Lord Adonis travels by train!



Lord Adonis sits in the driver’s seat of a Class 395 high-speed train. Photo Kentish Times

The ‘Kentish Times’ published an article last December when Lord Adonis launched the
year long acceptance testing process for the Hitachi built Class 395 trains that will be running local services on the HS1 line between London and Kent. Click picture to read the whole article.

As I travel around Poland by train, one of the commonest gripes that I hear from the train crews is that no-one listens to them – there is no effective feedback channel up which information from the people responsible for service delivery can reach PKP Directors and senior managers. I reply, only half jokingly, that if only PKP directors and government ministers had to queue up to buy their own tickets and travelled around Poland by train – instead of rushing about by plane and chauffeur driven limousine – the quality of service experienced by rail passengers would improve overnight.

In Britain, we may be witnessing the death throes of a government on its last legs, but we do have a transport minister who cares about railways! Lord Adonis is travelling the 2,000 miles of Britain’s rail network that he knows least, just to see what’s going on. He is writing about his experiences in The Times. On Tuesday, he wrote about his journey on the Night Riviera sleeper train to Cornwall. (How many people are aware that there is a sleeper train to Cornwall? It must be one of First Great Western’s best kept secrets!) He also discovers that the one coach trains on the Par – Newquay line can be overwhelmed with passengers during bank holidays.

The line to Newquay is not quite the classic case of the branch line fallen on hard times but it is reviving. It kept its holiday express trains to London post-Beeching and also a good deal of china clay freight traffic. Now it has seven weekday local trains winding slowly along the 21-mile line in addition to the Saturday long-distance trains.

The local trains are mostly single-carriage trains like the one I take. Ours is pretty full there and back, including a party of young surfers out for a day from Saltash who quickly take up all the luggage racks with their surfboards. Apparently on Good Friday the train was so full with surfers that a local coach had to be found to take half of them. With Newquay a growing attraction, the future for the line appears bright, although it is now running at full capacity.

On Wednesday, he writes about his visit to the Swanage Railway.

The large, enthusiastic and highly professional team at the Swanage operate steam and old diesel trains along a dozen miles of track from Norden, with a full daily timetable. They want to link up to the London-Weymouth main line at Wareham. There is strong local support and, since the track is all there and the business case is promising, the proposal is highly credible.

Britain’s preserved steam railways are a remarkable part of the railway system and the national tourist industry. As a proponent of new high-speed rail lines, I am keen to build a new technological future for the railways, breaking with our baleful historic tradition of patch-and-mend. The challenge is to celebrate the best of the past – as do our preserved railways – while boldly seizing the latest technology to create anew for the future.

The track on the Swanage Railway may now be “all there” but it was ripped up in indecent haste by British Railways in an attempt to crush the nascent Swanage Railway Project and was only put back thanks to the heroic work of volunteers and the local residents who dug deeply into their own pockets. Yet, in spite of the best efforts of the Swanage Railway Trust, local residents – after 37 years of waiting – are still without the daily link to the main line network that they have worked so far to achieve. Meanwhile the A351, the main road down the spine of the Isle of Purbeck, has had millions of pounds invested in ‘improvements’ which only serve to funnel more day trippers in their motor cars into the congested streets of Swanage and Corfe Castle.

Were Lord Adonis to intervene to assist the Swanage Railway achieve a permanent link up with the main line what a real difference that could make? As well as a daily commuter service for local residents, how about regular summer weekend steam specials from Bournemouth to Swanage and Corfe Castle to bring day trippers without their cars?



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8 Responses to “Lord Adonis travels by train!”

  1. Gavin Whitelaw Says:

    Ah, now Lord Adonis – time for a rant – if he REALLY wanted to see Britains railways at their best (or worst) he wouldn’t have had all that pre publicity that ensured that the companies fell over themselves for photo opportunities as can be seen from your header photo.

    I saw him before his jaunt on TV in a fairly unimpressive interview and he strikes me as a here today gone tomorrow politician that started out as a Lib Dem councilor in Oxford.

    As a Lib Dem the odds were against him becoming an MP so he jumped ship to Labour but never contested a seat before being knighted which then enabled him to become a government minister withought EVER having been elected to Parliament. He was then involved with Education, latterly as Parliamentary Under Secretary of State in the Department for Children, Schools and Families (and look at the mess our education system is still in)

    Jobs for the boys methinks!

    He seems to have no knowlege of transport and I think that the Railways may not really benefit from this “jolly boys outing” round Britain.

