December 2006

27 December 2006
Inner self next left
Mark Holland

Naturally I hate to say I told you so, but not much: Use satellite navigation and you’ll miss the chance of finding your inner self thunders The Times.

But while they are considered a defining marvel of the technological age, the gadgets are destroying our ability to read maps and undermining our very sense of self, according to one of the nation’s leading geographers.

A little airy fairy perhaps. But I don’t mind. Just to have pre-empted “one of the nation’s leading geographers” is cause enough to award myself a chufty badge.

24 December 2006
Have we ever blogged from a moving train (or any other form of moving transportation) before? Because if we haven't, then this posting (from the 1005 to Watford Junction) is a first.

Isn't 3G good?

Patrick Crozier • PermalinkFeedback (1)Rail: Miscellaneous
Isle of Wight ferries
Mark Holland
Despite having seen it from the mainland, or the North Island as the islanders call it, on hundreds if not thousands of occasions, yesterday I visited the Isle of Wight for the very first time. Very interesting. I didn't know what to expect really. It was much more built up than I expected although apparently it's a lot more wild towards the south and west. I'm currently training for some big cycling events in the summer so I reckon a lap of the island sometime in the spring would be a worthwhile undertaking on a number of levels.

I've seen the ferries operating from Lymington, Southampton and Portsmouth many times before, from the shore, but was only up close up I realised just quite how impressive the whole set up is. Sure, it might not be as glamorous as an airport. And if a Force 12 were to delay crossings I wouldn't expect 24 hour rolling news channels to park their satellite trucks on Red Funnel's dockside to show us the anguished faces of people unable to get to Cowes for Christmas. Actually I reckon weary travellers would probably take refuge in the living room furniture department in the West Quay shopping centre's John Lewis and the major problem would be the supermarkets on the island running out of goods while their laden truck trailers were sat idle on the mainland. The weather would have to be very bad for that to happen though.

Normally the amount and frequency of crossings means The Solent might as well have a paved causeway. From Portsmouth there are three levels of ship.

The car ferries are like floating Tardises. They mightn't look like much from the outside but they have either two or three car decks whose heavily laden ramps are lifted and lowered by doubtless phenominally powerful hydraulic arms. The headroom on the lowest deck easily accomodates trucks.

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Then there are the passenger ferries: Fast catamarans which take 18 minutes to zip between Portsmouth and Ryde, compared the 45 minutes it takes the car ferry to reach its dock. Thanks to the vision of the Southern Railway (1923-1948) and its predeccesors, the same people who turned Southampton into a modern port and built Britain's first international airport at Shoreham, Portsmouth Harbour railway station brings trains direct from Waterloo right up to the dockside. On the otherside is Ryde Pier where the ferries come alongside at the end, beyond the whims of the tide, and the trains come right out over the sea to meet them. Thus we have proved an integrated transport policy can only be acheived through central government direction, er hang on.

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And finally there's the hovercrafts. From the beach infront of Southsea's Clarence Esplanade, right next to the amusement arcade where Uncle Bernie shoots down the aeroplanes in The Who's Tommy movie, the craft reverses over the sand and right out onto the water, turns through 180 degress and fair belts across the water. It zipped past us and left the cross channel ferry standing. 10 minutes the trip takes. I know it's pretty old technology these days but I still find it highly impressive.

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Like I said, none of this is terribly glamorous, a bleak sea in December isn't for some reason. Nevertheless these ferries are a vitally important transport link carrying people and goods all day and everyday.

23 December 2006
Tracking the trains
Brian Micklethwait

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Train Tracker
I had a Christmas query about trains, and rang 0845 7484950, which is the number written on a Post-It Note above my desk together with the word “TRAINS”.  The robot-woman at the other end told me that what with planes being befogged, they are very busy, but mentioned a phone service called “traintracker”, and mentioned a website where the “terms and conditions” (which sounded to me like: extortionate cost) for traintracker were spelt out.  I googled “traintracker” and got to this.  Not wanting further ordeal by robot, or expense that I might be able to avoid, I then clicked on something called TrainTracker Text.

