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The big plan for the railways

Eddie Mair | 17:10 UK time, Tuesday, 24 July 2007

What do YOU think?


  1. At 05:31 PM on 24 Jul 2007, Sue Stelfox wrote:

    Ruth Kelly says she always gets a seat on the West Coast Main Line. I travel on the WCML regularly and unless you book far in advance the only way you can get a seat is to travel 1st Class rather than Standard Class.

    It would be interesting to know which Ruth Kelly uses?

  2. At 05:31 PM on 24 Jul 2007, Richard wrote:

    This simply isn't enough to meet the growing demand. Ms Kelly conceded as much in the interview.

    Why, in the white paper, has the government ruled out even the most inexpensive of plans to reopen closed lines like Lewes-Uckfield and Bicester-Bletchley?

    New high speed lines have also been dismissed despite the fact that the government's own commssioned studies (Atkins 2004), and even Rod Eddington, have said that they are the most cost effective way to tackle overcrowding.

  3. At 05:32 PM on 24 Jul 2007, Rebecca wrote:

    I bet Ruth Kelly gets a seat because she travels first class...and has someone to book her seats in advance for her...
    Effectively she is saying that it is acceptable for people to be paying full price tickets without any seat, because there will still be a shortfall in numbers.
    We need to have vision and create a NEW network, not just tart up stations. We need new lines to replace the rural ones lost, giving a network allowing more people not to use cars, and double decker trains as well as longer ones. YES this will cost money but it is unavoidable. Also the railways need to be not for profit as at the moment the public is underwriting private profits through subsidy.

  4. At 05:45 PM on 24 Jul 2007, SimonM wrote:

    I can't beleive you let Ruth Kelly get away with blaming rail privatisation, and you didn't put it to her that HER government created the Strategic Rail Authority (SRA) at great expense to provide the railway industry with the leadership it needed and then abolished it at further great expense!

    And from her last comment it appears that any improvement on the west coast line had nothing to do with Virgin.

  5. At 05:53 PM on 24 Jul 2007, Fearless Fred wrote:

    Trains are only part of the answer. For long journeys, a good rail network is essential. However, across the country there's a need for a complete re-think of local transport. For this, I discount London and it's surrounding suburban satellites, as it's a special case that has had decades of investment. Instead, there is a massive need for local village to town and town to town public transport networks. Most regular froggers will have heard my gripes about public transport where I linve, but for those who don't know the details, here's a quick precis. I live in South Oxon, in one of the four towns to the South of Oxford. I work on a place called Milton Park, one of the largest mixed-mode industrial parks in the UK, and the major site of employment within Oxon. Door to door, it's 12km/8 miles. If I were to use the bus, it would take me an hour and a half to travel the 8 miles. On the way home, the route is worse, and I would have to travel from Milton Park 3 miles in the other direction to Didcot, then catch a train from there to Oxford (15 miles North) then a bus to travel the 15 miles south again. Total journey time, 2 hours. I would love to be able to leave the car at home, but to ask me to spend at least 3 1/2 hours to travel what takes me 25 minutes in the car daily (there AND back) is just plain stupid.

    Inside towns, bus services are usually fair to good. What we need to do is address the town to town or town to industrial estate routes. If we can take these car journeys onto a different public transport system (bus, tram, whatever) then it would reduce the pollution that such journeys make, provide local employment, reduce traffic black-spots, etc. THIS is just as important as the long distance rail network. Outside of London, the vast majority daily journeys in the car are less than 20 minutes in length (just think of what your daily commute is like). It's these journeys that we need to address.

  6. At 06:02 PM on 24 Jul 2007, John, Shrewsbury wrote:

    Whenever any White Paper is published, the Government of the day never really stand a chance against public opinion. I think this strategy goes some way to improving the railway network, given the fact that prior to this century,(in my opinion) it had been chronically under-funded for over 50 years.

    I welcome any initiative to combat overcrowding, but don't forget this is sometimes exacerbated by selfish, seated passengers who won't move their bag or carrier off the adjoining seat to let a another passenger sit down.

