What can a new book tell us about the awful state of our railways?
Dear members — what first comes to mind when you think about our railways? Is it cancellations? Absurd fares? Is it the experience of being squashed in so tight you can feel your co-passengers' breath on your neck? Probably all of the above. A new book — Derailed: How to Fix Britain’s Broken Railways — attempts to work out how all this came to be, and whether turning up to Lime Street will ever be a low-stress experience again. We spoke to the man who wrote it.
First up, your daily briefing, including big cuts at Liverpool City Council.
Your Post briefing
Liverpool City Council has released a number of budget options for the next three years as it seeks to close the £73 million gap in the city’s finances. These include making cuts to libraries, gyms, culture and welfare spending; finding efficiency savings to transform services; and generating extra income through raising council tax, increasing rents on council owned buildings. Joanne Anderson said that the budget was the “toughest” ever, recognising that “any proposed reduction in services will impact on residents”. Liberal Democrat leader on the council Richard Kemp called all of the options “calamitous,” saying that it “hides 12 years of Labour blundering” in Liverpool.
An investigation into a number of councillors’ relationships to the Beautiful Ideas Company, which ran car parks for fans at Anfield and Goodison Park on match days, has been expanded from investigating four to five councillors. In 2018, the council launched an initial investigation into the company, but never published its results. Following the release of audit documents, probes were initially launched into four councillors to assess whether there were any breaches of the code of conduct. On Wednesday night city solicitor Dan Fenwick announced the expansion of the investigation. Liverpool Community Independents, a splinter group of left-wing former Labour councillors, have demanded a further expansion, calling for a “full and rigorous inquiry into the company and its relationship to Liverpool Council.”
A tigress has died at Knowsley Safari Park following an attempt at mating. Sinda, a 14-year-old female who has lived at the park for 12 years was bitten by an eight-year-old male tiger, Miron. The Amur species of tiger is native to eastern Russia, north-east China, and North Korea, and is endangered, with roughly 500 living in the wild. The mixing in Knowsley was part of a European breeding programme to try to strengthen their numbers.
🎨 It’s a great time to start Christmas shopping as this Sunday sees the Good Market come to FACT on Wood Street. A curated showcase of local artists and makers, selling everything from mugs to jewellery to paintings, it’s the perfect place to get your goods while supporting local independent creators and businesses.
🎹 1980’s electronic act Blancmange comes to the Baltic Triangle’s Hangar 34 on Saturday. The Living on the Ceiling band reformed a decade ago, and has been experimenting with soundscapes since. This tour comes on the back of their latest album, Private View, which is described as “an accumulation of 40 years of musical knowledge.” General admission is £27.50.
🗣️ The Reader, based in South Liverpool’s Calderstones Mansion, hosts a spoken word event on Friday evening, featuring poetry, monologues, and memoir from a number of prominent Liverpool writers, as well as free pizza! Performers include non-conformist poet Eddie and the Dead, multidisciplinary artist Ella Fullalove, and “bad wool” writer Roy. £10.
By Jack Walton
Over the summer, something was brewing. Mick Lynch came from nowhere as a kind of gruff messiah of a sudden movement, able to represent working class interests and eloquently dismantle morning TV presenters in a way few senior politicans can. Strikes disseminated through countless industries, but none more prominently than the railways. Catching a train out of Lime Street was like going for a long coastal walk with an encroaching tide; you can leave, but you might not be coming back.
Yes, the strikes were for a better pay deal, but a spotlight seemed also to be shining on a rail system famed for its endless delays and obscene fares. Leftwing newspaper Morning Star said Lynch had “skelped the arse of the entire political and media establishment”. But not even a man like Lynch could skelp an arse that large unless something was seriously wrong.
Dr Tom Haines-Doran has as much railway expertise as anyone. Call him (t)rain man. He recently published the book Derailed: How to Fix Britain’s Broken Railways, which opens — as it might — on a train. The account is partly fictionalised, but in essence Haines-Doran was returning from a conference in London where he had presented research on the economics of rail nationalisation.
The train became stuck in the Northamptonshire countryside and a debate broke out among his fellow passengers about why the railways were in such a state. As the resident expert, he was “subjected to a barrage of questions”. He soon realised he didn’t have all the answers. So he went away and wrote the book to try and answer them. It begins with a bit of history.
The Liverpool-Manchester railway was the first intercity passenger railway in the UK. Its success contributed to “a massive boom in railway investment and construction, unhindered by governments which favoured free market development” the book reads.
It seems hard to believe nearly 200 years on that a train service between Liverpool and Manchester could be considered world-leading. Anyone who’s endured it in recent months would be familiar with the cancellations and sardine-simulation experience, something like trying to have a mosh pit in a cleaning cupboard. En route to a conference on “rail chaos” last month, Steve Rotheram and Andy Burnham found themselves late due to delays and posted a very angry-looking picture on Twitter. “If this was happening in London or the South East, it would be treated as a national scandal,” Rotheram said.