FoFNL is not alone in thinking that the best way for Government to involve itself in the railway is for it to sit down every so often (once in 5 years seems about right) and work out what it wants the railway to do, and how much it will have to pay to achieve it. Apart from half a dozen people making sure that what has been bought is actually being delivered, Government should then go away for 5 years. The costly morale-sapping involvement of DfT in procuring the Class 800 (the trains which will replace the diesel-powered Class 43 High Speed Trains from the Great Western and East Coast routes - allowing some of them to be refurbished and sent to Scotland) is a case in point. Here is what Roger Ford and Ian Walmsley had to say in the January 2016 issue of Modern Railways:
One word sums up our first impression [they had been visiting 800002]: disappointment. Technically and functionally [it] will do what it is supposed to do and take people where they want to go. But from the passengers' viewpoint, when compared with the best trains in Europe it is nowhere.
It is eight years since procurement started, since when DfT has spent over £30 million on consultancy. The GWR trains will cost roughly twice as much as a Pendolino to lease. ... It will do the job, with an austere ambience for an age of austerity. It is unlikely that DfT will allow any change to the GWR interior until the replacement franchise in 2019. Whether Virgin will be able to create the "wow" factor on the East Coast remains to be seen.
What an appalling indictment! A fine example of a camel designed by a committee, and a prohibitively expensive one at that. In FNE 43 (January 2008) we told the story of how Nigel Gresley took the revolutionary A4 from Board agreement to build in spring 1935 to the inaugural service on 27 September of the same year. Drawing board to drawing a train in 5 months. Oh, and he designed and built the carriages too. The directors of the LNER, having been persuaded of the commercial wisdom of having what was then a high-speed service between London and Newcastle, told the bloke in charge to get on with it. What a pleasant change it would be if the railway were run that way nowadays. Lead the way, Scotland!
Way back in the Dark Ages when our 158s discharged effluent onto the tracks, we were repeatedly told that it was impossible to fit toilet retention tanks underneath a 158. Well, thanks to South West Trains 159s, we knew that it could be done, and thanks to FoFNL it has been. We are repeatedly told that there will be no more orders of new diesel units - too expensive, they say. Well, thanks to the new Northern franchise we know that Arriva will order 55 new two- and three-car DMUs. It would be good if Transport Scotland broke my go-away-for-5-years injunction to require Abellio to bolt an order for new DMUs to replace the 156s and 158s trundling around up here. The "scenic train" was a bright idea a couple of years ago: a spanking new DMU, now that we know it is possible, would be a far brighter one today.