November 2006

29 November 2006
Fares rises 'will price people off trains'. Yes, it's the annual fare rise.

Some thoughts:
  • They're probably right but only in the short run. In the long run things would be a lot better if we abolished fare control and allowed fares to rise.
  • This is not a passenger group it is a state-appointed Quango and one that keeps changing its name - I can just about remember when it was known as the Rail Users' Consultative Committee.
  • Isn't it funny how while car and and plane costs (minus taxes) keep coming down rail costs stay more or less the same?
Patrick Crozier • PermalinkFeedback (0)Fares
28 November 2006
Open comments thread
Patrick Crozier

Following on from the last posting perhaps it’s time we had an open comments thread.

You can say what you like here.  I guess you can say whatever you like on any other posting but it just wouldn’t seem right.  Anyway, you can say anything you like here.  Preferably about transport or the blog - we’re more likely to pay attention to it that way. 

What would be really cool would be if people could flag up stories that we haven’t covered or their own experiences.  You can, of course, e-mail us if you prefer but you might find this easier with the added advantage that whatever you have to say is, at least, out there somewhere in cyberspace.

Just to make the point that things said here do matter, whenever a comment is left here both an e-mail is sent to the author ie, me and a note is left on our top secret behind-the-scenes notice board.

Dearieme hijacks the comments to say:
Apologies for repeating myself, but I’d be grateful for your comment if you know anything about this figure:-
According to the HSE “The provisional number of members of the public fatally injured in 2005/06 was 384, of which 254 resulted from acts of suicide or trespass on railways.” 254 per annum is 5 per week. One every weekday. Can it be true?
Before answering his own question:
Please excuse my bad manners, but I can now answer my own question. http://www.rail-reg.gov.uk/upload/pdf/296.pdf tells us about the new safety body for the railways and says that in 2005, there were 280 deaths from trespass or suicide. I am still reeling from this-why does everyone still talk about how safe the railways are?
Well, in answer to the second question, it's probably because in the vast majority of cases it's the victim's own fault. Incidentally the gap between 254 and 384 is probably down to people falling down the stairs.

Even so, I agree with him, the numbers are surprising.

Patrick Crozier • PermalinkFeedback (1)Rail Safety
New on Instapatrick (that's my rapid response unit, by the way): Against state roads.

Patrick Crozier • PermalinkFeedback (0)Road
27 November 2006
Jackie D photos her attacker and sticks his picture up on her blog
Brian Micklethwait

Yes, incident in the Underground, endured by and reported by Jackie D, and then given an extra blog-nudge by Samizdata.

One of Jackie’s numerous commenters reckons that Jackie being attacked in the Tube, and then her photo-ing the attacker and showing it to everyone, could be a Mainstream Media story.  If Jackie blogging him and photo-ing him helps to catch this guy, that would surely be a story.

25 November 2006
These make the modern world possible
Michael Jennings


maersk.JPG

On the right is Emma Maersk, the world’s largest container ship (and the world’s largest ship of any kind that is still in operation), at the A P Moller terminal in Aarhus harbour in Denmark on November 11, a few minutes after completing her maiden voyage to Asia and back (Aarhus, Gothenburg, Bremerhaven, Rotterdam, Algeciras, the Suez Canal, Singapore, Yantian (Shenzhen), Kobe, Nagoya, Yokohama, Yantian, Hong Kong, Tanjung Pelepas, the Suez Canal, Felixtowe, Rotterdam, Bremerhaven, Gothenburg, Aarhus). On the left is her identically sized sister ship, Estelle Maersk, in port in Aarhus, waiting for a few technical difficulties to be resolved prior to her maiden voyage on a similar route. I went to Aarhus because I knew that Emma Maersk was coming into port. The presence of Estelle Maersk was a bonus.

Now on her second voyage, Emma Maersk sailed through the Suez Canal yesterday, and next docks in Singapore. Estelle Maersk left Rotterdam they day before yesterday, and next docks in Algeciras.

