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Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Fighting with Richmond Station

Richmond Station is a bit stupid. Now don't get me wrong I love the place, but I feel that it is where all the problems of interchange stations come to the fore in a microcosm. Where at Waterloo the missing of trains, food arrangements and general the general scuffle of commuters are well spaced apart and not much of a nuisance, at Richmond the same problems are compacted within very limited area, which makes the affair somewhat of a trial.

I think I'll start with a brief history of the stations, as this sets my complaints about it in context, please use the map that I made shows when everything was built. The Richmond and West End Railway (Clapham Junction-Richmond) opened the first terminus on 27th July 1846. When the line was extended to Windsor by the Windsor, Staines and South Western Railway this company opened a new through station in August 1848. Soon after their opening both companies were taken over by their main backers, the London and South Western Railway (L&SWR). The old terminus station was used as Richmond's goods station until 1936. On the 1st January 1869 the L&SWR connected the West London Joint Railway's station at Addison Road (now Kensington Olympia) with Richmond, and to accommodate the extra trains the company built a new northern terminal station. This was how the station remained until 1937 until the Southern Railway rebuilt the main station buildings, decommissioned the 1848 through station and moved the through platforms to align with the terminal ones. Currently South West Trains operate the main line through services and Transport for London operate the District Line and London Overground services from the terminal station. Unless you want to get into the nitty gritty of the history of the station (and lets face it that is a wild prospect), I think that this is all that will be required for what follows.

The first thing about Richmond is that from any vantage point from within a train, the movements of all services can be observed. This creates a situation were making a connection between the terminus and through stations is like some weird psychological torture, a device formulated by past railway builders to spite the railway traveller. The journeys that I take through the station usually means either leaving the main line services and getting onto the trains that run out of the terminal station (all of which run to my usual destination of Kew Gardens). I also do the return journey. The former journey is always fine, I suppose, as missing a connection isn't an issue. There is usually another train to Kew within 5 minutes. It is the return journey that is the nightmare, something that makes me want to kneel down on the station concourse and beat my fists against the ticket machine. In this journey I will have to catch a particular main line train, at a particular time, usually at either 29 or 59 past the hour. So I travel along in the Overground or Underground train, winding its way through lovely Kew, passing the temple of commerce, Homebase, and I marvel at the skips and general decoration of the line side. The time is 6.21, the train takes 3 minutes, and I believe, foolishly, that my interchange will be a smooth transaction. The train trundles into the approach to Richmond and then STOPS! This is the terror of which I write, a nightmare of limitless proportions, of a clock that is my enemy. 6.24 passes, and no movement. 6.25, 6.26, 6.27, and then like a great instrument of torment the train home on the main line sweeps by on my left hand side. Plastered up against the window, like a 6 ft tree frog, I realise that I'll now be sitting in the Puccinos for half an hour, cursing some railway engineer for the torment he has inflicted. At least at Waterloo the train you miss doesn't go right past you....

So once the journey is completed, there is the second great hazard of Richmond station, a plague at rush hour that in itself is a trial of epic proportions...that includes a balancing element. I of course mean the rush to the barrier. I'm not certain how many of you know Richmond station's layout, however at the end of the terminal station, on the lower level, are the ticket barriers. Therefore getting off the train at rush hour is like those nature documentaries where you see ants going along a branch in either direction. For one thing waiting at the station are those people who are going to be getting on the train when you get off. Now most people observe the unwritten rule that you let people off the train before you get on. I say most people, because I have noticed a increasing propensity for these travel hawks to attempt to get on the train even when crowded, just as the doors open. I know what this is about; its about them desperately trying to get one of those 8 'single' seats on District Line trains. You know the ones, the ones by the window. Once off the train, you then face a fight to the barriers against commuters going one way, and slow moving people, walking in your direction, going the other. What's more this merry dance is all played out on the narrow platform of the terminal station, forcing most people, usually including me, to the edge. I walk along it at this point, looking down at it like some abyss (and the thought of electricity down't make me wild either). At the current time I have never seen anyone fall off the side, but I am sure it has happened. Some poor sod, casually going about his business, takes one wrong move and falls arse-over-tip onto the track below. Perhaps it was when a traveller lost his rag with someone trying to get on a train...and pushed him, I wouldn't put it past a rushed commuter. Once past this peril, like water through a nozzle, 200 or 300 people, are forced through 4 ticket barriers, that are wholly inadequate and always leave someone hard-done-by! There's is always one individual who feels that the person ahead pushed passed. Not once have experienced in this curfuffle a time when an evil look wasn't thrown, or a bad word wasn't said, and once or twice I have witnessed people come nearly coming to blows. At least at Waterloo there are plenty of ticket gates and you don't fall off the platform...

Lastly there is the positioning of the over-bridge. Now I like a good walk, and am a regular runner, however the positioning of the link between the through and terminal stations is in the most difficult places. Say the train, that I may or may not have missed, is coming into Platform 1, and I have to get to it from the terminal station, the only way is to go to the back of the station, through the pandemonium of the rush hour, and over the bridge. Again this is a case of visual psychological torture, with a physical element thrown in. I can see my connecting train all the way through, as I negotiate the people, some smell, some move slowly (not in itself a crime, but bloody irritating) and some think that the station is a good place to have a natter. “Excuse me” I ask as I move through the swathes. Once past the crowd for the barrier I run, like a whippet, through the station, all the while observing my chariot home on the opposite platform. Up the stairs I go, upwards and onwards, across the bridge, and then a sound so terrible as to make we weep, fills my ears. That, sadly, is the sound of a class 450 combined power handle being thrust forward, propelling the train onward. I slow to a walk down the steps, watching it gradually pull out on my left hand side, and consign myself to Puccinos...again.

