The great showpiece of English football, the FA Cup Final, will this year feature Manchester City and Wigan Athletic, two teams that are (in case you hadn’t noticed) from the north-west. Following on from last year, the game will kick-off at 5.15pm rather than the traditional 3.00pm. Last year, because the game was scheduled for a league weekend, this was to ensure that it was not “devalued” by having it played at the same time as all of the league fixtures (though having it on a league weekend devalues it anyway). This year, all of the Premier League fixtures have been moved to the following day (Sunday), which means that there is no reason for the game to be at 5.15pm, as there will be no other major fixtures. Yet the Football Association have done it. And what this means is that, because the last direct train from Euston to Wigan North Western leaves at 20.31, a lot of fans may well have to leave early to avoid getting stuck in London. Indeed, the last train to Manchester Piccadilly leaves at 21.00, which will probably make it quite tight for the City fans too. There was some significant outcry, especially from the Wigan fans – their semi-final (also played at Wembley) also kicked-off at 5.15pm. The FA’s rationale for scheduling the game at this time goes as follows:
…only a minimal amount of fans (used) trains and that the kick-off time gave more
people an opportunity to see the game and proved very popular last season…
For “giving more people an opportunity to watch the game” read “giving more people an opportunity to watch it on the telly”, and that means not people here, but overseas markets. Which is the FA prostrating itself in worship at the altar of the almighty television dollar and losing sight again and again of the most important person in football – the fan who chooses week in and week out to fork over his or her money and go to see the team. Not wanting to sound big headed, but I am the most important person in football, because that is what I do; me and everyone like me (and I know that Wolmar can be included in this, given he follows QPR around almost as much as I follow West Ham) that follows their team around; that goes to home games in all weathers; that schleps to far-flung outposts. As for the argument that “only a minimal amount of fans use the train”, what has that got to do with it? Why should people that choose the railway be penalised simply because it runs to a timetable? It’s a more civilised way of travelling than by road in any case. Wigan Council have waded into the argument by asking Virgin Trains if they can put extra services on later in the evening, which Virgin have said would be “operationally very difficult”, understandable given the timetable that already exists on the WCML. What I would say is that the clubs, plus Wigan Council should try Network Rail and see whether specials can be chartered that take advantage of other routes. And, for everyone to put pressure on the FA to ensure that the Cup Final is restored to its right and proper 3 o’clock time from now on.
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?
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.
Now never let it be said that I don’t love my Mum. In fact I love her more than I love chops and sauce. But there are times, usually involving a train journey, that tend to leave me rolling my eyes silently skyward. Today, West Ham were at home to Swansea City, and circumstances dictated the journey to Upton Park be taken by train. Unfortunately, the District Line and Hammersmith & City Line were both suspended through central London, with all trains terminating at Bromley-by-Bow. Of course this is irritating – even I feel annoyance, and I am aware of the need to continue the engineering work that is being done. But there is a limit to the level of…let’s not make too many bones about it…wingeing that I had to listen to. Admittedly the fact that half of the westbound District Line trains were being terminated at West Ham, but the staff on the platform there were singularly lacking in passing this information on, would cause anyone irritation. But standing in the cold (and believe me it was cold) waiting for the gates to be opened at the entrance to Upton Park ”on principle”, rather than walking to the end of the queue, and then complaining about the length of time taken to open the gates, is enough to try the patience of a saint. To explain, there is a road running along side the railway route, separated by a wall, which supporters queue along to enter the station. Periodically, the gates along the fence are closed, forcing people to go down to the next one. While I have thought for many years that it would be better to put an additional entrance along this route to ease the congestion, the fact is that ain’t happening now. But I’d rather have taken a walk down to the end than stand in the cold waiting for something that could take another hour to occur. Similarly, once getting on a train heading westbound that was then held at Plaistow, with the explanation being overcrowding at West Ham, again is cause to be irritated, but not go on and on about it. I do on occasion feel that my Mother sometimes forgets that I am not of the same generation as she is (so alike are we), which is why, on journeys such as these, often the best way for me to retain my own sanity is to start tuning it out and let her just go on without comment. Because any attempt on my part to offer explanation will invariably lead to her choosing to not listen to what I am saying, and thus cause argument and strife. Sigh.
