All posts by Richard

Review: Turn the Ship Around!

Turn the Ship Around!: A True Story of Turning Followers into Leaders by L. David Marquet
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was presented in a very easy to read way. Showing how the leadership model can work in quite a challenging environment. The book lists a lot of questions which are useful and worth thinking about. These are:

  • Why do we need empowerment?
  • Do you need someone to empower you?
  • How reliant is your organisation on the decision making of one or a small group of people?
  • What kind of leadership model does your organisation use?
  • In your organisation, are people rewarded for what happens after people leave?
  • Are they rewarded for the success of their people?
  • Do people want to be “missed” after they leave?
  • When an organisation does worse after someone leaves, what does it say about this persons leadership? what does this say about the organisation?
  • How does the perspective of time horizon affect our leadership actions?
  • What can we do to incentivise long-term thinking?
  • What are you willing to personally risk? (Sometimes taking a step for the better requires caring/not caring.  Caring deeply about the people and the mission, but not caring about the bureaucratic consequences to your personal career)
  • What must leaders overcome mentally and emotionally to give up control yet retain full responsibility?
  • What;s the hardest thing you experience in letting go of micromanaging, top-down leadership, or the cult of personality?
  • How can you get your project team interacting differently but still use the same resource?
  • What can you, as a subordinate, do to get your boss to let you try new ways of handling a project?
  • Do you give employees specific goals as well as the freedom to meet them in any way they choose?
  • Do you have to be the smartest person in your organisation?
  • To what degree does technical competence form the basis for leadership?
  • Is that technical competence a personal competence or an organisational competence?
  • How do you know what is going on “at the deck plate” in your organisation?
  • Is there a call to action in your organisation?
  • Do people want to change, or are they comfortable with the current level of performance?
  • Are things too comfortable?
  • Is there a feeling of complacency?
  • Do people take action to protect themselves or to make the outcome better? Does leadership in your organisation take control or give control?
  • Why is doing what you are told appealing to some?
  • Do people really just want to do as they are told?
  • If a snapshot of your bussiness went viral on the Internet, what would it reveal about your workers?
  • Do your procedures reinforce the leader-follower model?
  • Are your people trying to achieve excellence or just avoid making mistakes?
  • Has your organisation become action-adverse because taking action sometimes results in errors?
  • Have you let error-reduction programs sap the lifeblood out of initiatives and risk taking?
  • Do you spend more time critiquing errors than celebrating success?
  • Are you able to identify the symptoms of avoiding errors in your workplace?
  • When you ask people what their jobs are, do they answer in terms of reducing errors?
  • When you investigate the criteria that went behind decisions, do you find that avoidance of negative outcomes far outweighs the accomplishing positive outcomes?
  • What is the primary motivation of the middle manager and rank an file?
  • How can you minimise errors but not make that the focus for the organisation?


