Chairman Pip's Railway Thoughts

It is the future

Railfuture, which advertises itself as “the UK’s leading independent organisation campaigning for better rail services for both passengers and freight”, has just done a piece of work in which it looks at options for the improvement of Britain’s railways, but in terms of value for money. This is obviously a significantly important aspect of any major capital project (indeed, perhaps the most important), given that often it will be public money that is spent. A summary has been released that sets out the main conclusions of this piece of work, going into various aspects of the railways, and what can be done to improve them. Some of the main points include:

  • Investment – improvements to the infrastructure should be combined with renewals, to make the best use of resources. Here an example is the Newark junction. This is a flat junction where the Nottingham to Lincoln line crosses the East Coast Main Line, which can cause speed restrictions to the express trains from London, and which has the potential to cause massive disruption if there is a problem. The suggestion is that this junction is replaced with a grade separated junction when the time comes to renew this section of the network. This will cost more initially, but will pay for itself through improving timetabling and line speeds.
  • Electrification – to many people, this is a no-brainer, as it reduces the need for rail operators to use diesel fuel directly in their trains. By taking electricity from the national power generating network, it means that the network can obtain electricity generated from all sorts of energy sources, reducing the reliance on imports (and thus cost fluctuations). In addition, electric trains are more reliable, have better performance and invoke lower maintenance costs.
  • Reopenings – the restoration of closed routes is seen as important, for improvements to both passenger and freight services. The suggestion is that, rather than Network Rail doing this, private companies could be invited to undertake the rebuilding and maintenance work, essentially becoming mini infrastructure operators. It is here that the heritage operators could play a part.
  • Existing major projects:
    • Crossrail – extend this to Reading and Oxford in the west, Chelmsford and Southend in the east, and Ebbsfleet in the south. Ebbsfleet certainly would be useful, as it could potentially interchange with High Speed 1.
    • High Speed 2 – defer the construction until a new VfM study determines extending the routes to the NE and NW, and connecting to Heathrow. Also look at ways on permitting international through travel direct from the Channel Tunnel to regional cities, through connecting High Speed 2 to High Speed 1.
  • Organisation – the industry should be restructured, with a new body responsible for the direction of the railway made up of the major players in it (DfT, Network Rail, ATOC, ORR, Passenger Focus and others), funded not by the government, but instead through contributions from its members, making it genuinely independent. There are suggestions that open-access operators be given a more equal footing in the industry, especially within ATOC, where they are given only associate status, rather than the full member status of the franchised operators, while further competition from open-access operators is encouraged. There should also be full devolution of responsibility to Scotland and Wales – this should included responsibility for funding in full.
  • Rolling stock – rather than developing new trains for each new project, follow-on orders of existing types should be considered. The example given is for the new Thameslink fleet to be made up of new build Class 377s rather than developing the expensive and (it claims) inflexible planned fleet, while it is suggested that something like the Class 180 bodyshell could be used as a replacement for the Mark 3, married with a new locomotive.

These are all significant issues, and there are others included too, so it is important that they are all discussed in this kind of independent forum. The work does show that there is a need for continued investment in the railways, because this investment eventually reduces the actual cost of the railway. But it is also possible to actually save money on capital projects, such as rolling stock purchase, simply by using what is already in place. There is no need for the development of expensive new trains, as Crossrail’s recent announcement that it will use “tried and tested designs”, rather than building something new, demonstrates. It would be nice if the government paid attention to documents like this as a means of informing its own policy, as organisations such as Railfuture are able to take a far more overall view of the situation as the outsider it is.


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  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Anthony Sargent, Chairman Pip. Chairman Pip said: It is the future: […]

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