Thursday thoughts…

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Today’s been yet another day that’s seen me ensconced in the office at home trying to sort out the archives and get together a complete picture library of a clients entire train fleet. To say it’s time consuming is rather an understatement as they’ve rather a large portfolio! Still, it’s given me chance to search through the archive and spot potential gaps that will need filling in the future.

I’ve not been missing much by being stuck indoors as the weather here in the Pennines has hardly been conducive to photography. We’ve been suffering from the tail end of the gales that have been a feature of Northern and Scottish weather these past few days, but at least they’ve kept the rain away – even if the clouds have been the colour of thunder! As I normally escape to sunnier climes this time of year I’m starting to miss the warmth and sunshine. I don’t mind the odd dull day, but this is getting monotonous.

I’m hoping to make a bid for freedom for at least a few hours tomorrow as I need to get some shots that will fill a hole in the library. The railways are changing at an accelerated rate at the moment. What was current just six months ago is rapidly becoming dated and that process is likely to quicken through the year. Who knows what the railways will look like by this time next year with so many franchises in financial difficulties, despite (or even because of) the introduction of new trains.

Whilst I’ve been slogging through the archives I’ve also been keeping one eye on the debacle of the anti HS2 protest camp at Harvil Rd. It’s all over bar the moaning now as despite the histrionics and squeals of outrage about ‘illegal evictions’ from the tiny band there, it’s obvious it’s all ended with a whimper, which has set me thinking.

I’m no stranger to these events myself, having attended various demonstrations and protests since the late 1970s right up to the present day and the rallies against the Brexitshambles. I’ve a large archive of pictures on social issues that have never seen the light of day, from miners demonstrations with the likes of Arthur Scargill, the infamous poll tax riot in London in 1990 to the Iraq war demonstrations of 2003. I’ve been ‘kettled’ with demonstrators in central London and dodged missiles in Trafalgar Sq, as well as experienced curfews and general strikes in Kathmandu and India and protests for reform in Indonesia. Oh, and that’s without mentioning the ‘free festival’ circuit in the UK back in the 70s-80s, all of which make Harvil Rd look so ridiculous and so pathetic.

Which brings me back to my point. What a shambles that protest camp was. Compared to the protests about road building in the 70s-90s it was nothing more than a joke. They had 2 years to dig in and prepare for an eviction and at least put up some sort of a struggle. Instead, they gave up meek as lambs as it was clear they were woefully unprepared. It was more playing at being ‘eco-warriors’ rather than being serious about it. They spent more time swanning off to poorly attended PR stunts than actually organise a credible camp. Their reliance on and belief in social media was also part of their undoing. During the eviction Keir was busy filming it all to stick on Facebook and constantly appealing for all those armchair activists who were watching (which in truth was sod all) to ride to their rescue like the cavalry. They never turned up. Why? Because much of social media is little more than voyeurism. I’ve documented many StopHs2 events over the years and there’s one common denominator, how few bodies there are at them! It’s something they’ve never understood. Keyboard warriors and Twitter trolls and bots never turn up – because most of them don’t exist in the real world.

When I’ve had chance to do some research and scan some old pictures I’ll write a blog devoted to examining the difference between environmental protests 40 year ago and today. There’s a rich irony. 40 years ago the internet didn’t exist. The best protestors had was Xeroxed newsletters and telephone trees, yet they managed to organise on a far more impressive scale and attract national attention at some real stand-offs with the authorities. At Harvil Rd they were too busy thinking their endless tedious videos on their cosy Facebook groups or on Twitter, Instagram and suchlike actually meant something. They played to an audience of imaginary friends and basked in the fact they had so many hits or likes, as if all those voyeurs were actually contributing anything worthwhile. If they’d spent half the time they had on social media onanism they might have actually achieved something, but that’s always been a weakness of the anti HS2 campaign. Some of them genuinely think that MPs are going to be swayed by a few anonymous Twitter trolls spouting inane rubbish.

I can imagine someone getting a really interesting thesis out of this…

Anyway, enough of this for now. Hopefully tomorrow will see me back on the rails for the first time in 2020. If it does, expect a rolling blog documenting my travels and travails…

Stop Hs2 evictions at Harvil Rd. The wibble continues…

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It’s now 24 hours since the Bailiffs successfully evicted the protestors from the Stop Hs2 ‘protest’ camp at Harvil Rd just outside Ruislip, West London. For those not familiar with the area or what’s happening, here’s a map.

The two circles show the extent of the work that the protestors have utterly failed to stop. The field which contained their little camp is marked with an X. Just out of the picture to the right is Ruislip, in the opposite direction is Denham Country Park.

