Freight on Rail in the UK

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Back in October 2013, Network Rail published a report entitled “Long Term Planning Process: Freight Market Study”, and in the opening remarks of its summary stated:

“The Freight Network Study sets out the rail industry’s priorities for enhancing the rail freight network, so it is fit for the future. The dominant issue is the need to create capacity on the network. This will enable it to serve the future needs of the rail freight market, ensuring the sector remains competitive and expands.”

One of the objectives of this forward view seems to have been to “reduce road congestion” – great idea.  Given both the speed and weight (44 tonnes) of HGV lorries on Britain’s roads – especially trunk and ‘A’ class roads, that’s got to be included too – yes?

Some of the internal statistics from the DfT and ORR make interesting comparisons with figures produced by Eurostat too, and whilst in general, this is an optimistic view, strict comparisons are difficult.  More importantly perhaps it stated that the overriding need was to create more capacity in the network, to cope with the projected increased market share with the internal road network.  These priorities were defined as:

  • Increasing the future capacity of the network – to enable more trains to operate
  • Enhancing its capability – to make more efficient use of the rail freight network.

This interesting little graph shows the tonne-km of freight trains in the UK, showing the result after 30+ years, is that freight tonne-km, are slightly ahead of where they were in 1980:

Network Rail stats for freight moved

The second graph in comparison shows the volume of freight carried – no international through services, just internal workings.  However, compared to the previous chart, you could say this was less positive.

Longer distances, but lighter weights perhaps.

Tonnes Lifted

In 2015, the Government published its “Road Investment Strategy”, which included this interesting quote:

“It is, however, important that we continue to invest across the tranport system as a whole, with the aim of enabling more choice and smoother journeys for all.

Road and rail, for instance, can often offer different options for passengers and freight.”

In its introduction, the Executive Summary indicates that 70% of freight travels by road in the UK, on a handful of principal arterial routes and motorways, whilst at the same time indicating that road congestion is an enormous cost to hauliers.  Actually, the % share of net road freight tonne/kilometres is more than that, and taking the DfT/ORR/ONS statistics from https://www.gov.uk/government/statistical-data-sets/rai04-rail-freight#table-rai0401 and comparing road and rail with the total movements over the years from 1996 to 2016, it is 88%. The greatest share achieved by rail freight during that period occurred between 2013 and 2015, when the rail freight industry’s share reached the dizzy heights of 15%, or 22.7 billion net tonne/km.

At the same time, there has been little or no investment in rail freight, and intermodal services are essentially static, with little development beyond a comparison with the 1970s “Liner Train” concept and services. Of course, there will be isolated examples of improvements to intermodal services, such as that envisaged for the “Exeter Science Park”.  This extract from the Government strategy document makes an interesting observation:

“Improvements to the SRN are also designed to bring economic benefits to the local area and wider region. For instance, a new junction arrangement on the A30, near M5 Junction 29, substantially enlarged junction capacity and opened up access to the Exeter and East Devon Growth Point. This is a strategic development targeted at driving economic growth and prosperity in the area, which includes the Exeter Science Park and Skypark business developments. Taken together, these developments are expected to create more than 10,000 jobs and generate £450 million in private sector investment, as well as featuring an intermodal freight and distribution facility. The improvements to the A30 were delivered by Devon County council, in partnership with the Highways Agency.”

The “intermodal freight and distribution facility” mentioned is nowhere to be seen on the Exeter and East Devon Growth Point web site, and only referred to in a Devon Council briefing paper 8 years earlier.

But, a comparison, however rough, between freight carried by rail and the charts below – based on ORR/ONS data clearly show a wide disparity between rail and road, and an unsustainable future for road freight at these volumes.

On the basis of these two charts, it seems that freight lifted by road has increased at a greater rate than that lifted by rail, although the distance moved has perhaps not increased at the same rate. Are the roads just carrying heavier loads over the same distances?

Over the 10 years from 2006 to 2016, freight lifted by road peaked in 2007/8, as did the distance moved, and whilst it did pick up a little from 2009, it has never reached the previous levels. At the same time, rail freight has basically remained static, and even reduced significantly since 2014/15.

