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Week 4: 100,000.

Saturday 30th January 2021

Worcester

or … Lincoln

or … Wakefield

or …. Preston

…. completely wiped out.

In ten months.

Haywards Heath …… just since Christmas.

Five missed COBRA meetings … Shaking hands with everyone … Cheltenham Races … PPE … Testing … a protective ring around care homes (not) … send the virus packing within twelve weeks … Open borders … Barnard Castle … ‘Serco’ Test & Trace … free school meals … school exam results … Eat out to help out … return to work or risk being fired … September circuit breaker (not) … school meals (again) … inhuman to cancel Christmas … Christmas household mixing … late to lockdown (again) …

“What I can tell you is that we truly did everything we could.”

Probably the most shameful, insensitive, disrespectful, untruthful remark from a Prime Minister in my lifetime.

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This past “grim milestone” week, began for the public transport sector with consternation among rail commentators last weekend about a £760 million funding announcement from Government for the western section (Oxford to Milton Keynes) of East West Rail . The problem being there was no mention of a U-turn to reverse the 2016 U-turn which cancelled the route’s electrification, originally announced as a ‘game-changer’ in 2012.

To add to the dismay, the BBC’s on line news report included a photo shopped image of am Advanced Passenger Train; a project abandoned as far back as 1985.

The announcement also included £34 million for “initial work” aimed at reintroducing passenger services on the Ashington freight line in Northumberland.

Inevitably Saturday’s combined announcement had Shapps trotting out the usual platitudes “restoring closed lines …. helps connect ‘left behind’ communities …. puts them back on the map … build back vital connections … part of ‘levelling up’ agenda”. You’d think buses exist in a parallel universe way beyond the Secretary of State’s orbit and consciousness and do nothing to connect communities.

When challenged why no electrification, bearing in mind Government’s pledge to ban the sale of petrol and diesel powered engines within the lifetime of existing vehicles, Shapps came up with the line, the line “might potentially bypass the overhead wire technology altogether” which does make one wonder, if he’s so confident about viable alternatives to electrification within such a short timescale (which I assume means hydrogen or mega capacity batteries), what on earth are we doing building HS2 as an electrified railway at huge expense?

The DfT announcement for East West Rail also caused concern by making no reference to connecting Aylesbury into the east-west alignment, nor clarification whether any funding is earmarked for the central section beyond Bletchley to Bedford.

A target opening date for Oxford to Milton Keynes was given as 2025, thereby confirming a further delay from the previous most recent target of 2024, itself way later than the original plan for ribbon cutting for December 2017, when the line was first announced by George Osborne in his 2011 Autumn Statement.

Bearing in mind the £760 million was included and announced in last November’s Spending Review, you have to wonder what was behind announcing it again last Saturday. The reality is, the only new piece of news was the opening date being delayed by a further year.

Meanwhile up in Northumberland Rail Minister Chris Heaton-Harris says he is “very confident” trains will be running on the Ashington line “by 2024”., which presumably means some time in 2025 or later. There’s been talk of reopening this freight line through Blyth to passenger trains for many a year, but presumably the project has taken on new urgency following the election, for the first time, of a Conservative MP (Ian Levy) for the Blyth Valley constituency in December 2019’s ‘Red Wall’ election success.

The investment, which represents around a fifth of the total scheme cost, will fund “land acquisition, completion of detailed design and for Network Rail to commence early works prior to relevant planning approvals”. Expect another grand announcement of further funding in the coming months when another good news story is needed. And what’s to become of the successful commercially operated bus routes serving the area? Let’s hope the six proposed stations are not built with an abundance of car parking spaces and the opportunity is taken to truly integrate things.

Mention of HS2 reminds me to mention a snippet from Board papers released on Wednesday morning for the upcoming TfL Board meeting on 3rd February. The Transport Commissioner’s report contained more concerning news that “DfT has recently instructed HS2 to proceed with further design development for one of the options, which provides a solution based around 10 HS2 platforms….” at Euston. Experts who know about these things have been quick to point out cutting the number of HS2 platforms from 11 to 10 will likely limit line capacity to a constraining 14 trains per hour as well as giving no scope to deal with late running and disruption meaning late services being turned short at Old Oak Common to reduce ‘knock-on’ effects.

