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.

Network Rail’s Christmas problems reveal deeper faults

It’s been a bad month for Network Rail. High profile failures over Christmas at King’s Cross and Paddington, followed by problems at London Bridge, have put plenty of pressure on Mark Carne’s team.

London Bridge is in the middle of a massive improvement programme to deliver a better Thameslink service from 2018. With platforms closed for rebuilding, NR and the station’s train operators had already decided to cut services. (Thameslink trains diverted away and Southeastern services to Charing Cross no longer calling.) This proved inadequate against the crowds using the station in the first working week of January.

NR Route Managing Director Dave Ward told the BBC: “We need to step back and see exactly how we have got into this situation – what has caused this. We believed, and the execution of the works kind of proved it, that our plans were very tight and were very thorough. We’d been modelling this a number of times.”

He added: “We thought we would be presenting a new station and a new method of operation after several months of misery leading up to it and that hasn’t happened and I’m deeply regretful for it.”

As he spoke, NR was preparing to publish a report explaining what had gone wrong at Paddington and King’s Cross, were passengers were disrupted on December 27 2014. It duly arrived on January 12.

This report explained that at King’s Cross a plan to renew points at Holloway quickly went wrong when untried equipment proved faulty. Problems then snowballed with the result that drivers needed to move trains of ballast and other materials ran out of hours. No replacements could be found.

The report also revealed that a plan agreed between NR and train operators was not implemented by local staff. The plan should have seen long-distance trains arrive in Platform 4 to drop southbound passengers before shunting to Platform 5 to pick up northbound passengers. A local plan decided by station staff and signallers at King’s Cross box used only Platform 4, removing the shunt. However, this meant that passengers struggled to leave incoming trains because the platform was already full with those waiting to board.

NR suggests there was a “short term breakdown in communications in how to handle longer distance trains”. It doesn’t make clear whether the NR-TOC plan to use two platforms was not communicated to station staff and signallers or whether it was communicated and then changed locally.

Details are sketchy of the problems at Paddington with NR’s report failing to get to the bottom of why signal testing expected to take two hours actually took ten. Unlike at King’s Cross (where there was warning of 14 hours that the line would not open on time), there was no warning at Paddington.

Signal testing around Old Oak Common (OOC) was reported as finished at 0330 with First Great Western’s first long-distance train timetabled to leave Paddington at 0730. Testing was in the hands of NR’s contractor SSL (a joint venture of Alstom and Balfour Beatty). SSL had a significant overrun at Poole last May when resignalling the line to Wool. A report into this found that there had been no senior SSL management on site, that communications with NR had been poor and that NR’s and SSL’s project offices were geographically remote.

Remedial action was taken for OOC’s work but NR now admits that it was unlikely the Poole investigation found the root-causes of that overrun. Another review of Paddington beckons with NR’s report saying: “The work management processes of SSL that led to the incorrect conclusion that the signalling testing of the main lines was complete at 0330 will be thoroughly reviewed by SSL and Network Rail staff.”

Checks of paperwork supporting the testing showed there was more to do. This was both physical work that needed to be redone or rechecked and inconsistencies in the paperwork that needed to be resolved. What is absent from the report is any explanation of why work had to be redone and why there were inconsistencies.

It’s clear that NR’s planning and management needs to improve. Both project passed NR’s risk tests as being 95% likely to be completed on time. There’s no mention in the report whether those conducting these tests knew, for example, that the King’s Cross contractor was using untried kit.

There’s now likely to be pressure to allow projects to have more time to complete work. This could mean more weekend closures or more weekday blockades of lines. This is an option that TOCs and most passengers are unlikely to welcome but there should be a clear debate.

There must also be a debate about the level of work being done. With two major overruns in the last year, NR could be very tempted to drop SSL as a contractor. However, with only a handful of signalling contractors to choose from, and a massive amount of work looming, that option seems untenable.

So it is with experienced project managers. NR has a laudable apprentice programme and puts considerable effort into management training. Despite this, it’s seen key staff leave for other companies, such as HS2. Are we now seeing the effects of the long-talked-about skills shortage?

A shorter version of this article appeared in RAIL 766.

