Chairman Pip's Railway Thoughts

The Good, The Bad and The…well, you get the idea: Chairman Pip’s Review of 2010

A belated Happy New Year to you all. I’d like to thank everyone that has taken the time to look over my ramblings during the course of 2010, even if some of you were spammers, others were only interested in the mooning of Amtrak, and others still were looking for naked pictures of our prospective roving railway reporter. You’re all welcome. I thought that my first post of 2011 would be to look back at some of the good and the not so good of the year just gone. Obviously this won’t be all encompassing, and if there’s anything you think I’ve missed, then feel free to comment.

 The Good

  • Obviously the big story of the year in the UK was the General Election, which had the ultimate result (as far as we’re concerned) of seeing Lord Adonis replaced at the DfT by Philip Hammond(aka “The Roads Man”). The prospects for the railways appeared bleak in May, with the incoming coalition promising fiscal austerity to reduce the country’s deficit. So it was something of a welcome surprise when the Comprehensive Spending Review was announced that transport would receive the second highest capital spending settlement behind defence, together with commitments to a number of major and not so major projects – High Speed 2 will go ahead in at least two stages, broadly following the original plan that Lord Adonis announced at the start of the year; Crossrail and Thameslink will be completed as planned (though the completition dates have slipped as an austerity measure); TfL has been given the money to potentially complete its upgrade programme of the Underground; light rail extensions will go ahead in Nottingham and Birmingham. In the Age of Austerity, this is probably better than could have been hoped for.
  • We’ve had a number of projects completed in Great Britain with, most notably for me, the reopening of the East London Line as part of London Overground. London Overground has also received new platforms at Stratford that are better integrated with the rest of the National Rail services, allowing the old low level platforms to be taken over by the DLR extension to Stratford International (which will hopefully open sometime early this year). The seemingly continuous closures of large sections of the London Overground network appear to be approaching something of a conclusion, with the service frequency improved, not to mention the introduction of the shiny new fleet of Class 378 and Class 172 units. Chiltern Railways meanwhile continue to prove the benefits of a long franchise as they continue their Evergreen programme, which has now seen new terminal platforms opened at Birmingham Moor Street, and will see improved journey times on the London-Birmingham route, not to mention the introduction of newly refurbished locomotive hauled trains. 
  • Both the Class 378 and Class 172 have emerged from the Bombardier plant at Derby, the country’s sole remaining train builder. In spite of the lack of current orders, Bombardier has maintained a reasonably healthy schedule. It unveiled its latest Electrostar type, the Class 379, at the end of 2010, prior to its service entry with NXEA in 2011. Further Class 172s are being assembled for both London Midland and Chiltern Railways, while London Underground are taking delivery of both the 2009 Stock for the Victoria Line and S Stock on the Metropolitan. However, it isn’t all multiple units, as the deliveries continued of Class 70 locomotives for Freightliner.
  • The extension of open access continued with the start of Grand Central’s “West Riding” service between London and Bradford. 2010 also saw the return of a famous name from the first days of the privatisation of British Rail, when Alliance Rail Holdings announced its plans for new open access services, with one of its proposals bearing the name GNER. Additionally, we have the prospect of genuine international rail travel from London to look forward to, following the Deutsche Bahn test through the tunnel and Eurostar’s service expansion plans. The announcement that Deutsche Bahn plan to bid for the East Coast franchise when it comes up potentially raises the prospect of through fares from Europe to Scotland.
  • The work to improve the existing railway network in Northern Ireland continues, with the work to relay the Coleraine to Derry line due this year. Pictures were released of the first of NI Railways’ new Class 4000 units undergoing outfitting at the CAF plant in Spain, while passenger numbers continue to increase. Indeed, so successful does NI Railways seem to be now that there are complaints regarding overcrowding about some of its services. The financial crisis has hit Ireland worse than the UK, and yet Iarnród Éireann was able to reopen two major routes during 2010, with the first stage of the Western Rail Corridor between Limerick and Galway, and the commuter line connecting Clonsilla and Dunboyne both returning to the rail network. The Luas has been further extended, with the Green Line extended as far as Cherrywood. The Irish government also made a commitment to the construction of both the Interconnector and the Metro North line to further improve the connectivity of the various elements of rail infrastructure in the Greater Dublin area. Iarnród Éireann has also moved to improve the reliability of Enterprise by converting some of its redundant Mark 3 Generator Cars to operate with the Enterprise train sets, meaning that the 201 Class locomotives no longer have to operate in HEP mode.