  • How can you prepare your mid-level managers to shift from holding a “position of privilege” to one of “accountability, responsibility, and work”?
  • What procedure or process can you change with one word that will give your mid-level managers more decision-making authority?
  • When thinking about delegating control, what do you worry about?
  • What do you as a proponent of the leader-leader approach need to delegate to show you are willing to walk the talk?
  • How do you respond when people in your workplace don’t want to change from the way things have always been done?
  • What are some of the costs associated with doing things differently in your industry?
  • Do we act first, and think later? Or do we think first, then change our actions?
  • How would you counter any reluctance on the part of your team to have early, quick discussions with you, the boss, to make sure projects are on course?
  • To what degree is trust present in your organisation?
  • Is your staff spending time and money creating flawless charts and reports that are, simultaneously, irrelevant?
  • What can you do in your organisation to add “a little rudder far from the rocks” to prevent needing “a lot of rudder next to the rocks”?
  • What commonplace facts can you leverage to make information more valuable and accessible to your employees?
  • Have you eve uncovered a “reason why” akin to being a random decision?
  • What causes us to take control when we should be giving control?
  • Can you recall a recent incident where your subordinate followed your order because he or she thought they learned the secret information “for executives only”?
  • What would be the most challenging obstacle to implementing “I intend to …” in your place of bussiness?
  • Could your mid-level managers think though and defend their plan of action for the companies next big project?
  • How deeply is the top-down, leader-follower structure ingrained in how your bussiness operates?
  • Do you recognise situations in which you need to resist the urge to provide solutions?
  • When problems occur, do you immediately think you just need to manage everything more carefully?
  • What can you do at your next meeting with senior staff to create a space for open decisions making by the entire team?
  • Are you underutilising the ideas, creativity, and passion of your mid-level managers who want to be responsible for their department’s work product?
  • Can you push tasks to a lower level rather than having high level demands for things to be done?
  • How many top-down monitoring systems are in play within your organisation? How can they be eliminated?
  • Do you ever walk around your facility listening solely to what is being communicated through informal language?
  • How comfortable are people in your organisation with talking about their hunches and their gut feelings?
  • How can you create an environment in which mean and women freely express their uncertainties and fears as well as their innovative ideas and hopes?
  • Are you willing to let your staff see that your lack of certainty is strength and certainty?
  • To what degree does trust factor in the above?
  • How do you use outside groups, the public, social media comments, and government audits to improve your organisation?
  • What is the cost of being open about problems in your organisation and what are the benefits?
  • How can you leverage the knowledge of those inspectors to make your team smarter?
  • How can you improve your team’s cooperation with those inspectors?
  • How can you “use” the inspectors to help your organisation?


  • How do you react when an employee admits to doing something on autopilot, without deliberately thinking about the actions or its consequences?
  • Do you think that by implementing a system of taking deliberate action you can eliminate errors in your company, or within certain departments in your company?
  • Will employees in your workplace revert to acting hastily and automatically in a real-life situation?
  • How effectively do you learn from mistakes?
  • Are you aware of which areas in your bussiness are marred by mistakes because the lower-level employees don’t have enough technical competence to make good decisions?
  • Ho could you implement a “we learn” policy among your junior and senior staff?
  • Would you consider writing a creed for your organisation?
  • Are people eager to go to training?
  • How do you shift responsibilities for performance from the briefer to the participants?
  • How much preparation do people do prior to an event or operations?
  • When was the last time you had a briefing on a project?
  • What would it take to start certifying that your project team know what the goals are and how they are to contribute to them?
  • Are you ready yo assume more responsibility within the leader-leader model to identify what near-term events will be accomplished and the role each team member will fulfil?
  • Are there employees who are going to quit because they are overworked and underappreciated?
  • When is it right for the leader to overturn protocol in the effort to rescue a single stressed-out subordinate?
  • What message do you need to keep repeating in your bussiness to make sure your management team doesn’t take carer of themselves first, to the neglect of their team?
  • Have your processes become the master rather than the servant?
  • How can you ensure adherence to procedure while at the same time ensuring that accomplishing the objectives remains foremost in everyone’s mind?
  • Have you reviewed your operations manual lately to replace general terminology with clear, concise, specific directions?
  • Are your staff complying with procedures to the neglect of accomplishing the companies overall objectives?


