Podcast: Christmas special service

Christmas in Virginia. Image:

There's long been a tradition on British television of Christmas specials. Old characters come back, stories get bigger and more melodramatic, and the whole thing feels just a tiny bit self-indulgent.

This is our Christmas special, so, well, you know what to expect.

Things Stephanie and I talk about this week, in no particular order:

  • The CityMetric Christmas playlist – that is, which Christmas songs are actually about cities/maps/geography/something;
  • How I started the year by wandering around London with a map and a film crew, pretending to be lost, because of this story about station names;
  • How I ended it riding up front in a train (sorry, Jim);
  • The CityMetric Christmas quiz, which Stephanie wrote specially to flummox me (you can see the questions below);
  • How we'd like to hear more from those of you who listen to this thing who aren't in London, New York or another of the cities we bang on about all the time. If you're the person who's listening to this in Tirana or Tehran, please do write in.

Lastly, we are giving serious thought to doing a live episode at some point next spring, probably somewhere in London that serves drinks. If you’d be up for that, have suggestions about topics or guests, or would even like to offer us a venue, you can write in about that, too.

The episode itself is below. You can subscribe to the podcast on AcastiTunes, or RSS. Enjoy.

The CityMetric Christmas quiz

Metros

1. Which metro has the longest metro system by route length?

2. Which has the highest ridership?

3. Which has the most stations?

4. Which is the oldest?

5. Which is the second oldest?

6. Which popular drinking-game destination is the third oldest?

Tube maps

1. Which is the southernmost tube station...

2. Which has the funniest terminal station?

3. Which stations are connected by the Emirates airline?

4. Which of these is not a disused railway station: City Road, Wood Lane, or Church Street?

5. Which station is objectively the worst to change at?

6. Which is the coolest disused railway in London?

City facts

1. The city of Berezniki in Russia is home to the world’s biggest what?

2. Which city has a population of only 824?

3. Where was TV Sitcom Frasier set?

4. Of which city’s aquarium did Matthew Norman say in 2014, “This gigantic aquarium – “the world’s first submarium” – is one of very few Millennium projects that could be called a success by anyone not tripping on acid.”

5. Which two teams feature in the famous Istanbul derby, known as “the Eternal Rivalry”?

Gävle goat round

1. How was the goat destroyed in 1970? (Two drunk teenagers)

2. How was the goat destroyed in 1976? (Hit by a car)

3. What was special about 1979? (First goat burned prior to being erected; second broke)

4. What happened to the 1983 goat? (Legs destroyed)

5. What happened to the 2011 goat, even thought it was sprayed with water to create an ice coating?

6. What happened to the 2013 goat, even though it was soaked in a flame retardant?

7. And in between, what happened to the goat in 2012?

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @jonnelledge.

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What’s in the government’s new rail strategy?

A train in the snow at Gidea Park station, east London, 2003. Image: Getty.

The UK government has published its new Strategic Vision for Rail, setting out policy on what the rail network should look like and how it is to be managed. 

The most eye-catching part of the announcement concerns plans to add new lines to the network. Citing the Campaign for Better Transport’s Expanding the Railways report, the vision highlights the role that new and reopened rail lines could play in expanding labour markets, supporting housing growth, tackling road congestion and other many other benefits.

Everyone loves a good reopening project and this ‘Beeching in reverse’ was eagerly seized on by the media. Strong, long-standing reopening campaigns like Ashington, Blyth and Tyne, Wisbech and Okehampton were name checked and will hopefully be among the first to benefit from the change in policy. 

We’ve long called for this change and are happy to welcome it. The trouble is, on its own this doesn’t get us very much further forward. The main things that stop even good schemes reaching fruition are still currently in place. Over-reliance on hard-pushed local authorities to shoulder risk in initial project development; lack of central government funding; and the labyrinthine, inflexible and extortionately expensive planning process all still need reform. That may be coming and we will be campaigning for another announcement – the Rail Upgrade Plan – to tackle those problems head-on. 

Reopenings were the most passenger-friendly part of the Vision announcement. But while sepia images of long closed rail lines were filling the news, the more significant element of the Strategic Vision actually concerns franchising reform – and here passenger input continues to be notable mainly by its absence. 

Whatever you think of franchising, it is clear the existing model faces major risks which will be worsened if there is a fall in passenger numbers or a slowdown in the wider economy. Our thought leadership programme recently set out new thinking involving different franchise models operating in different areas of the country.

The East-West Link: one of the proposed reopenings. Image: National Rail.

Positively, it seems we are heading in this direction. In operational terms, Chris Grayling’s long-held ambition for integrated management of tracks and trains became clearer with plans for much closer working between Network Rail and train operators. To a degree, the proof of the pudding will in the eating. Will the new arrangements mean fewer delays and better targeted investment? These things most certainly benefit passengers, but they need to be achieved by giving people a direct input into decisions that their fares increasingly pay for. 

The government also announced a consultation on splitting the Great Western franchise into two smaller and more manageable units, but the biggest test of the new set-up is likely to be with the East Coast franchise. Alongside the announcement of the Strategic Vision came confirmation that the current East Coast franchise is being cut short.

Rumours have been circulating for some time that East Coast was in trouble again after 2009’s contract default. The current franchise will now end in 2020 and be replaced with public-private affair involving Network Rail.


This new management model is an ideal opportunity to give passengers and communities more involvement in the railway. We will be pushing for these groups to be given a direct say in service and investment decisions, and not just through a one-off paper consultation.

Elsewhere in the Strategic Vision, there are warm words and repeated commitments to things that do matter to passenger. Ticketing reform, compensation, a new rail ombudsman, investment in improved disabled access and much else. This is all welcome and important, but is overshadowed by the problems facing franchising.

Stability and efficiency are vital – but so too is a model which offers deeper involvement and influence for passengers. With the building blocks of change now in place, the challenge for both the government and rail industry is to deliver such a vision. 

Andrew Allen is research & consultancy coordinator of the Campaign for Better Transport. This article was originally published on the campaign’s blog.

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