Monday, 23 October 2017
Managing Editor, 'Railnews', Sim Harris in the black corner; Tim Weller in the blue corner
Tim – you have missed the point. From other railway passengers I have spoken to, I seem to have raised a most pertinent point. Millions of pounds spent on a half completed, 120 Kms mainline railway that is about to be further broken up into a 2 Kms test track, a 6.7 Kms tram line in two halves, a trail of trees, Himalayan Balsam and undergrowth and, a cycle-walkway! Thus, many millions wasted that was spent on the bridges and tunnels to cross two motorways and three dual carriageways but , even so, STILL NO TRAINS, NOT EVEN FREIGHT TRAINS on 30 Kms, anywhere near these major congested roads! Your side, Sim has forgotten to put the regional and national trains back. How foolish and irresponsible is this as we all sit in bumper to bumper traffic and, on overcrowded trains? Regrettably, it must be called incompetence and financial illiteracy to describe such absurdity.
If I think we risk endorsing your views, then that’s the ruling. Not your call. I was simply wanting the opinion/feedback of readers, since they were most welcome from your good self. I also need others to influence my thinking - and, to put me right.
Actually, could you please cease your campaign now?
It must be plain to you that no one else is interested, and I am including all the hapless recipients of your recent message in this reply, because I am sure they would appreciate an end to this too. In fact, 183 people are most interested, Sim! 183 supporters, sympathisers and activists:
I "would appreciate an end to this." I would appreciate an end to the railway industry standing meekly by as their infrastructure gets wasted and even destroyed for homes, roads, trading estates and, for rather a lot of retail therapy! £0.75 billion, in fact, for our lengthy named but quite magnificent 'Grand Central Shopping Centre and Diesel Perfumed Station Tagged Along as an Afterthought in the Basement of the John Lewis Store'!
£0.75 billion "to enhance the passenger experience" for shopping, as I was told by David Golding of Network Rail in 2015!
Homebase built on Kings Heath railway station, too, with occasional trains to and from Bristol sweeping by but, mainly freight! The line is parallel to, and alongside, bumper to bumper traffic on the main radial road into Brum city centre from the M42.
I am now going to try – for one last time – to point out why this campaign is going nowhere. The campaign has had the full support of Mayor Andy Street who is now to put the passenger trains back on the 39 Kms of freight only railway lines in Brum. This is certainly his intention. I hope he succeeds. I have spoken to him, he has listened and he sees the sense of railway trains on perfectly good, existing railway lines. We are both on the same side. Please come on board, too, Sim.
There are two potential reasons for restoring a direct rail route between Derby and Worcester via Dudley.
There are two main reasons, as I and my supporters see it. A former Railfuture committee member put it to me like this. "Derby to DEVON via Dudley and Burton to Bristol via Brierley Hill." Rising demand for railway trains as our roads and motorways get clogged up. More than a doubling of passenger numbers since privatisation. Yet, a principal mainline railway between London and Scotland remains broken, wasted but available for commuter and fast trains over 56 Kms in a heavily congested and populated urban conurbation with clogged motorways as bad as the M25.
The second main reason is to take the pressure off train congested 'Grand Central Shopping Centre ... ' BBC Midlands Today transport and business correspondent has called Brum's mainline station "one of the worst rail congestion bottlenecks in the UK". Birmingham is such a greedy honeypot, they want all trains to go via their building site of a city. Why not spread out the largesse and help the Black Country grow economically so that our four boroughs are less of a backwater?
As regards population, the Black Country is larger than Brum, according to Wikipedia. One newspaper reporter wrote that Dudley is the largest town in the UK without a railway station. The site is about to be lost for ever for an innovation and engineering centre to built there! How stupid is that, Sim?
A third reason is that even the Ordnance Survey think our mainline railway is in use between Stourbridge and Walsall. See their current maps here:
One is demand for through or regional journeys – Dudley to Derby, say. Derby to Dudley to Devon, please. The other is demand for local journeys. Exactly, because this forgotten, this unique, this unused, this wasted railway can fit that requirement, too.
As for the first, there seems precious little likelihood that there is much demand in Derby for a through train to Dudley, or anywhere else in the Black Country. Through rail passengers between Derby and Worcester can complete the journey in 1h40 with a single change at New Street. Why will you not let them, Sim have their journey in less than 1 hr 30 mins by going direct via the Black Country, without needing to change? And, in the process, reducing a little of the train congestion at Grand Central. Why does every passenger have to travel via Birmingham and never the direct route through the Black Country? There are other connections available which route passengers via Snow Hill and New Street, and these journeys take just over two hours. Together, these trains offer a 30min frequency, which seems adequate. Certainly NOT adequate with economic growth, population growth, road growth and the growth in railway travel in the Black Country and Brum.
