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Sunday, 27 June 2010

What will happen on the railways in the next 5 years...some musings

Ah, so all the budgets of all government departments are going to be cut by 25%. Well, all the budgets except the ministry of health and international development. This is therefore going to be a scary time for the railway industry, especially as they take up the majority of the Department for Transport's (DfT) expenditure. I honestly, do not think that any idea, project or whim will escape the axeman's wrath. Nor do I think that the existing rail network will be immune. In short, start screaming now. I will now attempt to rationalise what is going to happen, or at least may happen.

1.Firstly, those projects which have already been stopped won't have any chance of being restarted soon. Even under the previous Labour Government some things had been kicked out of the park. For example, the Intercity Express Project, that was designed to replace Britain's ageing HSTs and Intercity 225s, was put on hold by Lord Adonis. But the new Government has already cut schemes such as Network Rail's 'Better Stations Project' that was going to improve some of Britain's most passenger-unfriendly stations. Lastly, as I discussed in an earlier Blog post, over 700 new carriages are not going to appear. The overall theme therefore is that comfort on rail journeys is not an important thing in the new era of fiscal tightening. You are going to be squeezed, pushed and jostled on your journey. In a way I don't mind so much, I have to say I expected this. Is comfort really the most necessary thing when everyone in the country is having to pitch in to reclaim the debt? In truth, I don't thinks so, but I just really wish it wasn't happening.

2.The raising of fares will also be on the agenda...naturally. While I think a lot of people will jump to blame the new government, but then I'm not unfair. I should point out that increasing the price of tickets actually was on the cards under Labour. They wanted to reduce the amount of money that they paid to the Train Operating Companies (TOC), who in turn would have to put up the train fares to make up the funding shortfall. My only concern now is that with the DfT turning increasingly pro-road under Philip Hammond, they will allow a much more fervent rise in fares that may price people out of rail travel even further. This, however, in a way makes sense, especially given what I said above. If there is less space on the trains, a few less passengers would probably make my journey less stressful. This said, I'm not happy about it. Nothing should ever be done to discourage the public to use the trains.

3.So what of the big capital projects. Well, of course there is Britain's second High Speed Line (HS2), which was to link London with Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds through new whizzy trains. I have to be honest, I don't think this'll happen. Firstly, it's just WAY WAY WAY too expensive. Simple. But more to the point, with the cost being roughly £34 billion, and with a 25% cut in the amount of money available to the DfT, I am convinced that that the cash will be needed to maintain the existing network. Further, when I think of the way that the project was talked about before the election, in that the issue was sustained by the fact that no party wanted to pull their support for it, I think that the government will realise that that it was a political marketing stunt and as such it will loose its importance. With the new coalition, I suspect, it will get quietly dropped. On top of this, I suspect that the electrification of the Great Western Main Line will be dropped...again quietly. All in all I feel the message for the railway industry in the next 5 years will be to make the best out of the country's existing infrastructure.

4.Lastly, I think that the government will be much more cautious about renewing franchise agreements. On the 18th June the DfT put all franchise renewals on hold and extended the length of time that the East Coast franchise would remain in public hands. Some part of me thinks that this move is a precedent and that the DfT has seen that renationalising franchises by stealth is the cheaper option. My hope is that over the next 20 years privatisation will fizzle out. Yea, this is whimsy. There's no chance. I just think they will take more time to formulate what they want from the franchise agreements, and then make them longer. This hasn't really been a bad thing, the Chiltern franchise, that is 20 years in duration, has been one of the consistently the best performing. Thus, I think that longer franchise agreements may actually be good for the traveller and will deliver better services. However, it may also mean that the DfT restricts the amount of money they put into the franchises and force the TOCs to put up fares and reduce the quality of the travelling experience. I think in the new anti-rail era, the latter is more likley.

For all my speculation what will actually happen is a mystery. However, if the railways are going to be cut in such a horrific way one thing does need to happen that I don't think has happened in a long time. The government, DfT and all involved need to ask themselves one crucial question...what do we want our railways to do? Yes...we need a strategy. At the moment they are simply being looked on as an expense, a position that I think that will become more prevalent under the Conservative government. The railways to state their purpose, to define their role within the nation, within the economy and within the public's lives. If we know what the railways are for, if we have a clear-sighted goal, then all those involved can work towards making it (whatever it is) a reality. At the moment the TOC's, NR, the DfT, simply do their job without any purpose. They spend their time fighting, maintaining the status quo and not really affecting real change. What we need is a concerted effort to make Britain's railways the best they can be, for everyone who lives here so that we can survive the cuts to come.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Moving a Locomotive Works and the Power of Knowledge to stop it Happenning

In the recent few days I have been thinking about the idea of control of policy with the London and South Western Railway (L&SWR). On Tuesday I will be presenting a paper at a magnificent place, the Institute of Historical Research's Postgraduate Group's, Summer Conference. The theme of the conference is politics, and hence why I have opted for a paper on policy control within the L&SWR. While not an traditional political topic, the study of internal organisational politics has many commonalities with the study of government departments interact. For example, these common themes include the control of the organisation, conflict for resources between stakeholders, such as department heads, and the complex range of issues that surround principals (voters/stakeholders) and agents (Government/Directors or managers). Therefore, this is why, as a business (or railway) historian, I get into the conference. I am trading similar ground as those political historians.

