Not so High Speed Northern Rail

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Last month (November), the Government published its vision paper on rail, entitled Connecting people: a strategic vision for rail”, extolling the virtues of the latest UK plans for ‘modernising” the rail infrastructure and services. It sets great store by the increased investment already made, against the backdrop of ever increasing passenger numbers, much of which is accurate.

At the same time it makes some bizarre statements about cuts in journey times of 15 minutes between Liverpool and Manchester that are simply not borne out by facts. Here’s what it says on page 21 of the published document:

  • “2.18  This investment in rail networks in the North of England has already delivered improvements, with the fastest journey between Liverpool and Manchester cut by 15 minutes, new direct services between Manchester Airport and Glasgow, and Manchester Victoria station upgraded. 
”

It carefully avoids any comparison with a figure for earlier years, so we are left to wonder if they mean the journey is 15 minutes quiker compared with 1947, 1957, or 1977.

However, comparing this claim between the timings for 2017 with those of the 1972 timetable – 45 years ago! – the fastest journey time is only 6 minutes quicker, and in 1972, there was still a lot of steam age legacy infrastructure and systems in place.

This is 2017

Liverpool to Manchester 2017

Fastest Journey Liverpool Lime Street to Manchester (Piccadilly / Victoria)

 

1972 - 2017 TimingsThe fastest services in 1972 were operated as ‘Inter-City’, with this example of a weekday service leaving Lime Street at 08:35, and arriving at Piccadilly 51 minutes later. Today’s service has only 1 more stop, at Wavertree Technology Park, a new station, and yet only manages a 6 minute reduction in journey time.

Still it is quicker, and yes, I am being picky!

This is 1972

Overall, the ideas suggested include work that has already been done, and work that might get completed. With the cancellation of electrification in the north earlier this year, in favour of Crossrail 2, I’m not holding my breath.

Investment in new trains as well as new technology is and has been long overdue, but to keep referencing HS2 in this ‘vision’ paper does not cut the mustard if the DfT want to demonstrate a commitment to rail services. Changes to franchising are perhaps just adding ever more complexity and ‘red tape’ to a privatisation scheme that has not offered a major performance – both operationally and economically – improvement to the UK’s network. The UK is still, after 25+ years of a ‘privatised railway’, still subsidising train operating companies.

Ah well, let’s see what happens next.

-oOo-

 

Confusing Statistics

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I know its boring, but I couldn’t help myself today – with the flurry of news about East Coast franchising and Chris Grayling’s announcement on the government Transport Strategy I had a sneaky browse through some ONS statistics on railways.

One table in particular made me smile, it was preceded with this heading:

“K33U Railway locomotives and rolling stock up to and including May 2016”

This is what the summary of locos and rolling stock in the official ONS spreadsheet displayed:

Loco Stock Summary

Apparently the UK had no stock in 2009, but by 2010, 2.3 vehicles (locos or rolling stock items) had disappeared when compared with 2008.

What is 0.1, or 0.3 of a rolling stock asset?

Clearly an absurd set of numbers, but the apparent increase of 15.2 items of rolling stock assets – or around 18% – between 1996 and 2013 may be what Mr Grayling was referring to in the “Strategic Vision for Rail” policy:

“The last few years have seen massive growth on Britain’s railways. This industry has reversed decades of decline under British Rail, delivered new investment and new trains, and doubled the number of passengers.”

Well, can’t argue with the increase, based on the ONS numbers, but are these really useful way or reporting, or measuring railway assets?

A bit more digging

The information I obtained above from the ONS is actually related to the Consumer Price Index (CPI) calculations, but in the ONS search box I simply input the term “railway” to see what it produced:

ONS Search box

I suppose, since the rolling stock is not directly owned by the UK, the assets are private company data, so I should not have been surprised when I learned that the numbers and tables simply relate to fluctuation in operational costs to the traveller.

Surely the Government can’t be subsidising train operators maintenance costs, or capital asset amortisation?

No, they apparently relate to the cost increase of using the product or service – in this case railways – but unless you’re a macro economist, or maybe a global bank, I’m not sure looking at some ONS tables does anything other than become a puzzle.

Here’s one, I wonder what the table and the chart mean:

Combined CPI and graph

The numbers seem to be just a statistical exercise to feed into the CPI measure for the UK economy as a whole, from an understanding of UK rail operations for the general public, the tables and charts are not useful at all.

Are they?

-oOo-

 

 

 

70 Years On & Still Little Improvement

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Network Rail announced the last 4 weeks punctuality figures recently, and noted that 574,856 passenger trains were operated in total, which is actually 8,733 less than a comparable period (September) 1947.  And that was with steam trains!

The 1947 figures were actually published in Hansard in response to a question from an MP during a debate in the weeks following the assent given to the Transport Act 1947.  Royal Assent was given to the bill on 6th August 1947.

The ‘Big Four’ railways had been subsidised by the Government during the war, and whilst controversy continued in the post war era about compensation for the companies’ shareholders, one or two of the companies were almost bankrupt by 1939.  Their operational performance had suffered badly due to equipment in appalling sites of repair, and ongoing minimal maintenance – it’s a wonder that by 1947, they were able to run trains at all.

A comparison of some punctuality and performance figures with those recently published by Network Rail is fascinating.  We may have a lot more data, and more analysis of those figures, but little perhaps by way of improvement.

This is what Network Rail published about Period 8 in 2017:

Last 4 weeksNetwork Rail’s figures also announced a change from the way punctuality is measured, and no longer uses PPM, where trains arriving up to 10 minutes late are deemed to be ‘on time’.  This current measure states that 83.9% of trains were therefore on time in the 4 weeks between 15th October and 11th November 2017.

New Industry Measure

 Network Rail Punctuality October-November 2017

In 1947, in the 4 weeks ended on 6th September, 541,434 trains arrived either on time, or up to 10 minutes late – using the same criteria as Network Rail today.  So what does that mean?  In % terms, just 2 years after the end of World War 2, the soon to be nationalised railways managed to get 93% of trains to arrive on time!!

Original source of this data is a written response from Mr James Callaghan(MP for Cardiff South) the Parliamentary Secretary for the Transport Minister (Alfred Barnes), to Mr Joseph Sparks (MP for Acton), and recorded in Hansard at HC Deb 03 November 1947 vol 443 c154W .

Hansard passenger-trains-running-time

1947 Timekeeping

More interesting still perhaps is that in 1947 whilst only 63% of main line / express services arrived on time, or no more than 10 minutes late, on local services no less than 94% of all trains arrived on time, or up to 10 minutes late.

Why would that be?

Almost all main line / express services were steam hauled, and the majority of local services, with commuter services on 3rd rail dc electrified lines.

Yes, I know the timetabling and scheduling was designed with steam era point to point acceleration and timings in place – but you have to admit the results are impressive given post war shortages of fuel and rationing.

-oOo-