RAIL 800: No winners unless GTR and unions reach a settlement

Strikes are a battle of wills. Each side has its determination tested. That’s been clear with the government’s argument with doctors. It’s clear in the argument between Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) and its drivers and conductors.

GTR wants to introduce more Driver Only Operation (DOO) trains from this summer and it started with bringing new 12-car Class 387s to Gatwick Express (GEx) services. This would remove conductors from trains and likely substitute them with what GTR is calling on-board supervisors. They would look after passengers, check tickets but no longer operate doors, with that duty falling to drivers, as it has on GEx since 1999 and does on other GTR 12-car trains. The conductors’ union, the RMT, is against these plans and is striking following a ballot that recorded 306 yes votes, 14 no votes and one spoilt ballot paper.

Drivers’ union ASLEF is also battling plans but its instructions to drivers not to work GEx DOO trains was blocked by a High Court injunction.

Each side of the dispute is doing its best to stiffen the resolve of their people and weaken the opposition. Letters from RMT General Secretary Mick Cash to his members end with the exhortation: “Stand Firm, The Strike Goes On, Support the Strike.” He used capitals throughout for further emphasis.

Meanwhile, GTR Chief Executive Charles Horton told conductors that they would lose two days’ pay and would not be paid at all until they returned their Govia travel passes (Govia is GTR’s parent company) for them and their families and their car park permits. He wrote to them: “You are not entitled to pick and choose the days that you do work. Please understand that the company is entitled to refuse to accept part performance of any week in which you do not work normally and is entitled to refuse to pay you anything for any week in which you do not work normally for that entire week.”

The unions need passenger support to continue their action. GTR needs government support. GTR is running the combined Thameslink, Southern (including GEx) and Great Northern (TSGN) franchise under a management contract from the Department for Transport. This means GTR passes all its revenue directly to the government and is paid a fee to run the service. GTR has struggled since it took over in September 2014, not least because of Network Rail’s problems rebuilding London Bridge station. The poor industrial relations do little to enhance GTR’s reputation.

Yet it appears to have government support. Back in February, the Croydon Advertiser reported on a residents’ meeting called by local MP Gavin Barwell at which DfT Rail Passenger Services Director Peter Wilkinson spoke. The paper reported him saying: “Over the next three years we’re going to be having punch ups and we will see industrial action and I want your support.” He is reported as saying of staff: “They can’t afford to spend too long on strike and I will push them into that place… They will have to decide if they want to give a good service or get the hell out of my industry.”

Although he later apologised for causing any offence, it was a clear statement that he intended to take on the unions.

The unions’ reaction was predictable. ASLEF General Secretary Mick Whelan wrote to Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin to suggest that Wilkinson’s position was untenable: “You may aware that during this meeting Mr Wilkinson was reported as describing train drivers as ‘muppets’ who earned £60,000 for working three days a week. He was also reported as saying that drivers still had the same rest stops as they did during the era of steam trains. I am sure you will appreciate that these statements are completely untrue. I have no doubt a man of Mr Wilkinson’s experience must have known this himself.”

The RMT’s efforts to convince passengers of its cause came with a very long open letter from conductors on April 24. Against a backdrop of the union urging its Southern conductors not to sign up for GTR’s new grade of on-board supervisor, the letter claims that there will be no-one onboard to help passengers. It said: “During normal operation there will be no one there to help customers with the issues that conductors deal with every day on their behalf. This ranges from customers who require help because they are taken unwell or who feel threatened and vulnerable through to customers who just require help purchasing a ticket or travel advice for their onward journey.” By the union’s own admission, this is not the case. It weakens their argument.

The letter also argues that the on-board supervisors will not be able to help passengers because they will be too busy dealing with faredodgers. “Due to working alone they will not deal with individuals who resist payment. The focus will be on penalising honest customers who are prepared to pay,” the letter said. Yet conductors today work alone and have to deal with faredodgers.

The union says that passengers want a second person on board trains. I believe they do. But I don’t think passengers particularly care whether that person operates the doors or not. It seems to me more likely that on-board supervisors will merit a lower grade for pay than conductors (although I’d expect grandfather rights to apply to conductors transferring over so they don’t see a cut in pay). Passengers complain about poor value for money for tickets. This should force the railway to closely examine its costs. Writing in the current Rail Review about the railway’s current situation, senior railwayman Michael Holden said: “We haven’t tackled the high cost base of the industry. My sister worked in the NHS all her life, and for the past few years they have been under immense pressure to save money in every direction. Do we see this pressure in our railways today? No we don’t – not at all, if we’re frank.”

