May 2002


May 30, 2002

It's all the EU's fault (again)

Patrick Crozier | European Union

This morning Natalie Solent picked up on a letter in the Telegraph on the separation of track and train and suggesting that it is all the fault of the EU. She suggested that I hadn't got an opinion on the matter. Oh, but I do Natalie. Oh, but I do.

[She also pointed out that it was posted at 6.43am suggesting an excess of keeness on my point. The truth is rather more mundane - I just happened to wake up early this morning and, realising that I wasn't going to be able to get back to sleep, decided that I might as well do some blogging.]

This has caused some consternation over at Emmanuel Goldstein's usually good, always profound Airstrip One.

Emmanuel thinks that it is all the fault of the EU and the infamous 91/440 Directive. I disagree and this is why:

The Directive calls for, amongst other things, accounting separation between operations and infrastructure.

The British Regulation derived from the Directive calls also calls for accounting separation.

The British legislation, the Railway Act 1993 also calls for accounting separation. Fair enough. But it also demands organisational separation and the franchising of passenger rail services. Well, actually it doesn't specifically rule out vertical integration but when I asked a top rail lawyer about this he explained that the barriers in the way of vertical integration were considerable. For instance, Railtrack has a safety role that could be compromised. Not only that (and this is my interpretation) but if you did happen to buy the track on which your trains ran you could still end up losing the franchise at the end of its term.

No other country has done it this way. France, for instance, did split SNCF which runs the trains and RFF which owns the infrastructure. But RFF then buys infrastructure maintenance exclusively from SNCF. As I understand it there is a little bit of franchising in the Netherlands and Germany. I don't know about Germany but it certainly didn't work in the Netherlands.

Having said that it is a stupid Directive. Vertical fragmentation doesn't work. The Directive certainly hasn't done any good but then again, away from Britain it hasn't done much harm either.

There is sort of an argument (put to me by Brian Micklethwait) about gold-plating: the British practice of taking typically vague and wooly EU Directives and interpreting them in the harshest and clearest way possible. Maybe, but I still can't see how that would demand franchising.

I would dearly like to say something like "What's more important: membership of the EU or getting to work?" I just don't feel I can.

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One of this morning's reports

Patrick Crozier | Inter-modal Competition

One of this morning's reports included the line "They [the Transport Select Committee] said the government's failure to face up to the falling cost of motoring was "incomprehensible", if ministers were serious about persuading people to switch to trains and buses."

It occurs to me that in many cases not only does mass (I don't call it public) transport not compete with the car but that it can't. Many journeys, for instance, are tangental (outskirts to outskirts) rather than radial (outskirts to centre). Here there is no viable mass transport alternative. In fact, the alternative is no journey at all. Much the same applies to the school run, local errands and the sorts of journeys made by builders, deliverymen and other traders.

The reverse also applies. For the vast majority of commuters the only viable alternatives to the train are to move house or move job.

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Correction

Patrick Crozier | Channel Tunnel

Yesterday, I stated that I was not entirely convinced about the claim that Eurostar trains were about to join East Coast Main Line. Wrong. Tim Hall e-mailed me to say:

'tis true. There were six Eurostar sets built for the though services from Paris to the north and Scotland. This was abandoned when they realised the services would never be economically viable. (Which they might have been if customs and immigration hadn't insisted they couldn't carry domestic passengers en-route like international trains on mainline Europe do, but that's another story).

GNER has been leasing three of the six sets for some time - looks like they're now hiring the remaining three, which had been sitting around for several years doing nothing.

Better than the fate of the coaches built for the overnight trains - these spent several years wrapped in plastic on an army base in Worcestershire, before being sold at a knock-down price to Canada.

I was rather smug last week when I had a go at the Institute of Directors. Now I know what it's like to have the boot on the other foot.

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May 29, 2002

Some observations on Byers's End

Patrick Crozier | Transport General

The Prime Minister said "Steve has taken the right decisions for the future"

Tosh. The problem with the railway is fragmentation and franchising. He did nothing to change that. His decision to nationalise Railtrack was the transport equivalent of re-arranging the deckchairs on the Titanic.

The problem with roads is that there aren't enough of them and use is not rationed. We are no closer to turning this around than we were a year ago.

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On helmets for cyclists

Patrick Crozier | Cycling

After the comments ROSPA spokesperson Rodger Vincent said: "To have someone who is supposed to have influence saying this is counter productive."

Rather depends on what you are trying to produce. If you are trying to produce a society of slaves to trendy safety fascist mantras then yes, indeed it is counter productive.

On the other hand if you want to see a society of free individuals, prepared to take responsibility for their own lives then this is just what the doctor ordered.

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Un-Byersed

Patrick Crozier | Transport General

I've got into Libertarian Samizdata. Yippee! This is what I wrote:

So he's gone. Stephen Byers, formerly Secretary of State for the Department of Local Government, Transport and the Regions has resigned. And just when I thought he'd never go. You just can't tell.

Now, all the speculation is about who should replace him. Should it be invisible Charles Clarke? Or should it be Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon? Neither is about to set the world alight. Of the two, Hoon, would seem to have the best credentials to step into Byers's shoes: not only can't he manage the news, but I understand he's rapidly buggering up the armed forces.

But I have got a much better and simpler idea. One that will almost certainly solve our transport problems.

Abolish the Department.

It only goes back to 1919. Before then we had the best railway in the world. We had already built most of the tube. Electric trams, taximeter cabs and motorised buses plied the streets of the capital looking for trade.

And then Transport got a Ministry and a Minister: Eric Geddes. It got off to a bad start - forcibly re-organising the railways and hamstringing their profits. So started their steady decline. And after the bad start things just got worse. London Transport was nationalised halting development in its tracks. Not satisfied with that they then decided to nationalise the whole railway. The decline just gathered pace. And so on and so forth.

Luckily the Ministry's incompetence was masked by the growth of road transport. But even there motorways were built too late and in insufficient numbers.

Almost every move the Department has ever made has made things worse: expanding the railway, then cutting it; expanding the road network then slamming on the brakes. They couldn't get nationalisation right. They couldn't even get privatisation right.

Politicians are not part of the solution: they are part of the problem.

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May 28, 2002

Byers resigns!

Patrick Crozier | Byers Affair

Flip! I don't believe it. Mind you I've been proved wrong before. I thought they'd just plough on to the reshuffle and bury the news then. So, why now? OK, so he's been caught lying again but that's hardly news. So who are they going to find to replace him? I really don't know. Labour's parliamentary ranks are hardly chock-a-block with talent - or indeed people who can write their own name. This indeed was one theme I always wanted but never quite got round to exploring: Byers may be crap but he's better than the alternatives.

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Utilities fight hole-in-road charges

Patrick Crozier | Road Miscellany

Loath as I am to support the Government, on this occasion I feel forced to. Digging holes in the road costs other people money. Roads are blocked, drivers are delayed and it takes just that much longer (and therefore that much more) to get things done.

Much as, being a libertarian, I am keen to support private enterprise I am not going to support self-pitying nonsense like this from Thus: "This is a disguised tax on utilities and telecoms companies. It also undermines attempts to create a broadband internet structure across Britain." As a potential broadband consumer I see nothing wrong in paying the full cost of that service. That's how it should be in the real world. If it is truly not possible to create a broadband network without creating chaos on the roads (something I doubt) then maybe it shouldn't be created. Maybe, the value of all those missed and delayed trips is indeed greater than the value of the broadband network.

By the way they're right about it being a disguised tax. The one group of people who will most certainly not benefit from taxes on the holes in the road are the ones affected by it.

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Road tolls seen as tax on business

Patrick Crozier | Road Pricing

In a letter to the Times its author writes: "It will add a huge cost to companies with large numbers of mobile workers"

If tolls work as they ought to work (a big if) then mobile workers will be able to get around faster and more predictably. That way they will be able to fit in more calls per day and hence make more money. Everyone wins.

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Competition Time

Patrick Crozier |

Now, I know I can be a bit slow on the uptake but can anyone explain to me why this Telegraph cartoon is funny? Now it seems to depict Stephen Byers as the man on the Men at Work sign. But his shovel is reversed. Why is that funny? Is it funny? Is it Byers at all? Do I need a sense of humour transplant?

Prize? How about warm glow of satisfaction?

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May 27, 2002

More on the rules of the private road

Patrick Crozier | Road Safety

James Haney writes:

I agree with you it's hard to determine what the rules of privately
owned roads would be.

I tend to think, however, that rules of privately owned roads would be focused much more directly on results. Impotent, symbolic gestures
would be less likely, I hope. (Presumably also congestion pricing would help make driving safer and more pleasant without a lot of nannyism.)

I don't mind rules when they make sense to me. Here in El Paso, sometimes you will see signs saying "Road Work Ahead". These signs are
also often accompanied by the sign "Fines doubled when workers are present". When I see that sign, I think to myself, "Good, those workers
deserve to be safe."

But other times, you see speed limits that don't make sense, road designs that cause unnecessary congestion or frustration to drivers, a
20-foot stretch of road that suddenly has a 15-mph speed limit (school zone). Here in El Paso the urban planners have decided that it should
be impossible to make left turns except in very limited circumstances, so you end up having to make a lot of U-turns and being forced to figure
out where you can turn instead of being able to focus on what's in front of you on the road.

James, you are so sensible. You see, over the years I have become so fed up with one pettyfogging restriction after another I would even fume at the perfectly sensible rule designed to protect road workers.

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That Transport Plan

Patrick Crozier | General Points (not just transport) | Transport General

It really is about time I posted something on the Transport Plan and its critics.

The government's much-heralded 10-year transport plan has been attacked by MPs as "incoherent" and "incomprehensible".
So, it's taken them a year (or is it two) to work out it doesn't make any sense?
But the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions (DTLR) hit back, saying the plan was meant to be a strategic document, not a policy plan.
When is a plan not a plan?
Committee chairman, Labour backbencher Gwyneth Dunwoody, said: "The United Kingdom needs a long-term achievable strategy desperately.
Sigh. Have we learnt nothing? Was there a strategy when Stephenson, Brunel et al built the rail network in this country? Did Charles Tyson Yerkes (the American founder of the Tube) need a Strategic Agenda? Of course not. In a low-tax and largely unregulated economy they found a gap in the market and filled it. No great strategy and very little government. And what of our previous goes at coming up with "strategies"? I posted up the history of one of these over on Libertarian Samizdata not so long ago. Suffice to say, the 1950s Modernization Plan was an expensive flop.

