Posts Tagged ‘Ruth Kelly’

Son of a railwayman, and a railway fan…

Monday, 6 October 2008

Geoff Hoon admires a model railway.

(Click picture to see it in its original context on Geoff Hoon’s website.)

The reshuffle at the Department of Transport is complete. Geoff Hoon, the son of a railwayman, has replaced former Secretary of State, Ruth Kelly, and Lord Adonis takes over the rail portfolio from former Under Secretary of State, Tom Harris. Our favourite railway pundit, Christian Wolmar wrote a very hostile article on his blog regarding Hoon. Hoon is a man so devoid of charisma or style, and so smug and complacent, that it is a wonder he has survived in politics so long and, indeed, been in the Cabinet for over half a decade. However, it is only fair to point out that Wolmar’s hostility has more to do for Hoon’s stance with respect to the war in Iraq rather than Hoon’s views on transport policy, which are largely unknown.

The appointment of Adonis as rail minister gets the thumbs up treatment from Wolmar. Adonis is a real enthusiast for the railways and he even reviewed my book very favourably… His two passions are schools and railways, and this is his dream job. Bringing us down to earth in his own post about Adonis’s appointment, our blogging colleague, The Fact Compiler, reminds us that, At the end of his review of ‘Fire and Steam’ Lord Adonis adds: “The big debate for the future is if and when High Speed Two and Three are to follow”. Well my Lord. Perhaps you can now tell us?

We wait in hope.

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.

Tom won’t, but Terry will

Monday, 28 July 2008

Terry Hill, chairman of Arup

While Britain’s Rail Minister, Tom Harris, has been busy telling MPs that the UK is too crowded for high speed rail, and that high speed trains are not very ‘green’. Terry Hill, the chairman of Arup has been progressing his plans to build Britain’s next high speed line. Here’s an extract from an interview with him published in yesterday’s Sunday Times.

Hill and his fellow Arupites are old hands at the big politics that go with big projects. They were the behind-the-scenes movers and shakers on decisions that shaped the face of Britain over the past two decades.

Remember Margaret Thatcher’s mid-1980s plan to build three orbital roads for London, Ringways 1, 2 and 3? Thought not. Hill helped kill it. Remember the British Rail scheme to bring the high-speed rail line from the Channel tunnel carving through the south London suburbs? No? Hill and his merry men killed that too.

Now Arup has another cunning plan, a £4.2 billion extension of the high-speed line. It would run west of the capital to a new mega station near Heathrow, kick-starting new rail lines to the north, and perhaps removing the need for the airport’s third runway. Hill went to see transport secretary Ruth Kelly about it last week.

Click here for the complete article.

Arup were responsible for designing the Channel Tunnel Rail Link, now rebranded as HS1. They were also involved in the Sydney Opera House, the Pompidou Centre in Paris and in most of the new venues built for the Beijing Olympics.

In January Arup announced that it was working on a feasibility study for HS2, a new high speed line from London to the North. The company had first suggested building such a line 18 years earlier. Observing the distinctly chilly welcome that Greengauge’s plans for high speed rail received from the UK Treasury and Department for Transport, Arup repacked their plans and in May launched a proposal to build a new transport hub at Heathrow Airport, one that could in the future be served by high speed rail. Now Arup are advocating extending HS1 from Central London to the proposed Heathrow hub.

Perhaps, their slowly, slowly catchee monkey approach may just turn out to be successful.

First Great Western – an on-line campaign

Monday, 21 July 2008

A westbound First Great Western Train crosses Warncliffe Viaduct, Hanwell. (cc) Nigel Cox

(Click for photo in original context and licensing.)

Increasing frustration felt by First Great Western customers caused by cancelled trains, late running, overcrowding and bus substitution led to Britain’s first fare strike by passengers in January 2007. Cuts in service proposed in January this year were countered by threats of further direct action. Finally, Ruth Kelly, Secretary of State for Transport, was forced to act. On 26 February she issued a ministerial written statement.

The performance of First Great Western has persistently fallen short of its customers’ expectations and has been unacceptable to both passengers and Government.

I can inform the House today that First Great Western has breached its franchise agreement by exceeding the limits on cancellations, and also by misreporting those cancellations.

I can now outline the measures I have taken, and the actions I have agreed with First Great Western, which were reported in an announcement by First plc to the Stock Exchange before the markets opened this morning.

First, I am today issuing First Great Western with a remedial plan notice for exceeding the threshold on cancellations which resulted in a breach of its franchise agreement. In response to this notice, First Great Western will submit a remedial plan for addressing this level of cancellations. Discussions are at an advanced stage on what the plan will contain.

