Train Service

Ten years in, and still they can’t make the trains run on time

There comes a moment in the twilight of any regime when the mood of the mob suddenly changes. An ugliness descends, a ruthlessness, a fury. It is the essence of all great putsches that by then the rulers have become too arrogant or isolated to notice.

If the Tsar had been smart enough to go incognito around the soup kitchens of St Petersburg in 1917, he might have had an inkling of what was to hit him. If Margaret Thatcher had put a scarf over her head and sneaked up Whitehall to have a peek at the poll tax riots in Trafalgar Square in 1990, she might not have been defenestrated by her party.

And if Labour ministers had the guts to use the Monday morning service of any First Great Western train, they would discover why the mood of the British travelling public is poised to go critical.

The foam is bubbling ominously over the side of the alembic. One by one, the carbon graphite rods of public patience are popping out of the nuclear pile. Nail after nail is pinging from the great wooden crate, and any moment now the vast Tyrannosaurus Rex of commuter rage will come smashing forth to storm from Paddington to Westminster and CHOMP!; and if Tony Blair or Gordon Brown have the slightest sense of self-preservation, they will go tonight, and allow themselves to be wedged in under the armpit of their integrated transport disaster, and see what it is like to be a commuter to points west.

Let them crowd into the toilets, currently accommodating four people standing. Let them sway together with the train-users of the South East, cheek by jowl, hip to hip, so closely wedged in their Adelante cattle trucks that the nostril breath of their neighbour ruffles their hair and the dreadful iPod shish-tinkle pours from the ear of the girl in front and fills their skull.

Let them hear the pitiful bleating excuses of First Great Western: the drivers who overslept, the drivers who woke up in time but could not get a taxi, the drivers who simply forgot to stop at certain stations, in a fantastic new phenomenon known as “driver diagram error”.

Let them learn all about the journey times, such as the trip from Pangbourne to London that 20 years ago could be comfortably accomplished in 40 minutes, and seems to take 80 minutes today.

If, as I strongly suggest, they take the Henley route, they will discover that the fastest journey time is now on average 30 minutes longer, and although that gives them more time to enjoy the beautiful riparian scenery, they will find out what it is like to chew the seats in frustration, not least since the cutbacks mean there is hardly ever anything else to eat.

They will be told, if they have the nerve to experience the havoc they have wreaked, that the slogan of First Great Western is “Transforming Travel”; and if they conduct one of their impromptu focus groups aboard, they will find out that, for thousands of people, FGW has indeed transformed travel into a living hell.

Across the commuter belt, children are in effect growing up without seeing their parents. Social lives are vanishing. Economic opportunities are going begging as people decide they simply can’t face the journey, or the £5,000 cost of a season ticket — and the most amazing thing of all is the response of the train company to this Tokyo-style overcrowding.

It has adopted a new timetable that seems, if anything, to have made matters worse, and has decided to alleviate pressures at one station by deciding to bypass another.

Isn’t that brilliant? My email inbox is melting down with outrage, and there must be dozens of other MPs who would confirm that First Great Western is about as popular in the area as Union Carbide in Bhopal.

Which in one way is fair enough, since the new timetable is indeed a shambles; and yet the passenger fury directed at the train operating companies is also very convenient for the Government.

The fundamental problem is not that the train companies are monstrously abusing the travelling public, though they are. The real scandal is the way Gordon Brown and the Treasury are screwing money out of these companies in the first place, making them pay so much for the franchise that they simply don’t have enough to invest in services.

Gordon has stung First Great Western for £1.2 billion over the next 10 years, and no wonder they have old Adelantes and Turbos chuntering over the routes, when what they need are the 472-seat high-speed trains.

As it happens, they do physically possess these high-speed trains, but they are currently in mothballs, and cannot be put back on track for the next 12 months, for reasons no one seems to be able to explain.

Unbelievable! And even if they did want to lay on more capacity now, the Government interferes at every turn. There are currently 14 officials in the Department of Transport who are working on the railway timetable, and at a recent meeting with angry MPs Alistair Darling, the Transport Secretary, was seen to be poring over his copy of Bradshaw and musing on whether or not an 0848 service could be added to some branch line, in addition to the 0932. The Secretary of State!

The Government is simultaneously blaming the train companies for the mess, while bleeding them of cash and micromanaging the timetable to destruction, and at a time when passenger numbers have risen by 40 per cent over the past 10 years.

Gordon’s strategy seems to be to try to deter anyone else from using the railways (and numbers are predicted to rise a further 50 per cent to 2012) by forcing the train companies to supply a disintegrating service at an extortionate price. In the meantime, passenger misery will increase, and in a real and appreciable way our quality of life will decline.

It is no way to run a railroad, let alone a country. If First Great Western really cannot produce these high-speed trains until the end of the year, I suggest that passengers unite, roll up our sleeves, and offer to get them out of mothballs ourselves. It is no use looking to Gordon Brown, because it is painfully obvious that he is broke, and is using passenger suffering as a means of saving money.