So, why is it that non-strategic, chaotic free enterprise can come up with the goods when sensible, informed central planning can't? If you really want to know read Hayek (not that I have ever read him myself you understand - I've just listened to people who have). But this is my best guess:

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May 25, 2002

Our nuthead safety fascists...

Patrick Crozier | Road Safety

...are better than their nuthead safety fascists. In reply to yesterday's rant Emily Jones (aka Hawkgirl) writes:

We get ads like the one you wrote about here in the U.S. as well. What I want to know is, where are the ads that go like this: “Parents, please teach your children the importance of not playing in the middle of the street and kindly explain to them that these things we call ‘cars’ will squash them like grapes should they ever be hit by one.”

Even worse, here in California, they passed a law that says that pedestrians have the right of way. Which isn’t bad in theory, but the problem that we have now is that pedestrians just dart out into the street whenever it suits them without even looking. If there is an accident of any sort, the liability is placed squarely on the driver. It’s not like I ever start my engine thinking “Gee, I really feel like running this baby over another person today”, but sometimes I feel like shouting “Hey asshole! Just because you have the right of way doesn’t mean I saw you!” Even the most careful drivers can be in danger of running someone over when they just plow themselves forward in traffic.

And I thought we had it bad.

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May 24, 2002

Pile-up on the ranting super-highway

Patrick Crozier | Road Safety

I have just heard one of those irritating ads on the radio. "I bet you're driving too fast. If a child stepped out in front of you right now..." Grrr.

I hate this sort of thing. I hate all this nanny statist safety fascist drivel. I hate being told: "Wear a seat belt. Don't drink. Pass your test. Buy insurance. Get an MoT. Don't drive more than 30mph. Don't drive more than 70mph. Don't use a mobile. Don't install bull bars. Don't, don't, don't." ©David Carr I hate speed humps, traffic calming, bus lanes and speed cameras. Bastards. They're even threatening to G-rate the PPG movie. (OK, not really related to tranport - it just had to come out somewhere.)

And at just this point - when my rant supercar is hitting max revs - then, hoving into view is my ideological juggernaut nemesis: road privatisation. Libertarianism does not mean there are no rules. Far from it. The whole idea of property rights means that if I wander onto your territory I obey your rules (subject, of course, to contract/convention). So what would be the rules of the privatised road? Could it be that we abolish all these irritations at the state level only to see them replaced at the private level? Why is it that I would feel far happier with private rules even if they were exactly the same as the current state ones?

And what would those rules be? The starting point might be: what sort of road do I want to drive on? Fast, smooth, empty. If they were empty I suppose a lot of rules would be largely unnecessary. But they're not going to be that empty especially in cities. Well, in that case, I want everyone to drive sensibly. No tailgating, no cutting in and out and definitely no boom-boom boys. But would I be happy to share the road with drunks? Or people who for whatever other reason were not driving with due care and attention. Libertarian lawyers might take the view that it is not the State's role to prevent people from doing damage - only punish them later. But that is State law and I am talking about private rules and their enforcement. A private institution can take all the precautions it likes.

At this point I am afraid I am going to have to hang up my keyboard and admit defeat. In libertarian transport nirvana I simply do not know what the rules of the road would be. And we still might have to put up with "If a child stepped out..."

Suggestions are welcomed.

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Is it the EU's fault?

Patrick Crozier | European Union

The claim occasionally comes up that the fragmented structure of the post-privatised rail network is a) what is causing our current difficulties and b) the result of a European Directive ie. 91/440. I was recently asked about this in an e-mail. This is what I wrote:

To my mind it is certainly correct that the government-imposed fragmentations are the cause of our current problems. See "Why British Rail Privatisation Failed". The question is whether it is a result of 91/440.

If 91/440 were a thoroughly bad directive then we would have seen similar results post-restructuring in every other European country. The truth is that with the exception of Holland no other country has experienced a similar crisis.

All that 91/440 calls for is an accounting split between infrastructure and operations. We achieved that by creating Railtrack and 23 or so short-term Train Operating Franchises. The French achieved it by splitting SNCF into SNCF which operates the trains and RFF which owns the infrastructure (and the debt) but which pays SNCF to maintain and enhance it. The French network has not been plunged into crisis but neither has it gone from strength to strength.

To conclude I would dearly love to blame the EU for the current fiasco but in all fairness this is a crisis all of our own making.

So there.

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More (potential) double standards

Patrick Crozier | Railtrack and Network Rail | State Hypocrisy

From the Telegraph:

Mr Byers told BBC Radio 4's PM programme: "In September we were looking at a range of options. We were either going to provide Railtrack with more money, but tied to improved reliability, better safety record, or deny them more money, in which case we would have gone for railway administration, to be replaced by a not-for-profit company.
Now, I wonder if he'll be holding Network Rail (his pet CLG) to the same standard.

It (looks like) it's one rule for them and a different rule for us.

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May 23, 2002

More safety nonsense

Patrick Crozier | HSE | Rail Safety | UK Train Operators

The news that commuter TOCs in the South East want to prolong the life of their slam-door stock is being greeted with the usual safety hysteria.

After the Clapham Junction crash, way back in 1988, the Government ordered that all slam-door stock be replaced by the end of this year. Slam door stock is not very crash resistant.

The problems started to materialise when replacement trains began to be ordered after pseudo-privatisation. There were delays, there were teething problems with sliding doors and air-conditioning, Railtrack delayed acceptance and now there is a problem with power supplies. The magical end of 2002 date started to look very magical indeed.

The HSE proposed a compromise. Modify your trains with a "cup and cone" and you can run them until 2004. But this also creates problems. Cupping and coning costs money - money that TOCs would rather not spend on stock that will only last two years. Furthermore, TOCs are still unclear as to how many slam-door trains they will need to keep. No wonder Roger Ford or Modern Railways refers to "cup and cone roulette".

At the root of this problem is State action and at the root of State action is a confusion over how to do safety. There are two ways: either you make trains crash resistant or you prevent them crashing in the first place. We are in the process of introducing TPWS which should eliminate almost all collisions but that hasn't stopped the safety juggernaut from continuing to demand the end of slam-door stock. In Japan, where the private sector dominates they are clear on this: prevent the crashes and don't worry too much what happens when trains do collide. As an Executive of Japan's Ministry of Transport puts it "Crashworthiness? Our trains do not collide, we have systems to prevent that." Trains in Japan are 100 times safer than they are in Britain.

The amusing part of this tale is what is going to happen when the Government realises that its decree isn't going to happen. Then it will either be forced to stop half of all south London's commuter trains or admit that safety is not the number one priority. What we are witnessing in slow motion is someone's bluff being called.

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May 22, 2002

The Royal Train - a follow up

Patrick Crozier | Rail Miscellany | Railways - Japan

A couple of weeks ago I wondered aloud whether the Emperor of Japan had his own royal train. It appears that he does. Sadly, it's not capable of running on Shinkansen lines, so, it would appear, he has to slum it. Shame.

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A Dublin metro will only work if the suburbs it serves are replaced by apartments

Patrick Crozier | Positive Externalities | Rail Economics | Railways - Ireland

James Haney alerted me to this article in the Irish Times some time ago. Unfortunately, I have been a bit preoccupied recently but I have finally got round to having a proper look at it. It starts off:

Cabra, Dundrum, Finglas, Kimmage and even parts of Tallaght will inevitably end up on the chopping board if the next government proceeds with the plan for a metro in Dublin. This is because such a high-volume public transport system would only work in a high-density urban environment.
Which is interesting. Even more interesting is:
After the DART [Dublin Area Rapid Transport?] service began in 1984, property values rose all along the line from Howth to Bray and under-used sites were developed for apartments or offices. The difference now is that, under section 49 of the 2000 Planning Act, the public authorities would be able to recover a proportion of the increase in values.
This echoes much of what Don Riley has said about how new infrastructure increases property values.

Isn't that odd? Isn't it odd that the main financial beneficiaries of an underground line are not the people who build them but the people who own property nearby? I cannot think of any other service that works in that way. When I go out and buy some fish and chips it isn't the little old lady who lives next door who thinks "Golly my house is worth so much more!" But if the chippy were replaced with a tube station she would be.

Why is infrastructure different? Maybe, we are looking at things the wrong way. We think of passengers as the customers and therefore the railway as the would be beneficiary. But maybe this situation is far more analogous with a telephone connection (broadband nowadays) or gas, or electricity, or a water supply. A water supply is a pretty important factor in the value of a piece of property. Because you can get water to it. Likewise a tube connection. Because you can get people to it.

The Henry George Foundation is already on this case. They believe that the State should tax land values and use the proceeds to build infrastructure. I suppose it is one up from the current situation. But it brings with it all the usual problems of the State collecting the tax and then spending it badly. The State is neither very good at running things nor very good at procuring them.

As a libertarian I would like to think that a non-State solution could come about and it was something I have mused about. There are a few semi-examples out there. For instance, Canary Wharf paid £800m towards the cost of the JLE. I have heard of examples of residential property developers making payments to British railways in the 1920s in return for rail links. There is also an excellent paper on how Japanese railways have exploited these opportunities by Takahiko Saito published by Japan Railway and Transport Review.

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May 20, 2002

The Octopus Card

Patrick Crozier | Fares and Ticketing | Railways - Hong Kong | Railways - Other

I remember seeing this on a BBC travel documentary but didn't quite believe it. Hong Kong's Mass Transit Railway (MTR) has introduced (actually it was way back in 1997) a smart card. It is now possible to travel around Hong Kong without a normal ticket. This is what I found on the Hong Kong Railway Information Centre:

Octopus cards were first introduced in 9/1997, these smart cards (which happens to replace the former Common Stored Value tickets) were designed to allow ease of travel around Hong Kong by eliminating the need of preparing coins. Pass ticket gates simply by placing your card on an octopus fare deduct processor, your card will also work if it is inside your handbag or wallet.

