November 2003


November 30, 2003

Conference: Reform and Privatisation of Russian Railways

Patrick Crozier | Railways - Other

No, that is not a misprint.

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November 28, 2003

Megabus versus EasyBus

Brian Micklethwait | Buses and Jitneys

About a week ago, I think on the Money Programme, they did a segment about Megabus. It's a bus company that is the equivalent of EasyJet, and in fact Mr EasyJet himself is in competition with them. EasyBus was it? Yes. Mr Megabus was on the telly saying that Mr EasyBus doesn't quite understand the business, and is not a threat.

Megabus appears to have two main features. First, the tickets are seriously cheap. Like: £1 for a longish journey from a city to another city. Although, I'm not sure if these prices are that good all the time, or just that good if you get lucky and they are selling off lots of seats in an hour and want to shift them. Second, you have to buy your ticket on the internet. You can't buy it on the bus.

I've only just looked up the EasyBus website, and one thing I will say is that Mr EasyBus seems to be better at explaining what he's about. So maybe Mr Megabus is about to be rolled over.

I could be wrong about some or all of the above, and will not be upset if commenters stomp all over me. All I'm really saying is: this looks interesting, and deserves the attention of someone more determined than me to suss it out, or someone better informed than me to tell Transport Blog's readers about it.

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The dark side of Segways

Brian Micklethwait | Transport Miscellany

We've given these things a fair shake, and we've concluded (well, I concluded) that they are a pointless waste of money. But even I didn't realise how dangerous they could be:

A three-year-old San Francisco girl has become the first pedestrian to know what it feels like "when Segways attack."

Toddler Ruby Bleskacek was punished by a Segway rider in a hit-and-run accident on Tuesday. (No, we are not making this up.) The lass sustained cuts, bruises and a blow to the head, according a report from ABC. The child was apparently playing outside her home when the Segway roared by near maximum speed at 10 m.p.h and crashed into her.

"I was quite angry and I confronted him," Joel Bleskacek, the girl's father told ABC. "I asked him why he was driving so fast during the crowded lunch hour on the sidewalk. He claimed my daughter jumped in front of him."

Go and read the whole thing. Your life could depend on it.

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Andy Duncan on Jeremy Clarkson

Patrick Crozier | Road General

I like Andy Duncan. He reads books. He reads long books with long words, from the front cover to the back cover. And he understands them. And he writes wonderfully informative and witty articles about them (and other things) for Samizdata. Andy Duncan reads books in much the same way I read Page 3. The man is a genius.

So, much as I am reluctant to offer up even the slightest word of criticism to such an intellectual heavyweight, having read his piece on motoring journalist, Jeremy Clarkson I am afraid I’m going to have to. It's this that got me going:

But as the bus-loving New Labour machine has declined, and the car-loving individual has come back...

No, no, no, no, no. I really do object to this idea that driving a car makes you an individualist and that catching a bus or a train turns you into some kind of card-carrying pinko. Sure, there are lots of statists who want to see us out of our cars and on trains and buses but that does not mean that we libertarians have to advocate the precise opposite. My enemy's enemy is not (necessarily) my friend. You might as well argue that (individual-based) golf is good and (team-based) football (or even rugby, Andy) is bad.

There also seems to be an element within the motoring press who seem to think that there should be no rules on our roads or, at least, whatever rules do exist shouldn't apply to them. This is not a libertarian way of thinkng. Liberty does not mean the absence of rules. For starters, it would put the kibosh on most sports: including golf and football. Even rugby (though perhaps not ice hockey.) In a libertarian world there will be rules - even on roads.

The Clarkson’s of this world may well be right that we would be better off with fewer rules. The pity is that because Clarkson is so clearly a hedonist it is difficult to see that he says what he says for anything other than narrowly selfish reasons. As with so many others it's not a smaller state he seems to favour just one that favours him.

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November 27, 2003

New rail speed world record

Patrick Crozier | Railways - Japan

OK, so it's taken them 20 years to get this far, it's ludicrously expensive and the rumour is that it shakes like crazy. But still... 348 miles per hour!

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November 26, 2003

Big wheel keep on turning

Brian Micklethwait | Transport Miscellany

Inspired by this link, I went here and found this:

unicycle.jpg

I'm going to have to become an American. At the moment, it's just the only nationality to be.

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November 24, 2003

Join the Metro Light Rail Deathwatch contest

Patrick Crozier | Trams

From Amish Tech Support via Where Worlds Collide:

It's time for the Metro Light Rail Deathwatch, where the person who guesses the date and time of the first Metro Light Rail fatality in Houston wins an Amish Tech Support coffee mug, Amish Tech Support mousepad, and a genuine $25 Metro Stored Value card!

As I understand it trams (as we Brits call them) are the most dangerous road vehicles known to man. Celebrity victims have included architect Antoni Gaudí and John Major's grandfather.

