Posts Tagged ‘Gordon Brown’

Lady at a tram stop

Monday, 27 July 2009

Tram Stop

Lady at a tram stop in Amsterdam. Photo Alan Colville.

(Click photo to see more of Alan Colville’s pictures.)

On Saturday, I saw a lady waiting in a tram stop. She was alone, preferring to wait in quiet meditation rather than to be part of the scrum waiting at the bus stop. Unlike the lady in the picture above she did not look anxiously over her shoulder to see if a tram was on the way. She knew that if she waited long enough the tram would come.

Rail transport – be it a city’s tram system or a nation’s railway network – provides our information-overloaded minds with a reference grid, a stable element in a confused world. It was railways that first unified Britain’s time keeping. In November 1840, the Great Western Railway ordered that London time should be used in all its timetables, and at all its stations. On 2nd August 1880 the rest of the country followed suit.

Railway networks also provide a convenient navigational grid. Just like migrating birds following rivers, I still refer to my mental map of  London’s canals and railways when crossing the great city and delight in exploring new links such as the Croydon Tramlink and Docklands Light Railway.

No wonder then that so many of Britain’s heritage railways started with ambitious plans to restore what had been taken away – to operate a transport service for the local community. Sadly most were forced to cut down their ambitions when faced with mounting obstacles put in their way by BR and the mandarins at Marsham Street.

The importance of railways as a uniting force is understood by governments. Hitler planned the Reichsspurbahn – a new broad gauge network to help him retain a grip on Großdeutschland the greater Germany that was supposed to arise after he won WW II. The opposite is also the case. The current disillusionment with Westminster-style democracy has its origins in the Beeching Axe – the wholesale dismemberment of Britain’s railway network which took place without any reference to Parliament. Poland’s politicians planning further rail cuts please take note.

Is it any coincidence then that the UK Prime Minister has chosen to announce an 8-year railway electrification programme at a time when his popularity is in meltdown? Sceptics will ask why the benefits of electrification were ignored during the last 12 years when the Labour party were in power.

And the lady at the tram stop? Well she’s probably still there. The trams were suspended and replaced by buses some two weeks ago when a programme of track repairs commenced.

(This post is also being posted on Tunnel Vision.)

Dyspozytor

A runway too far.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Inside the giant human “No”. Photo Inel blog.

(Click to go to blog.)

After Tuesday’s Cabinet discussion, which failed to give Gordon Brown full backing for the third runway Heathrow runway, the Prime Minister scurried away to Germany to announce that he would be going ahead with the expansion of Heathrow. Today, Transport Secretary, Geoff Hoon, formally announced the decision to the House of Commons saying that MP’s would not be allowed to vote on the decision.

Hayes and Harlington MP, John McDonnell (Labour), echoed my own words, warning that the third runway would turn out to be Labour’s own poll tax, announcing: “The Government’s announcement is not the end of the battle against the third runway, it is just the beginning.”

With Tory leader, David Cameron, and London Mayor, Boris Johnson, both against the expansion – as well as some million plus affected residents and 24 local authorities – the plan is unlikely to survive the general election. All that protesters have to do is to delay the “point of no return” until after the election has been held.

Dyspozytor

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Gordon shunts Thomas into a siding

Sunday, 5 October 2008

Thomas at Bressingham Gardens

(Click on picture to see it in its original context with details of attribution and licensing.)

Tom Harris, who until his phone call from Gordon Brown on Friday evening, was the Under Secretary of State in the Department for Transport, has been sacked. It would be hypocritical for me to shed crocodile tears. I bayed with the rest of the hounds for Tom’s blood when he supported the DfT line that the Department should be modally agnostic. Yet it would be dishonest of me not to record that although I disagreed with Tom on many matters of policy he also had many good qualities.

He was well liked by the UK railway heritage movement and enjoyed a good working relationship with David Morgan, the chairman of the Heritage Railway Association, and Fedecrail – the UK and European umbrella bodies for museum and tourist railways. He was well respected by the Railway Industry Association, whose Director General, Jeremy Candfield, posted a tribute on Tom’s blog. Paul Martin, Director General of the Railway Forum, posted another.

Tom was the son of a lorry driver who actually travelled by train! He treated those who worked for him with respect and was respected by them in return. On the other side of the balance sheet there are those who felt that he had never completely managed to wrest rail transport policy out of the grip of the dead hands of his department.

It is the manner of his passing that is a shock. It means that with Ruth Kelly’s departure, two key positions in the Department are being rotated at once. Geoff Hoon, who takes over from Ruth Kelly as Secretary of State will not have a Minister who can advise him on the Byzantine nature of British railway policy and politics. Nearly 48 hours after Gordon’s phone call to Tom, the DfT website is still showing him as the man in charge of Britain’s railways, trunk roads and ports. Nor has Tom’s successor yet been announced.

Our own reading of the tea leaves is that the decision to sack Tom was not planned as part of the original reshuffle, but is a last minute afterthought. Tom had published a gushing tribute to his former boss, Ruth Kelly, on his blog. Ruth – although nothing has been said officially – had somehow contrived to become persona non grata with the Prime Minister. Since her departure from office she has nailed her colours firmly to the mast of David Milliband’s political ambitions. In the paranoid atmosphere that surrounds No. 10, Tom’s tribute to Ruth was seen as a coded attack against Brown, so the guns were out for Tom.