14 February 2009

Not so Super Express

"good news for passengers that we are taking the steps necessary to improve their rail journeys.”

Further reading:

RailNews UK

Christian Woolmar

HST Leaving Plymouth 21 April 2008 from ToRnAtlc07 You Tube.

It seemed like a great good news story when the government proudly announced that a new fleet of high speed trains was being introduced initially on the East Coast main line but then on the Great Western main line “in the south-west of England”. The new trains will be cleaner, greener and generate less noise than those they will replace. Even more good news was the promise that “2500 jobs would be created “ and also “A further 10,000 jobs would be secured as a knock-on effect” the DfT said.

Good news all round? eh no! For a start none of this is happening any time soon. The Great Western part is not planned to happen until 2015 and we all know how these big government projects slip in time anyway. It also seems clear that there is a lot of spin in the numbers of new jobs being ‘created’ with many suggesting that as few as 500 jobs might get created at most. Even the initial suggestion that the scheme is British led is clearly spin as its very much Japanese technology and design, just some assembly work in the UK - the inventor of the train!
It also seems that trains themselves are no better than the old HSTs they are replacing.
Described by the Department for Transport as Super Express trains, the new vehicles are in fact no faster than the 35-year old InterCity 125 – and have a top speed that is actually lower than the 140mph theoretical maximum of trains now on the east and west coast main lines. Some of the trains will be ‘Bi-mode’ The government argues that this will allow trains to keep running where the wires run out, but the small print suggests their performance will be worse than the trains they replace. A real step backwards!

Government rail experts working alongside the rail industry have created a new specification for these trains that will offer more seats, more reliable services and reduced journey times.” An example being a promised cut of 15 minutes to the current 2 hours 2 minutes between Cardiff and London. Sounds impressive - but way back in 1977 the journey only took 1 hour 45 minutes!

The government record on promised improvements is poor to say the least. Not just one, or two, but three consecutive secretaries of state for transport have promised us more carriages, yet the bulk of these have not even been ordered. And as a result of the Department for Transport's excessive micromanagement (they now have more control over the railways than in the days of British Rail) few of these carriages are due to arrive before the middle of the next decade.

Of course even if the trains are a bit late, and maybe not a brilliant as made out, and maybe even if there are not the number of British jobs promised then at least there will be an improvement in the end? Well not for Plymouth at least!
”South West England” as far as the government is concerned stops at Bristol!

Matthew Taylor, Truro and St Austell MP, says south west England will not benefit enough as the trains will only come as far as Bristol.
I am sure I will be covering this story a lot over the coming months (and probably years) but in the meantime there is plenty of time to go out and enjoy the sight and sound of the wonderful HSTs pulling out of Plymouth Station.

For a more detailed report of the story so far check out my extra page


  1. So the deployment plans for the new fleet have been entirely revealed to a Lib Dem MP eh? I assume that's why his word is taken as gospel on where the new trains will go.

    As for the "we invented trains!" - how many years has it been since we did trains best? Look up Andre Chapelon and you may well be surprised as to precisely how long British railways have been second-rate...

  2. The fact that the trains will not be coming down this far was covered by the govt announcement. I have just included the Lib Dems quote as his was really the only direct quote on the issue I could find. There is a vague promise that the lfeet might be exteneded beyond Bristol at some time in the future - ie well after 2015 as it stands at the moment.
    I do agree with your comment about second rate railways though. We did indeed invent them, but we have neglected them for years while others have continued to invest.


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