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November 23, 2003

Book review review: Pains on Trains, Andrew Holmes and Matthew Reeves

Patrick Crozier | Transport General

I spotted this tome in a branch of W H Smith a few weeks ago and spent an enjoyable 5 minutes flicking through it. I wanted to mention it but at the time couldn’t find any mention of it on Amazon. But now I can because now I can.

Pains on Trains is about how other people can turn the travelling experience into, if not a nightmare, then, at least, a severe irritant. As one reviewer put it:

Every chapter paints a hilarious picture of a familiar character be it the ubiquitous 'mobile-phoner', the legendary 'flambouyant groin' or the (urban) mythological 'lovers'. I defy anyone to get very far without laughing out-loud (thus annoying fellow passengers) however be warned your giggles are likely to be silenced in at least one chapter as you read an uncomfortable portrait of yourself.

It occurred to me that in fact this is the great flaw in train travel and indeed,

painsontrains.jpg
public transport in general. I seem to remember Steve Norris (or was it another minister?) blurting out a few years ago about how the real problem with train travel was having to share the experience with “dreadful human beings”. He had to withdraw the comment, which was a shame, because he was absolutely right. That is the great drawback.

I said it “occurred”. That was until I started compiling a list of pains on the road, Toads on Roads so to speak:

So, maybe bad manners are not exclusive to trains – although it has to be accepted that at least when you are in a car there is some distance between you and the target of your ire.

For my money, as I've said before, manners are desperately important. I do not accept this argument that it is capitalism that has atomised us hence creating a society where people feel little obligation to their fellow citizens and where bad manners (and indeed crime) proliferate. Quite the opposite in fact. Britons exhibited the best manners when they were the most free. The effect is easy to tell when you go abroad. Where do people have the best road manners: in capitalist America or socialist Italy? Freedom doesn't just provide food and frivolities it also provides the glue that creates a functioning civil society though why that might be I really don’t know.

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November 22, 2003

Infrastructure in a world where everyone's rights matter

Brian Micklethwait | Transport Miscellany

At Freedomandwhisky David Farrer asks why transport infrastructure takes so long to build, and blames the government. As you do, if you are a libertarian. As I do.

It's all very well to call for "government action" but it's government bureaucracy that's behind all of these problems. When I lived in London there was a plan to resignal the Central Line. If I recall correctly it was to take 10 years to complete. I seem to remember someone pointing out that the Victorians had built the whole line in three years!

Okay, good point, but I wonder if that's entirely fair. Surely the Central Line was a much less complicated strip of territory then than it is now.

This reminds me of a talk I heard given by a guy called Leon Louw, in which he made the very powerful point that the society in which all the rights of all the people are respected is the most difficult to legislate and litigate for. The French boast about how they don't take any crap from the mere citizenry when they are building their great big bits of infrastructure. They build it where they want it, and their taxpayers pay for it. Easy! But that isn't automatically something to boast about. The French economy just now is not exactly the envy of the world, and certainly not of Britain. Vice versa, more like.

Granted, lots of the infrastructure delays here in Britain are stupid and bureaucratic rather than based on any great concern for anybody's rights, but not entirely, surely. Autobahns are a lot easier to build if you don't care about who is in the way of them.

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November 21, 2003

LRT on British Rail privatisation

Patrick Crozier | British Rail Privatisation

Over on Live from the Third Rail, cs writes on the subject of Britain's railways. Now, I regard myself as something of an expert on this so I was interested to see what he would say. I was not impressed. He says:

A brief history: Near bankruptcy as a result of WWII, the big four British rail companies (which had been under government control during the war) were nationalized by the British government in 1948.

Well, we are missing a few things here. Like the fact that the companies were never compensated properly for the War. No mention either of the fact that these private companies had built almost every single inch of Britain's railways and had made rather a good job of it.

Continue reading "LRT on British Rail privatisation"


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November 20, 2003

Part of the price of airplane security

Brian Micklethwait | Air Safety

I picked up a bit of airline gossip today via a source on which I'd rather not elaborate, which I duly pass on, to the effect that it has become somewhat less fun flying commercial passenger jets than it was before 9/11. This is because pilots are now locked into the flight cabin, or whatever they call it, and are unable to avoid each other's company if they find it uncongenial, by socialising with the passengers. Those days are gone. So if you are stuck with someone you don't care for, there's now no escape or relief. Just thought I'd pass it on.

No link. I found this out myself. But I'm sure lots of others have written about such things also.

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Curb rights

Patrick Crozier | Buses and Jitneys

Daniel Klein has e-mailed me (amongst thousands of others I should think) to tell me that his ideas on curb rights are getting some exposure in India. That's the good news. The bad news that it's not all online. (Why? I ask myself. Isn't the idea that we spread ideas? Oh well, never mind.)

