isthistheSolution – Trains

Welcome to the first of a series of occasional blog posts I’m tentatively calling isthistheSolution. The intention of these blogs is to throw my views into the ring of various issues, be they local, national or international. And to hopefully offer a solution that would be far better than whatever one actually gets chosen. Oh and to always be modest.

The first topic I’m going to look at and offer a solution too is the British rail network. Or more precisely the controversial HS2 rail link that just got given the go ahead the day that I’m writing this (10/01/2012).

My issue with this project is the huge cost. Is it really worth £33billion pounds to potentially half journey times from London to Birmingham? Who really, truthfully, wants to get to Birmingham that badly?! Or is it being built as an emergency exit for Brummies who’ve had enough and want the bright lights of London? What ever the reason the cost is immense, it will take 15 years minimum to complete, and for the vast majority of rail commuters who don’t use that particular route it will make no difference. Now before I continue I’ll sing the schemes praises. Jobs. There is no doubt that it will produce a good number of well paid jobs in all aspects of its construction. BUT these jobs will be time limited. Once the project is complete no more jobs. But I admit freely short term it could be a great gain to a great many people.

Now if you’re a regular commuter like myself you’ll be well aware of the truly shocking state a great many of our trains and stations are in. Wouldn’t that huge figure of £33billion be better spent updating the infrastructure we already have? Below is my manifesto for the British rail network. I’m not sure Manifesto is the right word but I can’t think of a better one right now. I’ll also price up my scheme and then I’ll leave you to decide who’s is better.

First up free wifi on all trains. As a commuter very few trains have wifi. And on all that I’m aware of it’s rarely if ever free. In a commuter laptop digital age I feel that this is a must! I regularly do work on the train on my commute and if I want internet access I’m reliant on using my phone as a usb modem (Yay! Android!).

According to UK Railway Statistics there are approximately 4,000 commuter trains on our rail network today. At a conservative estimate I’d say it would cost around £1,000 per carriage to offer free wifi. Lets say each train averages 6 carriages so that would leave us with 24,000 pieces of rolling stock that would need to be adapted with a mobile wifi router. So the costings of this would be roughly £24million pounds, plus for sake of argument lets say yearly upkeep costs of around £12million pounds. This is a very VERY reasonable price to make a lot of peoples lives easier plus it would encourage buisness travel as people would be able to work on their commute. This isn’t even considering the benefit of casual wifi use on the trains, with social networks and email being the norm, I can see usage numbers being high.

With figures of 2.75million journeys a day a take up of free onboard wifi of just 10% would still represent a large portion of the traveling population.

Next up a Government backed refurb of all older rolling stock. Let’s say half of our approx 24,000 carriages need a full refurbishment. Now we could be lavish and set a price limit of £100,000 per carriage. That would cost around £120million pounds. Give the contract to Bombardier in Derby too. Show solidarity to the British workforce!

Now Bombardier in Derby recently lost a contract to build 1,200 items of rolling stock for a quoted £1.4 billion pounds. Now we could use that figure to extrapolate a rough estimate of how much it would cost to have all trains replaced. But I’m not going to do that. I’m proposing a reasonable and cheaper way to upgrade the rail network across the entire UK.

Next up we’ve got the countries 2,516 stations. We’ll average a million pound a station, with mainline stations getting far far more, and small stations obviously getting a far far less figure. For example the unmanned station I catch the train from every day just needs a lick of paint, so maybe a £10,000 budget would be enough. For my local mainline station £10million would be a more realistic figure. But averaging £1 million per station across the UK I feel is a fair estimate. That’d give us a total spend of around £2.5 billion pounds.

Next up is the track. Let’s set up a fund with around £10 billion pounds in it to upgrade as much of the network as is needed.

That’s going to give my little budget a total spend of around £13 billion pounds to upgrade the entire network which is £20 billion less than what the Government is proposing for one single line.

Will it get you from a to b any faster? Not really.

Will it get you from a to b in a far more comfortable fashion? Easily! With all trains offering free wifi and those that need it being refurbished the rail network would be better for everyone involved no matter where they live in the country.

However none of this is likely to ever happen. It’s a common sense approach to commuting. It’d improve it for everyone. And it would be comparatively cheap too.

Is this the Solution? Quite Possibly.