My paper surrounds the process of moving the L&SWR's Locomotive, Wagon and Carriage Works at Nine Elms (near Battersea) to Eastleigh. This happened in stages between 1891 and 1909, however the process of took a long time, with considerations for moving the Nine Elms works 'into the country' being found in unofficial capacities in the 1840s. The first official mention at committee level came in 1860. I won't want to give the game away regarding my entire paper, especially as some of the people who hear it may read this Blog (I mean you Simon and Peter). But I would like to focus on one event that will be covered in the talk regarding the power of a department head to completely stop a major policy proposal in its tracks.

By the 1880s railway companies were the biggest organisations within Britain. They had developed managerial hierarchies that, while highly populated with managers and supervisors, were relatively easy to understand. All business historians will agree that most British railway companies by the late 19th century had developed the 'Functional Department Structure,' in which each department controlled a different function of company operations. Therefore, the three main departments within most railway companies were 'Traffic,' administering the transit of goods and passengers along the line, 'Locomotive,' maintaining and building the rolling stock and 'Engineering,' maintaining and constructing all the infrastructure. These were supplemented by a range of other departments such as Audit, Accounts, Docks (if the company owned any) and Stores. I take it that you have got the theme now, so I won't need to explain what these departments did.

The problem with this structure was that as the departments became larger over time, they separated from each other within the company. Therefore, these departments became institutions in their own right, giving the department heads control over ever-expanding multi-layered and complex dominions. Subsequently, departments separated organisationally, allowing the heads to run them as they wished. But this, in many cases meant that they prioritised operational effectiveness, over economic responsibility, allowing them to loose sight of the overall revenue position of the company (see an earlier post on Dugald Drummond, Locomotive Superintendent of the L&SWR for an example.)

This problem was also exacerbated by level of oversight that department heads received. Directors on the sub-co committees of the board, each of which covered different areas of operation (such as the Traffic Committee, Locomotive Committee etc.) had to meet with the different heads of department, to ratify or deny his proposals. However, the Committees only met twice a month and therefore could not possibly have hoped to obtained full knowledge of the departments that they were discussing and this made them reliant on information provided by the department head. Thus, the department heads could decide what information to provide or deny the committee, allowing them to shape company policy towards their own desires.

It is this relationship, between manager and committee, that forms the crux of my post. Nine Elms, had been the home of the London and South Western railway since its opening in 1838. However, by 1882 the site was getting cramped because of the increased traffic and operations of the company. Originally the site on the north side of the line housed the passenger and goods terminals, as well as the Locomotive, Carriage and Wagon works. As traffic grew, and the scale of all these functions increased, the company required more and more room to accommodate them. This was partially alleviated in 1848 when the company's London terminus moved to Waterloo. Further, in 1860 it was decided to move the works to the south side of the main line and convert the entire site on the north into goods facilities. However, by the 1880s, the northern site was again coming under the pressure of traffic and more space was needed. Further, the Locomotive, Carriage and Wagon works were also suffering due to lack of space.

The company sprang into action and the Engineering Committee, which had responsibility for rolling stock affairs at that point, asked the opinions of the General Manager, Archibald Scott, and the Locomotive Superintendent, William Adams (Shown). But, there would be a disagreement over what was to be done as the directors and Scott wanted to take one course of action, whereas Adams wanted to take another. The directors and Scott both wished for the locomotive works to be moved into the 'country,' wherever that may be, so the Traffic Department could occupy the space on the south side of the line. Both parties also recognised that this would mean a 'new start' for the Locomotive, Carriage and Wagon Works as the new facilities could be built in a more efficient manner. The previous works buildings had been built-up in an ad hoc fashion when required. This had made them inefficient for operations.

Once decided on a course of action Scott and the directors referred the matter to Adams for his take on the situation. Adams comprehensively rejected their idea to move the works into the country. In a letter to the Engineering Committee of the 12th September 1882, he laid out 11 reasons why he did not advise the move. He had put up fierce resistance, and in consultation with the General Manager the directors subsequently dropped the plan. However, I believe that Adam's rejection of the idea had little to do with the reality of the company's situation. Rather, I feel that all he wished to do was protect his own power and control over the works. At the time the letter was sent I have identified a number of reasons for this.

Firstly, Adams did not put forward anything positive within the report for the move. Indeed, all the 11 points are negative. This, to me, has always seemed illogical. He did not mention that a new set of buildings could be built 'fit for purpose,' possibly saving the company money in terms of staffing, engineering considerations, or time in the production and maintenance of rolling stock. Secondly, in 1881 Scott as General Manager had been given more general control of the company. He had held the post since 1870, however up until that point he still had control of the Traffic Department. However, with the increasing business of the L&SWR, in 1881 it was deemed that he should have more time to coordinate the departments better. As a result he lost immediate control of the Traffic Department and was given more general control of the company. It is, therefore, quite possible that Adams felt that his own power was under threat because of the change, as Scott's interference in Locomotive matters was now greater. Lastly, as Adams noted in his letter, the buildings would be built away from the Locomotive Department headquarters at Nine Elms and would require a separate superintendent of high standing to administer them. This would mean that Adams' control of the works would be devolved to a new manager, from whom he would be geographically separated . This too would diminish his power.

My suspicion that Adams objected to the move to retain his power, is confirmed by events that happened shortly after. After the plan to move the works was rejected, Scott complained to the Engineering Committee that he felt that the work of Carriage Department was 'not sufficiently attended to' and that because of inappropriate inspections carriages had run in a poor state. He had been alerted to this fact when one had been complained about. His suggestion was that Mr Adams be given assistance in the carriage department at Nine Elms by an independent carriage supervisor. Adams did not like this idea and suggested that the best way to solve the problem was to extend the repair shops to accommodate 50 more extra carriages and rearrange the existing staff more advantageously. In his opinion, the General Manager's suggestion should be acted on only if his proposed rearrangement did not work out.

