Category Archives: Railways

Is the Tory promise to reverse the Beeching railway cuts a test of our gullibility?

Look at the difference between the rail network in 1963 (before Beeching) and 1984 (after him). And the Tories reckon £500 million will restore all that? They’re stupid with money.

The Conservative government has announced that it intends to reopen historic railway lines that were closed in the 1960s after the infamous Beeching report.

But it has announced a pitifully small amount of funding for the plan – just £500 million.

To put that in perspective, that much money would reopen just 25 of the 5,000 miles of railway that Beeching axed – as Labour’s Andy McDonald pointed out:

In response, the Tories have said the money won’t repair any lines – it will be used only to fund feasibility studies to work out which routes can be restored.

In other words, not a single line will be restored as a result of this announcement – or with this funding.

It’s Boris Johnson’s 40 hospitals, all over again, only worse.

And on the subject of those phantom hospitals, if you have a Tory MP, maybe you’d like to wind them up by asking where – exactly – those hospitals are going to be?

And then watch them squirm.

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Supporters up in arms that HS2 might not be allowed to ruin irreplaceable natural habitats

Saddened: After all David Attenborough’s warnings about damage to the ecosystem on which human beings rely, it seems English people are quite happy to condemn species upon species to extinction in order to shorten their rail journeys by 20 minutes.

The HS2 high-speed rail link between London and the north of England could divide and destroy “huge swathes” of “irreplaceable” natural habitats – but supporters are reportedly devastated that part of it may be scrapped.

So much for our concern for the environment. Nobody cares that any number of rare species could die out, as long as they get to their destination 20 minutes faster.

And after all the warnings from David Attenborough. I wonder how he feels, now he knows he was wasting his breath on the general public.

It may seem trivial but it contributes to the expected destruction of a million animal species, ruining entire ecosystems on which human beings depend, as Sir David says, “for every breath of air we take and every mouthful of food that we eat.”

No, no – you’d rather make your journey 20 minutes shorter.

In fact, it doesn’t matter what members of the general public think.

It seems the Tory government is likely to scale down or even cancel HS2, because politicians like Boris Johnson want to put the money elsewhere.

Johnson’s transport adviser, Andrew Gilligan, is known to be against HS2, and Dominic Cummings, his chief adviser, is also not keen, having described it last year as a “white elephant”.

Johnson has for months been expected to endorse HS2 if it can reduce its costs, after commissioning a review by Douglas Oakervee, which is understood to support the whole line going ahead.

However, the government is dragging its feet over the publication of the Oakervee report and final decision, claiming the document is not finished yet even though it was submitted to the Department for Transport in November.

A DfT source insisted “there is no final report” as Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, “had some questions” about earlier drafts and it was sent back for revisions.

It seems that, if the government does cancel or restrict HS2, it will have made the right choice, at long last – although, as usual, for the wrong reasons.

Source: HS2 supporters fear Boris Johnson plans to scrap part of rail project | UK news | The Guardian

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Rail fares rise by 2.7 per cent – and most of the money will go abroad

This is a Pacer train – a bus frame mounted on train wheels as a “stopgap” measure more than 30 years ago, until Northern Rail could afford to replace them. That has never happened and they remain in use today because Tory privatisation means huge amounts of our money have subsidised foreign nationalised railways rather than being invested in our own.

Are you aware that, Brexit or no, huge amounts of your money are funnelled into European Union countries – because of Tory privatisation of our national assets?

That may seem a strange way to open an article about this year’s 2.7 per cent increase in rail fares – but the point is that the extra money being extorted out of commuters will go abroad, to fund foreign rail services.

And the fact is that trains in the UK are now almost entirely state-owned – by foreign countries.

Yes, by stupidly selling off our railways into private hands, the Tories allowed them to slip into the ownership of foreign national railways.

It is to those firms that the extra money from yearly rail price increases goes.

