Brexit – The Point

Every week has generated as much heat as light, so remarking on the Point of Brexit is not necessarily particularly easy. Still, let’s have a look at it and at the current options for the future.

The Point

As presented in 2016, the point of Brexit is to take back control of the country from the European Union, including the ability to strike trade deals, border control management and various economic and business regulations. This will instead be handled by the UK Government.

Exactly how this was to be achieved was always extremely clear – we would leave the EU, its organisations and its structure. This would leave us free to do our own thing as a nation – whereas staying within any of the organisations and structures precludes fully exercising this opportunity. This was before the UK became the sort of place where tower blocks burn down, legal residents are ejected to distant islands to die “at home” and the rail network spontaneously disintegrates, so it seemed like a good idea at the time.

Northern Ireland

This has proved to be a sticking point for some reason. Currently between Southern and Northern Ireland there remains the largely porous border from 1922, which has been entirely undefended since 1998 – although people passing over it are generally advised to have their passports to hand so that they can prove that they do not need to have passports should anyone ask. This is the Common Travel Area, and it goes some way to compensate for Dublin not having been allowed to have Ulster when it gained independence.

To maintain the relatively fragile peace of Ireland, it is considered beneficial if Northern Ireland remains easily accessible to the South for people and trade. Awkwardly, in the event of a “Hard Brexit” (as is required by the Whole Point), the trade will be moving between two countries with different customs procedures, trade deals and regulatory measures. This would mean that some third country could make steel mixed with asbestos in a dodgy plant on the cheap, export it to the UK under a free trade deal and then sell it to a country in the EU and ship it over the Irish border despite the EU having banned such products being imported directly.

So if the UK has its own free trade deals and regulatory systems then there has to be a hard border.

But Northern Ireland did not vote to leave the EU, which simplifies matters considerably. Rather than having the hard border on the south and west sides of Ulster, we can have it at Stranraer (well, Cairnryan these days) instead and sell Ulster to Dublin. This has the following benefits:

  • the Tory Government no longer having to justify being propped up by the Democratic Unionist Party;
  • the end of the Stormont constitutional crisis, as the Stormont representative assembly would Cease to Be;
  • uniform abortion laws across Ireland (recently current);
  • no hard border within Ireland.

The downside is that Dublin has to deal with the people of Ulster and it may be that neither side will actually find this to be a Good Idea, so currently this is instead being resolved by proposing a Soft Brexit.

Wastes of Valuable Time

So, we had a referendum to leave the EU, but in order to solve the relatively marginal problems of:

  • Northern Ireland;
  • Car and aeroplane manufacturers transporting bits of part-built equipment thousands of miles between factories for no reason at all;
  • International airline airspace access agreements;
  • Lack of queuing space for lorries at Dover;
  • Incompetent workforce establishment management by Border Control;
  • Student work visas

it was proposed that we should:

  • cease to send MEPs to the European Parliament;
  • cease to send a Commissioner to the European Commission;
  • cease to contribute to the European Council;
  • continue paying into the EU budget;
  • continue accepting EU migration;
  • remain within the European regulatory area;
  • remain a signatory to European free trade deals instead of striking our own

which all seems inclined not to fulfil the Whole Point.

Therefore this is not actually Government Policy. The Government is going to do something entirely different, but for a long time neither the British Public nor the European Union’s negotiating team were considered to have any need to know anything about it.

Various suggestions as to what Government policy will be or should be were made. The Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg suggested a particularly silly one when he said that lorries from the EU should simply be waved through border control because we trust them while containers from, say, Brazil should be stopped and searched. He may not have noticed from rural Somerset that a major concern about the EU is migration of people who weren’t supposed to have got through the Union’s perimeter border and are now looking for somewhere to settle, and that tends to involve people packed into the backs of the lorries that he wants to wave through. It does not, by contrast, usually involve people hiding in sealed shipping containers for four weeks.

There were then suggestions that we should collect EU tariffs for the EU, which resolves the question as to whether the goods are bound for the UK or EU when they land in Felixstowe but also means that UK tariffs are inclined to be around the EU level, and the suggestion that we should voluntarily and without obligation just accept all EU regulation anyway.

The Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union pointed out that all this stuff had to be considered because our border with Europe is Important, we do lots of trade there and we intend to continue having the EU as a major trading partner, which it was good to know he knew about though perhaps unfortunate that he found it surprising enough to need to talk about it. (Having gained this knowledge he promptly resigned.)

Eventually we got a Government deal, which seems to have involved a relatively hard Brexit but came with an insurance policy for Ireland – the dreaded “Backstop”. While nobody wants the insurance policy activating, because it just drags the whole thing out indefinitely to the detriment of all concerned, there seems no reason to assume that it won’t be.

The Backstop

This is the thing which stops us creating a hard border in Ireland by us being in a different customs arrangement with different trade deals to the Southern Irish. It is very annoying to the Brexiteers, who want Britain to be a great place that can dominate the world but who won’t be able to do this owing to them being trapped in a customs union with the EU until they solve the Irish Question.

Unfortunately a border in Ireland is an inevitability (unless we sell Ulster to the Southern Irish) owing entirely to a decision by King Henry II in 1171 to dominate the British Isles by invading Ireland. This was obviously a mistake, and it is possibly time for a Government Inquiry as to why that decision was made. Although the principal players are dead, most of the relevant paperwork will still be around somewhere.

Other EU countries thinking of leaving will find the whole business much easier because their Imperialist monarchs have mostly been discredited, as a result of which they don’t have awkward hangovers to deal with.

We are assured that the backstop is irrelevant because it will only come into play if a solution has not been found for the Irish border in time. As there is currently no outline for a solution to the Irish border, signing up for anything on this basis is rather like buying snake oil futures.

Ballyhack 1 JPG.jpg Picture of Ballyhack, in Ireland, in order to break up a long post a bit.

Tintern Abbey 8 JPG.jpg Tintern Abbey, built as part of the English take-over of Ireland which is having such far-reaching and unforeseen consequences for our ability to leave the EU.

No Deal

This is the “walk-away” option – or the “get chucked out of the negotiating room” option, depending on your view. It resolves the Backstop problem by smashing the Good Friday Agreement with a claw hammer and imposing a hard border on Ireland. Smashing the Good Friday Agreement will result in the IRA resuming their war of attrition, allowing us to look forward to:

  1. it actually not being safe to go down the pub at night, rather than the Government just saying it isn’t because the largely non-existent threat of Islamic terrorists makes them feel good;
  2. IRA bombs providing multitudinous opportunities for urban regeneration (much of the City of London and central Manchester was brought to you courtesy of IRA demolition of previous structures);
  3. the faint possibility of Boris Johnson having one of his houses blown up.

It has the small downside (apart from the death, destruction and general interest) that the Government is doing nothing to prepare for it, such as working up how to manage the Port of Dover when everything going through it ostensibly requires a full Customs check. (The airports are made considerably easier by some silly technicality of EU law which means that there will be no planes. No such comment was made about the international rail services, excepting that the French would be banning trains operated by a SNCF subsidiary from returning to France having entered the UK, as trains are presumably sufficiently backward to still be under Union Internationale des Chemain du Fer inter-operation arrangements and so don’t really care.)

