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Friday 26 June 2015

Tories’ Northern Powerhouse Fraud

To the all-too-predictable sound of politicians blaming Network Rail (NR), and of course blaming one another, just to be on the safe side, came the news yesterday which was not news to any observer of the UK’s rail industry: the £38 billion modernisation plan was not going to happen on the timescale previously promised - by politicians who should have known better. Neither major political party should escape censure for the débacle.
Look press people, a new train! Or maybe not

All the talk before the General Election, seemingly emanating from the Rt Hon Gideon George Oliver Osborne, heir to the seventeenth Baronet, of an HS3 network to follow HS2, was no more than hot air. Worse, the electrification of the main Trans-Pennine route from Manchester to Leeds and York via Huddersfield isn’t going to happen. Well, not yet. Nor is the electrification of the Midland Main Line from Bedford to Sheffield.

Why should this not have come as a surprise? Ah well. This all started with the selling-off and fragmentation of Good Old BR back in the 1990s, as “Shagger” Major showed he was even better at flogging off state assets than Mrs T. One casualty was the supply of managers who had been trained by BR, and had often come through the ranks. Then came Tone and New Labour to pick up the pieces.

However, and here we encounter a significantly sized however, someone took their eye off the ball when it came to electrification, and very little got done between the mid 90s and the arrival of the Coalition. Thus more expertise was lost. And even in the days when more wiring up was being done, generally only one major scheme at a time was undertaken. That is all that can be managed now. And the major scheme is not in the north.

The only major scheme that can be resourced is the Great Western Main Line out of London’s Paddington terminus to South Wales and Bristol. What is termed “infill” - small schemes like Manchester to Preston and Blackpool - will carry on, and there will be similar work undertaken in Scotland. That is the limit of the expertise the industry can lay its hands on. The politicians - of both parties - should have known that.

When Osborne unveiled what was in reality a stick-on nameplate applied to a 25 year old train (“Northern Powerhousewas built by BR at York in 1990), it did not come with any guarantee that the great modernisation scheme would follow. That much was cynical electioneering; the sniping by Labour’s prize buffoon Michael Dugher is equally bad. Dugher’s party are as complicit as the Tories.

As Paul Bigland has told (see his reaction HERE), while successive Governments have treated transport in general, and the railways in particular, like a political football, expertise has been lost across the board, we end up paying more for new trains, overcrowding gets worse, and the whole shebang costs We The People a lot more money. Patrick McLoughlin has no right to colour himself surprised. And Dugher should butt out.

If we want a seriously good rail network, we have to take a serious attitude to railways.


DBC said...

The magazine "Modern Railways" has been writing about these cost and time overruns for the last few months. If only Osborn had subscribed to the journal he would have been more informed.

Shawlrat said...

Coincidentally, Osbo is MP for Tatton in NW England. He was always going to big up the Northern Powerhouse as a vote catcher even though he must have known the rail upgrades weren't going to happen.
It amazes me that anyone north of Watford votes Tory, it's like a foreign country to this government.

jelltex said...

I the change that took place last year where EU rules meant that NR's debt became a public debt meant it was untenable. But this has been coming a long while, and that even after the election Gideon was still talking about the Northern Powerhouse. All hot air, and lies of course.

Still to be tackled is the vast cost over-runs, and even how NR comes up with its costs on even simple work, like the Todmorden Curve.

And then the deep cooperation between NR and SWT has been scrapped, and yet Branson is on the BBC say give Virgin the tracks to look after too. That Britain is the safest railway in Europe, how will that continue under Tricky Dicky?

Unknown said...

"like a foreign country to this government." says Shawlrat. I often feel the converse -that it feeels to me like we lost WW2 and we live under a victorious foreign power, bent only on subjugation. And I'm a Londoner.

SteveB said...

here we go again!

it's the Cameron-Tories fault for not supervising NR..

it's the Major-Tories fault for privatising BR...

and Labour are no better....

and all are both only doing what the EU tell them....

in the meantime, the Freemasons who have run the railways of britain for the last 60 odd years keep their heads down and carry on as normal. Junior managers will be sacked as scapegoats, hundreds of contractors will lose jobs as work dries up, unqualified "journalists" will pump out acres of piffle that explain nothing. And then it will all go quiet and nothing will change.

"Unknown" say he feels like we live under a power bent on subjugation - very true, but they aren't foreign!!

Jelltex says that EU rules meant NR debt became public debt. NOT TRUE. NR's debt has always been public debt, right back to the day the company was formed from the ashes of Railtrack PLC. The EU rules only mean that the risk has to be declared in national debt figures, something which both Labour and Tory governments tried to avoid doing by pretending NR was an independent company (but one which wasn't expected to make a profit and was guaranteed by the state). All that happened last year was that they gave up on the pretence and formally nationalised the company. Which means it should be McLoughlin and senior civil servants who lose their jobs.