24 November 2006
High-speed nonsense
Patrick Crozier

Lead item on BBC Breakfast the other morning was on the West Coast Main Line (WCML).  Apparently it’s running out of capacity so either they’ll have to put up the fares or introduce a fancy “computer-controlled” signalling system or the government will have to build a new, high-speed line.

(Is the comma in the right place in that last sentence?  It should mean a new line that is high-speed and not a new high-speed line to go with all the other ones.  Oh well, never mind).

The reporter also added that because the government was going to introduce toll charges on the motorways that would push lots of people onto the railways - again putting pressure on capacity.  He went on to suggest that what this showed was that the government needed to plan more and it would, therefore, be a good thing when the 30-year plan turned up.

A little later they interviewed Ian Coucher, a high-up at Network Rail.  He thought that all the problems could be solved with a few extra carriages and, anyway, the whole kerfuffle only served to underline that the whole thing was a “success story”.

Oh God.  Where does one start?

Well, let’s try the low-hanging fruit. 

“Computer-controlled" signalling.  I am far from an expert on the subject but I am pretty sure that the signallers have already managed to get the odd ZX80 into their control centres over the last 30 years or so.  What the reporter was probably referring to was “moving block” signalling which is an incredibly snazzy way of putting more trains through the same amount of track.  Snazzy, that is, in all respects apart from actually working.  It was tried on the Jubilee Line Extension.  It didn’t work.  It was thought about for the WCML.  The bosses thought it was spiffing.  The boffins took one look at it and realised it was a non-starter.  The company (Railtrack) went bust.

“Success story”.  The upgrade to the WCML (WCRM as it was known) cost, according to the report, £8.6bn (a sum that looks suspiciously low but I won’t bother arguing about on this occasion).  The tax payer will be lucky if he ever sees more than a few pennies of that.  So, it’s made a loss.  Losses are bad.

Now for the hard bit.  First of all, what’s wrong with it:

  • The assumption that higher road prices will mean fewer people using the roads.  It could easily mean more.
  • The assumption that if people do flee the roads they will end up on the railways.  They could equally easily end up at home.  Or on marble-smooth super-highways built by road entrepreneurs.
  • The assumption that the state is any good at planning.
  • The assumption that if the ultimate answer is a new railway that the state should fund the construction.  It shouldn’t.

And here’s how things should work:

  • The roads should be privately owned.  So should the railways.
  • Polluters should compensate their victims.  Railways just as much as roads.
  • If there is enough of a market then road builders will build more.  Ditto railways.
  • In the resulting market roads may still dominate but or it may be that railways become viable (though I doubt this) or neither.  Staying at home could well prove the best option.

But how would these new roads or railways be built?

Well, you’d have to abolish planning laws.  Not that that would be any big deal.  The lack of compulsory purchase might be an obstacle but I don’t think so.

Why do you doubt that rail would become viable?

I just don’t think that pollution charges for global warming would ever be that high.  And even if they were high, rail would be punished along with everyone else.  While on a per passenger per mile basis, trains may produce less greenhouse gases, a lot of energy will have gone into the creation of the infrastructure.

22 November 2006
What’s now flying?
Brian Micklethwait

Here‘s an interesting site.  It tracks all the passenger airplanes in the air in the USA at any one time.  Quite what you can learn from this, aside from what planes are in the air in the USA at any one time, I’m not sure, but it surely has its uses, for more than planespotting.

It’s useful, for instance, if you are hoping to meet a plane, I guess.  Or blow one up.  I can’t quite work it out, but I think it tells you if a plane is running late, while it is still airborne.

I tried to find similar info for Europe, but all I could get to was cheap flight offers.

I got to this site via this guy, who I got to thanks to an email from Michael Jennings, pointing out this, but that’s another story.  (In my opinion the iPod toilet roll holder, which I had already viewed before Michael clocked it for me, is not tasteless enough.)

20 November 2006
From air back to ocean
Brian Micklethwait

e-Cargonews Asia reports on a switch back from air freight to shipping.  Key explanatory quote:

Imbriani pointed to a combination of factors that have made shipping lines a viable alternative to air freight. Sailing schedules have become more reliable, capacity is up, and the use of special equipment and containers, such as temperature and humidity control devices, have made it possible to move electronics in ocean containers, he said.