Richmond Station is quite simply a badly laid out. Whose fault is this? Who is the master of my torments? Well I know I cursed engineers above, but in reality the blame should be placed on the development of the rail network. As any railway historian worth his salt will tell you, the British railway network was left to be formed without strong Government oversight or planning. Therefore many lines were built opportunistically, in an ad hoc fashion and in an adaptive manner. Richmond is the finest exemplar of how railway builders adapted stations over hundreds of years to their immediate requirements. So for example the over-bridge now is in exactly the same place as it was at the older station built in 1848, despite the through station moving. This places it at the back of the station and means it takes far longer to cross between the two stations than a closer footbridge would allow. Why couldn't there have been another footbridge at the other end of the platforms? Secondly when the northern station was to be built in 1863, Richmond town was built up. Thus the station had to be fitted into a smaller space than if where it had been built had been farmland. Thus the platforms on the northern station are too narrow for current demands. Better Government planning may have allowed for the station to be cited in a better place, or that more platforms could have been built. These are just a few of my concerns, however overall, what is true of Richmond is that it is still not one station, it is remains two, something it is still trying to come to terms with.

Saturday, 20 March 2010

The Female L&SWR Clerk - Part 2

It was in 1880 that the L&SWR began to give female clerical workers greater responsibilities in the positions of Booking Clerks and Weekly Paid Clerks. The appointment of two female booking clerks have been found in the records. These were Miss Augusta Alice Long, who was appointed at Daggons Road Station on the 1st June 1880, as her father was the agent there. The second was Miss F.A. Dalby, who, in addition to performing telegraphic functions, also became a Booking Clerk at Torrington Station in October 1881, again because her father was agent at the station. However these women were only allowed to handle limited extra responsibilities as booking clerks, and the work did not have any greater status than the position of telegraphist.

It was in late 1881 that there was one, albeit small, movement forward in what the working remit of new female clerks was. In November that year, Newcombe, Agent at Haliwell Junction, requested that his niece be made a Telegraphist there. Instead the Traffic Committee appointed her as a Weekly Paid Clerk. In February 1883 the daughter of Mr Wright, late agent at Fulwell station, was also made a Weekly Paid Clerk. While the precise responsibilities of Weekly Paid Clerks is uncertain, what is known is that while Newcombe and Wright would have still have undertaken both telegraphic and booking duties, it is very likely that they would have supported the male clerical staff in administrative tasks.

These women, despite having slightly more responsibilities than previous female clerks, were still highly disadvantaged in comparison to their male colleagues. Firstly they were of course only 'weekly paid' and could be dismissed without notice. They were also paid only £19 5/- per year, as opposed to male Junior Clerks, who started on £30 per year. Further, it seems this wasn't a shift in company policy and in the years after 1883 the company still appointed women simply as telegraphists. In September 1890 Kate Deal received such a position at Southampton. What this suggests is that the women who were appointed to the posts of Weekly Paid Clerk recieved their positions in response the local requirements of the company, rather than a policy instituted by the company of increasing the opportunities to women.

The is especially true given female employment elsewhere on the L&SWR. Evidence suggests that the L&SWR did not employ female staff in clerical capacities except at country stations. In the period after 1898 the daughters of London based Traffic Department employees who wished to work on the railway received appointments at the Vauxhall ticket sorting office. I have found the names of fourteen of these women. Further, most of the widows of deceased Traffic Department staff were given positions as waiting room attendants, office cleaners or gatekeepers in the London area. In addition women had been working in the Nine Elms (Battersea) Carriage and Wagon works since 1871, however the majority of individuals working in this capacity had started employment in the 1880s. All were based in the sewing room, sewing carriage linings. At the same time the widows of ex-locomotive department men were given posts as office cleaners, lodging house keepers and mess room attendants.

Firstly, the evidence presented here suggests that by the end of the nineteenth and early twentieth century the types of work women were doing within the L&SWR was expanding. However, appointments were still always defined by the women's marital status and their husbands department. Importantly for the analysis of the development of female clerical employment on the L&SWR, the positions given to the daughters of railway workers in the city were always in non-clerical capacities, which held much less status than their colleagues acting as telegraphists elsewhere. Therefore, this suggests that those women appointed to clerical work by the company were given the posts because where they lived it was the only railway work available to them. This is highlighted by the locations at which they were employed, such as Torrington, Daggons Road, Halliwell and Fullwell. These places in the 1880s and 90s were simply villages, where the opportunities for women to gain employment would have been smaller than in the city. Therefore, on the L&SWR, the pre-1914 female clerical workers were an anomaly in the system, and presumably the company would have given the women much lower status work had it been available to provide it.

