Railway System Review, and Renationalisation – Why Bother?

Last week Chris Grayling, Transport Secretary, announced a review of the privatised rail system. That follows the recent problems with new timetables where the regulator concluded that “nobody took charge”. Today John McDonnell, the Labour Party’s shadow chancellor said that he could renationalise the railways within five years if Labour wins the next election – it’s already a manifesto commitment. Perhaps he thinks he can solve the railway’s problems by doing so but this writer suggests the problem is technology rather than management, although cost also comes into the equation.

The basic problem is that the railways are built on inflexible and expensive old technology. There has never been a “timetable” problem on the roads because there are no fixed timetables – folks just do their own thing and travel when they want to do so.

Consider the rail signalling system – an enormously expensive infrastructure to ensure trains don’t run into each other and to give signals to train drivers. We do of course have a similar system at junctions on roads – they are called traffic lights. But they operate automatically and are relatively cheap. Most are not even linked in a network as train signals are required to be.

Trains run on tracks so they are extremely vulnerable to breakdowns of trains and damage to tracks – even snow, ice or leaves on the line cause disruption – who ever heard of road vehicles being delayed by leaves? A minor problem on a train track, often to signals, can quickly cause the whole line or network to come to a halt. Failing traffic signals on roads typically cause only slight delays and vehicles can drive around any broken-down cars or lorries.

The cost of changes to a rail line are simply enormous, and the cost of building them also. For example, the latest estimate for HS2 – the line from London to Birmingham is more than £80 billion. The original M1 was completed in 1999 at a cost of £26 million. Even allowing for inflation, and some widening and upgrading since then the total cost is probably less than £1 billion.

Changes to railway lines can be enormously expensive. For example, the cost of rebuilding London Bridge station to accommodate more trains was about £1 billion. These astronomic figures simply do not arise when motorways are revised or new service stations constructed.

Why invest more in a railway network when roads are cheaper to build and maintain, and a lot more flexible in use? At present the railways have to be massively subsidised by the Government out of taxation – about £4 billion per annum according to Wikipedia, or about 7.5p per mile of every train journey you take according to the BBC. Meanwhile road transport more than pays for itself and contributes billions to general taxation in addition from taxes on vehicle users.

So here’s a suggestion: scrap using this old technology for transport and invest more in roads. Let the railways shrink in size to where they are justifiable, or let them disappear as trams did for similar reasons – inflexible and expensive in comparison with buses.

No need to renationalise them at great expense. Spend the money instead on building a decent road network which is certainly not what we have at present.

Do you think that railways are more environmentally friendly? Electric trains may be but with electric road vehicles now becoming commonplace, that justification will no longer apply in a few years’ time, if not already.

Just like some people love old transport modes – just think canals and steam trains – the attachment to old technology in transport is simply irrational as well as being very expensive. Road vehicles take you from door-to-door at lower cost, with no “changing trains” or waiting for the next one to arrive. No disruption caused by striking guards or drivers as London commuters have seen so frequently.

In summary building and managing a road network is cheaper and simpler. It just needs a change of mindset to see the advantages of road over rail. But John McDonnell wants to take us back to 1948 when the railways were last nationalised. Better to invest in the roads than the railways.

It has been suggested that John McDonnell is a Marxist but at times he has denied it. Those not aware of the impact of Marxism on political thought would do well to read a book I recently perused which covered the impact of the Bolsheviks in post-revolutionary Russia circa 1919. In Tashkent they nationalised all pianos as owning a piano was considered “bourgeois”. They were confiscated and given to schools. One man who had his piano nationalised lost his temper and broke up the piano with an axe. He was taken to goal and then shot (from the book Mission to Tashkent by Col. F.M. Bailey).

Sometimes history can be very revealing. The same mentality that wishes to spend money on public transport such as railways as opposed to private transport systems shows the same defects.

Roger Lawson

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Active Opposition to Cycle Lanes in Enfield

There is a very active campaign against new cycle lanes in the Green Lanes area of Enfield (the A105). They have an impressive web site (see http://saveourgreenlanes.co.uk/ ) and have already pursued a judicial review on the matter. Their complaint is that the cycle scheme will lead to increased congestion, and suggest the cycle lanes should be put on other roads.

They managed to generate over 1,500 objections to a public consultation but Ealing Council have so far ignored the objections.

Comment: It is good to see that there is an active voice against inappropriate cycle lanes where a preference is given to a small minority of road users as against other road users and local residents. Please give them a donation to help them.