I am crap at internetting.  I still buy books in bookshops rather than on line.  But, after a brief hickup while I told it that by Waterloo I meant London Waterloo rather than Liverpool Waterloo, I found the text version of TrainTracker most helpful.  I liked that I got a choice of trains at around the date and time that I specified, and I liked especially that I had the option of looking also at earlier or later trains between the same two destinations that day.

I am in the habit of saying that Britain’s trains – well, the London based surface trains that used to be British Rail, that I know about – have got better in the last year or two (although at what cost to me as a taxpayer I shudder to guess).  This is just one of the ways in which I sense that things are improving.  This TrainTracker thing - which presumably covers all of England, Scotland and Wales - didn’t exist a few years back.  Did it?

Bridges and tunnels
David Farrer

At a Christmas drink on Thursday an Edinburgh Labour councillor told me that the City Council had at last given final approval for our new tram system. The vote was 56 to 1, the odd man out being Edinburgh’s sole SNP councillor.

The Nationalists also oppose the planned rail extension into Edinburgh airport, which would be in addition to the new tramline. I imagine that this has something to do with the low level of SNP support in the city. What the SNP does support is the construction of a new crossing over the Firth of Forth. The original Victorian rail bridge is still working fine but the 1960’s road bridge is in big trouble and now almost all politicians think that we need another crossing. But does it need to be a bridge?

Not necessarily. Increasingly, the case is being made for a tunnel. My fellow blogger Neil Craig has written a fascinating piece on other possible tunnels in Scotland.

22 December 2006
Why the police should not investigate rail crashes
Patrick Crozier

I know this is a bit late in the day but last week there was a documentary into the police investigation into the Potters Bar train crash.  The long and the short of it was that they couldn’t find out what happened.

My take:

  • The police should not be investigating in the first place.
  • Nor, for that matter, should any other government organisation.
  • The police investigation actually hindered the business of finding out what happened.

It hindered things?

Yes everyone gets nervous and clams up.

But don’t the police have to investigate cases of corporate manslaughter?

Yes, I suppose if there is an offence of corporate manslaughter they should, indeed, investigate.  It’s just that I don’t think it should be an offence.

Why not?

Mainly because the supporters of laws like this all seem to be people who just don’t like freedom.  But I also think that we already have redress through whatever contract we have with the corporation concerned.

But if there are no government investigators how will the victims’ families ever find out the truth?

I don’t accept that they have a right to the truth.  However, there are good reasons to think that a rail company would want to share the information.

Such as?

It would demonstrate good will, openness and, perhaps most importantly, a willingness to learn from its mistakes.

But how are we to guarantee safety without the state?

Firstly, this assumes that safety is the only thing - it isn’t.  Secondly, even as a factor it is still important for both traveller and train company - so the likelihood is that it will be taken care of.

I can understand why it might be important for the traveller but why the company?

Because accidents cost money.  You lose the train (one carriage costs about £1m).  Track gets smashed up.  You have to cancel services.  Potential customers get put off.  For what it’s worth, from my point of view trains are too safe.  I would be quite happy to travel on a train that’s far more dangerous if it meant lower fares.  But, then again, I know how safe trains actually are.  Rail safety is a producer thing not a consumer thing.

Fog causes chaos at Heathrow - you may not have known that  …link
 
Patrick Crozier • PermalinkFeedback (1)Air Miscellaneous
20 December 2006
You know the UK government's strange obsession with satellite-based tolling in 10 years' time rather than plazas-right-now? I knew that the EU's white-elephant-in-space project, Gallileo, was involved but I didn't realise that an EU directive was also in the mix.

Patrick Crozier • PermalinkFeedback (0)UK pricing scheme
18 December 2006
Sweet stop
Jackie D

gingerbread train station
Gingerbread train station by Wendy McClure
Author and editor Wendy McClure has made a model of a CTA (Chicago Transit Authority) station out of gingerbread. Only in America, I guess. McClure writes:

Why don’t you see a gingerbread el train? Because I wanted to make this as much like a real el station as possible.