It was for some while hard to see why we did not need to prepare for this option. The European Parliament has a final say on the results of the negotiations and could decide to reject the package, in which case the UK might well leave the EU with no deal. Happily things went in the direction of a thoroughly unobjectionable deal with the European Parliament will greatly appreciate, so this risk looked likely to go away. It then became a deal which the EU said was unworkable, but which they seem to be buying into enough to sign on a temporary basis.

It leaves the small problem that if the deal is so objectionable to the UK (being Remain in all but actual remaining) that it has to be dumped at the last moment then the Government has no fall-back position. Still, that keeps a nice little gun to everyone’s heads and stops excessive criticism of the Department for Exiting the European Union.

The other reason for not engaging in “No Deal” preparations is that it costs an absolute fortune (hiring border control officials doesn’t come cheap for a start) which is liable to turn out to be money down the drain that could have been spent, say, on homeless shelters.

What “No Deal” should look like will still need some negotiation. It may be an acceptance that both UK and EU have a shared regulatory system and therefore will be able to trade freely until one side makes a substantive change to their rules. Alternatively it may involve the EU treating the UK like a previously-unknown South Pacific island whose main export is asbestos fire-bricks badly made with child labour. We will find out which way things will go in due course.

Parliamentary say

Of course the UK Parliament wants the same rights as the European Parliament to vote on the final deal. The Prime Minister’s latest fudge is to not have the vote until it is too late to do anything about the result, owing to it being unlikely that the negotiating team could return to the table to whip up in three weeks the deal that has eluded them for two years. Consequently in her book the only option besides acceptance is the no-deal solution above; the People’s Vote campaign naturally prefer to suggest another referendum (see later), and are sounding peeving sensible at the moment.

The Labour Party Policy

The Labour Party has a policy, which is to negotiate a new better deal in about two weeks. This requires a General Election, for which they will have to present a coherent policy on Europe which might brass off one or more of the following:

  1. Labour-supporting Leavers;
  2. People who have some funny idea that it will all be over by April if nobody rocks the boat too much;
  3. Politically-aware students who don’t want to leave the EU and believe Corbyn agrees with them.

Aware of this, the Labour leadership are doing their best to say nothing, do nothing and blame Theresa in the vaguest terms possible.

Cancelling the Whole Thing

This is usually rejected on some spurious grounds that it will undermine people’s faith in democracy. It is not entirely clear whether the undermining is because the Government has held a referendum and then, after a great deal of faff, decided not to follow through the result; because the Government has shown itself not only to not be in control of its own affairs but also unable to take control of them; or because the Government was daft enough to hold a referendum where there was a 50% chance that it would get an outcome that it was unable to implement.

Exactly why this should particularly undermine faith in democracy more than anything else is not entirely clear. In 2015 we had a very hard-fought General Election which got a turnout of 66%. Of that 66%, the winning party – which campaigned for an EU referendum – got 36% of the vote (or 22% of the voting population). Admittedly it was propped up by the third-place party – which also campaigned for an EU referendum – which got 13% of the vote (or about 7% of the voting population), and therefore did more or less win the marginal 12-seat majority that it got.

Once a voter is confronted with a referendum which is presented as being Important (as opposed to some technocratic constitutional change like devolution or changing the voting system at General Elections) then they are sort of obliged to go and vote and do their civic duty, even if they know nothing much about it, have out-of-date information on what they think they know about it and have been told it will solve all their problems when, in fact, it won’t.

So, two anecdotes to demonstrate that the voters may not have been generally presented with useful information. The first is that during the referendum campaign one Mr Javid said that the reason why the Government couldn’t shore up Tata’s steel plants was because the EU prohibited economic aid to such companies and had recently decided not to slap tariffs on cheap environmentally-dodgy badly-made Chinese steel. The EU pointed out that it had almost resolved to apply these tariffs, but the UK Government had argued so vigorously for free trade that the idea had been abandoned. This does not say much for the prospect of the revival of steel mills and associated work that voters in Port Talbot, Scunthorpe, Redcar, etc. may have thought they’ve been promised. (Nor do the pro-Brexit economists who argue that what remaining tariffs and standards we have preventing the import of bargain basement knock-off steel for use in, say, tower blocks and rails will need to be abolished to ensure the country thrives economically after Brexit, thereby making Port Talbot steel really uneconomic rather than just marginally.)

A second anecdote relates to the European Parliament, which is a large and uninteresting organisation which UK media usually only pay attention to when one of the UKIP MEPs decides to have a rant about fat cats in the European Commission (or, occasionally, when one of the UKIP MEPs has a friendly chat with another UKIP MEP and leaves him unconscious across the landing). Between whiles it is held up as unrepresentative, irrelevant and ineffectual. It also, at least temporarily, blocked a major revision to EU copyright law (whether for better or worse is another matter).

In any event people voting for something does not, at least in this country, mean that they should consider themselves under any obligation to expect to get it. For example, things people did not vote for but got anyway:

  • MPs’ expenses covering such matters as duck houses and refurbishing the homes of fellow MPs;
  • Iraq;
  • Poll tax;
  • Student loans.

Not that this is in any way new. In 1127 some English nobleman called Stephen something-or-other swore an oath to King Henry I to support Henry’s daughter Matilda as the next monarch. When in 1135 Henry actually died Matilda was busy being on the wrong side of a Normandy rebellion, nobody really liked the bloke she’d been told to marry very much and England was clearly in need of Strong and Stable government, so Stephen turned up in London and had himself proclaimed King. (Not that this is a positive example either, as the result was a lengthy civil war while Matilda tried to persuade Stephen that he had made a promise and Stephen raised some arguments about how he had been under duress, or had not fully understood the question, or something like that.)

Of course the EU vote does raise a certain question, with the vagaries of the multitude of Leave figureheads and the failure of the negotiations to get what might have been promised, as to whether the Government has actually fulfilled the referendum result. Lord Farage, as he for some reason isn’t, is very keen on the idea that what is presented is a “Remainers’ Brexit“. Leaving aside that there is no such thing as a Remainers’ Brexit – those of us who undemocratically insist on suggesting that our vote was for an option that was cheaper, simpler and better in the predictable term are disinclined to view a fudged compromise as in any way reflecting our democratic will – this does raise the question as to whether the Leave voter will actually get what they thought they were voting for. After all, if pharmaceuticals from the EU cost much more than they did in 2015 as a result of currency fluctuations and import duties the £350million bonus for the NHS (which was denied after the referendum to be anything more than an example, and which could just as easily go on increasing NHS custom by building more roads for people to have pile-ups on) won’t produce many more nurses or hospitals.