Alternatively, perhaps you’d prefer to think of it in these terms: the same foreign rail services – owned by EU states – have creamed off seven-eighths of the subsidy that the UK government provides to privatised rail services and are using that money for themselves.

When I reported on this three years ago, that subsidy totalled £3.999 billion from the year services were privatised (1994) until 2017 – meaning foreign-owned rail systems had made £3.5 billion in profit from the UK.

Now, with far more of the network owned and run by foreign countries – and three years later – the amount of profit is likely to be far greater.

And the Conservatives running the UK absolutely love giving that money away.

They love the fact that almost all the money the Treasury has been providing to improve the service has been leeched off in profit for foreign rail services instead.

They love the fact that rail fares have shot up by nearly half since 2010, squeezing commuters’ pay packets – which are already worth less than they were in 2008 due to Tory austerity.

They have to love it – otherwise they have to admit that privatisation is a crushing failure that harms UK citizens rather than empowering them.

By contrast, rail fares in Germany have just been cut by 10 per cent.

German state-owned railway Deutsche Bahn runs around a quarter of all UK rail operating companies through its firm Arriva UK Trains.

So, if you have travelled by rail over the last few years, your money has helped make it cheaper for Germans to use their trains.

That is the result of UK rail privatisation.

The Tories are responsible for this. Still, at least the Germans know what to do with it, if only in their own country.

Source: Rail fares rise by 2.7%, hitting millions of commuters – BBC News

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Letdown on rail accessibility for disabled people shows the Tories’ are still siding with big business

David Cameron (remember him?) vowed to remove Northern Rail’s infamous Pacer trains – bus frames mounted on train wheels as a “stopgap” measure more than 30 years ago – way back in 2014. A total of 180 Pacers will now remain in use, because the current Tory government has been too weak to stand up to big business.

The Conservatives’ recent election manifesto stated that the UK didn’t need to renationalise the rail network; it just needed to make it accountable. What a shame that won’t happen.

It is the second failed promise within days of the Conservatives being returned to office after the election. So far, they have not delivered on any of their commitments.

The rail letdown concerns accessibility for disabled people.

Private rail firms were given 10 years to make all trains accessible for people with disabilities – 10 years ago. They are not going to meet the January 1, 2020 deadline.

But instead of holding the privateers to account for their failure, the Tories have ripped up the deadline and granted no fewer than 10 companies permission to breach the new accessibility standards.

Remember that rail fares have skyrocketed since privatisation, with most of the money going to subsidise the large – nationalised – rail industries of other European countries that own our private railways.

According to The Independent:

The new plan is for the carriages to be replaced between April and next December – a full year’s delay – although it is unclear how achievable those new deadlines will be.

The minister’s letter says: “Despite such a significant period of time for the rail industry to prepare, I understand that were all non-compliant trains removed from service there would be a disproportionately negative effect on the provision of services for passengers.

“Thus I have reluctantly agreed to issue strictly time-limited dispensation notices to a number of operators for around 1,200 carriages in the national fleet.”

Truth is, the rail firms can always say there would be a “disproportionately negative effect” on passenger services if the non-compliant trains were taken out of service – and never replace them.

And what will the Tories do about it? Roll over and extend the deadline again.

It is as Labour’s transport spokesman Andy McDonald said: “You cannot believe a word they say.”

Source: Deadline to make trains accessible for disabled ripped up in Boris Johnson’s first ‘broken promise’ since election win | The Independent

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UK railway services are now almost entirely state-owned – by foreign countries

Could there be a better argument to support Labour’s call for train services to be re-nationalised?

British rail commuters pay the highest prices in Europe to use trains that are almost exclusively run by European state operators.

We are subsidising services in their countries.

If our railways were re-nationalised, the money we pay would flow into UK state coffers. From there it could be used to, possibly, improve the service and reduce prices.

Don’t you think that would be a better way?

With rail fares set to rise again by as much as 2.8 per cent, the debate over whether the UK should renationalise the railways – which Labour made a 2017 manifesto pledge – has already reared its head.