Secondly, I am also today issuing First Great Western with a breach notice for misreporting its cancellations.

Thirdly, and importantly for those using First Great Western services, a substantial package of additional benefits for passengers has been agreed.

Click for the complete statement from Hansard.

It is a breach of Parliamentary protocol for a minister’s decision to be announced outside the House of Commons, before the decision is communicated to MPs. The DfT agreed release by First plc of the news to the Stock Exchange was intended to damp down speculation by shareholders that First were about to loose their franchise. Since March, First Great Western services have at last seen some improvement.

The battle by First Great Western passengers is a model of how such campaigns should be fought in the digital age. A coordinating group was set up with its own website and discussion forum. Here is a taster from the website. The short punchy editorial style is very professional.

Why We Started the Campaign

Thanks to the insane government policy for awarding new train franchises, the First Great Western (FGW) take over of Wessex on 11th December 2006 resulted in 20 carriages immediately being withdrawn from a service that was already running near full capacity. The effect of this was fewer and shorter trains, delays, cancellations and travellers unable to board trains. Travellers refused to pay their fares in the now world famous Fare Strike of January 2007. FGW responded by reducing fares and finding more carriages. Round one to us.

December 2007

FGW are about to hand back 12 coaches to the leasing company, put up fares by 10%, and reduce the number of trains stopping at local stations. FGW are so worried that you won’t be able to get on their trains that they have even been handing out leaflets asking you not to take local trains!

Some commuters decided to vent their anger, by setting up their own websites or blogs. One of these Farce Great Western gives a very good comparison of the difference between commuter railway services in the Netherlands vs. Great Britain.

The train pictured above is
a First Great Western High
Speed Trains. HSTs originally
entered service in 1975.
Trains in the Netherlands
are replaced frequently. This
electric double decker train
is barely 5 years old.
Off-peak restrictions:
leave after 10:00; no return:
between 16:00-19:00.
Peak / off-peak ticket
categories do not exist.
60 mile return ticket
departing at 08:00 – £31.80
€22,70 (£15.25)
Last train from London
approx. 23:00
24 hour service from

SaveThe Train are campaigning for a decent level of service to the Swindon – Melksham – Southampton line. A line whose services were packed with passengers, but which was butchered by First Great Western with department for Transport approval.

The Swindon to Southampton train service was a success story for Wessex trains, the former operator of the service. They instigated the service in May 2001, and as a result ticket sales for journeys on the northern section of the root rocketed. At Melksham, where this new service of five trains each way daily replaced a twice-a-day shuttle, ticket sales have risen from just over 3,000 to over 27,000 journeys per year.

First group have swallowed up all the ex Wessex trains routes into the new Great Western Franchise, and there are cuts across the South West. The Swindon to Southampton service is to be completely scrapped and as from December, the northern section of the line will be back to its pre-2001 service level … but with trains inconveniently timed in the early morning and in the evening – there will be NOTHING on the line between 07:30 and 18:30.

Yet forecasts show that a two-hourly train service would continue to grow traffic levels at the same rate they’ve risen since 2001 for a number of years to come. Bradford-on-Avon, a neighbouring town that’s half the size of Melksham but with an hourly train service sells 10 times the number of tickets sold for Melksham. Surveys taken at Chippenham station show a significant proportion of car park users driving in from Melksham, Calne and Malmesbury rather than relying on public transport door to door; with an appropriate train service, those car journeys from Melksham at least would be reversed – these customer are clearly happy to use a rail service.

The Train Fellow writes his blog with intelligence and humour a sense of humour. First Great Western’s quality of service may drive him back to using his motor car.

I have chosen the train because, at the moment, it is slightly better than driving. I am actually reconsidering this decision so TrainFellow may become CarFellow…

Reference comments about “accepting public transport is unreliable”. Sorry. Can’t do that. I’ve been to France, Germany etc and their systems are a dream compared with our under-invested railway.

I don’t blame the staff though… generally. Unless they do something really blameworthy. Like stop at the wrong station.

I do blame middle management though as this is, I’m sure, where most of the dodgy decisions are made.

The author of I Hate First Western kept his sanity by switching to another train company.

When I started this blog, I was angry. Livid. To mention the words “First Great Western” to me were unwise, as they would spark a lengthy rant, full of expletives. I was highly pissed off.
I feel I should mention this at this juncture, because I have recently come under attack from someone who feels I am not angry enough, and am some kind of champagne-sipping toff who gets narky if commoners try to invade my space in the first class carriage.