  • What would you and your team like to accomplish?
  • How can you, as a leader, help your people accomplish it?
  • Are you doing everything you can to make tools available to your employees to achieve both professional and personal goals?
  • Are you unintentionally protecting people from the consequences of their own behaviour?
  • What is the legacy of your organisation?
  • How does that legacy shed light on your organisations purpose?
  • What kind of actions can you take to bring this legacy alive for individuals in your organisation?
  • How can you simplify your guiding principles so that everyone in your organisation understands them?
  • How will you communicate your principles to others?
  • Are your guiding principles reference in evaluations and performance awards?
  • Are your guiding principles useful to employees as decision-making criteria?
  • Do your guiding principles serve as decision-making criteria for your people?
  • Do you know your own guiding principles? Do others know them?
  • Do you have a recognition and rewards system in place that allows you to immediately applaud top performers?
  • How can you create scoring systems that immediately reward employees for the behaviours you want?
  • Have you seen evidence of “gamification” in your workplace?
  • For how far in the future are you optimising your organisation?
  • Are you mentoring solely to instruct or also to learn?
  • Will you know if you’ve accomplished your organisational and personal goals?
  • Are you measuring the things you need to be?
  • Have you assigned a team to write up the companies goals three to five years out?
  • What will it take to redesign your management team’s schedule so you can mentor one another?
  • How can you reward staff members who attain their measurable goals?
  • How do we create resilient organisations where errors are stopped as opposed to propagating through the system?
  • Will your people follow and order that isn’t correct?
  • Do you want obedience or effectiveness?
  • Have you built a culture that embraces a questioning attitude?


Don’t do this Do this
Leader-follower Leader-leader
Take control Give control
Give orders Avoid giving orders
When you give orders, be confident, unambiguous, and resolute When you do give orders, leave room for questionning
Brief Certift
Have meetings Have conversations
Have a mentor-mentee program Have a mentor-mentor program
Focus on technology Focus on people
Think short-term Think long-term
Want to be missed after you depart Want not to be missed after you depart
Have high-repetition, low quality training Have low-repetition, high quality training
Limit communication to terse, succinct, formal orders Augment orders with rich, contextual, informal communications
Be questionning Be curious
Make inefficient processes efficient Eliminate entire steps and processes that don’t add value
Increase monitor and inspection points Reduce monitoring and inspection points
Protect information Pass information

A better Abbey Line for everyone

We have been pulling together the details for a crowd funding campaign to help fund a study to show what the impact of a passing loop on the Abbey Line.  I have set up the crowd funding campaign on SpaceHive and popped together a promotional video.  Having spoke to local councillors we already have support for £1.5k from them as well as a number of private donations so hopefully we will make it to the required £6k by our deadline of the end of the year.

Review: Peopleware

Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams by Tom DeMarco , Timothy R. Lister
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Bigger projects have a higher probability of failure, typically 25% compared to 15% for smaller projects.  The biggest cause of failure is sociology.  We worry about the technical but rarely about the sociology issues.

In a production environment, it’s convenient to think of people as parts of the machine. When a part wears out, you get another. The replacement part is interchangeable with the original. You order a new one, more or less, by number.

This might be the case in a production line but this is far from the case in creative or knowledge based industries.

Easy management

  • Get the right people
    • Aptitude tests can be good at screening out unsuitable individuals
    • Get people to audition, don’t hire someone because they say they can do something
  • Make them happy so they don’t want to leave
    • If you have low turnover people tend to be happier and do a better job
    • Loosing people results in more than just a loss of a replaceable resource – knowledge, experience etc are all lost too which take time for it to be recovered from.
    • An organisation that succeeds in building a satisfying community tends to keep its people. When the sense of community is strong enough, no one wants to leave.
  • Turn them loose


  • Defensive management
    • Open Kimono attitude is the exact opposite of defensive management.
      • You take no steps to defend yourself from the people you’ve put into positions of trust.
      • And all the people under you are in positions of trust.
      • A person you can’t trust with any autonomy is of no use to you.
  • Bureaucracy.
    • As organisations age they become more standard and the sameness pervades, meaning lack of excitement and enjoyment.
    • Self healing systems – you can over systematise your work which removes flexibility
    • Big M Methodology is for teams that you don’t trust, these don’t work in creative environments and always result in paperwork and bureaucracy
      Better ways of methodology – training, tools and peer review tend towards to consistency
    • Pilot projects should change just one aspect to see how that changes things.
    • Hawthorne Effect – people perform better when they are doing something new
    • The purpose of a team is not goal attainment but goal alignment
  • Physical separation
  • Fragmentation of people’s time
  • Quality reduction of the product.
    • Developers enjoy producing a high quality product, getting them to produce a lower quality product will be demotivating and reduce productivity.
    • Should developers be able to veto deployments if they were not happy with the quality?
  • Tight deadlines.
    • Who is pushing for things to happen quicker and what are the implications?
    • The manager should not be pushing for dates, if this is really needed it should be motivated by the team.
    • People are more productive when there are no estimates and as such no scheduling pressure.
  • Phoney deadlines.  The reasons that some people don’t perform are lack of competence, lack of confidence, and lack of affiliation with others on the project and the project goals.  In none of these cases is schedule pressure liable to help improve performance.
  • Clique control
  • Motivational posters
  • Overtime – getting people to do extended hour is equivalent to fraud, it results in under-time and disgruntled employees
  • Competition
  • Annual salary or merit reviews
  • Management by objectives
  • Praise of certain workers for extraordinary accomplishment
  • Awards, prizes, bonuses tied to performance, in fact performance measurement in almost any form

