Chairman Pip's Railway Thoughts

Lies, Damned Lies and Porky Pies

Posted in Great Britain, High Speed, Infrastructure, Media by Chairman Pip on 4 October 2013

You’d think, in the week that saw the Daily Mail slated for the situation it finds itself in with Ed Miliband, that newspaper editors would want to be careful about what their journalists and commentators put in their publications. It seems though that some can write whatever the hell they like with no recourse. You’ll probably guess that I am yet again speaking about Frederick Forsyth. I am always now on the lookout on a Friday for anything he might have written in his column about High Speed 2, and today we had an absolute doozy:

The case against the ill-thought out HS2 high-speed rail link from London to the Midlands and the North continues to lose friends. The authorities have tried “environmental” justification, then “economic” and then “overcrowding” and each has been proved untrue.

Now even the cities of the Midlands and the North are losing enthusiasm. Why? People travelling to do business want to arrive in the city centre. if they want to change from inter-city to branch line they want to cross two platforms, not two miles. But the numpties behind HS2 are planning that these bullet trains stop well outside the cities they are supposed to serve….To make matters worse the local services will be cut back for economic reasons even though they will be as important as ever.

Come again? I’d love to know who has told him that the stations planned for HS2 will be miles from anywhere, unconnected to any other services, like some gare des betteraves. After all, last time I checked the plan was to build a new station on the old Curzon Street site in Birmingham (almost right next to the Bullring), a new station that will be directly connected to Leeds City, and brand new platforms as part of the refurbishments of Manchester Piccadilly and London Euston. Or perhaps he means the other stations:

Nope, it can’t be those he’s talking about, as they are all fairly well connected, even though they aren’t in city centres. So I’m not entirely sure what these unconnected stations that are two miles from the city centre actually are. Additionally, how does he know what the local services will actually be once HS2 opens, given that it’s a good decade and a bit in the future until even the first section opens? Presumably he has consulted his crystal ball to learn of this.

fortune-teller

It’s true that both the government and HS2 Ltd have been on the back foot in the media battles against the anti HS2 mob. I’ve been saying for ages that the main focus of the media campaign should have been capacity rather than speed – we need new rail capacity in this country, and any piecemeal enhancements done to the existing network to try and “create” new capacity will be both expensive and cause huge disruption (as the WCML enhancement proved). Now, fortunately, the government has seen the light and has brought the capacity issue to the fore. A new north-south intercity route will free up capacity on both the WCML and ECML so that more local and interurban passenger services can be run (which is your overcrowding justification Mr Forsyth), not to mention allowing more freight to be carried by rail, removing huge numbers of lorry journeys from the roads, as well as decreasing further the need for domestic flying (which is your environmental justification); added to this is the employment that will be generated, both in construction of the thing, and in the investment that such a project will bring in (and there’s your economic one). The disturbing thing is that there will be people that read such nonsense spouted by Mr Forsyth (and others come to that) and will think that because it’s in the newspaper it must be true. In a recent editorial, Nigel Harris made this point succinctly, pointing to the coverage the BBC gave to the IEA report that stated the project could cost as much as £80bn, and which included a number of spurious claims and (I hasten to say) fabrications (such as the HS2 spur to Liverpool that has never been proposed). While Mr Forsyth is a commentator, paid to write his opinions for publication, even commentators (never mind actual journalists) have a duty of care to their readers to ensure that what they’re writing is at least factually accurate. But then again, I’vealways thought that the anti mob would allow facts to get in the way of a good story.

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To quote Admiral Fisher, “ROT!”

Posted in Commuter, Great Britain, Media, Other general stuff about railways by Chairman Pip on 18 April 2013

I’d imagine that it’s a truism accepted by all that the less notable a celebrity is, the more important they think they are. Thus we have the story of Sarah Harding and her speeding ban. Having engaged the services of the noted solicitor Nick Freeman (aka “Mr Loophole”) when she came up before a magistrate charged with using her mobile phone while driving, the argument put forward by her solicitor was that:

Becase she is high profile she would find it impossible to use public transport because of the attention she would attract
Nick Freeman

Fortunately, the judge recognised this for the total bollocks that it is, and gave her three points on her driving licence, which, given that she already had nine (as a result of various speeding convictions), means she is now banned from driving for six months:

Mr Freeman is asking the court to deal with you as opposed to a normal person. Well you are a normal person. I can see no reason why you shouldn’t be disqualified.
District Judge Nina Tempia

The judge went on to say that she was not suggesting that Harding use “public transport”, as she could quite easily engage a driver, as another part of the argument was the need of a car for her work, and the fact that her mother lives in Stockport. The fact that she doesn’t do an ordinary job that makes public transport convenient I can understand, and therefore engaging a driver is of use. I go back to the fact that Daryl Morgan stopped using the train to get to work because of the nature of her hours. However, there will be instances where using the train is perfectly acceptable, and the only reason that a person will not countenance that is because they are “too famous”. Of course, the vast majority of us that have to travel by train, tube or whatever recognise that sort of attitude for what it is, hence the ridicule Geri Halliwell opened herself to when, having made her first journey on the Tube in nearly two decades, she decided it was the dog’s bollocks and would share her newfound wisdom on commuting with the world. Intercity trains have first class carriages, which are rarely full, and allow the “celebrity” to be a little more anonymous. After all, if it’s good enough for the Queen, it’s good enough for someone who, frankly, isn’t even the most famous person in her (now defunct) band.