This week the Trades Union Congress renewed its call for renationalisation, saying doing so would lead to lower ticket prices.

“We’re already paying the highest ticket prices in Europe to travel on overcrowded and understaffed trains,” the organisation’s general secretary Frances O’Grady said.

[But] extensive state-ownership exists among UK rail operators, it just doesn’t involve the British state.

Here’s the full list:

c2c: Italian state

Chiltern: German state

Caledonian sleeper: PRIVATE

CrossCountry: German state

East Midlands: Dutch state

Eurostar: French state

Gatwick Express: French state

Grand Central: German state

Great Northern: French state

GWR: PRIVATE

Greater Anglia: Dutch state

Heathrow Express: PRIVATE

Hull Trains: PRIVATE

LNER: British state

London Northwestern Railway: Dutch state

London Overground: German state

London Underground: British state

Merseyrail: Dutch state

Northern: German state

Northern Ireland Railways: British state

Scotrail: Dutch state

South Western Railway: Hong Kong state

Southeastern: French state

Southern: French state

Stansted Express: Dutch state

TfL rail: Hong Kong state

Thameslink: French state

TransPennine Express: PRIVATE

Transport for Wales: French state

West Coast: Italian state

West Midlands Railway: Dutch state

Source: Trains on UK railways now almost entirely state-owned – by foreign countries | The Independent

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Rail fares to rise yet again – this time by 2.8 per cent

This is more evidence to support Labour’s plan to re-nationalise the UK’s railways.

Regulated train fares are set to rise by 2.8 per cent next year, in line with the July rate of Retail Prices Index (RPI) inflation.

Commuters from the new transport secretary’s constituency will pay an extra £84 a year to get to work in London from the start of 2020.

Grant Shapps is MP for Welwyn Hatfield. From January next year, the price of an annual season ticket from Welwyn Garden City to London will rise from £3,016 to £3,100.

Source: Rail fares set to rise by 2.8% in 2020 | The Independent

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Grayling’s failings are piling up – rail fiasco adds to his Brexit ferry woes

Fiasco: It costs an average of 3.1 per cent more to board a train than it did in December – and the chances are it will still be delayed.

Chris Grayling is failing as Transport Secretary, just as he failed as Justice Secretary and as a minister for employment.

His latest disaster is the latest increase increase in ticket prices on Britain’s railways – most of which are owned by foreign companies and all of which have creamed £3.5 billion in profits off of us, while failing to provide adequate services.

The Mirror describes it as a “gravy train” for the privatised rail operators, which were once a national utility owned by all of us.

Its report stated: “Private train operators have creamed off £3.5 billion from running our railways over the past 10 years.

“These gigantic profits come despite passengers having to deal with overcrowding, delays, cancellations, strikes and among the highest ticket prices in Europe.

“It got worse yesterday as fare increases were introduced.”

Those increases amount to 3.2 per cent this year – totalling 36 per cent since 2010. The Mirror reported that top executives were making a fortune from them. So what do you think Mr Grayling had to say about it?

He blamed the employees.

A different Mirror report stated: “Chris Grayling blamed rail workers three times in an interview.

“He claimed the “biggest factor” behind the fare rises is “pay pressure from the unions”.

“”They want pay rises that are much higher than [Shadow Transport Secretary] Andy McDonald was talking about.

“”They threaten strike action across the country to get those pay rises.””

According to Rachael Maskell MP, he also attacked Network Rail:

Shadow Transport Secretary Andy McDonald had withering words for Mr Grayling – after disembarking from a train that was – predictably – late.

According to the Mirror‘s report, he said: “This is a pathetic attempt to shift the blame for Tory fares policies onto the staff who run the railway.

“It’s telling that Grayling doesn’t suggest slashing the salaries of train company bosses or dividends paid to shareholders of private train companies.”