Keep an eye on staff turn over is one way to identify if Teamicide is happening.

Office environment

A key impact on performance

  • If you want better workers you need better work space which they enjoy working in.
  • People need space, 9.3 m2 minimum
  • Noise plays a part of flow and thus errors
  • People want to work, so will hide or book meeting rooms so that they can
  • Everything can be measured
  • People spend 30% of their time working alone, 50% working with one other person, 20% working with two or more people.
  • Flow is key to people concentrating on things.
    • One measure of flow is E-Factor = Uninterrupted hours/Body-present hours
      • Measuring the E-Factor improves the E-Factor
  • Phones are interrupting and break flow, use them as a last resort
  • Even worse then phones are tannoy announcements
  • Treating noise means choosing isolation in the form of noise barriers—walls and doors
  • Group offices make sense and improve performance
  • Give people ownership of their space and arrange it as they want
  • Natural light keeps people awake and motivated, it is perfectly possible to have an office where each team has access to a window in the same way as hotels
  • The challenge is that office space costs are very visible and the benefits are much less tangible
  • Communal space is important
  • The idea that people will stick with you if you move the office is dead, your best employees need to consider their partners and their careers, children etc and all of these are not easy to move

Jelling a team

Jelled Team

  • Low turnover
  • Strong sense of identity
  • Sense of eliteness
  • Joint ownership of the product
  • Obvious enjoyment

People use team when the tight bonding of the jelled working group is pleasing to them. And they use clique when it represents a threat. Fear of cliques is a sign of managerial insecurity.

Someone who can help a project to jell is worth two people who just do work.

When it comes to management practices, if it sounds too good to be true it likely is – there is no silver bullet.

Chemistry-building strategy for a healthy organisation

  • Make a cult of quality.
  • Provide lots of satisfying closure.
  • Build a sense of eliteness.
  • Allow and encourage heterogeneity.
  • Preserve and protect successful teams.
  • Provide strategic but not tactical direction.
  • There is too much order.
  • Constructive reintroduction of small amounts of disorder
  • Pilot projects
  • War games
  • Brainstorming
  • Provocative training experiences
  • Training, trips, conferences, celebrations, and retreats


  • If there are changes or things wrong in your organisation then there is a “sleeping dragon” which will be woken which is the voice of sensibility.
  • Risk aversion kills creativity and ultimately your bussiness.  People who are blindly loyal or military opposes are both bad at change, the people in the middle “Believers but sceptical” are those who will buy into things once they are convinced but won’t blindly follow or oppose ideas “just because”.
  • Changing to a better Status Quo always goes via chaos while people adjust, but care has to be taken not to go back to the previous Status Quo before the new one has actually reached stability
  • Wall Street care about short term gains not long term one and as such don’t like larger changes as they might impact the results for the next quarter etc.
  • Some organisations learn and some don’t either by: Instilling new skills and approaches in its people and/or the organisation redesigns itself to operate in some different manner
  • These learning happen in the middle management, in the white space between teams and people – getting teams to compete kills this creativity and learning plus if companies down size these middle managers are first to go – which strips the organisation of learning.

