This is slightly off-topic for a cycling website so read no further if you’re not interested.
I went to the HS2 consultation at King Ecgberts, Totley, last night. They had large scale maps of the route, lots of hard copies of the consultation document (badged as an equality assessment) and lots of eager young people there to answer your questions. I had a chat with a couple of them – the first thing I noticed was that the “loop” that is supposed to come off the HS2 main line at Clay Cross so Sheffield trains can join the MML only gets as far as Sheffield,
As previously announced, trains were supposed to continue north on the MML, come off on another link line at Conisbrough where the line would plough through a recently built housing estate, then re-join the HS2 main line to Leeds. The government has committed to electrify the MML from Clay Cross to Sheffield, they are hoping that a “3rd Party” (Sheffield City Region?) will fund the missing link.
What this potentially means is that the HS2 trains will, at least initially, terminate and turn around at Sheffield, adding to the already existing congestion problems between Clay Cross and Sheffield and at Sheffield itself (already the slower EMT service to London has to chunter off and find a siding at Nunnery to hide in before coming back into Sheffield to set off back to London) This in turn would mean that those bright young creatives who would be whizzing off to Leeds on HS2 to work at Channel 4, as was stated on look north the other night, actually will be using the Cross Country or Northern Connect services, which will still take the best part of an hour, so why wouldn’t they use HS2 and go and work in London where the wages are higher, for the sake of an extra half-hour on the train?
My other point was, I often travel to points on the MML between Sheffield and London – will I still be able to do that? Oh yes they said, but they couldn’t really explain how. When the main traffic between Sheffield and London is whizzing down HS2 it will be much less viable to maintain a regular stopping service on the MML I cited St Albans as an example – already a tricky journey as you have to change at Leicester and somewhere “under the wires” – usually Luton Airport Parkway – to get there at the moment. One option would be to travel on HS2 to Euston, make my way to St Pancras and go back north to the city (it is a city because it’s got a cathedral) but it seems daft to me to have to travel and extra 60 miles to get to somewhere you’ve already gone past & since what I usually do then is cycle across to see relatives in E. Herts why wouldn’t I just go to Liverpool St and get a direct train there? So there is a risk of losing connectivity between S. Yorkshire, the East Midlands and South-East.
I also asked them about the HS2 National Cycleway – they didn’t know anything about that. I didn’t ask them whether the trains would carry bikes as they didn’t seem to be the right people to ask, but I will be making that point when I respond to the consultation. (The HS2 National Cycleway Feasibility Study, completed in 2016 but only recently released by the Government, included a case study on Wakefield to Bolsover. If this were to be implemented it would be a major upgrade to the Trans-Pennine Trail and could form the backbone of a South Yorkshire cycle network. The catch of course is that the govt is not providing any funding for the cycleway, suggesting that council should fund it themselves. )
The good news is that HS2 won’t obliterate the Trans-Pennine Trail in NE Derbyshire and Sth. Yorks as we previously feared – the new alignment more or less follows the M1 route to the east of the area rather than the Rother & Blackburn valleys. There are still likely to be access issues and folks further down south are very concerned about losing rights of way that are cut by the line – as a Project Manager myself I understand how tempting it will be to de-scope anything that is not essential to the operation of the line as budgets tighten, and indeed we saw that in Sheffield when Supertram was initially put in, hence the truncation of the crossing of Upper Hanover Way for example which has taken 20 years restore.
Whether you’re for or agin HS2 I think these are all matters to be considered.
I think people ought to be wary when they talk about “Bring Back British Rail”. Network Rail was re-nationalised when the Audit Commission told the government it had too much government money going into it and had to be on the Treasury’s books. Now NR does use government money, but as a semi-private company (actually more like a trust, with a Board of Trustees) it was also able to borrow money from the markets. The markets were perfectly happy to lend it money – lots of it – since the assets NR has are gynormous, that was their guarantee that they could recoup.
You could say that this means that one-third of the railway is nationalised but since NR’s assets are so much more valuable than any other part of the system it’s a lot more than that. Leasing companies own the rolling stock, but as this asset is constantly on the move and therefore gets worn out it depreciates rapidly. Train Operating Companies just run the trains and manage stations so their key asset is staff. The profits they make – and not all do – are a very small proportion of the railway “spend”.and they are expected to start paying money back into the treasury during the course of the Franchise
An interesting video shows how British Rail delayed the opening of the Newcastle Metro because it was not in their interest to see it opened. (starts at 15:00)
What’s happened now is that the Chancellor, Philip Hammond is having to support a lot of uncosted promises in the Tory manifesto and is faced with a declining economy in the wake of Brexit so he’s told NR that they have to sell off one point eight billion of assets. NR managers may have naively thought that money would be reinvested in the railway, but no, it will be spent on tax cuts for the rich and suchlike. So places like Sheffield will continue to have diesel trains, probably until HS2 arrives, contributing to the worsening air pollution. Since then, Transport Minister Grayling has cancelled the electrification of the Midland Main Line saying that the needs of the cities and towns north of Kettering can be met by a technology that does not yet exist – bi-mode trains that can travel over 100 miles under their own power without using diesel. On top of that is the requirement that the ancient HST’s (one of BR’s success stories) have to be made DDA-compliant at a cost of £50m or scrapped by the end of next year. The NAO has just reported that this decision was all about cost and nothing to do with new technology. Grayling has also cancelled about half of the planned electrification of the Great Western.