And of course, this will help too.

19 November 2006
Keep death off the road…
Patrick Crozier

...drive on the railway.
image
Spotted here by James Hamilton.

17 November 2006
Penis at Number 2 Terminal
Brian Micklethwait

I can’t remember how I found my way to this transport related controversy, but I did.

Taipei - A giant wooden sculpture of a penis on display at Taipei’s international airport has stirred up controversy among some foreign visitors and flight crew, who have demanded its removal, media reported Tuesday.

The one-metre-long sculpture in the Number 2 Terminal is part of an exhibition of artifacts of the Thou tribe, one of Taiwan’s ten tribes. But some foreign visitors and crew find it offensive and have demanded its removal, according to the Liberty Times.

Sadly, I am unable to locate a picture of this masterpiece.  The nearest I got was this picture, of a Taiwanese citizen who, in 2003, deployed a giant penis on the coast of Taiwan, in response to five hundred mainland Chinese missiles.

Perhaps one day someone will design a train that looks like a penis.  Imagine that going into a tunnel.

A couple more dubious surveys
Patrick Crozier

After what I said in the post below, here are a couple more dubious surveys:

Suburbs are good for your social life
Fixing congestion is easy

Now, I have little problem in believing that sprawling* suburbs are good for you in all sorts of ways - after all, I live in one - but fixing congestion? well, that’s quite a different proposition.  Central London has been congested for a couple of hundred years.  Bearing in mind that in that time its governors have ranged from extreme liberals to extreme socialists you would have thought that if there was an easy solution ie not congestion charging, they would have found it by now.

* Whoops!  Banned word (warning: short).

Compulsory seat belts lead to more accidents, according to US research. Now, I am a bit dubious about this sort of research (it's the same sort of thing that makes me doubt statistics), so I wouldn't want to set too much store by it, only to say that it suggests that things are never as simple as we might like them to be.

Patrick Crozier • PermalinkFeedback (0)Road Safety
16 November 2006
Crazy
Brian Micklethwait

So Crozier says: “So, Micklethwait, when are you going to stick up some crazy photos of crazy transport contraptions on Transport Blog?”

Oh.  You want crazy photos, do you?  Well, here’s a crazy photo:

image

And here’s some even crazier video of this amazing contraption in motion.  It won’t take long to look at this, and you really shouldn’t miss it.

Is it transport?  Well, it’s called the Animaris Rhinoceros Transport.

The Animaris Rhinoceros Transport is a type of animal with a steel skeleton and a polyester skin. It looks as if there is a thick layer of sand coating the animal. It weighes 2. tons, but can be set into motion by one person. It stands 4.70 meters tall. Because of its height it catches enough wind to start moving.

So, a wind powered mechanical walking machine covered in sand.

Does it explain things better if I tell you that it was created by an ‘artist’?  Animaris Rhinoceros Transport is ART for short, obviously.

I just wrote a posting for Transport Blog about road pricing, which today got a plug in the Queen's Speech, and how the latest version of it might involve good news on the Total Surveillance State front. But Samizdata looked like it was having a rather thin day, by its admittedly rather busy standards, so I stuck it there.

It was a good excuse to link, yet again, to link to this.

Brian Micklethwait • PermalinkFeedback (0)RoadCongestion ChargingToll roadsUK pricing scheme
15 November 2006
David Aaronovitch on the number of British railway deaths in the year 2005
Brian Micklethwait

David Aaronovitch is not really writing about transport in this piece, but it includes this:

My favourite living British playwright is Sir David Hare, who understands - where others don’t - the ambiguities of political existence in a democracy. But not always. Three years ago Sir David put on his play about deaths on the railways, The Permanent Way, and described it as a “painful parable about the badness of British government”. He went on: “The play is really asking: why do politicians not see what is completely obvious to everyone else? And the answer is that it suits them to privatise things, because then they’re able to blame other people when things go wrong.”