These cards, which come with a protective pouch to avoid damage, may be obtained at any MTR or KCR [Kowloon Canton Railway] customer service counters. Adult cards cost $150 [about £13 or $18] including a $50 refundable deposit. These may be used for any MTR, KCR, selected buses, HKYF, and most public payphones. Your card will have a maximum limit of -$35, however make sure you have at least a positive value before you travel. They can be reloaded anytime at a maximum of $1000 using add value machines at any MTR and KCR stations or 7-Eleven stores, any negative value on card will be deducted at next reload. To check card status, read remaining amount on octopus processor at exit gates or use the octopus enquiry processor located near the single TVMs. Last transaction details including date, type of transport, fare deducted for that journey and remaining balance are displayed.

Octopus cards also have a personalised version which will include your name, photograph, and some personal data. These cards are not transferrable, should the card be lost remaining credits will be forwarded to owner. To purchase, fill out an application form available at most MTR, KCR Eastrail and Lightrail customer service centres.

MTR is privately owned. London Underground's answer, Prestige, is due to be launched in August.

?

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UK railways reclassified as "weapons of mass destruction"

Patrick Crozier | Frivolity

For full details see the Brains Trust. Thanks to Adriana over on Samizdata for the link.

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Bad railways? Blame it on the 1950s

Patrick Crozier | Nationalisation | Rail History

This is the web briefing of a BBC Radio 4 programme that was transmitted on Thursday 16 May. It tells the story of the Modernisation Plan and subsequenct Beeching Cuts, something I alluded to in an article for Samizdata about a month ago.

The whole tone of the programme was a typical "If only the Government could be consistent then everything would be all right" line. When are these people going to realise it isn't going to happen? States and certainly the British State are NEVER consistent. They are forever chopping and changing to suit altered political and economic conditions.

What amazes me is how journalists can still take lines like this when contradictory evidence is staring them in the face. The very last line of this programme - the very last line was spoken by long time Department of Transport civil servant David Serpell. He says: "Most of my life we have been saying there must be a transport policy. There never is."

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May 19, 2002

More thoughts on vertical integration

Patrick Crozier | Fragmentation

I return to this subject (see Some More On Vertical Integration) because I still haven't been able to definitively pin down my thoughts on the matter. In essence I believe that railways ought to be vertically integrated - in other words that he who owns the trains should own the track. Or more accurately that the State should not interfere to prevent vertical integration (as it currently does in the UK).

There is strong empirical evidence to support the case for vertical integration. I understand that when the Stockton to Darlington line opened in 1825, initially anyone was allowed to run a service. Very soon, the owners realised that this was impractical and decided that in future only they would run trains. Ever since then whenever the market has been free to decide it has chosen vertical integration.

At least more or less. Before 1922 one company would give another running powers over its lines. But in that case the company owning the line would also be the majority operator of trains over it. There were also cases of joint ownership of lines but I think the same would apply. There is also the example of the London and Greenwich railway which for 80 years from the 1840s to when it was finally merged into the Southern Railway in 1923 did not run a single train. Instead it charged companies like the London, Dover and Chatham and the South Eastern Railway for the privilege of running over its rails. But this example is unique.

Since the fragmentation of the railway in Britain railwaymen have constantly complained about the situation and the results have not been good. A similar thing happened in the Netherlands. In Japan the railway are vertically integrated and have gone from strength to strength. The backers of the proposed Central Railway in the UK are desperate to avoid separation. The thing that seems to be lacking is a comprehensive theoretical explanation.

A theoretical explanation is needed because the counter argument is that the opposite of vertical integration, vertical fragmentation, does not seem to do any harm in the aircraft industry. There, different people own the planes, own the airports and are responsible for air traffic control.

So why the difference? In my piece for the Libertarian Alliance I had a stab at this. I said that if you wanted to increase capacity in the air all you had to do was buy a bigger plane. But if you want to increase capacity on the railway then you have to either go about changing the signalling, or lengthening the platforms or rebuilding bridges. But there's a counter argument to this. I understand that Jumbo Jets required longer runways when they were introduced and it is fairly obvious that increasing capacity requires larger airports and indeed fancy new traffic control software.

There is, perhaps, a better case when it comes to faster trains. Faster trains require better track and different signalling. If they tilt they require lineside controllers to tell them when to tilt. They may also require more powerful power supplies. Another factor is timetabling. A train can be as fast as you like but if it gets stuck behind a slower service then it has to go at the same speed as the slower service. Incidentally, this is one of the reasons that the Japanese and the French built dedicated high-speed lines. In the case of Japan they even built them to a different gauge to make sure that slower services couldn't use them.

But the reply to this might be "OK there's a point here but that only applies to high-speed lines". Most lines in the UK are not high speed.

That leaves me with this: trains are in constant contact with the track and constantly under the control of the signalling system. Therefore, it is inevitable that the two should come under the control of the same body.

But that leaves me unhappy. There is something missing.

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May 18, 2002

RAC backs road pricing

Patrick Crozier | Road Pricing

Over on Libertarian Samizdata, Brian Micklethwait welcomes the RAC Foundation's support for road pricing and looks forward to the dawn of a new age.

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Air Traffic Control

Patrick Crozier | Air Traffic Control | General Points (not just transport)

Third failure in two months confirms privatisation fears. I am far from sure they do, especially after reading this article from the BBC website. There are two things going on here. One is part-privatisation where the Government still has the controlling share. The other is the decision made some 10 years ago to write bespoke software for the new system based at Swanwick in Hampshire. The project has hardly ever been out of the industry press. It has been dogged by delays and failures. In this respect it is no different from countless other Government IT projects. The problem is that the Government cannot do IT. The reason is far from clear. It may be because IT is difficult and the State has always had difficulty in recruiting and retaining people. It may be because projects like Swanwick are deemed "necessities". This puts the Government in an extremely difficult position - especially when to all intents and purposes it is only dealing with one supplier. Another factor may be the general paucity of talent in ministerial ranks. It is significant that the French and the Germans opted for off-the-shelf software and have not had anything like the same problems.

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May 17, 2002

The IoD gets it right - and wrong

Patrick Crozier | Fragmentation | Rail Economics

This week the Institute of Directors (IoD) published a report ("Evolution not Revolution") on the UK's railways by its chief economist Graeme Leach. There is much that is good about it. It is, above all, a good overview of Britain's railways. It is packed with facts and statistics and it has clearly been well researched. It makes the case for a smaller railway, it points out that the government is going to have extreme difficulty in attracting private sector money into the industry and it argues that much more could be done to capture land value gains from new and improved railways. This is a point that Don Riley (a supporter of the Libertarian Alliance) made much of in his book "Taken for a ride".

There are some factual errors. Leach bases his argument for a smaller railway on comparative figures for track length in Britain, France and Germany. These figures look surprisingly similar to similar figures published in the Economist earlier this year. (Unfortunately, the Economist is pay per view so no link). At the time I thought these figures sounded odd and did some research of my own. I can't find the source I used on that occasion but these figures from Eurostat are similar. This was the basis for a letter I wrote to the Economist which they published. Essentially, the Economist got it wrong. Britain's railways are a lot smaller than those in France and Germany and used just as intensively.

Having said that his conclusions are correct: we do need to close down (or at least stop subsidising) many lines. We still have far too many railways in rural areas which simply cannot compete with the motor car and are sparsely used. Closing them down would reveal an otherwise viable industry which could be freed from the dead hand of government regulation.

There is also a claim, again originating in the Economist, that Government regulations in the 19th Century encouraged the construction of many of the rural branch lines which we have today. I am not saying it is wrong but I have just never heard of it and don't know anyone who has.

Leach seems to be generally in favour of vertical fragmentation. Which is odd because he seems to be well aware of the difficulties: increased costs and management sclerosis. This is something I have mentioned before. Indeed, I came across a whole new bunch of these problems at an RSA meeting a couple of days ago on timetabling. There are plenty of people in the industry who know how to produce better timetables. The problem is that they can't get them past the SRA, the Regulator, the TOCs and the user groups.

Leach's worry is that vertical integration will stifle competition. I think this worry is misplaced. On the practical level it doesn't seem to have done the Japanese any harm. Nor, indeed, did it do us much harm in the days before nationalisation. On the theoretical level it rather depends on what you mean by monopoly. Sure, a railway may have the monopoly on a particular point to point journey by rail but its passengers still have choices. Often the biggest threat to a railway's bottom line is passengers either moving or changing job to something more local.

Despite all that, "Evolution not Revolution" remains an excellently researched paper and is definitely worth a read for anyone who wants to know the state of play on the railways.

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May 16, 2002

The dynamics of the relationship between the state and free enterprise

Patrick Crozier | General Points (not just transport) | Nationalisation

OK, maybe not the most eye-catching of titles but there's a basic observation here. It seems to me that when the State is small it is not utterly incompetent. As the State increases in size the more incompetent it becomes.

Take transport. The State's first venture into this field was the construction of inner London's electrified tramways. Sure, it was a lot later than those built by the private sector but it worked reasonably well for the next 50 years. Similarly with railways. After nationalisation the industry ran reasonably well for many years. Its best period in fact came in the Thatcher period when she was energetically rolling back the frontiers of the state.

I think there's a vital cultural element here. If lots of people are or have been exposed to the disciplines of the free market then they tend to take these disciplines with them when they enter the service of the State. It is this culture which keeps the State alive. Unfortunately as the State expands, the pool of "cultured" people declines and the State becomes progressively incompetent.

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May 15, 2002

Rail smash has buried bad news

Patrick Crozier | Railtrack and Network Rail | State Hypocrisy

What follows is the text of a proposed Libertarian Alliance Press Release (yes, I've got my Transport Spokesman hat on again).

The tragic accident at Potters Bar has diverted attention away from a serious development in the Railtrack saga. So says Patrick Crozier, Transport Spokesman of civil liberties think tank, the Libertarian Alliance.