Finally, whatever the merits of individual arguments and whether people understood what they were voting for, the 2016 referendum question was very clear. It was to settle one issue and allow everyone to moving straight on to other things. It has dismally failed at that. We are not nearing the end. We are not nearing the beginning of the end. We are not even especially close to the end of the beginning. The comparisons drawn by Brexiteers seeking to bring down the Prime Minister with the sacking of Neville Chamberlain in May 1940 suggest how far we still have to go. It will not be over in April. It will not be over next December. It will go on for years. General Elections will follow the mould of 2017’s by being almost entirely about the EU, with both parties doing their level best to lose and thereby get out of the problem. Any recession will be solved by threats to start re-joining negotiations. And all the other things that would represent part of a package of national renewal in the latter part of this decade have disappeared in the total Government logjam. We have been promised social care reform, transport upgrades and educational improvements. Most of it has vanished, and voting decisions on those matters will be seen through the prism of the series of single-issue General Elections to come on how to manage our evolving relationship with the EU.

It could all be over tomorrow. Regardless of Cabinet members wandering around muttering “but people might be upset,” it is hard to picture enough people being really truly upset enough to actually have a proper riot, and even harder to picture those proper riots being worse than those of summer 2011. (Boris coming to help the clear-up after such riots, as he did in 2011, would probably actually be a good pacifier and national re-uniter.) The people who watch all of current events with a feeling of exasperation, or wanting to know why it’s turned out to be such heavy weather, or who have given up and turned off, are really not going to burn down the local Town Hall in protest about the Government giving up and finding something more immediately relevant to deal with (like the state of the local High Street – there are places where people would struggle to find any shops to burn down anyway). Even the Prime Minister acknowledged – before kicking the can down the road for several weeks – that the matter needed tying up simply to deal with the national exhaustion with the subject. It is entirely arguable, with nobody really happy with the outcome of the negotiations, that the damage to democracy has already been done and that cancelling Brexit (as opposed to driving off a cliff) will be seen as a reasonably mature move in the general circumstances.

It’s not like we haven’t got MPs from the governing party (including two Brexit Secretaries) already going on about betrayals and demanding that their own Chancellor of the Exchequer resign because he suggested they might be a bit keen on Brexit. They can’t go much further should the Prime Minister kill the whole thing off, particularly as they’ve already used this year’s No Confidence vote. (To demonstrate the level of distraction from things that actually bother real people involved here, when last May the rail network fell to pieces these MPs were not exactly lining up to demand the head of the Secretary of State for Transport.)

Redhill 1 JPG.jpg Southern Region trains, hurrying through Redhill. Not as important as Brexit.

Second Referendum

The Second Referendum provides a useful cover for cancelling the whole thing if it goes the right way. Awkwardly for those who support it, most people would prefer to just live with the result of the first one (being poorer, and possibly dead if the Government stockpiled the wrong drugs and sent the carefully-planned riot control squads to the wrong place, if needs be). Of course the people who already have a mandate for Leave see no need to obtain a second – they argue very happily that they got said second mandate in 2017 despite a) nothing having happened then and b) that being more a referendum on whether the country wanted to be run by Jeremy Corbyn, which it turned out to be ambivalent on – so the argument for a Second Referendum is more raised by the Remainiac movement and is therefore patently an attempt to overturn the first one.

Well, let’s be honest – it is.

For all the complaints from Greek politicians about three-way referendums it would have to be a three-way job and an assumption made that voters can count to three for indicating their order of preference of the options. (As voters in London, Scotland, Wales and Ireland manage to do this perfectly happily one assumes that the politicians objecting to this idea are doing so on the basis that they think the voters, having voted Leave in the first place, are too stupid to count to three. Lessons may have to be held, possibly using the more educational sequences from Monty Python & The Holy Grail.)

The three options are:

  1. Remain
  2. The Government’s preferred negotiating position
  3. Leave with no deal.

Polling has suggested that option 2 would be eliminated in the first round of counting and option 1 would then narrowly win after second-preference votes were redistributed. (Therefore a correction to the above. The voter really only needs to be able to count to two, but also needs to be able to understand why an ability to count to three is not required.) This is also why the average leaver is either against a second referendum (because they have the result they want) or keeps quiet (because they’ve realised they didn’t want the result they’re getting and would rather keep quiet about this).

The Government does not want to promote a second referendum because a) it would look undemocratic, b) it would encourage arguments that it is deliberately setting up a bad deal to drive support to Remain and c) it would be awkward. (The glossy brochure of 2016 would have to be reissued with a cover of “Why the Government thinks we should leave the EU”, filled with lots of very expensive pictures of hard-working professionals and schoolchildren variously smiling or looking serious as the page seems to dictate.) The problem is that it would also be deeply amusing to see the Government forced to head off to Brussels one Friday afternoon in March 2019 to ask for its membership resignation letter back.

There is a smaller body of thought that we should have a second referendum without Remain on the ballot paper. It should be noted that a good 30% of the population (as an unscientific guess), being unable to see any difference between the two remaining options, will either abstain or vote to annoy Theresa May. A positive campaign for Theresa’s deal will be even harder to create than the positive campaign for Remain, and we would duly leave the EU with no deal, a hard border in Ireland and no trading partners – but the politicians happily arguing that this was what people voted for, and failing to appreciate that it was actually a vote for them all to be taken to the Maldives and thrown to the sharks. (Possibly, for maximum democratic effect, this option should also be on the ballot paper.)

On Second Referendums, we must note the enthusiasm of the Scottish National Party for them. If Alex Salmond had won his referendum by 52% to 48% and then found leaving the UK to be harder than he promised (if he actually lost his EU membership and access to the pound and had to accept a hard border and discovered the Spanish were going to fish his territorial waters without paying him), would the SNP top brass would be as keen on Second Referendums as they are at the moment?

Cancelling it without a referendum

This is at least quick, and Theresa May is going to resign anyway so may as well achieve something for her short-lived premiership. Rather like one of those anti-heroes in an adventure story who, after driving the plot along by allying with a patently evil dragon, finally realises that it may all have been a mistake and turns on the dragon – slaughtering it successfully, but dying in the process.

Dragon Norwich 1 JPG.jpg A dragon.

The ensuing General Election will probably be won by Jeremy Corbyn (who still won’t have told anyone what his policy for dealing with the EU is), but this will provide the Tory Party with time to schism in the peace of Opposition.

Results of Remaining after all

Well, the EU would have money again, so would now be able to afford its standing army but, unfortunately, stuck with a recalcitrant member that doesn’t want it and won’t contribute. Such things had the potential to mean that the resignation letter would be retained by the EU and the British Government would have to explain why the result of the highly expensive and deeply divisive Second Referendum was not going to be honoured. As we would still be in the European Convention on Human Rights we wouldn’t even be able to make up some farcical legal grounds to hang Boris, or carry out the mass deportations that the referendum was partly based on. Unfortunately the European Court of Justice has ruled that the morning after such a referendum the Prime Minister could simply ring up Donald Tusk and say it was all a mistake, so everything should be quite simple.

