October 2002


October 31, 2002

Sanity regained

Patrick Crozier | UK Train Operators | Virgin

Alice Bachini is hauled back from the brink by Virgin (?!) and a few others.

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More on Metra

Patrick Crozier | Fragmentation | Railways - USA

Stephen Karlson of Cold Spring Shops (you'll need to scroll down) tackles my question from yesterday and adds a little more local knowledge.

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Crozier speaks

Patrick Crozier | Other

I am going to be doing a couple of talks this month. The details are as follows:

Talk 1 Talk 2
Time 7.30pm  7.00pm for 8.00pm
Date Friday 8 November Friday 29 November
Place 19 Festing Road, Putney 25 Chapter Chambers, Esterbrooke St, London
Title 'Where will Ken Livingstone's Road Pricing Take Us?'  'Japan's Railways'
Other Info Bring a bottle but no red wine Bring a bottle. Do not be late - you won't get in. Please call Brian Micklethwait on 020 7821 5502 to let him know you're coming.
PriceFreeFree
All welcome.
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October 30, 2002

And I thought transport was a good thing

Patrick Crozier | Transport Miscellany

Theodore Dalrymple comments on France's crime-ridden suburbs:

In these housing projects lives an immigrant population numbering several million, from North and West Africa mostly, along with their French-born descendants and a smattering of the least successful members of the French working class. From these projects, the excellence of the French public transport system ensures that the most fashionable arrondissements are within easy reach of the most inveterate thief and vandal.
Thanks to the Edge of England's Sword for the link.

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METRA

Patrick Crozier | Fragmentation | Railways - USA

Yesterday, I mentioned METRA, the Chicago-centred commuter network. According to Adrian Shooter or Chiltern Railways it's really very good indeed. But being the sort of person who doesn't like to take these things as read I decided to ask regular correspondent, Stephen Karlson, an Illinois resident for his views. This is what he said:

Funny you should ask. I just got back from Chicago, took the 9.30 off Elgin Big Timber to Union Station, returned on the 4.25 this evening. The down train that forms the 9.30 was 9 minutes late into Big Timber account freight train interference, but left for Chicago on time. (Not bad, turning the train in six minutes, bear in mind it's an off peak train).

Metra commuter trains are well-patronized and it's hard finding parking if you're an occasional rider at some stations. The management have made substantial investments in advisory signage and public address, and passengers at Big Timber were advised of the delay in the arriving train.

I ride Metra whenever I can as driving into Chicago is not my idea of how to start a busy day, and most of my Chicago days are busy days.

Praise indeed.

The unusual thing about METRA is that it is highly fragmented. The label encompasses four train operators and nine infrastructure operators - and yet it works. We, in the UK also have fragmentation and many (including myself) believe that it is that fragmentation that has done so much damage to the industry.

So why can fragmentation be made to work in the States but not here? I think the reason lies with those infrastructure controllers. Now I am guessing here but my guess is that most of that infrastructure is owned by private companies who specialise in operating freight trains. I would also guess that the majority (in cash terms) of the trains using those tracks are freight trains...

Err, I am afraid I have rather lost the thread here. Don't get me wrong, I do think that integration on the freight side is a contributory factor to METRA's success - it's just that when I try to explain it step by step I find that I can't quite put my finger on the reason.

I will return to this when things are a bit clearer.

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The Structure of the UK railway

Patrick Crozier | British Rail Privatisation

Some time ago Momma Bear asked me to draw a diagram of the UK rail industry. So here goes: Image

Notes
For the sake of clarity I have left out the Passenger Transport Executives and the Northern Ireland situation which is outside this structure anyway and a few other things.

ROSCO - stands for rolling stock company. These are the people who actually own the trains

HSE/HMRI - stands for Health and Safety Executive/Her Majesty's Railway Inspectorate. They regulate safety.

And don't forget to click to enlarge.

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October 29, 2002

Adrian Shooter at the RAC

Patrick Crozier | Fragmentation

Last night I went along to the Royal Automobile Club to hear Adrian Shooter, Chairman, Chiltern Railways, give his Presidential Address to the Railway Study Association.

The venue was apparently intentional. Personally, it doesn't particularly bother me. Road and rail don't really compete all that much. It sounds an odd thing to say but in markets like the London commuter market the train is the obvious choice whereas in the countryside the automobile is bound to dominate. I thought it was a rather good way of pointing out that railwaymen are not bound to hate the car.

