UK Transport

As its title suggests UK Transport covers all aspects of transport in the UK. It is written from a libertarian perspective, in other words, that the less the State involves itself in the running, regulation or funding of roads, railways or anything else - the better.
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Wednesday, April 03, 2002

£3bn is a Lot Of Money

I know that sounds banal but the news that Railtrack is to sell Phase I of the Channel Tunnel Rail link makes me feel the need to point it out. I hope I am wrong on this but the CTRL is going to cost £6bn of taxpayers money - that's £200 per taxpayer. Half of it - call that £3bn - is going to be sold for, wait for it, £375m. That's not far off an 85% depreciation before a single train has used it.

Safety Costs Soar

At least they about to according to this article in the Independent. It seems the much vaunted ATP system (actually it is either called ETCS or ERTMS but definitely not ATP) which campaigners demanded after the Ladbroke Grove crash is going to cost a lot more than even the original astronomical estimates. By the way, the article's claim that ERTMS increases capacity is something of a moot point in railway circles.

There is something of a shifting of the tectonic plates going on in government circles at the moment. In the good old days, when Railtrack was a private company, the Government would think nothing of bashing the industry, setting up enquiries, levying fines and wrapping it up in Red Tape. But now that Railtrack has to all intents and purposes been nationalised the Government is waking up to the fact that it now has to pay the bills. All of a sudden rhetoric has become an expensive commodity. It is remarkable that since Railtrack was placed into administration the formerly voluble Regulator and the Health and Safety Executive have been as quiet as church mice. I thoroughly expect this particular scheme to be quietly abandoned or downgraded before too long.

The sadness is that it seems the only time the State sees sense is when it has to take responsibility for its own actions. In such an atmosphere I despair that a sensible policy will ever come about.

Prior Planning and Preparation Produces Piss-Poor Performance

Or at least it does when it comes to land-use planning (US=zoning). I have touched on this subject a couple of times before because I feel that planning and infrastructure are inextricably linked. There's no point in building something if people can't get to it and no point in building the link if there is nothing to link to. Anyway, Mark Pennington, an academic, has written a pamphlet on the subject of planning in the UK; reviewed here by Matt Ridley. I have met Mark Pennington at, guess what, a seminar on infrastructure and planning. He is pretty switched on and I am sure he has written an excellent piece. With any luck we'll be able to get him along to one of Brian's Fridays before too long.

Rush-hour chaos as Circle line is shut. Headline says it all. Just another day in London's decline.

Tom Burroughes lets the London Underground get to him. Nifty logo.

British Airways Goes Budget

BA is going head to head with EasyJet, GO and other budget carriers by abolishing Saturday night and advance purchase restrictions and selling far more tickets online on domestic routes. Good, and about time too. One of the reasons I have become such an EasyJet supporter is that they don't offer a confusing array of tickets and make it easy to compare prices online. So it is good to see BA following suit.

However, there is a rail downside. Typically, companies like GNER and Virgin charge very similar fares to BA. This is because on, say, the London to Manchester or London to Newcastle routes the two modes are broadly speaking competitive on speed and comfort. I haven't looked up fares recently but I seem to remember that a 1st Class London to Newcastle Return on GNER is about £200. Now that BA is weighing in with fares as low as £69 the Inter-City TOCs could well find themselves squeezed.

Tuesday, April 02, 2002

But Passenger Numbers Have Gone Up!

The claim is often made that despite its many failings pseudo-privatisation of the UK's railways has led to a huge increase in passengers. Figures of about 30% are typically bandied about, the implication being that the private sector has created a more attractive package on the railways and that, therefore, more people want to use them. It is certainly true that a lot more people are using the railways but the question is why and does pseudo-privatisation really account for the increase? There are other possible explanations: people living further from work, the increase in taxes on petrol and Britain's economic boom. Is it possible to isolate these factors and come up with a reasonable estimate as to the real impact of pseudo-privatisation?

I ask because my own experiences on the railway leave me deeply sceptical. In the early 1990s I commuted to London using BR. It wasn't great, it wasn't particularly bad. Sometimes I got a seat, sometimes I didn't. The train was often full of litter but rarely dirty, though this may be because the trains were new. The service was acceptably unpunctual. I didn't really start using overland rail again until the late 1990s when I moved from Watford to Twickenham. It's a different service down here - electrified by third rail rather than overhead wire and the rolling stock is different so direct comparisons are difficult but my impressions are much the same. Trains are dirty, unpunctual and (if travelling at peak time) I sometimes get a seat. Vandalism, especially with the new practice of scratching windows seems to have got worse. I use trains more but that is mainly because I found the costs of keeping a car (in part due to petrol taxes) prohibitive and, well, driving is just no fun anymore. To sum up I do not use the train more because the service improved but because the alternatives got worse.

Is there a way of comparing things? Possibly. First of all in London we have the Tube which is still owned by the Government, so comparisons can be made there. Secondly, there is data from the last economic boom in the 1980s so it is possible to strip out (in a rather clumsy fashion) the increase in use due to economic growth. Unfortunately, I can see no way of factoring in the effect of the State's anti-road policy - all road users have suffered equally.

There is a further problem here. How do you measure train usage? There are at least three measures available: passenger journeys, passenger miles and revenue. And how are these being measured? The collection of fares is a haphazard business. Many stations in London do not have a ticket collector or an electronic gate. It is therefore very easy to dodge the fare and therefore the statistics. We have to assume that fare dodging has remained constant.

The only figures that are easy to compare are those between London Underground and the London Commuter TOCs.

According to the Ministry of Transport (or whatever it is called this week) the number of people arriving in London in the peak was as follows:

  LU LCTs 
1995/6 348 395
2000/1 389 465
Increase % 11.8 17.7
All figures in '000s click for source

Now, that sounds good for the TOCs but what we have to bear in mind is that TOC fares are controlled by an inflation-x formula while LU fares are controlled by politicians. According to my convoluted calculations the cost to travel a mile on LU has gone up by 9.4% in the period and on the ex-NSE it has fallen by 3.1%. See Tables 23 and 24

Cost/km on Network South East and its successors:

  Passenger Journeys (bn km) Receipts (£m) Cost/passenger km
1995/6  13.3 1293 0.097
2000/1  18.4  1732  0.094

Cost/passenger km (£) LU  NSE
1995/6  0.138  0.097
2000/1 0.151  0.094
Increase %  9.4  -3.1

From this point I have to make a leap of faith but it seems to me that the extra increase in journeys on "privatised" trains could quite easily be accounted for by the decrease in fares.

Or to put it another way passenger numbers have not increased as the result of a "better" service.


Are you from Malaysia? Have you reached this by typing in the words "unpunctual" or "train"? If so, you are one of many. I have got about 100 hits over recent days from people like you so please tell me, what is going on? Is it some school project or something? It may be the case that I can help you but I'll need to know a little more about what you want.