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?”
The Evening Standard is well know for being a cheerleader for London, as you might expect, what with it being London’s major local newspaper. This week, the paper hosted a debate on how, following the city’s fantastic year in 2012, London could be made even better. This debate naturally had a number of “talking heads” (or what the paper described as “great and good Londoners”), whose opinion on most areas is pretty much worth precisely dick. However, the paper also asked its readers for their ideas about how to make the city better, a brief selection of which were published this past Wednesday. One of these in particular caught my eye:
West End Tram
To improve the environment and reduce air pollution, particularly in Central London, I would suggest a tram or trolleybus scheme in a circular route that encompasses Oxford Street, Regent Street, Piccadilly and Park Lane. No other motorised traffic would be allowed. This initial route could be extended to radiate out in all directions to serve the suburbs
One has to admire the idea certainly, and it would do much to improve the environment (and I’m not just talking in “green” terms) in that section of the West End. The problem comes from the fact that putting a tram route in would be fifty shades of disruption for a hell of a long time. In case you’ve not noticed, when it comes to major infrastructure work, if it can’t be completed in five minutes then people in London have a tendency to start moaning, likely because they don’t have the foresight to see how it will benefit them individually. For a good modern example of this, see how much everyone moans about the Crossrail work. And Crossrail is only in specific locations where big holes have to be dug, and thus routes can be relatively easily diverted. Installing a set of tramlines in a big loop that takes in two of the busiest retail streets in the country, not to mention two of the most salubrious addresses in London, would bring about a fuss of biblical proportions, for an example of which you can look at the Edinburgh fiasco. I’ve spoken before about Ken Livingstone’s proposal for an Oxford Street tram route, and all of the difficulties that would entail – extending it in this fashion would be several orders of magnitude more difficult. A trolleybus scheme would probably be less disruptive, as it would just be the wires that would go up, rather than wires and running lines. Leeds is planning a new trolleybus system in its city centre, so it will be interesting to see how disruptive that work is, especially compared with the tram work in the centre of Edinburgh. Of course, this is all moot, as it is unlikely any kind of self-contained West End tram would ever be sanctioned. More’s the pity.
The publication of the outline work plan for Control Period 5 by Network Rail seems to have led to others jumping on the “what can we/are we going to do?” express. Actually, that’s unlikely, as undertaking planning work for the publication of a major policy document does take a while. Nevertheless, we not only have the CP5 plan for Great Britain, but now we also have the start of a public consultation by the Department for Regional Development over the future direction of the railway network in Northern Ireland. In announcing this, Danny Kennedy, the Minister in charge, said that while there was a need to carry on maintaining the network as it was, a strategic outlook was necessary to build on what has already been done:
‘Looking forward over the next 20 years, there has to be a strategic direction to determine the priority in which we should tackle new railway projects.
To do this, the DRD has set out in its consultation a range of options for the public to discuss, from vanilla (maintaining as is), through the neopolitan option of electrification, and onto the triple chocolate idea of expanding the network. Of course, the DRD has also set out with these options its cost estimates, which naturally are pretty big – it estimates that the vanilla option would cost somewhere in the region of £620m over the twenty year period from 2015-2035. That being said though, some of the improvement options, while still expensive, would likely turn into fairly cost-effective solutions in the long term. For example, the DRD estimates that electrifying the entire existing network, which is a little over 200 miles in length, would be in the region of £350m. But, we all know that electric trains cost less, both to procure and operate, are faster, have better acceleration, and require less maintenance than equivilent diesel units. Why do you think the British government has sanctioned the upcoming electrification projects? Doing this could well then encourage the Irish government to do the same, at least with certain parts of its network (perhaps most importantly the main lines to Belfast and Cork).