Shooter runs one of the best Train Operating Companies (TOCs) around. Admittedly it's a pretty dim universe but Chiltern does have lots of nice new trains, generally clean interiors and have a good record on punctuality. So, he is someone worth listening to.

His talk was on the subject of "Partnership" - not an auspicious start. Partnership and its derivatives are all about us: Public-private partnerships, European partners, partners in the "Peace Process". It's all nonsense of course - a way of putting off decisions and spreading the blame. It is the very enemy of drive, ambition and invention. I don't like it.

Anyway, I listened. The talk was rather better than that. Shooter looked at two examples from overseas. I always like that. I am not sure if he is unusual among railwaymen for this but it does seem this way.

The two examples he looked at were Japan and a system in Chicago and the surrounding area, METRA, which I must admit I had never heard of. He spoke of both in glowing terms.

So, why were they so successful? Shooter attributed this to a variety of reasons but the most important factor - and one common to both - was consistency and stability.

I am sure he is right. Railways, with their phenomenal capital expenditures, are long term businesses so it seems reasonable that stability/predicability is useful.

So, how do you get stability? Shooter didn't seem to have any answers there. Fortunately, for the rail industry - I do. The greatest period of stability the British rail industry has ever enjoyed was probably the period before the First World War. It was also a time when it received no subsidy and suffered from almost no political interference whatsoever.

These two facts are not unrelated.

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Why British rail privatisation failed

Patrick Crozier | British Rail Privatisation

Alice Bachini has posed the question. For the long answer please have a look at my LA paper on this here (or here for an html version).

The short answer is that although the industry was privatised it was not given its freedom. Indeed, it was subject to a whole new raft of restrictions. So, it was split up and prevented from re-uniting, contracts were imposed and fare freedom denied.

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October 27, 2002

On Markets

Patrick Crozier | British Rail Privatisation
"The railway is a public service delivered by the private sector. The experience of the last five years shows that public transport doesn't just happen as a consequence of the interaction of markets."
Richard Bowker, Chairman of the Strategic Rail Authority (SRA), quoted in RAIL #447, October 30 2002. This remark was apparently (RAIL do not say exactly where or when) made on October 15 at a rail finance conference.

This remark is significant for two reasons. Firstly, because Richard Bowker is the guy who is now in charge of our railways. And secondly, because it demonstrates mind-boggling ignorance.

Richard Bowker's rise to power may come as a shock to many but over recent months a minor revolution has been taking place in the rail industry. With the effective nationalisation of the infrastructure, the downgrading of the Regulator, the cash crisis in the franchises and the Government's signing of a blank cheque to the industry, Bowker has found himself in an extremely powerful position. He has not been slow to use his powers to the full, transforming franchises into Service Delivery Units (©Modern Railways) and ensuring that it is the SRA which takes the lead on infrastrucure upgrades. Make no mistake - this is the guy who is in charge.

The depressing thing is that he seems to be ignorant of both basic economics and railway history.

The word "market" means something. It principally means the free exchange of goods and services. Yes, that's the word "free" as in not compulsory. As in not forced. So for a market to be "free" it means there there is no compulsion to buy and no compulsion to sell and that price is a matter of negotiation between buyer and seller.

The so-called "market" that was brought about by fragmentation in the early 1990s was anything but free. The infrastructure owner could not decide to whom he sold paths or at what price. He even had very little control over what paths he sold. Furthermore, at least initially, he had no control over who maintained the infrastructure or, indeed, at what price.

Meanwhile, operators had little choice over what tickets they sold and at what price they sold them. In other words, the experience of the last five years has nothing to do with markets.

But what of those places and times which have left things to the market - or at least largely to the market? Well, we don't have to travel very far to see the results. Almost the entire UK network was built by railways operating in a free market - as was the case in the US. And guess what - those two networks were (at the time) the best in the world.

Or, you can have a look at the present-day Japanese system. Although, there again, there are some restrictions (particularly on fares), the market has decided what sorts of services are needed, at what intervals, using what trains. It has also decided that fragmentation doesn't work - so the operator owns the trains, the track, the signals and the stations.

And the result? Just scroll down.

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October 26, 2002

My favourite journey

Patrick Crozier | Best of Transport Blog | Railways - Japan

ImageImageAfter our trip down from the mountains we arrived in Otsuki. From there we took the Azusa (or was it the Super Azusa?) to Shinjuku in Tokyo.




