September 2003


September 29, 2003

Sign of the times

Patrick Crozier | Road Miscellany

From the Evening Standard:

A taxi firm which makes the famous London black cab has launched a new "super safe" model to combat the rise in attacks on drivers.

What has become of us?

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Number of cars set to triple as global love affair continues apace

Patrick Crozier | Transport General

So says the Times:

THE number of cars on the world’s roads will triple over the next 20 years to 1.5 billion, a survey has found.

Most of the increase will be in countries such as China, where there are more than 100 people for every car.

But we Brits are still trailing behind:

Britain has one of the lowest levels of car ownership, with 410 per 1,000 people, according to the survey of eight industrialised countries by the AA Motoring Trust and other motoring groups.

Doubtless because we have, in London, a city where you don't really need a car.

At risk of stating the obvious it ought to be pointed out that car ownership is set to increase because people want them. It is hardly difficult to see why: they are cheap, flexible, fast, private and door-to-door.

UPDATE

Nifty graphic. Seems that although we don't own that many we sure use the one's we've got. Also, we're being overtaken by the likes of Spain and Japan (where rail's share of the market is enormous).

UPDATE 2

And we're getting ripped off:

Only 14p from every £1 paid by drivers in fuel duty, road tax and VAT is spent on roads. Even when spending on public transport is added in, three quarters of motoring taxes still end up being spent on health, education and other public services.

In 1975, drivers paid, at today’s prices, just under £14 billion in taxation. Most of that money, £12.5 billion, was ploughed back into roads and local transport.

But you kind of knew that.

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September 28, 2003

Why do foreigners drive on the wrong side of the road?

Patrick Crozier | Road Miscellany

John Kay thinks he has the answer. Having made the mistake it is now very difficult to switch back:

But as road networks become more complex and street furniture more extensive, the costs of changeover have increased.

Poor sods.

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September 27, 2003

The Trans-continental

Patrick Crozier | Rail History | Railways - USA

Paul Marks reviews the BBC programme on the building of the Trans-continental railroad over on Samizdata.

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September 25, 2003

There's no more money

Patrick Crozier | Alistair Darling | Public Private Partnerships | Rail General

Who says? Alistair Darling says:

Alistair Darling, the Transport Secretary, has said that there will be no extra Government rail network funding without improvements to services. As the Strategic Rail Authority (SRA) began its campaign to win more money for rail, Mr Darling warned that the industry "needed to live within its means, like any business".

He might even believe it but I doubt if it is true. The state's problem is that it tends to make unconditional statements eg. there will be a line between Ipswich and Lowestoft, there will be a high-speed line between London and the Channel Tunnel, South West Trains will maintain a certain level of service. The problem is that when you make statements like this you become vulnerable to the unscrupulous producer. In the 1970s the producer in question was the unions, now, on the railways, it's the franchisees. In both cases they make exactly the same threat: "Pay us or we'll withdraw the service" and in both cases the government finds that it has no choice but to throw money at the problem.

I've said this before.

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Should Network Rail be split up?

Patrick Crozier | Railtrack and Network Rail

The deputy chief executive of Go-Ahead seems to think so:

Speaking at a Social Market Foundation fringe meeting at the Liberal Democrat conference in Brighton, Mr Moyes said that the 20,000 miles of tracks should be divided along the lines of the old companies that were nationalised in 1948. The regions formerly served by the Great Western Railway (GWR), London, Midland & Scottish (LMS), London & North Eastern Railway (LNER), and Southern would each be a manageable size for a track company.

But others disagree:

...John Armitt, Network Rail’s chief executive, said that splitting up the company would lose the economies of scale.

“We would also lose buying power for materials and there would be a lack of integration in the way we manage the planning of engineering works,” he said.

Now, I really have absolutely no idea what is the best structure for the railways (although I have a pretty strong suspicion that it doesn't include vertical fragmentation) but I am pretty sure that the market would come up with the solution or something pretty close to it.

Why? Partly because usually it does - we don't, for instance, hear too many complaints about the structure of the chocolate bar industry or the car industry. And partly, because it is in the interests of the shareholders to do so - an efficient company is a profitable company.

UPDATE

I forgot to flag up this quote:

Other train company leaders echoed Mr Moyes’s views but were reluctant to speak out for fear of angering the Strategic Rail Authority, which awards their franchises.

