January 2003


January 31, 2003

Christian Wolmar on PPP

Patrick Crozier | LU PPP

Christian Wolmar goes quite a long way to answering my point about the Chancery Lane crash in this article in the Evening Standard.

It's a good article and well worth reading. If I had a quibble it would probably be with the following:

Splitting up the railway in this way has been done for financial reasons to allow for privatisation...
Huh? If your only concern was to maximise the Tube's sale value then the one thing you would not do would be to impose a fragmented structure on it. At very least it forces up costs therefore depressing profits and therefore depressing the sale value.

On the contrary this split has been done for political reasons so the politicians can maintain "control".

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January 29, 2003

Maybach

Patrick Crozier | Road Miscellany

Interesting article in the Telegraph on Mercedes's Maybach and, more especially, its launch. Things, it would appear, are not as they seem.

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Fragmentation - it's going to get worse

Patrick Crozier | European Union | Fragmentation | Monopolies

James Spencer, sent me this story from the EU Observer. It would appear that not content with the damage caused by previous railway regulations our MEPs want to go even further.

Some people never learn.

By the way, there will be those who find it odd that a libertarian should be opposed to competition. Of course, I am not. What I am opposed to is enforced competition.

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January 27, 2003

Of cars and carbines

Patrick Crozier | Other | Road General

Interesting press release from the Association of British Drivers. It's mainly about the government's warped sense of priorities when it comes to driving and includes the quote:

The Government no longer listens to the police. One officer recently commented that we have now reached the situation where a law-abiding person in his own car with a driving license, insurance, MOT and tax disc is now likely to face harsher penalties for speeding than a criminal would for stealing the same car!
But what I found most interesting was the attempt to draw an analogy with the gun situation.
An ordinary person who was once able to own a .22 pistol for target practice now faces a five year jail sentence. And yet gun crime is on the increase. Real criminals who are willing to commit murder or armed robbery are hardly likely to be deterred by the fact that they also commit a crime by owning the gun in the first place. But ordinary people suffer restrictions as a result.

...Exactly the same is true on the road.

Could it be that the debate on guns has turned?

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Channel Tunnel Rail Link - coming soon

Patrick Crozier | Channel Tunnel Rail Link

OK, so it's hugely expensive and you're paying for it. And it won't make that much difference to journey times. But even so there is something magnificent about the Channel Tunnel Rail Link, Phase I of which, according to an article in the Telegraph, is due to open in September.

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London traffic in decline

Patrick Crozier | London Congestion Charging

This story in the Telegraph is absolutely unbelievable. OK, it's not. It is, in the world we live in, quite predictable though still shocking.

There a fewer cars travelling into central London and yet traffic speeds are lower. Go figure that one. The biggest factor is probably poor (more than likely intentionally poor) traffic management. And there maybe an element of people adjusting in readiness for the congestion charge.

Even so, it's an absolute shocker.

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January 26, 2003

The crash - what the TV says

Patrick Crozier | London Underground | Media | Nationalisation

Following the crash yesterday at Chancery Lane did anyone hear the following on the TV news:

The crash at Chancery Lane comes after a spate of accidents on the nationalised underground railway including Kings Cross in 1989 and Moorgate in 1975 where 42 people were killed. Safety campaigners have questioned whether a system which puts votes before people can ever be truly safe and have pointed out that there were no fatal accidents on the Tube prior to nationalisation.
No? Neither did I.

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LBC after the crash

Patrick Crozier | Christian Wolmar | London Underground

After the Chancery Lane crash I caught a couple of interviews on LBC. The first was with our old friend Christian Wolmar, who seemed to think it was all the fault of the Public Private Partnership (PPP). Which was odd because it hasn't started yet. I suppose you could just about argue that the preparations for PPP have had an effect but that's pushing it a bit.

