Robert Hampton

Another visitor! Stay a while… stay forever!

8th September 2013

British Fail
Posted by at 10.37pm | Trains | No responses

This 1990 TV documentary looking at Network SouthEast is a fascinating time capsule for anyone interested in the history of Britain’s railways.

Much as I wax nostalgic about British Rail, I don’t think anyone could sensibly advocate a return to the underfunded basket case that much of the network was after being starved of cash during the late 1980s. In particular, look at the scenes of Network SouthEast before the route modernisation kicked in. Knackered diesel trains on the Chiltern line, ancient electric trains running out of Fenchurch Street. It’s fairly grim stuff.

Some things never change: snow brings things to a standstill, commuters will whinge, transport ministers will dodge the tough questions, and the Continent is portrayed as a railway utopia where nothing ever goes wrong.

Watch the other two parts below. WARNING: Contains Prescott.

Read the rest of this post »

3rd October 2012

Rationalisation for Renationalisation
Posted by at 10.29pm | In the News, Trains | 1 response

British Rail logoJust after midnight the news came down that the new West Coast rail franchise has been cancelled due to “flaws” in the bidding process. The entire process will have to be restarted, costing taxpayers tens of millions of pounds.

Richard Branson is thrilled, as are many customers of Virgin Trains – a company which has inexplicably become very popular since people realised it might be going away for ever.

Myself, I’m not particularly pleased either way. I hold no torch for Virgin (or FirstGroup) – I just want a national rail network that is reliable, comfortable and affordable; a good alternative to polluting cars and planes. The current system delivers this occasionally, but not consistently.

While it’s nice to see the Government admit, finally, that the current franchising system is a mess, I wish more radical solutions would be looked at beyond mere reform. In short, I think we should be looking at renationalisation of the passenger railway network.

Read the rest of this post »

15th August 2012

Branson’s Pickle
Posted by at 8.15pm | In the News, Trains | 3 responses

Virgin Train at Liverpool South ParkwayThe West Coast Main Line, linking London with Scotland via Crewe (with branches to Liverpool and Manchester) has faced big upheavals in recent years, with passengers enduring many years of engineering work to upgrade the line and its trains. It doesn’t seem like long since that work finished, but another big change is now on the horizon, as Virgin Trains – who have run the service since privatisation in 1997 – make way for FirstGroup.

The news that Virgin have lost the franchise to operate trains on the West Coast Main Line came as no surprise to anyone, as the news leaked out nearly a week ago. Still, the official confirmation at 7am this morning prompted a big response, including an angry reaction from Richard Branson.

There was a mass outpouring on Twitter, with hundreds of tweets to @VirginTrains commiserating with them about the end of their tenure, and many more heaping scorn on FirstGroup. It seems that Branson comes a close second to Jobs in nurturing brand loyalty.

Read the rest of this post »

17th August 2011

Not fare
Posted by at 9.43pm | Trains | No responses

There has been lots of complaining in the press about higher train fares after it was revealed that ticket prices could go up by an average of 8% in January 2012, with some routes going up by nearer 13%. It has been suggested that the cumulative effect of these rises will see prices jump 30% on some routes over the next three years.

The Government says that this is necessary to reduce state subsidies and provide funds for investment in the railways. However, if the government was really serious about reducing the burden on the taxpayer, it would acknowledge the elephant in the room: British railway privatisation has failed.

When I say failed, I mean it has failed to deliver any of the wonderful benefits that we were promised. We were promised freedom from state control – in practice, Department for Transport civil servants now micromanage nearly every aspect of today’s railway. We were promised more value for the taxpayer – state subsidies for the railway have increased dramatically. We were promised better services – the results have been inconsistent at best, and the improvements that have taken place could have been achieved by British Rail, had the political will and funding been there.

What is so frustrating is that the Labour government could have easily fixed this. By the time Labour swept into power in May 1997, the privatisation process was almost complete. However, with their huge majority, Labour could have easily reversed the privatisation. The Government could have taken the drastic step of legislating to immediately renationalise, or it could have taken the easier option of letting each franchise run its course and renationalising each as it came to an end. Had they done this, by now most of the railway would have been back under state control.

Sadly, the Labour party desperately wanted to avoid being seen as an anti-business, socialist party, so the privatised railway structure remained largely intact with only some minor tweaking. Now the Tories are back in charge, and more wide-ranging reform will probably happen – reform that will almost certainly not benefit the average fare-paying passenger.