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A Minister says something interesting

Patrick Crozier | Transport General

Can this be true? A Labour minister, a Labour minister saying things like:

“There are 150,000 people employed in the rail industry and at least 200,000 registered trainspotters, and they have enormous influence on transport policy,” he said. “Rail use accounts for only 7 per cent of transport but 95 per cent of transport politics.”

And to a member of Railfuture (part of the stato-rail lobby):

“I disagree with possibly everything you have said. This is precisely the trainspotter mentality coming through here. We spend much more in public funds on railways than we do on roads.”

And for the final stab in the back:

He also said that cars were greener than trains.

Oh, the grotesque chaos of it all. They'll have us scuttling around in taxis next.

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September 24, 2003

Railways special in the Telegraph

Patrick Crozier | Rail General | Virgin

The Telegraph is today doing a special (part of a series on public services) on the railways. It's a pretty good overview of the state we are in as well as pretty good knockabout stuff. These are the articles:

The killer facts are that in 1997 British railways achieved 90% punctuality with a £1.5bn subsidy while now they achieve 80% punctuality with a £4bn subsidy (plus, of course, Network Rail's borrowing facility)

I especially liked this story of Virgin's London train manager, recently imported from British Airways:

However, she is discovering the frustrations of working in a fragmented, post-privatisation railway. She cites a simple plan to move Virgin's automatic ticket machines into a more visible spot on the main concourse. She hopes to encourage customers to use them and so cut peak-time queues.

"At BA I'd just get on with it, but here it's different," she says. "I have to write a formal letter to Network Rail to move my own machines. It takes a minimum of three weeks to get a reply - even when all the parties concerned agree verbally in a meeting. The wheels grind incredibly slowly and that's very frustrating."

My point entirely.

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September 21, 2003

Why Edinburgh's road pricing scheme may not work

David Farrer | Road Pricing

I like to get the weekly supermarket trip done early on Sunday morning when the roads and the store are quiet. Although it is further than its rivals the prices at Asda are less than elsewhere and there is also the opportunity to call in at Borders on the way home.

And so at nine this morning I found myself driving up Lothian Road, through Tollcross, across the Meadows (remembering the new speed camera) and over South Clerk Street ready for the right turn. But there was no right turn: I had to go left, and along St Leonard’s Street I went with no opportunity for turning back. There was still no explanation as to why the roads were being blocked.

Eventually I reached the Royal Mile, expecting to continue ahead and make an easterly turn beyond Waverley Station. But that road was closed as well. I had begun to notice large numbers of traffic wardens and police motorcyclists. Could there perhaps be a large demonstration? It seemed unlikely: the protests against the Iraq intervention hadn’t produced this degree of traffic "management". In the clogged-up Royal Mile taxis were doing u-turns and I did the same. Back along St Leonard’s Street I went, past the home of Inspector Rebus, and on to Cameron Toll.

Eventually I reached Asda and then Borders. I decided it might be better to return by the alternative route, but where the A1 does a ninety-degree left turn at Jock’s Lodge, the road was blocked again. After a lengthy detour through previously undiscovered and extremely congested back streets I eventually reached Leith Walk and headed for the City Centre. By now it was after ten and Queen Street was amazingly busy for that hour on a Sunday morning in Edinburgh. Residents’ cars had received parking tickets and more police were in evidence. Then I saw the sign that explained why there was so much chaos on the roads. It was the day of Edinburgh’s “Car Free Festival”, which:

...gives us some quiet time to reflect on these issues, and a tantalising glimpse of what our town centre streets could be like with less motor traffic.

Well, on "reflection", I have come to the conclusion that our City Councillors' plans for road pricing in Edinburgh will produce total chaos. In principle I accept that road users should pay the economic cost of their use but this morning showed that local politicians are the last people on earth to be trusted to have anything to do with transport.

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Adelaide to Darwin Railway (finally) built

Michael Jennings | Railways - Other

At the time of the federation of the Australian states in 1901, the largely unpopulated Northern Territory of Australia (containing Darwin and Alice Springs) was administered by the state of South Australia, although it was not technically part of the state. In 1911, the federal government took over administration of the territory, and one thing it promised as part of the deal was that it would complete the railway line from Adelaide in Australia's south to Darwin in the north. The catch was that it didn't say when. The railway has been something of an Australian joke since. It would be built sometime in the future, supposedly. Ha. Ha.