No doubt under a government led by Jeremy, or even better Caroline and Natalie, all would be marvellous in the railway world, but as soon as you get crooked people like May, Hammond and Grayling in charge, things can very quickly go pear shaped, so it’s best to keep them at arms length.
In Rail magazine, Michael Holden, the former CEO of East Coast when it was directly operated (aka nationalised) argues against privatisation. Much has been made of the “success” of EC in as much as that it paid back in to the treasury (money that the railway industry isn’t getting back – again spent on tax cuts for the rich, costs of Brexit and suchlike) but the reality is EC put no investment back into the service, just running the same trains on the same tracks, so while places like Leeds, Newcastle and Edinburgh continued to get a good service, outliers like Lincoln, Bradford and Middlesbrough were left out in the cold.
The other current example of a rail system being directly managed by the DfT is Southern Railway, which is run on a management contract, leaving the civil servants who wrote the contract happy to let the operating company take the flack for their decisions, Clearly the RMT are using the dispute to attack the government and their members being quite well paid can afford to do that – I have no problem with that other than the distress it is causing passengers with some people losing their jobs because they can’t get to work – but let’s not pretend that it is about who pushes a button on the train. Plenty of trains have no guards and some have no drivers either – they still have to have a staff presence on the train
Let’s turn to the thorny topic of ticketing. It is in the nature of the transport system that they get very well used at some times of day and not so much at others. For the Railway system this means that valuable stock is either running round empty or sitting idle in sidings, while the fixed asset is also not being used. BR’s attitude to that was just to let the trains run around empty. Only when the Saver ticket was introduced did you start to see cheaper off-peak fares introduced. Now there is a wide range of ticket options and people say it is too complicated and confusing. I personally don’t see that – I go to my favourite app, select the journey I want and then just have to make a choice about the type of ticket I want – e.g. can I be sure that I’ll turn up in time for that train to so I can gamble on a no flexibility advanced purchase ticket or do I pay a bit more for a ticket that I can use on a range of trains. There are some fares that are cheaper if you split your journey, but the technology is there to deal with that, and such problems used to exist with BR – for example you couldn’t travel between Sheffield and London via Doncaster, if you tried it the conductor would give you a severe ticking off and possibly make you pay again (by the way, when dealing with train staff a lot depends on how honest, polite and good-natured you are with them) – but if you went to Sheffield ticket office and asked for a Sheffield to London via Doncaster ticket they couldn’t sell it you. In those days it was a lot quicker to go via Donnie – it’s roughly equal now although journey times between Sheff and London on MML are going to get longer soon. Oh and by the way it used to cost £3 (probably £5 in new money) for a bike reservation on Inter-City – all bike reservations are free now.
Are our train services more expensive that those in other countries? Well firstly you have to take the exchange rate into account. Since the Brexit referendum everything has got more expensive for Brits when abroad – by about 20%. In the recent dispute in France it has come to light that French trains cost about 30% more to run than British ones for an equivalent journey. A return trip from Sheffield to Bordeaux will cost you about £300 with most of that going to SNCF. In a review the Man at Seat 61 found that most leisure fares in the UK are cheaper than in Europe. Peak-time fares are too expensive in the UK and that is the result of a government decision that passengers should bear the cost of investment in the railway, bearing in mind the years of under-investment in BR which we have still not caught up on.
So what other models of running the railway system could be looked at? Some commentators have advocated the Community Rail model – this has worked very well in bringing rural and branch lines back to life, whether it would work for the long-distance lines could be looked at.
My point is that when you say Bring Back British Rail, be careful what you wish for. Those of us who actually remember British Rail know how crap it was – ancient rolling stock running on creaky lines, but also that it was run primarily for the benefit of the staff and the management, not the customers. For all their failings TOCs are at least customer focused.
Some say, well they brought in the HST which was a success – yes they did but they also attempted to build the Advanced Passenger Train which failed, although tilting trains turns out to be quite easy to do. (See Pendolino) They also brought in the Pacer, the most hated train ever (I’m sure they didn’t want to) Some of the Sprinter variants are quite good.