Goodnight European Sleepers

Passengers hurrying for an evening train on Friday December 12 at Paris Gare de l’Est were greeted with a small demonstration and speeches.

In the rain at the other end of the station’s Platform 5, a couple of photographers were turning their lenses towards SNCF electric locomotive 26162.

For this train was the final Paris-Munich sleeper service, axed from that night by operator Deutsche Bahn.

PIC1 Philip Haigh SNCF 26162 Paris-Munich sleeper Paris East 121214 IMG_0806

In pouring Parisian rain, SNCF 26162 prepares to leave with the 2005 sleeper service on December 12 2014. This was the service’s final departure. PHILIP HAIGH.

The train’s arrival in Bavaria’s capital the following morning went unremarked as bleary eyed passengers trudged towards the concourse in search of onward connections.

Aboard the train itself, there had been no wake – there was no bar or restaurant car – although I suspect a few couchette compartments were well stocked with beer and wine.

Sleeper services are shrinking all over Europe. Only in Britain do they appear to be thriving. And that’s in stark contrast to the situation a decade ago when Europe’s services were thriving and Britain’s in decline.

Since then, there’s been a successful campaign to save the Cornish Sleeper. Indeed, it can now be hard to book a berth on this train. Scotland’s sleeper trains are set to be improved with new stock and considerable investment.

For long-distance travellers, sleeper services make good use of time. Board in one city and wake up the next morning in another. The decline of the European network pushes people towards short-haul flights from Paris to Berlin, for example, if their time is valuable.

Despite DB withdrawing such City Night Line trains, the company’s website was still promoting the sleeper concept a couple of weeks later: “With City Night Line, you get a good night’s sleep and wake up fresh at your destination the next morning. When you travel by City Night Line, you can be sure of a comfortable and pleasant journey whether you are planning a short break, visiting friends or family, or taking a business trip.”

Why then have the trains been axed? Those following their fate closely suggests that it’s a combination of European Union pressure to put railways on a commercial and competitive footing. Writing in November, EU blogger Jon Worth said: “The story about why this is happening is a complicated one, but at its core is the change in the nature of Europe’s railways – from being public services with a public ethos, to competitive, profit making businesses. The EU itself is behind this change, forcing railways to separate their networks from their operations to try to promote competition. This change has worked to a certain extent for rail freight, but when it comes to passengers it means long distance services that run only a couple of times a day, and are borderline profitable, become too complicated and cumbersome to operate and are cut from the timetables. Track access charges – the cost to a rail company to run a service on a neighbouring country’s tracks – are often cited as the reason.”

It seems no-one is really interested in making international sleeper trains work and there’s no organisation that can effectively lobby for them.

Keith Barrow in an IRJ blog commented: “In this shifting landscape, overnight services seem to have been largely forgotten. It seems ironic that while the European Commission ploughs billions of euros into developing cross-border rail infrastructure, international links are being quietly curtailed because there is no common vision for their continued operation. This flies in the face of EU policy on modal shift and carbon reduction, effectively forcing rail passengers onto short-haul flights.”

The European Passengers’ Federation (no, I’d not heard of it either) briefly mentioned CNL services in its December bulletin saying: “An independent fact-finding study should be commissioned on the economics of international night trains and their social and economic benefits, as the first step towards improving them.”

Too little and too late. Now the trains have gone, I can’t see them returning. Europe is the poorer for its lost international night trains.

This article first appeared in RAIL 765.

Deep under London with Crossrail

John Zammit

Platform tunnels at the new Crossrail Bond Street station. The 260 metre long platforms run parallel to and around 100 metres to the south of Oxford Street. From 2018, 220,000 passengers are expected to use Bond Street’s London Underground and Crossrail station every day. The walls of these tunnels are constructed using sprayed concrete rather than the ring segments used in the running line tunnels. CROSSRAIL.

John Zammit

Machinery at work in the new platform tunnels for Liverpool Street station. Crossrail is building over 1.5 kilometres of platform and pedestrian tunnels. They are over 40 metres below ground level. CROSSRAIL.

