displaced rail passengers now going by car) it is also looking at new ways to fleece the long suffering hard working public by bringing back the age-old concept of charging road users tolls at point of use ("ye olde turnpike", resurrected from the museum) and to expand the concept via a new tax in the shape of urban (& intra-urban) electronic road pricing.
So, (sigh) yet again, the er, um "solution" is seen to be to financially penalise the public for having the temerity of wanting to travel by mechanical means - - not just on the rails but this time on the roads too. Looking back over 50 years of transport er, 'policy' it is almost as if "screwing the general public" is what had always been intended, with the run-down and closure of much of our railway (& electric street transport - tram and trolleybus) networks being part of the way in which it was to be achieved, but (at present) this cannot be proven.More information on road pricing is looked at on the Road User Tolling & Congestion Charging page.
One would think that especially in the rush hour commuter trains serving London and other major cities would be long enough (or as long as physically possible) to carry the passengers who wish to travel. BUT...
According to media reports a TOC franchise renewal where the franchisee changed too included an agreement between the Department for Transport and the new franchisee to prohibit certain types of tickets from being used in the evening rush hour. Effectively this has resulted in many passengers seeing their fares almost double! It seems that the train operator and the government saw this option as being the cheapest way of reducing overcrowding, with a spokesperson for the transport company which won the franchise suggesting that a 13% reduction in passenger numbers was expected.
Further investigation revealed that this policy of pricing passengers off the trains was also to allow the operator to save money by shortening trains (because leasing trains costs money)!
One newspaper article included this quote by a most disgruntled regular rail user of the affected line... (the transport company's name has been deleted from the quote)
"had not only reneged on promises to lengthen trains but also had reduced some services from eight carriages to four.
On looking up the word "fraud" in a dictionary the following definitions were found... intentional deception resulting in injury to another person and deliberate trickery intended to gain an advantage. Because of way in which this agreement seems to have been brokered and that it was deliberately designed to disbenefit fare paying travellers and benefit a commercial concern it could said that at a minimum some decisions were taken with devious intent - it could even be asked whether there was activity which could be classified as fraudulent?
A network of high speed (150mph+) rail services would help both reduce congestion on the motorways and alleviate congested domestic air corridors. Of course these high speed rail
services should not result in disbenefits for local and freight services - so if need be new high-speed-line deviations should be constructed around any bottlenecks. This may sound heretical to some people
but perhaps magnetic levitation trains should be investigated too? Since 29th December 2003 a high-speed maglev line has been carrying passengers between the new Pudong International Airport and Shanghai, China,
taking less than eight minutes to travel over 30km. Bearing in mind that this journey time includes acceleration and braking this is very fast! The "Transrapid" system uses German technology and is capable of
cruising at 300mph+. At this sort of speed Manchester would be less than an hour away from London; Newcastle-Upon-Tyne 75 minutes, Glasgow / Edinburgh 90 minutes (etc.,) For more information
visit http://www.transrapid.de or http://www.transrapid-usa.com.
In February 2005 a consortia put forward proposals for a variant on this theme with Maglev trains linking 75% of the British population along the London - Birmingham - Liverpool - Manchester - West Yorkshire (Leeds) - Teeside - Tyneside (Newcastle-Upon-Tyne) - Edinburgh - Glasgow corridor. Although travelling via the West Midlands and Lancashire increases journey times to Yorkshire / Tyneside and Scotland the overall journeys would still be considerably faster than nowadays - plus the one (longer) line would be cheaper to construct than two lines effectively exactly duplicating existing railway routes. More information on these proposals can be found at their website http://www.500kmh.com (links open in new windows).
The benefits of electric traction are such that all our major rail lines should be electrified - not forgetting the 'infill' lines which link the main lines and reduce the need for diesel trains to operate over electrified routes. Even if the Maglev line (above) is built the existing railways will still have an important rôle to play in our land transport system. With the very high speed trains travelling via an alternative route there will be more track capacity for local, regional and freight trains.
To further increase overall network capacity, reduce road congestion, plus add value to our lives by enhancing our freedom to choose how to travel some disused rail lines should be re-opened, whilst under-used rail lines (especially in urban areas) should be investigated to see whether the stations are best located to attract most passengers, are attractive places to be, and whether the train (in)frequency is passenger enticing - or repelling. For some urban lines a solution could be found in converting them to light rail - experience both overseas and in London has shown that the latter can increase rail patronage by as much as a staggering 900% - whilst experience in Germany has shown that conversion to community railway format under local community management can help revitalise socially necessary (but uneconomic) rural lines. It is important however that nothing is done which negatively impacts on any freight services which also use the lines. (see below)
For London, to reduce overcrowding / congestion both on the existing underground rail system and roads (such as the M25 Orbital Motorway) there is a real need for an east-west rail service which travels
through the heart of the city linking towns to the east with towns to the west, so that passengers can travel without having to change trains. CrossRail has been on the drawing boards for over 100 years - will it ever actually happen? Admittedly
in recent decades the cost of building CrossRail has sky-rocketed from £2 billion when Mrs Thatcher was in power to £10 billion now, however this is not due to the scheme being over-ambitious but rather at least partly because the safety
people have significantly changed (increased) their minimum specifications. Private discussions about this have been known to include the term "gold-plated" - OK Britain is a rich country but many people would question why safety standards which
were acceptable in the 1980's & 1990's are not acceptable nowadays?