"On Friday morning came the clearest evidence yet that the Government has tilted the playing field against the private sector and in favour of its pet project, Network Rail. Railtrack never had chance." he said.

"In interviews published in the Times and RAIL magazine, the new Railtrack Chief Executive, John Armitt, made it clear that Railtrack or any potential successor is going to need billions of pounds extra to bring the network up to modern standards. This was something that the Government refused point blank to do for Railtrack in the days running up to its being placed in administration. So far the Government has denied that there is any need for extra cash."

Mr Crozier continued: "John Armitt is an extremely good witness. He has had a successful career in engineering. He is widely admired and he is new to Railtrack. He has no axe to grind. Network Rail, the government's pet project, is keen to hire him as its Chief Executive. You might expect that faced with the prospect of a lucrative position with the new CLG (company limited by guarantee) Mr Armitt would take their line that there is no need for extra money. The fact that he has broken ranks and that he has seen the numbers while NR have not, speaks volumes for the network's financial position.

"The Government now has a choice: either it has to massively increase funding for Network Rail or allow it to close lines. This was never a choice it gave Railtrack. The Government has been applying a double standard. It's one rule for the private sector and another rule for Network Rail"

The dispute over funding is borne out of the convoluted way in which the industry was fragmented. To all intents and purposes Railtrack was dependent on the government for something like 2/3s of its funding. This money was set by the Regulator. He had a duty to make sure that the business was viable. After Hatfield it became clear that if the then rate of funding continued, Railtrack would go bust. The Government claimed that Railtrack was the victim of its own inadequacies. When Railtrack mooted asking the Regulator for an interim review (a way of increasing its funding) the Government threatened with emergency legislation. What is now clear is that Railtrack was right and the Government wrong: it did need the money.

Mr Crozier continued: "It is inevitable that this weekend's coverage would concentrate on the tragic events at Potters Bar. While, there is no suggestion that the Government has in any way attempted to bury the Railtrack story under the wreckage of the Cambridge Cruiser the fact remains that it has been buried. It is up to the press and media in general to expose this scandal. If the Government had a shred of decency it would admit that placing Railtrack into Administration was a mistake and immediately return the company to its rightful owners."

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May 14, 2002

Nationalisation is NOT the Answer

Patrick Crozier | British Rail Privatisation | Nationalisation

In yesterday's Evening Standard, Anthony Hilton, wrote in support of the nationalisation of the railways. Wearing my LA Transport Spokesman hat I wrote to the Evening Standard:

Sir

Anthony Hilton (The state must step in to save our railways, 13 May 2002) writes that "...no other country in the world with a decent rail network sees its maintenance and safety as anything other than a job for government."

This is plain nonsense. The best railway in world is in Japan. It has the fastest trains, the cleanest trains, frequent services and reasonable fares. A third of the world's passenger journeys take place in Japan. A Japanese train is 100 times safer than a British one. The railway is almost entirely owned by the private sector and the most important parts do not receive a penny in subsidy. The same applies to the largest railway in the world: that in the United States.

The big difference between Japanese and British rail privatisation is that in Britain we split the wheel from the rail. The Japanese did not and the result is there for all to see.

Mr Hilton also seems to think that Tony could fix our railway. But what's his track record? What has Tony fixed in the last 5 years? The NHS, schools, the Dome? He couldn't even fix the election for London Mayor.

The truth is that political interference in the railway has never worked. In 1918 we had the best transport system in the world. We had the fastest trains, a brand new underground network, the start of main-line electrification and free-flowing buses and trams. In 1919 the first Transport Minister was appointed. It's been downhill ever since.

Ultimately, the answer to our transport problems (not just on the railways) is not more state interference but less.

Yours faithfully

Patrick Crozier

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Fresh bid to remove crash

Patrick Crozier | Corporate Manslaughter | Fragmentation | HSE | LU PPP | Nationalisation | Potters Bar Crash | Railtrack and Network Rail

Fresh bid to remove crash train
Q&A: Points at Potters Bar
Crossed lines in the rail industry - a look at the role of sub-contractors
Inquiry demand over rail crash
Liability fear undermines Jarvis shares - Just in case anyone has forgotten: incompetence costs. Also, it seems that insurance does not cover Jarvis for gross negligence.
The Transport Secretary who's living in a buckpassers' paradise - City Comment. Makes the point that bosses can go to jail for corporate manslaughter but politicians can't.
Blame for Potters Bar - The Telegraph points out that no one knows who is in charge.
Railtrack and contractors had one safety warning a week - how the HSE operates
Rail crash worries send Jarvis shares tumbling - despite the fact that it is well-respected by the industry. There is also a suggestion that anti-Jarvis allegations may have been fuelled by disgruntled ex-employees
Our railways should be poetry in motion - Libby Purves says some reasonably sensible things about railways until she starts talking about "common good[s], requiring public money to be spent in the public interest." And she was doing so well up to then.
Crash may end young dancer's promising career - also includes some quotes from lefty film maker, Ken Loach on maintenance practices. The annoying thing is that he may be right
Railtrack stays in limbo - well, actually it doesn't. It seems that the deal for Network Rail (the Government's pet not-for-profit company) to buy Railtrack has already been stitched up. When administration ends that is when the real trouble will start. Network Rail appears to have a convoluted structure and an unclear mandate. Not only that but the Government has done nothing to unpick the real problem with rail privatisation - fragmentation.
Seatbelts in trains - oh no. And how much do they cost? And where the money come from? And how many people would they force onto more dangerous roads? And how would you enforce it?
New court move over Tube privatisation - Ken and Kiley are launching another effort. It won't succeed of course but it's all grist to the mill
Railtrack patched up crash points - what is interesting here is that Railtrack initially claimed that the points had only recently been installed - they hadn't.
Worse than Hatfield - includes the line "Under British Rail there had grown up an army of engineers and inspectors for whom the railways were a lifetime career." What utter tosh. The army of engineers and inspectors grew up under the private sector before nationalisation. All that BR ever did was not completely wreck the culture of its free market ancestors. The real problem with this article is that if fails to acknowledge the the real problem with the railway is structure, that that structure was imposed on the industry by the Government and that the Government has no intention of changing it.
Now join our campaign - the Evening Standard sets up an emergency hotline to report track defects.
What the law says - review of the law on corporate manslaughter. Fortunately, it is not very effective but the Home Office is looking into it. "Join the railways and get banged up for 10 years." just doesn't sound to me like a good way to attract talented people into the industry.
Railtrack: we don't check contractors' work - how work is checked and defects reported. Or, at least, what ought to happen.

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May 13, 2002

Rail Crash Update

Patrick Crozier | Potters Bar Crash

I am painfully aware that readers are expecting me to make some profound observations in the wake of the Potters Bar crash. I am afraid that this is something that I have found difficult to do.

The problem is that this blog is largely concerned with systems (mainly economic ones) and not with the effects of the random nature of human error.

Although we know what caused the crash: missing bolts on a set of points (US = switch) we do not know why those bolts were missing. The speculation is that it could have been sabotage or inadequate maintenance coupled with inadequate inspection. I have a sneaking suspicion that we will never know.

Even if we did, it would be extremely difficult to draw wider conclusions: especially political ones. Let's take the worst case scenario, the leftists' dream: that the maintenance was carried out by casual, untrained staff and the inspection was carried out by similarly casual and similarly untrained staff.

What does this actually prove? Very little, in fact. Sure, our leftist friends will try to claim that this shows that privatisation doesn't work. It is certainly a possibility but by no means the only one. It could show that enforced fragmentation doesn't work. Or that Jarvis are incompetent. Or that someone in Jarvis is incompetent. Or that a usually highly effective member of staff for once made a mistake.

The truth is that dramatic as they may be, rail crashes rarely shed light on the true nature of the industry, far less on debate between free enterprise and state control.

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May 11, 2002

Bullshit Alert

Patrick Crozier | Media | Potters Bar Crash

Train accidents do not bring out the best in either the media or the people they interview. There is, now, a grim routine to coverage of fatal rail accidents. Parts of it were on display in the immediate aftermath of the accident at Potters Bar.

There's Bob Crow, head honcho at the Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers Union telling us that the accident shows the need to bring the industry back into public ownership. (I apologise for the lack of quote marks but I didn't set the video recording and my shorthand isn't good enough)

There's Louise Christian solemnly telling us that there should be a full public enquiry. Will you be waiving your fee, Louise?

There's the representative from the train company telling us how "upset" he is. Frankly, if I was his boss I would sack him on the spot. I you can't keep yourself together when there's an accident that hasn't killed or seriously hurt someone you know, in an industry where accidents are inevitable, at a time when you have to lead your staff - then you shouldn't be in it.

Then there's the media. And its stupid questions. Questions like "Isn't this going to dent public confidence even more?" I would just love it if some rail executive turned round and said "What do you mean by public confidence?" or "What makes you think it has dented it in the past? Doesn't seem to have stopped them using the system." or "Does it matter?" But, no. Instead we get the usual hand-wringing waffle.

And then there's Stephen Byers. Now, you would have thought that right now he would be trying to keep his nose clean, steer clear of anything that could, just possibly, be misinterpreted as deception. But there he is solemnly announcing an enquiry. As I understand it enquiries into fatal rail accidents have been mandatory since 1840. But there's Byers trying to claim the credit. Draw your own conclusions.

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May 10, 2002

Three dead' in train crash.

Patrick Crozier | Potters Bar Crash

The cause appears to be a derailment which would seem to make it Railtrack's fault. Only today, in an interview in the Times, Railtrack's chief, John Armitt said “Every day waiting round the corner is something. Clearly if there was a significant accident on the railway then the knives would be out.” John, your prediction is about to be put to the test.

The crash occurred at a station (Potter's Bar) which is about the worst possible place for a crash. The worst ever train crash in Britain in peacetime also happened at a station (Harrow, 1952).

Idle speculation here, but with Railtrack now under the Government's wing I doubt if it'll get too much of the blame "all the fault of the last lot, you know." Expect focus to be directed to the state of the train (owned by WAGN) and especially its wheels. Wheel flats can have a devastating impact on the track and since the wheel/rail split there have been an awful lot of wheel flats. It has been speculated that wheel flats were a contributory cause of the Hatfield crash but the media was too focused on blaming Railtrack to look any further.

