Commentaries: April 2012

PTN Document

The good and the odd - occasional notes on our railway

7 April 2012

For an exceptional picture of the railway performing what it's there to do see the Arriva Photo of the Year 2011 here.

And for Network Rail preparing for the day when Train Operating Companies [TOCs] work in different time-zones how about this (London King's Cross, February 2012) ? P1080565.jpg  [photo by Quentin Tyler].


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PTN Document

A National Timetabling Authority

7 April 2012

Britain's railway is notoriously disconnected.  But does it matter if each franchisee optimises its own services and resources and pays scant regard to what its neighbours are doing ?  Would the country be better off with a network organised to afford Swiss standards of connectivity ?

PTN has long argued that these questions merit rigorous analysis - but as yet to no avail.  A complex organisation and fragmented and legalistic timetabling processes have apparently sub-optimal outcomes for capacity, for operational efficiency and for passengers, but the industry claims countervailing benefits and rejects any idea of a new structure.

Ultimately the argument goes to the question: is the railway just another 'supermarket' business or is it an important part of the social fabric, there to secure accessibility for everyone in the community and to do so in a truly sustainable manner ?

Since the Government's Command Paper ignored these issues PTN wrote to the Secretary of State to put the case both for an independent study and for a National Timetabling Authority [NTA].  The aim would be to resolve present anomalies and conflicts and work toward the re-creation of a real sense of a national network.  The NTA would work by consensus and devolve its tasks wherever appropriate.

The letter to Justine Greening MP, Secretary of State for Transport is here :

Transport Secretary letter.doc.

The Department's response was mildly encouraging and so PTN followed it up.  The documents can be found here :

DfT response.pdf       DfT_Foot.doc.

An accompanying discussion paper explains how it is envisaged an NTA might work, but it also outlines how policy changes by the Department and by ORR might achieve better-integrated timetabling in the immediate future without the need for major changes in organisation.  This is backed up by some examples of why the outcome of the present processes is unacceptable.

Reforming Timetabling.doc      Connections_12.xls.


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PTN Document

Transport Select Committee reviews the capacity of HS2

7 April 2012

Capacity was one of the key issues for critics of HS2 when the Commons Transport Select Commitee [TSC] held hearings during the summer of 2011.  The realistic capacity of the proposed high-speed railway connecting northern England, the West Midlands and London is critical to its operational credibility and hence to its business case.  PTN was among those who worked to put the issue on TSC's agenda.  The matter is still far from being resolved.

The nub of the problem is that expectations of what HS2 can do for connectivity have been so enthusiastically promoted that some 25 to 30 paths/hour could be 'needed'.  HS2 Ltd believe that running 18 trains/hour is feasible, although that is several more than any other high-speed line has achieved.  Given this gap, and the possibility of 16 trains/hour being the everyday maximum, some difficult choices will have to be made, and since they may affect major decisions such as the link to HS1 they need to be made soon.

The TSC's Report is at :

See paragraphs 112 - 117 for the discussion of technical feasibility.  For PTN's submissions see the Unprinted Written Evidence, HSR 138 and 138A and for the exchange relating to the latter see the transcript of oral evidence for 28 June, Question 126 (the links are at the foot of the page).


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PTN Document

The Rail Value for Money Study : profound insights or another denial of the obvious ?

6 April 2012

In February 2010 the Department for Transport and the Office of Rail Regulation jointly commissioned a study of the Value for Money of the railway and appointed Sir Roy McNulty to lead it.  His group reported in May 2011, and the findings have influenced Government policy as expressed in the Command Paper published in March 2012


The industry has accepted the main findings, including the setting up of a Rail Delivery Group composed of senior people from the principal companies and the move toward close working between the newly-devolved route administrations of Network Rail and the associated Train Operating Company/ies.  However, many commentators have queried both the reliability and the interpretation of some of McNulty's conclusions and noted the absence of a recommendation to reunify the railway, despite the recognition that when a system is so fragmented it becomes inherently inefficient and costly.

A curious feature of the Study was that no public invitation to submit evidence and ideas was issued, while its method of working was opaque.  Nonetheless PTN did make a submission (although it was never acknowledged !).

The reports can be accessed at

PTN's submission is here : VFM.doc.


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PTN Document

The evolution of doubt : perspectives on HS2

4 April 2012

Historians can be cussed people, insisting on careful reading of the evidence, requiring evaluation of motives, refusing to accept conventional viewpoints.  I was lucky enough to be trained well in those disciplines.  They have been hardened through a lifetime of reading between the lines of official papers.  That is why I have not been impressed by the avalanche of HS2 material.  Too much of it reads as 'policy-based evidence' rather than as dispassionate analysis.  That saddens me.  We need more thorough, more inclusive, more wide-ranging decision-making in Britain.

PTN has contributed to the debate.  Some of this material can be accessed here.

For example,

*  our submission to the Department for Transport's Consultation in 2011 : HS2_consultation.doc

*  a presentation to a workshop at the Institute of Railway Studies (National Railway Museum / University of York) in June 2011 : Why Oh Y-4 rvsd.odp

*  a paper at the Railfuture conference on HS2 in July 2011 :  Railfuture.ppt

*  an updated version of these presentations for the Cambridge University Railway Club in February 2012 :



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