“Girls Aloud star Sarah Harding given six-month driving ban”

I would say that The Queen is slightly more famous than Sarah Harding, and even she is happy to take the train.

Lighten up Georgie

Posted in Media, Other general stuff about railways, Politics by Chairman Pip on 8 April 2013

There was a bit in this morning’s “William Hickey” column that made me chuckle. Apparently, George Osborne is under new criticism for his transport arrangements after it emerged that his driver parked the offical car in a disabled space at the services on the way from Cardiff back to London after a visit to Wales’s capital. It seems that Gorgeous Georgie made the trip by road because he is wary of using the train following the debacle over his sitting in a first class seat on a standard class ticket. According to a Conservative Party official;

George can’t really win. If he goes back to using the trains, he’ll be heavily criticised if he travels first-class, but risks ridicule and abuse if he attempts to go in standard.

One might think that the Chancellor had something of a thin skin when it comes to criticism. Someone with a little more gumption might simply have laughed off the furore, said that in future he’d make sure he either bought a 1st class ticket or else paid the upgrade supplement willingly, and carried on using the iron road. The Hickey piece concludes by asking whether there is a mode of transport that he can use without getting in trouble. My idea immediately on reading that was a rocket powered pogo stick.

Given the criticism he gets for his management of the economy, I think there are more important things for George Osborne to worry about than being pointed at for using the train. Suck it up man.

Chairman Pip’s Podcast #2.6

Posted in Commuter, Customer service, London, Media, Metro, Podcast by Chairman Pip on 27 March 2013

Chairman Pip’s Podcast #2.6

The obvious answer to the question “should I give up my seat?”, at least if your commute is not from one end of the District Line to the other, is “I won’t sit down at all

“I’d never give up my seat for a pregnant woman”

Enough time has passed now

Posted in Great Britain, High Speed, Infrastructure, Media, Politics by Chairman Pip on 9 March 2013

While I may come down hard on the Daily Express for the often total bollocks it has a tendency to print sometimes, particularly from some of its columnists, I will say that, on some matters, Frederick Forsyth does write things that strike a chord with me, especially when he comments either on foreign affairs, intelligence matters or the armed forces, all of which in his two careers as a journalist and a thriller writer he has had experience of and researched extensively. However, when he writes about things he seems to know little of, it is fair that he tends to fall into the same trap of all the other columnists that try commenting on important national matters with their opinion and little else to fall back on. Obviously, the main headline from his column on the 8th February was enough to first attract my attention, and then, upon reading the piece, my ire.

On the fast track to a total disaster

Mr Forsyth has been vocal in his opposition to High Speed 2, putting forward many arguments as to why it should not be built, mainly regurgitating the same old stories that the “No2HS2” grouping tend to put forward as the significant reasons not to go ahead with it. This particular piece came out the week that the government announced its planned route for Phase 2, the “Y” branches to Leeds and Manchester. The last line of the opening paragraph is an indication of where Mr Forsyth’s interests lie:

But there are crucial questions still to answer about the southern line from Euston to Birmingham, planned to destroy great swathes of the beautiful Cotswolds.

Often there are pieces about Mr Forsyth’s country living, so it isn’t a stretch to think that he may well live along the route of Phase 1, which is why he is as aggressive in his writing as he is. According to the piece from the newspaper, the government are mounting a “wild propaganda campaign that no one seems to be questioning”, except him of course. The problem is, his questioning appears to be taking entirely the wrong course – he questions the government’s claim that HS2 will create 100,000 jobs, suggesting that at most it will create 2,000. But here he is looking at the workforce that will be involved in actually building the line itself. True, but there will then be the jobs created in the supplying of materials to build the line, and supplying the equipment that will build the line. There will be significantly more than the 2,000 he suggests in actually building HS2. Then he somewhat sarcastically mentions the government’s enterprise zones – these are areas the government has designated for greater investment through improved planning rules and infrastructure. Forsyth points out that the trains intended for HS2 won’t stop at any of them and “certainly won’t carry freight”. True and true, but freight will be carried on the existing network, and one of the major points for building the line is to provide capacity. By taking a large number of fast, intercity trains off the West Coast Main Line, then there will be more space for both the slower, interurban and commuter trains that carry the workers into the centres of London, Birmingham and Manchester, and there will be more space for the slow, heavy freight trains, a significant number of which use the WCML for some part of their journey. He then points out that on his train journey into Marylebone (35 minutes) all the “hard-nosed businessmen” are tapping away on their laptops/tablets/mobile devices, which evidently means that businessmen don’t need to travel anymore. So why do they still insist on doing that? Mr Forsyth points to the experience the Dutch have had with HSL Zuid, suggesting that everyone prefers using the existing rail network, which runs parallel for part of the route with trains “at half the price”. I’ve had a look at the Nederlandse Spoorwegen website and done a search for a return journey from Amsterdam to Rotterdam; using a regular NS Intercity service costs €28.00, while using the Fyra service costs €32.60. The additional cost is due to the supplement for using the high speed line, similar to the one Southeastern puts on its high speed services. Mr Forsyth also makes a comment that East Coast can “only fill a third of its seats” and is “losing fortunes”, things he suggests are “hard nosed facts”, before stating that he has simply “read this” somewhere, not stating where.

