November 2002

November 30, 2002

No to disabled rights

Patrick Crozier | Best of Transport Blog | General Points (not just transport) | Transport and Disability

Stephen Pollard (amongst many others) makes much mirth over the story of the disabled woman who had to take a two-hour round trip just to get out of the station - hence being late for her meeting at the Ministry to discuss (guess what) disabled access at stations.

But I feel forced to question whether it is for government to get mixed up in the issue of disabled access at all.

Disabled access seems to be all the rage right now especially on the railways. New trains have special areas for wheelchairs and disabled toilets. Old trains have sliding doors painted a different colour from the rest of the train and have to have special buttons and handles installed whenever they undergo a major refit. Lifts seem to be popping up at stations all over the place.

Continue reading "No to disabled rights"

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Regulator gives BAA hard landing

Patrick Crozier | Air Miscellany | Airport Expansion

This is a wonderfully opaque article in the Telegraph from the world of aircraft landing rights regulation. I must admit I didn't know such regulation existed but then again just about everything is regulated these days so why not airports.

It strikes me that this regulation (slots held down to below-inflation rises and retail income used to cross-subsidise income from landing rights) might have some odd effects. For instance, could, perhaps one of the biggest drivers for the expansion of Heathrow come from the fact that it is difficult to increase the income from any given flight? I also can't help thinking that the cross-subsidisation is bound to produce some pretty odd incentives though I can't think right now what they might be.

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The Aussie who saved our flag

Patrick Crozier | Airlines UK

Profile of British Airways's Rod Eddington in the Spectator. This is the guy who brought P J O'Rourke in to front the ads. He also makes a distinction between airlines that fly the flag and flag carriers.

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ABD nominates Traffic Director

Patrick Crozier | Road Miscellany

His main qualifications seem to be ownership of a JCB and the digging up of speed bumps as a hobby. From the Association of British Drivers.

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November 29, 2002

Doubts over Brown's rail billions

Patrick Crozier | Railtrack and Network Rail | Statistics Scandal

Yet another civil servant questions wades into the statistics scandal. From the Telegraph

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Mobile phones on trains

Patrick Crozier | Rail Miscellany

I have every sympathy with this Times letter writer who complains about the way that supposedly mobile-free carriages are anything but.

In Japan passengers are asked to put their phones on vibrate and take calls in the vestibules. And they do.

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November 28, 2002

Network Rail runs into fog over accounting status

Patrick Crozier | Railtrack and Network Rail | Statistics Scandal

The statistics scandal (see here and here) rumbles on. This time in the Telegraph.

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Motorway travel times 30pc up on 1998

Patrick Crozier | Inter-modal Competition | Road General

Very interesting report in the Telegraph from, ahem, a few days ago. Data comes from the RAC and Traffic Master (the electronic jam busters). Much of it is caused by people attemting to avoid the trains. Don't blame them.

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Motoring Taxes

Patrick Crozier | Road General

In a letter in the Times, one Barry Doe (who I suspect is the same Barry Doe who writes a column for RAIL magazine) criticises the spending of motoring taxes on roads. He asks:

On what, then, should I expect my contribution to the Exchequer paid in whisky excise duty to be spent? More distilleries?
Well, if they are going to be collected, then ideally, yes.

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The only thing the green belt is good for is tarmac

Patrick Crozier | Planning | Ross Clark

Ross Clark in the Times. And he makes the point that it us city dwellers who are paying the price in property prices. Good man.

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Tube workers suspend strikes

Patrick Crozier | Industrial Relations | London Underground

According to the Times. It seems they want to come out in support of the firemen.

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What is happening on London's roads?

Patrick Crozier | London Congestion Charging

Both Simon Jenkins (in an unusually good article for him) and Boris Johnson complain about the worsening situation on London's roads. Many believe this to be the consequence of a secret plan by Ken Livingstone to slow down the traffic before congestion charging is introduced and then be able to hail an improvement in traffic flow afterwards.

