An end to rail franchising – but what next?

Rail franchising has been an expensive failure and I think most involved with the rail industry will acknowledge that due not least to the fragmentation it’s caused to what needs to be a national infrastructure.

Northern Rail Franchise Class 319 electric unit at Liverpool Lime Street Station

In effect rail has been re-nationalised as the 1980’s high profile privatisation project has hit the buffers, indeed it’s been bumping into those buffers for a long time now. Of course Railtrack was nationalised into Network Rail quite a while ago.

The Railway Gazette has an interesting article on its website – see link below:-

www.railwaygazette.com/uk/uk-government-announces-the-end-of-rail-franchising/57396.article

Being a railway enthusiast means that I’m probably not a reliable witness but I’ll have my say, biased though it may be, anyway. That British Railways was in many ways a bit of a mess is a given but the route the Conservatives took to address its shortcomings was to say the least drastic, although I also appreciate that they did it to big up their policy direction of the day and there will have been little thought for what they were setting in train (sorry) and how things would actually look further down the track (sorry again). Such is politics, short term voter approval is all that is required and beggar the consequences as the other lot will be in power when the train derails!

What we managed to lose during the 1960’s, 70’s & 80’s was anything approaching an integrated transport system (remember that the infamous Bus Deregulation Act plays into this too) and now we are paying the price. Yes of course there have been some positives with rail travel increasing year on year until Covid 19 came along. However, we now need to reinvent the wheel and build an integrated transport system which rail (both train and tram) will need to be at the heart of.

That many European countries and beyond have successfully done this means it can be done and should be. We’ve ended up in a kind of halfway house between many counties who have progressed integrated transport very well and the likes of the US and Canada who have all but tried to kill off public transportation completely.

A Virgin Trains Frabchise Pendolino train at Liverpool Lime Street Station.

The big question now is where will our Conservative government drive transport policy now. Certainly they are big on roads and cars and are planning huge infrastructure investment in new highways despite roads being the very opposite of what is required to tackle climate change. The old ten bob note they recently held up to pay for the reversal of Beeching cuts in our railways was of course all political froth as that tiny budget will pay for nothing much at all.

Of course Conservative voters don’t use buses and trains much, if at all, although all those right wing former Labour voters who backed Johnson at the last GE do.

Can’t say I’m optimistic about the future of public transport under the present occupier of 10 Dither Street, London.

My thanks to Bob Robinson for the lead to this posting

Rainford – More on that rail line east of Kirkby

A ‘Bin Liner’ freight train is headed towards Wigan whilst a Northern Class 150 heads for Kirkby near Rainford Station

No sooner had I blogged about proposals to extend the present Liverpool – Kirkby Merseyrail line a short distance to create a 2nd station within the town of Kirkby than my old friend Bob Robinson sent me details of works being carried out further up the line at Rainford. My posting about the Merseyrail extension is available via this link:-

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2020/07/16/merseyrail-kirkby-line-extension-to-headbolt-lane-takes-shape/

And this is what’s happening further east in terms of bridge renewal works by Network Rail (18th July – 26th October) where the line crosses the Rainford Bypass:-

www.networkrail.co.uk/news/major-railway-bridge-renewal-starts-in-st-helens-this-weekend/

‘Bin Liner’ train from Knowsley at Rainford Junction Signal Box

Northern Class 150 heads for Kirkby along the single track section east of Rainford Junction Signal Box

Port of Liverpool and Brexit – Some interesting questions & big challenges

Stena Precision at Birkenhead *

The BBC has the article on its website – see link below:-

www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-51329176

The Mersey – Looking from Bootle over the River to the Wirral

Of course, if the Port of Liverpool succeeds in gaining more trade the consequences swing back to that very knotty problem of land transport access to the Port, the over-capacity of the A5036 (Port to Switch Island road link), the lack of capacity of the rail link to the port (plus poor/limited regional rail capacity) and the new road proposed to be built through Rimrose Valley Country Park.

Rimrose Valley Country Park in the foreground and the Port cranes in the background.

HS2 – It’s in a bit of a pickle – But it should still be built

An HS1 train stands at St. Pancras Station in April 2009.

My good friend Phil Holden has recently been commenting at length (Phil is rarely short of words) on the pickle that HS2 finds itself in. Here’s a link to Phil’s blog posting on the matter:-

phlhldn.blogspot.com/2019/09/take-h-out-of-hs2-now.html

And here’s my comment on what Phil has said:-

Well Phil you’ve blown a whistle on HS2 with your full head of steam aimed at the chief promoter. Anyone would think you are trying to shunt him into a siding or even send him to Barry scrap yard where steam engines went to die.

But seriously, I agree with much that you say. HS2 is mainly about capacity, it always has been. Whether it is being poorly managed or not I bow to your expansive knowledge on such matters.

But yes of course it should be built, of that I have no doubt whatsoever. As for significantly high speed, I can live without that.

And finally how come the French, Spanish, Germans etc. can build high speed rail networks (and have been doing for many years) when we can’t without huge delays and breaking the bank?

Edinburgh Tram was another massive failure (in cost terms) and so has been our attempts to electrify rail routes across the UK. Indeed, the Government got so cheesed off with Network Rail’s carry on that they (wrongly in my view) cancelled many planned electrifications rather than sort out the dysfunctional Network Rail. I think a significant part of the problem will be associated with the UK losing too many experienced railway engineers in the years when we (not me I must add) thought railways were done and gone. We then got caught out with folks flocking back to them and having no capacity. Out came the plans for HS2 and electrifications but no one knew how to do it any more.

We should probably have got SNCF or the Spanish/German equivalents to design and build HS2 and it would probably be up and running before your mid 70’s. The birth place of railways has forgotten how to build them I’m sad to say.

Aughton – It’s big green slab-sided pedestrian bridge

Well you can’t miss it – it’s big, green and very long:-

My previous posting of a few days ago refers:-

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2019/08/22/aughton-doctors-bridge-footbridge-being-replaced/

My first thought having seen it in place was that when walking across it you will not be able to see anything as the walls are so high. This must be a Network Rail specification but of course the good people of Croston (see link below) recently protested about another Network Rail slab-sided bridge which they feel is poor architecture:-

www.lancs.live/news/lancashire-news/croston-residents-campaign-changes-meadow-16131748

But as mentioned in my original posting this bridge seems to have been replaced by Lancashire County Council not Network Rail, although I guess it will be to NR’s specifications.

Well it will serve a purpose but the days to aesthetically pleasing railway architecture seem to be a thing of the past sadly. I wonder why NR specify things to be simply functional rather than pleasing on the eye too?

Whilst marveling at the engineering of this Dutch GRP-type bridge I can’t help but be disappointed with how it looks. Yes I know, the old pedestrian bridge was of no architectural merit either but at least you could see around you when crossing it.

Click on the photos to enlarge them

West Coast to the rescue again on Lakes Line

Lakeland MP Tim Farron says “The line was set to be shut over Easter because of engineering works on the West Coast Mainline, so it’s brilliant news for the Lake District that we’ll now have trains running again on the line on Saturday and Sunday.

I’d like to say a massive thank you to West Coast Railways and Network Rail for helping to make this happen.

The guys at West Coast did an amazing job last summer when they stepped in to provide a service on the Lakes Line – roll on the weekend!”