Some sceptics wondered if the reduced capacity was linked to the uncertainty over the line’s Eastern leg to Yorkshire, but Transport Minister Andrew Stephenson announced on Thursday: “we are committed to building HS2 phase 2b and to enable the East Midlands, Yorkshire and the North East to reap the benefits of high-speed rail services….we aim to publish the Integrated Rail Plan early this year which will set out our plans covering the eastern leg”.

Meanwhile at HS2’s Euston Square site bailiffs began the task this week of evicting protestors who’ve built tree houses and even tunnels in scenes reminiscent of road building protests of the 1990s, which does make me wonder what form of transport the protestors feel we should all be using. Still, if the tunnel proves robust, maybe it could save a bit of construction time and costs providing the underground walkway to Euston Square Underground station!

Still on the week’s rail news, full business cases for proposed new stations on the Walsall to Wolverhampton line at Darlastan and Willenhall have been approved by the West Midlands Combined Authority. That justification must have made interesting reading bearing in mind the originally assessed build cost in 2018 was “around £18 million” and has now tripled to a whopping £55.8 million. The opening date is now targeted for Mach 2023; which is only a couple of years on from the 2021 deadline set in 2018, so not too bad as new rail station openings go. Meanwhile it’s reported the three new stations on the Camp Hill line at Moseley, Kings Heath and Hazelwell currently have a £20.5 million funding gap. so I don’t think we’ll be seeing them any time soon. And while we’re on new station build costs, comes news from Devon that although work “could finally soon get underway” on a new station at Marsh Barton (between Exeter and Newton Abbot) “the cost has almost quadrupled in a decade”. Originally estimated to cost £4.3 million, rising to £7.3 million in 2015, the latest estimate has reached £16 million. News is awaited whether a bid to the DfT’s New Stations Fund for £3.1 million has been successful.

Exciting new track based schemes were also in the news this week in West Yorkshire where the Combined Authority revealed a “transformational mass transit plan”.

West Yorkshire hasn’t had a lot of luck with its “transformational” plans in the last decade or two for Leeds. First its supertram idea was scuppered due to rising costs and then its whacky idea for a ‘new generation’ trolleybus route was thrown out at a public enquiry. Now it’s planning “nine routes built in stages across the county over 20 years”. There’s even a map to illustrate its aspirations.

Click here to see the full 46 page “working draft for engagement” report explaining the thinking behind “West Yorkshire Mass Transit Vision 2040”. outlining the ambitious ideas which don’t yet specify whether the transformation will be to a bus based rapid transport, light rail, tram-train or ultra-light rail.

Let’s switch to buses with news on Monday, in one of the least snappiest news release titles: “Stagecoach sets out package of partnership measures in Greater Manchester to help post-Covid acceleration of bus use“.

Acting as a “trailblazer for other locations across the country” Stagecoach reckon the proposed “two-year programme of measures” delivered jointly by the company and the local authority “could help deliver the planned National Bus Strategy for England” as well as a blueprint to speed up bus use across Britain”.

Sounds enticing so I eagerly read on to see what the plan comprised. After the usual bumph in the first eight paragraphs about “…buses well over 4 billion journeys a year …. critical role of buses …. COP 26 climate change summit …. double deck bus .. 75 cars off the road …. pilot for an integrated package of joint interventions and investments …kickstart rapid growth ….” came some details:

There’ll be a ‘Partnership Board’ comprising the public and private sector, chaired by the Mayor, to develop bus improvement plans.

And we even get some specific examples such as improvements to named junctions including more effective traffic lights together with an accelerated roll out of more electric buses; expanding flexible ticket options; more demand responsive transport; and clear customer information.

But it had a touch of déjà vu about it for me. And I soon realised why as checking back, eleven months ago, in February 2020, came news of a “New partnership plan for Greater Manchester bus network” from Stagecoach.

Those “radical new alternative proposals” will “deliver a step-change in the region’s bus network, providing improved connectivity, cleaner air, better value for taxpayers and a stronger economy”.

The plan included £142 million investment “in around 500 new cleaner low emission buses” over a “10-year partnership plan” with a commitment to profits “above an agreed benchmark” shared equally with Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA), Stagecoach and a “new Partnership Investment Fund” which could see a third of the total spent anywhere across the region and two-thirds to initiatives in south Manchester where Stagecoach operate. The Plan also states “up to £25 million paying for socially necessary services without subsidy”.