The only problem is that up to now there have been no leaks, no off-the-record briefings, nothing to indicate a plot as opposed to standard ordinary bureaucratic incompetence. This is all the more odd because it is not as if there is a shortage of functionaries here and there who would just love to have a pop at London's Mayor, Ken Livingstone.

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The move

Patrick Crozier | Blogging

As you can see UK Transport has a new address, name and content management system.

I decided to change the name mainly because the "UK" bit was becoming a bit of a millstone. Although I am a UK resident and am most interested in solutions to the UK's transport problems I do want to hear of examples from abroad. In fact I think it is vital that we learn the lessons from abroad.

While I tried to resist moving to Movable Type just because everyone else was doing it I have to admit that did form part of the reason. Plain old curiosity was another factor. Having made the move I find it difficult to imagine ever going back. The template is better, archives are in months rather than weeks, it looks better, it's easier to change, we have categories - which I will launch soon, there is a search facility, comments are handled better and the archives are more robust.

All I need now is some readers.

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November 22, 2002

Right diagnosis - wrong treatment

Patrick Crozier | Rail Economics | Rail History

This guy gets it almost completely right until he starts talking about solutions. And he mentions Barbara Castle.

In fact Barbara Castle is the author of many of our current problems. For it was she who ended the closures of the branch lines. Had these unprofitable (and still unprofitable) lines been closed then British Rail would have been capable of making a profit and would have been privatised in much the same way as British Telecom, Rolls Royce and British Airways. But it wasn't profitable so politicians had to design a bizarre Heath Robinson scheme to keep the subsidy flowing.

And we all know what that led to.

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Patrick Crozier | LU PPP | Public Private Partnerships

Excellent article in the Telegraph. I really can't think of anything to add except that on the main line railways similar formulas were introduced last year - and no one understood them either.

Oh, and there's another article here on the same subject by the same people.

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November 21, 2002

Women-only carriages

Patrick Crozier | Rail Miscellany

There's been a call for women-only carriages on London's Underground. It would not be a new idea - they were around for about a 100 years and were only abolished in the 1960s. Why I wonder? Strangely enough they have also recently been introduced on some lines in Tokyo.

Although they would probably be a good idea I can't help feeling that it's a case of running away from the problem which makes me feel uneasy.

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Scottish Airports

Patrick Crozier | Airport Expansion

David Farrer comments on the need for enforced competition. Which is something I don't like. But in the next paragraph he points out why it is needed: because the politicians won't allow the building of a new airport.

This is just so absolutely typical. Another example of government action being needed to clear up the mess created by previous government action.

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November 20, 2002

A passenger - manager exchange

Patrick Crozier | Media | UK Train Operators

Recently the BBC appointed a commuters' champion, Jon Yuill and last week they published the result of an e-mail exchange between him and Dave Kaye, Managing Director of First Great Eastern which is one of the better train operators.

There are many aspects of this exchange which I found galling but the thing that really got me was that attitude of Kaye, the railwayman. It would appear that at some point in the past the contents of his brain were scooped out and replaced with mangagement consultant-speak - you know the sort of thing that is so wonderfully mocked by the BT adverts.

This (from Kaye in response to a question about late-night security) got right up my nose:

I will look at additional security staff, particularly in the evenings and on late night trains where more disruption and anti-social behaviour is likely to occur.
Why haven't you looked at it before? Is anti-social behaviour a new thing? I doubt it. Why don't you arrest these people? Why don't you ban them from the railway? Why don't you offer passengers rewards for catching vandals and other criminals? After all, if you are a criminal a train is really bad place to commit a crime. All it requires is one person to pull the communication cord and you are trapped. There is nowhere to go.

If it is the fact that you (the train operator) cannot do something because the government won't allow you then say so.

Right now, what the industry desperately needs is some straight-talking especially from the people on the ground who know what's going on. It needs people who are prepared to take responsibility - people who say "I am going to solve this problem and this is how I am going to do it." If they can't solve the problem then they should state why not. If it's the government's fault they should say so. And loudly.

