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2021 Predictions, Hopes and Fears

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It is that time of the year, where I pose the annual question of what we all think may happen in 2021.

One thing is for certain: change is most definitely on the horizon, all speeded up by the Coronavirus - the most unexpected possibility when midnight on January 1st 2020 hit.

Personally: I suspect financially, will result delays in many projects; that HS2 will be altered in some way; and least another 2 companies will be also in full Government control.

2021 will be quite the rollercoaster, knowing TOC’s all need money, need passengers and ultimately enable a good return to shareholders!
 
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Purple Orange

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Prediction: HS2 western branch will progress, with the latest HS2 plans for Piccadilly and Manchester Airport adopted as the final scheme. This means a firm commitment that an underground station in Manchester will be confined to the annals of history, along with the Pic-Vic line.

Hope: Electrification projects are backed fully and we see a strong commitment to de-carbonising our railways.

Fear: Yet more indecisiveness from our politicians.
 

Ianno87

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Hope #1: Covid gets consigned to the pages of the history books, normal life returns (with some positive changes compared to pre-Covid).

Hope #2: The UK rail industry gets its act together, and gets people back on rail

Fear: The above doesn't happen.
 

Bletchleyite

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Prediction: there will be cuts to save money and due to reduced commuting etc

Hope: these will be the right ones to make the network reliable, e.g. thinning out (but lengthening trains on) the south WCML and Castlefield

Fear: they will just take it out on the branch lines
Fear 2: the Conwy Valley won't be rebuilt after the annual flooding

Hope #1: Covid gets consigned to the pages of the history books, normal life returns (with some positive changes compared to pre-Covid).

Hope #2: The UK rail industry gets its act together, and gets people back on rail

Fear: The above doesn't happen.

Massive fear: something goes wrong with the vaccination programme (e.g. a mutation) and COVID continues for months longer, pushing us (together with a no deal Brexit) into a deep depression, with cuts so swingeing that Beeching looked minor because the money simply isn't there.
 

Trackman

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Massive fear: something goes wrong with the vaccination programme (e.g. a mutation) and COVID continues for months longer, pushing us (together with a no deal Brexit) into a deep depression, with cuts so swingeing that Beeching looked minor because the money simply isn't there.
Yes, something on the lines I'm thinking too.
Mass mothballing of lines then falling into disrepair that would cost a fortune to re-open.
You cant have a steam engine burning £50 notes to keep going so to speak.
I can see a Serpell 'Option A' scenario.
 

bramling

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Prediction: there will be cuts to save money and due to reduced commuting etc

Hope: these will be the right ones to make the network reliable, e.g. thinning out (but lengthening trains on) the south WCML and Castlefield

Fear: they will just take it out on the branch lines
Fear 2: the Conwy Valley won't be rebuilt after the annual flooding



Massive fear: something goes wrong with the vaccination programme (e.g. a mutation) and COVID continues for months longer, pushing us (together with a no deal Brexit) into a deep depression, with cuts so swingeing that Beeching looked minor because the money simply isn't there.

The latter is a real fear. Presumably it’s not inconceivable either.

I think were that to happen there will simply have to be a realisation that we will simply have to get on with life, and elderly people in particular will simply have to shield as far as practicable. That may well be politically unacceptable however, leading to more of the same, which would ultimately push us into depression.
 

HST43257

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Prediction: local cuts will be made

Hope: these cuts plus small new projects help build a better future which means a more reliable, more cost efficient railway.
Fear: the cuts are made and nothing is built, meaning the most can’t be made out of thing possible.
 

InTheEastMids

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Prediction: Whilst we will largely have beaten Covid-19 by mid-year, there has been a fundamental re-shaping of work & business travel for a significant number of rail users, and a large chunk of 2021-2 will be spent figuring out what this means for enhancements 2023+ and into CP7

Hope: the CP6 cuts that are being made are sensible (e.g. capacity schemes where demand has been (semi-)permanently reduced); the Net Zero Strategy for Rail is both realistic but also takes a whole-system view (e.g. the Net Zero benefits of modal shift) shows signs of being implemented by investment (e.g. GW to Oxford/Bristol, MML to Sheffield, freight capacity schemes)

Fear: A hiatus on investment, because (i) Covid creates uncertainty over where to invest, and (ii) non-rail investments in Net Zero give bigger bang:buck... meaning the TNDS and Net Zero Strategies are mostly used to stop doors banging, learning is lost and performance on railway projects gets worse (particularly as HS2 soaks up talent)
 

squizzler

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Prediction: The new rail logistics operators and their repurposed EMUs continue to attract investment as the shortage of lorry drivers deepens.

