Monday, 30 June 2008

Plane crazy

The bids for the IEP were submitted to the DfT today.

Unfortunately Alstom weren't amongst the bidders having pulled the plug on their bid for the Frankenstein Train some months ago.

Which is a shame as Alstom is now looking at producing a freight version of the TGV that would offer companies like UPS and FedEx a rail alternative to their current carbon hungry fleet of planes.

Just as well they're not in the running. With Daft so in hock to the aviation lobby a real rail alternative to airfreight like this would never be allowed to take off.


Happy Mondays

Not a happy Monday for folk arriving on early morning trains into Euston today, many of whom were delayed into the capital (surprise, surprise).

Virgin first class customers will have been even less pleased, since their free at-seat copy of The Times had a lead letter from Network Rail boss Iain Coucher, extolling the wonders of the railway - particularly the punctuality record.

Coucher boasted that "now more than 90 per cent" of train services arrive on time.

As one exasperated passenger put it: "A bloody shame that the remaining 10% all serve Euston!"

Lookalike

The DafT official tasked with masterminding Government electrification policy (or lack there-of) has been discovered moon-lighting as an extra in the Peter Kay comedy series Phoenix Nights.


Spencer, much like DfT electrification policy, is hapless.


Make your mind up

In a shock horror splash across most of the Sundays the Campaign for Better Transport has revealed that walk on fares are err... more expensive than tickets bought in advance.

No shit Sherlock!

As pointed out by Railway Eye only two weeks ago the story could equally well have read "Buy early for best deals" - except that wouldn't have made quite such a good story.

CBT Director Stephen Joseph said "We have to have reasonable walk-on fares or people will walk on straight into their cars."

An interesting point Stephen. But can you suggest how else the railway manage demand for its scarce capacity?

Particularly when your organisation's website lists rail over-crowding as it's primary concern.

The Fact Compiler congratulates CBT for a slick piece of PR which adds precisely nothing to the debate but positions CBT as the master of "Cake and Eat it".


Sunday, 29 June 2008

I should Coco

Beleaguered Network Rail boss Iain Coucher was in grim mood as he gave an address to the railway industry's Fourth Friday networking club.

The only time he broke into a smile was when it became apparent there would be no more questions from the floor at the end.

But at least no one called him "Mr Croucher" as the interviewer did on Monday's Today programme.

Coucher also took the opportunity to make clear that he is more than willing to see the ORR refer Network Rail to the Competition Commission over the level of funding the regulator believes the infrastructure owner needs in CP4.

Referral to the Competition Commission is becoming something of a badge of honour in the railway industry. First the ROSCOs, next NR...

Friday, 27 June 2008

Spot the Crank #4

This Gentleman was recently seen shopping for a lawn mower.

Despite the very large cheque in his hand (pictured) his local B&Q were unable to help as he refused to buy the machine, insisting that he would rather have it on wet lease terms.

Do you know who it is yet?

Answers on a postcard to

Anyone Left?
HSBC Rail (UK) Ltd

PO Box 29499

London

NW1 2ZF


Axis of IEPvil

***DfT announcement yesterday on changes to IEP bidders***

"Hitachi Europe had been succeeded as an applicant for the Intercity Express Programme (IEP) by Agility Trains Ltd (a consortium comprising of Hitachi (Japan) Ltd, Barclays Private Equity and John Laing Projects and Developments).

Bidders are:

  • Express Rail Alliance (a consortium comprising Bombardier Transportation, Siemens, Angel Trains and Babcock & Brown)
  • Agility Trains Ltd (a consortium comprising of Hitachi (Japan) Ltd, Barclays Private Equity and John Laing Projects and Developments)

The tender return date for the Intercity Express Programme is midday, Monday 30 June 2008."

Is the Fact Compiler alone in looking forward to the inevitable NAO enquiry into this extraordinary procurement process?


Thursday, 26 June 2008

All Change at HSBC

***Both Peter Aldridge and Robert Marrill, Head of Customer Services and Operations at HSBC Rail have been seen shopping for new lawn mowers***

ScotRail is keen to talk to anyone at HSBC about funding for their nemesis trains.


PM to wave magic wand!

The Big Grin used yesterday's Prime Minister's Questions to hint that he has something revolutionary and exciting up his sleeve for the railway industry!

Norman Baker
(Shadow Secretary of State for Transport, Transport; Lewes, Liberal Democrat)
As a Scottish MP, the Prime Minister will have noticed the strong success of the recently reopened railway between Stirling and Alloa, where passenger numbers are currently three times greater than the projected figure for 2011, and the reopened line to Ebbw Vale in Wales is similarly a success story. If reopening lines in Scotland and Wales makes such good economic sense, why has the Department for Transport ruled out, despite the strong social and environmental case, reopening lines in England, such as the line from Lewes to Uckfield?

Gordon Brown (Prime Minister; Kirkcaldy & Cowdenbeath, Labour)
Last year, we said that we want to double the capacity of the existing network, which includes the whole of the United Kingdom. We have invited Network Rail to examine options for supporting further growth, which might include new lines and electrification. The hon. Gentleman will find that Network Rail and the Government are looking at those issues. I also hope that he acknowledges that we have committed £10 billion to increasing capacity over the next five years, which will result in the single biggest increase in capacity for a generation, 1,300 new carriages and funding for major projects in all parts of the country. We are honouring our commitment to the railways of this country, which is why more people are using the railways than at any time since the 1940s.

So the Government is committed to doubling the capacity of the network and has instructed Network Rail to look at options for further growth which, in the PM's words might include new lines and electrification.

If it doesn't include new lines and electrification then what precisely does the PM have in mind? Perhaps one of our Westminster readers could seek clarification....


Rosco update

The current turbulence in the world's financial markets has not left the Rolling Stock Leasing Companies unscathed.