Since the eviction the StopHs2 website and antis social media pages have been full of utter nonsense about the legality of the eviction. Their supporters have been spreading the mischievous myth that this was illegal as the protestors were protected from eviction by Section 6 of the Criminal Law Act 1977. This is an old squatters favourite as it protected them from unlawful eviction. Section 6 was enacted to stop unscrupulous landlords who (on finding one of their properties had been squatted) would get a few blokes together and turf out the squatters without resorting to the hassle of going through the time-consuming process of taking legal action in the courts. Back in the 1970s when squatting was a big thing illegal evictions were a real problem and various legal groups lobbied the Government to give legal protection to squatters to stop it happening – hence Section 6. as an aside, the 1977 CLA’s an interesting bit of legislation because of some of its other provisions. Section 52 redefined cannabis to include cannabis resin after a successful appeal due to a loophole in the 1971 MODA (Misuse of Drugs Act 1971). See R v Goodchild [1977].

When my properties (see below) were squatted you’d often find that the squatters had a printed S6 notice stuck to the front door, thinking this was some sort of magic charm that protected them from eviction. It didn’t. It merely made it illegal to evict them without due process and a court order executed with a warrant by officers of the court (Bailiffs). Of course, since the 1977 CLA, the eviction process has been speeded up considerably, but the anti HS2 protesters seem to think they’re still living back in the 1970s-80s!

I have to admit to a certain amount of interest and previous experience here. In a previous life back in the 1990s I was a Housing Officer for the London Borough of Tower Hamlets before taking on the same role at Tower Hamlets Housing Action Trust when 3 estates in Bow (E London) were transferred to that organisation. Evictions were part of my job and I (along with the County Court bailiffs) carried out many over the years. One day, if I ever get the time I’ll blog about some of the stories, which whilst both funny and tragic they’re worth relating. But I digress.

Here’s the latest misinformation and spin on the Stop Hs2 website from that renowned ‘legal expert’ Joe Rukin.

There’s only one problem with this. Joe is completely clueless about the reality of the law. As I pointed out earlier, S6 only protects people from illegal eviction.

This was not an illegal eviction.

Why? Because it was carried out under the conditions of a Compulsory Purchase Order. The fact the squatters claimed they allegedly had ‘permission’ from the previous tenant is irrelevant, they didn’t have it from the new owners of the land. In yesterday’s blog I linked to an excellent explanation in plain English of CPO powers in this situation. You can find it here. But in this blog I’ll make it easier by copying it and spelling out the relevant sections. The beauty of this link is it describes enforcing a CPO in EXACTLY these circumstances.

So, let’s rebut (point by point) the StopHs2 claims.

“protestors had legal occupation of the land under the Criminal Law Act 1977”.

No. They didn’t. the 1977 CLA only provides protection from illegal eviction. It doesn’t confer any right to occupation. By purchasing the land from the previous owners under a CPO HS2 Ltd had legal rights over the land, not the protestors. All it means is that HS2 Ltd had to go through due process to remove the protestors from the land, which they did.

today HS2 Ltd decided they could evict the entire camp under Compulsory Purchase Oder (sic) powers, despite the supposed protection of the CLA, which suggests this is an illegal eviction“.

It ‘suggests’ nothing of the sort. Rukin doesn’t understand the CLA, or the powers granted by a CPO.

“In this video, the man in charge of the eviction admits there is no eviction order, and the eviction is being conducted under a compulsory purchase order, despite the fact the land is covered by a notice of occupation under the Criminal Law Act”.

Here we go again…

Forget the CPA, we’ve already dealt with that. “there is no eviction order” because no notice is required, as the guidance explains. In fact the Bailiff went to great pains to explain his powers in detail (as the video on the StopHs2 Facebook page shows). The only problem is the likes of Sarah Green and Rukin simply weren’t listening!

The acquiring authority may apply to a justice of the peace to a warrant which will entitle them to exercise the power given in the CPO. The justice of the peace can only issue the warrant authorising the use of force if he or she is satisfied that persons are preventing or are likely to prevent entry and that it is reasonable to use force to remove them.

Once the warrant has been issued, this is the instruction to the HCEO to deliver possession of the land to the acquiring authority. No other court order is required.

The warrant confers the powers the HCEO will need to execute it, including the right to enter the land or premises and to use reasonable force. The HCEO will be wholly responsible and personally liable for the execution of the warrant.

So, the warrant having been issued, there’s no need to give advance warning of its execution and enforcement. Why? This explains.

Giving notice

Whilst the acquiring authority does have to give notice of the CPO and their intention to take possession (via a notice to treat or a vesting declaration), the HCEO is not obliged to give notice of the enforcement of the warrant.

However, should the circumstances indicate that it would be more appropriate to serve notice, perhaps because children are on the premises, then they can do so. In the case of protesters, particularly environmental protesters, serving notice might carry the risk of more protesters being brought onto the site.

This last sentence spells out exactly why no notice is needed or was given.

