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Posts Tagged ‘Labour Party

Not the railway technical centre

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Government ministers have refused to say whether ‘important railway testing and research facilities’ will be exempted from sale, wrote Lilian Greenwood MP (New Statesman, 11 Sep 2015) shortly before taking up the position of shadow transport secretary.

[Revealed: the Tory plan to privatise even more of our railway network, Lilian Greenwood, 11 Sep 2015]

[…] After months of press reports of a looming sell-off, wide ranging changes to Network Rail were announced in the Summer Budget. They include the transfer of responsibilities to regional managers, channelling subsidy through train operators instead of Network Rail, and a new property body ‘to realise value from public land and property assets in the rail network.’ None of these plans will be subject to public consultation.

The disposal of property was the only explicit reference to the sale of assets. A review has been launched into the ‘future shape and financing of Network Rail,’ with the aim of precipitating a decision by the time of the next Budget. Until then, Ministers are for the most part sticking to the mantra that the Government has ‘no current plans’ to break-up Network Rail or sell-off its assets.

What are the ‘important research and test facilities’ under threat? According to parliamentary question 6795, they are the Old Dalby Test Track and the Railway Technical Centre Business Park.

Lilian Greenwood, parliamentary question about Old Dalby, 13 July 2015

Lilian Greenwood, parliamentary question 6795 about Old Dalby, 13 July 2015

But Derby’s RTC Business Park is a collection of office buildings, sheds, and car parks divided between various companies. Space seems to be available for rent, for anyone who can afford to pay. What RTC Business Park is not (and has not been for more than twenty years), is a ‘railway technical centre’. Next to zero research and development is done there.

Presumably Ms Greenwood, or her researcher, doesn’t know about Network Rail’s “Rail Innovation and Development Centre” and High Marnham Test Track, because that was not mentioned in parliamentary question 6795.

But the reality is that these sites are of little importance, and are likely to remain that way (whoever owns the land). Britain has no meaningful railway research and development activity, and Network Rail is a ‘zombie’ organisation, with minimal in-house technology competence.

Written by beleben

September 15, 2015 at 10:12 am

Posted in Railways

Tagged with

Bigger and blanker, part two

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According to Mary Creagh, the next Labour Government will

  • make a swift decision on airport expansion in the national interest.

What does that mean? Presumably, it means Labour has revived its policy of expanding Heathrow airport — but would rather not say, until after it had won an election.

  • support any city that wants London-style buses and smart, integrated tickets to have them.

What’s the financial implications of “supporting any city that wants London-style buses”? The policy could easily cost £1 billion a year, every year.

  • ensure that all heavy goods vehicles are fitted with safety devices to protect pedestrians and cyclists.

Great. But what’s the overall effect on cycling casualties?

What’s really needed, is much more segregation of cyclists from motorised traffic. In Birmingham, there’s no sign whatsoever of the Labour-run council reallocating roadspace to cycles.

Written by beleben

September 23, 2014 at 1:25 pm

Posted in Birmingham, Centro

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Bankrupting Bristol

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According to Bristol Labour party activist Amanda Ramsay

Bus route availability and costs in cities like Bristol and Glasgow could be overseen and controlled by the local authority and elected representatives, in a similar way Transport for London runs the capital’s bus system, where residents are well served across the whole city and pay just £1.35 a journey using Oyster, a pre-charged electronic swipe card. Prices are also capped.

That’s correct. The problem is that there is a strong possibility that increased local authority involvement, in the form of an integrated transport authority (ITA), would not transform public transport quality, or increase usage.

For example, Centro, the West Midlands county ITA, has existed under various names, for more than forty years. Yet people are still having to carry pushchairs up flights of steps at railway stations, and pay £1.70 to travel half a mile on a bus. Bus patronage has been declining for years. the multi-million pound real time information system does not work properly, and the bus fleet is largely responsible for the poor air quality on Birmingham streets.

Stechford station remains inaccessible to persons with reduced mobility, forty years after Centro was established

In Bristol, it is often cheaper to get a taxi than to hop on a bus, for a family or group of friends. This is crazy, especially, for a city with bad air quality from high car usage with higher than average asthma rates, stemming from its basin-like geographical location. This is an environmental issue as well as a social policy imperative.

Why is it crazy that a ‘taxi’ should be cheaper than a bus, to transport a group of people? Even commercial bus services get subsidies through Bus Service Operators Grant and concessionary fares, yet they may still work out more expensive than minicabs (which get no subsidies). And if the minicab has a petrol engine, it’s probably less environmentally impactful, than the bus.