The February 2020 “ground breaking” Plan was quoted as “backed by Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham, Transport for Greater Manchester and other key organisations” and “would deliver more comprehensive services, better value fares, simpler ticketing, an improved customer experience, as well as addressing issues around damaging car congestion which impacts bus punctuality”.

It’s not clear what became of the 2020 ‘New Partnership Plan’ but checking further back I see another high profile plan was announced by Stagecoach In February 2019 to “deliver one of Europe’s largest single investments in electric buses for Greater Manchester after winning £6.9 million in support funding from the Government”.

Like this latest announcement, and its forerunner in 2020, that 2019 announcement “would deliver more comprehensive services, better value fares, simpler ticketing, an improved customer experience, as well as addressing issues around damaging car congestion which impacts bus punctuality”.

It’s not clear whether Mayor Burnham ever took up Stagecoach’s Partnership Board offer from 2020, but with his own beloved franchising plans now passing their second public consultation (it closed yesterday, Friday), a decision is expected “by the Spring” on TfGM’s “bus reform proposals”. One things for sure. There’s no shortage of ‘transformational plans’ for buses in Greater Manchester.

In the more immediate future, the biggest priority for most of us is the continued roll out of the vaccination programme – a key factor in returning to a more normal life. Well done to Metrobus for working with Alliance for Better Care and providing one of its Fastway branded Volvo buses to act as a mobile vaccination unit enabling the NHS Community Vaccination Team to “get to harder to reach and vulnerable groups in our communities”. It began its new role in Crawley on Thursday.

Also taking to the road this week were First Aberdeen’s hydrogen powered double deckers, which are of course, a “world first” – even beating TfL to the hydrogen double decker accolade. First Aberdeen excitedly announced the buses will “mean healthy, happy communities with quiet streets” which arises because each bus “plays a major role in reducing Aberdeen’s carbon footprint by saving 84 tonnes of carbon per year” which I’m sure is an impressive result, even if I’ve no idea what 230 kilograms of carbon per day looks like, but apparently it’s the same as “removing 38 petrol or 42 diesel cars from the road”. Hopefully the same Aberdeen City Council that’s backing this project has learnt its lesson from its ban on buses from Union Street last summer which was hardly a way to encourage modal shift and save all that carbon.

Photo courtesy First Aberdeen

The fifteen Wright buses will be used on route 19 (Peterculter to Tillydrone) as well as other services and are part of an £8.3 million project funded by Aberdeen City Council, the Scottish Government and the European Union (remember them?). It works out at an investment of about £500,000 per vehicle, so I hope plenty of motorists are getting ready to leave their car keys on the mantlepiece to justify such an impressive sum.

Finally, travel trends continue at a very consistent level during lockdown with passengers on both TfL Tube and bus slightly up on last week coming in this week at 17% and 33% respectively (last week 16% and 32%) while bus passengers outside London slipped 1% from 27% to 26% with train use static at 13%. Most bus companies are now on around 80% of normal service levels indicating a lot of spare capacity and near empty buses travelling around.

Transport Focus’s weekly monitoring of attitudes encouragingly shows among those not using public transport saying they don’t feel safe using it at the moment has decreased from 30% to 23% and among those who haven’t used a train or bus in the last two weeks, there’s been an increase in those who would feel safe doing so, if they had to, increasing from 33% to 37% by train and 27% to 31% by bus. I haven’t seen any of those awful scary “Coronavirus also takes the train/bus” adverts on social media, so perhaps they’ve dropped the idea, which, if so, is just as well with those mildly encouraging research results.

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I’ll leave you with a cartoon courtesy of The Guardian which seemed to sum up this last poignant week.

Roger French

BusAndTrainUser View All

I used to run a bus company but in retirement am a full time passenger travelling all over Britain enjoying its splendid scenic delights by bus and train. Currently social distancing at home.

37 thoughts on “Week 4: 100,000. Leave a comment

  1. You obviously have a political agenda so I’m unfollowing your posts. I dont think any political party could have done better especially Labour under Corbyn or Captain Hindsight.

