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Buying Votes With A Railway

A high-speed rail line from London to Scotland will cut through swathes of protected countryside under plans to be handed to ministers this week.
The route of the £60 billion 250mph line, the biggest rail project in Britain since 1899, has been planned to within about 25 yards. It will cut journey times from London to Manchester by a third and bring the construction of the first new terminus in London for more than 100 years.
Lord Adonis, the transport secretary, believes it will herald an end to domestic flights and the carbon savings and environmental benefits will make it “manifestly in the public interest”. He said last week that the high-speed rail network would be an important feature of Labour’s election manifesto.

I'm surprised we need to build a new line as there seems to be plenty of old ones that could be upgraded...


This proposal is being presented by High Speed Two (HS2) Ltd a "company set up by the Government to consider the case for new high speed rail services between London and Scotland."

No bias there then. Because as any fule knows "Very much against public and political sentiment roads managed to avoid congestion would offer 3 to 4 times the capacity to move freight and people at one quarter the cost of rail while using 20% to 25% less energy and reducing casualty costs suffered by rail passengers by a factor of 2."

A quick google of green groups finds many acknowledging the cradle to grave costs of rail means it is in the same ballpark as coaches, and that is without the building of a new track.

Luckily HS2 has set up "Challenge" panels to check on their proposals:

Strategic Challenge Panel provides strategic challenge and an independent perspective on how HS2 develops proposals for a new railway line from London to the West Midlands and potentially beyond.

Expert Panel Members:
Kate Barker CBE – Monetary Policy Committee Member, Bank of England
Prof. David Begg – Chair of the Northern Way Transport Compact (RDA Quango)
Richard Brown CBE – Chief Executive, Eurostar
Tony Collins – Chief Executive, Virgin Trains
Iain Coucher – Chief Executive, Network Rail
Stephen Joseph OBE – Executive Director, Campaign for Better Transport (Fakecharity - largely funded by Dept of Transport)
David Leeder – Vice Chair, Commission for Integrated Transport (Dept of Transport Body)
Sir Michael Lyons – Chairman of the BBC Trust
Anthony Smith – Chief Executive, Passenger Focus (Dept of Transport Body)
Tony Travers – Director, Greater London Group, London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE)

Can you spot any theme about these independent challengers who will be challenging as to whether it is a good idea for the Government to spend huge amounts of taxpayers money on a new railway to the north? Your money is safe in their hands.


You may not like it...But I can tell you there are plenty of voters in the North who think it's long overdue. Bring it on I say!

Well, yes, there are obviously plenty of voters in the North-West who enjoy being anally raped by the taxman.

They might even have to put up beer duty to pay for it!

This would be similar then to the already running "Western route" upgraded just recently at great cost. Sounds like another bribe to me, especially as the likelyhood of it ever being built is zero. I see though that a thoroughly "independant" panel is going to review it...not.

Very much against public and political sentiment roads managed to avoid congestion etc etc

I'll bite. Where in the UK, or in the world in fact, are there roads managed to avoid congestion?

I contend that these roads managed to avoid congestion are a hypothetical, an ideal. Well I further contend that Transport Watch rubbish rail for its low intensity of use. But that use could be intensified more easily than roads managed to avoid congestion could be willed into existence.

Re: Opening all the old railways disposed of by the Beeching cuts. Many will be unusable because the route has been sold off to developers.

The old LMJ line in Warwickshire is only the first of these that springs to mind. I'm sure there are many others with similar issues.

At the risk of offending my Caledonian forebearers, why, dare I ask, is there any perceived need for a high-speed line between London and Scotland?

I mean, London-Paris or London-Brussels at least has the virtue of connecting important European city centres and onward connections.

But er, London-Glasgow or London-Edinburgh?

The population of the London and Paris urban agglomerations: 12 million and 10 million respectively. Population of the Edinburgh and Glasgow agglomerations: maybe 2.5 million combined - and that's being generous about the outlying areas. About the same population size as Greater Manchester.

The faster trains seem to be capable of getting from Manchester to London in two to three hours when things are going well (ha ha!).

For £60 billion you get an hour-and-a-half to two-hour trip instead?


The population of the UK is around 60 million. Why not just give every last British citizen £1000 outright? Bet that would do more for your economy!


"I'll bite. Where in the UK, or in the world in fact, are there roads managed to avoid congestion?"

London, Sydney, Singapore, Durham, Stockholm and Riga. All you would need to do with these new roads is to set variable pricing dependent upon the time of day and monitor it to ensure that the traffic flows, altering the pricing accordingly (sadly, London has been turned into an ecobollocks tax which is never the purpose of congestion pricing).

