Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Election - Railways - Where Do You Think You Are Going?

When did you last talk to the engine driver? Probably the last time I did was at York sometime in the 1960’s when there was confusion after signals problems. When in doubt, in those days, you asked the driver where he thought he was going. I had learned to twenty odd years before when the Luftwaffe were more often responsible for delays and diversions. In between I had worked at odd times on the railway and had enjoyed exchanging obscenities with drivers about their positioning of parcels, fish, and pigeon vans.

Trains are different now, but they are still big toys for boys to get excited about, notably politicians in need of a major project to entice the unwary voter. I was going to go on about the sheer stupidity about their wild promises to build new French and Japanese style high speed lines alongside the several existing lines in the UK. However, Simon Jenkins, a perceptive columnist and critic of extreme posturing in politics, has an article in the Comment in the “Guardian” of today, Wednesday 6th January, which covers much of the ground.

So the election campaign has come to this, my recommending an item in the “Guardian”. There are aspects that Simon Jenkins does not deal with and that is how far existing lines can be improved, or what series of improvements, links, etc. here and there could lead to faster times and more frequent trains. This kind of approach, alas, requires an attention to detail, a knowledge of just what is where, and an awareness of the possibilities.

It is work that is beyond our present Civil Service or political system. It may well be well beyond the accountancy and management driven railway companies, including Network Rail. Try this one, just as a single example and this is after long and detailed study taking nearly five minutes with my 1923 Edition of “Bradshaw”.

The old Midland Main Line was four track from St. Pancras down to Kettering where it split with a two track section down to Leicester, and two tracks down to Nottingham via Melton Mowbray. It is already electrified to Bedford. North of Leicester there were four tracks again up to Toton, by Long Eaton, with a two track link to Melton Mowbray and Peterborough at Syston then south of Nottingham splitting again with two tracks up to Derby and Manchester. The other two tracks go to Nottingham with lines down to Sheffield. A line ran from Derby to Sheffield, leaving the Manchester link at Ambergate.

Quite what extra tracks might be needed on any of these two track sections, or what other approaches might be adopted offers a number of options. Just south of Leicester there is a two track line junction to Nuneaton and Birmingham crossing the West Coast Main Line close to the existing Nuneaton station.

The Manchester line is closed now north of Darley Dale. It might be possible to reinstate it, however one way or another there are still links to Manchester. From the vicinity of Sheffield and from Manchester there are lines to Leeds and also to Huddersfield. Beyond Leeds there is the Settle and Carlisle line. Beyond Carlisle there are two lines to Glasgow and for Edinburgh what better way of celebrating Scottish political separation from London would be the reopening of the Waverley Line?

The many and various improvements would be a cost, electrification is not cheap, but it would all be hugely less than what is being proposed. It would not be much slower, and more to the point, would allow much cheaper fares. It would be an intricate, detailed, unglamorous long term project. As for Crossrail that Simon Jenkins includes in his article, again there are alternatives. It will be too late for the 2012 Olympics so that cannot be an excuse, so it is essentially yet another bankers ramp. My view is that the resources would be better used establishing reliable rail links directly between a number of airports again along improved existing lines with added links.

But politicians and the London media are not interested at all in that kind of work, as I have said, the big boys want their toys, and at our expense.

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