    Politicians are forever jumping between departments and NONE seem to be pathologically capable of seeing ANYTHING through.

    I despair at the short termness of Politicians views as they cannot see past the next election now less than a year away.

    Nothing will change and in a few months we will have a new Secretary of State spouting the same trite soundbites. I hope I am wrong, but Lord A’s credentials in short term job keeping do not bear well so far……

    • dyspozytor Says:

      According to Christian Wolmar, whose job is to know these things, Adonis is genuinely interested in railways.

      The new rail minister is Lord Adonis which is much better news than the appointment of his boss, Geoff Hoon – though to be fair to Hoon, apparently his father and grandfather were both railwaymen. Adonis is a real enthusiast for the railways and even reviewed my book, ‘Fire & Steam‘, very favourably, though he could not resist an ill-informed jibe at British Rail.

      Insiders who worked with him education say he is a charming chap who is a micromanager but a competent one. His two passions are schools and railways, and this is his dream job.

      More here: http://www.christianwolmar.co.uk/2008/10/adonis-knows-his-trains/

  2. Gavin Whitelaw Says:

    I stand corrected, but we shall see if a “passion” for railways actually translates into anything concrete.

    “Yes Minister” was true on many counts and it is the faceless mandarins such as Humphrey Appleby that actually run things and not the ministers involved (much as they think they may do!)

    He hasn’t appeared to have acheived much when he was involved with schools given the appalling state of education in England (I was educated in Scotland and then our system was much better than the English one – I am not sure that still stands though) and I am always wary of those that change with the weather to acheive political goals, charming as they may be.

    It may take more than “charm” and “an interest in” to fix our broken railways. Labour have had 12 years to do so and have failed on every count so far.

  3. Gavin Whitelaw Says:

    Christian Wolmar also says about him

    “He is, like everyone in New Labour obsessed with the private sector and the type of complex financial arrangements that have got us all into so much trouble”

    So THAT doesn’t bode well and I think my comments may stand!!

  4. Paul Eccles Says:

    The trouble with the Adonis and Woolmer brigade, for all their intelligence, is that they are blinded by the engineering marvel that is the UK rail system. That is a heritage to be proud of and keeps lots of overgrown boys away from hard drugs and wife beating. But lets get in the here and now. Railways are a transport system to get people from a to b. What most passengers are interested in ensuring is that such an outcome or result is achieved in a value for money way. Unfortunately, Adonis presides over even more overgrown boys allowed to officially meddle and set ridiculously detailed and bureaucratic constraints and “rules” that even the EU or Health and Safety would be proud of. Adonis leads a risk averse bunch of micromanagers who artificially inflate the cost of rail travel and like kids, blame the toys (and the train operators) when the complaints fly.

    Think on this: outside the (important) green debate – why don’t buses, trams, and planes excite such guff as trains? Because the anoraks and the users stay safely defined and people don’t get to confuse them with giant Meccano kits.

  5. Paul Eccles Says:

    And another thing – if all railwaymen were obsessed by good customer service (and I know quite a few of them are) rather than some sort of anachronistic working class job culture that attempts to maintain the legacy of a nationalised rail system for all the wrong reasons, the reputation would continue to improve and they would tell Adonis where to get off. It is for the train operator management to work harder at engaging their workforce in the real challenges but I would like to know how many managers still pre-date privatisation?

  6. Gavin Whitelaw Says:

    Not many. I have worked in the rail industry in the motive power department, firstly with BR at Haymarket and Craigentinny and now work for Transport for London maintaining their rolling stock so I know the rail industry from the inside and have done since I left school in the early 1980s. Managers change with monotonous regularity now and I would think that very few are still there from pre privatisation.

    There is more and more paperwork, artificial targets to reach and almost no job commitment (in a rail sense) from any managers. Most of ours have no shop floor experience and rely on university degrees to get them their jobs.

    As for me, well I do have some pride in my job. Not as much as when I worked for British Rail Scottish Region, but it is still there although I have no interest in modern rail workings and much prefer getting my hands dirty with steam locomotives and machinery in my spare time.

    A lot was lost with privatisation. It cost, and still costs millions more than BR ever did and all in the name of politics. We deserve more than we get from politicians, but they don’t care as long as their dogmatic policies, wrong or not, are carried out. And Britain loses.

    We have NO integrated transport policy, just look at the decision to remove one of the last links to remote areas of Britain today, the Postbus to see how out of touch our politicians actually are. Lord Adonis’s jaunt round the rail network, will, I fear acheive NOTHING until real changes in policy are made and we will all suffer until it does change.

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