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The Train now arriving is Late

by Helen Fri Sep 7th, 2007 at 10:22:40 AM EST

[Wednesday]'s headlines in Britain [were] all agog about the running of a demonstration train on the new high-speed link from London to Paris. Considering that the Channel Tunnel, at the time one of the major civil engineering feats ever accomplished, itself took less time to dig than building a railway line from Maidstone to London it is hard to feel anything other than ashamed at the paucity of ambition and cheapskated attitude to public infrastructure in the UK.

From the diaries ~ whataboutbob

Yet look at a map of Britain, compared with the size of the country, London is practically next door to the Channel. What  are the rest of the country, people in major cities such as Birmingham, Manchester, Glasgow, supposed to do ? Get on a plane and fly seems to be the dismissive opinion of our Lords and Masters safely esconsed in their pieds-a-terre in Westminster (approx 3 miles from St Pancras).

As The Independent demonstrates;-

Between 6.30am and 9am today, three flights are scheduled to take off from Parisian airports for the 300-mile trip to Lyons. From the London airports to Manchester, less than 200 miles away, nine flights are scheduled. The French capital has had high-speed trains since 1981. When London's first such link opens in November, the only place you will be able to reach is France.

Britain's railways have suffered decades of under-investment and neglect from politicians of all stripes, but without doubt the greatest blow came from Dr Beeching during the 60s. It was true that the railways at the time were losing over £100 million a year, but such was the naivety of the times that nobody worried if Ernest Marples, the Transport Minister, a man whose personal fortunes were based in road construction, might have a conflict of interest in deciding the fate of the entire railway system. He appointed Dr Beeching, whose brief suggested that the railway system should be run like a business and not a public service, and that if parts of the railway system did not pay their way--like some rural branch lines--they should be closed. His reasoning was that once these were closed, the remaining core of the system would be restored to profitability. All of the feeder services lost could be replaced by "bustitution" (bus + substitution) with no loss to the network.

Howeveer, Beeching did more than close a few branch lines; he closed a quarter of the railway network and half of all the stations. It wasn't just minor routes that disappeared, it was major trunk routes were deleted by one wave of a pen. Large towns and entire regions were removed from the rail map. So what happened was that, without a railway on their doorstep people simply drove; "bustitution" failed. The passengers were entirely lost to public transport (SNCF beware). The whole affair was entirely typical of British politician's contempt for public transport.

Which is why it was that when trains first came through the Channel tunnel, slowing from 180 mph in France to the 60 mph of British rails suburban network, President Mitterand was able to joke of travellers "enjoying the Kent countryside at their leisure". And it is why it has taken 13 years to build 50 miles of railway. The Victorians did better with steam and muscle.

Are there plans to extend the high-speed network thorughout Britain ? Sadly if Gordon Brown has to pay for any it, there won't be.

And yet...and yet if we return to Beeching, one of the major trunk routes that he closed was the Great Central Railway, running from London to Manchester via Sheffield. Completed just before 1900, an age when Britons could still be be bold & forward thinking it was supposed to eventually connect with an imagined Channel Tunnel and, built to continental loading gauge and allowing sustained running at 100 mph plus,  provide a conduit for high speed railway links between the Continent and the North of Britain. But in this age of bean counters and ministry men who can only say no, it was bulldozed to save less than a million quid.

If only...but welcome to Britain, land of the car and the airport. London may, at last, be on the European hi-speed railway network, but Britain never will be.

About 3 years ago I had a couple of interesting meetings with Alan Stevens, then CFO of Central Railway, who had developed a very serious business case for a dedicated freight route along much of the old GCR track and then across to Liverpool.

Central Railway Route

It ran into resistance from HMG, hit the buffers, and the entrepreneur behind it died.

But it seems to have struggled on nevertheless, as good ideas will; Alan is now CEO, and it launched a nice new web-site last year.

2006    Central Railway recommences promotion of revised proposals for a diesel lorry-trailers-on-trains and double stack container railway from northern France and Belgium to the English Regions, Scotland and (via Liverpool's port) Ireland

Central Railway news (mid 2006)

My interest lies, of course, in how such a venture might be optimally structured financially and legally, and integrated with the (refinanced) Channel Tunnel.

I'd be interested in DoDo's professional take on the viability. It might even be worth a Diary.

"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson

by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Wed Sep 5th, 2007 at 12:21:15 PM EST
I don't get any sense of how they will solve some major problems, such as the entire trackbed north of Nottingham for many miles has been entirely destroyed. That entire area is heavily developed and I would like to see some statements or a feasibility study on where they're gonna put a replacement railway from Leicester on north.

keep to the Fen Causeway
by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Wed Sep 5th, 2007 at 12:32:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The detailed route used to be on the site. They spent a LOT of money with people like Parsons on coming up with that detailed scheme, and they weren't trurned down because it couldn't be built.