 

The Not So Good

  • The end of 2009 brought with it some significantly wintry weather, which, when the thaw came, led to promises that the railway operators would be prepared for the next cold snap. Which came at the end of 2010. And led to more delays, disruption, and passengers stranded on trains that couldn’t move, leading to tremendous criticism of the TOCs and the government. Which is fair enough, given that they had a year to come up with proposals that would allow the railway network to function without costing too much. It is fair to say that the measures taken in a country like Finland are not really necessary here. Yet still there was a failure on the part of those responsible. If (as seems likely) we’re in for a prolonged spell of cold and icy winters, might it not be an idea to start thinking now about how to handle them?
  • The flurry of activity regarding Eurostar and Deutsche Bahn planning to go head to head led to Eurostar announcing its plans to purchase a total of ten brand new trains from Siemens. Which then led to Alstom, who had built Eurostar’s existing fleet of Class 373s, first of all throwing their toys out of the pram, and then running to Mummy to complain. Except that this is somewhat more serious than that, as Alstom has taken Eurostar to the High Court in London, a proceeding that threatens to derail Eurostar’s expansion plans, as it is likely that the tender process for the new trains will end up being reopened. You wonder what will happen if the IGC ratifies its planned rule changes regarding distributed traction (changes that will allow DB to run its Class 407 trains through the Tunnel), which was the initial basis of Alstom’s complaint. Of course we’ve moved on from that.
  • The Intercity Express Programme remains in limbo, with a decision on what form it will actually take now delayed, first by a review ordered by Lord Adonis, and now over a rethink into the type of train it is intended to be. All of which has had Agility Trains fuming and Labour MPs in the North-East (where Agility’s planned assembly plant is proposed to be located) attempting to guilt the government by proclaiming that not awarding to Agility will lead to continued mass unemployment in such a depressed region. At the very least, it seems like the bi-mode fiasco has had its death knell sounded, with the sensible option of a high speed EMU pulled by a diesel locomotive away from the wires now lurking as a stalking horse. Hell, CSRE has even produced a potential design for just such an eventuality, calling it the “Potenta/Polaris E” combo.
  • While Grand Central thrives, we should look sadly at the fact that Wrexham & Shropshire have had to cut their services again. Since they launched with five daily trains in 2008, the financial situation has seen them go down to four, and now three trains. Having just about seen off Virgin’s spiteful attempt to drive them out, you hope that the company is able to weather this storm, given how well regarded their service levels are. The fact that W&S is owned by Deutsche Bahn, and is now more fully integrated into the Chiltern Railways organisation will certainly help. Here’s to a better 2011.
  • Although in Ireland we’ve seen reopenings, that have allowed Iarnród Éireann a fair amount of self-trumpet blowing, the vandalism of the run down and closure of the Waterford-Rosslare line leaves a stench. Running a single train per day is not a service. And timetabling it to miss any potential connection is ludicrus. Iarnród Éireann showed themselves up somewhat in this, even though they got what they wanted. The actions of SWIFFT in trying first of all to save the route, and now to find a new operator for it, could prove uncomfortable for Iarnród Éireann if they are able to end the monopoly on rail transport in Ireland.

 

The “Yeah…right” kind of thing

  • Bringing Babestation babes (well, one of them anyway) into the railway mix has been good for my statistics, but those of you that do read me regularly may struggle to see the point, possibly beyond the obvious. But, look carefully and you’ll see that there is a point to it. The effervescent Daryl Morgan has provided me with the inspiration for a few genuine rail related posts, thanks to her commuting from Manchester to London. While she seems to have transferred to the car of late, I hope that at some point she returns to using “Penny the Pendolino” and tweets about further adventures on the train. In any case, it’s my blog and I can post what I like. So nyah!

    NSFW

Obviously there’s so much more that has happened in 2010, so feel free to comment on some of your good and not so good bits. Here’s to 2011 and all the fun it may bring. Let’s ride the rails!!

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  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Anthony Sargent, Phillip Barlow. Phillip Barlow said: The Good, The Bad and The…well, you get the idea: Chairman Pip's Review of 2010: http://t.co/9ajry1H […]

  2. jim said, on 8 January 2011 at 4:47 pm

    cool


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