Well, it has finally happened. Building things like this is something that the present Australian Prime Minister John Howard likes to do, and the line has just been completed. The existing line from Adelaide to Alice Springs has been extended a further 1420 kilometres at a cost of $A1.3 billion (£520 million). Construction has taken just over two years, and the project has been completed seven months ahead of schedule. Of that money, $559 million came from the public sector, and the remainder from the private sector. The railway will be principally carrying freight from Australia's south to a container port in Darwin in the north. It remains to be seen whether the railway will end up being commercially important or will just be a white elephant, but it does now exist.

For people who would actually like to ride the train, there will be one passenger service per week in each direction. (This is purely for tourists and railway buffs. Catching a plane is enormously quicker and cheaper). The total 2979km journey from Darwin to Adelaide takes 47 hours, and a one way journey costs $1740 (£695) for a first class cabin, $1390 (£555) for a second class cabin, and $440 (£175) for a second class (reclining) seat. For people looking for a bargain, there is a half price $220 (£88) "backpackers" fare for a second class seat. To be eligible for this, you have to a a member of a "recognised backpackers organisation". Spending a few pounds to join the Youth Hostel Association will save you $220, which isn't bad. Actually I think this one will be very popular with British and German backpackers. It's the sort of thing they do. I almost feel like going and doing it myself.

Update: It has been pointed out that the railway also has a strong military justification, given that Australia's population and main cities are to the south and its major (only) military threats come from the highy unstable region of the world that lies directly to Australia's north. Therefore being able to move large amounts of equipment rapidly from south to north is vitally important, and this fact may well justify the government's contribution to the cost.

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Road railers

Patrick Crozier | Road Miscellany

Over on City Comforts, David Sucher has got all excited about road-railers (vehicles that can travel on both road and rail). I've left a comment to the effect that I can't see how they'd be much use in moving people around a city.

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September 19, 2003

Just hold it right there, Anglegrinderman!

Patrick Crozier | Roads - Parking

In response to Anglegrinderman's recent announcement, Justlyacquiredpropertyrightsman has issued the following statement:

Just hold it right there, Anglegrinderman!

You thought you could just go round the city parking your any damn place you pleased, didn't you? Like you owned the road or something. Not to mention other peoples drives, car parks, car ports and other forms of hard standing. You don't care that other people are held up or can't get into their parking space, do you?

Well, Anglegrinderman - now you're about to meet your match. You're the disease, I'm the cure. "Live parking charge free or die" that's your slogan isn't it? Well, we'll soon see about that. I'm gonna teach you some respect.

Oh what's that you're pointing at me? A piece of industrial machinery? Well, guess what piece of industrial machinery I'm pointing at you? Yeah, that's right - it's an RPG.

Now piss off.

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September 18, 2003

The Concorde Story - Channel 5

Patrick Crozier | Air - Concorde

Last night I sat down to watch "The Concorde Story" on Channel 5, presented by Richard Branson

Now I know there are many who think Branson is something of a shark but if he was faking an infatuation with Concorde he was doing a very job of it.

In terms of grown men pouring all of their joyful, excitable, nerdy, enthusiastic, little boy selves into a 1-hour televisual bottle it was up there with Jeremy Clarkson's biography of Brunel last year.

Right from the beginning he made it clear that almost as long as he could remember Concorde, in theory or reality, had been there. It was part of his life - something amply illustrated with film footage of Branson as a younger man. (Actually, this did rather get me thinking about how all this footage got taken in the first place and kept for such a long time. Vanity? Lui?)

He talked about the technological battle to go supersonic in the first place. He talked about the crazy risks test pilots took both in and after the war. He mentioned that it was the Americans who went supersonic first but then said they had cheated. (Because the Bell X-1 had been air-launched. Seems Brian was right). Sadly, he didn't get round to mentioning who managed to get a supersonic plane to take off for the first time.

Continue reading "The Concorde Story - Channel 5"


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September 17, 2003

So, how good was the railway a 100 years ago?

Patrick Crozier | Media | Rail History

To mark the opening of Phase I of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link, the first new mainline in Britain for a 100 years (the last being the sadly departed but possibly to return, Great Central) the BBC has been comparing rail travel then and now. It isn't very good:

It had taken an Act of Parliament to bring third class travellers in from the cold - rail companies had regularly offered them open carriages, if any at all.

No mention, of course, of the costs involved in providing these carriages, the lowered profits and therefore, the reduction in investment.

Colin Divall, professor of railway studies at the University of York, says rail travel has always been expensive.

"There were no great bargains to be had, and a much smaller range of tickets, really just single or return. If you were a working man you would have travelled third class."