60 thoughts on “Train Service”

  1. To return to an issue recently discussed elsewhere in this website, if the government is concerned enough about climate change to want to reduce carbon emissions, they should be doing all they can to make it easier and more attractive for people to travel by train where practical, rather than fly or drive.

  2. Trains are sooo yesterday. They are the dinosaurs of public transport. You make hundreds of people wait for a string of carriages, herd them in, then stop the whole rolling mass if just one person wants to climb aboard or get off.

    They are hugely expensive to build and maintain. Their message to the traveller is “like it or lump it”.

    The future is Personal Rapid Transport

    Sadly no-one has the courage or vision to pilot this exciting mode of transport, least of all a government that sees the travelling public as just another cow to be milked.

  3. Oh come on Paul, I know you really are enthused about the PRT concept, but trains are ideal for medium distance transport. If I want to get from home near Nottingham to London, then a train is ideal, about from the frightening cost. Just a few years ago I travelled the 300 miles from Lyons to Paris in 2 hours on a TGV. We need that sort of transport link here. PRT pods can come along later for urban travel.

  4. Yeah OK, Chris and Jaq. I had to get that one in.

    However, an advanced PRT system would allow the local pods to link up with long-distance modules capable of much higher speeds.

    Will we ever see it? Probably not in my lifetime, although we may see a few more billions pumped into politically correct “cures” for global warming.

  5. This is music to my ears. The reality of the trains is still a network of hulking tin cans lurching, at least 7 minutes late, around the country with miserable passengers. This, of course, never shows up in the performance data because it’s measured from 8 minutes and up. Meaning Labour and the train leeches can pat themselves on the back for fixing the statistics so well.

    The ham fisted sloth-man of Labour has absolutely no idea what it’s like to freeze in the winter waiting for a missing service when the others were cancelled. Or the glory of accidentally dry humping the person in front of you due to overcrowding.

    In fact they’re so out of touch, their overpriced party at the GMEX in Manchester over the summer only caused us to suffer more. Great planning guys! Have your Labour conference right next to busy commuter train/tram lines.

    The whole thing is just dreadful and sadly there’s little hope for change. Well, except for the Manchester congestion charge, which will nicely puff out the city council’s coffers…

  6. Hmmm. Now let me remember who it was that turned state monopoly train services into private monopoly train services?
    Privatisation is fine, when you introduce competition, but was never going to work on rail services. And even worse than that, the way it was done with the buck for delays passed from TOCs to Network Rail (Railtrack) and then on to their contractors was never going to work.

  7. Hmmm. Now let me remember who it was that turned state monopoly train services into private monopoly train services? (Duncan Borrowman)

    Well, exactly. It’s a bit rich of Boris to be blaming Labour for something the Tories started.

    I used to be a fairly regular train traveller (but never a commuter) through the Fifties, Sixties, and Seventies, before it was privatised, and my recollection is that the trains mostly ran pretty much on time. Either that, or we were all rather less impatient than we are now. I can certainly remember occasions when trains stopped in the middle of nowhere for 20 minutes or so.

    I take one look at the prices these days, and go by National Express if I need to use public transport.

  8. Ugh. Honestly, everyone knows the whole privatisation problem came from the Tories. But how long can you go on blaming them for the current problems? We have a government now of a different party who, ideally, have the power to better public transport. They haven’t and as a result should be held accountable for its direness.

    ‘Not fit for purpose….’

  9. I fail to understand what mileage there is in basically saying ‘well it was all your fault anyway, you started it’. A political party is a group of individuals that follow basic principles. The members of the party now shouldn’t be held responsible for the actions of others in the party 15 or 20 years ago. The fundamental point as I see it, is that New Labour have been in power for the best part of three terms; 9 years. They’ve had time. The argument ‘you started it’ is redundant.

  10. I was shifting the blame away from Labour – as a Lib Dem it is a curse on both their houses.
    But Boris’s protestations are a bit rich. The fact is that privatisation has certainly moved any power to do anything about the state of the railways away from the government – that is the whole point of privatisation!

  11. Didn’t Nulabour windfall tax the railways when they had the temerity to be profitable, then steal, sorry, renationalise, (or whatever it was they did to railcrack) then when they weren’t?
    Sure, the privatisation was a mess, but there has been plenty of time to fix that. McBroons view of enterprise as a bottomless pit of money to fund his bunch’s increasingly bizarre social experiments (with us the guinea pigs) is the root cause of this terrible state of affairs.

  12. On the last few times I’ve been in the UK I’ve only used the trains once. The service was so-so, the kids liked the novelty of a train ride, and the price was frightening. The cost put us off altogether, so no UK train rides since that one.
    Over the last 12 months or so I’ve been working in Tokyo . The trains are sometimes *very* crowded, but they are always clean, pretty much on time, and very cheap to use by most standards. Many of the trains are quite old, but since they aren’t vandalised and are maintained that’s ok. The automated ticketing equipment is in many cases ancient, but they obviously update the guts of the machines because they are right up to date in the types of tickets and ways to pay. If you pay for a ticket at a machine with a large denomination note, you get the change in notes too – not sure if that’s a novelty to the UK, but it would be really good if someone here in Australia picked up on that one.
    The problems with your trains resemble the problems with the bus services here in Perth, and its the way they were privatised and are now regulated that lies at the root of the problems. Deregulate them (basic safety apart), open the market, see what happens – it couldn’t be worse.

