September 2007

28 September 2007
Ticketing is still difficult
Patrick Crozier

I see Which? have yet again been conducting a survey:

Millions of rail passengers are paying nearly 60 per cent more than they should to travel because of bad booking advice, a consumer watchdog claimed…

Half the calls resulted in too high fares being quoted, adding £1,263.60 to the cost of journeys which should - if the cheapest ticket had been offered - cost £2,174.

To which I don’t think I am going to say anything different from what I said a few years ago.  With the possible exception that, if anything, things seem to have improved.  To sum up: ticketing is difficult.

27 September 2007
Trenhotel to Barcelona
Rob Fisher

I recently took the overnight Trenhotel train from Paris to Barcelona, a fun, if technologically inferior, alternative to a budget airline.  Booking can be a pain, but the useful Seat 61 site helps, and I found it easier to call Rail Europe than to use their clunky web site.

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Obviously the journey takes longer by train: we left Waterloo at midday and arrived in Barcelona at 8am the next day—but it was easier than the return plane trip (which also involved a taxi, two coach rides each an hour long to and from the far out of town airports, and the tube).  A lot of that time was spent sleeping, so isn’t really lost time at all, and a couple of hours were spent outside a cafe in Paris drinking beer.

Another advantage over flying is the lack of luggage restrictions.  It turns out to be impossible to make two weeks’ worth of stuff weigh less than 15kg.  I don’t mind paying Ryanair 8 Euros per extra kilo, but I do wish they wouldn’t treat me like a naughty boy and make me go and stand in Yet Another Queue to pay for it.

There’s a certain romance to train travel, especially in Europe with its departure boards showing exotic destinations.  At dinner this more than made up for the food not being all that great and having to share our table.  In fact, I’m being unfair.  Our British companions were charming and interesting, and after a few glasses of wine I kept expecting Miss Marple to appear and interview me about the murder.  Dinner on the train was a wonderful experience.

Accomodation was comfortable—we had a private cabin with bunk beds and a sink.  Cabins with showers are available, but I found those tickets impossible to get.  The website has a virtual tour showing what it’s like on board.  Unlike the night train I once took from Trondheim to Bodø, I found the particular rocking motion of Trenhotel quite unsettling, but felt better after taking some pills.

Crossing the border was achieved by handing over our passports to the staff at the beginning of the journey and being handed them back the next morning.  Exactly what happened to them in the meantime I’ll never know.

Sleep came easily, but morning still came too soon.  Arriving in Barcelona at 8am meant wandering around the city in a daze, pretending to sight-see and drinking cortados just to stay awake until our hotel room was ready.

Have a look at The Man in Seat 61 for train travel ideas.

The remaining mystery is that even though we were travelling by train one way only, we had to buy return Eurostar tickets from London to Paris.  Single tickets are more than double the price.  I can only speculate as to the economic forces that contrive this situation.

26 September 2007
Parking charges?  Possibly.  Spending the money on trams?  Definitely not
Patrick Crozier

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Beautiful but expensive
So, Nottingham Council are toying with the wizard wheeze of charging for parking on private land in their city and then using the proceeds to build a second tram line.

So many issues in such a short space of time.

There’s an argument going around that charging for parking is a surrogate for a congestion charge.  Sounds plausible.  And congestion charging is certainly not something I am necessarily against.

But spending the money on trams!  Oh Dear Lord, no!  It’s another state-funded infrastructure programme and therefore terrible, terrible news.

24 September 2007
Souped up Prius
Mark Holland

This is interesting.

Like how the iPod created an industry of add-ons, the Prius is doing the same.

Unlike most after market products for cars, which are about sporting up the performance or look, the Hybrid aftermarket is in superior batteries and charging. The improvements are impressive.

“We can improve the energy density, accelerate more quickly, and all without taking up too much space.” Translation: A 45 mpg hybrid can now get up to 125 mpg. Today, about three dozen vehicles equipped with A123Systems cells are prowling the cul-de-sacs of chichi suburbs.

As ever the early adopters are carrying the burden in order to be first.

Naturally, cost is an issue. It takes 64 years of gas savings to pay off the extra investment a Hybrids Plus conversion entails.

Thanks to their taking one for the team, when mass production reduces the price the possible benefits could be amazing.

In August, A123Systems signed a deal with GM to help develop a fuel cell for the Chevy Volt. GM believes a plug-in hybrid like the Volt, which could be in showrooms by 2009, could render the average daily commute—about 40 miles—gas-free. Such efforts could ultimately lead American firms to create what would have been unthinkable a few years ago—a car not powered with fossil fuels. As we speak, at Google’s headquarters in Silicon Valley—where a massive solar-generating installation went live in June—four Priuses converted to plug-ins are being recharged by the sun.

I’d still want a Tesla Roadster, but meanwhile this is still very cool technology and another positive step in weaning us off of the black stuff.

20 September 2007
So, that’s why they use the train
Patrick Crozier

A report (in Japanese) on Tokyo’s most dangerous street.  Watch out for the (small) crash near the end:

(Hat-tip: Japan Probe)

19 September 2007
When free enterprise built infrastructure
Patrick Crozier

I spotted this in a BBC piece on the Brunels’ Thames Tunnel:

“Victorian brickwork - particularly the early brickwork - was of a tremendous standard,”

And while inspecting a viaduct:

What they found was that of five levels of brickwork only the first, which had been exposed to the elements, had deteriorated to any extent.