Incidentally, a variant of CrossRail operated in the late 1990's using the orbital North London Line but with just 5 inconveniently timed trains a day and painfully slow journey times it is almost as if this was done half-heartedly, under sufferance, with failure the intended end-result.
Simply closing under-performing lines because its quick, apparently cheap. and easy is a short-term non-solution which equates to dis-investing in future generations.
Under Dr Beeching's proposals London's North London Line was to be closed and converted into a new road. After much campaigning the line was saved and nowadays as part of the London Overground network it is a very busy electric urban railway carrying both passenger and freight trains.
These images date from the early 2000's.
Autumn 2004, Yet another restructure of the railways...
Lighterweight trains such as these are used by train operating companies on contracted-out services mainline railways on suburban and regional workings in Norway, Germany,
Austria, Canada, Switzerland, etc. Designed for regional and suburban services they provide the modern ambiance which passengers expect nowadays and a host of other features including...
|Above & below - modern lighterweight trains providing a more attractive & passenger enticing ways to operate railways... with multi-segmented trains such as these often the small centre section will contain the traction package as required for the specific lines being served (electric or diesel). Modular construction also allows for easier / more cost effective fine tuning of train lengths to suit expected traffic flows.|
In Germany local accountability and a "can do" attitude has also seen both the introduction of new passenger services over little used freight lines and the replacement of some life-expired local mainline trains with street-compatible lighterweight trains / railcars / trams. One of the first cities in the modern era to implement this solution was Karlsruhe in Germany. The Track & Route Sharing page looks at some of the history behind what in the transport industry has become known as the Karlsruhe Model. This page also explores other examples of track sharing, including some British examples which are not shown here.
|Karlsruhe light rail vehicles on a former suburban (steam) railway which instead of closing was electrified and incorporated into the cities' urban transport system.||Due to a shortage of mainline suburban trains some Karlsruhe light rail vehicles were used on the route to the nearby town of Pforzheim, sharing tracks which were (and still are) also used by international express passenger & heavy freight trains. All services continued as if nothing special was happening, nevertheless much to the various transport authorities' surprise an increase in patronage was noticed that could only be attributed to the nicer environment of the more modern rolling stock.|
In Kassel Germany two under-used freight lines in different parts of the city have seen the introduction of very successful passenger services as extensions to the existing tram system. Britain has many rail routes which are within urban areas and their close hinterlands that are only served by freight trains - some once carried passenger services as well and perhaps experience in Kassel points to a way in which passenger services could be restored to these lines too...
In early 2006 new services are scheduled to commence using two fleets of light rail vehicles (marketed under the banner of RegioTram) which will follow the Karlsruhe model and see through services between mainline railways and street tramway. However, whilst some of the new tramcars will be dual voltage (600v dc for street tramway and 15,000v ac for when on the mainline railway) there will also be some vehicles which feature on-board diesel engines so that they can be used on a mainline railway route which is not being electrified.
|Kassel tram operating on a former freight-only line which now carries passenger services too.||Kassel light rail vehicles on a regional working at the main railway station. In early 2006 these tramcars will start being used on services which include both mainline & street tramway operation.|
In Nordhausen, Germany, the tramway system includes some diesel-electric tramcars which provide through services linking the city streets (where they are powered from their overhead wires) with the semi-rural HSB's (Harz Narrow-Gauge Railway - Harzer Schmalspurbahn) tracks to Ilfeld where they supplement services already provided by the HSB's diesel trains.
This railway also operates freight and leisure-orientated steam services - in a British context this operating of services aimed at tourists - as well as local people - is an already proven successful way in which the leisure industry can generate income which both benefits the local economy and helps to keep the transport system financially viable. eg: Rhomney Dymchurch and Hythe Railway in Kent; the many leisure orientated services which are run in scenic areas of Britain - especially mid Wales, Scottish Highlands, Settle - Carlisle, etc
|HSB passenger services are shared between diesel trains (left & centre) and diesel-electric trams (right).||One of the special trams travelling along the pedestrian precinct, note the raised pantograph.|
|The HSB also operates leisure-orientated steam services...||...and some freight trains too.|
In Zwickau, Germany the same issues apply as with Karlsruhe (main railway station a short distance from the town centre) but they have adopted what could be described as the opposite solution.
