Major railway modernisation announced

From the BBC:

A £9.4bn package of investment in the railways in England and Wales, including £4.2bn of new schemes, has been unveiled by the government.

The plans include electrification of the Midland Main Line between Bedford and Sheffield.

Other rail improvements have been unveiled for the Manchester area, south Wales and East Coast Main Line.

Prime Minister David Cameron called it the “biggest modernisation of our railways since the Victorian era”.

During a visit to Birmingham to announce the railway investment, the PM said it would lead to the electrification of an extra 850 miles of track.

He said: “This investment will mean faster journeys, more seats, better access to stations, greater freight links and a truly world-class rail network.”

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, who joined the PM on the visit, said the plans would help “close the north south divide”.

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  • This is not the biggest modernisation since the Victorian era. What about the complete electrification of the South London commuter routes before the war (the most heavily used part of the network)? Or the electrification of the East and West coast main lines? Or – if you want to be controversial – the Beeching Axe – which aimed to create a railway that taxpayers and passengers could afford to use…

  • Daniel Henry 16th Jul '12 - 7:27pm

    Sounds like Vince is finally being listened to over the need to invest in infrastructure.

  • Charles Beaumont 16th Jul '12 - 7:42pm

    It’s good news. But it would be better to combine this with a new system of management for the entire railway network. As is well-known, we pay vastly more than Europeans do to travel by train, but we also pay vastly more in taxes – in 2007 Germany subsidised its railways at €0.105 per passenger km travelled, France €0.113 and the UK €0.125 – UK govt subsidies were £4bn in 2011 against a quarter of that in real terms in the days of BR. The cash largely flows to the directors and shareholders of the oligopolies which operate the franchises, such as First, Virgin etc.

  • Alex Macfie 16th Jul '12 - 8:47pm

    The Beeching Axe may have “aimed to create a railway that taxpayers and passengers could afford to use,” but it is now being unravelled, as one of the projects being funded is the restoration of the link between Oxford and Milton Keynes, closed in the late 1960s (just when Milton Keynes was being developed!). Granted there were many rural branch lines that were never going to be profitable, but the closures went way too far. Some main lines were shut down, resulting in a railway network with little slack. There would be alot less need for weekend and bank holiday bustitution if routes like the Varsity Line, the Great Central and Buxton-Matlock (which only a short while before closure had been used for diversion during a major upgrade) were still in existence.

  • Malcolm Todd 16th Jul '12 - 8:57pm

    Charles Beaumont — “The cash largely flows to the directors and shareholders of the oligopolies which operate the franchises, such as First, Virgin etc.”

    Is that literally true? Do you have any figures on directors’ pay and dividends that substantiate it?

  • I think we all need to calm down. According to Cameron it will be funded “in part from fare rises already announced in 2010 and also from the substantial efficiency savings which projects like electrification will have on the long-term operating costs of the railways”. This isn’t an investment strategy, it is a way of coping with fare rises – tell people they are ‘for investment’ and all will be wel; they will, the theory goes, pay up joyfullyl. Labour and Coalition alike are guilty of this (although perhaps only Gordon Brown to re-announce spending in five different ways in one week).

  • “(the most heavily used part of the network)? ”

    Beeching deliberately left the commuter lines in/out of London intact whilst destroying the network infrastructure for every other city in the UK. I suppose he was ahead of his time in his thinking. Decades of the same policy has left the country in a state similar to the Eastern Roman Empire – one big decaying city and pretty much nothing else.

    As for profitability – I used to live next to a line that had its passenger services withdrawn in the 60s only for services to be resumed in the 90s after much local campaigning against stubborn resistance from BR. There are now regular passenger services, returning hard cash – how much money was lost on that line over 30 years because of Beeching’s lack of economic and business awareness? The same story is repeated across the country many times. Passenger numbers have soared since Beeching’s time and railfreight has declined. Some of the passenger lines he closed have now reopened and the large freight yards he built have closed. The man is rightly derided as an idiot (see ‘Critical Analysis’: Sorry for the rant, but you were being controversial.

  • Charles Beaumont 16th Jul '12 - 9:28pm

    @Malcom Literally true. Yes. Average salary for TOC bosses is £1m. Many of the TOCs are recommended as high-dividend investments. Check out FirstGroup’s dividend report this year.

