Thursday, 23 July 2009

Bristol - London Electrification

The planned electrification of the mainline railway between London and Bristol (and also on to Swansea and with spurs to Oxford and Newbury), announced today, may sound like good news from an environmental perspective. Electric trains operate more efficiently because they don't have to carry their own fuel and fuel-energy converter (diesel engine) which reduces their weight and hence their energy consumption for a given speed. So they can save energy, or go faster, or a bit of both.

Existing electrification near Paddington (Westbourne Grove)

That's my first quibble. It looks like some of the potential energy saving may be consumed by higher speeds and faster acceleration, so saving all of 19 minutes on the Swansea to London run - small beer for a journey that takes at least 3 hrs. If we are serious about reducing our energy consumption then we have to question the endless pursuit of higher speeds. Yes, there is an argument for making trains faster to compete more successfully with more environmentally malign modes of travel, but if we priced all (road, rail and air) according to the environmental damage caused then that wouldn't be an issue.

It is claimed that the energy consumed by electric trains can be generated by renewables like wind, wave and tidal energy. But can it? Energy consumed by electric trains will be above and beyond what would otherwise be consumed, which is already way beyond the generating capacity of renewables, even if we add in nuclear. For the foreseeable future renewables and nuclear will continue to supply only a minor part of our electricity generating capacity, so in effect any additional electrical demand means more generation from fossil fuelled capacity. Thus it follows that the additional electricity generated for rail will be mainly from carbon emitting sources.

Last but by no means least there is the question of the capital cost, some £1.1 billion over the next 8 years we are told, although we all know what happens to cost estimates and timescales. Labour do not expect to be in government for the next 5 years or so, so it's easy for them to 'commit' a future Conservative government to public expenditure. They must know that huge public expenditure cuts are on the horizon, whoever wins the next election. But Labour don't expect that to be their problem. I guess they expect that the Conservatives will have to cancel or postpone this project, which will of course give Labour an opportunity to attack the Tories. Is that is what is really behind this announcement?


Paul said...

Chris your cynism would be well founded if the idea of electrification had just dropped out of the sky this morning. There has been a steady development of electrification for many years. the East coast mainline being the most notable example. Investment in our infastructure is critical and necessary.

We also need to use this as a lever to increase the local rail network (I know you oppose this but the opening of the line to Portishead would have a great positive effect upon Bristol's transport and could be used to repatriate more road space for walking and cycling).

On the issue of electricity over diesel we know that a greater proportion of electricity can be generated by renewables, in particular wind, wave and tide. Diesel can never become renewable (I very much doubt trains will be fueled by old chip fat).

I can also assure you that Labour has not yet given up on winning the next election.

I am concerned that you are becoming a professional grump and think you need a holiday.

Chris Hutt said...

But by the time I've finished paying taxes to subsidise your rail travel I can't afford a holiday. So grump it must be.

Actually I'm not saying rail electrification isn't justified, only that we ought to look critically at these things and not accept all the hype and nonsense. Surprised you don't agree with that.

£1 billion is serious money and gets a poor return (40 years!) with investment in electrification. Alternative investment (cycling infrastructure, road safety?)would give much better return. So why invest in electrification instead? Oh sorry, I'm not allowed to question the great white elephant railway god, am I?

Chris Hutt said...

And another thing Paul. On Portishead rail link I don't oppose or support it. That's the business of those who want to use it. They must decide if they want to pay for it or not. Unless you think I should pay even more tax to subsidise that too? As it is I can't afford to use trains so please no more taxes.

Bigwok said...

I can really only see the positives in this news story today.

Electricifcation is the first step towards having a one of the three public transport networks we need for the former Avon area. I say three, because in theory its all about the most appropriate public transport system for distance travelled.

I think three systems are needed:

1)Sub Regional Tram/Train for residents from other main settlements to get into Bristol.
2) City Wide Rapid Transit/P+R for city residents and those in surrounding rural areas close to Bristol.
3) Local/city wide Walking/Cycling/pedestrianisation for city residents especially those within 2-3 miles of the centre.