Anyway, as a sop to us blogger types he includes a link to a piece he did (Curb Rights: Eliciting Competition and Entrepreneurship in Urban Transit) for the Independent Institute on curb rights. He says:

...“free competition,” promises on-the-road competition, perhaps in the form of freewheeling jitneys, which are small vehicles that pick up and drop off passengers along a route but do not necessarily follow a schedule. The deregulation or “free competition” precept is incomplete, however, when applied to a service that operates on government property, namely, the roadway, curbspace, and sidewalk areas where passengers congregate in waiting. Bus operators must invest in cultivating passenger congregations and must be able to appropriate the returns on their investment. Depending on how “free competition” is governed, it might give rise to parasitic interloping on routes, where jitneys run ahead of scheduled buses to pick up waiting passengers. Such interloping might undermine any scheduled service and inhibit the development of transit markets. All this activity takes place on public property where market mechanisms are lacking.

Which sounds like what Alice may have meant by "bad libertarianism". Hopefully, when I've read to the end, I'll find out what the solution is.

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November 19, 2003

EasyJet 'set to overtake BA'

Patrick Crozier | Airlines UK

According to the Times (subscription required for foreign

easyjet.jpg
An EasyJet (from 123 spotten)
residents):

EASYJET, the budget airline, expects its passenger numbers to overtake British Airways next year, despite a 28 per cent fall in its profits.

EasyJet’s passenger total rose 79 per cent to 20.3 million in the year to September 30, despite the Iraq war, which deterred travellers, and the hot summer, which persuaded UK customers to stay at home...

...Ray Webster, chief executive, said easyJet is on course for 20 per cent growth in 2004, which would take it to 24 million passengers, more than the number BA carries. “We will certainly have a party when we go past BA,” he said.

20 million?! Where are all these people going? Anyway, good luck to them. They found a gap in the market and they filled it.

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November 18, 2003

Trains getting better shock

Brian Micklethwait | Rail Economics

Alice Bachini on trains:

The trains have improved since a year ago, as I keep insisting in the face of that particular brand of cynical libertarianism that does my head in. (As a friend of mine noted recently, when libertarianism is bad, it is worse than almost any other political ideology you could choose from. And in my view, the opposite is also true. But I am particularly allergic to evil psychos.)

Completely disagree about the bad libertarianism bit. I agree that bad libertarianism is a pain - which presumably means ultra-pessimistic, they're out to get us all, we're doomed doomed and that's why my life's a mess libertarianism - but worse than any other political ideology? Come on. How many millions of people has "bad libertarianism" murdered lately? But that's enough about me, this is Transport Blog. Back to the trains.

The problem is, the trains have improved so much that more people are using them. This makes it harder for me to get the cheapest tickets unless I book a longer time ahead. But I hate planning a longer time ahead. So, I take the risk, and leave it to only three or four days ahead... and keep missing out on the cheap tickets. Will just have to plan ahead anyway, despite hating it, I suppose. I think I basically fall through a gap in the market: people as poor as me aren't supposed to travel so often on longish, bookable routes. They're meant to stay in one place or make a big deal out of an occasional journey and book ages ahead. And people who travel often are supposed not to mind flashing extra cash around. Oh, well, can't be helped.

I wonder if it’s the trains that have got any better, or just the economy as a whole. Or neither, and everything else has got worse even faster than the trains, so the trains, despite being worse are even more crowded.

The world is going to hell, by train. (I'm a libertarian and I'm bad.)

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November 17, 2003

On positive externalities

Patrick Crozier | Positive Externalities

On Samizdata (as previously mentioned) Perry de Havilland discusses the EU’s decision to ban French local governments from subsidising Ryanair’s landing charges. As I mentioned, Ryanair is being subsidised because (it is reckoned) the money it brings in outweighs the cost of the subsidy

An externality (as I understand it – I’ve always been rather shaky on technical terms) is a cost or a gain borne by others and not by the economic actor himself. Externalities can be positive or negative. We normally think in terms of negative externalities - pollution being the classic example. But they can be positive and in transport positive externalities crop up all the time. Usually they take the form of an infrastructure project where the project itself loses money but nearby land values experience a sharp one-off increase.

There are all sorts of examples of this effect. The one I keep mentioning, is the Jubilee Line Extension in London. The line itself cost £2.5bn. London Underground, who built it, are unlikely to ever see a penny of their investment. But land values close to the stations sky rocketed. One estimate puts the aggregate increase at £13bn.

But there are all sorts of other examples. Exactly the same happened in Dublin with the building of the DART. In Britain the Metropolitan railway took advantage of this effect to build John Betjeman’s beloved Metroland. In Japan private railway companies have used their lines to diversify into residential housing, commercial property, shop, hotels and resorts. In recent years the newly-privatised JR Central has followed suit erected the enormous JR Central Towers in Nagoya. Hong Kong is doing much the same. In London, a consortium is proposing to defray at least part of the costs of building CrossRail by re-developing its stations.

For ages I thought this effect only applied to railways but it seems it applies just as much to airports. I have already mentioned the situation on the continent but precisely the same thing has been happening in the West Country in England.

I am not sure if it applies to high-speed railways but I wouldn’t be surprised if it did.