12th July 2011

“They’re closing the stations with beautiful names…”
Posted by at 5.14pm | Trains | 3 responses

“…Appledore and Chasewater and Saffron Walden,
Midsomer Norton, Berry Brow, Swanbourne, Waterfoot, Templecombe,
Flax Bourton and Egremont and Adlestrop and Ashton-under-Wychwood,
Starcross and Sturminster Newton and Sampford Courtenay…”

The BBC Archive project has turned up a lot of gems, but this has to be one of the best so far, as Derek Hart reads a lyrical tribute to the stations axed by Beeching.

It’s not quite as depressing as this list makes out: a few of the stations named were actually reprieved and survive to this day. Bonus points if you can spot the two which are now part of Merseyrail.

30th December 2010

Twenty Ten – again

What a year 2010 was! It had twelve months, each consisting of at least 28 days. On some of those days I made blog entries. Here are the highlights.

I began the year in January fretting about an alleged Crystal Maze remake starring Amanda Holden. This story fortunately turned out to be utter bollocks. Ginger people again proved that (yours truly excepted) they have no sense of humour or perspective. Britain experienced a deluge of snow, and Merseyrail impressed everyone by soldiering on throughout, a feat which they would surely repeat next time we experienced awful weather… right?

I finally joined the Wii owners’ club, just as the console stopped being cool. My rekindled love for video games did not result in me getting rickets. I also celebrated my first Twitterversary and cautiously welcomed the iPad.

I also took time to blog at length about a US comedian no-one has heard of over here, illustrating my post with YouTube clips which have now been removed for copyright infringement.

In more serious matters, the Haiti earthquake occupied people’s thoughts as a humanitarian catastrophe unfolded in the devastated country.

Read the rest of this post »

24th December 2010

Delay it forward
Posted by at 8.30pm | In the News, Trains | No responses

From BBC News Magazine comes a lovely tale for Christmas Eve, of how one act of kindness by an anonymous British Rail conductor changed a man’s life for ever.

28th June 2010

Taking the strain
Posted by at 9.35pm | Trains | No responses

Merseytravel seem quite pleased that new transport secretary Philip Hammond is to pay Liverpool a visit to speak at the National Rail Conference in a couple of weeks time.

Mr Hammond will reportedly deliver a speech on the cuts that are about to be imposed on the railway. Hopefully some of the other speakers at the conference will take the opportunity to school him about basic railway principles, including why trains get priority at level crossings.

The government is planning to slash the amount of subsidy directed at the railways. This has resulted in a swathe of projects being cancelled: the station improvement programme announced last year has been abandoned, with Liverpool Central’s refurbishment hanging on by the skin of its teeth. The Liverpool to Manchester electrification looks doomed as well.

Of course, you can only go so far with cuts, and it looks like the railways will need to find the money somewhere else. As is often the case, the long-suffering passenger will pay: the newspapers are full of warnings of steep fare rises.

It’s fair to complain about the amount of taxpayers money being swallowed up by the railways, but I’m annoyed that no-one ever mentions reforming the insane mess that is the privatised railway system. Privatisation promised a new era of efficiency; instead we got endless red tape and bureaucracy. A lot of the taxpayer’s money is being used to fund the profits of the private companies, rather than being invested in services.

But any meaningful reform seems to have been filed under “too hard”, so instead the government will screw the passengers and allow the gravy train to roll on. Nobody will benefit in the long run, except perhaps those with shares in Stagecoach, FirstGroup and Arriva.

14th March 2010

Train Porn
Posted by at 1.36pm | Trains | 2 responses

Or as close to it as you can get, anyway. This late 80s advert for British Rail was usually only broadcast in a 60-second edited version. On a couple of special occasions, however, the full length two-and-a-half minute version was wheeled out, and here it is:-

It could be like this again. Renationalise!

2nd October 2008

Teaching about Beeching
Posted by at 10.54pm | Television, Trains | No responses

Today was apparently railway night on BBC Four, with a documentary by Ian Hislop about Dr Beeching’s infamous railway cuts, followed by Victoria Wood’s Crewe to Crewe, an epic journey across northern England and Scotland on early-1990s, about-to-be-privatised British Rail.

Surely the most promising night of telly in ages… and I completely forgot about the whole thing while watching Buzzcocks and Beautiful People on BBC Two. Fortunately, these shows were also good! Everybody wins!

Looks like I have a date with iPlayer at the weekend (Great Railway Journeys is unavailable, but I taped it off UK Horizons ages ago, so that’s OK; you can come round and watch it with me if you want).