  13. As a champion of the capitalism, I have to say that free market monopolies are a farce. Without any competition, the service becomes a race to the bottom, with cost-cutting being the only priority. Now I’m not saying that public services are paragons of efficiency – far from it, in fact – but capitalism thrives on competition and prices. In the rail sector we have neither.

    I say concrete over the railways and turn them into highways for high-speed coaches and heavy goods vehicles. This could introduce more competition to public transport and relieve the regular road network of a huge amount of traffic.

  14. I got lost on the subway of a Japanese city some 18 months ago, laden with shopping, baffled by the ticket machines and the maps. All of six Japanese people came to my assistance, one after the other, independently of each other, and guided me to my destination. The last one came up to me to simply ask if I needed any further help.

    I wonder if that ever happens in London?

  15. <I say concrete over the railways and turn them into highways for high-speed coaches and heavy goods vehicles. (Tayles)<

    A logistical nightmare! Rail networks link to heavy industry for freight transportation. How many lorries would we need to carry the contents of one heavy freight train? How would this transportation of commodoties and waste be organised during the years that we carry out this work you’re advocating? What about mail? One lorry jack-knife’s on the East-Coast Main Line and it would all come to a standstill.

    It’s not just London commuters that use the rail networks you know!

  16. I will never forget that aerial picture, taken after rail privatisation, of a locomotive being escorted down the M1. A huge operation involving convoys and outriders, with a long snake of traffic crawling behind it.

    Why send a locomotive by road? It was cheaper than rail!

    Insane. Completely and utterly bonkers.

  17. The railways should never have been privatized in the first place. Trying to get the railways or water companies to work as private companies is just tinkering. Renationalizing is the first step to any improvement.

    And if you want to see a first class underground system go to Bangkok.

  18. A logistical nightmare! Rail networks link to heavy industry for freight transportation. How many lorries would we need to carry the contents of one heavy freight train? How would this transportation of commodoties and waste be organised during the years that we carry out this work you’re advocating? What about mail? One lorry jack-knife’s on the East-Coast Main Line and it would all come to a standstill. – Steven

    90% of freight is at present carried on the roads. And most goods that travel by train are transported to and from the railhead by truck. This is an extremely inefficient way of doing things. There’s no reason why they couldn’t do the whole journey by road. As for mail, I think the last mail train shut down last year.

    The rail network in the UK is as extensive as the motorways and trunk roads combined. It is subsidised by the taxpayer to the tune of £5 billion a year and is estimated to need another £50-£100 billion investment over the next 10 years.

    Despite the subsidies, its fares are much higher than comparable journeys by coach. The fuel efficiency per passenger mile travelled by train is no better than that of an average diesel car carrying two people. Trains carry about 2% of travellers. Half the population of England use the train less than once a year and it is four times more likely to be used by the richer sections of society than the poorer ones.

    Imagine if the 10,000 miles of railway lines were concreted over and turned into trunk roads, with no traffic lights or crossroads, to be used only by lorries and coaches. They could carry up to 10 times as many passengers per hour as the railway. Instead of one train of several coaches leaving every half-an-hour, dreamliner coaches carrying over 50 passengers could depart every 5 minutes. Even with the existing congested road system, a coach fare is on about five times cheaper than the lowest rail fare, so with dedicated roads with no congestion, a coach would be even cheaper.

    As for the cost issue, it has been estimated that the cost of concreting over the railways would be a fraction of the projected expense of upgrading them for rail transport. A single railway coach costs over £1.2 million, while a diesel train costs about £10 million. A dreamliner coach costs about £150,000 and is a fraction of the weight of a single train carriage. And besides, pneumatic tyres are far more effective at moving an object than metal wheels on metal tracks, where much of the energy is lost in heat.

    There is a case for retaining high-speed long-distance train systems, like the but for shorter journeys it is simply unviable. Fast trains cannot travel on the same tracks as slower suburban trains without without sidetracks and expensive signalling. No such problem exists with road transport.

    Face it, trains are an obsolete Victorian relic. We seem to have some romantic attachment to them, but they are a desperately inefficient method of getting about. I think we should take the lead and be the first country to throw them on the scrapheap.

