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The cost of backtracking on electrification

July 25, 2017

 

There are some thoughtful ways you can break bad news. You know, like when the doctor advises against making any long-term plans or your offspring mentions you won’t need to renew the MOT on the family car.

 

Alternatively, if you’re an inconsiderate so-and-so, one method sure to offend is to announce something gob-smackingly important like dumping plans for rail electrification in a newspaper interview.

 

It’s not just in south west Wales but also the Midlands mainline and parts of the North where work has been halted.

 

So call me picky, but I’d have thought that what with Chris Grayling being UK Transport Secretary and all, the appropriate thing would be to spell things out in a ministerial statement to parliament.

 

Regardless of political reaction – or the total lack of it from local Conservative sources – it’s the rationale given that has people scratching heads.

 

You don’t have to go far to find a transport expert and my consultancy work brings me into regular contact with a few of them. Most back the view that faster trains make for shorter journey times, regardless of electrification.

 

The downside is that electric-diesel hybrids are slower when starting off from each station stop. The cumulative effect, they reckon, is neutral.

 

And if the privately-funded Cardiff Parkway station announced on the same day becomes a new stop on the Swansea-Paddington route then the trip will actually take longer.

 

For most of us, the biggest disincentive for travelling to London by train is not the length of time involved but the ridiculous cost of using what is laughingly called public transport.

 

You can argue that electrification investment is in itself symbolic – inasmuch that it is the physical rail line that needs upgrading – not the locomotive power source. You can equally make a case that few business decisions are based on the convenience of rail connections.

 

What should concern us all however is how this shabbily handled announcement apparently signals that long-standing government commitments are worthless. 

 

In this light, we must also ask if the ‘consolation prize’ of scrapping the Severn Bridge tolls will also be delivered as promised.

 

You can bet the same questions are being asked in a few board rooms right now.

 

 

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A trip back in time

 

In 1893, men wearing black armbands subjected Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to a torrent of vitriol for pushing detective Sherlock Holmes over the Reichenbach Falls. It is estimated that over 20,000 outraged readers cancelled their subsc

 

ription to the popular ‘Strand’ magazine in protest.

 

Such public outcry over a work of fiction is entirely laughable these days – unless, I suppose, you happen to be one of those rabid viewers who objects to the proposed ‘re-genderisation’ of Dr Who as a woman.

 

I saw the very first episode and have been a sort of intermittent fan ever since. I’ve also been treated by women doctors many times during the intervening years.

 

It strikes me as just a bit sad that the lead character in a television series enjoyed by generations should somehow be considered the last bastion of male influence.

 

Victorian thinking like that is surely a thing of the past.

 

 

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