Some commentators (a recent Spectator article comes to mind) argued that the EU would expect us to metricate, join the Euro and get involved with Schengen as a quid pro quo. There are two reasons for not expecting this:

  1. The ECJ decision that the EU can make no such requests;
  2. The fact that any sensible EU person (and most of them do, on balance, seem reasonably sensible) would understand the need for a distinction between the UK ceasing to leave and the UK leaving, looking round, deciding that it’s cold outside and wanting to come back in. Making no distinction raises a risk of the latter option being chosen on the grounds that it can always be reversed which is a) expensive, b) long-winded and c) fraught with the risk that the UK will decide actually it’s quite pleasant outside, and perhaps some other people would like to come too.

There are some sundry objections based on the expenses imposed on UK firms by things like the Working Time Directive and the recent data protection laws, which do terrible things like stop companies working their staff to death on 130-hour weeks to fulfil a business model predicated on selling detailed customer data to Facebook.

Assuming that we get to stay after all in such a scenario, there will be the small problem that our EU agencies have already left. It is rather unfair to expect them to come back (given that the staff have presumably already been relocated and the office leases surrendered), but fortunately we may be able to get in some replacements, viz.:

The Industrial Wasteland Development Agency – to be based in Treherbert and study possible means of getting some sort of economic value out of areas where everything has gone except some of the people, justifying an improved road link northwards from Treherbert to the Heads of the Valleys road (via a tunnel or some such feature) and restoration of the through railway to Port Talbot via the Rhondda Tunnel (which it turns out, contrary to the lies of the 1960s industry top brass and politicians, is actually in excellent condition – for anyone who thinks our politicians could ever be trusted with running the nation).

The Ship Advancement and Design Agency – to be based in Barrow-in-Furness. As Barrow is rather long-winded to get to, and upgrading the main road is out of the question because it carves through the Lake District National Park, this will need to be accessed by an EU-subsidised hovercraft service from Blackpool.

The Ultra-Rural Area Development Agency – to be based in one of the more isolated locales in the European Union, i.e. Wick, Caithness. To allow EU bureaucrats reasonable access to Wick, the direct railway between Edinburgh and Perth will need re-opening, the Dornoch cut-off on the Far North Mainline building (obviously retaining the old route, this being EU gravy-train funded – why have one railway through the middle of nowhere at all when you can have two?) and certain unit planning and timetable enhancements making vis-a-vis the Thurso branch. The A9 has already been upgraded as much as the prevailing traffic levels justify.

This will have the added bonus of spreading the benefits of EU membership more evenly around the country, thereby making people happier about it in the future. (And it might make land and derelict houses around Treherbert, Barrow and Wick actually worth having.)

Helmsdale 1 JPG.jpg Typical housing in Greater Helmsdale, well within the Wick commuter belt – for people who think London is a bit full of derelict housing.

Things we can do next to make people feel better

We can spend our money from the economic growth caused by EU membership on re-opening a few thousand miles of railway, whose closure coincided (according to a Government report at some time or other) with the beginning of an economic decline in the countryside which may have caused people to become disaffected with the Government and their choice of economic structure, international relations and suchlike – when it was in fact all the fault of Government transport policy, which nobody ever pays any attention to. (Hence why they never understand why the economy’s tanking.)

The vigorous objections to the mass property demolition entailed in giving Louth its centrally-positioned railway station back, thanks to years of incompetent urban planning at all levels of government, should get everyone nicely united and inclined to forget about the whole Brexit business.

It would also be tempting to suggest that the Government should announce the electrification of the Midland Mainline and run this as a headline infrastructure policy through an ensuing “please beat us up” election campaign. Unfortunately the last two times the Government announced electrification of the Midland Mainline they then cancelled it during the ensuing election campaign (when they couldn’t actually tell anyone it had been cancelled because that would breach “purdah” rules) so it’s unlikely anyone would actually believe them.

We could also do fun things like take:

  • the money that the Government was going to spend on our own satellite system, having been told that we couldn’t use the EU one that we will once again have access to;
  • the money that we pay into the European Space Agency, so far as we do;
  • the money that we give to the Indian Government so that they can afford a space programme;

and actually play a decent part in the European space race again. This comes in handy for:

  1. National prestige;
  2. Miscellaneous scientific research;
  3. Repairing the satellite which we put up there in 1974 (Prospero) and can’t get at because the rocket programme got cancelled;
  4. Watching Putin;
  5. Developing our own nuclear warhead delivery system to save mark-up fees on buying one from the Americans when we come to replace whatever replaces Trident (whenever we get round to that).

While usually this writer promotes the benefits of the Wye Valley line (a reasonably-budgeted re-opening could bring Monmouth within 68 minutes of central Cardiff based on recent calculations) it will instead be suggested that the former Brexiteers might like to set their sights on the Findhorn Railway in Scotland. Aside from being a nice olive branch to the Scottish Government, the line is convenient for RAF Kinross and was much promoted during the great Imperial era of commentators and constitutional theorists like Walter Bagehot, of whom the Brexiteers are so fond.

We will leave aside the fact that the Findhorn Railway, whose sole recommendation was that it was privately funded by the people who thought it was a good idea at no expense or inconvenience to the people who didn’t, was quietly strangled by the Highland Railway after a mere eight years of operation on the grounds that it was a dead loss. To put this into context, Brexit has already been going on for almost a third of the period that Findhorn had passenger trains. Other lines operated by the Highland, but not considered by that company to be dead losses, included Inverness to Wick and Dingwall to Kyle of Lochalsh.

Helmsdale 2 JPG.jpg Regardless of the outcome, this view will probably remain much the same – it is unlikely that anyone will take the stresses of trying to close the railway, and equally unlikely that anything else will happen in the Strath of Kildonan.

Llandogo 3d JPG.jpg Train at Llandogo Halt, Wye Valley (larger version of the picture in the sidebar).

Livorno 2 JPG.jpg Centre of old fort in middle of Livorno (or Leghorn, as it is mysteriously known by the tourists).

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Today’s Brexit Delights

At some point I need to start drafting another “Recap” post – at a moment when my next-door neighbour isn’t using a pile-driver on his fence – but for now today’s rows over Theresa’s deal, her threat of “back me or lose Brexit” to the Brexiteers which has made them call her bluff and emboldened the Remoan movement, the mass resignations and the (possibly temporary) constitutional crisis has left a certain air that GoComics has chosen a very good time to re-run a Peanuts story arc about Linus giving up his blanket.

It is all going very well and then Charlie Brown buys him a new one.

Which seems to annoy Linus, and so Charlie Brown goes to see his psychiatrist:

https://www.gocomics.com/peanuts/2018/11/15

Which seems to summarise today really.

On a more positive note, there are rumours that Chris Grayling might resign. (Unfortunately this feels a bit unlikely, given that he was Theresa’s campaign manager for the last leadership contest, but he may feel that 2½ years of being Secretary of State for My Train to Work Being Cancelled for the 812th Day Running entitles him to resign in fury at some point and that this is as good a reason as any.)

