Gavin Maclure's Musings

My take on politics locally, nationally and internationally

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Rail mayhem on Great Eastern mainline

Train to nowhere: Greater Anglia services last night were thrown into chaos

Last night was the worst rail experience – by far – I have ever experienced on the shambles that is the Great Eastern mainline.

It was compounded by delays occurring on Tuesday as well because of “slippery rail conditions” – that is it was raining!

Yesterday though was beyond reason. Firstly, the service was due to be delayed because of speed restrictions. As soon as the conductor had told us this, and before we had even pulled out of London Liverpool Street, she came back on the tannoy to announce there had been a fatality at Goodmayes railway station in north east London. As soon as I heard this, I factored in a two hour delay.

I know how long it takes because I have previously been on a train which has hit a ‘jumper’. And by the time the police had found all the different body parts and bagged them up and once the driver had been relieved of his duty it had been a two hour wait. This is still way too long though to clean up the site.

But last night, things took even longer. Two hours later the conductor told us the police had yet to find a body and were still “investigating”. Half an hour later we were told there was no body, therefore nobody had committed suicide by train, and we would be soon on our way (slowly as you will find out in a moment!).

But first, why does it take two and a half hours for British Transport Police to realise no one has actually jumped in front of a train? The report from Morning Ipswich Star is almost comical. The train driver at Goodmayes thinks he saw someone lean off the platform despite there being no body on the line but there was a dent on the front of the train. So based on that flimsy account of events, thousands of people were held in cramp conditions, which would not be legal for transporting cattle, for hours.

Sardines: People pay good money to travel like this

Then the fun really began. By the time the police had decided they couldn’t find a body or body parts, they opened the line again (how nice of them). Two and half hours had elapsed. Our 19:00 service then became the 21:30 to Norwich and was duly announced on the station concourse at Liverpool Street as ready for departure. Bearing in mind it was standing room only on the held 19:00 service, five hundred people then descended on to the platform to board the same train. Infrequent passengers on the already standing-room-only train were asking where the hoards of people running down the platform were going? The look of incomprehension on their faces when we told them they were boarding this train was a picture to behold.

So, the police closed the line for two and half hours for “safety reasons” to hunt for a non-existent person but cramming in a further 500 people into already overcrowded small compartments for a three hour journey to Norwich is perfectly safe is it?

Health & Safety: Cattle have better travel conditions

We then finally crawled out of Liverpool Street at 21:30 but as if nothing else could go wrong, it did. A freight train broke down in front of us, forcing us to descend to a walking pace. We finally got into Ipswich at midnight. As one fellow commuter said, it would have been quicker to cycle the 80 miles from London.  All in all, because I had travelled from Reading yesterday, it took me seven hours to get home from work!

One thing that struck me last night was how hardly anyone complains when an event like this occurs. There was also a level of stupidity. Some people wanted to get something to eat and a drink (preferably alcoholic) but the buffet car was blocked by people sitting in the aisles. Instead of stepping out of the train on to the platform, walking a short distance and then stepping into the buffet car, several people just moaned (the only time they actually did complain) they couldn’t get through and went back to their seats! I think this must be one of the reasons why we have such a poor rail service in the UK: operators realise they can get away with it because the customers are either too polite or stupid to complain about the criminally expensive service they receive.

Well, you may have guessed I am not one for being quiet. First thing this morning I contacted my MP to highlight the woeful and time-wasting processes British Transport Police follow in the event of an actual or imagined fatality. I await Ben Gummer’s investigation.

To end, there is one main reason travelling in this country is such a horrible experience not matched on the European Continent: there are too many people. The immigration policies of the last fifteen years, primarily caused by the Labour Party to deliberately dilute the British identity, has led to South East England being one of the most densely populated regions in the world. We know it is caused by immigration as the indigenous birth rate has fallen off a cliff and every time I take a train it is like being at a session of the UN assembly considering the number of different languages being spoken into mobile phones up and down the carriage.

Now, I love different cultures and peoples but we can’t just continue ramming thousands of people into a small patch of land off the north coast of the European continent unless the public services are enhanced to reflect the demand. But that can’t happen without massive public spending and the UK taxpayer is already shelling out enough cash to the Exchequer. Therefore, the Government needs to “get with the programme” and start implementing a workable immigration policy. But for now, I’m just glad I am working from home today.

