Why has progress in cars been so much better in the last 40 years compared to trains?

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by Bessie, 11 Aug 2019.

  1. Bessie

    Bessie Member

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    With the recent withdrawal of HSTs from front-line GWR service being replaced with IETs it got me thinking about progress of trains since the 1970's versus other forms of transport. For trains the improvements since the 1970's focus on replacement of slam-door stock with automatic doors and most suburban stock now have air-con. There is also better PIS and wi-fi. Then I start to struggle and we know some things have gone backwards like seat comfort and removal of buffet cars.
    I then compare this to cars when in the 70's most folk were driving Ford Cortinas, Vauxhall Cavaliers or Morris Marinas with poor fuel economy and leaded petrol, radio (if you were lucky), headrests (if you were lucky), no air bags, prone to rust etc. And the cars of today VW Golfs, Ford Mondeos all have far superior economy, better seats, better performance, better ICE, better safety (air bags, auto-braking)
    Anyway I will get to my point - why has progress in cars been so much better in the last 40 years compared to trains?
     
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  3. Kendalian

    Kendalian Member

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    Very good question!

    I reckon it's got a lot to do with trains being designed for a 25-30+ year lifespan (much longer for HSTs as it's turned out!) whereas cars only last 5-10 years (classics aside). The faster the turnover of cars, the quicker they evolve.

    Car manufacturers feel the need to respond to customer aspirations whereas trains are run as a business.

    Cars have Formula One/Indycars at their pinnacle of technology, driving improvements which filter down into the family car, unlike trains.

    No doubt many more reasons as well :idea:
     
  4. hooverboy

    hooverboy Member

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    I think it's ultimately down to replacement cycles.
    you would expect a typical car lifespan to be around 15 years, and fleet/lease cars are generally replaced after 3/4/5 years.

    your typical train is expected to run for around 40 years!
    there's a limited scope for retrofitting/upgrading gear.

    also trains are produced in lower quantities,with batches of several hundred being the norm, rather than several million in the case of cars.

    kendalin-agree about the impact of F1 technology too!, it's a way of driving improvements to car and engine technology,which rail doesn't have


    who knows, as much as people hate on the leasing companies,maybe this is a way of reducing the replacement cycle period, therefore getting better upgreades to rolling stock.
    If this is potentially the case then we need a lot more players than the big 3 + rock rail to drive up competition/drive down costs.
    At the moment the lease comapnies act pretty much as a cartel, which is not the most efficient for the consumer.
     
    Last edited: 11 Aug 2019
  5. cuccir

    cuccir Established Member

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    The main reason is the market. The market for cars has increased massively: there are twice as many cars now in the UK as in 1979, but that was already a well developed market on 1979. In most of Asia and South America the market for cars has grown from almost nothing to being huge in that time. By contrast, the market for trains has... in most of the world been quite flat.

    The size of the market and the profits available in the car industry has driven completion and hence innovation to get ahead of the rest.

    In terms of rail, in Europe, we've seen most innovations in the areas where there has been a market for growth: suburban commuter trains, light rail and trams. Think of the latter: in the 1970s they were not much changed on the vehicles of the inter-war period, but now they're modern, clean, comfortable and fast.

    China has shown what could have been achieved if there was globally a market for heavy rail: high-speed maglev, high-end first class service... but without any sort of market there's nothing driving that innovation.
     
  6. TheSel

    TheSel Member

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    Many reasons. Here's five for starters:

    1. Because of the sheer volume of new cars built vs new trains built in that time.
    2. Because the average life span of a car is around a quarter of that of a train.
    3. Because of the relatively low proportion of users of rail vs private cars.
    4. Some (admittedly not all) of these improvements can be (and are) made to rail stock at mid-life refurbishment - few cars are ever refurbished in this way.
    5. Because rail users 'purchase a service to get from A to B', and merely accept (willingly or otherwise!) the vehicle in which they travel, as opposed to the situation where a car buyer - new or second hand - generally looks for far more than "a machine to make the journey" - whether it's the internal comforts, the "infotainment" (hate that word!) system, the safety systems (almost every road user refers to 'that other idiot driver' - few if any rail passengers ever refer to the driving skills of their - or any other train driver!), the fuel economy, what colour it is, or even something to impress the neighbours.
     
  7. ComUtoR

    ComUtoR Established Member

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    In the 15+ yrs I have been driving trains, they have vastly improved.