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May 09, 2002

Wolmar Replies

Patrick Crozier | Christian Wolmar | European Union | Fragmentation

Yesterday, I posted my e-mail to Christian Wolmar, the leading railway journalist. He was kind enough to reply. This is what he said:

Interesting letter. Given that politically, we are poles apart, there is quite a lot of common ground.

In Europe , fragmentation necessarily accompanies privatisation because of the legislation that requires separation - at least in accounting terms, but mostly taken further - of operations and instrascture.

The two fundamental errors of the British prvatisation - fragmentation and the attempt to privatise the infrastructure - have been equally damaging.

We obviously differ about the role of the state. My view is that since the railways are subsidised, then it is inevitable that there should be state involvement. Ideally, I would like to see this in a kind of 'hands off' arrangement, like Network Rail or the Dutch model. However, there must be a role for some political intevention since public money is going into the service and therefore there must be an ability to influence the way it is spent. Finding a mechanism for this, without encouraging micromanagement of the railways by ministers, is a difficult balancing act. Incidentally, one interesting remark made to me recently about Byers by a railway executive was that he did not try, unlike his predecessor, to micromanage the industry.

Your point about profit centres is intersting. If you fragment, however, that prevents the sort of integrated railway thinking that is a key part of the Dutch experience.

I am glad you don't stick up for the competition model which many of your fellow privatisation protagonists saw as the key aim of selling off the railways.

On the issue of letting the market decide, the problem with the railways is that it is how to create a structure in the railways where the market can operate effectively. So far privatisation has failed to deliver that.

In sum, I have already advocated some type of 'Big Four' arrangement for Britain's railwaysas existed between 1923-48 and not unlike the Japanese model, but there are a lot of details to sort out. In the meantime, with Network Rail and virtual boards, we are a bit nearer it, but still pretty far. away.

Hmm, I shall return to this.

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High Fares are Good for you - ultimately

Patrick Crozier | Fares and Ticketing

The news that London Mayor Ken Livingstone is all a-tizzy about having to put up tube fares brings me out in hives. Hire fares are good - ultimately. High (or higher) fares send out signals to the market. They send out the signal that here is a market that is not being catered for. They send out the signal that there are lots of people out there who would like to buy a certain service but not at the new price. In a free market this encourages new entrants to provide new services or existing suppliers to find new ways of satisfying demand. If we had a true free market for London transport, new players would come up with all sorts of new ideas. At the same time the tube lines would examine new ways of peak fare pricing, new signalling, reboring tunnels and even building entirely new tubes. But fares aren't allowed to increase and there isn't a free market - so they won't.

Update 08/09/04

"Hire fares", strewth! Did I really write that?

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L'Affaire Byers

Patrick Crozier | Byers Affair

The row over Byers's management of the Transport Department goes on. For me this is something of a MEGO (my eyes glaze over) issue. It may be important, it may not; I don't know - I don't understand it. What is interesting is that the media have the knives out for Byers. Up to recently, the Labour Government has led a charmed life when it comes to media relations. But things have started to change. Journalists are beginning to realise that hospitals, schools and trains are no better than they were 5 years ago. They are beginning to realise that they have been conned - and they are angry. I suspect it will prove very difficult for the Government to garner uncritical support in the media ever again.

For what it's worth my objection to Byers is that he seems not to have any analysis of why the UK's transport infrastructure is in the mess it is. If you cannot diagnose the problem you cannot solve it.

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What a Day

Patrick Crozier | Airlines UK | Byers Affair | LU PPP | London Congestion Charging | London Underground

The newspapers today are chock a block with transport stories. Not only are there big developments in the air, on the road and down there in the tube but the Minister of Transport is facing a motion of no confidence. Your webmaster is in need of a little sympathy.

Byers 'to speak out' on spin row
Air of resignation over transport

Easyjet to swoop for BA arm in Germany
Easyjet flies close to the wind - the ink is hardly dry on Stelios's resignation as Chief Executive and EasyJet has transformed itself from corporate upstart to corporate raider

Legal challenge could delay London car toll - Flip. The legal challenge is all about the environmental effects of rat runs. For heaven's sake, if a rat run is bugging you put a toll on it.
Congestion charge review
Ken's traffic plan "will work"

Livingstone in Tube fare worry
Tube row grows as PPP contracts are signed

Airlines sell economy to the business class - what interests me is the vast difference in price between el Cheapo Economy and slightly less el Cheapo Economy with 7 extra inches. Who said size doesn't matter.
The housing shortage in the South - I link to this letter from the House Builders Federation because transport issues are inextricably linked to those of general development. By the way, most of London's transport boom took place at a time when there were no planning laws.
Rail staff vote on pay deals

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May 08, 2002

Dutch Railways and the Nature of Private Enterprise

Patrick Crozier | Christian Wolmar | Fragmentation | Railways - Other

Christian Wolmar, whom I have mentioned before, is one of the UK's foremost railway journalists. In the most recent edition of RAIL magazine (sorry, no link) he wrote about the situation in the Netherlands. To say the least I was not best pleased at his article. So, I wrote him an e-mail:

Your article on Dutch Railways, though good in many parts, cannot be allowed to pass without comment.

You seem (and I hope I have not misinterpreted your remarks) to believe four things:

  1. That fragmentation is bad
  2. That privatisation is bad
  3. That all parts of a private business must be profit centres
  4. That privatisation means fragmentation
I will start on the final point. Privatisation most definitely does not mean fragmentation. While it is certainly true that rail and other privatisations in the UK have been accompanied by fragmentation it is by no means essential. The Japanese certainly didn't do things that way when they privatised their nationalised railway. On a related point this privatisation-pusher certainly does not believe that "choice" on the rails is the be all and end all. It is not as if there aren't plenty of alternatives. Neither am I against "central" control. It's just that I don't want the State exercising it.

On the profit centres point there are clearly all sorts of examples of bits of private enterprises that do not in and of themselves make money. R&D departments would seem to be the obvious example. For a railway operator there are all sorts of areas of the business from repainting to advertising whose contribution to the bottom line is almost impossible to quantify. But generally-speaking railways know that they need to keep their trains clean and advertise their services. Much the same logic applies to things like train taxi services.

On the privatisation point it seems pretty obvious that the private sector is perfectly capable of running railways. Not only do we have the present day example of Japan but historical examples with the Japanese private lines, the US and, of course, our own private companies pre-1922.

[Incidentally, I was glad that you discounted factors such as history and geography when making comparisons. I grow tired with the "the Japanese are different" argument.]

On the fragmentation point I tend to agree with you. Vertical fragmentation has been a disaster in the UK - just as much as it has been in Holland. If I were running a railway I would want to make damn sure that I controlled both track and train. I understand that the Central Railway are just as adamant on this point.

Horizontal fragmentation, on the other hand, is another matter. It didn't seem to do us much harm pre-1922, or indeed do much harm to the original Japanese private railways. I don't remember the new JRs complaining much about it either at the Japanese Railway Conference that took place in Cardiff in March.

That's the great advantage of allowing the market to decide. It will try things out and very quickly determine what works and what doesn't.

Mr Wolmar was kind enough to write a reply which I will post tomorrow.

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May 07, 2002

Compulsory Purchase - an update

Patrick Crozier | Air Miscellany | Compulsory Purchase | Railways - USA

My piece on Compulsory Purchase Orders (US=Emininent Domain) seems to be causing something of a stir. Brian Micklethwait picked up on it over on Libertarian Samizdata and Natalie Solent posted it to the Libertarian Alliance Forum. And now I am beseiged with e-mails.

David Carr wrote:

"Excellent post on the building of Britain's rail and road network by dint of state power.

I must confess that I find it difficult to imagine how the networks could have been constructed without the use of Compulsory Purchase. I also believe that airlines were confronted with a similar problem because, of course, anyone who owns land also owns everything underneath it and everything above it. This meant that airlines would have to seek separate licences from every landowner in the flight path of their planes. I believe that this problem was solved by legislation granting airlines 'fly-over' rights.

Does this mean we have to stop being libertarians now? Bugger, I was just starting to get warmed up!"

Stephen Karlson who does something (presumably not janitor) at the Department of Economics, Northern Illinois University writes:
"The North American railroad with the easiest crossing of the Continental Divide is the Great Northern. As far as I know, the builder did not invoke eminent domain. He ran into a somewhat different problem: the US government objected to his building of lines through Indian reservations after making purchase contracts with the inhabitants thereon.

The building of railroads in the States involves a great deal of takings by government, but to this day you can get into a loud argument among
railway enthusiasts (whether amateur or professional) about whether the land grants offered to several railroads helped or hindered them."

And Tim Starr says:
"[The land has to be bought] only if it's already owned. In the US, much of the railways were built on land that wasn't owned before the railroads were built, or it was owned by the Federal government, and there wasn't much in the way of settlement along the routes where the tracks were laid. It occurs to me that part of the reason why it may have proven historically necessary for compulsory purchase to be used to build railroads is that the British State was under the control of the landowners, who may have enjoyed a disproportionate degree of protection of their property rights. As you say, not only did they own the land the railroads were built on, they also controlled the government that had the power of compulsory purchase at its discretion.

It occurs to me, though, that the canals that preceded the railroads in Britain were built earlier, and by Dissenters, who presumably didn't enjoy a very close relationship with the landowners in Parliament. Were the canals also built with the power of compulsory purchase?"

Oh, you lucky Americans.

The canals point is interesting. I think the Dissenter point is something of a red herring. Railwaymen like Stephenson and Brunel were just as unpalatable to the aristocracy. But the substantive point did induce me to go and do some research.

Unfortunately, it would appear that canals did indeed require an Act of Parliament. I assume that the powers acquired were those of compulsory purchase - I just can't see what else you would need from Parliament.

Incidentally, during my Google Search I did uncover this short history of the Basingstoke Canal. Well, I liked it.

