December 2002


December 31, 2002

Categories

Patrick Crozier | Blogging

Transport Blog now has categories (see also sidebar). I am not quite sure on the best way to link to/display them so I would appreciate suggestions.

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Mobile manners in Japan

Patrick Crozier | Railways - Japan

Some time ago I raved about Japanese trains and especially how considerate people are towards one another and how you never hear a mobile phone conversation. Not true it would appear according to a comment posted by DrMM who has the advantage of actually living there.

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December 30, 2002

In which - having failed to get a taxi and having then found no assistance at a bus stop - I walk in the rain from Egham station to my mother's home

Brian Micklethwait | Brians Odyssey | Road Miscellany

My December 20th journey, from London to my mother's home and back again, has now taken me as far as Egham station, where I alighted in a happy frame of mind. It was raining at Egham, but not very heavily, and my plan was to get a taxi from the station up the hill to Englefield Green where my mother lives (in the same house where I spent the whole of my childhood). But alas for my plan! There are usually taxis to be found at Egham, in the car park, but on that day there were no taxis to be seen, so I began to walk towards the centre of Egham. I paused at the small shop frontage from where some of the taxis are commanded, but it looked very unwelcoming and I wasn't sure of getting any sort of answer, let alone a helpful one.

Remember that I was trying to save minutes, not hours. I had an umbrella with me, and if I walked briskly through the rain I would get to my mother's home in about twenty minutes. Taxis frequently take that long even to arrive at one's departure point (if they are not already there). Since I only ever use taxis for very short journeys, unless someone else (such as a broadcasting enterprise) is paying, I only use taxes if I can actually see one when deciding whether to make use of it. Who keeps those little cards, other than habitual taxi users like late night workers, or businesses who regularly despatch their people on many journeys? No me, anyway. And I have yet to equip myself with a portable phone.

If Plan B was to walk, there was also a Plan C: to take a bus. There is a bus stop on the Egham inner ring road, and a lady would-be passenger was waiting there when I reached it. But she was pre-occupied with her portable phone, and when I asked her about possible buses, she merely waved towards the bus timetables displayed on one of those concrete poles with a bus sign on it with which bus stops sometimes announce their existence.

These timetables are useless in two distinct ways, either of which would be enough to negate their value in my eyes. First, they are about as easy to decypher as sanscritic texts or logarithmic tables, the latter being something they strongly resemble. Second, far more fundamentally, they announce mere bus company plans, not the actual facts about the buses which might soon arrive. How much more useful are the new electric signs that have sprung up at many lucky bus stops recently (such as at the stops near to my home in London), which I have had cause to note here with approval before. These signs are as easy to read as the sanscritic logarithmic tables are impenetrable, and they refer to actual buses which are actually on their way. But there was no such sign at this bus stop. How long would I have to wait? Who could say? (Certainly not the unhelpful lady with the portable phone.) Add that the stop to which the bus might take me is still a five minute walk from my mother's home, and you can see why I quickly decided to continue on foot, despite the rain.

Which I did. I arrived about a quarter of an hour later than I had hoped to, but pleasure in meeting my mother soon caused me to forget about any trifling difficulties I had experienced while journeying to meet her.

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December 29, 2002

Why drive? The race is on

Patrick Crozier | Best of Transport Blog | Transport Miscellany

Since writing about the alternatives to driving I tracked down three alternatives: SkyTran (now also mentioned on Samizdata), MegaRail and InTranSys. I posed the question why it was that if they were so good none of them had got built yet. But I went one step further and e-mailed each of them individually - and, much to my surprise, they all replied.

Dick Guardano, of InTranSys, blamed the government:

The reason why no InTranSys system exists today is indeed a combination of politics and financing. The oil industry has long had a very powerful voice in our nation's affairs, and today, with oilmen Bush in the White House and Cheney hiding out somewhere nearby, it has become all-powerful....
Before claiming that:
...it is quite easy to prove that the world's supply of petroleum will run out by the year 2020
Actually, it is quite easy to prove that the oil will not run out by 2020.

He went on:

We have tried seven times to get DOT interested, but they are too busy playing with their 19th century trains or that dumb project known as the smart car.
Which is about the only thing on which we agree.

Then he turned his fire onto the business community:

Our experience with existing private firms has been even worse. On three separate occasions we have been talking with busy business people about IntranSys when they suddenly looked at their watches and stated that it can't work because of something we had overlooked. Then they left the room before i could tell them that we had overlooked nothing and that the "problem" they cited didn't exist.
Now, he might be right here. Certainly in the UK private enterprise is far less adventurous than it used to be. But one has to wonder why that is. I can't help thinking that the growth of the state is the dominant factor but finding a causal link is difficult.

And then he loses me completely when he says

The technology behind InTranSys is foolproof.
NO technology is foolproof.

MegaRail on the other hand doesn't see politics as a problem at all. In fact they're expecting a contract in the not-too-distant future. They say breezily "Politics has not been a hurdle, nor do we expect it to be." Just you wait.

SkyTran again puts the blame on the politicians:

"[the problems are] 90% Politics. The idiots don't seem to be interested in solving problems."
Of course not, if there were no problems they would all be out of a job.

They go on to say:

"Most logical current interest is from a Las Vegas casino to be and a new film studio entertainment complex in Palm Desert, California. Private property!"
Surprise, surprise.

So, the race is on. I think InTranSys hasn't got a hope in Hell. Pinning your hopes on the state is a recipe for disappointment. MegaRail and SkyTran seem to be fare more go-ahead. If I were a betting man I would put my money on MegaRail - the technology seems to be a lot simpler and so does the concept - which is likely to find favour with the city governments they hope to make customers. SkyTran, on the other hand, is so far ahead of its time that it is likely to start off as a novelty - just like the train did - before being taken up by the sort of visionaries who found entire cities.

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Railway policies

Patrick Crozier | Rail General

Antoine Clarke, on Samizdata, points out the general crapness of the government's railway policy before pointing out that the Conservative opposition is even worse.

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Travelling is fun

Patrick Crozier | Staying put

So says Alice Bachini. Especially, it would seem, when you're in no great hurry.