Adams' reactions to the two proposals described show his reluctance to loose any power within the department. In the first, he implied that a separate carriage and wagon construction facility would require a separate superintendent and this was a negative thing. Then, shortly after, he also stated that at Nine Elms there was no need for any assistance. Clearly, Adams disregarded doing what was best to resolve the L&SWR's operational problems in favour of satisfying his own concerns.

The truth was, however, as head of the Locomotive, Carriage and Wagon Department Adams could control the information that his superiors were able to see. In the first case, he provided the directors and Scott with an overwhelming case against the move of the works into the country, effectively killing the project. In the second, he was able to use his knowledge to presumably show that the works could be better managed. Thus, the senior management and directors did not have the information available to contradict him, allowing him to effectively control policy at both departmental and corporate levels. Therefore, the failings of functional department structure, the control that stakeholders had to shape policy and the different agendas that can form with the 'principals' and the 'agents,' can be clearly illustrated within the L&SWR in 1882 in a single case.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Goodbye Mr Coucher, you won't be missed

This week something shocking and unexpected occurred in the rail industry. After three years in the job, Iain Coucher, (shown) the Chief Executive of Network Rail (NR), who own and maintain Britain's rail network on the taxpayer's dime, stepped down. He won't be going immediately. He'll stay in place to help choose his successor. Now of course everyone had differing opinions on Coucher and his legacy.

Bob Crow of the RMT predictably stated that this was an exceedingly good thing. “As far as we are concerned it's good riddance to Iain Coucher,” said Crow, "He has presided over a culture at Network Rail that has attacked jobs, working conditions and rail safety while his salary and perks have gone through the roof." On the other side of the fence was Anthony Smith, the head of Passenger Focus, who praised what Mr Coucher's had done for the humble passenger, "Britain's rail passengers will thank Iain Coucher for what he has achieved at Network Rail. His relentless attention to getting more trains on time... has helped underpin the gradual rise in rail passenger satisfaction over the last few years." This was reiterated by a number of voices in the industry such as, Bill Emery, the head of the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR), who regulate NR, who said that Coucher had "major contribution to our improving mainline railway.”

With the first two individuals it is easy to understand why they made their comments. Bob Crow quite understandably attacked those aspects of Coucher's leadership that he perceived as affecting his union members' interests. Coucher clearly was on a weighty pay packet. Even though he waived his £150,000 bonus last year, he still received from a 'management incentive scheme' £150,000 on top of his £600,000 per year salary. This, so I am told by the papers, is four times the Prime Minister's pay packet. Therefore, while jobs amongst NR 35,000 workers are on the line, NR had Britain's highest paid public 'servant.' Indeed, Coucher was reported in The Times as having said that he would, '...refuse to take a pay cut and that he is worth every penny of his £613,000 salary.” This arrogant attitude betrays in part the culture within NR's higher echelons and even though Coucher waved his bonus last year, his management team did not. Crow's other comment does, sadly, hit the nail as three NR workers died this year. Indeed, the ORR did issue five prohibition notices and 21 improvements notices about safety. As such, as Ian Prosser, the ORR's safety director, said no one in NR's management should receive a bonus. Therefore, Bob, for once we are in agreement, this man did get paid far too much.

On the other side of the fence there is Passenger Focus. OK, this is QUANGO. Basically their role is to stick up for you, me and us, as passengers. They are always the ones that come out and complain about fare rises, they also measure passenger satisfaction. You see, they are one of last government's favourite kinds of QUANGO. It looks good, but is utterly useless. Anyhow, they are happy because Iain has made the passengers happy – simple.

It was Bill Emery's comment that was the most interesting as Iain, I'm sure, doesn't like Bill. On the 30th April Bill wrote a nice letter to NR regarding the performance of the company this year. He described NR's year as 'mixed'. He was complementary about passenger safety and the performance of the railways generally. Basically, because of NR ,as a passenger you are safe and on time. But, Bill also stated that the ORR was still concerned with the “Lack of progress with some regulated performance requirements, your asset management competence and the weakness in timetable planning, all set in the context of there being three worker and contractor fatalities during the year.” Overall he said that, “we are disappointed that it has too often been the case only make progress when we press you to do so.” Shocking really isn't it. Under Coucher NR isn't really doing its job, and as such the ORR needs to occasionally take out the poker to do make it operate effectively. This, therefore, is a problem that can only be laid at his door.

Then the next thing happened after this damning letter, was that NR published its accounts on the very next day...oh dear. Coucher revealed that revenue was down from 6.16 million to 5.69, principally due to the ORR cutting rail and freight operator's track access charges so as to force NR to make efficiencies. In addition the ORR reported that NR overspent by £149 million or 17% of its budget. As such the report showed that, NR spends too much and is receiving less money from the train operators. On top of this, with the financial crisis about to hit it hard, NR will be receiving less money from central government. This therefore a worrying time for NR, but more so for us as we fund it.

The problem with the mass-media coverage of the entire NR/Coucher resignation story is that very few sources focussed on the crux of the issue. Very sad as they were, the three worker deaths should not have been the main talking points. Indeed, their mention was usually tagged onto mention of Bob Crow's comments about safety. Further to this, every newspaper, website or journal focussed on the bonuses far too much and in a sensationalist manner. This is because we are in an age when the bonus as a concept in business is being attacked. While it is important to scrutinise bonuses, they are in reality a drop in the ocean, in NR's monetary terms and should not have received that much coverage. In my opinion, there was one gaping hole in the coverage of the story.

