Archive for the ‘Transport’ Category

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Chris Grayling has come out fighting this week – he has rebuffed an extensive report by think tank IPPR North published earlier this year that demonstrated a huge gulf in transport funding between London and the North, claiming the funding gap is a “myth”. However, regardless of what he may say, the evidence is stark – more than half of England’s transport spending is in London, with more than double being spent per head than in the North as a whole.

But the North is not a homogeneous whole – the North West still receives a lot more investment than other parts of the North. Arguably the worst-off area is the North East. Despite having one of the UK’s largest urban areas around the cities of Newcastle and Sunderland, as well as many other large towns and cities, the total investment in transport in the area is just 1.8% of the overall spending, compared to 54.2% in London alone. This amounts to £220 per head per year – only Yorkshire and the Humber spend less per person (£190 per year).

But what does that look like in real terms? What does that offer the residents of the North East, in terms of the greatest form of public transport of them all – the form that was pioneered between Stockton and Darlington in the 1820s and spread from there throughout the world?

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Hi, as many of you know, I currently work for Northern, the largest train operating company outside London. I saw today that a prominent liberal journalist decided to “crowdsource” ideas for a “Crossrail of the North”, and then drew some lines on a map in paint to link presumably the four or five places in northern England that he’d heard of. It’s horrible and I’m going to try and briefly give some context.

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I’ve been watching and learning about trains and railways from television since I was a toddler. In past articles I’ve discussed the BBC series Making Tracks, which was a big influence, and The Train Now Departing, probably the classiest railway television series ever made. Many more documentaries like these were made, particularly during the 1980s, when railway enthusiasm was still bordering on the mainstream.

Today’s railway programmes don’t reach the major channels, but YouTube is your friend, both for contemporary videos and archive footage. The only problem is you have to cut through hours and hours of videos of people stood on the edge of a platform with a camcorder as Tornado flashes past to get to the real gems. I have a whole playlist of railway videos, ranging from classic British Transport Films from the 1950s and 1960s through to the bang-up-to-date All the Stations series. Here are five must-see documentary-length videos for any enthusiast:

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Bristol Parkway is a pretty soulless place, devoid of any character or interest. It is one of Britain’s most modern railway creations, which developed from being a couple of platforms and a car park in a field in South Gloucestershire to an important rail interchange. The construction of everything on the site gives the impression that any architects involved tried to build the most features with the smallest amount of money. Everything looks lightweight and tinny. It’s no place to be stranded to change trains – there’s nothing there – and yet that’s exactly what it was meant to be.

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The TransPennine revolution

Posted: May 16, 2017 in Transport

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Rail travel in the North of England is currently undergoing nothing short of a total transformation. By 2020, the fleet of regional operator Northern will have been totally transformed with nearly 100 new trains to replace the outgoing Pacers, while Virgin Trains East Coast are ditching their InterCity 125s and 225s in favour of the new Hitachi InterCity Express trains, known as Azumas. But perhaps the most interesting changes are those planned for TransPennine Express. Currently the region’s intermediate franchise, operating semi-fast regional services on the East and West Coast routes and through the heart of the North, the operator is morphing into the full express form its name suggests, with huge fleet changes and a radical shift in emphasis in its routes.
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Britain’s last boat trains

Posted: March 26, 2017 in Rail, Transport

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As part of the package for my current job (working for a train operating company), I currently have free travel throughout much of the British railway network – a dream come true. Over the last few months I’ve been exploring parts of the country that I could never have imagined visiting – places that were just names on a map to a little Welsh lad who rarely ventured past Birmingham prior to turning 21.

Two of my recent trips have been linked. On 18 March, I found myself heading west from Leeds on the only train of the day to Heysham Port. Today, a week later (25 March), I was on one of the few services across South Wales from Cardiff to Fishguard Harbour. Both are amongst Britain’s last surviving services to ferry ports, linking with services to the Isle of Man and Rosslare respectively.

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Railways: service or business?

Posted: November 4, 2016 in Rail, Transport

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Llanfyllin station in North Wales (image used in the spirit of fair use)

When do railways stop being a service and become a business? When do railways stop being a business and become a service?

Dr Richard Beeching thought he had the answer. As chairman of the British Railways Board, he helped set out the criteria for what we understand as the modern railway, after which the idea of railways being solely operated as a service regardless of cost finally died – although it had already been dying in the decade leading up to it. Railways were expected to cover their losses, and could only be retained if “hardship” would result from the closure, a vaguely defined term which was easily exploited in times where pruning the network was accepted wisdom in Whitehall.
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