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Car sales

Patrick Crozier | Road Miscellany

According to the Times, new car sales in the UK will this year top 2.5m for the first time. So much for the government's policy to get us out of our cars. It also appears that our domestic car manufacturers are also doing well with 65% being exported. So much for the dangers of remaining outside the Euro.

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Travellers evacuated as train is set on fire

Patrick Crozier | Rail Crime

From the Telegraph. A member of station staff was killed earlier this year from smoke inhalation when vandals did the same thing south of the Thames.

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December 27, 2002

Introducing SkyTran

Patrick Crozier | Transport Miscellany

Further to my investigations into alternatives to driving, I stumbled across a site promoting SkyTran. SkyTran will be a 100mph, computer-controlled, magnetically-levitated, almost door-to-door, non-polluting, personal transportation system. It will whisk us to our destinations in futuristic, light-weight pods, eliminate congestion at a stroke, cost next to nothing, turn a profit, allow spectacular views and be built along existing rights of way.

Can it be done? I have no idea. But I so, so hope it can. Imagine, an almost perfect transport system, making trains and cars look like the 19th century technlogies that they are and consigning both to the rubbish bin of history.

I love it.

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Why we will never run out of oil.

Patrick Crozier | Best of Transport Blog | Fallacies

It is often claimed that one day, Real Soon Now, we're going to run out of oil. Environmentalists have been making this claim since the early 1970s sometimes even sticking a date on the day of doom. 2020 is the most recent prediction that I have heard.

Only one problem - it isn't going to happen. So long as we stick to free-ish market economics - that is. And it has nothing to do with the ever-expanding known reserves or the suggestion the oil doesn't actually come from fossils at all and is a natural secretion of the Earth. It's just boring old economics. As the supply decreases with demand remaining the same, the price will increase so reducing demand and hence consumption. At any level of reserves this will always take place (not unlike the way EasyJet seats are allocated) always ensuring there is at least some oil left.

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Shinkansen UK

Patrick Crozier | Rail Economics

Professor Rod Smith of Imperial College (who Brian talked about) is promoting the idea of a network of Japanese-style Shinkansen tracks here in Britain (see Times article). And it'll only cost £20bn. So he says.

Now much as I admire the Shinkansen there is always a question nagging at the back of my mind "Is it worth it?" Because I am afraid to say that the available evidence says "no". The truth is that the Shinkansen has been a disaster.

The first Shinkansen which linked Japan's three biggest cities and the port of Yokohama was probably worth it but many of the most recent ones have been the worst possible products of me-too-style pork barrel politics.

Shinkansen is magnificent - just like Concorde. It is a technological marvel - just like Concorde. And it cost a fortune - just like Concorde. The only difference is that in the 1970s we realised the mistake. We said "Hang about - this isn't going to work - better quit while we're only a bit behind." But the Japanese? Oh no, they just ploughed straight on. They built Shinkansens everywhere. They built them in the West and then the North East and then the North West (or what passes for it in Japan). From Nowhere-yama to Nowhere-shima. Only the other week they opened up yet another remote section.

And the result? A mountain of debt. The nationalised railway (JNR) ended up with a debt of 37.2 trillion yen (about £180bn). Much of it, probably a majority - but no one seems quite certain - due to the building of Shinkansens. How much is £180bn? Well, lets put that in British terms. Firstly, we only have half the population - so that's £90bn. Secondly, we're not quite as well off as the Japanese - so let's lop off a bit and make it £70bn. That is still over £1,000 each. It dwarfs France's railway debt (a snip at £30bn) and makes Network Rail's borrowing facility (£20bn) look positively puny. By any measure it is a huge sum.

Update 04/10/04

Mind you Tech Central Station seem to like it.

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December 26, 2002

In which I proceed to Clapham Junction – some reflections upon the peculiar nature of that station – on to Egham

Brian Micklethwait | Brians Odyssey | Rail Miscellany

You may recall that on Friday December 20th I had embarked upon a journey to see my beloved mother, and when I broke off my narrative I had reached that triumphant moment when I had finally succeeded in obtaining the necessary tickets for my journey.

The next phase of my journey took me from Victoria to Clapham Junction. An employee of one of the many railway companies our country now possesses kindly told me which train would most speedily take me to that destination, and I duly boarded the train he had recommended. The only oddity to relate about the journey was that we paused for a few minutes just before arriving at Clapham Junction. Pauses like these are worrying, especially when no explanation of them is forthcoming over the train's loudspeaker system as was the case on that day. I had arranged to arrive at my mother's house at 3 pm. Would I be severely delayed? But soon the train made its way to the station.

And what a station it is! - similar in scale to the largest London terminus, and, I should surmise, one of very largest railway stations (measured by number of platforms - nearly twenty I think) not of a terminal nature to be found anywhere in the world.

Why so big? The explanation is to be found in the peculiar disposition of London's two big railway termini serving the southern regions of England, Victoria and Waterloo. All the other London termini – Paddington, Euston, Kings Cross, Liverpool Street and the rest of them – are in exactly those parts of central London, just on the borders of the very centre of London itself, that one would expect them to be, given the regions of England that they serve. Paddington serves the west of England and is to the west of the centre of London. Liverpool Street which serves East Anglia is to the east. Euston, which serves the north west, is in a northwesterly position compared to London's centre, and so on.

But Victoria and Waterloo are different. Victoria, which serves the south east, is to the west of Waterloo, which serves the south west. Thus it is that the two great clutches of lines that emerge from these two mighty terminal stations after a short distance cross one another. And they cross at Clapham.

Continue reading "In which I proceed to Clapham Junction – some reflections upon the peculiar nature of that station – on to Egham"


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December 24, 2002

British Rail nationalisation

Patrick Crozier | Nationalisation | Rail History

Article in the Guardian from the dying days of 1947, just before the nationalisation of the railways on 1 June 1948. It is fairly measured ie dull (I am not sure what the Guardian's politics were in those days - or even its name) but there is one marvellous bit:

It should not be overlooked that the British railways themselves are today one of the best examples of the true co-ordination of transport to be found anywhere in the world. They operate road transport, docks, hotels, and canals as well as railways and all are fitted together to serve the single purpose of the whole.
It is one of the great claims of statists that integration of transport requires the state. The truth is that free enterprise gets on with the job just fine thank you very much.