The coverage failed to talk about what happened to NR's finances and management under Coucher's leadership, which in my opinion was the most important issue as we pay for it. Therefore, very little commentary stated that NR uses money like liquid gold, a symptom of its corporate governance being, as described in the comments by the ORR, shockingly bad. Firstly, a recent regulatory review found that in comparison with European railways, NR is between 30 and 50 percent less efficient in spending on maintenance and track renewal. Bill Emery has said that “it's very clear that the railway industry [in Britain] does not stand good scrutiny with its peers on costs.” NR did claim that under a new 5 year cost reduction plan they were reduced by 7%, or 86 million, in 2009-10. However, this isn't reality and all that happened was that a number of projects were postponed meaning that infrastructure projects will just build up in a back-log.

Further, by NR's own measures, it stated that it had improved efficiency by 4.9%. However, this was instantly and comprehensively dismissed by the ORR, who said that in reality efficiency had 'gone backwards' in both operational efficiency and maintenance terms by 2.5%. Indeed, if things keep going like this the ORR has said that NR's debts would bankrupt the industry (yes you heard me, that's Britain's entire industry) by 2020. Its debts stand at the moment at 23.8 billion, and hence why I said that bonuses, while important to look at, are a drop in the ocean. Overall, NR's corporate governance is clearly in a mess and costing the taxpayer dearly. Therefore, the blame can only be laid at Coucher's door.

With mounting pressure and scrutiny, I therefore feel that Coucher's resignation shouldn't have been that surprising. But, I ain't complaining. I think it is good that Coucher has gone because at the end of the day, while he has been at the company since it was formed in 2002, he has overseen a period when NR's spending was unacceptably high by every measure concocted. The problem with Coucher's appointment three years ago was that he was simply promoted from being deputy Chief Executive, and subsequently didn't bring new ideas or a fresh pair of eyes to the job. Thus, he clearly allowed the continuation of inefficient working practices, mismanagement and cost inefficiencies that had been developed in the five years before hand under his predecessor John Armitt. Crucially, he didn't make the changes necessary to improve NR's corporate governance, and was, therefore, clearly the wrong man for the job. In the era of fiscal responsibility, what is needed at NR now is a new Chief Executive that is, a) not appointed by anyone in NR, b) has the ability and the knowledge to assess NR's costs and make efficiency improvements, and c) has the strength to sake the management of the company out of its complacency. These qualities are vital so that the taxpayer's money isn't wasted.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Female Applicants to the Eastleigh Locomotive Works in Wartime

Analysing historical sources that don't get much attention is something that always excites my mind. The simple recognition that I could be the last person to touch and view a document for decades, if not centuries, is an amazing feeling.

As some of you are no doubt aware, in the course of my PhD I am acquiring all the information that is available on the female workers of the London and South Western Railway (L&SWR). Over the years I have viewed a lot of documents on a range of subjects, however, it is only when doing this work that I can say that the documents I am using have never been used before by historians. This is a symptom of the fact that women's history, and women's existence in history, has been shrouded from view, hidden by a male dominated field where the emphasis has been on 'great men' and not 'great women'. Further, this has been exacerbated in the case of railway history by the dominance of male researchers, little interested in the contribution of female railway workers to company operations. Therefore, for these reasons the documents I handle when doing this research have potentially never been analysed to discover the history of the individuals contained within them. As such, what I am doing is breaking new historical ground.

In earlier blog posts I recounted the history of female clerks on the L&SWR. In this entry I will look a document I photographed at the Hampshire Record Office earlier this year. It is a list of women that applied to work at the company's Locomotive, Carriage and Wagon works at Eastleigh, in Hampshire, between 1916 and 1923 (example shown). It is not, however, a list of those women who were actually employed at the works, that has seemingly been lost

The document contains a range of information about the women, such as their ages, their addresses, the job they applied for, and any pertinent remarks. It therefore contains interesting information on the women who were living in Eastleigh during this period. For the purposes of this study I am only focussing on the information between January 1916, when the record starts, and November 1918, when the war ended. I will look at three areas of interest that are contained within the document. These are the women's ages, the jobs that they applied for, and any remarks that detailed links with the L&SWR. Before coming to write this blog entry I had not looked at my images of the document, so all the findings are new. However, it does mean that the analysis may still need more work.

I started off looking at the women's ages, the results are shown in Graph 1 below (enlarge by clicking on it).

As shown, the majority of women who applied for employment in the works were in their teenage years. Generally it seems that the minimum age for employment was 14, data which is in line with general company policy by 1916. However, two younger girls thought to try their luck and apply for work. These were Miss D. Bailey, who applied on the 22nd March 1917 to work in the polishing room, and Miss D. Smith, who applied on the 27th March of the same year, aged 13, to do either polishing or lining. Whether they were successful is unknown.

There were also a good number of women who applied to work for the company in their more senior years. Before World War One women were generally employed by the L&SWR as an act of charity if their husband had been killed on the line. They would be given positions as Waiting Room Attendants, Carriage Lining Sewers, or Mess Room Supervisors. Predictably for the era, these jobs had long hours and in most cases lower pay than even the most junior male staff. Therefore, in the case of most of the older applicants for employment at the Locomotive Works in wartime they were in the same, if not similar, situations. For Example, Mrs Scott, who applied on the 14th May 1917 for employment in 'lining and trimming' aged 36, and Mrs Clement, aged 40, who applied on the 1st November 1918 to do sewing, both were widows whose husbands had been previously employed at the works. However, some older applicants also had husbands who were unable to work. Mrs A. Golding, aged 36, who applied to do 'anything' in January 1918, had a husband who had been in the army and was an invalid. Therefore, it seems that for the older women in the sample, the majority of them had had some tragedy befall them and were looking to support themselves.