The second interview was with Bob Crow, the hard-left leader of the hard-left RMT trade union. I almost switched off the radio as soon as I heard his name. I am glad I didn't because he was being eminently reasonable. He said that he was glad no one had got killed and that we should wait for the results of the inquiry. He brought up the fact that the driver of the train had reported a fault at Leytonstone but was told to continue, but yet Crow did not make a big thing about it. He also carefully listened to the interviewer's questions before giving informative and objective responses. These responses included the information that Tube trains have the Automatic Train Protection (ATP) system that is causing such a stink on the main lines. I didn't know that.

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TGV - UK

Patrick Crozier | Rail Economics

According to this report in the Times, there are plans afoot for a brand new high-speed railway between London and Scotland.

Richard Bowker, SRA chairman, is expected to say that a year-long study by the engineering consultant WS Atkins has concluded that a TGV-style line will be needed by 2016...
It's that word "needed" which interests me. Needed for what exactly? To get to Scotland? We already have two rail links already and there are already these things called planes that do the job in a jiffy. When railwaymen talk about "needed" they sometimes point to a lack of capacity on existing routes. In a normal industry - say, the manufacture of Mars bars - if there is too much demand then the price goes up and then the manufacturer can think about increasing capacity, but in the Alice in Wonderland world of railway economics that doesn't happen. Instead you have to queue. It goes on:
Bowker will launch a consultation process...
Not another one. I sometimes think that if all the people involved in consultations and checking up on others were employed in actually doing the railway then our current problems would disappear overnight.
A new link, built largely on greenfield land, would be better value for money than upgrades to the existing north-south arteries, according to WS Atkins.
Well, at least it's going to be built on greenfield land which is a start. But I am really drawn to the phrase "value for money". I wonder if they compared the scheme with just giving the money back to the taxpayers. Bet they didn't.
WS Atkins was not asked to select a route, but rail-industry experts say a line running from London up the east coast to Edinburgh...
What! But the route is all important. And if you were to choose a route wouldn't you go for the West Coast - London, Birmingham, Manchester, Glasgow - where all the people live? Or would that make the £10bn they are currently squandering on the West Coast Route Modernisation look like a complete waste of money?

The next bit really got me going:

In an interview with The Sunday Times, Bowker conceded costs were a serious problem.

“You can’t put your finger on it and say ‘that is the reason’. It’s a bag of different things. But there’s no doubt that costs have escalated and are greater than those originally envisaged,” he said.

Flippin' heck! I have mentioned rising costs and Boiling Frog Syndrome before. And here is the guy at the very top of the industry - the guy in the know - telling us he doesn't know what is causing it and would appear to be quite happy to commission yet another project with those sky-high costs built in. Or maybe, he does know what is causing the increases in costs but can't bear to admit that it is due to the fragmented nature of the industry and the current safety fascism mania.

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January 24, 2003

Swiss Railways

Patrick Crozier | Best of Transport Blog | Railways - Other

Interesting letter in the Times extolling the virtues of the Swiss Federal Railway(SBB).

Although it is still good it has had some problems recently. I can't help but think that that is because, like everywhere else in Europe, it has been split between infrastructure and operations. On my recent trip to Japan I asked one of our party who happens to work for SBB why they decided to split the railway when Switzerland isn't even a member of the EU. Seems that they have a long-standing policy of implementing anything the EU passes, though heaven only knows why.

Anyway, I've got a problem. SBB is a) good and b) nationalised. So, how do I explain that one away? Well, I suppose I could begin by pointing out that since nowhere in Europe has a properly privatised railway it is difficult to make comparisons. In fact the only way we know that SBB is good is by making comparisons with other nationalised railways. Compared with Japan's (properly) privatised railway I suspect it would come out second best.

But I think there is something else going on here. SBB is about the only thing in Switzerland that is state-owned. I suspect that the commercial disciplines that propel the rest of the economy forward in some mysterious way prevent the railway from completely nosediving.