Labour – and the Mirror – wants rail services to be renationalised. Privatisation has been an enormously costly mistake. Who knows how much money has been lost due to overcharging by the private companies – and due to the delays their poor services have caused?

Here’s Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn:

His aims are entirely achievable:

The party’s video clip advertising the policy is terrific:

And Labour groups across the country are rising to support the initiative, like the Southampton and Romsey party:

Meanwhile, Mr Grayling remains under fire for his decision to give a £14 million ferrying contract – in the event of a no-deal Brexit – to a firm that has no experience and no ships.

He has doubled down on his decision:

But this only means he has exposed himself to further ridicule:

In response to that last tweet, Tom Pride answered: “Don’t listen to him @theresa_may, I’ll do it for 10…”

But there are serious questions too, like this one…

… and this one:

Uppermost in many minds is how Mr Grayling can hold on to his Cabinet ministerial position after this pair of cock-ups:

They’ll have a long wait, I think.

Mr Grayling will never resign of his own free will, no matter how much chaos his decisions cause.

He doesn’t have the sense of honour necessary – or even the wit to understand that it is what is demanded of him.

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Disgraced former boss of Carillion appointed to oversee HS2 – a contract formerly held by… Carillion

The fishiest part of this is the fact that Carillion was contracted to build HS2.

Just ask Conservative MP Cheryl Gillan.

This Writer believes serious questions should be asked of the people who made this appointment.

Don’t you?

In yet another example of the utterly disgraceful revolving door between business and politics, a recently disgraced former-boss of the collapsed government outsourcing firm Carillion has, incredibly, been appointed Managing Director of another company who were recently handed a lucrative multi-billion pound contract by the Tories to oversee HS2.

Mark Davies, who is best known for his ‘stellar’ work at now-collapsed firm Carillion, where he was in the same role from 2011 until its collapse in 2018, was rewarded for his disastrous failure by being appointed MD of Balfour Beatty Vinci’s HS2 joint venture just last week.

Source: Disgraced ex-boss of collapsed Carillion appointed by Tory-backed firm to oversee major HS2 contract | Evolve Politics

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Carillion crash means public may have to subsidise Tory privatisation yet again

This week alone shares in Carillion have plummeted by around 22 per cent [Image: Reuters].

Isn’t that a contradiction in terms?

Back in the 1980s, Margaret Thatcher sold us a pup. She told us private companies could run public services more cost-effectively than government. Either she was badly mistaken or she was lying.

Most voters believed her, though, and in the decades that followed, she and her successors have sold off as many public utilities and services as they could, hiring private contractors in to run crucial aspects of most of the others.

The Carillion case is indicative of what happens next.

The outsourcing company, which has maintenance contracts in the NHS, a contract for work on the HS2 rail link, contracts with the Ministry of Defence, and is a major supplier of rail infrastructure, is in serious financial trouble.

Its major lenders – banks including Lloyds and RBS – have rejected the company’s rescue plan and are urging the government to pay off its debts – using public money.

So these banks – who were themselves bailed out with public money when they caused the financial crisis that led to the Great Recession 10 years ago – are now saying they need the public to bail out this private company, because they won’t.

It is the most damning evidence possible that privatisation of public services is a failure.

The idea of privatisation was that the public wouldn’t have to pay for services. Instead, it seems we are being asked to pay time and time again.

We bailed out the banks once; now they want us to bail them out again, repaying their loans to Carillion.

No! Let the company go out of business and take the contracts back in-house.

Oh, but the Tories probably can’t manage that because the state no longer has the wherewithal to carry out that kind of work. Typical Tory short-sightedness.

Another brilliant example of the same stupidity is rail privatisation. Private companies took over rail services in the 1990s, and we were led to believe that this would lead to better services, with profits being ploughed into infrastructure and other improvements. Instead, the public subsidy has skyrocketed and so have fares; 70 per cent of our rail companies are owned by foreign concerns (some of them, ironically, nationalised) which means we are subsidising rail services abroad rather than funding improvements here, and those that aren’t seem to be in permanent financial difficulties, meaning more public money is used to bail them out. Look at the Virgin East Coast franchise.