Did he really say this? For starters there were the Parliamentary Trains (at a penny a mile) and the Workman's Fares (reduced fares for early travel). I also understand (and really ought to look this up) that a lot of travel was carried out as part of Excursions ie at a reduced rate not unlike charter flights today.

The article goes on to talk about safety:

Regulation helped improve matters with the introduction of a signalling system, the principles of which are still widely in use today...

The Regulation of Railways Act (1889) insisted passenger trains were fitted with continuous automatic brakes - a safety feature previously dismissed as too expensive.

Again, I'll have to look this up but I think this is garbage. In both cases, work was well advanced well before Parliament got involved. Mind you that is a rather better state of affairs than today where the government demands that the rail industry introduce safety systems like ERTMS which don't even exist yet.

In the 1900s, the companies were still profitable. By World War I, profits were falling, which lead in part to rationalisation into four companies.

It's a rather important point to make that Grouping (as it is known) was imposed on the industry by the government in the early 1920s. It is also a rather important point to make that it didn't obviously do the industry much good. Moreover, my understanding that the real dip in profits occured before WWII.

The companies were in competition, which led to a large amount of duplication. Nottingham, for instance, had two separate lines linking it with London. Manchester had three main stations.

Unfortunately, I can't speak for Nottingham but writing at the time, Edwin Pratt, in Railways and Nationalisation, pointed out that the three routes connecting London and Manchester went through different places and therefore served different markets.

Mind you, there's bound to be a Trot out there thinking: "If there wasn't duplication then that means they must have been monopolies." You just can't win.

Merchants and manufacturers were also critical, suffering from pilfering en route and disappearing goods wagons.

Don't know about this. Anybody know where they might have got it from?

No mention that British railways were the best anywhere. No mention that their services (including freight) were both faster and more frequent than those on the Continent. No mention of the huge contribution made by the industry through taxation. No mention of the building of the London Underground (something that was going on at the time) at no (or at least almost no) cost to the taxpayer. And, it would seem, no appreciation that all this was achieved without the enormous advances in technology seen in the intervening 100 years.

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September 16, 2003

Why can't anybody make any money out of transport?

Patrick Crozier | Transport General

The news that Ford is in big trouble got me thinking. They're not exactly alone in the car sector with Rover and Fiat in rather worse predicaments and with BMW and Porsche facing a worrying future. And the sector generally doesn't make a lot of money, or, at least, so I've heard.

But it's not just cars. Historically, railways made very little money at all. The London Underground was permanently teetering on the brink with Lord Ashfield trying to sell it to the government almost as soon as it had been built. The only exception seems to be the Japanese but even there they have suffered the financial disaster of the Shinkansen. And as for airlines, whatever happened to PanAm, TWA, Braniff, PeopleJet (correct name?), Sabena, Swiss Airlines? As I understand it, with the exception of the budget carriers again, almost no one is making any money. And then there's Concorde...

Are these financial woes related? Is there something to do with moving people around the place that is inherently marginal? Or is it related to the fact that every boy wants to design a car, build a railway or pilot a jumbo?

Or is just coincidence, with maybe the car and airline industry suffering from too many nationalistic bailouts and the rail industry never quite getting into its head the importance of property development?

Or is it just that the transport industry is like any other and that bankruptcy is simply a sign of healthy competition?

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Correction - Crossrail

Patrick Crozier | Crossrail

At the beginning of this year I extolled the virtues of London Regional Metro - a proposal to build Crossrail. I said it wouldn't require a penny of government money. This is not true as this press release from one of the project's sponsors demonstrates.

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September 15, 2003

Heh, heh

Patrick Crozier | Road Safety

From the Telegraph:

It's every parent's dream: a device for snooping on what teenagers get up to in the family car. The new "spy in the cab", officially known as the RS-1000 Black Box, will allow parents to know exactly where, and how, their child is driving.

Among the potential driving sins which the device will record are breaking the speed limit, hard cornering or not fastening their seat belts. The Black Box, which is launched this week in the US, will initially be available to British parents over the internet, but goes on sale in this country next year.

And if the blighters get really out of control it plays Perry Como at them.

Well, I think this is marvellous. It is quite right that the owners of cars should be able to exert control over their property and if this helps then that's all to the good. But others disagree:

Simon Davies, the director of the civil liberties group Privacy International, was also critical. "All companies have to do is talk about vulnerable kids and their products are seen in a benign light. Parents would be far better giving their children defensive driving lessons. This is another device to manipulate our fears."