As for local journeys, the closed line skirts the West Midlands conurbation, and would not offer any new links towards Birmingham city centre – unlike the trams. The wasted, the forgotten Black Country Railway does NOT skirt the W Midlands conurbation, Sim. It goes through the middle of three Black Country boroughs, exactly where our infamously M25 like, congested, M5/M6 runs. The Borders Railway goes through the middle of nowhere, the beautiful Southern Uplands but, is still popular and successful. The Black Country Railway would be even more so if the middle section was finished with the trains (NOT trams) and with stations (NOT tram stops) and NOT a test track or linear woodland - please!!
The Black Country Railway offers a local commuter service via Stourbridge and the Black Country through Bescot into Snow Hill station with its still wasted, unused platform 4. It is 50% longer than the present Jewellery Line but, with four station stops, should take the same length of time but with Birmingham city workers getting a seat instead of too many, now being treated like sardines.
A wasted platform 4 because the tram used it until the tram bypassed the station to go to Grand Central Shopping Centre, instead. This was the tram that left 3 Kms of double track railway line wasted in Wolverhampton (now destroyed) and led to the demolition of Wolverhampton's second mainline station. There is now NO tram stop at Snow Hill station. The business case must have lied, for the main reason the money was given was to connect Snow Hill with Grand Central Shopping Centre. The nearest tram stop is Bull Street, a walk of 300 metres to the station platforms.
I am sure that Mayor ANDY STREET understands the value of a second, quick TRAIN commuter route with the double tracks already there in the Enterprise Zone that is DY5, in Brierley Hill. It goes through Dudley and Sandwell to Snow Hill. Under the latest plan, with the grossly extravagant tram (£30 m/Km + £2.5 m for each tram), people from Stourbridge Jct would have to change at Harts Hill for the tram that stops on average every 650 metres on the UK's only unused, easily reinstated mainline railway that we are then promised (actually lied to) will also have fast trains and freight trains. Some, perhaps all, tram passengers would also have to change at Wednesbury to get by tram to Brum. Finishing the 120 Km railway line by putting TRAINS on it would give a faster, direct, train commuter route into Birmingham. Obviously, more sensible, Sim, don't you think?
There is undoubtedly peripheral commuter traffic within the Black Country, between Dudley Port and Wednesbury, say, and some commuters might be willing to transfer to rail-based public transport. They are going to have the opportunity when the new Midland Metro line opens. Incidentally, the trams will serve Dudley town centre, unlike the heavy rail line, which implies that trains would be less likely to attract commuters travelling to and from Dudley. It is most inappropriate for a flash, glitz and glam, £2.5 million tram at £30 m/Km, should be seen running through a rundown Dudley town centre with its two huge, empty office blocks, one with every window smashed and a town centre without a department store. There is no reason for us Dudley folk to visit our town centre. We all go to Merry Hill for excellent shops, stores and leisure attractions. There are more attractions where the former mainline station stood, at the foot of Castle Hill (four major tourist/leisure attractions) and at Dudley Castle Gate that is on the other side of the railway station from the tourist/leisure attractions. But the mainline station site is to get a suite of buildings for the innovation centre that would be more sensibly placed by the 3 Kms branch line at Brierley Hill that can be used for the test track. Thus, our 4th (the other 3 were not mainline) Dudley railway line gets obliterated by this one foolish decision and the whole 120 Kms is nicely severed at Dudley Castle Hill!
You have told me (many times) that we are discussing 56km of route. At present costs, restoring it as non-electrified heavy rail seems unlikely to come in at much under £500m. But, Sim it was your own excellent 'Railnews' that told me, in 2015, that the REBUILT Borders Railway was £294 m for 49 Kms of diesel locos and mainly single track. That works out at £6 m/Km. Ours is double track but many millions of pounds have been spent on every single structure except for Parkhead Viaduct that simply needs strengthening for £10 million (as I was told by West Midlands Rail expert, Toby Rackcliffe in November 2014). Out of the 56 Kms, 26 Kms already has freight trains. That leaves 30 Kms at £6 m/Km = £180 million. Your £500 m is wrong, Sim.