The ultimate sin

is wasting people’s time

  • Status meetings are about giving senior managers status and wasting other people time.
  • Staffing projects incorrectly – over staffing at the start in the hope it will speed up the project. This is political because if the project does not finish on time and externally people see the team being small then there will be blame.

Review: Black Box Thinking

Black Box Thinking: Why Some People Never Learn from Their Mistakes – But Some Do by Matthew Syed
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book starts off contrasting two industries – health care and aviation, it shows that in many areas of life, such as health care, we just don’t put the effort into learning from our mistakes. It contrasts these to environments where learning is critical to feed back into making future issues less likely. The book also highlights how blame for accidents in aviation are unfair just because the person accused just randomly happens to be the first person to have experienced that issue, not that they were actually any worse than any other pilot.

The book presents a number of challenges in fostering an environment where learning is the primary motivator and how this environment is extremely difficult to foster and protect, especially in position where peoples reputations are built on not looking too deeply into mistakes.

People don’t like to be wrong, it is almost hard wired into our brains. Through cognitive dissonance we even rationalise to ourselves or change our own interpretations so that we are not wrong. This means it is very difficult to be self critical, no one like to have done something wrong so re-framing things makes us feel better but it does not help us learn.

To ensure that we are properly learning gathering data is not enough, randomised control trial (RCT) are critically important. If we don’t do this we can still gather data which shows improvement but we need to contrast that against not having done something to prove that we did actually make an improvement and we did not just pat ourselves on the back. This combined with experimentation can lead to incremental improvements which add significant value.

Stories are powerful, to the point where people believe stories more than they believe data. If a story sounds logical and people want to believe it they will, even if there is evidence that it is wrong if this data contradicts the story in a way that the reader/listener can not comprehend or believes.

LGBT films on the Watford Big Screen

An open letter sent to the Major of Watford:

In past years Watford Borough Council have ran a big screen on the parade. This is a really nice initiative to bring together the community.

I am writing to ask that if the Big Screen is to return to Watford this summer that the showing of an LGBT film is considered. I realise that the majority of films shown are popular and family friendly, although an LGBT film might not be as popular there are many family friendly LGBT films ( ).

The reason I feel it would be good to include such a film is because being LGBT is not a persons choice; they might be with family or friends who don’t really understand it or be accepting of it, as such an LGBT person can feel very isolated. Studies have shown that between 30 and 40% of LGBT people have attempted suicide which is vastly higher than from the non-LGBT population ( ). As such I feel that it is important for us, as a community, to visually show our open, accepting and supportive side and small acts, such as showing an LGBT film, would be one such step in this direction.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this and if I can be of any help then please just let me know.



Watford Junction to St Albans Abbey trains are over priced

From Watford Junction to St Albans Abbey there are six stops (St Albans Abbey, Park Street, How Wood, Bricket Wood, Garston, Watford North & Watford Junction).  The sum of the distances between these stations totals 10.1 km.  I looked at all of the London Midland network and identified the following routes with the same number of stops and a similar distance and compared their price of a single off peak ticket.

  • Watford Junction to St Albans Abbey, six stops 10.1 km 18 min £5.10 = £0.50/km
  • Lidlington to Bletchley, six stops 13.4 km 23 min £4.50 = £0.34/km
  • Birmingham Moor Street to Solihull, six stops 10.5 km 11 min £3.50 = £0.33/km
  • Birmingham New Street to Northfield, six stops 10.5 km 18 min £3.30 = £0.31/km
  • Birmingham New Street to Coseley, six stops 14.9 km 13 min £4.30 = £0.29/km
  • Shenstone to Chester Road, six stops 11.8km 15 min £3.40 = £0.29/km
  • Danzey to Shirley, six stops 10.3 km 17 min £2.80 = £0.27/km
  • Birmingham New Street to Bloxwich, six stops 19.3 km 31 min £4.00 = £0.21/km

As you can see Watford Junction to St Albans Abbey is the most expensive base on price and price per km.  In fact the price per km nearly 50% more than the second most costly journey per km. Based on the other routes the price for Watford Junction to St Albans Abbey should be in the range £2.10 to £3.41 with an average of £2.91, not the £5.10 which it currently is.