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      • You are correct but every government has something to learn – even the two you mentioned and the likes of Vietnam, Malaysia, Iceland, Denmark, South Korea. If you don’t learn then you make the same mistakes again and again. If any politician thinks we got it right then we will be completely unprepared should anything (even vaguely) similar happen again. It is an insult to those who died ‘in service’.

        New Zealand – Jacinda Ardern should have sacked the Health Minister, not demoted him, when he broke lockdown restrictions. It gives a message. ‘Go Hard, Go Early’ was her watchword, she needed to Go Hard.

        One thing that has not helped at all is the tendency to ‘over promise and under deliver’, that is not a political issue, it has been repeated right across the political spectrum. And the transport field is rife with this as well. It just leads to scepticism (just read the above).

        Liked by 1 person

    • I’m not sure where Jeremy Corbyn comes in to anything as he’s certainly not mentioned in the blog. As far as I’m concerned there are a number of statements which are factually accurate followed by Roger’s personal opinion which he’s perfectly entitled to on his own blog.

      In the spirit of Private Eye I won’t be cancelling my subscription!

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      • Hard to tell how Jeremy Corbyn would have handled the coronavirus but as he didn’t get elected so sort of neither here nor there.certainly Boris did a lot of listening to characters like Sir JD Neverspoon.Fairly obviously that pubs and similar places where major vectors in the spread and should have been shut straight away.what always got me about Boris in the early stages, but not now ,is he always boasted about his knowledge of history so he must have been familiar with the 1918 influenza and how it spread,close human contact,yet chose to listen to a publican with gold skin and a mullet instead!

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  2. Thank you for nailing the recurring ‘announcements’ nonsense that governments of all colours now trot out.

    Would a different government do better given the post-austerity state of public services? Probably not, though one hopes against hope that the current political class could produce a few leaders who might inspire more confidence.

    But my question for this week is: has there been a recent enquiry/report into the huge discrepancies between estimated and actual costs in recent major public transport schemes?

    Or are cost overruns now embedded in the engineering management culture, as they seem to be at the MoD?

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  3. Thanks Roger. The drawing of parallels between the relentlessly upbeat comments on our battle with the virus and the press releases on transport investment which have a retread each year is illustrated well. All the talk of investment is talk, costs are rising each time and small changes to the plans are deleterious.

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  4. Sadly the Blyth and Tyne line reopening comes with 1100 car parking spaces (not including the existing multi storey at Northumberland Park Metro) the platforms are away from the actual community and next to the car park. The £34m is for land acquisition so car parks then. The consultation presented plans designed by drivers, the only sustainable transport plan of significance is an Active travel bridge over the spine road at Bebside station linking the station with a large supermarket and housing on the east side
    It’s a huge missed opportunity

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  5. Question: what have the government and Stagecoach got in common?
    Answer: a recurring habit of re-announcing “exciting/ transformational/ world-leading” projects…many of which are anything but!

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  6. Regarding re-opening to Blyth, you say “Let’s hope…..the opportunity is taken to truly integrate things”.
    While I fully agree that integration, like Motherhood, is a ‘good thing’, I can’t help thinking that it would involve the existing Arriva network of X-routes into Newcastle being replaced with a series of connecting routes to stations, a la pre-deregulation T&W Metro. Still, based on past experience, it may be 2035 or even 2040 before the line is open, so no need to worry just yet.

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  7. They will be built with ‘an abundance of car parking spaces’as parkways are the only thing that interests the current developers of so called public transport although having said that we have the strange anomaly of James Cook Hospital station in Middlesbrough of a new station and one of the few stations with no public roads leading to it.it’s accessible via a path which I’d guess must be a public footpath or possibly bridleway but no status is shown on the OS map.

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  8. Wow! Thought I had inadvertently tuned into a “Workers Revolutionary Party” manifesto instead of a “busandtrainuser” blog! At least I learned the cause of “everything that has gone wrong” is solely down to PM Johnson, and ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with the Idiots in the “Me Me Me” society who still had to have their beach parties, foreign holidays, raves and extended family get togethers at every opportunity. Not to mention protesting at rallies and marches at the compulsory wearing of masks in shops and public transport. As Eamonn comments, Captain Hindsight really couldn’t have done better.