The suggestion contained in the Government’s “Road Investment Strategy”, that 70% of freight is transported in and across the UK by road is a significant underestimate. Back at the beginning of November 2018, Stephen Glaister, chair of the Office of Rail and Road, was keen to outline that reform of the ORR, Highways England and Transport Focus is achieving success, going so far as to state:

“Broadly, I would judge that the reform has been a success. Crucially, the budget for RIS1 has fended off raids in a way it probably would not have done under the old regime.”

 

Under its latest plans, the road network has adopted the railways’ own 5-year planning methodology, but it does appear on the evidence so far, that there is, and will be little or no change in improving rail freight services in the UK. 2019 may be a watershed year for many reasons, but if the lack of expansion of intermodal, or investment and support for the rail freight industry, the outlook appears grim

By 2017/18, the total goods lifted by rail was down to only 75 million tonnes annually, and according to ORR estimates, represented less than 5% of total freight moved. On that basis, with little or no investment in the likes of intermodal and road-rail interchange facilities, whether at ports, or other locations, it seems that rail represents little by way of a economic options for growth.

Just 3 days into 2019, PD Ports issued a press statement with this eyecatching headline:

“Short sighted vision for Northern Freight Rail threatens UK economic growth”

As the Northern Powerhouse continues to wither on the vine, and rail improvements fail to materialise, the Government is being taken to task over its complete failure to include any rail freight proposition to connect Leeds and Manchester. So, two of the biggest economic centres in the north have little or no rail freight improvement in the pipeline.

Just over 4 years ago, a £3million+ intermodal facility was opened at Teesport, and PD Ports has seen its customers choosing to use intermodal platforms, with a “significant modal shift” continuing. Perhaps the most telling comment made by this port operator is this:

“There is a significant demand from our customers to be able to move freight east to west through this Northern corridor allowing shorter distances to be covered by rail. Without a viable alternative route for rail freight with the necessary capacity and gauge, the growth we are experiencing will be limited and at risk of reducing due to transport restrictions.”

In addition then to the lack of investment in rail freight generally, there is a very considerable difference in any economic strategy to enable the oft-quoted “Northern Powerhouse” to actually fulfil its aspirations. What is needed is action.

-oOo-

 

 

 

 

 

Francis William Webb and His Locomotives

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Francis William Webb was appointed Locomotive Superintendent of the London & North Western Railway (LNWR), in 1871, and for 32 years held that position, until failing health forced him to resign in 1903.  He has been described as an autocratic manager, and during his time, it has been argued that much of his work – especially in the use of compounding – was unnecessary or ineffective operationally.  However, it cannot be denied that he was a man who drove the development of Crewe Works, and established the company at the forefront of railway and engineering technology in the Victoria era.

His engineering knowledge and desire to provide innovative solutions may not always have been a success – either practically, operationally, or commercially – but they took the boundaries of the technology forward.  Whilst he inherited the development of Crewe Works from his predecessor John Ramsbottom, it was Webb that pioneered the use of both Bessemer and Siemens Open Hearth processes to manufacture steel rails.

Webb started his career back in 1851, at the age of 15, as an engineering apprentice, under the tutillage of Francis Trevithick, and later John Ramsbottom – himself a prodigious inventor, designer and locomotive engineer.   By 20, Webb had moved into the Drawing Office, and in March 1859, when he was just 23, FW Webb was appointed Chief Draughtsman.  In 1862, the LNWR was formed by the combination of the Manchester & Birmingham, and Grand Junction Railways, and Webb was promoted and moved to Crewe as Works Manager, as John Ramsbottom was appointed CME of the LNWR.

RPB No 1368 - HMRS Collection

One of Webb’s 3 cylinder compound goods 0-8-0 locomotives at work. Worth noting is the obvious size of the central low-pressure cylinder.
Photograph: Historical Model Railway Society Collection.

Intriguingly, Webb left the railway company in 1866, to join the Bolton Iron Co. – confirming perhaps his expanding engineering interests and knowledge.  The Bolton company was part owned by John Hick, who later became a director of the LNWR.  Less than four years later, and due to John Ramsbottom’s deteriorating health, Webb returned to the railway in 1870, taking over completely in 1871.

It may seem urprising that a Vicar’s son from Tixall could rise to such heights in such a short period, but it must be remembered that railway and locomotive engineering was the ‘new technology’ of the day, and certainly a new industry.  Unliked his brother, Francis Webb showed little interest in a religious career, but showed both an aptitude and great ability in menchanical engineering.