The Zwickau Model sees lightweight diesel TrainTrams (also known as RegioSprinter in the railway / railroad industry) being extended from the mainline railway through urban streets just like a regular tram (streetcar) - albeit although they are used within the street environment and even (for a short distance) over part of a pedestrianised zone they are always segregated from the normal road traffic.
These TrainTrams are operated by the VogtlandBahn railway which is a regional train operating company which runs its trains over existing mainline railway tracks - and, in Zwickau, over part of the pre-existing street tramway. Because the trams are metre gauge and the trains are standard gauge so where the trams and trains share tracks they use a three rail system featuring one shared rail and one exclusive rail each.
|Trains really do travel on paved track along urban streets||At the main railway station - Zwickau (Sachs) Hauptbahnhof.|
|Inside one of the modern RegioSprinter TrainTrams - as with many modern trams the low floor section is in the centre, with higher floor sections over the bogies (wheel units) at each end of the vehicle. Just out of view on the left is a self service ticket machine and ticket validator.||At Zwickau Zentrum, which is the terminus in the (partially) pedestrianised zone in the town centre.|
Proven solutions which we have even started using here in Britain too...
The concept of putting mainline railway lines under local management (all assets, including tracks, etc) is already well-proven here in Britain. Railway routes involved include the eastern part of London Underground's Central Line, the High Barnet branch of the Northern Line and much of the Tyne & Wear Metro. For many years these routes continued to carry freight trains too. In the modern context there might be issues with the loss of the "network" effect, especially things such as loss of through ticketing and a new inability to use national railcards (senior citizens railcard, etc) which could lead to significant fare increases for some people. These are issues which would need taking into account, although simply discontinuing the train service per se would be a worse alternative option.
In the British context the conversion of two suburban railway lines in Manchester to light rail, plus more recent experiences with secondary routes in south London, hints at what can be achieved on urban rail lines which are not reaching their full potential. Although it is true that these routes are now dedicated to their new owners alternative routes are available for mainline rail services.
The success of Manchester's Metrolink (with services extended beyond the extent of the former railway operations into the heart of the city centre) demonstrates one possible route to revitalising under-performing mainline rail services, although due to funding problems there are not enough LRV's and the resulting rush hour overcrowding has resulted in some would-be passengers switching back to their cars. This is Dane Road station on the Altrincham Line, seen on a summer late evening working.
For routes where electrification is less likely to happen then bio-diesel powered (light) rail vehicles could provide a viable and very affordable alternative option, especially if it results in not having to pay the very steep rental costs the railco's must pay for hiring mainline trains (this ultimately being taxpayers money which goes straight into the pockets of the banks) and also results in lower track access charges, this being yet another new financial burden which did not exist before railway privatisation.
Another option for local branch lines are "lightweight rail" vehicles such as the Parry People Mover, providing a viable and very affordable alternative option.
Following trials on the Stourbridge branch in the West Midlands, June 2007 saw the granting of a train operating company franchise which specified the use of lightweight PPM railcars to operate on the short branch line between Stourbridge Junction and Stourbridge Town. Two new PPM 60 railcars were specially constructed for this service, with the aim of replacing the single carriage 'heavy' rail diesel trains which at the time were used on this route.
The lightweight rail service was planned for introduction before the end of 2008, in the event however it was in June 2009 when they eventually took over branchline duties.
Within months of their introduction in to full scale public service they proved the concept as being both viable and cost effective, with significant savings in liquid fuel use. Passengers also appreciate the more frequent service, which with a lightweight train every 10 minutes is now regarded as being a turn up and go service.
|Both PPM 60 Community Railcars in high floor format for railway branch lines plus a London Midland 'heavy rail' working to Birmingham Snow Hill (and beyond) at Stourbridge Junction station in April 2010.||Side elevation of 139 001 showing the platform edge gap filler which helps improve accessibility.|
|En route to Stourbridge Town.||139 002 at Stourbridge Town station.|
A video showing various different types of Parry People Mover vehicle on demonstration and in public service in Stourbridge has been placed on the 'youtube' file-sharing website and can be watched (in a new window) by clicking either the projector icon or this link - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M28tGs253NM
In March 2005 a damning report by the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee slammed the government for choosing a method of the partial-privatisation of the London Underground
which represented poor value for money - costing upwards of £1 billion of taxpayer's money just to set up & finance - when there were far cheaper alternative options that could have been used.