With the price of capital soaring little new business is being written.

Earlier this month RBS managed to flog Angel Trains to a consortium led by Babcock and Brown for £3.6bn. The deal did nothing to restore market confidence in BB whose share price continued in free fall and is now worth 30% of its start of year value.

Meanwhile over at Porterbrook the world's 'Oldest Active Data Room' has received yet another spring clean as Banco Santander plays host to the latest bidder undertaking due diligence on the Derby based firm.

Only at HSBC does all appear quiet.

Indeed, so much so that MD Peter Aldridge is reported to be looking "very relaxed".

Should anyone see Peter purchasing a new lawn mower at B&Q please could they let the Fact Compiler know.


Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Eye bollocks

Oh dear - is ageing satirical magazine Private Eye loosing the plot?

The latest issue has a story by Gavel Basher on "worth every penny" PR and lobbying agency Golden Arrow Communications.

As Basher warms to his theme (the general uselessness of former Ministers as lobbyists) he keeps insisting that both "National Express and GNER" are Golden Arrow clients.

Whoops - as any fule kno GNER ceased to require lobbying services on 9th December 2007 when the East Coast Mainline franchise was transferred to errr... National Express!

Sloppy of Basher not to check his story with the Eye's resident railway expert Dr B Ching.


Contractor cleans up

***Short staffed and under pressure crew on an Arriva XC Leeds to Soton service this morning were delighted when ISS manager Margaret rolled up her sleeves and helped serve at seat refreshments to first class passengers.***

A nice example of partnership at work.


Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Hogwash

Telegrammed by our man in 222 Marylebone Road...

Here is Tom (why are you all so bloody miserable) Harris addressing the Institute of Economic Affairs Future of rail conference on 18 June:

"Although Network Rail is a product of this government, I’m certainly not its apologist. And if it fails in its delivery, then I will be the first to criticise. But I do believe it has suffered an unfair press. Mistakes were made at Liverpool Street and we saw the consequences when 16 overhead line engineers failed to show up for work over Christmas.

"But what’s conveniently forgotten by the pundits is that at that time we saw the most intensive period of engineering activity on the Railway since rail privatisation. There were 35 major project work sites plus dozens of instances of more minor works".


Clearly, while repercussions at Liverpool Street managed to penetrate Tom's Westminster-centric universe it seems odd that an MP with a Glasgow constituency is unaware of the shag up at Shields Junction.

And since he is known to travel by Virgin Trains between Westminster and his constituency it's equally odd that he missed the Rugby over run which also contributed to the £14million Christmas fine from ORR.

But we have to agree he's not an apologist when it comes to his government's creation, more a whitewasher.



Monday, 23 June 2008

D Notice

Media sections in yesterday's papers reported the likely demise of The London Paper, Murdoch's Standard spoiler.

Despite denials today from News International such a development couldn't come soon enough for London Underground, which has to get shot of thousands of copies left strewn around trains and stations each day.

As well as cleaning up the system, improving Customer Satisfaction Survey scores and reducing a potential fire risk, the demise of one of London's three evening newsheets would save TfL a small fortune in litter picking costs.

Fingers are crossed at 55 Broadway that Associated will also merge Standard Lite and The Evening Standard into one paper.

The Fact Compiler understands that BoJo can see the PR benefits of a cleaner looking Tube and has instructed his minions to help Lord Rothermere make the right decision...



NEEC healthy breakfast

A rail gourmet rants:

08:30 Kings X to Newcastle - No chef


09:00 Kings X to Edinburgh - Chef but no food!


The Fact Compiler wonders whether NEEC might also struggle to combine a brewery and a piss up?

Clueless!

Rail Minister Tom Harris had a difficult end to his week on Friday when there was quite a media brouhaha over his blog question demanding why Britons are "so bloody miserable".

The Fact Compiler fears that he must add to his woes by drawing attention to an extraordinary written reply he gave last Thursday to a Parliamentary question on rolling stock.

Railway Eye readers will recollect the hoots of derision that greeted DafT's Rolling Stock Plan (RSP), published on the 30th January this year.

In this fantabulous document DafT identified the need for an additional 1,300 vehicles for the network and even presumed to guess where these should be allocated (the three vehicles the RSP assigned to East Midlands Trains prompted a senior executive's exasperated response that he hoped they wouldn't all arrive at once!).

Despite considerable concerns within the industry about the paucity of the RSP there was at least a belief that the decisions it contained were based on a degree of knowledge about current rolling stock allocation.

Alas - this is not the case!

Last Thursday DafT released an answer from Tom Harris to the following question from his Tory Shadow:

Stephen Hammond (Shadow Minister, Transport; Wimbledon, Conservative): To ask the Secretary of State for Transport how many (a) locomotives, (b) multiple units, (c) freight wagons and (d)carriages were in use on the rail network in the most recent period for which figures are available, broken down by (i) train operating company and (ii) class.

Tom Harris (Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport; Glasgow South, Labour): This information is not held by the Department for Transport, but is widely available in the specialist press.

Frankly this is an extraordinary admission and must call into question the whole basis upon which the Department for Transport has drawn up its Rolling Stock Plan.

The Fact Compiler was so shocked by this admission that he sought clarification from wiser heads,

It emerges that at a media briefing with Tom Harris in May the Minister was
told that his Department officials were reliant on an Informed Sources table from Modern Railways as their rolling stock crib!

"Is this true?" demanded the Minister. "Yes Minister" replied the Minister's minder.

So at least it is now official - the Department for Transport really hasn't got a clue what is going on.


Sunday, 22 June 2008

Trumpet blast!

