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Post-Brexit: Designing a 21st Century Rail Network to Serve Britons Better

by John Brian Shannon

One of the great things about Brexit is that the UK will be free to change anything within the remit of the UK government — but without the drag induced by the overly-bureaucratic EU governmental architecture slowing things down to such an extent that by the time anything gets approved it’s no longer relevant.

And judging by actual need, doing a full reset on Britain’s passenger rail network must rank as one of the top items requiring attention by HM government in the first quarter of 2020.

It’s not only the inconvenience of slow, outdated trains that fail to depart on schedule or show up at all, or the insecurity of Britons left standing on lonely platforms waiting in the darkness for a late train, it’s the lost productivity of late or no-show workers who take the train to work that acts as a drag on UK GDP. Any of those concerns alone represent a serious issue with the British rail system, but in totality suggest that Britain’s rail system is in crisis. Which means that minor adjustments won’t suffice.

And the only important metric in any passenger rail system is customer satisfaction — otherwise, no one will bother riding trains any more.


Five Ways to a Better Rail Network

People will only ride trains if they meet expectations IMHO, and at present, less than 50% of Britain’s train routes meet the following simple but important criteria; Cost, appropriate scheduling and destinations, comfort, and such modern-day necessities as high speed WiFi, snackbar, clean washrooms, and a high degree of personal security while aboard the train and in train stations, and on platforms and other common areas, rank highly with riders.

  1. The UK government should legislate a universal daypass that costs only £10 per/person per/day (except for business class) This price adjustment would revolutionize how Britons think about train travel vs. commuting by car. The proposed pricing system would apply no matter how long or short the trip and the daypass would remain valid until the end of the service day. (Because some trains run past midnight, tickets would need to remain valid until 3:00am or whenever the last stop of the day occurs anywhere on the system) That daypass ticket should allow unrestricted trips anywhere within the UK on that day with the ability for riders to ‘hop on’ and ‘hop off’ a train as many times as they like. More ridership means more revenue, which would also translate into less automobile congestion in cities and work to lower CO2 emissions, and it would improve worker reliability/productivity which is tied to national GDP. Whatever per rider cost isn’t covered by the £10 daypass revenue stream should be subsidized by the UK government as less traffic congestion, lower CO2 emissions and higher productivity are important public goods. If the government is to subsidize anything at all in the UK… unquestionably, rail should be it… because real benefits accrue to large numbers of citizens, businesses, and UK GDP just by making trains affordable for everyone.
  2. The highest customer satisfaction rail network in the UK should be given the mandate to manage the entire UK rail system and could at its discretion, subcontract some routes to other rail networks on condition they meet GCR customer service standards (for one example of a highly-rated rail system operator) going forward.
  3. Rail stations and other rail infrastructure should be built by the UK military with 21st century security needs top of mind. The UK military should create a military branch parallel to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE) which built most of America’s dams, levees, canals, and some bridges and tunnels, and other important infrastructure at a lower cost when compared to building the same projects employing (for profit) private companies; Sometimes 1/10th the cost! Projects deemed too expensive for private companies to build were, and still are, turned over to the ACOE by the U.S. government. Many military recruits begin their adjustment to military life by enlisting with the ACOE, then move to combat training later-on if they feel they want to continue in the military. It’s a good way for young people to try out military life before committing to the much harsher combat training regime and it still counts towards their tuition-free college degree credit if they signed-up under the ROTC program which rewards them with one tuition-free college degree for 4-years of service in either the U.S. ACOE or the U.S. Army/Air Force/Navy or Marines.
  4. All trains in the UK should be pulled by hydrogen fuelled locomotives and all overhead electrical wire systems for trains should be removed. (Germany is building hydrogen fuelled locomotives and two are in the UK undergoing testing) Hydrogen can be produced using surplus wind turbine energy instead of that energy being wasted due to low electricity demand at certain hours of the day. (The wind blows whenever the wind blows, but it doesn’t always blow during peak demand hours) At night for instance, electrical demand in the UK falls to 15% of maximum daytime demand, yet the wind turbines might be churning out prodigious amounts of electricity far in excess of what is needed to meet demand at that hour. The national grid then ‘curtails’ wind turbine output by remotely applying the brake to stop the wind turbine blades from spinning, or remotely turn the angle of the wind turbine blades to slow or even stop the blades from turning. Which represents a massive lost opportunity! Thousands of MegaWatt hours of energy per year are lost via such curtailment, therefore, by building a number of small hydrogen plants (reverse-osmosis) near rail lines, surplus wind power can be utilized to create hydrogen for Britain’s hydrogen fuelled locomotive fleet. Therefore, no matter what happens to the electrical grid on any given day, including a complete electrical blackout, hydrogen fuelled trains will always run on time as their fuel is carried onboard and will easily last them until the last stop of the day.
  5. All train stations should incorporate useful shops and services and the rental agent and landlord should always be the government. Useful stores such as a coffee shop, a post office, a secure and patrolled bicycle lock-up, a green grocer, a florist, a secure daycare to drop off your child in the morning and retrieve him/her on your way home, a hardware store, a convenience store, a dog kennel so you can drop off your dog in the morning and pick him up and walk home with him at night, a lost and found, and a police station, even if it has only one constable and one police dog. In this way, the government can rent the retail space in each train station and thereby recoup the construction costs of building such stations over a 25-year timeframe.