Roger Lawson

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ANPR Use in London – Big Brother in Operation

A recent report on the Mayorwatch web site said that Transport for London (TfL) expects to take 21 million ANPR images each day to enforce the Congestion Charge and ULEZ zones. Expansion of the ULEZ to the North/South circular will require many more cameras not just on the border of the zone but within it to catch those who only drive within the ULEZ zone. TfL expects to catch as many as 138,000 cars/vans and lorries using automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) technology.

The police do have access to this system so you can see exactly how extensive the surveillance of the population of London will soon be. There will be an additional 2,172 cameras for the expanded ULEZ when London is already one of the most heavily populated areas in the world for surveillance cameras.

These extra ANPR images will cost a capital figure of £1.2 million to upgrade the server to connect to the National ANPR System and a further £555,000 per annum in support/maintenance costs to London’s Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPAC) – see https://www.london.gov.uk/what-we-do/mayors-office-policing-and-crime-mopac/governance-and-decision-making/mopac-decisions-0/anpr-nas-management-server

Comment: this is a typical result of the desire for road pricing and revenue raising – privacy just goes out the window.

Roger Lawson

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Drivers_London

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Sadiq Khan Popularity Falling Rapidly

According to a poll commissioned by Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) and published a week ago, London Mayor Sadig Khan’s popularity has dropped dramatically. In March 2017, he had a net positive satisfaction rating of +35 which is quite exceptional but that has disappeared. Overall the rating is still positive, but only just. Now only 44% think he is doing well versus 40% who say he is doing badly. The Mayor’s rating is now negative among working-class Londoners, the over-50s and those in Outer London.

What is the reason for this decline? It seems likely that the ABD’s campaign on the Mayor’s Transport policies (see https://www.freedomfordrivers.org/against-mts.htm ) is having an impact as we continue to deliver hundreds of thousands of leaflets across London. The Mayor’s policies such as the ULEZ will particularly affect those groups where his rating has been declining most sharply. Folks are waking up to the Mayor’s attack on all forms of private transport – not just cars but motorcycles, PHVs (minicabs) and taxis and the costs that they will incur as a result.

Other contributions have probably been his mismanagement of Transport for London’s budget which is heading for a massive deficit and has been focussed on by some politicians, and his record on tackling rising crime levels in London has also been criticised. Similarly, his record on housing is no better than his predecessor and very different to what he promised. His promise to freeze public transport fares and improve public transport which he made to get elected have been shown to be mistakes or unachievable. Surely the apt quotation here is “You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time” (Abraham Lincoln). Voters are now becoming disillusioned with the Mayor as he is seen to be good at rhetoric and photoshoots with children but bad at actually managing the metropolis.

London needs a Mayor who does not just spout fine words, but can actually tackle London’s problems and get them solved.

Roger Lawson

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20 Mph Zones Are a Waste of Money, or Worse

The Sun Newspaper has reported on the success, or rather failure, of 20-mph wide area speed limits, to reduce accidents. They have obtained figures from 20 local councils using the Freedom of Information Act where £11 million of taxpayers’ cash was spent on the lower limit. But in some cases, rates of serious accidents (Killed and Serious Injuries – KSIs) have actually gone up they reported.

AA President said that the schemes were a “waste of money”, effectively implying that if the money had been spent on other road safety measures, more lives and serious accidents would have been saved.

Examples the Sun gave were Bath where £804,000 was spent but a 2016 report revealed that the KSI’s went up in 7 out of the 13 zones where speeds were cut, and in Manchester £1.7 million was spent on a heavily criticised scheme while in Hampshire other schemes showed no benefit in terms of accident reduction.

The ABD has of course reported similar problems before including in the City of London where a blanket 20 mph scheme has resulted in more minor injury reports.

20s Plenty founder Rod King called the articles “sloppy journalism” (one also appeared in the Daily Mail on the same subject). 20s Plenty has tried to debunk the reports of a number of local councils on their 20 mph schemes – for example they called the Bath report “biased, lacking in statistical rigour and not meeting several local authority duties on competency and equality”. But anyone who has surveyed all the evidence on such schemes will know that simply putting up signs typically reduces traffic speed by only 1 mph and that can have no significant impact on road casualties. In reality it seems to have the opposite effect in many cases as pedestrians no longer take so much care when crossing the road.

Rod King and 20s Plenty are like all fanatics – they ignore the negative impact of their policies and fail to see the truth. They are blinded in their zeal to reduce speed limits in the false presumption that reducing speeds are the answer to all road safety problems. But cutting road casualties is not as simple as that.

We still await a Government report on a more comprehensive study of 20 mph schemes.