All residents from outside the city tend to drive, because there are limited alternatives. An improved rail system eliminates the need for commuters to drive between settlements, if the price is right. I think it just needs:

1) Re-open Portishead Railway line (already planned).
2) Turnback facilites at Yate and Weston (already planned).
3) Resignaling between Temple Mead/Parkway (already Planned).
4) Introduction of a Tram Train loop from Temple Meads round the centre
5) Four track between Parkway and Temple Meads.

Once complete I would even consider a congestion charge for people to enter the built up area of Bristol rather than a central cordon.

An interesting stat, in 2001 38% (81,080) of all jobs in Bristol City were staffed by people who lived in South Glos, BANES and N Somerset. I would imagine that including the north and east fringe of the city that's in South Glos would reduce this figure.

Chris Hutt said...

But BW, all types of rail investment are very expensive compared to say bus, bicycle and walking infrastructure. You can only spend money once and if you blow a billion on electrification then you can't blow it again on local rail or trams or buses or bikes or whatever.

So we have to face up to making choices between different strategies, not just slavishly supporting rail infrastructure despite it's very poor return on investment.

One consequence of this investment in electrification is that the plans to increase the amount of rolling stock have had to be abandoned, so capacity will be reduced leading to overcrowding and/or higher fares. So you see actions have consequences.

Bigwok said...

That's a fair point, whilst I welcome the electrification, its fair to say that £1 billion on other public transport improvements would probably be money better spent.

I guess I'm still of the opinion that there should be more investment in infrastructture in general. This country doesn't really plan for infrastructure at all!

Have you ever looked into tax incremental funding? Accelerated development zones could really help Bristol fund infrastructure, based on the inevitable growth its going to see over the next 20 years. Take business rates for example. The city has plenty of business and premises have high ratable values. The tax collected is distributed based on population, hardly a fair deal. Any mechanism that allows future business rates to allow forward fuding of infrastructure would be great, then we could have more infrastructure. What would you pick? I doubt the local Councils have any idea of priority!

Chris Hutt said...

BW, I think the fundamental question should be 'who pays?', the transport user or the non-transport user?

My view is that the consumer of transport should pay for transport just as they do for food, clothing, housing and most other things. Then the consumer can decide how much they want to pay for what level of service, providing of course that we ensure a reasonable degree of competition between different transport modes and suppliers. End of problem.

But it seems that many people think that the non-user should pay through enforced tax subsidies. This seems bizarre to me. Subsidies distort markets and create imbalances of supply and demand so causing congestion, overcrowding and the other transport ills that we know so well.

I'm still waiting for someone to come forward with a convincing argument for why a relatively poor person like myself (I really can't afford a holiday or train travel) should have to pay taxes to subsidise the train travel of relatively wealthy people. Can you?

If we accept that tax subsidies are undesirable, then let's start dismantling them and get people paying the real costs of their transport choices, including of course the environmental costs. Only then will we achieve an efficient and sustainable transport system.

Bigwok said...

Ok for what it's worth these are my ramblings. I’m not sure what you’ll make of it, but hopefully you’ll appreciate the effort.

My view is that the transport users should pay for transport they use, but I think there is an important distinction to be made between types of cost associated with transport. I don’t think that public transport should be subsidised as in artificially reduced fares, but if I were prime minister today I would invest tax revenue in public transport infrastructure based on a least cost transport basis. Transport is not about mobility, but as a car based society that is what people believe. Transport is about access to services (including employment). The objective is to satisfy people’s service needs using the least resources.

I see the three cost areas as:

1) Operating costs;
2) External costs, such as environmental impacts;
3) Capital costs - infrastructure.

