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You Can Get Off At Wolverhampton But You Can’T Get On: How Crazy Rules Killed Britain’S Last Great Railway

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http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1351744/How-crazy-rules-killed-Wrexham--Shropshire-Railway.html#

t is lunchtime and we are travelling through some of England’s loveliest countryside in a commodious carriage where the armchairs are soft and the wide windows offer gorgeous views – in this case over the ‘blue remembered hills’ of A. E. Housman’s Shropshire. There is proper cutlery on the neatly-set table, and at your elbow is a smart, liveried steward offering a menu for the freshly cooked food from the train’s kitchen.

Lamb in red wine and rosemary sauce with a decent glass of Chilean Merlot. A fantasy?

Well it wasn’t until last Friday night when the very last train run by the Wrexham & Shropshire Railway from London Marylebone pulled into Wrexham station at 22.36, bringing to an end not just the services of Britain’s best loved railway company, but an era of gracious rail travel extending back almost 150 years.

The elegant offering of the W&S was a world away from the overcrowding, rude staff, dirty toilets, cramped seats, microwaved burgers, plastic cups and lack of information that too often defines the modern railway. Even though it took more than four hours to trundle from London along secondary lines to its destination in North Wales, it inspired a fanatical band of followers who loved it because it seemed to encapsulate a lost golden age.

Here were spacious carriages with generous legroom and seats that lined up with the window. The staff were welcoming and kept passengers informed of delays. The fares were cheap. It was possible to hop on the train without a ticket and not to be made to feel like a criminal for doing so. In fact, climbing aboard a W&S service was like being made to feel a member of an exclusive club.

It was fitting that the announcement of its demise came on the same day that W&S topped the National Passenger Survey with a 96 per cent approval rating. So how come a train service defined by the public and critics as the best in the land ended up being shunted into the buffers?

It might be easy to write it off as a casualty of the recession – after all, Wrexham is hardly the commercial powerhouse of Britain and the company had run up losses of £13 million, according to its chairman Adrian Shooter.

But the truth is more wretched. The Wrexham & Shropshire, founded three years ago to bring back mainline services to an area which hadn’t had regular London trains since the Sixties, fell foul of the Alice In Wonderland rules that govern Britain’s privatised railways in which enterprise is stifled and quality too often goes down the rabbit hole.

When John Major privatised the old British Rail in 1994, he hinted at a romantic vision of a new era of competition, recalling the days when the old LNER and LMS raced each other to the North with ever higher speeds and ever more glamorous trains such as the Coronation and the Coronation Scot. That’s certainly how most of us hoped it would turn out. Instead, we appear to have been conned.

Our great railway system, where once upon a time hundreds of colourful train companies vied with each other to attract business, has been carved up – with the connivance of successive Governments – by a small number of big corporate players who bid vast sums of money for monopoly franchises and receive lavish guarantees from the taxpayer.

For these big conglomerates, such as Virgin, First Group, Stagecoach and National Express, it’s a win-win situation. If they fall short on their business plans, the Government bails them out. And if they fail completely, as National Express East Coast line from London to Edinburgh did in 2009, they can walk away from the worst of the losses and the taxpayer picks up the bill.

There’s no such cushion for aspiring new operators, such as Wrexham & Shropshire, who get no subsidy, can pick up only the crumbs under the Government’s so called ‘open access’ rules by offering services the main firms don’t want and are under often ludicrously restrictive conditions. The W&S trains passed through Coventry and Birmingham but were forbidden to stop there to protect the commercial interests of Virgin, which holds the franchise for most long-distance services on the route.

Under this crazy system, when I travelled on the W&S I was permitted to get off the train at Wolverhampton but not to get back on again, even though it stopped there. To reach Birmingham I was forced to alight at a bleak Black Country station, Tame Bridge Parkway, where I had a freezing wait for a service into the city.

What kind of competition is that? It’s no wonder the railway’s managers – and some passengers – eventually gave up the ghost. One of the staff told me: ‘Level playing field? It’s like Wrexham playing Arsenal and then being told to take their best players off.’