  7. At 06:42 PM on 24 Jul 2007, Brian Shaw wrote:

    I tried using the railway - it wasn't worth it. I needed to go to central London from my home in S. Manchester a few minutes walk from the main line to Euston. A day return ticket; £219. How can anyone justify that cost for a train? I could get a 7-day coach tour to Scotland with DB&B and 3 excursions for £209. If it hadn't been a government department paying for my trip, I wouldn't have considered it. Anyway, the trip was cancelled and it cost £20 to not travel. I shall stick to my car and warm the globe; I can't afford public transport.

  8. At 07:34 PM on 24 Jul 2007, Gillian wrote:

    Brian Shaw (7)Two weeks ago my daughter travelled from Birmingham New Street to Glasgow. She took a local train at each end, and the total cost was £11.50. She has travelled Birmingham to London for £6. It helps if like her you are able to book in advance.

  9. At 08:01 PM on 24 Jul 2007, Chris Ghoti wrote:

    On the subject of the plans for trains, the immediate reaction I had whilst listening to the report was "too little, too late" -- but I don't know how much of my reaction may have been because of the questions asked and the way they were answered.

    Does Ruth Kelly travel at peak times? If not, she might be able always to get a seat without pre-booking or going first class, I suppose. I've always got a seat on trains, but only because I don't have to catch them at the times when they are most crowded.

    Anyone making pricing comparisons between the cost of a train ticket and the cost of making the same journey by car ought always to remember that the cost of the car-journey is not just the price of the fuel; it should also include road-tax, MOT, repairs, tyres, oil and so forth, added up and averaged over a year's use of the car to give a cost-per-mile figure, and possibly parking at the away-from-home end too if one is being honest with one's calculations. My car, not being new, uses about 10p per mile on fuel and at least double that on the other things.

  10. At 08:05 PM on 24 Jul 2007, David Jones wrote:

    The UKs government attitude to travel is crazy. Tax people of the roads for the sake of the environment, tax people out of the skies for the same reason and price people off the trains because it can not handle the capacity.

    Ruth Kelly interview blaming the Conservatives for the current state is another sign they have no answers. 10 years Labour has been in power and still no sign of bringing the train network into the 20th century let alone the 21st. Just more patching of a network designed for a country that no longer exists.

    I am arriving back in the UK for a family visit in August. Apart from the time in London I have a car booked for myself, wife and daughter to get around.

  11. At 08:06 PM on 24 Jul 2007, Richard wrote:

    The more I look at the details of this white paper the more disappointed I feel.

    This isn't a 30-year plan at all. It's a summary of what they're already doing, along with the stripped-down go-ahead for some projects they've been putting off for years. No news on Crossrail either.

    It also shows where the Westminster government's priorities lie: Solely on London and the south east, and not beyond the next election.

    The vast majority of the rail industry and both opposition parties are in full support of high speed rail links to the North and all the benefits they would bring. In the UK these projects take more than 10 years to build and Ruth Kelly's decision to ignore them when we desperately need to start planning now is nothing short of a giant monument to bean-counting short-termism.

  12. At 08:17 PM on 24 Jul 2007, b wilson wrote:

    There is a simple way to double passenger capacity on the railways - use double decker coaches. These were in use in France when I went 10 years ago on one of the commuter lines in to Paris.

    Last week I saw a TGV arrive in Perpignan with double decker coaches. After seeing this train it felt like I had dropped back 2 centuries when I took the train home from Manchester airport

    The simple answer to the UK railway problem - give it to SNCF

  13. At 09:14 PM on 24 Jul 2007, tony ferney wrote:

    Even if this relatively low-end plan is fully implemented, it will be several (5?) years before the first benefits become apparent and then ticket prices will have to go up anywhere between 20 and 30 % according to estimates i have heard. The question in my mind is whether "customers" will be willing to pay or should it go on taxes.

    Double-deckers are an obvious, if stop-gap solution but there's no mention of them in the plan, I believe.

    In the meantime, why not massively increase coach services since coaches do not call for new infrastructure.

  14. At 09:29 PM on 24 Jul 2007, mittfh wrote:

    I'll believe it when I see it...

    The most laughable aspect of it is Birmingham New Street - there's already a "RenewStreet" project to redevelop the station (complete with obligatory javascript-heavy website).

    Somehow they think they can increase passenger capacity to over 52 million per year without building any extra lines or platforms - strange, since I always thought the bottleneck at Birmingham wasn't so much the station but the approach tunnels, which are only double track.