It is at this point that I must jump ahead to 1914. Bar career histories and personal details, I have no information as to whether any further female clerical staff were appointed between 1890 and March 1914. It is in March 1914 that the company decided that there should be a codified policy instituted with regard to the appointment of female staff. I am not certain as to what the initiating factor of this policy was, however, it may have been the result of an industry-wide acceptance of women as railway workers, as well as the number of women rising in the British workforce.
According to Wojtcak, by 1911 British Railway companies employed 1,120 female clerks (1.32%), compared with 84,802 men (Wojtczak, 2005, 29), and increasing numbers of companies were investigating whether more women should be appointed as clerks. The Great Western Railway (GWR), the L&SWR's northern neighbour and long-time rival, had started employing female clerks by 1908, whereas by 1906 the North Eastern Railway (NER) was already employing 94 and the London and North Western Railway (L&NWR) were employing 250. (Matheson, 2002, 137) However the L&SWR was quite behind the national trend and according to the records it is known that in the same year the L&SWR only employed two female clerks.

Another factor that my have played a role in the L&SWR's introduction the formal policy for female staff in March 1914, was the appointment of a new General Manager, Herbert Ashcombe Walker, in 1912. Walker had been a London goods manager on the L&NWR. It may be a coincidence, however all 250 of the L&NWR's female clerks had been based in the abstracting and ledger posting part of its London goods department. It is quite possible that Walker saw the virtue, and the financial benefit (in that women were cheap labour) of employing female clerical staff, and introduced the policy as part of his many wide-ranging changes to the company.

The L&SWR's terms of employment for female staff are shown above, however the company only appointed three new female clerical staff members between March and the 3rd August 1914 when war was declared by Britain. They were Mabel Cole, Florence Emily Elliott and Ada Muriel Coombes, who all became a telephone operators at Waterloo on the 24th July. These cases show that even after the institution of a formal policy for the employment of women, their appointments on the L&SWR were still restricted to communications work, possibly reflecting management's perceptions of the capabilities of women. Only with the coming of the First World War would women receive the opportunities to become full clerks, with the same roles and responsibilities as their male co-workers.

These two Blog entries are not a comprehensive history of the female clerical workers of the L&SWR, and much more needs to be said and more analysis undertaken. However, what they have shown is that before World War One women were never really afforded greater opportunities than becoming communication clerks. However, even then their appointment to clerical positions was dependent on their location and their contacts. This is in contrast with other railway companies where by the early 20th century women were acting in full clerical roles at their administrative centres. Therefore, the L&SWR was generally a railway company with a poor record on female clerical employment, and it was only the war that widened women's opportunities within the company. However, that is another story for another time.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

The Female L&SWR Clerk - Part 1

The history of the female railway worker has been shrouded by the fact that railway employment has always been dominated by men. Therefore, this has been reflected in the scholarship on labour relations. A look at the index of David Howell's book on railway trade unionism, Respectable Radicals, has little mention of railwaywomen. Indeed this problem is exacerbated when studying female labour on the railways before 1914, as the proportion of women employees in the industry was small. On 31st December 1913 British railway companies employed 643,135 persons, however in July 1914 there were only 13,046 (2.02%) female railway workers (Wojtczak, 2005, 38).

Therefore, this puts historians who are researching railwaywomen before 1914 at an obvious disadvantage. Invariably research into male railway labour, especially before 1914, is much easier than that for women. Male labour can be analysed easily, for example by occupation type, wages, length of service, grade of employment and geographical location, and therefore conclusions can be reached as to employment experiences and labour relations without significant trouble. However the male domination of the industry before 1914, combined with the short-term, temporary and uncodified nature of the early female railway employment, means that the historian must look for the 'women' before looking for the 'worker,' because of the 'needle in a haystack' nature of the task. For this reason Helena Wojtczak's excellent book Railwaywomen, Rosa Matheson's thesis, Women and The Great Western Railway: With Special Reference to the Swindon Works, as well as her book, The Fair Sex: Women and the Great Western Railway, only document the experiences of railwaywomen before 1914 in minimal detail because of the limited available information. Therefore, it is the challenge for those researching railwaywomen in this period to build up the fullest picture possible, so that in the long run more detailed analysis can take place once that picture has been formed.

In this and the next Blog entry, I therefore hope to add to the existing literature on railwaywomen by presenting the history of the female clerical staff of the London and South Western Railway (L&SWR) between the 1870s and 1914. The L&SWR had employed women since 1850 when platelayer's wives were employed as gatekeepers on the new Dorchester line. However, in the 21 years after female employment had been restricted to the wives and widows of existing company employees, the latter employed benevolently by the company to support the deceased worker's family.

By the 1870s the L&SWR railway clerk was special kind of employee. This was reflected in the nature of the application process, which, while including nepotism, was tougher than for most railway employees, such as porters or engine drivers. The initial stage of the process was that the applicant, who had to be between the ages of 15 and 19, had to be nominated by a family member or family friend who had connections with the company, either through a board member or member of senior management. Their name would then be placed in a book, from which the directors would choose in turn applicants to go forward to the testing phase of the process. This test would be in 'literacy, arithmetic up to vulgar and decimal fractions' to see if the individual met the educational and intellectual standards for the work. Lastly, they had to be observed for three months by a senior manager, to see if they were suitable to be a clerk. Once a boy was confirmed in post, clerical employment did, however, have its rewards. Clerical staff had the greatest job security of any L&SWR employees, they had respectability within the company, and lastly they were the only ones who realistically had any opportunity to be promoted into senior management. Therefore, when assessing early female clerks within the L&SWR, the highly established nature of male clerical employment is important, as any attempt by women to access clerical positions would invariably be within, and reflect, this established framework and its development.