This also seems a good time to promote the idea of making Ken Clarke Prime Minister should Theresa be forced to quit. (Aside from anything else, like that he seems a reasonably decent and normal bloke while not being barking mad really, unlike all the other blokes in politics who specialise in trying to seem reasonably decent and normal in a bid to cover the terminal insanity, it’ll really annoy the Brexiteers.)

Finally, here is a picture of a (rather small) tree. This tree is not bothered about Brexit. (I know. I asked.)

Tree @ Charlbury 1 JPG.jpg

Brexit Comparators

While I’m writing blogposts…

I have a walk to go on at some point so I haven’t time myself, but if someone out there has a few moments it might be amusing to see a comparison of the parallels (and differences) between Brexit and this bunch of “take back control” people in the USA.

https://www.citylab.com/equity/2018/11/eagles-landing-cityhood-vote-atlanta-stockbridge/571990/

Particularly amusingly, they do actually want to have their cheesecake and eat it.

(I presume they still do, although they lost their particular independence vote.)

The Case for the Remaniac

Ok, I haven’t posted anything for months (this is only the fourth post this year), but my politics on leaving the EU had to post this video which has been doing the rounds a bit in the last couple of days. In its simplest form, it is the key argument for EU membership – that we have this agreement with our nearest and largest trading partners which reflects our geographical set-up:

Dominic Raab is the Secretary of State for Leaving the European Union.

(Or Secretary of State for Spending a Fortune Getting What I Already Have, as the case may be.)

Data Protection

There’s been a bit of fuss about data protection lately and I’ve had several emails on the subject, as a result of which my email inbox will be much quieter from now on (being restricted to friends, family and the one company which just updated its privacy policy instead of sending me patronising emails that begged to be deleted).

This unfortunately means that no longer will I come home to phone calls from people who want to recover my PPI payments for me and get puzzled when my first question is “Where did you get this number?” to which the not wholly satisfactory answer was “You must have not ticked a box at some point. Now why don’t you want to tell me you had PPI?”

(I eventually worked out who was distributing my telephone number to the extent that I would have got fewer unexpected calls had I posted it on here, which was that some relatively-reputable-looking survey body that UCAS signed me up for, possibly without asking, got me to do a survey from some seemingly reputable body willing to pay something for it which included a mobile number for follow-up surveys, which I foolishly provided, which follow-up surveys turned out to be working out which probably not reputable organisations – including Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospice, British Gas and the aforementioned PPI people – I would like my details selling to so the said organisations could cold-call me. The follow-up surveys seemed to consider they were doing me a favour and were unwilling to accept either my requests to be removed from their database or my pleas that I was busy, particularly as I say this a lot (well, I usually am). Having worked out what they were up to, and during a particularly insistent call taking the view that I could not possibly be busy at three o’clock on a Thursday afternoon, I may have used only very slightly better couched terms to tell the surveying caller to sod off and this they have obligingly done.)

As an amusing feature, I thought I’d take a look at one of the organisations which has been asking me for permission to keep emailing me and examine exactly how this relationship has gone.

Organisation: The Labour Party.

Modus Operandi: In 2015 I went onto the Labour Party website to discover what their policies were for the forthcoming General Election (beyond putting up blocks of concrete in Hastings car parks – not, alas, across the entrance). On the website was a questionnaire about my views on Labour’s policies. Thinking this might prove interesting, I clicked on the link and was prompted to input my email address in order to complete the questionnaire. (The questionnaire is discussed at the bottom of this blogpost, in case you missed it at the time; unfortunately the questionnaire itself has outlived its usefulness, the General Election being over, and is no more.)

Comments made at time of collecting data: Nothing terribly memorable.

Upshot: 90 emails (so far, over three years) inviting me to get excited about the activities of the Labour Party (including six on the 7th May 2015, which may have been in part because I live in a marginal seat, and seventeen over the course of the EU referendum campaign, which perhaps I should have paid more attention to). Included offers to buy postcards, calendars and a vote in the leadership elections. Also some slightly more random though highly worthy stuff, like a recent one for joining the campaign to ban bee-slaughtering neonicotinoid insect sprays.

Approach to new data protection laws: Recipients need to opt-in again. (As I can’t recall actually opting-in to communications in the first place, beyond a default assumption that putting an email address into an organisation’s box that asks for one counts as an opt-in to spam, this may actually have been a sensible attitude to take.)

Incentives: It’s Jeremy Corbyn’s birthday this weekend (it is indeed – tomorrow – he’ll be 69) and he’ll be terribly upset if his email database has shrunk.

Response: Actually, this one might have been tempting as the Party’s rather naive assumption that their database consists of supporters, instead of random people who went to look at their website at the wrong moment, is rather touching and the resultant emails quite amusing. Alas, I also have a latent desire to annoy Jeremy Corbyn, for various reasons which I will withhold on data protection grounds.

Thinking of the PPI cold caller, one of the organisations the Press have picked up on that is particularly affected by these rule changes works by harvesting your data from your email inbox and selling it to random people that they meet in the street. They are terribly upset not to be able to offer this service to citizens of the European Union any more. It takes a lot to get me to make cynical comments about capitalists, but in this case I can’t help feeling the sorrow should be directed to the shareholders rather than the erstwhile customers. (Ironically that organisation’s work is now fairly obsolete in the EU, as it was dedicated to removing people from mailing lists – something that the mailing list owners have mostly now done for themselves.)

Dozing in the Sun

Supplies of sunshine were mixed last summer; the warmest days of August featured rather a lot of cloud; since then there has been rather a lot of snow. Nonetheless, in a spirit of vicariously providing the pleasant sensation of carefully absorbing Vitamin D in warm still air (and in the absence of any Seasonal Area updates for rather a while), here are some sunny pictures taken over the last year.

Cows on Malverns 1 JPG.jpgA herd of cows demonstrate how to do it on the Malverns in an early bout of sunshine late in March 2017. They were in a particularly placid mood, and paid little attention to efforts to take their picture.

North Hill 1 JPG.jpg The North Hill of the Malverns, seen from the path that drops sharply down a valley into Great Malvern town centre. The North Hill is relatively quiet compared to the Worcestershire Beacon (behind camera) and makes a pleasant little extra loop at one end of a Malverns walk.

Great Malvern 1 JPG.jpg Mooching around Great Malvern station allows an opportunity to notice how the stark spring sunshine brings out the relief on the old canopy supports of this all-round attractive station – although the underside of the awning could do with a scrub-down and repaint. The metal leaves – looking rather like lupins – are almost more delicate that the original plants.

Wallingford 1 JPG The Thames at Wallingford, imploring the passer-by to lean on the bridge awhile and watch the river drift by.

Cholsey Churchyard 1 JPG.jpgThe view from Cholsey Churchyard, where Agatha Christie is buried, southwards towards the Great Western mainline. A hurrying train – beneath electrification masts marking that it is soon to be history – leaves behind a special peace and tranquillity on the flat fields around the Thames.

