Too much money on new trains, not enough on infrastructure?

Discussion in 'UK Railway Discussion' started by DerekC, 7 Jan 2020.

  1. DerekC

    DerekC Member

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    A lot of the problems being encountered by the industry currently seem to be associated with the delivery of new trains, whilst service reliability remains poor. Of course Ministers love them because they are worth several photo-ops per fleet, but is too much being invested in buying new fleets (when refurbs plus some new might have done) and too little in infrastructure?
     
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  3. GRALISTAIR

    GRALISTAIR Established Member

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    In a word - yes. If you have poor infrastructure it does not matter how good the trains are. There is also feast or famine with trains or seems to be. It is why I prefer a nice steady rolling program of infrastructure improvements including electrification. Not new freaking hydrogen trains
     
  4. SuperNova

    SuperNova Member

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    Bob on. DfT's insistence on new trains with franchise agreements has meant there is billions in investment in more carriages - very much needed in my part of the world - but more trains and more new services are pointless when there's not enough room on the railway and if that infrastructure is outdated.
     
  5. js1000

    js1000 Member

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    New trains aren't the problem IMO. In many cases they are desperately needed to tackle overcrowding and meet new accessibility laws. Teething problems are inevitable.

    I think the current failure and resulting declining punctuality, in a nutshell, is down to two main factors:

    1. Unrealistic timetable with no resilience, led by a government who want more services on finite amount of track, and whih Network Rail have naively gone along with without truly understanding the detrimental impact on punctuality. The May 2018 timetable introduced some daft services that have little resilience. We have 2 hour routes, across 20 stops and numerous busy bottlenecks which have to run perfectly such as the Blackpool to Manchester Airport but which only have 5-10 minute turnaround time at the Airport. That is absolutely ridiculous.

    2. Broken franchise system that goes along the lines of:
    1. Bid unrealistically high and promise more revenue returns for government
    2. Make a decent profit in the first 2 to 3 years
    3. When the government subsidy decreases sharply as the franchise progresses - cut down on investment such as staff training, rolling stock numbers, cleaning etc to save money. Northern are probably the greatest example of this. TPE's recent problems over Christmas were blamed on 'staff training' on the new units but I suspect such was the disruption understaffing and employees using up their remaining annual leave - the new units provided a decent cover story. I work in the construction sector all the time and when contractor realise they have underbid at tender they start cutting corners to save money.
    4. When it all ends in tears, renege on the franchise contract and fob it back onto the taxpayer to cover the losses.
    1. It's happened at Northern. Decent £10-20m profit in first 3 years - now it's loss making. It's now happening at SWR. Rinse, cycle, repeat. There is a case that many of these companies are charlatans but are safe in the knowledge that the taxpayer will cover losses while they can pocket a nice little profit in the first few years.
     
  6. Camden

    Camden Established Member

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    Not in the way meant. What has happened is that the rolling stock renewal can has repeatedly been kicked down the road until such point as multiple fleets approached life expiry with no replacement strategy in place.

    This resulted in half baked plans such as the cascade of 319s, after which multiple diesels would be cascaded elsewhere, etc, etc.

    None of that went to plan, which meant in the end something did have to be done.

    If rolling stock replacement was planned into rolling stock operation, so that replacement was scheduled and budgeted for over the lifetime of the trains, we would have seen fewer trains purchased and certainly fewer purchased in such a short period. Quite possibly with longer lead times that would have avoided the disastrous introductions so far.

    More has been spent on rolling stock than necessary, however the "infrastructure" missing was that renewals fund.
     
  7. DynamicSpirit

    DynamicSpirit Established Member

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    I don't think so. Is there any specific new fleet that you can think of that isn't needed? I can't think of one. For example, Northern's new fleet is to replace pacers - and I don't think anyone would seriously think keeping them is a good idea. TPE's new fleet increases train lengths and provides more trains to run more services with. Remember too that any teething problems with new fleets typically last a few months, and in most cases the new fleet will then give reliable service for 20-30 years if not longer. New trains are also more fuel efficient and typically lighter - so less wear and tear on the tracks per carriage.
     
