Tag: chuff

The train now arriving….

Swindon Borough Council today lifted a carriage into the former GWR Barracks in the Railway Village. It is to be a feature of their The Platform youth centre. These are highlights of a photographic record of the work to lift £10,500 of scrap railway carriage into place. The few slight scares were very slight indeed.
All photographs © komadori.

The Scene
The Scene
Preparing for the lift
Preparing for the lift
Great Western airborne
Great Western airborne
A tight fit
A tight fit
Putting it all back together
Putting it all back together
Man on the roof
Man on the roof
Almost done
Almost done

Putting up some wires

Out to grass in eight years’ timeYesterday’s announcement of plans to electrify the railway line between London and South Wales is, in principle, good news for those that travel on the route. When completed, journey times should be less, and the cost of running the trains should be less and they should be cleaner and more reliable. All that is just a consequence of the technology. But much of the rest that has been claimed for the plan will depend on political decisions.

Whether there will be more seats depends on whether the government allows the railways to buy electric trains with more seats than on the old diesel ones. Whether the lower running costs will turn into lower fares depends on how much the government charges First Great Western or its successors for the privilege of running the railway. The current government has, almost without exception, given rail franchises to the highest bidder with little regard to the quality of service to be provided. And then there’s the scope for budget overruns that are endemic whenever politicians and civil servants get involved in contracts and procurement projects.

With at least two general elections between now and the planned completion of the electrification, the chances that it will be derailed by political interference must be high.

Which way are they going?

Whilst I can see the advantages of doubling the rail line from Swindon to Gloucester (the ‘Stroud Valley Line’ according to locals, or the ‘Golden Valley Line’ according to the operators), I suspect that Ms Girling (a councillor on more councils than is reasonable) may be rather disappointed with the outcome if Gloucestershire County Council’s campaign is successful. She seems to overestimate the area’s commercial attractions.

Without the extra track there is a real danger that the growth in new housing will far outstrip new jobs leading to a slowdown in the local economy, more people commuting out of the area and the inevitable knock-on effect of more congestion.

Err… commuting is a two-way thing, and improving the rail service will make it just as easy to commute out of the area as it will to commute into the area. I suspect that Swindon’s employment might benefit more than the Stroud Valley.

Ms Girling’s comments remind me of those of Sheffield City Council during the 1990s. They were adamant that the opening of the tram line from the city centre to the Meadowhall Centre would revitalise the city, encouraging the thousands that went to Meadowhall for shopping to make the journey to the city centre’s run-down shopping areas. It didn’t. What it did was enable city centre workers to make the trip to Meadowhall within their lunch break, further depleting trade for city centre stores. It took another ten years for the city centre to recover. I suspect this is not the effect that Ms Girling has in mind.

Town on track for low-speed trains

FGW strolling through the grassI see that the Adver has a report on a feasibility study by Network Rail on five possible high speed rail lines, one of them through Swindon.

One of the proposed lines would run alongside First Great Western’s London to Bristol route and that could see trains transporting Swindon rail users at speeds of 100mph.

Perhaps the reporter is too young to remember when the trains that run the current mainline service through Swindon were introduced and called the InterCity 125 because they ran at 125 mph… as they still do, on a good day, on the line between Swindon and Didcot.

Getting there

FGW strolling through the grassIt’s taken a little time for our local press to accurately report on the Department for Transport’s imposition of penalties on First Great Western for failing to comply with the standards of service required for their franchise. The official announcement is quite robust.

First Great Western is being issued with a Remedial Plan Notice for exceeding the threshold on cancellations in the second half of last year….

The company is also being issued with a Breach Notice for misreporting its cancellations. This stipulates the steps First Great Western must take to rectify the problem.

In addition a £29m package of passenger benefits, fully funded by First Great Western, has been agreed….

Failure to deliver these new commitments would be a default of the franchise agreement which could lead to the Government terminating First Great Western’s franchise.

Reading the Adver’s first attempt at reporting this, at 8.50 this morning, you’d think that FGW had just chosen to splurge £29M on extra trains entirely of their own volition.

SWINDON train company First Great Western will invest £29m to improve services, it has emerged today. First will address poor performance in relation to cancellations and delays. It acknowledges its service has fallen short of its own standards and the expectations of passengers. The company says it is committed to improving performance and will take the necessary action to ensure cancellations and delays are minimised.

In the past year the company has come under fire from passenger groups and regulators for the service they provide.

A slight hint of criticism, but nothing more. The second report, twelve hours later, gets it right.

SWINDON train company First Great Western has been forced to make £29m worth of improvements. First Great Western (FGW) says it will now take action to ensure cancellations and delays are lowered for customers.

The company was ordered to make the changes by the Department for Transport.

The Beeb have done no better, hinting at nothing more than ‘discussions with the DfT’ as the prompt for this expenditure. All led astray by the railway company perhaps? Hardly. Their press release is quite clear about why they are spending the money.

The £29m plan has been put together to address poor performance, particularly in relation to cancellations and the subsequent contravention of our Franchise Agreement.

Who needs spin-doctors with reporting like this? The Beeb also give space to the group running a campaign of fares evasion.

But this is the result of passenger power, that independent groups like us and our fare strike have been responsible in a great part for these things happening, by bringing them to the attention of the government and making First lose face.

Really? I’m struggling to see anything more than penalty clauses in a contract being applied. This would have happened (and indeed has happened to other rail companies in the past) regardless of the actions of a small band of fares-dodgers.

Being taken for a ride

FGW great and smallHowever bad First Great Western’s rail service may be (and, undoubtedly, it is poor), today’s widely reported so called fares strike is nothing more than dressed up fares evasion. If you’re not satisfied with a product or service, don’t use it: buy from an alternative supplier. As the focus of the campaign is local trains around Bristol, not the mainline service to London, there are alternatives, such as local bus services or private car. But that would inconvenience the campaigners….

If someone suggested a campaign of shoplifting to protest about queues in supermarkets, I’m sure it would be met with derision. It’s strange that this campaign is not regarded in the same way.

Dreaming of trains

I do wonder at the quality of reporting in the national media sometimes. Under the headline ‘Train boss promises improvements’ the leading paragraph reads

The incoming managing director of First Great Western has promised more trains, less overcrowding and better services.

But listen to what he says in the associated video clip.

We are scouring the land for the right sort of rolling stock for that, but it’s not currently available.

He says a lot about promising improvements in reliability (as does the train company’s press release); he talks of increases in train capacity that have been made in the recent past, but on what First Great Western will do about the current overcrowding the message is clear: there is nothing they can do. And even if they wanted to, the restrictions in their franchise, where they will be busy paying money to the government for the privilege of providing the rail service (£1,130.5M over ten years), mean that there is little they could do to increase capacity here.

Going off the rails

I have found an explanation for the abysmal punctuality of First Great Western Trains. It seems the wheels are coming off their trains! Walking to work on Wednesday, there was a set of wheels lying on some short rails in The Park on Faringdon Road, near to one of the stones dropped a few months ago by the council, not far from the railway line. The wheels definitely weren’t there on Monday.

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.