As for this nonsense about the police acting illegally by not intervening. Here’s the reality. The police have a statutory duty to assist.

The police

The police has a statutory duty to assist the HCEO when executing either a High Court writ or a compulsory purchase order warrant – Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007 sec 140 (10).

Hopefully people will find this useful in dispelling the StopH2 myth-making, disinformation and spin around these evictions. I doubt it’ll have any influence on the protestors themselves, many of whom seem to live in an alternate universe to the rest of us judging by the stuff they’ve been coming out with, but this is why they’re on to a loser. Their bubble bursts when it comes into contact with the real world – especially the legal world!

Not that this stops some of StopHs2’s supporters coming out with some hilarious, paranoid old rubbish and conspiracy theories that really are away with the fairies. Take this example from the StopH2 Facebook page today.

Quite how this tinfoil-hat nonsense is meant to Stop Hs2 is a mystery. Sadly, it is a good illustration that we have a real problem in this country with people peddling rubbish and who really can’t tell fact from fiction. Here’s another absolute classic from the StopHs2 Facebook page!

Oh, the irony!

This afternoon various Facebook groups were still spreading rubbish about the legality of the eviction (and more), like this one. But notice how few people have shared it, never mind actually responded.

On that note I thought I’d conclude this blog with a picture taken at the last Facebook friends of StopHs2 annual meeting…

Another stopHs2 failure as the Harvil Rd 'protest' camp is evicted.

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Earlier this morning the Court Bailiffs and police moved in to evict the oldest and largest of the StopH2 protest camps at Harvil Rd near Uxbridge. You can view the farce via a video posted on the StopHs2 website here.

It’s interesting for several reasons. Firstly, it shows how few people are actually there. Whilst there’s a rag-bag of 20 odd tents very few of them seem to be occupied. It’s like they’ve been left there by ‘weekend warriors’ just to make the camp look bigger and busier than it really is. In fact, very few protestors can be seen on camera, just the same old faces such as Mark Keir, the serially failed Green Party candidate, plus Sarah Green, the ‘star’ of various PR stunts the antis have tried to pull. One of the things I found fascinating about these videos was just how poorly prepared these camps were for the arrival of the Bailiffs. They knew they would come one day, so what the hell have they been doing these past two years? Remember the old days when protesters dug tunnels to hide in and had aerial ropeways between treehouses so they could resist for as long as possible and make life as difficult as they could for the police and bailiffs? This camp was a shambles in comparison, a few scattered tents and pallets used as walkways across the mud. It looked more like the place where people went to hang out, drink beers and smoke dope whilst recording endless boring social media video’s where they’d bluster about how they were going to stop Hs2.

In the background to the videos you can hear what the protesters have utterly failed to stop – HS2 contractors continuing to build access roads for construction of HS2.

As usual, you have people like Green trying to argue black is white with the Court Bailiff, claiming that the eviction is ‘illegal’. Unsurprisingly, the Bailiff refuses to get drawn into a pointless argument. As it’s now almost afternoon and no more videos have appeared – much less a victorious one from the protesters) it’s probably safe to assume that they’re too busy packing their bags! I’ll update this blog when I have more news.

There’s an even more telling video which stophs2 haven’t put up on their website but you can view it on their Facebook page. It’s a 22 minute long cameraphone video filmed by Mark Keir. You can find it here. In it, you can hear him describing the police and bailiffs as ‘scum’, whilst (hypocritically) being nice as pie to people’s faces. In contrast, the Court Officers are unfailingly polite and helpful, offering the maximum co-operation and concern for the protesters whilst executing their duties and the court order. There’s an even more ridiculous video from Sarah Green here where Green rants on and on about the eviction being ‘illegal’ like a broken record as a protestor is restrained and removed with police observing. I can’t help but think of the old expression “Barrack-room Lawyer” every time I hear Green spout. Meanwhile the man being removed calls everyone “scum” and “criminals” in between his theatrical screams. What Green and the others completely failed to understand (despite the Bailiff explaining it to then very patiently) was that he was enforcing the eviction under the terms of a Compulsory Purchase Order warrant and this confers the legal right to evict them and no notice or ‘eviction order’ is necessary. A good clear explanation of the law regarding CPO evictions in exactly these circumstance is here.

In his video Keir constantly calls for assistance from imaginary Facebook/social media friends, bemoaning the fact that there are so few people at the camp as Twyford Down this ain’t! One of the great weaknesses of these protests is they’ve always been tiny in comparison to the efforts of the anti road building protests of the 1980s-90s. Partly because the protesters have fallen for their own social media hype. They’ve confused Twitter trolls and keyboard warriors with genuine support, then are incredulous when these ‘people’ fail to materialise in real life! There’s something else that’s telling. I’ve always said that social media is a double-edged sword. It can expose your weaknesses or highlight your strengths. As always with the anti HS2 campaign, it’s the former, not the latter. Look how few views or comments any of these videos posted to social media have!