It was the usual Treasury crap that also got most of the tram schemes (MerseyTram, Leeds SuperTram) binned.

I guess they would have to update the study in the light of the last couple of years' development (but don't forget development doesn't happen overnight, so I should think their plans are still valid)

They only used the GCR route where that was still feasible: it certainly wasn't going through Nottingham Victoria....

"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson

by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Wed Sep 5th, 2007 at 01:30:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Chris: Why was the Leeds Tram scheme binned?
by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Wed Sep 5th, 2007 at 02:57:08 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The Treasury - which was stumping up a large chunk of the money - required cast iron guarantees from the local council that it wouldn't go over budget.

They changed the goalposts as they went along as well: the whole thing   was a total fiasco. They kept stringing it - demanding more info etc etc - along and then - because of the time passing - upped their demands on the council because of increased construction costs.

"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson

by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Wed Sep 5th, 2007 at 03:19:46 PM EST
[ Parent ]
So basically they want to bring the transport situation to complete implosion.
by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Wed Sep 5th, 2007 at 04:02:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]
No, it's because cars are good and everything else is bad.

Roads are treated as investment. Rail is treated as expenditure. The rules which are used to calculate the value - or not - of spending are completely different, and the rigidity with which they're enforced is also completely different.

On top of it all you have enforced public-private partnerships and franchises which have wasted billions.

The rail franchise companies are smart and know how the game works. Because rail is supposed to be profitable, you promise the Treasury that you will make huge and juicy repayments by the end of your run, in return for a subsidy at the start.

Then when adverse conditions make your huge and juicy repayments impossible - completely unexpectedly, of course - you declare bankruptcy and walk away.

There have been two high profile collapses - GNER and Metronet - which have done exactly this. Sea Containers which ran GNER was always financially marginal, but anyone with a brain could have realised that the original GNER franchise deal was insane. Likewise with Metronet.

NEG has now 'negotiated' a deal for the GNER's former East Coast line franchise which requires even higher payments to the Treasury than the GNER deal did.

The wankers at the Treasury either don't realise they're being played - watch what happens when NEG suddenly isn't able to make those payments a few years from now - or are fully complicit and corrupt.

My guess is there's a whole lot of the latter going on than anyone wants to admit.

The end result is that passenger care ends up at the bottom of the list. This supposedly privatised railway is costing the UK are more in real terms than it did when it was publicly owned, and offers much lower performance. Engineering and management experience has also been fragmented.

Roads, meanwhile, have continued along more or less the same lines as they have since Beeching's day, with contractors doing very nicely out of building for the short term and then having to make renewals on a rolling basis.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Wed Sep 5th, 2007 at 04:57:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
All this is true and I even knew it before.

But there has been 2 (that's 2) new roads in the Leeds area over the last 10 years. One is the M1/A1 link, which isn't anything to do with the city centre mostly, more about linking Scotland and London more easily.

The other is 2.7km of ring road extension.

Now I'll happily admit that's more investment than some areas have got (including where I live.)

But as someone who has to go into Leeds quite regularly for work I can say that volume of people going in and out every day is only increasing and there appears no plan at all to handle that, not even a corrupt road based plan.

And don't get me started on the GNER and NEG fiascos, that's the rail line I have to use... ;-)

by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Wed Sep 5th, 2007 at 05:13:51 PM EST
[ Parent ]
That's because you're near Leeds. Which is North somewhere. Of course there's not going to be any money spent up there, because no one who matters ever goes there.

Most of the money seems to have gone on motorway renewals in the south of the UK - with plenty of medium scale widening/improving/reworking schemes of relatively minor utility but high profitability - e.g. putting a bridge over one of the junctions on an A4 feeder road near Swindon, which must have shaved as much as a minute off journey times.

It's true we've stopped building motorways, but I suspect that's partly because even the civil servants finally realised that massed public protests were bad for business, and expensive too.

E.g. The A303 London/Exeter road could easily be motorwayed. I'm sure the funding would magically appear if a plan could be agreed, but politically it's not worth the aggro.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Wed Sep 5th, 2007 at 05:44:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I think the UK's Cars good Trains bad attitude goes back of the 70's and 80's and the fight against the unions, At the time the car industry was the biggest employer in the UK. If your car workers went on strike it didn't really hurt anyone apart from the car workers (and a few associated industries) if your railway workers went on strike, the whole country could grind to a halt relatively quickly. to keep employment high the theory was to push a car based lifestyle.

If this is right then once again we are looking at messing ourselves up by trying to deal with the percieved economic problems of thirty years ago, now.