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Richard Hope on railway safety

Patrick Crozier | Rail Safety

Excellent article in JRTR by Richard Hope on the safety situation on Britain's railways which manages to be both comprehensive and pretty objective. He points out (for instance) that Automatic Train Protection (ATP - the safety system the lawyers want us to have) is in fact extremely unreliable. He also points out that it is very difficult to prove that the railways have become any more dangerous since privatisation. I think my only complaint would be my usual one about the conflation of privatisation with fragmentation. They are not the same.

JRTR (that's Japan Railway and Transport Review) is probably the best railway web site there is. The quality of the articles it publishes (and not just those on Japan) is superb.

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January 23, 2003

Dirty trams v. Clean buses

Patrick Crozier | Pollution

Regular readers will be well aware of my doubts about global warming but I found this report via Australian Tory that trams produce more greenhouse gases than buses amusing.

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Vegetable Oil

Patrick Crozier | Road Miscellany

Seems it's being used in cars by the Welsh.

When staff at a Welsh supermarket first noticed dramatic increases in the sale of cooking oil, they thought the locals were doing a lot of frying. They weren't. They were filling up their cars with it - not surprising, as it's only 42p a litre. Trouble is, if you don't pay duty, it's illegal.
But it is not as easy as all that according to this site. Thanks to Cronaca for original story.

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Life as a mini-cab driver

Patrick Crozier | Road Miscellany

Interesting article in the Evening Standard by a journalist who posed as a mini-cab driver. It's a murky world.

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Property taxes and infrastructure

Patrick Crozier | Rail Economics

It seems that the government is toying with the idea of taxing windfall gains on properties near to state projects, according to the Evening Standard.

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January 22, 2003

A competitor for CrozierRail?

Patrick Crozier | CrozierRail

CrozierRail may not have any shareholders let alone train, track or customers but that has not deterred Tim Hall from launching into this market and promoting an alternative. KalyrRail as I suppose it ought to be called. Funnily enough I rather like his ideas.

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CrossRail - enter the capitalists

Patrick Crozier | Crossrail | Positive Externalities | Rail Economics

A few months ago I wrote a review of a book by Don Riley on railways and property values and proposed a slightly whacky scheme for financing CrossRail - the mainline railway under London.

Well, imagine my surprise when I read this article in the Times. Seems some real capitalists, using real money are proposing to a rather more sensible scheme to build CrossRail without a penny of government subsidy. And, yes, they too have worked out that you pay for railways not with fares but by developing nearby property.

UPDATE
I have since discovered that this will require government funding - though less of it. See this press release from one of the project's sponsors.

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Ross Clark

Patrick Crozier | British Rail Privatisation | Nationalisation | Ross Clark

To get into the Op-Ed pages any week of the year must be considered pretty good going but to get into both the Times (registration required) and the Telegraph in the same week is really something. And Ross Clark has managed it. And he was talking about trains. And they were good articles too. Oh my giddy Aunt.

Here are some of the things he says in the Times:

But don’t blame private industry for the mess that is the railway industry. It wasn’t corporate brains which dreamt up the bizarre system of franchises, contracts and sub-contracts; it was the civil servants who prepared the railway for privatisation...

No plc would have chosen to run leased trains on rented tracks maintained by a myriad of outside contractors: that is a public sector planner’s concept of how private enterprise ought to work...

Were it not for the silly rules preventing them from doing so, private rail companies would by now have integrated their operations...

Why shouldn’t a train operating company be allowed to buy the rails on which its trains run and so eliminate the kind of planning failure, reported in this paper today, by which train companies can order trains utterly unsuited to the capabilities of the tracks?..

The answer to the current problems on the railway is not renationalisation, it is more privatisation...

Yes, yes, yes. At last we are beginning to see articles in serious publications getting the line right. OK, so he doesn't go the whole hog and call for fare freedom and an end to subsidy but this is a hell of a start.

Clark also points out that the last days or British Rail were by no means the Golden Age that people have started to think they were:

Faced with a Devon train service which had proved more popular than expected, BR solved the congestion problem by cutting the service.

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January 21, 2003

An "utter revolution" in bridge technology (but what's a cable stayed bridge?)