John Zammit

Tunnelling machine Elizabeth at Whitechapel station. The 150- metre long, thousand tonne machine is one of eight used on Crossrail. With almost 90% of tunnelling complete, Elizabeth is one of just two machines still operational. The first machines started work at Royal Oak, west of Paddington, in 2012 and drove eastwards to Farringdon which is also the destination for Elizabeth. CROSSRAIL.

Robby Whitfield

This is Farringdon. When it opens in 2018, it will be a very busy station with an estimated 90,000 daily passengers. The station will be an interchange with Thameslink (London’s north-south heavy rail link) and with London Underground. This could lead to  150,000 using the interchange. CROSSRAIL.

John Zammit

These are some of the platform tunnels at Tottenham Court Road station. Alongside TfL’s upgrade of the existing Tube station, Crossrail is building a new station the length of three football pitches, four storeys below ground. Crossrail estimates that 200,000 passengers will use the new station when it opens in 2018. CROSSRAIL.

Terry Mahoney

The concrete segments show this tunnel to be for trains. It’s at Paddington and shows were the team building the station have broken into the running tunnel in order to complete the station. It lies next to Paddington’s main line station which was built by Brunel.It is being built under Eastbourne Terrace and will be 250 metres long and 30 metres wide. Daily passengers are expected to reach 70,000. Crossrail services run in open air from just west of Paddington as they serve Reading and Heathrow Airport. CROSSRAIL.

Radio 4’s Today – It’s a visual thing

I’ve stared into the eyes of the inquisitor-in-chief. For five minutes earlier this morning, all the separated me from John Humphrys were a couple of microphones and the desk from which BBC Radio 4 broadcasts its flagship Today.

He treated me gently. I’m not a government minister and I don’t qualify as a ‘guilty party’ in the great High Speed 2 debate. That’s probably just as well.

Nevertheless, anyone appearing on Today needs their wits about them. The programme is serious. It sets the day’s agenda. That said, there is room for humour. Presenter Justin Webb forgot what day of the week it was (only Monday, I’m afraid) as he wrapped up an interview about chess with Dominic Lawson.

Then it was High Speed 2. And High Speed 3, the mooted trans-Pennine route that promises much reduced journey times between the great cities of Northern England. Or at least between Manchester and Leeds. Sheffield is sometimes mentioned but I’ve heard little about that other great city, Bradford.

Humphrys suggested that high-speed rail was not needed with today’s modern telecommunications. Business could be done over the phone, he argued. Certainly it can. But we humans still need to see people. To eyeball them. It’s how we tell if someone’s honest, above board, telling the truth. Radio interviews can be done ‘down the line’ and they often are. Indeed that was how Humphrys had earlier quizzed HSR report author David Higgins.

However, the best interviews are done face-to-face. It exposes a wider range of emotions. You know if someone’s looking at their notes all the time. You can see if they look evasive. It works the other way too. An interviewee can see if their arguments are making sense – can see if they’re winning.

It might be radio but it’s all very visual.

Brunel’s Paddington Loco Shed

Crossrail’s archaeologists don’t just dig up ancient skeletons from plague pits in the City of London, they also cover more recent events. Witness their dig just west of Paddington station that uncovered the remains of an early Great Western Railway locomotive depot.

It came complete with inspection pits and a turntable pit – the second that’s been excavated in recent years, with Network Rail’s discovery of York South depot’s pit a couple of years ago.

Crossrail reckons the uncovered remains date from around 1850, when the GWR still used broad-gauge tracks. (They were converted to standard gauge by 1896.) The depot was demolished in 1906 which was a time when the GWR was hugely expanding its London facilities.

Hamish McDougall

An inspection pit from Brunel’s Westbourne Park locomotive shed. CROSSRAIL.

Old Oak Common depot dates from this time and is still used by First Great Western. Crossrail itself took over the locomotive part of the depot, demolishing the remaining turntable (once one of four) in order to build a factory to make concrete tunnel lining segments. Also dating from 1906 are the impressive girder bridges that cross main line on its approach to Paddington.

At Westbourne Park, the 45-ft diameter turntable pit dates from the 1881/2 while the engine shed and workshops are slightly earlier, being built in 1852/3. Crossrail says the engine shed was 202 metres long (not that the GWR was a metric organisation) and had four roads with inspection pits along the full length.


