But does he feel jealous of the French or Germans with their new high-speed lines, where trains can swish along at 160 mph or more? "It's the difference between riding a horse on nice level ground or over jumps and bad ground," he says.
That may be rectified if the high-speed line from London to the Channel tunnel is ever built. So far it has proved a public relations disaster. BR is determined to go ahead, though the line will not open until 1998 at the earliest, when the tunnel will have been open for five years. In the spring BR will indicate exactly where the line will enter London. Welsby sees no problem building it: "I am absolutely convinced that it is needed, and that we will be able to demonstrate that it is a sensible investment."
Certainly BR's freight business is gearing up for the tunnel. Currently there are few routes in Britain where trains can compete with large lorries using motorways. But come 1993, rail will come into its own for journeys of 300 miles or more (which will be all journeys to major European conurbations). Ian Brown, managing director of BR's Railfreight Distribution business, is planning to "spend some £350 million just on the green fee". There will be 35 freight trains using the tunnel in each direction, and Brown will soon be announcing the sites of a dozen freight terminals in Britain to cater for these trains. "I have over 140 analysts scouring the market for partners and customers, more than anywhere else in BR," he says.
Regional or provincial lines remain the one area of BR where subsidies will always be needed. But they are no longer quite the Cinderellas of five years ago. Then the rural lines consumed over £500 million a year from the taxpayer. By 1992-93 that will have fallen to £345 million.
Rural services have seen a smart growth in passengers too in recent years. Commuter rail traffic across the Pennines has grown by some 50%, for example. New trains are also being introduced to replace 30-year-old diesels. However, BR has been in the frustrating position of having to wait an extra year for its new regional express trains because of serious construction delays, costing some £20 million.