It is quite a bizarre effect. As I said over a year ago:

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

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

But doesn’t it blow a hole in my belief in free markets? Isn’t it the case that in a free market none of these things would ever get done? No enterprise would be big enough to buy up all the land near a station or an airport and even if it could it would be stymied by the “hold out” problem. Surely, better to leave it up to government to do the compulsory purchase, built the link and tax the land value gains. This is certainly a popular way of thinking.

I disagree. First of all, leaving the state in charge just leads to all the usual problems of political horse-trading, feast and famine and cost over-runs. Secondly, there is the fundamental injustice of it all. Some landowners might not want to live near a tube line or whatever. Yet not only will they have to put up with it but they will also be forced to pay for it.

But that still leaves us with the problem of actually getting these things done. The blunt approach would be to buy up nearby land - though that could prove extraordinarily expensive. An alternative that I have suggested in the past (and one that I think might just work) is to have a voucher scheme.

Update - 14/08/04

It occurs to me there might be another way of making this work. You'd need an agency. This agency would have to be entirely neutral. It would attempt to contact every land owner in the country and ask them how much they would sell their land for. The contract would last for some fixed period of, say, a year or so.

Organisations seeking to build roads or railways, or capture their land value gains would approach the agency and ask the agency to quote them a price in the knowledge that should the price prove acceptable they would be able to buy up the property almost immediately.

Why isn't this already being done? Why hasn't it been done in the past? Well, it is, of course, possible that it can't be done but I suspect that at least one of the reasons it hasn't been done in the past has been the ever-present prospect that the government itself might act either by subsidy or compulsory purchase. In more recent times buying up the land has been the least of the problems. Getting permission to build has been far more difficult.

What if someone else wanted to buy the property later on? They could but only if they were prepared to pay the developer's price. Bearing in mind that the developer intended to make a healthy profit out of his development this price would be likely to be a high one.

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November 16, 2003

Why did the Titanic sink?

Patrick Crozier | Transport Miscellany

Yes, I know, it was an iceberg. But lots of ships of the time encountered icebergs and didn't sink so what was so special about the Titanic? Anyway, that was the question I posed myself and I went ahead and did some googling. The best thing I came up with was The Titanic Disaster: An Enduring Example of Money Management vs. Risk Management by one Roy Prander. He says:

What gets far less comment is that most of the problems all came from a larger, systemic problem: the owners and operators of steamships had for five decades taken larger and larger risks to save money - risks to which they had methodically blinded themselves. The Titanic disaster suddenly ripped away the blindfolds and changed dozens of attitudes, practices, and standards almost literally overnight.

Which, for me at least, is food for thought.

He also points out that:

...the White Star line never recovered from the loss of the Titanic and the settlements for cargo and loss of life; it was absorbed by Cunard lines some years later. So much for competitive advantage from trimming standards.

Which is another way of saying: safety is good business.

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November 15, 2003

Transport Blog soundbites

Patrick Crozier | Transport General

Brian Micklethwait makes some excellent points about soundbites over at Samizdata. Made me think I really ought to get some (assuming, that is, that I am not already producing them like crazy without really knowing it.) But if you're going to produce some soundbites first you need to know what it is you actually want to get across. So I started writing out a list:

  1. The UK's railway problems have nothing to do with privatisation
  2. Private railways work better than state railways
  3. The measure of a good railway is not just whether it works for the passenger but also the taxpayer
  4. Compulsory purchase is theft
  5. The very existence of compulsory purchase discourages people from seeking alternatives
  6. Transport systems often create massive positive externalities even if they make losses themselves
  7. These positive externalities are often greater than the losses
  8. Positive externalities can be captured by free enterprise
  9. Private enterprise is not the same as free enterprise
  10. Railways need population density
  11. Rail fares should be deregulated
  12. Safety is not the only thing in life
  13. Safety is dangerous
  14. Trains and planes are safe
  15. Trains and planes are safe because accidents are expensive
  16. Contracting out is not the same thing as privatisation
  17. Private contractors screw the state in just the same way as trade unions
  18. Roads are (probably) the future
  19. Road pricing is good
  20. Private roads are even better
  21. Electronic road tolling and Big Brother are not synonymous
  22. It is not drink or speed that kills but bad driving
  23. Free enterprise has led to a massive increase in aircraft safety
  24. Feasts followed by famines are expensive
  25. Feast and famine are the children of the state
  26. Transport is not an unalloyed good
  27. Railways are far more human systems than technological ones
  28. Technological systems can bear complexity - human systems can't
  29. A good railway is not about getting one big thing right but about getting lots of little things right
  30. Uneconomic lines should be closed down
  31. Railways should stick to what they are good at
  32. The chaos on Britain's railways is to a large extent the fault of the EU
  33. On railways vertical fragmentation doesn't work
  34. There is no such thing as a monopoly
  35. Near monopolies are nothing to fear
  36. Planning is bad - really bad
  37. Freedom good: compulsion bad
  38. Freedom produces good results: compulsion bad results
Which is pretty close to the sum of my transportational wisdom. Now all I have to do is to turn this into a bunch of pithy soundbites.
 
