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-

Rail Workshop Closures Overshadowed by Beeching?

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Was Beeching the Fall Guy for workshop redundancies?

Back in the early 1960s, the Government of the day had spent millions modernising the railway network, with dieselisation and electrification schemes, which were an attempt to reduce the railway’s losses, whilst saddling the industry with massive debts. At the same time almost no attempt was made to integrate the road and rail transport businesses, with the road lobby freed from earlier restrictions, such asd the ‘C’ licences, and Marples giving free rein to build motorways without any thought for demand. Odd you might consider for a ‘free market’, and ‘competition’ driven politician.

More intriguingly, perhaps Beeching was used to further remove competition for road traffic in the transport market – whether passenger or freight. Removing the rail workshops capacity to compete for work in a declining market prefaced the reduction in route mileage, and flexibility driven by the Beeching Plan. That the workshops needed to be rationalised in a state controlled infrastructure is clear, but maybe Beeching was simply Marples’ “fall guy” in pursuit of road transport and motorway building.

The rationalisation and re-organisation of British Railways saw the loss of skills, and the lack of foresight to train existing personnel in new technologies that were emerging, aside from which, the community and social impacts were never fully addressed. Politicians were very much exercised in 1962 and 1963 about these dramatic changes – some of which led to the creation of regions, or ‘development zones’ across the UK, but which ultimately did very little to create sustainable manufacturing industry.

In the debate about the dismantling of the British Transport Commission on 27th June 1962, Ernest Popplewell the MP for Newcastle-upon-Tyne made the following observation in relation to the closure of BR workshops:

  • Another important factor in regard to Government interference concerns the skill of the men in the railway workshops, which is now being cast aside. We find in this new development scheme —and I will not argue against the merits of it—the concentration of new works in a few up-to-date, modern railway workshops. This means dispensing with the services of many workshop employees, although it is admitted by the British Transport Commission that these men have the skills and are capable of doing other work, such as producing locomotives for export. They are not being allowed to do so. We have proved, as was proved during the war years, that these self-same men can produce other things apart from those necessary for transport, and can make a jolly good job of it. But now, because this is a publicly-owned undertaking, the skill of these men is to be completely wasted.

This debate in the House of Commons on the changes to the railway organisation, and the creation of British Railways Board, was the precursor to the dramatic changes in the later Beeching Report. The new British Railways Board was due to take over the role of the old Railway Executive from 1st January 1963, and plans were already well in hand to ‘rationalise’ the railway workshops, and reduce staffing.

Even without the even more dramatic consequences following the Beeching Plan, the re-organisation of workshops had a major impact on communities up and down the country.

This debate was – to say the least – lively – and with the then Transport Secretary, Ernest Marples, in the hot seat, some ‘sharp quips’ were recorded. When describing the work of Beeching’s study group, Mr Popplewell advised Ernest Marples that a study group was not needed to determine what were and what were not the most suitable traffic for the railways. Marples retort was to say that the Newcastle MP could all that was needed to know about railways, but didn’t do so well when he was there.

The ‘banter’ at the Parliamentary debates seems to have been as good – or childish – then as it is today!

Overall, this debate was about how the organisational changes were to be put in place, and what the work in hand by Dr Beeching and his advisors would produce. The social and community impacts of the Beeching Plan have been covered at length over the years, but the effect of closing workshops, loss of jobs, loss of skills, opportunities, and local communities’ economic loss have been overlooked.

Was this deliberate?

-oOo-