I agree with you that users should pay for the operating and environmental costs of their transport mode. Where I think we might differ is funding the capital costs of infrastructure, e.g. £1 billion electrification of GWR. As a side note, I agree that based on a least cost transport basis, this investment would probably be low on the priority list as it doesn’t really service peoples needs efficiently, but presently I so desperate I welcome any investment in public transport for Bristol.

I agree the user should pay all operating costs of their mode of transport. The more they use the more they pay: i.e. petrol and maintenance for cars, maintenance for bikes, fares to cover petrol/maintenance/staff for rail and bus, nothing for walking. If all residents in Bristol had all there service needs met by all modes then based on cost lone people would, 1) walk, 2) Cycle 3) Bus/tram/train 4) Car. However over a certain distance people are likely to be restricted to choices 3 and 4 due to time/weather constraints.

I agree that environmental costs of travel should be factored into the cost of transport. Removal of market distortions will clearly make car travel more expensive per person per mile. Theoretically fuel duty and VED could be used to do this. The environmental cost could also be included in public transport fares via a tax on the service provider. All tax revenue raises for environmental impacts should go into some form of offsetting or renewable energy etc. Again if all residents had their service needs met then the order of modal preference would be most environmentally friendly first, 1) walk, 2) Cycle 3) Bus/tram/train 4) Car. Again over certain distances other externalities come into play, such as time, weather etc

I don’t see tax investment/subsidy in public transport, walking and cycling capital infrastructure costs as an undesirable market distortion. Your point "ensure a reasonable degree of competition between different transport modes and suppliers" is where I think the whole real costs, user pays/no subsidy approach falls down. There is currently no competitive public transport alternative to the private car in Bristol. I agree that walking and cycling over certain distances beats other forms of transport, but once you get past a certain distance (probably 2 to 3 miles) you are really left with public transport versus private car. In its present state public transport is unlikely to be more attractive than the private car without public investment or tax subsidy to make it faster and more efficient. The road building programmes of the last 40 years were subsiding car use. Government needs to redress this balance, it can’t be done buy the market without an adverse effect on operating costs and subsequently its competitiveness.

Part two below

Bigwok said...

One potential problem with the real cost approach is that eventually car manufacturers will development cars with lower environmental impacts, hydrogen, electric etc. In the present situation this has benefits, but it could distort peoples choice in favour of the car given the privacy/comfort advantages if offers, if the operating and environmental costs between modes become to close.

Everyone should pay toward the capital cost of public transport infrastructure, preferably it should be on a local rather than centralised basis that supports a least cost transport approach. Public investment is a tax distortion that is actually desirable to allow the dismantling of existing subsidy distortions and introduction of real user costs for transport you propose to work and for it to be seen as fair. Without publically funded transport infrastructure I believe that public transport over certain distances won’t be competitive enough in cost and time/comfort etc and therefore the success of real cost use (operating and environmental) will be reduced.

I think what you propose and public sector infrastructure investment based on a least cost transport approach go hand in hand. Without capital investment real costs of transport will just be seen as tax on car use, which many people will pay and those that can’t will be left with an uncompetitive alternative. With the introduction of more environmentally friendly cars, the real costs of car use will go down. Public transport will struggle to stay one step ahead in its competitiveness, unless there are public sector funded improvements and this would simply reduce public transport to a form of second class transport it’s currently seen as.

Walking and cycling are clearly undervalued methods of travel for short journeys, every transport plan I’ve ever read always promotes them, but rarely do they actually do anything about it. I walk to work some days along the Bath Road, your post about the section from three lamps to Temple Meads is an obvious example of car dominance over the least cost transport approach, because I’m sure loads of people in Totterdown don’t walk because they of the inadequate infrastructure.

Transport planning and land use planning seem to have been separated in this country. Both are essential if we are to live more sustainably. Improvements in Transport infrastructure should go hand in hand with planning to ensure that services are provided in locations which can be served efficiently by walking, cycling and public transport.

Thanks for taking the time to read this Chris

Anonymous said...

