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A whole new level of miserable

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In January 2014 the Beleben blog gave its impressions of the Department for Transport-specified Class 700 rolling stock for Thameslink, based on pictures of the mock-up. These included observations about the design of the seats.


Four years on, the Class 700 trains are in widespread use, and the shortcomings of their design have reached the national media.

Daily Telegraph story about train seats, 18 Feb 2018

18 February 2018

On 20 February 2018, the Metro newspaper’s talk page was replete with comments about train seats. The situation was perhaps best summed up by ‘Tony’ from Haywards Heath, who wrote, “Commuting is never a joy but these trains take it to a whole new level of miserable.”

Perhaps anxious of Boris achieving a monopoly on buffoon quotes, on 28 February transport minister Jo Johnson MP opined that (uncomfortable) seats ‘normally become more comfortable over time, through use’.

Rail magazine, Jo Johnson MP: 'train seats normally become more comfortable over time, through use', 06 Mar 2018

As regular readers of the Beleben blog may be aware, these kind of user experience problems should have been addressed at a very early stage. It is fair to say that user experience, and aesthetic design, are not puntos fuertes of the GB public transport sector.


Written by beleben

March 8, 2018 at 10:01 am

Posted in Politics, Railways

A law unto itself

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Prior to its reclassification as a public sector entity, Network Rail was a law unto itself, and its ‘Control Period 5’ enhancement programme, an unrealistic proposition in every respect. So proclaimed the company’s chief executive, Peter Hendy, as he delivered the 2018 George Bradshaw Address on 27 February in London.

[George Bradshaw Address 2018, Sir Peter Hendy CBE, Chair, Rail Delivery Group, London, 27/02/2018]

[…] The extraordinary construct of an allegedly private company, with no shareholders, but members, but crucially with the ability to borrow seemingly unlimited sums of money off the Government’s books but with a Government guarantee, was almost fabulous.

No wonder it was a law unto itself. And although a spiky and combative regulator chose in the wake of McNulty to force a CP5 settlement of unrealistic economies, based on, frankly, bad, and now discredited international comparisons, the worst thing of all was the CP5 enhancement programme.

I think it resembled a list – uncosted and not ranked by business case – of aspirations for railway enhancements that couldn’t be paid for (except with unlimited debt), couldn’t be carried out (because of lack of definition and capacity) and in one glorious case (as I discovered during my review) had no supporters whatsoever. (The “electric spine”).

It was a plan incapable of consummation. An unrealistic proposition in every respect.

For Network Rail as whole, too many projects at once, with too great and unrealistic economy targets for operations, maintenance and renewals.

In his address Mr Hendy was profuse in his praise for Mark Carne, the chief executive of Network Rail since 2013, who is retiring this summer. When he delivered the 2015 address, Mr Carne said that the company was inefficient, and had a poor safety record.

A train on Network Rail's Great Western Main Line

Written by beleben

March 1, 2018 at 11:48 am

Posted in Politics, Railways

This year’s (broken) model

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In yesterday’s “update” to Parliament on the East Coast, West Coast and East Midlands rail franchises, transport secretary Chris Grayling claimed that “other countries are now adopting Britain’s model for running the railways”.

But what is the “model”?

Do his recent statements not signal that “the model” is being changed (again)?

Chris Grayling, update on the East Coast, West Coast, and East Midlands rail franchises, 5 Feb 2018

In 2012 the ‘Brown review‘ noted that “confidence in franchising and the rail sector have been severely damaged by the problems that came to light on the ICWC competition” but claimed, “There is no credible case for major structural change”.

A year earlier, the Commons Public Accounts Committee concluded that the Department for Transport “did not undertake sufficient due diligence on the bid by National Express for the East Coast franchise. Crucially, the Department did not test any of the bids against the impact of an economic downturn.”

[PAC, 2011]

In future the Department must make clear to [train] companies that failure to deliver on their obligations will have serious lasting consequences.

Propellerheads ft Shirley Bassey, 'History Repeating'

Written by beleben

February 6, 2018 at 11:18 am

What Patrick understands

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Official portrait of Patrick McLoughlin by Chris McAndrew (CC-BY-SA 3.0)On 30 January the High Speed Rail Phase 2a (West Midlands – Crewe) Bill was debated in the House of Commons, and given a second reading by 295 to 12 (meaning that most MPs did not vote).

This kind of debate tends to expose the limitations of MPs’ understanding of what they are talking about, and the Phase 2a Bill debate was no exception.

For some reason, former transport secretary Patrick ‘Spud’McLoughlin was dusted down and wound up to support the government’s case. He declared, “We have spent a fortune on upgrading the west coast main line from Birmingham up to Manchester, although I understand that we did not carry out any upgrade south of Rugby.”