Do you call that value for money? Because I don’t.

It should be no surprise that Chris Grayling is the transport secretary who has admitted Virgin overbid for the East Coast franchise. The company offered to pay too much and that is, we’re told, why it is in financial difficulty now. The same thing happened with the probation service when Mr Grayling was justice secretary.

The social media commentariat have been on the case, of course, so I refer you to a few people who understand the situation better than myself – for the benefit of those who won’t just take my word for it:

I don’t know about good, but grief is certainly an appropriate word.


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Your at-a-glance guide to John McDonnell’s barnstorming conference speech

John McDonnell, delivering his speech to the Labour conference.

The least that can be said about it is that it will give the Tories plenty to deride at their own conference.

The reason the above is the least that can be said is, Tories ALWAYS try to ridicule Labour policies. Then they proudly announce a load of nonsense rubbish, get their friends in the right-wing media to push it as the only realistic option, dupe enough of the nation into supporting them at a general election and we end up – well, we end up in the mess we’re in today.

As a result of this Tory stupidity, the UK is not so much a proud island nation voyaging to new horizons as a leaky, sinking boat, weighed down by fatted passengers, who expect a malnourished crew to bail them out – using punctured buckets.

Those Tory speeches haven’t happened yet, so let’s enjoy Mr McDonnell’s words while we can. He was certainly correct that it has been Labour’s historic role to lead the UK into each new era, and if he gets the chance to execute the plan he has outlined, Labour will fulfil that duty again.

In This Writer’s opinion, he identified all the right issues. Whether he came up with the right answers is up for debate, but his choices certainly seemed popular with the party rank-and-file.

If you didn’t catch the speech and want to know what his proposals were, here they are:

  • Creation of a Strategic Investment Board, to put money into key research projects, employment and wages, with fair distribution of investment across the UK.
  • Supporting entrepreneurs, small businesses, the genuinely self-employed and massively expanding worker control and the co-operative sector.
  • Re-nationalising rail, water, energy, and the Royal Mail.
  • Crossrail to be built in the north; HS2 extended into Scotland. Midlands Connect to overhaul transport there. Electrified railway lines from Cornwall to London.
  • Investment in the zero-carbon economy, for example the Swansea Tidal Lagoon.
  • Full protection of the rights of EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in other EU countries, and a promise to give Tories “the political battle of their lives” if they try to water down or undermine protections on employment, consumer or environmental rights.
  • Close the tax loopholes and avoidance scams used by the mega-rich, making sure the rich and the giant corporations pay their way, to pay for public services.
  • Scrap the public sector pay cap; introduce the real Living Wage at £10 per hour; introduce pay ratios at the top; and address the gender pay gap.
  • Restore basic employment rights, repeal the Tories Trade Union Act, set up a new Ministry of Labour and restore collective bargaining.
  • Cap credit card debt.
  • Scrap tuition fees.
  • End Private Finance Initiative deals and bring those that currently exist “back in-house”.

He wrapped up by saying, “The Tories have tried to change people’s view of what is normal and acceptable in our society. They want us to accept that in the fifth richest country in the world it’s normal and acceptable for people to be saddled with debt; for people to have to work long, often insecure, hours, stressed out, struggling to find time with their family; for people not to have a pay rise for years no matter how dedicated you are or how hard you work; for young people to have no prospect of owning their own home; for disabled people to be pushed to the edge by the benefits system; or for carers to be struggling without support or recognition.

“Let’s make it clear – we will never accept that this is normal or acceptable.”

So which do you prefer? The Tory version of “normal or acceptable”? Or the Labour alternative?

I know which I’d rather have – but is it really possible?


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The Livingstone Presumption is now available
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Health Warning: Government! is now available
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The first collection, Strong Words and Hard Times,
is still available in either print or eBook format here:

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