August 2007

31 August 2007
Punctuality then and now
Patrick Crozier

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92%
I notice that the latest punctuality figures are out.  Despite the Telegraph’s best attempts to cast them in a bad light they actually appear to be quite good.

Punctuality in Britain is a funny thing.  Before Hatfield, if memory serves, they hovered around 91% which was about the same as they were on privatisation.  During the 1980s I can remember a British Rail poster proudly claiming 95% punctuality.  I didn’t believe them.  It certainly didn’t feel like it.

The other day I stumbled across this cutting from the Times from 1933 in which the London, Midland and Scottish reported and annual average of 92%.

Oh, and their definition of on time was to within five minutes.  Today it’s to within 10 minutes for long-distance services.

30 August 2007
We are not alone
Patrick Crozier

There are times when I am writing about the railways that I think I am the only one.  So how nice it was to come across The Truth about Great Western which I found from a comment left on a Telegraph Speaker’s Corner.

As it’s author says:

The nature of the franchising system is probably the primary barrier to the growth of the rail network. The central issue with franchises is the short time periods for which they are granted: the majority of franchises are given to Train Operating Companies for periods of 7 to 10 years, with the final years usually being conditional on meeting certain performance criteria.

And:

The proper way to solve the problem of a lack of vertical integration is to give train operating companies (TOCs) far more control over their essential infrastructure.

Excellent.

And there’s a readable pdf.

And there’s this:

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Suspiciously professional

It all looks suspiciously professional.  But he’s right, so I don’t care.

29 August 2007
Man pushed under tube train - to his death. I understand incidents like this are a lot more common than we tend to think.  …link
 
Patrick Crozier • PermalinkFeedback (0)London UndergroundCrime
28 August 2007
Britain’s longest private railway
Rob Fisher
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Butlins Express

This weekend I visited a friend who is a train enthusiast and all round public transport expert.  We took a special service from Bristol to Minehead called the Butlins Express.  It runs partly on Network Rail track, and partly on the West Somerset Railway, a preserved railway run by volunteers.  According to the BBC, it’s the longest privately owned passenger line in Britain.  Few things are untainted by the state, though.  The engine and carriages for the Butlins Express are provided by ECT Mainline Rail.  This is a “social enterprise” (read: government teat suckling contractor), tagline:  “Combining Business Thinking With Social Values”.  Yuck.

Once off of the main line, the train seemed slow.  My friend explained that the Light Rail Act of 1896 means trains are limited to 25mph.  You can run your trains faster than that, but this presumably involves meeting stringent track and signalling requirements.  On the bright side, the train passed through a number of tiny stations run by volunteers, the route was picturesque and in Minehead there were various unusual trains to be seen, including some working steam trains.

I learnt some other fascinating facts this weekend:  rail regulators go so far as to specify the number of seats on trains to London (is there any aspect of running a train service the regulators don’t control?); and a strange emergent property of the fare system is that while a single from Swindon to Ealing Broadway costs more than £30, a ticket from Swindon to Didcot Parkway and another from Didcot Parkway to Ealing Broadway together cost £21.60.  Now I just need to design an algorithm to search the fares database for other such anomalies.

24 August 2007
Fight global warming: raise the speed limit
Patrick Crozier

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Saving the planet
Well, as Donald Sensing points out, how else are we going to get people out of dirty, polluting aircraft and into nice, clean, environmentally-friendly SUVs?

Personally, I think this is a bit of a cheat - far better to concentrate on the high order stuff: is it happening? is it a bad thing? how best to tackle it - but it’s a lot of fun.  And certainly not something I am above

(Hat-tip Pajamas Media).

23 August 2007
Capitalism and contracting out are not the same thing
Patrick Crozier

I don’t often read the Guardian so I have to leave it to the kindness of friends to point me in the direction of its pearls of wisdom.  Pearls such as this from Ian Jack:

John Major may never be forgiven as the prime minister who instigated railway privatisation, but, bless his sentimental English soul, as well as the warm beer and cricket he remembered the chocolate-and-cream carriages of the Great Western and imagined, foolish man, that the return of capitalism to railways would restore an old pride in their local identities.

Oh dear.  Once again: capitalism and contracting out are not the same thing.