Further, what is also noticeable is that the average age of the women applying for employment went up over the course of the document. The average age of the first 20 applicants in the file was 18.4, the average of 20 selected in the middle was 21.6, and the average of the last 20 was 23.2. I have developed a theory about why this was so. It is possible that the company did employ many, if not most, of the women that applied to work. Thus, by employing more and more female staff they were gradually draining the local area of potential female labour. This forced up the average age of applicants over time as older women, that potentially had familial commitments or for whatever reason had poor financial support, and were less likely to join the workforce in 1916, came to be employed in the later part of the war when they saw that the need was pressing or that opportunities were available. This is more plausible when considering that in 1916 conscription was introduced, and, with increased numbers of men being called up, recruitment for vacancies was possibly stepped up by the company. This is, however speculation and requires more investigation.

I will now move onto the type of employment that the women applied for. The information is shown in Graph 2 below.

Of the 299 women sampled, 178 (59.5%) applied to do 'anything' at the railway works. This shows that the women of Eastleigh were willing to help the war effort in any way that they could. However, the remainder specified what work they wished to do and subsequently have helped me define the restrictions that the L&SWR's management put on where in the works women could be employed.

Of the women who specified where they wished to be employed in Eastleigh, most requested to work on the finishing end of carriage construction or in office activities. Therefore, the jobs applied for were in carriage cleaning, clerical work, polishing, cushion work, dining hall supervision, lining, trimming, painting, sewing or upholstering. Only a small number, 5 in total, applied for work in the labour-intensive parts of the works. For example Mrs E. Warwick, aged 25, applied on the 16th January 1918 to work in the fitting shop.

Therefore, the evidence suggests that the L&SWR only advertised for women to be employed in jobs where the company had allowed them to work before World War One. A glance at staff records from the Eastleigh works in the 1880s and 1890s shows that women at that point were only employed in the Carriage Lining and Sewing Rooms. Therefore, at the Eastleigh works in wartime all that occurred was that the number of jobs in these areas were expanded. While a few women applied for the labour intensive sections of work, I doubt they were allowed into them. As such, even though the female labour force expanded, the divided between what were thought of as 'mens' and 'womens' work did not break down. The reasons for this are not explicitly known, but some obvious theories present themselves such as institutional sexism, management's adherence to tradition gender roles, or possibly a fear of union action from male workers who felt that their jobs under threat. Therefore, employment at the works did not open up new working opportunities for the women of Eastleigh in wartime.

Lastly, I want to look at the women's' links with the company. The results of the data pertaining to 361 women are to be found in Graph 3 below:

The evidence shows that the majority of the applicants had some link with the company and only 33 (9.14%) did not. This reflects the nature of the town of Eastleigh. Eastleigh was only a small village until the L&SWR relocated its carriage and wagon works there in 1891. As a result the company built houses for all its workers and created an entire new town. The number of railway employees living there was further expanded in 1909 when the company finished relocating the Locomotive Works to the same site. As such, it is unsurprising that 328 (90.86%) of the female applicants had links with the railway company as their fathers, brothers and husbands would have worked for it.

Further, it not surprising that because of the works' presence and Eastleigh's status as the regional headquarters of the Locomotive Department, that women with relatives in the Locomotive Department dominated the applications for employment at the works (192 – 53.19%). Contrastingly, those women with relatives in the other two major departments of the company, Traffic and Engineering, only managed to contribute 13.85% of the applications between them. This reflects the nature of railway employment in Eastleigh overall, as while the some employees did work for other departments, the majority were employed in the Locomotive Department.

Also featuring heavily in the study were women who's main relative was deceased, retired or otherwise incapacitated, and 61 of the 361 women were in this position (16.9%). This ties up with evidence presented earlier. It is quite possible that with the war drawing away male labour that these applicants saw employment in the works as an opportunity to improve their lot in life given their financial situations. Of this group, and probably the most interesting individual was Mrs Tapp, who applied on the 29th March 1917 to do any work available. Her husband, had gone down with the R.M.S Titanic. Her case is also important as it raised the question as to whether many of the women in this group had lived difficult existences up until the point they applied for work. The Titanic had sunk five years earlier. Therefore how had Mrs Tapp got on in the period in between, and did wartime vacancies at the works give her her first opportunity of work? Of course, there may have been another explanation, in that employment at the works would have meant moving to a better job. Yet, the sheer number of women in the sample who were in a situation where they had incapacitated or deceased husbands, fathers or brothers, suggests that there was a large body of women in Eastleigh who were out of work who took the opportunity to earn some money and achieve a better life.

This is re-enforced by the fact that the data gives me the impression that applications from women who had no living relatives became more frequent towards the end of the war. Firstly, this potentially indicates that in the earlier parts of the conflict that familial ties with the L&SWR were highly important for women wanting employment, as the knowledge about opportunities for employment were passed on through these relationships. Also, having a relation working for the company was almost certain to improve a person's chances of gaining employment with it. Secondly, it also suggests that as the war progressed, and the local pool of female labour was being drained, more and more women who were in need of work through no fault of their own, came out of the social woodwork to fill vacancies as within the labour market their chances of being employed improved. Of course, this is speculation, but it is a working theory.

What this short study has shown is that the 'average' female applicant to be employed in the works was under the age of 25, applying for a work in the carriage shops and had a relative that was in the company's employ. I have also shown that while the employment opportunities in the works for women grew in number, the types of jobs that they were applying for did not change. Subsequently, the divide between what was thought of as men and women's work that had existed before the war remained in tact throughout. I also have shown that the types of women that applied for employment in the works altered over the period, and some changes in both the age and social situations have been noted. Lastly, this brief investigation has shown that each woman's employment chances, even in wartime, were still dependent on their male relatives' through their relationships and occupations. Overall, this data needs more rigorous analysis and investigation, but this, for a start, isn't bad.

