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 !