Underinvestment in Railways

Level Crossing

I’m a big fan of railway transport – it’s greener, it’s generally safer than by car, and enables those that can’t drive to get around.  However I wish more of our politicians were regular users, as I think there are a lot of changes needed.

The cost of HS2 is currently estimated at £56 billion.  I think this money would be much better spent improving the existing network.

Take my local station, Nantwich:

Nantwich station

for instance.   The old station buildings are now an Indian restaurant, and there’s no proper station car park. The only shelter is very small.  So when there are 80 people waiting for a delayed train and it’s chucking it down, the majority will get wet.  The operator (Arriva Trains Wales) has ancient rolling stock (see here).  The newest of their fleet are 17 years old, and some of their trains are over 40 years old.  It’s a steep step onto some of their trains, which would be awkward for elderly or disabled passengers.

The screen announcing train times is a joke, and regularly gives inaccurate information (the savvy know to look at their mobile phones, to find out what’s really happening).  For instance there was a tragic fatal accident affecting a Nantwich to Crewe service, when a train hit someone near Shrewsbury just after 5:30am.  The service was due at Nantwich at 06:07.  At 06:18 the screen was still saying that the train was expected at 06:16, and only later decided that it had been cancelled!

I think Arriva Trains Wales is by no means the worst operator.  Why would they make significant investments when their franchise is scheduled to finish next year? At least they’re not using the Pacer trains made from modified buses!

A new feature in Rail News has some rather disturbing stories from the Rail Accident Investigation Branch.  I’ll pass over this story, about how a locomotive ran away and travelled 880 metres when the driver was unable to stop it!  There was another story about how a train travelling at 73 mph almost collided with a tractor and trailer at Castle Cary.  The tractor driver had been given permission to cross the track, and mistakes were made. But why, in the 21st century, do we have a situation where the signaller doesn’t know where exactly a train is in a 15.2 km long section?   If you look at the report here, the crossing looks like an accident waiting to happen.

The small boy in me is excited by the prospects of the fast travel potentially offered by HS2.  In reality, like first class travel, it will probably be too dear for me to use regularly.  I  think the £56,000,000,000 cost would be a lot better improving the existing network.

Veg Crisis

Empty fruit and veg shelves in a supermarket

Apparently we’re having a veg crisis!

My local supermarket had empty shelves and a sign explaining why it had happened:

Sign explaining the lack of fruit and vegetables is due to flooding in Spain

However when I went to my local market the next day, it was a different story!  Both of the excellent fruit and vegetable stalls had full displays:

Fruit and vegetables in Nantwich marketIt was also the same story at my lovely local greengrocer (which I’m very fortunate to still have):
P & J Salmon Greengrocers in NantwichThe only reason why there’s a gap in the display is that a customer had just chosen a cauliflower, but I know the display will be topped up soon.

How has this come about?  The problem with the supermarkets is that because they operate on a huge scale they cannot deal with small producers.  My local specialist shops frequently deal directly with the growers, or even grow it themselves.  This means they can be cheaper and sell better quality produce.

My local shops also tend to sell what’s in season.  It’s a delight to look at their colourful displays which change continually through the season.

Eating runner beans from Africa, and asparagus from Peru, in the middle of winter is both damaging to the environment and your bank balance!  It’s sad that, as a result of poor education, many people don’t even know what should be in season!

I’ve got a new site to help you here: