1st November 2010 | Last Week in Trains

Last week Reuters reported that four multinational organisations are bidding against each other for ownership of High Speed 1. Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Allianz and two Ontario pension funds have teams on it. The 186mph link between London and the Channel Tunnel could be worth around two billion pounds ($3.2billion), more money than I can comprehend – although a drop in the ocean compared to the government’s broader debt reduction challenge. The question of whether privatisation is good for the rail customer continues to be asked.

Full article here.

I’ve been trying to put together an analysis of ongoing news, following George Osborne’s cutting announcement in the Spending Review, that fares will probably rise. It’s been difficult.

Channel 4’s Econmics correspondent Faisal Islam’s blog on the subject a couple of weeks ago was enlightening as was that of David Turner (turniprail.blogspot.com) who said: “…from 2012 regulated fares, which include savers and season tickets, will rise for three years at the rate of RPI+3%, whereas currently they rise at a rate of RPI+1%. Richard Hebditch, the Campaign for Better Transport’s campaign director, estimated (via the medium of Twitter – http://twitter.com/RichardHebditch) that based on the government’s own estimations of the level of RPI and inflation over the course of this parliament, the rise in fares [will] be 31% overall.”

Obviously any train fare increases are mirrored by those increases in air fare and fuel duty – and flights look set to be worse hit. Last week saw news that taxes of up to 55% on air travel could raise flight prices phenomenally. And of course, following the 1p rise on petrol prices a month ago, petrol continues to be highly taxed.

Trains planes and automobiles this is complex. And the Welsh are asking what’s happening with regard to the potential electrification of their railway

China At High Speed


Yesterday China launched a high speed link between Shanghai and Hangzhou. The trains travel at well over 200 miles per hour, the fastest in the universe. Last month they set a speed record. But industry feedback was dismissive, pointing out that running trains at 500 miles per hour would incur ridiculous maintenance costs and wouldn’t be sustainable.

I find it funny that the woman narrating this video talks so s-l-o-w-l-y, especially when compared to the interpreters.

At The Future of High Speed Rail conference in 2010 it was said that trains could reach speeds of up to 186 miles per hour between Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and France are currently reached and there are plans for a new train which will reach speeds of 155 miles per hour between Belgium and the Netherlands.
Speeds of 124 miles per hour have been reached in Sweden for over ten years and there are plans for trains that will reach 199. Poland wants to reach 186 and Russia hopes to get up to speeds of 248 miles per hour, the only country which would beat China.
All countries have the intention of cutting journey times by up to an hour if not more (she said, stating the obvious).

(European information from The Marketforce Future of High-Speed Rail Conference handbook www.marketforce.eu.com).

Wizard Week on the Mid Hants Watercress Line

Yesterday I went on the Mid Hants Railway. You may have seen my video. It’s in the archive of this blog.

It was the best day out I’ve had in a long time. The train itself was magnificent, I was invited* up into the front to watch coal being shovelled in. At one stop I held an American Barn Own and at another I saw some very tiny bats and made a bat ring out of paper because the nice lady let me, even though they were obviously there for the children.
“Now you have a bat engagement ring,” she offered as I put the ring on.

There’s a great café at Alton too.

*I invited myself

A Halloween Train Ride on the Mid Hants Railway

Yesterday I went on the Mid Hants Railway, Watercress Line. It was a beautiful day and a lovely day trip from London. If you’ve got kids to entertain this half term week, it’s accessible by train. I highly recommend it.

Book tickets for Wizard Week online or call: 01962 733810 (It’s best to call at this stage as they can hold the tickets at the station for you).

Book tickets to Alton on ticketclever.com

You can still go on to the Highlands…

Through trains between London and the Highlands have been spared after ferocious opposition to the idea of their being axed in Scotland. (A nod to the West Lothian question might be inferred here).
Proposed changes would have meant passengers going to the highlands from England changing at Edinburgh. Places like Aberdeen and Inverness would have had all their daytime through trains cut. But the proposal has been scrapped by transport minister Theresa Villiers.

(Photo © Copyright 2010 Railnews Limited.)