Mr Forsyth should come out and say that he doesn’t want High Speed 2 running through his garden, and that that is his primary objection, rather than try to clothe it in attempted arguments that make no sense whatsoever. The fact of the matter is that High Speed 2, as with all infrastructure projects, will not in itself be profitable. The idea is to improve the capacity of the railway network to enable it to move more people and more goods to get to the places that they need to be. More people than ever are using the railways, and more goods are being transported on them; the railways are bucking the trend of the financial situation we find ourselves in. Tinkering around the edges with longer trains and longer platforms on the existing network won’t solves the fundamental problem that it is full to bursting (although Mr Forsyth’s comment about East Coast suggests he’d like to junk that too). Perhaps Mr Forsyth might like to do a little reading before the next time he decides to write about this issue – I’d suggest that he looks at the testimonies of the people that live in and around High Speed 1. That too was going to be a disaster; a metal scar carving through the Garden of England, which would cause windows to smash and cows to fall over every time a train passed. Except none of that has happened. HS1 was built with its environment in mind. While not invisible, it blends in where it runs at grade, while its structures (perhaps most notably the Medway Viaduct) are the modern equivilents of Brunel’s engineering solutions on the Great Western. I have no doubt that the structures on HS2 will be even better, the 21st century equivilents of Box Tunnel. Mr Forsyth should be honest with us and admit that he is a NIMBY, and that his objections are based not on “facts” but on his own prejudices. And, if he was a journalist worth his salt, he would do some reading and have some discussions with the other side before committing pen to paper next time. Over to you Nigel Harris

“On the fast track to a total disaster”

Frederick Forsyth needs to fess up and admit his objections to HS2 are personal

What does cold matter to a BBC London correspondent?

Posted in Customer service, Media, Other general stuff about railways by Chairman Pip on 19 January 2013

Never let it be said that journalists don’t go all out to provide their service. You’ll have noticed that we’ve had a lot of weather today, which has (naturally) led to the country’s transport systems going into panic mode – while TfL managed to get on with things with little problem, most of the capital’s Train Operating Companies announced their emergency timetables before the snow actually started falling. Only to be expected I guess. Of course, that means that the news providers have to keep us up to date, which not only means sitting in a nice, warm studio reading from an autocue, but also heading out into the thick of it. Admittedly, the snowfall in London today hasn’t been massive, but still, with the snow, and the wind, and the low temperatures, to go out and look calm and composed on live television is the mark of a true professional, as we saw from Alice Bhandhukravi, on her posting outside Euston station last night, armed only with a grey woolly hat. A big hand and a large cup of hot chocolate for that lady please!!

Alice Bhandhukravi in the cold at Euston

Cup of hot chocolate for the lady please

The Japanese – Go Figure

Posted in Adult, Media, Other general stuff about railways by Chairman Pip on 11 January 2013

“…as it crumbles.”

Posted in London, Media, Other general stuff about railways by Chairman Pip on 31 October 2012