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November 14, 2003

Doubledecker ski lift

Brian Micklethwait | Transport Miscellany

Take a ride on the Vanoise Express, the world's "most prestigious" cable car system, and Europe's largest.

It was tested last Monday, whatever that means.

Patrick: It's probably time you did a long and serious posting about trains.

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Woof

Brian Micklethwait | Transport Miscellany

Forget light rail and monorail and buses and bicycles, says David Sucher. Go with dog power!

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A motorbike sidecar to die for

Brian Micklethwait | Road Miscellany

Does the transportation of dead bodies count as transport? I don't see why not. So feast your eyes on this: "Britain's first and only motorcycle sidecar hearse."

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Via Dave Barry. Makes you proud to be British.

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November 13, 2003

Automotive excellence on celluloid

Brian Micklethwait | Transport movies

Transport Blog is a sober and serious enterprise. So let its readers all now be told that in just over an hour, as I write this, one of the all time great transport based movies, The Big Bus, is to be shown on BBC1 TV. My only regret is that you were not all told sooner. It's about the world's first nuclear powered bus. Prophetic stuff indeed, although all the reviewers I've encountered seem to think it's some sort of comedy.

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Ryanair loses its subsidies

Patrick Crozier | Airlines UK | European Union

Perry de Havilland picks up on the story that Ryanair is to lose its subsidies. For some time now, French and Belgian councils have been falling over themselves to offer Ryanair ludicrously low landing charges. Why do they do this? Because Ryanair brings in people and the money they spend locally more than outweighs the subsidy.

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November 12, 2003

New Category page

Patrick Crozier | Blogging

Just to let you know that I have recently re-organised the By Category page so that now readers can link to individual articles as well as the categories themselves. It's not a bad archive even if I say so myself.

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November 11, 2003

Dare we think it? Could things actually be getting better?

Patrick Crozier | British Rail Privatisation

I've just come back from a trip to the West Country. All the trains were (more or less) on time. They were clean. I made all my connections. At one point I could even sit back, close my eyes and relax. Last time I did that I was in Japan.

Could it be that things are actually getting better?

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November 10, 2003

The way we think about transport

Patrick Crozier | Transport General

Reading an exchange in the Letters section of the Times (subscription required for non-UK residents) I came across the following:

As for motorists subsidising railways, were it not for the railways, our roads would be even more crowded than they are.

Which, of course, is true. It's just the implication (spend more on railways) that is false. Can you think of any other industry where this sort of thinking would apply? "Mars Bars are selling out so I think we'll make some more Snickers." "Croissants are doing a roaring trade, let's start selling Frosties."

Of course not. What happens in the real (free-ish market) world is two things. First of all Mr Mars puts up the price. Second he increases production and then lowers the price. At all times everyone can get their hands on Mars Bars and at the end point more people can enjoy Mars Bars.

Just the same could work with roads. In Phase I tolls are introduced. In Phase II more roads are built. Easy peasy.

So, why doesn't this happen? Oh, because it will cause pollution and because it will lead to social exclusion and because we don't want to cover the whole country in concrete. That's the sort of thing that gets trotted out. For what it's worth I think it is drivel and I hope some day to get round to writing a proper take-down. We'll see.

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November 09, 2003

TOLLROADSnews is also the real deal

Patrick Crozier | Road Pricing

For many of the same reasons I have written about Live from the Third Rail twice this week I am writing about TOLLROADSnews (TRN). It really is extraordinarily good The only difference is that TRN has far more of a free market bent - so even better.

Recent articles include:

Sprawl reduces commute
Personal rapid transit won't happen
EC moves to outlaw DSRC - Sounds boring but its related to why London didn’t get Singapore’s funky electronic tolling technology and Euro-loons every so often bang on about something that doesn’t work called Gallileo.

I particularly liked Slime ball railers:

First they (rail's supporters) say "It's cheaper." When you show it costs more, they say “It's faster." When you show it's slower, they say “It serves more riders." When you show there are fewer riders, they say “It brings economic development." When you show no economic development, they say “It helps the image." When you say you don't want to spend that much money on image, they say “It will solve the pollution problem." When you show it won't help pollution, they say, finally “It will take time (to see results)" – former Mayor Bob Lanier on rail transit proponents in Houston Metropolitan magazine, November 1990. Quoted at www.houstonbuscar.com

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November 08, 2003

Live from the Third Rail is the real deal

Patrick Crozier | Links | Rail Economics

I put up a post on Live from the Third Rail earlier this week. At the time I had only just seen it for the first time and it was looking pretty good. Now, a few days on, it's looking very good. I was particularly impressed by a piece on the financing of Houston's original trams. AMG and RJ3 clearly know their stuff and LTR looks like becoming essential reading.