Is this the end for the Harvil Rd protest? Probably. I doubt there’s anywhere else left for them to set up camp nearby without them rapidly being evicted. No doubt some of them may drift off to another of the handful of poorly supported camps on the route, but the end result will be the same. What have they stopped? Nothing.

Meanwhile, the Government has announced that infrastructure will be one of the main planks of its policies over the next Parliamentary term. Chancellor Savid Javid has promised an ‘infrastructure revolution’ in his March budget. Now, does that sound like a Government that’s about to cancel HS2 to you? Can you seriously imagine Javid standing up in a packed House of Commons to say “I would like to talk to you about my infrastructure revolution, but first I’d like to announce that I’m cancelling the biggest infrastructure project in Western Europe!”

UPDATE (17:13).

The protesters friend in the media have now picked up on the story with The Guardian carrying it on their website. According to the Graun’, three protesters were arrested during the eviction. I’m assuming these will be for obstruction, so unless they’ve done something really stupid they’ll probably be released without charge as there’s little point in wasting the police and courts time prosecuting them – which is no bad thing. Misguided they may be, but they have a right to protest as long as they stay within the law and it’s important that right is upheld in a democracy.

Harvil Rd camp was the biggest and oldest of all five anti HS2 protest camps. It was set up in October 2017 but it’s achieved nothing. It’s never stopped work on the site, merely delayed it a few times. It certainly hasn’t stopped HS2. All it’s really achieved is keep a tiny corner of social media alive with pointless videos, polemics, conspiracy theories and fake news.

The irony of the Guardian covering this is that the newspaper has a very good gallery of the Twyford Down protests in 1992-93. These were against the building of the new M3 motorway and they really put today’s tiny StopHs2 ‘direct action’ protests into perspective. You can find the gallery here.

I suspect this setback is going to be quite an important one for the anti HS2 campaign. ‘Direct action’ was their last resort, but it’s clear that the number have never amount to anything more than a minor nuisance. With the forthcoming announcement on HS2 going ahead expected very soon this could well break the back of what’s left of their campaign. Whilst a few stragglers may remain around the camp it’s clear that their days are numbered as they’ve completely failed in their objectives. It seems some of the locals will be glad to see the back of them too, as this comment on the StopHs2 Facebook page to todays news shows!

Looks like StopHs2’s Joe Rukin better stop playing at being ‘Swampy’ and redouble his efforts to look for a real job!

It's been another one of those days…

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You know the ones. You start the new week all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, ready to get through loads of stuff on the list in front of you, then after checking your emails everything changed and the day’s list ends up in the bin. Yep, those days!

Over the weekend my financial brokers had their website down for upgrades. All well and good – they were improving the security on it. Only they ‘improved’ it so much that I was unable to log on to it despite using all the correct passwords and security questions! To be fair to them, the young chap I talked to was extremely apologetic and very helpful but the problems took quite a while to resolve via phone and the internet. Then I had a daft email threatening legal action over one of my blogs which I had to deal with, which wasted even more time.

As the weather was less than picture perfect I’d no plans to venture out with the camera which was just as well. Instead I’ve been glued to a computer screen most of the day, trying to claw back some productive hours. It was quite frustrating going through the rest of my email in-box, seeing juicy flight offers to Asia and knowing that I’ve nothing planned right now but I don’t actually have the time to (literally) take off, then reading email updates from magazines about the exciting developments on the likes of Sri Lankan railways, or new metro lines opening in Bangkok. I’m consoling myself that if I just have a fruitful January I’ll be able to book an adventure out in South-East Asia, exploring what’s new and also catching up with old friends. On the positive side, another email was from a magazine wanting to publish one more of my blogs so that was a welcome addition to today’s ‘to do’ list!

In-between all this I’ve been keeping an eye on the reaction to Lord Tony Berkeley’s ‘minority report’ (as in a minority of one) on HS2. I can see why no-one else was willing to put their name to it as it’s been shredded by experts who know about rail operations and planning. Light on detail and full of airy assertions to try and cover up the lack of detail or any modelling of services it was always going to be a bit of a car-crash and so it’s transpired. Of course, the HS2 antis are falling over themselves to praise it, but you know damned well 95% of them won’t have read it and even if they had the majority of them wouldn’t understand it! Eventually the penny will drop when they realise that – just like all the other reports, articles and guff that they’ve fallen for over the years, this isn’t going to stop HS2 either…

As it’s now 21:38 it’s time to tune into something else and drop out to spend some quality time with my other half. See you all tomorrow…

More ado about nothing. The Berkeley HS2 'report' that wasn't.