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December 23, 2002

Sonic Cruiser cancelled

Patrick Crozier | Air Miscellany

Shame. From the Telegraph.

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Drink driving

Patrick Crozier | Road Safety

It's the season of anti-drink-drive campaigns which gives us the excuse to ponder whether we should have drink-drive laws at all.

I have to say, I instinctively oppose them. That is because, to me, what matters is what you do not how much you've drunk, snorted or smoked. It is the crime that matters not the propensity to commit it.

But at the same time I don't think it should be a matter for governments at all. In my ideal world roads would be private and road owners would be free to impose whatever rules they liked. Which, of course, means that they might very well impose exactly the same rules that I so vehemently oppose.

So, how would CrozierRoad tackle the problem? I think it's important to start with a few principles. CrozierRoad would not be that bothered about fatalities - individual drivers are cheap. CrozierRoad would in fact be far more concerned about crashes because crashes cause congestion and congestion (in both the short and long terms) leads to fewer customers.

So, how would we stop crashes? Would we put breathalizier-enabled starter motors in each car? Probably not. Crashes are not caused by drinking - they are caused by bad driving and plenty of people do that stone-cold sober. So, the job of CrozierCops would be simply to identify the bad drivers. What we did then would be another matter.

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Ferdinand Mount

Patrick Crozier | Transport General

... in the Times. And he has plenty of sensible things to say. "Two wheels good, four wheels bad". Now where did I hear that sort of thing before? Oh, I know.

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December 21, 2002

DVT victims lose fight with airlines

Patrick Crozier | Airline Seating

Report in the Telegraph.

Good - for reasons I explained a couple of months ago.

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December 20, 2002

In which I purchase my tickets for my journey

Brian Micklethwait | Brians Odyssey | Fares and Ticketing | Rail Miscellany

I don't use transport very often, aside from the occasional trip on one of London's tube trains. I mostly view the transportosphere with the objectivity of the uninvolved outsider. But today I was involved. I went on two train journeys, the first to go and visit my mother, and the second to return to London again. What follows is a review of these journeys.

The journey out began with the irritation of queueing at Victoria Station for my ticket(s). This involves trying to guess which line of backpackers and tourists and general trouble-makers and time-wasters would be the most troublesome and time-wasting.

The reason I had to queue for my ticket(s) rather than merely buy one from a machine was that I was going to have to change at Clapham Junction, and at Victoria the machines seem only to sell tickets for destinations which can be reached in one direct, changeless journey.

So my queueing began. A minute after placing my first bet I gave up on it and placed another, only to watch the queue I had vacated spring to life while my new choice stopped. I found myself yearning for the system used by banks and Post Offices, where there is only one shared queue and hence no queue choice angst to suffer from (just rage if not enough serving windows are functioning). But perhaps the ticket windows at Victoria are too widely dispersed for that to work, and perhaps also that system only works well when most of the people in the queue are regulars in it who know how to spring to life and move fast when their turn finally comes. But regular train users already have their tickets, leaving the ticket queues to be dominated by the flustered makers of complicated one-off journeys who are changing at awkward places and paying by awkward payment methods.

Despite all these frustrations, I was eventually able to purchase my tickets (a "cheap day return" to Egham, one ticket to get there, and another to get back) and was ready to embark upon the main part of my journey. I could feel my spirits soaring and my pulses racing.

That's enough for now. In my next posting, and provided Patrick doesn't put a stop to this, I will actually enter a train.

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Drink & Privatisation don't mix

Peter Cuthbertson | Privatisation Benefits

As I today started a three week job working on the railways, I thought I'd be on the lookout for transport information. It wasn't in short supply, talkative as my immediate superior is.

What interested me most in what he said was how much stress he put on alcohol and illegal drugs. The training video on the subject was detailed and tough in its message, giving three very practical reasons for such a standpoint: safety, the legal obligations the company faces, and that it made good business sense for employees not to be doped up or drunk when dealing with equipment and customers. As many would prefer that this business sense be taken out of running our railways altogether, removing this vital incentive, it got me wondering as he mentioned how the culture of his lifelong employment has changed.

There was a time, he went on, when not just station staff and train employees, but managers too, would regularly drink on the job without a thought. Many British Rail staff would take turns to watch the platform while others went down to the local pub for a couple of pints, later returning to work. Throughout this description, the words "privatisation ... privatisation" ran through my mind as the catalyst for the change. Sure enough, as he concluded, he explained that it was only in the last ten years that this culture has altered, to the extent that new employees find the old way unimaginable. In 2003, Britain enters her eleventh year of rail privatisation.

Now, anyone caught on duty under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or discovered with them in his system after random testing, is dismissed the very next morning. Private companies, run for the benefit of customers, just cannot afford to put up with that sort of thing in the way that nationalised industries can - and do.

No wonder that, if you exclude the freak tragedy of Hatfield, Britain's rail safety record is significantly better since privatisation. Look up the figures if you don't believe me. Rail privatisation has had its problems, the great majority caused by excessive government intervention since Hatfield, but it really has improved the culture and service on our railways.

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New Writer

Patrick Crozier | Blogging

For a few weeks (and I hope much longer) Transport Blog is going to be joined by Conservative Commentary author, Peter Cuthbertson. I am particularly pleased by this new addition as he is someone who is actually working on the railways and will therefore be able to base his opinions on facts rather than idle speculation.

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Maintenance costs

Patrick Crozier | Fragmentation

Something in a report in the Telegraph caught my eye. "[Train Operating Company] Managers say the financial problems are mainly the result of a virtual doubling of infrastructure maintenance costs since the Hatfield derailment two years ago."

Err? I am not sure this stacks up. The way I understood it worked is like this: Train operators make a deal with the Government (in the form of the Strategic Rail Authority) for a franchise. In this deal the amount of money they must pay the infrastructure owner ie Railtrack/Network Rail is stated. This sum (though it can vary a bit) is known as the Track Access Charge. This sum is determined by the Regulator who is independent of the SRA. See "A short note on the structure of the UK railway"

What this guy seems to be suggesting is that the TAC can vary. By rather a lot in fact. But who would sign up to a deal in which a key cost (typically 40% of turnover) can vary so dramatically?

