BBC thinks British Rail Did Not Work?

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On the BBC’s Breakfast show today a comment was made when interviewing a representative from the “We Own It” campaign group and a Rail Delivery Group spokesman.

Screenshot 2019-04-30 at 11.22.12The interview at Birmingham New Street Station was reviewing a proposal by the RDG to end the current rail franchising arrangements.

The idea is patently going to be considered under the Government review. But during the interviews, this comment was made in closing the piece:

“We know British Rail did not work”

A clearly absurd statement – quite apart from being factually incorrect.

Whilst British Rail had many problems, it is plainly the UK privatisation model that has failed. The proposal from the RDG about “localising” control and regulation of commuter and suburban services is just regurgitating the PTE formats set up during BR days.

Half baked schemes – like open access services – are just that, half baked. These latest suggestions just seem to add complexity to an already complex and badly managed arrangement.

Disappointing from the BBC – what next, repeat the myth about curly sandwiches on trains and in refreshment rooms?!!

-oOo-

More Named Trains That Got Away

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Another collection of named trains that had long histories, and which have long since disappeared, could be found on British Railway Western Region, running out of Paddington to Penzance, South Wales, and even Birkenhead on Merseyside in the 1950s and 1960s. Leafing through a copy of the 1961 timetable, no less than 18 such services were listed, one of which – “The Pines Express” – was also operated in concert with London Midland Region, whilst others covered the West Midlands, South and North Wales.

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No. D600 ‘Active’, the very first ‘Warship’ class Diesel-hydraulic, struggling up Dainton Bank with the ‘Royal Duchy’, near Newton Abbot in South Devon.. The train is the 13.30 Paddington – Penzance. (c) Ben Brooksbank Creative Commons Attribution Share-alike license 2.0

In South Wales, international services operated to Fishguard for Ireland, along with numerous cross-country trains to Chester, Liverpool, and further north to Durham and Newcastle.

As on other regions of British Railways, the naming of principal expresses was reinstated after the Second World War, and some new names were introduced, whilst others were withdrawn, then reinstated and dropped again. In 1961 the Western Region listed these:

WR Titled Trains 1961

BR Western Region Named Trains 1961 2 copyOf these 21 trains, more than half had disappeared by 1970, with no fewer than 7 being stripped of their title in 1965 including the third oldest – “The Torbay Express” – which had been operational since 1923. Three more disappeared in 1967, including the “Birmingham Pullman”, one of the newest prestige trains, and which had been operated using the “Blue Pullman” sets, built by Metro-Cammell only a few years before.

Far and away the oldest surviving named train in 1961 was, of course, the “Cornish Riviera Express”. In 1904, this was the first train booked to run non-stop to Plymouth, and was perhas the most prestigious of GWR trains, a status it carried through to BR days, with some of the most powerful steam locomotives of their day. From “City” class 4-4-0s like “City of Truro”, through to Churchward’s revolutionary designs from the “Star” class 4-6-0s, to “Castle” and “King” class. In BR days the latest, and unique “Warship” also hauled this train, together with “Western” class diesel-hydraulic locos and later still, HST sets. The Hitachi Class 802 Bi-mode trains now ply this same route. A service seemingly at the cutting edge of technology.

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Diesel-hauled Down ‘Torbay Express’ approaches Southall Station. View east, towards London Paddington; ex-GWR Paddington – Reading etc. main line. By 1960 main-line Diesel-Hydraulics were handling many of the principal Western Region expresses. Here No. D823 ‘Hermes’, a Swindon-built 2,200hp Type 4 B-B (introduced 8/58), is heading the 12.30 West of England express from Paddington, having just passed Southall Locomotive Depot, seen in the distance with the branch from Brentford coming up on the right. (c) Ben Brooksbank by CC BY-SA 2.