The really weird thing about this article is the way Jack praises the railway companies of the 1930s and condemns the ones of today whilst not once asking himself why they should be different.

22 August 2007
Truth in advertising bans
Patrick Crozier

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Upstart starts up
The Advertising Standards Authority have banned a Ryanair advert on the grounds that it was misleading.  The advert related to travel between London and Brussels and as I haven’t seen the advert or the underlying stats on journey times and punctuality I really have no idea where the truth lies. However, judging by the way the matter has been reported, the amount of deception involved seems pretty small and certainly nothing that would shame the average politician.

Which makes me think that this ban probably has little to do with the facts of the case and far more to do with power politics.  Ryanair is an upstart not only for what it does but also for what it (and its boss, Michael O’Leary) says. For some time I’ve thought that “they” would eventually “get” Ryanair.  This could be part of that process.

21 August 2007
Rather him than me…
Patrick Crozier
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(Via English Russia)

16 August 2007
They’re thinking of raising the age for driving
Patrick Crozier

Longrider is against it:

The reason young drivers figure so high in the accident statistics is not purely because they are beset with the indomitable self assurance that comes with a lack of years, it is because they lack experience.

Maybe, maybe.  My view is that if you’re good enough you’re old enough.  Why shouldn’t 10-year olds or younger be able to drive?  Is there any more of a legal problem with 10-year olds than their 17-year old counterparts?  I really don’t know here but if there is it occurs to me that it ought to be changed.

At very least lowering the legal age for driving might get a few of them off the sidewalks.  Walking is the second most dangerous form of transport.

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The way we were

15 August 2007
Lower lead, lower crime - paper argues that crime rates follow lead levels with a 20-year gap. Less good on how the lead gets into the bloodstream in the first place  …link
 
Patrick Crozier • PermalinkFeedback (0)Road Miscellany
10 August 2007
Greener by car
Patrick Crozier

Longrider points to a government report (not that that is anything to go by) that suggests that the car (assuming you buy into the whole global warming argument) is frequently a greener option than rail.

This is an idea we are not entirely unfamiliar with here at Transport Blog.

I commented that the report did not seem to mention occupancy rates.  As I have mentioned before these have a big impact on a train’s overall score.

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Hey, hey TGV; was it you who caused the rising sea?

Meddling in airline advertising
Rob Fisher

I noticed this story on the front page of someone else’s newspaper on the tube today.  The Office of Fair Trading wants airlines to include “taxes, fuel fees and other charges” in their advertised prices.

They should definitely announce the taxes loudly and boldly.  It’s always good to make people very aware of how much tax they’re paying.  I’m not sure I understand “fuel fees”, though, any more than I would tomato sauce fees when buying baked beans.  The point seems somewhat moot anyway, given that airlines always tell you the total price before you agree to fly.  Unless the government back-dates a tax that is…

09 August 2007
More BBC inaccuracy
Patrick Crozier

From a report on Crossrail:

When Crossrail was first envisaged, Margaret Thatcher was prime minister, Liverpool were on the way to the football league championship and Jive Bunny was top of the pop charts.

Au contraire.  At a reference library a few years ago the librarian thrust into my hands a report into London transport from 1974 which outlined a scheme very similar to the current one.  So, that would be at a time when Harold Wilson was Prime Minister, Showaddywaddy were top of the charts and, er, Liverpool were on the way to the football league championship.

Still don’t think Crossrail’s going to happen.  Sorry Brian.

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The sum of 30 years of Crossrail progress

08 August 2007
The Great Train Robbery
Mark Holland

On this day in 1963, on the West Coast Mainline between Leighton Buzzard and Tring, a gang of thieves stole £2,631,784 in used £1, £5 and £10 notes from the mail train That’s the equivalent of about £40 million in today’s money.

Here, the detective in charge of the case clears up a mystery.

The train itself has not been stolen. We are still in possession of the train.

07 August 2007
Should BAA be broken up?
Patrick Crozier

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A queue
Things are not going well at Britain’s airports.  Queues so long people are missing their flights.  Millions of bags going missing.  And yellow signage.  Jeff Randall - usually as robust a free-marketeer as you get in the national press - is calling for BAA* to be broken up.