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May 06, 2002

Airport Landing Rights

Patrick Crozier | Air Miscellany

Over on Samizdata Brian Micklethwait has very kindly linked to my article on compulsory purchase an action which has immediately led to a jump in my hit rate.

But there's a sting in the tail. Brian asks me about the market for aircraft landing rights. I may be the Libertarian Alliance's Transport Spokesman but I know precious little about the ins and outs of the airline business (trains, you see are so much more fun). Anyway, a quick Google search has brought up this couple of gems: one from BA which seems to bear out what Brian was saying about a stitch up and this one from HACAN on how an auction in landing rights might work.

The HACAN piece looks particularly interesting. HACAN is basically a NIMBY operation for people who live near Heathrow so I was sort of expecting some sort of "ban-em-all" enjoinder. But it would appear that HACAN is prepared to look at market solutions. I wonder if they would be prepared to consider a market solution to the problem of noise itself?

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May 05, 2002

Should we fear the EasyJet/Go Merger?

Patrick Crozier | Airlines UK | Monopolies

The news is that EasyJet, the UK budget airline owned by Greek entrepreneur-cum-showman Stelios Haji-Ioannou (don't ask me to pronounce it: everyone just calls him Stelios), is in talks to buy Go, another UK budget airline for about £400-500m.

There are all sorts of ironies here. EasyJet was the product of a combination of new opportunities: mild deregulation in the European air market, yield management technology (which allows the price to vary with time), the internet and the widespread knowledge that the old airlines were taking people for a ride (so to speak). EasyJet was like a breath of fresh air. It was cheap and cheerful and honest. No crap with people on the phone, no crap with travel agents, no crap with having to stay a Saturday night. These are the fares: take your pick. People like me loved it. Stelios was my tycoon.


Before long EasyJet was eating into BA's market. They responded by setting up Go for the deliberate purpose of putting the upstart EasyJet out of business. Then, about a year ago, in the depth of a financial crisis BA sold Go for a measly £100m. At the time the wags said that BA would have been better off hanging on to Go and selling the rest of the business! Goodness only knows what they must be thinking now. It may well turn out that Go, the BA creation designed to put EasyJet out of business will become the EasyJet subsidiary that will put BA out of business.

But that is not why I am writing. The headline on the front page of yesterday's Evening Standard was something like "Budget airline merger sparks fears of fare increases" So is it true?

I think it is. Should we do anything about it? Certainly not.

What we are seeing is a natural business process. A market is created, it is flooded with new entrants, cut-throat competition takes place and a dominant player emerges. We have all seen it in our lifetimes with the internet and personal computers. Much the same happened in the railway business 150 years ago. In the 1840s there were hundreds of independent railways, by the 1900s there were 5 big railways, 6 or so medium-sized railways and a few tens of micro-railways.

"Ah, but" I hear our opponents say "this may be a natural business process but at the end of the day you still have a monopoly and they can charge what they like. Therefore we need state regulation to protect the customer."

It rather depends on what you mean by monopoly. Sure, EasyGo may have a monopoly of budget airline travel from the UK but they will certainly not have a monopoly of airline travel; far less a monopoly on routes out of the UK. And ultimately, they are up against the greatest competition: the option not to travel at all.

EasyGo's room for manoeuvre will be limited but it will still exist and left to its own devices it will still (probably, all things being equal) put the prices up. And I still think that is a good thing? Emphatically, yes.

Out there right now is an entrepreneur with a truly great idea. The next Stelios. His dream is that he will in the end, after all the competition become the monopoly and make mega-bucks. But what if that's not true? What if, at the end of the day he will be forced into some artificial competition with some arsehole Johnny come lately. Is that going to make him more enthusiastic? Is that going to make it easier to find backers? Of course not. Monopoly regulation may bring down the fares today but it is the future that pays.

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May 04, 2002

The Royal Train

Patrick Crozier | Rail Miscellany

Stories in the press about the history and present of the Royal Train give me the opportunity to pen (or is it key these days?) some inconclusive meanderings on the nature of royal transport. I don't mean to go into the ins and outs of whether there should or should not be a monarchy or indeed a democracy for that matter. More, if we accept that we have a monarch, how should she travel.

It seems that the Royal Train has gone through a sad decline over the decades. The modern version is hauled by a 30 year-old Class 47 diesel locomotive. It seems so sad, so unroyal. It is not state of the art - Class 47s have long been superseded by HSTs, tilting trains and TGVs. And it doesn't hold the romance of steam-hauled splendour. I also feel that, well, train travel is no longer a monarch-like thing to do. A hundred years ago things would have been different. Then the main stations must have seemed the most glamorous places in the world - much like airports do now. The Royal Train would have had a marvellous combination of high technology and refinement - the best that the best could do. And then there is the view. Queen Victoria may have closed the blinds when passing the poverty-stricken regions of her realm but I would rather the monarch see poverty than the moronic graffiti and piles of rubbish so characteristic of our own time.

I wonder if the Emperor of Japan has a Royal Train - he ought to. Yes, a dedicated Shinkansen set painted in royal purple, able to whisk imperial personages along at 170mph. He wouldn't have to suffer graffiti and litter - or poverty. He would be able to look out and take pride in such a well-organised realm - albeit one in the grip of a terrible economic crisis.

For us, though, the Royal Train is neither cutting edge nor glamorous. I fear that its time has passed. Shame, it has served us well but we can't cling on to the past. Or at least it is best that we don't.

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Can You Build A Railway (Or Road) Without Compulsory Purchase?

Patrick Crozier | Best of Transport Blog | Compulsory Purchase

The problem with building a railway (or road) is that first you need to buy the land on which it will be built. You have to buy all of it. If there's so much as one square yard missing then you can't even start. So potential sellers are in a monopoly position. But they aren't the real problem. The real problem is Granny Green Teeth who has lived in her cottage for 60 years and is damned if she is going to move now. For her there is no amount of money that would make it worth her while.

One option is to increase the number of sellers. Rather than make an offer on only the one route you make an offer on several. You would then have a choice of sellers and, hence, would be able to bypass the Granny Green Teeth problem and haggle down the wannabe monopolists. This could work although you might get some problems when it comes to challenging geographical features where there is simply only one way of getting the railway through. You might also have similar problems spearheading a route into a major city and dealing with thousands of owner-occupiers any of whom could turn out to be the Granny Green Teeth from Hell.

It's a possible solution but I have a real difficulty with it. To the best of my knowledge every single railway ever built in the UK was built using compulsory purchase powers. And it is not as if railways did not have every incentive to look for an alternative. UK railways were the most expensive in the world. The railway companies were screwed by landowners once when they bought the land and again when they needed compulsory purchase powers from those very same landowners sitting in the House of Lords. If railways could have found a cheaper way of buying land they would have found it. But they didn't. Nor are they now. Central Railway, which is planning a freight railway from Liverpool to the Channel Tunnel is applying for the exact same compulsory purchase powers as its ancestors.

This is where my commitment to ultra-anarcho-capitalist principles starts to get a bit flaky. Compulsory purchase is a bad thing. Regardless of whether the compensation offered is generous or otherwise, it infringes, in the most blatant way, an individual's right to the enjoyment of his own property. But it would appear to be essential. Had I lived in the 19th Century I would have wanted railways. I would have wanted the food, the fuel, the goods and the work and leisure choices they brought. I would have wanted to have known that any invader would have faced an army that could be quickly assembled and then moved to anywhere in the country.

If I could come to a different conclusion I would, but when it comes to a straight fight between practical, real-world benefits of the railway on the one hand and ideologically-pure libertarian principles on the other, ideological purity loses out every time. Such dilemmas are, fortunately, rare but that does not make my conclusion any more comfortable.

Update 29/08/04

The Granny Green Teeth problem is also known as the "Hold Out" problem.

I've come up with a few ideas about how this might be done in a free market. One is the idea for an agency (see comments).

At other times my thoughts have drifted towards ways of using the minimum amount of force possible either by asking people at what rate they would be prepared to sell or buying at above the market rate.

US academic, Bruce Benson points out that pipelines have been built without compulsory purchase. So, who knows …

Walter Block is responsible for the several routes plus options idea. See Free Market Transportation: Denationalizing the roads p218.

Update 08/09/04

Peter Gordon wonders if you can have compulsory purchase (US=eminent domain) without abuse and concludes: probably not. I think this is one of the strongest arguments against it, in that, even if you have some examples where it makes the world a better place it's a bit like letting the genie out of the bottle and will be used to bad effect elsewhere.

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May 03, 2002

Poor Old Anglia

Patrick Crozier | Fragmentation | Rail Economics | UK Train Operators

The news that GB Railways, parent company of Anglia Railways, is in financial trouble is to be regretted. Anglia, which runs trains in East Anglia, is one of the most innovative TOCs there is. It has introduced Crosslink, a cross-London service, doubled frequency on the Ipswich to London route, introduced new trains and, as I understand it, introduced an automatic discount service to season ticket holders in the event of poor performance. It's website is one of the best in the business. It's parent company has bought a new fleet of locomotives for a freight business and introduced an entirely new service connecting Hull and London.

Despite vastly increasing passengers (no, I don't have figures), it is still losing money. Hatfield and its aftermath hit Anglia badly and the compensation it received from Railtrack came nowhere near to covering its losses. That's why it is having to pursue this insurance claim through the courts.

One of Anglia's problems is that it is one of the smaller TOCs. It seems sad to relate but in the railway industry size really does matter. Big companies have big balance sheets and find if far cheaper to raise the sums necessary to buy (or rather lease) all those fancy new trains. Connex (being owned by French giant Vivendi) is very big and has been able to sustain losses while building for the future. The shame is that the smaller, more nimble, more customer-focused, almost family-style operations like Anglia don't get a look in.

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May 02, 2002

Fight!

Patrick Crozier | Rail Crime

I have been meaning to blog this for some time but Phil Craig's article for the Spectator about a fight on a train has forced the issue.

The incident must have happened about a month ago. I was on a South West Train - just like Craig - on the same line just going in the opposite direction. I too was getting off at Strawberry Hill - it's my nearest station.