Ah, hang about. I think I know what is going on here. The TOCs involved here are those ones that are currently renegotiating their franchises. And it would appear that at this point TACs can go up. Though that seems odd because I thought that required Regulator approval. But never mind it seems to make some sense. The costs have increased so therefore either subsidy must increase of services must be cut. Hence the headlines.

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Utter futility

Brian Micklethwait | Alistair Darling | Frivolity

Seasons greetings from the Brains Trust:

Arriving breathlessly five minutes late, due to a ham sandwich in the points at Crewe, Transport Secretary Alistair Darling unveiled the Government's Consultation Document, entitled "Jesus Christ The Whole Fucking Thing's Fucking Fucked". The document, written by progressive think-tank "Hackenbush Laser Pointer and Fee", is subtitled "If I wanted to get there I wouldn't start from here" and describes in nightmarish detail the extent to which the Government's projections are out, the fundamental flaws in the public transport infrastructure and the utter futility of trying to improve the situation.

Or, as my friend David Carr often says in connection with whatever it is he is thinking about at that moment: Things are going to get a great deal worse, before they get even worse than that.

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December 19, 2002

Free the fares

Patrick Crozier | Best of Transport Blog | Fares and Ticketing

London commuter fares are going up and people aren't happy. John Yiull, the BBC's commuter champion says: "One wouldn't mind so much if we had seen an improvement commensurate with the rise, but many rail passengers have seen things get worse."

There is a definite feeling, when it comes to commuter fares, of being trapped. You've got the job, the house, the family and the mortgage. Running away from that simply isn't an option. Frankly, these train companies could charge you the earth and you'd still have to pay. So, we need fare control, don't we?

The thing is that there have been times and places when fare control was either absent of low. In the UK, for instance, passenger fare (as distinct from freight charge) control didn't really get going until the Second World War. So, before then, were commuters getting ripped off right, left and centre? It doesn't seem so. It certainly doesn't seem to have been one of the issues of the day.

I think there are several reasons for this. First of all, in a truly free market although there will be many who are tied down, there will be many who aren't. It is the fear of losing the passenger who does have a choice that leads train companies to keep down the fares of those who don't. Secondly, in the days before the Second World War there were many different rail companies. If you didn't like one you could move to an area served by another. And in those days, what with the massive expansion of the suburbs that was taking place, there was plenty of places to move to. None of this frantic scrambling for the very cheapest one-bed flat that is so common in London.

We're not as trapped as we think we are.

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Channel Tunnel Rail Link

Patrick Crozier | Channel Tunnel Rail Link

And a little bit on Harry Potter. A nice long article from Michael Jennings.

Not sure I agree with him that the Channel Tunnel Rail Link is such a good idea though. It still represents a huge subsidy from the poor to the better off.

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December 18, 2002

Roads and trains – Dimbleby last Sunday

Brian Micklethwait | Media

Hello. This lump of waffle is by Brian Micklethwait. I know my name's at the end, but you need to know now that Patrick is still the pithy, fact wielding blogger you know and love.

Anyway, last Sunday I went to the ITV Centre just past the National Theatre to be a member of the studio audience for a programme being compered by Jonathan Dimbleby. At the front were Gwyneth Dunwoody (Parliamentary Transport Grumbler) and Steve Norris (not standing for Mayor of London but might have), political light-to-middle middleweights.

Why did I go? Frankly, being a contributor to this blog was what made the difference. I knew that I would get a posting for this out of the trip, maybe an amusing one, and I knew that I would learn about transport. Plus, frankly, I would never have been able to endure the entire programme in my own kitchen, where there are so many other so much more entertaining things to attend to. But when you're stuck in a live audience for one of these things, all you can do is pay attention or else let your mind wander. I mostly paid attention.

Part one, during which they discussed roads, was very encouraging. The government's new ten year road plan (a few more roads and a prayer for a bit less congestion) was held up to general derision. This plan reminds me of a good line I heard just after Black Wednesday when the pound got ejected from the EMU in the days when John Major ruled. Someone asked a city economist what the prospects for the British economy were. Well, said the economist, now that the government doesn't have a policy, the prospects are really quite good. That's the approximate state of British transport now.

The idea of road pricing was much discussed, approved of by Norris, and not attacked by anyone, not even by any of the Greens present. Stupid Greens quite like the sound of road pricing, because it sounds so anti-car. But because road pricing will actually usher in an age of sanely priced car driving and road use, it will actually be a huge step in the right direction for these activities, and make them then far harder to oppose. So Clever Greens don't know what to say. That's always fun to watch.

In part two they switched to trains. Dunwoody and Norris were joined at the front by someone called Lyons, who sounded from his title ("Railway Forum"?) like a retreaded "privatised" version of the General Secretary of the National Union of Railwaymen. The dialogue between Dimbleby and Lyons went approximately thus:

Dimbleby: The trains are now total crap. Are they going to get any better?

Lyons: Splingledookydook mumbojummery, but nevertheless dijerigabblegabble on a rational basis.

Dimbleby: You haven't answered the question. Same question again. ???

Lyons: Complexification counterproductionitis situation is doollallylallyo geblooksbumblebuggery. I think that's extremely important, as is the fact that I'm wearing a very smart suit.

Dimbleby: Yes but will the trains get any better? What's going to happen to that 90 billion pounds the government has already announced, for new ones? Is any of that left over from mending the old ones?

Lyons: Good questions. And you've got to remember also that vlimbergooglecrocket splatburger with salad on the side.

Dimbleby: But Mr Lyons, with respect, that doesn't really help us to move forward.

Etcetera.

They then wheeled on a genuine Mad Professor, a Professor Smith of Imperial College, I think Dimbleby said. His plan is to spend 20 billion quid (his figure - so multiply that by ten to get a bit nearer to the final true cost) on a new High Speed Rail Network for Britain. Public money, it was being assumed. At which point Norris astonished me again by reminding everyone that the Japanese high speed system, which was being discussed with the kind of reverence one would usually expect only of Patrick Crozier, is almost completely privatised.