Hope: Train fares are recast specifically to induce demand, fill the seats, and get the country moving by train again.

Fear: The Williams report is not released in full because the Illuminati want to suppress it or something.
 

yorksrob

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Hope - the covid crisis pases, passenger numbers return to a nearer normal- taking account of desires for more home working than previously. As a result, passenger services on the existing network are re-moulded around less "peaky" commuting and more leisure, playing to rail's strengths.

Fear, Government needs to cut expense and instead of economising over-provisioned commuter services, cuts local and rural services, irreparably damaging the product.

Also problems with the virus/vaccine rollout, causing an intensification and prolonging of the current crisis.

Prediction- assuming crisis recedes, passenger numbers will return to at least 60% of 2019 levels reasonably quickly with regional and local services recovering particularly strongly.
 

xotGD

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Prediction: Hydrogen powered trains take to the rails in passenger service.

Hope: TPE 68s are fully operational to Scarborough and Teesside.

Fear: Covid mutates and we are still under restrictions by year end.
 

43096

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Hope: TPE 68s are fully operational to Scarborough and Teesside.
I suspect that if some of the 185 fleet passes over to EMR for the Liverpool-Nottingham service that will force TPE's hand to get the Mark 5s into service.
 

Bald Rick

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Personal views:

Prediction(s):
* slight retrenchment in services results in early retirement of some of the older commuter fleets
* when social distancing restrictions are eased, leisure travel returns to ‘normal’ almost overnight
* ‘on track’ fares competition ends (except Open Access routes, if they still exist)
* the ‘South’ sees most capacity projects ‘paused’ pending a better understanding of future demand
* the ‘North’ gets promised tens of billions of new / upgraded railway; and still complains
* best ever punctuality figures announced

Hope: MML, Oxford and Bristol TM electrifications ‘authorised’

Fear: major industrial unrest in the industry causes Government to swing the axe. If the former happens, so will the latter, as sure as night follows day.
 

yorksrob

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Personal views:

Prediction(s):
* slight retrenchment in services results in early retirement of some of the older commuter fleets
* when social distancing restrictions are eased, leisure travel returns to ‘normal’ almost overnight
* ‘on track’ fares competition ends (except Open Access routes, if they still exist)
* the ‘South’ sees most capacity projects ‘paused’ pending a better understanding of future demand
* the ‘North’ gets promised tens of billions of new / upgraded railway; and still complains
* best ever punctuality figures announced

Hope: MML, Oxford and Bristol TM electrifications ‘authorised’

Fear: major industrial unrest in the industry causes Government to swing the axe. If the former happens, so will the latter, as sure as night follows day.

I hope not, in terms of the industrial unrest, but given the state of play prior to this year one can't be sure.

Hopefully Northern Rail have got the industrial unrest out of its system, and what remaining action takes place will be in the South East where any cuts would be frequency rather than route based !
 

Bletchleyite

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I wouldn’t bet on that.

I wouldn't either, but I would expect that in a climate where the overall view in society is "you should be glad to have a job" (whether right or wrong, that is the prevailing view at present) it would leave things open for the Government to do things like forcing DOO. Though as the OP said, if that means "all out strikes" of both drivers and guards they could see it as an opportunity to reduce the size of the network as if it didn't operate for months then people would get used to not using it. The situation at the moment is different as people mostly simply aren't making the journeys, they aren't arranging to make them by other modes.

With Arriva gone (and thus any agreements nullified), if I was a Northern Guard I would be a bit concerned at present (same if I was a driver and didn't want to drive DOO; some may not mind that particularly if extra money is on the table).

(note: this post does not seek to express an opinion on the merits or otherwise of that, it's just a bit of a prediction, though I'm not sure if it'd be 2021 or a bit later)
 

Philip

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I wouldn’t bet on that.

Why? Northern strikes finished long before the pandemic started.

Not so simple for the government to swing the axe anyway, the unions would threaten more damaging strikes and on regional services still making a lot of money and well used, this would be damaging.
 