Between the years 1870 and 1914, I have discovered only nineteen female clerks employed by the L&SWR. The first known case was that of Miss Fifield. Her father was agent (Station Master) at Oakley station, and in November 1871 he applied for his daughter to be employed as a telegraphist there. The Traffic Committee, to whom he applied, passed the issue to board of directors. Unfortunately the board minute is missing to see how they reacted. There is however a good chance that the board employed Miss Fifield and at the same time instituted a new policy. In July of 1872, Mr Vermer, agent at Dean Station, requested that a telegraph instrument be placed there. The Traffic Committee, without passing it to the board, recommended that his daughter be taught how to operate it. This suggests that when the Fifield case was brought up at the board meeting they agreed that she could be employed a telegraphist and, at the same time, laid down some form of rule for the future regarding the employment of female telegraph clerks.

However, it seems that despite breaking into the ranks of the clerical staff in a very small way, the L&SWR still barred women from becoming full administrative clerks, which was still the preserve of men. In March 1874 Mr McLees, Agent at Honiton, successfully requested that his daughter, Bertha, become a Telegraphist at the Station. However a year later when he applied for his eldest daughter to be appointed as a Booking Clerk there, this request was declined. Her younger sister, Flora, was however appointed as a Telegraphist. In fact until 1881 the L&SWR only employed women as telegraphists, and other cases of this type of employment have been found in 1877, 1879 and 1881. All of these appointments were to the weekly paid staff and not the salaried staff, to which most clerks belonged, and were the result of a father applying directly to the Traffic Committee for the appointment.

What the evidence suggests is that the L&SWR's policy, that is suspected to have been instituted in 1871, restricted the employment of women to the post of telegraph clerk. In the context of L&SWR clerical history it is important to note that the L&SWR had merged the posts of Junior and Telegraph Clerks in 1868, essentially abolishing the latter, and placing all junior clerks on one promotional tree. This meant that while junior clerks were now also obliged to also cover telegraph work at stations and depots, the clerical work must have taken precedence after the merger of the position. This was because the duties of the telegraph clerks were not skills that juniors clerks would have to carried over when they were promoted to senior clerkships. Therefore it is quite possible that the company was using cheap female labour to fill the gaps in staffing that had been caused by the removal of dedicated telegraph clerks.

In addition it is obvious that these vacancies were filled by nepotism, but of a unique kind. As stated, the normal route for boys wishing to obtain a situation was for the directors to choose nominated applicants from a book, after which they would go forward to the testing phase of the recruitment procedure. However, the appointment of the female telegraphists was through their fathers directly approaching the Traffic Committee. In the Victorian society, where there were clearly defined spheres of what women and men's work were, this direct approach to the Traffic Committee was meant to bypass the established clerical recruitment process, which the women almost certainly would not have been allowed to enter into. Further, the applications of fathers for women to take up positions were sporadic and not seemingly at a set time or over a period. Thus, there seems to be no systematic effort by the company to recruit women into the company's clerical ranks before 1914. Overall these pieces of evidence suggest that it was the impetus and determination of these women that forced, or persuaded, their fathers to make the applications, through an alternative, more direct, application process. Therefore, the early female telegraphists on the L&SWR were women fighting against an employment system that told them they could not be anything more than housewife and mother.

In the second part I will look at how women's clerical roles did extend to administrative clerical work and how the L&SWR eventually introduced, just prior to the war, full female clerks.

Saturday, 13 March 2010

The child who sits out games...the Tories and High Speed 2

Now I didn't think I could get away without mentioning a little announcement that came on Thursday regarding plans to build a second high speed line northwards out of London. However as an avid reader of left-leaning and liberal blogs, I was surprised not to find any criticism of the Conservative position on High Speed 2 (HS2) beyond the established press. OK I may not have been looking that hard, but at least I did look. In truth I, and most rational people, feel that High Speed 2 should not be a party-political problem, as its development and construction will take place over a period of 20 years. Therefore given it could take four parliaments, possible alien invasions, and hover-boots to get going, the parties have to work together to make this happen.

All the parties endorse high speed rail. Indeed it was the Lib Dems that committed themselves to it first, the Conservatives followed, and lastly Labour signed up. So with this consensus established, in January 2009 they rallied around the company set up by the Government to look into building this line, the imaginatively named 'High Speed Two Limited' (HS2 Ltd). This cross-party cooperation was consistently and unequivocally backed by the Secretary of State for Transport, Lord Adonis who stated that the issue should be “above politics.”

Get to mid-February and the Conservatives bolted from the consensus, refusing to see advance versions of HS2 Ltd's plans and waiting, like the rest of us, to see the report which was released on Thursday. In the process they also drew up their own plans using some 'industry experts.' Theresa Villiers, The Shadow Transport Secretary's, reasoning behind this lack of cooperation was that the Conservatives were "not going to give a political blank cheque to Labour." Withdrawing was a matter, or so she said, of holding onto their rights to draw up a separate alternative to the HS2 Ltd plan. She also stated that it would be “unfair” to make a deal behind closed doors. The problem with this argument was that it was all part-politically motivated, an attempt in an election year to separate themselves from what has, in all honestly, been a well thought out, well run, process.

