How many of us had a train set when we were young? How many of you still do? Did we all dream of running real trains instead of model ones? I mean, how hard can it be?
Greater Anglia announced this week that they are scrapping First Class on all its trains except Intercity on 1st Jan 2020. On the whole this has been warmly received as it should free up an additional 20% of standard seating on the new Aventra trains. Well, not exactly free up as they are not being built with First Class anyway! Compared to if they were, I guess. But whose decision actually was this? Abelio announced it, but are they scrapping it because they have been told to? Southeastern gave a clue to that last night, when they directed people asking about the future of First Class on Southeastern to the new Franchise details. The announcement of who is to operate the new Southeastern Franchise has been delayed, and I think I can see why - the document is VAST!!
Anyway, after a lot of searching I finally found the relevant paragraph regarding the future of 1st Class on Southeastern. It says "The Department requires a Franchisee that will remove First Class accommodation on all Passenger Services within 18 months of the Start Date. " So it's not the operator's choice, but a requirement of the franchise agreement, as directed by the Government. In fact, the entire operation is dictated by the franchise agreement. You wouldn't believe how complicated it is to say "run a few trains on time". I would also suggest that to understand every term and condition you would need one of the most highly trained and boring lawyers in existence, because to read through the "Invitation to Tender" makes Stephen Hawkins' A Brief History of Time look like Dear Deidrie! It ultimately leads to one question, a question as vast as the document itself - who, who in their right mind would want to operate a franchise so detailed and demanding it may as well say how many times a minute you can breathe!
The railway press are at pains to tell us ad nauseum that the Train Operating Companies don't make a huge profit. So why do they do it? Are they masochists who enjoy getting the stick every time something goes belly up? I cannot think of a more Hellish way of doing things. But the railways are privatised, you say - it's what we are told. Well yes I thought so too, but they're not. They are subcontracted. That's all it is. Subcontracted to operators who pay the government to do the government's dirty work. You've got to hand it to the government it's brilliant for them! They still get to call all the shots, from timetables to the seat qualities to train lengths yet the operator gets all the blame. Sir Humphrey pulled a blinder there!
I honestly don't know if my respect for the operators has gone up or down after reading that Invitation to Franchise. It certainly seems no decision is actually theirs, but at the same time who, in their right mind would enter into such an agreement unless there is more money than we know about, and after recent bailouts for Abelio and Virgin I'm not sure there is. Anyway, if you're stuck for something to do over the next few days - not much going on I know - take a look at this Invitation to Tender. It might make you look at our railway industry in a different light. British Rail? Still alive and kicking I think, and re-nationalisation would change very little except the government having to put its own name to things, instead of the franchisee whipping boys. You can read the document here.
Speaking of train sets do you remember the excitement of getting a new loco, carefully taking it out of the box and laying it on the tracks, ready to go? Sadly that doesn't happen with real trains, and despite the 4th Class 755 Flirt arriving at Norwich yesterday it will still be a good 6 months or so before they enter service. Greater Anglia have helpfully put out a post explaining why, which you can read here.
A couple of bus notices - it was in the news today that after 3,000 subsidised routes having been cut since 2010 the number of bus journeys being taken has fallen. How they reached that conclusion I'll never know....
Secondly Stagecoach have announced they are pulling the plug on their US operations, which includes Megabus. They have taken a big hit too financially. I'll be interested to know what our resident North Carolina reader, Norfolk Boy thinks of this!
This will be the last post before Christmas, but over Christmas I'll be posting my fantasy Utopian Transport System post, which I'm sure will have the trolls frothing at the mouth! So to all my genuine readers thank you for another year, hopefully there will be a bit more to write about next year, and I wish you and your loved ones a great Christmas, and a blinding 2019.