Now we get lefties saying things like “when we said bring back British Rail we didn’t actually mean bring back British Rail – how could people possibly think that?”
More recently we have had the furore surrounding the disastrous timetable change in May 2018. Whose fault was that? Opinions vary but it is apparent that the DfT and Network Rail were major players
The man in seat F16 (travelling First Class from London to Sheffield in peak time for £17)
Broomhall Rd is a leafy avenue passing through the Broomhall conservation area in Sheffield, much loved by John Betjeman amongst others. Unfortunately it had also become a rat-run for drivers wishing to bypass the complex junction system at Brook Hill. The rat-running problem in the northern section of Broomhall was solved by an ingenious traffic management scheme developed in consulation with residents many years ago, but this did leave the southern area vulnerable to traffic. The area is also well used by students, University staff and people taking their kids to nurseries in the area amongst others.
A proposal was made to link the two Sheffield Hallam University (SHU) sites – City and Collegiate – with an enhanced walking and cycling route and this has now been put in place on Broomhall Rd. Making a section of Broomhall Rd one-way with contra-flow cycling means that is still possible to access Clarkehouse Rd but you have to go a longer way round on traffic calmed streets. I think the new route is long enough to discourage rat-running.
The CycleSheffield view as I understand it is that the scheme is not radical enough and all the parking on one side of Broomhall Rd should have been removed to make more space for people walking and on bikes. Their initial response is here.
Personally although I’m never against segregated cycleways I’m not sure the level of traffic on this road, particularly now the level of rat-running has been reduced, warrants segregation.
Complaints about the scheme have focused on two issues – drivers are violating the no entry signs and continuing up Broomhall Rd in the wrong direction and parking has been reduced making it more difficult to drive up to the nursery gates and drop your kids off. It is also alleged that the road is too narrow for contra-flow cycling. Brunswick St however is much narrower than Broomhall Rd and contra-flow cycling works successfully here.
On May 21st I attended a meeting in Unstone, NE Derbyshire, about the proposed cycle route along the B6057 and linking up the Peak Resort bridleways with Dronfield (although the planned route doesn’t quite reach Dronfield) This would be a major plank in the completion of a Sheffield to Chesterfield Cycle Route – the current route is described here.
The views expressed in this blog post are entirely my own.
Currently the cycling experience along here is pretty bad. When the A61 bypass was built nothing was done to rebalance this road in favour of walkers, cyclists, disabled people or horse riders. As a result most riders you see are youngish, male, wearing lycra helmets etc – the confident cyclist”. There is a steep gradient to the north of the route which attracts fast riding. There has been some criticism of the scheme from cyclists and this has mostly come from this type of cyclist. There would be nothing to stop this type of cyclist from continuing to use the road except that the carriageway would be narrower. As a fairly confident cyclist myself I think I would tend to stay on the road in the down hill direction and use the shared use path when climbing.
The village is blighted by what is in effect a major road running through it. The Post Office is the only local business left along the road. Although the Post Office is being provided with 3 parking spaces as part of the scheme (currently people park illegally outside or park on side roads and have to cross the road without a crossing the postmaster complained bitterly about it. Local people commented that if he sold anything that was worth having other than stamps they would use it more.
*This refers to a catchphrase invented by Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters in the ’60’s. The were fervent advocates of the use of marijuana and LSD, and when discussing politics were adamant that the alleged heightened consciousness effects of these drugs should be brought into play. Tom Wolfe reported this in his seminal work, “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test” which inspired young people all over the world to adopt the alternative lifestyle advocated by the Pranksters. When they got bored with smoking dope they tended to do things like set up yoghurt farms and wholefood shops and of course started riding bikes.
Marijuana production and use is now legal in many US states. Tom Wolfe died on May 14 2018, aged 88. R.I.P.
One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest by Ken Kesey is on at the Crucible, 8 Jun – 23 Jun.
The SCR team took a trip to Kent with 2 Bromptons and an Encumbrance recently. Read all about it here.
The Campaign for Better Transport are calling for a level playing field on funding for e-bikes and e-cargo bikes. Click Here to support them
Just south of Dronfield, a new bridleway route is emerging through Unstone: At the moment, you can access it along Sheffield Rd but when the works are complete you’ll be able to use it to avoid a busy section of the road completely. This is on the back of the Peak Gateway resort, a Center Parcs – type complex to be built in this area.
There’s a gap in the bridleway where it goes across a field but when complete it will enable you to get to Hill Top and hence across the A61 and into the Peak District.
Meanwhile a bit further West, the Rowsley – Matlock route is being officially opened this week.
…great for trainspotters!