  19. The UK is still suffering for being the first to industrialisation etc etc, and for fifty years most politicians have been lousy at their jobs.
    The railway network still suffers from the same problems the road network does – over-interference from Whitehall and dis-jointed planning. As well as lack of free space for easy development, with huge conurbations increasing costs and development times.
    I PROPOSE: integrate the freight network with 80% of the HGVs’ cargo being carried by rail, with networks of smaller delivery lorries at efficient loading/unloading areas for local distribution.
    The result: the road transport network will become far safer, easier and quicker to use. It will require far less maintenance and small villages won’t be plagued with monster lorries squeezing along streets designed for horses and carts. The railways can only be profitable through regular, heavy freight haulage.
    Enforce the introduction of 150mpg (minimum) average motor cars running on bio-fuel (there could be such a vehicle on sale within months, with longer term development brigning more refinement and economy/speed.) Cruising speeds could be 90mph, it’s just that they would accelerate more gently and weigh far less.
    Investment should be directed towards bicycle use with a meaningful network of segregated lanes throughout the country. Losses of revenue from fuel duty will be made up for with a long term improvement in health.
    Nothinig difficult here, it just requires politicians with balls and backbone, as well as intelligence and vision.
    Perhaps we should import a few from Eastern Europe, as a BBC viewer shrewdly remarked a few weeks ago. They would be more efficient and better value for money.
    Maybe we can still lead the world?

  20. life is taking the Oxford/Heatrow train headed toward Oxford contemplating tranquility of Britain’s countryside (after 10:00am).

    Life is drinking a cup of double espresso at Blacwell or WHSmith (at the corner of cornmarket and StJiles) bookshop and reading an interesting book such as Oxford mysteries while glimpsing at Oxford Univ’s dons passing by emanating confidence of wisdom and students happy features in Broad street after they have passed their exams.

  21. Maybe we can still lead the world?

    In smugness and piety, perhaps. Taking trucks off the road is unworkable. The number of railheads required to facilitate nationwide distribution would make it unviable.

    Ultimately goods would still need to travel from the railhead to the end-user, and that means lorries on roads. Until we create some kind of matter transmitter, there’s no way around this fact.

  22. Tayles ignored the laws of physics and said:
    “And besides, pneumatic tyres are far more effective at moving an object than metal wheels on metal tracks, where much of the energy is lost in heat”

    Eh what?
    i suggest you acquire some elementary engineering and physics knowledge before making any more comments like this. A metal wheel rolling on a metal track has a co-efficient of friction many times lower than a pneumatic tyre. Have you never seen how many loaded coal wagons used to be pulled by a single horse on the earliest railways?

  23. I really should have said ‘rolling resistance’ rather than ‘co-efficient of friction’. The low friction between rail and wheel contributes to the extremely low rolling resistance of railway wheels, but also has the bad side effect that railway vehicles cannot brake quickly. The wheel starts to slide on the rail at quite low braking forces. This sliding is very bad as it wears flats on the wheels.

  24. Here I am seeing in the news that thr rights and needs of children and the rights of Catholics are being steam rollered by this PC worshipping Govt and the only thing I find here is about TRAINS!

    No wonder I dont vote any more!!!

  25. Perhaps I should have worded differently. The traction of pneumatic tyres is more effective at transferring energy into motion than metal wheels on metal rails, which waste much energy as heat. Since the energy used in moving an object depends on the mass multiplied by the distance travelled, it follows that the train is at a major disadvantage.

  26. “Perhaps I should have worded differently. The traction of pneumatic tyres is more effective at transferring energy into motion than metal wheels on metal rails, which waste much energy as heat. Since the energy used in moving an object depends on the mass multiplied by the distance travelled, it follows that the train is at a major disadvantage.

    Sorry mate, some of us have engineering degrees, and you’re talking tosh. Stop digging.

  27. Once again Tayles said:
    “Since the energy used in moving an object depends on the mass multiplied by the distance travelled, it follows that the train is at a major disadvantage.”

    Oh come on!!
    Once the train is up to speed, (on a level track to make the maths easier), the energy used to move it is dominated by air resistance, which is a cubic function of the velocity (unless laminar-flow can be maintained on the train, which even with the best streamlining, isn’t possible in cross-winds). The mass has little effect since the rolling resistance is so low. Energy needed is not a linear function of distance travelled, assuming the train is not slowed down or has to stop on the way. Perhaps rather than the concrete bus-routes, a proper high-speed rail network is more appropriate?

    The TGV Atlantique holds a speed of 320kph (200mph) for long periods and the track isn’t all that level, as the train uses its momentum to help it up inclines that normal trains would find to be impossible.

    I don’t think your coaches on dedicated motorways would get anywhere near, even if the normal national speed limit was not applied to these roads. (Which I can’t see the ‘safety-nannies’ being very happy with).

  28. I can’t pretend to be engineering graduate, so I won’t argue. But what about the other points, Morriss? You seem like a prime nay-sayer, so I’d be interested in your views.

    What about the cost of maintaing the trains and the enormous price of rolling stock? What about flexibility? Are diesel and electric trains as efficient and productive as an internal combustion engine? What about the lack of interest in rail travel? Is that because the service is rubbish or because they lack the flexibility of road travel?

    As I said, there is probably still a case for long-distance, high-speed trains like the TGV, but you can’t tell me that the suburban train services are up to much, or that they can live on the same lines as high speed services.