Sheffield Park 1 JPG.jpg Sheffield Park station in Sussex, seen from the Greenwich Meridian. In the early evening of a late spring day, smoke wafts from the chimney of South Eastern & Chatham Railway No. 263 as she is watered before working the last train of the day north to East Grinstead.

East Grinstead 1 JPG.jpg East Grinstead, seen from 263’s train as it crosses the Imberhorne viaduct on the final approach to the town. The church tower is prominent amongst the leafy suburbia.

River Avon Limpley 1 JPG.jpg This scene failed to get into the “Trails from the Rails” walk of Bath to Avoncliff, which was already overloaded with photographs. It shows the Avon slowly moving through the trees past the village of Limpley Stoke.

Cwm-lago 1 JPG.jpgSunset over the hills by Cwm-lago, up above the Teme Valley (and the English/ Welsh border) on the block of hills that provide the source of the River Lugg. Sheep scuttle around the photographer at a judicious distance as the sun breaks through the clouds for the first time in several days.

Above Purlogue 1 JPG.jpg A couple of miles north of Knighton and looking across a nameless pass, maybe five hundred yards east of Offa’s Dyke, at cottages and farmhouses hidden by a mix of trees. The meadows are lightly grazed by the local sheep populations. The valley off to the right falls to the scattered communities of Purlogue and New Invention.

Knucklas 1 JPG.jpgA different sort of dozing as the sun rises through the clouds across Knucklas viaduct at 05:30, seen from the station while awaiting the first train.

Ludlow Castle 2 JPG.jpg Ludlow Castle, set against a clear blue sky in the middle of May on one of the hottest days of the year.

Ropley 2 JPG.jpgThe old Southern Railway advertised “I’m taking an early holiday ‘cos I know summer comes soonest in the South” and painted their trains to match. In summer green with sunshine lettering, and summer heat burning off the exhaust, No. 925 Cheltenham rolls into Ropley station on the Mid-Hants Railway.

North Leigh Roman Villa 1 JPG.jpg The Roman Villa at North Leigh, Oxfordshire (near Hanborough; nearest station is Combe) on a quiet July evening.

Pen Moel 1 JPG.jpg Pen Moel, a striking house set into the hillside above Chepstow by the Offa’s Dyke path and at the south end of the Wintour’s Leap cliffs, seen on a sunny evening that highlights its shapes and chimneys. It has been on the market for almost a year now, although regrettably beyond the price range of most of us.

Oldbury 1 JPG.jpg Oldbury nuclear power station, seen across the Severn from the Offa’s Dyke path as it reaches the ridge of Dennel Hill. The dams of a tidal reservoir provided to give the power station an adequate water supply can be made out as dark lines on the pale blue of the river.

Arley 1 JPG.jpg The River Severn at Arley – village to the right, old ferry crossing in the centre. Seen from the modern footbridge linking village to station.

Arley 2 JPG.jpg No. 33108 chugs quietly to herself at Arley station with a scruffy rake of ballast hoppers in tow while the crew take a break in the August sunshine. The station featured in the TV comedy Oh Doctor Beeching, although with the addition of a terrace of houses and some substantial variations to the real-life layout of the building interior.

Hampton Loade 1 JPG.jpgHampton Loade station, as a train draws away towards Bridgnorth to the steady bark of its engine, briefly disturbing the peace.

Crofton 1 JPG.jpgMore modern traction as a High Speed Train coasts past the Crofton Pumping Station on the Kennet & Avon Canal, reflected nicely in the water under the deep blue sky.

Crofton 2 JPG.jpg The pumping station, saved with the help of the late Tom Rolt, was in steam for a change. The gently drifting smoke plume from the chimney, standing tall in an otherwise rural area, gave a strangely relaxed and “all right with the world” air.

Savernake Forest 1 JPG.jpg The sun permeates into the depths of Savernake Forest on the “Twelve o’clock Drive”, which runs due north through the wood from bottom left to top right. Savernake is quite a small Forest by forest standards – it is not a patch on the Dean – but nonetheless isn’t a bad place to potter around.

Ness Point 1 JPG.jpg Ness Point is the easternmost point of the British mainland, and therefore is kept carefully tucked away in the corner of a Lowestoft industrial estate where nobody will ever go to look at it. A friend brought on this outing was distinctly unwilling to believe that northwards from Lowestoft station was indeed the correct direction of travel. The positive side is that it makes a very peaceful tourist attraction. The compass points to various locations of note, including several cities and the other three British “cardinal points” (Dunnet Head, the Lizard Point and Corrachadh Mor). Clouds begin to form and the air cools as August ends.

Durlston Head Castle 1 JPG.jpg The mock castle at Durlston Head, south of Swanage, complete with mock sunflowers, makes a striking sight in the early September, early afternoon sun. The building has a certain squat handsomeness to it.

Swanage Station 1 JPG.jpg This steam locomotive also has a certain squat handsomeness as it dozes in the sun at Swanage station prior to working a train to Norden. The red bufferbeam nicely offsets the British Rail black livery.

Nailsworth 1 JPG.jpg Nailsworth is a charming small town – perhaps more a large post-industrial village – set near the head of a deep Cotswold valley south of Stroud. Its lovely railway is alas no more, having been converted into a cyclepath that is too stony to cycle on. A cluster of houses on the eastern side of the community are seen here pressed back into the hillside, facing into the Sun as it shines through a clear blue sky, beneath the trees towering above. October is almost past; the leaves are just starting to turn.

Widcombe 1 JPG.jpg This is the view up the side of Widcombe, just outside Bath. Late November brings trees that have very definitely turned, but still beneath a clear blue sky that makes a certain pleasant contrast with the orange.

Caerphilly Castle 1 JPG.jpg By mid-December the sky is still occasionally clear, but the weather is very definitely cold. The grey leaning tower of Caerphilly Castle, which fortress was otherwise restored at some expense by a Marquess of Bute, stands amongst the snow-capped peaks around the Rhymney Valley.

New Trains on the Western Region

The “new” Great Western Railway (as opposed to the “classic” Great Western Railway which was abolished on ideological grounds at the end of 1947) has recently been introducing some new trains.

I have been in various minds over whether to make any blog-based comments on these new trains, but having spent the afternoon enjoying one of the particular delights of January weekend rail travel (empty trains) I thought I’d feature a few pictures and some comments.

The Intercity Express Train

Didcot 2This was ordered by the Government as part of the Intercity Express Programme for the Great Western and East Coast mainlines, which will replace the IC125 High Speed Trains on both routes plus the bulk of the IC225 Class 91+Mk4 sets on the East Coast. The Government is very proud of it, and the train operator is contractually obliged to be very proud of it as well.