    A lot of what you see may not have changed much but under the bonnet they have come a long way. Various safety devices have been fitted. Crash worthiness has improved, fire safety has been improved, passenger safety improvements, updated braking systems, onboard computers, better diagnostic tools, improved Driver interfaces, improved motors, increased reliability, led lighting (inside and out), passenger information, various automated systems etc etc.

    My driving 'history'
    400s > 508 > 319 > 465 > 376 > 700

    For me, the change has been quite dramatic.
     
  8. Tom B

    Tom B Established Member

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    The buyer of railway stock is a company who will likely have a good amount of sway over the design and specifications. A car is bought by a private buyer who has a limited set of choices depending on what can be offered.

    If you look at modern car advertising though, very little is said about the engine, transmission, economy etc. The focus is on what it's like to drive, how advanced the stereo system is. Whilst I find this odd, undoubtedly it's that way because most people focus on that and can be sold on it.

    Whilst modern cars need servicing at wider intervals, the parts are far more expensive and the work more involved. You can change the oil and the points on your Cortina or Capri in 10 minutes and for £20, I doubt most motorists would even think about trying on a modern Focus or similar.

    The cost of rolling stock means it is more likely to be economic to hold onto it, invest in repairs, or wholesale refurbishment. Some cars that are over 10 years old can be sent to scrap for want of a new clutch etc, as the cost of the work is more than the value of the vehicle.
     
  9. JonathanH

    JonathanH Established Member

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    Even to the passenger, there is a step change between those fleets (recognising that they don't serve the same purposes). Some people may not like the changes but...

    400 > 508 much more open layout (even if lower backed seats are very unpopular)

    508 > 319 much less austere interior

    319 > 465 better use of space for a given seating layout - clearly maximised seating capacity

    465 > 376 recognised that offering more standing space was needed (although layout is more 'enclosed' than previous fleets)

    376 > 700 walk though and open layout trains able to move large numbers of passengers
     
  10. yorksrob

    yorksrob Veteran Member

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    "Class 400's" cover a wide variety of rolling stock and passenger environments. Without knowing which ones @ComUtoR is referring to, it's difficult to make a judgement on whether the following classes have been an improvement.
     
  11. al78

    al78 Established Member

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    Cars are manufactured goods which people purchase for transport, and way more people use cars than trains for everyday journeys. As with any manufactured good, there is competition, which drives innovation and progress, any car manufacturer which doesn't improve its model over time will stagnate and probably go out of business. With population growth, perceived obsolescence, and the tendency to junk things that are theoretically still usable given a repair, there is always going to be a demand for new cars (people usually don't keep cars until they are worn out before replacing). Trains, on the other hand, are a service, which for a subset of journeys, is the only practical mode of transport, and for most of the rest, is not competitive with the car, and there is very little in between, so there is not the same level of competition as there is between car manufacturers, so much lower incentive to progress in terms of comfort and speed, plus it is harder and more expensive to upgrade the network to allow higher train speeds and buy better and faster rolling stock (how much will HS2 cost?). People who commute into London don't have a practical option of driving so they have to use the train. If people have to use the train, there is little incentive to bother with spending money on improvements, because there isn't the consequence of people abandoning rail for an alternative. Even privatisation doesn't really work well in stimulating competition between rail companies, because often there is only one company which stands out as the most suitable to use for a journey. If I want to go from Horsham to Manchester, it is very difficult to avoid Southern Rail and Virgin, unless I take a very long way round.
     
  12. JonathanH

    JonathanH Established Member

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    Yes, I agree. 508s were not an improvement over 411/421/423 on routes such as Redhill to Tonbridge in the late 1990s but I suspect they were broadly welcomed at Waterloo in the late 1970s when they replaced 4-SUBs.
     
  13. EssexGonzo

    EssexGonzo Member

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    I think there's a bit of a fashion thing going on here too. Image, fashion and status enhancement sell cars - that's why they change so frequently. Look how the market has moved away from saloons/estates towards SUVs in the last 10 years. Entirely fashion based - SUV's are less efficient, larger, slower, worse handling and more expensive than estate cars. But they make the owner feel and look good to others.

    Whereas - in my own view only - seat availability, frequency and punctuality sell rail services to the general public. Mostly, a sexy train (with the Novas excepted :D) will not endear itself to the public. Things that drive punctuality and capacity are not as immediately obvious in trains as market-led drivers of change - unlike body shape, big alloys and LED headlights in cars.
     
