Archive for the ‘railway investment’ Category

Off topic. On message.

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Dyspozytor takes a trip down memory lane to his school days and reflects on the UK elections.

Lost domain

A treasure trove of transport history. The River Thames (bottom right) has been a transport route since before the Romans invaded Britain. The Roman road from London to Bath (left bottom to mid right) was by-passed by the Great West Road which itself was superseded by the M4 motorway. The canalised River Brent  (top left to bottom right) was opened in 1798 as part of the Grand Junction Canal. The area comprising both banks of the canal to the north of Brentford Locks was the canal company’s Brentford Dock. The last commercial traffic on this section of the canal ceased around 1980.

The London & South Western Railway’s line from Barnes to Hounslow (lower left to upper right) opened in 1849 and is still open for passenger services. The Great Western Railway’s Brentford Branch, opened in 1859, was the last commission of Brunel, the GWR’s chief engineer. The whole triangular built up area to the south of Thames Locks was the GWR’s Brentford Dock. The Dock closed in December 1964.

The Great West Road (mid left to top right) from Hounslow to Kew was opened around 1930. The remaining section from Kew in Middlesex to the Cromwell Road in London completed in the 1950s. The eastern section of the M4 motorway (top left to top right) from Slough to the Chiswick flyover was opened in 1965. The white oblong on the right is the Griffin Park ground of Brentford Football Club.

Satellite view courtesy Google Maps. Click the image to open an interactive map of this area on Google Maps.

Today, Parliamentary elections are being held in the United Kingdom. What have football and party politics got in common? Both are capable of generating enormous levels of passion, both – in spite of the media hype – seem to leave a large portion of the population stone cold. I first noted the similarities between the two as a schoolboy.

Let us start at the beginning. In the early 1960s, whenever I could get away from school, much of my time was spent on the Grand Union (formerly Grand Junction) canal at Brentford where – having made friends with the lock-keeper at Lock 99 – I became his unofficial deputy. I had discovered the canal, the lock and my friendly lock keeper while on a cycle ride to explore the ex Great Western Railway Brentford branch line.

Firestone

Almost the entire section of the Brentford branch line that lies to the north-east of the Great West Road is visible in this photograph. It shows the area as it was in 1953. The Imperial Biscuit Works is the factory on the extreme left – it had its own siding as did Firestone Rubber Tyre factory in the foreground. This building with its iconic Art Deco frontage was demolished during the August 1980 bank holiday weekend before it could be listed.

Lock 99 of the Grand Union Canal is visible on the extreme right and Brentford Town Goods Depot is in the middle distance. Those with a keen eye will spot the Great Western main line and Wharncliffe Viaduct which carries the line over the River Brent valley. Photo ©Historic England.

(Click the image to see the original on the Historic England website and for details regarding reuse.)

At 07:00 each morning during the holidays, I would help to lock through 6 or 7 lighters (unpowered barges) that had been waiting below Lock 99 while their two-man crews (tractor driver and steerer) had breakfast at the café serving the Firestone Tyre factory.

Already the narrow boat pairs (motor boat and unpowered butty) heading for Birmingham had left the British Waterways Brentford Dock and locked through Lock 99, before the lock-keeper had come on duty. They were in a hurry to clear the 6 lock Hanwell Flight before the lighters began to move.

On Friday afternoons I was allowed to leave school early and as often as no cycling along the canal in the late afternoon, I would see a pannier tank haul a train of coal wagons along the branch where it ran parallel to the canal.

And so at an early age my life became linked with two transport routes that were on the way out: the railway to Brentford Docks and the Grand Union Canal. Meanwhile the M4 motorway was being cut through one of the lakes of Osterley Park and taken over Boston Manor Park on an ugly steel viaduct.

My lock keeper friend took me to see the run down Brentford Docks just before they closed in December 1964. The tractor-hauled lighters carried their loads up to Hanwell and Southall until the closure of London Docks. Long distance narrowboat carrying along the Grand Union continued on a small until the closure of Blisworth Tunnel for major engineering work in 1980.

It was easy to see even at my tender age that a tiny tractor pulling a barge loaded with 80 tons of cargo, or a pair of narrow boats carrying 50 tons between them with the motor boat powered by a single cylinder Bolinger engine, or an ex GWR 0-6-0PT 57xx class loco pulling 25 coal wagons, were all burning much less fossil fuel than if the same loads were being carried by heavy lorries. Likewise it did not require a Philosophy, Politics and Economics degree from Oxford to see connect the dots when a Minister of Transport called Ernest Marples was promoting a switch from rail to road while his wife’s company, Marples Ridgeway, was building motorways.