It was all pretty boring, and I clockwatched throughout, but it nevertheless made me happy. Basically, Britain's ruling suitocracy wants road pricing and is winding itself up to say so, despite what the focus groups are presumably telling it. (No!!!!!!!!) And the bearded, demonstrating, emailing, concerned, scruffily impotent class, of the sort who don't feel like idiots when gathered to watch a programme like this in the studio instead of not watching it at home like normal people, want lots and lots more trains, going as fast as jet planes and bugger the cost to the taxpayer. The taxpayer is at home, hoping for the best and assuming the worst.

I'm with the suits (even though I dress like the worst sort of Green), and I suspect that the taxpayer could be in for a surprise during the next twenty years or so. A nice one, I mean.

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December 16, 2002

Train subsidy to be cut by 20%

Patrick Crozier | UK Train Operators

According to the BBC the Strategic Rail Authority (SRA), the body that franchises out rail services, is looking to cut the amount of subsidy it gives to train operators.

They're running out of money. Fragmentation, safety schemes, franchising itself, cost overruns on the West Coast Mainline and the Southern Region power supply problem and just about everything else and last week's roads U-turn have conspired to clean them out.

I do hope that anyone who thinks that the State (especially the British state) is capable of thinking long-term will stand themselves under a cold shower. If ever there was a government with the combination of parliamentary majority, favourable economic circumstances and ideological will to pursue a long-term plan this was the one. And yet, it has been one thing after another. They went in hard over safety before starting to wobble. They demanded that Mark 1 stock was replaced by 2002 before realising that that was impossible. They supported the structure of the industry before unpicking it by forcing Railtrack into administration. Above all they talked about getting people out of their cars before realising that the alternatives didn't exist.

All those who would demand that a British government pursue a long-term transport strategy have to accept that it will never happen. If this government can't do it then no government can.

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December 15, 2002

Chauffeur bikes

Patrick Crozier | Road Miscellany

Yes, chauffeur bikes. From the Times.

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The rise of the scooter

Patrick Crozier | Road Miscellany

Interesting article in the Times about the rise of the scooter. Registrations are up by 700% since 1993 while scooters cut travel times by almost 50%.

Seems "Confused of SE1" is not alone.

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Roads in funny places

Patrick Crozier | Road General | Ross Clark

Ross Clark, in the Telegraph, points out that Darling's new roads are hardly being built in congestion black spots.

It puts me in mind of when I spent time in Ulster a few years ago. As I prepared to drive into Belfast my relatives told me to beware of the jams. Try as I might I couldn't find any.

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December 14, 2002

Driverless cars

Patrick Crozier | Transport Miscellany

Further to my entry "Why Drive?" I thought I'd do a Google search to see if anyone out there had done the technology and the sums.

Well, the US Federal Government certainly seems to have had a go at the technology and has, according to Wikipedia and CNN, set up a test track near San Diego. And it seems the system had the advantages in terms of capacity and safety that I thought it might. But the programme has been axed.

Bizarrely enough, Cardiff, according to a report in the Guardian, is also having a go at this.

But the sums seem less certain. The big problem is that no one is going to build the road until there are people who own the cars and no one is going to buy the cars until they know there's a road to drive them on.

But hang about this shouldn't be a problem. Didn't we have exactly the same situation at the dawn of the mobile phone age? The network guys didn't wait until people had bought their phones - hell, no - they built the network and then charged people on a per use basis. I find it difficult to believe that something similar couldn't be worked out in this case.

Continue reading "Driverless cars"


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On not going there at all - a possible follow up

Patrick Crozier | Staying put

Possible follow up to Brian's musing on staying put. In an article reporting on the growth of on-line retailing the BBC mention that in the UK on-line sales account for 4% of the total while in the US the figure is only 1.3%.

This is remarkable for all sorts of reasons. The US is more technically advanced, Americans love technology and Americans are far more prepared to give their details out over the internet. By rights the US figure should be a lot higher.

So why isn't it? The only reason I can think of is that getting to the shops in Britain these days is such a pain that people would far rather do it from home and let someone else deal with the jams.

Oh, hang about I can think of a second reason. Lots of people in London don't have cars and if you are buying anything bulky then you'll want it delivered so you may as well buy it over the Internet. Yes, I know lots of people in New York also don't have cars but that is one of the few US cities where that is the case and so the proportion of US citizens without cars and therefore likely to use the internet is lower.

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December 13, 2002

More Virgin misery

Brian Micklethwait | Airlines UK | Virgin

Stephen Pollard has a fucked by Virgin story, this time from the aviation arm of that brand. (It's a good story so read on, but I have no faith in the Pollard linking system, which looks to be an idiosyncratic mess, so scroll down from the top to December 13 2002 if you want the original.)

My Virgin Atlantic plane is due to take off at 19:30. Good boy that I am, I check in at JFK at 16:45. Two seconds, literally, after my bags have been checked in the woman at the counter tells me, robotically, that there is a delay. 'Your flight is now expected to leave at midnight'.

Between then and midnight there are at least four other flights to London, so since I have a whizz-bang top of the range ticket I tell her I would like to cancel my ticket and I will switch to another flight (all have space, as I later discovered).

'Your bags have been checked in, sir, so you cannot switch flights'.

'But you didn't tell me about the delay until after I had checked them in. Could you please recall them for me - they cannot have moved more than six feet - I can see them from here'

'I cannot recall your bags, sir, after they have been checked in.'

'Then let them fly without me - there's nothing I need in them. I will fly to London on another flight without them'.

'Bags may not travel unaccompanied'.

On and on this goes, but it's obvious I ain't going to win … and you don't mess with airport staff post-11/9.

Pollard's conclusion is:

So here's a lesson: Virgin might have cool videos on board; but when it comes to the basics of customer service, they give Aeroflot a run for their money.

Virgin trains are a British national joke, unless you have the misfortune ever to travel on them in which case they are far worse. Now Virgin planes are descending towards crap. How long can Branson stay rich?