There is perhaps a mitigating factor in all this. Train operators owe their existence to the Government. A train operator who constantly (rightly or wrongly) shifts the blame on to the government can probably kiss its franchise goodbye. But right now, the whole franchising system is in a state of flux, with shorter terms, greater restrictions and smaller profits. Frankly, many of the operators have little to lose by saying it the way it is. If you are going to go down you may as well enjoy yourself.

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November 19, 2002

Buses, passengers and privatisation

Patrick Crozier | Buses and Jitneys

State bus bars "too wet" boy. Story from Freedom and Whisky. David Farrer reckons that it would have been a different story had it been a private bus. I must admit I'm not so sure. For starters we don't know the full story - the "wet" excuse could have been just that.

But private buses might choose to turn away all sorts of passengers for all sorts of reasons. CrozierBus, for instance, will turn away anyone wearing shell suits, hoods, Nike trainers or bad hairuts. I wouldn't want to be a man with a pierced ear, lip, eyebrow or tongue either. Personal stereos and mobile phones, if used, will be smashed. And anyone engaging in vandalism will be keel-hauled with the bus in motion.

Wet passengers may be asked to stand. Why am I so soft?

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Tolls in Sydney

Patrick Crozier | Inter-modal Competition | Road Pricing

Tim Blair has the lowdown so I guess the whole world heard of this one before it appeared here. The interesting thing is that tolls have been introduced, highways have been built, more cars are on the road and they move faster. So much for the "more roads means more congestion" argument. By the way, many of the tolls are electronic.

This brings me (surprisingly I must admit) to an opinion I don't think I've ever fully expressed. I believe that the future lies with roads. Sure I talk about trains and I like trains (or at least I like the idea of trains) but in Britain as in most of the English-speaking world they account for a miniscule proportion of the transport market.

Roads and cars are where people want to be. They are door to door. Almost all cars are compatible with almost all roads. They are private. You can escape the thugs and other louts who loiter on trains and buses. They can be extraordinarily efficient. You can listen to the radio. For many long journeys they are faster. I believe that roads are cheaper to build and maintain (but I'm not sure on that one).

Sure, there are some things that trains are very good at. They are very good at moving large numbers of people from point A to point B quickly. Electric trains don't pollute. You can read on them. It is for these reasons that they are likely to have a role in transport in high-density urban areas for some time.

However, we shouldn't get hung up on trains no matter how hard that sometimes might be. All forms of transport ultimately owe their existence to how useful they are to people and for the forseeable future roads and cars will hold sway.

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Change of topic

Patrick Crozier | Other

Earlier this month I announced that I would be doing a talk on Japanese Railways. After a chat with the host, Brian Micklethwait, we decided to make it "Aspects of Japan" instead. Otherwise, the details are the same.

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Metra update

Patrick Crozier | Railways - USA

One of the good things about having proper comments is that in the future people will just be able to bung things up there. Anyway, the discussion about Metra was before then so I got e-mails and then didn't put them up.

Tom Otteson wrote:

I read you blog occasionaly as I am interested in transportation issues. I am very glad that you mentioned the metra, which is actually a very excellent transportation system. I rode the metra every day for 2 years making a daily 30 mile commute.

The nice part of the metra is that it is always on time and the central stations are highly efficient and located in the most dense area of downtown chicago. The problem with metra is the relentless centralization of the system. I lived without a car and counted on the system to get me to places in the suburbs where I worked. In order to take the train to an area 2 or 3 miles from where I was, I had to take the train back to downtown to catch another branch.

All this system needs to be almost perfect is a connector between the lines to the airports and other dense areas in the suburbs. Before I left, this was being proposed by one of the systems that runs metra. Once this link is complete, metra will probably be the best commuter train system in the us - this system goes to actually multiple states, and serves fairly well to link a pretty huge metropolitain area. It is "only" 8 million people, but comparable in area to London which is much denser than american cities. this system is as good as it gets for this country when the link is completed and is absolutely something for you to watch.