Yes, that would be it. But in 2005 there were exactly zero passenger fatalities on British trains. That’s none. So where’s the parable now? Is Sir David likely to do a follow-up in which he discovers the essential goodness of government through the numbers our trains (compared with France and Germany) don’t kill? I look forward to Marcus Brigstocke bringing us a skit on the lack of rail casualties.

I suppose a really daring libertarian like me - well not really like me – might argue that what this at least suggests is that too much attention may now be being paid to rail safety, and not enough to other useful things.  Such as, most obviously, value for money spent by the taxpayer.  (Is Britain’s railway system now a grubby and cunningly disguised Concorde?  Discuss.) But, on the other hand, safety is not only good from the non-killing point of view, but because it also contributes to other good railway things, like punctuality, ticket sales, and even, eventually, perhaps, value for money spent by the taxpayer.

Sort of like liberty, also good in itself, and good for causing other desirable things.

Certainly Transport Boss supremo Patrick is now fond of telling me about how he lives one minute’s walk from a railway station, which of course means that he always leaves leaving to catch a train until the last possible minute, what with it being so easy to calculate.  But, now, most inconveniently, the trains are never late.

Certainly safety and punctuality do appear to go together, railway-wise.

14 November 2006
Bangladesh transport blockade
Brian Micklethwait

On the other hand, if you think London (see below) has problems, try living in Bangladesh just now:

Crowds had attacked vehicles and stopped trains across Bangladesh earlier on Tuesday to enforce the transport blockade, intended to force the removal of the election officials before polls in January.

Ports remained closed and businesses called for urgent action to end the blockade as the shipment of most goods ground to a halt in the country of 140 million people.

That’s definitely politics.

Why a London bus strike and why now?
Brian Micklethwait

Why a London bus strike and why now?

There is a bus strike raging in London today:

Some 60 bus routes serving north, central and west London and parts of Hertfordshire have been affected.

The Transport and General Workers’ Union wants a 6% wage increase in line with similar pay offers from other London bus operators.

Why?  Why is this happening?  And why now, all of a sudden?  Apparently this is the first strike in London for seven years, a fact which the BBC omits.  The BBC omits also that Metroline, the employer in this ruckus, is Singaporean.  It’s like, the BBC doesn’t want this to mean anything.

I think strikes are like wars, in that they happen because each side thinks it will win.  They can’t both be right, and something is making them disagree.  Some uncertainty.

The usual uncertainty I reach for to explain strikes is politics.  The politicians could pay more for their beloved buses than they are paying, so the TGWU reckons that Metroline could extort more from the politicians than they are extorting, and that Metroline could pay the bus drivers more.  The politicians have presumably assured Metroline that there is no more money to be had, and Metroline either does believe this, or hopes that the TGWU will believe it, and that they can pocket any differences that they can extract.

So, guess.  The buses have now all been paid for.  The system is now in place, and seemingly working well.  Mr Livingstone’s career is riding on them.  Ergo, say the busmen, now we can demand more money to drive them.  What will Livingstone do?  Shut all the buses up in their garages until the busmen crawl back to work?  Maybe Metroline thinks that will happen.  The busmen don’t believe that Livingstone and Metroline will hold to such a position.  What are they?  Rupert Murdoch?  Why not just put up the council tax?  Or just, you know, slap it on the tube fares or something?

But that could just be me being anti-political.  It may just be that the TGWU reckons its workers are pissed off with these damned Singaporeans and would rather work some other place than take a mere 4%.

Wars are about the will to fight as well as about mere resources.  Sorry, this is getting too profound.

Happy Landing!
Patrick Crozier

I have no idea if this is dangerous or not but it doesn’t look good.  Hat-tip to Rob Fisher who links to a clip of how it should be done - or rather how it should have been done - Hong Kong’s Kai Tak, the airport in question, has since been closed.

13 November 2006
This is cool.

Via Driver Chris, who gives it a far better intro than I can muster: It's a map of the British motorway system in a London Underground style.

image
Mark Holland • PermalinkFeedback (2)London UndergroundRoad
10 November 2006
Airship over London
Brian Micklethwait

Yes, yesterday afternoon, an airship flew over London, and many other British landmarks.