One thing to note is that Lidlington to Bletchley is on the Bletchley to Bedford branch line which makes it very similar to the Abbey line – so why is it so much cheaper even though the distance is further?

One final note is that Watford Junction to St Albans Abbey is about the same distance as Wembley Central Rail Station to London Euston Rail Station (which is 11.6 km) and on Oyster this journey costs £2.80 off peak.

Living medical donations while working – Organ Donors (Leave) Ten Minute Rule Motion

Back in July 2016 I was proud to highlight the issue of living medical donations from people while working, see the previous post.

Living medical donations while working

The result from this was 2,292 signatures on the government petition
“Living medical donors (e.g. kidney) should be eligible for statutory sick pay” and in addition to this Louise Haigh MP for Sheffield, Heeley raised a Ten Minute Rule Motion for Organ Donors (Leave) which today was read in the House of Commons.


The speech highlighted the amazing work which is going in to promoting donations after death but with donor levels so low we should do everything we can to support living donors.

We are already chronically short of donors and we should be breaking down every conceivable barrier put in the way of these potential life savers.  Recovery time can often be long for living organ donors and they should be able to concentrate on getting back to normal, not rush back to work because they are unable to afford the time off or fearful that their job may be at risk.

Young people, in particular, will be fearful that if they take as much as the recommended 12 weeks off work, they may be disadvantaged and this will put off many of the most healthy from becoming a living organ donor. My Bill will send a clear signal that if you are prepared to give an organ to save a life, the law will back you up every step of the way.

You can find the full text here.  Following unanimous support the bill will go to a second reading on 20th January.


Increasing the frequency of the Watford Junction and St Albans Abbey train

There has been talk about increasing the frequency of the Watford and St Albans Abbey trains from their current frequency of every 43 to 60 minutes to every half an hour.  Hertfordshire County Council did an investigation into the costs of installing the frequency to every 30 minutes however the proposal estimates the cost to be around £15-35m.  However there is a way that we could get close to the same performance without any expenditure on a passing loop.

It would be possible to increase the frequency of the trains from Watford to St Albans, and back again, to ever 30 minutes with no infrastructure investment if we make one assumption – that people are happy to get off the train and back on another train – bare with me….

St Albans Abbey Line

Using the existing train timetable to use for the time between each station.  The vast majority of these times are the same all day – the only exceptions being that sometimes trains wait for 5 or 6 minutes at St Albans Abbey before returning and the trains at Watford Junction wait between 6 and 23 minutes before leaving.  To make the math simple I will assume that we wait 6 minutes at both St Albans and Watford Junction stations.

The Hertfordshire County Council proposal was to put a passing loop at Bricket Wood which is 8 minutes from both Watford Junction and from St Albans Abbey.  In this example instead of their being a passing loop one of the trains, we will call Train A, will arrive at Bricket Wood before the other train, Train B – Train A it will terminate at Bricket Wood station after everyone has disembarked.  It will then pull out of the station before Train B arrives, Train B will also terminate at Bricket Wood but will immediately pick up passengers to take them in the reverse direction.  Once Train B has departed Train A will return to collect the passengers looking to complete the remainder of the journey.

The following diagram shows an example with Train A being shown in red and Train B being shown in green.  It should be noted that Train A and Train B will alternate each time because of the train leaving from Bricket Wood earlier the previous time.

St Albans Abbey get of proposal

To be able to turn around a train at Bricket Wood, get it out of the station so the other train can come in then turn the train around again to turn it around a third time there are two variables.  Firstly how long it takes for the train crew to swap over and secondly how long it takes the train to move away from the platform.  To keep things simple we will assume that we can move the train out of the station in 1 minute and back in in 1 minute as well.