Does the Branson MO go like this? Set up company, promise the earth, smile for the cameras, sell the shares, sell off the bits, repeat until you own the West Indies? Is that the viper we have nurtured in the British bosom? Bastard. And I was at school with him.

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On not going there at all

Brian Micklethwait | Staying put

The other day my computer disc driver/copier was misbehaving, and it had to be replaced. My computer guru Mark obliged. He got stuck on the Edgware Road, but eventually he got here and did the business. But there was something else I forgot to ask him about, and today, instead of him braving the Edgware Road again, we made use of a programme he had already installed on my computer for just such a problem as I now had, a programme called PC Anywhere. I've already blogged about this amazing programme elsewhere, on my Education Blog, because this is a procedure with obvious relevance to learning, and especially to distance learning.

But PC Anywhere, and other programmes like it, also relate to transport. You know how hard it is trying to sort out computer problems over the phone. You have to describe in tortuous detail what occurs on your screen, in such a way that the expert at the other end of the phone recognises what's happening. Very complicated, and often infuriating. There mere spoken word can be very inadequate for a job like this. The all too likely reaction is: to hell with it, I'll come over and sort it out in situ.

But not when PC Anyway is on the case. What happens is that, to cut a pretty short story even shorter, Mark takes over my computer from his desk. I see his mouse wandering about on my screen. He sees my screen on his screen. He got to grips with my problem, and in the end we found that the mistake I'd been making was humiliatingly trivial (but it was still one of those trivial mistakes that can ruin your life if you don't spot it). But when I watched him do what I had been trying to do, the answer soon became obvious. The job was done from start to finish in about fifteen minutes.

Think of all the applications a trick like that could have. Well, of course lots of people have been thinking about this. I'm only reporting the democratisation – the Dixonisation, you might say – of a technology that has been around for many years now, for grander folk than I with bigger gobs of loose cash to throw at their problems than I've got.

And what is the relevance of all this to Britain's ever more chaotic and frustrating transport system, or to transport generally? Well, in a sense, there's no relevance. Neither Mark nor I made any use of transport system during out PC Anywhere activities. Which of course is the transport relevance. I recall asking a while ago in an email to Transport Blog's predecessor some such question as: Do you need to travel at all? Car, train, plane, helicopter, walking, horse, bike, motorbike, skateboard, power assisted skateboard … all these are options. But so is not going there at all. So is staying put. If, by using some piece of trickery like PC Anywhere, you can cancel your entire trip and do everything by remote control, then given the state of transport in Britain these days, that, more and more, is what you'll consider doing.

The technology that has made these processes possible here in Britain is the adsl fixed cost round-the-clock internet connection, a technology which has been spreading in Britain like wildfire lately, just as our transport system has been descending back towards its nineteenth century roots.

Expect us Brits to get very good at this kind of stuff in the next few years.

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A despatch from the planning front

Patrick Crozier | Planning

Gerald Ronson is finding it difficult to build skyscrapers - the Times. If a tycoon like this is having difficulty one can only imagine what it must be like for the little guy.

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Don't fly Air New Zealand

Patrick Crozier | Air Safety | Nationalisation

The planes are falling apart because the nationalised airline can't be bothered to do the maintenance. From John Ray. I do wish he'd do a permalink for every post and not just one a day. It would make posts a lot easier to link to.

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December 12, 2002

Trains vs Planes in the US

Patrick Crozier | Inter-modal Competition

John Ray links to an hilarious article on Reason's new blog about Amtrak's ludicrous San Francisco to Los Angeles run. It is almost as if Victorian governments had chosen to subsidise the horse and cart. Bizarre.

I see in the comments one poster claims that Amtrak saved the freight railroads. Absolute nonsense, of course. The freight railroads were being crucified by the government. They got the best deal they could. See here and here.

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On the roads

Patrick Crozier | Fares and Ticketing | Transport General

Mild-mannered Clark Kent type person, Simon Jenkins, really lets rip in the Standard over the state of our transport.

Update: I am really not sure about his claim that the average price of a 100m rail journey is £60. I did the figures earlier this year. The average cost per mile is 8.6p which would give an average cost per 100 miles (he says working it out in his head) of less than £14.

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No, London can't host the Olympics

Patrick Crozier | London Underground | Transport General

Because the transport's so bad. Alice Miles in the Times

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London Traffic speeds

Patrick Crozier | London Congestion Charging | Road Miscellany

In case you were interested, I found this table on the Department's web site. It confirms that London traffic speeds are indeed declining. Mind you these stats come from the same people who reckon that Network Rail is not state-owned and that 1m of us are Jedi worshippers.

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December 11, 2002

Why drive?

Patrick Crozier | Road General

Why drive? Why is that when you get into a car you (or someone else) has to drive? Isn't it just a little bit absurd that in the 21st Century someone has to decide the direction and speed of a motor vehicle?

Imagine a world where you didn't have to do it - one where all the hard work was done by computer. You could relax, read a paper (assuming you don't suffer from car sickness), watch TV. You could have phone conversations without it impairing your driving. You could have a proper meal. On a family trip you could play games with the kids rather than have to think of ever more original ways of answering the question "Are we there yet?"

It is not as if it seems that difficult. GPS can tell the computer where you are. Sensors can tell the car what is around it. I am sure it is not that difficult to remote control a car - after all we do it with models and Cruise missiles.

So what's the problem? OK it demands lots of kit. Not particularly complex kit I suspect but lots of it - not unlike a railway. That's expensive. It requires kit on cars and kit on roads. And not all roads and cars are suddenly going to have all the kit all at once so cars at least are going to have to have both automatic and manual modes. But I find it difficult to believe that that is a show stopper.

It would probably demand co-operation between manufacturers and co-operation between them and road builders but much the same has been done to create the DVD.

To make it possible you would have to start with one road suitably equipped. The environment would have to be well-controlled to avoid things like overhanging branches and the system would have to be able to cope with the unexpected (tyre blowouts and extreme weather conditions) without sending hundreds of vehicles into the pile-up from hell. There would have to be some way of making sure that people didn't run out of petrol.

You would some way of ensuring that all vehicles observed standard braking and acceleration profiles.