Their arguments for withdrawing from the consensus were so wishy washy that you'd worry that the Conservatives were serious politicians. Firstly there was no indication that there was a political blank cheque anywhere. Such a thing would entail Lord Adonis standing up and saying “Look what I did! Praise the Labour initiative.” Well sorry Theresa, you can't win this one. Of course, the fact that Labour is in government means that they are the driving force behind the project, but Adonis has consistently and repeatedly stated that this is not a party political matter and has promoted this fact. In addition Lib Dem Transport spokesman, Norman Baker, said on the Guardian Daily Podcast, that he, and Villers, have had been given access to Lord Adonis, HS2 Ltd and all briefings. Additionally he said he was involved in the formulation of the proposals all the way. How then, Theresa, has the HS2 initiative been a blank political cheque when the project has consistently and loudly been shouted from the roof-tops as being cross-party and there has been no attempt by the Government to restrict the other parties' access? In truth the the fact that the Conservatives bolted is because it was an election year, and they would rather not be seen cosying up to Labour on anything. This was a mistake for them though. In reality the prominent cross-party nature of the project meant that, even in February, their rejection of this principal meant that they just ended up looking petty and isolated.

But it got worse on Thursday. It is not surprising that on day of announcement the Conservatives rejected, in part, the plan proposed by HS2 Ltd. While still wedded to the idea of the high speed line their two main objections were the proposed connections to Leeds and to Heathrow. Firstly lets take a look at the Leeds debate. In the HS2 Ltd plan the second stage of the route proposes that the line makes a Y shape after Birmingham, with one line going off to Manchester and another to Leeds. I would think this is a common sense approach considering that the aim of the line is to speed up the links between the North and South, and therefore stimulate economic growth. Well guess what, the Conservatives alternative plan rejected this logical simplicity. Their projected line would be run to Manchester and cross to Leeds in a L-shape. Why on earth would anybody wanting to go to Leeds travel to Manchester first, particularly when there is already a 2 hour link from London out of King's Cross? There would be no benefit in time saved for the traveller! This is a ridiculous plan, and just another attempt by the Conservatives to distinguish themselves from Labour.

The second bone of contention for the Conservatives was the Heathrow question. The line planned by HS2 Ltd would run out of Euston, through Old Oak Common, where travellers can connect with Crossrail and a 11 minute link to Heathrow through the Heathrow Express. There would be no direct link between HS2 and the airport. Again the HS2 Ltd plans were logical for a number of reasons that they set out, including the high cost of tunnelling under Heathrow itself and the fact that a direct route would add 15 minutes to the journey time from Birmingham. Thus the final route they proposed has been supported almost universally by the transport press, by Labour and the Lib Dems. It is the best plan, that avoids unnecessary effort and keeps an efficient and quick, albeit not direct, link between HS2 and Heathrow.

However on Thursday Theresa Villiers raised strong, but factious, objections to this plan. The Conservatives have been pushing for a direct link between HS2 and the airport from the start of the process, in an attempt to offset the mess they have got themselves into over the third runway. Villiers said that HS2 Ltd's plan was a 'betrayal' of the original vision and that not connecting Birmingham with Heathrow was a 'big mistake.' Thus the Conservative alternative proposals have the Heathrow embedded in them, like a tick, with a direct link between HS2 and the airport. This said, their plans actually don't have a perfect link between HS2 and Heathrow, and their route still means that travellers would have to get off the train just short of airport and get a shuttle bus service. Therefore how long would that take out of the passengers journey times? 11 minutes perhaps? Add the 15 extra minutes on the train journey and this adds a significantly large amount of unnecessary time onto journeys from Birmingham. Therefore, like their alternative route to Leeds the, the Conservative's Heathrow alternative has thrown logic out of the window, in an a paper thin attempt to differentiate themselves from Labour. This, however, has once again made them look ridiculous and confrontational.

In an interesting postscript to Thursday's events, yesterday Villiers' objections to HS2 Ltd's plans were further exposed as wishy-washy by resistance to the alternative proposals from individuals within her own party. Firstly Boris Johnson rejected the alternative scheme. While he did not commit to Labour's plan explicitly, he stated that, “A central London terminal is essential as well as an interchange with Crossrail to the west of London in order to whisk people to and from Heathrow as speedily as possible.” This, in essence, was a tacit acceptance of the HS2 Ltd plan. Further, on Thursday Villers made the foolish mistake of calling the Old Oak Common interchange site, which is in the Conservative controlled Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, “Wormwood Scrubs International.” This quite naturally brought ire of the local council, and Mark Loveday, the council's head of strategy came out saying “It is unrivalled as a site for west London's High Speed 2 interchange.” While I wouldn't like to speak for the whole of the Conservative party, it is clear that the illogical stance of the Shadow Transport Secretary has divided internal party opinion.

Therefore from start to finish the position of senior Conservatives has been to go with their partisan instinct, rather than act with their brain, by consistently making this a party-political issue. They have consistently presented alternatives to the HS2 Ltd that are illogical and are simply different for difference's sake, in bumbling efforts to differentiate themselves from the consensus and Labour. However their plans, and their objections to the HS2 Ltd plans, have been rejected by the transport media, the other parties, and most notably voices within their own party. This has therefore made senior Conservatives look weak, confrontational and obstructionist. By separating themselves from the political consensus they are now simply the child who sits out games, when everyone else is having fun.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Stagecoach Rail...any chance of some profit?

Ah so it is a good day for the railway industry. Stagecoach, the firm that runs East Midlands Trains, and my local provider, South West Trains (SWT), as well as owning a very silent 49% of Virgin trains, has said that that the revenues from the railway division rose 2.1% in the 40 weeks up to February 7th. Tickets sales on SWT rose 3.4%, while on Virgin Trains revenues rose 8.8%.