Holden suggests that there’s a pressing need either to improve labour productivity and/or reduce the net cost of each unit of labour.

Rail salaries are much higher than at privatisation, at all levels. Drivers have done very well (as have senior managers) yet there are still train operators cancelling trains on Sundays because they have no drivers to work them. By all means pay drivers well but the industry made a major mistake in not shifting to true seven-day operation in return. Indeed, paying drivers well reduces their incentive to volunteer to work on Sundays.

It’s a messy situation that the railway companies and government have allowed to grow by ducking it. I can’t blame the unions for making the most of it on their members’ behalf. Talks must find an answer. 12-car trains will run and the industry must tackle its labour costs. There are risks. The unions risk a deal dividing them if the drivers accept something the conductors don’t like. Indeed, there are risks for the drivers. They claim 12-car DOO trains are unsafe, yet they drive them already. Should the accept more money in return for agreement, they could be accused of putting money before safety.

For the train operators and government, they risk protests from passengers, although, for a company like GTR, a large proportion of their passengers have little choice but to use trains to and from work.

 

This article first appeared in RAIL magazine on May 11 2016. For more about the magazine see railmagazine.com

Will we ever see Eurostar’s Channel Tunnel monopoly end?

I wonder it we will ever see an alternative to Eurostar providing all passenger rail services through the Channel Tunnel?

I had great hopes that DB might provide some competition after the company brought an ICE train to St Pancras. But that was back in 2010 and the idea seems dead now.

I can’t see much encouragement coming from the European Commission’s decision to allow French state railway SNCF to take control of Eurostar following the British government’s sale of its 40% share. SNCF’s takeover does come with conditions which include it offering Eurostar peak paths to new entrants on a “fair and non-discriminatory” basis if those new entrants cannot gain paths through the usual procedures.

DB never even got as far as bidding for paths, having become stymied in the safety processes surrounding the Channel Tunnel itself. These processes are also under French state control, hence my scepticism that a second operator while ever be permitted to run international trains to and from London using the tunnel.

I have no problem with prospective operators having to demonstrate that their trains will be sufficiently safe to use the tunnel. I just wish that road hauliers were subject to a similarly strict regime, given that it has been burning lorries that have caused all the major damage to the tunnel since it opened in May 1994.

This article first appeared in RAIL 775, published in May 2015.

Network Rail chairman talks cars at National Railway Museum dinner

Richard Parry-Jones talked cars at last week’s National Railway Museum 40th anniversary dinner, warning the assembled railwaymen that cars were closing the gap on rail’s environmental advantage.

Parry-Jones has had a distinguished career in the motor industry so he knows his stuff when it comes to cars. He talked of the latest technology from Volvo in autonomous cars. He talked of the improvements in computing power that sit behind the switch to autonomy and said it could benefit rail operators. There should be fewer level crossing collisions, he reckoned, because the car would know that a train was approaching and refuse to obey any driver’s command to move onto the crossing.

He reminded his audience that cars intervening in their drivers’ actions is nothing new – it started with ABS braking.

NR’s chairman predicted a change in the way we own and use cars. He reckoned we would shift to car hire by the hour, noting the very poor utilisation of cars at the moment. Today’s rail commuter might drive to their local station where their car would sit for the next nine hours. It might spend even longer idle every night. For an expensive object, he’s right to say that represents poor use. Trains certainly work much harder even if not every seat is occupied on every journey.

Autonomous car hire by the hour could see commuters catching a car to their station before a train to work, he suggested. This is fine but the companies owning these fleets of cars would have the same problem that rail companies have today. That’s very high asset use during peak times and then idleness for the rest of the day. How much of the costs of that idleness do they factor into the peak journey price?

For rail, Parry-Jones suggested that increasing computing power would lead to ‘atomisation’. Best described as a modern version of ‘slip coaches’ this would see trains split into constituent vehicles before being sent to their final destinations. Each self-powered vehicle could be controlled to its destination while the rest of the train carried on. I can see how this might work, even with points switching the vehicle into a bay platform to allow the next train to pass unhindered.

The opposite is slightly more challenging. ‘Re-atomisation’ would be a series of controlled collisions between vehicles moving at speed. It happens on space stations I suppose but it’s a very new concept for railways to consider!