"I'm still waiting for someone to come forward with a convincing argument for why a relatively poor person like myself (I really can't afford a holiday or train travel)"

Relatively poor to who? People from Clifton?? Does this mean that you lack of ability to travel means you rarely leave Bristol..maybe it would give you some perspective! I commend your passion..if only others were as passionate about some of the bigger issues! Cycling and walking are nice but they are not going to save the planet!!!

Chris Hutt said...

Anonymous, what 'perspective' do you think I lack?

I am well aware that poverty and wealth are relative and my poverty is relative to the norms of where I live. The same income would make me relatively wealthy in many parts of the world. Does any of that invalidate what I have said in the blog post?

There is a tangible 'travel snobbery' in our culture. People like to talk about their travelling as if it validates their lives. Yet for the most part that travel rarely takes them far outside their comfort zones and if it did they might not be so keen on it.

Our cultural addiction to travel is one of the major problems that we must confront if we are to learn to live sustainably. We need stop looking down on people who aren't 'well travelled'. We need to appreciate that experience and wisdom can be acquired by 'travelling' outside the norms within the bounds of one geographical space, just as it is possible to travel the world and learn nothing.

Chris Hutt said...

BW, I'm still digesting what you have said but one point to start with.

I don't see that there is really any useful distinction to be made between operating costs and capital costs. Capital costs are 'amortised' or paid off over a period of time and can thus be added to operating costs. why treat capital costs differently?

For example let's take my options for travelling to London. the train is fast but expensive while the bus is slow but cheap. So my choice will depend on how much I (or the market) value my time. That's fine (except I wish the market would value my time spent blogging more highly).

The higher cost of rail largely relates to the much higher capital and infrastructure costs. So if we remove those capital costs from the equation by making non-rail using tax payers pay for them, what would we achieve?

Rail travel could become cheaper (or train operating company profits increase) but then the demand will exceed the supply as people switch from bus or other modes, or just travel more often. then we have overcrowding (sounds familiar?).

Travellers acquire unrealistic expectations of rail because of the distorted prices. At the same time the viability of some bus services may be undermined by the unfair competition. Result - a distorted and dysfunctional market (also only too familiar).

So what is the point of transfering capital costs onto non-users of rail? Typically they will be people who travel less anyway and live on lower incomes. Why should they be penalised for not travelling on trains?

Bigwok said...

The difference is that capital costs of infrastructure for cars and public transport are treated differently. Road infrastructure is written off and public rail is added to operating costs, putting rail at a competitive disadvantage.

For example I live near the proposed Callington Link Road and the old Whitchurch Railway line. I could potentially use them both if built, but in the current situation I won’t pay to use the road, but you suggest I should pay to use the rail? If the capital costs are added to operating costs then rail fares increase and public transport is at a competitive disadvantage.

So in answer to your question “what would we achieve?” I think it’s a level playing field. You might suggest that capital costs of road infrastructure should be added to the operating costs of cars, but I think it’s probably to late for that, given the disproportionate investment in roads over the last forty years. The comparable public transport infrastructure is non existent.

I’m particularly interested to see how network rail get on running the East Coast rail line on a not for profit basis. In general I see public transport as just that, a public service. By the time private companies and government have their cut the price of public transport is already at a disadvantage, let alone before you think of the inadequate infrastructure I’m suppose to use. No wonder people get in their cars.

Chris Hutt said...

BW, I'm not saying road infrastructure or capital costs should be paid by non-users. Quite the contrary. In each case (road, rail, air) the users should pay for all the costs - operating, capital, infrastructure, environmental, social even. That would be a level playing field.

The argument that we must subsidise rail because we already subsidise road really doesn't stack up. For a start to create a level playing field you'd have to subsidise everything else - walking, cycling, driving, even not-travelling. How would you subsidise walking or not-travelling to an eqivalent extent? You'd have to pay people for staying at home!