The second time, the time it takes the train to turn around (i.e. the train crew to swap ends of the train), this is unknown.  We know that they can do this at St Albans in 5 minutes – but is this 5 minutes also used as a buffer in case the train is delayed?  As such we will look at how the turn around time impacts the average journey duration from Watford Junction to St Albans Abbey where the journey duration is the average time to wait for a train (aka half of the waiting duration) plus the train journey duration.


(you can see the spreadsheet with the details here in case I’ve made a mistake)

Here we can see if the train turn around time exceeds two minutes then the average journey duration is no better than it is currently of 37 minutes.  If it were possible for the train driver to turn the train around instantly (perhaps because he can drive the train backwards) then the average journey time drops to 28 minutes – which is not far from the 26 minutes which would be achievable if there was a passing loop all without the required £15-35m just with an extra train and passengers happy to briefly get off the train at Bricket Wood – perhaps someone selling coffee on the platform would make them suitably happy for the minor inconvenience.

To highlight, I don’t think this is an end solution to the problem but it might be a good next step so we can increase the frequency of the trains with no major costs and then at a later stage a passing loop could be installed to allow the trains to run directly through and thus removing the swapping over half way.

Save money by not using an Oyster Card, a paper ticket with a Railcard is cheaper

We have always been told that traveling with Oyster is cheaper, but the key words in their adverts are “single journey”.


If you need a Zone 1-6, 1-9 1-9+ Watford Junction, Broxbourne, Hertford East or Shenfield then traveling by Oyster is not cheaper if you make (generally) make more than a journey from the end of the line to Zone 1 and back again Off Peak.


A journey from Watford Junction to a station in Zone 1 is £6.50, so a return (£13.00) would already exceed the reduced Travelcard fare (£11.50) with the Railcard discount but would not hit the cap without it.  A journey from Zone 9 to Zone 1 is £4.10 so you would start saving after your second journey.


You can load 16-25, Senior, HM Forces or Disabled Persons Railcard onto your Oyster but not Two Together Railcard, Family & Friends Railcard or Network Railcard.  It is easy to understand why Two Together Railcard and Family & Friends Railcard can not be easily applied to Oyster automatically because this covers more than one person but I find it impossible to fathom why they don’t allow Network Railcards to be used.

The London Airport

With the government procrastinating to make any decision after the publication of the Airports Commission: Final Report it seems that there is no apatite for airport expansion by the government.  This is an important issue as highlighted in the report.

At the end of this extensive work programme our conclusions are clear and unanimous. While London remains a well-connected city its airports are showing unambiguous signs of strain. Heathrow is operating at capacity, and Gatwick is quickly approaching the same point. There is still spare capacity elsewhere in the South East for point-to-point and especially low-cost flights, but with no availability at its main hub airport London is beginning to find that new routes to important long-haul destinations are set up elsewhere in Europe rather than in the UK. Other UK airports are increasingly squeezed out of Heathrow, with passengers from the nations and regions obliged to transfer through other European airports, or Middle Eastern hubs. That costs them time and money, and is offputting to inward investors. Without action soon the position will continue to deteriorate, and the entire London system will be full by 2040.

There is, however, an option which the report did not consider – instead of building a new runway why don’t we better connect the ones we have?

A high speed train line linking Gatwick, Heathrow, Luton, Stansted and Southend such that passengers could land at Gatwick and catch a connecting flight from Stansted.  This sounds expensive, but in reality an elevated train line could run most of the route above the M23 and M25 and costs could be further reduces by utilising existing train services from Redhill (to get to Gatwick), St Albans (to get to Luton), Cheshunt (to get to Stansted) and Brentwood (to get to Southend Airport) – though there are some benefits of an airport express service connecting all (or some) of the airports.

