Voldemort Grayling: The transport secretary and his fantasy Hogwarts Express train service

chris grayling bbc picture

Chris Grayling: Transport Secretary and The Lord Voldemort of the Cabinet

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Just before Parliament went into Easter recess the real story about Chris Grayling’s decision to cancel three  major rail electrification projects was released with hardly any mainstream  news coverage.

It was fitting example of the present appalling career of Chris Grayling. This has caused misery  for millions and waste running to hundreds of millions of pounds. He has been  responsible for the botched privatisation of the probation service, slashing compensation for people beaten up by criminals and introducing sky high fees for people bringing tribunal cases (now scrapped thanks to a case brought by Unison)) , restricting legal  aid and putting up court charges.

He and Ken Clarke,when he was justice secretary, also wanted to work with the Saudi Arabian prison system with its obscenities of public beheading, stoning women and flogging men. He is the true Lord Voldemort of Theresa May’s Cabinet.

This latest investigation from the National Audit Office – while more prosaic than J.K .Rowling’s Harry Potter novels – reveals yet another tale of deceit and fantasy to cover up government having overreached itself on rail investment.

Last July just as Parliament was about to go into summer recess ( Funny this happens all the time) Chris Grayling announced the scrapping of three railway  electrification schemes.

They were the Midland Main Line north of Kettering (to Nottingham and Sheffield); the Great Western Main Line between Cardiff and Swansea; and the Lakes Line between Oxenholme and Windermere.

But the real story is that two of the projects were actually  cancelled in Match 2017 but the public was never told.
As the report  says: ” In March 2017 ministers agreed to cancel the Midland Main Line north of Kettering and Oxenholme to Windermere electrification projects but did not announce their decision until July.”

” Electrification of the Midland Main Line to Sheffield was a 2015 Manifesto commitment. The Manifesto also stated that work was underway to electrify the railway in South Wales.”

Hence the deceit.

The public went to the polls in June 2017  and the electors of Nottingham, Leicester, Loughborough, Chesterfield. Sheffield and in Windermere and Kendal were told a lie – the electrification of their service was not going to happen and ministers had trashed their 2015 manifesto commitment.

The electrification of the line between Swansea and Cardiff was scrapped by Theresa May after the election.

But that is not the whole story. Chris Grayling promised to modernise the three services by buying new trains called bi- mode trains- running on both electric and diesel.

The NAO report said: “It will now use bi-mode trains to operate services on the Great Western Main Line and long-distance services on the Midland Main Line. Although bi-mode trains allow greater flexibility by being able to run on electrified and non-electrified lines, there are some disadvantages, such as increased track damage and higher energy costs, which the Department will need to take into account.

For Oxenholme to Windermere the Department had interim plans to use bi-mode trains and proposes to replace existing trains with new diesel trains. It has also asked the operator to explore the use of alternative fuel trains on the route.”

Grayling even promised on the Midland Main Line the journey from London to Sheffield will only be ONE MINUTE slower.

But here is the rub: Such  fast versions of these trains do not yet exist and have never been built for express services. The government hasn’t a clue how much they will cost. They are fantasy trains in the imagination of Chris Grayling. He might as well have announced that the London to Sheffield service was going to be run by Hogwarts Express – it is still in the realm of fiction.

As the NAO report says: “At the time of the decision to cancel in March 2017, officials had advised the Secretary of State that the bi-mode rolling stock with the required speed and acceleration did not exist. They said that the maximum speed of bi-mode trains being built at the time was 100 miles per hour in diesel mode and that the acceleration was not sufficient to meet the timetable of the route. There was also a very high degree of uncertainty over the price of new bi-mode trains.”

I asked for an explanation from the Department for Transport. They contested it.

A spokesman said:“As this report makes clear, we are focused on delivering better trains and services to passengers more quickly, at better value for money for the taxpayer, without the significant disruption to services that electrification can cause.”