The schedule from the outset was tight, but after opening the shorter route via the “Westbury Cutoff” in 1906, it was possible to speed up the service to the west, with a start from Paddington at 10:30am, arrival at Plymouth was set for 2:37pm. Looking at the 1961 timings, these timings were still in force more than 50 years later. In the up direction, Paddington was reached from Penzance in 6hrs 40mins, with a 10:00am departure. The arrival at Paddington in 1961 was 4:40pm, which was only 5 minutes quicker than for most of its life.

Two trains that I remember seeing regularly were “The Royal Duchy” and “The Mayflower”, both destined to run from Paddington to the West Country, with the “Royal Duchy” starting life in January 1955, but needing consent from the Queen to carry the name. In the down direction, the train left Paddington for Penzance at 1:30pm, taking 7 ½ hours to reach Penzance, whilst in the up direction, Penzance departure was 11:05am, arriving at Paddington by 7:10pm. In the early evening, the down “Mayflower” left Paddington for Plymouth at 5:00pm, for a 10:20pm arrival, and in the up direction, Plymouth departure was 8:30am, with a 1:25pm arrival in Paddington.

Both of these trains carried headboards with the coats of arms of the Duchy of Cornwall, and the services received their names in te same year that the Western Region began to repaint its rolling stock in chocolate and cream. This individuality shown by the region, with its reference back to the former Great Western Railway lasted just over a decade, before the being consigned to history. The services carried on, but the names assigned to prestige trains like these were dropped in large numbers in the 1960s.

Cornishman BR Western Region Named Train 1961 14The West Country was served in total by 8 of these prestigious expresses, one of which “The Cornishman” originated in Wolverhampton – at least the BR service which was given the name officially in 1952. In fact, this had originally been a London to Penzance train, towards the end of the GWR’s ‘Broad Gauge’ period, starting life in 1890, and prior to the “Cornish Riviera Express” was the fastest GWR service to the far west. Starting from Paddington at 10:15am, Penzance was reached over the last miles of Brunel’s broad gauge tracks by 6:57pm – but this was before the ‘Westbury Cutoff’ and the route was via Bristol. After 1904, this particular service ceased to carry a name.

For the summer timetables of 1952, British Railways re-introduced the name for what was essentially a cross-country express from the West Midlands to the South West, taking in Wolverhampton, Birmingham, Stratford-upon-Avon, Cheltenham, Bristol and Penzance. In 1961, the train was still using Wolverhampton Low Level and Birmingham Snow Hill, for the down service, staring at 9:00am, through Cheltenham and Gloucester at 11:02am and 11:20am respectively. From Bristol at 12:15, the “Cornishman” made Plymouth at 3:15pm and finally, Penzance at 5:55pm.

Bristolian BR Western Region Named Train 1961One of the last of the West Country express services that was started before the Second World War was “The Bristolian”, which was initiated by the GWR in 1935, as a tribute to the centenary of the company. The GWR was proposed in the 1830s to link the cities of London and Bristol, and the new service was intended to link the two cities in as short a time as possible. In 1935, this was set at 105 minutes, some 15 minutes less than the previous best for the trip in the down direction. The down and up “Bristolian” used different routes – one via the original GWR main line to the city – 118.3 miles, whilst in the return trip to London, from Temple Meads, the train used the Badminton cut-off, from Filton Junction via Wooton Bassett. The ‘up’ service route was 117.6 miles – just a fraction shorter.

From Paddington, and a start at 10:00am, Bristol arrival was 11:45am, whilst in the up direction, arrival at Paddington at 6:15pm, from a 4:30pm start at Temple Meads, to maintain the schedule.  In the 1950s, the same 105 minute schedule was maintained – with “Castle” Class 4-6-0s, and despite an attempt to introduce a 100 minute timing in 1959, by 1961 the service reverted to its 105 minute schedule. However, with increased loadings, of 10 or even 11 coach trains, and the new 2,000hp diesel-hydraulic locos, the time from Paddington to Temple Meads was actually increased by 14 minutes to 119 minutes.

Sadly, despite the advent of the 2,700hp “Western” class diesels, the train lost its name in 1966, starting from Paddington at 8:45am and an arrival in Bristol at 10:30am, but the service continued until 1973 before its final demise.

