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Posts Tagged ‘Railways’

Changing Politics for the better Pt 5: HS2 & Travel by Rail

September 6, 2019 Leave a comment

HS2 is an unnecessary expansion of rail infrastructure using public money. A lot of money that could be spent more wisely and more effectively in other ways. A final bill that is only set to grow like the cost of Crossrail has.

Politicians have been guilty of fire hosing money at problems, rather than giving thought to solutions that would be better and cost less – usually because there is much more effort and political risk involved.
HS2 is not a transport project that offers genuinely good value. It is not creating a new link in the way that HS1 did when it linked London with Brussels and Paris via the Channel Tunnel.
HS2 gives the impression of creating more opportunities for travel whilst not solving or doing anything to address the problems with rail travel in the UK that we have already got.
Yes, we do need more capacity on the UK rail network. But capacity can be significantly increased without spending billions on new lines and line beds across open countryside.
We just need to make better use of existing infrastructure, improve it where it needs it and be realistic about the benefits vs. the cost.
A lot of the problems with rail travel today were brought into being by the shortsightedness and backward view of politicians and the consultants they employed as consultants to advise them in the 1960’s.
Public Services always cost the Public money. But that’s because a fair and comprehensive level of service provision for all will never offer blanket profitability.
The minimum requirement from any public service should only be that surplus or ‘profit’ generated from one area of an operation should be allocated to those that cannot do so with the aim that surplus offsets any cost. Run commercially but without shareholders taking dividends would soon keep subsidies required to the absolute minimum and ensure that they were seen to be an investment, rather than a form of commercial loss.
A good Government MUST scrap HS2 and change the way that problems with rail travel in the UK are being addressed.
They could begin by doing the following:
  • End the HS2 Project and take any so-called losses on the chin.
  •  Reopen closed line beds and stations across the network.
  •  Take franchises back into ‘public care’ and run them as commercial enterprises without shareholders.
  •  Increase capacity in the network by extending existing terminus stations, building new ones where services get ‘turned around’ and rebuilding those demolished as part of the enactment of the Beeching Act.
  • Use Computer Technology to reduce gaps between services safely.
  •  Create partnerships with heritage railways to provide passenger services using their existing rolling stock and introduce green and efficient rail cars to increase capacity and services in rural and poorly served areas

Rethinking the Railways: no Public Service should be in private hands, nor should it be under union influence either

January 3, 2019 Leave a comment

It’s January and once again, we are witnessing inflation-busting rises in Rail Fares with the same old media coverage, the same old political responses from all sides and the same old reality that it is the same people being financially worked-over as a result of the ineptitude of the Politicians who were Elected to help them.

As usual, the blame game is well and truly afoot, providing ever useful cover for those choosing not to be responsible as we focus on the beneficial myths which are privatisation of public services, public ownership, building completely new railways and the inherent suggestion that people can always afford to pay more.

Whilst championed by the various sides as Westminster takes a momentary breath from Brexit, the reality is that none of these approaches can solve the fundamental problems that exist within the railways, public transport or wider public sector services.

Switching from one of these methods to another to solve just one problem, will simply create many more.

As with most issues that now surround the ineptitude and incompetency of Government, the real solutions to these problems – that’s the one that tackle the actual causes – are simply too unpalatable for the spin doctors and marketing whizzes to contemplate on behalf of the Politicians who would have us believe that they are in control.

The Politicians themselves do not have the foresight to see that by taking the tough and difficult decisions that they are supposed to, the results and impact of that action will soon speak much louder than any sound bite, as the reality of doing things properly becomes manifest and finds a very loud voice of its own.

The problem with the options that we are told are available

It’s very important to understand that one of the key principles of the Public Sector and the way that it operates is involuntarily and often deliberately overlooked:

Public Services are not and never will be a commercial business.

The purpose of Public Services is to provide uniformity of service and/or access to the wider community, which is simply contradictory to the motivation for running private business.

The simple reason being that the universal nature of the requirement for Public Services necessitates that unless you cherry pick and introduce different levels or tiers of service or remove the provision of that service from some areas altogether, the guarantee of profitability from all those parts operated, if not all of the service itself would always be denied.

This is why even in private hands, the Railways are heavily subsidised by the Government.

The Railways today

Today the Railways are effectively operated by profit-making private sector contractors or operating companies. Contractors who are often large PLC’s that make substantial sums of money by operating large-scale services and employing the economies of scale to reduce costs, usually on an ongoing basis.

Operating under the auspices of being a regulated public service as the nature of the public ownership of the railway infrastructure itself dictates, the contractors do not have the flexibility to raise prices and change service structures at will.

This effectively means that to increase profits, the contractors have to reverse engineer the profit-making-process by reducing overheads and making more money from the cost centres which have been accounted for in their Contract with the Government.

