What we learned this week

  • Grist on wild playgrounds movement. I’m pleased to say we have one of these near us.
  • The IUCN‘s World Conservation Congress included a dialogue on Spirituality and Conservation for the first time. You can watch it here (skip forward about 28 minutes)
  • John Coleman died this week, aged 95. He was an economist and college president who kept his academia in perspective by taking sabbaticals to work incognito as a ditch-digger, prison guard or a cook. Wouldn’t it be great if more economists did that?


  1. I shall watch what happens with GO-OP with interest. Going the open access route is clearly the best for a Co-op start up since there is not the commitment of a franchise. That said if you have followed the saga of getting Grand Central up and running you know that even then it is a long and expensive task to start running trains. I had a look on the internet and I could only find two tiny shortlines in Canada that are currently run by a cooperative (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Southern_Rails_Cooperative) so this idea, while very fashionable right now, is fairly untried on the railways.

    There is nothing magical about cooperatives as opposed to standard for profit companies. Cooperatives can be badly run and provide poor service (The Cooperative Bank is a case for both points).

    It does seem odd to me that all the focus seems to be on the Train Operating Companies when the TOCs are probably the best part of our railways, even though (or because) they are run for profit. Network Rail, which of course is state owned, is where much of the inefficacy lies. Our railways take lots of subsidy because they need lots of investment which can’t be delayed as it was in the days of BR when the plans were changed every budget depending on how much the government had spare. Of course the complaints about subsidy are often in the same breath about high fares which could only be reduced with even higher subsidies from the non train riding public.

    There are some fairly easy solutions to problems on the railways. We are about to be flooded with new trains such that there is a looming crisis of where to put all the old ones (http://www.railwaymagazine.co.uk/industry-needs-35-miles-of-sidings-to-store-redundant-rolling-stock/). Many of these older trains could be run together to reduce overcrowding.

    1. I think Southern Rail has been making a good case for fresh ideas on the railway recently, taking taxpayer millions to sort it out its problems with one hand, and paying out to shareholders on the other.

      Nothing magical about co-ops, but giving the people who use the trains a stake would be a big step forward. There have to be creative ideas in-between full nationalisation and corporate privatisation. I suspect we’ll need some support or new legal frameworks to make it easier for open access co-ops, as the odds are really stacked against them at the moment. The way the Wrexham & Shropshire line was crushed by Virgin a few years was very disappointing.

      1. You seem to be falling for the simplistic line that since Go Ahead who part own Southern, saw its profits increase that those profits came from Southern. Go Ahead say they are subsidising Southern from their bus and other train operations.

        Unless we want and increase subsidies any operator of Southern, be they state, coop or private would have to harmonize working practices across the franchise so I don’t know what lesson it gives us.

        Do note the Southern Rail I linked to is the Canadian coop, not the UK commuter line.

        1. Yes, I mention it from the news rather than from your link. And to be fair to Southern, they seem to be in a bit of a no-win situation, so I don’t want to single them out particularly.

          The overall point is that you have millions of people inconvenienced by the railways on a daily basis, and they are powerless to do anything. They feel at the mercy of corporations, or unions for that matter, and they’re stuck in the middle. I’m sure we can do better, though I’m very much an observer on this one and you’ll know more than I do.

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