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Today the social and mainstream media are full of a man and his supposed ‘report’ on HS2. Lord Tony Berkeley, a long-time opponent of HS2 has appeared on TV to push his ‘alternative’ to the Oakervee review on HS2 – the one he was the Deputy Chairman of but who was never going to agree with because he was very much in a minority. In fact, the report should be subtitled “Me, myself, I”…

His interview on Sky’s ‘Sophy Ridge on Sunday’ show was a classic example of saying nothing of substance whilst pretending you have. His claims were so heavily caveated they were worthless. Here’s a couple of examples. “My report suggests that the project is completely out of control” Well, no equivocation there then! He then goes on to say that HS2 “doesn’t benefit the North and Midlands in the way that upgrading existing lines could”. Wait, what?

Perhaps being appointed to the Lords means that you instantly start suffering from senility and memory loss, as Berkeley (despite all his years as Chair of the Railfreight Group) has mysteriously forgotten that we spent £9bn upgrading the West Coast Main Line just 15 years ago! Because, whichever way you look at Berkeley’s claim, it’s brass-necked, weapons-grade bollocks and Berkeley knows it, as do all the people who’ve worked on HS2 and the alternatives to providing the capacity the railways need to get modal shift from road to rail from air and road and tackle climate change. So why is he peddling such untruths? What’s his (new) agenda, other than that as a man scorned for coming up with his own daft versions of HS2 stations in London (the ridiculous claim that you could build an underground HS2 station at Euston).

There’s more. Later in the interview, after accusing everyone of “fiddling the figures” on HS2. Berkeley says that “I believe Parliament’s been misled” Then goes on to say “I believe the figure that’s right is about £107bn”. He then admits under questioning that “everything’s an estimate” but pulls another rabbit out of the hat by saying “this project is probably 2-3 times overbudget before the construction’s even started”.

Listening to Berkely is like going to a ‘happy clappy’ Evangelical church, only the amount of times you here “I believe” is probably less in the Church!

Where’s the evidence for any of these claims? It’s never been published, it’s certainly never been peer-reviewed. This is very much a one-man and his dog ‘report’ (the dog being Michael Byng, who Berkeley follows like the proverbial).

In short, we have lots of suggestions, and beliefs, but sod-all verifiable facts. Perhaps I can get Sky news to interview me because I ‘believe’ the moon’s made of green cheese and that the earth’s actually flat – as both claims have as much validity as Berkeley’s, because – at the end of the day – what’s Berkeley said that’s new, or ‘news’? Nothing. This is simply a rehash of claims he’s been making for months.

In a few days time all the froth around this supposed ‘report’ will die down. Already a Government Minister (OK, it’s Dominic Raab, but you can’t have everything) has poured cold-water on the idea the Government are taking this seriously in this interview.

Once the fog has cleared, all that will be left is the smoke and smell from Berkeley’s burning bridges…

UPDATE (16.55).

It seems Berkeley has published his report, which can be found here. I’ve not had chance to read it all yet, merely his summary, which is (quite frankly) bonkers and makes some classic errors. According to Berkeley, we don’t need phase 2b of HS2. All we have to do is re-instate old sections of four -track railway and Bob’s your Uncle!

This completely ignores several important issues.

1. In many cases that’s impossible as the formations have been built on since the lines were reduced to two tracks. To do so would be horrendously expensive and it wouldn’t raise line speeds one bit. We return the network to ‘pre-Beeching’ – as if that’s the answer to future needs! No speed increases, no curing bottlenecks, no grade separated junctions – just put it back like it was in the early 1960s. It’s sort of classic nostalgia, lack of ambition and backward thinking that’s bedevilling this country.

2. All it would do is replicate the problem we have now – mixed traffic, mixed speed railways that are funnelled through the same old chokepoints! How would it make the railways more attractive to passengers and get the sort of modal shift we need? He’s no answer.

3. How much extra capacity would this add? Berkeley has no answer.

4. It completely ignores why we’re building HS2 in the first place, to free up capacity on the existing network by running high-speed, intercity services on their own lines, this removing the problem of them eating up capacity on the existing network and freeing up the space for more regional, local and freight services. Berkeley has decided we don’t need HS2 then tried to cobble together a series of spurious justifications for that conclusion.

I’ll go through his full report later in the week when I have time. Right now it’s painfully obvious that it’s just the same opinionated, fact-free nonsense as his interviews, full of “I believe”, “I consider”, “I conclude”, “I think” – it’s all about him and no-one else. He’s right and everybody else is wrong, from top to bottom. It’s a solo work of real egotism. What does Berkeley actually *know*, or even prove? As his report shows, very little – at all. It’s one man’s supposition. Actually, belay that – it’s two, because there’s two strings to this report that can be summed up thus, what ‘Berkeley believes’ and what ‘Michael Byng sez’…

Northern's Pacers cling on until May 2020 (at least).