Cheltenham BR Western Region Named Train 1961 9The West Midlands and Manchester & Liverpool was served by five express services in 1961, two of which dated from GWR days – “The Cheltenham Spa Express” and “The Pines Express”, which started life in 1923 and 1927 respectively.   Actually, the “The Cheltenham Spa Express” “The Cheltenham Spa Express” began life just after the First World War, with a service from Cheltenham and Gloucester timed to arrive in Paddington at 5:00pm. By the early 1920s, the Cheltenham service had been turned into the “Cheltenham Flyer”, with a view by the GWR to turn this into the fastest express service in the world. The claim was based around a 75-minute schedule from Swindon to Paddington, a distance of 77.3 miles, with a start to stop average of 61.8 mph.  This was essentially how the service remained, and with an accelerated timing to 67 minutes between Swindon and Paddington was the fastest train in the world in 1931, and after the timing was cut again to 65 minutes the following year, the train achieved an average of 71.4 mph. The service was briefly the fastest in the world, but by the start of WW2, that title was lost, as indeed was the name.

In British Railways time, the name “Cheltenham Flyer” never re-appeared, but in the 1950s, in common with many other expresses, BR chose to revive the “Cheltenham Spa Express”. In 1961, the down service left Paddington at 5:00pm, arriving in Gloucester at 7:17pm, and Cheltenham St James at 7:40pm. In the up direct, starting from Cheltenham at 8:00am, Paddington was reached by 10:35am, and was allowed 74 minutes between Swindon and Paddington – almost the same as the 1920s timing.  The “Cheltenham Spa Express” lost its title in 1973, although the service continued well into the 1980s.

Castle 7007 'Great Western'

GW Castle 7007 ‘Great Western’ has arrived with an express from Worcester and is now ready to be turned and serviced before returning westward. Paddington, UK. Negative scan. Taken in June 1962 Photo: © Nigel Kendall

Cathedrals BR Western Region Named Train 1961 12

Another service from Paddington to the West Midlands in 1961 was the “Cathedrals Express”, which was designed to serve Oxford, Worcester and Hereford – the cathedral cities. The train only received its name in BR days, in 1957, but services had been operated by the GWR over this route since around 1904, and was the only named train to carry a bishop’s mitre on its headboard.

Of course, the “Blue Pullman” diesel sets made their appearance in 1960, and both the “Bristol Pullman” and “Birmingham Pullman” made their debut arrival at Paddington at almost the same time, and in adjacent platforms. The Birmingham train took 2 hours 5 minutes in the up direction, departing from Snow Hill at 7:30am, to arrive at Paddington at 9:35am, whilst the Bristol service started from Temple Meads at 7:40am.   The service actually started from Wolverhampton Low Level at 7:00am, but in the down direction, the service only went as far as Birmingham Snow Hill, on a 115 minute timing, and a 25 minute turnaround in Birmingham before heading back to London at 2:30pm. These “Blue Pullman” services in 1961 were expanded, as an existing Pullman service to South Wales was converted to diesel traction.

Wales had no fewer than 6 main line express services in the 1950s and 1960s, although only one of these, the “Cambrian Coast Express” had been introduced before British Railways, which had begun life as a restaurant car service to the Welsh coast in July 1921. The “Cambrian Coast Express” in GWR days started in the summer of 1927, and was operated on Fridays and Saturdays only, leaving Paddington at 10:10am, for Aberystwyth, Barmouth and Pwhelli. In 1961, from a 10:10am start, the train’s route took it to Birmingham Snow Hill, Wolverhampton, Shrewsbury, Machynlleth and Aberystwyth, where it arrived at 4:15pm. To get to Pwhelli of course required a different train to carry you around the coast by way of Barmouth, Harlech, Portmadoc (Porthmadog), and Pwhelli, with a final arrival at 6:10pm. The return trip to Paddington started out at 9:45am from Aberystwyth, arriving, via Birmingham Snow Hill, in Paddington at 4:00pm in the afternoon.