It has very good fuel economy, apparently:

The Spirit of Dubai is the world’s largest commercial airship and is managed by Airship Management Services, Inc (AMS). The Spirit of Dubai will operate at around 1,500 to 3,000 feet with a cruising speed of around 30 to 50 mph - the airship can reach speeds of up to 70 mph (or faster, with a tailwind!). While cruising at 30 knots The Spirit of Dubai airship consumes 8 gallons (48 lbs) of fuel per hour. During a week of operations The Spirit of Dubai will consume less fuel than a 767 uses to simply move away from its gate to a runway!

It was only when I read this posting today that I was reminded that I had also photoed this beast.

09 November 2006
The White Elephant versus the Dreamliner
Brian Micklethwait

Time to kill off the A-380? - asks the New York Times blog.

Floyd Norris briefly lays out the pros and cons of this “overpriced white elephant”, i.e. he’s con.

Personally I like flying but hate all the hideous delays before and after.  So anything that minimises the number of airports you go through – the Boeing Dreamliner goes from anywhere to anywhere and always cuts it to two – is good.  Plus, delays are less horrendous at small airports than at big ones.  The Deamliner connects all small airports to all other small airports.  No days wasted at “hubs”.

Or, as Norris puts it:

How would you like to line up at customs having just gotten off the back of the second or third A-380 to arrive? Would passport control take longer than the flight?

Incidentally, the NYT calls it the A-380, but in the picture they show, it’s A380, minus the hyphen.  Odd.

Being anti-EU, I want the A380 to be a disaster, because if an air of disaster settles upon “Europe”, my country is more likely to free itself from “Europe”, which I would like.

Ooh, Instapundit links to a Popular Mechanics report on the same topic.  They call it the A380.

On the other hand, these two media organs are both American, and as such the hired lackeys of Boeing.  I wish I was a hired lackey of Boeing.

Final thought: I have long noticed that whenever a company is trying to interest actual people in a piece of electronic gadgetry, as opposed to merely trying to interest other companies, they stop calling it the PQ9132X(2) and instead call it the Zippopod, or some such.  That Airbus call their bus the A380, while Boeing calls theirs the “Dreamliner”, says to me that Airbus reckons that other companies will decide this thing, while Boeing reckons it will be people who ultimately settle it.  Speaking as a person, I hope that Boeing is right.

Final final thought: Maybe they’ll change the A380’s name to “While Elephant”.

Emirates first to offer in-flight calls. They've beaten Ryanair to the punch, apparently. Engadget have their links in a twist, but one of them is to this BBC report.

Brian Micklethwait • PermalinkFeedback (0)AirAir MiscellaneousLow cost airlines
06 November 2006
The North London Line, Mancur Olson and why we’re all doomed
Patrick Crozier

Tim Hall (see comment) is all depressed about how long it takes to get anything done in this country.  He is talking about the gap between the closure of part of the North London Line and the opening of its replacement.  I’d like to say it’s all to do with the state.  And, of course, it is.  It’s just not quite as simple as all that.  As Michael Jennings is fond of pointing out, they have none of this difficulty in Hong Kong or Singapore.  This is a peculiarly British phenomenon.

I once spoke to a bloke who was involved in some London project, it may even have been this one.  His point was that there were so many agencies involved: national government, local government, Network Rail, the TOCs etc that it was almost impossible to get them all to agree.  And so you got nowhere.

Now, part of the reason is the vertical fragmentation of the railway, another reason to oppose it, but it is only part of the reason.  The other part - the plethora of agencies - puts me in mind of the work of American economist, Mancur Olson.  His theory - although you’d be pushed to deduce this from his Wikipedia entry - is that over time all states acquire ever more rules and regulations (and presumably agencies to enforce them) until it become more or less impossible to do anything and they collapse.

We’re doomed.