Labour’s transport lead for Bristol city council, explains more about the challenges on the ground: “Labour achieved much in the Blair/Brown governments but needed to show more vigour in challenging officials and the traditional ways of evaluating proposals,” Cllr Mark Bradshaw says.

“But outright bus re-regulation would bankrupt Bristol at a time of £75 million cuts across council budget. That’s just a non-starter. Cuts are impacting on frontline services, tough choices are being made but the council needs to target limited resources wisely. But bus services must be reliable, affordable and connected.”

‘Achieved much?’ No bus network was re-regulated between 1997 and 2010. And as the House of Commons Library bus franchising note (19 April 2012) explained, “The Labour Government legislated to give local authorities franchising-like powers to implement what are known as Quality Contract Schemes. No local authority has ever used these powers, or even got to the point of making a formal application to the Secretary of State to use them, though there are constantly stories in the press that one or more area is about to do so.”

Written by beleben

June 21, 2012 at 10:47 am

Where Eagle’s dare?

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Maria Eagle 'HS2E' social media reaction, 31 Oct 2011In yesterday’s announcement ‘amending’ Labour party aviation and high speed rail policy, Maria Eagle said

“Labour’s cross-party support for the high speed rail line that we proposed in Government is clear”

I’m not sure how proposing a completely different HS2 route (from the one that Labour proposed in Government) is going to bring about ‘cross-party support’. As the Coventry Telegraph reported, the move “fractures the previous cross-party agreement for the £17 billion London-to-Birmingham line”.

According to Ms Eagle, “connecting via Heathrow and using existing transport corridors means that we’re going to get to Birmingham in a more sensible way…It seems mad not to take your high-speed train though your hub airport at the earliest opportunity – that’s the lesson of high speed in Europe”.

Given the level of opposition in constituencies along the current HS2 route (‘HS2WM’), the new ‘HS2 Eagle’ (‘HS2E’) alternative could have some interesting electoral consequences. And ‘airport oriented’ policies could also unlock funding from the aviation industry for the party machine. The BBC reported Theresa Villiers’ reaction:

Transport minister Theresa Villiers, Conservative MP for Chipping Barnet, accused Labour of being “opportunistic” by making an announcement that she believed would do “nothing to contribute to the detailed, informed and extensive process that the government is undertaking on HS2”.

“Labour have had nine months to say something constructive on HS2 but instead have waited till the consultation has ended to oppose the government’s preferred route – which they originally came up with,” she added.

Maria Eagle 'HS2E' social media reaction, 31 Oct 2011I can’t see how the Conservatives can complain about Labour ‘playing politics’ with high speed rail. In Britain, that’s what high speed rail is for. HS2 is not a transport project.

As I pointed out yesterday, Labour and Conservatives have swapped clothes on HS2, and today Bow ‘Groupie’ Tony Lodge is effectively imploring the Conservatives to reverse Mawhinney.

Maria Eagle 'HS2E' social media reaction, 31 Oct 2011As for Labour, they have some work to do explaining their new “clear” policy, judging by some of the reaction on social media.

If the newspaper map of HS2E is correct, then there would be no spur into Heathrow. The high speed line would run in tunnel, **via Heathrow**, with a station ‘at the airport’ itself (not outside the perimeter). But what ‘at the airport‘ means, is anyone’s guess.

The extra tunnels for HS2E would cost billions, but even if they were ‘free’, the whole-line benefit-cost ratio would fall to 1.31 (with a 5 minutes longer journey) or 1.07 (with a 10 minutes longer journey), on HS2 Ltd figures (for what they’re worth). It’s worth remembering that even with HS2’s oddball value of time assumptions, the (much cheaper) Heathrow spur in the current official scheme has a negative net economic benefit.

Joe Rukin, of Stop HS2, has said that there is no economic case for HS2. Actually, that sentence also works if the first five words are replaced with ‘Pete Waterman’. I suppose Maria Eagle’s position is a bit like Pete Waterman’s: ‘never mind the figures, just build it’. But Labour’s HS2E is no more socially useful than the Conservatives’ Adonis/Steer HS2WM. The vast majority of people travelling to London from the North are not headed to Heathrow Airport. And ‘getting people from the North faster to Heathrow Airport’ should be near the bottom of any sensible list of transport priorities. Setting more carbon targets for aviation is all well and good, but aviation is just 2 per cent of domestic transport emissions. And HS2 – whether through the Chilterns, or under Heathrow – is not ‘carbon-reducing‘ infrastructure.