Well if that isn't inflation-busting good news for their rail business, even if Stagecoach's North American Division is performing poorly and the fact that people don't want to stand in 6 ft of snow has hit the profits from their bus operations quite hard. Overall however stagecoach remained confident in its position that the cash would keep rolling in. It shows, in large part, that everything is on the up for rail travel, everything is going green in the garden of Waterloo station and, well, the economy is doing better. This said as a precaution they won't be paying a dividend in respect to the year ending 30th April.

Yet not all is rosy at Stagecoach. SWT are currently in the middle of £100 million contract negotiation (OK bust-up) with the Department for Transport over how much taxpayers money they should be given in franchise payments, including revenue support payments. Basically because railways don't make money, a basis I'd tend to say was a bad thing to base an industry on, the Train Operating Companies (TOCs) are paid 'franchise payments' to ensure the private companies stay in the business. Clearly however this isalso so that they make sure they pay dividends to their shareholders. In addition some companies have been receiving top-ups, to keep them going. But at the same time most companies pay fees to the DfT (and hence why National Express booted off the East Coast franchise...they couldn't). Thus SWT in the six months to November paid £50 million to the DfT, whereas in the previous year they paid only £5 million.

In my opinion the contract negotiation shows how a) the franchise system is about logical as jam and Marmite sandwiches (you could do it, but I wouldn't advise it) and b) that the TOCs and the DfT are consistently beating the living crap out of each other. If we consider that firstly SWT receive money from the DfT (previously £100 million but with top ups), BUT that last year they paid £50 million back, up from £5 million, this seems illogical at first glance. Well let me break the bad news, the views of both parties are entirely logical given their positions, but both are detrimental to the traveller.

Firstly the DfT being handed tightened budgets and increased costs, especially running the East Coast franchise, understandably want to reduce the subsidies they pay out to the TOCs. Now at this point I hope that Stagecoach's view is this: that if they are receiving less from the DfT, but having to pay more back, means that they invest in trains less, they have to raise ticket prices and that station facilities will suffer. Yea...we hope too much. Their 'logical' position is based, in my opinion, simply on profit. I'm not someone who blames businesses for acting like businesses, it's in their nature to want to make profit. That's why the unfettered free market doesn't work and good government regulation is required.

The reality is that the SWT-DfT slanging match hinges on the contract wording. The original contract states that if SWT's revenue falls to under 94% of projections, the Government will reimburse 80% of the shortfall (so if it is 6% down, the DfT pays 4.8%). Conversely the DfT collects 80% of any profit above 106% of the projections (so again it collects 4.8% of the 6% profit). SWT won the contract by agreeing to pay the DfT 1.2 billion over nine years, ending in 2016. The despute comes regarding when SWT believes the revenue support starts from. SWT believes, for obvious reasons such as the economic crisis, that the date should be April 2010, whereas the DfT believes it should be February 2011. Now I'm no legal expert, but you'd think that'd be something specified in a contract? So we are now waiting for an arbitrator to make up her or his mind. we think this will come in the Summer.

I'm sorry to break the bad news to you, but whatever happens though the long and the short of it is that you, the traveller, will loose out. If the economic situation declines further, and revenues drop below 94%, it doesn't matter when the contract starts, ends or finishes - you loose. An arbitrator's decision stating that the contract starts in April will probably allow SWT to use the extra money to start paying dividends again. If the contract starts later, SWT will reign in their services, raise fares and possibly let station improvements fall by the wayside, again in an attempt to pay dividends. If the reverse looks like happening, and things continue to improve and profits rise, irrespective of when the arbitrator says that the contract begins, SWT will use the money, once again, to pay their shareholders, larger, more normal dividends.

Therefore I cannot foresee a scenario, short of the DfT forcing SWT to do something, where any of the benefits of an improving financial situation may be passed on to the traveller. The chiefs of Stagecoach used this announcement to call for a reassessment of the franchise system. Tony Collins the boss of Virgin said, "The franchising model needs to change, it's not good for the Government either because they now have a lot of franchises where they are paying additional revenue support." Yes Tony...please can we scrap it, it ain't doing me any good!

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Railway Evolution

Well first off, I come bearing good news. My paper, loosely titled, 'Managing the 'Royal Road': The Development and Failings of Managerial Structure on the London and South Western Railway 1836-1900' will now be presented twice. Terry Gourvish at the London School of Economics has asked me to do a re-run of it in the Summer Term, so I am very excited and nervous about that!

In that vein I thought that I would give a little preview of part of the paper, namely the evolution of train control. One aspect that has interested me is the way that companies controlled the trains and those administrative structures that they put in place to do this. No of course this isn't the most interesting subject at first glance, but what I want to do is re-frame it in the context of idea replication within organisations and societies, something that has increasingly come to be referred to as a meme. The meme was the brainchild of the evolutionary biologist, Richard Dawkins, in his 1976 book The Selfish Gene. He described the meme as a noun that, 'conveys the idea of a unit of cultural transmission, or a unit of imitation' (Dawkins, p.192) and positions it as a natural extension of evolution. Therefore anything can be a meme such as idea, a concept or a system, and these can be passed on and replicated.

Now I won't be using memes in my PhD as there is no need. However I do think that memetics is an area of study that has the potential to become more prevalent in many academic fields. Therefore I want to apply it here (and no I won't be doing this in the paper) to something that I am working on, train control on the L&SWR.

