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Author Topic: John Edmonds  (Read 540 times)
SandTEngineer
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« on: May 28, 2020, 04:38:12 pm »

From the Daily Telegraph:

Quote
Former British Rail manager John Edmonds passed away earlier this week. The Telegraph have published this obituary:

John Edmonds, who forced through radical changes at British Rail - tough-minded and far-sighted, he brought in TransPennine Express and a new diesel fleet before becoming the first head of Railtrack

John Edmonds, who has died aged 84, was a hard-nosed, visionary manager who pushed through radical changes at British Rail before becoming, at privatisation, chief executive of the ill-fated Railtrack. His legacies include the successful TransPennine Express network; a still-modern fleet of 90mph air-conditioned inter-urban diesel trains; and Birmingham’s Cross-City electric services.

One interviewer found Edmonds “a quiet-spoken man with the demeanour of a kindly country vet”. His managers viewed him differently, approaching their quarterly reviews with sheer terror. But his achievements in cutting costs and boosting revenue earned their lasting respect.

John Christopher Paul Edmonds was born at Lowestoft on April 22 1936, the son of Frank Edmonds, manager of a timber importing company, and his wife Phyllis. From Lowestoft Grammar School he was commissioned into the RAF for National Service before going up to Trinity College, Cambridge, with a scholarship, reading Natural Sciences and Economics.

Graduating in 1960, he joined the British Transport Commission, and from it British Railways. “I never went to the stage of the enthusiast, collecting train numbers or anything absurd like that,” he recalled.

He rose steadily, becoming chief freight manager for the London Midland Region in 1981 and the next year national business manager for coal, pushing through major changes against a background of the industry’s decline.

At the start of 1984 he took on BR’s Provincial sector, then just two years old, which comprised all the passenger businesses apart from InterCity and London & South East. His objectives were to cut its mountainous losses and give it a vision for the future.
Edmonds needed to curb costs passed on by BR’s regions, who were still operating the trains and maintaining the track. He locked horns with the “barons” running the regions over investments he reckoned unnecessary, and with Cyril Bleasdale, his counterpart at InterCity, over decisions on electrification and signalling that would have hampered Provincial’s operations.

Despite the Thatcher government’s rejection of the Serpell Report, which advocated a drastic slimming of the network, Whitehall still had closures in mind, and in 1985 Edmonds proposed to the BR Board a review of all Provincial services.

He warned that financial pressures might make the issue not one of whether lines should close but whether substitute buses could be provided, and raised the possibility of some routes being privately operated. A review of 33 lines identified 1,200 route miles losing £17 million a year between them, but closer study showed that savings from closure would be negligible.

John Welsby, Edmonds’s predecessor at Provincial, had identified ageing rolling stock as its greatest problem, securing the now derided “Pacer” diesel trains as a first step to replacing 1950s diesel units and unreliable loco-hauled trains.

Edmonds accelerated the replacement programme, and despite being forced by Whitehall to order more Pacers he also introduced increasingly sophisticated versions of the more appealing and reliable Sprinter. Maintenance costs fell sharply, and new longer-distance services were launched.

In 1986 Edmonds called managers to Huddersfield to discuss how trans-Pennine services, then slow and infrequent, could be improved. “We’ve got the Sprinters coming along,” he said. “Let’s see what we can do with them.”

Mark Causebrook, later managing director of Central Trains and Thameslink, worked up plans for a network covering England’s 2nd, 4th, 5th, 7th, 9th, 15th and 23rd largest urban areas, with its core the route between Newcastle, York, Leeds, Manchester and Liverpool. Frequencies were increased and new trains deployed, and traffic rose sharply.

Ultimately, Edmonds specified the Class 158 train, which operates inter-urban services across Britain to this day. Crucially, its 23m-long carriages – against the customary 20 – created 15 per cent more passenger space.

He also oversaw the reopening of several lines closed in the 1960s and a surge of new stations around major cities and in Scotland and Wales, and laid the groundwork for more electrification, notably in the Birmingham area.

When BR created an extra region, Anglia, at the start of 1988, Edmonds became its general manager. He said: “We plan greater reliability, but I am not making rash promises – it will be a gradual process.”

In August 1989 he returned to BR Headquarters as managing director, group services. His challenge was to implement Organising for Quality, BR’s transformation into devolved and vertically integrated businesses – InterCity, NSE, Regional, Freight, Parcels – with the regions abolished.

Most of this massive reorganisation was achieved by the spring of 1991. But BR’s new business-focused components had just a year to flex their muscles before the 1992 general election returned a government under John Major committed to privatisation. BR reckoned that if the railways had to be privatised, these new units were well-suited for it, but ministers had other ideas.

Railtrack, responsible for all BR’s infrastructure, was hived off in 1994, and Edmonds implemented the change. “It was an enormous task to pull something of this magnitude out of BR,” he said. With Railtrack separate, he said, train operators could “focus much more sharply on their own activities”.

Edmonds – never a fan of railway engineers – moulded Railtrack as “engineering-free”, with work outsourced. Its chairman, the oilman Sir Bob Horton, concentrated on pressing ministers to float the company on the stock market, leaving Edmonds to run the business.

Having seen off a long-running dispute with Railtrack’s signallers, Edmonds concentrated on plans to modernise the West Coast Main Line, for which Virgin would be awarded the franchise. He envisaged a new system of train control, and when this could not be introduced the cost of the upgrade soared.

Edmonds came under fire for receiving a £33,000 bonus – modest by later Network Rail standards – on top of £173,000 in pay and benefits. Asked how he felt at being excluded from share options when Railtrack was floated in 1996, he replied: “To say I was negative about money could seem precious. But if I had been the other way, I would have left the railways long ago.”