Whilst that ability may not have been enthusisastically lauded by the operational railway engineers on the LNWR, his successful locomotive designs were very successful, and a number lived on into the British Railways era.  Of the 26 different locomotive types delivered under his leadership, only 11 were compounds, the remainder – some 2,563 locomotives, were simple expansion.  The compounds totalled 531, with most built in the 1890s.

Please click on either of the two tables below for a bigger picture ……

FW Webb LOCOS 1

FW Webb LOCOS 2

The descriptions in the PDF file below is an overview of the various classes, which I hope is of interest:

Francis William Webb and His Locomotives

FW Webb COVER

 

Useful links:

I originally wrote this item for the magazine “Engineering in Miniature” back in the 1980s, and wanted to revisit the matter of compound operation in steam locomotives.  The magazine is still in full swing, and I envy the skills of the model engineers, who are everywhere producing small – not always that miniature – replicas of the real thing.  Their skills in almost every aspect of engineering practice, and their workshop capabilities are something we can all be proud of.

This is a link to the magazine’s site:

EIM Logo from 1980s

Further information ….

 

-oOo-

BR’s 25 Year Locomotive Renewal Plan

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Who would have thought that 33 years ago, the national rail network was planning to provide strategic and phased withdrawal of older motive power, and replacing it with newer, more efficient (operationally and economically) over a 25-year strategy.

The plan was to cover the needs from 1985 to 2009 – what happened?

Potential annual build ratesOne factor may be that 6 years into the plan, the fragmentation and disintegration of rail services began to take place – “privatisation” – which contributed to the continued existence of poor quality passenger and freight services we have today.  Who would have believed that those rail/bus combinations – the “Pacers” – would still be running.

That said, there were successes – on both the passenger and freight motive power fronts, but with a 10-year gap between the last genuine BR type – the 100 Class 60 locomotives, and the imported General Motors Class 66.  These latter were built between 1998 and 2003, and developed from the privately run Foster-Yeoman owned Class 59 diesels, introduced the year that the BR strategy was published.

Of the diesels built since the publication of the programme, only 100 were built in the UK, and the remainder, some 547 locomotives, were supplied from the USA.

By 1991, the East Coast Main Line was completed, with the latest IC225 motive power (Class 91) operating on a fully electrified main line, the Channel Tunnel was being built and BR’s Crewe Works had built the only other electrics to appear – Class 90.

This is what BR said about the new locomotives:

“Over the next 25 years, about 1500 locomotives will have to be built to meet the increasing shortfall between the total demand for locomotives and the residue of the existing fleet

On the basis of currently approved electrification schemes this total includes:

  • About 250 electrics 

  • About 400 passenger diesels 

  • About 850 freight diesels. 


Further main-line electrification after completion of the East Coast route could increase the number of electrics by about 150, with a corresponding reduction in the 
total number of diesels.

”

So, it may be clear from what happened in the late 1980s, and on into the 1990s, there was little or no expansion in locomotive power for main line services. The fixed formation high-speed train sets brought in with the HST/IC125s expanded after the turn of the century, with the all new tilting trains – the “Pendolino”. So the likelihood of high-speed passenger diesels or electrics was a non-starter, and the lack of a co-ordinated strategy nationally during the 1990s, left the private train operators with options to buy/build on a more or less ad-hoc basis.

Passenger locos
Under the wires, only 127 new electric locomotives were built during the years covered by the plan, compared with the 250 possible, although perhaps the “Pendolino” power cars should be included for comparison. These are all still in service today:

BR Electrics

For freight service, equally, little or no long term planning was the likely outcome of a post privatisation service, and the ‘off the shelf’, or at most the modifications of the private builders’ designs was inevitable. As can be seen from the little table showing the current position of freight diesels, nothing was built in the UK, and almost all were North American in origin.   A curious choice perhaps?

Freight dieselsOf the proposed 1,250 or so new diesels, again less than ½ were built, with 647 in service today, despite increases – planned and unplanned – increased demand for freight on rail. These are the current stock:

Current BR Diesels

What would the railway’s motive power have looked like if at least some of BR’s 1985 programme had been implemented?   Would more knowledge and expertise have been retained in the UK rail industry, would they have been more or less successful, in performance, in efficiency and reliability?