***Letter from The Business Editor, Rail***

Dear Fact Compiler

I enjoyed your analysis of last week's story about NR and its look at new lines. But the passage "The story emerged on Friday, not from within the notoriously leaky railway community, but via political sources in the Westminster village. Industry commentators, even the very well informed, were caught completely unawares..." should be compared with this extract from RAIL magazine "Network Rail is set to launch a major inquiry into when and where Britain needs new railways, whether conventional or high-speed."

The magazine's subscribers received these words on June 14 and the legions of readers who prefer to stand in WH Smiths every other Wednesday should also have not been surprised to hear the story two days later on the BBC.

Just so you know, no wish to blow own trumpet etc...

yours

Philip Haigh
Business Editor
RAIL Magazine


The Fact Compiler is just popping down to WH Smiths...


Saturday, 21 June 2008

Spot the Crank #3

There was a time when this Gentleman was so far to the left that the photographer would have had to be in the Guard's van to get his picture.

Happily age has mellowed him and he has now traded in his
Trotskyite membership for that of the British Empire (as awarded in The Queen's birthday honours list for "Services to the rail industry").

Do you know who it is yet?

Answers on a postcard to

Dr Paul Salveson MBE
Head of Government and Community Strategies
Northern Rail Ltd
PO Box 208
Leeds LS1 2BU

Que bono?

Who stands to benefit from today's leak that Network Rail is to undertake a review into the construction of five new main lines?

Not Network Rail which is struggling with its obligations to maintain and renew the existing network. Were NR to conclude that more lines are required then it is unlikely it would be able to undertake such labour and capital intensive projects itself.

Nor the TOCs who would much rather the infrastructure owner addressed current capacity constraints through incremental upgrades (additional junctions and doubling of track) or infill electrification to allow better utilisation of scarce rolling stock.

Perhaps the greatest surprise of all is that this major review isn't being led by the Department for Transport which, after all, is responsible for transport strategy. More importantly it would fall to the DfT to steer any resulting schemes through Parliament and secure funding from a reluctant Treasury (which still hasn't stumped up for Crossrail yet).


The story emerged on Friday, not from within the notoriously leaky railway community, but via political sources in the Westminster village. Industry commentators, even the very well informed, were caught completely unawares.

The timing of the leak was telling, it followed the damning speech made by Chris Bolt on Thursday, in which he lambasted the industry for a lack of strategic vision and declared that the Office of Rail Regulation would now produce its own long term strategy to fill the gap.

By getting Network Rail to undertake this White Elephant of an exercise Ministers will achieve a number of aims.

Firstly they can spike ORR's guns by pretending that work on a long term strategy is just about to begin.

Secondly they can suppress calls for incremental capacity increases and infill electrification by making these subordinate to the results of this massive study.

Finally, it will effectively bury High Speed 2 - the proposed high speed route that will link London to the West Midlands and which has broad industry support.
With todays announcement that five high speed lines are to be evaluated the industry consensus on HS2 will dissolve in a frenzy of self destructive self interest.

As if proof were needed of the cynicism of this exercise today's leak claimed that NR will review two options to Birmingham one alongside the West Coast Main Line the other alongside the Chiltern route. Thus setting even local supporters of HS2 against one another.

Sir Humphrey and his masters must be very pleased with the way yesterday's fag packet idea has been portrayed by the media today as a major development in railway policy !

Friday, 20 June 2008

Double Dutch

BASEL (Reuters) - Switzerland's national railway has told its workers to stop using their normal orange reflective vests after confused Dutch football fans started following them on to the tracks.

A railway spokesman said the changed strip had been prompted by an incident in the Swiss capital Berne when a group of Netherlands supporters followed a worker on to the lines after mistaking his uniform for their traditional orange dress.

"We have now given out yellow vests to all our staff who have to work on or cross the tracks in Basel, where the Dutch fans are now based," Oliver Tamas said on Friday.

Priced off the rails

Heritage Railways are suffering from rising fuel prices.

The North Yorkshire Moors Railway has threatened to reduce services as a growing number of its 400 volunteers cannot afford to travel long distances to help operate the 24-mile route between Pickering and Whitby.

Read the Yorkshire Post article here

Compass Rose

To paraphrase Holy Writ - "Can anything good come out of Porterbrook"?

Bucking the trend is Keith Rose, former Head of Safety at the ROSCO, who has become the new Chairman of the Railway Mission.

The Fact Compiler has a great fondness for the Railway Padres who have maintained a continuous pastoral presence, available to passengers and staff alike, on Britain's railways since 1881.

The mission's founding objective is to further “the moral and spiritual advancement of railway employees of all ages”. A role they continue today.

Keith is from the Evangelical tradition so, despite his elevation, those who meet him are advised not to try and kiss his ring.



Minister says sorry to bloody miserable Britons

Transport minister Tom Harris has apologised for asking why Britons are 'so bloody miserable'.

In his blog post titled 'Heaven knows we're miserable now', Mr Harris said:

"There are more two-car homes in Britain today than there are homes without a car at all. We live longer, eat healthier (if we choose), have better access to forms of entertainment never imagined a generation ago (satellite TV, DVD, computer games), the majority of us have fast access to the worldwide web, which we use to enable even more spending and for entertainment.

Crime is down.

" So why is everyone so bloody miserable?"

Mr Harris told BBC radio, " If you read the full article I hope you'll understand that what I'm trying to do is actually make a serious point.

" Even if I accept that phrase 'why is everyone so bloody miserable' - I wrote that in a humorous vein - I understand that if people want to take that as offensive, I apologise, that maybe it should have been phrased differently."

The Fact Compiler suspects the Rail Minister was thinking of rail passengers who continue to be bloody miserable ingrates despite the Government's investment of billions of pounds in the railways, 1,300 new vehicles, Crossrail, Thameslink, WCML upgrade, PPP... (cont p94...)


A victim of the WCRM?