It’s simply a case of turning the rail system into something that meshes with the needs of riders instead of one designed to meet the profits of rail operators.

In that way, ridership will increase and rail operators will be funded by a combination of riders and government subsidy. No financial losses for rail operators! Lower spending by the government on roads and automobile-related CO2 reduction programmes! All good.

And this plan results in a virtuous cycle. As everyone leaves their cars at home, it will mean less automobile congestion in UK cities, lower CO2 levels in cities, better productivity for employers whose employees take the train to work, less curtailment of wind turbines, job creation to produce reverse-osmosis hydrogen facilities relatively near each rail terminus, job creation to manufacture hydrogen locomotives under license from the German patent-holder, zero rail disruptions due to electrical grid power failures, no more unsightly and tangled mess of wires above UK rail routes and job creation for the (as suggested in this blog post) a UK ‘Army Corps of Engineers’ so that young people can try military life at low risk and still receive a tuition-free college degree after 4-years of service.

One last point: No one would have created the UK rail system as it exists today — it evolved into what it is over many decades. Imagine that there were no railways in the UK until this very day and that tomorrow a brilliant team would assemble to begin planning the new rail system. In no way would that ‘designed from scratch’ rail system look anything like the system that exists today. At all! Not even close.

And let that be our guide! For we now have the opportunity to begin anew following Brexit, to recreate Britain’s rail network so that it works for the people, for UK cities, for UK businesses, for the UK military, and for the government. That’s a rail network everyone can buy into. Toot-toot!


Bonus Image

Bombardier Mark III ALRT light rail cars in Vancouver, Canada

Image of Vancouver’s Skytrain Mark III ALRT trains built by Bombardier Transportation in Montreal, Canada.

In Vancouver, Canada, (if you have plenty of time on your hands) you can ride every Skytrain route and every Seabus route and every bus route for only $10.50 per day using a DayPass.

“A DayPass provides unlimited transit use on all buses, SkyTrain and SeaBus for one day from the start of the first transit service to the end of the service day. You can use it for travel through all zones, and save money over buying single fares when you take multiple trips in the same day.” — Vancouver TRANSLINK

In Britain, those Bombardier ALRT cars would require a streamlined hydrogen powered locomotive to pull them along at up to 150 miles per hour in the wide-open spaces between UK cities — instead of being powered by the Bombardier linear induction motors energized by an electrical current bar/pickup on the trackbed.


Related Articles

  • UK railways need ‘radical overhaul’, campaigners say (BBC)

Will 2020 Be the Year that Britain Shines?

by John Brian Shannon

It has been an eventful 2019, hasn’t it?