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.

by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Wed Sep 5th, 2007 at 05:25:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It was the whole Thatcher Individualism thing: I seem to recall a proud boast that she hadn't been on a train throughout her term in office...

"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson
by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Wed Sep 5th, 2007 at 06:43:50 PM EST
[ Parent ]
And yet they still turn down my plan to turn the milenium dome into the Margret Thatcher Mausoleum and memorial dancehall, so we can all dance on her grave.

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Wed Sep 5th, 2007 at 06:57:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You didn't mention the biggest licence to print money in the whole Mare's Nest: the ROSCO's....

"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson
by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Wed Sep 5th, 2007 at 06:41:37 PM EST
[ Parent ]
A late reply:

I'm not read-up on the project in detail, but from what I know, it is a very ambitious one: it's not simply about bringing standard European cross-section freight to Britain, but going beyond, as US-style double-stack containers are beyond the largest European normal-gauge cross-section. I consider this part of the project less viable, not only due to significant infrastructure investment needs this side of the Chunnel, but compatibility, too -- e.g. containers travelling say from Warshaw would have to be re-loaded in Paris or Lille.

If they would just go for normal cross-section, and get a good agreement with SNCF for the passage of freight there, I think it would make sense.

I note that in terms of railways out of the local standard, the most striking example is a Russian broad-gauge freight line, which extends 400 km into Poland from the Ukrainian border, with a planned extension (which is unlikely until Poland is ruled by nationalists) reaching the edge of the Czech Republic. (Check this map, it's a narrow red-dotted green line.)

Another negative point from my point of view is going for diesel traction, but financially, it is unfortunately a good choice.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Mon Sep 10th, 2007 at 05:02:48 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Another negative point from my point of view is going for diesel traction, but financially, it is unfortunately a good choice.

Even considering peak oil?

Oye, vatos, dees English sink todos mi ships, chinga sus madres, so escuche: el fleet es ahora refloated, OK? — The War Nerd

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Sep 10th, 2007 at 05:04:43 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Good choice now. Where you should not only consider fuel costs, but costs of equipment for multiple electricity systems. There are a lot of freight trains from Germany to ports in the Netherlands or Belgium, especially those run by private companies, that use (mostly Russian- or US-built) heavy diesels on electrified lines.

I'd hope $300 oil would change the picture radically even if interoperability would not be brought further by then.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Mon Sep 10th, 2007 at 05:18:29 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The background here is the fact that the Treasury is owned and paid for by the City.

There's been occasional token resistance to City-fication, but aside from a few scraps of populist red-meat - and it's hard to think of any really significant ones - the free-market parasites have settled in with their wormy ideology. The concept of government spending as public service - never mind investment - has been pulped.

The UK's civil service is staffed with time servers and non-entities who are paid not to make decisions. There are endless time-wasting options available, including expensive public enquiries whose results are ignored (climate change, anyone?), outright head-in-the-sand denial, and deliberate ministerial distraction.

Ministers come and go, they rarely have any experience of the subjects they're supposed to be managing (which is a bizarre tradition in itself) and they're very deftly isolated from public opinion by civil servants and consultants who are on the make.

The UK will never be a healthy country until these people are either thrown out or die out.

Current policies will prove ruinous - literally - after peak oil. There will be probably be bleating about how no one saw it coming, but most of the people responsible will be as trapped in the mess as everyone else is.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Wed Sep 5th, 2007 at 12:36:20 PM EST
Since it's quite hard to take your bike on eurostar, the only option left is the 39 euros bus ticket (7 hours trip)


Record de lenteur entre Londres et Paris

Il est désormais possible de se rendre de Londres à Paris en trois jours à peine ! Vraiment, on n'arrête pas le progrès.


Appréciés des étudiants désargentés, des candidats à l'immigration illégale et des contrebandiers de tout poil, ces autocars ont la particularité de vous transporter de Paris à Londres, votre vélo et vous, en sept heures, sans rupture de charge et pour la somme dérisoire de 39 euros ! Je subodore d'ailleurs que cette expérience inédite donnera matière à une note sur ce site mais je m'avance peut-être...[...]

by Laurent GUERBY on Wed Sep 5th, 2007 at 04:38:19 PM EST
... rather than a folding bike.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Fri Sep 7th, 2007 at 12:56:37 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Helen, you're on a roll.

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Sep 5th, 2007 at 05:59:42 PM EST
thanks, I felt that after some of my more personal diaries I owed the site some relevant stuff. I'm away next week and busy here and there but I've got 4 diaries in the pipe, tho only one is a relevant.

keep to the Fen Causeway
by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Wed Sep 5th, 2007 at 06:04:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Stop worrying about relevance. They're all very well written and they all have a point.