Tom Harris provides an update on fans of his blog

"Today, as I was driving home up the M6, I received two calls from journalists. Apparently Philip Hammond, the Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, is a fan of my blog and has decided my comments about people being miserable are worthy of exploiting for party political reasons. So read the Mail tomorrow."

Driving Minister?


Thursday, 19 June 2008

Not fit for purpose

Chris Bolt today announced that the Office of Rail Regulation would produce its own strategy for the railways.

Predicting record growth and growing role for the railways Bolt declared "At present, the industry lacks a clear vision of how it will meet that challenge. It does not have in place longer-term plans to transform the railways to meet increasing demand and service expectations. It needs to start to address this now, working in partnership.

"For our part, as the safety and economic regulator of Britain's railways, we will be reviewing how we can better contribute to the necessary transformation, and publishing our own strategy later this year." said Chris Bolt.

What a depressing day. The industry's economic and safety regulator has to tell DafT, NR and ATOC that they're not up to the job of planning for our future!


Pillow talk

It is well known that the Welsh Assembly Government and Arriva Trains Wales work closely together. But it took the press to discover quite how closely.

The Western Mail reports today that Tim Bell, MD of Arriva Trains Wales lives with a certain Alison Teague.

Ms Teague, when not living with Mr Bell, is tasked by the Welsh Assembly Government with monitoring the finance and performance of Mr Bell's franchise (ATW).

Defending the slightly unusual arrangement the TOC said “Arriva Trains Wales understands that the Welsh Assembly Government was made aware of this matter when Tim Bell was appointed managing director and has put processes into place to avoid potential conflict of interest.”.

So that's all right then.

The Fact Compiler understands that Ms Teague continues to be satisfied by Mr Bell's performance.


Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Planning ahead

***Determined not to be caught out by ORR again, Iain Coucher has summoned TOC owner groups to a meeting on the 1st July to discuss CP5 ! ***


Angel double counting?

***According to the latest Rail Business Intelligence the 14 five car Cl180 units are going to remain on-lease to First.***

This may come as a surprise to Virgin West Coast who believe they are getting two.


London to lose O'Toole?

A report from Railway Eye's International Correspondent:

Tim O'Toole, MD of LUL, looks set to return to his native America if a multi-billion dollar bid by UK
Hedge Fund TCI for US Class 1 freight railroad CSX gets the green light.

O'Toole, 52, came to London in 2003 as part of a Mayor Ken Livingstone's inspired American invasion of Transport for London.

Recruited by
controversial Transport Commisioner and vodka enthusiast Bob Kiley, O'Toole took the top Tube job after Gordon's ill-fated PPP had been imposed on the world's oldest metro. The resulting split between operations and infrastructure left O'Toole responsible for running the trains but not much more; a cause of frequent tensions with the new private sector infrastructure owners.

More at home with
heavy freight than Oyster-card bearing Londoners he earned his spurs in Conrail, the cumbersome corporation created by the US government when the Penn Central ("Standard Railroad to the World") went tits up.

Conrail subsequently became part of CSX, the
very corporation O'Toole is now tipped to be joining. He knows the patch, as they say. Or more likely where the bodies are buried.

O'Toole has been impressive at LU which carries over a billion passengers a year and he will be sorely missed. He was on duty when Islamic fundamentalists blew up three of his trains simultaneously and hardened LUL operators say he was a cool head in an unprecedented situation.

Finding a successor will be a challenge for BoJo and his New Best Mate Hendy.

Mike Brown (LUs current COO) has been headhunted by BAE to lift them out of the sticky brown stuff at
Heathrow. Although his number two, Howard Collins, is made for the COO role the top job may elude him this time round..

Other possible contenders within the TfL empire include Ian Brown who currently runs the London Overground and DLR operations. Rumours continue to circulate that he is getting itchy feet after DfT blew a raspberry at TfL's plans to take over South London Metro services.

Perhaps the opportunity for Ian Brown to
fold his "S-Bahn" empire into Tim O'Toole's "U-Bahn" may well keep him interested for a couple more years.


Tuesday, 17 June 2008

HMG sets NR an example

***HMG has decreed that Government ministers will give up their pay rise for the forthcoming year. A welcome development that would have been unthinkable in the days of the Tony & Cherie gravy train.***

Perhaps those Masters of the Trough - Messrs MacAllister, Coucher and the Henderson twins, can still be prevailed upon to withdraw their snouts from NR's bonus pot - bearing in mind the company's piss-poor performance over Christmas.


Rugby balls

***The Fact Compiler is being deluged with emails from passengers on the West Coast Main Line where yet another signal failure at Rugby is playing havoc with Virgin services. Top of the list of complaints is a complete lack of information on what is happening.***

The Fact Compiler hopes Beardie-rail remembers to keep passengers informed before putting the boot into NR


Sursum corda

***Alistair Osbourne in the Daily Telegraph is touting LCR's Rob Holden as a successor to NR's stay at home chairman Ian MacAllister.***

Railway Eye readers will recollect that The Times had previously suggested Tom Winsor for the role.

The Fact Compiler is gladdened that the bonus laden MacAllister's departure is now a matter of when, not if.


Surreal

***Martin Waller in The Times' City Diary reflects on the award, in The Queen's birthday honours list, of a "K" to Worst Group's Moir Lockhead***


Monday, 16 June 2008

IEP RIP?

It's almost July and the DafT boys and girls are looking forward to their summer holidays. And if there is a particular spring in their step it is almost certainly because they won't have to wade through IEP bid submissions on their return.

The original programme envisaged Civil Servants reviewing bid submissions in "Summer 2008" but it is becoming increasingly apparent that this timescale will not be met.

The IEP is already know as a Frankenstein Train having been beset by problems ever since the specification was drawn up and issued by Whitehall Mandarins. As befits the Masters of Compromise the train was to be both electric and diesel powered.