Class 319s come to Northern England

Let’s welcome Northern’s newest electric train fleet to service. And welcome its oldest fleet into use.

For they are the same. Northern’s Class 319s entered passenger traffic with that operator on March 5 2015 but they were built in 1990, making them older than the operator’s other electric trains – the ‘321/9s’ of 1991, the ‘323s’ of 1992-96 and the youthful ‘333s’ built over 2001-03.

Perhaps that’s to pick hairs. The ‘319s’ are now working between Liverpool Lime Street and Manchester Airport via the newly electrified Chat Moss route.

Northern 319 Liverpool 050315

Northern 319362 waits in Platform 1 at Liverpool Lime Street on March 5 2015. This was the day ‘319s’ entered service between Liverpool and Manchester Airport. PHILIP HAIGH.

For the time being they are working to timings set for Sprinter diesel trains but that may change in the future. My journey on March 5 suggested the ‘319s’ are quicker off the mark than the diesels but owner Porterbrook lists the acceleration of ‘319s’ as “unknown” making comparisons difficult.

If the ‘319s’ can stretch their legs, their 100mph maximum speed is above the 90mph limit that applies for a good part of the Chat Moss route. By contrast, the ‘150’ and ‘156’ Sprinters are 75mph.

Northern Managing Director Alex Hynes told me that he was not sure whether quicker journeys would follow but said ‘319’ timings would be used when they had more information with which to calculate them.

According to the Northern Electrification Task Force, the new trains provide no increase in capacity when replacing a four-car diesel formation in the peak and add costs to off-peak services that do not need four cars.

The task force adds more generally of prospective northern electric services: “The units so far identified have very poor acceleration and so there will be few benefits from faster journeys due to the frequent stops which characterise the local services in the north and the significant gradients on some routes – these trains have worked predominantly outer suburban routes in flat country.”

Of the ‘319s’ themselves, they still have that deep whine on starting. Their external doors rattle and bang. Internally, their refurbishment looks good with recovered seats and new floor coverings. They’ve kept the 3+2 seating layout. They are a step forward. Let’s hope Northern makes the most of them, not least by transferring redundant diesel units to other routes than need extra capacity.

New trains show the railway’s progress

There’s nothing like new trains for showing visible progress in modernising a railway.

New signalling passes most passengers by and there’s not much a following for new lifts and escalators. New trains are another matter!

Passengers on all but one of London Underground’s sub-surface lines now enjoy the air-conditioned comfort of S-Stock now that the last of the ageing C-Stock has been withdrawn. The latest of the S-Stock – S-7 – is running on parts of the District Line, having already entered service on the Circle and the Hammersmith & City Lines.

Its longer variant, S-8, has been running on the Metropolitan Line for a couple of years, displacing A-Stock and sending these Sheffield-built trains to the scrapyard.

The Victoria Line also has modern trains, introduced from 2009 and, like the S-Stock, built by Bombardier in Derby. Those for the Jubilee Line date from the late-1990s, as do the Northern Line’s, with the Central Line’s stock from earlier in that decade.

This all makes the trains used by Bakerloo and Piccadilly Line passengers very old. The Bakerloo’s stock is the wrong side of 40, while the Piccadilly’s – which serves Heathrow Airport – is approaching that anniversary.

Both lines should see new trains at some point in the future as part of London Underground’s ‘New Tube for London’ project which also includes the Central and Waterloo & City Lines.

Transport for London’s latest investment report describes the project thus: “The programme provides a unique opportunity for LU to deliver long-term business transformation by introducing LU to efficient maintenance models and higher levels of automation. Technology-enabled change and asset renewals will enhance the customer experience and improve the operating and maintenance model of the ‘Deep Tube’ lines, creating a paradigm shift for the future operating and business model of LU.”

Cutting through this tortuous management speak, it seems to point to driverless trains that can also inspect tracks as they pass, which removes the need for drivers (but probably keeping a crew member on the train as happens on Docklands Light Railway) and gangers to inspect tracks when no trains run, although repair teams will still be needed.

Obstacle detection trials continue, providing further evidence of the move towards driverless trains. TfL expects to issue an Invitation to Tender this coming December.

New trains also feature in the next c2c franchise (is it too much to hope a new name might appear?) that begins in November and runs to 2029.

