Once again, I paid note of an interesting story in the Evening Standard yesterday (all of the interesting stuff I have seen recently seems to come from there). Hounslow Council have written to Boris Johnson asking the Mayor to try and persuade Heathrow Express to integrate its fares into TfL’s fare structure, and to allow passengers to use Travelcards and Oyster on the service. The rationale for this is that it would improve traffic congestion and pollution by getting more people to travel to the airport by train. As it stands, the cheapest standard fare for the Heathrow Express is £20.00, while bringing it under TfL’s prices would reduce this to a mere £5.50. Heathrow Airport’s argument is that it is a non-stop, fast (15 minutes end to end), premium service intended primarily for air passengers, and that there are already two other rail services from London for local residents and people that work at the airport (Heathrow Connect and the Piccadilly Line), while the Mayor states that he has no control over Heathrow Express’s pricing as it falls outside his purview, being as it is an open access operator outside the framework of the National Rail network.
The argument put forward by Heathrow is entirely valid – the intention of Heathrow Express is to allow air passengers primarily to get to the airport with a minimum of fuss, as passengers can actually check-in at Paddington before they get on the train. While people that work at Heathrow can get a discount to use the service, Heathrow Connect was originally set up to offer workers and local residents a cheaper alternative to get to the airport, even if it is now being actively marketed as a cheaper alternative for passengers as well. However, Heathrow Connect is planned to be absorbed into Crossrail once it starts running its full service, which got me thinking along one thread. Although the full Crossrail through route is not due to start for another six years, the Crossrail operation will actually begin in 2015, when TfL takes over the operation of stopping services between Liverpool Street and Shenfield. In 2016, it is then planned to transfer services to Maidenhead and Heathrow from Paddington. However, given the “difficulties” with the establishment of new franchises, with the Greater Western one of those due for renewal, would not an idea be for TfL to step in now and take on Heathrow Connect directly. As it stands, there remain significantly more expensive fares on this service for the journey between Hayes & Harlington and Heathrow Central than for the rest of the route. Allowing Oyster to be used, and pulling it into the TfL price banding by immediately making it part of the Crossrail concession (like the “Shenfield Metro”) would seem to me to be a logical way of improving the rail connection straight away. Then of course there is Wandsworth Council’s proposal to resurrect in part the aborted Heathrow Airtrack scheme, to provide a connection into the nascent but currently unused west facing platforms at Heathrow Terminal 5, intended to provide an alternative connection into the airport from the south, which would likely reduce numbers of passengers using the services out of Paddington, making it easier for the local residents Hounslow wants to put on the train to actually use the train.
My philosophy when it comes to rail travel is “you pay for time”. If I need to get to Birmingham in a hurry, then I’ll fork out the exhorbitant prices that Virgin Trains charge and go from Euston. If I can take my time, then I’ll get a much cheaper ticket from Chiltern Railways and get the train from Marylebone. Similarly, there will always be people who want to go fast, and who are happy to pay a premium price, and people who aren’t quite so fussed about getting there quickly. For me, I’ll happily take the tube if I need to get to Heathrow, but I’m not going to begrudge people that want both the speed and the level of service you get on the Heathrow Express. In any case, there is a difference between Heathrow Express and Gatwick Express, which does operate through trains for commuters now in addition to its fast, non-stop service between Gatwick Airport and Victoria - Gatwick is a major stop on the Brighton Main Line, while Heathrow is a stub branch to a terminus; the only commuters to and from Heathrow are the people that actually work there. In any case, are there many local people that will want to go non-stop between Heathrow and Paddington?