Who knows, but perhaps the most obvious missing element of the jigsaw is the lack of strategic planning in the 21st Century, with no planned withdrawals and replacements, just tactical remedies as the creaking infrastructure is upgraded in a piecemeal manner. Yes, passenger growth has been considerable, and perhaps that in itself should have led to the development of a longer term strategy.

-oOo-

 

 

 

 

Electrification 1970s v 21st Century

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Back in 1974, British Rail completed a major electrification between Crewe and Glasgow, and introduced a new timetable on 6th May that year.  This project was planned back in the mid 1950s, with the modernisation plan, which also included both the West and  East Coast routes.  Until 1966, when the London Euston to Manchester and Liverpool was completed, cash strapped BR was forced to delay the East Coast route, but in only 8 years the remaining length of the West Coast was completed.

BR Elec News 1974Today – or rather back in 2013 – work began on electrifying the railway between London Paddington and Cardiff, and planned for completion by 2018, a distance of just 145 miles, and now it has been put back to 2024.  The decision to electrify the line was taken in 2009 by the Dept for Transport, but it was beset with management/organisational problems almost from the word go, and the National Audit Office made some critical observations. Some of these were directed at Network Rail, but equally at the DfT, inckuding this little observation in its 2016 reportModernising the Great Western Railway“:

“The Department did not produce a business case bringing together all the elements of what became the Great Western Route Modernisation industry programme until March 2015. This was more than two years after ordering the trains and over a year after Network Rail began work to electrify the route.”

Comparing what was achieved in 1974, with the electrification work of major trunk routes like Glasgow to Preston and Crewe, to connect with the existing WCML wires, the time to complete this quite short route seems excessive.   The cost so far is over £5 billion, and whilst some of that is infrastructure, some includes of course the new ‘bi-mode’ trains.

Headspan Catenary Crewe to Carlisle 1973British Rail electrified 200 miles from Weaver Junction to Gretna, and Glasgow Central in just 8 years.  But it wasn’t just electrification back then, since there was considerable rebuilding and remodelling of trackwork, raising or replacing bridges, and resignalling throughout from London to Glasgow.  The overall cost was £74 million in 1970s prices, or approximately £1 billion today.

Another publication from BR at the time was “Electric All The Way”, which included these interesting comments relating to service improvements to and from Preston:

“The new pattern of services between London and Glasgow introduced on May 6 1974, provides passengers travelling to and from stations between Carlisle and Warrington on the newly electrified portion of the Anglo-Scottish route with more high-speed trains. Preston-Glasgow services have more than doubled, from seven to 15 daily, with an average reduction in journey time of almost one hour.  Preston-London trains have been increasedfrom 12 to 19.”

“Faster journey times and improved connections at Oxenholme for Windermere make the Lake District more easily accessible from all centres on the electrified route.”

So how many high-speed trains from Preston to Glasgow today, and how many southbound?

The introduction of the “Electric Scots” also saw the arrival of Britain’s most powerful AC electric locomotives – the Class 87.  Built by BREL workshops, and powered by GEC Traction equipment.

Class 87 at Preston copy

Class 87 at Preston in original 1970s livery

RPBRLY-8 copy

Out of use at Crewe, Class 87 in final BR livery

10 years later work began on electrifying the East Coast Main Line from Kings Cross to Edinburgh, which was completed in 1992, also completed in 8 years – clearly building on the experience and skills gained on the West Coast.  Some sections of the East Coast route were actually completed 12 months earlier than planned – London Kings Cross to Leeds for example.

Here again, the ECML saw the introduction of a nother new form of high-speed motive power, this time from the GEC Traction stable, and codenamed “Electra”, the Class 91 marked perhaps the zenith of British electric traction design.

gec076 copyWhy can’t we organise this as effectively today as happened in the 1970s and 1980s?  

Interesting Reads:

 

 

 

Towards Nationalisation

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The ‘Big Four’ railway companies had all been under state control during the Second World War, and largely expected to return to private ownership and pre-war operation and management from 1945. However, the political landscape changed radically with a Labour Government in office, and the cultural and social impact of the war had dramatically affected the mood of everyone.

Although it had been something of a struggle, from Herbert Morrison’s early speeches in late 1945 to Parliament to outline how the process would bring all inland transport within public ownership.