Essential but not necessarily comfortable. While I get the impression that the authors are not dogmatically opposed to free market solutions neither are they prepared to conform to what they might see as an ideological straightjacket. I suspect we are likely to receive some reasoned and informed criticism from LTR.

Which is no bad thing at all.thirdrail.jpg

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November 07, 2003

British Rail Privatisation defended

Patrick Crozier | British Rail Privatisation

As regular readers will know I am not keen on the term "privatisation" to describe the changes that were made to the British rail industry in the mid-1990s. Yes, privatisation occurred but so did fragmentation, franchising and the expansion in the powers of the Health and Safety Executive.

Regular readers will also know that I do not describe "it" (however you want to call it) as a success. So, I was slightly surprised to hear Moir Lockhead of the transport group First singing its praises the other day:

Mr Lockhead said that since privatisation seven years ago, "our two main companies have seen dramatic reductions in subsidy, while Great Eastern is carrying 25pc more passengers and Great Western 60pc more".

At privatisation, Great Eastern received £40m of annual subsidies, but will this year pay an £11m premium to the taxpayer, up from £5m last year. Great Western got £80m subsidy a year at privatisation, but will only receive £24m this year, which is £10m less than in 2002.

Mr Lockhead said: "The let-down has been the backlog for the infrastructure. Years of neglect meant that was fragile as we grew the railway."

Firstly, I do not regard the number of passengers carried as the arbiter of success. Large increases smacks of overcrowding.

Secondly, it is difficult for the franchisees to claim all the credit for these increases. In the late 1990s Britain experienced an economic boom. That will usually increase the number of people using the railways. At the same time many fares were held to below-inflation increases - thus reducing their price in real terms. Neither of these two factors has much to do with the operators.

Thirdly, I am far from sure that the claim on subsidy will hold. South West Trains, which operates out of Waterloo, has recently seen a massive increase in its annual subsidy - largely, I presume, to cover Network Rail's increased infrastructure costs.

Having said this I would not want to deny that the TOCs have done some things right. As I understand it, they have increased the number of services. Increased services means reduced journey times which means a better service even if people aren't fully concious of the fact. Even so, more services does lead to more bashing of the infrastructure and costs that don't immediately show up on the Profit and Loss account.

PS I appreciate that some of this might be difficult to understand for the newcomer. If anyone finds this all a bit confusing please feel free to ask a stupid question.

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November 06, 2003

This must never ever be allowed to happen again

Brian Micklethwait | Railways - Germany

News from Germany, land of efficiency and good order, where everyone behaves themselves:

BERLIN (Reuters) – German transport authorities said Wednesday they needed to tighten internal security after a teen-ager previously convicted of joyriding with public transport managed to gain control of a Berlin train full of passengers.

A spokeswoman for the Berlin metro rail network said the train driver on duty had unwittingly given the 19-year-old, who was posing as a replacement driver, control of the train during the evening rush hour.

When Berlin rail authorities and police tried to detain him, he fired shots from a gas pistol. Police then shot him in the leg and abdomen.

Managers of the rail line said they would examine how to prevent it from happening again. The line is used by hundreds of thousands of commuters each day.

In 2000 the youth, then 15, commandeered a bus and drove it some 80 kilometers (50 miles) before authorities apprehended him. He was convicted and sent to a youth detention center.

"He apparently picked up passengers along the way. I don't know if he stuck to the bus route," a Berlin court spokesman said. "The best thing would probably be to give him an official job."

You've got to love those Berlin court spokesmen. No wonder Dave Barry liked it.

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Keep those buses rolling.

David Farrer | Buses and Jitneys

Edinburgh's latest transport row is about a proposal to reduce the number of buses in Princes Street:

"Senior councillors believe "far too many" buses use Princes Street as a through route, and want to see many of them forced to turn back at either end of the road. It is felt the changes would make the area a much more pleasant shopping environment once trams start running in the capital."

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Central Edinburgh's bus network (from Lothian Buses)
This does seem to be a rather silly idea. Shoppers need the buses! I accept that it would only occur once the planned tram service gets going but Line 1 and Line 2 will serve very limited areas of the city compared with the bus network. We can see from the map that Princes Street is the key to the bus system in the city centre. These Lothian Bus routes pass through the street: 1 3 3A 4 8 10 11 12 15 15A 16 17 19 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 33 34 37 37A 41 42 44 44A 45 64 X26 X31 X37 X47 and all Night Buses. (More routes are operated by First Bus.)

People need to be able to travel easily to and through the city centre. Instead of restricting the number of buses on Princes Street why not get rid of the single-deckers? Perhaps we need to ban tourist buses in the rush hour. Turning buses around at the beginning of Princes Street is a nonsensical idea. Sometimes I think that politicians say things simply to justify their existence.