    For some, trains have a kind of earthy, flat-caps-and-cobblestones appeal that gets them all misty eyed. I think we could do with less nostalgia and romaniscism and more practicality. I think the idea that trains are the apothesis of mass transport is daft. I think a radical rethink is required.

  29. No, I actually agree that trains are not ideal for local services, although the Nottingham tram/light-rail system seems to be very effective. If we hadn’t ripped-up so many of the suburban lines however, we could have had a matrix of communicating corridors which would have been ideal as the physical-layer for PaulD’s local PRT network.

    Electric trains are actually quite power-efficient, given that the overhead supply is at 25kV so the current is kept down, reducing I^2R losses. (The dreadful 3rd rail system at 600V in the south-east is a totally different matter).

    But there also is the fact that travelling on a not-overcrowded train is pleasant. Travelling by a glorified bus is horrid. (IMO of course!)

  30. Travelling by a glorified bus is horrid. (IMO of course!)

    The dreamliner coaches are luxurious compared to most trains. Coaches are at least comfortable and because of their relative cheapness you could have one leaving every five minutes, if need be.

    I used to travel by intercity quite a bit and I loathed it: too hot in the summer, too cold in the winter, cramped, someone always sitting in your seat, broken loos, endless stoppages mid-journey, and if you got a busy one you could end up standing for the duration of your journey.

    On one memorable trip to Bangor (no I didn’t have luverly time – it’s a hellhole), I was on crutches and spent the first part of the journey sitting in the annex between carriages. Already dreading the second leg from Crewe, I was delighted when they said the train had been cancelled and a replacement coach service had been laid on. Instead of the slow, cold, clanking trek along the Welsh coast in a tired old locomotive, my fellow passengers and I were whisked the rest of the way in the comfort of a massive coach. I know which one I preferred.

  31. “Electric trains are actually quite power-efficient, given that the overhead supply is at 25kV so the current is kept down, reducing I^2R losses.”

    Don’t forget regenerative braking systems will claw back a lot of the energy you use in accelerating the train, a much simpler task with electric trains than the battery / flywheel / compressed gas abominations you need with IC locomotives. However, trains are less flexible than road vehicles (I don’t have a railway track outside my house, and never saw a train do a 3 point turn) and any realistic transport plan based on currently available technology will include road transport.

    Isn’t demand for rail travel rising at about 6% a year? (I read it, then I forgot) – I expect demand would rise a lot faster if the service didn’t suck, and whilst that’s a point which has been made several times by better men than I, no-one has yet pointed out one of the real cons of rail travel is the worthless chavster vermin with their feet on the seats one finds on trains. My car may ruin the environment, but there’s no dog poo on the seats.

  32. The Conservatives should be sued by the people of Great Britain for privatising the railways in the first place. It’s the stupidest thing ever done by a government and disallows any tory ever having a complaint about the state of the railways.

  33. I dunno, seems to me nationalising the steel industry, or abolishing access to education based on merit instead of parents income, would score pretty high, and if we expand ‘government’ to include foreign governments, what about the time Egypt passed a law stating PI was 3?

    Badly handled, yes, because the division of responsibilities & rewards was uneven, but there’s been plenty of time for Nulabour to iron out the kinks in a clearly necessary overall strategy were they interested, rather than setting up a tax haven for foreigh plutocrats & selling knighthoods under the table.

  34. Privatisation is a splendid idea, if there is competition. Bitter old Lefties start spitting nails at the idea, because they just hate the notion of people getting rich out of something that they view as an essential public service. Nationalised industries, for them, are the crystallisation of their bitterness and resentment.

    With the train network, the lack of competition is a problem, because you cannot have competing services on the same routes (well, I suppose you could, but it would be a bit awkward). On the other hand, public services tend to be staffed by indolent, self-righteous communists, who think their state-employed status obviates the need for such vulgar, capitalist concepts like hard work, efficiency and customer service. The NHS is hardly a shining example of public sector effectiveness, so there’s no reason to think the railways would be run any better.

  35. I dunno, seems to me…abolishing access to education based on merit instead of parents income, would score pretty high.

    It probably would, because it panders to people’s envy, and diminishes the rewards and, therefore, the pressure to work hard. At present, the wealthy can send their kids to private schools, hire tutors and pay inflated house prices near good state schools. Short of totalitarianism, it’s impossible to remove the educational advantages enjoyed by the wealthy. Nor would it be fair. If having more money can’t buy you better goods and services, then that extra money is worthless. And removing the advantages of wealth is only fair if the wealth is ill-gotten.

    As philosopher Jamie Whyte observes: “No one should be denied decent healthcare and education. That is a reasonable principle. And it favours privatisation, which would soon improve the healthcare and education received by the poor. Ford and Asda, as much as Mercedes and Harrods, are creatures of the private sector. Soviet-era Ladas and illiterate school leavers are creatures of the system favoured by Hewitt and company.”