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East Anglia rail commuters pay more for worse

Creaking: Trains on the Great Eastern mainline have seen better days
The Great Eastern mainline from Norwich to London is single track most of the way, runs the oldest trains on the national network (some were built in the 1970s!), has the worse punctuality in the country but still the passengers pay more per mile than any rail passenger in the UK and probably in Western Europe.
I’m lucky in that when I go to London on business I don’t personally have to pay for the journey from hell (I get to suffer it for free!) as I claim the cost from my employer. But I can’t claim the psychological costs from my employer!
However, I am very aware not only do people have to put up with a smelly, dirty unpunctual service from Greater Anglia (aka Abellio) but they have to pay for the privilege as well out of their own wages.
This has hit home today as my wife has secured a job in London. But this comes at a price: £5,608 and climbing to be precise. This is the cost of a 12 month rail season ticket from the Greater Anglia railway operator. Now, the firm my wife is joining is large and they can afford to provide a loan to my wife for her one and quarter hour commute into work everyday. But there is a limit her new company will loan her: £5,000. It doesn’t take an accountant to work out there is a shortfall of £608 there. When my wife raised this with her employer they would not budge above £5,000 as this is the maximum they can offer for tax law reasons but did state they were shocked by how expensive a season ticket between Ipswich and London is compared to the cost presented by other employees for a similar distance into London from other parts of the country.
Well, there is no need to be shocked any more. The reason East Anglia commuters pay more is because they are being milked by the Government to prop up railway services in the North of England, which if they weren’t subsidised by the hard pressed taxpayers of Suffolk and Norfolk would not be viable and would have to shut down because of a lack of demand. Sounds like socialism to me.
I know Ipswich MP Ben Gummer is lobbying transport ministers to change the funding formula for the railway network in the UK so it is fairer and promotes more investment in the creaking track and rolling stock infrastructure. But it is is a disgrace we have been paying more for a worse service for so long.

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Ipswich will always be a backwater until the railway improves

My wife today had an important job interview in London but because of the incompetence of Network Rail and Greater Anglia (owned by Abellio) her train was cancelled. Supposedly there is a points problem at Liverpool Street. In private businesses, problems happen which affect customers but no where near to the same extent as the number of problems Network Rail and Greater Anglia create for the very high-paying public.

I work for a company with a massive network infrastructure used practically by the whole country every day (not everyone travels by train every day and some never do) and the number of problems which affect our customers are minuscule compared to the problems Network Rail and Greater Anglia inflict on their customers. I work for BT and if our business had the same woeful customer service as Network Rail/Greater Anglia I guestimate there would be a 50% chance your telephone (both mobile and landline) wouldn’t work on any given day or a 50% chance your debit card transaction in the supermarket wouldn’t work on any given day. If that was the reality, BT would go bust very quickly. It isn’t the reality because we are an efficiently run private business.

Why are the rules of commerce different for Network Rail/Greater Anglia – perhaps it’s the massive tax subsidies which keep on coming however badly they perform? This model doesn’t work: look at the NHS for instance – hardly the bastion of efficiency and good service.

As a result of the woeful rail infrastructure in the East of England, Ipswich will never become a regional centre, which the Borough Council pretends it already is, unless the Great Eastern mainline between Norwich and London Liverpool Street is overhauled. As regular reader Stephen points out, the track is only a single track each way north of Shenfield, which is over 50 miles from Ipswich!

Basically, by definition Ipswich is still a backwater because of our railway line. This IS damaging Ipswich economically. I like Ipswich, which has been my home for eleven years – it has a feel of a Northern England town in the middle of the Suffolk countryside with a strong sense of community. It’s compact size means it is easy to move around and although the shops and restaurants could be better it is still has most things one needs in terms of leisure facilities.

But it takes for ever to get anywhere else in the UK either by road and, of course, rail and this stops Ipswich from growing. Companies don’t want to be based far from anywhere – there is a reason why so many global businesses are based around the M4 corridor!

Unless a miracle happens and Ben Gummer and his fellow MPs win millions of pounds of investment for upgrading the Great Eastern mainline, more and more young people will know their futures do not lie in Ipswich.

UPDATE 12:35: Things have just gone from bad to worse. Some poor person has just jumped in front of a train. The trains which were still running have now also been cancelled.