  8. hooverboy

    hooverboy Member

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    I think that depends on the infrastructure project.

    high profile ones get a lot of the spotlight(photo ops for politicians),and a lot of money.A lot of these projects also have rather substantial flows of money into aesthetics-ie millions spent on hiring artists and architects to design fancy stonework/murals etc,when function should be the main driver
    Basic day to day renewals/upgrades are just as important,and that has certainly been neglected.

    it's not just a matter of the money spent on projects, it is how it's spent.
     
  9. flitwickbeds

    flitwickbeds Member

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    The bolded part is key. Is the infrastructure there and ready to accept new services? The general consensus would seem to be no. You can order a thousand new trains but unless you've got the tracks, depots, junctions, loops, signals, staff, platforms, etc to run them they're pointless.
     
  10. a_c_skinner

    a_c_skinner Established Member

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    It is both, isn't it? Because it is both improvements are costed at an astrnomic price. So they take ages. We play catchup and unmask supressed demand. We order trains that are a bit bigger but not enough, with a few extra but not enough both because the civil service is so risk averse. It is down to the amount of money we spend, and has been over numerous governments. We don't embark on infrastructure improvements until they are absolutely needed (Aire Valley platforms) when we could have a programme of gradual improvement (rolling electrification anyone?) and some truly obvious projects are ruled out because of isolated problems (the bridges in Wigan and Leicester perhaps). We really need to solve this urgently if we are serious about our carbon (dioxide) budget.
     
  11. squizzler

    squizzler Member

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    I feel that there are a lot of promising infrastructure projects coming on stream: HS2, NPR, Cardiff Metro, Crossrail, Thameslink and doubtless many others. Big money being spent. What infrastructure is the original poster expecting?

    Now is a great time to be buying new trains. Due to competition amongst constructors they are cheaper and better quality right now than at any other time since re-privatisation in the 1990's, and so is the finance to buy them.
     
  12. ohgoditsjames

    ohgoditsjames Member

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    Then there's Northern who have ordered 2 and 3 car units to replace what? 2 and 3 car units... Then there's the problem of promised platform extensions (Airedale line, Hope Valley Line etc) not being delivered.
     
  13. duesselmartin

    duesselmartin Member

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    could one not argue that the LNER Class91+Mk4 could still trundle on at least another 10 years?
    Are the Mk5 Sleepers really needed or could SERCO have modified the Mk3s?
     
  14. hooverboy

    hooverboy Member

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    indeed.

    you need the basic running equipment in place to do the job effectively.
    to put things in perspective, london bridge station refurbishment cost £1bn.- for 1 station.That isn't the track part either.
    The whole thameslink upgrade programme was £6.5bn.

    how much track/signalling could have been relaid around the country to alleviate some of the really poor chokepoints and lowest speed limit areas for that price?
    I'm talking for track,signals, bridge/earthworks reinforcements and so on.

    it's a bit silly having all the new trains and then having them yo-yo around on massively variable speed limits, better just to step on the gas once and coast the rest(or as much as feasible)
    you save fuel,and get from A to B faster. double win
     
  15. AndrewE

    AndrewE Established Member

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    While there has been famine and feast in rolling stock procurement (and not enough infrastructure investment,) the underlying problem is the fragmented industry - which is catastrophic when it all has to work together to deliver.
    Multiple train operators, with rigid contracts with Roscos, all working for their shareholders but utterly dependant on Network rail to deliver the infrastructure: Mad. And obviously so, which is why BR men told the politicians and civil servants not to go down this road.
    There is no solution other than one railway, as every part of it is dependant on and impacts on all the others.
     
  16. underbank

    underbank Established Member

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    But even that is no guarantee of a success. Look at other governmental depts/quangos. Look at the NHS - very fragmented with lack of joined up thinking nor working together - even depts in the same hospitals don't work together, let alone when your treatment has to span different hospitals, GP surgeries etc where it's little more than chaotic. Same with local councils where depts simply don't communicate and often even conflict. Whilst I agree that a centralised system will be better, it won't happen automatically - there'll still be lots of different conflicts between depts that won't suddenly disappear just because it's all under one roof.
     
  17. tbtc

    tbtc Veteran Member

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    I can see why it would look like that.