There was a story in yesterday’s Evening Standard that made me chuckle on the way home. The Primrose Hill Business Centre is a complex that offers accomodation and service provision for businesses, located in Camden. In fact, the two buildings that it occupies are located right next to Camden Carriage Sidings, off the West Coast Main Line, a location that is used by London Midland for stabling purposes during off-peak hours. Frank Carson, the owner of the centre (yes, seriously, Frank Carson, but not that one) has complained that the presence of trains so close to his building means his tenants are denied natural light, as some of the offices in the centre are a mere ten feet from the line side. The manager of one of the businesses that use the centre, Companions of London, also believes the presence of trains so close to his office affects the phones and internet connection. It seems that London Midland, while sympathetic, can’t do anything, given that the sidings, which were originally used for cleaning trains, received a major DfT funded upgrade in 2010 so that they could serve as a stabling point for peak time services. Now, I would have thought that, given that the upgrade would have involved some significant work, local stakeholders would have had a chance to make their objections clear at the time. And perhaps Mr Carson and his tenants did. The fact that the work went ahead perhaps shows the importance of the project in the wider scheme of things. Mr Carson is seemingly considering legal action against London Midland; why didn’t he take legal action in the first place to try and stop the work? I’d venture a supposition that he had no objection when the work was done, and is only raising a stink now because he’s had to lower the rent he can charge his tenants due to the natural light issue. As to affecting the phones and internet, rather than speculating as to that, would it not be better to actually investigate whether there is a problem with the connections due to the presence of so many Desiros parked outside? All in all, as the late Hugh Francis Carson might have said, “it’s a cracker”.
I had a trip to the theatre this week with a couple of friends of mine (the one whose honeymoon was disrupted by the volcano and the one who took my dream holiday) to see a new touring production of Boeing Boeing. While there I happened to point out that the Bluebell Railway extension was due to open next week, as they both seem to take a degree of enjoyment travelling by train, particularly if it is stress free (as travelling on a heritage railway would be), which they seemed quite excited about, suggesting the idea of taking their respective kiddies down their for the day (to explain, they are both relatively new mothers, each having a little one less than 2 years old); they even kindly invited me along. Which was nice of them, especially as I had planned to go on the Bluebell anyway once the restriction of having to get there in a car was gone. However, it did get me thinking to a degree. When the Bluebell extension opens, it will be the fourth heritage railway in the south-east to have a direct connection with National Rail (the others being the Spa Valley Railway, the Mid-Hants Railway and the Swanage Railway), all of which are routes with direct links to London. So it occured to me “are the train operators missing a trick here?” by not entering into some kind of partnership with the heritage railways to access their routes. Obviously, it would be difficult simply to run their trains over onto the heritage lines – the two operators concerned (Southern and South West Trains) have 57 diesel units between them, but all of these are dedicated to existing services on unelectrified routes, so if they were to run services themselves with the approval of the heritage line, they’d need new rolling stock. This is where a partnership would come in. You may recall the plan to run a trial service on the Mid-Hants by GO! Cooperative using the Class 139 prototype previously used on the Stourbridge Line. While this came to naught owing to technical issues with the vehicle, the concept is still valid. If the TOC and the heritage line enter into an agreement that services will be run, commercially, at peak times on the heritage line that are timetabled to meet the TOCs services to employment centres, on a single fare, then it opens up potentially larger markets for the train operator, and provides the heritage railway with additional income sources to undertake its main work, which is the preservation in working order of classic railway vehicles and infrastructure.