How long will it take Greater Anglia, Network Rail and British Transport Police to “clear up” after this incident? It usually takes hours. My wife reports Liverpool Street station are telling the public the police have not yet been able to find the body!


National Express disease infects Greater Anglia

It looks like Greater Anglia (owned by Abellio) have also be cursed with providing a service not fit for cattle on the Great Eastern mainline from London to Norwich.

This tweet exchange just in from Ipswich’s Cllr Bryony Rudkin:

The 19:00 from Liverpool Street is always busy as it is the first train after peak time and contains a lot of “lardydar” boarders (mainly girls from experience) going back to Mummy’s and Daddy’s houses in the Suffolk and Norfolk countryside for the weekend.
So why don’t Greater Anglia provide more capacity on this Friday service and take it away from the less busier services earlier in the day?


HS2 is a no-brainer

Sometimes I do wonder how we managed to build an Empire where the sun never set, saved Europe three times from tyranny and became the fourth largest economy on Earth until Blair and Brown managed to royally mess up our economy.

The reason I say this is because of the massive fuss the project to build a high-speed railway track between London and Birmingham and beyond, known as HS2, has caused. The Secretary of State for Transport, Justine Greening, has today given the green light to HS2 but not until a consultation which received 54,909 responses was completed. A thorough debate over a project which is estimated to cost at least £32bn is very worthwhile in any democracy but some of the argument against it was becoming almost luddite. High-speed railway lines are a common occurrence in France and Germany and help to integrate their dispersed cities across their respective countries. In the UK, we have no such infrastructure. Our railway lines, when you look at the population size and landmass in Britain, are, frankly, a disgrace. The North of England might as well be in a different country for how long it takes to get between Manchester and London. Is it any wonder there is hardly any what economists call “fluidity of market” in the UK, i.e. people travelling relatively long distances to find work or do business.


The anti-HS2 brigade seem to be a distinct bunch: they are wealthy Home Counties dwellers who don’t want to see their English countryside altered one tree or hill, even if means more people languishing on the dole queues or economic development in the North of England not taking off. They disguise their selfishness by playing the green card and harping on about the environmental benefits.  It always make me laugh when people say this country is already concreted over with housing and roads: it is not.  The vast majority of England is still fields and forests (just look out the window when you fly into any London airport). A new, relatively narrow, infrastructure corridor really is not going to make much difference to the landscape in the grand scheme of things.

Some local Conservative Associations, whose town and villages are on the route, have stopped sending tens of thousands of pounds to Conservative HQ in protest and normally sensible Tories like Jonathan Isaby over at the Tax Payers Alliance have also come out against Britain starting to catch-up with the rest of Europe when it comes to a rail service fit for the twentieth century never mind the twenty-first century. Of course, the Conservative (allegedly) Prime Minister, David Cameron, is in favour and is another reason I am slowly warming to him again. It is rumoured the Welsh Secretary, Cheryl Gillan, had threatend to resign if HS2 went ahead but I doubt that will happen.

I personally believe HS2 to be entirely necessary to help drag Britain’s rail infrastructure into the twenty-first century and to better integrate our economy between the north and south of the UK.  The new railway will also free up capacity on existing commuter links, as Justine Greening outlined in her statement to the House of Commons today. The cost is enormous but the economic return is calculated to be greater and let’s face it the early railways and the motorways built in the 1960s have quite clearly enabled economic growth. HS2 will be another booster to economic growth during the next 60 years.

The trains on the new network will travel up to 250mph allowing commuters to travel from Birmingham to London in 45 minutes, reducing the journey time by almost half from one hour and 24 minutes. A Birmingham to Leeds journey will be reduced from two hours to 57 minutes and a Manchester to London journey from two hours and eight minutes to one hour and eight minutes. Wow.
Of course, HS2 is a line which will go up the centre of England. From what I can gather, the release of commuter space on existing lines will only occur on the West Coast mainline and the benefits of better intercity links (for example direct trains to Glasgow and Liverpool) will only be provided to people whose current railway line will interconnect with the new HS2 line. The Great Eastern line won’t be one of them and this is another reason why our local MPs must continue to press for vast improvements in our railway infrastructure in the East of England or by the time HS2 is finished Suffolk and Norfolk might be devoid of working age people.