BELOW: I don't have a picture of the shops at Eastleigh where most of the women worked, but this picture is of the Wagon Sheet Making shops at Nine Elms in 1885.

Friday, 11 June 2010

Proving that Philip Hammond, the Transport Secretary, is pro-car, anti-rail...Sardine time!

The new Secretary of State for Transport, Philip Hammond, is still a worrying figure. I never know what he is going to do next. Last week he announced that the last government's train carriage procurement programme would undergo an “urgent reappraisal.” This programme was put in place by Labour in March 2007 to build for Britain's railway network 1,300 brand-spanking, shiny new carriages by March 2014. By March this year 526 had been delivered with around a 100 more on order. The carriages were introduced to ease the capacity problems that have the potential to make everyone feel like a sardine in the near future, as it was estimated that by March 2014 there would be a 17 per cent (64,900) increase in peak commuter traffic into London, and a 27 per cent rise (17,400) in the numbers of people travelling into other cities.

With the economic crisis in full swing, it was unlikely that these sorts of projects would be immune from cuts. Lets face it, while capacity is a severe problem between 8 and 9 am, when there is on weekdays half the day's inward London commuter traffic, capacity is not a problem at other times. Therefore, the rational for vast expenditure on just one hour of traffic is not as great as safety equipment, new lines or maintenance. After all, people can just travel earlier if they don't like it. That is, at least, what some people think.

The backdrop for the “urgent reappraisal” of the project was the National Audit Office's (NAO) report on the government's plans to address the potential capacity problems. Now the report, which has been framed by almost every news outlets as being a 'hammer-blow' to the project and a shocking indictment of profligate Labour spending, was quite measured in looking at the programme from a viewpoint in a changed economic environment. If people had bothered to read it (well I've read the summary) they would have realised this.

It stated a number of things that perhaps we should have really expected with an economic downturn. Firstly the growth in commuter passengers is unlikely to materialise as predicted. We're not, however, talking a 20% drop, not even 10%, but only a meagre 5%, and even that is a bit pie-in-the-sky as the report suggests that “There are some signs that the recession has indeed reduced the use of rail but the extent of the impact is not yet clear.” Secondly, the report stated that the cost of building the new carriages has gone up since 2007, which means that the Department for Transport would either have to incur more cost to fund the same number of carriages, or keep spending at the same level and purchase fewer carriages. This was, quite naturally, a good chance for the Daily Mail to attack Labour by accusing it of wasteful spending.

But in reality the report was a mixed one for the former government. It criticises the model that they used for predicting passenger rises, stating that the sample of information used was not large enough. The predictions also did not take into account the relationship between economic growth and passenger numbers, and made assumptions that simplified the realities of the real world so that result could be obtained. Thus these factors may have distorted the predictions. But let us not get totally disheartened. Overall the report stated that the forecasting was 'robust' and was based on a 'good knowledge of the railway network.' Indeed, it also states that the real world assumptions were inevitable given that it is incredibly difficult to predict some passenger behaviour, for example when a passenger changes off their 'preferred' train because they don't want to be on a crowded one. Further, it also stated that the models used for economic growth were 'in line with treasury guidance,' and on this count the DfT cannot be blamed as they wouldn't really go elsewhere for this information now would they? Therefore, there may be some room for justifiable criticism of the forecasts, but in reality I will give the Labour DfT 6/10, as some things were done right.

Indeed, Philip Hammond saying that the former government was profligate with money actually contradicts the report. It states that the Department, 'is assessing each scheme again for value for money before approving them.' While on a cursory reading this may seem that these assessments were introduced by the current government, the NAO was actually compiling information for the report between July and October 2009. It was, therefore, the previous government that was assessing each project's value for money, and for Hammond to make this claim when the initial rational for the procurement project was sound and the change in economic environment was unknown in 2007, is verging on ridiculous. Let us not forget, it was they who actually commissioned the report, and there is nothing to say that they wouldn't have decided to put the new carriages on hold as well. Hammond is therefore just using the report to bash the previous government. While that is something I am never afraid of doing, I won't do it unfairly.

In truth, I think it is sensible in the short-term for the government to reassess the building of new carriages, especially as the cost is now higher than it was before. What has really got me worried, what has really made me stir, is Hammond. I suspect this will be used by him as the basis to rule out, for the term of this government, any new carriage procurement or capacity-increasing measures. It will mean that as the passenger traffic continues to grow (and remember they can't prove yet that there has been any drop in numbers) the government will simply allow passenger trains to become more crowded. I can't prove for sure that this is Hammond's long-term thinking, but it wouldn't surprise me given the evidence that I will now present proving his pro-road, anti-rail perspective.

Now I have banged on about Hammond's suspected pro-road attitude before in the blog, citing comments he has made that I think allude to it. Yet I (and the rest of the media apparently) have found nothing concrete, nothing solid, that confirms all the fears of those in the railway industry or in the press that he holds these views. Hammond, as the head of the Department of Transport, isn't exactly going to state that he prefers one form of travel over another is he (and congratulations to Norman Baker, Minister of State for Transport for dodging the question on the Daily Politics Show earlier). To come out explicitly favouring one sort of transport when he hasn't been long in the job would be lunacy.