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Bus v Tram in Ottawa

Patrick Crozier | Inter-modal Competition

Jay Jardine responds to an e-mail I sent him on the situation in Canada's capital. A little bit of background. Ottawa is almost unique in having built a number of dedicated busways when just about everywhere else is building trams or doing nothing at all. Now, it is thinking of building its own trams. Just as luck would have it I spent a couple of summers in Ottawa at the end of the 1980s. Strangely enough, I cannot remember a single mention of the busways. Oh well - Ed.

Where to begin? As you probably know, Ottawa has planned

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Ottawa's network (from OCTranspo)
and built one of the most comprehensive BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) systems in the world. Our current peak hour transit ridership is in the order of 15% overall and up to 25% for the trip to work (depending on whether you cite the City's numbers or Stats Canada survey results), which is unheard of in most North American cities outside of New York and Chicago. The interesting thing is that Ottawa developed its BRT at the same time peer Canadian cities of Edmonton and Calgary went with LRT-based systems (in the early 80's when populations in all three cities approached the half-million mark). Since then, the issues as to whether Ottawa should have built a flashy rail system instead just will not die.

Continue reading "Bus v Tram in Ottawa"


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November 05, 2003

TOLLROADSnews

Patrick Crozier | Road Pricing

Peter Samuel, who used to do Toll Roads, is now publishing TOLLROADSnews. From a fairly cursory examination there would seem to be plenty of good stuff but I should whisper a word of warning: get it while you can - Mr Samuel is threatening to charge people for reading it. Uh oh.

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November 04, 2003

Steam locomotive 354.1217...

Patrick Crozier | Railways - Other

...with

a special train to fair "GO 2003" at Porici street in Brno.

Wow. I stumbled on this (from here by the way, main page being here) looking for something quite different - such are the joys of surfing. Never mind it's a lovely photo.

It does beg some questions though. Like, well, I thought that tracks on roads were tramways and that therefore they took trams which count as light rail and not this great hulking thing which is very much at the heavy end of heavy rail (I guess). But then again, I know that at Weymouth (and half a hundred other places for all I know) there is (or was) a tramway which took heavy rail vehicles ie trains. But that was for a port. Why would you have one (heavy rail tramway) in the middle of a city. Or is it a "special"? I mean, I know it says it is a "special" but I assumed that meant "not official timetable" as opposed to "very rare heavy rail movement on what ought to be a trams-only line".

Never mind - it's tremendous fun.

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A warm welcome to...

Patrick Crozier | Blogging

Live from the Third Rail. A blog "...dedicated to mass transit around the world. Come back again for daily news and commentary from a team of dedicated transit nerds. Light rail, heavy rail, BRT -- we've got it covered."

Makes the Transport Blog crowd seem quite sane.

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November 03, 2003

Brian's Culture Blog turns into Transport Blog

Brian Micklethwait | Air - Concorde | Rail Miscellany

Today I turned my Culture Blog into Transport Blog by mistake. Concorde got me thinking (again) about how pretty airplanes can be, on the day Concorde did its last commercial flights, and again today because of a photo David Farrer took of Concorde in Edinburgh. That got me looking at pictures of trains, and of course it was a downward gradient from there. Here's the latest comment on my train posting this morning, from Michael Jennings, about trains on something called, it seems, the "Bealville curves":

I've seen similar things snaking through the American west myself. The American rail system has essentially done away with passengers and has been optimised for freight, and many of the trains are really long and really tall. (They often double stack standard shipping containers). They are really stunningly efficient and well run.

Now I realise that "culture means what Brian Micklethwait says it means" but this is overdoing it. Culture is culture, and rail systems being "optimised for freight" is, I feel, straying from the subject a little.

It's my fault. I started it, in the previous post about Concorde. Is it allowed for me to quote me? I guess it is if I say it is:

Antoine Clarke gave an excellent talk at my place last Friday evening about Concorde, and about the contrasting attitudes of Britain and France to its demise. Basically, British Airways made a success of running it, if you exclude the small matter of how much it cost to build the damn thing! So we mourned and celebrated. Air France couldn't even do that, and were glad to see it go. And France didn't mourn or celebrate, other than giving a media nod to all the mourning and celebrating going on in Britain.

Which is odd, because usually the French State is quite good at these money-no-object flag-waving ikon things, while here in Britain we tend to screw them up.

Although, British Airways also owns London's Wheel (of the "London Eye" as they insist on calling it) and that looks great and works well too.

It's obvious really. Give The Dome to British Airways too. They obviously have the magic touch with these things. After all, for many decades they themselves were one of "these things". Turning national monuments into profitable national monuments is what they do, because when they were privatised they started by doing this to themselves.

That is very transportational too, I would say.

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Leaves action pays off

Patrick Crozier | Railtrack and Network Rail

According to the Evening Standard:

Train passengers escaped misery today as Network Rail's strategy to clear leaves from the lines appeared to have paid off...

Network Rail employed more than 30 multi- purpose vehicles (MPVs) to run sandite - a sand and glue concoction - over thousands of miles of line to scrape off the mulch...

Spokesmen for Anglia Railways, South West Trains and Thameslink all said their services had run without significant delay due to leaves this morning.