Chris Grayling is going to give them £207 m, as his contribution, for only 11 Kms of trams. That is more than enough to finish the 120 Km principal, mainline railway. Your wish for "bus on rails" trams will prevent FOR EVER the completion of the mainline railway to bypass congestion bottleneck Brum and to bring some economic growth to the Black Country. Yet, the authorities are telling us that "light rail investment provides the basis for restoring heavy rail services at the appropriate time." (letter to me dated 18 September 2000) Such stupidity must be unheard of anywhere else in the world!
The rebuilt section of the Borders Railway was almost as long – 50km – and the final construction cost was around £300m. But that was at 2012 prices, and part of the route is single track (unfortunately). One of your 2015 issues, when the line was soon to be opened, said it cost £294 million for 49 Kms. Even so, the Borders line has done very well, and has demolished the ‘white elephant’ argument which was used by its opponents. For £300 million, three major structures had to be built. ALL have already been built for the Black Country Railway - the most recent over the M6 Toll in 2003. Yet, still, only phantom trains.
But the BR has been built through a largely rural area where there had been no rail-based public transport available for many years, and provides a direct link to the centre of Edinburgh, which has proved attractive to commuters as well as tourists and other leisure travellers. I have driven on the parallel A7. The only bumper to bumper traffic I have ever seen was at traffic lights on red.
So the core question is this. Reopen your 56km of railway between Stourbridge and Burton, and restore a through route between Derby and Worcester in the process. Where is the longer-distance regional traffic to come from? What is the more localised demand that trams cannot satisfy? In particular, as you rightly say, the line bypasses Birmingham, which I suspect planners would see as another weakness. The fact that it bypasses Brum is its greatest strength and help to that city, Sim!
I also suspect any attempt to establish a business case (vital – not a luxury) would founder very quickly on points such as this, which is perhaps why no one seems willing to fund one.
We have had vital business cases written to justify that this principal railway line should be given bridges and tunnels to soar over or under the M6, M6 Toll, A452, A5 and the Black Country New Road. These robust, verifiable and clear business cases were written and cost huge sums of money. Yet, such was the worthlessness of the business cases, that the huge expense argued for never included a single train or station. Yet, the structures were still built. This is utter madness!!
Strong as steel business cases written to justify the part building of railway lines without a single train. What a joke!
Robust business cases to justify any expense that the extravagant authorities want at a time of austerity for the rest of us.
Irrefutable business cases to justify £75,000 per metre for the new tram to Edgbaston from Grand Central when an electric bus could do the job just as well for a tiny fraction of the price. Diesel buses already do, from only slightly further away!
The ever so competent (I don't think) business case for Metro One in the 1990s justified the closure of three Kms of double track railway line in Wolverhampton, the demolition of Low Level station and the failure to even bring the tram to the bus station, let alone the railway station. The business case never conceded that restoring the train service would have avoided all of that idiocy and, at a fraction of the price, too.
The latest business case for the Black Country tramway on the Black Country Railway is no better. It justifies 6.7 Kms for "bus on rails" trams, leaving 49.3 Kms of railway infrastructure, costing millions of pounds, for trees and Himalayan Balsam, a test track and a cycle-walkway. This is absurd.
An expert business case that argues for the return of main line services of freight, commuter and intercity trains on the one set of double tracks to complete the 120 Kms Black Country Railway BUT, FIRST, a middle 6.7 Kms section has to be given over to trams stopping, on average, every 650 metres and with a frequency of 6 mins at peak times. This is totally unacceptable.
Unlike in my September 2000 letter from Centro, I think they must have only meant tram trains in recent years.
And, tram trains that must stop almost as frequently as buses are inappropriate for a 120 Kms railway between London and Scotland. In Germany, tram trains I believe, don’t cover any greater distance than 20 Kms. We are to get 12 Kms and 14 tram stops between Sheffield Cathedral and Rotherham Parkgate for the still being developed tram train, when they have already been developed in Germany. And, so far, it is five times over budget and is way behind schedule!
I am embarrassed and ashamed to be British and for my country to be a laughing stock, like this.
You point to congested roads in the area, but restoring trains would only ease that problem if the diverted motorists are making journeys which a reopened Burton-Stourbridge railway would offer. Of course, they are making car journeys from the many new settlements that have sprung up next to or near the forgotten main line. What about all the car journeys going to the greatly expanded National Memorial Arboretum at Alrewas, Sim? Why must there never be a station there?