Brian Micklethwait | Other

Michael Jennings has a long response today to a samizdata piece by Paul Marks which claimed that technology, despite the journalistic chatter of our time, is not actually advancing very fast. Buried in this piece are comments on bridge-building technology, something which apparently has been advancing quite fast recently:

… As for bridges, in the last 15 years we have seen an utter revolution. More advanced materials science means that cable stayed bridges have become practical where suspension bridges were needed before. Cable stayed bridges can be built for a fraction of the price, so we have a golden age of bridge building. In December I visited the Pont de Normandie, the second longest cable stayed bridge in the world (856 metres). 20 years ago a suspension bridge which would have cost several times as much to build would have been required.

The longest bridge in the world was 1410 metres in 1997. It is now 1992 metres: the longest bridge being a particularly economically pointless bridge in Japan. It seems likely that a bridge connecting Italy and Sicily will soon be built, with a span of approximately 3000 metres. …

So, all I now need to know is what a "cable stayed" bridge is. Is it perchance one of those bridges where lots of wires attached to the poles holding the thing up radiate down, sometimes at varying angles (but sometimes at an angle in parallel), to all the different points along the side of the road, railway or walkway?

I find Jennings to be one of the few techno-bloggers whom I enjoy reading and from whom I actually learn things. And in addition to writing so clearly (mostly), he understands that there are more things going on in the world than just technology. (See also, e.g., his piece on Detroit, 8-Mile, etc.) But like all super-knowledgeable super-geeks, he sometimes explains absolutely everything about what he's talking about, except what he's talking about.

Cable stayed bridges? But everyone knows what they are. Don't they? Not me.

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January 20, 2003

Cars – controlled some of the time by a Giant Brain

Brian Micklethwait | Road Miscellany

Brian Micklethwait here. I composed this posting to fill in what looked like being a gap, but now I find that Patrick is back in business. Oh well. Here it is anyway.

I don't know what the date is of this article by "Maddog", but it doesn't matter. The issue he deals with isn't going to be sorted out any month soon.

I'm not entirely convinced by the exact engineering solution Maddog proposes, but I am entirely sure that the future of mass transportation lies in (a) road use pricing, combined with (b) some kind of central control of a big proportion of your car's movements but not all of those movements, so that the central Giant Brain can move traffic jams around as if they were trains. If you need any convincing about that proposition, try reading all the comments I got when I posted this on Samizdata , which referred to this here about "SkyTran". Cars, the commenters mostly said, are here to stay. Yes, but they must develop. They must get smarter. They must get a lot faster (again).

Maddog is writing about America. But again, no matter. "America" is American for the world. Apologies if the paragraphing of a quote isn't working very well.

Here's how his piece concludes.

Enough complaining. What should we do about the massive problem with commuting? Trains won't work in North America - we've invested in highways and personal cars, and everyone is too comfortable with their private box to start getting in trains with other people.

And whatever solution there might be has to be evolutionary. It's no good saying that the solution is to rip up everything and instead build high-density dwellings in urban centres.

So first, what's the problem with commuter driving? Well, there's air pollution from burning gasoline. There's also the tremendous traffic jams that happen when there are so many cars on the road that they bump into each other, get in each other's way coming on and off the highway, and generally slow each other down.

Your vehicle is pulled along, in formation, until you get to your turn-off. Somehow you'll have to get into the right place to be taken off the lift at the correct exit.

This way, cars can be much closer together - they're going the same speeds, they won't bump into each other, there's no hazardous lane changes or cutting each other off.

You can safely sleep or work or talk on the phone or listen to the radio. You're private in your own little car. You can drive your car from your neat suburban home, onto the ski-lift-highway, and then drive off it to the office parking lot or subway lot to go into the city, or whatever you do. It's incremental - the system doesn't require anybody to buy special cars or change their habits. It's possible to implement this on certain highways one by one - there's no need for a monolithic changeover.

It will take some clever mechanical engineering, but it would solve a lot of problems.