 The ministry is said to be happy that bi-mode trains work having tested some on the Great Western l.ine claiming that they could reach 120mph in diesel mode- though this completely conflicts with the NAO investigation which says they are only designed to reach 100mph.

In the meantime this could be another dodgy decision by Chris Grayling. Only this time  he seems to be living in a fantasy world. I await him dressed as Lord Voldemort (He’ll be in the Lords by then)  launching the new London to Sheffield service from Platform 9 and three quarters at London St Pancras rather than Kings Cross.

Update: Since writing this I have discovered that Nicky Morgan, Tory MP for Loughborough and former Cabinet colleague of Chris Grayling reacted furiously to the NAO’s disclosure.She told the Leicester Mercury: 

“Now we see the decision to cancel it was based on fantasy trains that didn’t even exist and the Midlands being a guinea pig for an untested technology.

“This report justifies why people felt so shortchanged when it was cancelled and it makes me more determined to get the decision re-opened.”

 

 

 

 

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Why millions of passengers will face years of overcrowded trains because of a staggering electrification blunder

electrification-work-on-line

Electrification work Pic Credit:South West Business

overcrowded train

Today’s Vision of future travel: Overcrowded train Pic credit:BBC

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If you want to know what is wrong with the present state of  Britain’s railways look no further than a recent National Audit Office report into the mess that is the Great Western electrification scheme. I have written about this in Tribune

As reported at the time the cost overrun and delay totalled a mouthwatering £1.2 billion on a £2.8 billion scheme and led to the scheme being curtailed with delays to the Cardiff to Swansea electrification for up to five years and  similar delays for the electrification of branch services in the Thames Valley.

But the damage  goes much further than just the Great Western Mainline to Cardiff and Bristol electrification scheme, bad though that is, the National Audit Office reveals. It will affect train capacity hundreds of miles away

The electrification was supposed to be the catalyst for the release of rolling stock across the country improving train capacity and phasing out old stock that has been around for decades.

The NAO reports: Under the original plan:

Electric trains from Thameslink would replace diesel trains in the Thames Valley from May providing more capacity to reduce overcrowding

Thames Valley could then release diesel trains to the west, providing more capacity for passengers on the Bristol, Exeter and Cornish networks

West Devon and Cornwall routes would then release diesel trains to support service improvements on Northern franchise routes

New Super Express Trains from the Department’s Intercity Express Programme would replace ageing diesel High Speed Trains on the London to Swansea line cutting journey times from London to Cardiff

The London to Swansea route could then release the diesel High Speed Trains to address capacity issues on intercity routes in Scotland.

An additional fleet of diesel and electric ( Bi mode trains) capable trains recently ordered by the train company, Great Western Railway,  would be introduced in the south-west, providing more capacity and faster journey times on London to Plymouth and Penzance routes.

Now:

Diesel trains due to go to the west in 2017 will be retained until 2019 as electrification is completed and new electric trains are phased in

Passengers in the west (Bristol, Exeter and Cornwall routes) will now have to wait almost two years later than scheduled to see benefits such as more capacity.

Passengers on Northern franchise routes may have to wait an additional nine months as trains are retained in the west to protect services

Great Western Railway has also had to make additional orders of new bi-mode  trains to prevent the cancellation of services on busy Oxford to London routes.

The result according to the NAO will mean higher costs as diesel trains cost more to maintain, lower revenue because of lack of capacity and a bill for converting older trains to comply with stricter laws on helping disabled passengers that would not have been necessary if they had been replaced.

But it goes further than the NAO findings. The privatised rail companies- many owned by state railways in France, Holland and Germany – will be allowed to raise fares every year regardless- so they charge commuters more for inferior services but spend the profits modernising train services in France, Holland and Germany.

And they won’t care if the trains are overcrowded as they can maximise revenue. If ever there was a case for reforming the rail system and ending privatisation this is a perfect example.