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Author Topic: Bright or bleak? pundits both ways!  (Read 683 times)
grahame
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« on: May 21, 2020, 10:48:23 am »

Yesterday I posted a piece "How Coronavirus could welcome in a new age of the train" ... today from Christian Wolmar - By acquiescing to impossible rules, the railways are killing themselves

Quote
By trying to do the impossible, the railways are on a suicide mission. Trying to enforce social distancing while running a train service is simply impossible.

Traditionally, railway safety has been determined by a concept called ALARP – risks should be as low as reasonably practical. Somehow, the word ‘reasonably’ has been lost in the railways’ frenzied rush to comply with the rather arbitrary requirements suggested by government who now effectively control them through management contracts.

Yesterday, Sir Peter Hendy, the chairman of Network Rail who has been charged with trying to reconcile these two impossible tasks, admitted that at best the railways could cope with 15 per cent of their former number of passengers. Such a railway system doesn’t work, either practically or economically.

The clue is in the name: the railways are a ‘mass transit’ system. (etc)
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Robin Summerhill
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« Reply #1 on: May 21, 2020, 05:01:30 pm »

I have been concerned about this for some times, and I often get shot down in flames when I talk about it, but here goes again...

I can’t be bothered to look up the exact figures right now, but the Beeching Report told us that something like 80% of railway traffic was being generated by 20% of their stations/ depots. And that is why what happened in the 60s happened in the 60s with, incidentally, the bus industry going down much the same route in the early 1980s.

Perhaps now might not be the right time, but it’s not far away. People need to be weaned back on to public transport, and the first thing that needs to go will be the “don’t travel unless you really have to” mantra.

Perhaps it needs to be more nuanced (cue the wails of “we need definitions!”).  Leisure travel is already beginning to resume – see the news reports from the beaches over the last few days – and public transport should be encouraged to pick up some of that traffic. It makes little sense, for example, if you are allowed to drive from Yatton to WSM but not take a train for the same journey. OK, the revenue from a few off peak returns from Yatton to Weston, or Bath to Avoncliff isn’t going to be huge, but every little helps. Perhaps “Is your journey sensible” might be a better slogan than “don’t travel.”

I don’t envisage a large-scale return to commuting by car in major urban areas if for no other reason because there will be few places to park the things when the drivers arrive. Personally I am quite confident that commuting will reduce as working from home catches on (there are advantages for both employers and employees) but it is not yet possible to quantify what the reduction in commuting may be. It is doubtful whether any government policy could affect the outcome because in essence it will depend on thousands if not millions of individual decisions. In the short term it will be a case of observation, “suck it and see” if you like. But we will need to change the “message” on public transport before we can even begin to find out.

Leisure travel is discretionary if not spontaneous. There are many things in this world that people think they want before they have experience of it (the saying is “be careful what you wish for”) and compulsory reservation is one of them. It would theoretically be fine for long-distance non-stop trains, but as we know there are examples all over the country where through expresses serve intermediate stations only 10 to 15 minutes apart, and trying to enforce compulsory reservation on people who wake up one morning and decide to go to the next town is not only unlikely to attract travellers, but will actively encourage them into their cars. That is not something that we might want to do for all manner of social, economic and ecological reasons.

The future will only be rosy for public transport as a whole if the return is managed properly. And I’m not sure that the empire builders in the DfT are the best people to do it.
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grahame
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« Reply #2 on: May 21, 2020, 06:33:47 pm »

I have been concerned about this for some times, and I often get shot down in flames when I talk about it, but here goes again...

[snip]

The future will only be rosy for public transport as a whole if the return is managed properly. And I’m not sure that the empire builders in the DfT are the best people to do it.

You are very right to be concerned.

At the SWR conference today, Peter Williams (their commercial Director) did an excellent piece on how we return to a public / mass transit system - I've posted my notes as some of his slides  at http://www.firstgreatwestern.info/coffeeshop/index.php?topic=23517.msg288719#msg288719 . Be optimistic in that (at least) it's being looked at.   Be optimistic that the minister at the start of the day pointed towards massive promotion once it's safe for mass transit / leisure traffic again. Be optisimstic that there I so much for our health and planet to gain from sustainable travel into the future.