To their credit Network Rail quickly spotted that DafT was 'Talking Bollocks' and called at the end of last year for the diesel option to be abandoned.

Then Alstom, one of only three IEP bidders, abandoned the competition in February leaving just Hitachi and Express Rail Alliance (a Bombardier/Siemens JV) in the running.

Such is Hitachi's unhappiness with the IEP specification that it has had to issue constant denials that it was planning to give up on the competition. Meanwhile Express Rail Alliance, which was backed by RBS and Babcock & Brown, is suddenly looking very wobbly after last week's exit from the rail market by RBS (which sold Angel Trains to IEP partner Babcock & Brown).

Despite a collective raspberry from the market DafT continued to maintain that IEP was on track.

So it probably came as a shock to Mike Mitchell and his DafT chums when Ruth Kelly, in Rosa Klebb mode, stuck the stilleto into the project on the 9th June by recanting her previous faith in diesel traction and becoming a born again evangelist for electrification.

With Rosa having stiffed her own Department and thoroughly confused the supply chain it can't be long before the InterCity Express Programme derails

Meanwhile The Fact Compiler is keen to know exactly how much this barren process has cost the taxpayer to date?


Fares freeze?


David Cameron unveiled the Tories "Blue/Green Charter" today.

In his speech Cameron lamented "packed and expensive trains". In almost the very next sentance he identified the need for "High speed rail to connect the country quickly".

The Fact Compiler is very excited. Is this a Tory promise not to increase fares to pay for HS2?
Somehow we doubt it.


Micromanagement

Much excitement at DafT this morning following reports from Down Under that Rio Tinto plans to introduce diverless trains on its 800 mile freight network.

For an investment of just $371m Rio hopes to be able to do away with drivers, increase capacity and control the network from Perth some 800 miles away.

The Fact Compiler looks forward to visiting the new DfT National Control Centre in Marsham Street.


Fare's fair

The gents of the press have an uncanny knack of plucking out the most expensive prices from the fares book when they want to run their favourite old chestnut about the the high cost of travelling by train.

But funny how you can prove the case the other way if the news editor so demands it.

Today's Guardian special supplement on How to Save Money quotes some staggeringly cheap train fares which beat even coach prices in the newspaper's comparison tables.

Bet you won't see these mentioned again next time a knocking story is on the agenda!


Dead greedy

National Express East Coast have a demanding subsidy profile and every penny counts.

So Eleanor Summers discovered when her husband Thomas dropped dead and NEEC refused to refund the £96 they has spent on pre-booked travel tickets.

The Summers, from Byker, Newcastle, had planned to visit their son in London on 6th June, but unfortunately Thomas suffered a severe stroke on the 21st May and died a week later.

When grieving widow Eleanor contacted NEEC they offered her a £52 travel voucher – worth £44 less than the original set of tickets - claiming the difference covered "administration charges".

“We are very private people, but they are making millions of pounds out of people like my lovely husband.” said Eleanor.

After local paper The Journal became involved NEEC admitted they were wrong not to refund the entire price of the ticket, and promised to do so if Mrs Summers returned the vouchers.

The Fact Compiler thinks NEEC has an absolute cheek to charge an administration fee of almost 50% on ticket refunds, especially after the Banks had their bottom's spanked for similar sharp practices!

Perhaps this explains how parent company National Express can continue to fund the salaries of displaced MDs from all the franchises they have lost?


Saturday, 14 June 2008

Rail celebrities don't sell

A report from Railway Eye's independent Auction Expert:

A nameplate bearing the moniker of eminent train snapper Brian Morrison failed to reach its reserve at today's Sheffield Railwayana auction.

The nameplate, from a former Virgin Class 47, was priced at a relatively modest £1.200.

Brian, who was presented with one of the two plates when they were taken off the loco, remained philosophical. Instead of boosting his pension, the oldest snapper in the train biz is clearly going to have to carry on working.

Stingy lot these railwayana buffs.

A set of plates from the Wessex Electrics, donated by SWT in aid of a children's charity struggled to sell.

Most plates only achieved prices in the low hundreds despite much prompting from auctioneer Ian Wright.


Friday, 13 June 2008

Frying pan fire

***An interesting piece in tomorrow's (yep - tomorrow's) Sydney Morning Herald on Angel's new owners.***

Railway Eye readers will be aware of the recent volatile share price of former parent RBS.

It appears that all may not be well Down Under either.

You can read the SMH Business section here.

We Char Railway Company

Do you know this man?

He and his associates were seen in the vicinity of the Cumbrian Coast line on 26th May 2008.

After they had passed through the area a number of very serious fires were discovered on, or about, the railway.

One of these has caused severe damage to the historic Eskmeals Viaduct.

Witness David Moore, Fire Brigade watch manager at Seascale said "The 200 metre long viaduct was burning in three places, including right in the middle. Approximately 100 square metres of timber sleepers were burned.”

Repairing the damage is likely to cost several hundreds of thousands of pounds.

If you see this man please inform Network Rail, who are very keen not to talk to him, if possible, ever again.



Pith and wind


Rail editor Nigel Harris was quick off the mark and managed to secure the first interview with Mike Alexander the new Chairman of the Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC).

It was not a happy meeting, judging from the resulting Comment piece in the last issue of Rail.


The article ended with Harris demanding that Alexander and ATOC "Shape up" and push for further electrification (as Adrian Shooter, Alexander's predecessor at ATOC, had done).


The dust still hasn't settled on their row.


A copy of Alexander's follow up letter to Harris has reached the Fact Compiler, it is printed below:

-----------------------------

04 June 2008

Dear Nigel

Many thanks for the opportunity to “shape up” regarding the debate on electrification as outlined in your editorial of 4th June.