Franchisee National Express is promising another 68 carriages while the DfT said it was 17 brand new trains. The figures equate to the same thing but NX’s version could make one think that today’s trains were being lengthened rather than the DfT’s expansion of the overall fleet.

c2c today operates 74 Class 357 four-car EMUs, all first-generation Electrostars built by Bombardier. Such trains are no longer built so the operator is destined to run a mixed fleet from 2019 onwards. By this time the ‘357s’ will be approaching their 20th birthday. Perhaps we might then see a gradual replacement to give c2c a new fleet with the ‘357s’ cascaded elsewhere but I’m told this does not feature in the company’s thinking.

It plans to refurbish its current fleet and alter some to make them more effective for inner-suburban ‘metro’ traffic. Combined with new trains, this will give c2c three sub-fleets.

Other eye-catching features of the new deal include automatic compensation for passengers on trains more than two minutes late. These passengers will doubtless need some form of smart card for the automatic aspect of the compensation to work.

The operator is also to switch to a new performance measure. Late trains will be classed as anything over one minute behind rather than five minutes. c2c’s target will be 90% on time by this new measure. The operator is usually at or around the top of the performance table. As I write this at the end of a morning peak, it has delivered 84 out of 84 trains to destination ‘on time’ in the five-minute measure.

Spokesman Chris Atkinson tells me that the latest four-week period saw a record 88% of trains on time by Network Rail’s ‘right-time’ definition of within 59 seconds of timetable. “We can’t sit back and let nature take its course” was his conclusion of the switch to the new 90% target.

More c2c services will run to Liverpool Street, rather than the route’s traditional Fenchurch Street terminus. Liverpool Street should have more space once many of its inner-suburban services are switched to Crossrail. To reach Liverpool Street, c2c trains will call at Stratford for Westfield shopping centre (NX says a quarter of weekend trains will go this way). Stratford also provides a link to Crossrail and so make it easier for residents along the Tilbury and Southend route to reach central London or Heathrow.

Poor work at Peterborough

I was back in Peterborough the other day to help make sure Steam Railway magazine reached the printers on time. The trip gave me a chance to have a look at the recently completed improvements, including new platforms, that the city’s station now boasts.

Taken as a whole, the station is far, far better than the one at which I arrived in 1997 take up my job on RAIL – issue 308, not that I’ve been counting! Yet the detail of some of the work smacks of a rushed finish that’s still not been tidied.

The photographs show what I mean – cement spilled onto platforms, corrugated cable pipes poking from surfaces are just a couple of the problems I saw. It seems a shame to spoil such good work in this way.

Yes, perhaps I’m being picky. And yes, perhaps some of the older bits of the station are in worse condition but it’s the fact that something new is like this. It won’t improve with age, it will just deteriorate.

 

PIC1 Philip Haigh Peterborough station IMG_0378

 

Peterborough Platform 3 boasts a new waiting shelter but the quality of the finish leaves something to be desired. East Coast told me this work was on the snagging list for its contractor.


PIC2 Philip Haigh Peterborough station IMG_0381

Messy cables and ducting detract from the improvements at Peterborough station.

Little change for East Coast Main Line franchise

In terms of destinations, the East Coast Main Line franchise today is pretty much the same as when GNER took over from British Rail in 1996. The new company added Skipton, and Bradford has been dropped but from King’s Cross it’s still chiefly Leeds and Edinburgh to which East Coast trains run. (Recent operators have also retained BR’s timetable habit of dispatching hourly Tyne Valley trains just minutes before a London train arrives!)

It’s true that frequencies have been increased and so many more trains are running, with many more passengers travelling, but the drive towards clock face timetables has all but extinguished of providing more regional towns and cities with direct links to London.

Lincoln’s service is a vestige of what was promised and the wealthy spa town of Harrogate still only  has one daily train each way. It’s been left to open access operators such as Hull Trains and Grand Central to push the boundaries of East Coast Main Line services, obstructed all the way by government and incumbent franchisee.

The range of EC services should now be changing with the release of the Department for Transport’s invitation to tender for the next EC franchise, to start on March 1 2015 and run for nine years. The ITT makes specific mention that bidders “may choose to serve” Huddersfield, Middlesbrough, Scarborough, Sunderland via Newcastle and Harrogate via York. (In the ITT, DfT tells bidders to assume that open access operations remain at current levels, which makes clear the government’s view of OA expansion.)

There is grand talk in the DfT’s 149-page document. Phrases such as “deliver consistently high standards”, “grow new markets, spread demand, increase seat utilisation, simplify ticketing” and “deliver sustainable, long term socio-economic benefits” all appear in DfT’s objectives for the new deal. It also calls for value for the taxpayer. This is the nub of the new deal – growing takes investment and that takes money away from government’s premium cheque, at least in the short-term.