Vi eble memoras ke, antaŭ unu jaro, Rekta Rail Servoj kuris provo pasaĝero servo inter Carlisle kaj Sellafield por laboristoj en la Sellafield nuklea reprocesamiento facilecon. La ideo estis por plibonigi la kalendaron laŭ la Cumbrian Marbordo Linio, kiu ne estis aparte oportuna por tiuj personoj kiuj laboras la frua movo ĉe Sellafield – DRS kurus lia propra trajno, kun lia propra trejnistoj, kun nombro de ili rezervita por Sellafield laboristoj el Carlisle en la frua mateno, kaj Carlisle posttagmeze. La proceso daŭris ses semajnoj, kaj intencis havi konsulto poste determini ĉu ĝi estis farebla por subteni la servon. Dum la uzo de lokomotivo kaj vagonoj, anstataŭ multnombra unueco, estis vidita kiel fari la servon iomete sur la multekostan flanko, la patroneco (ĉirkaŭ 100 pasaĝeroj tage en ĉiu direkto) estis vidita kiel bona komenco, farante ĝin inda daŭrigi. Kaj tamen, por la pli bona el mia memoro, estis nenio diris pri ĝi tiam. Ni scias ke DRS estas perante 15 tutnova Klaso 68 lokomotivoj, miksita trafiko veturiloj kiuj povas feliĉe tiri ĉu pasaĝeroj aŭ de ŝarĝo trajnoj, kiujn ili diris estas provi kaj akiri plej grandan tranĉaĵon de la pasaĝero merkato. Tiuj, pli DRS la ekzistantaj Klaso 37s kaj 47s sugestus difinitan movado en la planita pasaĝero merkato, anstataŭ simple en ĉartoj. Do mi petas al la demando, “kiam ni aŭdas se DRS kuros sia pasaĝero trajnoj?” Kompreneble, iuj homoj povas ne demandi “kiam”, sed ili pli ĝuste estus demandi “volo”, kiu estas egale pravaj. Ho, vi povas demandi kial mi skribis afiŝo en Esperanto. Mia respondo al tio estas “kial ne?”
I saw a story come through yesterday on the Railway Gazette feed in regards to the procurement of new high speed trains that Amtrak announced back in December. You may recall that Amtrak plan to replace the existing Acela Express fleet with new, purpose built units that will go together with the planned infrastructure improvements intended to increase speeds on the Northeast Corridor. Well, Amtrak have made further announcements in regards to this that make a little more sense – first of all is that the procurement wil be in two parts, with the first tranche of twelve trains intended to be used alongside the existing fleet, thus increasing the capacity available for the service; a second order “in the early 2020s” would then replace the current Acela fleet. But it is the second element of the announcement that is more interesting. Amtrak has joined together with CHSR to develop a “US standard” specification for high speed trains in the United States, which makes sense in cost terms as it means each organisation (and any subsequent one, such as XpressWest) won’t have to spend a fortune developing their own spec for their trains. Additionally, by banding together it provides an impetus to potentially allow international companies to introduce domestic supply chains in the US to allow these products to be built and assembled domestically. There was though something of additional interest that I made note of – one of Amtrak’s requirements is for their trains to be able to operate successfully both at 350km/h on any potential new build line, and 240km/h on existing upgraded infrastructure. The current Acela fleet can operate at these speeds due to the fact that they can tilt, which suggests that this would be included in any new specification, given that, no matter what upgrades may be done to the existing route, it will still follow pretty much the same path, and if they need tilting trains now, they’ll still need them in ten years time. This got me thinking that HS2 Ltd should perhaps keep an eye on this process and, if successful, think about taking elements of whatever the US spec is and adapting them for use here when the time comes to procure the fleet of trains intended for use on both High Speed 2 and the existing network, which, given that it will operate on the northern half of the West Coast Main Line, will need to tilt if it is to retain the current available speeds and make the most of the new infrastructure in bringing down journey times to those destinations that won’t be served by the initial route.