ATOC has passengers and the railways at its heart. It represents train operators. The closest companies you can get to the passenger in today’s world. Our members survive on their success in meeting passenger requirements, often exceeding the constraints of their operating licences. The rapid growth in passenger numbers, over 40% in the last decade, is testament to TOCs’ and others’ success in meeting passengers’ desires. There are few other groups who care so passionately about the quality of the day-to-day service delivered to customers. So it is not surprising that ATOC takes a similar stance, and is pushing for today’s and tomorrow’s railway to meet customers’ needs. We are strong supporters of the benefit railways provide to the UK economy, and we are anxious that this advantageous position continues. Rail is generally more environmentally friendly (comfortable, time-productive, and speedier) than motor transport. So let’s pull together at getting the UK railways’ needs met now, to 2014 and well beyond.

Turning to electrification. A hot topic in the industry and with yourselves. I am not against it. In fact, I would be a supporter if/when we identify that this is the best economic and technical solution to provide a better railway for passengers. This may be an easy case to make – for certain lines and capacity constraints. So let’s get on with it. Customers are waiting. In the pursuit of this solution ATOC, together with the extremely capable TOC staff, acting jointly with Network Rail, will be right behind early planning, and competent and efficient delivery. But… as I said, we must start with the problem “how to improve the railways for the present and the future of UK plc – in particular, for passengers”. Get this right, and with a clear sight of the problem to resolve, we can then apply the correct solutions. We all need to stand tall in this debate, put our ‘favoured answers’ to one side, and ensure public money is spent wisely. Such clarity of thinking will ensure our requests are well-justified, and supported outside the industry and in government. We need to lead with an open mind, yet deliver what is needed for the economy and the passenger – starting now, and into the future. Electrification to the fore?

Yours sincerely

Mike Alexander

--------------------------------

The ATOC release announcing Alexander's appointment claimed he has a reputation "for making things happen and managing change".

The Fact Compiler cautions that electrification is a great totem to the railway industry. Alexander will need to manage the issue well, otherwise he may find that a reputation for
"vacillation and wind-baggery" is more easily won.


Freightliner sold

***Freightliner has been bought by Arcapita***

3i Press Release here

Irish vote no!


Guido had it first

RBS flogs Rosco

***Royal Bank of Scotland has offloaded Angel Trains for £3.6bn to a consortium led by Babcock & Brown***

BBC story here


UPDATE: Sources indicate that RBS is very pleased with the price paid by Babcock and Brown.

Apparently the business was packaged in three lots: MOLA fleets (ex BR stock), New Trains and Angel's unregulated European business.

The strong price would indicate that B&B and it's advisors are pretty confident that the Competition Commission enquiry into the ROSCOs will not impact dramatically on MOLA lease rates going forward.

The Fact Compiler is not surprised, with a National Rolling Stock Shortage where else would the railway get alternative vehicles to meet current demand. Suggestions that DafT have asked the MOD to release the "Strategic Reserve" have been denied.


Thursday, 12 June 2008

Spot the Crank #2


Today's mystery crank is so keen to get the perfect shot of LU heritage loco Sarah Siddons that he appears to have forgotten the railway by-laws relating to feet on seats.

If you have a spare copy perhaps you could send them to the address below:

Mark Hopwood
Performance Director
FGW
Freepost SWB40576
Plymouth
PL4 6ZZ


David Davis resigns

***David Davis is standing down from both Shadow Cabinet and Parliament to trigger a by-election on the ticket of setting the people free from this overweening Government.***

The Fact Compiler wishes him all the best and hopes that the resultant reshuffle will see a Shadow Transport Secretary of the stature of Chris Grayling rather than the one we now have, whose name eludes me...


NR promises to speed up WCML upgrade

The Fact Compiler understands that NR talent scouts from the West Coast upgrade team are planning to attend Horwich Carnival...

UPDATE:
The Health and Safety Taliban will be delighted to know that owing to "insurance" issues only narrow gauge sleepers will be used.

FURTHER UPDATE: Sources within the ORR confirm they have suggested that NR do the same to help reduce costs and Lost Time Injuries...



The road to hell is paved...

You feel for the poor PR souls tasked with promoting First Great Western. The company is not without a certain promotional flair.

Regrettably this is all too often let down by FGW's piss-poor operating department, who have proven themselves consistently able to snatch disaster from the jaws of victory.

The Swindon Spinners recently jumped at the chance to leap into bed with feisty Bristol rag the Evening News. The plan was to celebrate the new summer timetable on the Severn Beach line by offering readers free travel last Sunday.

Clutching their tokens loyal readers descended on stations between Temple Meads and Severn Beach to take advantage of the offer, which FGW must have hoped would usher in a new positive relationship with one of their most vocal media critics.

Whoops! Of the 16 scheduled services, seven were cancelled, leaving dozens of passengers stranded on platforms.

A Worst Great Western spokesman blamed "a train fault and a shortage of staff" for the debacle which has seen any remaining FGW credibility with the Evening News pissed-up against the wall.

The Fact Compiler thinks the Swindon Spinners were being too kind.

He would have named the chocolate teapot in the operating department responsible for diagramming and rostering. To run a high profile community event in conjunction with hostile local media and not have a watertight operating plan is nigh on criminal.




Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Sorry is the hardest word

The Fact Compiler is a fan of Rail Minister Tom Harris MP.

Not least for his witty, self deprecating and frequently off-message blog which somehow escapes the attention of the party's thought police.


However, there are concerns for his sanity following an interview last night with Christian Wolmar on the BBC Wales programme "Week In; Week Out".

Harris told Wolmar that had the railways still been nationalised in 1997 "then I think we (Labour) would have privatised them."

Unfortunately for Harris and co the Tories had already buggered-up the national rail system by the time the party came into power.

Not to be outdone New Labour turned its attention to the London Underground.