It’s true that I’m not as angry as I was, but to be honest, I don’t think anyone could have that much energy, as being angry is pretty hard going, even for a few days, let alone for 18 months, and makes you liable to lose friends and alienate people. What I did instead was start a blog, in order that I could share my ranting with others with a similar hatred of FGW. And then, I moved house, in order to be nearer to my work. And then, I discovered the alternative service of South West Trains. And, all of these things have made me calmer, because I am opting out of the thing that makes me angry.

Finally, least it be said that BTWT is biased in its reporting, The Truth About First Great Western makes the valid point that not all the problems experienced by customers can be blamed on the company.

First Great Western made the unpopular changes to the December 2006 timetable

This is the biggest myth of all and one that has frequently been repeated in the media and elsewhere. The truth is that the December 2006 timetable was set by the Department for Transport in consultation with Network Rail, and not by First Great Western. Certainly, First Great Western will have been invited to comment and did consult widely on the changes so they could put customer representations for the DfT, however, the final say on timetabling lies with the DfT. It is probable that the customer feedback made by First to the government as a consequence of the consultation process resulted in some proposed cuts being scrapped. Like First Great Western, the majority of other train operating companies also have their timetables set by the Department for Transport.

Nearly all the WWW sites that we have featured in this article have links to yet other First Great Western critic sites. Perhaps, when the history of Britain’s railways in the early 21st century comes to be written, First Great Western’s problems will be seen as the catalyst that turned Britain’s hard pressed railway commuters into a digitally supercharged passenger transport lobby.

Councils give Ruth Kelly £30bn high speed rail alternative to Heathrow runway 3.

Friday, 18 July 2008

Rt Hon Ruth Kelly MP, Secretary of State for Transport
photo The Guardian

(click to see original context)

The 2M Group is an alliance of local authorities concerned at the environmental impact of Heathrow expansion on their communities. The membership comprises the London Boroughs of Brent, Camden, Ealing, Greenwich, Hammersmith and Fulham, Harrow, Hillingdon, Hounslow, Islington, Kensington & Chelsea, Kingston, Lambeth, Lewisham, Merton, Richmond, Southwark, Sutton and Wandsworth, and the boroughs of Slough, Windsor and Maidenhead and South Bucks District Council. The group, which took its name from the 2 million residents of the original 12 authorities, now represents a combined population of 4 million people.

In January the 2M group of councils sent 20 key questions to transport secretary Ruth Kelly who announced her backing for a new runway at the airport before the start of the Government’s consultation on the plan. The 2M Group of councils drew up the list after residents complained that the Department for Transport’s consultation document had been made deliberately complicated and one-sided.

A spokesperson said: “Many people have said they find the 238-page consultation document and the eight-page questionnaire bewildering. Yet for all the great mass of detail so much of the vital information on environmental impact and economic benefits is missing. We hope residents will find it useful to include some of the 2M questions in their own response to the minister. We are not saying these are the only questions but they do cover the main concerns people have expressed so far. The Government has made this consultation as difficult as possible – our aim is to simplify matters so that residents can test the minister on the key assumptions that lie behind her support for expansion.”

Now in the next major development of their campaign the Group are about to launch a plan for a new £30 billion high-speed rail line linking Liverpool and Manchester to Heathrow. The proposal envisages a single England-Scotland spine route and several spurs that would reach out to major cities including Liverpool and Manchester. It would run alongside the M1 and use the disused Woodhead line to Manchester, including the rail tunnel.

Edwards Lister, leader of Wandsworth Council said: “We are delighted to publish these proposals because we want a debate. We have a Government that can’t see further than the next runway. “It’s time for some imagination in UK transport planning. We don’t pretend for one minute we have all the answers but at least we’re asking the right questions.”

Richmond Council leader Serge Lourie added: “The country’s roads are grinding to a halt and all ministers want to do is put more planes in the sky and more cars on the ground. Even expanding just the existing Heathrow runways would bring another million road journeys. The real demand is for sustainable transport options that actually help people and businesses move around the country.”

If you are disturbed at the way the UK Government is trying to push through the case for the 3rd Heathrow runway why not drop a note to your MP. You find all the details you need to know here. You can use the e-mail link provided on the site, or if you would rather send a real letter, once you have the name of your MP you should address it to:

The House of Commons
House of Commons

Harris spins his way out of high speed rail

Saturday, 7 June 2008

Tom Harris, Under Secretary of State for Transport
responsible for railways in the UK

It is not parliamentary language to accuse a UK government minister of lying, so instead BTWT accuses Tom Harris of ‘being economical with the truth’. A host of press articles in May about a new high speed line from London to the North gave rise to speculation that the UK government might at last be about to commission a feasibility study for the new line. BTWT bided its time before commenting, waiting for a signal as to the government’s intentions. Now Mr Harris has given that signal and it is firmly fixed in the stop position. Yesterday’s Times reports.