Following the introduction of diesel traction, and the Pullman services in the early 1960s, to say nothing of Beeching, the route to the Welsh coastal resorts through Birmingham disappeared, and in 1967, so did the title of this train. However, not without a little irony – bearing in mind the GWR and LMS competing for traffic to Birkenhead and North Wales in the pre-war era – in 1986, this named train was revived, but started from Euston.

Blue Pullman Marshfield Mon. 4.4.73

This view shows one of the 8-car Pullmans in their final BR livery, in April 1973 passing Marshfield, Monmouth , only a month before their withdrawal. (Photo courtesy: George Woods)

All of the other titled trains running in 1961 were introduced in British Railways days – the “Red Dragon” started the naming of express trains off in 1950, and was quickly followed by the “Pembroke Coast Express” in 1953. A third service – the “South Wales Pullman” – which appeared in 1955, was introduced to take advantage of the increasing business traffic and commercial importance of South Wales. On its introduction it was a standard rake of Pullman cars, hauled by a “Castle Class” locomotive, but which by 1961, had given way to being supplanted by a new ‘Nanking Blue’ diesel Pullman set.

South Wales Pullman poster large_DS130673The “South Wales Pullman” left Paddington at 08:50am, arriving at Cardiff, in just 2hrs 50mins, at 11:40am, and by way of Bridgend, Port Talbot and Neath, arrived in Cardiff at 1:10pm – 4hrs 20mins from London. By 1973, it was no longer a named train, and no longer a Pullman service.

Lens of Sutton Britannia 70028

BR Standard ‘Britannia’ pacific 70028 “Royal Star” on one of its regular workings when the class were assigned to the Western Region. Photo: Lens of Sutton / RP Bradley Collection

The “Red Dragon” and “Pembroke Coast Express” have been described as being at opposite ends of the express train criteria – the “Red Dragon” was much slower, taking some 5hrs 54mins from Paddington to reach its final destination Carmarthen. This down train started at 5:55pm, whilst the up service fared little better, with a 7:30am start from Carmarthen, Paddington was reached at 1:00pm – a mere 5hrs 30mins. As a name, the “Red Dragon” was revived in BR’s ‘InterCity’ sector days – for a brief period – in 1984.

In the high speed category, the “Pembroke Coast Express”, which was introduced in 1953, laid claim to the fastest steam hauled service between London and Newport, and reached Swansea in 3 ¾ hrs from Paddington. Once again, this title disappeared from Western Region timetables in the 1960s, with the major regional and timetable changes – for the “Pembroke Coast Express” this meant that the name was withdrawn in 1963.

GWR Intercity Express Train edited

Hitachi Class 800 on the GWR main line – this is one of the 36, 5-car dual-fuel sets for use on the non-electrified as well as the electrified sections of the route. Photo: GWR – Creative Commons Attribution

Some of the main routes and services remain, but the names have long since gone, and now, finally, the Western Region main line has been electrified – around 60 years after the original proposals, and the familiar green livery. (I know it’s not the same.) The motive power – well fixed formation train sets, now in hybrid form as well – all look similar, so is it maybe time to re-introduce some individuality?

-oOo-

 

 

 

 

Is Leeds Station Being Short Changed?

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Back on the 7th March – the BBC carried a short story about the inability of Northern Rail to run longer trains out of Leeds City, due to ‘constraints from platform length’  That is, they were suggesting the platforms were not long enough to accommodate any multiple unit longer than a 3-car set.  This is the story they carried:

Northern’s long six-carriage trains delayed by two years

A bit odd perhaps, especially considering the huge upgrades, platform lengthening, additional tracks, facilities, etc., etc., etc. that were delivered by the “Leeds 1st” rebuilding project of 2001.  So how long are these Northern Rail trains going to be?  Because back in the days of old fashioned steam and diesel, Leeds City was handling 8, 10 and 12 coach main line services, after the 1967 remodelling and rebuilding.