Cambodia’s Track to Restoration

I was delighted to see this article and video on the BBC this morning.

I went to Cambodia a few years ago and braved a slightly scary three hour ride in the back of an illegal taxi from the border to Siem Reap – because the transport links are so bad.

So I’m overjoyed to read the milestone news that the first section of Cambodia’s restored railway has been completed.

When there, I heard all kinds of rumours about airline companies paying people to keep the roads bad (and they are terrible). Vietnam and Thailand either side of Cambodia are well ahead on many levels. Understandably, given the setback Cambodia suffer post 30 years of war and subsequent genocide under the Khmer Rouge.

This gives hope that eventually Cambodia will enjoy the benefits of an efficient rail system. The project aims to connect Phnom Penh to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) by 2015. This would mean the completion of an ‘iron silk road’ that would link the whole of South East Asia with Europe.

Conversations on the Train: The Repatriation Officer

I‘m sitting next to a gentle man in his mid-forties who has friendly eyes and is balding.

The couple opposite ask me to guess what he does for a living. I take one look and think civil servant.

“Do you work for the government?” I say.

“Good guess,” he replies.

It turns out he’s actually an international repatriation officer. This doesn’t (just) mean organising corpses sent back to the UK when people die abroad. It’s more exciting.

I share my fears (from watching films like Midnight Express) about being put into a Thai Prison. I’ve seen the Drugs Will Result in the Death Penalty signs at Bangkok airport in the past, next to signs saying We ♥ Our King.

“So is it true if you get caught with anything someone may have planted on you you get put in prison forever in Thailand?” I ask.

“We brought back a guy in Thailand who was serving 46 years for possession of a small quantity of drugs… He’d been in for nine,” says the man.

“How did you get him out?”

“We applied for a King’s pardon.”

“A King’s pardon?”

“Yeah, the Thai King awards several pardons each year. We all turned up in suits to get this guy and he thought it was the end. He thought he was going to be killed. No idea what was going on.”

“Because he was traumatised?”

“Yes. He was offered a lot of counselling when he returned.”

I ask what other people he’s got out of which prisons in the past. He clearly reads ‘what high-profile cases have you dealt with?’ and changes tack.

“Okay, so did you know each EU country has to have its share of war criminals?” He says.

“I didn’t,” I reply.

“Well we brought back the guy from the ITCY.”

“The ITCY is?”

“The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. We got the man responsible for the massacre of 8,000 people and brought him here.”

“And now he’s in a secure unit or something?” I ask.


“Gosh,” I say.

He smiles.

“And that Samantha Orabator, the one in Laos?”

“Oh, the pregnant one?” I look up, remembering.

“Yeah, we brought her back. You would’ve seen me on the telly with that one. And we brought her partner back in September.”

“How did you bring her back?”

“Transit, through Thailand, with two officers and a midwife – as it was late in the pregnancy.”

“Was she alright…was she terrified?”

“No, she was absolutely fine.”

“And how did she get out?”

“An agreement was made. Trouble is there’s no embassy in Laos so it all has to be done by  Australia. There’s an amazing woman,Kate, at the embassy, she’s the person you want to talk to if you’re stuck in a prison out in South East Asia. But the moral is: don’t do something wrong in Laos,” he smiles.

We talk for a bit longer before he takes out his wallet and opens it. Inside is what looks like a US police badge. He’s clearly enjoying my interest in his job and wants me to be excited. I am excited.

“Wow”, I say, “looks like the ones you see in films.”

“When we’re in the States we become federal agents,” he beams.

I laugh because anytime anyone says federal agents I think of Mulder and Skully. But I don’t tell him that.

“So how did you end up doing this job?” I ask.

“I was a missile escort on vehicles with the army. After that I went into sandstone ballast for six years… then got into the prison service. An opening came up – they wanted someone picked up in Cuba – I wrote a report and I got picked.”

He tells me there are ten people doing what he does and at any one time two to four of them will be out of the country.

“What name shall I give you, for the piece?” I ask.

He thinks for a moment then says, “Frank.”

“Frank,” I repeat.

“Yeah – like Frank Drebdin from Police Squad.”