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Sep 5th, 2007 at 06:05:48 PM EST
[ Parent ]
if you lived in the United States.

I visited Britain just once, a decade ago when I could afford to travel, but at that time I felt the country was blessed with rail service when compared to what we Americans have managed to cling onto in the States. I agree with you, but if Britain is the land of the car and the airport, then America is the wasteland.

Good essay.

by Magnifico on Thu Sep 6th, 2007 at 01:07:09 AM EST
I think I was about 10 when we did a project on the Channel Tunnel in my class.  They were digging it at the time and I just thought it was absolutely amazing.  I remember being quite amused when they managed to miss each under the channel.

You are right though, Britain really ought to be much further ahead with railway infrastructure.  It's a huge problem in Wales - an airport link recently opened between North and South Wales because by car it takes half a day and it's even longer by train.  We'll see what the Wales Transport Strategy and regional committees come up with.

You can guarantee that when Britain does start to sort out it's act with high speed rail links, it will only be for select bits of England.  Wales will be left off the map completely.

by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Fri Sep 7th, 2007 at 12:22:00 PM EST
I remember being quite amused when they managed to miss each under the channel.

I'm not sure I understand, do you mean that tunnelling teams failed to meet? If that is the case, you must have been misinformed back then: the information that may have been corrupted was that one of the tunnel boring machines was simply driven to the right of the tunnel axis before the end point and left there, because that was deemed cheaper than dismounting it & transporting the parts all the way back.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Fri Sep 7th, 2007 at 02:57:34 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Bah, I liked the version I was told!!
by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Sat Sep 8th, 2007 at 08:21:49 AM EST
[ Parent ]
On the new line: Britain already had a high-speed line, given that what is opened now is only the second section of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link, albeit the more expensive one (with 19 km of tunnels under London, and the tunnel under the Thames, and the station reconstruction).

On the state of Britain's railways, I have to disagree with you. Unfortunately, Mr. Beeching had his counterparts practically everywhere in Europe (maybe Switzerland is the one true exception), some of the branchline killing sweeps were done already in the fifties, and some countries had mulrtiple waves (for example Germany). France included (I indicated that in my Un tour de France diary).

Britain was special in the very late nationalisation of railways, and thus the higher frequency of parallel mainlines that were seen redundant. But this only explains that Mr. Beeching could lay hands on more mainlines that his German or Italian colleagues.

I'm not sure about the real reason. I suspect it already started in the seventies, when BR tinkered with the APT, at a time other West European state railways had larger-scale and more practically (and successfully) executed modernisation programmes. But I am fairly certain that Thatcher's anti-rail attitude was a big part of it, it stopped any significant modernisation drive, while the Continent started into the IC/EC era.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Fri Sep 7th, 2007 at 03:11:40 PM EST
However, Beeching failed by his own standards. He only saved £7 million, yet the cuts that he made deprived the network of vital links and passenger feeds. "Bustitution" was a monumental failure.

He could have, should have, reduced the original Midland line instead of the Central line. He completely failed to understand railways as a business, as a national resource.

You're possibly right that the deliberate indifference of later politicians played its part, but Beeching left a railway system that was too deprived of passengers to work properly

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Fri Sep 7th, 2007 at 03:39:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]
However, Beeching failed by his own standards.

I note so did his continental colleagues. This 'transport policy' of cutbacks was a monumental idiocy, yet it is an expectation on new EU members to boldly repeat it...

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Mon Sep 10th, 2007 at 05:05:04 AM EST
[ Parent ]
By the way, the exchange with Migeru reminds me that I thought of another reason in the meantime: electrification.

Britain decided in the fifties to follow the US example of dieselisation, rather than the continental route to electrification. But by the sixties, electric locomotives were clearly superior in speed and power, and economics, too. And it was the basis for further developments elsewhere (which also benefitted diesel-electrics).

Do you know how and who decided that, and whether Mr. Beeching had a role in that, too?

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Mon Sep 10th, 2007 at 06:41:46 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I think it was a need to create a shop window for British products in an international market. We had a large industrial diesel sector wishing to push into the global railway market, whilst the electrical manufacturers didn´t have the same vision seeing as it required expensive start-up costs for the infrastructure and other countries had got there first.

Things were already changing by the beginning of the 60s, but there was certainly a momentum that carried through to the 80s.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Mon Sep 10th, 2007 at 12:50:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]
expensive start-up costs for the infrastructure

...indeed, which was in effect what made the future elsewhere -- also because once electrification was decided, modern electronic signalling and train safety systems could be done in the same go.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Mon Sep 10th, 2007 at 02:10:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]

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