Despite repeated promises to consider the benefits of a dedicated new line capable of carrying passengers from London to Scotland in less than three hours, ministers are thinking again.

In a letter obtained by The Times, Tom Harris, the Rail Minister, said: “The argument that high-speed rail travel is a ‘green option’ does not necessarily stand up to close inspection. Increasing the maximum speed of a train from 200kph [125mph – the current maximum speed of domestic trains] to 350kph leads to a 90 per cent increase in energy consumption.”

Mr Harris was responding to an appeal by Chris Davies, the Liberal Democrat MEP for the North West of England, asking the Government to make its position clear. Mr Davies pointed out that France had already built 1,000 miles of 190mph line, was planning another 500 miles and was considering raising the top speed of trains to 225mph.

Mr Harris claims that Britain has less need for high-speed rail than other European countries. He said: “The economic geography of the UK is very different from other countries with high-speed lines. The main challenge for the UK’s transport network is congestion and reliability, not journey times and connectivity.”

Mr Harris’s comments contrast sharply with Labour’s 2005 election manifesto, which pledged to “look at the feasibility and affordability of a new North-South high-speed link”.

The fallacies on which Mr Harris’s conclusions are based were quickly pointed out by Chris Davies.

Mr Davies said that Mr Harris had failed to acknowledge the environmental benefits of persuading domestic air passengers to transfer to high-speed rail. He added: “It is very disappointing to see the minister scrabbling around for excuses for the Government’s inaction on high-speed rail, especially when those excuses are so weak.”

A high-speed train produces about 90 grams of carbon dioxide per passenger-kilometre, compared with just over 50g/km for a conventional electric train. But a domestic flight produces 225g/km.

Inter-city lines are severely overcrowded and there is strong evidence that future demand has been underestimated. The total distance travelled by train is growing by about 10 per cent a year, but over the next five years the Government is planning to increase capacity by only 22.5 per cent.

In January Iain Coucher, the chief executive of Network Rail, told The Times that by 2020 Britain needed at least three domestic high-speed lines to add to the 68-mile link between London and the Channel Tunnel.

Richard Brown, the Chief Executive of Eurostar, also added his weight to the debate in a letter published yesterday in The Times.

Sir, Any useful assessment of the environmental benefits of high-speed rail must rely on far more than a simplistic comparison with the energy consumption of conventional trains (“High-speed rail travel is not a green option, say ministers”, June 6).

To start with, no one except the Government is proposing that future high-speed trains would operate at 350km/h (217mph). The current European maximum is 300km/h (186mph) with an emerging consensus that 320km/h (199mph) is the practical maximum in future — so the increase in energy would not be as great as the Government suggests.

Secondly, the actual passenger load factor on Eurostar services is twice as great as that assumed for high-speed trains in the recent rail White Paper, thus halving the Government’s estimate of energy use per passenger journey.

Furthermore, high-speed rail has a proven record across Europe of enabling very significant modal shift from plane to train, delivering a vast saving in carbon dioxide emissions generated by people who would otherwise fly. Research has shown that a Eurostar journey generates less than one-tenth of the carbon dioxide emissions of an equivalent flight.

Electric trains can also be switched to even lower-carbon sources of electricity as soon as these become available under the Government’s energy plans, unlike aircraft and road vehicles which are likely to remain very largely wedded to fossil fuels for the foreseeable future.

Finally, any assessment of environmental impact should also be based on the next generation of high-speed trains, which are about 25 per cent more energy-efficient than current fleets such as Eurostar.

With domestic main lines running out of capacity, and with the current rapid expansion of the continental high-speed rail network, the case for further high-speed lines in Britain should be properly and fully investigated.

Richard Brown
Chief executive, Eurostar

If you live in the UK and feel as strongly as we do that the UK is the railway Cinderella of Europe, perhaps you could write to to your own MP, pointing out the fallacies in Mr Harris’s comments, and asking them to obtain details of the basis on which Mr Harris made his extraordinary claims?

You can obtain your MP’s name and address as well as all sorts of other interesting information from TheyWorkForYou.

You may also enjoy playing with L’EcoComparateur, a very nice CO2 emissions calculator for different transport modes. Sadly, it doesn’t do London to Warsaw just yet and, in fact, seems to work best when the journey originates or ends in France. On 25 June, the International Union of Railways is running a workshop to launch the ‘UIC Eco-comparison tools for European routes‘. Perhaps UK Transport Minister, Ruth Kelly, should make sure that Mr Harris attends.