More pictures are here. This is inspiring me to make something even geekier and more wonderful, like a gingerbread Emma Maersk.

15 December 2006
GNER to lose franchise - an excellent TOC and the last of the small operators gets shoved out  …link
 
Patrick Crozier • PermalinkFeedback (0)TOCs
13 December 2006
Bus baloney
Patrick Crozier

“A lie is half way around the world before the truth can even gets its boots on.” I was put in mind of this saying by this Times report.

Private bus operators will be stripped of their powers to set fares, frequencies and timetables, under proposals aimed at reversing 20 years of decline.

This isn’t an out and out lie it just fails to mention that decline didn’t set in in the 1980s.  If anything bus liberalisation arrested the rate of decline.

Mind you it does manage to mention how much is lost on London buses every year: £480m, in case you were wondering.

My first time: NJ Transit
Jackie D

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Sign on New Jersey Transit
The (cheerful, polite, helpful) conductors on NJ Transit trains ask you to please watch the gap when departing. If you are, like me, somewhat easily amused, this is worth listening out for, as it will make you giggle on the inside every time.

Riding NJ Transit is a bit of a dream - warm, comfy, on time, and reasonably priced. The conductors wear proper train conductor hats with little brims and railroad buttons all over them. Passengers, in general, do not talk, which was an unexpected bonus. Indeed, a woman sitting two seats away from me had to make a call on her cell phone about a UPS delivery, and actually got up and moved in order to do so. “I don’t want to distract you from your book,” she said. When I protested that it was fine, she said, “No, it’s not fine.” This is probably less of a New Jersey Transit thing and more of a rare person with manners thing, but it was rather refreshing.

Antoine Clarke links to an idea that might take some of the uncertainty out of hitchhiking. It's probably illegal here which makes me wonder how many potentially great ways of making better use of empty car space are currently outlawed.

Patrick Crozier • PermalinkFeedback (1)Taxis
11 December 2006

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Ferrari on Park Ave
So far, I have seen not nearly as many breathtaking cars in New York as I am used to seeing in London. I have, however, seen enough SUVs to take my breath away. I’m not anti-SUV, but if there’s one city where something rather more petite would come in handy, it’s New York.

As ever, the cab drivers here are nuts. I have never seen the point of gunning the engine on a green light and ramping it up to about 45 mph, only to slam on the brakes after only one block. 

Jackie D • PermalinkFeedback (3)Road Miscellany
10 December 2006
Rickshaw banned - Solent Sahib unhappy  …link
 
Patrick Crozier • PermalinkFeedback (0)Miscellaneous
Leaving a jet plane
Jackie D

Trying to get off an American Airlines flight in New York on Saturday, I was most perplexed when the flight attendants blocked the path of those of us trying to leave the plane from the business class section, so that the first class passengers could exit before us. I suppose that paying a few thousand extra should carry some perks, and getting to deplane first doesn’t seem an unreasonably lavish one. But I cannot recall ever before being physically prevented from exiting a flight this way. (What peeved me was that all the first class passengers were very slow to exit, lollygagging and taking their sweet time down the corridor, taking up lots of space and just making things difficult for those of us trying to jog to immigration in order not to spend hours in a queue. But slow people who are unaware of their surroundings and the impact of their actions on others are more of a general transport peeve of mine. Not even the pavements are immune from that one.)

Farts floor flight (via Tim Blair)

Patrick Crozier • PermalinkFeedback (1)Security
07 December 2006
Clamped in Camden
Jackie D

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Clamped in Camden
I took this photo several months ago, when I was working in St Gile’s Circus. One day, we heard an almighty racket coming from outside the office, and it turned out that this nimrod had tried to drive away with a clamp on his tyre. He kept trying for several minutes, generating lots of smoke and horrific noise - and I don’t just mean the abuse that several people were shouting at him. Finally, he and his mates grabbed all their belongings out of the car and simply walked away, leaving it to block Flitcroft Street (which is actually more of an alley than a street).

