This is rather the point

EU legislation has not assisted the sleepers in their battle with the planes and high-speed trains. Particularly unhelpful was 1995 Railway Directive 95/19, which required train operators to pay “track access charges” to infrastructure providers. The measure shone a harsh spotlight on loss-making services – such as the sleepers – raising the question: “Are they worth paying the charges?” The answer has frequently been: “No.”

Which is why we do such things of course. If something is making a loss it is making us all poorer. More value would be created by the same resources being used to do something else. Thus why we uncover the pricing of things, in order to work out what we should stop doing because it’s making us poorer.

30 comments on “This is rather the point

  1. “Requiem for… a European way of life”

    Hore-drawn carriage was once a European way of life. Buggy whips were used. And the last last buggy whip was the best damn buggy whip in the world. Things move on; roll with it!

  2. As the German railway system was essential to the quick mobilisation of their army against France in both 1870 and 1914, it is clear that this track charging directive was essential to prevent Germany from ever going to war with France again, the cost of moving the soldiers being a clear disincentive to future war planners.

  3. Funny how the Left are nostalgic about some parts of a national culture, and fucking rabid about others.

  4. And *staggeringly* so. I seem to recall that the overnight train from London to Scotland had a subsidy of something like £50 each before they canned it.

    “We are losing a way to forge links with the neighbours just when we need them the most”

    Jesus H Christ on a pogo stick. My daughter got to know her exchange student from Gemany by Skype. I can fly to Barcelona from £15 each way. I’m currently working on a system build for Switzerland which will get sent down the wire.

    These people are just dinosaurs. I don’t think it’s an accident that the Guardianistas are also into organic food and vinyl records. They seem to literally want to go back and live in the 1980s, with £300 flights, the Morris Marina and the miserable bastards you got in BA and Air France.

  5. I genuinely dln’t wish to start a firestorm here, but I do note that this was EU directive. This was the part of the EU that had the Owen Joneses and the Spud’s screaming “neoliberal” before they realised how much they really loved the EU and free trade etc. There are parts of EU derived.law we do want to keep in domestic legislation post-Brexit. These include the rules that enable markets to function. Things such as state aid rules, fair competition rules. Yes, we can do them domestically, easily. There is a threat though of adopting a ‘baby with bathwater’ attitude

  6. Only if they do the accounting properly. Most sleepers are slower than daytime trains. This means less wear & tear on the tracks (for a multitude of reasons). A sleeper needn’t disrupt overnight engineering work either, since they can be sent via a different route if the need arises.

  7. @Rob – they’re nostalgic for the nice bits that benefit them (especially those that keep holiday areas in picturesque poverty)

  8. But what can or should we do about it?

    The airlines can open a subsidiary in the city of their choice still occupied by the EU.

  9. But we want fewer, more expensive flights don’t we/they?

    Possibly the best argument for Remain, is that Leave is absolutely a left-wing position. It is not necessarily a right-wing position. Murphy has occasionally, and unintentionally made lists of why No True Left-winger can support the EU, but is never able to join the dots.

    Corbyn, of course, does “get it”, as they say, but is too timid to say so.

    Like everything else, it’s all Thatcher’s fault. At the end of her term, and with the Soviet Union collapsing, Labour needed something other than economics to campaign on. Increasing Tory euroscepticism allowed them to switch from the Leave party of 1983, to the International Peace and Love party of 1997. The decline in coal production also allowed them to commandeer the environmental argument.

  10. Ironman – “These include the rules that enable markets to function. Things such as state aid rules, fair competition rules. Yes, we can do them domestically, easily.”

    Because markets did not function in Britain before the EU of course?

    State aid rules? The French have these lovely trains. They are not exactly cheap but they are not unreasonable. But they need massive infrastructure. When Ryanair goes pretty much everywhere for less than a hundred pounds, how do you think that works? Do you think that perhaps they are getting a little bit of state aid? Do you think that perhaps the market is not being allowed to work?