But ... who can manage it properly?   Who is best for the job?   I don't know - by the first step of sorting out a very big issue is realising that the issue exists, and clear that realisation is there.   Be optimistic, partner (even is that is sometimes being the critical parntner), lets get it done
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Bmblbzzz
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« Reply #3 on: May 21, 2020, 09:08:57 pm »

Wolmar says trains carrying fresh air are environmentally less sustainable than cars. That might be true in terms of carbon footprint – though presumably it will depend on factors such as how the train is powered (or the car, come to that) – but in other aspects of sustainability and environmental impact, such as noise, land take, accidental deaths and injuries, and perhaps most of all, social cohesion, even an empty steam train is more sustainable than cars.

I also think he's optimistic in saying a vaccine might take a year, though I note he says a year to be found, rather than fully trialled, manufactured and distributed.
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Trowres
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« Reply #4 on: May 22, 2020, 12:36:51 am »

Reading Robin's comments above, several thoughts come to mind (although the link with the original post might be obscure):

One is the railway mantra of "concentrating on what the railway does best". Well, the railway concentrated on bulk freight; particularly coal, steel and oil; trains were certainly good at carrying them, but all for differing reasons are declining traffic.

Secondly, despite there being many nice individuals working for the railway, there is what I could call an institutional arrogance that the railway has a right to exist, that it can cherry-pick what it likes to carry and leave cast-off traffic as someone else's problem. Also, that it doesn't have to work very hard on its customer's needs as "they will come anyway" (the latter perhaps a DfT problem as much as the railway itself).

Thirdly, the idea that driving to a station to commute 50 miles by train is "sustainable", while driving to a local job is somehow not.

In coming out of the current situation, it would be opportune to consider these points afresh.
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CyclingSid
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« Reply #5 on: May 22, 2020, 06:51:24 am »

One would like to think that the environmental and public health issues for using active and sustainable transport would be considered, both by individuals and government. Unfortunately, on past experience I am not hopeful. It is back to the issue of behaviour change. We have "terrified" them off public transport, how do you terrify them back onto it?
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TaplowGreen
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« Reply #6 on: May 22, 2020, 07:35:39 am »

Reading Robin's comments above, several thoughts come to mind (although the link with the original post might be obscure):

One is the railway mantra of "concentrating on what the railway does best". Well, the railway concentrated on bulk freight; particularly coal, steel and oil; trains were certainly good at carrying them, but all for differing reasons are declining traffic.

Secondly, despite there being many nice individuals working for the railway, there is what I could call an institutional arrogance that the railway has a right to exist, that it can cherry-pick what it likes to carry and leave cast-off traffic as someone else's problem. Also, that it doesn't have to work very hard on its customer's needs as "they will come anyway" (the latter perhaps a DfT problem as much as the railway itself).

Thirdly, the idea that driving to a station to commute 50 miles by train is "sustainable", while driving to a local job is somehow not.

In coming out of the current situation, it would be opportune to consider these points afresh.

…...what he said!  Smiley
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Bob_Blakey
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« Reply #7 on: May 22, 2020, 08:30:54 am »

Humans are, in general, creatures of habit and I am therefore of the opinion that once our world returns, as it will, to some semblance of medical normality - and I think that could be as early as August (2020, for the avoidance of doubt!) - travel patterns will very quickly revert to those last seen in the second half of 2019.

I don't believe the dire predictions of public transport wipeout due to mass uptake of WFH, we have been told that is going to happen for ages, or the move of large numbers from train to car (just check out the peak hour traffic jams in a comparatively small place such as Exeter).
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Bmblbzzz
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« Reply #8 on: May 22, 2020, 11:05:09 am »

Yesterday I posted a piece "How Coronavirus could welcome in a new age of the train"
I missed this one. Could you post a link to it, Grahame, or to the previous thread?

Edit: No need, I've just found it. The thread below this one.  Roll Eyes
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stuving
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« Reply #9 on: May 22, 2020, 11:48:53 am »

Humans are, in general, creatures of habit and I am therefore of the opinion that once our world returns, as it will, to some semblance of medical normality - and I think that could be as early as August (2020, for the avoidance of doubt!) - travel patterns will very quickly revert to those last seen in the second half of 2019.

I don't believe the dire predictions of public transport wipeout due to mass uptake of WFH, we have been told that is going to happen for ages, or the move of large numbers from train to car (just check out the peak hour traffic jams in a comparatively small place such as Exeter).

