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A progressive take on nonsense

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Britain’s railway network is a national success story, and Labour’s policy of renationalisation is just an ideological comfort blanket, wrote Labour ‘Progressive’ James Wood.

[‘Labour’s nonexistent rail policy’, James Wood, Progress, 2017-02-13]

On 23 February this year (touch wood) we will celebrate 10 years since a passenger was killed on the rail network, a thankfully long way from the appalling regularity of high-fatality crashes of the eighties and nineties.

[…] In 2012 – 2013, GB train operating company profits were £250 m […against] TOC costs of £6.2 bn, ticket revenue of £7.7 bn and industry-wide costs of £13 bn. If the £250 million TOC profits were directly deducted from UK farebox income, that would only fund a one-off two per cent cut in ticket prices. Simply removing the private sector from the railways will not create a railway with high investment and low fares.

'Labour's non existent rail policy'

Sadly, the article is based on inaccurate and incomplete information, and muddled thinking. Unfortunately

  • it is not “10 years since a passenger was killed on the rail network”
  • the idea that ditching the current industry structure would only permit ‘a one-off two per cent cut in ticket prices’, is absurd.

The fragmentation imposed by John Major’s government substantially increased the whole-industry cost base, and the results can be seen to this day. The rolling stock leasing companies created by the Major government are certainly not operating on a ‘2 per cent margin’, for example.

The current industry structure is not really compatible with efficiency or value for money objectives, and there is no sign of transport secretary Chris Grayling knowing how to fix it, or any other country wanting to copy it.

Written by beleben

February 15, 2017 at 12:43 pm

Posted in Politics, Railways

The only way is upgrade

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According to Network Rail, ‘the major increase in rail capacity the UK needs can only come from making the infrastructure we already have more productive‘.

Capacity benefit of moving block signalling, according to Network Rail's Digital Railway initiative

In that case, how important is the £60+ billion new-build HS2 for meeting future demand?

  • According to Network Rail, “there will be 1 billion extra annual rail journeys” by 2030.
  • And according to HS2 Ltd, HS2 ‘will carry 300,000 passengers per day’ when complete
    (i.e., ~110 million per year).

However, HS2 is not scheduled to be complete until about 2033. But if it somehow were fully open by 2030, and carrying its target annual demand – two very big ‘ifs’ – that would still mean that 89% of the forecast ‘billion extra passengers‘ would have to be accommodated on the existing railway.

At present, flows like Birmingham to London, and Manchester to London, amount to fewer than 10 million trips per annum, combined. On a ‘two-and-a-half-billion-passenger’ railway, what would be the sense in building hundreds of kilometres of vanity infrastructure to accommodate, at best, 3 or 4 percent of the traffic?

'There will be 1 billion more rail journeys by 2030', say Network Rail

The capital cost of increasing the capacity of existing railways with digital technology is much lower than building new lines, according to a 2014 Arup corporate article.

Can railway capacity be doubled without building new track?

Can railway capacity be doubled without building new track?

In practice, the best capacity uplifts would likely arise from combining ‘Digital Railway’ technologies with ‘old-school’ infrastructure improvements (such as grade separated junctions).

Network Rail, 'Digital Railway' aspiration

Network Rail ‘Digital Railway’ aspiration

Written by beleben

February 10, 2017 at 11:39 am

Posted in Planning, Railways

Departure in oblivion

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There seem to be unmanaged safety issues with both driver-only operation and driver-guard operation on the GB rail network. On 7 November 2016, an ‘operating incident’ at Reedham station, involving the driver-only-operated 0554 GTR Southern service from Tattenham Corner to London Bridge, ‘allowed the train to roll downhill unpowered one coach length at low speed before the driver realised the doors were open’, City AM reported.

[‘A Southern train without a guard travelled with its doors open yesterday (but not very far)’, Rebecca Smith, City AM, 2016-11-08]

“There was nothing wrong with the train and early indications are this was driver error in releasing the brakes before the doors had shut.”

But there must be ‘something wrong’ somewhere, if trains can move off, with the doors still open.

And there must be something wrong somewhere, if trains can leave a station leaving the guard, or intending passengers, behind. On 31 January 2017, “shortly after 8.23am the 8.16am (Northern Rail driver-and-guard-operated) Ilkley to Leeds service was delayed after the train left Burley in Wharfedale station whilst the conductor was still on the platform”.

[‘Train guard left at Burley-in-Wharfedale station causes delay’, BBC, 2017-01-31]

A guard was accidentally stranded at a railway station when the train left without him.

Passengers had to get out through the driver’s cab door at the next stop and were delayed for an hour waiting for another train.