Well, I'll skip over the implicit criticism of the Driving Test. I'll also try to forget for a moment that White Rose and Privacy International are on good terms. Because I think this is crap. This no more manipulates our fears than Mars Bars manipulate our fears of being hungry or air bags manipulate our fears of being thrown head first through a windscreen. In many cases parents have every reason to fear what their loved ones might be doing to their treasured motors and every right to find out the truth.

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And here's another misguided piece of transport inventiveness

Brian Micklethwait | Transport Miscellany

They've put a motor on a scooter:

10 miles per hour … 6 miles range!!! The Micro Electric Scooter is the latest craze hitting the UK this year … and we've just made a lot of fun, very affordable!!

At £49.99, the Electric Micro Scooter provides kids from 10 years and bigger kids (… you know who we mean) with the coolest way to get out and about this year.

Pedestrians, be afraid.

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September 14, 2003

How not to argue against safety fascism

Patrick Crozier | HSE

Writing in the Telegraph, Alisdair Palmer, has a go at our safety culture:

Nearly 50,000 people were left stranded last week when Silverlink Trains, which operates the service from Birmingham New Street to London, decided that there might be a fault with the brakes on two of its trains. Bolts, which had been refitted as a safety measure only two months ago, might be coming loose. No brake on any train had actually shown signs of not working, still less putting any passenger in danger. Nevertheless, the bare possibility that some of them might do so was enough to persuade managers to withdraw the whole service...

Silverlink Trains' withdrawal of its service was therefore not a move that protected the public from exposure to death or injury. On the contrary, its effect was certain to be that more people were injured and killed in accidents. The managers who shut the line would undoubtedly have known that. What did they think they were doing? "It is simple," one rail manager told me. "Causing delays may upset the public, but it won't land us in court. Taking a decision which someone from Health and Safety decides may have led to an accident, however, could not only lead to a prosecution, it could put me in prison."

Alternatives like that do not make for a difficult choice. The manager told me: "We're going to make safety not just a priority, but our only one. We'll do everything to avoid taking risks on the railways, no matter how small, because if we don't, we could end up in jail."

This is what I call a Telegraph argument. The problem is that the safety nutters reading this will just think: "Well, in that case perhaps we should be spending more time regulating the roads." The argument then becomes one about the type of regulation rather than when it should exist at all.

And that's right: I don't think it should exist at all. Why? Because, I think we are all capable of weighing up risks for ourselves. Because safety ie longevity is not the only thing in life. Because there is no one-size-fits-all risk level - we all have a different one. And because even if there were the state would always get the regulation wrong.

Actually, it occurs to me that there is another point to be made: safety isn't safe. Take the extreme example: we tear up all roads and all railways. That way no one will ever get killed ever again in car accident or train crash. Fine, except that the economy will slow down. And if the economy slows down there will be less food and it will be of a lower quality. So, people will die. And the miracle cures of tomorrow will take that bit longer to appear. So, people will die. And there will be less fuel in winter. So, people will die. And there will be less air conditioning in summer. So, people will die.

That's the extreme example but any movement along that road ie any form of safety regulation will have the same sort of effects albeit diluted.

I'll say it again: safety isn't safe.

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September 13, 2003

Eye on what ball?

Patrick Crozier | Fragmentation

Some Labour types love to bang on about how the last Conservative government undertook a "botched privatisation" of the railway. Which begs the question: if the privatisation was botched why has Labour failed to unbotch it? In a bored moment I decided to peruse the online Hansard to see if I could find an answer.

As readers can imagine this was not a particularly enlightening task - but I did find what I was looking for here during an opposition debate on transport on 2 July this year. Alistair Darling, Secretary of State for Transport, said:

We set up Network Rail not quite a year ago, and I have made it clear that I have no intention of embarking on yet another structural reorganisation of the railways. That would simply result in people taking their eye off the ball, which cannot be in the interests of anyone.

Frankly, I think it would be a rather good idea if people did take their eye of the ball because they invariably seem to be looking at the wrong one. Train operators spend millions attributing the blame for delays rather than running trains, maintenance contractors squander millions trying to avoid Health and Safety prosecutions rather than making sure the infrastructure works and the Strategic Rail Authority squanders millions on consultants' reports rather than doing anything useful.

