Archive for January, 2010


Coucher bags £1 million estate

Sunday, January 31 2010

Keills Estate, a 567 acre estate on the west coast of mainland Argyll, near Lochgilphead. Photo Rettie & Co.

(Click to see the description of the property on the Rettie & Co website.)

Network Rail CEO, Iain Coucher who enjoys an annual salary of £613,000 has just bought himself three-quarters of the Keills estate, including a house, complete with boathouse, jetty and 173 acres of surrounding land, and two little islands. Estate agents Rettie and Co describe the house as follows.

The 3 bedroom Keillmore House with its own barn and boathouse set in over six acres of land also incorporates the historic Keills jetty and pier. A mooring is currently rented from the Crown Estate within Keills Port.  Subject to planning consent some of the outbuildings offer scope for residential conversion.

Now I have no problems with generously rewarding top management for a job well done, but I question whether Coucher’s work at Network Rail deserves a £1.24m per annum reward package. Massive inconvenience was caused to passengers by civil engineering work which over ran during the 2007/8 and 2008/9 winter holidays. ORR imposed a hefty fine on Network Rail, but were the senior management held responsible? Not a bit of it NR’s remuneration committee approved 6 figure bonuses for the company’s top bosses.

Today the Observer’s Nick Cohen summed up the situation as follows.

You are paying, of course, and getting very little in return. The nationalised British Rail, in its last year of operation in 1994, cost the taxpayer £950m. The private rail operators cost the taxpayers £5bn in 2008, £4bn of which went direct to Network Rail. All that money has produced a pathetic dividend.

We are the only the European country to allow a fragmented privatised rail network. Last year, state-run Spanish rail opened a high-speed line between Barcelona and Madrid. The two-and-a-half-hour journey costs £52 return. The European public sector is delivering prices and speeds which are beyond the dreams of British passengers. But I suspect Spanish railway managers are not buying country estates or hiring the attack-dog lawyers of the super-rich, but using public money to provide public services.

But that is not the only scandal which deserves to be aired in this ‘not-for-profit’ company. Nick’s incisive article is worth reading in full. It is high time that Rick Haythornthwaite, newly arrived Network Rail chairman, reviews as to whether Iain Coucher is delivering value-for money to Network Rail’s customers and stakeholders.



When did London stop being cool?

Wednesday, January 27 2010

Steve Jobs demos iPad, Paris Metro and RER on screen.
Photo Apple, via

When did London stop being cool? One day we have the Swinging Sixties, London eclipses Paris as the centre of fashion and justly claims to have the best Metro in the world. Then suddenly ‘poof,’ a cloud of smoke appears. You are standing in a forest clearing. In front of you is a small brick building.  Inside a man is doing something to a small tablet. He says it is a computer, a library, a gaming console, a TV, a mobile phone… On the screen is a map of the Paris underground railways which have doubled in size.



Going, going, gone…

Saturday, January 23 2010

There aren’t many more iconic British brands left to fall. Do you remember the J. Lyons & Co. teashops with their uniformed waitresses selling Battenburg cakes? Smiths Potato Crisps with the salt wrapped in a twist of blue paper? Walls sausages? Dunlop Tyres? United Dairies? Triumph sports cars… ?

Today’s post is my own personal protest against the takeover of Cadburys by Kraft Foods. Will their still be Cadburys Flake in 10 years time? In the unlikely event it will, you can safely bet it won’t be made in Bourneville.

What has this to do with railways? In 1969, I walked along the Worcester and Birmingham Canal through Bourneville. On one side of the canal were the warehouses were some of the raw materials used to arrive by canal on the right was Cadburys works railway with an ancient disk and bar signal. The site of the canal warehouses is now a housing estate. How long before the same fate befalls the Bourneville factory?

Black Five, 44878, steams from Bournville towards Selly Oak.  On the left are the warehouses alongside the Worcester and Birmingham Canal.  The single track disappearing into the distance is the Cadburys railway to the Bournville factory. Photo D. J. Norton.

(Click on the photo to see more photographs By D.J. Norton of the Cadburys Railway and railway locations around Birmingham.)

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Hungary abolishes fuel duty for rail

Friday, January 15 2010

European Commission agrees!

Reference: IP/10/14 Date: 13/01/2010

The European Commission has decided today not to raise any objections to Hungary’s decision to refund or exempt from excise duties railway and inland waterways transport, to encourage their use and reduce pollution and other external costs in the transport sector.

Hungary applies excise duty exemption or refunds for fuel used in inland navigation and excise duty exemption for fuel used in railway transportation. The measures are in line with the provisions of the Energy taxation directive. The present authorisation covers the period until 30 April 2017.

Rail and inland waterway transport have much lower external costs in terms of accident, climate change and air pollution than road transport. As these transport modes have considerable spare capacity, they can also play a role in diverting traffic away from the congested parts of the road networks.