  14. Cowley

    Cowley Established Member

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    It’s
    It would be quite a leveller if all cars were made to look the same and were designed to last for thirty years with easily upgradeable power packages, replacement computer systems and a set of new (more uncomfortable) seats every ten years.
    I think some kind of totalitarian government would have to bring it in though along the lines of the Trabant.
    Maybe it could be built by one of the main car companies though with decent parts and design.

    Ford Corbyna anyone..?
     
  15. stj

    stj Member

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    Also investment in Railways has been controlled by governments and the infrastructure has not changed in most areas since the railway was built.There are still semaphores on some routes you would have expected rail signalling to be in-cab as the norm by now.
     
  16. yorksrob

    yorksrob Veteran Member

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    Personally I'd say that the newer builds were possibly an improvement on the 455's, but nowt else out of the 4XX range.
     
  17. yorksrob

    yorksrob Veteran Member

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    Before we get carried away with the Thatcherite obsession with competition, It's worth remembering that we did have the technical research centre at Derby which led to a lot of developments to rolling stock, up until the 1990's. This required the railway to have a guiding mind of course.
     
  18. edwin_m

    edwin_m Veteran Member

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    Most cars are chosen by the intended driver(s) who decide (within the range of available options) what features they want to have and pay accordingly. It's then up to those people to take care of the vehicle and if one of those features stops working they have to pay to get it fixed or live without it.

    A train will be used by many people who may have their own views on what features they would like to have around their seat. But you can't cater for everbody, and the more features are provided the more likely passengers will misuse and break some of them, whch the operator then has to pay to fix.

    Cars (and vans) bought by companies for job-related use by employees or hiring out are somewhere in between. They will usually be used by many different people and are often fitted out at a more basic level, unless the company specifies more features to attract hirers or if it's a vehicle provided for a valued staff member.
     
  19. takno

    takno Established Member

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    By the 1970s passenger railways had been developed and deployed on a wide scale for around 120 years, while cars had been in genuinely mass production for less than 50. The ever-growing market meaning the pressure was always on to make cars cheaper and available to a wider audience rather than better to that point. Meanwhile railways had worked out most of the fundamentals by the 1920s, and by the late 70s had gone through 20 years of route modernisation and spending on R&D. Add to that that you are looking at the surviving trains from the 70s like HSTs, which were the bleeding edge of speed and comfort rather than the grubby tat which actually ran most of the services.

    tl;dr - cars in the 70s were absolute rubbish, so they had a lot of headroom for improvement, and trains didn't
     
  20. matacaster

    matacaster Member

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    I agree with most of the above points, but would like to add
    that the the loading gauge varies so much across the UK rail system as does the route availability and speed limits (some differential) together with some routes requiring higher-hp equipment as a result of topography and differences in signalling equipment and whether its AC, DC, Diesel, Steam or some combination thereof. Centre or end doors. Freight has widely different characteristics to passenger trains. When you add in TOC preferences, for seating layout etc, it becomes clear that there are too many different types of train and infrastructure on UK network to be able to order cost effective batches of trains.
     
  21. Bald Rick

    Bald Rick Established Member

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    Compared to trains of the 70s, todays new trains have far superior economy, better seats*, better performance, better PIS (ie more than none), better safety....

    * in my view the seats are better now, in that there are (usually) more of them for a given length of train, they are much safer in an accident, much less likely to catch fire, and often more comfortable. I appreciate that this is not an opinion shared by all.
     
  22. tbtc

    tbtc Veteran Member

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    I think that there's certainly an argument that trains haven't kept pace with the "creature comforts" in cars, but some of the above examples seem a little unfair - if you are praising cars for being more fuel efficient and safer then surely the same can be said about trains (other than the fact that the average passenger won't notice things like the mpg or the safety features of a average train). People may not notice "performance" either but generally modern trains can accelerate/ brake a good bit better - the timetables that haven't been speeded up are often due to long station dwells (to improve performance and accommodate increased passenger numbers).

    The buffets are being removed due to changes in taste, changes in demand. It used to be pretty much essential when there were very few places to buy food, and people ate three proper meals a day. Nowadays there are dozens of culinary establishments within a stone's throw of any major station (and people "graze" more), so the idea of giving up a whole carriage for a buffet or restaurant facilities is a positive luxury.