Now I defer to no one in my belief that re-organisation is generally a bad thing - "when you re-organise you bleed" as Eastern Area Manager, Gerard Fiennes put it in the 1960s - but that implies that the existing structure is something that more or less does the job. The problem is it isn't.

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September 12, 2003

Is this a baggage delay or what?

Brian Micklethwait | Other

Yes, this is definitely a baggage delay, although to be fair it was the police rather than an airline:

BERLIN – A German who lost a suitcase full of clothes after a holiday in 1979 is to get it back 24 years after he first reported it missing, police said Tuesday.

Officers found the brown and beige case lying outside a police station in the city of Duesseldorf and identified its owner as a 61-year-old former hairdresser who lost it after a trip to Senegal in 1979. Where the case had been was unclear.

Duesseldorf police said the clothes were in good condition and did not seem to have been eaten by moths.

Perish the thought. Moths in a German police station. The idea. You don't know whether to be appalled at the delay, or impressed by the way the luggage survived and was eventually handed back, with the appropriate degree of German efficiency.

Police said the man was surprised and amused at the discovery but did not want the clothes back, fearing the disco-era garb would no longer suit him. But the man's wife persuaded her husband to take the case back.

"She was curious to see what was in there," said a police spokeswoman.

Hairdresser. Trip to Senegal. I'll just bet she was.

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Silverlink withdraws trains

Patrick Crozier | Rail Safety

Silverlink, the TOC which operates commuter trains to the North West of London has withdrawn all its 321 (a type of train) class EMUs from service following the discovery of a problem with the brakes.

I have no idea whether this is a sensible engineering decision or yet another example of the sort of shell-shocked panic that we get these days on a railway when corporate manslaughter charges are just a mistake away. I suspect it is the latter - partly because these are 14-year old trains and any design problems should have appeard by now - you would have thought and partly because First Great Eastern - one of London's better operators has not chosen to do the same thing with its 321s.

What I did find interesting was an item on BBC London news fronted by Emily "human face of Marxism" Maitlis. In a generally confused report ie they couldn't make up their minds who to blame, the idea that this might all be an over-reaction brought on by safety hysteria did at least get an airing more than once. Now, this is a long way from pinning the blame on the politicians or the sacred HSE but it is at least a start. Maybe.

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September 11, 2003

The top 5 causes of train delays

Patrick Crozier | Rail Delays

Interesting summary from the BBC of the major of train delays in Britain. Includes the factette that 61% of all delays are the consequence of other delays.

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The European Space Agency is watching your car

Michael Jennings | Road Pricing

This is just what we need.

The European Space Agency (ESA) is funding Irish provider of location technology products Mapflow to undertake a feasibility study to look into the possibility of implementing a pan-European road tolling system. The research aims to establish whether satellite technology can be used to calculate the cost of motoring. A plan exists to complement this activity with a real demonstration of the virtual tolling concept in the greater area of Lisbon. Also under ESA funding, the project is being conducted by the Portuguese company Skysoft in close cooperation with the Portuguese motorway authority. The demonstration is planned for the end of 2004.

In April this year the European Commission published a proposal that all vehicles should pay road tolls electronically, with full implementation foreseen for 2010. Under the proposal, all vehicles will carry a 'black box', which will be tracked by satellites relaying information on the distance travelled by the vehicle, the class of road travelled and the time at which the journey was made.

...

Germany recently received EU approval to implement a new tolling system for goods vehicles. The system – currently being tested – uses the US-operated Global Positioning System (GPS). The government hopes to raise 650 million euros a year through the new charges.

Satellite-assisted tolling would make use of Galileo, Europe's planned satellite navigation system. Galileo is a joint initiative between the European Commission and ESA to develop a global navigation system, scheduled to be operational by 2008.

I am actually in favour of charging for road use on a per kilometre basis. Inevitably this means using electronic tolling devices of some sort (and from a traffic management point of view this is desirable, as people do not have to stop to pay tolls, and also it is possible to manage congestion better by being able to vary tolls depending on time of day and traffic conditions). Equally inevitably this has privacy consequences.

However, having a top down approach in which a centralised EU agency moniters the movement of every car in Europe strikes me as terrifying. (Also, the further you remove the charging scheme from the people who are building and operating the roads, the less it becomes a charge for road use and the more it becomes a simple tax, too. A Europe wide charging scheme is about the worst way of doing it I can think of. What is much more desirable is a bottom up approach in which the individual owners of the roads implement their own systems, and from which they negotiate technology compatibility and a clearing house for sharing charges between themselves. Governments may still get their hands on the data, but a situation where it starts out in the private sectory and possibly works its way up is far better than a situation where everything starts in the hands of the EU and then works its way down.