I suspect that a great many of the road journeys are local (the school run, as well as short-distance commuters and shoppers) and the people making them would not be attracted to trains – at least, not along that corridor. Trams, however, are set to relieve some of the pressure because the alignment of the route from Brierley Hill towards central Birmingham and also Wolverhampton really could get some people out of their cars (as has happened in Manchester and other places with restored trams). The railway line goes to central Brum, Sim. And, without changing - anywhere. Build the Benson chord in exactly the way Birmingham FoE suggested in their document last decade. It really is shocking that complete amateurs have to tell the authorities their job.
I am not going so far as to argue that no-one would use the reopened line, but a decision to spend £500m+ would have to rest on very much firmer ground than any argument you have been able to offer. Less than £200 million, at the 2015 price for Borders Railway, when so much work has already been done for the Black Country Railway. £200 m would include the nine stations built over the 30 Kms, as Railfuture wants.
One final point. This is cannot be the springboard to a new discussion and, indeed, I fear I cannot undertake to respond to further correspondence, because I do have a paper to get out. I quite understand. But, please stand up for your industry, Sim.
I really hope you find something more rewarding to occupy you soon. This sad saga reflects so badly on the railway industry and the transport bosses. My 183 supporters/sympathisers and I should not have to remind them of their duties! I exclude, ANDY STREET, who is relatively new to the game and is saying all the right things about getting the trains back and the stations built. Chris Grayling is also saying many of the right things. See:
Best wishes Tim
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The Land of Make Believe or, You Can't Make This Up if You Tried!
This must be the biggest and longest running scandal in UK transport history -passenger trains kept off freight only railway lines and mothballed (or, 'out of use' designation ignored), alongside traffic choked roads and motorways!
This is all about the four Black Country boroughs and, supposedly, the Second (worst polluted) City in the land. The Black Country and Birmingham - both bereft of sense; abounding in idiocy and bursting with incompetence. Here are 40 points as the evidence for such a scathing but accurate description. There is even more sad evidence - Metro One and Snow Hill Station - that I have not included, here (but see ** at foot).
I think, the excuse for inaction and wrong action by the railway experts at Network Fail is, "Well, we have to spend all our days writing reports, strategies and studies, don’t we? Don’t blame us. We’re just doing our job". Thus, they end up:
- Running homes, cars and shops down urban railway lines alongside main roads with bumper to bumper traffic (very mixed up kids run our transport, here in the West Midlands).
- Putting Homebase on Kings Heath railway station, while still running some passenger trains on the line!
- Forgetting to put trains and stations on the UK's only, it's all there, unused but easily reinstated, double track, mainline, strategic railway.
- Even the Ordnance Survey think it is a working railway line in the Black Country section! See all their latest maps.
- Spending many millions of pounds on the underpasses and bridges as main roads have been widened and motorways built to cross this same strategic railway of phantom trains and invisible stations.
- In 2014, planning a test track for 2 Kms on the same unfinished, 120 Kms mainline railway to shuttle passengers to the next mainline in the neighbouring borough!
- Then being told, "But we want it for Metro trams and have done so since the early 1980s." This was in 2015.
- These idiots - sorry, experts at Dudley Council - should have known that.
- "Well," they said, "We'll just have to send the test track in the opposite direction through Dudley Castle Hill tunnel, then."
- Next, putting it about that they have only done so because the test track needed the 'not one brick out of place', double track railway tunnel all along!
- So why did the Warwick Manufacturing Group not tell them that in the first place? Or, was someone lying?
- Building a monorail at Merry Hill Shopping Centre in the late 1980s and failing to connect it to the unfinished, with all the double tracks in place, 120 Kms mainline railway - the Black Country Railway, as I call it. It fell short by 400 metres!
- The monorail was built by the foremost and well respected Swiss engineering company, Von Roll. But they closed it after about two or three years in the early 1990s.
- Next, they sold it and reports indicated it went to Sydney.
- Our railway experts spent £750 million (of railway money?) "to enhance the passenger experience" at New Street Station. Quote is courtesy of David Golding of Network Rail in a phone conversation with me in 2014 or 2015.
- Now called 'Grand Central Shopping Centre and Diesel Perfumed Station Tagged Along as an Afterthought in the Basement of the John Lewis Store'.
- GCSC&DPSTAAAAITBOTJLS for short!
- This must make it the longest name for a railway station outside Anglesey.
- The longest name and the longest waits for trains!
- Because, they are still failing to build the additional railway tunnels at both approaches to GCSC&DPSTAAAAITBOTJLS.