In 2008, Brian Guckian, a transport consultant from Dublin, laid out a proposal for a major expansion of the Northern Ireland network, which involved the restoration of the line from Derry to Portadown, with branches to Armagh and Enniskillen, plus a new cross-border line from Derry to Donegal, and reopening the extant but unused line between Lisburn and Antrim to serve Belfast International Airport. The DRD looks at some of these ideas as well – there is a proposal for the line from Portadown to Omagh and Enniskillen, and another for a line from Derry to Letterkenny and Sligo. Both of these are seen as phenomenally expensive, as they would essentially be the construction of brand new main lines. There may potentially be justification for a new southern route that runs to the major towns in the west of Northern Ireland to be built in stages, depending that is on the public will. A cross-border line would need the cooperation of the Irish government (which essentially means Iarnród Éireann), and, given expanding the rail network to the north-west ‘has not (been) identified as an investment priority’, seems unlikely. However, the DRD consultation also includes the proposal to restore service along the Antrim line to serve the airport. This has been budgeted around the £50m mark, which covers restoring the existing line, creating an airport spur and procuring additional trains. The comment from the DRD on this proposal is that “‘it is highly unlikely’ that a rail link would be ‘more regular or cost-effective’ than buses”, which to me sounds as if they’ve already made up their mind. This is in spite of the fact that airports in Great Britain that look to expand and improve state that a dedicated rail connection in some form or another is a must. We’ve had the addition of Southend Airport station, while Glasgow Airport and numerous major businesses remain committed to getting the GARL back on the agenda. Surely the best way of finding out the “cost-effectiveness” of serving Belfast Airport by train, which would also bring numerous communities on that side of Belfast itself back onto the railway, removing cars from the roads, would be to study airports of similar size and passenger number, including those with and without rail links, to see just how popular/useful/used they actually are.
While it may be true that, with the current incumbent of the White House as a relatively vocal advocate, the advancement of passenger rail in the United States is growing, there is no doubt still a long way to go. A major example of this is the continuing disconnection of the city of Las Vegas - a city of half a million people (with close to 2 million living in the urban area), in which the only rail service is the 4 mile long Las Vegas Monorail that connects a number of major hotels along The Strip. While there is a plan to extend this to serve McCarran International Airport, this means that it will still primarily be for customers coming into the city to get to one of the hotels. Of course, this is not such a bad thing, as this is one of the major elements of the city’s economy. But, it still means that it relies on air travel to get people to the city in the first place, no matter where they originate from.
Las Vegas is around 270 miles from Los Angeles, which in flying time is probably about an hour, while driving takes anything up to four hours. In terms of distance within the United States as a whole, this is not huge, but it is still a massive inconvenience to have to drive all that way and for that long (even if the American roads system is supposed to be one of the great adventures one can have without fear of being shot), while we are all aware of the disadvantages of short haul flying. Which is why not one, but two groups have come up with plans for passenger rail services to Sin City, which would be the first since Amtrak withdrew the Desert Wind in 1997. DesertXpress (since renamed as XpressWest) originated as a privately funded plan to link the city with Southern California using a new build high speed line – initially intended to terminate at Victorville, later proposals were for the terminus to be extended to Palmdale to interchange directly with the California High Speed Rail network, making DesertXpress almost an appendix to the publically funded high speed network in the Golden State. This proposal has been expanded further (causing the the rebranding) to take in a number of other states in the west of the country. The core element though remains the route to Las Vegas, which would be around 90 minutes from Victorville (and probably a little under two hours from Palmdale). Palmdale would, once the CHSR is constructed, be less than an hour from Union Station in Los Angeles, making a journey time of approaching an hour less than driving (even with an interchange). Of course, that is for the future, with XpressWest not expected to start running trains until 2016, and CHSR not expected until the late 2020s. Which is where Las Vegas Railway Express has been able to step in – planning a service it calls X-Train, this will run on conventional track through an agreement with Union Pacific. Starting from Fullerton, where it will interchange with Metrolink, it will terminate at the Plaza Hotel, which is the former location of Las Vegas Union Pacific Station. It is estimated that the new service, intended to launch in January 2014, will take around 5 hours end to end, a result of the poor state of trackage and the way the network is owned and administered. The intention though is to provide a much better level of service than is experienced either on Amtrak trains or airlines, which presumably is intended to make up for the timetable. Of course, it would be better if the length of time taken for the journey was less, but if people decide to take the train to Las Vegas, and find that they like it enough that they don’t notice the time, then it’s possible, just possible that when XpressWest gets going, it will start with a bang.