This trial is perhaps partly a consequence of the fact that the EU has decided that Europe will build "Galileo": its own alternative to the American GPS system. Having decided this, it needs to find uses for it. And if you are the EU, tracking Europeans at all times is the sort of thing that comes to mind.

(Link via slashdot)

Crossposted to The White Rose

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September 10, 2003

A really confusing hoezo rotonde

Brian Micklethwait | Road Miscellany

More profound transport commentary via Dave Barry:

No wonder, God put these idiots on an island.

The only disagreement I have with that, which seems to be German in origin, is the superfluous comma.

Please pardon my German/Portuguese/Esperanto in the title if hoezo rotonde really means not what I'm guessing (roundabout or something similar) but instead your granny's bum.

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Cargo class

Brian Micklethwait | Air Miscellany

Not the usual way to get around, but apparently it worked:

Man Ships Himself From New York to His Parents' House in Texas to Save Money

DALLAS Sept. 9 – Charles McKinley found a unique way to save a few bucks getting to his parents' house: He crawled into a wooden airplane cargo crate and succeeded in shipping himself from New York to Texas.

After hours of traveling, McKinley, 25, of New York City, pried open the crate with a crowbar Saturday morning. He popped up outside his parents' doorstep in the south Dallas suburb of DeSoto, shook the hand of a shocked deliveryman and walked away.

From APS, via the indispensable Dave Barry News Agency.

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September 09, 2003

Flexible work practices

Michael Jennings | Railways - Germany

Yesterday, I caught a train from Frankfurt an der Oder (on the German/Polish border) to Berlin. It was around seven in the evening, and the train did not have many passengers. After a few minutes there was a ticket inspection. As is common also in parts of Britain where there are lots of unattended stations, the conductor was also carrying a portable ticket machine with which to sell tickets to passengers who didn't have them already. When she got to me, I noticed that the conductor was also carrying a few items of rubbish, empty cups and cans, that kind of thing. As she walked further down the carriage, I noticed that she picked up further items of rubbish, which she placed in a bin at the end of the carriage.

Shortly after this, the train stopped at an unattended station. After a minute or so, the same woman got off the train, looked up and down the platform to make sure everything was clear, blew a whistle to signal this to the driver, and then hopped back on the train.

There is nothing remarkable about this, but a single person was acting as a conductor, rubbish collector, and guard. Rather than having a specific job, it seems that her job was to make sure everything that needed doing (other than driving the train) was done as smoothly and efficiently as possible. The multiple tasks suggests a certain big picture approach, rather than just "This is my specific job, and I am completely unconcerned with everything else". This seems entirely reasonable, but I don't think I have seen the same thing in Britain. It is entirely possible that things like this happen in remote parts of the country, but this was not a terribly remote place, given that Frankfurt is only about an hour's journey from Berlin. However, I think it demonstrates good things about DR's work practices.

I was also very impressed by the public transport system in Berlin. But more on that in another post.

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September 08, 2003

Photoflotation?

Brian Micklethwait | Transport Miscellany

There's more discussion (with the relevant links) of amphibiousness over at Samizdata, this time in the form of a floating bus. Although, some of the commenters suspect this particular floating bus of achieving buoyancy with the Photoshop method.

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September 07, 2003

Harare blues

Brian Micklethwait | Transport Miscellany

Okay, transport in London has its off days. But spare a thought for the Zimbabweans.

TRANSPORT problems have resurfaced in Harare, with thousands of workers reporting late for duty amid reports that diesel supplies have dwindled.

From what follows it sounds as if the problems were pretty damn close to the surface all along.

Most commuter omnibuses use diesel and people were now having to spend long hours queuing for the few buses available.

Long queues during pick hours are now common at commuter pick-up points in the city centre and in high-density areas.

Whereas two weeks ago, everything was running like clockwork? I doubt it.

The few buses that are operating are overcharging on grounds that they are getting fuel at black market prices.

Roadworthy commuter omnibuses with certificates of fitness and route permits get fuel from designated service stations at $450 per litre of petrol and $200 for a diesel.

However, most commuter omnibuses in Harare are not roadworthy and get their fuel from the black market where petrol and diesel costs $1 700 a litre.