Immediately before the current unpleasantness, SWR were in discussions about replacing their franchise. The issue was the Central London Employment mechanism, which was meant to adjust the profit share to cope with changes to commuter numbers caused by ups and downs of the London business economy. The (no doubt very involved) sums involved use measures of business activity, which have been registering "boom" for several years, and have computed a bigger share for DfT of the revenue from those commuters. But SWR (and GA) haven't seen those extra commuters, and suspect they may have been at home much of the time (or possibly in one of those work-near-home offices).

There have been other signs of non-commuting (in)activity, and it seems reasonable to expect that to get a big boost now that a lot of unbelievers have been forced not just to try it but make a real effort to get it to work for them. But I agree that a lot of those will conclude that, on balance, it wasn't a good enough substitute for the real thing.

On the other hand, most discussions of infrastructure plans and capacity requirements to be met, for a long time, have said the huge costs could be avoided if more people did work at home a lot of the time. In other words the peak passenger numbers dominate the capital budget, which is the main reason why it looks as if London gets too big a share of that. If those peaks really do get flattened out, even by a modest amount, some of those plans will look wrong. Of course the timescale for planning those big capital projects is such that putting them off for a couple of years for a review would barely be noticed.
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Bmblbzzz
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« Reply #10 on: May 22, 2020, 12:22:53 pm »

It would also go some way to countering the 'long trains running empty all day' accusations, if those peaks both temporally and geographically were evened out.
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Trowres
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« Reply #11 on: May 22, 2020, 06:32:37 pm »

If, in a year's time, people are still worrying about going on public transport, then it's likely that they will also be worrying about attending a pub / concert / football match / TWSW meeting. The world would remain very different from a year ago.

Of course, there's a grey area in which people are weighing-up risks and benefits - and in this grey area the quality of the public transport offering would be an important factor.

By now, there are some lessons we should have learned:-
  • being prepared. Leaving things to the last possible moment (or beyond) isn't a good idea
  • having some spare capacity in the system for resilience
  • being honest with each other
  • going back to normal is not the best route forward

What might we think about?
Is Covid-19 a 1 in 100 year problem; a freak that needn't feature in future planning, or will we need to think of SARS etc as near-misses that are more likely on a crowded planet? How would that affect planning?

Climate change looms; while we are currently (if optimistic) looking forward to life after Covid-19, but climate change tends to persist for millenia once a tipping point is reached.

Transport Planners, as much as any other group, tend to flog a particular horse. For the benefit of public transport, high density developments have been favoured, while cities have been seen as the answer for both economic growth and (relative) sustainability. Just now, gardens seem so useful compared to blocks of flats with communal gardens (no matter how good some of the examples in Netherlands are) while the advantages of cities and connectedness are perhaps being challenged by alternative ways-of-working or by the rate of spread of a tiny virus.

Dare I mention economics? - the unthinkable is being suggested, or even done.

No answers here, just questions. I value this forum because it has more thoughtful argument than drum-banging. Let's get thinking collectively.
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Bmblbzzz
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« Reply #12 on: May 22, 2020, 07:26:27 pm »

What might we think about?
Is Covid-19 a 1 in 100 year problem; a freak that needn't feature in future planning, or will we need to think of SARS etc as near-misses that are more likely on a crowded planet? How would that affect planning?
A pandemic has been expected in medical and similar circles for a couple of decades at least. Covid-19 has, so far at least, been fairly mild compared to what might have been (and what was in the past). Everyone leaps to the 1918 comparison but once every 50 years seems to be a standard assumption. One in an average lifetime?

I don't know if a crowded planet makes it any more likely but rapid, long-range transport (ie flying) certainly helps it spread faster, as does lack of transparency and preparedness. Nothing so far gives me reason to think any of those are going to change.
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« Reply #13 on: May 23, 2020, 08:24:56 am »

Whatever government is in power, the most immediate problem will be "Ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooz goona pay for all this".
Well, we are of course.
Just how, apart from taxes and pay freeze will be decided quite quickly, but the recession across the world will take some time to shake off.
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« Reply #14 on: May 23, 2020, 11:15:58 am »

One thing I've never reconciled is the cost per person of making a journey by public transport or car.

I was suppose to be in Burton upon Trent in April and I worked out that the cost would be roughly similar between car and train for just myself. I was favouring the train because as well as boat blacking it tends to be a boozy weekend.

However if there were 2 of us the train would cost twice as much but the car would be roughly the same. For 4 people it's even more marked.

I suppose the answer is to be like Estonia? and make all public transport free. Although how you'd cope with demand I don't know.
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