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Recent reports have confirmed that both Class 142 and 144 Pacer trains will continue in service until the next timetable change in May at the least. The plans are that they’ll be confined to Lancashire and Yorkshire with the Class 142s operating West services around Manchester whilst the Neville Hill based Class 144s will operate set routes around Leeds/Sheffield/Doncaster/Huddersfield and York.

The Class 142 fleet will be reduced to just 22 members from an original fleet of 94 whilst all 23 Class 144s will be retained. the DfT derogation letter confirms that the following Class 142s will be allowed to run but will gradually be phased out by the arrival of new CAF built units.

142004/011/013/018/023/035/036/041/043/045/047/051/055/058/061/065/068/070/071/078/087/090/094/095 = 24.

The oldest of the Pacers that will remain in service is 142004, which will still be seen here – Manchester Victoria. This view’s from the 22nd June 2009.

The Class 142 derogation expires at 23:59 on 31 May 2020.

A separate DfT document that confirms the dispensation allowing the Class 144s to be kept in service also specifies which routes they will be allowed to run on. These are.

• Leeds to Huddersfield

• Leeds to Sheffield

• Leeds to Knottingley

• Sheffield to Adwick

• Sheffield to Huddersfield via Penistone

• Sheffield to Gainsborough Central / Lincoln

• Huddersfield to Bradford Interchange via Halifax

• Huddersfield to Castleford via Wakefield

• Doncaster to Scunthorpe

• Sheffield to York via Rotherham and Moorthorpe

• York to Leeds via Micklefield

• York to Selby / Hull / Bridlington

• Bradford Interchange to Leeds

• Doncaster to Leeds

The permission granted by this dispensation to Arriva Rail North expires at 23:59 on 31 August 2020 but don’t assume that they’ll last until then.

The youngest of the Pacer fleet, 144023 seen en-route to Leeds at Sheffield on the 16th September 2016. The city may be having their company until August.

This means Pacer fans (and yes, they do exist!) have a few more months to search out and ride/photograph these gradually dwindling fleets of trains before the last one heads off to the scrapyard. Make the most of the reprieve as it all depends on how quickly the last of the new CAF built trains enter service! If I get details of specific routes that the Class 142s will be operating on around Manchester I’ll update this blog with details. Right now I’d expect that they’ll be seen around Victoria on services to Stalybridge and Rochdale plus at Piccadilly on trains to New Mills and Rose Hill.

If you want to see a pictorial history of the BR built Pacer fleets over the years, have a look at my earlier blog.

Confusion reigns over Northern's trains!

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On the day when commuters returned to work after the New Year holiday and rail fares increased by an average 2.7% and Northern were still cancelling services, confusion reigned over the future of the Northern franchise. This morning Transport Minister Grant Shapps gave an interview to the BBC which was widely interpreted by the media as him announcing he was stripping operator Arriva of the franchise. The BBC later backtracked on this and ITV secured a quote from the Dept of Transport saying that no decision had been made.

A new CAF Class 195 stands at Sowerby Bridge earlier today whilst working 1E62, the 1224 Chester to Leeds. In the adjacent platform is a refurbished Class 158. Displaced from top link jobs by the 195s, it’s working 2L96, the 13.17 Leeds to Wigan Wallgate. Previously this would have been a Class 142 or 150 working.

So what is happening? Will Arriva lose the franchise?

Shapps has made it fairly clear this is his intention and an operator of last resort is being put into place. But it’s not going to happen overnight. Politically, it would be a popular move as Northern have come in for a huge amount of criticism over the past year. Some of it justified, some not. Elected Mayors, User groups and the passengers themselves have all given the company a good kicking. The fact the franchise’s MD has a very low profile compared to previous bosses like Heidi Mottram and Alex Hynes hasn’t helped either. They’re seen by many (including their staff) as a faceless company. But no franchise has ever been terminated purely on the grounds of poor performance…

What isn’t clear to seasoned observers is how running Northern from a desk at the DfT in Westminster is meant to improve anything. After all, the franchise was specified by the DfT in the first place! Let’s look at some of the problems Northern are facing and where responsibility lies.

Infrastructure.

The company’s suffered from the late completion (or shelving entirely) of infrastructure enhancements like electrification that were meant to help it deliver new timetables and new services. These are the results of failings by Network Rail which is already in public control and funded by Government, plus political delays in decision-making on future enhancements like the Trans-Pennine route upgrade (which was ‘paused’ by then Transport Minister Chris Grayling) and the Manchester Oxford Rd corridor.

Trains.

Problems with the late delivery of new and refurbished trains such as the CAF built Class 331s and 195s, as well as the rebuilt Class 769 bi-mode trains have had a big impact, as have the inevitable teething problems with new fleets. None of these are Northern’s fault, but they’ve meant that the company has suffered more cancellations and-short-formed trains. It’s also going to be keeping over 45 old Pacer trains running until May (possibly August) 2020 when they should all have gone by the end of last year. This is manna from heaven for the critics, but what else can they do? Leave themselves short of trains and cancel more services? They’re caught between a rock and a hard place until all the new trains are in service (over a year late).