But if you could do that all sorts of other things would become possible. For starters you could get drunk - you're not in charge of the car. And what about high speeds? Most cars are easily capable of speeds in excess of 100mph, many of speeds in excess of 150mph. London to Manchester in an hour and twenty minutes (even when the West Coast Main Line is finished it will still be 2 hours and that is only city centre to city centre). You wouldn't need lane discipline and capacity (I guess) would be increased. Because cars would be travelling at a constant speed fuel consumption and pollution could be reduced.

Just a thought.

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Steel wheels good, rubber wheels even better

Patrick Crozier | Transport General

Had Alistair Darling got up yesterday and said that he would have failed if he had not encouraged people out of buses and trains and into cars, he couldn't have put it better. The great Prescottian dream of integrated public transport is dead, dead, dead. And it only took 5 years.

For those of you to whom this makes little sense it concerns transport policy here in the UK. The Labour government came to office with the aim of reducing the number of car journeys. It has just announced a major road building programme.

Not so much a U-turn as a jack knife.

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Rail company axes first class seats

Patrick Crozier | UK Train Operators

Chiltern, one of London's commuter railways is to abolish First Class (story from the Evening Standard). They say, so that fewer people have to stand but I am not sure I believe that. I suspect it is more that they can't be bothered to police it - something with which I have some sympathy.

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December 10, 2002

Indian Railways

Patrick Crozier | Railways - Other

"A level crossing guard has gone missing after he did a 72 hour shift because nobody relieved him." From the Captain.

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Railtrack shareholders

Patrick Crozier | Railtrack Administration

They haven't gone away you know - according to the Times.

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Singapore Road Pricing - a picture

Patrick Crozier | Road Pricing

I know I have mentioned Singapore's Electronic Road Pricing Scheme before but I have never quite believed that it exists. But here is a photo. So, it does. Photo courtesy of Stephen James.

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December 09, 2002

The father of the Tube speaks

Patrick Crozier | Inter-modal Competition | London Underground

Article in the Times from 1924 by Lord Ashfield. Ashfield (an American), along with men like Yerkes (another American) and Pick were the men who built the Tube and gave it much of the shape and feel that we are familiar with today.

The article explains the difference between American cities and London in so doing going a long way to explaining why London was the pioneer.

The interesting ie non-Libertarian claim he makes is that transport needs to be integrated ie that buses (and I suppose trams) and the Underground need to be owned by the same body. Interesting because the Underground had already (in 1911) taken over much of London's bus network. Also interesting because a greater integration took place in 1933 with the bringing together of other lines, the trams and other buses when the Tube was (effectively) nationalised in the early 1930s.

I wonder if he would be extolling the virtues of nationalisation now.

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December 08, 2002

How air miles work

Patrick Crozier | Air Miscellany

Air miles have always been a mystery to me but this is an excellent summary in the Times. It's the bit about air miles users spending 37% more on the credit card that really caught my attention. What on earth is going on?

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Cheap flights are taking off

Patrick Crozier | Air Miscellany

Interesting article in the Times. It seems that NFFF airlines are gaining in popularity the world over. Good.

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December 07, 2002

Parking at stations

Patrick Crozier | Rail Miscellany | Railways - USA

I am going to comment on Cold Spring Shops commenting on Sharkblog commenting on San Francisco's Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART). It's what blogging is all about.

The issue is parking at stations. "What's the issue?" you might think. If there are too many cars for the spaces then common sense would dictate the need to charge. But for some that counts as an infringement of their rights.

I am not sure if this is relevant or not but here in the UK several dedicated "parkway" stations have been built over recent years. These are stations which tend to be slightly out of town with large car parks which specifically cater to the drive-to-the-station market. This has always struck me as pretty sensible as people with cars do not particularly want to drive into the congested town to park and out of town parking spaces are presumably cheaper.

The only problem I can see is with timetabling. If you have both a parkway station and a town/city centre station that means making two stops rather than the normal one. Hey, if you have a second parkway station on the other side of town that means 3 stops. I wonder if this has been identified as a problem anywhere.

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December 05, 2002

On punctuality

Patrick Crozier | Rail Delays | Rail General

I read this article in the Times once without really taking it in. Richard Bowker says that "the 25 per cent increase in train services since privatisation was unsustainable.... yadda, yadda, yadda."

And then the Rail Passengers Council (who represent no-one by the way) say "that longer gaps between services would prompt many people to use their cars instead. "

Did you spot it? It took me a while too. Since the dawn of pseudo-privatisation the big complaint has been about punctuality. Journalists bang on about it, regulators bang on about it, politicians bang on about it. But the minute that someone at the top starts to take it seriously people start to complain that it will drive people away from the railways. Oh really, isn't that interesting? Isn't it interesting that passengers always say that punctuality is the issue but when it comes to the things that really matter ie their money actually the big issue is frequency.

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Surfing at 30,000ft

Patrick Crozier | Air Miscellany

Boeing is to introduce planes with internet connections according to the BBC. Look, no Ministers of Transport, no Euro-directives, no dirigisme. Isn't greed good.

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More calls for road pricing

Patrick Crozier | Road Pricing

A call for road pricing in the Telegraph and a feature on road pricing also in the Telegraph. There have been so many of these reports over the last year that I suspect the intellectual case for road pricing will win the day regardless of what happens to London's congestion charging scheme.

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Mr Darling, what are you doing about the traffic?

Patrick Crozier | Alistair Darling | Transport General

The Transport Secretary is taken to task in the Telegraph. The honeymoon's over and he hasn't done anything yet.

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December 04, 2002

Meanwhile in the land of the Rising Sun...

Patrick Crozier | Road Miscellany

Fuel cell techonology is on the march with the men from the Ministry leasing a couple of cars powered by only hydrogen and oxygen (Asahi Shimbun). Unfortunately the leasing costs are enormous (£5,000 a month) so it's going to be a while before fuel-cell cars become common place. But I so hope they do, not least to see the reaction of the fanatical anti-car brigade when confronted with these non-polluting marvels.