"London, Sydney, Singapore, Durham, Stockholm and Riga"

Of these cities I'm only familiar with London, I'm pretty sure I remember seeing one or two traffic jams there. And, in fact as you admit these 'managed roads' dont actually exist in London's case, do they in the other cities.

If we start applying all these "if only we did this, if only we did that and if only we did the other" criteria Im sure the case for rail could be made all over again as well.

I'm not arguing for road vs rail. Thats a false dichotomy. I just think that a sensible balance between them can be acheived.

Generally I find the road system in Germany better than the UK. Most towns and villages are bypassed by their nearest major road. You rarely have to drive through anywhere to get anywhere else, not that you don't see congestion. Very different to the UK. No question the ease of use of their road system is a boon to all, both for travellers and residents lives are less blighted by road traffic.


Their rail system is also better set up. As far as I can gather a greater proportion of freight is carried by rail in Germany compared to road than it is in the UK.

To be honest I don't think they are buyng votes; at worst I think that's a distant second in any considerations. Instead I suspect this is a crude attempt to boost the party's coffers. With an empty bank account and no more peerages to sell, how else are they going to fund a general election campaign?

Oh come on! Railways are a nineteenth century solution to an eighteenth century problem. As a cheaper alternative to moving heavy loads in bulk than the canals they made sense in an era when roads tended to be 200 yard wide swamps in winter and dustbowls in summer, but with decent road surfaces and cheap efficient engines they are yesterday's technology.
Proponents tend to be fond of quoting the efficiency of centrally generated electricity powered trains without mentioning the simple fact that the best tare to payload ratios for passenger trains are about one ton per person, higher than all cars with more than one occupant. In addition, a car doesn't go anywhere without at least one occupant, but any practical public transport must run to a timetable and therefore most journeys are seriously underoccupied.
Professional politicians luuurve railways - all those pre-packed votes under control. As we saw with privatisation, it's quite difficult to have a system of independent operators all using the same tracks. Railways are inherently monopolies and so if you control some aspect you've got total control of the nation's transport. Consider the rail unions, and then ask if you, as a manufacturer, are happy to have a bloody-minded trade union with its hand on your throat, controlling when and where your raw materials or products go.
Another canard is how much cheaper/better foreign railways are. Indeed, the Dutch and German railways are quite delightful and very cheap - because their benighted taxpayers are forking out through the nose in sudsidies. So far as I am aware, no railway in the world pays its way.
There are many more things to be said on the subject which I shall spare the reader - for now - but consider just one further point. In a world in which more and more people are becoming disaffected to the point of violence with public bodies generally, do you really want 250mph trains fully of potential heart-tugging "human interest" stories running on rails accessible to tiny groups of resistance-like saboteurs?

Disputin is correct: railways are retrogressive nonsense. But can we please get a sense of proportion? What's all this 'cutting a swathe' rubbish? An inter-city-route is, at the most, a hundred feet wide. Its impact on the landscape is negligible. It's really hard to even see a rail line from the air. Try firing up Google Earth and take a look at the UK. It is emerald green almost everywhere. At anything less than the highest zoom levels railways are completely invisible.

The main purpose of railways was always to move freight, adding a few high paying passengers was an afterthought. Governments everywhere encouraged their use for mass passenger transit. That certainly happened in Britain, with the state mandating that the railways carry low fare passengers.

I suspect if railways dispensed with most mass passenger transit, concentrating on freight and a few long distance passenger services they would move into profit.

Ive got a sort of half thought theory.

Governments want the strategic transport offered by rail and road. They dont care about people moving about as such but have long since cottoned on to the political/proaganda benefits of that.

So the debate about road travel is turned into one about car use rather than lorry use, because there are lots of car using voters. Trucks do thousands of times more damage to the roads than cars but vehicle tax does not reflect that. Taxpayers and car users as a whole subsidise trucks. The roads arent there for cars.

Same with railways, they are there to move freight, discussions about passengers carried is the same as car use, a red herring designed to tie the interests of train travelling voters to the subsidy of the rail system.

I think that these motives are now so deeply buried that they are rarely consciously acknowledged.

Similar with the police. They are there to maintain the power and security of the state but its politically expedient for them to get involved with chasing criminals and catching murderers etc, so much so that most police spend their entire carrers doing those things and few of them are involved in enforcing state power.

Lurker has it right in that railways are well-suited to moving freight. Money could sensibly be spent on developing inter-city rail for goods transport, through increased automation and provision of more dedicated freight terminals, rather than throwing huge sums at "passenger" routes which will only ever satisfy a minority. Made sufficiently competitive in this area, rail could remove a large proportion of the long-distance lorry traffic from the motorways and A-roads, significantly reducing congestion levels without the need for punitive taxes and intrusive (and expensive) enforcement mechanisms. The roads could then better fulfil their ideal purpose, i.e. allowing individuals and small groups of passengers to make efficient point-to-point journeys at their own freedom and convenience. Rail wouldn't need to work miracles to be competitive - merely do better than the enforced 40/60mph with 45 minute breaks every 4.5 hours, for a reasonable price.