    But, we have the following problems:

    • Hundreds of carriages needing scrapping because they are unfit for accessibility regulations
    • Hundreds more carriages needing lengthy upgrade to convert them to accessibility regulations
    • A need to increase supply of trains to meet growth
    • Huge problems trying to update old trains (HSTs for ScotRail, 442s for SWR), huge problems trying to stick a pantograph on a 319, huge problems with sticking an engine under a 230
    • Various non-standard fleets that are being replaced by bigger standardised fleets (which will bring in medium/long term savings - although First are swimming against the tide with their scattergun TPE procurement)
    At the same time, we've taken on so many infrastructure commitments that we can't even finish the CP5 stuff in CP6 (hence the deferral/ postponement of various things, and the reason we still don't have wires at Oxford/ Bristol, yet along Nottingham/Sheffield).

    If anything we've tried to do too much with the infrastructure - although maybe instead of building new lines (which were non-essential) we should have spent more of the infrastructure budget doing boring things like improving signalling (but people/politicians get excited about re-opening some old railway and whoever gets excited about upgrading shoddy signals?)...
     
  18. Journeyman

    Journeyman Established Member

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    No. They've hit life expiry and would need major work to carry on longer. Plus the acceleration is poor compared to new trains - the Azumas are so quick off the block that they will create additional paths when the full fleet is in operation.

    The Mark 3 sleepers were completely knackered, and the Mark 2 lounges and seated cars were even worse. As someone who was involved in desperately trying to run a service with failures left, right, and centre in the early days of the franchise, I can say Serco made absolutely the right decision. Major rebuilding might have been possible, which GWR have opted for, but their fleet has a much easier life and they had enough spares to release vehicles for refurbishment. Caledonian Sleeper didn't have that luxury.
     
  19. Snow1964

    Snow1964 Member

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    Whilst it is easy to find specific fleets that need replacing due to being worn out, there are far to many new trains that are virtually replacing life expired fleets one for one. There has not been that much extra seating capacity (although some trains have more standing room) introduced

    In most cases the replacement trains are limited by the lack of infrastructure investment, most of the capacity constraints and bottlenecks are still there, generally there aren't longer trains, and replacements are not operating at higher speeds. With the exception of a few projects very few lines can handle more trains, or faster trains, or longer trains than they did 20 ... 30 ... 40 years ago. Some lines have less capacity.

    If every Operator was to increase its fleet by 10-20% by getting more trains, most wouldn't be able to use majority of them, even to tackle overcrowding hotspots.
     
  20. bramling

    bramling Established Member

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    IMHO yes. An obsession with fleet replacement, with a supplementary problem that replacement fleets are often pared down to the bone so they don’t offer anything transformational in the way of capacity - just more seats packed in, but still struggling to meet the numbers of seats on older trains before accessibility modifications.

    Platform extensions and grade separation are what is needed to enhance capacity and performance, plus sensible timetables!
     
  21. Grannyjoans

    Grannyjoans Member

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    Yes, it feels like the very fast 331's are really held back by low linespeeds in most places
     
  22. Mr Mean

    Mr Mean Member

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    Yes, definately. This is noticeable in West Yorkshire. The Leeds to Huddersfield stopper was meant to be 6 cars. Local platforms have been extended but the service can't run as 6 cars due to platform limitations at Leeds.

    Similarly the Hallam lines were meant to be 4 car but due to limitations at Leeds they are stuck with 2.

    Huddersfield platform limitations have meant the Hudds to Leeds via Halifax has been cut short.

    East Leeds approaches are a messy mix of fast, medium and slow services on a congested 2 track section.

    Harrogate line improvements are delayed etc, etc, etc.

    The whole network needs replanning, rebuilding and reworking.
     
  23. ohgoditsjames

    ohgoditsjames Member

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    To further reiterate my point, who's bright idea was it to replace the 2 car 158's with 2 car 195's? The same 195's that have less seats than the 158's!
     
  24. DynamicSpirit

    DynamicSpirit Established Member

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    Isn't the problem one of coordinating all the various improvements to both infrastructure and stock that are often required for service improvements rather than too much new stock per se?

    Maybe some people are forgetting it's not that long ago that the new Todmorden Curve was completed only to discover that Northern didn't have enough stock to run any trains over it!
     