And then he further wrote:
I just had another thought about Metra in regards to the multiple ownership of the lines and how that works. Because the centralization of the lines means that they all end in the 9x9 block square area of downtown chicago, basically each of the four systems has their own terminal that are located 1 or 2 blocks from each other, so the end result is that all the lines have totally separated infrastructure and only have to coordinate together in areas very close in to downtown. It seems that the Metra was set up in a very similar fashion to how the Chicago El [Elevated Railway? - Ed] was made and the end results of the system layouts are very similar.

Just for your info, this is an outline of how the Chicago El was set up - it had different companies owning a line that went far out into the suburbs and met in the downtown. At some point, someone built a loop around downtown to link the lines and sometime after that it was taken over by the government. It has also resulted in a system that is highly centralized and could be made into one of the best systems in the country with an outer loop - just like metra.

Ah, loop lines. Except very close to the centre eg London's Circle Line, I fear they're doomed. Railways need density and while that exists for radial journeys it rarely does so for tangental journeys.

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November 18, 2002

Mussolini did not make the trains run on time

Patrick Crozier | Nationalisation | Railways - Other

See Snopes. Link via Survival Arts.

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Patrick Crozier | Blogging

UK Transport has comments. It can now march on into the second half of the Blog revolution. Seriously, I had grave doubts about their usefulness. I had a lot of experience with newsgroups and the appalling anti-social behaviour that goes on there and thought the same would apply to blogs. But having looked at many it would appear that this is not the case. Mind you that doesn't mean that UK Transport won't prove to be the exception that proves the rule.

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November 17, 2002

As promised, this is what

Patrick Crozier | Railways - Other | Transport Miscellany

As promised, this is what my Malaysian correspondent had to say about transport in Malaysia:

I was a student in Manchester for about 6 years before I came back in 1998. While I was there, I found the train service to be quite good, except a few times when there were delays. The bus services during peak hours are also quite punctual. And there was not much traffic jams. Compared to many cities in South East Asia, I think the British are really lucky to such good and reliable transport systems [what!]. Hence, I think the current criticisms on the British Rail are partly politically motivated.

In Malaysia, I live in Kuala Lumpur, the capital. I live about 12 km away from where I work, so I drive. Nonetheless, if I want to get the work fast, I have to take a highway and pay a toll of RM1.60 dollars [about 30p] which will allow me to get there in 10-12 minutes. There is another highway with a cheaper toll of RM1.00, but there's a bit of jam before I can get to the highway. The third route I can take is toll-free, but with the jam, it takes me 25 minutes to get to work.

The public transport in Malaysia is ghastly unreliable; we have no set time-table for the buses, unlike in UK. So, one could wait sometimes up to 1 hour for a bus to appear. Thus, most people drive to work, despite the traffic jams.

For longer distance travel, the number one choice is still to drive. Although one has to pay toll across the highway, bu it is safer than taking a coach although coach is much cheaper than driving. The trains are too slow. Usually people only take trains when they don't have a car, don't know how to drive or have a lot of things to transport. Business executives who need to travel to other cities would sometimes fly in order to save time.

KL is the only city in Malaysia which has a new Light Rail Transit system (something like London underground) within the city. However, when it was first introduced , it received a lot of criticism and low acceptance because the fares too high. This is slowly changing though, and more people are taking the LRT since at least it is more frequent, faster and more reliable than buses.

So, as my grandma used to say "Quit your complaining!"

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November 12, 2002

Blogging will be light over

Patrick Crozier | Blogging

Blogging will be light over the next few days.

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November 10, 2002

A Malaysian Mystery

Patrick Crozier | Other

In the unlikely event that readers have been paying close attention to my hit counter over the past two weeks they will have noticed that it has been a bit busier than usual. Whereas I typically get an average of about 37 or so hits a day, it has recently been averaging nearer 70. This was rather puzzling so I decided to do a bit of investigating.

