Journey south

SPENDING a last couple of hours with the family before I head to London on the Virgin West Coast service to Euston.

And do you know why I’m catching the train instead of the plane? Because it’s more environmentally friendly? No. Because, as a former rail minster, I should? No. Because it’s quicker? Obviously not (not usually, and not yet).

I catch the train for the same reasons that millions of others do: because it suits me. I get the chance to read, to write, to watch DVDs, to relax. That’s how I like to travel. There is absolutely no altruistic motive involved.

And that’s the key to encouraging more modal shift. There’s no point in appealing to people’s concern for the environment – far too few people will change their behaviour on that basis to make a significant difference. More people will switch from air to rail if, and only if, their quality of life will improve as a result. If it makes financial sense, if it gives them more time to be productive, if it suits them – that’s the basis on which people make most major lifestyle choices.

As it happens, I’ll be returning to Glasgow by air, because the train won’t be a viable option by the time I set out on Wednesday evening. No doubt that will be criticised by readers of this blog who think I should be putting concern for the environment before the desire to spend the night in my own home with my family. So be it.

Back in June, I happened to mention in a post that I was driving home from London. Almost immediately, Roger Ford (writing as his pseudonym, Captain Deltic), editor of Modern Railways, and the Fact Compiler (of the Railway Eye blog, posted comments to the effect that, as railways minister, I shouldn’t be driving, I should be using the train.

Defensively, I pointed out in reply that I was also the minister responsible for the Highways Agency. In hindsight, what I should have said was, that like millions of other Britons I own a car and I enjoy driving, so why on earth shouldn’t I drive when I feel like it?

Preaching to car owners about the evils of driving isn’t going to make people change the way they travel; making the alternatives more attractive and convenient will.

PS: I just noticed that this is my 500th post. Hurrah for me…



Filed under Department for Transport, Family life

19 responses to “Journey south

  1. Glad to see you’re still really interested in trains and transport. Wish you were still minister for it all.

    Now that you can say what you like about it all, do you fancy getting off at Wigan one night, bobbing over to our Branch meeting and telling us how we can go about getting a proper electric line to Skelmersdale via Kirkby/Wigan, an extended commuter service to Burscough to suit the TTWA, and get the Burscough curves to Southport (a Beeching calamity) reinstated? Look it all up on google, now you’ve got more time.

    I’ll pick you up at Wigan (on a tandem for a change) and drop you off for the last train up North. I’ll even buy you a pint.

    Nice 500th post.

  2. John

    Could you tell me how long it takes you to drive from London to your home in Glasgow Tom please.
    There’s no sinister motive- when I drive from MK to Penzance it takes approx. 6hrs. non-stop and I’m knackered afterwards – you must be too after such a journey.

  3. Shelldrake

    Driving from London to Glasgow? Rather you than me! I enjoy driving but London-Glasgow is a chuffing long way!
    But you’re right that to attract passengers, rail must be more convenient, cheaper and simply better than the other options. Each potential passenger will see it different ways. If you live near an airport or near a major station and there are direct flights or trains to the place you want to go, then it’s a no-brainer. If you have to take a cab or a lift to the station and your journey involves several changes then the car might be more convenient.
    That’s why direct trains are important – or at least quick and easy connections with punctual running and good information at stations. Let’s hope the new team at DfT takes this forward and realises that the key to making rail a success is to make it easy to use in its own right and not just easier to use than other modes.

  4. And Hurrah for not spewing out the usual lines we expect from all the environmentalistas in your party.

    Gaia worship’s not my thing. Worship the goddess or be taxed to the hilt…

  5. davidc

    agree absolutely with your comments re. why train is preferable to plane (assume your views not coloured by fact taxpayer is picking up ticket price as we would also be doing so if you flew !)

    as to travel by car , that is an individual decision and nothing to do with the ‘greenies ‘ or ‘warmies’

    in fact, if you laid all the environmentalists in the world end to end, i would drive over them in a range rover

  6. Johnny Norfolk

    I used to live in West Yorkshire. I attended monthly company meetings in Oxford Street.

    I could have flown from Manchester or Leeds to Heathrow and taken a taxi to HQ.
    But the best way for me was to catch the train from Leeds. I purchased an executive ticket that gave me reserved car parking at Leeds I was on the 0700 hrs Pullman with staff at the door of each carriage. When I sat down I was given a cup of good coffee all the quality newspapers. and about 30 mins after departire a full good quality English breakfast with even more papers. We pulled into London at 0900 Hrs and I caught the bus to HQ. arriving at 0930hrs latest for the start of the 1000hrs meeting.
    If I was there all day I used to return on the Pullman having dinner on the train. It was a fantastic service and far better than flying.

    The staff were fantastic and very proffesional.

    So we do not need the extra runway at heathrow as Labour want to buld. Invest in rail.

  7. Johnny Norfolk

    Tom I forgot to add I totaly agree with you on this. Its called common sense, sadly lacking it so many people who should know better.

  8. Ah! Citizen Harris speaks!

    You are of course quite correct in saying that it is up to the railways to get their product right.

    However, the government that you were a part of seems (seemed) desperately keen to reduce the impact of road traffic on the environment and pursued, on and off, policies against road users in support of this.

    Therefore, what is sauce for the goose etc…

    Meanwhile I suspect that you can’t have failed to notice how many railwaymen (and women) are also complete petrol-heads. As a cursory glance around any staff carpark will show.

