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Discussion in 'Miscellaneous Discussion' started by Aurum Noble, 1 July 2012.
took some snaps of SWR's EMUs at Waterloo yesterday
Today marked the Farewell GN 313 railtour and with a small NSE logo on the second man's window 313134 leads 313064 on 2R82 London Kings Cross to Royston at Alexandra Palace. https://wrrailwayphotography.zenfolio.com/p598177548/eda9b8894
Site update time.
Highlights being 66783 and 66789 in the South, the start of the leaf fall season, spoon to the coast, 313 farewell and 70000 running as a scrapped sister in Kent.
Comments are welcome
Nice to see the "Celebrity" 66's out and about!
I've seen three of them on my local departmental just need 66780 and 779 on it
East Kent Railway lost £15,000 worth of equipment today in a fire https://www.kentonline.co.uk/canter...oss-weve-lost-irreplaceable-artefacts-215331/
Not sure if allowed but I got a working Class 68 and 88 in TRAINZ
Brace yourselves, folks, this is going to be a long one. Some thoughts on WMR, with particular reference to my local line (Worcester-Stourbridge-Birmingham) and the current RMT strike -- I know it's not the only company being affected, but WMR is my local one so I'll concentrate on that. There just isn't room on Twitter for me to go into my feelings on this properly. I'll use spoiler-cuts to keep textwalling down to some kind of a sensible level!
Before I begin: this is primarily the view of an ordinary rail passenger. Yes, I do know a few people in various bits of the rail industry, but I'm not here to put their cases. In particular, it isn't reasonable to expect passengers to form opinions based on internal, non-public documents and information. So what you'll get here is an idea of how passengers like me feel, not necessarily a comprehensive study. Okay...
Spoiler: About WMR
It's an understatement to say that WMR is not massively popular among passengers right now. The May timetable change clearly didn't work at all well, and in chats with other people at stations/on trains the dreaded word "Northern" has come up unprompted more than once. People feel it's very unimpressive indeed that no-one at WMR seems to have seen the problems coming. We're hoping things will calm down a bit with the December timetable change, since I think most of us would rather have a slightly less wonderful timetable on paper if it has a slightly better chance of running in practice.
WMR itself has probably handled the strikes moderately well in terms of running its emergency timetable and the replacement buses between Kidderminster and Worcester. I haven't actually used it (using instead a scheduled bus to get to Worcester) but I think it's run okay. WMR's sister brand LNWR has done far, far worse. As I type this, for the third week running the Northampton services are nowhere near what was advertised, thanks to many drivers (Aslef, so not on strike as such) declining to cross RMT picket lines. You can debate the rights and wrongs of that action -- but after the first time, LNWR should have known it would happen again. And again. There's no excuse for LNWR just pretending it would be fine this week, when it clearly wasn't going to be.
Talking about the Stourbridge line specifically, there is irritation about what's seen as a deterioration of train provision itself. The gangwayed 172/2 and 172/3 DMUs are very well suited, but they keep getting scavenged by other parts of the WMR network and replaced by non-gangwayed 172/0s at best. Plenty of four-car services now consist of a two-car 170 with a couple of 153s stuck on the back. This is a big downgrade. The 170s are decent enough at off-peak, but they are horrible at peak times as there's way too little standing space. The 153s are over three decades old and a major backwards step from 172s in pretty much every way. They're not good enough, simple as that.
We do see signs up around the network promising "new trains", but until we hear specifics (exactly when, where and which classes) many people are deeply, deeply sceptical. Anyone who uses this line regularly will know that it has often felt like a poor relation, especially further out than Stourbridge. The 172s and the rebuilt Kidderminster station (which is months late but at least now taking shape) seemed to show this neglect would finally end. The 153s indicate the opposite.
The other area that desperately needs attention is the Sunday timetable. At times it can feel like parts of the rail industry haven't noticed the enormous changes in Sunday work, leisure and retail that have happened since the mid-1990s. You can't sensibly run a Sunday service today as though this was still the late-BR era -- and yet that sometimes seems how it is. West Midlands Trains needs to bite the bullet and negotiate new contracts that cover all services, seven days a week -- and spend the money that will take, not try to get it on the cheap. We can't have timetabled trains only running because of the outside-of-contract goodwill of staff. That caused all kinds of problems in Central Trains days and it's absurd it's still doing so in 2019.
Spoiler: About the RMT
Cards on the table here: I am a strong supporter of keeping what you might call "full-service guards" on trains. In other words, not just "a second member of staff" but a guard with the same responsibilities as now -- including regarding doors. However, I think the RMT leadership has been frankly pretty dire at putting its case to the public.
This piece in my local newspaper is a perfect example. Read the quote from Mick Cash near the bottom. The place to thank your members for standing "rock-solid and determined" is in an internal union newsletter. The impression given by putting it in the public one is that the RMT top brass is more interested in worker solidarity than anything else -- not a good look for a strike called to protest about what they see as a safety risk. It's simply poor tactics. The RMT does, if I'm honest, have a bit of a reputation for this, going right back to the days of Bob Crow and even Jimmy Knapp. It could really do with a better comms team.
The senior conductor quoted at length in the above article is a far better ambassador for the guards' cause than the RMT leadership. She explains clearly and without either being overly technical or patronising, why the simple yes/no answer to "Will there still be guards on trains?" doesn't actually get to the heart of the issue behind the current dispute. When I read what she says, it makes sense and seems entirely reasonable. She is the sort of person who the union needs to be quoting when it's putting out public-facing documents.