ImageImage
It was new. It was clean. There were plenty of seats. There was plenty of legroom. The seat had a table and a fold-down drinks holder. Even in second class the seats reclined. And they lined up with the windows - something we don't seem to be able to do in the UK. And the window ledge was wide and flat so you could lean your arm on it as the world sped by.

And it was smooth - except whenever I tried to take a photo.

ImageImageThe doors opened automatically with the softest of touches.

The vending machines were clean and free of graffiti. And worked.


Image
The loos were fantastic. Clean, modern, functioning. Perfect. I even found myself cleaning the seat as requested with one of the special wipes provided.
It goes without saying that the train was on time.

I have never had a journey like it. It was perfect. This is what rail travel should be all about.

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October 24, 2002

Alice in Blunderland

Patrick Crozier | Fares and Ticketing | Railways - Japan

I fear that dear Alice Bachini is about to be sent round the twist by our railways. First she has a nightmare journey on Virgin (reported in brief on UKT). Then she has the nightmare of getting to the station to book a ticket and then the nightmare of booking that ticket once she has got there.

I advise that next time she have a look at QJump which seems the best of the internet booking agencies to me. I hope she has a credit card.

Ticketing is not easy. Every country in the world seems to have a different way of doing things. Up until recently (may still be that way for all I know) the Paris Metro charged by the line. You could go as far as you liked on one line but as soon as you changed you had to buy a new ticket.

The old way of doing things in the UK was to charge by the mile. But this can cause problems especially at peak times with everyone wanting to travel at the same time. Before the disaster of nationalisation we tried to get round this by offering workmen's fares for early morning pre-peak travel and excursion tickets. I am not sure if excursion tickets were for special trains or timetabled trains but I do know that they were cheap.

There is also the great difference between metro systems in big cities and long-distance travel. With long-distance travel people can be far more flexible about exactly when they travel and they can book in advance. That means that you can offer deals on lightly-patronised trains. Personally, I am all in favour of this because I am very bothered about getting a cheap fare and not at all bothered about being restricted in my travel arrangements.

In Japan they still charge by the mile (err, actually kilometre). And then they add a bit for an express service and then a little bit more for the Shinkansen and then a little bit more again for the really fast Shinkansen. Reservations, though, are free. Problem here is that people often have to stand. Fortunately, this being the Shinkansen they don't have to stand for very long. One consequence of this is that ticket barriers have to be able to cope with up to four tickets at once though it would seem that the Japanese have cracked that particular problem.

During our study tour I remember having a chat with one of our party (not quite sure whom) about this very point. He pointed to the example of peak services about 30 miles outside London. The problem here is that the trainset that picks people up can only be used once during the peak whereas a trainset operating further in could be used twice. That's a hell of a lot of very expensive underused rolling stock. The question he asked was whether people further out should be invited to pay more (over and above the mileage rate) for this inefficient use of rolling stock. My answer is an emphatic yes.

My ideal would be an EasyJet system for long-distance travel - that is where price varies according to number of tickets sold (very good for loading rates) and an Octopus style non-contact top-up card for metros.

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October 23, 2002

Fat flyers

Patrick Crozier | Airline Seating

Interesting story about Virgin having to pay £15,000 in compensation to a passenger crushed by her overweight neighbour.

Link from Rob Lyman who comments:

This isn't a pleasant subject. But I feel rather strongly that people large enough to require two seats on an airplane (or in crowded theater, or at the Super Bowl) have an obligation to their fellow fliers to accept whatever humiliation and financial loss their weight incurrs, and pay for all the space they are occupying. The alternative is just as humiliating and also insensitive to the legitimate desire of other passengers not to be crushed.
Quite

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Passenger compaints in Japan

Patrick Crozier | Railways - Japan

What do passengers complain about in Japan? The question came up a couple of times during our tour. The answer came back that they complain about the air conditioning and trains being either too hot or too cold.

There are a couple of other things they complain about. One is 6 people occupying a bench seat designed for 7 in such a way that the seventh person cannot sit down. This has led to railways experimenting with recessed seats. And women have recently been complaining about being harassed late at night. This has led to railways like Keio introducing women-only carriages after about 10.30pm.

We really do have a long way to go.