So, what we have here is long-term thinking.  By private enterprise.

14 September 2007
Shared space
Mark Holland

If there’s one thing more annoying than the over zealous greens then it’s the knee-jerk, suck on my exhaust pipe, gaze upon my carbon footprint, “oppressed motorist!”, anti green. Isn’t it funny how many folks who claim to be guided by reason can be so prejudiced at times?

Anyway, The Conservative Party released an environmental discussion document yesterday which most bloggers, in fairness, guided by experience no doubt, pounced upon before the ink was barely dry. Personally I haven’t read it so I have no opinion. Presumably there’s some good and some not so good.

However, some people should really look before they leap:

Bonkers idea #4 : removing white lines from the nation’s roads. The idea is that we would all drive more cautiously as a result, and so save fuel. It also says street lights should be turned off at night.

Whoops. Someone should have been reading Transport Blog last November. The scheme, Guido should know, is something those of a libertarian bent should applaud.

Mr Monderman, 61, compared his philosophy of motoring to an ice rink. “Skaters work out things for themselves and it works wonderfully well. I am not an anarchist, but I don’t like rules which are ineffective and street furniture tells people how to behave.”

In short, if motorists are made more wary about how they drive, they behave more carefully, he said.

In the immortal words of Brian: “You’ve all got to work it out for yourselves!”.

11 September 2007
Public Service Announcement
Patrick Crozier

Now that everyone’s back at work again, and particularly with the overland trains crowded with Tube refugees, it seems a recap is in order. We should all now be familiar with the fact that feet and bags do not get a seat. Other things that do not get a seat are, in no particular order, your newspaper, your jacket, your lunchbox, your lunch, your breakfast and your dog.

The Disgruntled Commuter

06 September 2007
Why I love the M4 bus lane
Rob Fisher

The video speaks for itself.

Actually, I learnt some time ago that the M4 bus lane isn’t really a bus lane at all—it’s a cunning traffic management scheme that solves a problem caused by a bridge that can’t be widened.

Update:  The article explaining the bus lane is part of Chris’s British Road Directory, which is a fun site if you’re in the mood for geeky articles about junction design and road numbering.

Heathrow’s landing charges are capped
Patrick Crozier

I did not know that but apparently it’s true.  Which would go a long way to explaining the queues and why they’ve turned the place into a shopping mall.  Several shopping malls, indeed.  It’s awfully reminiscent of Railtrack with their station re-developments - Paddington being the prime example - and, for that matter, some of Japan’s private railways with their penchant for department stores and resorts.

If people are not allowed to make money out of their primary business they’ll neglect it and find ways to make money out of secondary businesses.

Not, that Japan’s railways neglect the train business.

Further reading

Why are Japanese trains so overcrowded?, Transport Blog, 6 February 2004.

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Looking towards The Lawn at Paddington

05 September 2007
Why does Europe lag behind?
Patrick Crozier

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Slow coach
This is not the BBC.

As updated 19th Century technology finally arrives into an updated 19th Century trainshed we ask why is it that Britons literally fly around Europe while Europeans still choose to dawdle on trains.  Why is it that, in the shape of the budget airlines, Britain has succeeded in providing fast and frequent travel for the masses while Europeans lavish ever greater sums on a technological dead end?

It is far from a simple question and there are plenty of potential culprits.  Many put the blame on the powerful climate change lobby.  Since the time of Asterix, Europeans have worried that something very bad is about to happen.  By the clever use of well-funded propaganda, the climate change lobby have convinced European populations that the something very bad is all the fault of the airplane.  As, in an attempt to appease Gaia, ever greater sums have been squandered on Europe’s so-called “high-speed” rail network Europeans have found themselves locked-in.  To admit the mistake would be to admit that they have been very wrong and very stupid for a very long time.

Meanwhile others look to latent militarism.  Many of Europe’s original railways were built at the behest of the military in order to ferry troops to national borders as quickly as possible.  Although Europe has to a large extent exorcised the ghost of militarism many see the obsession with new railways as a way of rekindling the flame.

But we can’t ignore the possibility of deep cultural differences between ourselves and the continent.  Europeans have a far greater appetite for the likes of Sartre, Goethe and Kierkegaard whose works continue to fly off the shelves. 

Put simply, Europeans like being miserable.

Further reading

The Success of the Industrial Revolution and the Failure of Political Revolutions: How Britain Got Lucky, Findlay Dunachie, Libertarian Alliance, 1996.

Why I am not that worried about the absence of high-speed lines in the UK, Transport Blog, 10 August 2004.

Against state-funded rail schemes, InstaPatrick, 6 December 2006.

04 September 2007
"You must buy a ticket before you get on one of our trains. If you cannot show a valid ticket when you are asked, you may have to pay a penalty fare. Unless of course you don’t want to. And are a bit scary. Thank you."
Patrick Crozier

The Disgruntled Commuter finds out how easy it is to dodge the fare - so long as you are hard enough:

The ticket guys had a good go at stopping him - after he’d blown off the first one, the second ran after him and had a second try but they didn’t seem either willing or able to actually lay hands on him. I’m guessing that unless the police are there too they can’t actually physically detain someone.

Well, as the Pub Philosopher points out if as a rail employee you try to intervene the chances are that you will be the one in trouble.  (Hat-tip: Laban)