That railway discussion

Further to the discussion about rail the other day, Tim has responded. I’ve replied at some length to his claims. For the most part, his argument is based upon cost and oddly for someone with his politics, CO2 emissions. As, like him, I am not a global warming worshipper, that argument fails.

We drove a 100 miles to some friends, it took about 2:30 hours. I note that if I wanted to repeat the journey this afternoon by train we would have to get six miles to our local station and a similar distance by taxi at the other end. The train would take 3:51 and cost £63.50 for cattle class – a fairer comparison for comfort would be first class at £127.00, so for the four of us it would cost £500.
My car costs were a lot less than that.

Yes, fine –  that is merely acknowledging the point that Mark Wadsworth made in the earlier discussion and one that I repeated in my response. For that journey, rail was neither practicable nor cost effective.

For a different journey the factors will be different. If I have to travel to London in peak hours for business it will cost comfortably over £100, which is expensive. Travelling out of hours and booking ahead will bring that cost down dramatically, but I tend to buy an open ticket for maximum flexibility –  so straight away the other economic factor comes into play; I value my time and the flexibility more than the monetary cost of the ticket. Just because something is expensive does not mean that it is not an appropriate option. It all depends on individual need and the value one places on such things as time. I’d have thought a libertarian would understand that principle.

I like driving and I thoroughly enjoy motorcycling, so I am not someone obsessed with the rail preference. During the past couple of years many of my rail clients were based out of town –  often in trading estates –  well away from railway stations. Consequently I ran up 30,000 miles per annum using the car because it was the most practical option. Occasionally –  very occasionally –  I was able to use the train.

When I do use the train, it is when I have to go into large cities such as Birmingham, London or Manchester. I can then walk or take the Underground or tram to my destination. The journey is stress free (unless I have to change at New Street, of course) and I if choose, I can read or work –  or doze. I cannot do this when dicing with the 56mph trucks on the motorway. Indeed our motorways are so crowded that making progress is becoming increasingly difficult and a raising of the speed limits would be moot for the most part –  I’d like to be able to travel consistently at 70mph if I could, but all too often with three lanes all travelling at 50 –  60mph, this just isn’t possible. And don’t even get me started on the M25 –  we’ll never get off…

(To answer the critics to get to York from my local station by rail is 4:17, by car from my home 4:20 according to Google maps).

Oh, please. My Satnav is similarly optimistic. I have never, ever made a journey to the time that either Google Maps or the Satnav predict. Real life in the form of rest stops and traffic congestion always gets in the way somewhere along the journey. I’m sorry, but if the strength of your argument lies in Google Maps and Transport Watch, you’d best retire with some dignity now.

The claim that rail is obsolete just doesn’t stack up. Our system may not be an example of the best –  Japan is an example of excellent practice –  but it provides a choice for the traveller that is a viable alternative if you either cannot drive or don’t choose to. For me, the coach is not an option because, apart from the ticket price, it comes with all of the disadvantages of both rail and road and offers none of the advantages. For others, that ticket price will be what swings it. You see? Individual solutions for individual needs –  libertarianism in practice.

Look at the photo above from Google of Paddington station and the A40 – which one is moving more people? Go and search the line, look at other stations, you will see the same thing – the tracks are nearly always empty because you can’t get the density of traffic onto rail that you can on road.

Sigh, and I could take a photograph of the motorway system at a quiet time and that would prove nothing as well. And as for paving over Waterloo –  well, more later on that one.

Rail offers mass transit that bypasses the congested roads during peak times. If you prefer to sit watching the traffic lights change sequence on your way into London, be my guest. I prefer not to. And that is the crux –  rail offers an alternative. It can do this because it uses discrete infrastructure controlled from a central location. The movements are time-tabled enabling a fairly dense traffic flow that keeps moving. With in-cab signalling, it will be possible to move more vehicles faster, so the technology is far from obsolete.

Sure, things go wrong. And this was Tim’s point. However to try and claim that this was unique to rail on the day that the M1 closure was all over the media was, perhaps, unwise.

I’ve travelled extensively by rail, road, ferry and aircraft. I will use all of them again at some point. My decision on each occasion takes into account journey time, ticket cost, hassle factor and the reason for making the journey. If I am travelling for leisure, my decision making will be entirely different to a business trip.

And, finally, Tim’s reference to Transport Watch was enlightening. It is operated by a chap called Paul Withrington. Its funding is not immediately obvious. Indeed, when the RMT questioned this, his response was a peach:

More important is the question of who is bankrolling Withrington. A look at his website material shows he is a retired transport planner and civil engineer, who also has a sideline drawing up wills for people. His source of funding is identified merely as a “private trust”, whatever that entails. (Transport Watch comments – this is of no importance at all).

Au contraire it is extremely important as it colours what you have to say. What is obvious is a clear bias in favour of road transport. As a source, it’s pretty toxic and not one to take seriously. This man thinks that it would be viable to pave over the rail infrastructure. As Thornavis points out in the previous discussion here, it just ain’t that simple. And, having done away with that central control of the vehicles, the unique method of mass transit will revert to the problems that currently exist on the crowded roads –  that’s assuming that the project will be on budget and completed to time, having removed or remodelled all those bridges, tunnels, embankments and cuttings –  not to mention compulsory purchase of properties next to the line and bulldozing them down. If one wants to use a source, one less obviously Dagenham would be nice. As such, we can treat it with the derision that it so richly deserves.

I’m sure they can figure in the transport mix somewhere but at the moment they are worshipped beyond reason, maybe only Freud could explain.

Some may well worship them. I’ve watched with amusement the chaps at Newport station with their cameras, notebooks and video equipment. For the rest of us, it’s a viable alternative to the roads when we need to use it. And Freud has nothing of value to add, thanks.


Something I forgot to mention –  Tim criticizes the safety costs on rail compared with roads. It’s not something that can be easily compared given the different systems, who controls the budgets and how the cost is decided, however, it is worth noting that death and injury on the roads passes daily without much comment. One rail crash hits the headlines. So what we have is a phenomenon known as public outrage risk. That, in part, is why the rail industry spends so much per head on safety.


Update: This post has been edited to take into account further thoughts.


No, Tim, I didn’t expect the pig to break out into an aria from La Traviata, your prejudices are far too deeply entrenched for that. You have also highlighted the ugly, vulgar, misanthropic side of the libertarian philosophy, one that has always disturbed me –  everyone must fit in with your choices, irrespective of individual circumstance or preference. You appear to understand the monetary cost but fail to recognise that cost is not merely measured by money, which is a pretty basic economic reality. That may not be an accurate analysis of your position, but reading your words, that’s what comes across.

Presenting a logical fallacy as a fait accomplis doesn’t wash. You see, even if you were right about obsolescence, the incident you cite doesn’t prove it. It’s a non sequitur. Hence your original point was utter bunk. For someone who claims to be bashing bogusmongers from behind the barbed wire, you’ve done a remarkable impression of a bogusmonger yourself with this one.

As I said earlier on, I wonder sometimes at the sheer misanthropy and arrogant “I’m all right Jack” attitude expressed by my fellow travellers.

C’est tout.