Theresa Villiers on HS2

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The Press Association, via Google News, reported Theresa Villiers’ confidence that HS2 “is the right way forward in dealing with transport capacity restraints”.

“We have looked at the numbers very carefully and this is the best way of dealing with the capacity crisis on inter-city routes. Almost every country in Europe has high-speed rail lines and it is an attractive alternative to domestic flights.

The claim that “almost every country in Europe has high-speed rail lines” is a load of old nonsense. How many miles of “high speed rail” are there in Belarus, Ukraine, Lithuania, Estonia, Slovakia, Montenegro, Switzerland (etc)? In fact, Britain has had UIC recognised high speed rail (on existing tracks) since October 1976, yet its new-build HS1 has dubious credentials as a high speed line.

According to the HS2 Ltd weblog, air passenger journeys are expected to increase by 87% between 2008 and 2043 (rounded, from 0.2 to 0.4 journeys per person, per year, in its ‘Table 1’). So, on government estimates, air travel is going to increase with or without HS2. In Britain, high speed rail is of minimal benefit in promoting modal shift from rail to air. Rail is already faster than air between Manchester and London – yet flights continue between those cities – and I’m not clear as how HS2 is an attractive alternative to domestic flights to Belfast, Douglas, Jersey, or Newquay (etc).

The current HS2 project is very similar in route and concept to that of the previous Labour government – the Conservatives abandoned ‘their’ proposal for the Labour one. Here’s what Theresa Villiers said about Labour’s HS2 (now the Conservatives’ HS2):

Ms Villiers also warned that when it came to Heathrow, “Labour still don’t get” – because ministers had failed to integrate the airport into the high-speed rail (HSR) network.

“In leaving Heathrow out and setting out plans that don’t give costed, timetabled and watertight guarantees to take the line north of the Midlands, Labour’s plans are flawed by a lack of credibility.”


“We welcome Labour’s change of heart on HSR. But we regret the remit they gave HS2 lacked ambition, that it focused only on the West Midlands as stage one – whereas we want to go further and faster, with our guaranteed, costed and timetabled commitment to take HSR to Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds …”
She warned: “If we are to get the full environmental benefits of HSR, it’s crucial we make it as easy as possible for people to switch from the plane to the train.”

The closest HS2’s proposals would get to Heathrow was about 10 miles away at Old Oak Common.

“The idea that some kind of Wormwood Scrubs International station is the best rail solution for Heathrow is just not credible.”

Written by beleben

October 11, 2011 at 3:05 pm

Ed, David, and Thameslink

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David Miliband tweets about 300 jobsOn 17 June 2011, Labour MP David Miliband tweeted the “Great news of 300 jobs at Siemens in South Tyneside from new Thameslink contract”. The government had announced that Siemens of Germany was preferred bidder for the supply of new Thameslink rolling stock, rather than Bombardier’s Derby factory. Very little of the Siemens train would be built in Great Britain.

At its conference in September, his brother, Labour party leader Ed Miliband, took a rather different position.

But when I am Prime Minister, how we tax, what government buys, how we regulate, what we celebrate will be in the service of Britain’s producers.

And don’t let anyone tell you that this is the anti-business choice.

It’s the pro-business choice.

Pro-business on the side of the small businesses who can’t get a loan.

Pro-business on the side of high value manufacturing that can’t build its business because of the short-termist culture.

Pro-business on the side of the British company losing out to its competitors abroad when their government steps in and our government stands aside.

And that includes companies like Bombardier and BAe systems.

Being sold down the river by this Government.

Repopularising rail travel

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Chiltern 'Silver' train, pastel

Great Britain’s Office for Rail Regulation has estimated that the country’s rail passenger volume was 1258 million passengers in 2009, and there’s been sustained growth since 1994.

Nevertheless, the railway accounts for a relatively small proportion of all internal transport, and for lower income groups, intercity rail is especially unaffordable for ‘walk-up’ travel (i.e. where journeys are not pre-booked using tickets restricted to particular trains). As a result, there is a preponderance of users from higher income groups.

In London and some other conurbations, there is a more level usage of short distance passenger rail, partly helped by concessionary/free travel for retired persons. But at the national level, the railway is becoming less and less affordable to the public as a whole.