I started by looking at the referrals page of my site meter. I noticed that most referrals were coming from Google searches and most of these included the words "unpunctual" and "train". Curious. I then called up some further details and discovered that a lot of the computers involved were based in Malaysia. Very curious. I also discovered that they were tending to link to one particular post from the past.

I couldn't work out what was going on. My initial (indeed, only) guess was that it must be some sort of jumbo school project - possibly by some teacher bent on demonstrating to his pupils that Malaysia is at least as good as countries abroad. Anyway, I decided to edit the original post to add an update making reference the frenetic state of my hit counter and inviting explanations.

Lo and behold I got a reply from one Chong Pei Pei (I guess we would say it as Pei Pei Chong). He said:

Well, the reason why there were so hits was because we have a newspaper crossword puzzle competition. There was one question which goes like this: "Commuters may describe a persistently unpunctual train service as a " _ _ r _ e" (5-letter word, 3rd letter is "r" and last letter is "e". I, like many others, have been trying to figure out what the answer is. Naturally, I have been trying to search for the answer on the Internet. Sorry to have crowded your server. But I hope that if you know the answer, then maybe you could help out.
So my mystery solved. I did have a go at solving his problem and scratched my head for a while. The best I could come up with were the words "curse" and "farce" which fitted but weren't particularly satisfactory on account of not being specific railway terms. "Farce" was my preferred option - let's just hope it was right.

I then asked Mr Chong if (seeing as I had answered his question) he might tell us a little about the transport system in Malaysia. He very graciously agreed and I will be posting up the reply in the near future.

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November 07, 2002

Huffing and puffing at the SRA

Patrick Crozier | Rail Franchising

Britain's Strategic Rail Authority (SRA) (see diagram and outline for further info) made a big splash yesterday (apologies to overseas readers - you'll have to pay). It said in no uncertain terms and as if it meant it that this time it was going to get serious with all those dreadful rail companies.

The Times would moved to state that this was a good thing. In an article entitled Strategic vision: it is time to correct the faults of rail privatisation it said:

Yesterday’s sweeping reorganisation of train franchises is intended to correct some of the longstanding weaknesses in the privatisation of the railways. Among these are the fragmentation of the system, the conflicts between different train companies using the same London terminus, the persistent failure of some operators to run clean, punctual and reliable trains and the institutionalised confrontation between different sectors of the industry.
Well, up to a point Lord Copper. Yes, it will reduce some fragmentation of the horizontal sort. However, it will do nothing to reduce the real killer, fragmentation of the vertical sort. Nor, will it do anything to get rid of franchising. Indeed, it entrenches the system.

There is also this idea that in the original franchises no one had thought to penalise operators for failing to run trains on time. Not true. The original agreements were shot through with penalties. Indeed, if memory serves me well, one of these clauses led to the largest fine in British corporate history (against South West Trains).

There is also the question of how the SRA intends to measure cleanliness, security and passenger information (not mentioned here but further examples of Key Performance Indicators (KPI)).

Actually, issues like this go to the heart of why railways cannot be run by contract. At the end of the day factors such as cleanliness and security are down to "feel" as much as anything else. I doubt if your average Japanese station manager has any real idea of how he would measure station cleanliness but I bet he knows a clean station when he sees one.

...Thirdly, Mr Bowker has insisted that he is not trying to micromanage the companies or trespass on their commercial freedom to run their franchises as profitable businesses.

This last point is extremely important. Any attempt to intervene in commercial decisions would be disastrous. Already train operators are hemmed in by high regulatory walls. They must report to safety bodies, passenger coalitions, transport planners and independent adjudicators. Their fares can be dictated, their routes laid down and their subsidies altered.