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October 22, 2002

Up in the mountains

Patrick Crozier | Rail Miscellany | Railways - Japan

On the Wednesday of our study tour we headed up into the mountains to see Fuji. Unfortunately, it was misty so we were denied a view. At lunch the announcement was made that rather than take the coach back to Tokyo the option existed to take the train.

Half an hour later at either Fujiyoshida or Kawaguchiko station (I forget which) almost the entire party could be found queuing for a ticket - they were railwaymen after all.

ImageImageThis was the train. Built in about 1970, rumour has it that this isn't its original livery. It is operated by the Fujikyu Railway.




ImageAnd this was another train we saw draw up as we were about to leave. Thomas the Tank Engine is big in Japan.

Inside, the train, although pretty ancient, was clean and in good condition. There was even a bird's eye view screen for those who couldn't book their berth in the observation car. The conversation went something like this:

"This is a very steep gradient"

"Yes, must be about one in twenty"

"I think there used to be a one in eighteen at Llanfairgolgafrincham (or something similar)"

"Yes, but that was rope-worked."

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October 21, 2002

Ésprit d'escalier

Patrick Crozier | Railways - Japan

In yesterday's post on the Tokyo subway I forgot to mention that Teito is due to be privatised. Actually, it has been due to be privatised for some time but politicians, mindful of potential future job prospects, have found it difficult to let go.

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Kiyoshi Michimura

Patrick Crozier | Rail Miscellany | Railways - Japan

ImageThis is a photo of Kiyoshi Michimura, Station Master of Keio Shinjuku Station. Sadly, it was bit rushed and usually he looks a lot more on the ball and his cap is at a rather more sensible angle. I had the great honour of sitting next to him at dinner the next evening.

Which was interesting. Our various hosts sent along some pretty big hitters - directors, men from the ministry, men from the international department. But a bloke who spends his days in uniform? Maybe not so odd. On three occasions during our trip we were addressed by station masters. Good presentations too. It is a status job in Japan - probably much like it was in the UK 60 years ago. I think this is a good thing.

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October 20, 2002

Public transport is hell...

Patrick Crozier | Buses and Jitneys

especially in Miami where they have Awful Bus Smell

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The Tokyo Subway

Patrick Crozier | Best of Transport Blog | Crossrail | London Underground | Rail Economics | Railways - Japan

Tokyo has not one but two subways. Teito Rapid Transit Authority (TRTA or Teito for short) which runs 8 lines is owned partly by the national government and partly by the metropolitan government. TBTMG (or Toei) which runs 4 lines is owned exclusively by the metropolitan government. Why this is I am not entirely sure. It may have been because TBTMG ran trams which were up for replacement.

Teito, the one we visited, can be compared with London Underground thus:

  Teito London Underground
Stations 164 253
Route Kilometerage 177.2 408
Passengers per day (millions) 5.58 2.53
Number of carriages 2,455 3,954
Fewer stations, fewer track miles, fewer cars, more passengers. How does it do it? Actually, I think the answer is right there in the stats. Fewer track miles means fewer trains idling along with a small number of passengers. It also helps that Tokyo is more densely populated than London.

Although there we received no figures on punctuality, based on personal experience Teito does seem well run. According to its Handbook (no link I'm afraid) it makes a profit (after interest payments) of about £50m a year.

There is another aspect that really had my eyes popping. At an early stage Teito decided to build its tunnels to a standard (for Japan) track gauge and loading gauge (that's the size of the car) and a standard power supply. This has meant that it has been possible to allow through running from and to private and JR tracks. In Britain we have been debating the merits of CrossRail (a mainline railway running underneath London) for over 25 years. In Japan they designed in that possibility almost at the start.

So, what's going on here? A well-run (and consistently so), apparently profitable enterprise run by the state. What is even more amazing is that at an early stage of its existence it made decisions that have had extremely good effects decades later. Surely, shome mistake. Libertarians do not, on the whole, claim that every state enterprise is bound to fail - there are always a few that prosper. But on this scale?

I have mentioned before that the existence in Japan of a large number of well-run private railways has provided a discipline for and competition to state-run railways. But that didn't prevent JNR (the state railway) from accumulating enormous debts (in the region of £30bn). Teito's debt seems to have been internalised. I have looked for pay-offs and funny corporations but haven't found them.

It's a mystery.

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October 18, 2002

The Keio Electric Railway

Patrick Crozier | Best of Transport Blog | Rail Economics | Railways - Japan

On Tuesday of last week we visited Keio Electric Railway, starting with a lecture at Shinjuku station in Tokyo and ending with a tour of their Chofu Control Centre (outside Tokyo).