Biscuits and Firestone

The Great West Road, looking from Osterley towards the Brentford Dock branch line in 1931. The Imperial Biscuit Works is the first factory on the left and Firestone Rubber Tyre factory is far distance. Photo ©Historic England.

(Click on the image to see it on the Historic England website and for details of re-use.)

During the 1960s, a great deal of effort was expended explaining to the general public that railways make a loss and road transport is ‘more economic’ to justify the wholesale destruction of Britain’s railways. A great deal less was said then, and has been said since, about the way that this economic argument is slanted against railways which in the UK, as in Poland, are expected to bear their capital and maintenance costs – a charge which is not made on the balance sheet of road transport. If the environmental and health costs of unbridled road expansion are taken into account the case for investing in railways becomes even stranger.

Ever wondered why in countries such as Austria and Switzerland which do put their roads and railways on the same financial footing it still ‘pays’ to transport rail freight by the wagonload and also carry it over their extensive networks of narrow gauge railways.

In 1993, Britain’s railways were broken up into over 90 companies and privatised. Poland’s railways are undergoing a similar process and the privatisation of PKP Energytyka – responsible for supplying the traction current – and PKP Informatyka – responsible for PKP’s computer services – is being rushed through with indecent haste.

Not surprisingly the ‘reform’ pushed up costs and made long-distance ‘walk-on’ fares too expensive for ordinary people who switched coach services. Since those days the major political parties have produced a great deal of hot air – usually while in opposition – about making railway services more affordable for passengers and switching freight from road to rail. These promises are quickly forgotten as soon as the opposition party is elected to government.

Which brings me back to the football analogy at the start of today’s post. While the fans roar their support for one or other side, the real action is taking place off the pitch. Who will invest in the club? Which players should be bought? What will the sponsor want for his money?

As it is with football so it is with mainstream politics. If you share my concern for the destruction wrought by the UK’s pro road transport policy and have still not cast your vote, why not fire a shot across the bows of the mainstream political parties and cast a vote for the Green Party?

EPSON scanner image

The site of Brentford GWR station in 1961. Note the overhead wires for providing the traction current for trolleybuses. The footbridge to the British Waterways office at Lock 100 can just be discerned under the railway bridge, Photo ©Ben Brooksbank.

(Click on image for details of licensing.)

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Champion appointed for Polish rail

Monday, 26 August 2013

przesluga
Jacek Prześluga. Photo courtesy Fotorzepa, Rafał Guz.

As if on cue, after Finance Minister Jacek Rostocki’s shock announcement of a 1 billion PLN cut to the railway budget, five of Poland’s largest railway operating companies, all outside the PKP group, have announced that they have formed the Fundacja “Pro Kolej” (Pro-rail Foundation) to act as an advocacy group for Poland’s beleaguered railway industry.

Taking rail lobby groups such as Campaign for Better Transport or Allianz Pro Schiene as their model, the founders (Arriva, CTL Logistics, DB Schenker, Freightliner and Przewozy Regionalne) hope to persuade Poland’s decision-makers that the railway network should play a greater role in the country’s transport mix.

Simultaneously to announcing the formation of the Foundation, the Foundation’s trustees announced the appointment of Jacek Prześluga to the position of chairman of the Foundation’s management board.

We have chosen the ideal candidate for the position, said Andrew Goltz, secretary of the Foundation. Mr Preśluga is an author, journalist, respected commentator on the political scene, a specialist in marketing and public relations, and a former PKP IC chairman – all vital skills for the battle for non-discriminatory treatment for Poland’s railway network.

Looking back down the line

Sunday, 14 April 2013

5 km South of Krosniewice

A Krosniewice-Ozorkow special in 2006. Photo BTWT.

This post is the 1,000th article that I have posted on BTWT, though thanks to Ed Beale and John Savery it is actually our 1,029th post. It is not actually the 1,000th article that I have written for BTWT, because half a dozen or so of the articles that I have posted were actually written by Robert Hall. Robert is suspicious of computers and prefers not to have anything to do with getting his material on-line.

So maybe it is premature to be marking my personal milestone? Perhaps not? BTWT did have a brief existence on another blogging platform prior to migrating to wordpress.com and, if my memory serves me well, I posted there for a couple of months before making the move to WordPress – a move which in hindsight was very wise. WordPress has turned out to be a very reliable platform and does nearly everything that I want it to do.