"Sometimes we have to wait in the queue for more than three hours hoping that the buses would come," said Ms Cecilia Shamu of Tynwald.

The few commuter omnibus operators, she said, were taking advantage of the situation by doubling fares or in some cases trebling them.

However, operators interviewed said their business was being affected by the fuel crisis.

"We can’t do anything without fuel so the only thing we can do is stop operating once fuel runs out," said a commuter omnibus operator who plies a route in the western suburbs of Harare.

Count your blessings. If your a Zimbabwean, I guess, these days, it won't take you long.

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September 06, 2003

High speed amphibian

Brian Micklethwait | Transport Miscellany

I saw this gizmo on TV, but then forgot about it. Then Instapundit lunk to it. It's the Gibbs Aquada.

The text at the site seems to be uncopyable. Acrobat, I guess. Anyway, what it is, is, a sports car that also floats and turns into a speedboat. The wheels rise up and rotate into a flat position, and disappear into the body. Just like the car that turns into a submarine in one of the James Bond movies.

Hang on. Isn't this just a DUKW? Only, a bit snazzier? Well, it's much snazzier and it's much faster.

The same Instapundit bit also has a link to a piece about flying cars. Why they don't.

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September 03, 2003

In the news

Patrick Crozier | Connex | Inter-modal Competition | London Underground | Rail History | Railtrack and Network Rail

Network Rail strengthens property team
Tube fares rise by up to 25%
Why roads are a better investment than the railways - by commonsense statist, John Redwood
The making of the modern company - what's this doing here then? Well, railways were a big part of the reason the company came into being.
Connex to cancel 40 services - but why I wonder?

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Fossil fuels?

Patrick Crozier | Transport Miscellany

As long as I can remember we have been told that oil, gas and coal are the products of millions of years' worth of decaying animal and plant life. Thomas Gold disagrees:

There have been numerous reports in recent times, of oil and gas fields not running out at the expected time, but instead showing a higher content of hydrocarbons after they had already produced more than the initially estimated amount. This has been seen in the Middle East, in the deep gas wells of Oklahoma, on the Gulf of Mexico coast, and in other places. It is this apparent refilling during production that has been responsible for the series of gross underestimate of reserves that have been published time and again, the most memorable being the one in the early seventies that firmly predicted the end of oil and gas globally by 1987, a prediction which produced an energy crisis and with that a huge shift in the wealth of nations.

Now, I can't comment on the science and I am not that bothered either way (so long as we stick to a free-ish market) but it would be kind of cool if the oil was never going to run out, wouldn't it?

Via disinformation

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September 01, 2003

Congestion charge confusion

Brian Micklethwait | London Congestion Charging

For those interested, Iain Murray has an article up Tech Central Station, dealing with similar territory to this piece here by Patrick.

Some paragraphs:

The centerpiece of Livingstone's transportation policy is the congestion charge, a charge of £5 (around $8) levied on every car that enters the central area of London every day, with a penalty fee on top if payment is not received by the end of the day in question. This charge was aimed at reducing traffic congestion in central London by reducing traffic by about 15 percent. A private sector firm, Capita, would administer the scheme and any extra revenues earned above their fee would be used to finance public transport improvements. That's the theory, at least.

In practice, the scheme has not worked out quite that way. When working out how much a certain number of people would be willing to pay for a privilege, economists construct something called a "demand curve." When they did it for this exercise, they estimated that a reduction in traffic of 15 percent would require that £5 fee. Unfortunately, they got their sums wrong. The reduction in traffic has been far greater than anticipated. This has several consequences. First, it has meant a shortfall in Capita's revenues. Livingstone has been forced to address this problem by granting them £32 million of London taxpayers' money to allow them to make their required profit. This money, of course, represented a shortfall in the mayor's budget. As a result, he has been forced to postpone a planned extension to the Docklands Light Railway. Far from the congestion fee benefiting London's public transport network, it has harmed it.

I'm confused by this however:

The market answer to this problem would not have been to shovel taxpayers' money into Capita's pockets, but to redraw the demand curve. If more than 15 percent of traffic is dissuaded from entering London at the £5 level, then a reduction in that fee would result in an increase in traffic to the 15 percent level, producing extra revenue that could presumably at least partially offset Capita's shortfall.

"Confused" here is not here the usual sneering euphemism for "this man is talking total rubbish and I'm not confused at all but he is totally". What follows are only my instant reactions, and could be all wrong.

Continue reading "Congestion charge confusion"


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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