The Big Grin himself promoted the disastrous PPP that saw contractor Metronet bite the dust saddling the tax payer with a bill likely to top £1bn.

Of course the Tories have had the good grace to apologise for breaking BR but as yet from Labour not a word.

So perhaps it was better for Tom to focus on what Labour might have done to BR rather than the real damage they did to LU.


Monday, 9 June 2008

My dad's bigger than your brother!

The RMT's failure to close down the EMT Connect network on Saturday has caused embarrassment to the Union and anger amongst members who lost a day's pay.

The cause of the strike is a long running dispute, inherited from Central Trains, about Sunday working.

Unbelievably a Spanish Practice dating back to BR days means that Sunday is not a rostered turn leaving East Midlands Trains reliant on "volunteer" guards to run Connect services, resulting in frequent cancellations due to non-availability of staff.

On Friday in a bullish announcement RMT leader Bob Crow claimed that more than 130 guards at four Connect depots across the TOC would strike on Saturday effectively crippling the EMT rural and inter-regional services. This was to be the first of three such actions over successive Saturdays.

Alas Saturday's display of strength turned into farce as EMT, supported by parent company Stagecoach, managed to run 70% of the 215 timetabled services and brought in 104 replacement buses from across the country to infill for cancelled trains.

After such a piss-poor RMT performance Crow-bar might at least let ACAS do their job before calling the next days inaction.



Scottish threat to Crossrail


***Rail Minister Tom Harris MP exposes how the West Lothian question is already affecting plans for an expansion in English rail capacity...***

Brown tells Minister he can't count

***The Times on Saturday had a letter from the Chief Executive of Eurostar exposing the litany of fallacies that underpin the Government's anti-electrification agenda.***

View Richard Brown's letter here

Prescient questioning

The House of Commons Public Accounts Committee took evidence on the 4th June into the National Audit Office's report "Reducing passenger rail delays by better management of incidents."

Rail industry witnesses included Dr Mike Mitchell (Director General, Rail and National Networks Group, DfT), Iain Coucher (Chief Executive, NR) and David Franks (MD, National Express East Coast and an ATOC Board member).

Coucher-Tiger and Franksy made a good fist of the affair showing themselves to be on top of their brief.


One small gem crept through the rather dry proceedings.

With a delicious sense of irony Ian Davidson MP (Glasgow South) asked David Franks how delays influenced the number of assaults on rail staff.

How Franksy, who was sat next to Mike Mitchell at the time, managed to keep a straight face is unclear.

Younger readers may be unaware that in 2005 Dr Mike Mitchell was accused of of verbally abusive and threatening conduct towards a member of GNER staff.

He was found not guilty.

Saturday, 7 June 2008

Winsor to Chair NR?

***Martin Waller in The Times is touting Tom Winsor as replacement to NR's stay at home Chairman Ian McAllister***

Friday, 6 June 2008

NR makes £1.2bn "profit"

***BBC reporting Network Rail has announced an annual pre-tax profit of £1.2bn for 2007/8***

The Fact Compiler thinks this is good news as now they only need to find another £2bn to meet the ORR's efficiency demands.


UXB at Bromley by Bow (and more...)

***Restoration of service now estimated to be at 12:00 today***

*** 12:30 - now slipping into this afternoon***


Thursday, 5 June 2008

UXB at Bromley by Bow (more...)

***District line suspended whilst final works take place to defuse 2,000lb wartime German bomb. If all goes well restart of traffic planned for 08:00 tomorrow. If not it may be some considerable time later...***


Unrest at the NRM

The boys and girls at York tasked with safeguarding Britain's railway heritage are a mild mannered lot. They are more likely to mutter about a wrong livery than man the barricades in a labour dispute.

But such is no longer the case! For the custodians of the railway's history and guardians of our collective memory have voted to go on strike!

The National Railway Museum is insistent that it has made every effort to resolve the dispute and has even shown "flexibility on pensions and performance related pay".

The Head of Museum, Martin Earwicker, believes that the NRM's pay awards compare "very favourably with levels in the wider public sector". "We benchmark our pay rates and we know that staff are paid competitively" the NRM claimed.

Staff are less convinced. Having asked for confirmation about which sector their pay had been benchmarked against they were told "retail".

Putting aside the fact that retail could not possibly be considered public sector work they demanded examples of firms against whom their pay and conditions had been benchmarked.

One of the examples offered by Earwig and his flexible management was, errr... Kwik Save which went bust in 2007!


Only yesterday Rail Minister Tom Harris
published a consultation document on how to protect historically "significant railway artefacts".

The Fact Compiler is now more than a little concerned that if NRM management gets its way these important artefects will soon be curated by spotty students and Third Lifers with a bit of time on their hands. Either that or they'll be in the hands of the Administrators.


O Tempora O More!


NR disappointment at draft funding settlement

The Office of Rail Regulation has told NR to reduce its costs by 21% in its draft conclusion on the funding settlement for the railway to cover the period 2009-2014

NR had said it needed £29.5bn over the next five year control period but the ORR draft award is for £26.5 billion.

Iain Coucher, Chief Executive, said: “On the face of it, the proposed funding settlement is insufficient. I am extremely concerned that the funding settlement outlined today will put our plans to meet rising demand at risk."

Network Rail has promised to launch a vigorous lobbying campaign in support of its claim.

ORR will make its final determinations at the end of October.


Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Anthropologically misunderstood?

Explaining Saturday nights chaos on the Circle line Mayor BoJo argued that the revellers had been "anthropomorphically misunderstood"

“I think what we had there was the kind of exuberant, Celtic-style wake for the passing, the long overdue passing, of a custom” he continued.

This clarification from the Mayor is very helpful as many Tube staff and passengers had mistaken those involved for a pissed-up rabble.