In case you hadn’t heard, once again ASLEF has balloted its members working for London Underground on strike action over working on Boxing Day. This is the same issue that has gone on for the last two years – from the way I look at it, there is an apparent disagreement between LU and the union over the definition of a public holiday and whether Boxing Day (or, if that particular day is at the weekend, then the next weekday that holiday falls on) counts as a genuine bank holiday or not. It seems that the union view Boxing Day as something outside the normal public holiday structure, which is why they’re after special arrangements (triple time and a day in lieu). London Underground view it as an ordinary public holiday, which should therefore fall under the arrangements they have in place for working on other public holidays. The announcement of the ballot result is due on the 17th December. All very irritating. It would be interesting to know just precisely what the people in the middle, the drivers who are represented by the union, actually think. Well, blow me if I didn’t find out. Or at least, what one driver thinks. The Observations and Opinions of a Central Line Train Driver is a blog I found while thinking about this piece, and the driver in question has obviously written his own views on the subject. While he naturally thinks that his bosses have their heads filled with moondust over the issue, he does make a reply to the following comment:
Why is there this need for everybody to not even be able to have just TWO days off with their families thats guaranteed time off
He points out that not everyone that works on Boxing Day is involved in retail; the police, fire service and hospitals are all on duty; the broadcasters all keep our televisions and radios working; the power generators that keep us heated and lit, the telephones and internets, all of this needs to be kept going, and all of it needs people. As a consequence, the country doesn’t simply shut down, and so all of those people need to be able to get to work. He also goes on to say that he is not in favour of the Tube shutting down on Boxing Day – simply that he doesn’t feel as many people are needed to operate a Boxing Day service level as on an ordinary weekend. To put this into context, he gives the following figures:
- West Ruislip depot has 68 train operators (drivers)
- On a weekday 41 are required
- On a Saturday 35 are required
- On a Sunday 26 are required
- For Boxing Day working 18 are apparently needed
If this is the case then fair enough – I would certainly object to having more people going in than were needed. The problem is them having to volunteer, which means that the employer has to offer an incentive. Now I have no objection to someone who works outside the normal working time (i.e. at the weekend or on a public holiday) receiving some additional benefit for it, whether it be double time or an extra day in lieu. But (and I said this last year) I do feel that people employed on essential services should not volunteer to work on those days. There should be a prescribed list of days, which should mirror what is set out in the Banking and Financial Dealings Act 1971 and subsequently; and there should be a rota, so if your name comes up, you go in. This makes it fair and equal, and should nullify the threat of what is an essential service being at the mercy of the unions.
I should point out that I have a vested interest – not only is Boxing Day a big retail day, but it is also a big day in the football season, with a full league programme scheduled. There are seven Premier and Football League fixtures in London on that day, one of which is Arsenal v West Ham, which I plan to go to. You may remember the difficulty I had getting to a Boxing Day fixture away to Fulham a couple of years ago, which will likely be similar if I am unable to use the Tube to get to Arsenal this year. It would be nice to be able to get get to an away game at Christmas without having to think weeks in advance just how I’m going to get there. Mind you, as the Central Line driver (who it appears is also an Irons fan) points out, Arsenal have had four successive Boxing Day home games, while we have been stuck with three successive away games on the day after Christmas. Is there something in that?
Glancing through the new issue of Modern Railways I happened across the story regarding the first of Eurostar’s new Velaro based e320 being rolled out from the Siemens plant at Krefeld. This is nothing more than has been reported quite widely recently, with the small addition of a comment that they are planned to be introduced from the December 2014 timetable change, giving two years for the necessary testing, checks and certifications to be done on the type ready for use. There was another little sentence in this little story (best described as a caption next to a picture of the first e320 under construction);
…DB has said the earliest it could introduce services from London to Amsterdam and Frankfurt is now December 2015
As I thought this was worth passing on, I sent that basic information onto the Twittersphere, as I am wont to do. But, as often seems to be the case, what is for me just passing on information is for other people an invitation to get into debate. I suppose it’s my own fault for replying to the reply that one tweeter sent to me regarding his view that the DB plan is a pipe dream that will never come off. It wasn’t so much that though that irked me, but his comment that Modern Railways was somehow guilty of “naive journalism” in simply passing on what DB had said. To be perfectly honest, we all knew that anyway, as the story that the planned Frankfurt/Amsterdam-London service had been pushed back as a result of delays to the delivery of the Class 407 units that it will use came out in December last year. Accusing what is one of the respected periodicals in the industry of “naive journalism” stuck in my craw, especially when he then decided that the opinions he was tweeting at me were “facts”. Hmm – or alternatively. Opinion formers use facts to form their opinions – I know this, because I do. The facts are that yes, Eurostar will have their Velaro units delivered before DB. Everything else in the (frankly unwanted) conversation is just opinion. Recognise it.