I can hear you saying, ‘Please don’t go there!’, and I don’t blame you a bit for saying it.

In 2019, the UK lurched from one disaster to another; From weak Brexit politics and its concomitant economic uncertainty, to floods, to troubles within the major political parties and miss-steps with Britain’s allies. It has been a mess.

Consequently, 2020 can only be better. YAY!

Still, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson united the formerly disunited Conservative and Unionist Party, which is now sitting at 365-seats strong — strong enough to pass almost any bill it wants — including a Brexit bill allowing the UK to leave the European Union on January 31, 2020, and a requirement for the UK and the EU to agree a trade deal by December 31, 2020 (or a so-called ‘No Deal’ Brexit will occur, which isn’t the worst thing in the world as WTO rules would automatically kick-in until a trade deal between the two parties is signed) that will set the rules and regulations (and the tone) for all future trade between the UK and the EU.

So, yeah, it’s important. To both sides. Try not to screw it up!


What We’d Like to See in 2020

Here’s a short list of some of the non-Brexit legislation that LetterToBritain.com would like to see passed in 2020 (legislation that would actually be passed into law in 2020) that would make the UK stronger economically, environmentally, and militarily.

  1. Legislation requiring one tree planted in the UK per each new vehicle sold in the UK by 2021. For cars and trucks that get over 50-miles per gallon automakers should fund the planting of 1-tree per new vehicle sold — but cars and trucks that get worse mileage than that should be required to plant 2-trees per new vehicle sold. The thinking is this: One giant sequoia tree can remove and store as much as 1400 metric tons of CO2 — which, astonishingly, is equal to the lifetime CO2 footprint of the average American citizen. Check out that claim here. Sequoia trees are the largest trees on planet Earth but even a mature Douglas fir or Oak tree can capture and hold hundreds of tons of CO2 in their trunks, branches and roots.
  2. Legislation requiring all ships to use clean power while in UK waters by 2021. Ships should be connected to cleaner ‘shore power’ instead of idling their engines while tied-up at port, and legislation requiring all ships over 20-tons displacement to use hydrogen fuel or battery power anytime they’re inside the UK’s 12-mile marine zone, and legislation requiring Royal Navy ships to use biofuels (as is already done in the US Navy) or better, to use natural gas, or even cleaner hydrogen fuel, or sail on 100% battery power like the US Navy’s newest and best destroyer, USS Zumwalt. Shipping represents just over 2% of global CO2 emissions, which could be cut in half by merely substituting biodiesel instead of bunker fuel. (Older ships may not easily transition from bunker or diesel fuel to biodiesel as biofuel tends to degrade low-quality rubber seals and gaskets, therefore, some small amount of subsidy should be offered to shipbuilders and yachtbuilders in the UK to ensure that all new ships are biofuel compatible)
  3. Legislation requiring 50/50 biofuel blended UK civil aviation fuel and UK military aircraft fuel by 2021. Like shipping, civil aviation contributes just over 2% of global CO2 emissions, which could be cut to 1% of global CO2 emissions via the use of biofuels. Today’s jet aircraft can burn biofuel with only minimal upgrades to rubber seals and gaskets. In fact, Boeing reports that because biofuels burn cleaner, engine maintenance costs fall due to less soot build-up and CO2 emissions can fall by up to 80% on civilian aircraft flights. And for the military, clean burning biofuels leave no smoke contrails behind the aircraft which is an important consideration to military aircraft survivability in combat zones! Sourcing biofuel is a little more challenging, because at the moment almost every drop of biofuel produced in the world is sold in Brazil and South Africa where cars burn a 50/50 biofuel blend and consequently, car emissions are 45% lower when compared to conventional petrol. Biofuel burns much cleaner than the best grades of petroleum-based fuels as… wait for it… there’s absolutely no sulphur in biofuel! And as you may know, cobalt removes most of the sulphur from petroleum-based petrol and diesel fuel and so much of it is used in the petroleum refining process that most of the world’s annual cobalt production is used for this purpose. All battery manufacturing on Earth utilizes only a fraction of total cobalt production, yet this fascinating point remains below the radar of the mainstream media.
  4. Legislation requiring all low-income senior citizens’ monthly income to be topped-up to £1200. per month via the reverse-income tax method and they should also receive free medical, free dental and free prescription medications (if their private or government pension plan doesn’t already include these three benefits). Any senior trying to survive on less than that amount plus those three benefits will simply cost the healthcare system, food banks, or their families hundreds or even thousands of pounds annually. How the UK treats its low-income seniors is a national disgrace! Seniors built the great UK we see today and they did it without the internet, smartphones, air conditioning, the social safety net (which still needs improvement) and they did it with lower labour standards. And worse than that. Toss in a couple of world wars, the Cold War, a few recessions, an overburdened NHS a scale of change they lived through unlike anything since the Industrial Revolution and it’s safe to say they’ve earned it. So let’s show our respect to UK seniors by helping them to live out their remaining years a little more comfortably.