But before we shed too many tears for the W&S it should be said that, far from being a plucky little David fighting the corporate Goliaths, it, too, became a subsidiary of a giant multinational – German national railway company DB. Another ‘open access’ company, Hull Trains, was gobbled up by First Group, which has franchises in Scotland, the Home Counties and the West of England. But both made a brave try.

The real losers are passengers caught in a pincer between soaring fares and ever declining levels of service. It is a shocking fact that nearly 20 years after privatisation only two stations in Britain – York and Doncaster – offer significant competitive services to London. These are provided by the last remaining independent ‘open access’ operator Grand Central. It is hardly surprising that it was voted Britain’s second most popular service in last week’s Passenger Focus survey.

The firm’s Rupert Brennan-Brown said: ‘The trouble with the big train companies is that they’re only interested in the low-hanging fruit. We can think local, and our trains go to places like Pontefract and Sunderland where the big boys can’t be bothered to reach.’

But don’t hold your breath. Transport Secretary Philip Hammond has made it clear no new small operators will be allowed to enter the new round of franchise negotiations. As a sad postscript, the final Wrexham train marked a significant loss of opportunity to dine well on a British train.

The first restaurant car ran between Leeds and London in 1879. When BR reached the end of the line, there were 279 such services across the land. With the demise of the W&S just a handful of restaurant cars remain, despite overwhelming evidence that passengers want good food well served. How nice it would be to summon a steward to bring a glass to toast the brief life of an enterprising little railway and the hope that other minnows will emerge. Sadly, it seems increasingly unlikely.

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We should just hand over control of the railways to the Germans, Spanish or French, and abolish all the restrictive rules that have crippled the industry. Apart from anything else, we've shot ourselves in the tourist foot - we have some magnificent countryside and could be developing rail holidays to explore these routes.

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Honestly it seems railroads are beyond the ability of modern Britain to manage. Just like all the electric companies had to be sold off to French, German and Spanish firms.

At some point if a nation can't run even basic utilities, it might as well be split up and made a vassal state.

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It is really quite scary how governments across the spectrum don't understand competition.

Competition is about me being able to choose the between railway companies on the same route and not splitting up the routes and giving companies the ability to bid for a monopoly on that route.

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It is really quite scary how governments across the spectrum don't understand competition.

Competition is about me being able to choose the between railway companies on the same route and not splitting up the routes and giving companies the ability to bid for a monopoly on that route.

The problem is that rail services are loss making and that loss is subsidised by the government.

In order to avoid that subsidy being abused there are rules which stop someone running a route which cherry-picks the profitable parts of the day and leaves the government subsidising the unprofitable bits.

tim

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It is really quite scary how governments across the spectrum don't understand competition.

Oh but they do! But Tory or Labour, it's not what they're after.

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Honestly it seems railroads are beyond the ability of modern Britain to manage. Just like all the electric companies had to be sold off to French, German and Spanish firms.

At some point if a nation can't run even basic utilities, it might as well be split up and made a vassal state.

Its not that, its three things:

#1 old infrastrucure, with France and Germany both bombed to smeg it is easier to build better from the ground up.

#2 Short termism, everywhere else in the world rail companies get 10+ year contracts to run the companies, this means they have incentives to invest and build better services. In the UK contracts are super short meaning companies have no incentive to invest and thus don't and spend their time sweating their contracts.

The MTR corporation for example pretty much has an open ended contract to run the MTR corporation was privatised 10 years ago and since it has built many new lines.

The Japanese railways also are private but hold operating contracts for centuries and thus they build new infrastructure.

#3 Nimbys self explanitory.

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It is really quite scary how governments across the spectrum don't understand competition.

Competition is about me being able to choose the between railway companies on the same route and not splitting up the routes and giving companies the ability to bid for a monopoly on that route.