This kind of thing will get interesting, and become an "era", when the automated bits of the motorways begin to take on a life of their own, and start going places a regular motorway never could. Which might happen pretty quickly, I surmise.

The reason why this sort of stuff has to be accompanied by road use pricing is that without road use pricing there'd be no reward to the people who got it organised, and now way of telling if it was doing any good, and which particular way of doing it was the best.

Besides which, you can be sure that lots of people would hate it, like everyone who wants cars to be used less.

I haven't forgotten about my Odyssey. (Just in case you were hoping.)

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January 19, 2003

SRA cuts trains

Patrick Crozier | Rail Miscellany

There have been several stories in the papers this week (in the Times for example) about the Strategic Rail Authority (see the Structure of the UK railway) cutting the number of trains using the network.

The thing that struck me about these stories was not that they did it or why they did it but that they could do it at all. The SRA awards franchises to operators (TOCs) and stipulate what trains are to be run. Operators can run more trains if they wish to so long as there is space on the network. As I understand it the franchises are based on the 1994 timetable. The congestion which is causing the unreliability which the SRA's measure is designed to curtail is presumably as a consequence of the new services ie the ones over which the SRA has no control. So how are they doing it? Maybe they haven't. Maybe they can't.

I regard myself as reasonably intelligent and reasonably up to speed on the structure of the UK railway and yet I find myself perplexed by its complexity. Indeed I think the complexity of the system alone is reason for its abolition.

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The world's first underground

Patrick Crozier | London Underground

Before it was known as the Wanker, it was known as the Guardian. And before it was known as the Guardian it was known as the Manchester Guardian. And when it was known as the Manchester Guardian it was actually quite good as this report on the opening of the world's first underground railway demonstrates.

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January 14, 2003

Posting will be light...

Patrick Crozier | Blogging

over the next few days/weeks.

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January 13, 2003

Road v. Rail - which is the more efficient

Patrick Crozier | Inter-modal Competition

I had always assumed, because people tell me so, that railways are more efficient carriers (in terms of space) than roads. But this letter in the The Times (mentioning the Central Railway) says different - at least for long distance freight. Unfortunately, it doesn't state the source.

Even if it were the case here I doubt if it would be true for densely-populated cities if only because all densely-populated cities are dependent on railways - which, to my mind, is pretty good empirical evidence.

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January 12, 2003

Congestion Charge Chaos

Patrick Crozier | London Congestion Charging

The Times has a whole bunch of drivers in London complaining not so much about the charge itself as its administration.

This does not entirely surprise me. The congestion charge has been introduced in probably the worst possible way with a clunky technology, all manner of exceptions and the almost complete absence of a market in the alternatives to driving - buses are regulated by the state, jitneys are illegal and you have to have a licence to drive a cab. In this context, if congestion charging yet proves successful (which, he says sticking his neck out, I think it will) then it will open the floodgates to tens if not hundreds of schemes like this nationwide.

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Egham Station – on the changing nature over the years of platform announcements – one remarkable announcement – a happy Virgin customer – reflections on other businesses at railway stations

Brian Micklethwait | Best of Transport Blog | Brians Odyssey

It is December 20th of last year, and I am at Egham station, on my way home from visiting my mother.

The man in charge at Egham station – his basic job is selling tickets – is the same one it has been for at least the last twenty years, a man of apparently Indian ancestry, but clearly now a pillar of the local community - this in a context, the British railway system, where one does expect such comforting social continuity.

But Egham station has undergone some changes recently, all of them good. I've already mentioned here the recently installed light-up signs which Egham now has, telling you when the next train is coming. There is now also a Speaking Robot. He speaks, as is appropriate for the Robot that he is, with small robotic pauses when each bit of robotic verbiage is robotically attached to the next bit of verbiage: "The train approaching" – "platform one" – "is the" – "seventeen" – "fifty five" – "calling at" – "Staines" – "Feltham" – "Richmond" – "Twickenham" – "Clapham Junction" … and so forth. (And yes, that is indeed Staines, home of Ali G and the Staines Massive, one stop towards Waterloo from Egham.)