Traffic wardens are, of course, all over this area like Rod Stewart on a leggy blonde. But when this car, creating an actual disruption and problematic blockage, cropped up, it took three days for Camden to haul it away. 

06 December 2006
How much did the Shinkansen cost?
Patrick Crozier

On InstaPatrick I am currently making the claim that the Japanese Shinkansen cost (all told) about £100bn (or getting on for £1000 per person).  I am basing that on the debt of 25 trillion yen that JNR had managed to rack up by the time it was liquidated in 19871 (the rate of exchange is about 250 yen to the pound last time I looked).

Reasons why it might be lower:

  • There were all sorts of other items included in JNR’s debt from operational losses to pensions for colonial railway staff.
  • Positive externality effects.

Reasons it might be higher:

  • They’ve built a whole bunch of lines since.  They are heavily subsidised by the government.
  • The Japanese government may well have been subsidising JNR’s Shinkansens even before 1987.
  • Inflation. Which is a whole other issue.

Whatever it is, it is a lot of money.

Footnote
1. p29 The Privatisation of Japanese National Railways, Ishikawa and Imashiro, Athlone Press, London, 1998.

British Transport Police at Baker Street
Jackie D

As part of the ongoing investigation into my assault, today I had to go to Baker Street station so that some evidence (a CD-ROM onto which I burned the photo I took of my attacker) could be seized from me, and so that I could give a statement about that evidence. I was told to meet the officer in “the police room”.

None of the London Underground workers at the station knew what I was talking about. I was eventually led through a door and a long hallway to where the British Transport Police have a couple of training rooms and a few offices. In the main office, five policemen were absolutely lovely to me and made sure I was comfortable as I waited for the detective to arrive from Aldgate. Amusingly, one of the officers was clearly having an email debate with someone else in the BTP, and read his reply aloud to the other men so that they could tell him he was being too harsh. “I liked the last two words,” one remarked, referring to the “kind regards” sign-off. Another two officers discussed what a shambles OASIS, the police’s central IT system, is. When I received a call on my mobile, I wandered into another office to take it; nobody tried to stop me. On the desk, there were about a dozen very nice iMate JAMs, a spiffy web-enabled phone/PDA which I owned myself (until I got tired of being connected all the time).

Eventually, the detective from Aldgate found me, and led me down another long, winding hallway, through many doors, up one floor, down another series of very smoky hallways, and into a small room. He took the evidence from me, took my statement, and the whole process lasted about half an hour. “I can’t believe this is all still done on paper,” I said to him as he wrote down my name, address, phone number, and all the other details they already had for me on yet another set of forms. “Yeah, well,” he said, smiling weakly.

What really surprised me was just how much more there is to a London Underground station like Baker Street than one would ever guess from rushing along its platforms and wandering around the halls. It was a little disconcerting, too, to note how many more cops were deep in the labyrinth and offices, immersed in bureaucracy and paper-pushing, than were visible in the station. Am I being unfair?

Bad ideas in advertising #3,091,332
Patrick Crozier

So you’ve got this government agency.  And this government agency is trying to flog milk.  So, it puts up some ads at bus stops.  And then it thinks (if “thinks” is the right word): “What if we could entice the people standing at the bus stop to buy some milk with a smell?” So, they decide to try the smell of cookies

Only a 16-year old schoolgirl can spot the flaw:

“It’s going to smell like cookies and bums,”

(Hat-tip: LFTTR)

05 December 2006
Risking life and limb: Cairo cabs
Jackie D

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View from a Cairo taxi
I blogged a couple of videos from a trip to Egypt in October, depicting a few moments of a taxi ride in Cairo. If you’ve ever been to urban areas in China or India, this sort of driving will not be anything new to you. If you haven’t, well, it still doesn’t compare with the experience of being pretty sure you’re going to die on a dusty road in Egypt.

What Cairo cabs lack in safety, they make up for in affordability. You can have a driver take you all around town, wait for you while you explore or have a meal, and deliver you back to your hotel (barring road death) for only a few pounds or dollars - including a big tip.