If you didn't subsidise all options then you would create a market distortion in favour of the options you subsidise. So if you subsidise motorised transport in general then you end up with more motorised travel than is actually 'required' by the market. The effect is to increase congestion and pollution. How can that make sense?

Bigwok said...

I don’t think we should subsidise motorised transport either, all new roads should be paid for by direct users. I believe we need to subsidise non motorised options until such time that they are good enough. Effectively I think we need to correct the market distortion created by previous subsidy. At that time I’m happy for subsidy to stop and let real costs control the market.

The point is that until there is a real level playing field we should subsidise public transport. If we were starting from scratch I would agree with your statement that all users should pay for all costs. What I’m saying is that we should subsidise public transport instead of road, so the road user pays for infrastructure improvements, until such time that public transport infrastructure is superior or equal to our road network.

Until such time the playing field will never be truly be level and the real cost approach will have limited success or be difficult to implement. We need the car alternatives to be put in place through subsidy until such a time when public transport is good enough to use the natural competitive advantage is would obtain through users paying all costs.

That's why I like a least cost approach to transport infrastructure investment that needs service needs using the least resources. It will redress the balance. What do you think?

Chris Hutt said...

One more point, which I hope doesn't sound patronising.

The point of subsidies is clearly to distort the market, otherwise why bother. So perhaps I need to better explain why the 'market' shouldn't be distorted.

'The market' is a term to describe consumers and suppliers coming together to trade (think of a traditional market with stalls). The prices charged for goods (or services) reflect the relative supply and demand of those goods.

Clearly suppliers will not bother to supply goods that cost more to produce than they fetch at market. Likewise consumers will not buy goods that are worth less to them than the asking price.

So the net effect of the market is to produce an efficient mechanism for trade which determines realistic prices broadly acceptable to producers and consumers. Competition between different producers and between different consumers ensure that excessive profits are difficult to achieve.

But if the market is distorted by state subsidies that equilibrium tends to break down. Let's imagine a food market in a town where the Bread and Circuses Party has taken control (anywhere in UK?). The Party command that bread (normally 75p a loaf) cannot be sold for more than 50p a loaf. What happens?

At 50p it may not be worth the while of producers to make and market bread, so they produce less bread and bread of an inferior quality (to cut their costs to maintain some profit). Consumers have to queue for hours to try to get bread and then find the quality is poor. Many consumers instead go to the Black Market and pay £1 for a good quality loaf (which used to cost 75p).

The state tries to clamp down on the Black Market. As a consequence Black Market prices rise to £2 a loaf. consumers are now either paying £2 a loaf for bread that previously cost 75p, or having to queue for hours to obtain poor quality bread (which would previously have been considered unfit for sale) at 50p a loaf.

So the Bread and Circuses Party decide to subsidise the bakers so that it is again worth their while producing bread of decent quality. They also introduce inspectors to check that the bread is of good quality.

But the bakers aren't stupid (unlike the Party) and they inflate their 'costs' to get a bigger subsidy, which let's say is 50p a loaf. So good quality bread is again available in quantity at 50p a loaf to the public thanks to the 50p subsidy from the state.

But the state has to find the funds to pay for the subsidy (plus their 'costs' in implementing the scheme, employing inspectors and generally sitting around in endless meetings to discuss the problem of bread supply (a problem which didn't previously exist). So they introduce a Bread Tax to be paid by each citizen (who consumes on average one loaf a day) to pay for the subsidy and all the costs associated with it, and the cost of devising and collecting the Bread Tax. These costs are high becasue the state has a monopoly and has no incentive to work efficiently.

So the tax is equivalent to 75p a day (50p subsidy to bakers plus admin costs). Now each citizen is paying 50p for a loaf of bread plus a Bread Tax of 75p a day, total cost £1.25, for a loaf that previously cost 75p.

Even citizens who eat little or no bread have to pay the tax, so people tend to eat more bread since they're paying for it anyway, so again shortages manifest themselves, queues form......