The safety of one person operated commuter trains remains a topic of dispute between train operators, the government, and the railway unions. On 5 January 2017 the Office of Rail and Road published a report from from HM Chief Inspector of Railways regarding the extension of Driver-Only Operation (DOO) on the TSGN ‘franchise’.

[‘GTR – Southern Railways – Driver Only Operation (DOO) – Report from the HM Chief Inspector of Railways’, 5 January 2017]

[…] We have set out in this report ORR’s findings about GTR Southern’s proposed form of Driver-Only Operation (DOO) for the safe dispatch of trains and its compliance with health and safety law following a review and inspections of GTR-Southern introducing DOO on new routes. In short, ORR’s view is that with suitable equipment, procedures and competent staff in place the proposed form of train dispatch intended by GTR-Southern meets legal requirements for safe operation.


How driver’s cab monitors turning off at 4 mph (6.5 km/h) can be considered a ‘suitable procedure for driver only operation’, is difficult to understand.

Written by beleben

February 1, 2017 at 1:07 pm

Posted in Politics, Railways

Renewal of the Merseyrail fleet, part two

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Stadler Merseyrail train design, showing arrangement of coupled unitsStadler’s proposed train design for Merseyrail includes an offset sliding door at each end of a trainset, to allow emergency egress from a two-unit train in single line tunnels.

From the illustration provided by Merseyrail, with a two unit train, it would appear that the emergency apertures would be on opposite sides. But perhaps there is some other explanation.

Written by beleben

January 31, 2017 at 1:05 pm

Posted in Railways

Help from the driver

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GTR Southern rail users with disabilities face delayed journeys or the prospect of no longer being able to board some trains after the company said there was no “cast-iron guarantee” that assistance would be available at all stations, The Guardian reported. The change has been linked to the extension of ‘driver controlled operation’, in which guards are replaced by ‘onboard supervisors’.

[No guarantee of help for disabled passengers, says Southern, Diane Taylor, The Guardian, 17 Jan 2017]

Southern has admitted it may have to book taxis for disabled travellers who cannot complete their journey because the only member of staff on the train is the driver.

Previously there were 33 stations across the Southern rail network where passengers in need of assistance to get on or off the train could turn up and be guaranteed help.

(Of course, because of GTR’s repeated failure to recruit sufficient staff, there are no ‘guarantees’ for anyone to be able to ‘complete their journey’.)

According to Wikipedia, Southern Railway ‘operates’ 156 stations. Like other train operators, it has never offered network-wide spontaneous travel for persons of reduced mobility. How could such a facility be provided?

It would appear that implementating turn up and go nationwide would, in many cases, require the train driver to assist with boarding and alighting. That would entail changes in equipment and operating procedure, to allow the driver to leave the cab as and when required.

Written by beleben

January 18, 2017 at 2:18 pm

Posted in Industry, Politics, Railways

Renewal of the Merseyrail fleet

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On 16 December, Liverpool City Region Combined Authority announced its intention to replace 59 Merseyrail PEP-derived trains with 52 Stadler bespoke trainsets equipped for ‘driver controlled operation’.

Stadler four-section trainset for Merseytravel is intended to enter service around 2020 and be upgradable to bi-mode (third rail and 25kV ac overhead) operation

Yellow sides, grey front?

[Merseytravel reveals new £460m train fleet plans – with no train guards, ALISTAIR HOUGHTON, Liverpool Echo, 16 Dec 2016]

But the new trains will also see guards removed from trains, as each one will be controlled solely by its driver.

That means the jobs of more than 200 guards will cease to exist, though more than 60 new on-board customer service roles will be created.

Plans to introduce such driver-controlled trains on the Southern Railway network of commuter trains into London have led to a series of strikes and a bitter dispute between unions and train bosses.

Today, Southern commuters are enduring their third strike within a week as ASLEF and the RMT battle what they say is an unsafe way of operating trains.
Mayor Joe Anderson said he did not believe that safety on trains would be compromised with the new driver-only operation, highlighting the new trains’ improved CCTV and other improvements.

The partition between driver's cab and passenger space would be partially glazed, giving a (limited) forward view

‘Distraction risk’, or ‘passenger benefit’?

According to Merseytravel, “Roving Customer Service staff will be available on trains, targeted at key locations and times. This is in addition to other on-board staff which may include the British Transport Police, security staff, revenue protection officers and on-board cleaners as well as station staff, with all stations on the network staffed first to last train.”

Proposed train interior, intersection

Proposed train interior, intersection


Key features of the new trains:-

* More space for bikes, buggies, disabled passengers and luggage; intelligent air conditioning; a bright, open and airy saloon, and a mix of seating types.