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  9. Rail projects in the UK are always very expensive and go about 4 times over budget and typically delivered and even stranger they take longer than in the steam age. Even building a basic station costs a fortune and takes for ever

    If you take bus they are going in the wrong direction and not providing the services people want. Buses should be
    mainly for local journeys and rail for longer journeys. Rail & bus needs to be integrated but in most cases it is not and buses get further and further from the local communities’ as they pull out of residential areas It just forces people to use the car

    The favourite of local councils is demand responsive service but they provide only a very inconvenient service and a very basic service snd are high cost and is seen as a service only for the very elderly so most use the car

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  10. An interesting and thought provoking blog as always. The stream of projects which are announced, re-announced, delayed, descoped and go over budget makes for dismal reading. And let’s be honest we could add plenty more to it.

    There’s definitely a need to just get on with it in a lot of cases but how to make that happen seems to be the million dollar question.

    On the subject of cost over runs/increasing estimates it would interesting to know how often it’s a straight over run/poor estimate or it’s more often a case of the project scope increasing. In either case though the cost of rail projects does seem to have spiralled out of control since privatisation to the detriment of all concerned. How many improvements aren’t even considered due to the eye watering sums involved?

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  11. For those mentioning Captain Hindsight I observe that Major Muddle chose to ignore suggestions of the Leader of the Opposition in late November as he did not want to take Christmas away – only to do so some three weeks later. To exercise hindsight one has to be behind the curve- which Sir Kier has not been depite the claims of Major Muddle (who out ranks a Captain)

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  12. Major Muddle outranks a Captain. The leader of the opposition suggested a need for greater restrictions a month before The Major introduced them.

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  13. “Shameful, insensitive, disrespectful, untruthful” BoJo may well be, but come the next election Murdoch’s muckraking media will once again make out the opposition (all the opposition, not just ‘noo liebour’ in whatever form it enters the poll) to be a horde of rabid communists intent on taking every last ha’penny from the tax-dodgers, sorry, tax-payers, and equally intent on destroying the country with mass borrowing and/or huge tax rises, and the voters will yet again duly demonstrate that they have the memory of goldfish by voting for whoever they’re told to vote for because “well, my mate shared this thing on facebook, so it’s gotta be tru, innit like, and in any case it sed in the sun”.

    This country is screwed; thankfully by the time it completely implodes all us old farts who comment here will be dead and gone.

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  14. The BBC website has an interesting analysis of the 100,000 Covid-19 deaths in the UK. It considers several factors, including political decisions, but other geographical and economic factors play a role as well:-

    https://www.bbc.com/news/health-55757790

    As far as infrastructure projects that go over budget are concerned, the UK doesn’t have a monopoly there – and nor are they anything new. Here in Germany, the new Berlin airport has finally opened. In 2009 the construction cost was budgeted at €2.83 billion. As of 13 January 2018, the total cost was anticipated to be €9.4 billion. Or we have Stuttgart 21 – the new underground station for regional and long distance trains, which in November 1995 was predicted to cost 2.6 Bn Euro. By 26 January 2018 the estimate had risen to 8.2 Bn Euro. Whether the Fire Service will ever approve it to open is another question, but that’s still a few years in the future.

    If we go back to the 1850’s, according to Wikipedia, the steam ship “Great Eastern”, designed by Brunel, “… was at first named the Leviathan, but her high building and launching costs ruined the Eastern Steam Navigation Company and so she lay unfinished for a year before being sold to the Great Eastern Ship Company..” Brunel’s S.S. Great Britain also went over budget – projected cost: £70,000; actual: £117,000. Doesn’t sound much today, but still more than 50% over budget.

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  15. Another thought-proving article and one of the most entertaining comments sections for a while!

    Could a different administration have done any better? Who knows?, but one suspects a rabid reliance on the private sector to do work the public sector can do perfectly well (I’m thinking track and trace here) wouldn’t have occurred with a more left-leaning administration. I’m afraid to say, Terence, many of the ‘me, me, me’ generation are probably quite attracted to the Laissez-faire, Libertarian politics of Alexander Johnson and Co. No wonder compliance to the regulations are somewhat, er, inconsistent….