    The real challenge with public transport is to provide an efficient door to door service. Many people live on the outskirts of one town and work on the outskirts of another. If the towns are fairly large, you're looking at three trips to get to work:

    Home --> Town A centre
    Town A centre --> Town B centre
    Town B centre --> work

    However, it's quite common for there to be no direct transit links between towns A and B, so then you're probably looking at an extra trip to a town which runs services to both destinations:

    Home --> Town A centre
    Town A centre --> Intermediate centre
    Intermediate centre --> Town B centre
    Town B centre --> work

    Even allowing a meagre 10 minutes between connections, you're looking at adding at least 1/2hr onto your trip through choosing public transit, and probably more as the hub approach means that (a) you're spending part of your journey turning back on yourself, and (b) if you're using mass transit it's likely to visit several villages/towns in between your destinations, so taking a "scenic route" rather than the direct route you'd take in your car.

    Oh, and because the majority of goods are transported in this country by road, any attempt to increase the cost of motoring will also increase the cost of distribution and therefore inflation. Not to mention bus travel.

  15. At 09:30 PM on 24 Jul 2007, Ian Wallace wrote:

    Too little, too late, but mustn't grumble, its a start. Lets really get the pressure onto Ruth Kelly and the government now to make public transport so good and so cheap that most people choose to use it.
    This could kick start the fight back against climate change that we so desperately need.
    In Sheffield we used to have the famous cheap fares, which some combination of Margaret Thatcher and David Blunkett took away, despite a massive demonstration to keep them. Instead we now have a string of new dual carriageways.

    Due to a mobility problem I now have free bus and train travel throughout South Yorkshire and well beyond. This is wonderful! EVERYBODY should have it! Then improve the quality and quantity of public transport AS NECESSARY to meet the demand, paid for by the same means as the attack on Iraq, then everything else that we need to do to combat climate change would seem like plain sailing.

  16. At 09:53 PM on 24 Jul 2007, Karl Handy wrote:

    I'd happily stand rather than sit if I could afford to use the trains, but the prices are already too high.

    It's not nicer trains or fancier stations I want - it's lower fares. That's the way to get me out of my car.

  17. At 10:53 PM on 24 Jul 2007, Chris Ghoti wrote:

    Are all the bridges on the rail network high enough for double-decker trains to be a practical solution? If even one in three or four is too low, it would be a very expensive and disruptive business raising them, I suppose.

  18. At 11:58 PM on 24 Jul 2007, Aperitif wrote:

    Fearless (5), I agree.

  19. At 01:08 AM on 25 Jul 2007, Tony Telford wrote:

    Many commentators would argue that the 1953 Transport Act was that Act which showed that neither the British Government in general nor the Ministry of Transport in particular saw a long-term future for the railway industry. It is true that the same Conservative Government encouraged British Railways to publish its Modernisation Plan in 1955 which looked forward to a modern, cost-efficient railway by 1970. Some schemes were completed and were very succesful, some were ill conceived, and some were still-born. Costs escalated anf by 1960 the Treasury was uncertain whether British Railways could be trusted to spend money wisely, a fear that still stalks the Department for Transport to this very day.

    It is abundantly clear that Mr. Marples, the incoming Minister of Transport in 1959, had a clear idea that future land transport would be road-biased not rail-biased. Marples-Ridgeway did not get all the motorway construction contracts. Mr. Marples appointed committees to review the finances of British Railways sand from one of those committees chose Dr. Beeching to take British Railways forward in a manner that would cost the taxpayer much less. Dr. Beeching developed the concept of the Inter-City railway passenger service and radically upgraded the mahjor freight flows with "Liner Trains" and "Merry-Go-Round" mineral workings. At least one commentator believes that Dr. Beeching saved a rail network for the nation. But most people remember Dr. Beeching for his savage cuts to both railway passenger and railway freight services. He cut about 35% of the railway passenger network. He made the railway much less comprehensive and more difficult to access.

    The Labour Party was returned to power in 1964 but it was not until Barbara Castle's 1968 Transport Act that the Beeching closures stopped. Since then there have been very few withdrawals of service.