The winner will need to introduce Hitachi’s IEP trains to the route and help Network Rail introduce ERTMS cab-signalling. It will also have to accede to NR’s expansionist station policy by transferring to direct NR control Newcastle and York stations.

The DfT’s competition for the West Coast franchise collapsed in 2012 amid problems surrounding financial evaluation and risks. For East Coast bids, the ITT explains that they will be classed as financially a high-risk if “the ratio calculated in Sheet FO&C Row 152 of the Financial Templates (‘the Financial Ratios’) is projected to breach 1.050”. I asked DfT what this meant and it said: “Broadly this means that for every £1 of expected expenditure, the franchisee should have at least £1.05 of expected money coming in.”

Very Micawberish. Risk remains in the eye of the beholder. The DfT puts it like this: “Ultimately, the key factor in making risk adjustments will be the Department’s reasonable view of what constitutes the most credible financial outcome, taking into account all relevant information available to it.” I think that translates into: “If we don’t believe your figures, we’ll change them.”

 

RAIL 743 Stop & Examine

DB drops plans to run Channel Tunnel passenger trains

DB’s decision to drop plans to run international trains to London is a bitter blow to those promoting European rail travel.

With HS1 and the Channel Tunnel it should be simple to connect London with European cities beyond Paris and Brussels. DB’s experience shows that it is not.

When the company presented its ICE train to crowds of admirers at St Pancras back in 2010, DB showed style and bravura. For Germany, went the unsaid message, anything is possible. That was to hide the company’s essentially cautious nature. International services may have been a way into the UK market but the subsequent purchase of Arriva provided that for far less risk.

DB is now behind Alliance Rail’s expansionist open access ambitions. If they, like the international trains, prove too difficult then I will not be surprised to see DB pull out, just as it did with Wrexham, Shropshire and Marylebone Railway.

To return to the Channel Tunnel, if DB was ambitious and cautious at the same time, others did not cover themselves in glory. I was never convinced the Intergovernmental Commission was sufficiently active to encourage new entrants (although it did grant DB a licence last summer). As a result, the Channel Tunnel retains its own rules that are stronger than Euro-standard rules that pertain in more challenging tunnels.

As I covered the news story over the years following 2010, something was never right. DB would complain that the trains it had ordered from Siemens were late; Siemens would point out that DB had not ordered trains compliant with Channel Tunnel rules and then DB would blame further delays on problems with an Italian signalling system switch. Meanwhile, Eurostar ordered the same trains (albeit in longer formations) with the same signalling, seemingly without problems.

Germany’s plan was always ambitious. UK rules for passport checks made proposed operations much harder and added time to journeys. Splitting trains at Brussels to serve Amsterdam and Frankfurt added timetable risk. It left the proposal on a knife edge between the sub-four journeys needed to compete with air and financial ruin.

Eurostar presses on with its plans and is set to launch London-Amsterdam trains in December 2016. That’s great but I’d welcome another operator through the Channel Tunnel to keep Eurostar on its toes.

DB ICE visits St Pancras

Plan on ice. DB has dropped ambitious plans to link London with Frankfurt and Amsterdam. It launched the idea by bringing an ICE high-speed train to St Pancras on October 19 2010. PHILIP HAIGH.

 

 

A February night on SWT

After storm after storm, Christmas seems ages ago and yet rail staff in many parts of the country have been working above and beyond the call of duty since then.

Those most obviously affected are dressed in orange with hard hats. But we must not forget train crew whose rosters are changed, timetable planners who keep having to redo their work, and those managers who have to pull the whole show together. There will be plenty more jobs that I’ve not mentioned which have also been stretched.

February 14 was certainly a busy day with another storm tearing over Britain. I had to go to Salisbury and duly boarded SWT’s 1850 from Waterloo. All went well for the first hour, although I had noted an SWT ‘tweet’ part-way into my journey that warned against travel after 2000.

I was only 30 minutes away from ‘Sarum’ when my ‘159’ rolled to a halt at Overton station. There was a fallen tree ahead, we were quickly told. A little while later an Up train passed, which raised hopes. Unfortunately we then moved the same way, running ‘wrong road’ back to Basingstoke. We never made it, stopping somewhere – I couldn’t tell you where – with another tree on the line.