  36. I’m not entirely sure I understand, so I’ll briefly state my opinion:

    I think improving poor but able people’s opportunities, via education for example, is good, as it increases the availability to enterprise of capable people, which is to the good of all. Hence, I think one size fits non comprehensive educayshun is bad.

    Sure, rich people will always have the game skewed in their favour, but why a ‘socialist’ government would aggrevate this through a policy of stepping on the disadvantaged is beyond me (unless of course, they are deliberately creating a future generation of people who ‘need’ them)

  37. I think Labour are caught between a genuine desire to improve people’s lot and a need to believe that one man’s fortune is gained at another’s expense. Without that belief, the whole tightly-wound ball of grievances that they call their political ideology would collapse like a house of cards. Unfortunately, the modern world doesn’t run smoothly on the contradictory principles of socialism, so whatever they come up with tends to be a fudge.

  38. What a shame for you! I have the best train service the line has ever had. That is the east coast route out of Brighton to Hastings. Many more trains an hour, faster trains, new trains, through trains to Ashford (Kent).

    If I want a change I could use the bus. More buses an hour, even more buses than the 1950s, yes these are new also. This is the very good work of the Brighton and Hove Bus Co, with government help?

    Its all much better than it has ever been before, I leave the car at home, Less than £3 a day on the bus.

    Look into it all find out what has been done and try to apply to the Western.

  39. <‘The dreamliner coaches are luxurious compared to most trains.’ (Tayles)<

    You get no leg room whatsoever on these things. I never use coaches for long distance travel, they are just too uncomfortable. If you buy your train ticket well in advance there’s not much difference in price either. If you get a table seat on a train it’s a very comfortable way to travel, better than coaches or flying. Also trains serve food, hot drinks and alcohol.

  40. “The dreamliner coaches are luxurious compared to most trains. Coaches are at least comfortable and because of their relative cheapness you could have one leaving every five minutes, if need be.”

    Tayles, I’ve never come across anyone so keen on coaches before! I think they’re slow, stuffy, uncomfortable and very dangerous in any form of accident. There is a poor view out of the windows, and they can only go at about 60mph! Victorians were going quicker on their ‘iron roads’. Not only that, but speeds drop massively as soon as the outskirts of a city are approached. A train travels at twice the speed and will reach the city centre from the outskirts in approx 10-20% of the time it takes by road.

    Allow the road network to be freed up and work as it ought to, without the chaos of massive HGVs and coaches blocking two (ie sometimes both) lanes of our motorways and ring-roads. Smaller, nimbler vehicles and shorter journeys are what roads are best for, take the train if you want to reach your more distant destination quickly and efficiently. But a good fast car can still be quicker than the train even over a long journey, if you are surreptitious. All cars should be lighter, narrower and more accelerative.

    As for friction and heat, I rather think you boobed on that one. Lack of friction and heat is one of the advantages of rail travel. Little can rival a railway train with several coaches trailing a single power unit over any significant distance for sheer efficiency in every way. Compare eight National Express coaches lumbering up the M1’s gradients, jostling for places with vans, lorries, caravans, motorbikes, cars and the Post Office – with a single train. As an aside, rubber tyres are a massive environmental problem. In their production, use and disposal they are a toxic danger most people are unaware of.

    However I find the East Coast Main Line uncomfortable compared with 15 years ago. The track feels uneven, the carriages less well suspended and the seating is def. worse. No doubt you’ll be looking out for me with an anorak, bobble hat and notebook coming out of a railway station – I’ll perhaps see you with the local WI on its trip to Stratford-on-Avon’s tea shops?!!

    Personally, I far prefer top-flight, fast motor cars. Penzance to Scotch Corner in the same amount of time it takes the average NatEx coach to reach Milton Keynes from Bournemouth!

  41. I find the suggestion that commuters should be prepared to stand quite appalling, given the high cost of travelling by train. Add to this the reduced seat size on SW Trains, late and cancelled services and a web site that does not provide information about changes to the service. When I complained to SW trains about this, they said that the web site was not their responsibility. Er…Hello? Hello??

    Now we have Brown’s raid on the pension fund in the open, Blair running for cover, chaos in our prisons, a total bugger up with respect to immigration and much else besides and a real need for regime change.

    And no one to take over. (Sorry, Boris but DC’s mouthings don’t convince me that the Tories are capable of providing a workable policy.)

    Boris for PM? I suspect there is quite a bit of solid sense under your contrived act as a political jester.

    Time to come out, as it were?

  42. Tayles, you should be ashamed of yourself for spouting that nonsense about rail friction. Worse, you tried to wriggle out of it. How can we believe any of your statistics now? (So you’ve had a go a me – now it’s my turn [smiley thing]).

    What’s the matter with you lot? It seems that Chris Morriss is the only one who understands that we need radically different forms of public transport. But our cowardly government and risk-averse local authorities will not consider TGV and PRT systems, while they’re quite happy to pump money into every lost cause under the sun.

    Stevenson, Brunel, Telford… I humbly apologise for failing to continue your work.