    How do you reconcile how the EU is supposed to be run with how the EU is actually run?

  11. There is an argument that the track-access charges are an unfair burden on the sleepers.

    The point is that the purpose of track-access charges is that the money gets spent on maintaining the track. But the marginal maintenance cost of a railway line that has an extra train run over it is very small (if you run one train a day it costs x; if you run a hundred trains a day, maintenance is still less than 2x).

    So, running a sleeper over a line that exists anyway for other trains should not need to attract as high a track-access charge as the routine trains that the line exists for.

    If the track maintenance was being done on a commercial basis, then they would note that the choice for the sleeper is between getting in something and the train not running at all and so receiving nothing. At which point, you do price discrimination and give the sleepers a cheaper deal.

    The problem is not that the infrastructure companies are required to charge train companies for using their track. It’s that they aren’t allowed to price discriminate, so charge more to commuter trains (which have a captive market and can raise ticket prices) and some high-speed trains (where they have outcompeted air) and less to sleepers (which always compete with air). After all, they still spend the same money whether the sleeper runs or not – it’s not like cancelling sleepers has resulted in any lines beinf closed.

  12. They cannot charge sleeper trains less than commuter trains at peak times? That is fucking bonkers. Is that really true?

    The EU discounted the only two rational pricing strategies, i.e. (1) pricing to ease congestion, and (2) pricing to encourage use at very quiet times, and instead settled for option (3), charging everyone the same regardless?

  13. But the railways already slash prices to get bums on seats where there is spare capacity. How are sleepers any different? What else would use the overnight capacity?

    Presumably overnight goods trains are not paying the same as peak commuter trains?

  14. Richard Gadsen said just what I was thinking – if there is a problem it isn’t making train operators pay for using the infrastructure, it’s whether we’re using flexible market pricing.

    It should be cheap to run a train when demand for that track is low, but since this is an EU rule they’ve probably messed it up.

  15. I’m not sure track charges make that much difference.

    I’ve done sleepers in Europe and the problem is that each person needs a ton of space. You replace what would be seating for 6 people with beds for 2. You can’t carry many people on it, so the costs go up. Plus – who wants to do it? When I travelled from Copenhagen to Amsterdam it wasn’t that busy. Most people would rather not spend 2 days away from home when they can just fly home and get home late.

  16. Ironman, you must be a railwayman, as everybody in Europe calls it the ‘iron road’ (‘cept Brits). I was fascinated by your ‘Hore drawn carriages’, and suspect you have left out a letter, but is it ‘s’ or ‘w’?

    Was the sleeper service loss-making before the track charges, or did the tack charges turn it from profitable to not? In the latter case, differential charging is sensible, in the former, it’s the final nail in the coffin.

  17. SMFS

    You might like to go and look at what state aid rules actually are and what they are intended to do.

  18. Witches

    You’re not helping. “Whore-drawn carriages” is giving me ideas that might turn out to be very expensive indeed.

  19. B-i-Wiltshire>

    It’s hard to say what demand for sleepers would be in a world where there were reasonable numbers of reasonably well-run, reasonably well-chosen routes.

    At the moment the carriages are pretty archaic, and the whole setup is like something out of the sixties. Hell, a Travelodge is more comfortable. But the idea still has a lot of merit. You’re quite right that people will prefer an evening flight and a night at home to a sleeper, but that’s not so much the case when you have to get up at 4am for an early morning flight.

    And sleepers are massively undersold to holidaymakers. They either save you a night in a hotel, or give you an extra day of holiday. Let Easyjet or a ferry company or someone run them and you’d see hundreds of thousands of tourists use them every year.

  20. I went skiing once via a sleeper from Paris. We had to stand in a circle at the Gare du Nord protecting our luggage from thieves at about 11pm at night, then got about 12 minutes sleep in a massively overheated sleeper cabin as the train clanked and jumped around. Was fucked for about two days with sleep deprivation.

