Blain’s Morning Porridge – January 21st 2020
“If God had intended us to fly, he’d have never given us railways.”
A diversion about Railways…
I was going to have something of a rant about the hypocrisy of Davos, a poke at the pointlessness of the US impeachment trial, undertake a serious examination of whether the rapidly expanding outbreak of a new Coronavirus in China could be a No-See-Um event for markets, and I was going to scribble some thoughts on where the ECB is headed.. But, it’s difficult to put my brain together this morning after a packed 2-hour commuter journey from hell. It’s made me blisteringly angry.
The UK is currently anguishing about spending £100 bln plus on a new HS2 railway between the North and London. Don’t be ****ing daft! This country can’t even run a straight rail line between Southampton and London – there is zero chance we could make something new work.
I pay £6,100 a year for a railway season ticket. It costs me a further £1600 to park in the station carpark. What do I get for that? Absolute misery. This year my train has been on time once. Just once.
Today, SouthWestern Trains cancelled the 0.6.38 train all the City Dudes catch, delayed the next one, and them packed us on to an old rattle and shaker. To refine the torture, instead of a 60 minute sprint up the tracks to London our cattle truck was stuck behind a late-running goods train due to “scheduling” issues. Instead of a 7.45 am start, I got into the office at 9.00!
The train I eventually caught this morning is just a few years younger than myself – it can probably remember the moon landings. It got a fresh lick of paint and new carpets, but it rattles, shakes, and because its air-conditioning was built in some Soviet gulag, it either bakes or freezes the passengers. When it passes over points to fast there is a distinct whiff of burning metal and brake fluid. I don’t think its safe, but a guard told me they’d have to cancel most London services if they are withdrawn.
For the UK to work in our bright Brexit future we need our legions of happy workers getting into their London offices happy and refreshed, ready to start the day. Nope. I just got in and I want to murder someone.
As politicians and environmentalists call for the greening of transport, we need to be honest about why UK trains are perhaps the worst possible transport choice on the planet. The travails of commuters across the UK are symptomatic of not so much the dismal state of Britain’s infrastructure, but greed, inadequate management, and deeply flawed government policy right across it.
It’s no wonder the HS2 project is doomed on the back of spiralling cost estimates. If you want incompetence – UK railways are the sine qua non. Forget it. Our railway services are owned by thieves, run by incompetents and planned by idiots.
When the railways were privatised the promise was improved customer services. Sadly, hope is never a strategy and will always lose out to greed. Rather than serve customers, the rail franchise winners helped themselves to nice fat dividends. They’ve been fleecing passengers with ever high tickets and decreasing service standards for years. There is not one single thing – the age, comfort or time on trains – that has improved over the last 10-years.
It was terribly easy and convenient for the Franchise firms to blame delays on the appalling state of the railway infrastructure – which is largely Victorian and last saw substantial re-wiring some 50 years ago. But it worked in the past, and there is no reason it should not work now – the problem has been underinvestment and patch and mend repairs rather than planned upgrades. The inability of the rail industry to deliver electrification or signalling of the now almost forgotten and undelivered Cross-Rail London Elizabeth Line illustrates management failure.
For the rail franchises, infrastructure was run by the poor sister of the railways, Notwork Rail, which started broke and soon became even more broken. It never had the resources to repair, maintain or develop track, and now it’s common for the mainline to blocked for hours for predictable, preventable events like a tree being blown over. Notwork Rail gets the blame every time.
But the franchise operators like having someone else to blame. Why should they bother to manage their relationships with Notwork Rail to ensure tracks, points and other services are functional – when they can conveniently take the blame? Government ministers, with their private cars and Zil-lanes to get through London’s grid-lock, don’t give a hoot. They want to see their privatised transport policies work, but don’t discipline the failing-to-deliver railway companies.
In effect neither the rail franchise, Notwork Rail or Government talk to each other. They all blame someone else.
Southwestern Railways claim to be waking up to the issues. We got a grovelling letter from some new MD earlier this year promising trains will be refurbished and run on time, and how he is going to “work collaboratively” with Notwork Rail to ensure infrastructure issues are resolved. To make the picture complete, they’ve hired some tough Australian operating officer from Melbourne to knock it into shape. C’mon.. Melbourne is about the size of an English county town – we’re talking about 5 million angry commuters here!!
We don’t want refurbished trains. We want trains that run on time that we get seats on. I’ve had enough. I’m fed up coming into work tired, angry and stressed because of the failings of these rip off merchants. I’m going to start a new political party along the South of England – The Commuter Party: give us services that work, or face our wrath at the polls.
Its time someone was made responsible and accountable for the current Rail f**k-ups! Time to start shooting the directors of the franchise companies, and hand the jobs to people who will do it properly.
Five things to read today:
FT – HS2 workers face job cuts amid doubts over project’s future
FT – How a herd of cows trampled all over Human Stockpickers
WSJ – The Investor Clash Behind Tesla’s Surge Towards $100 billion in Market Value
WSJ – Europe’s Cheap Debt Draws Record Borrowing by US Companies
BBerg – Forth Person Dies of China Virus as Human Transmission is Confirmed
Beginning to destress – but very out of time and back to day job!
Bill Furious Blain