A very brief word about RMT's other strike, on SWR, which is very close to an all-out one. My hunch is that the union have overplayed their hand there and that they will consequently lose public support a lot faster than up here. Having one day's gap in the strike for the day of the general election is so transparently tokenistic as to feel worse then carrying on all month.
Spoiler: About passengers
Oh, you didn't think we passengers would get away without a section, did you? I think we're getting angry at the wrong people quite often. Anyone who works on the railways in any capacity will know how appallingly some passengers can behave, and most of the time the people they take out their anger on have precisely zero influence over it. A guy in the ticket office can't set cheaper fares and a guard on the train can't replace those damn 153s with something modern.
It's also unedifying to see people on Twitter having a go at the people running the WMR feed. I have no idea how those are set up, but I somehow doubt it's the company's chief executive who writes the tweets! I'm not saying we shouldn't get angry and upset at disruption, because sometimes it can cause real hardship. It's not all about commuters being ten minutes late. But yelling (and sadly, on occasion worse than that) at people who can do nothing about it and can't answer back? That's not on. Stop it.
Many of us are also ignorant of who actually makes decisions -- admittedly, partly that's down to poor communication from the industry side. Huge numbers of people imagine that the annual fares increases are solely down to the train companies, whereas in reality a lot of them are down to successive governments' determination to shift the financial burden of the railways from general taxation to rail travellers themselves. That said, the TOCs don't help themselves by wheeling out the "We are using this money to invest" line every single time -- you do start to wonder if there are any circumstances in which they'd support lower fares.
This is the point at which I mention nationalisation... which I am actually less in favour of than most people who share my centre-left politics. Given how much is already decided by the DfT and other branches of government, I don't think renationalising would make nearly as much difference as many passengers believe. There's certainly a strong public sentiment that profit margins in the rail industry are vast -- and for the most part, that's just not true. There wouldn't be some huge "fat cat bonus" to spend. In any case, I think sorting out the horrible mess that is deregulated buses (outside London) is a much higher priority.
We passengers also have unrealistic expectations. If a peak-time train between Birmingham and Wolverhampton is full and standing at its current fare, halving the fare is not going to help anyone -- you still won't be able to get on. What I would really like to see is a massive expansion in infrastructure and capacity, and I mean massive -- on the scale of the 1960s motorway-building programme at least -- but we're not going to. HS2 may or may not happen, and the Trans-Pennine upgrade, but making Brum-Wolves-Coventry quadrupled and New Street double the size at platform level would cost about 678 times the entire rail transport budget, I'm sure.
Going back to the strike, though... if I try to look past my own preferences and prejudices for a moment, I have to be honest and say that while I think the guards may well win some battles over this issue, some of them significant, I suspect that in the end they will probably lose the war. I would be very surprised if WMR or its successor had anything like as many guards in 20 years' time as it does now. Whether full-on driver-only operation will be the norm here I don't know, but again I think it will be considerably more prevalent by 2039.
Let me be clear: I still want to see "full-service" guards on my trains. I'd feel safer for one thing -- something there's always a suspicion can get overlooked as it can't easily be quantified on a spreadsheet. But I'd also feel safer on a bus if it had a conductor, and those aren't coming back. I fear train guards will eventually go the same way. What a downer to end on.
For me the question of if we need guards or not is, can we trust passengers yes or no? Going of my last train journey (which was in a class 331, a unit designed for OMO operations) the answer is no, people kept pulling the emergency door open lever as they couldn’t be bothered waiting for the doors to open normally or the doors had already closed so the guard had to fix the resultant problem after every stop.
Controversial opinion but one of the greatest problem in the UK public transport system is the “problem” passengers which as small in number compared to all passengers but can make travel unpleasant for both staff and most other passengers!
I don't see that as especially controversial, actually. Anyone who's travelled on many late-night Saturday services or ones after a big football match is likely to have encountered passengers who are, at the very least, unpleasant company. Admittedly for that specific problem I think it's more a case of being someone walking up and down the train that's needed, even if it's not a guard. Obviously if they're interfering with the emergency controls as in your example, you need someone with the training and authority to act.
I mentioned buses in my textwall above, and that's relevant here: go on a late-night double-decker on some routes in Birmingham, say, and you can feel very exposed if you sit upstairs. I'd love to have a conductor permanently on the bus to keep an eye on people -- but it's probably two decades since I've been on a bus that had one. I think trains will increasingly go the same way, even though both staff and passengers (on my line, at least) are generally unhappy with the notion of one-person operation. I'd like to be wrong on that, but it feels as though that's where we're heading.
In the interest of Balance and looking the issue from the other perspective is that the Guard role may disappear but the on train presence could be replaced with a travel safety/revenue protection type role Merseytravel have a team of travel safety officers (or similar name) and London Overground have on board revenue protection teams (if I remember rightly).
This role could be paid less and be less unionised than guards and only be deployed at “higher risk” times and high risk locations so financial savings could be made there. (Of course different pay and conditions of replacement staff would still be problematic, it may ease passenger concerns but not those of current staff members).
As someone who works on a DOO network this is a real nightmare. Also normal passengers can and do become 'problem' as Lewisham, Peckham Rye, Kentish Town and others as showed when the driver too busy with other duties.
I have attempted some side profiles for Avanti's 390 livery