Keio is what the Japanese call a "private" railway. This is to distinguish it from the JRs which are also private but up until 1987 were part of the state. "Private" railways (as far as I know) have always been private. It operates trains from the suburbs into Shinjuku which is Tokyo's biggest station. It is estimated that 3 million people pass through Shinjuku every day.

Its trains are built to much the same design inside and out as everyone elses and are just as punctual and just as clean. Boring. They've even introduced a late night "Women Only" carriage.

But Keio does a whole load more than simply run trains.

Image
It runs buses.




Image
It runs taxis.




Image
And it owns department stores.




I also understand it runs hotels and owns a new town (through which its trains pass) to the west of Tokyo. In fact our interpreter lives there and said it was very nice.

According to the accounts Keio seems to be profitable enough.

So why the property interests? And why the alternative, nay competitor, travel businesses? The travel businesses I can't account for but property makes sense. As Don Riley pointed out in "Taken for a Ride" railways don't make money. But the property surrounding the stations does. It is an odd phenomenon but that's the way things are and if you want to make money out of running a railway then you had better make sure you have a pretty healthy grip on the sorts of places your passengers might visit.

Rumour control has it that one railway (not Keio) had a problem with a station at one end of the line which few people seemed to want a visit. They built a brothel and trade soared.

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You can click the photos...

Patrick Crozier | Other

and get a bigger version. The reason I have posted up thumbnails is because lots of large photos is going to cause major problems to people with puny connections - like me.

Thanks to Brian Micklethwait for pointing out the confusion.

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October 17, 2002

Just to let you know...

Patrick Crozier | Blogging | Railways - Japan

There was plenty that came out of my trip to Japan that had nothing to do with transport. This stuff is being posted on my other blog, CrozierVision.

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The barriers at Tokyo station

Patrick Crozier | Railways - Japan

Image100,000 people use these barriers every day. Not perhaps so amazing when you know that 300,000 people (or thereabouts) use Waterloo and Liverpool St every day. But then again these aren't just any barriers. These are the barriers for the Shinkansen (Bullet Train). I don't think Euston comes anywhere close.

According to JR Central's Data Book they carry 360,000 people every day and the Shinkansen accounts for something like 85% of all revenues. Their "ordinary" network is an impressive thing in itself - I know I have seen it - and only serves to underline the mindboggling size and importance of the Shinkansen. As one of our party asked: "Where are all these people going?"

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Conservative safety fascists

Patrick Crozier | General Points (not just transport) | Road Safety

Over on CrozierVision I have just posted up an article suggesting that the Conservatives are back. Then I read this from Tim Collins their Transport Spokesman:

Our fourth principle is that safety is of critical importance. We’ll review the case for seatbelts in all school buses, because our children must be safe. We’ll make it easier for local communities to get speedlimits near their homes altered on dangerous stretches of road.
Ugh. What's wrong with a remark like that? Put quite simply, you cannot make the case for freedom by making the case for tyranny.

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October 16, 2002

Tim Hall writes

Patrick Crozier | Nationalisation

Tim Hall has replied to my article on simplicity. I really had no idea how much standardisation there already was in the UK. I was particularly interested in his comments on the rolling stock bought in the last splurge in the 1950s. That's the problem with splurges - they're the railway equivalent of a premature ejaculation: they're no use to anyone and the result is a dreadful mess. A pointer for the SRA and Network Rail perhaps?

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0830 Shinagawa Station

Patrick Crozier | Best of Transport Blog | Fares and Ticketing | Railways - Japan

One day last week (I think it was Wednesday) I decided to experience Tokyo's legendary rush hour. So, I wandered down from the hotel to Shinagawa Station and on to the platform for the Yamanote Line (Tokyo's Circle Line).

The scene was busy. Lots of people were lined up from one side of the platform (next to the mark indicating where the doors would open) to the other. It wasn't a particularly wide platform.

The train drew up. It was packed. The doors opened by the mark. Nothing happened. At least not initially. Then people by the doors started popping out. They didn't want to and many resisted but eventually the force of people behind them proved overwhelming.

People started streaming off. The "expelled", resigned to their fate, formed a second, orderly queue.