It was a Saturday afternoon and I was minding my own business on an almost deserted carriage. At Kingston, some youths got on. You know the sort: hoods, track-suit bottoms and lots of swagger. They came through the connecting doors (why are yobbos so keen on the connecting doors?) They were making plenty of noise but I had my back to them so I couldn't see what they were doing and anyway for precisely the reasons that Craig mentions I was hardly going to do anything.

And then I heard a lot of noise. I turned round to see one of these youths knocking the hell out of another bespectacled youth, not one of their party. At that point, for one of the few times in my life, I did something brave (or at least what for me is scary). I pulled the communication cord. I was half expecting to get beaten up myself but many years ago a friend had done the same thing in far worse circumstances. Nothing happened to him. The thing is that when you're on a train stopped between stations there aren't a whole load of escape routes. You're trapped.

The fight stopped there and then. After a few minutes the driver entered the carriage. He asked what happened, made some perfunctory enquiries, reset the cord and carried on. He made some announcement to the effect that there had been some fighting. The police were not called, no one was arrested and these yobbos were free to carry on. And one day, no doubt, they'll do someone some real harm.

What's depressing is the casual nature of the official reaction. I don't blame the driver - I blame the system. We all know that youths are untouchable, that we're not allowed to defend ourselves and that authority is ridiculed. He probably knew it as well. That's why he didn't do anything. Or he had been told not to on similar grounds.

I believe that railways say a lot about a country. I think it was Paul Theroux who said that "Shabby and depressed countries have shabby and depressed railways." What do ours say about us?

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The Plane to Spain is faster than the Train

Patrick Crozier | Railways - Other

In last week's Spectator Matthew Parris laid off the politics and recounted a recent trip to Catalunya (my favourite place on earth) by train. I couldn't resist forwarding this on to the folks at Spangolink. What follows is their reply. [Readers will need to know that I referred to Barcelona as Barca, that Barcelona lost to Madrid in the European Cup tonight, that Parris took a rather circuitous route and that Mr Parris described Barcelona as overrated]

Thanks for sending the story. I was aware that you could do that but have never seen the point, since the faster trains through France run through Portbou and Cerbere (and since, frankly, the way to go Barcelona-London is by air). One thing about that line is that you can get off at Ribes de Freser and take the rack train, I believe it's called in English, up to Núria. Rural Catalonia is lovely. I'm not sure why he says that Barcelona is overrated. It's very lively with a lot to do, and it's cheap, the food's good, and the people are friendly unless they're waiters. By the way, the football team is el Barça. Barna or BCN (from the airport code) are abbreviations for the name of the city. It can get confusing. A barcelonista is someone who supports FC Barcelona, and a barcelonés is someone from Barcelona. So many barcelonistas are not barceloneses and many barceloneses are not barcelonistas, if that makes sense. And yes, today there is no joy in Mudville. ("The outlook wasn't brilliant for the Mudville nine that day / The score was three to two with but one inning left to play / And then when Sweeney died on first and Barrows did the same / A deathly silence fell upon the patrons of the game") That's a bit of 1800s doggerel whose last line is sometimes used in America in a mock-tragic tone when something not-really-too-awful happens. Ironically, the city of Barcelona is called "Mudville" (Can Fanga) by rural Catalans, insultingly. We still haven't gotten round to translating the train article, but no worries, we will.
OK, so this may have only the most tenuous link to transport but I don't care. I love the Blogosphere.

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May 01, 2002

What the Victorians did for us

Patrick Crozier | Channel Tunnel | Rail History

If you read my little piece on the Central Railway you might think what a fantastic new idea. But you'd be wrong.

Edward Watkin came up with it over a hundred years ago. He started off as General Manager (I think) of the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincoln Railway. To this he added the Metropolitan in London and the South Eastern Railway in Kent. Then he linked up the MSL and Metropolitan to create the Great Central Railway, the last mainline built in the UK, which opened its southern terminus at Marylebone in 1900.

The whole idea was to link these railways together and then to build a Channel Tunnel. The Tunnel did indeed get started. Recently, I heard a Radio 4 programme on the subject. It seems that the works are still there and in remarkably good condition. Unfortunately, the Tunnel was killed off when the military feared that it might be used as an invasion route. Judging by the nightly activities of illegal immigrants in and around the Channel Tunnel who's to say they were wrong?

By all accounts Watkin was not the easiest man to get along with. For years he carried on an entirely pointless dispute with a near neighbour (the London, Chatham and Dover Railway) and when that was over carried on another entirely pointless dispute with the Metropolitan District Railway in London. Having said that none of the big Victorian names: Brunel, Stephenson or Huish seem to have been a bag of laughs exactly. Still, they got the job done.

Incidentally, Watkin was an active member of the free-trade supporting Cobden Club.