The remains of the turntable at Westbourne Park. CROSSRAIL.

Crossrail Lead Archaeologist Jay Carver said: “Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s Great Western Railway is the most complete early mainline railway in the world. Whenever we expose parts of the original infrastructure it is vital to record these for posterity and the history of rail in this country. Using the latest 3D scan technology provides a permanent and accurate model Brunel’s distinctive architectural legacy.”

The shed is soon to be covered over because Crossrail plans to use the site for turn-back sidings. The area will also include a replacements bus depot and concrete batching plant.



Rail freight terminal for Radlett

So Radlett is to receive a rail freight terminal.

About time too. Its planning application has been wending its way through a tortuous process for most of the last ten years. It’s been five years since a public inquiry considered the matter.

Close to St Albans, the facility will be able to supply London and the South East and strengthen rail freight’s place in Britain’s economy. It should also make it easier to switch freight from road to rail.

As a country, we are very poor at using rail freight to distribute goods. Sure, we shift plenty of coal and containers but rail is badly placed to penetrate city centres.

It was not always like this. Take a look at an old map of King’s Cross in London and marvel at the extensive freight facilities just north of the passenger station. (Indeed, you can go one better and walk round them as they enter a new lease of life with a fashion college and other facilities). Just a little bit west, the British Library occupies the site of Somers Town goods yard, which was another extensive facility.

Fast forward to a recent demonstration by Colas Rail of modern freight distribution. An electric locomotive hauled converted motorail wagons from Daventry to Euston late one night. From there, the roll cages aboard could transfer to lorries for the last mile to surrounding shops. Given recent advances in electric vehicle technology, it’s not impossible to picture fleets of electric lorries silently gliding this last mile.

Euston might be much-maligned as a station but it’s one of very few left that retain road access to the platform edge. We should think very carefully about removing this facility as plans to redevelop the station for HS2 take shape.


Railway unions

Rail unions have an important role to play in representing thousands of workers across a variety of companies. They must be able to speak out – sometimes bluntly and sometimes to the discomfort of others.

However, with that right comes a dose of responsibility to speak without excess exaggeration. To my mind, RMT Acting General Secretary Mick Cash failed this test when he spoke in advance of Network Rail’s £53 million fine for Network Rail for missing performance targets.

Cash said: “The public need to be aware of the brutal fact that the fifty million pound performance fine expected to be levied on Network Rail this week will come straight out of safety critical maintenance and renewals budgets and diverted into the pockets of the greedy private train companies to finance wifi services on their trains. Safety and reliability on the tracks will be compromised with the rip-off train companies once again getting a free ride. This is a total con trick instigated by the Government that will come back to haunt the travelling public.”

I can’t see his rhetoric being at all helpful. That he’s exaggerating is clear when you consider that the fine is just 0.3% of NR’s maintenance and renewals budget of £17.4bn over the next five years. Further context comes from NR’s results for the 2013/14 year where the company returned a profit after tax of £1,256m, which the company said was all reinvested.

I’m not convinced by Cash’s claim of rip-off train companies. It’s generally accepted that profit margins for train operating companies are around 3%. For example, Stagecoach’s preliminary results for 2013/14 reveals a UK rail operating margin of 2.7%. This compares with 14.6% for its regional bus business. If there’s a public transport “rip-off” then I don’t think it’s from train operators.

Cash can be critical of NR and he can be critical of the company being fined for poor performance but his recent comments make former General Secretary Bob Crow sound like the voice of moderation.


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.

An afternoon with Parliament’s Transport Select Committee

When Gwyneth Dunwoody chaired Parliament’s Transport Select Committee she used to favour the rooms along an upstairs corridor in the Houses of Parliament themselves.

These rooms were cramped and they were hot in summer. Witnesses, journalists and visitors, perhaps even MPs too, would sweat as Dunwoody probed and questioned through a sticky, summer afternoon.

Thankfully, today’s chairman, Louise Ellman, favours the air-conditioned comfort of Portcullis House and so it was on Monday 9 June that a handful of MPs and others gathered in the Grimond Room to hear Mark Carne answer questions.