Firstly on its opening in 1840 the L&SWR operated a system on its original main line between London and Southampton that placed train control in the hands of the Station Agents (at that time called Station Clerks). They were to control the trains through the monitoring of the signals and signalmen on their stretch of line, while at the same time informing engine drivers who stopped at the stations of the time of last train to leave and the next train due, to stop goods trains in a siding if a passenger train needed to pass, and lastly allowing the trains to leave at the correct time. This was a system that made sense for the early railway, especially as there was no telegraph and managers couldn't be in all places all the time to monitor train movements. The Station Clerks were therefore superintendents of their own particular patch. Most importantly they were under the charge of the Superintendent of the Line in all train control matters. This system of train control was easy to implement on the single route main line. The system is however the meme I will be dealing with.

In 1849 the company purchased the Southampton and Dorchester Railway company, which was being built with their support and which was known as Castleman's Corkscrew after the promoter, Charles Castleman, a Wimborne lawyer. On the line's opening, which came after its purchase, the company simply instituted the same system that they had on the Main Line under a separate superintendent, John Bass, the resident engineer, who was subservient to the Superintendent of the Line. Therefore they were replicating the meme of train control in a new place.

Further similar train control superintendencies were established on the company's various lines later on, especially when they where opened. In 1857 a Mr Madigan was made Superintendent of the Windsor line and then later in 1863 superintendent of the Stokes Bay line, in 1859 Mr Scott (the General Manager) suggested a superintendent be appointed between Basingstoke and Gillingham because of the single line working, in 1860 a Mr Williams was made superintendent of the Exeter, Yeovil and Salisbury lines and lastly in 1863 Mr Verrinder was made Superintendent of the North Devon Line. As far as can be extrapolated these superintendencies did not change the established pattern of how train control was conducted. Indeed even when the company revised its organisational structures in 1864, 1881, 1884, 1893, 1899 and 1912, the role of the station master in marshalling the trains did not change significantly (however some aspects of the system did evolve and change in small ways). This is of course despite the fact that the L&SWR was an early user of telegraph, despite technological advancements over the period and despite the increased workload of the railway company with the expansion of traffic. It wasn't until the 1930s that this basic principal of train movements were changed on the Southern Railway.

Now I'm not saying that I know that there were alternative systems available to the railway companies at the time for controlling the movement of trains, and I haven't looked into it. The main thrust of what I want to say is that once the meme had been established and replicated throughout the lines of the railway company, it became very difficult to dislodge (alternatively this is known as path-dependency) as it was the accepted way that trains were controlled. Therefore viewing elements of management history through the mimetic lense may be a further tool in the understanding of the way that elements within company systems became established.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Ruling the workplace

Some of my favourite London and South Western Railway items that I own are my rule books. I have five of them, three general rulebooks that were issued to all staff in 1904, 1912 and 1921, two Appendix to the rule books dated 1911 and 1921, as well as a smaller book just for Engineering staff from 1902. I also have images of rule books dating back to 1845. OK so they don't sound that interesting, in fact they are, for the non-railway fan, a bit of a bore. But if you'll bare with me here I'll explain why I find them them fascinating.

Firstly they were issued to railway workers, who had to keep them about their person constantly and become fully acquainted with their contents. For this reason my 1921 Appendix belonged to a Mr N Smith who was based at Itchen Abbas station, and my instructions to engineering staff came from the signal box at New Kew Junction. For this reason it, for me at least, makes the history of the railway more 'real.' Yes I know that that is a vague statement, but when you are dealing with faceless names of managers, formalised processes and company hierarchy, to get an item that was used on the front line of railway work, and was the end product of all these things, humanises the work that I am doing.

Secondly the rule books show how the company developed and what changed for railway workers through the ages. By default it also shows what stayed the same. The first rule book that I have images of, was issued to all staff in 1853. Boy were they obsessed with signalling! The first 10 pages are all related to the topic. Firstly the signals that they used back then weren't the ones that you have seen in Films and TV (or still, if you are lucky, on our railway network). They didn't have hands and were not controlled by a signal box. In addition the signals weren't tied in with the point changes, a mechanism that reduced the risk of crash. No, in 1853 the traveller was at the mercy of a guy standing next to a pole, at the top of which was a disk that had a light behind. To me that seems a little scary. Given that these individuals were essentially turning the pole to change the signal when the trains came past, based on their own judgement, it is not surprising that the rule book devoted a considerable amount of time to it...or so it seems.

In reality 10 pages is nothing. Technological advances, the increased complexity of operations and the emphasis on safety, meant that the 1912 rule book has a full 134 pages devoted to signalling and safe running. There are no discs here, everything on the L&SWR was pneumatic and subject to standard UK operating regulations that had been worked out through the Railway Clearing House. The changes in the rulebook tell me about the changes in the railway network and the stark changes in operational complexity. Therefore I think a survey of the rule books from start to finish would tell me a lot about the development of train control. This said there are those things that stay the same. I won't say much about the similarities, they're quite boring, however they cover the usual things like smartness, punctuality, drinking on the job etc. and reflect that some things stayed the same.

The last point is that rulebooks provide valuable sources of information about the nature of railway work, the management structure and the operational procedures. As an example I was uncertain about the early district management structure of the L&SWR, however the rule book from that year told me what I needed to know. Of course the later rule books, that were a standard nation-wide set of procedures worked out by the Railway Clearing House, have less information of an organisation nature than the earlier ones which are more company specific, but they still give good ideas about the rules under which railway workers operated. Therefore the rulebook has tremendous capacity to inform my work.

