Chairman Pip's Railway Thoughts

OK, I get it now

Posted in Customer service, Great Britain, Ireland, Politics by Chairman Pip on 9 October 2012

On my way home from Edinburgh back in August, rather than getting a train direct from Waverley to Kings Cross, instead I took the train from Edinburgh to Glasgow, from where I then got a service back to Euston. The train that I got from Edinburgh to Glasgow was via the North Clyde Line, which includes the recently opened section between Bathgate and Airdrie. The service was made up of a pair of Class 334s, making the train six cars long (along most of the other Edinburgh-Glasgow routes, trains tend to be 3-4 cars). This was a train at just before 11.00am on a Monday morning, and it was virtually deserted. And it was on my journey between Haymarket and Queen Street, watching the train stop at empty station after empty station, having a significant amount of time to think, that I finally understood Iarnród Éireann’s dislike of running trains. Because Scotland and Ireland are fundamentally similar in being small countries with small populations that are concentrated in a handful of areas. And running trains in areas with low population density does not make for an especially good business model (hence the rationale for Beeching). Running trains like the one I used to travel between Scotland’s two major cities probably costs the Scottish Government a fortune in subsidies. So I can see why Iarnrod Éireann wants to duck out of all of the Irish network’s lightly used lines and concentrate on core services within Dublin and between the capital and other major centres. Of course, it is still the case that Iarnrod Éireann makes the case for withdrawing services by making what services there are as terrible as possible and driving passengers away. If they did run better services on the network’s lightly used lines, they may well get better patronage. But that’s another matter. The fact is that the Scottish rail franchise is one of the most heavily subsidised in Britain (only the Welsh franchise recieves more public money, according to this article in the Scottish Left Review), but it can afford to be because the Scottish Government has guaranteed income in the form of the grant from Westminster. It wouldn’t have this guarantee if it were in Ireland’s position, as the Irish government, which obviously has to raise all of its own revenue (being an independent nation) has been slashing rail subsidies, meaning ticket prices have to rise. If the SNP gets its way, how long will it be before ScotRail decides it doesn’t want to run services in isolated rural areas because it can’t afford them?

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5 Responses

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  1. Al Storer (@Al__S) said, on 9 October 2012 at 7:32 pm

    I’m not quite sure, but I’d bet that line is busier at peak times with commuters for Edinburgh and Glasgow from the West Lothian and Lanarkshire hinterlands (hardly the middle of nowhere)- most passengers travelling end-to-end use the faster, currently diesel (but still in line for electrification despite the cut backs) route via Falkirk High. There are two further routes from Edinburgh to Glasgow, which go to Central- the diesel-only line via Shotts, and the electrified line via Carstairs (served by Cross Country, a handful of Scotrail services and a solitary East Coast service). You could also go via Falkirk Grahmaston and change there for a service in Queen Street via Cumbernauld- there are a truly herioic number of routes between the cities (which are also connected by the often hopelessly congested M8 (partly hopeless because it still hasn’t been completed- there’s a section of narrow A8 dual carriageway in the middle).

    Despite this, every few years someone suggests building a bullet train line, or a maglev, or other similarly expensive insanity.

    • Chairman Pip said, on 9 October 2012 at 8:42 pm

      I’ve no doubt it’s busier during peak times, as most railway routes in and around major cities are. But it would be interesting to get an idea of numbers during off peak periods. I have no doubt though that the subsidy on that particular route, assuming it does run six-car trains throughout the day all the way from Edinburgh to Helensburgh (which is what that train was) will be massive, as it doubtless will be on many other routes throughout Scotland.

  2. David O'B said, on 14 October 2012 at 12:57 pm

    Please don’t fall into the Thatcherite anti-subsidy trap Pip! The only reason subsidies for Rail are being cut in Ireland is not because there isn’t any money (as they would like you to think), but because Ireland has a right-wing government and Transport Minister who favour Road over Rail – no other reason. Ireland is still merrily subsidising its overblown US-style highway network to the tune of hundreds of millions of euro per annum – despite the prenset ideology of “austerity”. Interestingly, thanks to Beeching-style policies carried out in Ireland for decades, that country only has about one third of the rail network mileage and density found in other European countries, on average.

  3. chicken dinner said, on 1 November 2012 at 2:09 am

    meh, IE just don’t like running anything and neither does its pearIE just don’t like running trains full stop, the management are just there for the pay and the pension, their pearent company CIE are a curse to public transport, at least british rail tried (slightly) to improve things, whether they were able to do that because of the mass closures, i don’t know, i do know that here in ireland we got nothing for our closures, the railway is slower and the government are less interested, our closures failed to achieve anything. what we got we would have got anyway

  4. chicken dinner said, on 1 November 2012 at 2:11 am

    meh, IE just don’t like running trains full stop, the management are just there for the pay and the pension, their pearent company CIE are a curse to public transport, at least british rail tried (slightly) to improve things, whether they were able to do that because of the mass closures, i don’t know, i do know that here in ireland we got nothing for our closures, the railway is slower and the government are less interested, our closures failed to achieve anything. what we got we would have got anyway


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