Wednesday, 9 July 2014

UK Rail,- Ups and Downs.

UP is the likely announcement of £3bn for road and railway projects across the northern Liverpool-Manchester-Leeds-Hull corridor. Of this around £650 million will be in schemes already announced and the rest is expected to be new money. It is important though that rather than just announcing money in Gordon Brown style and leaving it to gurgle down assorted drains and disappear from sight, it is allocated to specific tasks which then visibly get done.

UP is a scheme to spend up to £90 million on providing high speed Wifi to trains on most busy lines.

DOWN is funding this from a £53 million fine imposed on Network Rail for poor punctuality on some lines. The idea of the government fining itself  is absurd. It just creates a revolving loop of funds from Treasury to user and back to Treasury.  Where is the sense in that? It may well fit with notions about punishment for poor performance but especially when better performance needs more money the State scores a double hit on itself. Here we see £53 million being taken away from potential track improvements and moved to installing the Wifi instead.

UP is the sight of overheard catenary going up between Reading and Didcot as part of the GW main line electrification. It spans all 4 tracks on this section and is of conventional rather than some of the proposed more aesthetic though maybe less robust designs we have seen recently. After the experience of the low cost East Coast mainline equipment though maybe robustness is a better bet than beauty.

DOWN are the chances of any pro-HS2 argument being heard, never mind listened to, in the Chilterns,  rural Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire areas. Some Councils prefer to spend six figure sums of public money on opposing the project rather than repairing or even temporarily filling in  third world levels of potholes. The "Say No To HS2" lobby continues to peddle its lines, repeated verbatim  the length and breadth of the area : "There is no business case" , "We can improve the existing lines" "It will destroy the countryside/communities/bats". Costs are invariably portrayed way beyond the realities and declared to be "unaffordable". Any talk of the line being needed to cater for the future needs of future generations is summarily dismissed. So is the notion that anything should be done in the south to accomodate the needs of the north. The idea of northerners being able to admire the "Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty" as they flash through it is dismissed as nonsense. The Chilterns are for the local inhabitants. The rest should be buried as deep as possible . Even cut and cover tunnels are objected to and as for mere cuttings....
All this is pretty depressing for any with a vision of building for the future and for the promoters of the scheme. They must feel that they are walking through deep clinging mud. Fortunately politically  the Conservatives, LibDems and Labour (whose scheme it originally was ) all support it. Only UKIP,- in favour of such projects in 2010,- opportunistically oppose it) so it has a chance,-in the end of happening. That will be after the 1,950 objections to the Hybrid Bill , including no doubt some on behalf of bats and newts, have been heard and dealt with. The Bill is not expected to complete its passage through Parliament until 2017,- and that is regarded as optimistic.

UP is the news that the prototype of Britain's new Hitachi UK assembled, Japan sourced, long distance express electric/diesel trains will start trials in the UK in 2015.

DOWN is the news that the interiors aren't wholly designed for passenger comfort and convenience. The entry doors are at the ends of each coach. They are narrow, so difficult and slow (not good operationally either) for passengers, particularly those with baggage, to negotiate. The doors themselves slide into pockets which mean that the end seat rows, which also feature the baggage racks on one side, have no window. The experience will be akin to sitting in a cupboard for up to 4 hours or even more. Customer friendly? On other new trains which will also be around for 30 years or maybe more, a "thrifted" specification for seats means they will be thinner and harder than on existing ones. Just the thing to persuade potential passengers to leave their ever more comfortable cars at home.

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