Automation of rail transit is not a new idea, nor is it limited to "fashionable" obnoxious regimes such as Singapore and China. The UK had the world's first automatic passenger railway (London's Victoria Line opened in 1968) and for many years also had what was probably the world's first automated goods railway. The Post Office Railway opened in the late 1920s, providing efficient automated underground transport of letters and parcels between East and West London. It was closed in 2003 under New Labour, during which time the odious Mr Livingston was bashing motorists (including Royal Mail vans) with his £5 per day "Congestion Charge". Enough said.

Of course widespread automated rail freight is never likely to happen. For it to work there would need to be an easy, non-bureaucratic method for private companies to use it. And, by definition, it would also require relatively few staff to operate it. It is therefore wholly incompatible with the attitudes of both the senior management types and the trade unions which unfortunately infest the railway industry. And so, in their battle to survive, they must keep milking the public for yet more funding of ill-thought-out passenger routes, which they can justify as a consequence of their comrades gradually destroying the road network. Oddly-enough, some inner-city passenger routes WOULD be worthwhile and sensible (e.g. Tube routes into South London - such as extending the Victoria Line to Croydon as proposed in the '60s) but they are never seriously considered, whilst fashionable and pointless others (e.g. Crossrail) are. Even though (hush, hush) they won't be anywhere near ready in time for the 2012 Socialist Games, despite that being one of the proposed initial justifications.

Good transport is about choices. Both road and rail are necessary, but each is suited to its own purpose. We need a situation where the choice of transport mode is made for technical/convenience reasons rather than artificially-imposed taxes and penalites. And we need transport planners who are prepared to be bold, hard-nosed where necessary and, above all, forward thinking.

One idea would be to consider where there is already evidence of demand for cheap point to point transport ie the 24 coaches a day from London to Oxford, London to Southampton etc and open up the railways on the same grounds as the motorways. ie free use of track/road. Small efficient non stop express passenger travel for coach like prices. Being non stop they would be faster and it is surey not beyond the wit of man to schedule express services. Run them like easy jet etc,pre booked, small heathrow express like trains (ie comfortable and set up for luggage)can wait outside main terminuses (termini?) and shuttle in, pick up passengers and go. Talking of hetahrow express, why not make the piccadilly line (largely) an express from heathrow to Hammersmith (or at least Acton town) You could be in london in half an hour if you didn't have to stop pointlessly at twelve different stations called hounslow...

MarkT, regarding the Piccadilly Line service... There is one extremely good reason not to make it an "express" to Heathrow. It is, by definition, a "metro" service. It stops a lot, taking longer to get to its terminus (not really "destination"), in order to serve a wider group of people. It was built, and primarily still serves, to get people to and from work from points along its way. Day in and day out it failthfully serves the residents of Northfields, Osterley, Boston Manor, Hounslow and other places along the way. They would, no doubt, be rather irritated if they ended up having to get the bus to work just because some tourists wanted to get to London from an airport quicker. And the taxpayer would end up having to subsidise silly amounts because Heathrow passengers (despite appearances) are still a minority of the line's workload. If the tourists want to be in London quickly then they can pay for the "Heathrow Express". The Tube is, and always has been, a "stopping" service for those who just want to turn up and go (to work).

As for other rail services, in my mind "pre-booking" is the ultimate expression of the very problem with passenger rail. If a service is to be viable and popular, it ought to be "turn up and go", just as car transport is - and should stay. That is how people live their lives and that (among many other reasons) is part of why people travel by car - which, I hasten to add, is not a bad thing. Rail has in recent years really shot itself in the foot with the complex pricing and booking arrangements. We do not live regimented, pre-planned, lives so we will always shun regimented, pre-planned, transport. Being cynical one may suspect that such arrangements are designed, like parking restrictions, to catch innocent people out and create revenue through fines/penalty fares as a consequence of honest mistakes.

In response to Bill Sticker (December 27, 2009 4:34 PM): Unfortunately the same situation applies to a lot of safeguarded road routes, particularly those allocated for the now-passe urban motorways, and especially after New Labour came to power. Once lost, the routes are very difficult to regain without massive public protest (after all, who would dare demolish a brand-new cardboard (er, sorry, "affordable") house occupied by the stereotype "I don't want to live here but I was told shared ownership was the way forward" mother-of-two to build a motorway?) We therefore have the double-blow of growing residential population combined with reduced infrastructure capability. Now there's [Prescott] planning for you...

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