This causes me some difficulty.  I am not usually in favour of enforced competition (warning: short).  But there does seem to be a problem here.  Usually when there is a market failure it turns out that it is in fact a cunningly disguised government failure.  The railways are a good example of this.

But, if so, what has the government done to produce this fiasco?  I suspect the answer lies in planning (again), in that if you wanted to go into competition with BAA you’d have to spend the rest of your life just getting the planning permission.  But I am not sure.

Any other suggestions?

* Does BAA still stand for British Airports Authority?

UpdateIt seems that it doesn’t.  It’s one of those acronyms that has outgrown its constituent words and taken on a life of its own.

Update 25/04/08

Version 2 of this posting is now available.

04 August 2007
Together in electric dreams
Mark Holland

The Daily Telegraph, and therefore the rest of the mainstream media, has finally caught up with Transport Blog.

We checked out these new super funky electric sports cars, like, months ago when they and the fashionably green were still droning on about hybrids. Hybrids are surely the worst of both worlds. An inevitable stop gap maybe, but even so. Carrying two engines around simply doubles the wieght and complexity of the entire machine whilst the driver’s smugness level rises, undeservedly, exponentially.

Proper electric cars can be entirely re-engineered. They don’t need the bulky engine, gearbox and drivertrain and can instead use compact motors right down at the wheels. These motors are then only connected to the centre for power and control by cables. Cables! Especially clever is the way the motors can double up as generators when the vehicle is slowing down and pump energy back into the battery which extends the range of the car between charges.

From today’s paper:

In a low-key industrial estate in San Carlos, south of San Francisco, a quiet revolution is under way. After four years’ work, Tesla Motors is now weeks away from the launch of the Roadster - the world’s first production electric sports car; a vehicle the company fully expects to transform the industry. The man masterminding the launch is Elon Musk, the chairman of Tesla Motors, the first new American car company in decades, and one that will put a fleet of zero-emissions electric sports vehicles on the road this summer. Tesla’s Roadster is a high-performance two-seater, faster than a Ferrari yet twice as green as a Prius, Toyota’s petrol-electric hybrid. It runs on 6,831 lithium-iron batteries, identical to those in a laptop computer.

‘So you can look over at the Prius and go, “What are you doing in that gas-guzzling hog?”

Note also that we were ahead here:

Yet the Roadster is also designed to beat any fuel-based sports car, including a Ferrari or a Porsche, in a car-to-car showdown. With a top speed of 135mph, it accelerates from 0 to 60 in a fraction under four seconds. Its zero-emissions policy also extends to noise: as Vespremi turns the ignition and eases the red Roadster off the forecourt and out into the Californian sun, there is nothing but a low electrical hum. ‘A sort of Blade Runner soundtrack,’ Vespremi says. There is no engine noise - because there is no engine. (People have found this so eerie that one engineer suggested programming in various boy-racer sound effects, like mobile ringtones.)

When I’m an internet thousandaire a la Elon Musk - killer apps sought, we’ll name our first rocket after you! - I’ll buy one.

02 August 2007
Indian ticket insurance
Patrick Crozier

Oh come on this is straight forward enough.  It’s insurance against train cancellations in India, isn’t it?  Not quite:

“My favourite ticketing system was in Mumbai, India,” Kim enthuses. “No one actually buys a ticket, but you can buy ‘ticket insurance’ from private entrepreneurs who work at the entrance of the station.  The ‘ticket insurance’ is about half the price of a regular rail ticket.  It gives you a guarantee that, in the extraordinary event that you are booked by a railways inspector for taking a free ride, your fine will be paid.  A relative was once booked and the ticket insurer paid the fine exactly as promised.”

From the Sydney Morning Herald (Hat-tip: Marginal Revolution)

01 August 2007
Egg-shaped wheels
Rob Fisher

I wonder why egg-shaped wheels never caught on; or overhead luggage cribs for that matter.  More such fun with old technology magazines can be found at modernmechanix.com (tag line: “Yesterday’s tomorrow, today").  Hat tip:  Rob Hinkley.

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“However incredible it may appear, this coach will actually arrive in London four days after leaving Manchester.”
Patrick Crozier

Newspaper advertisement from 1754.  Found here via Marginal Revolution

And we complain about Virgin.