The moral of that story is 'leave the f.....g market alone!'. But what if we already have a market f....d up by subsidies, as with transport? Do we try to remove the subsdies to allow the market to find an eqiuilibrium or do we pile in with more subsidies to obliterate any vestiges of a free market?

Chris Hutt said...

My last comment was of course written and posted before I saw BW's comment above it.

Bigwok said...

Nice summary of market principles. The last paragraph is the most interesting one:

"The moral of that story is 'leave the f.....g market alone!'. But what if we already have a market f....d up by subsidies, as with transport? Do we try to remove the subsdies to allow the market to find an eqiuilibrium or do we pile in with more subsidies to obliterate any vestiges of a free market?

I think for a limited time, you have to do both, remove subsidies for car use, whilst subsidising the capital costs of public transport infrastructure until such time it the infrastructure netwrok is equal or superior. Then let the market control.

I would add that i'm also keen to remove the distortion of private companies inflating the costs of public transport for profit. What's wrong with a not for profit company running a public service?

Chris Hutt said...

BW, you seem to be conflating rail with public transport. Most public transport is road based, and the potential for vastly expanding public transport is also road based.

Railways are mostly operating at the limits of their capacity and increasing capacity is crippingly expensive (especially for an already crippled economy like UK).

On the other hand expansion of road based public transport would be very cheap using existing infrastructure if only we would stop subsidising car traffic which causes congestion on that infrastructure.

The 3 hr rail journey from Swansea to London is to be made 19 minutes quicker at a cost of over £1 billion. The bus journey to London from anywere in the west could be made about 30 mins quicker just by stopping cars clogging up the roads through west London. That could be accomplished for a tiny fraction of the cost of rail electrification.

But the Labour government doesn't give a toss about poor people on buses, only wealthy people on trains, because that's how important people like MPs travel.

Bigwok said...

The culture of travel is another problem that we have both eluded too.

To meet bristols service needs, we don't need a faster railway to London, so for me its not a transport investment priority. Your essentially right, why spend lots of money on rail when there alternatives are cheaper?

My public strategy would be more walking and cycling infrastructure, more pedestrianisation and then a road/segregated rapid transit system for the city, probably tram, Transport investment decisions should be predominately made at a local level.

Rail is expensive and therefore not the first choice solution for Bristol, however rail should play its part because it allows people to get from surrounding towns into the city fast.

I think it was odd that BRT was proposed between Bristol and Bath, why? There is a perfectly good railway that already does and would do a better job.

Chris Hutt said...

Bristol Rapid Transit Phase 4 (Bath to Cribbs Causeway) dropped as RFA funding allocations refined

So the gov apparently agrees with you.

Anonymous said...

Paul said

'On the issue of electricity over diesel we know that a greater proportion of electricity can be generated by renewables, in particular wind, wave and tide'

Only ture if we actually do get the renewables. If we don't surely electrificiation is less efficient???

Chris Hutt said...

But renewables and nuclear together will never meet all needs so any additional demand, including rail, will have to be met largely by carbon emitting technology.

Bigwok said...

So Yes/No? Would you accept that public subsidy/tax investment in the capital costs of public transport infrastructure was acceptable for all transport users?

1)rail was excluded from investment
2) The real operating and environemtnal costs of all transport modes were pay by the user.
3) Public subsidy was time limited until such a time when the infrastructure network was equal or superior to road infrastructure, then the market would take over.

On the last point reclaiming road space for alternative modes is likley to speed up this process but be politically sensitive.

Bigwok said...

Interesting that the proposal was dropped, just as I started to slate it. I always though it was odd. The council now has two routes:

1) Aztec West/Parkway to Hengrove via Bristol city centre.
2) BIA/Ashton to Emersons Green via City Centre

My choice for the third would be

3) Cribbs Causeway to BIA via St Philips/Hengrove creating a south bristol loop.

Rapid transit is clearly for the built up urban area, we already have a rail network for the city region.

Chris Hutt said...