    Dr. Beeching's 1965 maps of railway routes for development showed that had he stayed with BR the network could have become much smaller. In 1983 Tom King, the then Secretary of State for Transport, invited Sir David Serpell, the erstwhile Chief Permanent Secretary at the Department, to show the Governement of Margaret Thatcher a route network that would be profitable; that route network was 1,650 miles. Margaret Thatcher ditched the scheme.

    Even though closures virtually ceased in 1968, and even though there were many local and regional modernisation plans completed, there was a Treaury-inspired push to cut costs by ripping out redundant tracks and selling land. The railway became less secure. The "What If Railway" became a thing of the past. In 1950 the train would always get through; it was, indeed, a matter of pride. By 1990 engineering works forced people on to buses. What had been main lines like the Salisbury to Exeter section of the Waterloo to West of England Main Line became non-opetational all too easily because they had been singled. Safety was, as always, there; reliability had gone.

    The 1982 "Sectorisation" of BR was showing tremendous results by 1990. InterCity was making a profit, Network SouthEast was cutting its losses substantially and was introducing its new standard train - the Networker. Regional Railways was well on the way to having a post-1984 fleet of trains. The West Coast Main Line was as good as anything in mainland Europe and its almost hourly service between London and Glasgow on a five-hour schedule was as good as it got. BR's fleet of InterCity 125s were the fastest diesel trains in the world and the most passenger-friendly by far.

    Perhaps there were new ideas within the DTp. The East Coast electrification went ahead and Edinburgh was less than four hours from London. Chris Green almost electrified all the south east, opened a rail route to Stansted Airport, and would have re-opened the Uckfield to Lewes route (and provide a good diversionary route to Brighton) had the poligics not changed radically again.

    The 1993 Railways Act had much more to do with the Treasury wanting to cut funding the railway, and John Major wanting to keep the Tory Party together than it had to do with the well-being of the railway industry.

    Privatisation cost a lot of money, destroyed the utter trust that railway people had for each other, set one group of people against another group, and the operation was run by contract, lawyers, threats, and bribes rather than sheer railway common sense. Privatisation may have unleashed some initiatives like Anglia's Norwich to Southampton service and strangled in its infancy, but it did not engender the concept of national railway network with a coherent fare structure. Britain by 2000 was the only western European country not to have railway lines with trains operating at 300 km/h thus offering airlines serious competion over distances of up to 1,000 kilometres (600 miles).

    It seems that the Conservative Party between 1953 and the early 1980s had a transport policy which would have seen the rail network close over two generations. Conservative support of the Sectorisation of BR, its funding of the East Coast electrication, and its strong support for the 1989 Central London Rail Study which had CrossRail completed by 1999, and Thameslink 2000 by 2000 showed that the Conservatives saw a real future for railways. The Labour Party had a very ambiguous view. The nationalisation of 1948 was far from perfect; it opposed Beeching whilst it was in opposition but took its time to stop the Beeching closures. It opposed privatisation in the early 1990s but in 1997 stated thart railways were not a priority. John Precott had been very bullish in Opposition but his Transport Act was delayed by Tony Blair's insistence on Devoltion and Lord's Reform coming first. He was also wrong-footed by a run of railway accidents and the fuel crisis of September 2000. We got a Strategic Rail Authority to act very much like the British Railways Board. But the Government was tired of railways in the headlines. Stephen Byers was able to rid the railway of Railtrack, Alistair Darling pushed the railway into the middle pages of newspapers and eventually disbanded the SRA giving the Secretary of State more control over the railways than even in the days of the BTC.

    Ruth Kelly picked up a thorny problem. She is an economist with a strong social conscience. She has had no experience in transport before and has been in post for a month. It must have been a daunting task to master an alien brief and present new policy in the House with no experience in this area behind her.

    She made a good fist of presenting a White Paper which in effect was not hers. The subsequent questions found her seriously wanting but not surprisingly so.

    The railway is full and busting at the seams in most places but there are a few places where the railway train, just like most motor cars, only carries fresh air as Alistair Darling liked to point out. The railway is bursting at the seams because for 50 years there was a bi-partisan policy to cut railway capacity. All slack was removed from the system. For 50 years old carriages were replaced on a three for four basis. No wonder the railway is bursting at the seams!