Oh, and my opinion is that, once DB get settled into their three trains per day to and from London (which will actually be six when taking the split to run one set to Amsterdam and one to Frankfurt into account), they will then look to increase the frequency. Just my opinion though.
The saga of the procurement of rolling stock for the Thameslink Programme has taken yet another turn now that the DfT has announced it is putting into operation the purchase of up to 216 vehicles, completely separate from the overall rolling stock programme, so that the cascade of the currently operated Class 319 units can begin as scheduled, owing to the fact that the deal with Siemens has still not been completed. The DfT has partnered up with Southern to announce this, as the current Southern franchise is due to be amalgamated with the Thameslink one after 2015. Presumably this means in that case that Southern are taking the lead on the procurement, which could well end up being good news for Bombardier, given that the majority of Southern’s fleet is formed of Class 377s. We’ve already seen the introduction of the 23 Class 377/5s, procured through Southern, used on the Thameslink route. I would imagine that the DfT (who must have some half decent ideas sometimes, surely) would be looking to ensure a degree of uniformity to ensure costs are kept down, which presumably should mean a follow-on order of 377s (or at the very least Electrostars) to form this latest batch, made up of a concrete order of 116 plus options for 100 more. This would then provide an almost like for like replacement fleet, allowing the 319s to move to their planned Thames Valley and North-West destinations. As regards Bombardier, they already have the order for 130 new Class 377 vehicles for Southern, which has now had a further 40 vehicles added to it. Now, an old colleague of mine gave me a piece of sage advice that I usually try to live be – “never assume”. However, given that the Class 378 is a roaring success, and assuming that they fit the loading gauge of the tunnels (which I’d imagine they would), is it a fair assumption that Merseyrail will order something similar when it comes to their fleet replacement? Assuming a like for like replacement that could be 170 vehicles which, combined with the Southern and potential Thameslink orders, would add up to short-medium term security for Derby going into the Crossrail bidding. And frankly, isn’t that what it’s all about?
“Give us bread and circuses” is the cry, or so it seems. In last week’s Sunday Express was a poll suggesting a large majority of the public now want to see the railways re-nationalised, something that must be music to the ears of Spud and his cronies. Not only this, but it also seems that the Labour Party is considering making this official policy for the next election. So this of course should be enough to warn people off it anyway. But there are lots of things that I do think people should consider when it comes to the idea of nationalisation that it feels like aren’t out there. Like first of all the fact that there are European regulations on the liberalisation of rail transport to consider. Were the railways jusr simply nationalised, how would that impact on open access operators? But that’s by the wayside.
One of the major moans that the unions have is the fact that the franchise system in the UK allows what they describe as the “nationalised railway companies” in other European companies to procure UK franchises, while rail operations are “closed” to British operators. First of all, I’m sure Deutsche Bahn would object to being called a nationalised railway company, as it isn’t. It is an Aktiengesellschaft, which in Germany is the general equivilent of a plc, a company whose shares can be publically traded on a stock market. So even though the German government owns 100% of the shares, it can at any time sell any amount of the company’s shares. But also is the claim that operators in other countries have monopolies over their networks, when again that isn’t true. It is certainly the case in some countries that operations across all sectors are run by nationalised organs, with the one that I most often think of now being Iarnród Éireann. IÉ is a subsidiary whose shares are 100% owned by a statutory corporation, and is thus a truly nationalised operator. And those of you that are regular readers will know how I feel about the way IÉ runs its operations. Having no competition means that they are essentially free to do what they want, and if it means they have no desire to run a route any longer, they can simply reduce the service level to a point where no one wants to use the train any more, and then claim that the service is unporfitable and withdraw it. Which is what British Rail did with any number of significant routes, not least of which was the eventual closure of the line into London Broad Street (which, I’m sure you have all noticed, has now reopened).