Staffing.

The new trains being late has had an impact on staff training and availability, which hasn’t helped service levels or delivery of the new timetables. There’s also the small matter of finding paths to run these trains in to allow mileage accumulation and time for staff to familiarise themselves with their workings. The difficulty finding paths has been exacerbated by both LNER and Trans-Pennine also introducing new fleets, leaving capacity at a premium. Sweating the Northern fleet by running complex diagrams and relying on staff working rest days hasn’t helped either. Nor have the problems at Trans-Pennine Express. Their timetabling problems have an impact on Northern services at pinch points like Leeds and Manchester.

Here’s an illustration of today’s performance for Northern and TPE, taken from the Trains.im website. Timed at 19.50.

Green is on time. Orange is between 5-30m late and Red is over 30m late or cancelled.

How will stripping Arriva of the franchise resolve these issues? It won’t.

What will happen to the franchise in the long term? There’s a lot of rumours flying around that the franchise will be split into East and West, as it was before two areas were merged to form the first Northern franchise in 2004.

If the Conservatives wanted to play clever, they might even decide to hand these franchises over to local control. Either directly to transport for the North, or (if they’re feeling really devious) they could give Manchester’s elected Mayor, Andy Burnham, a level of control. He’s a long-standing critic of Northern and as a Labour Party member he’s pushed for rail renationalisation. The expression ‘be careful what you wish for’ springs to mind here as the buck would (potentially) then stop with him. Only he’s no control over the root causes of Northern’s problems either!

Whatever is decided in the corridors of power, the franchises problems will continue until the infrastructure and capacity is sorted out. The situation with staff and new trains will ease when the new fleets are fully introduced and trains and staff are bedded in which will mean punctuality will improve but it won’t cure bottlenecks around Manchester or Leeds. If the Government is serious about investing in the North (and keeping the Labour constituencies that turned Tory at the last election) it’s going to have to address these issues by investing in HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail. But what does it do in the short-term as neither of these projects will be delivered for two general elections? A quick fix could be to devolve power and money to the North and say, ‘right, get on with it’…

Meanwhile, there’s looking like there’s going to be rail congestion at the DfT as a number of franchises are looking rocky. TPE seemed Teflon-coated as Northern got all the flack, but now they’re starting to feel the heat too and there’s no sign of a recovery plan. SouthWestern Railway is under pressure too, both financially and through strike action. There’s also the unresolved SouthEastern franchise. And what of the William’s review?

It’s not as if there’s a queue of people waiting to bid for franchises. Let’s face it, despite what some on the left claim, they’re hardly a licence to print money more like a licence to lose it – as this informative tweet from my RAIL colleague Phil Haigh demonstrates! Abellio aren’t having a happy time with a few of their franchises, including Scotrail.

So, not only can you lose your shirt, there’s also the reputational damage. Is it any wonder both Virgin and Stagecoach have now left the field? As a source at Stagecoach told me, the cost of recent unsuccessful bids wiped out the profits from their bus operations. When bidding is that expensive (£5m plus a pop) and the chances of winning so uncertain, why bother?

Early days…

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The new year’s got off to slow start. Not because of hangovers or anything like that but because it was lovely to be able to have a lie-in! The year also started with a beautifully clear, crisp sunny morning which made us decide we needed to go walking. Sadly, by the time we’d had breakfast and got ready mist and hazy cloud had rolled in from the South. It didn’t affect our walk but it was a little frustrating from my perspective I was looking forward to getting some pictures to kick off the year. In the end, this was the best I could get.

New CAF Unit 195121 approaches Milner Royd Junction just outside Sowerby Bridge whilst working a Manchester Victoria – Leeds service. The ‘feathers’ on the signal indicate that the route is set via Halifax rather than Brighouse.

Our walk took us down into the valley floor before we climbed up the opposite side to head on to Norland Moor and before visiting the nearby Moorcock Inn for a drink and to chance to warm up for a while as despite the day being mild, the wind-chill up by the moor really makes a difference. Despite the pub only being open until six and its menu limited to selling their exotic range of bar snacks the place was really busy.

Once we’d torn ourselves away we rolled back downhill via Sowerby Bridge which was surprisingly quiet with most of the pubs and restaurants deserted, albeit it was only 5pm. I suspect many people were still at home in their dressing gowns and nursing an Alaka-Seltzer!