  25. al78

    al78 Established Member

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    It does not matter whether or not it would be perfect, it matters whether or not it would, or could, offer significant improvements to the current system.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nirvana_fallacy

    If we never implemented anything because it wasn't a perfect solution, we would live in a world of stagnation and regression.
     
  26. Dr Hoo

    Dr Hoo Established Member

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    Going back to the original premise, it is far from obvious (to me at least) that 'ministers love new trains'. At least ever since the shambolic launch of the Class 800 with senior GWR and Hitachi staff alongside Chris Grayling way back in 2017 I am struggling to think of any ministerial photo opportunities.

    Most new (or refurbished) trains seem to have been given low-key introductions into service on paltry numbers of services many months after originally promised dates. Frequently these have been accompanied by blame heaped (fairly or unfairly) on the train operator for 'broken promises', accompanied by wall-to-wall campaigns by local politicians, media and lobby groups for them to 'stripped of their franchise', etc.

    This seems to have frightened most ministers off being 'doorstepped' for the only questions that they will hear of 'will you be taking this opportunity to sack XYZ trains/compensate long-suffering commutors/resign/blah, blah'.

    The more serious aspect to this is that ANY investment in the railway - rolling stock or infrastructure - will be seen as too high-risk/toxic when it is easier to switch it to local hospitals, schools, police, flood prevention and so forth.
     
  27. Mikey C

    Mikey C Established Member

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    Isn't there a north/south split on this, as many of the new trains in the south are direct replacements for existing fleets which already were on the electrified lines generally of a decent length already?
     
  28. Andyh82

    Andyh82 Established Member

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    Thameslink, London Overground, TfL Rail, GWR Electrostars all resulted in big capacity increases compared to what went before?

    Whereas in the North we’ve got Northern getting brand new 2 car trains...
     
  29. hooverboy

    hooverboy Member

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    you have brand new shiny trains capable of running over the same stretch of 40+ year old bullhead rail,with yo-yo speed limits (between 15 and 60mph,with the occasional 75mph burst)and signalling that belongs in last the century before last.

    it wouldn't matter if you are running a pacer or one of the new 195's,apart from capacity(which as you say is a minimal improvement given the PRM specifiactions)
    the fact is you need to deal with the REAL nuts and bolts of service improvements first.
    if you improve the linespeed then you can improve service frequency and reduce commuting/transit times..I say transit times because many of these routes still do have an economic impact,albeit seasonal.in the case of coastal routes it might make the difference between someone staying in or going for a day out/staycation instead of booking a holiday abroad.

    3 hours each on a train with a screaming kid or 3 in tow is not fun.2 hours however is just about bearable!

    for london it's nearly all about commuting, so the capacity increase takes precedence.
    for other sections of the network,there is a balance to be struck in order to reduce costs and increase patronage full stop.
    in terms of running costs it doesn't cost a whole lot more to replace a 195/170 over a 153 for instance, but the passenger take up needs to be there,or be created.
    One has to have an eye on the route as it is already loss making....the million dollar question is how to reduce those losses.

    staff costs is obvious,
    then there's overall running and maintenance costs

    then there's actually doing something to entice people to use the service-this is the remit of local councils if anything.
    They could do something like a "seasonal" business rate or more lenient licencing for for off peak events..so butlins/campsites/caravan parks etc can stay open another couple of weeks per year.That would not only benefit butlins ,hoteliers and so on but also local pubs/eateries, something to keep the kids entertained (lets say funfair or go kart park )etc
     
    Last edited: 8 Jan 2020
  30. gazzaa2

    gazzaa2 Member

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    So many TOCs similtaneously ending up with sub-standard trains and a chronic shortage of carriages is a clear case of not enough spent on infrastructure anyway.

    It's a farcical situation given the fares we pay.

    Some of the busiest routes had more carriages on a generation ago than they do now. Cross Country for example and it's only now TPE are dealing with their chronic shortage but the rolling out of new stock is causing chaos with teething problems (ditto Northern).
     
  31. Andyh82

    Andyh82 Established Member

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    TPE are still suffering from 185s being too short
    Northern are still suffering from the no growth franchise, they should be one generation of trains further along by now. The 195s should be replacing the sprinters.

    But I also agree that they need to spend money on infrastructure, but as said, it’s too long term, there are no quick fixes or photo opportunities. Any benefits happen in the next parliament.
     

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