Roberts’ Rant: Fireworks every day!

Dear Readers,

It’s November and Guy Fawkes is just around the corner. Parliament is about to be shut down, legally this time, but not because it has been blown up but because our illustrious MPs have decided to give us an election for Christmas. Whichever way we vote we can be assured that we are in for fireworks long after the 5th!

Ladbroke Grove

In the 1970s if anyone referred to Ladbroke Grove outside of London it was usually when singing along to One Man Band by Leo Sayer.  This all changed in early October 20 years ago when Ladbroke Grove became synonymous with a train accident.  I was on holiday at the time with my wife, in a caravan, and we were both glued to the television awaiting the latest updates; both of us in a state of shock as to what we were hearing and seeing.  Twenty years on and now we have one of the safest railways in the world. Is this a fitting tribute to those that lost their lives, of course not, but it is a start, laying the foundations for a railway that everyone of us wants it to be. 

Les Bird

What a lovely act from my colleagues at MTR, Elizabeth Line to name their brand new training centre after Les.

Les was my first Guards Inspector when I joined British Rail at Leamington Spa depot back in 1985.  He gave me good advice then and continued to do so when I took over the Chair of the BRSA club at Leamington. Les was, at that time, Secretary of the Nuneaton BRSA club. The last time I met Les was in 2014 when we discussed train driver training. It was a very sad time when he passed away, but this move by MTR demonstrates that, at its heart, the railway is still a family.


The CER (Community of European Railways and Infrastructure Companies) and EIM (European Infrastructure Managers) had their respective Operations Support Groups and then a joint meeting in Rome. Included on the agenda were discussions on ETCS Change Requests and the results of a TSI interface meeting which included a strange request from the European Commission (EC) that would have meant that every railway in Europe would have to send its internal rules relating to fixed assets to them (such as bridge strikes). The EC was asked for the reason that they would need these and what added value to harmonisation this area would bring. This was too much for the EC and they withdrew their request to think again!

Rome to Venice

Time for a train ride on a line that I have previously not travelled along. After paying the suplements and seat reservations I caught the 1250 from Rome to Venice which is scheduled to take a mere 3 and 3/4 hours – which it did! The train stops at Florence and Bologna plus a few other places. Travelling first class, I was offered a free Italian newspaper (as I cannot read Italian, I didn’t take them up on it!) plus a bottle of water (other soft drinks were available, an espresso and some salted snacks (which resulted in me drinking the water faster). The downsides of the trip were that most of the window blinds were pulled down and therefore the views of the Italian countryside were limited and that all around Bologna the train travelled in tunnels making this stylish city invisible. The plusses though outweighed these slight negatives; fast, quiet, comfortable seats, friendly staff and very efficient. If this is standard for Trenitalia then the West Coast and eventually HS2 are in safe hands!

Queen’s Speech

So before the election was called we had the spectacle of her Majesty giving the Queen’s Speech, the government will do something following the “Review”, what this entails is, like all government policy, a little bit of a mystery! Still, the Secretary of State has also spoken by stating that this is the first comprehensive review of the railway for a generation and that it will result in more focus on the passenger and running trains on time. Now, to my mind, a generation lasts around 25 to 30 years (even Google seems to agree) and I’m sure that I have been subject to numerous reviews during this time! Also, during my time on the railway, both public and private, if trains were not on time or putting the passenger first this would be picked up at weekly meetings – we wouldn’t have waited a generation to do something! Still politicians have an unique timescale.

Nationalise Northern?

Do I believe that nationalising the railway will bring benefits to passengers – well yes it could. Is it a panacea that solves all rail’s challenges, certainly not! It is structure that will make the railway run better rather than ownership. That said, ownership does have influence, nationalisation fits better with a public service ethos rather than a business led approach. I actually believe an innovative approach to public ownership could actually satisfy the dilemma. Commuter railways should have local ownership through bodies like Transport for the North. This would make these railways more locally accountable and be putting their passengers at the heart of their railway.  Intercity style services should be looked after by a national accountable body overseen, but not managed, by DfT. So should Northern return to the public sector – under this model, yes!


Bordeau and St Pancras have been twinned. Tallis and Eurostar have proposals from SNCF to merge. I believe that we in the UK should be really pleased that despite the Brexit caused rancour we are still showing that the UK is open to partnering with European organisations. Both sides of the Brexit debate did not argue for isolationism and these moves Foster hope that we shall be good European partners, if not members, of the EU.


If you or your company require any professional railway operations advice, project management, human factors, customer experience or business transformation expertise then please get in touch at We can put a great team of specialists together to deliver your requirements.

And Finally

The whole process of delivering engineering work needs looking at. In the past we have had reviews that look at key aspects of possession management such as safety, efficiency, etc. What is required now it a wholesale look at engineering work delivery. Determine the best way of delivering the work required and design the processes to facilitate it. People, processes and equipment designed in harmony to meet the objective.

Rant over! Please agree or disagree with my views, it’s your right!


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