    The 1993 Act may have encouraged entrepreneurial skills on the railway but many BR senior managers were very successful in gaining new traffic in spite of a government blanket of inertia. But the 1993 has made it mighty difficult to plan on a nationwside and long-term basis.

    We are to have longer trains and more of them. Reading station is to be rebuilt at a cost of £425m. Birmingham New Street is to have an operational makeover costing £128m and 150 other stations are to share £150m. Thameslink 2000 will be completed by 2015 but there is no commitment to CrossRail. Though we shall have a superb High Speed Route from St. Pancras to the Gare du Nord totally complete by this November bringing Paris within 134 minutes of London there is absolutely no commitment to HS2 from London to the North which could help to slow down airport expansion and CO2 emissions. Ruth Kelly mentioned the new InterCity Express Project but made no mention of further electrification which again would held emissions. Both the Great Western and Midland are crying out for this investment.

    She wants to make the passenger pay more for using the railway. She wants Treasury contributions to fall. This is in total opposition to most received professional opinion within the EU. The Railway must attract a greater proportion of passengers.

    Nor did she say what the strategic aim is. I'll give her one. To provide for a railway pasenger network wherein each of the 100 largest cities and towns in Britain is linked by direct passenger services whose average speed is (the arbitary) 100 mph or more and that most rail journeys between towns can be accomplished with no more than two changes. To provide for suburban services within those cities which ask for them. To provide a freight network which is not constrained by either capacity or kinematic envelope issues.

    That should tqke 50 years!

  20. At 01:15 AM on 25 Jul 2007, Wonko wrote:

    People often say that London and the South-East of England are a special case regarding Public Transport. I have some sympathy for this view, but it still takes me at least an hour and a half to commute each way from the edge of North London to the centre. I have a friend who travels from a village near Bedford to a near by office, and it takes her less time to get in than me! Surely something is wrong with that?

    Unreliability is the biggest issue for me. Using a combination of tube and mainline, I just can't guarantee any journey or how long it will take me. The fact that Transport for London have an entire section of their web site dedicated to reporting delays and problems on their network speaks volumes to me about what is wrong with Public Transport. We seem to spend forever patching over old rips in the garment, instead of addressing the underlying problems. The tube network has seen massive investment over the last few years, and I for one have seen precious little improvement for all that taxpayers money.

    I must agree with the consensus of other froggers regarding pricing. At the moment it makes absolutely no financial sense for an individual - let alone a family - to travel intercity by rail. You won't get people using Public Transport until it is cheap, reliable, convenient and more attractive than other options in its own right.

    As far as cheap tickets being available if you book in advance is concerned, that is the nub of another problem. I can decide at any time of day or night to get in my car and travel somewhere of my choosing, by a route of my choosing. I don't have to book it seven days in advance! As long as you have that situation persisting with rail, it's doomed to fail, because not all journeys can or will be planned far enough in advance.

    One last thought; why isn't more freight carried by rail?

  21. At 01:36 AM on 25 Jul 2007, mac wrote:

    sounds like another case of 'If I were travelling I wouldn't start from here'.

    Tony Telford, your fine track record of the railways puts you in first class commentator carriages for me.

    So two questions:
    How much is there in the view that the TOC's are just syphoning money from government to their shareholders?

    Is the case for nationalisation overwhelming?

  22. At 06:31 AM on 25 Jul 2007, The Stainless Steel Cat wrote:

    b & Tony (12 & 13):

    Double deck carriages are brught up fairly often, but dismissed quite quickly due to the cost of raising so many bridges and - much more difficult and expensive - re-boring the large number of tunnels on the network.

    British Rail ran a trial in the 50s or 60s with a kind of DD carriage, but because it had to fit into the existing spaces, it was more of a 1.5 decker and didn't carry many more people than a single decker.

    The short-term solution for overcrowding is to extend platforms and run longer trains. Where termini can't be extended e.g. Glasgow Queen Street which disappears into tunnels just after the end of the current platforms, we need trains that can convert to light rail and run along the streets (as on the continent) or even (gasp) new railway stations.