Britain is one of the richest nations on the planet. We have vast mineral reserves (oil + gas) which should be benefiting everyone. These mineral reserves will not last forever - we should not squander the wealth generated from their exploitation on short term expenditure. OK so some people suggest that we should not be extracting fossil fuels from below the ground - & I agree with them - but the fact is that this is happening so at a very minimum the financial rewards should be benefiting all of us - and not just a few very wealthy multinational companies and / or family groups. The arguments against extracting fossil fuels extend beyond (air) pollution to the vast subterranean caverns it causes and that the oil (is claimed to) lubricate the crustal "plates" where they meet - one day the lack of this lubrication will result in a tectonic pay-back with horrific results. Nikola Tesla and Viktor Schauberger (amongst several others) both developed non-polluting clean energy systems - but fossil fuels are good for the stock market, whilst their technologies are not.
It is true that the government is spending some money on the railways - but sadly most of it seems to be falling down a series of "black holes". In July 2004 the SRA published figures which show that the railways are carrying 33% more passengers compared to when they were privatised BUT costs have risen by a whopping 500%!!! Nowadays fares only account for 42% of costs, compared to 76% under the former British Railways' (BR) best performance in the 1980's.
Of course it is also important that we, the taxpayers receive good value for the monies which are extracted from us. The principle constraint to achieving the needed investments is what has come to be known as the "boiling frogs" phenomena. A frog placed in a pan of cold water which is slowly heated will happily remain there until the water becomes quite hot and the frog is cooked. As a contrast, if placed into the water when its already warm the frog will try to escape. Since privatisation railway costs - whether maintenance or upgrades - have been represented by that slowly warming water with no-one really being aware of the ongoing situation - until now, by when the situation has become so severe that it has already seriously compromised the funding of much needed reopening / expansions of the rail network.
Part of the problem is that railway privatisation created new expenses which did not exist previously - for instance the former BR owned its trains but now they have been transferred to privatised rolling stock companies (ROSCO) which rent them out to the train operating companies (who mostly receive the money they pay the ROSCO's from the government). Many people question whether these rental fees are too high - especially for older trains which have been fully 'paid for'. They also resent the ROSCO's paying their shareholders dividends from what effectively is taxpayer's money, claiming that this money should be spent in investments which grow the railway!
Another "new" expenditure / burden on taxpayers is that whenever a railway line has to be closed (for either maintenance or upgrades) the infrastructure company must pay the train operating companies compensation for possibly lost income. This figure can be quite substantial! As an aside, this is in direct contrast with the situation on the roads were road works usually sees road users suffering a triple whammy of longer and slower journeys with speed cameras for those who do not want to suffer the inevitable "time-theft" plus a financial penalty from increased fuel consumption caused by sitting in traffic and / or using a longer diversionary route - the latter also means the government benefits from increased fuel duty tax revenues.
These issues are indicative of the wider problem the railways face since the former BR was split into a multitude of businesses, each of which has its own profit centre, shareholders, etc. driving up overall costs. There is an urgent need to force those (and train rental) costs down to more realistic inflation adjusted figures, plus for very strict controls on how the money is spent.
The question as to whether some organisations are profiteering at the taxpayer's expense also extends to the cost of new works - for instance for the cost of third rail electrification of the Ashford - Hastings and Edenbridge line one contractor quoted just £27m compared with the £156m quoted by the strategic Rail Authority and Network Rail. Information source - a report entitled "Reducing the costs and the causes of costs of the railway" by The Rail Freight Group http://www.rfg.org.uk/ftp/r30714%20reducing%20the%20costs.7.rtf (NB: page opens in a new window).
According to media reports it is more than 12 years since auditors passed the accounts of the European Union. Yet we still let them take taxpayers' money! In 2005 they received a whopping £15 billion of British taxpayer's hard earned money. Would any other organisation be allowed to operate like this??? Apparently horrendous amounts of money are "going astray" and despite attempts to plug the leaks the money is still being siphoned off... where to, I wonder? (a rhetorical question - this is far larger an issue than either a few unscrupulous people or organised crime could account for... this may sound like a 'dumb' comment but as its not as if the very survival of humanity depends on it - nor is it about TEOTWAWKI - anyway as this site is about [urban] transport, pollution, traffic congestion, etc., so perhaps this is not the best place to explore the possible answers). As most countries in the EU receive far more money than they contribute they wont want to "rock the boat" too much in case the resulting waves sees them losing out. Britain is one of only three countries which actually contributes more than it receives and if we stopped the flow of money until the leakages were plugged then we could reduce our contribution (without any financial loss to official schemes) - resulting in even more money to invest in our domestic transport systems.
It is time that the British Taxpayer's money and the British nation's windfall fossil fuel wealth stopped being "cash cows" for the few...
Passenger transport should be about public service - not shareholders earning dividends - aka taking money out of the system - especially when so much of that money originally came from taxpayers!!
Time passes, yet some things do not change - in November 2008 it became known that 2007 was the 14th consecutive year that the accounts failed to be 'signed off' by the EU Court of Auditors as being accurate and reliable.
Yet still our leaders willingly give them money to fritter away.
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This page was mostly written in the period 2000 - 2004 and since 2008 has only received cosmetic updates.