* Easier to get on and off. This will be achieved through reducing the ‘gap’ between the train and platform through: a train body configured specifically for our network; lower train floors; platform and track improvements and a ‘sliding step’ from the train – this combination gives almost ‘level access’ in a first for the UK.

* On-board safety – the train will be a ‘safe space’ forming one continuous space with no dividing doors; CCTV with images broadcast within the train saloon and to the driver and control room; a direct link to the driver and control room; the driver visible through a transparent cab door; on-board customer service staff, supplementing other on-board staff and staffed stations.

* Door safety – there will be traffic light system door illuminations indicating when it’s safe to get on and off; sensitive door edges that will detect ‘the pull’ from something as narrow as a tie or finger, stopping the train from moving or bringing it to a stop.

* Wider aisles, larger areas at the doorways and many more grab handles, making the train much easier to move around and safer for standing passengers.

Proposed internal layout

“More space for bikes”, where?

Written by beleben

December 19, 2016 at 11:36 am

Posted in Politics, Railways

Making things ‘work better’

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On 1 September, transport secretary Chris Grayling MP wrote about the “urgent changes” needed on Southern rail to ‘make things work better’.

[Chris Grayling: My new team will help solve the problems on Southern rail, Evening Standard, 2016-09-01]

I am a daily commuter and know what pain this disruption will have caused. When I became Transport Secretary six weeks ago I made the Southern issue my priority.

It’s true that its routes are being disrupted by totally unnecessary strikes and unofficial action by unions who are opposed to the continued modernisation of the railways and desperately cling to 1970s working practices.

That is mainly why journeys have been disrupted for months. Train guards  have been calling in sick in unprecedented numbers and at short notice as part of what is clearly an organised attempt to disrupt services — and that’s on the days without strikes. Southern’s parent company GTR and the unions need to reach an agreement soon so its passengers can travel on time.

[…] Currently, GTR runs the trains and Network Rail manages the tracks and signals. The tendency is for those involved to blame each other for problems and not to work together. That must change. I want the Southern network to be run by an integrated team of people working together to ensure passengers get decent journeys and problems are solved quickly. So I am establishing a Project Board, headed by a vastly experienced rail executive, to urgently plan how to create this team.

This is not about corporate reorganisation or change of ownership. That would waste time better spent improving the railway. It’s about a joined-up approach to running the trains and the tracks and making things work better. I want this plan in place by the early autumn.

Southern Railway homepage, 13 December 2016

Making things work better? Southern Railway homepage, 13 December 2016

According to campaigner Paul Davies, the Department for Transport has accepted in writing that it has allowed Southern train operator Govia executives ‘to make money personally from running a penalty fares appeals service that is supposed to be independent and seen to be independent, but is in fact just part of Govia’.

The Guardian, 7 Feb 2016

The Guardian, 7 Feb 2016

On 6 December, Mr Grayling made another announcement on his plans for ‘a more joined-up railway’.

[‘On the future of the rail network’, Written statement to Parliament,, 2016-12-06]

[Chris Grayling:] Our railways need to adapt and change in order to be able to cope with the growth that they have already experienced, and that which lies ahead. […] The Shaw Report made a series of recommendations for change, including that Network Rail devolve responsibility to the route level. I support the principles of the Shaw Report, and I support Network Rail’s reform programme, but there is much more to do.

I intend to press ahead with a recommendation put to the department 5 years ago by Sir Roy McNulty, when he reported to Philip Hammond on how to make the railways run better and more cost-effectively. I will do this initially at an operational level. In order for all those involved to be incentivised to deliver the best possible service for the passenger, I expect the new franchises – starting with South Eastern and East Midlands – to have integrated operating teams between train services and infrastructure. I will also be inviting Transport for London (TfL) to be more closely involved in developing the next South Eastern franchise, through seconding a TfL representative to the franchise specification team.

We will continue to develop the model for greater alignment of track and train as further franchises are renewed – including the option of joint ventures. In the meantime, my department is also publishing an update to the rail franchising schedule which I am placing in the libraries of the House.

I also want to bring new skills into the challenge of upgrading our railways. I will begin by looking at the reopening of the link from Oxford to Cambridge, to support a range of opportunities including housing, science, technology and innovation. I am going to establish East West Rail as a new and separate organisation, to accelerate the permissions needed to reopen the route, and to secure private sector involvement to design, build and operate the route as an integrated organisation.

Written by beleben

December 13, 2016 at 12:42 pm

Posted in Politics, Railways