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Informed Sources is Roger Ford's monthly column in Modern Railways. The first column appeared in January 1983, following a trial run with a pre-series prototype called ‘Ahead of the News which was launched in May 1982.
Informed Sources was a new approach to railway magazine writing, since it reported what was happening as it happened, for example, policy developments and procurement activities, and forecast the expected outcomes - for good or ill. Its guiding principle was that readers needed to know about developments in the railway industry, rather than having to wait for the outcomes to become apparent. It also supported the definition by an editor of The Times newspaper that 'news is what someone doesn't want published'.
Thus, in the case of traction and rolling stock procurement, Informed Sources would give chapter and verse on who had delivered tender documents and the basis of each bid. It would then cover the evaluation of the bids, the shortlisting and the choice of a preferred bidder. When the contract was awarded , Modern Railways readers already had a unique insight into the procurement process – and the politics – behind the decision.
As the column developed, the staple ingredients of British Rail politics, railway technology, and procurement gradually expanded to include topics that interested Roger Ford and he thought informed readers needed know about. Over the years the column has grown from a single page to seven or eight pages a month.
Privatisation widened the scope adding in franchising, finance, transport strategy and even more politics. Informed Sources became known for its original research work, once Roger had discovered Excel spread-sheeting.
For example, Informed Sources carried the first analysis to show that privatisation would double the subsidy required by British Rail. This analysis had involved modelling the leasing rates developed for British Rail's existing traction and rolling stock. These figures formed the basis of the GRICER database of train rental charges which was used widely by financial organisations and franchise bidders during the early days of privatisation.
More recently Informed Sources has provided a unique series of analyses of the rising cost of the privatised railway. An early analysis showed that the cost of major projects had increased by a factor of three compared with British Rail – with the column's customary modesty this was dubbed the Ford Factor.
More recently, the column has been tracking the cost of the railway to the taxpayer. A pattern emerged during these studies. Each time Informed Sources came out with its latest Shock! Horror! figure for public support for the railways, official figures were released showing that the true cost had been understated.
This material is being made available in the Analysis pages of Alycidon Rail'
Not that the column is worthy or takes itself too seriously. If Informed Sources were naff enough to have a mission statement it would be:
To inform, explain, amuse and entertain.
It is, of course, a personal column in which, while accuracy is essential, views may be filtered through the author's prejudices. Regular readers compensate for this automatically.
New readers can get up to speed with the Informed Sources primer. This outlines Roger Ford's prejudices, weird events in the column's history, heroes, villains and mythical characters. Without it you may well find some of the content of Informed Sources puzzling, perturbing or simply incomprehensible
If you would like to view a copy of a recent Informed Sources in .pdf format – without photographs until the technology improves, click here (Adobe Acrobat is required, click on the icon first if you don't already have it ).