I would be amazed if there weren't a few brown envelopes changing hands when franchises come up for bidding. All the ingredients are there: multibillion pound contracts being awarded behind closed doors by a small number of faceless bureaucrats using subjective criteria, and the consequences of their decisions won't be known for years. It's how FIFA would run a railway. £100k here and there and wowzers, you've got yourself a business making an 8 or 9 figure profit.

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Its not that, its three things:

#1 old infrastrucure, with France and Germany both bombed to smeg it is easier to build better from the ground up.

#2 Short termism, everywhere else in the world rail companies get 10+ year contracts to run the companies, this means they have incentives to invest and build better services. In the UK contracts are super short meaning companies have no incentive to invest and thus don't and spend their time sweating their contracts.

The MTR corporation for example pretty much has an open ended contract to run the MTR corporation was privatised 10 years ago and since it has built many new lines.

The Japanese railways also are private but hold operating contracts for centuries and thus they build new infrastructure.

#3 Nimbys self explanitory.

I agree with #1. I don't trust any of the current rail operators to honour #2. Some of the corporate culture is shocking in this country and the risk is we get 10 years or more of shocking service rather than a decline from year 2 to 5 if longer contracts are given. If the major transport undertakings made any sort of a decent fist of doing buses better then they can have longer rail contracts.

I'm a Nimby but knowing what I am I live on the side of a hill. I cannot think of any possible engineering works that could be built near me.

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The problem is that rail services are loss making and that loss is subsidised by the government.

In order to avoid that subsidy being abused there are rules which stop someone running a route which cherry-picks the profitable parts of the day and leaves the government subsidising the unprofitable bits.

tim

Most of the lolly goes straight thru rail companies hands contributing £Billions£ in the annual profits of this lot >>>

LOOK-UP for the Demons in our Society on Earth!

Nov 2009

An (erranta - Occult?) 'trio' of City firms have scooped instructions on one of the largest leveraged buy-outs this year, after a consortium of banks and investors bought rolling stock leasing company Porterbrook Leasing Company from Abbey.

The deal is one of the few big transactions to complete in the City using leveraged finance since the credit crunch turned a river of cheap credit into a trickle this year. Press reports ­estimate the deal value to be around £1.4bn.

The London office of ­Milbank Tweed Hadley & McCloy advised the consortium of investors, which included Deutsche Bank, Lloyds TSB and Ant-in Infrastructure Partners, owned by BNP Paribas.

Slaughter and May ­corporate partner Mark Bennett acted for long-term client Abbey, while Ashurst leveraged finance partners James Hogben and Nigel Ward were drafted in to advise the mandated lead arrangers.

The Milbank team was led by corporate partner Stuart Harray, finance partner Suhrud Mehta and tax partner Russell Jacobs.

Those close to the deal expect the transaction to complete before the end of this year, subject to regulatory approval.

Earlier this year, the Milbank London finance team advised the arranging banks on one of the largest-ever M&A deals to hit the market – the $50bn (£31.29bn) financing for the proposed bid by Vale, the world's ­second biggest mining ­company, for Xstrata.

The banks included BNP Paribas, Calyon, Citi, Lehman Brothers and ­Credit Suisse First Boston, but the deal fell through.

Abbey National Treasury Services has owned Porterbrook since 2000. The ­company is one of the biggest rolling stock leasers in the UK, providing trains for 17 of the 24 passenger train operating companies. The group owns nearly a third of all the UK's passenger rail rolling stock.

http://www.thelawyer.../135596.article

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The problem is that rail services are loss making and that loss is subsidised by the government.

In order to avoid that subsidy being abused there are rules which stop someone running a route which cherry-picks the profitable parts of the day and leaves the government subsidising the unprofitable bits.

tim

Train operators have to pay a lot of money to the government for the right to run their franchise. They also pay track access charges to Network Rail. Yes, Network Rail also gets government money for maintaining the tracks and building new lines, but if you compare it to the road tax a coach company pays, and the money the highways agency and local councils pay on maintaining the roads, railway companies have to pay a lot more.

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Its not that, its three things:

#1 old infrastrucure, with France and Germany both bombed to smeg it is easier to build better from the ground up.