So I did a bit of digging on a wonderful site called 'They Work For You', looking for any comments that Hammond has made on his possible love of cars as opposed to railways. I did not expect to find the evidence that follows. This evidence conclusively proves what I have come to suspect in the last few months. In a debate in Parliament on regional policy in January 2003 Hammond made this comment:-

“Although everyone would like railways and airports in their regions that will help to generate economic development, such transport investments depend on volume and critical mass to deliver effective services. I am afraid to say—because it flies in the face of much Government thinking—that only roads, as a form of transport infrastructure, are likely to deliver the short-term immediate benefits to the regions where economic development needs kick-starting.”

How about this this one from a debate in November of 2003 on the Quality of Life, when he said:-

“If those people go by train, they will have plenty of time to ponder on the longer journey times and decreased reliability of a railway that is soaking up ever-larger volumes of taxpayer's money. And they will perhaps have a chance to consider the Government's extraordinary feat in turning a poorly performing element of our infrastructure—our national railway—into a worse performing one, which now seems to need to double as a bottomless pit for public finance, if we are to avoid its imploding completely. If they go by car, they will be able to contemplate the £45 billion in taxes that Government impose on motorists, while considering that Britain's spends the lowest proportion of motoring taxes on transport of any country in the western world.”

His last comment is from the Finance Bill, debated in June 2008, in which he uses a 'road' example and breezes over rail investment as being good for business:-

“One can envisage such situations with railway or new road infrastructure, if we are trying to encourage private companies, as the Government have done with the M6 toll motorway for investment in road infrastructure. Similar considerations would apply—very long payback periods for very durable pieces of investment.”

I will let you read what you will into these comments individually. However, joining the dots between them, which are all clearly on the pro-car side of the fence, and his more recent statements that I have detailed in a previous blog entry, (To be found HERE) the evidence suggests that we have a Secretary of State for transport that is very anti-railways and very pro-roads. Therefore, having Hammond as Transport Secretary may potentially mean that rail investment as a whole will suffer, while the car reigns supreme. I feel I need to be dipped in Oil, it's Sardine time!

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Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Early railway networking...can you recommend a good engineer?

Last night I gave a paper at the London School of Economics on the development of the London and South Western Railway's management structure between 1836 and 1881. Of course, after such an event, there were a number of questions that were posed regarding the paper. These continued at the pub, the natural home it seems of the business historian. Of course, many subjects flew around, but one of the most interesting was the idea that railway engineers, especially in the early days of operation and construction, formed a 'who-knows-who' network that placed their students in important managerial positions in the emergent industry. This was because we knew that such railway luminaries such as Isambard Kingdom Brunel and Joseph Locke, both railway engineers with great influence in companies, placed their men in senior positions in railways they built.

Indeed, Locke, who built the London and South Western Railway is a particularly good example to show you what I mean. Locke had a reputation for having unbounded energy. He apparently moved so fast that his assistants found it difficult to keep up with the man. It is these assistants that are of interest. Indeed, perhaps Locke moved so fast that the assistants were simply left behind on the railways that he had built.
The number of the South Western's early managers that were Locke employees at some point meant that Locke had a heavy influence on the early management of the company. Both the first and second Locomotive Superintendents, Joseph Woods and John Viret Gooch (shown), had been employed by Locke. We only know that Woods was an employee of Locke's however more information is available about Gooch. He had aided his master on the construction of the Grand Junction Railway and in 1837 became its Resident Engineer. Gooch also had a link to another railway notable, in that his brother, Daniel Gooch, was the Great Western Railway's Chief Mechanical Engineer from 1837 to 1864. But it didn't stop there. One of Woods' first assistants was Joseph Beattie, who had charge of all the wagons and carriages on the line from 1839. He also had been a pupil of Locke's, also serving on the construction of the Grand Junction Railway and on the South Western.

However Locke's influence could not just be found in the Locomotive department. In 1836 he had became the company's consulting engineer. On resigning this post in 1849 he left in his place John Edward Errington. He also had aided Locke on the construction of the Grand Junction Railway, and had cooperated with him on the Lancaster and Carlisle Railway and thus had been in his employ for some time.

The moral of the story is that Locke was simply dropping engineers the South Western regularly to manage aspects of the company. Indeed, it also seems he did the same on the Grand Junction, which makes me think just who did he leave there? Of course I am only aware of the staff he got appointed on these two railways, but it is quite possible that on his other projects he did the same. Further, it would be fascinating to know which other engineers, such as Brunel or Stephenson perhaps, also left staff on railway companies. Indeed the South Western's Resident Engineer from 1870 was William Jacomb, a student of Brunel's who had been appointed from the Great Western Railway...however being dead since 1859, I doubt that the great man had anything to do with this appointment. Although, come to think of it I think that one of the directors of the South Western was a, you never know. But, the fact was that Jacomb had been left on the Great Western when Brunel had died. He like Woods, Gooch, Beattie and Galbraith was simply left there. The main point is that early railway managers, particularly the engineers, seem to have had a significant influence on who was a railway manager in the companies' early years.

But why did these networks operate so fervently in the early railway? While the senior engineers are better known for building railways, in reality a lot of their work involved organising them as well. Indeed, many early railways, including the South Western and Great Western, were dominated by engineers. Locke even wrestled control of the L&SWR, for a short time, from the Directors of the company. They had this influence because, in reality, railway managers in the true sense of the word, those who had their entire careers in the industry, didn't exist in the 1830s and 40s. Going back through my blogs you will find a piece that I wrote describing how early railway managers were from a range of industries, that had some loose association with what the companies were doing, i.e. moving traffic and engineering. You can find it Here. This, therefore, provides a possibility as to why exactly senior railway engineers placed their men in the new companies...there was possibly very few people who could undertake managerial responsibilities, and being in such a position of control these engineers simply put forward their own men.