For those of you who want to know more about the guy who took away the road signs there's a profile of him in the New York Times. (hat-tip: Jay Jardine)

Patrick Crozier • PermalinkFeedback (0)Road Safety
05 November 2006
Weekend Papers Motoring section roundup
Mark Holland

While I’m not an avid reader of the weekend newspaper motoring sections I do like to read what Jeremy Clarkson in the Sunday Times and James May in the Saturday Telegraph have come up with. Both writers take an entertaining, sideways look at ‘motoring’ - not a word I’m keen on really. The opening three quarters of Clarkson’s column is usually about some off-at-a-tangent topic which he’ll then, almost as if by magic, manage to relate to the car he’s supposed to be reviewing. I say usually because I seem to recall him waffling on about cheese for the entire article once when he couldn’t think of a single worthwhile thing to say about a Vauxhall Vectra. Meanwhile May often whitters on about old Jaguars or his Porsche Boxter with the brown trim in his charming, affable young fogey style.

This week: Clarkson, in his roundabout fashion, reviews the Renault Clio Sport 197, a 2-litre hot hatch which supposedly includes air vents behind the front wheels and a ground effects inducing ‘diffuser under the rear bumper’ which are by products of their Formula One programme. Along the way we get treated to Clarkson’s views on Michael Schumacher (he’s a fan), Fernando Alonso (a fish nicker!), F1 and the dwindling appeal of the hot hatch. Cracking stuff.

James May on the other hand ruminates on torque. I remember Newton Metres and turning moments from school physics lessons but had never really fathomed what they were up to within cars. And now, thanks to James, I do. It’s just a shame he over did the Newton Metres with his two-foot long wrench.

image
Hippy

Bonus features:

Car enthusiast Jay Leno raves about Richard Hammond and Top Gear whilst Clarkson is caught riding a bicycle. Albeit one with a jet engine and a top speed of 70mph.

“I’m not loaning it to Richard Hammond because he’ll ride it into a field and turn it upside down,” he said. “It’s the first bike you can ride without wearing muesli sandals and a beard. It’s Lance Armstrong and Frank Whittle in one.”

Oh, and his saddle is set far too low.

04 November 2006
For safer streets rip out the traffic lights…
Patrick Crozier

...and get rid of the road markings.  That seems to be the conclusion of a study carried out in the Netherlands town of Drechten.  And the traffic’s speeded up:

“I am used to it now,” said Helena Spaanstra, 24. “You drive more slowly and carefully, but somehow you seem to get around town quicker.”

How odd.  How very odd.

03 November 2006
"For many transport costs more than housing", so says Live from the Third Rail quoting a report in the Washington Post. They think it's a bad thing. So do I but, I suspect, for completely different reasons. They think it is all to do with a lack of planning. I suspect it has to do with too much which would feed nicely into my "abolish planning" routine. And there's also that rather lazy use of words like "sprawl" and "environment" which I would like to get stuck into. Some time.

Patrick Crozier • PermalinkFeedback (0)Planning
The rules are being relaxed, but they're still silly:

The anti-terror ban on carrying liquids onto flights is to be relaxed from next week - but will lead to more confusion and delays at airports, security experts have warned.
Jackie D (to whom thanks for the link) is also not happy.

Brian Micklethwait • PermalinkFeedback (0)AirTerrorismSecurity
02 November 2006
Part of North London Line to close - this should be fun bearing in mind that there is a three-year gap between the closure and the opening of its replacement  …link
 
Patrick Crozier • PermalinkFeedback (1)Rail: Miscellaneous
01 November 2006
London's transport is broken, says One Man and His Blog.

Quote:

My goodness, what an eye-opener it was. After nine years of train commuting, I'd got used to it. After a short break, I saw it with new eyes. I saw the utter filth of London Bridge station. I saw the people crushed into cattle trucks. I smelt the fast food and the perfume and the body odor all mingling in an unpleasant aroma cocktail. I saw people struggling to get though a tiny platform exit on Lewisham station.

London has been described as the heart of the country's economy, pumping its fiscal blood around the nation. If that's the case, then the country has heart disease. Its arteries are clogged, unable to cope with the demands placed on them.
Methinks this man, and his blog, are tired of London.

Brian Micklethwait • PermalinkFeedback (3)Rail