#2 Short termism, everywhere else in the world rail companies get 10+ year contracts to run the companies, this means they have incentives to invest and build better services. In the UK contracts are super short meaning companies have no incentive to invest and thus don't and spend their time sweating their contracts.

The MTR corporation for example pretty much has an open ended contract to run the MTR corporation was privatised 10 years ago and since it has built many new lines.

The Japanese railways also are private but hold operating contracts for centuries and thus they build new infrastructure.

#3 Nimbys self explanitory.

Why is it that me and you, who are not remotely railroad experts could design a regulatory system for railroad that aligned the long term interests of the companies and rail users.

But our highly paid bureaucrats in charge of regulating rail, and the even higher paid consultants, who are specialists in this area, cannot.

Let me answer my own question. In other countries the government bureaucracies are staffed by very bright people. Like in France you don't just start in the railroad bureaucracy with average grades and then work your way up with seniority. They select the brightest students in France to become the future leaders of the bureaucracy.

For a bright person, who thinks about things and learns as they age.. running things like railroads or electric utilities are not particularily hard. These are simple businesses that haven't changed in at least 50 years.

Contracts alo don't need to be complicated. The state just builds long term relationships with firms and once mutual trust has been established with a firm, you just do cost plus contracts.

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The problem is that rail services are loss making and that loss is subsidised by the government.

So start charging the true cost of the tickets and close down any routes that are still unprofitable.

As for the company mentioned here, getting a good customer approval rating is easy when you're willing to spend more money on the service you provide than the amount you charge for it... your customers will love you until the day you go bust.

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So start charging the true cost of the tickets and close down any routes that are still unprofitable.

As for the company mentioned here, getting a good customer approval rating is easy when you're willing to spend more money on the service you provide than the amount you charge for it... your customers will love you until the day you go bust.

Isn't that what Beeching tried to do? Where do you stop? Just have a line from London - Birmingham - Manchester - Glasgow open?

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Where do you stop? Just have a line from London - Birmingham - Manchester - Glasgow open?

That would probably make sense, though I'm sure a fair number of commuting routes in and out of London would also be profitable.

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So start charging the true cost of the tickets and close down any routes that are still unprofitable.

All the roads would need to be privatised first to make it an even playing field.

And all unprofitable roads closed.

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All the roads would need to be privatised first to make it an even playing field.

And all unprofitable roads closed.

Well the government have stopped maintaining most of the roads anyway. On the M62 there was a pot hole 2ft across!

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we turned the rilways into regional monopolies and they did what monopolies always do:

shite service at high cost - reminds me of local govt.

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All the roads would need to be privatised first to make it an even playing field.

And all unprofitable roads closed.

I was under the impression that road users already contribute more in tax (fuel duty etc) than is spent on roads. This could be a misconception on my part.

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I was under the impression that road users already contribute more in tax (fuel duty etc) than is spent on roads. This could be a misconception on my part.

If roads were privatised there would be no need for tax on fuel.

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If roads were privatised there would be no need for tax on fuel.

cracking, lets privatise the roads then! I won't get raped for driving/owning a car.

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Enjoy your toll then.

All motorised vehicles pay a toll now. It is called Vehicle Excise Duty.

VED is an outrageous tax. It taxes based upon the size of engine of a road legal vehicle. Not whether the vehicle is on the Queens Highway.

It penalises the frugal and pensioner alike who may not use their vehicle often or do a very low mileage p.a.

It subsidises the HGV's and Coaches who with up to 44 Tons smash up our roads.

It is based upon a completely false pretext that the bigger the engine the greater the polluter. If that were true the haulage companies would pay 10 times what they do.

Whether your engine starts at all or whether it is driven 365 days a year 24 hours a day you pay the same band.

Absolute stupidity and madness especially when fuel is taxed at near on 70%

WE ARE THE SUCKERS FOR ALLOWING HMG TO CHARGE US

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  • 312 Brexit, House prices and Summer 2020

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