Therefore it seems an interesting future research agenda is to assess what the influence of these networks had on shaping how Britain's railways came to be managed. Given the importance of management structure to company efficiency, operation procedures and profitability, could it be possible that the actions of only a few individuals in the early history of Britain's railways, came to shape their course over the next 180 years. Well this is an open ended question that at some point I hope to answer.

Thursday, 3 June 2010

The Worrying Transport Secretary, Mr Hammond...

So this has been a tough week for me...I'm starting to worry about the new transport secretary. I wrote a few weeks back about how traditionally Conservative governments haven't ordinarily been the best for the railways in terms of investment, attitude and simply being logical about policy. It is quickly starting to seem that Philip Hammond, the new Secretary of State, simply isn't the best for the Department of Transport (DfT). This isn't a matter of cuts, we know that they'll happen. Indeed, under the new regime, nearly £700 million has already been cut from the DfT's budget, including £100 million from the profligate Network Rail, £108 million from Transport for London, £309 from grants to local transport authorities for investment and the £50 million 'Better Rail Stations' scheme has been scrapped. This said, certain things such as Crossrail, the new High Speed line and, much to my astonishment, the electrification scheme, have all been guaranteed and the government's commitment is secure.

No, my concern is that Hammond is a man who is unsuitable for the Department for Transport. This is especially pertinent as there are so many other individuals that, in my opinion, would have been better in that post. Lets look at Hammond's résumé. Now being Secretary of State for Transport you'd expect to find some background knowledge of transport matters apart from the fact he pootles around in his car. Yea, I couldn't find anything, not one jot, apart from his intimate knowledge of his Jaguar XJ. Hammond was elected as MP for Runymead and Weybridge in 1997, and before then had a business career in property, manufacturing, consultancy and oil and gas. He also had a position of the board of the property developers, the Castlemead Group, and has had various consulting jobs, most notably for the Malawian Government and the World Bank. As such he apparently still holds onto many business interests, having a small fortune of a 9 million pounds according to the New Statesman.

So let me get this straight, this man has not had a career anywhere near transport, that's of course beyond flying to Malawi and driving. OK, well surely in opposition he was shadow Transport Secretary and has learnt about Transport issues? No, wait, that was Theresa Villers. Hammond was Shadow Secretary to the Treasury. Therefore my conclusion is that Hammond doesn't know about transport beyond his own experiences of it. Instead, he knows about money. I appreciate that money is a big issue at the moment, and we need someone that is savvy about such things, but on the flip side we also need someone who knows about transport, not just from their subjective perspective. But hey, the last holder of the post, Lord Adonis, wasn't that aware of transport issues before he started, beyond being very interested in them and, I suspect, being a railway enthusiast. But he learnt on the job, listened to experts, read all the documents. Therefore, while I genuinely feel that government posts should always be given to people who actually know about the department they are working in (George Osborne...really?), if we have to have have Secretary of States with no background pertinent to the job of the department, then they should take time to understand everything they can about it.

In this vein I'd expect Hammond at this stage to be making measured and constructive comments...right?...sorry, wrong again. Hammond has already deferred to his own subjective opinion when opening his mouth. Firstly, as I pointed out recently, Hammond believes that under Labour there was a 'War on motorists,' something he announced on his first full day in the job. Where? Do you hear the guns? Or perhaps the distressed motorist yearning for the battle to be over. Lets get this straight, the 'war' never existed. Its in his head. But then again, he is a motorist! What's more he has already talked, in an interview with the Evening Standard about his attitude towards cyclists, a number in which I count myself.

Now, just to put this on record, I believe that a lot of cyclists are idiots, who are reckless to the point of insanity. But I was knocked off my bike about a month ago, even though I had right of way, good lights and was being cautious. The moral is that even we cyclists who obey the rules of the road are just as much at mercy from bad driving, as drivers are from reckless cyclists. Therefore imagine my consternation when Hammond in an Evening Standard interview stated that, “Cyclists need to be more aware of the risks around them. It frightens me to death when I see them pull out around other cyclists, completely unaware there is a car behind. Maybe they need wing mirrors.” So it is completely the fault of the cyclist is it Mr Hammond? That's what he seems to be saying. While many cyclists clearly do need to be more aware of what is happening around them, I think that so do many more drivers. This isn't a one way street, everyone on the road needs to address why hundreds of people get killed and injured on them every week. Hammond, is clearly is deferring to his subjective view for his opinion.

But can it get worse....? You bet. Apparently the man cares about the environment. In the Evening Standard interview, he clearly had no views about the environmental aspect of public transport, barely mentioning them. His only viewpoint was that when he brought his new Jaguar XJ it was the 'greenest in its class.' This again highlights that Hammond is a car-lover and even though he denied being a 'petrol head' it strikes me that all the evidence points to the fact he is. He did, however, state as a convenient caveat that he doesn't like Top Gear. There is no logic in this statement. I didn't like Michael Portilo's recent BBC series, Great British Railway Journeys, where trekked round the country rail. So, by that logic, I must hate railways. Wrong...I love railways, I can't get enough of them.

It strikes me that Hammond is quite clearly a fan of the roads who hasn't the experience to deal with public transport. But, being a man who knows about business and money, he will know about sweating assets and earning revenue. These things, of course, will need to be done, but I suspect, however, he will have a detrimental, motorist-centric, view of transport policy. I really do hope that he does become more friendly towards every other form of transport, other than the car, but I don't hold out much hope. In short, we need better than this...Hammond isn't good enough.

If you want to read the Evening Standard interview with Philip Hammond, it can be found HERE

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