At the time of the Leeds 1st Project, the Class 333 three-car electric emu’s were ordered from Siemens and CAF, and based on the Class 332 Heathrow Express sets.  Some were fitted with a fourth car, to cope with the extra passenger numbers in the mid 2000s, but the funding for the extra capacity came from South Yorkshire PTE, with the remaining funding from West Yorkshire.

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Northern Rail (leased from Angel Trains) Siemens class 333 four car 25kV AC overhead electric multiple unit number 333011 of Neville Hill T&RSMD approaches Steeton station on the Up Shipley Main line forming the 14:15 Skipton to Leeds (2H23). Sunday 14th December 2008.                                                                                                  Photo David Ingham – icensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

So these trains as 4-car sets have been operating for more than 10 years into and out of Leeds station – as excuses go, this one from Northern Rail is about as lame as they come.

These trains have cars that are a little under 24 metres in length – 96 metres -ish for a full train.   Back in BR days, a standard coach was around 23.5 metres long, so an 8-coach train would be 188 metres long – if Leeds City could manage a train of that length 50 years ago – why are the platforms too short for the new trains?

Still, Northern Rail are still keeping the good old ‘Pacers’ operational and the overcrowding continues.

-oOo-

Passenger Growth – An Inconvenient Number?

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Today in the UK, the number of rail passengers – we are repeatedly told – is at the highest its ever been, and there has been rapid expansion over recent years. As an arch-sceptic on statistics, I wonder what ‘truth’ lies behind these reports.   In the area where I live, the volume of cars on the local roads is much more today than say 30 years ago – and yet the local economy has declined, with fewer industries. Many of the cars on the roads have only a single occupant, where do they go where do they work – has the ‘school run’ replaced the trip to work at the factories that have either closed, or been reduced in size.

Passenger numbers have indeed increased – in some examples quite dramatically. The statistics record passenger kilometres travelled, and comparing both the rates of increase over the past 10 to 15 years with our European neighbours shows some interesting contrasts. It may be that the number of passenger kilometres would increase because there are many more commuter – short distance journeys – not that passengers are travelling further.
The UK still has a long way to go before it catches up with France and Germany – each of which have commuter journeys in and around major cities – but since around 2010/11, it has grown at an increased rate. Comparing the numbers from 2017, the UK has seen passenger-kilometres rise by 13% over 2012, and by 37% since 2007.   For France these same figures are 6% and 18%, whilst in Germany these numbers are 2% since 2012 and 21% since 2007.

Passenger km ChartThat said, the annual rate of increase in the UK has declined in recent years, between 2014 and 2017 the rate has fallen from 4% to 1%. Is it because of the slower infrastructure and rolling stock investment rates, or higher ticket prices per kilometre than in two of our neighbours?

Annual % Increase
It is a complex picture in the UK, but it is clearly true that passenger numbers and certainly the distances travelled have increased significantly – which does perhaps underpin a lot of the reports and experiences of overcrowding on many services. There is though marked regional variations across Network Rail’s infrastructure, and the development of a strategy to improve transport in the North of England especially is clearly essential. Currently, the only movement in that direction in the past couple of years has been the Northern Powerhouse and Transport for the North – but in 2019, this connects across the M62 road corridor, and North East cities such as Leeds, York and Newcastle.   HS2 and HS3 are still essentially at the drawing board stage, and for rail passengers, the lack of progress there may be a reason for the fall off in passenger growth since 2014.

Yes, I know, statistics can be used to explain a variety of pros and cons in advancing the cause of rail transport and investment, but I had wondered for some time why, in an area I am familiar with, there seems to be more cars, lorries and vans on the road and industry and population has fallen.

-oOo-

Useful Links:

Northern-powerhouse-rail

Eurostat Passenger Km

ORR UK Rail Statistics

So You Want To Be An Engine Driver?