Continue reading "Egham Station – on the changing nature over the years of platform announcements – one remarkable announcement – a happy Virgin customer – reflections on other businesses at railway stations"


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January 09, 2003

CrozierRail Part I - Tickets and Stations

Patrick Crozier | CrozierRail

It is not difficult while travelling on South West Trains (my local train operator) to find fault. And I am sure I am not the only passenger to imagine how I would do things differently. So here goes: this is how CrozierRail would do things in a free world - a world free of fragmentation legislation, safety regulation, fare control, subsidy and other forms of state interference and where guns are legal.

I have to say I do this with some trepidation. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, although we libertarians claim that a libertarian world would be a better place we do not claim to know exactly how it would be better. Because we are prepared to allow people to make their own decisions we cannot be sure just quite where those decisions will take them. It is perfectly possible that railways (or roads) would completely disappear - we simply don't know. The chances are that they won't but if they do it will probably because we have come up with something better.

Secondly, railways look easy. They are not. In fact they are extremely complicated - something I have increasingly begun to appreciate. In this respect I am quite prepared to be shot down in flames. In fact I invite it. I would dearly like to know what is possible and what not and why not.

Continue reading "CrozierRail Part I - Tickets and Stations"


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January 08, 2003

In which my brother gives me a lift to Egham station – we converse about the future of the Conservative Party

Brian Micklethwait | Brians Odyssey

On with the account of my journey to see my mother last December 20th, and then my journey back to my home in London. For the time being, I will continue to leave "transport" to Patrick. I still have some travelling to do.

My eldest brother Toby and my elder sister Daphne have done me many favours over the years, but one of the nicest has been in the form of all the lifts they have given me to Egham railway station, from my mother's home, where all of us used once to live together. When one of us now visits my mother, others of us often join in, and so when I'm leaving my mother there are often car-born siblings present, willing and able to offer me a lift to the station.

So it was on that day, and it was all the more appreciated because of the unpleasant, rainy weather. Brother Toby drove me to the station.

Continue reading "In which my brother gives me a lift to Egham station – we converse about the future of the Conservative Party"


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January 06, 2003

Transport policy jack-knife - another shibboleth slams into the wreckage

Patrick Crozier | Rail Safety | Transport General

I am trying to popularise the term jack-knife (over the clichéd "U-turn") to describe the current chaos at the Department of Transport because, for me, it encapsulates the expensive, not-going-anywhere mess that the government has got itself into. If only it were a U-turn.

It would seem, according to a report in the Telegraph, that the situation has got even worse as the government prepares to abandon safety fanaticism. The safety fanaticism Ferrari has slammed into the multiple-vehicle pile-up of reality.

I seem to remember Brian suggesting that the absence of a policy is a good thing - drawing an analogy with the absence of an economic policy after Black Wednesday. The difference is that in the aftermath of Black Wednesday the government wasn't actually doing anything. So, the Bank of England was free to set interest rates and the markets free to set exchange rates.

The problem with transport is that even though the government no longer has a transport policy, it is still doing things. It still owns and maintains roads. It still owns railways and prevents operators from taking over the track. And it still holds the keys that would unlock the door to airport expansion.

So, we're stuffed.

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Congestion charge scheme will make £28m for Capita

Patrick Crozier | London Congestion Charging | Public Private Partnerships

Lucky them. Story from the Times.

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January 05, 2003

On risk

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

John Ray (owing to Ray's idiosyncratic posting style you'll have to scroll down) has a marvellous take on what he calls the "Zero Risk Brigade". It seems that we all have a constant level of risk and if risk is reduced in one area we have to increase it in another. Ray says:

For instance, people who get a safer car (with ABS braking etc) tend to drive faster!
He also points out the dangers of compulsory seatbelt laws.