From the immediate passenger perspective it is actually a pretty good bit of technical kit. With the pantograph up and electricity drawing they accelerate like rockets, even when over 100mph. Longer trains mean more seats than can be squeezed into a HST without having to squeeze them, so the Western intercity traveller once again gets legroom and tables. There are more plug-in points and the train is equipped with modern passenger information screens.  Some extra seating space has been found by ceasing to heave around a full purpose-built kitchen/ buffet car with counter, so while there is still a kitchen (in the nose beyond first class) general catering is provided from a trolley. The trolley doesn’t show off the range as well as a buffet car, but no longer does the solo traveller have to choose between “no coffee” or “sorry, MI5 came round and took your luggage away because it was unattended”.

There are various underlying features relating to railway politics, general politics and operations management on which its precise benefits may be more debatable – the contract for buying the trains has a bit of an industry reputation for being pricey, which the Government fed by not releasing enough data to shut the journalist up; the Government isn’t really supposed to be imposing rolling stock solutions on an ostensibly privatised industry, particularly as the operators had an idea of their own at the time (but that’s Transport Secretary Alistair Darling for you); and the electro-diesel facility, while previously used by the Southern Region, has now reached the eyes of the Secretary of State for Transport and been used as an excuse for canning a load of worthwhile electrification projects which another Transport Secretary abruptly pulled out of his hat six months before a General Election (which he lost) and imposed on an industry not really equipped or trained to do 500-odd route miles of electrification in five years.

But the electrification debacle is not the fault of the trains, and while it would be nice for the Government not to be able to can electrification because they’re stuck with a fleet of electric trains it is also rather handy that a) canning electrification doesn’t mean having to can the new trains and rush the HSTs off for a second mid-life overhaul and b) when electrification progresses at a more realistic pace it can be taken advantage of as various bits go live. It does mean that these lightweight electric units have to lug diesel engines and fuel tanks about, and one hopes that before the end of their lives some of them will have the engines removed and their full capabilities revealed. (Not that their full capabilities are that bad to begin with. Passengers paying attention who haven’t spent time with electric trains before should lose very little time in becoming “Sparks” converts.)

The arrival of the IET has the small embarrassing feature that the Government insisted it be a multiple unit because loco-hauled trains are inherently unreliable only for the first IETs to come into traffic two months before Anglia’s loco-hauled trains were announced to have topped the intercity train reliability tables. But this is embarrassing for everyone (except, obviously, the fitters at Norwich Crown Point who have finally managed to turn the Class 90 into a decent traction package a mere three years before it gets scrapped), so is not something to hold against the IET personally. (One suspects the people who wrote that statement were thinking of Cross Country’s then-recently-retired Class 47s, which by 2002 were inherently unreliable.)

Presently the trains are coming into traffic as pairs of 5-car sets each replacing one HST (except on Worcester, Malvern & Hereford services, where they run as 5-cars). This results in a small gap in the through corridor, and is a bit of a pain all round. It also creates a 260-metre long train, which makes platforms look a bit short. A second tranche of 9-car sets will look more logical and allow the 5-cars to go off doing more 5-car-ish stuff.

Reading 23 JPG

And I forgot – my personal gripe – not enough cycle spaces.

Overlooking that:

Reading 24 JPG.jpgFirst class, through a window. Now marked by a white strip at cantrail (roofline) level rather than yellow. ScotRail, “Thameslink Southern Great Northern” and Anglia still use the once-standard yellow stripes, but otherwise yellow stripes are obsolete. The blanked windows beyond cover the kitchen. Underfloor equipment is neatly panelled away – in this case generic equipment, but other vehicles have engines tidily tucked in. The engines are there, sometimes noticeably, but are not as loud as Turbos or Voyagers.

IET interior 1.jpg Standard class interior. Seats are currently a bit grey – the design spec was for a blank train with grey interiors and white paint which the operator could discretely brand for the length of their franchise. The idea is to save rebranding costs at franchise changes or, indeed, when the franchise holder realises their brand is doomed. The result is a bit dull. Some bright green branding and the rather continental-railway beechwood saloon ends lighten things up. The saloon end doors are worked by overhead sensors so open automatically. This is what passengers expect (unlike the foot-worked sensors on the HST, which were always hilarious when someone was standing just off them waving their hand at a non-existent overhead sensor) and is hands-free (unlike the push-button doors on Voyagers, which are rather less hilarious when they firmly close themselves after 30 seconds on queues of passengers and their luggage). It does have the effect of eliminating the value of the useful skill of stepping over the HST foot sensor when crossing from one side of the vestibule to the other.

IET interior 2.jpgA picture to show that the luggage racks have some depth to them. The squared-off roof at the end of the saloon is for the pantograph well. There is a bit of variety to floor height in the IET vehicles – coaches with engines have higher floors. This means that more care is needed in some vehicles than others to avoid banging one’s head on the glazed racks. Need to bring the Giant Rucksack along one afternoon and try it for size…

IET interior 3.jpg The end-of-saloon luggage rack. Some vehicles have seats here instead; my personal preference, as a window-lover with a Giant Rucksack, would be for more luggage space. Not that I like using end-of-saloon luggage racks when I can avoid it anyway. The IET version is not quite as tall as the HST equivalent.

IET interior 4.jpgThe Universal Access Toilet, in the vestibule under the pantograph. There is one of these at each end of each IET (under the pantograph in both cases) so both first and standard class passengers have access to one in their own bits of the train- in accordance with the law. Awkwardly the 5-car sets don’t come with a Universal Access Seating Space in standard class for the person requiring a Universal Access Toilet to sit in. Oops. Still, better than the last HST refurb providing a space for a wheelchair in first class that a) was off the platform end at half the stations and b) didn’t come with matching toilet. It’s understood that people who need a wheelchair space will get an automatic upgrade, and the toilet is here in case someone later decides to make a space in standard or just wants room for baby-changing. Slim-line toilets are provided in the intermediate vehicles, tucked in between the external doors and the gangway to the next coach. In this regard the IET is laid out rather like the Regional Railways Class 158s. Note the map of the toilet at top left.

IET interior 5.jpg Inside the toilet. Not a picture I would have tried to take had anyone else been travelling in the coach. The baby changing table is folded up behind the seat; changing the baby for another one is generally considered a more sociable solution to the “screaming baby in the quiet carriage” problem than, say, strychnine.

IET interior 6.jpg Look! Table bays! GW HSTs have them too, but not in any numbers in most standard coaches – they were sacrificed in the 2006 refurb for a fairly minimal number of extra seats. Table provision is one of those things which highlights the difference between the quality of the train as a technical package and the balance of comfort and capacity struck when the saloon was laid out. IET table bays are rather wider than HST table bays, allowing a bigger table. The downside is that the table is further away. IETs also come with window blinds throughout, replacing the first-class-only curtains on HSTs. The small grey clips on the wall can be used for coats. Overhead is the bright red button of the passenger alarm.

IET interior 7.jpg Under an airline seat (IETs have these too, for people that prefer them). The chair leg by the bodyside/ heating panel is a bit of an annoyance, but can be worked around. Two under-seat plugs are provided in place of the one on the HST (and they are always under-seat, unlike the HST where table plugs are at the window end of the table). Various views are expressed on the seat padding, but personally I find the base quite comfortable – although the upright seat back is another matter. Armrests are provided throughout.