A power-walk back up the hill soon had us back at home, which is where we’ve stayed for the rest of the evening. Having walked a total of seven miles we’d earned our supper and polished off another slice of yesterday’s nut roast, roasted parsnips and potato’s with relish. As much as I love travelling, having quality time at home (especially in winter) is something to savour…

2020 vision…

Where the hell’s 2019 gone? In fact, where’s the decade gone? The last few days have seen me in an introspective mood, looking back at all the things that have happened in the past 10 years – both good and bad. But, on balance, the good’s far outweighed the bad. In one respect I’m lucky in that – as a photographer – I have the photographic evidence that documents events as proof!

There’s no doubt that the 2020’s are going to be ‘interesting times’ to live in as the old Chinese curse mentions. Thankfully, I’m in a position to weather what’s coming far better than many people which leaves me with mixed feelings of sadness and hope.

What I’m looking forward to is being able to refocus on what’s important. So, expect to see me make huge inroads on the stack of old slides I have that have never made it onto my Zenfolio website. I’m also looking at writing up some of my old diaries as a travel story. Back in 1991-92 I travelled overland through Asia from India as far as Australia. In those days there was no internet or mobile phones. Backpackers were that, not ‘flashpackers’. You travelled overland, not just dipped in and out of places by hopping around on a series of domestic flights. A lot’s changed since those days but I think it’s a story worth telling as the world’s changed so much.

Of course I’m still going to be adding all the old railway pictures too – and new ones of course. Britain’s railways are changing at an ever increasing rate and this next year will see construction of the new HS2 high-speed rail line begin in earnest. I’m also looking forward to getting stuck into a lot more writing not just taking pictures. Later in 2020 I’ll be off on my round Britain trip for RAIL magazine which will see the biggest changes since I started writing the series back in 2004. I’ve lots of ideas for other things to write about too.

No doubt there’ll still be a few blogs containing wry observations on the state of British politics but they’ll be very much be from the side-lines. Brexit supporters have ‘won’, which means they can no longer pass the buck for their failures and the fact Unicorns don’t exist. Now they’ve no-one else to blame. Us ‘remoaners’ have been vanquished (for now), so we can sit back with the popcorn and watch as they try and deliver on their impossible promises – and downright lies! Right now my sympathies are reserved for my EU friends in the UK and my UK friends in the EU, many of whom face a completely unknown future.

Back In the here and now Dawn and I have opted for a quiet New Year at home, doing one of the things we both love doing – cooking. Admittedly, we nipped out for a ‘quick one’ at the ‘Big 6’ (our local pub) but not before preparing most of a repast for tonight. We’re going veggie more and more nowadays, although the current term seems to be ‘plant based’. Earlier the two of us were busy in the kitchen putting together a nut roast. But this is no ordinary nut roast – this is a super-duper pistachio and cranberry nut roast!

Before the year and the decade ends (OK, not for you Lisa in New Zealand and other friends further East, you’re already way past your bedtime!) I’d just like to thank you all for continuing to pop in to read my ramblings. I hope I’ve been able to both entertain and inform over the past year, and that you’ll find my future scribblings as interesting.

All the best for the new year and the new decade.

Paul x

Today's mixed bag.

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It’s the penultimate day of the year and the weather’s been glorious here in the Calder Valley. We’ve had wall to wall sunshine for most of the day and temperatures that would shame the South. Sadly, I’ve not had the time to enjoy the climactic conditions in the way I’d have liked as I’m too busy playing catch-up after a week away ‘down South’ and the imminent new year. That said, I’m also determined to up my exercise levels as the Surrey sojourn did little for me in that respect so I’ve enjoyed an afternoon constitutional by strolling up hill and down dale whilst shopping. The masochist in me secretly enjoys the fact that I’ve got to yomp uphill from the Sowerby Bridge shops. It certainly beats paying to use a gym!

The fact that we’re at the end of another decade has only just started to sink in as the last one’s been tumultuous to say the least. I’ll blog more about that as soon as I have the time, because for me, there’s a huge amount to look back and reflect upon.

Shopping aside, most of my day’s been spent immersed in swapping between paperwork and computer screens but this evening I have had chance to experiment on the culinary front and try a new dahl recipe from the Dishoom book that Darren (my brother-in-law) bought me for Christmas. It’s the ‘house black dahl’. Despite the fact it takes hours to cook it’s looking pretty good…

I do love cooking. I see it as a form of relaxation and therapy as well as the chance to always try something new. I’d certainly try this recipe again as it was a hearty dahl that was ideal for a winter’s night. Admittedly, I might tinker with it next time by adding a bit more chilli to suit our tastes, but otherwise it’s a lovely dish.

Whilst I was preparing this and keeping a watchful eye on its progress Dawn’s also been busy in the kitchen, preparing the ingredients for tomorrow’s meal. Whilst we’ll be nipping out for a few drinks with friends in the afternoon we’ve decided to flag the traditional New Year’s piss-up and spend the night at home together instead. The theory is that we’ll be entering the new decade bright-eyed and bushy tailed, ready to take on whatever the next ten years throws at us. I’ll let you know how we get on with that!