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When I was younger, like all teenagers there were so many options for careers in industry, engineering, and of course railways that were on offer, and amongst those was working on the railway – British Railways. Not everyone wanted to be on the footplate, and there were equally as many options for work across the industry in workshops, research, design, train control, telecoms, and later even computing.

In 1948, at the start of the BR era, the railways employed 648,740 staff at every level, and although only 3 years later this had fallen to 599,980, BR was still one of the biggest employers. In the early 1950s, traffic levels for passenger and freight was fairly stable, and modernisation had yet to start, there were the traditional footplate occupations, and engineering apprenticeships to encourage young people to join.

From 1948, until the late 1960s, BR produced a series of booklets, summarising what the railways did, and what jobs, training, progression, and health and social facilities were offered to the potential new recruits.

The 1950s

These booklets carried the same title throughout:

br 1953 booklet cover

 

The wording of the 1953 booklet, produced just 5 years after nationalisation has some fascinating phrases, especially when compared with later editions, take this statement entitled: “Our General Policy”, for example:

Our policy is:-

  • To give safe, speedy, dependable railway service at reasonable cost.
  • To give the staff good wages, security, and conditions as good as is reasonably possible.
  • To make British Railways pay their way.

The last point might seem, in the face of all the negative publicity to be a wish rather than a policy statement, but BR did pay its way in the 1950s, and indeed, in later years, and was not the economic disaster some claim. In 1953, Sir John Elliot’s introductory remarks included:

1953 quote 1

1953 quote 2

This same booklet just a few pages later urges new recruits to learn the routes of the railway system, and notes that the new starts own region contained maybe 3,000 route miles, or maybe more. Luckily the booklet came complete with a map of the entire system.

Some interesting cartoons were included, such as this one:

cheerful obedience cartoon

Hmm – “Cheerful obedience” eh? Maybe some of the old companies’ management styles were still around – I gather on the Western Region, railway staff were still referred to as the company’s servants. I know it sounds a bit odd to us nowadays, but despite the enormous changes taking place in the post-war society, some aspects took a while to die off.

Facts about BR for the new recruit in 1953

According to this booklet, total staff would be six times as many as went to an FA cup final match, or if all the steam locomotives were coupled together in a single continuous line, they would stretch from London to Cardiff, or Liverpool to Hull. On that same note, apparently:

“The total miles run by our locomotives in a year would be equal to about 21,500 times round the earth.”

“The tonnage of freight which starts a journey every working day on British Railways is nearly ten times the tonnage of the Queen Mary.”

Amongst numerous other facts, although the idea that any new sleepers used annually if placed end to end would form a plank between London and Calcutta (Kolkata today), seems an odd one.

1953 jobs montage

The remainder of this booklet goes on to describe how the all six regions work, from signalmen, ticket collectors, lorry drivers, permanent way gangs, booking office and control office staff, station porters to workshops staffed by fitters, plumbers, electricians, etc. There are several pages about opportunity, either promotion within a department, or moving to another role somewhere else, but there is a particularly interesting comment about the influence of the private companies practice over the nationalised system. It was stated that it may not mean anything to the new start, but the old practices were still in place in almost everything said or done in 1953.

Maybe that was partly to blame for the Western Region’s enthusiasm a few years later for its chocolate and cream (ex GWR) livery on main line rolling stock, and its ultimately failed attempt to use hydraulic transmission systems for diesel locomotives.

Training was emphasised, along with opportunities for further education such as day release, or night school, for many engineering or craft apprentices. These training options lasted well into the 1970s, and have only recently seemed to die out – perhaps as Britain’s engineering industry began its long, slow decline.

Paragraphs about, pay security, recreation and welfare made up the remainder of the booklet, with details of the grading system, and arrangements, and the ever popular staff magazines and notices. The concluding paragraph sums up the BR approach – at least at policy making level – to the running of the railways:

1953 conclusion quote

conclusion cartoon 1953

Some of these ideas, policies, and practices changed significantly over the years, for a new starter on British Railways, and later British Rail. A decade later, the same booklet was produced, but this time, with a foreword by the then chairman of the British Railways Board – Dr Richard Beeching.