No, I wouldn't accept public subsidy in principle but I can see that pragmatism may dictate compromises.

Who is to say what qualifies as 'equal or superior'? That has to be a subjective judgement, doesn't it? So we would never get agreement.

You're saying that road transport inherits a heritage of infrastructure investment, but the same is true for rail and air. For the most part the capital costs will have been repaid or written off (except for recent investment) so I don't see that there's a big issue there.

Cycling is a bit different in that there is little existing infrastructure beyond shared use of genral roads. If it is considered desirable to further segregate cyclists and motor traffic then I would argue that that was primarily a benefit to motorists (who can then drive faster) rather than cyclists, so motorists should pay for most of such infrastructure investment.

Bigwok said...

Considering when I started to write my thoughts I was not intending to try convince you and I didn't believe I could. I'm happy that on a pragmatic level you can see the merits in what I'm saying, even if in principle you will never agree.

Yes it requries a subjective view on equal or superior, but in reality, I'm sure given time I could develop an approach to make that measure more quantitative. This will always require some subjective assumptions to be made, but thats the same with any planning/transport asessement. This might still not be acceptable.

Yes, its the legacy issue I have a problem with and this needs to be rebalanced, also my sceptacism that the free market would provide public transport infrastructure without profits distorting user costs.

I can't agree that motorists should pay for cycling infrastructure. What happened to the user pays? The benefit of cycling infrastructure for the cyclist has to be more beneficial to cyclists. Cars already go too fast and not getting knocked off my bike is worth more to me, than the few minutes I save over the year getting held up behind cyclists!

Maybe just reduce road speeds instead?

Forest Pines said...

This whole "railways are for the rich/buses are for the relatively poor" idea is something of a myth.

I've travelled from Bristol to London and back twice in the past few months, by train, and each time my single fare was around £10-12. That's not exactly expensive, and it's not much more expensive than the bus fare.

Similarly, if I were to get the train into work every morning, it would cost me a whopping 10p more than if I were to get the bus! You could say I'm lucky to live near a station, which is true; at the city end, too, my office is rather nearer to Temple Meads than to Redcliffe Hill where I'd get off the bus, entirely making up for that extra 10p charge. In the interests of fairness, I should point out that I take a 45min walk instead.

Over the longer distance, the train currently makes up most of our public transport capacity; and it requires capital investment over and above its running costs every few decades, to replace life-expired trains and infrastructure. Doing a rough back-of-an-envelope calculation, I'd say that in the daytime around 1500 train seats leave Paddington, for the Bristol area, every hour of the day, with most of those seats going on either to Wales, Somerset, or further. How many coaches would it take to replace that capacity? The line has not received any major investment since the current 125mph service was introduced, 35 years ago; the trains are still the same bodyshells built then, although they have been re-engined once and received several new interiors. A lot of the signalling equipment along the line is of 1960s-vintage and will need to be replaced before too long, also. Better to do msome ajor investment, than patch up problems one at a time.

Chris Hutt said...

FP, I've just checked the FGW site for Bristol - London return fares on various dates over the next couple of weeks and the cheapest off-peak ticket is £50 return. For comparison the bus is around £15 return, but of course takes much longer. So I think that proves my point.

Forest Pines said...

To get the cheapest tickets then, yes, you have to book in advance, more in advance than just a few days. Still, £15 for the bus isn't much less than the £25 I usually pay for a London-Bristol return train fare. I'm hardly a rich person.

For the local fares, I was comparing like with like. A single fare from my house to the centre is (I think) £2.10 from the stop outside, £1.80 from the stop 10 minutes walk away. And, of course, the bus fares are going up. A single fare from my local station - also 10 minutes walk away - to Temple Meads, bought on the train, is £1.90. The train is much faster, but also much less frequent. My point, you'll notice, is the one best supported by the evidence.

Which would you prefer, incidentally? Leaving the railways to decay, so that all that London-Bristol traffic is forced to use relatively inefficient and polluting private cars and coaches? Or spending money on replacing railway infrastructure when it reaches the end of its life, just as we do with our road surfaces?