While the big and flashy main line operations, especially the high speed networks, tend to be run by those companies that were formed out of the old nationalised railways, the local operations, the ones that we would think of as commuter, or suburban, or rural, are controlled locally, by French départements or German länder, who tender out the operation of services commercially, in much the same way as TfL and Merseytravel do. And there is the interesting thing. Because both London Overground and Merseyrail are, to all intents and purposes, nationalised rail companies, as all the important decisions in regards to management and investment are taken by the PTEs, with the actual operation of services and revenue collection contracted out to private companies. As a consequence that the PTE takes the risk, the PTE keeps the bulk of the revenue. Similar to this are virtually all of the light rail operations around the country, with only Blackpool and Tramlink owned and operated by the municipal body. This method of doing things has been adopted by some of the newer commuter rail operators in the United States – both the Coaster and Sprinter operations of the North County Transit District in San Diego are run this way, with the actual operations contracted out. So, there is the possibility, as suggested in the newspaper article that accompanied the poll, that people might be prepared to accept this type of arrangement, in ensuring that a public body retains control, but contracts out its operations. Nationalisation? No. Concession? Maybe.
There’s no doubt that the furore over the monumental feck-up that is the award of the West Coast franchise has significant momentum to run and run. To use a turn of phrase from Malcolm Tucker, there seems little doubt that this is an “omnishambles” of the highest order, as the civil servants at the DfT gave out erroneous information to the four companies short-listed to bid. Not being either an economist or a business expert, I’m not even going to attempt to tell you precisely what the erroneous information was, or how it affected the bid process. I’ll leave that to Robert Peston, the BBC’s business editor. But the fact that First had to have the franchise removed because the taxpayer would have been horrendously exposed to financial risk, even in spite of their business model, shows what a screw-up the entire process was. Whether this whole thing is related to Richard Branson’s wild accusations about First’s bid being way over the top or not I don’t know. Given that Virgin received the same incorrect information from the DfT that First did, it’s entirely possible that had they won the bid this whole issue would have come up, and they would have had the franchise removed. Which no doubt would have led to a similar strop from Beardy.
What does this all mean? Well, for passengers, nothing. The DfT have guaranteed that services will be unaffected by their colossal blunder – after the 8th December, which is the scheduled end of Virgin’s existing franchise, services will continue as per the timetable, and tickets will continue to be accepted. Who will run the services is a question that still needs answering, with either Virgin receiving a management contract for the duration of the new bid process, or else Directly Operated Railways taking the franchise into public ownership until the new operator is due. That option though has met with a certain amount of sniggering, as it is put about that the people that caused the feck-up in the first place are now left running the service. Which obviously means that on the first day trains will start falling off the rails. Despite the fact that, although DOR is owned by the DfT, it is a separately managed organisation that is making not a bad fist of running East Coast.
Lots of people are using this incident as an excuse to once again raise the idea of re-nationalising the railways. Of course you have Mr Potato Head has been saying that all along. But now, other elements are adding their voices to it, with Wolmar questioning the whole franchising concept, and the Labour Party stating that they are ready to adopt it as official policy. The thing is, no one in the mainstream press has said anything about just why we have gotten to this situation in the first place, and why civil servants at the DfT are the ones drawing up the specifications for franchises. A situation that stems, in my view anyway, from the abolition of the Strategic Rail Authority, the public body that was responsible for oversight of the rail industry. But who was it that abolished the SRA and brought its functions within the DfT? Why, it was Alistair Darling, the then Secretary of State for Transport. Who you may recall was a member of the last Labour government. It was Labour that divested itself of the corporate experience that the SRA encompassed and decided that it (in its government form) could do better. Can we say that things have been better since? Just taking everything back into public ownership is no guarantor of quality, because you need the experience to actually do things right. If the railways were renationalised now, it would be the same people running them directly as were responsible for the West Coast mess. And then where would we be?