Since external costs are not charged to road freight transport, it is appropriate to reduce the gap between the cost of use of combined transport operations and of road transport in order to put cleaner transport modes on equal footing. Hungary opted for excise duty exemptions and refunds.

In deciding on necessity and proportionality of the measures which Hungary introduced for the benefit of cleaner modes of transport, the Commission focussed on checking that external cost savings per tonne-kilometre resulting from the use of cleaner transport modes instead of the road transport were higher than the corresponding aid amount per tonne-kilometre.

The decision follows the approach developed in the Commission’s previous practice regarding aid aimed at reducing external costs in the transport sector.

The fiscal measures applicable to inland navigation and railway transportation are compatible with Article 93 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU (TFUE) and Community guidelines on state aid for railway undertakings.

I suppose there is no chance of the UK, or even Poland, following in Hungary’s footsteps?


(Hat tip to The Railway Gazette and The Railway Eye.)


Nigel Harris gets it right

Thursday, January 14 2010

Platitudes and weasley words is the all-too-frequent response of the UK’s media to the scandals and disasters which in a more responsible age would have led to resignations of directors and politicians. So, when an distinguished railway industry editor cuts through Britain’s no blame culture’ red tape (I was going to use a stronger word, but am advised that it is unsuitable in a blog which is aimed at a family audience) and says it as it really is – it is a an occasion for rejoicing.

Nigel Harris, editor of Rail magazine, wins Tunnel Vision’s congratulations for his brilliant piece, The shame of Eurostar & Eurotunnel – Saturday January 9 2010. Here is a short excerpt.

Managers far removed from the front line seem to have no conception of the misery they impose on ordinary folk when they get it wrong, or dither, or are risk averse in getting things moving when it goes horribly wrong. Is it because many of them today have not ‘come up through the ranks’ and are therefore managing a product they cannot see and have not had to deliver personally themselves?

I plead guilty to this charge myself. in the aftermath of an incident or accident, offering lots of specialist media comment, I too can get so wrapped up in talk of signals and track, motors, snow or human error, or whatever it’s about, that I also fail to really relate to (or sometimes even consider) in any detail what the passengers have gone through on the front line. That’s wrong – they are the most important people.

Harris goes on to publish the story of  Emma Powney, a mother returning with her young family from a day out at Euro Disney. I will not quote from Emma’s harrowing tale. You really must go to Rail’s on-line site and read Nigel’s article and Emma’s account for yourself. Nigel concludes his no-holds-barred account with the following advice.

Chris Garnett’s independent report must make sense of this shambles – otherwise his own top-notch reputation will be tarnished by this masterclass in incompetence from Eurostar and Eurotunnel.

Here’s one suggestion, Chris, for after the important big recommendations are made. Why not ask Emma if her account can be made available as part of the mandatory training for anyone who has anything to do with Eurotunnel and Eurostar?

Better still, ask her and some of the others she says shared her family’s ordeal to stand up in front of these ‘managers’ and have them tell those who failed them so badly just what misery their dithering and failings put them through. Eye to eye.

Now if you have not already done so go to Rail’s on-line pages and read the whole article.


NR’s New Non-threatening Non-execs

Tuesday, January 12 2010

Straws in the wind…

Janis Kong and Lawrie Haynes. Photos Network Rail.

Network Rail announced the appointment of two new non-executive directors today, Janis Kong and Lawrie Hayes. Rick Haythornthwaite, Network Rail’s chairman, is barely 6 months in post and the appointment of the first new directors under his regime is the first indication of the strategic direction in which he wants the ‘not-for-profit’ infrastructure company to go.

Janis Kong (59) has held senior positions in Britain’s airport industry: former main board director of BAA plc (2002- 2006), former chairman Heathrow Express 2005 to 2006, former chairman of Heathrow Airport (2001-2006), managing director of Gatwick airport (1997-2001). Her main claim to fame is that she was a member of the Royal Bank of Scotland’s Remuneration Committee, which approved at £20m pension deal for disgraced RBS ex-chairman Sir Fred Goodwin.

Lawrie Haynes (57) was appointed President of Nuclear at Rolls-Royce Group Plc earlier this year. After a 5 year stint as the first ever chief executive of the Highways Agency (1994-1999), he was a main board director and former chief executive of BNFL plc (2003-2007), and then became chief executive of the consultancy, White Young Green plc (2007-2009). Haynes has adapted the organisations he leads to comply with the political whims of his masters while at the same time being prepared to lead the employees that work from him ‘from the front’.

Cynics will conclude that both Kong and Haynes offer Network Rail a ‘safe pair of hands’ who will not upset NR’s senior executives by relating their remuneration to real performance, or try to challenge the government by pointing out some of the absurdities that arise from the way the Department for Transport attempts to run Britain’s railways.