  • Many TOC’s make fairly small margins on their railway operations because railway franchises are an artifical construct designed by the Department of Transport. In fact, quite a few are under cap and collar, i.e. revenue support from DaFT because the franchisee made an heroic bid and cannot meet the payments due to the government. Many of the franchisees (i.e First Group) run significant bus operations in the UK/Overseas or are state overseas railways and therefore do not trouser huge bonuses just because the taxpayer shells out…or not.

    Next bit – electrification. Apart from the inital capital cost in installing the overhead, immunising the track circuits and procuring suitable stock (and plenty which has been recently ordered is dual voltage in design – handy) – electric trains are cheaper in terms of whole life costs then diesel. So it is very sensible to proceed down the wired route – the rest of Europe does it quite happily.

    For the final part – the British view of the railways is somewhat differing than the European. In the UK, the farepayer forks out more per journey (the aim is a 70/30 split with the taxpayer), plus though BR managed to exist on around 25% of the present amounts being handed out – the results did show in many cases; especially in the bricks and mortar maintenance of the network. However BR had a cadre of brilliant railway operators; the likes of Green, Welsby (who went native from Daft), Shooter, Warburton et al. who knew how to run a railway under the eagle eye of Bob Reid Mk I. What BR would have done with the money being poured into today…well who knows.

    However, it is a very welcome announcement. Both in terms of efficency and infrastructure. As for you all, go and read Roger Ford in Modern Railways, as some of the above chat is slightly…er…wide of the mark…

  • Malcolm Todd 17th Jul '12 - 12:01am

    @Charles Beaumont
    “Average salary for TOC bosses is £1m. Many of the TOCs are recommended as high-dividend investments. Check out FirstGroup’s dividend report this year.”

    Okay, but you referred to annual subsidy of £4billion and said the cash “largely” goes to bosses and shareholders. I don’t know what group is covered by your £1m-average “bosses”, but I doubt there are enough of them to make much of a dent in £4bn. As for FirstGroup’s dividend report — well, I’m afraid my Google skills don’t appear to be up to finding that: I find reams of documents that tell me how about pennies per share, but that’s no use to me … and of course it’s only one company. Can you point me at some actual online documents that give global totals across the industry? Or even give me the headline figures yourself? I’d be interested to see them.

  • The ‘benefits’ from this won’t appear for years. I know it’s heresy for Tories (and our leadership) but the same amount invested in social housing would be far, far better spent.
    Still, grandiose projects usually reflect those who know they won’t be around for long (Major’s botched railway sell-off is a prime example)

  • andrew purches 17th Jul '12 - 8:19am

    Apart from the fact that this announcement is not quite what we are supposed to believe, where are the operating companies going to get the funding for the ordering of all the new rolling stock that will be needed for this upgrade, and,more to the point, where will that be coming from ? U.K engineering works? I doubt it – more like every couintry in the world bar the U.K.

  • Pete Dollimore 17th Jul '12 - 8:28am

    One of the benefits claimed is that “electric trains are greener” which may very well be true but it does trigger a few questions. Where will the extra electricity come from? Will it come from our existing oil, coal fired or nuclear stations working harder (and therefore creating more pollution)? Wait a minute – weren’t we being told not so long ago that our lights will start going our in 2015 as we don’t have enough electricity capacity and our nuclear stations are at the end of their working lives? It’s all very well comparing a clean electric train favourably with a dirty diesel (or actually diesel electric) but let’s look a little deeper. That power has to come from somewhere!

  • @Peter Dollimore
    I presume the electric train is greener as it doesn’t have to carry the weight of its fuel around with it. It would be good to see references to a proper analysis of why it is greener, but I’m more confident of hell freezing over than a politician doing such a thing. There’s also the question of sustainability and energy security. Oil is running out fast -having a decent electric rail network makes sense.

  • The funding for the new stock comes from the taxpayer, or is stock which is already running around the network and can be converted as many units are these days of a generic design. There are already trials being done on various types of train to convert them into electric traction. Plus any new builds can see cascades of existing stock to other operators depending on design factors such as route availability.

    The trains can be built (or assembled really) in the UK, as there is a plant at Derby (Bombardier) and there are mothballed facilities at the likes of Washwood Heath and a proposed plant at Newton Aycliffe for Hitachi. Trains have long since not been built in a single country but assembled from bits around europe, or the world. A sensible government would insist on supply chain/ technical work being undertaken in the UK.

    As for diesel trains, well they use a lot of electric power indirectly as many of the operating systems which enable them to run on the track – such as signalling need the juice. So it is not another huge increase in the supply.

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