He insisted that “if we can get out [of the public sector] totally, we can run Railtrack much more effectively.” And when a union-sponsored poll raised fears over safety post-privatisation, Edmonds responded: “The omens are all good. I wouldn’t have spent this amount of time if I didn’t think it would be a success.”

Reporting pre-tax profits of £173 million that November, he said Railtrack had been “the principal achiever in reducing delays to both passenger and freight trains”.

Edmonds retired in 1997, with Railtrack still apparently viable. Ahead lay the Hatfield and Potters’ Bar disasters caused by poor track maintenance; Railtrack’s government-forced administration; its replacement by Network Rail; and that company’s reversal of Edmonds’s policy, rebuilding its engineering capabilities.

Away from the railway, Edmonds grew vegetables on a two-acre plot in Bedfordshire. He was appointed CBE in 1993.

John Edmonds married Christine Seago in 1962; they had a son and a daughter.

John Edmonds, born April 22 1936, died May 25 2020
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Gordon the Blue Engine
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« Reply #1 on: May 29, 2020, 09:08:23 am »

I thought this was a very good obituary of John Edmonds.  I knew him and was a member of his OfQ central team at Kings Cross East Side Offices in 1989-90.

I came across him later in Railtrack days when he came down to do one of his reviews at our Zone HQ at Swindon.  It is not unfair to say that “His managers viewed him differently, approaching their quarterly reviews with sheer terror.”

His big mistake was trying to make Railtrack “engineering free”.  Railtrack lost many experienced engineers and their knowledge of the assets went with them.
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onthecushions
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« Reply #2 on: May 30, 2020, 02:27:25 pm »


While one regrets the passing of anyone and pays tribute to their lifetime achievements, a little objectivity is also appropriate.

For senior railway managers to undervalue the role of engineering in their enterprise is comparable to maintaining that bankers need not be numerate or that hospitals should not employ doctors and nurses. Had Railtrack and then NR not asset-stripped their human engineering capital, then we would today have a fitter and more achieving industry with less debt.

I do agree that engineers need to accept the commercial imperative.

OTC
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eXPassenger
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« Reply #3 on: May 30, 2020, 02:37:56 pm »


While one regrets the passing of anyone and pays tribute to their lifetime achievements, a little objectivity is also appropriate.

For senior railway managers to undervalue the role of engineering in their enterprise is comparable to maintaining that bankers need not be numerate or that hospitals should not employ doctors and nurses. Had Railtrack and then NR not asset-stripped their human engineering capital, then we would today have a fitter and more achieving industry with less debt.

I do agree that engineers need to accept the commercial imperative.

OTC

As someone whose original qualification was as a bean counter, I completely agree.
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Red Squirrel
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« Reply #4 on: May 30, 2020, 05:47:04 pm »


I do agree that engineers need to accept the commercial imperative...


One definition of an engineer is 'someone who can do for a tanner what any fool could do for five bob'.

Sometimes it seems like modern railway engineers have confused 'tanner' for 'tenner'...
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ellendune
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« Reply #5 on: May 30, 2020, 07:47:14 pm »


I do agree that engineers need to accept the commercial imperative...


I agree too

One definition of an engineer is 'someone who can do for a tanner what any fool could do for five bob'.

I was told it as somone who can do for 9d what any fool can do for 2/6

Sometimes it seems like modern railway engineers have confused 'tanner' for 'tenner'...

This was particularly bad in the Railtrack days when maintenance contractors were on cost plus contracts.  I was told of a subcontractor who had his quote sent back as far too cheap it would show the main contractor up!

Brunel, when challenged by the GWR board about the cost of his proposed route, replied 'its not the cheapest, but the best!"

There were some famous engineers who took control of the situation to get expensive schemes through.  Sir James Drake - County Engineer and Bridge Master of Lancashire County Council from 1945 to 1972 was responsible for the motorway system in the North West.

I was told of one of his devices - He put through a series of bridge replacements on the A59 from Preston to Liverpool that seemed quite expensive, but assured the council that the bridges were not strong enough something they could not argue with.  It turned out that all the new bridges were dual carriageway sized.  A year or so after they were finished he put up a very cheap scheme to make the A59 a dual carriageway! 

On the other hand there is this modern concept called value engineering which is popular among bean counters.  This involves detailed review of a project to remove any unnecessary cost.  An example was quoted to me of a very expensive pipeline (unavoidably due to the nature of the route), the value engineering saved a minimal amount of the cost by reducing the size of the pipe.  Only to find later that the pipe was not large enough and the only alternative was to lay another pipe at a similar cost to the first!

There has to be a happy medium between these two extremes. 
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Red Squirrel
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« Reply #6 on: May 31, 2020, 03:05:44 pm »


[...]

On the other hand there is this modern concept called value engineering which is popular among bean counters.  This involves detailed review of a project to remove any unnecessary cost.  An example was quoted to me of a very expensive pipeline (unavoidably due to the nature of the route), the value engineering saved a minimal amount of the cost by reducing the size of the pipe.  Only to find later that the pipe was not large enough and the only alternative was to lay another pipe at a similar cost to the first!

There has to be a happy medium between these two extremes. 

Indeed. If the engineers do their job properly, the 'value engineers' should report that everything is fine and there is no scope for saving money. Unfortunately they often seem to seek to justify their fee by making false economies.

A good railway-based example is the Borders Railway, where new bridges were built over the line which only allowed for a single track. The cost saving must have been minimal. The line has carried far more passengers than anticipated, and plans are evolving to extend it. Will it look like good value when they need to rebuild these bridges?
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