It was the Network Rail chief executive’s first appearance and I reckon he got the better of his inquisitors. He wasn’t knocked off balance by any of the questions and by the end of the session Louise had lost six of her committee who upped-sticks at various points through the 75-minute quiz.

Norwich North MP Chloe Smith opened a line of questioning about the performance of contractors and NR’s confidence in them in the light of a recent engineering overrun at Colchester. It elicited a response about NR’s move towards longer-term alliances and better investment in people. It’s a shame there was no follow-up question about contractors’ skills shortages, particularly in signalling and overhead line engineering because both are areas in which NR has large volumes of work planned over the next five years.

Carne spoke also of the need to work closely with train operators and his view that more work should be done in long blockades rather than piecemeal over weekends and nights. This is an area the MPs would have done well to probe in more detail. None appeared to know the saga of Watford Junction’s track and signalling renewals.

NR announced last summer that Watford Junction would close for 16 days over 9-25 August in a move that would sever the key West Coast Main Line (albeit during the slightly quieter summer holidays). This would then be followed by work over Christmas, over 14-22 February 2015 and 3-6 April 2015 (Easter). When this plan was revealed, no-one I asked could explain how services and passengers would work around the blockade.

It struck me that the announcement had come before the plan was properly worked through and probably before train operators had agreed to it. This feeling was reinforced when NR subsequently dropped the long blockade in favour of three weekends of work in August, followed by Christmas, Easter and two further weekends.

So Carne’s words about moving more towards work in blockades and closer liaison with train operators were open to challenge, had the Transport Committee members been suitably well-informed. (As an aside, the Office of Rail Regulation said way back in June 2008: “Network Rail believes – and we and the industry agree – that its strategy of depending so heavily on long possessions is no longer acceptable. Users need a railway which better meets customer requirements for travelling at weekends and late in the evening.”)

The MPs also appeared confused about the difference between emergency repairs and planned improvements. Why, asked Jason McCartney, could money not be found to remove bottlenecks on the network in the same way money was found to repair Dawlish (where the track and sea wall was washed away in last winter’s storms). “Are you able to do it with other projects?” he asked.

Carne had already explained that half of the money to repair Dawlish has come from insurance and the other half from NR resources. He had also explained that it’s government that decides where to make improvements from options drawn up by NR, having decided how much it’s willing to spend on railways.

“We can’t de-bottleneck a complete railway line and change our five-year investment plans because we’ve had one series of particular issues,” Carne said.

NR’s chief executive had earlier told MPs that his company was modelled on ordinary FTSE companies when it came to its governance, that is, he reported to the chairman and there was an overall board of executive and non-executive directors.

All true of course but NR is also a not-for-profit company created by the government and from September, it’s debts will count as government debts. So having modelled itself on a FTSE company, it can’t complain at the headlines that followed its Annual Report publication later that same week. According to Engineering and Technology Magazine it was ‘Network Rail profits soar as punctuality falls’.

Yet NR’s income and spending is regulated and so the concept of profits is rather flawed in this context. NR explained its 86% increase in profits after tax to £1,256 million as the result of “accounting gains on hedging instruments” (£304m) and a tax credit of £221m (up from a tax charge of £70m the year before).

The annual report revealed that performance had fallen from 90.9% to 90% which the company explained as being the result of a million more train services running each year compared with a decade ago. That may well be the case but NR has also seen its network hugely improved to cope with this increase in trains.

NR missed its five-year long-distance targets last April, managing 86.9% instead of the required 92.0%. It should find the next five years easier, having convinced the Office of Rail Regulation to scale back its target for 2014-19 to 88% public performance measure (PPM) for East Coast, Virgin West Coast and First Great Western’s long-distance trains. The overall target to be reached for all trains by March 2019 is 92.5% on time.

I had a flashback to Iain Coucher’s time running Network Rail when Carne deflected MPs’ questions about NR’s governance and structure by asking: “What’s broken? What needs to change?” This was exactly Coucher’s line when he answered similar questions and yet since then, the railway has seen McNulty’s major report about costs and reform and then the formation of the Rail Delivery Group to combat the feeling that the railway was not joined-up.