43096

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I wouldn't either, but I would expect that in a climate where the overall view in society is "you should be glad to have a job" (whether right or wrong, that is the prevailing view at present) it would leave things open for the Government to do things like forcing DOO. Though as the OP said, if that means "all out strikes" of both drivers and guards they could see it as an opportunity to reduce the size of the network as if it didn't operate for months then people would get used to not using it. The situation at the moment is different as people mostly simply aren't making the journeys, they aren't arranging to make them by other modes.
The influence that strikes can have is now much reduced from what it was pre-pandemic. What we now know is that the railway isn't actually the essential service that it thought it was. I used to commute daily into London; I've been in twice since the pandemic started. So if SWR went on an all-out strike for a month, then a huge number of SWR passengers have a proven alternative of working from home. That in turn means less pressure on the politicians to resolve the strike. If I was DfT I would already be working on things like changes to driver T&Cs to include DOO.
 

The Planner

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Why? Northern strikes finished long before the pandemic started.

Not so simple for the government to swing the axe anyway, the unions would threaten more damaging strikes and on regional services still making a lot of money and well used, this would be damaging.
Perception of the unions wouldn't be favourable if that happened, country opening up again and then going on strike, I would imagine that plays very nicely into the governments hands.
 

Philip

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Perception of the unions wouldn't be favourable if that happened, country opening up again and then going on strike, I would imagine that plays very nicely into the governments hands.

Not if they're losing out significantly on passenger revenue, which in the case of Northern they would be; both because the government run it and because Northern will probably see the closest return to pre-pandemic numbers of all the TOCs. Wouldn't surprise me if Northern average 75-80% of pre-pandemic numbers across all services, once restrictions are eased and vaccination progresses.
 

The Planner

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Not if they're losing out significantly on passenger revenue, which in the case of Northern they would be; both because the government run it and because Northern will probably see the closest return to pre-pandemic numbers of all the TOCs. Wouldn't surprise me if Northern average 75-80% of pre-pandemic numbers across all services, once restrictions are eased and vaccination progresses.
Political point scoring will trump that.
 

The Ham

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Prediction: passenger numbers whilst they will fall won't be nearly as bleak as some fear, somewhere around 10-15%. As whilst rail will be hit by WFH, so will car use and so the impact will be reduced. Of course that will be an average and some lines will see increases whilst London Commuting will likely be hit harder. However more within region Commuting would likely be more robust (especially as a fair amount of that could be education related).

Hope: That more electrification is approved, especially given the announcement about needing to reduce emissions from 1990 to 2030 by about 70%.

Fear: That the eastern arm of HS2 is scaled back or cancelled.
 

Bald Rick

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Not so simple for the government to swing the axe anyway, the unions would threaten more damaging strikes and on regional services still making a lot of money and well used, this would be damaging.

It is very simple. Regional services are not making a lot of money, indeed they never have. They are making very little at present.


Not if they're losing out significantly on passenger revenue, which in the case of Northern they would be

You’ll be seeing the Northern revenue figures then? Thought not.


Wouldn't surprise me if Northern average 75-80% of pre-pandemic numbers across all services, once restrictions are eased and vaccination progresses.

That’s some time away.
 

SteveM70

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Boris resigns, and in his resignation honours creates Lord Cummings. Cummings then chooses to be Lord Cummings of Barnard Castle.
 

yorksrob

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It is very simple. Regional services are not making a lot of money, indeed they never have. They are making very little at present.




You’ll be seeing the Northern revenue figures then? Thought not.




That’s some time away.

The railway is a political beast these days. Bums on seats will be important, and the regional railway will head the way (already is, judging by some trains I've been on today).
 

The Ham

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Cash will be more important. It’s priority #1.

Both are linked (i.e. you need bums on seats to get cash), however annual season ticket holders get some significant discounts.

To illustrate this of you WFH 3 days a week and commute between Southampton and Winchester your annual rail costs fall from £1,000 to £700. Therefore you've reduced your rail use by 60% but only save 30% (assuming all anytime travel).

Whilst that's money that the railway would need to get back there's now more capacity to carry more people.

With one person doing that it's not going to make much of a difference to capacity, but if you have about 1/2 the people doing it then a train which was full with 1 person standing for every 5 seats would then actually have 3 spare seats for every 20 seats. Whilst that's not going to be great levels of comfort it's a lot better than it was.