The 1960s

1963 cover image

The change in tone from the tone of the introductory remarks in the 1953 edition is quite marked.

The language of Dr Beeching’s introductory remarks in 1963, showed that difference, and focussed on the changing times, and the upheaval in operations. The first sentence seems quite a contrast to the paternal, family friendly style of a decade earlier:

1963 quote 1

The brevity was continued:

“The organisation that changes is the organisation that lives, and British Railways are going to change fast to match the changing needs of the times.”

His last comment seemed to suggest the ‘new’ organisation wanted only those recruits who were able to bring or develop the skills needed to make and sustain technological change – with the carrot of promotion dangled much more obviously:

1963 quote 3

Fascinating, still generally paternal in approach, but now with little reference to public service, or stability. Perhaps rightly reflecting the very dramatic changes that Beeching and Marples brought to the railways, using the hook of new technology and promotion for those ‘bright minds’. The comment he made about needing to … “ design and operate new equipment” …. Suggested the door was closing on the old style railway workshops as engineering education and apprenticeships.

[15 railway workshops were closed between 1962 and 1966, with the loss of more than 12,000 jobs, but despite this, BR still managed to recruit apprentices, and the engineering skills were maintained and grown – for a time.]

There was clearly a theme that reflected the change that BR was undergoing, and technological progress was affecting the available career options, whether in engineering, traffic, or administrative roles. The prospect of secure employment on the railways was seen as diminishing, and yet BR was actively developing and inventing technology that is still in service today, and not just in the UK. BR was also still active in ferries and coastal shipping in the early 1960s, and operated cross-channel hovercraft services under the “Seaspeed” label, in partnership with SNCF.

So, yes, there were still prospects for those ‘bright minds’, but by the 1970s, with the exception of the ill-fated APT, and the extension of electrification from Crewe to Glasgow – as promised in the 1950s, things were beginning to slow down.

Jobs for the Boys

There were still jobs for the boys, with the occasional reference to women in clerical and secretarial roles in these “Welcome” booklets, and this gender divide was certainly in evidence in this 1961 edition, which opened with this comment:

extract from 1961 booklet_1
That said, women were shown in these booklets in their stereotypical roles of the day, such as these examples from 1961 & 1963:

Each of these introductory booklets showed the layout of BR’s regions, and included a much larger map of the whole network, and perhaps that too, along with the free and ‘privilege’ travel, seen as an inducement to an adventurous career on the railway. The list of contents was equally wide ranging, and this is typical:

Regional Variations

There were regional variations of these booklets too, and the example below is from the London Midland, and dates from 1961. The cover would look particularly patronising today, but as it is important to say, that was how society at work and play expressed its opinions on roles.

special for boys - lmr 1960s

This particular booklet was issued by the LMR’s Traffic Department, and obviously focused on the roles that operated the trains. This included a variety of jobs from cleaner, through the other footplate roles, and you could start as telephonists, junior porters, messengers and letter sorters.

Pay & Conditions

In 1953, statements about pay were included in a section marked “WE and YOU”, which had become “Rewards and conditions” by 1963, but in both examples, the rates were agreed in negotiations with the trades unions. This included basic hours of duty, and overtime payments when necessary at a higher rate. The actual hours had changed too in the 1950s, and the ‘guaranteed week’ of 44 hours had been reduced to a 42 hour week by 1963 – for what was then called “wages grades”.

There was a mention of “Security” in 1953, which is not mentioned in later editions. However, the security refers more to the value of the “guaranteed week” – clearly no longer available to anyone on a “zero hours contract” in 2019 – and to sick pay and other “benevolent funds”. For BR’s new recruits in 1963 this was referred to under “Pensions and sick pay”.

1960s wages list - full

Looking at the wages in the above list from 1966, it is difficult to relate to what this meant in practical terms, but a great deal of information provided to new starts covered pay, promotion routes, duties, responsibilities, health and safety, leisure and recreation. I wonder how much of that remains in place for many businesses today.