Which is the whole point. Rail privatisation didn't work because rail companies had no freedom. And the latest SRA initiative hasn't granted them anymore. Actually what is going to happen now is that many of the managers who could have made a difference are going to throw the towel in now that they know it is going to be very difficult to do anything entrepreneurial.
The companies are franchisees, not government agencies. They are, of course, subject to public control - but so were the four prewar railway companies.
Well, just a minute. Now, I am not an expert on the chapter and verse of the pre-war rail industry but as far as I am aware there was no control on passenger fares (freight fares were a different story), no enforced fragmentation (precisely the opposite in fact), no franchising, no subsidy, no fines for lateness, or litter, or criminality and very little in the way of regulation. The pre-war railway companies may not have had complete freedom but that I had a good deal more than their present-day successors. They also a ran a very good railway.

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On getting yourself killed in Barcelona

Patrick Crozier | Rail Safety | Transport Miscellany

Iberian Notes has the lowdown. Actually, I think their (non) stats are true for just about everywhere.

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The Glasgow Underground

Patrick Crozier | Industrial Relations

Freedom and Whisky's David Farrer e-mails me to tell me that there's been a strike on Glasgow's underground and the strikers have been fired.

I bet you didn't even know there was an underground in Glasgow, did you? If memory serves me correctly it is one of the oldest underground railways in the world. I also understand the trains are very small indeed.

Anyway, the socialists are going to sack their brother drivers are they? Why do I scoff?

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November 06, 2002

DVT - an update

Patrick Crozier | Airline Seating

I have just come across this factfile produced by the Telegraph. Interesting that American Airlines have increased legroom but not fares. How do they do it?

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Penn Station

Patrick Crozier | Planning | Rail Miscellany | Railways - USA

Diane E. from Letter from Gotham gets very upset about the demolition of Penn Station in the 1960s. I still get upset about the demolition of Euston and that was before I was even born.

At the same time my rational side tells me that we do sometimes have to knock down old buildings even if they look nice. Otherwise we fail to progress. Worse still we end up with an appalling housing shortage like we currently do in London. On my trip to Japan the station master at Nagoya told us how Nagoya Station was once the tallest building in Asia. They still knocked it down. Part of me cheered.

When I was about 10 I saw St Pancras Station for the first time. I thought it was the most beautiful building I'd ever seen. I probably still do. In an instant I could see a dilemma which I have never really resolved. On the one hand I could see that the owner had every right to demolish it. On the other I wanted to keep it - without, of course, having to go to the trouble of shelling out any of my own money.

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November 05, 2002

Deep Vein Thrombosis

Patrick Crozier | Airline Seating

There's a court case on this just started. I object to this sort of thing instinctively. But instincts aren't enough. Sometimes, nay most times, it is the politician's job to rationalise instincts. That way the voters can feel good about themselves. By the way, I didn't think that up all on my own, Enoch Powell said or something very similar a long time ago.

So how do I rationalise my instincts on this one then? Why do I think these suits should fail?

Well, my one-o is that it is all about personal responsibility - you have to take responsibility for your own health. But that's not much of a winner in this day and age.

My two-o is that airlines cannot possibly know which of their passengers is going to get DVT and which aren't.

My three-o (I'll stop there) is that it's going to put up the prices, especially the prices, I, Patrick Crozier, pay. Do I not like that.

The final point I suppose is about choice. If this suit succeeds then it will apply to all carriers. At present there is still the possibility of choice. One carrier might say "can't be bothered" but another might say "Well, look, if you do happen to fly with us and suffer DVT then this is the compensation we will give you.

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November 04, 2002


Patrick Crozier | Airport Expansion

According to this the government is promising to compensate those affected by airport expansion. Maybe, maybe. But will the compensation be adequate? Will it mean a new Act of Parliament or is it just the same, old system? I'm not holding my breath.

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On calling Talk Sport

Patrick Crozier | Best of Transport Blog | British Rail Privatisation | Other

This morning, on nationwide talk radio station, Talk Sport's Mike Dickin show, the special guest was Christian Wolmar, the transport journalist. Wolmar is a man I have a great deal of respect for (see here, ) and he was on promoting his last book (on railways) and his soon-to-be-released book (on the Tube).