    But I think that one main point that explains the difference is the vandalism aspect. If I buy a car, I can have hand-stitched leather, I can have a mahogany finish, I can order all sorts of bells and whistles to make driving a pleasurable experience. If you put the same luxuries on a train then they'd be defaced/ ruined/ nicked before long - trains would be forced out of service due to the numpties destroying attractive features - this is why we can't have nice things - it's safe to have all of this in the comfort of your own vehicle but it only takes a tiny minority of badly behaved train passengers to mess it up for everyone else (and then there's potentially hundreds of people disadvantaged because a train has had to be taken out of service.

    Maybe if HS2 is going to cost a thousand pounds a ticket and only be used by posh bankers (according to various anti-HS2 rants I've read) we'll have crystal chandeliers and other upmarket features, but an awkward minority of badly behaved people in the Great British Public are probably a good reason why trains have to be relatively "utilitarian" rather than the cars you see in an advertisement.
     
  23. bramling

    bramling Established Member

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    I don’t know, out of that lot there’s only two that (to me) stand out as being particularly “nice” from a passenger point of view. These being 400 series and 465s.

    Personally I’m not convinced by the arguments that cars have improved. I’ve recently bought a new BMW, equivalent model to my previous 19-year-old one. So far I much prefer the old one, it drives *much* better, fuel economy is roughly the same (so much for two decades of progress), the new one is stuffed full of “features” only a couple of which I actually find useful and in many cases simply represent more to go wrong (*), and most annoyingly of all the new one is far less maintainable - for example need a headlamp replacing and it’s a garage job. So much so that I’ve decided to keep the old one as a preservation job and to use for holidays and special occasions, and the new one for running around. I realise the new one is probably quite a bit more crashworthy, but thus far this seems the only benefit. I’m fortunate that I have the money and willpower to keep an old machine going as it’s not a cheap pastime, and also fortunate that I have a superb local garage who specialise in this particular type of car - I should take out shares in them lol!.

    (* for example, rain sensor is all very nice but better make damn sure it’s not accidentally left on in the car wash, likewise why on earth do I need my boot lid to electrically raise when I press the release button, again at serious risk of getting bashed if parked close up to a wall as isn’t exactly unknown).
     
    Last edited: 11 Aug 2019
  24. bramling

    bramling Established Member

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    I’d take most types of Southern Region slam-door stock in recent memory (ie post 1960s) in preference to something like a 700. Even the austere VEP I *really* liked, although with the caveat that I never much experienced travelling on them when heavily loaded.

    It’s all very nice having plug sockets for the rare occasion I’ve forgotten to charge my phone and the even more rare occasion when I actually *need* to use my phone whilst travelling (and remember the 700s don’t have sockets universally), but at least on a VEP I didn’t step off with a sore arse and gasping for air, let alone if the train decides to sit down for several hours to put things in a topical context...
     
    Last edited: 12 Aug 2019
  25. Tom B

    Tom B Established Member

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    Perhaps the motor industry has peaked in terms of engineering performance (so far as is possible in day to day use)? I can't see why a self opening boot or rain sensors provide any real benefit over having a normal control.

    Also, thinking back to the comparisons above.
    Given the scale of the works that have happened to HST units over the years, perhaps the correct analogy is with a cortina which has had the shell totally welded up, a brand new modern engine, gearbox, axles fitted, new suspension all round, breakerless ignition, and a plush new interior, with a modern radio.

    I've actually thought a few times, when travelling on the Piccadilly line, how many passengers realise that they are on a 46 year old train. The refurbishment has done wonders in that regard.
     
  26. bramling

    bramling Established Member

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    I’m not sufficiently in touch with the motor sales business to know, but it does seem to be the case that a lot of the competition is now trying to out-do each other on features. Perhaps I’m atypical, but when I got my new car I went through the on-board computer turning *off* or disabling quite a few features.

    To be fair, my old car (BMW E39) has turned out to be regarded as one of the better cars ever made, so I am comparing its successor to a possibly unfairly high benchmark. But it is irritating that I can’t just go back to the manufacturer and ask for “another one of those please”. Hence why I will continue maintaining the old one even if it’s not strictly wise from an economic point of view, and keep it going by reducing mileage.