Meanwhile, the orange team had cleared the tree towards Andover so our driver changed ends and we headed west, to reach Whitchurch 169 minutes late.

More trees caused more delays and we were held outside Andover. Eventually we reached it, around four hours late, but only just! There were so many trains in Platform 2 that our six-car train had only its leading door at the platform.

Some passengers left for taxis, with one for Yeovil. No announcements revealed the plan for the rest of the journey and so it was another 45 minutes before Salisbury passengers were told to leave for a taxi. Seeing the row of ‘159s’ in the platform it became obvious we were never going to proceed beyond Andover but it would have been nice to have been told. Never mind, my planned 2020 arrival became after 0100.

So am I complaining? Not really. The railway and its staff have been through one of the toughest periods I can remember (worse at ground level than Hatfield’s aftermath I reckon). I salute them all for their efforts.

 

 

Reopening the ‘Withered Arm’

My old mate Andrew Roden made a sterling case in RAIL 742 for reopening the LSWR route through Okehampton to provide a diversion around Dawlish and its troubled sea wall.

However, both Dawlish and Okehampton rely on a single flood hotspot – Cowley Bridge Junction. Here, Network Rail erects water booms across the track whenever floods threaten so that it can protect signalling equipment. If the line here is blocked then Devon and Cornwall is cut-off, whether or not there’s a line through Okehampton or through Dawlish.

Perhaps a new cut-off between Rewe and Newton St Cyres station to avoid Cowley Bridge will help, as south-western stalwart Tony Berkeley suggests. With other improvements, this could cut 40 minutes from a journey to Cornwall, the peer comments.

 

 

Delayed on East Coast

Arriving at Newcastle station late last night for the 2115 to London, I was met with a departures board displaying an ominous ‘Delayed’. This was strange because the 2115 starts from Newcastle. The arrivals board gave no hint of any incoming service that might form the 2115.

Some ten minutes or so after its booked departure time, the board flicked from ‘Delayed’ to ‘Arrived’ but there was no train. An announcement revealed that my train was held north of Dunbar. It was stuck behind a freight train that had failed around three hours earlier.

With the help of Twitter and Realtime Trains, I discovered that the 2115 would be formed by East Coast’s 1830 Edinburgh-London, which was timetabled to leave Newcastle at 2015 but had been delayed by 227 minutes by the failed freight. It eventually arrived at Newcastle at 2359 to be cancelled and transform itself into the ‘2115’ and leave at 0003. Now running 168 minutes late, it lost more time to be 191 late at one point. London arrival would be 168 late at 0349, having made up most of the extra delay in the final couple of miles from Finsbury Park.

As happens all too often, passenger information was poor. I heard and saw nothing that would help passengers trying to reach London, while others for intermediate stations to York were directed to TPE’s 2156 Newcastle-Manchester.

National Rail Enquiries was little use. Its Twitter feed took three hours to reveal the failed train.

Finally, I wonder what thought Network Rail gave to Single Line Working around the failed train, using crossovers at Drem and Stenton.

A first class conundrum

At face value, it sounds simple to convert first class coaches into standard class to reduce congestion.

Think of first class and many will think of large seats arranged in pairs on one side of an aisle and singly on the other (so-called 2+1 seating). Trains used by commuters with first class, such as  Southeastern’s Class 375s, have their first class compartments arranged with pairs of seats either side of an aisle (2+2 seating). This is the same as in standard class which means that converting a compartment from first to standard yields few if any extra seats. More could be done be removing tables from standard class and using the space for extra seats.

If there’s little difference in seating capacity, there’s a bigger difference in fare. I’ll stick with my Southeastern theme and take a look at an annual season ticket from Bat & Ball station to London. In standard class, this will cost £3,208.00 (£6.68 per journey); in first class, it’s £4,812.00 (£10.02 per journey). So for Southeastern to convert its coaches it must accept lower fares revenue and, in turn, government will need to pay a higher subsidy to the company.

The problem is slightly different at First Great Western. Here the company has already converted one first class compartment of the diesel Turbo trains to standard class. It is now facing pressure to convert a 2+1 HST coach. But these HSTs are long-distance, inter-city trains that run to South Wales, Bristol and the West Country – all destinations for which classic first-class seating is needed. However, given its small and short fleet of Turbos, FGW is forced to use long-distance stock for commuters.

It’s a mix that doesn’t fit well. The answer for FGW is electrification and provision of 12-car electric multiple units as used into just about every other London terminus. Unfortunately, that answer is still some years away.