So for future transport planning, affordability ought to be just as important as resilience and sustainability. High speed rail, in particular, raises some very difficult questions, because it’s expensive to build, and more expensive to operate than conventional rail. The low level of political realism about affordability can be seen in this extract from Maria Eagle’s speech at the 2011 Labour Party conference:

The country wants us to find a better way to deliver rail service in Britain. That’s what we heard loud and clear in our policy review.

They manage it in other parts of the EU. And we can do it here.

So, over the coming months, we will be looking at the right way to bring order back to the chaos in our railways.

And let’s have a new deal for British train manufacturing too.

When the Prime Minister took his Cabinet to Derby, home of our last train manufacturer, he said he’d support local businesses. Then placed a massive order for new trains with a company that will build them in Germany.

It’s time to nail a lie.

If the government thought the tender was wrong: they had every right to rip it up and start again.

The truth? As Philip Hammond has admitted: it just didn’t occur to him.

Because this is a government that cannot think beyond the bottom line.

The local workforce at Bombardier should be proud of the way they are fighting. Not just for their jobs, but for the future of train manufacturing in this country. And we should be proud of the fantastic job that our local Labour MPs – Margaret Beckett and Chris Williamson – are doing. And the effort and resources of the trade unions, leading this fight. We stand with you and we must keep fighting for those jobs.

And let’s make sure that never again do we stack the odds so badly against Britain.

So today I say to Philip Hammond: there is no faith that your Department will give British manufacturing a fair chance. So hand over responsibility for ordering the new Crossrail trains to Transport for London, which – thanks to Labour – has a track record of buying British. And, while we’re at it, let’s show our commitment to rail devolution by letting them manage more of London’s suburban rail services. Providing another opportunity for British train manufacturing.

And let’s set out a long term strategy for investing in our rail infrastructure.

No more talk of classic rail, but a network transformed with a programme to complete electrification and introduce a new generation of high speed inter-city trains. And, yes, let’s also tackle capacity problems between north and south. And in the only credible way it can be done.

That’s why it was Labour that set out plans for a new high speed line. Not just from London to Birmingham, but on to Manchester, Sheffield and Leeds. Cutting journey times across the UK, benefitting Glasgow and Edinburgh. And, yes, bringing Liverpool under 100 minutes from London.

But the Tory-led Government is only planning to take powers to construct the line as far as Birmingham which casts real doubt on their long term commitment to delivering high speed rail in the north. They should think again and ensure the whole route is included in the forthcoming legislation.

And let’s make it a line that is affordable for the many, not the few. Because when Philip Hammond says, that if you work in a factory in Manchester you will never use it. But, not to worry, because you’ll benefit when your company director does. I’m sorry but that is a Tory vision for high speed rail, not a Labour vision. Philip Hammond may think it is a rich man’s toy, but I don’t. I know you don’t. And a future Labour government never will.

The Labour government contracted with Hitachi to build Class 395 and Intercity Express Programme (IEP) trains in Japan for use on Britain’s main lines, so it’s a bit late in the day for Ms Eagle to start championing British train manufacturing. The Hitachi IEP carriages, at about £9 million apiece, have a fair claim to be the most expensive rail carriages ever built anywhere in the world. The bi-mode version of the IEP takes absurdity to new heights (with no use of such trains in Hitachi’s home market). Someone has to pay for these decisions, and it’s a fair bet that a lot of the cost will end up in long distance train tickets.

The HS2 project would introduce another two types of inflexible train into the rail inventory, and the HS2 Ltd estimate is that trains would use 95-100% more energy on new build high speed line:

Traction power was modelled: for a 200m train, the model calculated the energy consumption would be 45 kilowatt hours/mile (28 kilowatt hours/km) whilst running on HS2. For classic-compatible services running on the classic network, we have assumed the same energy consumption as a Pendolino (23 kilowatt hours/mile, 14 kilowatt hours/km).

(On the information available, a Pendolino has seating equal to, or greater than, a 200 metre HS2 train – the AGV 11 Reference train used by HS2 Ltd seats 510 in dense pack configuration.)

High speed rail imposes extra stresses and wear on equipment such as overhead lines, and rails, requiring more maintenance. It’s all very well to yap about ‘affordability’ in the abstract at a party conference, but if Adonis/Steer high speed rail is implemented, someone has to pick up the tab for the extra electricity, extra maintenance, etc.

Written by beleben

September 27, 2011 at 7:29 pm