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Strikes are down

Patrick Crozier | Industrial Relations | Privatisation Benefits

...in the rail industry according to this article I stumbled across in the Telegraph from exactly a year ago suggesting that their linking isn't quite up to scratch at the moment.

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January 03, 2003

Boiling frog syndrome

Patrick Crozier | Best of Transport Blog | Fragmentation | Rail Economics

Although it is an urban myth that a slowly-heated frog will allow itself to be boiled alive; the expression "Boiling Frog Syndrome" is still useful shorthand for failing to act as things get progressively worse.

Most recently it has been used by top railway journalist, Roger Ford, to describe the phenomenon of ever increasing price tags for railway infrastructure projects coupled with the absolute refusal by people in the industry to do or say anything about it.

His estimate (known as the Ford Factor) is that infrastructure projects now cost three times what they used in the bad old days of British Rail. Even allowing for better quality work (which itself is by no means a certainty) this is outrageous. It is Ford's belief that if things don't improve fast then governments will simply lose interest in the railways. Indeed, this already seems to be happening.

So, why the massive increase in costs? For instance the original West Coast Route Modernisation was supposed to come in at £2bn. They are now talking about £10bn and that is for a significantly less ambitious project. My guess, is that the root cause is fragmentation. Let us imagine some very simple task - like replacing one rail. Even on an integrated railway this can be complicated. You have to get all the staff, materials and equipment to the right place at the right time. You have to inform the operations people and they have to make alternative plans. This may include reducing the service and laying on buses.

Now imagine the same task being carried out by the fragmented railway. The infrastructure owner has to pick a time to close the bit of track in question. Different times cost different amounts. Then he goes along to the infrastructure contractor. But the contractor can't get the men that day. So the owner picks another day. But that isn't convenient for the train operator. And so on and so forth with ever greater layers of complexity (and therefore cost) for anything more complicated. It's a hell of a lot different from an integrated railway where a guy at the top can say "You will do this now!"

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This is no way to run a railroad

Patrick Crozier | Transport General

Edge of England's Sword on the UK's current transport mess. Depressing and all too true.

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January 02, 2003

Network Rail reduces role for contractors

Patrick Crozier | Fragmentation | Maintenance Contractors | Railtrack and Network Rail

... according to the Times. Which makes sense. As does its decision to bring all maintenance work in one region in-house.

Of course, what would make even more sense would be if NR took over the running of trains or even if a TOC took over some of NR's track. But that won't happen anytime soon because it's illegal.

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Congestion charge get arounds

Patrick Crozier | London Congestion Charging

Article in the Times on how people are planning to avoid paying the congestion charge. Everything from scooters, to electric cars to boats feature. Let's hope they're right. After all, this is the whole point of road pricing.

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January 01, 2003

Buses and poverty

Patrick Crozier | Buses and Jitneys

Interesting article from the BBC highlighting a report from statist transport campaigners, Transport 2000. They don't quite say it, but I certainly got the impression that one of their concerns was poor people not being able to get around anymore. You see long ago no one had any cars - so everyone travelled by bus. But now most people have cars and few people travel by bus. So that means that bus operators have to either cut the service or put up the fares. Either way the worse off are now, well, worse off - certainly in rural areas.

Now, there's a fairly easy riposte to this. It is that if so many more people now have cars then so many more people, especially in rural areas, could be running informal taxi services a la Russia. They are not, of course, because the government won't let them.

But what if there were an example of a new technology that did indeed make some people's lives worse off because of economy of scale effects and not just because the government was blocking the emergence of a market? Has it ever happened before? I can't off hand think of an example. You could argue that the rise of the DVD will eventually put many poor VHS owners in this situation but with DVD players now retailing at around £100 that's a hard one to sustain.

But what if there were...?

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Train delays

Patrick Crozier | Rail Delays

Article in the Telegraph pointing to the huge increase in delays since 1997. It was once thought that the collapse in punctuality after Hatfield would only be a temporary blip - but no. Whereas in 1997 87% of trains were on time, the figure now is a mere 71%.

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