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May News Stories

Patrick Crozier | Transport General

Byers 'knifed in back' says Prescott - sour grapes.
Darling warned of Railtrack rough ride - is this the shortest honeymoon period in history? The Railtrack scandal has not gone away.
Sixsmith tries to sell story that will 'finish' Byers
Fewer flights lift punctuality
'Our roads are Third World standard' - no they aren't.But John Dawson, AA's director of policy, said: "There's a serious underlying problem here. Can the local authorities, elected on a short-term basis at a political level, actually be trusted to understand the long-term infrastructure problems?"
PPP 'will cost more than estimated' - just for comparative purposes. The government will be spending £1bn a year. LU's average annual loss is between £150m and £200m.
What are the challenges facing the new transport secretary?
Transport challenge 'will take time' - you bet it will.
Darling faces daunting in-tray
Byers 'still a key witness' in potential Railtrack trial
What Darling must do to get the railways working again - written by Phillip Beck, former Chairman of Railtrack, known as the Invisible Man. Some useful insights and quite a lot of special pleading for engineering.
A word in your ear about the road ahead, minister
Now can Blair make Mandy chancellor? - BoBo stirs it."Byers incarnated all the vacuity, the spin-driven vanilla-flavoured candyfloss nothingness of this Government."
Victims of the worst post in Whitehall - history of the Ministry of Transport. By the way, Barbara Castle did not introduce the compulsory wearing of seat belts. That was done under Margaret Thatcher.
Replacement takes time and money - no direct link, it's a pop-up. Author makes much the same points that I usually make about vertical integration. Not sure about the role of the EU though.
Forget Byers, Brown should take the blame - Anatole Kaletsky
'Timeshare' private jets take off - meanwhile the private sector just gets on with it.
This resignation is Blair's Major moment - excellent analysis by Daniel Johnson. Rather overstates the role of the Telegraph and IDS.
Byers had passed too many signals at danger
Critics say problems won't vanish with new minister
The truth about Byers - Telegraph editorial
Commuters will still be waiting no matter who takes charge
Resigned to fate
Wanted: transport minister - must have brains, courage and cast-iron political clout - excellent article from the ever excellent Neil Collins.
Cycling tsar mocks 'martian' helmets - for once Norris is right.
Labour spends less on transport than the Tories - and gets less for it one might add.
Eurostar trains join East Coast line - I am not entirely sure I believe this. There are already some Eurostar sets on the line and have been for some time. They're hardly the sort of thing you keep in storage for a rainy day.
Road tolls seen as tax on business
Utilities fight hole-in-road charges
Eurostar goes on wrong line - but read the last paragraph: A Railtrack spokesman said today: "There was absolutely no safety issue involved here. An error by a signalman sent the train on to the wrong track." The thing that impresses me is that the train was only 25 minutes late.
The issue New Labour can no longer duck - Christian Wolmar (see posts passim) makes some good points along with a few bad ones.
Byers will back motorists - the transport plan gets changed
Critical MPs just don't understand, says Byers - same sort of thing from the Telegraph
Transport plan needs early service - same again from the Times. Only the spin has changed.
The promises made by Prescott
Train overcrowding is 'breaching rules'
Potters Bar points were 'badly adjusted'
MPs condemn transport plan - and boy, do they do it. But one thing bugs me. Why is this news today, a Sunday?
Railtrack says faulty installation was cause of Potters Bar crash - if true this is really bad news for Jarvis
Gridlock: Head to Head - statists clash on the state of the roads
Rail line 'not safe', says commuter - well, actually, he's not sure.
Anyone have a good word for Stephen Byers? - some, but by and large those who have reason to fear him.
Cramped airline seats are 'safer' - bizzarely they are easier to get out of in an emergency.
High cost of access on common land - follow up to the story from earlier this week
Byers faces new charge on Railtrack - actually it's an old one
Crash survivor accuses Byers - now tell me if I am wrong but the accusation that Byers was planning to wind up Railtrack well before October strikes me as a real scandal. Yet, I have not a heard a word of this on BBC TV and it is not as if there is a great deal of other news about at the moment.
Car charge could backfire - but Ken says he doesn't care. A muted cheer I think. Graphic
Afghan gangs taking over stowaway routes, rail firm says - tales from the frontline in Northern France
Rail union calls fresh strikes - at Arriva NOT at Virgin who operate the train in the accompanying picture.
Charges possible over Paddington - one of these days I really must get round to deciding what I think about corporate manslaughter.
Transport plans under fire
The first year: how the 2010 plan is missing its targets - priceless
No 10 backs Byers on 'Railtrack lie' - shameless
Disbelief on the line - the Times points out that the latest "lie" may have implications in the courts.
Hi-tech bolt may have stopped crash
Screens blamed for 'air blunders'
Driving a company car 'one of the most hazardous of occupations' - Research shows that construction workers have a one in 10,000 risk of being killed or seriously injured at work, while high-mileage company car drivers have a one in 8,000 risk and coal miners a one in 7,100 risk. Well, I never.
Scot Rail adopts no-frills approach - well, actually, they are simply offering bargain fares which is what everyone else does. In fact, bargain fare offers are one of the few real plusses from rail privatisation.
Firms want to keep slam-door trains
Safety fears close 50 escalators - "The JLE, which cost double the original budget and opened 18 months late..."
Tube strike looms over PPP safety - I don't think this has anything to do with safety. Maybe, we'll find out one day.
Dossier of train danger
For whom the road tolls? - £750bn for Birt's super-highways - come off it.
Britain facing gridlock over transport failures - now get this. The Government's own commission is publishing a report saying how the 10-year transport plan is getting nowhere.
'Railtrack has cash for safety' - according to the Regulator
Funding levels 'not to blame for Potters Bar crash'
Byers 'lied over Railtrack axe' - so he didn't make up his mind 2 days before forcing Railtrack into administration: he'd done it a least a month beforehand.
Dossier of train danger
Six days of despair - interesting insight into daily disruption and its causes.
Byers blamed for Labour poll plunge
Congestion battle gets in gear - for once Ken is the defendant
Super motorway plans are 'barmy', say Green groups
- it's wonderful to see them fighting each other
Charging by satellite - or how the Government is slowing moving towards road tolls.
BA touches down with £200m loss
Pilot Eddington ejects the dividend as British Airways goes into a spin
Byers says Railtrack's successor will be safer
Travellers return in sadness to disaster scene
Student's rail death 'unlawful'
The 'world's favourite airline' hits turbulence in tough times for national carriers - bring back the "ethnic" tailfins.
Waterloo commuters' daily worry - the Evening Standard reports that the tracks used by South West Trains are the worst around London. It is certainly true that they look bad. I can't find the exact quote but I seem to remember that although SWT hands over £260m to Railtrack in access charges Railtrack spends a mere £60m on the infrastructure.
Potters Bar reopens after crash
Forget the jetpack - the future of motoring according to the RAC Foundation
EasyJet set to spread its wings - now that it's bought Go
Byers engulfed in row over M-way tolls leak - what amazes me is how members of this Government can get so worked up over such trifles. I can never work out if ministers being distracted from their jobs in this way is something we should fear or welcome.
Road tolls in ten years as Byers is overruled by Blair - it seems that the Government is sold. Good.
Owners must pay for common land access - I had always thought that Common Land was owned by the State or in common. It isn't.
Falling to pieces - the Mirror reports on Britain's crumbling rail network
Toll road network 'planned for UK' - don't get excited; it sounds better than it actually is. This is the product of ex-BBC Managing Director, John Birt's "Blue Skies" unit and is all a bit dreamy. It won't happen.
Congestion charges explained
More councils back road tolls
'My flight delay hell' - A BBC reporter gets delayed - this is serious
Crash firm defends sabotage theory - this is a high-risk strategy playing for high stakes
Potters Bar crash not sabotage, say inspectors
Virgin's 'captive audience' gets Branson sales pitch - 'A Virgin employee at Euston station found it hard to believe. She said: "You must be joking. These are our passengers they're going to be harassing."'
Criminal linked to £1m Railtrack share probe
Railway warning - insight into what it is like to run trains over Railtrack's infrastructure
Sabotage 'may have caused' rail crash - the mystery deepens. Report contains the suggestion that the points were photographed - that could help clear things up.
Crash was sabotage, says rail contractor - good graphic
Rail sabotage blamed for fatal accident - same thing in the Times - just better. The Times really has been very good on this. The article also (to some extent) clears up something that had been bugging me. How did the set of points come to move? It always struck me that the train would be forcing the points to stay in place. This may explain why they didn't.
Jarvis in the spotlight
What price talk when silence isn't golden? - Jarvis's decision to go with the sabotage story is a brave one. Not the sort of thing that lawyers would normally countenance.
Flights misery as new air traffic system fails again
Pressure on Byers over flights chaos
Third failure in two months confirms privatisation fears
Euro gaffe Byers under axe - or should that be "Byers tells truth - shock!"
Easyjet buys Go for £374m
Q&A: Budget airline takeover
Fares may rise after airline takeover
'Near miss' as runaway train is derailed
Rail travel safer than car travel - pop-up in Letters section. From Professor Rod Smith of Imperial College - good.
80mph train narrowly misses children
Inquiry after Tube death
UK rail safety 'is improving' - now isn't that strange. Safety has been improving for decades but no minister sought to point that out before Ladbroke Grove or Hatfield. So, what has brought about this sudden change? Couldn't be because the Goverment is now paying the bills, could it?
Will we ever see train seatbelts? - some sense on this issue
'I spotted track fault'
Tube doors open on wrong side
Market Report: Potters Bar disaster takes toll on maintenance companies
Byers is 'hung out to dry' by Blair - there is a consensus that Byers is finished. There is, however, a counter argument. It is just possible that the rail network could look a whole lot better in time for the next general election. The new Pendolinos will be in service this year with their top speed gradually increasing from 110 to 125mph. The first phase of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link will open in October 2003. That will certainly lead to a "feel good" factor. The Train Protection and Warning System is beginning to roll out across the country. This will dramatically reduce Signals Passed at Danger (SPADs). The power supply problem on Southern Region looks like it is going to be sorted out so we'll be able to say goodbye to slam door stock and hello to air-conditioned luxury. In that time the Government might even get round to approving the Central Railway and a new North-South rail link. It could just happen.
Points 'badly repaired' 9 days before crash
Track team spotted flaw but failed to report it
Solicitor's widow tells of her loss - this is just an observation but isn't it odd that three of the victims of the Potters Bar crash were in the public eye? One was a former head of the World Service, one a well-known Hong Kong journalist and another a potential Nigerian king.
Vandals try to derail train
Heathrow car charge shock - Ken's congestion charging scheme goes West.
David Farrer reports on Scottish Airports
£60m for a Jumbo Jet! - I did not know that. David Farrer is in fact making an entirely different point but I am interested to know how much aircraft cost. You see I have this theory that the safety of a particular mode of transportation is in proportion to the cost per seat. Planes (£100,000/seat) are safer than trains (£10,000/seat) are safer than push bikes (£250/seat). It all starts to break down with cars and motorbikes - and depends on how many seats a motorbike is deemed to have. It has two "seats" but how often is the second one used? Mind you, you could say much the same for the family car. The general point is that the more something costs the more people take care of it.
Statement due on rail crash
Rail crash 'unique incident'
Why were the points faulty?
Points were checked the day before rail disaster - an unusually good piece of reporting. Not only does it raise questions but it tells us what they are.
Killed by rail neglect - if the allegations in this story are true then either someone is lying or someone is grossly incompetent.
Police to quiz engineer
Commuter warned of crash line problems - this has come up before - commuters complaining of jolts on the line near Potters Bar. But were the jolts caused by the points? If they were, then that suggests that there was a problem with the points going back several months. If they weren't then I would like to hear some assessment as to whether such jolts pose a threat to safety as opposed to merely a threat to passenger comfort.
Look no further than Byers for the railway saboteur
Rail firms still failing to scrutinise contractors
Rail chief had safety fear over casual labour
3000 miles of line 'should be closed ' - Institute of Directors calls for a Beeching Mk2. Quite right too. Unfortunately, they are quite wrong about the relative sizes of the British and French networks. The French is almost twice the size of our own.
Chain of command
Graphic of the points - very useful.
Byers: wrong, foolish and running out of time
Death on the railways - safety statistics in recent decades.
The state must step in to save our railways - Anthony Hilton calls for re-nationalisation. Utter drivel of course. I only hope I get the time to do a proper takedown one of these days.
EasyJet keeps Go deal alive
Budget airlines are not always the cheapest
'Faulty track' focus of crash inquiry- looks like it's the points
Papers press Byers on train crash
Crash track had 'jolt' say travellers
Faulty points are the prime suspect
40 minutes later, a car crash - the Times takes the time to remind us that generally-speaking trains are very safe
Railtrack faces questions over maintenance - again
Investigators examine damaged set of points
Track tragedy
'Job offer' row clouds easyJet talks with Go
Byers 'to speak out' on spin row
Air of resignation over transport
Easyjet to swoop for BA arm in Germany
Easyjet flies close to the wind - the ink is hardly dry on Stelios's resignation as Chief Executive and EasyJet has transformed itself from corporate upstart to corporate raider
Legal challenge could delay London car toll - Flip. The legal challenge is all about the environmental effects of rat runs. For heaven's sake, if a rat run is bugging you put a toll on it.
Congestion charge review
Ken's traffic plan "will work"
Livingstone in Tube fare worry
Tube row grows as PPP contracts are signed
Airlines sell economy to the business class - what interests me is the vast difference in price between el Cheapo Economy and slightly less el Cheapo Economy with 7 extra inches. Who said size doesn't matter.
The housing shortage in the South - I link to this letter from the House Builders Federation because transport issues are inextricably linked to those of general development. By the way, most of London's transport boom took place at a time when there were no planning laws.
Rail staff vote on pay dealsMiddle classes add to £100m bill for graffiti - it's times like this that I warm to Christian Michel's ideas on restitutional justice
'Children writing on walls is better than robbing old ladies' - yes, but it's still wrong.
Well-off motorists face extra road tax by 2007 - looks like Tim Evans was right.
Traffic wardens in city 'outnumber the police' - maybe, but they are actually useful.
There is nothing easy about defending our name - Stelios on brand protection
Flying fear man dies in Spain
Citigroup drawn into Railtrack inquiry
Rail Regulator in court battle - yet another turf war
Long and short of rail inquiries - computers can be wrong
Flair on the rails - short diary item on the late Peter Parker
All systems Go? - why EasyJet is buying Go
Cherie Blair runs transport seminar at No 10 - more about the constitution than transport
Byers team in £1m share deal probe - shady dealings at the Department
The coal was painted white so as not to offend Victoria
Royal Train more B&Q than Orient Express
Go Easy on Eddington, he's heard all the jokes
Easy come ... EasyGo
Easyjet in talks to buy rival Go
No wonder voters have lost faith when politicians behave like Mr Byers
New chaos for rail travellers
Crew from the first passenger jet celebrate its fiftieth anniversary
May madness expected on all routes to West Country
Insurance fight for GB Railways
Leave London by train after work on Thursday and be in Barcelona for coffee the next morning
Cellphone 'hazard on trains'
Two-thirds of rail advice 'wrong'

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IN BRIEF

This is a list of date-based archives from the In Brief section:

November 2004
October 2004
September 2004
August 2004
July 2004
June 2004
May 2004
April 2004
March 2004
February 2004
January 2004