In effect, they are adhering to the terms of their agreement with the Government in principle rather than spirit. The outcome being the shitty end of the stick that we all experience each and every time we get on a sweaty train and realise that we have to stand for at least significant chunks of a very long journey, unless we want to get out and run.

Because the margins the operating companies accept to gain a contract or franchise are often very tight, expectation versus the ability to back engineer those all-important profit margins can easily prove impossible to align. And when they do, this is when we experience ‘franchises’ being passed back to public hands.

No private company will pay for the privilege of operating a Public Service, and nor should  the Government expect them to do so. But on the same count, neither should they be able to milk profit by taking all the value out.

The only thing that literally keeps the train wheels spinning is the RPI linked rise in Rail Fares which comes into operation each January.

It’s a dubious way of calculating an annual rise to say the least. But without it, the current operating model simply wouldn’t work.

Return to Public Ownership

Jeremy Corbyn and his shotgun John McDonnell advocate a wholesale return of Public Services to Public Ownership. For obvious reasons which only a fool would overlook or dismiss, this is a principle that the Public would all too easily embrace.

What it doesn’t do is answer the big questions surrounding why the idea of privatisation gained momentum in the first place. Perhaps the biggest reason being one of the left’s own making; the power of the Unions and Employment Rights too.

The simple question for anyone who understands the reasons why Public Services are put out to contract and therefore placed in profit-making hands is this: ‘Why is it more cost effective to employ a profit making company to run an identical service to the one we could or have provided ourselves?

The answer isn’t one that the left likes.

But it is also the reason that wholesale return of public services to public ownership without reform would cripple this Country in no uncertain terms: The Public Sector wage and benefits bill is out of control, as are the regulations and rights that support them, and the Union’s will bring everything to a standstill under the guidance of their barons who will employ the very same self-interest employed by big bankers and pension funds who milk public services today, simply served up in a different and even more malevolent form.

Building new Railways

Building new Railways will not solve the problems of franchising to profit-led contractors or operating them in unreformed Public hands.

It will cost money that the Country doesn’t have and would be unnecessary for us to spend too, if the Government was prepared to make the decisions that it should do.

The existing Infrastructure

One of the biggest errors of Government in ‘recent’ times, was the dismantling of the Railways undertaken by Dr Beeching in the 1960’s.

There was a complete lack of foresight and understanding by yet another Government which was reacting to the effects of problems it was facing, rather than getting on and tackling the causes as any good government should.

The result was that much of the indirect capacity which had until that time existed, was removed and with it, a ticking time bomb created for the effectiveness of the reformed railway network which would soon be as restricted as the diminished number of lines.

Today, there are simply not enough platforms at key and terminus or hub stations to increase capacity on the network in the most simple and effective way:

Increase the number of trains.

Using the Public as a cash cow

Whilst the Government heads off a simmering crisis each year by putting up the Rail Fares in what can only be argued as an unrealistic form, it relies on what is in effect taxing the same people over and over again for using a substandard service. One that only appears sustainable because over many commuters the Rail Operators hold a monopoly – something public services were NEVER created for.

Solving the problem and not creating others instead

It occurred to me as I was thinking about writing this blog, that the whole idea of public-private sector partnerships is actually oxymoronic.

Man can only have one master, and if that master is money, the service will not be about providing a good experience to the public.

Whilst I like the idea of public services being fully in public hands, this idea itself is no longer possible.

The standing influence that institutional and regulatory bias towards employees and unions has, has already priced out this operating model in many ways. It is itself the elephant in the room that it remains dangerous to identify when the collapse of public services – particularly at local level – is ever discussed.

In respect of these two options alone, the complexity of solving the Rail Fare crisis is identified and as part of the wider cost-of-public-services is concerned, certainly comes into its own.

The only way that railways and all forms of public transport can be returned to a format of universal, uniform quality and experience is to do away with the current and previous forms of operation and accept that there has to be a new operating model, focused on public service but adapted to deliver for all against the flow of self-interested times.

We need more platforms and if necessary stations in key locations, but we don’t need to build completely new lines.

The technology now exists to run and manage many more Trains on the same lines at the same times and we should be both embracing and furthering this massive opportunity for the benefits to the public, rather than just the profitability that it was developed for.

Existing line-beds and heritage Railways should be put back into commercial use and we should be making the very best of the infrastructure that we already have.

The cost of doing so and the time it will take to deliver will be substantially less and with much less disruption than any white elephant project like HS2 would ever have.

 

image thanks to unknown

 

 

 

 

No Minister, you don’t need another consultation about Railways to tell you what Voters already know. Isn’t it time to leave Westminster and simply ask a few?