An interesting comment made by him in November 1945 is worth recalling:

“It is the intention of the Government to introduce, during the life of the present Parliament, Measures designed to bring transport services, essential to the economic well-being of the nation, under public ownership and control.”

Unsurprisingly, the Government’s official opposition were obviously against the idea, and supported the ‘Big Four’ railway companies campaign against nationalisation. In parliament they were accused of obstructing and delaying tactics to try and prevent its passage. One commentator suggesting that if the Government did not use parliamentary procedures to limit the time for debate, it would be years and not months before any progress could be made.

Given the economic state of Britain in the late 1940s, this would be very damaging to post-war recovery.

The LMS and the other companies were actively campaigning against nationalisation, and in March 1946, amongst many other questions in Parliament, there were questions about how the then subsidies paid to the LMS would be prevented from campaigning against state ownership.

HC Deb 12 March 1946 vol 420 c202W

H. Hynd asked the Minister of War Transport whether he is taking steps to ensure that the L.M.S. Railway Company’s campaign against the Government’s nationalisation policy will not be financed from profits that would otherwise accrue to the State under the Railway Control Agreement.

Barnes Expenditure incurred by the railway companies for the purpose in question would be charged to their own funds and would not fall upon the Control Account.

The companies had all contributed to a document – which might be called both a publicity booklet – and, the start of that campaign. This is what it said in its introduction:

In their conclusion at the end of the booklet describing how well they’ve achieved efficiencies and continued to operate services during wartime they stated:

Conclusion

Clearly, the ‘Big Four’ believed they would be best placed to take the business forward, despite the massively damaged economy, ongoing rationing, general economic stagnation, and shortage of all kinds of materials, products and most importantly, shortage of people.

In December 1946, as the Transport Bill was being given its second reading, the government position was exemplified in an interesting comment made by Mr Strauss the Transport Minister’s right hand man:

“…. suggest that we are, in this Measure, adopting the only solution that is capable of resolving the deep economic conflict within this industry.”

The Transport Act 1947 received the “Royal Assent” on 6th August 1947, and on 30th December 1947, the Manchester Guardian’s carried this interesting reflection from its “Special Correspondent”:  State Ownership of Railways

The aim was clearly for an integrated transport system, a view reinforced by a prominent “railway MP” and former railwayman – Walter Monslow – the MP for Barrow-in-Furness. Writing in the ASLE&F magazine “Locomotive Journal” in February 1947 he quoted the English philosopher John Stuart Mill:

“Countries which, at a given moment are not masters of their own transport, will be condemned to ruin in the economic struggles of the future.”

Loco Journal Cover - Feb 1947

Walter Monslow Article - Feb 1947 ASLE&F

Since 1948, the development of Britain’s rail network has undergone many changes, many technological, and quite a few operational and economic, but the goal of an integrated system has never been achieved. If anything since 1991, the country has seen ‘disintegration’ of transport, and with a private operator having to balance its public service, with responsibilities to shareholders, had the ‘Big Four’ taken over again in 1948, it is doubtful if progress would have been made easily.

Now that we have seen the impact of a return to private operations, and the lack of integration across transport, both within and beyond rail operations, I wonder what John Stuart Mill – once described as “the most influential English-speaking philosopher of the 19th century” would have to say about that in the 21st Century.

-oOo-

 

British Railways: Interchange Trials 1948

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Whilst it is the anniversary this year of the end of steam on BR, in 1968, just 20 years earlier, a series of comparative trials took place across the country, to analyses what was then the best in steam traction design, construction and operation.  Not surprisingly, these trials – which took place between April and August 1948, were latched on to by enthusiasts – as a form of competition to see which railway had the best steam types.

City of Glasgow on 1st Caledonian 17th June 1957

A classic shot of a classic pacific – although 46236 “City of Bradford” was used in the 1948 trials. Seen here is sister loco 46242 “City of Glasgow” on the inaugural run of The Caledonian in June 1957.                                                                                                                                                                    Photo: RPB Collection

RPB 220_Lens of Sutton

‘A4’ Class No. 60004 “William Whitelaw” at York on an enthusiasts’ special in the 1960s. As an express passenger type, it was natural to choose one of Gresley’s A4s, but 60022 “Mallard” did not acquit herself well, and was substituted by 60033/34 for the Interchanges.                                      Photo Courtesy: Lens of Sutton

70 years ago, a series of trials took place on the newly nationalised British railway network, to contrast and compare the best elements of the locomotive engineering design, and practice used by railways across Britain. Well, at least that was the plan.

