BT CEO discusses competitive threats to network
A reader has kindly sent BrokenTelephone the transcript of a recent radio interview with the CEO of British Towpaths.
Listeners may perhaps have noticed that it is now 200 years from the introduction of railways.
But maybe you weren’t aware of that.
Maybe your mind was distracted by all the recent ballyhoo about Doctor Who and the anniversary of the Time Lord beginning his journey.
And other journeys seem to have come full circle – the Monty Python team is reportedly going to revisit their sketches of past.
So we set the Time Lord off to go visit 1813.
Things seem to have gotten a bit confused onboard the Tardis with his future fragment of times passed.
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My Friday Boss today is someone who has been in the spotlight recently on account of the growing disquiet over plans for Steam Railways.
He has certainly not been shy about voicing his view. He acts as the voice of our country’s slow movement arguing that investors willing to sink money into iron tracks have not thought the ideas through.
During the debate for the Act of Parliament designed to make Steam Railway Planning possible he pointed out the vast investment already employing thousands in digging new and vital transport routes for the UK economy – and, of course, the headline writers have dubbed him Sir William OpenDitch – and he joins me now today.
Good morning William.
Morning John – delighted to be here and thanks so much for having me on. This is a debate that the country badly needs.
Well I think we can understand why you might think that, Bill. Is it not the case that if Steam Railways went ahead your business might be, how can I put it, somewhat diminished?
In a theoretical sense I guess you might be right, John. That of course depends on whether those crazy Steam Dreams actually have any real substance, but I’m not here to protect narrow interests – I speak for the nation when I say that we should stick to tried and tested infrastructure.
But hang on Bill; are you saying that your canals really have enough capacity for the future?
John, there’s a great deal of muddled thinking going on here and the great British public needs to be better informed. Just think about it for a few minutes – these Steam Railway people seem to think that you can make a great heavy iron machine and all its fuel and all the heavy wagons carry goods cheaper than what is essentially a box floating on water and pulled by a horse. Do you think we don’t have enough horses?
I take your point, Bill, but what about speed – would the Steam Railway not deliver goods faster?
Ah, the argument about speed – that’s another of those notions that needs better understanding. It’s really quite simple John. The amount of stuff that gets delivered depends very much on what is sent – there’s perhaps a small loss on the way – but unless anyone’s expecting a vast increase in what needs to be sent then surely delivering stuff faster makes no difference at all to the great British economy – it would just make more people idle. Most likely they’d need to rest anyway after rushing about like that.
So what’s the alternative?
Well I’m glad you’ve asked me that. You see we at British Towpaths have a plan. It’s a plan that needs regulatory certainty and it’s far less disruptive and less costly than installing iron tracks for those Steam Railways. We are going to do four things – and John I’m delighted to say that the canal regulator Ofcan is with us on this. Firstly, starting soon, and this is the big news this morning, we are going to widen the towpaths – making more room for more horses so that if demand ever rises we will never have capacity problems.
Hang on Bill, sorry to interrupt, but what about the narrow tunnels?
Ah, I was coming to that. There are I agree some bottlenecks but our engineers have looked at those steam engines and come up with a far better idea. What we will do is sit them still – not have them moving – and use them with wheels and long wires on a continuous loop to pull the barges through a little quicker. That way, if there really does turn out to be more demand we will not have to rebuild the tunnels.
Bill, sorry to interrupt again, but isn’t that going to be difficult to organise between one end of the tunnel and the other?
A good question John, but one that our brilliant British Towpath engineers have anticipated. They have come up with a very clever system with a tight string between two cans so that the bargeman can speak to the Steam Engine operative at the other end of the tunnel. We’ve been testing it with Ofcan and it works really well.
You say, Bill, that Ofcan are in agreement with your plans but are they not also worried about that lack of competition?
Well, you might think that but working together we’ve come up with a plan – and it’s possible, John, because of the towpath widening scheme that we’ll be rolling out across the network over the next few years.
I think I’d better explain the background. British Towpaths already sees itself as very different to the old Canal & Water company – you can see that we have a much more enlightened view on Towpaths – it’s in our name, our very being.
So now we are going to push that concept further – and today, on your programme John, I am announcing that we are setting up British Towpaths Wholesale and it will be their job to allow other horses to pull barges on our towpaths – for a fee of course – but this, as I say, is in complete agreement with the regulator Ofcan who very much agree with me that the great British Economy needs to prosper by doing what it has always done brilliantly.
We have a network that is the envy of the world.
Well, thanks Bill, that’s all we have time for today, but I’m sure the entire Empire has much to thank your team at British Towpaths.
Thanks John – and I’ll forgive you for describing me as William OpenDitch –but, if you must, I’d rather be described as Sir William SuperPath. Let’s not forget that British Towpaths is here today and British Towpaths will be here tomorrow. You can certainly rely on that.
A happy festive season to you all.