For the avoidance of doubt and ease of identification The Fact Compiler thought it might be helpful to show this picture of members of the Iceni tribe in mourning.


Spot the Crank #1

This young man is currently COO of one of the UKs premier InterCity TOCs.

Do you know who it is yet?

Answers on a postcard please to:

Chris Gibbs
COO
Virgin Trains
FREEPOST BM 6613
PO BOX 713
Birmingham
B5 4HH

Credit crisis hits new trains

Whilst The Big Grin Engine has ensured that English rail expansion is off the agenda the situation North of the border couldn't be more different.

There devolution has empowered the Scottish Executive to sponsor six major projects, including five line reopenings, to the tune of £1.5bn.

And whilst English TOCs wait for the Dullards at Daft to address the chronic shortage of trains, Transport Scotland has already set about procuring 120 new vehicles to strengthen services on the thriving Glasgow/Ayr and Glasgow Airport routes.

Despite rearguard lobbying from UNITE the manufacturer has already been chosen (Siemens) and the ROSCO appointed (HSBC) but now the deal starts to get messy.

Tartan sources advise that the new train order should have been announced some months ago but this has been delayed several times as the banking crisis worsens.

With a credit squeeze taking place and higher premiums on borrowing there are more attractive deals for the money to chase.

Before chums in the South East get too smug at their Scots' cousins misfortunes The Fact Compiler urges caution.

Whispers reach him that the credit crunch is also impacting on Southern's order for new
dual-voltage
Electrostars, needed to meet the revised service in Thameslink Key Output 0.

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

LTW shoots Brian Cooke for backing Boris

***London TravelWatch Announcement***

London TravelWatch confirms that at an Extraordinary Meeting this morning, the London Assembly Transport Committee determined that the Chair of London TravelWatch breached the terms and a condition of his appointment and therefore the appointment has been terminated with immediate effect.

London TravelWatch will issue a further statement shortly.

The voice of London's transport users
2 June 2008
-------------------------------------------

The Fact Compiler is pleased to see that Ken still has some mates left.


LibDems support HS2

***LibDems launch transport plan***

Main proposals include:

* Cutting fuel duty and abolishing VED over the next 10 years and introducing a cost-neutral road user pricing scheme on motorways and trunk roads

* Building a high speed rail network paid for by introducing emissions-linked charges on road freight and internal flights

* Introducing rolling contracts for train operating companies to increase long-term investment and improve services

* Give power to control local bus services back to local authorities

* Introducing a new fund for rural transport

* Giving passengers a stronger voice to improve local transport services through a new passenger watchdog

The Fact Compiler says shame they'll never get the chance to implement them,


Oil's well that ends well

According to the Daily Telegraph airlines are facing a £3bn loss unless oil prices turn. It can't be long before the first TOC squeals to the same tune.

As far as The Fact Compiler is aware only Arriva Cross Country hedged it's diesel costs for the entire life of the franchise.

Others have shorter deals which, if they haven't already, must soon be coming to an end. And with no obvious end to rising oil prices new hedges are getting hard to find.

Meanwhile the sagely head of the OECD claimed today that high oil prices send a clear signal to consumers and firms to curb their use of fuel.

Good news for the Government.

No longer do they need to price down passenger demand - they can just let the market starve the railway of fuel.

And no, electrification is not on the agenda

Kelly rejects "Super-lorries"

***DfT announces that heavier goods vehicles won't be allowed on British roads on either a trial or permanent basis. Cites potential to abstract from railfreight.***

Take a seat - they're all free

When "back to basics" adulterer Major Balls-up decided to unleash the UK's most idiotic privatisation there were romantic hopes that the network would be awash with open access operators.

As Wolmar points out in his latest Rail article this has failed to happen and the three open access operators currently plying their trade are by and large an irrelevance to the big issues facing today's industry.

Indeed there are many who would like to see them disappear so the Fact Compiler is somewhat surprised that they have not sought unity in adversity - where for instance is the Association of Open Access Operators?


Perhaps the reason such an entity doesn't exist is that it would have more members than customers.

Spotted at Leamington Spa this morning were both the "Up" and "Down" early morning services of the splendidly named Wrexham, Shropshire & Marylebone Railway.

Passenger count: ten on the North and twenty on the South bound!

Thank goodness DB has deep pockets!

Monday, 2 June 2008

UXB at Bromley by Bow

***17:17 - An unexploded Second World War bomb has resulted in the suspension of London Underground services through Bromley by Bow. Disruption could last for up to 48 hours***

***17:50 - Services now restored after ministrations from the Bomb Disposal Squad***

***18:45 - DB lawyers allegedly flying in from Germany to contest potential abatement claim from TfL against Loo Roll concession***

***20:45 - Is 2000lbs quite big then?***

***23:52 - Sources close to DfT say Ruth Kelly now believes she has found a cheap way to do Crossrail groundworks at Stratford***

Kettle meet pot

It's not often that Network Rail gets to have a go at the failings of others, so when it does it really goes to town.

Kerpow! Hidden Dragon's team pushed out a release on Friday headed NR seeking "urgent answers from TfL following Liverpool Street Bridge fiasco".

Thwok! COO Robin Gisby railed: "Passengers rightly want an explanation, as do I. Passengers deserve an apology for the disruption they suffered last night and this morning and I want assurances that such an incident can't and won't happen again."

The Fact Compiler doesn't believe in being churlish so therefore won't point out NR's exemplary record in delivering gold plated engineering fiascoes (Portsmouth, Christmas, Easter, etc...).

Splatt! Or indeed the fiasco this very morning when the brand new Mitcham Eastfields station failed to open on time.

Sadly Robin's own people don't seem to be listening to him, as there was no sign in the BBC piece of either an apology from NR or an undertaking to the people of Mitcham that it won't happen again tomorrow.

Load, shoot, aim!