September 15, 2018 1 comment

download (20)We can only imagine the thought process that a Minister must go through before declaring that their answer to a significant, cross-demographic problem, is to commission yet another report and delay action for at least another year.

What can it possibly be that tells a representative of the people who has been in the job long enough to secure a Cabinet Seat in No.10, that getting a conclusion upon the state of our Railways can only come from just one person who they obviously look up to, rather than those who elected them, and who we might not unreasonably conclude from their behaviour, that they look down upon too?

Before you get carried away and think I’m suggesting that we hold a Referendum over the state of the Railways, I’m not.

What I am saying, is that it doesn’t take a lot of effort to talk to and then understand the perspective of the public and how we see and experience the problem daily, and grow increasingly frustrated with the transportation nightmare which seems to be getting worse before our eyes.

Have a conversation with a commuter. Have conversations with many. Don’t leave it at just a few.

Speak to the people who run the railways, that work on them. Talk to the people who live by them. Consult the motorists held up at level crossings too.

You don’t need a supermarket guru to understand that the Railways aren’t working. A big part of the problem which faces commuters and tourists on our Railways every day was created by a past Government doing something very similar in the early 1960’s to what Chris Grayling is doing now.

When the Beeching Axe fell upon lines and stations across the Country, the UK’s entire Rail Network was cut back to such a level that very few of us could now deny that it would have made travel so much easier for all at both local and national level, if this wasted infrastructure had still been in use today.

Falling back on consultants or setting up some elaborate consultation which will cost lots of public money, delay things needlessly and end up with a report which will have come to whatever conclusions the Government want it to anyway, won’t solve the problem. It won’t change the fundamental issues facing Rail Users. It won’t escape the real problems which need to be addressed, that politicians find too hard to address when the only passion they have is for winning power again at the next election.

Politicians from Town and Parish Councils, right up to the Cabinet Table in No.10 Downing Street are failing to connect policy with the people they are elected to represent. They fail because they do not speak with or communicate with the very people they represent (And no, Party Members in an MP’s own constituency don’t really count on their own)

If those responsible for Railway Policy did so, they would soon understand that:

  • HS2 should be scrapped. It is a waste of time, money and is upsetting far more people than it will ever help. It will not solve the problem of limited capacity on the Railway network anywhere other than in the areas adjacent to its immediate route and this improvement could be gained within other improvements which could be made to the existing infrastructure.
  • There are not enough Platforms and/or ‘Terminus’ Stations. We need more trains running more often on key commuter journeys. Technology is no longer the problem as trains can be run, scheduled and operated digitally and London Underground is a good example of this. More trains cannot run on key lines because there simply aren’t the platforms available at stations where trains terminate to be ‘turned around’ in greater numbers at the same time. Opening up and building new platforms and corresponding lines at existing ‘Terminus’ Stations, or building new stations to accommodate more platforms would address the capacity problem on the existing network immeasurably.
  • Management of public services for profit doesn’t work, but nationalisation or public ownership is its purest or accepted sense doesn’t either. People cannot have two masters. They are either focused on service or focused on profit. Public services, where a level of service should be the same for everyone equally, should never be placed in the hands of decision makers who are set to make a profit, as they will always be obsessive about cutting elements of the service or product where they see no profit, or where they perceive that a monetary loss will be made. Quality service delivery requires fairness and balance and in fiscal terms, that means that sometimes, some parts of a service will appear to run at a ‘loss’.
  • All Rail Operating Companies should be non-profit-making trusts run on commercial lines with staff incentivised to deliver the best results, but with all profit ploughed back into further development, renewals of rolling stock and bringing ticket prices back to a realistic level over the longer term.
  • Unions have too much power to disrupt strategic decisions. Businesses and organisations exist to provide products and services. They are not normally created as a vehicle to create jobs and the Unions are completely out of touch with this. Employment and Union Law needs to protect employees from poor management practice, but also needs to be conversant with the requirements of a business and the reality that it is in the interests of both the employer and the employed for work to be carried out in the right conditions, which are not ones which prioritise the experience of employees over that of the customer.
  • Health & Safety rules coupled with the blame and ambulance-chasing culture are compromising passenger experience for no benefit greater than being able to tick a box on a risk assessment. 
  • Derelict and unused Railway beds should be put back into use, with heritage Railway Companies, Charities and Trusts encouraged and supported to run commuter services wherever they can and with help would have the ability to do so.

Yes, this is a simplification of the facts as they stand. But that’s all a politician needs before asking executives or civil servants to get on and do their jobs.

No MP is going to stand up against genuine improvements to the services provided to their constituents and its time for them all to grow up and stop using politics as and excuse and a phoney divide.

Nothing will change for the better by delaying things for 12 months.

It’s time to drop all the talk and get on with some action.

 

image thanks to telegraph.co.uk

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