- Negligent Rail failed to do so even when all the buildings above the existing tunnels had been razed to the ground!
- And, twice too - at first Brindleyplace (80s/90s) and, then, when the Bull Ring Shopping Centre was rebuilt (90s/00s).
- Failing to realise that they could have then, easily, put in the cut and cover tunnels (and even additional platforms, according to Railfuture).
- Failing to twig that they could have "enhanced the passenger experience" by getting railway customers away on their trains more quickly and efficiently by building the tunnels and platforms when the obvious opportunities arose.
- Illiterate economics in replacing buses and trains with electric trams at 4 to 14 times per Km more expensively than simply using diesel trains on important railway lines.
- Each new tram is ten times more expensive than a new bus. (FoI answer)
- Only local "bus on rails" * trams ever go on railway lines; rarely, regional and national trains. (the rarity was the 6 Kms from Smethwick Galton Bridge to Moor Street Sta; and, Walsall to Rugeley - but, this took 50 years!)
- 11 Km Wolverhampton to Walsall railway line was tried but it was never extended to Brum via Sutton Park or to Derby via Lichfield and, therefore never got enough passengers.
- It has been closed for some years but, it is this 11 Km that they want to resurrect, a second time, rather than returning the trains and stations to the unused 56 Kms out of the 120 Km Black Country Railway.
- We run trees, trams, a test track and goods trains on our 120 Km Black Country Railway. Aren't we clever? (Actually, 64 Kms are normal with useful passenger trains. 56 Kms only are wasted or destined to have slow, "bus on rails" * trams!)
- We can't blame Beeching. Only today’s transport experts. Simply because train services that were hardly used in the 60s should have been mothballed and not sold off, piece meal and lost for ever. What complete stupidity! The railway industry is wet behind the ears; is walked all over and, yet even today, good transport infrastructure is still wasted!
- Our local and regional transport bosses are all subservient to Network Rail.
- When this mighty organisation tells them that they don’t need the Black Country Railway until the 2040s, at the earliest, and then only for freight, the other transport bosses roll over, meekly accept it and start (in the 1980s) to turn it into a tram line!
- Wasted and many kilometres of destroyed railway lines are the everyday business of Network Rail. This government agency in the public sector has no interest in its own infrastructure so local and regional transport bosses come along and take over the railway lines from them to use as tram lines, housing, shops, test tracks and linear woodland!
- See ‘The Times’ report of 12 October 2017 by Graeme Paton, ‘Network Rail’s upgrades monopoly shunted aside’.
- Our, “still a very old Victorian railway” was spoken about by Sir David Higgins, Chief Executive of Network Rail on the ‘Today’ programme on 8 January 2013!
- He mentioned, “500 Victorian signal boxes and 300 are from the 1960s”.
- He spoke, in 2013, of Network Rail having £37 billion to spend in one year. Now, ‘The Times’ report has, “Government investment in the railways of £4.2 billion was the lowest level in 15 years.”
- Yet, the budget on defending the UK from attack by foreign forces is now 2% of GDP and is going up, in real terms, by 0.5% in every year of the present administration!! (BBC ‘Today’ website earlier in the year)
- Thus, top priority for two new aircraft carriers (£7 billion) that are the biggest and best ever but, now need a flotilla of warships around them for protection.
* as used by one Director from UK Tram Ltd and the Croydon MP on the Radio 4 ‘Today’ programme, the day after the Croydon tram crash that killed seven passengers in November 2016.
** Metro Two, the extension that cost over £60 million/Km to take it to Grand Central Shopping Centre and Diesel Perfumed Basement Station means that there is no longer a tram stop for Snow Hill Station - since 2016. The tram bypasses Snow Hill completely and goes straight to Grand Central. Yet, it was built to connect Snow Hill with Grand Central! Platform 4 at Snow Hill Station is still wasted and unused. It would still be in use to this day if they had only put back the much more cost effective, financially prudent and responsible trains all the way to Wolverhampton Low Level Station (now no more).
Metro Three to Edgbaston is costing £75 million/Km for the 2 Kms to the west of Five Ways from Grand Central. Putting diesel trains back on our Black Country and Brum 106 Kms of mothballed/wasted or freight only railway lines would could cost no more than £6 m/Km, according to the 2015 Borders Railway rebuilding (not needed for ours) to the middle of nowhere in the back of beyond but, beautiful Southern Uplands.
Tim Weller 14 October 2017