Therefore I think that the rulebook is a valuable resource for railway historians, that tell us about the life of railway workers, the organisation of the companies they worked in and complexities of company operations.

Monday, 1 March 2010

Your new train will not arrive

I suppose I couldn't write a new Blog entry without mentioning the plans announced by Lord Adonis to put the Intercity Express Programme (ICP) on hold. This programme was initiated by the Department for Transport (at that point under Geoff 'you send me an email and I won't give you my support' Hoon) in November 2007 and was designed to replace the ageing class 125 HSTs and class 225s currently at work across the network. The project would cost £7.5 billion, would be a 30 year commitment by the government and see the introduction of 1400 new carriages. The DfT specified that the trains were to be low-emission, have both diesel and electric variants (as well as a bi-mode) and would be suitable for both suburban and long distance routes, reaching speeds of up to 125 mph. Time passed and in February 2009 it was announced that the highly un-imaginatively named 'Agility trains,' a consortium led by Hitatchi, was the DfT's preferred bidder. And then we had mostly silence from the DfT...until now

What happened on Friday was that Lord Adonis simply said 'hang on a minute!' He postponed the programme, and asked Sir Andrew Foster, who was previously at the helm of Audit Commission, to look into the value for money of the project, as well as determining whether any other courses of action are viable. Originally all contracts were to be signed in April 2009, however as April has come and gone it is clear that the DfT was either dragging its heels, the circumstances within the railway industry changed or that there was a problem with the original concept.

Firstly I'll turn to Theresa Villier's, Shadow Transport Secretary's comments. She said "The intercity express programme has been blighted by Government incompetence at every turn.” She also charged the government with "micro-management" and costing the tax payer millions of pounds for no return. By now it is clear that what Villiers has done is just put on the old Tory record with three tracks, 'incompetence,' 'micro-management' and 'loadsamoney.' There is no real substance to the argument...but then that's what we've been used to from the Conservatives.

It is clear that the postponement is due to a number of quite logical factors. Firstly, like everything at the moment, lets blame the financial crisis. If we consider that the deadline for contracts to be signed was April, and that the Hitatch consortium was announced as the front runner in February, this indicates that at that point the DfT were on the verge of signing and meeting its target date. But as the financial crisis deepened the DfT held off committing the government and the country to a £7.5 bn project over the next 30 years. This is not, I'm sorry to say Theresa Villiers, incompetence. It it simple common sense not to flush shit-loads down the drain when the ability of the Government and the Taxpayer to bare the load was dubious. Therefore they just held up spending the money at this point, until things stabilise, especially as the money was probably needed elsewhere. This is evidenced by Adonis being very upfront about one of the reasons he held up the project, stating that "Over the course of the procurement there has been a reduction in the capacity of the debt market to support the transaction as originally envisaged, and passenger growth has also slowed." Thus it would be ill-advised to spend large sums of money when the country cannot afford it. But what's more the DfT's plans for the railways have changed, rendering the ICP project not as necessary as previously thought.

This is not really as surprise. Hoon, who initiated it, wasn't a railway man, or, to my knowledge, even had an interest. He was just given the DfT as a demotion after being Secretary of State for Defence, Lord Privy Seal and Minister for Europe. His instillation as Secretary of State for Transport was the twilight of his political career, and as much as I love Transport, being assigned the DfT is not glamorous and comes with next to no prestige. Therefore in the eight months I'm not sure how much enthusiasm the man could muster when he realised he had been put 'out for pasture' there. As such this was the only major new initiative he announced. To be fair it isn't a bad idea to replace the ageing trains, its just not that imaginative, and doesn't solve the real long-term problems of the railways.

However when he resigned last June to 'spend time with his family' and then plot against Brown, they got the Adonis in. Adonis came from a different direction having been Minister for Transport under Hoon. Here was a man who wasn't just interested in railways, but genuinely cared about them. It is an understatement to say that the majority of people like Adonis, even if they don't agree with him. In the eight months since his appointment has commissioned a report investigating a north-south high speed line, has kicked out a failing franchise holder, National Express East Coast, only to nationalise the service as well, and he has announced the electrification of various routes most notably the Great Western and Midland Main Lines. This, quite evidently, is a man that actually has a vision for the future of the railways and pushes for that vision within government. Hoon was, for the railways, a bit of a damp squib in comparison.

Importantly for the ICE programme is that by announcing the Electrification of some routes Adonis has changed the rolling stock requirements on them. This therefore would have been a considerable factor in the delaying further the project. Again, why should the taxpayer pay for a project that was unsuitable within the new framework of policy proposals that have been initiated by a man that sees the future of the railway network more clearly than anyone has in the last 25 years? Why should the DfT press ahead with a project that would not slot in well with the current thinking about what is needed for Britain's Railways? Villiers likes to charge the DfT with the usual problems, in reality I think the Tories would be jumping up and down far more if the government had signed contracts and committed the country to an unsuitable set of investments.

Yes money has been spent on the project, but the waste of a few millions, essentially small change for the Government, is far better than wasting 7.5 billion now isn't it? It is possible the postponement and reassessment could have been made sooner, however I tend to think that rushing decisions about such an expensive projects, even if they are going to be put on hold, is never a bad thing. Adonis, I feel, has taken his time and made the right decision.

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