    A good point about the 73 stock. These benefited from a particularly thorough refurbishment to emulate the new 96 and 95 stocks (IIRC the interior design was by the same consultancy). It’s certainly stood the test of time, as well as the modern ethos of “do nothing other than reactive upkeep”. Gone are the days when trains used to emerge from works every few years after a full overhaul to like-new condition.
     
    Last edited: 12 Aug 2019
  27. Springs Branch

    Springs Branch Member

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    I was thinking of this aspect recently after listening to a technology evangelist spouting the familiar line that in future most people will not own cars - rather we'll just call up a self-driving "public" vehicle via an app and pay per trip.

    In this exciting new world, with no human on board, what will be the chances your self-driving rideshare car turns up accompanied with the residues of previous unsupervised clients - half-eaten McDonald's, empty beer bottles rolling around the floor, vandalised seats or assorted bodily fluids?

    Will this mean an end to plush vehicle interiors and accessible on-board equipment in future self-driving Uber cars? To be replaced with a bomb-proof, wipe-clean interiors like an old Glasgow Corporation bus or New York City cab.

    Maybe these cars will be fitted with sensors & CCTV to detect smelly kebabs, marker pen vapours or vomit, then the software can recall it for cleaning and bill the miscreants a hefty surcharge.

    If so, cue the frustration trying to complain to that nice AI call-centre operator at the overseas technology company after your car still turns up too dirty & smelly (in your opinion) to be used, or your credit card gets charged for removing empty prosecco bottles you know you didn't dump in the car.

    More likely these vehicles will just be fitted with maximum durability/cleanability (= uncomfortable) interiors and unbreakable fittings like a city bus or subway train, and the next punter will have to take their chances.

    Once this grim reality becomes known, people will still pay to hang onto their own, personal cars (self driving or not) so they can be guaranteed an unsoiled, undamaged, luxurious conveyance, fitted with expensive, engaging gadgets, and which hasn't just been used to transport some random members of the great unwashed.

    In summary, the future common-or-garden car might have all the appeal of a small, 4-seater driverless Night Bus.
     
  28. The Ham

    The Ham Established Member

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    I would argue that there have been some significant improvements to trains.

    For instance the main selling point of the Desiro City over the original version is that if improved maintenance costs (reduced by 1/3, IIRC).

    What about the use of regenitive breaking to reduce power requirements, or the development of bimodal trains.

    The choice of entertainment has been fast paced in cars generally moving from Tape, to CD, to mulidisk CD's, adding DAB, connections for personal music players and through to phone connections. Virgin brought us radio at the seat, however that didn't last long in train terms. Why, because people were already moving towards personal entertainment.

    Could trains compete with this? Yes, but at what cost. Fur instance a TOC could do a deal with Spotify so that you could login to your account onboard and have access to premium for the duration you were onboard. However how many of us would be willing to enter our password into someone else's device for that benefit? Probably not many, and the TOC would have a lot of expensive equipment to buy and maintain, for little benefit.

    Then there's the issue of what happens if they back the wrong technology or the provider goes bust or your users decide that they don't like the company you've got a deal with. It can leave you out of pocket, with no extra customers to show for it.

    However things like WiFi are much more universal and so are of use to all.

    Just on Spotify it could be that a TOC could offer a customer a voucher code for premium for a half day/day depending on length of journey. It could even be an optional extra on your ticket (or free for first class passengers, a useful thing for the likes of SWR to offer without it being too costly to deliver, unlike free coffee) at, say, 35p for a day pass (15 hours) or 20p for a half day (8 hours) (£9.99/30= £0.33), as a way to encourage payment for Spotify but without the hassle of them having to deal with small payments (they would probably sell thousands at a time to the TOC) whilst for the TOC it would be an automatic process as part of their ticket sales process and so wouldn't be much work. However it would definitely be something which could attract people to leave their cars behind.
     
  29. yorksrob

    yorksrob Veteran Member

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    I'm with you there. Although much maligned, the VEP's were perfectly fine in any circumstance other than full occupation (and still a lot nicer than a fully occupied 142 or 150).
     
  30. DerekC

    DerekC Member

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    I think you are suffering from backwards-directed-rose-coloured-spectaclitis (I suppose that should be in Latin). Much as I enjoy travelling on our local heritage railways, their rolling stock prompts me to remember just how lousy the travelling environment was in my younger days.
     
  31. yorksrob

    yorksrob Veteran Member

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    Have you ever been on a 700 ?

    It's like a plastic pipe with a plank to sit on.
     

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