With the people who wanted to get off having got off the "boarders" got to work. At all times the Japanese are a courteous and considerate race. At all times that is except at 0830 at Shinagawa Station on a weekday. It was a hell of a push. Dignified was it not. Conversations such as "After you" "No, after you" were decidedly thin on the ground.

And then a moment of peace. All those people who get on had got on. Some had not managed the job 100% but one got the feeling that they would. Meanwhile new orderly queues formed on the platform.

Eventually, the doors closed, the less that 100%ers managed to cram the last remaining bits of skin, flesh and bone onto the train and the train drew away.

Much as I would have liked to I didn't take any photographs of this scene. I felt it was too much of an invasion of other people's privacy.

So, why the crush? Some background may be helpful. In Japan fares are controlled. Season tickets are cheap in comparison to ordinary fares. Employers will usually by season tickets for their employees.

But it occurs to me that this dreadful scene may not be entirely due to fare control. A railway company may well have all sorts of incentives to keep the fares low. For instance, if you are a railway company and you own commercial property (as many do in Japan) the value of the property (in terms of rent) is, at least in part, determined by the number of people who can get to that property in peak hours. Sure, you can put up the fares but what you gain on the fares you lose on the property.

Sadly, I didn't get the chance to ask this question while I was in Japan. One of many I am afraid. So, if anyone out there knows better I would love to hear from you.

Update 03/09/04

It seems that this ugly seen is indeed the result of fare control.

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October 15, 2002

KISS

Patrick Crozier | Best of Transport Blog | Rail Miscellany | Railways - Japan

Look at this photo:?

And now this:?

And now this:?

Notice any similarity? OK, they're pug ugly but other than that they are all a very similar design: straight sides, connecting doors at the front, three or four sliding doors per car. For the record they are also very similar inside. With very few exceptions, all trains of this type have bench seating and large numbers of grab handles.

These trains are the backbone of Japan's commuter network. You see the same design everywhere you go - on commuter trains, subway trains and regional stopping services. The only real variation seems to be in the number of doors per side: 4 is typical in Tokyo, 3 elsewhere.

Now, this is idle speculation but I suspect that Japan's decision to Keep It Simple Stupid (KISS) is to a large degree the basis of its success in moving an enormous number of people reliably and punctually.

If you standardise on one design that means you can constantly improve upon it over the years. You can introduce a model, find out how it works in service, how easy it is to maintain and incorporate the lessons in the next release.

Strangely enough in Britain we also have trains that are extremely reliable. They are known as Mark 1s. They were also the product of many years of experienced-based improvement. They are due to be scrapped by the end of 2004.

And their replacements? Not such a happy tale I am afraid. The replacements are to be a mish-mash of different designs from different manufacturers. They are being introduced in a rush. Already, there are signs that they are way off the reliability of their predecessors. No great surprise really as there simply hasn't been the time to get it right.

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October 14, 2002

Virgin Trains

Patrick Crozier | Railways - Japan | UK Train Operators | Virgin

Alice Bachini got on a train this weekend and didn't like it.

Meanwhile, I also got on a train this weekend. It was clean, there was space, the loos worked and it was very fast. It was also privately-owned and, err, in Japan.

?So, how come Japanese private trains work and British private trains don't? That is not an easy question to answer. I suspect that there are two factors at work. First of all Japanese people are very considerate towards each other. Secondly, since privatisation the government in Japan has (largely) left the railways alone. Sadly the same was never the case here in the UK - what with franchising, fragmentation and the unleashing of the health fascists of the HSE.

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I'm back !

Patrick Crozier | Railways - Japan

I am now back from a week's study tour of Japan's railways organised by the Railway Study Association. It has been quite an eye-opener. If anything that is rather understating the case - I have been overwhelmed by what I have seen and heard. There is a huge amount of information to process and it will take quite a while (if at all) to form some definite conclusions. For the time being what I will do is to blog the many observations I made during my time there. Hopefully, firmer conclusions will follow.

But before I do anything, though, I would like to thank our hosts, JR Central, and the many other companies and organisations who put up with us during our stay. They were unstinting in their generosity, politeness and helpfulness. The fact that they never failed to get 50 wilful railway buffs to the right place at the right time says a lot for the thoroughness of their planning and single-mindedness in carrying it out (a theme, by the way, which will run through much of the posts that will follow).