“Minicab?”
Patrick Crozier

Things were not going well.  I had already missed two night buses, lost my Travelcard and spent the last half an hour looking for a shop that was open to get some change to buy a replacement.  And I was worse for wear.

And I thought it might make a good post for Transport Blog.

We negotiated a price and off we went.  The driver claimed that while he, personally, had a temporary PCO licence, his vehicle didn’t.  It failed because the driver’s airbag wasn’t working.  If true, there was a rich irony in the authorities banning safer vehicles from the road.

I say, if true, because being almost completely outside the law I wouldn’t blame him if he was being a bit cagey.  Nor could I blame him for going illegal.  £800 for the personal licence.  £140 for the vehicle check.  And you end up on some list.

He told me a bit about his business.  He’d worked out a simple but successful strategy.  Stake out the same Central London spot in the wee small hours and you can pick up about 6 or 7 fares a night.  I reckoned he is making £700 a week.  And it’s all cash in hand.

Good luck to the guy.

“Safer vehicles”?
There’s some evidence that airbags and other safety aids make drivers drive more dangerously.

04 December 2006
My Tube attackers might be caught this week
Jackie D

Brian blogged here about what two thugs did to me on the Underground ten days ago. Well, I’m happy to report that British Transport Police think they’re going to catch them soon. I was given a “personal guarantee” by a very sharp detective today that they would have these scumbags behind bars by the time I return from a quick trip to New York next week.

I was told by the officers who took my statement on the day of the attack that I was much better off in the hands of the BTP than I would be with London’s Metropolitan Police. If they catch these two that quickly, I guess they will have been right. 

02 December 2006
Ryanair to charge for priority boarding. Pollard lays into the critics.

Patrick Crozier • PermalinkFeedback (0)Low cost airlines
Plug in electronics. Disengage brain
Mark Holland

Yes, I realise I can be quite Amish about a lot of the “life changing must have gizmos” that “with it” people rave about. But really, Sat Nav?

What’s with all these plonkers just following its orders and blindly going along narrow tracks across the North Yorkshire Moors, through deep fords in Wiltshire or, really taking the biscuit, driving to Manchester instead of Brentwood?

London Ambulance Service was at a loss yesterday to explain why the crew had not noticed their journey was taking somewhat longer than expected or how they had managed to miss subtle indicators that it was going awry — such as Birmingham.

And just yesterday, not quite as importantly perhaps, a Four Tops tribute band would up in Chelmsford rather than Cheltenham.

Is it that these people were unable to read maps and road signs in the first place? Or has the electronic führer embedded in the dashboard turned them into zombies?

Just as our ability to remember phone numbers has gone out the window since the phones acquired the ability to remember them, in time nobody will know the way to anywhere. Not Amarillo, not San Jose, not even Scunthorpe.

Finally, if a Sat Nav manufacturer really wanted to add a human touch to its directions it should direct you via pubs. People do that sometimes don’t they? Left at the Fat Ox, on past the Kings Head…

01 December 2006
An “official” report makes for fishy reporting
Patrick Crozier

The lead item on BBC Breakfast this morning (for the second time in little over a week) was transport.  An “official” (hmm, thinks: “I’ll have to add that to my list of banned words sometime") report calls for road tolling.

This I am in favour of.  Sorta kinda.  Ideally, I’d have private roads some of which would be tolls and some wouldn’t.

It’s just that I don’t go a bundle on the particular scheme that the government has in mind.

But then the item really started to go haywire.  Where would all the people priced off the roads go?, the reporter asked - neatly avoiding the possibility that road pricing might actually increase the number of people using roads.

But assuming he’s right one would have thought the answer was more roads but somehow that possibility didn’t come up either - so the suggestion was a new high-speed railway.  Again, he didn’t consider the possibility that people might like to stay at home, far less the possibility that a new high-speed line might be a very bad idea indeed.

European cities try signless streets. The Drachten Experiment is spreading. (Hat-tip Jay Jardine).

 
Patrick Crozier • PermalinkFeedback (0)Road Safety