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80 infrastructure failures every day

Patrick Crozier | Rail General

According to the Telegraph (and I've seen that statistic elsewhere so it's probably true). Also points out that the Strategic Rail Authority has run out of money which incidentally is the main headline in the Standard today. Don't worry chaps Network Rail still has plenty of your money left.

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Delays, delays, delays

Patrick Crozier | Rail Delays

Lots and lots of them in the Telegraph today. The thing that gets me is that not only is the solution a long way off but so is the understanding of what needs to be done. Anyone got a spare tank?

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Wolmar in the Standard

Patrick Crozier | Transport General

Christian Wolmar gets a pretty wide-ranging article into the Standard. I won't dissect it line for line but there were a couple of things I noticed.

Firstly, the University of Southampton. It is a matter of regret that I know far too much on this having spent far too much of the 1980s there. Even in 1985 it was impossible for students to park at the University and first years were specifically banned from bringing cars to Southampton. Finding a place for your bike was not a problem.

Secondly, Wolmar still has a touching faith that one day the state will get it right when it comes to transport policy. It won't. As he says himself it's "too long-term a proposition to offer ministers much popularity." That, of course, is precisely why it should be left to the market because the market can think long-term. It did in the past when it built the very railway that the state is currently wrecking and it is doing so now in the form of the vast fibre-optic networks that have and are being built.

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December 03, 2002

Bottleneck that keeps new roads stuck in traffic

Patrick Crozier | Road General

Article in the Telegraph noting that not one extra mile of road was added to Britain's network last year. Not really that great a surprise considering New Labour's promise to get people out of their cars.

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London traffic speeds

Patrick Crozier | London Congestion Charging | Road General | Transport General

In an otherwise good article in the Telegraph on Britain's transport crisis Alice Thomson says "The number of cars going in and out of London has increased by 10 per cent in the last 40 years. Yet traffic has slowed to five miles an hour."

Is this true? Yes, we all know about Ken's recent attempts to bugger up the traffic (see here for instance) but his efforts follow nearly 40 years of what is known as road engineering - the implementation of schemes specifically designed to increase speed and increase throughput. I doubt if even Ken could undermine that in the space of little over two years. And then there's the question of what speed used to be. I certainly can't remember it ever being that fast.

Can anyone shed any light?

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Bus Accident

Patrick Crozier | Buses and Jitneys

A London bus lost its roof this morning when it hit a tree coming up the Albert Embankment (the bus not the tree) - see the Evening Standard.

The thing that puzzles me is the comment that bus drivers knew to avoid it. Obviously, one either didn't know or forgot. But surely it is the responsibility of the authorities to ensure that trees do not foul the roadway albeit at a great height.

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Global Warming and Railways

Patrick Crozier | Inter-modal Competition | Pollution

There's been a recent report demanding that rail journeys replace air journeys in order to save the planet, or something. Tim Hall added his tuppence ha'penny accusing the right of being "in denial over global warming".

Well there's a challenge because I think it's the enviro-mentalists who are the ones who are really in denial. They

You only have change one of those denials to an acceptance and the whole argument for Kyoto falls apart.

Anyway, lets for the sake of argument accept that the deniers are right and we really are in deep doodoo. Does that mean I accept the conclusions of the learned professors? Like heck. The problem is that the solution is far too prescriptive. The answer might be trains but equally it might be some other new or neglected technology. We simply don't know, not even the inhabitants of the dreaming spires.

If you really really have to reduce emissions of CO2 and other "greenhouse" gases then the best thing to do is to tax them. Consumption will fall and the market will sort out the rest. By the way, if "greenhouse" gases are to be taxed then that should also go for the red (non-taxable) diesel that diesel trains use.

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December 02, 2002

Picture of the Month

Patrick Crozier | Transport Miscellany

Paltr6.jpgLet's face it, they're not going to get much nicer than this.

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BT faces £1m congestion bill

Patrick Crozier | London Congestion Charging

According to the Evening Standard it would appear that congestion charging is about to hurt.

I have to say I am a bit surprised. I would have thought that BT would realise that if the roads are clearer that means that their vans will spend less time in jams and so their staff will be able to do more work. Or maybe it doesn't quite work like that.

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Gridlock UK

Patrick Crozier | Transport General

The Telegraph (scroll down to bottom) is a running a set of articles over the next few days on the subject of Britain's crumbling transport network. Sadly they can't quite bring themselves round to calling for the abolition of the Department. One day.

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Why I am in favour of flexible fares

Patrick Crozier | Airlines UK | Fares and Ticketing

Flexible fares ie fares that vary according to demand eg the sort of fares used by EasyJet are frequently treated with suspicion not least in articles like this in the Telegraph. The fact that fares for the same service can vary seems vaguely unfair; not quite sporting even.

This is a shame because flexible fares seem to offer two very valuable benefits to the pasenger: low fares for the bargain hunter and availablity to those who have to travel.

But to many this is not enough. One friend complained to me that it was "...all just about profit." as if profit was a bad thing. Nonsense, profit is a good thing. Profits (and the expectation of profits) mean higher share prices and hence the ability to borrow more to invest. Profits draw in the brightest and best managers. Profits draw in competition putting pressure on prices and leading to improvements in service. If flexible fares lead to more profit then they are a good thing too.

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December 01, 2002

Rail deaths on the increase

Patrick Crozier | Rail Safety

From The Telegraph. I didn't know that the biggest category was suicides followed by trespassers.

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Red Ken's London is about to grind to a halt

Patrick Crozier | London Congestion Charging

Article by Tim Hames in the Times (several days ago - foreign readers have to subscribe). He says:

The proposals being imposed by Mr Livingstone are the antithesis of simplicity. They are a unique combination of bureaucracy and complexity that will almost compel thousands of citizens to act as criminals.
I am getting increasingly nervous.

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Virgin forced to replace new trains with old

Patrick Crozier | New Trains | UK Train Operators | Virgin

As predicted over on Where Worlds Collide Virgin are having to radically alter their plans for Virgin Cross Country because neither the new trains nor the business plan work. From The Telegraph

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Why London won't be getting a new airport

Patrick Crozier | Airport Expansion

Amusing article by Jeremy Clarkson in the Sunday Times. And you thought Hitchcock's "The Birds" was fantasy.

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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