How much did you all enjoy Skyfall then? I certainly breathed a sigh of relief that it was significantly better than Quantum of Solace, and I was also pleased that the end had been kept so quiet by the producers. I won’t spoil it for those that might not have seen it yet, but suffice it to say I didn’t see it coming. Not to mention it was the first James Bond film to make major use of London as a featured location in the film itself, with a significant sequence taking place in the Underground. Naturally though, my keen eye spotted certain things about the sequence that only those of us with an eye for this sort of thing would pay attention to. Like the fact that the sequence was supposed to revolve around the bad guy escaping by jumping onto the District Line at Temple. The District Line that uses 1996 Stock apparently. Of course, we all know that it doesn’t, because it would be incredibly difficult to film on the actual District Line for any length of time without shutting it down, causing massive disruption. So, the actual filming of the scenes on station platforms involving trains were done on the now disused Jubilee Line platforms at Charing Cross, which are still used as turnbacks for trains that terminate at Green Park. However, this got me to thinking about how the Tube is filmed when called for, in terms of how much the network can actually be used. There are of course closed off areas that can be used, such as Charing Cross’ Jubilee Line platforms, or the Waterloo & City Line on Sundays (which saw Waterloo doubling as a District Line station in Sliding Doors), but it is often the case that it is just to constrictive and restrictive to get all of the necessary equipment to and from the station platforms at somewhere like Aldwych, particularly if it is a large and complex production. As an example, Die Another Day featured a sequence at the fictional Vauxhall Cross station. The designers did a lot of research at Aldwych, but the actual Vauxhall Cross was a set built at Pinewood. This is understandable as it would probably have been quite difficult to get a trolley with an Aston Martin Vanquish on it up the tunnel from Holborn. However, many is the time that Aldwych, which has no working lifts, has seen crews having to lug camera and sound equipment all the way down the stairs, and so having the money to build your own makes life a lot easier.

“‘Skyfall’ Set Visit: The Catacomb Confrontation Between Bond and Bardem, and One Near-Literal Meaning of the Film’s Title”

I’m sure there are times many commuters feel like doing this

Does the taint spread?

Posted in Great Britain, Media, Other general stuff about railways by Chairman Pip on 19 October 2012

Farce follows fiasco over the ICWC difficulty. Now it seems that, what with the franchise competition that saw First Group have their bid accepted, then rejected after Virgin’s complaint, and then the realisation that the DfT had gotten its sums wrong, we now know how it will pan out. Rather than Directly Operated Railways taking over, it will be Virgin that continues with running the operation for between the next 9 and 13 months, which will be followed by a short franchise, after which will be a longer one intended to go to the opening of High Speed 2. Of course, there are many people that aren’t happy about this – these are the people that want to see the railways completely re-nationalised. For people of a particular political hue, the spectacles of hindsight that they wear when talking about the halcyon days of British Rail are much the same colour as their political leanings. For example, the prospective Labour candidate for Mayor of London re-tweeted a tweet today from Polly Toynbee, who was complaining about the queues at the ticket office at London Victoria.

Southern rail a disgrace, ticket queues at Victoria miles long, machines bust,manager says nothing to be done.Nationalise??

That now seems to be the default response whenever anything goes even slightly wrong. Because of course there were never any ticket office queues or broken ticket machines in the days of the nationalised railway. What people also seem to forget is that when British Rail was privatised there was a policy of “managed decline”, with no expectation of passenger numbers booming the way they have, hence the reason we have had to have the massive infrastructure investment over the last twenty or so years. Were the railways to be re-nationalised, would the money be there both to complete the infrastructure work and run the services, especially in the Age of Austerity?

But, there is something else. People may have noticed that there has been massive scandal regarding the late Sir James Wilson Vincent Savile OBE KCSG and allegations that he was a “kiddy fiddler”. The scandal has led to serious questions being asked at the BBC and the various hospitals that Savile had connections to through his charity work, over who knew what, when, and how, if his predilictions were fairly widely known, he was able to get away with it. Three weeks before the story became public, BBC Four broadcast a programme called “The Age of the Train” that celebrated the InterCity 125. Not only did this programme look at the design and construction of the train itself, but also at the famous marketing campaign with the slogan “This is the Age of the Train”. The advertising agency, Allen Brady and Marsh, which came up with the campaign also decided that the best front man for the campaign was…Jimmy Savile. As a consequence, Jimmy Savile is undeniably connected with British Rail. So, does the taint of the allegations against him spread? After all, even though he was the choice of the advertising agency, the choice was signed off by British Rail. Of course, even though everyone remembers the “Age of the Train” campaign, it was only one campaign. But, because it is the one that everyone remembers, should people be so nostalgic about the nationalised railway when it is so connected to someone like that? After all, the BBC are probably in no rush to revisit the format of Jim’ll Fix It.

Bazinga

Posted in America, Media, Other general stuff about railways by Chairman Pip on 10 June 2012

Further to my previous post, there was something else that occured to me. In the episode of The Big Bang Theory that I described, called The Terminator Decoupling, Sheldon and his friends Leonard, Howard and Raj take the Coast Starlight from Pasadena to San Francisco. The thing is that there is no railway station in Pasadena, and so the guys would have had to use the Gold Line to get to Union Station in Los Angeles to catch the train, while to actually get to San Francisco, the boys would have had to go to Oakland before boarding the Thruway Motorcoach to get into the city. What surprises me, given Sheldon’s eidetic memory, is that he didn’t mention either the beginning or the end of the journey. However, I have no doubt that anyone reading this will probably have little to no interest in any of this. Oh well. BAZINGA!!

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