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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Is George Osborne’s Northern Powerhouse about to hit the buffers?

George-Osborne

George getting out in time before the Northern Powerhouse runs into trouble

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My last post on the national repercussions of the Great Western electrification shambles has elicited some very interesting information about why Network Rail got into such a big overspend. (£1.2 billion on a £2.8 billion project)

If the information is accurate – and it seems to be based on some sound sources – it would suggest that George Osborne’s strategy to boost the North through better rail connections is about to come to a grinding halt because it has not been properly costed.

Through Tim Fenton well known for his caustic comments on the media oligarchs on his Zelo Street blog , I have become acquainted with an extraordinary obscure debate about the  safe clearances needed to install overhead electrification.

Ever since the electrification of the West Coast mainline in the 1960s Britain has had narrower clearances than the bigger gauge continental railways. We even had a derogation under the EU. But according to rail expert Roger Ford a serious blunder during the privatisation of the rail engineering which meant all the papers justifying the narrower standards were lost. So we now have no derogation because we lost all the paperwork to justify it.

Why this is important is that the higher clearances will add huge costs to ongoing rail electrification projects in every tunnel and under every bridge on the line. They will have to be higher margins between the top of the train and the wires.and the structures  They will  also have to raise the height of every planned pantograph- to protect people and staff coming into contact with it.

Now it appears that if each situation is given a special risk assessment it might be possible to get round the rules – but that will add to delays and costs and will have to be approved by British regulators – the Office of Rail and Road- even if we have left the EU.

As Roger Ford wrote in his December bulletin: “When all this was reviewed by the relevant British Standards committee it was agreed that, while the previous  2.75m clearance  was not justifiable as a minimum limit in a standard, it might be justifiable subject to a risk assessment.  So, according to Network Rail, electrical clearances below 3.5m are possible – with risk assessment.

” What’s really infuriating about this safety-by-diktat, is that the engineers concerned know that it is irrational and yet they go along with it. To paraphrase Edmund Burke, ‘the only thing necessary for the triumph of bureaucracy over common sense is that good engineers should do nothing.’

Great_Bentley_station_geograph-3890553-by-Ben-Brooksbank

Picture of Great Bentley station by Ben Brooksbank

Now obviously this is going to effect more lines than just the Great Western – and this is where George Osborne’s plans  turn to dust.

Already costs are rising on the Midland main line electrification from Bedford to Nottingham and Sheffield. With a critical National Audit Office report likely it is possible that electrification  will stop dead in its tracks at Kettering and Corby – nowhere near the real North.

And the Trans Pennine electrification – another Osborne  project -might stop altogether.

No wonder George Osborne is now going to be editor of the London Evening Standard – he will want to be well clear of the North. This is just a brilliant example of how our incompetent and overrated political amateurs  don’t properly assess what they are  doing.

And the public are  always the losers – in this case the travelling public.