In London, Transport for London (TfL) continue to finance such schemes in local boroughs and must have spent millions to date on them. Another example of unwise policies and reckless expenditure by TfL and Mayor Sadiq Khan, plus his predecessors. It is a great pity that money was not spent on road engineering to improve the safety of roads and junctions.

The Mayor actually wants to impose 20 mph speed limits on many major roads in London under his “Vision Zero” road safety plans. UKIP Transport Spokesperson Jill Seymour has challenged TfL to provide undisputed evidence of the justification for such proposals, as reported in the last national ABD Newsletter (OTR). She said “The authorities have strangled the main roads, and made them the most congested and slowest of any city in Europe. London is a mess when it comes to transport…..the London authorities, led by Sadiq Khan, appear to have a vendetta against personal transport and the car, and do everything they possibly can do to discriminate against it”. That’s definitely the truth of the matter.

Roger Lawson

Sun article here: https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/7253694/20-mph-zones-cause-more-deaths/

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First E-Bike Death

Another death of a pedestrian hit by a cyclist was reported in London yesterday (12/9/2018). Ms Sakine Cihan was hit by a cyclist using an electric bike on Kingsland High Street when attempting to cross the street. She died two weeks later in hospital. This is believed to be the first death of a pedestrian after being hit by an e-bike in the UK. But it is of course another symptom of the growing problem in London of unsafe cycling which we have commented on before.

The cyclist in this case abandoned the bike soon after the incident so it was a typical “hit and run” case but a man was subsequently arrested by the police.

E-bikes are legally limited to 15.5 mph but can allegedly go faster if pedalled at the same time. The comments of a spokesperson for Cycling UK said “The statistics show cyclists, whether on a conventional or e-bike, present a minimal danger to others”.

Comment: I certainly would not like to be hit by a cyclist travelling at 15.5 mph or even higher. The fact that the cyclist ran off afterwards tells you that he realised he had not been riding in the most responsible manner. Reckless cycling and at excessive speed can be seen on the streets of London every day. More such accidents will happen unless this problem is tackled.

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Joy Morrisey has the Right Ideas

Joy Morrisey is on the Conservative short list to contest the next Mayoral election in London. She wrote an article for City AM last week (4/9/2018) that echoes much of what the ABD has been saying about transport in London.

Firstly she attacked Sadiq Khan’s record on transport and the ballooning deficit in Transport for London (TfL). She suggests it is a priority to get operating costs under control and that a fresh approach is needed. Here’s an extract of what else she had to say:

“At present, it is not always clear what the current mayor’s plans are – “plans” would suggest that real thought had gone into the mistakes he keeps making and the promises he keeps breaking. But we can see the policies: Khan is trying to force motorists off the road, while squeezing as much money as possible out of those who need to drive.

The mayor’s intention to extend the Ultra-Low Emissions Zone (ULEZ) all the way out to the North and South Circulars in 2021 is a case in point.

Consider a family who live just outside the zone, who cannot afford to replace their old car, which they need to drive their kids to a school just inside the zone. They would pay £12.50 a day under Khan’s scheme. A pensioner who has to drive himself to, for example, Whipps Cross Hospital in Leytonstone would pay the same.

It gets worse. The cost of the infrastructure needed to cover this expanded area has been estimated at £780m.

That’s money that should be spent on genuinely improving London’s air quality. For example, £600m would pay for the replacement of 2,000 diesel buses with hybrid vehicles, which emit nearly 80 per cent less nitrogen dioxide.

We need to make it easier for Londoners to leave their car at home, but without punishing those who do drive for making an entirely rational and reasonable choice.

If I became mayor in 2020, I would scrap Khan’s unfair and ill-considered ULEZ expansion, and focus on more effective ways to improve both air quality and transport options in the capital, for all Londoners.

Londoners cannot afford another four years of a mayor guided by cheap headlines and misplaced ideology. Right now, we might be hopelessly lost on our journey towards better transport, but under a different mayor, London can find its direction again.”

All very sensible policies and surely a good basis for an election winning campaign. Let’s hope that she wins the nomination. The other candidates are Andrew Boff and Shaun Bailey

The full City AM article can be read here: http://dev2.cityam.com/262379/london-needs-new-mayor-get-transport-show-back-road . Why not add your own comments?

Let the best man/woman win. But more than one candidate suggests the Mayor needs more powers. Surely it’s more a case of Sadiq Khan not using the powers he already has effectively to improve the transport network, control crime, build more houses and improve the environment.

Roger Lawson

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Drivers_London

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