-oOo-

 

Is UK Rail Privatisation Just a Fake?

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As I’m sure we all know, back in the early 1990s, the EU attempted to increase competition in the rail industry through a directive, which was, designed to separate train operations from infrastructure support and maintenance. Not an unreasonable idea we might think, especially as all of our rail networks in Europe started out as private businesses, which owned and operated the trains as well as the track.

Most countries opted to “privatise” by simply creating two separate companies – one to run the trains, the other to manage the physical infrastructure. In Britain, we carried this much further and created that simple, single entity managing the track, but created many separate train operating companies. Not only that, but the rolling stock and motive power was transferred to another group of private businesses – the rolling stock companies – that leased these back to the train operators.

Things were equally complex when it came to fixing track, and general repairs and upkeep of the infrastructure, where various subcontractors in the supply chain offered civil and mechanical engineering services, and often with more than one company competing for a contract. I imagine in any business, when multiple suppliers and multiple contracts are involved for either the same, or ongoing maintenance work, managing those suppliers can be a heavy cost burden on the business.

The overall idea that the degree of fragmentation applied to a single business – i.e. running a train on a piece of track from ‘A’ to ‘B’ – could reduce operating costs, through increased competition to provide goods and services is clearly false.

Passenger Rail Operations in the UK Today

In 2017/2018, there were 23 – well 24, but one of these lost their licence to run trains in the summer of 2018 – train operating companies (TOCs) across the UK rail network. Some passenger services were transferred to the devolved governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and then there were the old PTE style operations for metropolitan areas like London and Manchester.   All of these train operating companies received some form of subsidy from central government, part of which is the network charge, to cover their share of costs relating to the fixed infrastructure, with the rest a payment to run services. In the majority of cases the income charged through ticketing, whether regulated, off peak, peak, or any other form, does not cover the costs of franchising.

Some of the operators’ do not of course get franchises awarded, or are contracted to provide services by franchise from central government. These are either ‘open access’ operators – who run trains on specific routes if and when timetable paths permit – whilst others simply run from one station stop to another, such as the Heathrow Express or Gatwick Express. On top of this there are of course the cross channel Eurostar services, which do not have a franchise agreement with the UK government, and is owned and operated by its French, Belgian and Hermes Investment Co owners.

Of course we still subsidise the railways – and not just the state owned arms length business of Network Rail – but it is interesting to compare just how much taxpayers have contributed, both before and after privatisation. The graph below simply shows direct government grants to support the passenger rail business, and it does not include some aspects of the Railtrack/Network Rail, or project funding:

central gov grants

It looks as though the government managed to stop subsidising passenger rail operations in 2010/11 – but then, there is more to operating a rail network than just running a few trains from A to B. The total government support also has to include support for major projects – Crossrail, HS1, HS2, etc., and the graph below shows just how much has been centrally funded over the same time period. As before, starting from a low base in the 1980s:

total gov support

The list below is just an example of how much some of the current TOCs received in 2017/18 to run services, both with and without the “Network Support Grant” that is due to Network Rail:

table 1

Looking at the above, there is a 50:50 split between profitable and loss-making operations. But only if you leave out the subsidy paid to each operator to cover the infrastructure (network) support and maintenance where they run their trains. If you include the network support grant element, none of the operators in the list above generates positive figures. So, do we accept that separating infrastructure from operations has not really improved either cost of services or performance, but simply shown that some regional rail services are just more expensive to run than others? No real change from the 1960s, 70s, or even in the 1980s when investment levels were really poor.

includes network support

excluding net support

The past couple of years has seen a lot of controvwersy over extending, cancelling or re-bidding for various franchises, and some of the existing franchises will not end for another 6 years. Subsidies for the TOCs look set to continue for some time according to the Dept. For Transport’s Franchise Schedule.

Is this still the right way to run our railways?

-oOo-

 

 

 

 

Freight on Rail in the UK

Standard

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-