Chris Hutt said...

Hi FP, since my last comment I've found a site ( which gives access to these cheaper single fares and you're right that it's possible to find single fares as low as £10, but with very restricted availability of course.

The main problem for a day trip is that there's not much availability of the cheapest fares before 11.30 am so arriving in London after 1 pm. Still I much prefer travelling by train so worth paying a bit extra.

On local rail within Bristol the services are of such poor frequency and geographically restricted that rail can't really be taken seriously as urban transport. The Severn Beach line loses shed loads of public money and doesn't come anywhere near paying its way.

On your last question, it's not for me to say what investment should or shouldn't be made in railways or anything else. That's a business decision for the companies running the railways, but I don't see why the state should be involved (apart from the unfortunate fact that Network Rail is state owned). If the business case for investment isn't good enough to attract private capital then it probably isn't good enough, period.

Forest Pines said...

So if that is the case, why should bus and coach firms receive state investment in their infrastructure? If, as in an ideal world, each form of transport did have to pay according to environmental impact, your coach fare would soar; its current low price reflects the fact that a lot of road transport costs are subsidised in all sorts of small ways by central and local government

Chris Hutt said...

Not necessarily because the road infrastructure costs are usually born by so many users than the infrastructure cost per passenger is very low compared to rail.

Anyway, if bus/coach fares also increased as a result of having to bear real costs, so much the better. We must stop subsidising polluting and carbon emitting activities.

MJ Ray said...

One thing I've not spotted in the above discussion is that for trains to be both electric *and* continue to Temple Meads and towards Exeter, they're going to be carrying diesel power equipment too. Less of it, perhaps, but not as big an improvement as full electrification.

I'm ambivalent about this. The refreshed 125s are already pretty good, but I'd rather the money went on HSR than air and I suspect that's where this pot will go if not on rail. Don't let it stop anyone pushing for better interchange and local infrastructure, though.

Anonymous said...

Anyway, if bus/coach fares also increased as a result of having to bear real costs, so much the better. We must stop subsidising polluting and carbon emitting activities.

That would be no good for the poor like you? If bus travel were to soar in cost..surely that would make travel for the rich elite. How would the workers get to their place of work.

Chris Hutt said...

On the contrary, it would be very good for the poor like me because we would be less poor if we didn't have to subsidise forms of transport that we don't use.

It by no means certain that bus fares would 'soar'. Local bus fares are already relatively expensive in terms of miles per pound but removal of subsidies might even make them cheaper since congestion would be eliminated and buses would be able to run more freely and keep better time. This would result in buses completing more route miles in a given time and so carrying more passengers with only slightly higher operating costs.

Anonymous said...

Would you describe yourself as a transport geek? Do you work in the transport sector? Your obsession is quite remarkable

Chris Hutt said...

No, no, and I don't agree. Obsessions with aspects of transport are quite common in my experience.

Anonymous said...

Guess it depends on the circles you live in! I hope you are wrong, in fact I am sure you are.

Chris Hutt said...

MJ Ray, interesting point about trains that run on electrified and standard track. I wouldn't expect London trains to run west of Bristol anymore since it wouldn't make sense to run hybrids with diesel engines and fuel tanks all the way to and from London just to be able to continue to Weston-super-Mare.

The Cornwall/Devon - London trains that run via Westbury and Newbury would I guess remain diesel since the electrified section (Newbury to London) would be relatively small proportion of whole.

London - Oxford - Birmingham might be more logical for hybrids since the Oxford - London electification would be a substantial section of overall route.

MJ Ray said...

I didn't think that many London trains only ran to WsM. When I get off a direct train at WsM, it often seems to be continuing to Taunton or Exeter.

There's also the question that the Parkway/Temple Meads route split is currently near Swindon and I doubt they'd
electrify both lines at first, but I could be wrong.