Also it's worth noting that people who WFH a lot more (say, a few days a month) aren't likely to carry on traveling in from Epsom when they could travel in from Exmouth and have a much better quality of life. If that happens then they could even end up paying broadly the same amount of money to the railways, as the savings to them would be on house costs (look at the prices of comparable homes between the two). Especially if it allows them to make that move a few years before retiring and gain some of the benefits early.

For instance being able to walk with sea views after finishing work at 6pm, rather than have an hour's worth of rail travel before being able to do anything. During the summer you could still eat at the same time as you always have but having got a sea swim in between finishing work and eating.

If you really wanted to, you could even WFB (Work From Boat) with days that you're just working on reports/replying to emails taking your boat out and using 4G for updates and then going for a sail in the evening. You could even do that for a few days at a time.

The political fallout from trying to close branchlines would be significant, especially if they hadn't seen much of a fall in traffic. Questions like "why wasn't this being looked at closure in 2012 when we had lower volumes of passengers than we have in 2021?" probably wouldn't be the best starting point. Especially when most of the falls in passenger numbers would be in the South East.

Given the flack from "London cast offs" when trains get moved North, of the North has to bear the brunt of service reductions because of falling passenger numbers in the South East that's going to be a whole other level of flack (says someone who lives in the South East!!!)

Anyway with the target of 68% reduction in emissions between 1990 and 2030 and transport being about 1/3 of all emissions, any cuts to rail is likely to harm the ability to meet that target.

As whilst average rail emissions are comparable (per mile per person) as EV's that doesn't give cars much scope to reduce from that figure (other than greening the grid), whilst rail has scope to do so to a much bigger extent. That's before you consider that someone using rail is more likely to walk/cycle more of their up to 3 mile trips than someone with a car and so it's likely that a person using rail would be traveling less miles overall.
 

Bald Rick

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Both are linked (i.e. you need bums on seats to get cash), however annual season ticket holders get some significant discounts.

To illustrate this of you WFH 3 days a week and commute between Southampton and Winchester your annual rail costs fall from £1,000 to £700. Therefore you've reduced your rail use by 60% but only save 30% (assuming all anytime travel).

Whilst that's money that the railway would need to get back there's now more capacity to carry more people.

With one person doing that it's not going to make much of a difference to capacity, but if you have about 1/2 the people doing it then a train which was full with 1 person standing for every 5 seats would then actually have 3 spare seats for every 20 seats. Whilst that's not going to be great levels of comfort it's a lot better than it was.

Also it's worth noting that people who WFH a lot more (say, a few days a month) aren't likely to carry on traveling in from Epsom when they could travel in from Exmouth and have a much better quality of life. If that happens then they could even end up paying broadly the same amount of money to the railways, as the savings to them would be on house costs (look at the prices of comparable homes between the two). Especially if it allows them to make that move a few years before retiring and gain some of the benefits early.

For instance being able to walk with sea views after finishing work at 6pm, rather than have an hour's worth of rail travel before being able to do anything. During the summer you could still eat at the same time as you always have but having got a sea swim in between finishing work and eating.

If you really wanted to, you could even WFB (Work From Boat) with days that you're just working on reports/replying to emails taking your boat out and using 4G for updates and then going for a sail in the evening. You could even do that for a few days at a time.

The political fallout from trying to close branchlines would be significant, especially if they hadn't seen much of a fall in traffic. Questions like "why wasn't this being looked at closure in 2012 when we had lower volumes of passengers than we have in 2021?" probably wouldn't be the best starting point. Especially when most of the falls in passenger numbers would be in the South East.

Given the flack from "London cast offs" when trains get moved North, of the North has to bear the brunt of service reductions because of falling passenger numbers in the South East that's going to be a whole other level of flack (says someone who lives in the South East!!!)

Anyway with the target of 68% reduction in emissions between 1990 and 2030 and transport being about 1/3 of all emissions, any cuts to rail is likely to harm the ability to meet that target.

As whilst average rail emissions are comparable (per mile per person) as EV's that doesn't give cars much scope to reduce from that figure (other than greening the grid), whilst rail has scope to do so to a much bigger extent. That's before you consider that someone using rail is more likely to walk/cycle more of their up to 3 mile trips than someone with a car and so it's likely that a person using rail would be traveling less miles overall.

All very interesting, I’m sure.

The fact of the matter is that revenue is down much more than passenger numbers, and has been for 3/4 of a year.
 
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