    I’ll fly, thanks.

  21. As an aside Iam taking my family by sleeper soon. To Bangkok from the nearest station to the Malay border. 1st class for 6 people costs about as much as flying. Takes 14 hours instead of 2.

    But it means we don’t pay for a hotel so it is effectively free travel. Plus it is an experience we won’t get elsewhere. The tourist part of sleepers is underrated and competing with planes for travel is pointless in the UK with the high cost structures.

    We were trying to go from a Singapore to Bangkok by train but the duration is unworkable so we are cheating and flying to KL then after staying with friends taking a car up to Penang and again up to the border.

  22. Rob>

    I’ve been skiing several times via the same route. Get on Eurostar in London at some civilised time in the evening, dinner, arrive in Paris in time to change trains. Get on the sleeper, have a couple of drinks and go to sleep. Wake up at the foot of the mountain at 8ish having had more sleep than if you get up early to get an early flight. Get on the slopes before the people on the first flights are even out of the airport, forget their transfers. Full day’s skiing, repeat at the other end for 7 full days on the mountain.

    And that’s with the idiotic structure and archaic carriages. It is surely not beyond the wit of man to make carriages that are as (un)comfortable as a typical ferry, and that would be a good few rungs up the ladder from what you get now.

  23. The EU has been leaned on to be a bit more sensible in the last few years. Most of the (publicly owned) infrastructure companies still do flat-rate charges, though – Network Rail in the UK is much more commercially minded than most.

    As far as I can tell, it’s now the national governments (well, the state-owned infrastructure companies) that are fucking it up, rather than the EU.

    Most sleepers are international, and it only takes one country being stupid and the sleeper can’t run. There used to be lots of sleepers running Amsterdam-Brussels-Cologne-somewhere (e.g. Berlin, Vienna, Prague, Zurich), and then the Belgians put the track fees up and some stopped altogether and others started in Cologne instead.

    The new Austrian Nightjet carriages are really nice compared to old rubbish in France and Italy. If you do something like Cologne-Vienna you’ll see what I mean.

    I do miss the Spanish Trenhotels. They still do Madrid-Lisbon and the old Sud Express route (originally Paris-Lisbon, but now a TGV to the border at Hendaye/Irun before handing over to the Trenhotel), but Paris-Madrid was a real pleasure, and the TGV/AVE route changing trains in Barcelona is not an adequate replacement (unlike the Paris-Barcelona Trenhotel which they were right to kill off when the TGV started).

    They’re probably the nicest trains to travel on. The only other one really close is Russian Railways (RZD)’s Paris-Moscow Express. Can be used as an overnight from Paris to Berlin, though it doesn’t run every day (unlike most sleepers).

  24. @BiW The airlines can open a subsidiary in the city of their choice still occupied by the EU.

    IAG (the group that owns BA and their low-cost point-to-point services across Europe) already owns Iberia and Aer Lingus. I’m sure a bit of paper shuffling would be the most that would be needed. And eJ already have European subsidiaries.

  25. 95/19/EC says that in charging infrastructure fees “There shall be no discrimination in the charging for services of an equivalent nature in the same market” and the charges should be “according to the nature of the service, the time of the service, the market situation and the type and degree of wear and tear of the infrastructure”.

    So it’s quite legal to have a different access charge for a sleeper service. The effect of the Directive is that track operators are not allowed to discriminate between licensed train operators.

  26. Dave,

    Given that the critical restriction is beds in the ski resort (ie Saturday to Saturday), is that not 8 full days skiing?

    And why not one better – skip the change in Paris?

    Eurostar do (I think they still currently do) a normal overnight train Friday night out / Saturday night back (St Pancras to Bourg), in addition to the normal Saturday day transfers (which btw are excellent themselves). All they would need to do is convert that o/night service to a proper sleeper (reclining seats in 1st I believe is the limit of the current o/night arrangement)?

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