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October 08, 2002

Japan

Patrick Crozier | Railways - Japan

I am writing this from the the seventh floor Internet Cafe of the Shinagawa Prince Hotel, Tokyo, Japan. I am here with the Railway Study Association studying Japan's railways. Got a problem with that? There is a lot to be said and I hope to be posting like crazy especially when I get home. And not just about railways. Japan is a fascinating country with or without railways and at risk of breaking the First Commandment of UK Transport I intend to write a whole bunch about that too. Anyway, time is flying and I must dash.

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October 03, 2002

Unlicenced Minicabs

Patrick Crozier | Road Miscellany

Item 1 on this evening's BBC London news was about unlicenced minicabs. They produced a figure of one rape per week in unlicenced cabs. Not sure about that one. Wonder what the figure for black cabs and licenced minicabs was.

Anyway, never mind, the call was the usual one for ever more laws and regulations. Had anyone thought (don't be so stupid) that it might be the existing regulations that had caused the problem in the first place? Apparently not.

I don't know what exactly the regulations on cabs are in London but I would guess they go something like this. All cabs have to be licenced and the supply of licences is in some way restricted. This causes a shortfall in the number of cabs. But all you need to run a cab is a saloon car so it is not entirely surprising that this gap in the market gets filled. Nor is it any great surprise that the gap gets filled by criminals. Yet another example of the state trying to solve a problem of its own creation.

So, what would happen in a free market where anyone could ply their trade in a cab? Well, for starters there would be a lot more of them. But I believe that the branding effect would soon come into play. Customers would want to know that the cab that they were getting into was safe. This would encourage the emergence of cab companies which could be relied on to screen drivers and provide other deterrents. Competition would drive up quality and soon cab rape would become a thing of the past.

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Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss...

Patrick Crozier | Railtrack and Network Rail

So, it's goodbye Railtrack and hello Network Rail. And to celebrate the BBC has written an article. Hurrah.

The company [Network Rail] will be faced with the huge task of restoring public confidence in train travel and upgrading the state of Britain's rail infrastructure.
Is it in charge of upgrades? I thought that was in the hands of the Strategic Rail Authority (SRA) these days. I also love this term "restoring public confidence". How would you know? I suppose what it really means is "getting the issue off the front pages until the next general election."
Network Rail will be run as a not-for-profit company, which means it will plough any profits it makes back into rail maintenance rather than pay dividends to shareholders.
Profits? Fat chance. There are no shareholders, stupid, so no one to please. And they've got a £20bn borrowing facility.
Last year the then Transport Secretary Stephen Byers put Railtrack into administration rather than keep contributing to the company's rising track repair bill.
So, they've decided to keep contributing to NR's rising track repair bill instead. Yippee.

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Strike!

Patrick Crozier | London Underground

The Evening Standard loses its rag.

Meanwhile, Tube rebels defy bullies. How odd. You don't normally get a crack in a strike until much later.

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Other news

Patrick Crozier |

The £1m Tube vandal - and he had his own special grinding tool. Stepson of a barrister. That figures. Wonder what he'll get when he's sentenced on Friday. Although Christian Michel has dropped the idea of restitutional justice I haven't. And I also like the idea of convicts having to make up for all those offences where the offenders weren't caught.

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October 02, 2002

A reliable railway?

Patrick Crozier | Railtrack and Network Rail | Railways - Japan

John Armitt, head of Railtrack, yesterday claimed that it would take three years before trains returned to "consistent" levels of performance.

One has to wonder what he means by "consistent". I presume he doesn't mean "consistently bad". Does he mean pre-Hatfield levels? Or pre-fragmentation? Surely, he cannot mean Japanese levels of performance? It would be nice to know.

Despite this I was pleased to see that Armitt is emphasising the need to repair bridges, viaducts, embankments and signal boxes rather than glamorous projects like the West Coast Route Modernisation. It has long been a belief of mine that getting railways right is all about getting all the boring stuff right. If, and only if, you do that can you move on to the headline-grabbing cutting edge stuff.

It is my belief (and Lord knows I can't prove it) that Japan's success originated with the private railways. These were the railways which just plodded on with the mundane job of getting commuters to work and did it to cost and to a high standard. It was this private culture that prevented JNR (the state-owned railway) from complete collapse by providing it with some stiff competition. Sadly, the private railways could not prevent JNR from losing its shirt but when the government decided that it had to do something about JNR it was fortunate enough that the private railways provided the model.

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Public transport is hell&8230;

Patrick Crozier | Buses and Jitneys

especially in Miami where they have Awful Bus Smell

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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