    The Fact Compiler doesn’t drive and is therefore allowed to take a holier than thou attitude!

  9. Absolutely – the best way to get people on trains and off cars or planes is to make it an enjoyable, relaxing, and dare I say it, FUN experience.

    Part of that’s making it quick and efficient, but another part of that is making it comfortable and, for want of a better word ‘nice’.

  10. Three cheers to you for having the courage to write such an eminently sensible and correct post.

  11. It’s true – alleged greens often use half-baked concerns about the environment to discourage others from doing things that they don’t approve of or enjoy themselves.

    Air travel gets a lot of stick although the truth is that any sort of travel damages the environment. The only pollution free journey is the one you don’t make.

    For journeys over about 1,000 km I’ve read that a well loaded and engineered modern plane is about as good as a run-of-the-mill train in terms of pollution per passenger.

    It’s ironic that a lot of claims made for trains’ environmental-friendliness are based on ones using hated (by many “greens”) nuclear generated electricity. I once heard Hilary Benn voice the opinion that it would produce less pollution if all the passengers on some lightly-used diesel-operated branch lines were instead transported individually in 4x4s.

    Similarly I’ve found that my attempts to convince local “green” folk that they should think twice before keeping a pet (because of all the meat they need and the gas they produce) falls on deaf ears because they think of themselves as “animal lovers” (although how anyone thinks that keeping an animal bred just to provide them with pleasure is showing love is beyond me!).

    There’s an awful lot of unscientific bosh around the environmental debate.

    I also like going by train but I liked it even more when I worked for British Rail and had an all stations first class free pass…

  12. Andrew F

    I also love travelling by train. It’s great reading a book or a paper while the world rushes by. Or, if I’m with friends, for some reason we always have fun when going via rail.

    My young person’s rail card is a source of much joy. Cheap fares all year round for just £24.

  13. Brian Hall

    Completely correct Tom. Everything in the world is entropy, like little electrons in a circuit most people will choose the path of least resistance.

    The reason for the success of the car is the convenience. Your own little private bubble, waiting to transport you in your own time.

    Planes are the least resistant path for long journeys, the train to Amsterdam, never mind any other city in the continent via the channel tunnel would take many, many hours; hence the recent dominance of airlines for Businessmen and quick weekend breaks.

    We need high speed and regular train services across the country. Thats the only way you could weed me out of my CO2 plus vehicle!

  14. Chris' Wills

    Well one thing flying isn’t is enjoyable, the security at Heathrow are over the top, there is no smoking (now the same on railways I’ve been told) anywhere inside the terminal even in international. Crazy, especially as they’re happy to sell cigarettes and lighters.

    I assume you travel 1st Class on the railways; you might like trying cattle class next time. It’ll give you a different view of the world.

  15. ChrisG

    What is important is not only ease of use, but cost! Trains in the UK are expensive, dirty and not always reliable. I live in the Algarve (Portugal), and can travel to Lisbon (approx 270Kms) first class by train for less than the cost of driving up, result? both 1st and 2nd class are full on the fast trains. Until the cost of public transport falls, people will stick to their cars, be it within cities or for longer trips

  16. The Greens line that trains are, in some objective way, “better” for the environment is nonsense. Trains are considerably heavier per person, than the hated buses & often even cars. & therefore use more energy. Stepping back from that there is no evidence whatsoever that we are currently suffering from the promised global warming or that we are anywhere close to the even longer promised “peak oil” so it doesn’t matter.

    I suppose one could argue that electric trains use some nuclear power which doesn’t produce CO2, or appreciable amounts of waste & is good for several billion years & thus “Green” & renewable but for some reason the eco-fascists never do.

  17. Good to hear you’re no longer “modally agnostic” – now you’re no longer a Government minister you can say how you like travelling. Personally I’ve found of late that a bike and a railcard can get you to most places for a reasonable price (until your bike is nicked or its chain breaks anyway). I got a fairly punctual three-hour round trip for £4 on bright, newly-refurbished trains recently (and no, you aren’t subsidising that service – it was First Great Western).

    However, I’m afraid it’s James Abbot who is editor of Modern Railways. Roger Ford is merely “Industry and Technology Editor”. But I’m sure he’ll be happy about the promotion.

    P.S. – now you’ve stopped being rail minister are you planning to stop buying industry magazines and attending industry events too?

  18. Bedd Gelert

    What would make train travel an infinitely better experience is being allowed to tazer any ignorant tw@ts that are playing their music too loudly, using profane language or behaving in an anti-social way.

    If the ticket inspectors were also able to hand out on the spot fines for behaviour which, while not as bad as the previous examples, fell below the commonly accepted standards of civility and courtesy.

    Persistently ignoring warnings to get their act together should result in them being thrown off the train [the level of severity of the offence being the deciding factor on whether that is done before or after the train has stopped at a station…]

  19. Dave H.

    Why does a politician exhibiting a grasp of reality come as such an extraordinary surprise?

    Were Tom Harris my parliamentary representative, well, it could be a lot worse. (Sorry, that’s as close as I can get to a complimenting a Labour MP).

    For many years I travelled to and from Frankfurt and Stansted airports by rail. The British leg was, in every way, embarassingly awful by comparison with the German.

    For all I know, the large blue toilet waste exhibit on the track at Stansted platform 3 is still there, mutely testifying to overseas visitors what they could expect of the network in general.

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