[PMcL:] The upgrade was essential, and if the then Government had been a bit more forward thinking, they could have built a new high-speed line then rather than doing an upgrade.

The West Coast rail modernisation was renewals based (DfT)

The West Coast “upgrade” was a modernisation, focused on renewals (after years of increasing maintenance backlog), rather than enhancements. Most of the work was unavoidable. There was an upgrade aspect, but if renewals had been done like-for-like, rather than on a better-than-before basis, ~75% of the cost (and disruption) would have been incurred anyway.

The ‘higher speed’ junction constructed near Train Robber’s Bridge at Ledburn is just one of the ‘upgrades south of Rugby’ which PMcL “understands” didn’t happen.

Like the current transport secretary, he seems to have difficulties with facts.

[PMsL:] I think that HS1 was operating before Labour came into government.

BBC News, HS1 opening story, 14 Nov 2006

Written by beleben

February 1, 2018 at 12:05 pm

Senior moments with Chris

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Transport secretary Chris Grayling has ‘talked to senior people in the rail industry’ who believe that ‘there will only be one generation of diesel engines on the bi-modes, and the second generation will be hydrogen engines’.

Visualisation of '2nd generation' hydrail bimode 5-car IEP train (unofficial, Beleben)

[Rt Hon Chris Grayling MP, Secretary of State for Transport, at the House of Commons transport select committee, ‘Cancelled electrification’, 22 Jan 2018]

[CG:] We are now looking to get the first hydrogen trains on our network within a very short space of time, and the Germans are doing the same. The technology is really moving apace. Battery trains are becoming a real possibility. We have to focus on outputs rather than on the means of locomotion.

Chris Grayling at the transport select committee, 22 Jan 2018

There is a “perfectly good and strong business case for electrification to Corby”, Mr Grayling informed the committee.

[CG:] The high value piece of the [Midland Main Line] modernisation programme and the electrification is the piece south of Corby.

That seems not to be the case, if the Beleben blog has understood the figures correctly.

The numbers say the entire MML upgrade, and all electrification north of Bedford, is materially impacted by HS2, so to speak, and the residual Bedford to Corby electrification has an apparent benefit-cost ratio of 0.99 (i.e., not “high value”).

Bedford to Corby could have been part of an unwritten policy to ‘support’ Carillion. Unfortunately, the questioning of Mr Grayling at the transport committee was of variable quality, which might be caused by a lack of technical support, or something else. Mr Grayling was also not asked

  • why the September 2016 Midland Main Line electrification economic ‘update’ had been kept under wraps for months on end
  • what planning had been commissioned by government on the feasibility of the hydrail traction which (he says) is coming ‘in a very short space of time’.

Midland upgrade following Hendy review, 'key outputs 1 and 2' (2016)

Written by beleben

January 31, 2018 at 11:08 am

Posted in Politics, Railways

Drawing erroneous conclusions

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At the Commons Transport Committee on 22 January, secretary of state Chris Grayling stated that the reason that the Virgin Trains East Coast franchise had run into difficulties “is purely and simply about the revenue it has received to date”.

There was, in essence, a danger it would run out of money before 2020, and new arrangements might be needed sooner rather than later.

Chris Grayling, Parliamentlive tv, 22 Jan 2018

'Instead of reading nonsense written by MSM journalists who know nothing about rail, try reading real rail journalists, franchise ended early because of failings of DfT and Network Rail'

twitter, @holdmch, 'no matter what rail franchise bidders may perceive in nods / winks, the bid criteria and risks are absolutely explicit in invitations to tender'

VTEC, Someone is 'drawing erroneous conclusions'

twitter, @holdmch, 'the making of the mess'

The contract still intact

The grabbing hands
Grab all they can
All for themselves after all

[Songwriter: Martin Gore
Everything Counts © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC]

Written by beleben

January 22, 2018 at 10:11 pm

Propaganda delivery group

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New research by Daniel Mahoney, and published today by the Centre for Policy Studies estimating that ‘the cost of Labour’s renationalisation plans would be at least £176 billion’, was featured on the Rail Delivery Group’s twitter.

twitter @RailDeliveryGrp

As the RDG moves further into the political arena, lots of questions need to be asked about its role. The amalgamation of the former Association of Train Operating Companies with RDG seems to have resulted in the merged entity taking on the role of lobbyist for the maintenance of rail privatisation in its current, extremely unsatisfactory, form.

If Network Rail is part-funding RDG, that would mean public funds are being used for propaganda purposes. And of course, many of the member companies of RDG are themselves owned by the state-owned (i.e., nationalised) railways of other countries.

Other blogposts by Daniel Mahoney

Written by beleben

January 21, 2018 at 1:21 pm

Posted in Politics, Railways