A ride on the fantasy express

Another day, another government announcement, this time a white paper on the railways. Lets see how many times they can contradict themselves or write total rubbish in one page. Lets try page seven of the summary booklet.

The Government will encourage progress by funding research and will write environmental objectives into passenger franchises. But the Government will not subsidise train operators to undertake efficiency measures that pay for themselves via reduced fuel bills. Train operators must take responsibility themselves.

Err… if environmental objectives are written into franchises and potential operators put in higher bids as a result, we the government ends up subsidising them, no?

Over £10 billion will be invested in enhancing capacity between 2009 and 2014, with overall Government support for the railway totalling £15 billion. The total investment in rail improvements will be greater than in 2004–09…. Having paid the bills in the difficult years when costs rose and under-investment needed to be tackled, we can now ease back the burden on the taxpayer.

If the spending investment will be higher between 2009 and 2014 than between 2004 and 2009, then surely that’s increasing the burden on the taxpayer rather than easing back, yes? (It is made clear elsewhere in the white paper that the figures quoted here are government expenditure and don’t include expenditure funded commercially, i.e. from fares.)

Finally, if you’re feeling optimistic about the improvement in services to Swindon that the reported expansion of Reading station will bring, don’t be. The statement about this in the appendix to the white paper is quite guarded (paragraph A16).

The Secretary of State also wants to see works undertaken at Reading station to deliver the increased capacity required in CP4 and to meet other longer term passenger and freight movement requirements. Network Rail is to undertake further development work to confirm the full scope and timing for delivery of this scheme, which the Secretary of State expects to be delivered within a maximum CP4 expenditure of £425 million. The Secretary of State expects a regulatory protocol to be established with Network Rail that sets out governance arrangements for delivery of this programme. The Secretary of State believes that delivery of the works is achievable within the statement of funds available.

Which roughly translates as they haven’t worked out what they’re going to do yet nor when they’re going to do it, but the woman at the top has plucked a figure and a time out of the air and expects them to stick to it.

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