IET door 1 JPG.jpg An IET door, belonging to unit 800 009. The label to the left of the door shows seat numbers most easily reached by this door. Upper right is the bodyside camera for Driver Controlled Operation. To the right of the door is the control button with the emergency handle in bright green at lower right. White door rims and bogie pivot points highlight that 800 009 is painted white and vinyled into GWR green. Sliding doors are provided, retracting into a bodyside pocket which precludes windows within three feet of that side of the external door. This means no more droplights, so no more fighting with outside door handles, no more bashing people with slam doors, no more doors gently swinging shut on people when the coach is on sloping track, no more decapitations on signal posts or lost hands on tunnel walls (yes, I have been on a train delayed at Chippenham because someone stuck his hand out of the window in Box Tunnel and half of it got shredded off – blood everywhere apparently), no more photos out of the windows and no more sniffing the fresh Cornish air on the moors between St Austell and Truro.

(Also no more burning brake block smell. IETs have regenerative/ rheostatic brakes combined with modern friction brakes that make squealing noises.)

Paddington 7 JPG.jpg At Paddington, providing a comparison with a HST. The IET nose is longer and more has been done with the windscreen. Rounded glass has been possible for years, but after fitting 1950s multiple units with rounded windscreens (notably classes 123/ 303/ 309) British Rail rapidly went off the idea due to the costs of replacing the curved sheets of glass when they got smashed. There have been exceptions, but generally flat sheets have been normal since then. The HST nose always exudes mass and power, while the IET looks rather powerful from some angles and a bit thin from others. What it does manage to avoid is the rather bug-like look of a Voyager. The small black pole sticking out of the coupling cover is a bit of the coupling which features on every European train with a covered automatic coupling, but which the coupling designers have no enthusiasm to remove. The HST does not have such a hole because behind the HST’s coupling cover is a conventional drawhook – a long-standing flaw with the design as drawhooks are supposed to come with buffers and be prominently displayed. The HST (usually) has no buffers and hides the drawhook so it’s a bit of a pig to use.

Class 387

The 387 is the latest in a long line of electric multiple units built at Derby by the site’s owners, all branded as Electrostar. Aside from being Built In Britain, they are pretty apolitical things so don’t need much of a run-in.

The Electrostar started off looking like this:

Fenchurch Street 2 JPG.jpg

Then they looked like this, after someone had decided that through gangways were jolly useful (and, on 100mph square-fronted trains, not inclined to wreck attempts at streamlining):

Folkestone Central 1 JPG.jpg

And now they look like this – with neater light clusters and the ribbon-glazing replaced by something easier to maintain:

Acton ML 1 JPG.jpg

But the manufacturer has withdrawn them from the product catalogue, so that’s it for the Electrostar.

They’re replacing the Thames Turbo units ordered for Great Western suburban and lower-loading medium-distance services in the early 1990s. These are perfectly respectable trains, but were based around a high-density travel concept so have 2+3 seating with no armrests or tables. This is good for peak commuter traffic, but not so ideal for leisure flows in the Kennet Valley or business travel to Worcester and Hereford.

Paddington 8 JPG.jpg This is a Turbo. This particular example is named after Roger Watkins, a GWR planner who was involved in their introduction to the Thames Valley. It is looking obligingly slightly grubby, thus making the 387 look flasher and newer by comparison.

So the Kennet Valley and Worcester, Malvern & Hereford services are going IET, the suburban services are being electrified so the 387s can take over and the Turbos are off to Bristol, where they can replace smaller and (slightly) older Sprinters.

Inside the 387 is absolutely nothing like a Turbo.

387 interior 1 JPG.jpg General interior view. This is the standard GWR seating colour scheme, also seen on GWR-refurbished HSTs, Sprinters, Pacers and Turbos. The seats are the current standard for suburban stock, which the odd commentator will refer to as “ironing boards”. For the duties that they work, which is stopping services out of London, they are perfectly good seats. They are laid out in 2+2 formation and come with seat-back fold-down tables and armrests. The large blocks reducing a couple of window heights are the bodyside passenger information panels.

387 interior 2 JPG.jpg A 387’s luggage rack. Two levels, sloping backwards to stop stuff falling out. 387s have swing-plug sliding doors, so there is no internal door pocket and therefore no dead bodyside to put racks against, so the luggage gets a window view.

387 interior 3 JPG.jpg A vestibule – specifically for the Universal Access Toilet with Universal Access Seating Spaces and Universal Access Bin (which some people bother to use). The toilet is set up differently to the IET and doesn’t come with a map.

387 interior 4 JPG A table bay – there are a couple of these in the smaller saloons at the vehicle ends and also one at each end of the main saloon, next to the vestibule. Under the table are a couple of plug sockets. Over this particular table is the emergency “hopper” window for use if the air conditioning breaks. The table bays mostly line up neatly with the windows, although the ones directly behind the cab get a smaller window.

387 interior 5 JPG.jpg The vestibule, with bin and standard door controls. Doors are placed at what is usually described as “one-third and two-third” intervals, although in practice since about 1990 designers have favoured one-quarter and three-quarter intervals.

The 387s run more enthusiastically than a Turbo and of course offer all the standard electric train benefits regarding quiet running – there is just a slight whine from the motors and wheels.

They largely run in 8-car formations, which in the peaks mostly offsets the lower per-vehicle official seating capacity than a Turbo and off-peak means lots of lovely room. No longer will commuters have to brave the middle seat of the line of three. During an awkward period when electrification ran from Paddington to Maidenhead 387s were used on Paddington to Maidenhead stoppers – peaks only in the week and all day at weekend, interworked with Turbos running on to Reading and Oxford. The ordinary day-to-day passenger might not have been bouncing up and down with joy that their train now had a pantograph, but they were appreciating the table bays. (Of course Turbos consisted almost entirely of seating bays, but 387s come with tables for putting drinks and crisp packets and magazines on.)

Electrification now terminates at Didcot, which is a trifle awkward because it means the Paddington to Oxford stopping trains now have to terminate at Didcot too. Turbos connect there to continue to Oxford and Banbury, with the happy upside that the Banbury stoppers now run through to Didcot for easier connections.

Next

Well, actually, the 387s and IETs are the new train designs for Great Western services (Crossrail will be bringing along the successor to the 387s, the Class 345 “Advenza”, in a few years time for stopping trains between Paddington, Heathrow and Reading) and the 387s are all in traffic, so that is It as far as surveys of the designs go.

But IET introduction is yet young, and there are rather more of them to be introduced over the next year. Some of the HSTs will also be staying around with fewer coaches and new doors for inter-regional services. Other HSTs are already heading off to Scotland to provide a welcome replacement for intercity Turbostars. The balance will be available to anyone looking for novelty garden ornaments.

Paddington 9 JPG.jpg Enjoy while it lasts – four HSTs line up at Paddington station. This will be the sight at Glasgow Queen Street in just over a year, by which point Paddington will be a hub of IETs and 387s.