    I can think of at least one ugly chav-magnet shopping centre on the site of a previous railway terminus that I'd love to be bulldozed and rebuilt as a station again. (*cough* St. Enochs *cough*)

  23. At 07:19 AM on 25 Jul 2007, John Barry wrote:

    Plans for improvements of our railways are good to hear but not for me. In fact they make me cross. Over the past three years the ability for me to travel by train to my place of work has been removed by the effective closure of my local station on the WCML. Only one 'parliamentary' train stops early afternoon each day as a requirement before actual closure can be agreed.
    So now I must own and run a second car just to get to work.
    Does this Government really want to reduce our dependance on the motor car?

  24. At 08:08 AM on 25 Jul 2007, Richard Harman wrote:

    The anouncements made yesterday are all very laudable and indeed necessary but what is really needed for the railways is an ongoing programme of electrification. Britain has one of the lowest proportions of electified railway in Europe. There is no doubt that electric trains are cleaner, more reliable, more efficient and less damaging to the environment than diesel trains. At the very least we should be planning to complete all of the outstanding main lines to the West Country, North and South Wales, the Midland main line and the cross country route from Doncaster to Bristol plus various infill schemes. This will cost money, perhaps £50 billion or so but what cost do you put on saving the environment?

  25. At 09:04 AM on 25 Jul 2007, Susan Orty-Boyden wrote:

    Give us a break Ms Kelly. Even John Prescott's much vaunted Ten Year Transport plan - is stilling running late!

  26. At 11:04 AM on 25 Jul 2007, Ed Iglehart wrote:

    Tony (19),

    I live in an area castrated by Beeching. I have noted over 35 years how every possible capacity for recovering the service has been pre-empted by taking down bridges and building houses on the right-of- way.

    The rest of the world has railway systems built in imitation of the former glory of the British system, and what do we have to show for all that?

    Comprehensive, countrywide public transport is as essential to a modern civilisation as are the other forms of communication. As such, they are legitimate uses of public funding, NOT private profiteering.

    R.I.P public Telecommunications, Postal services, Railroads, Highways, Water and sewage, Electricity supply, etc. What next?


  27. At 11:27 AM on 25 Jul 2007, Aunt Dahlia wrote:

    O EdI- we must have been doing telepathy, I've anguished on the beach, probably not the right place, but certainly the right time. Why can't we make them wake up and smell the rot?

  28. At 03:35 PM on 25 Jul 2007, nikki noodle wrote:

    Stupid of me, I know, but another solution would be to get a job nearer home.

    This would involve probably getting a lower paid job and not having a holiday every year...

    Or vice versa to move nearer work.

    A daft idea. And totally impractical. But only as impractical as double decker trains!!



  29. At 04:57 PM on 25 Jul 2007, Ed Iglehart wrote:

    Nikki, & all,

    Mere decades ago, we mostly walked to work!


  30. At 05:21 PM on 25 Jul 2007, Richard Parker wrote:

    I've always been a bit sceptical when I've heard people talking about "spin" in politics, but now I see exactly what they mean. Cutting rail investment in half and at the same time announcing an "ambitious plan to expand the railways" couldn't really be a better example.

    The attitude to funding actual expansion from this government is diaboical. It's like a man who gets paid a fixed fee to dig a big ditch refusing to buy a spade because he already has a trowel, and anyway spades are expensive!

    When I say "actual expansion" I mean building new lines and new stations and re-opening previously closed infrastructure. I don't call adding a few coaches and lengthening a platform or two "expansion". Not in the face of 6% growth in passenger numbers every year!

  31. At 07:58 PM on 25 Jul 2007, Brian Shaw wrote:

    Gillian (8) found miraculously cheap tickets. I did book in advance, as she suggests, 6 days. That is why it cost me £20 to cancel. I wasted a lot of time trying to find a cheap ticket. The best I could do was two singles on specified trains, £88.50 out, £61 back. Too much hassle and too much cost. A fast train practically door-to-door and it was still not worth using public transport (except that the government would have been covering the cost of that particular trip).

  32. At 10:43 PM on 25 Jul 2007, Di Millman wrote:

    Trains? Don't have a lot to do with them here in darkest Devon, but if the government is going to expand the railways but not spend more money, then fares will go up. If fares go up, less people will travel by train and so problem solved - no need to expand the railway system. Or is that being simplistic?

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