The trials led, eventually to the new BR Standard steam locomotives, and covered espress passenger, mixed traffic and freight types, including a selection of some of the latest designs, WD ‘Austerity’ types, and some traditional designs.  The process was not particularly controversial, but new steam locomotives in the 1950s – especially as diesel and electric traction had already been established, and was developing rapidly.

Stanier 8F nearing Dalton in 2008

The LMS built this 2-8-0 in huge numbers – with over 600 in service by 1948. Many having been built by the other main line railway companies, Beyer Peacock and North British Loco. for war service at home and overseas. A natural choice perhaps for the 1948 trials.                                    Photo: RPB Collection

It may be that one of the main drivers was the ease of availability of coal as a fuel,where oil had to be imported, and the cost of electric traction’s infrastructure was expensive in the post-war economy of the UK.

Further reading

Clicking on the image below will take you to a more detailed discussion of the trials:

Interchange Trials - cover

Useful Links:

National Archive – Report of the Locomotive Testing Committee

RM Web – The 1948 Locomotive Exchange Trials – Discussions

1948 Locomotive Exchange Trials

BR’s First Year (The Spectator)

Loco Interchange Trials 1948 (Rly Mag)

The Northern Nightmare – An Insoluble Puzzle?

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Whatever you read in the media about railways in the north these days – whether it’s North West or North East, we see to have accepted that this was unforeseen, almost as if there was no plan.  Now it seems the timetable problems have created a political North West versus North East skirmish, between councillors in Newcastle and the Regional Director of Northern Rail.

6 months ago we heard very little about timetable problems, cancelled or massively delayed trains, nor did we hear too much about shortages of trained train crews, but at the same time Government was advertising the biggest investment since the 1800s.

Why?

Was it a lack of communication between train operating companies, the owners of the rolling stock, Network Rail’s project management of electrification schemes, and overly long contractor and supplier chains?

Mike Paterson, the regional director for Northern, admitted that some trains had been kept in the north-west to deal with the problems, which were worse in that region.

“Because of delays to the electrification of the Manchester to Preston (via Bolton) line, we had to re-plan those timetables at short notice and keep some diesel trains in the north-west to help deliver services to our customers on those lines affected by the delay,” he said.

Source: North West v. North East (Guardian)

In his statement above, Mr Paterson appears to suggest that the timetable re-plan was done at short notice – so was there no contingency plan to cope with a potential electrification delay?

Passengers in the North East have, like everyone else the right to complain when they are promised new trains in a great ‘modernisation plan’, and then get reconditioned trains instead.  A great many trains across the northern routes are more than 25 or 30 years old, with some – like the ‘Pacers’ – operating services for which they were never intended.  Are the reconditioned trains for the North East a ‘stop gap’ measure?  Still, they are ‘digitised’, as Northern Rail suggest:

“These will feature free wifi, plug sockets, automated customer information screens and new seating – and some will even have full climate control,” said a spokesperson. “Our refurbished trains will feel like new and customers will experience a level of comfort not seen before on Northern services in the region.”

It’ll be interesting to see what happens next.

I don’t believe – I guess like many others – that simply nationalising the services in the north will end the problem quickly.  Removing the franchise from Northern Rail and taking the routes and services into public ownership will still have those problems.  Let’s say there is a new Northwest Rail and Northeast Rail – they will still be hamstrung by the need to manage relationships with rolling stock operators, manufacturers and Network Rail.

The skills of timetable planning, arranging for assets to be in the right place at the right time to move people and goods, alongside upgrades to infrastructure, signalling and telecoms seem to be in short supply?  Or, is it a shortfall of project management skills, a lack of engineering skills and a reliance on short term contracts to do a job.

With so much of the franchised rail industry divided into so many different units, and in a small country like the UK, we have perhaps little hope of integrating land transport systems.  The idea that British Rail in the 1970s and 1980s was worse than this is laughable nowadays.

Ah well, HS2 will be here soon – or will it be cancelled or delayed!

-oOo-