Here’s a family doing a great thing for the UK: Prince William launches ‘Earthshot Prize’ to help speed climate solutions


Wishing All of You a Safe, Happy and Prosperous New Year!

No matter which side of Brexit you were on, regardless of which political party you favoured in the 2019 election, and regardless of age, gender, race, religion, or anything that could be construed by Britain’s critics as a way to divide us… there is simply much more that unites us than divides us. May that ever be the case.

Wishing all of you an enjoyable New Years’ celebration and a happy and prosperous 2020!

Labour Leadership Take Blame for UK Election Loss – But is it Really Their Fault?

by John Brian Shannon

UK General Election 2019 results chart. Image courtesy of BBC

UK General Election 2019 results chart. Image courtesy of BBC.com

Following Labour’s loss in the UK General Election 2019, UK Labour leaders have admitted responsibility for their failure at the polls. Very admirable. Both Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and Labour’s Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell have accepted ‘full responsibility’ for the loss of 59-Labour seats in this election.

Which is very responsible of them and shows a level of maturity not always seen in politicians, who, as we have seen in recent days, can sometimes be angry with voters when their party loses an election or when they lose their own seat.

But does all that responsibility and maturity tell the whole story?


Looking at the Larger Context

In a democracy, politicians must represent the wishes of The People, or at the very least, try to represent the wishes of the constituents in the district they serve. This can sometimes be a bit of a gamble.

Nevertheless, in a democracy, ALL THE PEOPLE must be represented.

We don’t get to choose, politicians don’t get to choose — it’s The People who get to choose what policies they want brought forward and which ones to downgrade. And try as they might, not all of the politicians all of the time get the prevailing mood of the people right. Therefore, we have ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ in elections. But, you knew that.


What Labour Did

I believe that Jeremy Corbyn & Co. decided early-on that there was a sizeable number of Britons who could be classed as ‘Remainers’ and the Labour leadership decided to represent those people at the election. If there were as many ‘Remain’ voters as the Labour leadership thought there were, Jeremy Corbyn might’ve been in 10 Downing St. by now.

And there were enough Remainers to put 203 Labour MP’s into the House of Commons, but not enough to surpass the party that supported ‘Leave’. That’s how elections go; Sometimes you guess right and sometimes you guess wrong. And Labour guessed wrong this time.

Regardless, I admire Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell for choosing to support those who would’ve been under-represented at this election — as in a democracy, ALL THE PEOPLE have the right to be represented, even if we don’t agree with their views. Because, in a democratic system, it isn’t all about you. It’s about everyone.

But now that the election has been held and the results tabulated, it’s clear that the Leave-supporting party has won the election by a landslide… and those voters who voted for ‘Remain’ parties must accept the will of The People in the same responsible and mature manner as demonstrated by Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell.

It’s over. ‘Leave’ won. The People have spoken. It’s time to respect the democratic will of The People and get on with delivering Brexit.