The advantage of the airports being connected is that baggage could be transported between airports as well meaning that people would not need to collect their baggage for a connecting flight from a different airport – similar to the Hong Kong system where you can check in in the center of Hong Kong or at Kowloon Station and your baggage is then transported for you to the airport.  In the utopian version of this idea you could go to your closest airport and check in for your flight then take the train round to your actual departing airport, as such each airport now becomes like a terminal to each other – though the take up of this would be airline dependent.  This also has the possibility to transport freight between terminals as well, so that cargo arriving at one airport could easily leave through another.

There are two additional connections which add a very small detour which each add an extra airport.  Woking and Watford.  From Woking you can get to Southampton Airport and from Watford to Birmingham Airport, both Woking to Southampton Airport and Watford Junction to Birmingham International are less than an hours journey.  As well as allowing quick connections for people traveling to Manchester arriving into a London airport via Watford.

M25 Train

A high speed train in the UK can travel at 186mph, if we have the line follow the M23 and M5 it would be, theoretically possible, to get from Gatwick to Heathrow in about 13 minutes, to Luton in about 25 minutes, to Stansted in about 35 minutes and to Southend Airport in about 37 minutes.  So this would link together 7 runways within 40 min and 9 within 1 hour and 20 minutes.  These numbers are overly optimistic, since they do not allow time for people to change trains but with clever scheduling of services that would not add too much time to the journey.

By running the line above the existing motorways it means that we don’t need to buy any more land, we already occupy it.  The technology of elevated trains is nothing new. though based on other elevated trains it might be wise to employ some created architects to make it look amazing!! And much more like…

Nice Elevated Train

and less like…

Elevated Train

Sorry Seattle.

The advantages are:

  • No need to build any extra runway capacity
  • Increased runway utilisation of existing runways
  • Better for the environment (I’ll come back to this one)
  • No need to relocate anyone, the land is already used for public roads

Finally the environmental impact – if we assume that people have to fly the way we can reduce the impact of these people on the environment are by reducing the number of flights either by increasing the size of the plane or by reducing the number of flights to a given destination so that the remaining flights are fuller.  By having better connected airports the number of flights which people can access increases.

As an example there are 45 flights from London airports to Edinburgh on a Monday (randomly chosen day as an example).  12 of these fly from Heathrow and 8 from Gatwick.  If Heathrow and Gatwick were both better connected would all of these flights be needed?  I doubt it.  (The sad fact that flying to Edinburgh is usually cheaper than taking the train I will not dwell on, on this occasion).

BA Flights to Edinburugh

Another environmental improvement would be that if you could check in and drop your bags at your closest airport.  For those people who drive they will not have to drive so far and hopefully not at all by using other public transport.

It might seem a bit odd to be concerned about the environment when talking about air travel, surely this is a juxtaposition.  If a journey has to take place flying in a modern plane is as efficient as taking a very small car for the same journey – but things are moving fast in this area with airplane manufacturers  currently working towards fully electric flight.  As such in the future flying could be powered from renewable energy.

Anyway, lets go back to the train line… If we take this idea one step further and instead of just a single high speed line in each direction we also run a slower stopping line we would be able to provide a way for people to use this on a regular commuting basis – many people already commute using the M25 but they need to have a car as there is no viable train alternative.

Additionally another advantage would be to reduce the number of people who have to travel through the crowded central London network.  This will ease pressure on existing terminus stations and the connecting underground links which are already under strain.

As an example, people traveling from Oxford to Cambridge currently have to change from Paddington to Kings Cross via the underground.

Oxford to Cambridge train

If we include Gerrards Cross and Potters Bar then this line would connect the vast amount of train lines which leave London.

Train Connections

The elephant in the room is that expanding an airport is using private money and building railways is using public money.  Although the costs of an elevated train on already owned land will be cheaper than tunneling a train the costs of which are still likely to be substantial.  Additionally for the service to be as short as possible some of the selected stations do not have sufficient capacity so they will either need to be expanded or new stations build elsewhere allowing customers to transfer between lines.

This post is just to get people thinking, it might be viable or it might not but I do feel that the number of advantages show that this is an idea which should be discussed further.