Gasp, splutter, splutter. Our nationalised/fragmented railway getting something right?! I'm gobsmacked. For years every autumn we've got used to chaos caused by leaves on the line and here someone's gone and solved the problem. It's most un-British. There has to be a catch.

Incidentally, I wonder if anyone out there can tell me if leaves on the line have always been the problem that they have been in recent years and if not why not.

Update 09/05/04

Have just been reading Modern Railways from March 1986. Alan Williams (who is still there) has this to say:

The problem has been creeping up on BR for years, as post-steam age lineside foliage has become more abundant (thus keeping more tracks damp and covered with leaves), locomotive hauled trains have become rarer (because they are heavier and cause more draught, locomotives tend to keep tracks clearer) and disc-braked vehicles have become more common (disc brakes do not bear on the running surface of the wheel and because it does not therefore enjoy the "scrubbing" effect of the brake blocks of a traditional brake, the wheel suffers from a build up of "slime" on the tread).

To which I suppose the response is: why don't they cut down the lineside foliage, make the trains heavier or go back to whatever they had before disc-brakes?

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November 02, 2003

A proposed elevated nature walk in New York

Brian Micklethwait | Rail Miscellany

I really enjoyed reading this piece in today's New York Times, about something called the High Line, which is an old elevated railway line which has now turned, since it stopped running trains in 1980, into a an elevated linear nature reserve. Kenneth T. Jackson, professor of history at Columbia University and president of the New-York Historical Society, thinks it should stay that way, but with improvements to make it safe for people to walk along.

Sadly, the entire structure is off limits to ordinary citizens, which is necessary because the path is uneven and tricky, the old stairways have rusted and broken glass is a threat. And even if you are willing to ignore "No Trespassing" signs and the possibility of arrest, you must be skinny, young and adventurous to slither under, over, or through the barricades.

New York deserves better. The High Line deserves better. A failure as a railroad, it can be successful in a new role more appropriate for 21st century New York. Just as everyone loves Central Park because its meadows and glades allow us to forget that we are in the midst of a huge city, a High Line Park could become a public open space of an altogether different sort, a place that celebrates density and diversity, that shows us how nature can persevere in even the grittiest circumstances, that enables us to understand history not through a book or through a movie but through our own eyes. There is even some precedent for the idea of transforming the High Line into a greenspace. Ten years ago, Paris made an elevated park, the Promenade Plantée, out of an abandoned train viaduct.

I'm sure that in a "real free market" things like this would also happen, and this sounds like a nice idea. Even if it turns out to cost too much, in the sense that too many people would have to turn their backs on too much money, the article still sheds a pleasingly different light on "Gotham".

There's something uniquely charming about an ex-railway line that manages to retain its physical shape, but which ceases to blast, with trains, into oblivion the vegetable and animal works that nature then furnishes. Because the original organisation of a place such as this often made a barrier between itself and the surrounding area, often in the form of a steep slope or even a viaduct, it can become, in Jackson's phrase, "another world". The more other worlds of there are in great cities, the greater they become.

There is also the more mundane consideration that if the physical shape of such objects can be kept in being, they may later revert to being mundanely useful, when the technology of transport or communication does another switch.

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Tilting trains barely faster

Patrick Crozier | Rail Miscellany

According to the Times [subscription required for foreign residents]:

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Virgin Pendolino from The Railway Centre
When Sir Richard Branson unveiled the first Pendolino service between London and Liverpool last month, the Virgin boss boasted that the journey time would be cut by more than 40 minutes to two hours and 22 minutes by next autumn.

However, the fastest time for the 200-mile trip in 1973 was just six minutes slower, according to a comparison of timetables. Although the Liverpool Pullman service stopped at fewer stations, it had a maximum speed of only 100mph.

Typical.

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480mph Maestro please!

Brian Micklethwait | Road Miscellany

More daft transport related news courtesy of the global insanity search that is the Dave Barry Blog:

A woman who drives a G-registration Austin Maestro has told of her shock after receiving a speeding ticket claiming she was travelling at 480mph.

Joanna James, 28, was allegedly clocked as she drove along a road in Bridgend earlier this month.

The mother-of-three, who bought the silver-coloured car for £100 in June, said it started to shake when it reached the motorway speed limit of 70mph.

A spokeswoman for the South Wales Safety Camera Partnership said the speed given on the ticket was down to a clerical error and a rectified notice, stating 48mph, had been issued.

Mrs James, who had her three-year-old daughter Chloe in the car with her on the night of the alleged offence, said she had been shocked when the letter arrived because she had not believed she had been speeding at all.

"Then my husband said, 'Hang on, you were doing 480mph," said Mrs James, of Sandfields, Port Talbot.

Her husband, Kenneth, who carries out mechanical work on the car, said: "I am waiting for Nasa to ring up for the diagram of the engine."

I think it's the fact that it's an Austin Maestro that makes all this so beautiful.

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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