    A bit more humility about the Covid crisis wouldn’t go amiss from this government and maybe the regurgitation of old transport press releases will follow this new spirit of honesty. I’m not holding my breath….

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  16. Disappointed that comments on a transport blog seem to have become pointless political frustration venting.
    Regarding Roger’s real points :
    1) There does seem to be a need to look at the incredible costs of new stations etc – ?engineers being given free rein without anyone saying we have to do this for less?
    2) Also to look at the long delays it takes before much talked about projects actually start.
    3) Sometimes the desire for integration seems to forget what the customer wants – would people rather get a bus straight from home to Newcastle or be forced to get a bus to the station and then a train? This is the thinking that wanted people from south of the Tyne to get off their bus in Gateshead and get the Metro across the river – what happens now is that people have a choice !

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  17. So the rest of the World got it right first time did they? Only the Johnson government’s crystal ball failed. Interesting.

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    • Sir Donald Trump didn’t get it right look at the steamroller death rate in the USA!now Germany is shooting forward too.even given the larger population the USA is way in excess of other countries although we’re rolling in at over 1200 nearly every day now.where will it all end I ask? although on the positive note I did see some debate on banning motorists from our national parks.best of both worlds being a motorist pave the countryside over but you still get to drive into it to enjoy they bits you haven’t paved over!

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  18. Roger – obviously you are entitled to publish whatever you like on your blog, however I do find it disappointing to come and read about public transport only to find a huge criticism of government, irrelevant to public transport followed by comments which are frankly an unhealthy spat over something which people will never agree. I would urge you to keep your blogs focussed on the subject in hand – transport. I would positively encourage critique of government transport policy, but I feel these more toxic political subjects are not worthy of such an excellent blog as this. Just my thoughts – I hope you don’t mind me putting them in writing!

    Liked by 1 person

  19. A new law banning the use of old tyres on lorries, buses, coaches and minibuses has come into force. It follows nearly a decade of campaigning by the mother of a teenage son killed in a coach crash.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. No spike in infections when pubs and restaurants reopened in July yet when schools and universities restarted in September in reseeded the virus across the whole country.

    Liked by 1 person

  21. Regarding cost overspends. Any new development requires a Business Case which must demonstrate Value for Money, and should include an element for cost overruns termed ‘optimism bias’. If the estimated costs are too high, VfM will be difficult to prove. There may will be pressure on the ‘experts’ to reduce the costs of the projects submitted in the Business Case to ensure it passes the VfM test, but maybe at the risk of incurring additional costs when the project starts, by which time it is too late to say ‘Stop’.

    Liked by 1 person

  22. MotCO, surely there is enough experience in the DfT (or elsewhere) to predict cost overruns? Or is there no discernible logic or other pattern to the incidence of such costs? And are lessons learned from auditing business cases, project phases, and post-implementation?

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  23. Ian, my point was that these costs may have been reasonablym foreseen, but there may not have been the appetite to declare them since the VfM may not stack up and the scheme may not be approved.

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  24. MotCO, it sometimes seems to be less a loss of appetite for telling the whole story, but rather a lack of professionalism combined with a cavalier attitude towards spending public money.

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  25. Northumberland Line proposals
    from: https://www.northumberland.gov.uk/Highways/Transport-policy/northumberland-line.aspx

    Ashington – existing car park increased by 166 to 279 spaces – town centre station
    Bedlington – new car park of 53 spaces (single site) or 66 spaces (split over two sites) – station is adjacent to a local centre but some way from the main town centre
    Blyth Bebside – new car park of 282 spaces – station is 2½ miles from the town centre and outside the main built-up area
    Newsham – new car park, size unspecified – station is 2½ miles from Blyth town centre and outside the main built-up area
    Seaton Delaval – new car park of 282 spaces – station is ½ mile from the town centre and well within the built-up area
    Northumberland Park – no new car park

    Unfortunately, given the dispersed towns and villages in the area, I think we have to accept that there will inevitably be a fair number of people driving to the station – but that’s better than them driving in to Newcastle as many of them do now! It would be a much harder job to attract them out of their cars if they had to get a feeder bus and then a train.

    Yes, the existing bus network is very good – while a new railway could see a drop in demand and a reduction in bus services, the current system could sustain a substantial reduction and still be providing a high quality, frequent and comprehensive network.

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