    My wife and I were discussing all this earlier. She came up with a corker on NuLab: “What have they achieved, I mean really achieved, to impress the world? Nothing, apart from a so-called multicultural society, which none of us asked for”.

  43. russellg – Don’t get me wrong, my preferred mode of transport is the car. But the comparative minority that travel by train could do so, on the same routes, by coaches. Perhaps a new generation of larger, faster coaches could be built, if the dreamliners are no good. It would still be massively cheaper that locomotive rolling stock, which is absurdly expensive.

    Steven – The irony is that the multicultural society is looking like a failure too. Rather than creating a happy society, it emphasises people’s differences, teaches them their identity is reliant on their culture, denies the majority an identity of its own, and then creates fear and loathing between different cultural groups by going on a racist witch hunt. Bravo.

  44. Oh WOE!

    Oh woe o woe o woe o woe!!

    The POOR railway companies! The poor underpaid overworked government-legislated little darlings!!!

    The CRUELTY of it all!!!!!!

    [Ed: not acceptable…].

    What Idlex said. Once upon a time, the trains ran on time, and were reasonably comfortable, and only occasionally broke down, and were reasonably priced, and virtually never came off the lines for reasons of poor maintenance, and the only inconvenience suffered was the occasional rail drivers’ strike, which meant a few days of difficulty for some people but was a lot less inconvenient than paying over the odds for the privilege of standing all the way to work, every day.

    Then along came the HOLY MARGARET, and decreed that there should be COMPETITION, without ever adequately explaining how two train companies could compete for services that ran at different times of the day when most people had no CHOICE about the time of train they caught, and everything descended into chaos.

    O WOE O WOE O WOE for the poor hard done by railway executives at First and Virgin, with their fat paychecks and productivity bonuses and share options and yearly-escalating salaries that they never fail to pay themselves even as the cost gets handed on to the customers because it is writ that they are GREAT in the eyes of the lord and WORTHY.

    O WOE O WOE O WOE for whichever flybynight ‘service’ company hath currently underbid all the rest for the right to maintain the tracks and pocket all the money while paying the lowest possible wage to the cheapest and illest-educated available labour for taking on the highest responsibility of all – keeping the trains on the tracks.

    O WOE O WOE O WOE, for the market ruleth, and its forces are mighty, and there will be great tribulation in the land when the government interfereth in anything.

    Tiffany, Jaq…

    You CAN blame the Tories for this one. You can blame Labour for not renationalising, but the mess in our public transport system is precisely what happens when we do as Boris suggests, and leave everything to the will of the markets.

    Companies are NEVER benign. They’re about self-interest, whatevr[Ed: inappropriate]they tell you about corporate responsibility; and they appear to behave even worse when they’re asked to work ‘in partnership’ with government.

    How to fix it? Renationalise. Stop spending billions on foreign wars and put the money back into something useful: getting us to work on time. And give the railways back their pride.

  45. I popped into Ladbrokes the other day to find out what odds they would give me on Tony Blair getting assassinated.

    They told me they couldn’t take such a bet because it involved human suffering; Damn straight it involves human suffering! Ours!

    My guess is that it won’t be an Al-Quaeda terrorist that blows him away; it’ll be some octogenarian year old whose pension’s been nicked by Farepak (or the like) or a diabetic driven to apoplectic rage by having their local bus service terminated and the village clinic closed in the same month.

    And what’s this about Guantanamo being ‘an anomaly’? All I can observe is that it’s obvious who wears the testes in Number Ten and it ain’t our Tone!

  46. What Mark Gamon said.

    It’s ridiculous that national critical utilities such as water, gas, electricity and rail are in private hands.

    Either re-nationalise them or pass an act to tax profits made from essential services at 100%.

    How can you apply market forces to a monopoly?

  47. Companies are NEVER benign. They’re about self-interest, whatevr bollocks they tell you about corporate responsibility; and they appear to behave even worse when they’re asked to work ‘in partnership’ with government. – Mark Gamon

    What a typical lefty rant. Yes, companies work out of self-interest. Shock horror. They are in the business of making money, which means they are required to strike the right balance between offering a better service and a cheaper price than the competition. If they end up compromising the service, then the punters will vote with their feet and go elsewhere. It’s a win-win situation.

    Now obviously, as I’ve already said, such competition cannot exist in a private monopoly like the train lines, so this is a bit of a farce. But to dismiss private enterprise and the free market as a bunch of oppressive capitalists lining their own pockets at the expense of the poor is rubbish.

    Unfortunately, many people are consumed by such envy and resentment that they cannot stand the idea of other people having more wealth and power than themselves, even if it results in companies like Tesco and Ford, who employ millions and provide cheap goods and services for millions more. Oh, of course they’ll dress up their prejudice as being caring and compassionate. They’ll babble on about the contradictions of capitalism and point to world poverty, as if free trade is to blame. They’ll happily ignore the way that it has lifted countless millions out of lives of penury and, if they get stuck, they’ll probably start ranting about environmental damage and animal rights. But history is against them, and they know it.

    These are the doomsayers who warned against leaving the cave, who told the early explorers to turn back, and who smashed the textile machines to hold back progress. They’re the ones who view other people’s success as a slight and other people’s suffering as proof of life’s injustice. They look upon nationalisation as a way of foiling the people they hate: the willing, able, confident people who have made them feel inadequate all their lives. The state is an expression of their own hopes and wishes: an avenging angel, whose wings they can hide behind as it deals out ‘justice’ on society.

    The idea that state-run industries and workers co-ops can provide a quality service at a reasonable price is such a load of bunkum that I’m amazed people still have the audacity to believe it. Wherever and whenever it has been tried, it has resulted in poverty, suffering and totalitarianism. Unfortunately, some think this is a small price to pay for the pleasure of seeing the people they hate suffer.

  48. Whilst there are no ‘competing’ railway lines, the railways do compete with cars, busses, and astonishingly cheap (and, yes, nasty) airlines. People who ride the trains have (at least subconsciously) done some sort of calculation and decided they offer best value.

  49. Tayles”But history is against them, and they know it.” So-called engineered history !!

    As captain B. said there is no competing railways – studies show that improving public services performance benefits from both public/private management techniques (recent ESRC + Oxford Univ research project although transport is not included)..

  50. In my, albeit limited experience, there is one key to improvement of service provision: the ruthless elimination of waste. Taken seriously, this obliges organisations to properly use their employees and get them to take responsibility for decision making as close to the ‘point of impact’ of that decision as possible. This flies in the face of Stalinist centralism as embraced by Nulabour, and the resultant chaos, waste, and gallic shrugging incompetence remains a sad testimony to yet another failure of that approach. Watch this space, there’ll be another plausible grinning clown with ‘all the answers’ along shortly.

  51. I think government should have a part to play – investing in the infrastructure, development, and environmental concerns due to the scale, while the service is run by private management for efficiency.

  52. “The idea that state-run industries and workers co-ops can provide a quality service at a reasonable price is such a load of bunkum that I’m amazed people still have the audacity to believe it.”

    The only difference between a ‘state-run’ organisation and a private one is the shareholding. Saying that state-run industries don’t work is equivalent to saying that the management appointed to such organisations has been poorly selected historically. The upshot of this is that hasn’t worked is not the same as CAN’T work.

    For the record, and to prove the lie in “Wherever and whenever it has been tried, it has resulted in poverty, suffering and totalitarianism.” I recommend you examine Telkom, Vodacom and Eskom in South Africa. All are publicly listed organisations which are predominantly owned by the South African government. These companies are highly profitable and, according to consumer reports, provide better service than their UK counterparts.

  53. “The only difference between a ‘state-run’ organisation and a private one is the shareholding.”

    Were that only true.

  54. Tayles…

    I never said anything about ‘oppressive capitalists’. Those were your words, not mine. I work IN a company, I work FOR companies; and I know them to be staffed and owned by human beings. Ergo, self-interest.

    Nor id I say they were ‘lining their own pockets at the expense of the poor’. What I said was that the captains of industry always appear to pay themselves what was in the contract, even when the company clearly isn’t fit for purpose.

    I also suggested (referring specifically to the railways) that the practice of sub-contracting services to the cheapest bidder had compromised safety. That’s not a blanket criticism of capitalism – there are plenty of companies who don’t do that because they know it compromises what they do; and there are plenty of government departments who force it on local councils (they disguise it with weasel words like ‘best value’ but they mean ‘cheap’) because they’re making such a fudge-up of managing the public purse at the top.

    Please read again, and stop yourself before you start chucking around phrases like ‘lefty rant’. Yes, I don’t much like the principles of capitalism, but I’m not exactly keen on the state-dominated alternative either. I figure it’s about time we stopped clinging on to all these outworn economic models and political groupings and started figuring out a system that works for the 21st century.

    I respecfully suggest, sir, that it is you who doesn’t wish to leave the cave, and the blind comfort of clinging to a worldview where capitalism and socialism remain diametrically opposed for all time.

  55. <‘I figure it’s about time we stopped clinging on to all these outworn economic models and political groupings and started figuring out a system that works for the 21st century’ (Mark Gamon)<

    I must say I agree to an extent. Politics can become very tribal at times.

  56. Similarly the ongoing saga of CrossRail. Its not that it has been a virtual project for 20 years, but its concept remains 20 years out of date. Heathrow aiport is sprouting new terminals, runways etc. Yet Crossrail, which is planned to pass within a couple of miles of Heathrow will still not take the opportunity to provide a mass transport link from the west for the millions who wish to go to Heathrow. Just how are we supposed to get there without using the cars we are encouraged not to use?

    Ministers should come to any part of rural Berkshire or Wiltshire, pick up a 25kg suitcase and try to use public transport to catch a flight before midday – without using the benefit of their secuity clearance privileges!

    The dept of Transport are about as strategically well planned as my wastepaper basket.

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