There is now no trace of our former home, nor of those very early posts.  I console myself with the thought that those posts were rather self-indulgent and that their digital destruction was for the best. It is usual when passing such milestones to take look at what has gone before, so here for BTWT readers is a nostalgic trip into the past. Rereading the old posts, some seem remarkably prophetic!

Eurostar-1038-2

Eurostar to Brussels about to depart. Photo BTWT.

The very first of my articles that survives, posted on Sunday, March 9 2008, extolled the virtues of the London – Poznan rail jouney via Eurostar and ongoing connections, and suggests that UK railway societies book steam railway trips through our friends Fundacja Era Parowozow. Some five years later, I actually got round to doing the trip – though not without some misadventures. I will be publishing a full account of my trip, though not necessarily some time soon!

Fundacja Era Parowozow  is still in existence and pays an allowance to its trustees for attending its monthly council meetings, but our friends who worked for the foundation have long since left, and the scheme of hiring out steam trains to rich foreign railway enthusiasts has long since gone to the scrapheap of bright ideas, driven out by the exorbitant track access charges levied by PKP PLK.

March 2008, also saw the demise of Poland’s busiest freight-hauling narrow gauge railway – the Krosniewice Railway and I published three articles deploring the decision by the Krosniewice Town Council to end the lease to SKPL and urging readers to put pen to paper.

office_select

Robert Stephenson’s office as restored by the Trust.
Robert Stephenson Trust Photo

Until Englishrail.blog was split out a separate blog – a decision that was probably not one of my brightest ideas – BTWT occasionally dealt with UK stories. On March 11 2009, in a post which was paradoxically prophetic of the problems about to be faced several Polish railway heritage ventures, I wrote about how the Robert Stephenson Trust were being forced out – by a massive rent hike – from their base in the world’s first locomotive factory.

The Society were being priced out of premises which – while much of Newcastle’s industrial heritage was being demolished – the Trust had managed to save and restore. The buildings had been acquired by a developer. After putting up a valiant fight, the Trust failed to obtain a rent that they could afford and had to move out of the premises that they had worked hard to restore to their former glory.

infrastructure

Germany spends ten times as much on its railway infrastructure (expressed as a % of GDP) than Poland.

Returning back to Poland, and another matter that remains perennially topical, on 30 March 2009, I published an article about how 7,000 km of the Polish railway network faced the axe. It seems that Poland spends about 0.15% of its GDP on railway infrastructure, the Czech Republic, 0.38%, Germany 1.28% and France just under 1.4%.

The Wolsztyn Gala on 2 May 2009. Photo BTWT.

By March 2010, BTWT was dealing with exclusively Polish topics. Tunnel Vision became Englishrail blog and fired one of its regular salvos against the harassment of railway enthusiasts by over zealous security staff, and poked fun at Gordon Brown’s instructions that Admirals and Generals should travel by second class.

In March 2010, BTWT broke the story that the Wielkopolska provincial government were planning to set up a separate company to run the Wolsztyn depot. (See BTWT, 1 April 2013 for latest update on this story.)

Other stories that month included an account how Undersecretary of State responsible for Poland’s railways, Juliusz Englehardt had vetoed Przewozy Regionalne’s plan for cheap InterRegio services between Poznan and Berlin.

There was also an account how PKP PLK had set up a ‘Train Operators Council’. Interestingly, at the time, I commented that for such a body to be effective – it should be independent and not the tame creature of PKP PLK.

I now hear that the principle train operators outside the PKP group are setting up their own body, Fundacja Pro Kolej (Pro Rail Foundation) to press the case for Poland’s rail infrastructure to receive a larger slice of the transport infrastructure spend than it receives at present.

A year later, BTWT had got into one of its periodic crisies, but I did find time to cover the story how Poland was being censured by the European Commission for trying to spend €1.2 billion of its EU rail funding on building roads!

The site of the collision on the following morning following the accident. Photo zawiercie.naszemiasto.pl.

By March 1012, BTWT had got back in its stride, we published some 14 posts that month. The biggest story that month – and one that will scar the image of Polish railways for many years to come – was the account of the head on collision between two passenger trains near Szczekociny on 3 March 2013.

So what of the future? The new targets are to get a new post published on BTWT every other day, and to put up a post on Englishrail blog every fortnight. With the help of our editorial team, Ed, John and Rob, as well as the leads and stories sent in by our readers, we might just do it. As British Rail used to say, We’re getting there!

Our mailbox is: railfan[at]go2[dot]pl . If you can solve the puzzle we would love to hear from you!

Thank you for your support over the last five years, here’s hoping you be reading BTWT for many more years to come!

Dyspozytor

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