The problem I have with Christian Wolmar is that he attributes the railway's problems to privatisation. As I never (yet) tire of saying, the railway's problems have nothing to do with privatisation and everything to do with franchising and fragmentation. Oh, and various other bits of government interference. This a theme that was recently tackled by Paul Marks on Samizdata.

Despite my efforts to change his views Wolmar seems to remain unmoved and this morning was uttering phrases like "...since privatisation" and "private railway companies".

I felt moved to call.

I have never called a talk show let alone appeared on one but for once decided to give it a go. I dialled 08704 202020. I was answered by a guy who seemed to be on jerk patrol. He asked me what my point was, I replied, he came back with another question and I replied again. I passed and got put into a queue at about 12.35pm. I switched off my radio (otherwise you get feedback) and waited. By the way, as you hold you do get to listen to the show - which is nice. After about 15 minutes I was beginning to despair. I told myself if I didn't get on next I would hang up. I didn't. The next caller was Roger Ford, doyen of railway journalists, so I listened to him. There was a break. "You're next". And sure enough, at about 12.55pm Mike Dickin came on and announced "Patrick from Twickenham". Yes it would have been nicer if it had been "Patrick Crozier from the Libertarian Alliance" or "Patrick from the UK Transport web log" but I wasn't quite sure I would get past jerk patrol with that lot and anyway it would have been a nightmare to explain.

Anyway this is (approximately) what I said:

"Christian Wolmar would like us to believe..."

[I do wish I hadn't said that. I wish I had just said "Christian Wolmar seems to believe...". I certainly didn't and don't want to cast aspersions on Wolmar's motives which I believe to be true enough. Anyway, I said it.]

"...that the railway's problems are due to privatisation. While I accept that problems exist and they happened after privatisation they have nothing to do with privatisation. The problem lies in what happened at the same time: fragmentation and franchising. Japan also has a private railway. It doesn't have fragmentation or franchising and it works very well."

Oh, I think I stuttered over one word but quite frankly, I am a bit of a stutterer at the best of times and given the stressful nature of putting across your views live to millions of people I regard that as acceptable.

Wolmar replied something to the effect that he entirely agreed that fragmentation and franchising were indeed the real culprits, that he had written extensively on Japanese railways, that they had received massive subsidy [I tried to interject that they had not] and that anyway it was always a stupid idea to have a private enterprise like Railtrack at the heart of the railway. I think he also said that fragmentation etc was part of the privatisation process (grrr).

And with that, Mike Dickin, running out of time as he was, moved onto the next caller.

Had there been time I might have replied pointing out that the placement of Railtrack (which I am beginning to conclude was a pretty incompetent organisation) at the heart of the railway was a consequence of fragmentation and privatisation and not privatisation in itself. I would probably have gone on to point out that for 120 years (up until 1948) private organisations were at the heart of the railway and things went rather well. But there wasn't, so I couldn't and millions remain to be convinced. Oh well.

Nevertheless, I had done it and that was a personal Rubicon crossed. So, I am glad. Whether it did any good or not is another question. It's very difficult to tell. Maybe there was one person out there who really got what I said and will make a difference. Maybe there were lots of people who from now on, deep in their subconciousnesses will bear the idea that at least some people think that private railways are a good thing.

We will never know.

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November 02, 2002

Corrupt Statistics (cont.)

Patrick Crozier | Railtrack and Network Rail | Statistics Scandal

The information that the Office of National Statistics does not regard Network Rail's debt as government debt, even though it is backed by government, is not news. I commented on it some time ago.

But it does give us the chance to consider how much £20bn is. Japan's railway debt (if I recall correctly) is in the region of £30bn but then again their population is double ours. France's railway debt is about £15bn. At least in the case of Japan and France they got something for their money but as far as I am aware there are no plans to build Shinkansens in Britain.

I liked Len Cook's view that he didn't expect the government's guarantees to be called upon. Yeah right.

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November 01, 2002

The latest from Japan

Patrick Crozier | Railways - Japan

JR East has just introduced a system which means that conductors no longer have to disturb passengers when checking tickets. Ingenious.

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