March 2003

March 31, 2003

CrozierRail Part II - Crime

Patrick Crozier | Best of Transport Blog | CrozierRail | Rail Crime

What follows is the transcript of part of a Radio 4 Today programme broadcast by the BBC a few years from now...

John Humphreys: As, you will have heard on the news, CrozierRail, the railway company, has slashed crime on its network by some 95%. I am joined by Ed Henchoz, Managing Director of CrozierRail.

Humphreys: So, Mr Henchoz, how did you do it?

Henchoz: We started with one basic principle: Serious crime is a consequence of minor crime and minor crime is the consequence of, for want of a better term, bad manners. Cut out the bad manners and you cut out the crime.

Humphreys: So, how did that work out?

Henchoz: It started at the station entrance. From the beginning we made it clear that we would not accept on to our network anyone whose appearance or behaviour was likely to cause distress to our passengers. Although we allowed our bouncers...

Humphreys: Bouncers?

Henchoz: Yes, we felt the analogy was that of a night club. Cut out the jerks and the ordinary, decent passenger can enjoy a trouble-free journey. We allowed them some discretion in this but basically we encouraged them to turn away anyone who was drunk or rowdy, anyone wearing tracksuit bottoms or of aggressive appearance and large all-male groups.

Humphreys: Turning people away? Didn't you lose money and didn't employing those bouncers push up your costs?

Henchoz: Actually, it didn't do that much to revenue at all as many of these people weren't buying tickets in the first place. And, as we saw an improvement in on-train safety and the general atmosphere, we found that more ordinary, decent passengers (especially women) were choosing to travel with us; especially late at night. I won't deny the costs were high and we did put up fares to reflect this. We also had to close some stations but most of these were a burden anyway, so weren't a great loss.

Humphreys: What else did you do?

Henchoz: This basic strategy was continued onto the platform and the trains. For instance, we created special quiet carriages where the use of moblile phones and personal stereos was forbidden. We also cracked down hard on littering and things like feet on seats.

Humphreys: So, how did you enforce these rules?

Henchoz: The usual approach was ejection. If a passenger dropped litter he was ejected by the bouncers. If a passenger made noise in a Quiet Coach the conductor was given instructions that the train was not to leave the next station until the passenger had alighted.

Humphreys: Didn't this play havoc with punctuality?

Henchoz: In the first couple of months it certainly did. At first, people didn't believe we were serious but when they realised we were things quickly calmed down again.

Humphreys: That's the bad manners. What did you do about actual crime?

Henchoz: Well, certainly the crackdown on bad manners had a major effect but there was still an element who managed to get past the bouncers. We tackled these by encouraging passengers to pull the communication cord whenever they saw a crime and offering a reward of £1,000 each time they did. A train is a spectacularly stupid place to commit a crime - you have nowhere to run - especially when the conductor and half the passengers are armed.

Humphreys: So, that's on-train crime. What about off the train and on the track?

Henchoz: The change in the law to make railway property quasi-sovereign territory was a massive help. We introduced a bye-law allowing us to shoot trespassers. That deterred most would-be criminals.

Humphreys: And those who weren't.

Henchoz: We were lucky enough to engage the services of the Royal Marines Sniper School.

Humphreys: Royal Marines?

Henchoz: Yes, it seems there's nothing like practicing on live targets.

Humphreys: Did they issue a warning?

Henchoz: Usually... I must add that eradicating trespass and vandalism had an immediate effect on punctuality. Vandalism is the cause of a large proportion of delays. The dramatic reduction in graffiti also encouraged people back on to the railway and allowed us to cut costs.

Humphreys: Ed Henchoz, thank you very much.

Humphreys: You are listening to the Today programme, brought to you by the British Broadcasting Company in association with Smith and Wesson: portable protection for the masses and the smooth taste of Golden Virginia.

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March 30, 2003

It just gets worse

Patrick Crozier | British Rail Privatisation | Railtrack and Network Rail

There a couple of desperately depressing articles in the Telegraph today (see here and here) about how Network Rail is rapidly running out of money - faster than even I thought. These articles are in fact so depressing I can hardly bear to read them let alone comment on them.

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March 29, 2003

Japanese Private Railway Companies and Their Business Diversification by Takahiko Saito

Patrick Crozier | Best of Transport Blog | Positive Externalities | Rail Economics | Railways - Japan

From Japan Rail and Transport Review. I have been meaning to mention this paper for some time. I really cannot recommend it enough. It tells the story of how Japan's private (ie always private) railways have been able to prosper by developing land near stations. My favourite line (out of many) is this:

...any town developed by a private railway company is associated in the minds of many people with a comfortable life in a space developed and maintained in a planned [my emphasis] manner.
So much for chaotic capitalism.

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Guards hide rather than sell tickets, says rail firm

Patrick Crozier | Industrial Relations | UK Train Operators

From the Times. What I would like them to do is to wage war on loud personal stereos, littering and feet on seats.

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March 26, 2003

Improvements in Tunneling technology

Michael Jennings | Best of Transport Blog | Transport Miscellany

This article in Wired magazine talks about how new technology is going to dramatically cut the costs of tunneling in future. Basically, if you can replace the large number of people who are still required as part of the process of digging tunnels with automation, then other benefits come from this, such as those that stem from the fact that you can also get rid of the enormous amount of effort and cost that must presently be expended on safety for the people in the tunnel during construction. The article also talks a lot about the possibility of using new technology for more than just transport - it spends a lot of time talking about underground parking lots, underground malls, underground working and living space - before talking about one or two potentially immense transport projects.

While I think the main thesis of the article is essentially right: there will come a point where the cost of tunneling will drop to the point where some of the projects mentioned - Japan to Korea, under Taiwan to China, maybe even under the Strait of Gibraltar - become financially feasible, I think we are somewhat further from that moment than the author believes. Over the last 10-20 years projects involving a lot of tunneling have tended to go overbudget rather than underbudget. For instance, the Channel Tunnel, the Jubilee Line Extension, Sydney's Airport railway, the Big Dig in Boston etc. Stage 2 of the Channel Tunnel Rail link (the tunnel into London) isn't cheap.

What is clear though is that some of these turning points arrive suddenly. The materials revolution led to a dramatic and sudden decrease in the cost of building bridges up to 1000m in span a decade ago, and as a consequence we have seen these new kinds of bridges cropping up everywhere. If there is a similar sudden change in tunneling, then the consequences could be profound. The growth of many cities is restricted by factors of physical geography: mountains, bodies of water, et cetera. Make these easily permeable, and the rules as to how cities grow change. Plus, dig a large series of underground road tunnels, and you can solve a lot of your traffic problems.

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Twin engine planes and Euro/American politics.

Michael Jennings | Air Safety | Best of Transport Blog

This piece in the aviation trade paper Flight International talks about a United Airlines Boeing 777 that flew for 193 minutes on a single engine when on a non-stop flight from Auckland to Los Angeles. This is the furthest that an airliner has ever flown on a single engine after failure of the second engine.

Of course, all airliners are designed to do this if necessary, but one thing that is really interesting are the regulatory aspects, and how they relate to the various battles between Boeing and Airbus for supremacy in the airliner market.

Until 1980, virtually all long haul flights were flown with four engined aircraft (such as the DC-8, 707, and 747) or three engined aircraft (such as the L-1011, and DC-10) with twin engined aircraft being used only for relatively short haul flights, usually over land, where there were plenty of airports that the aircraft could fly to in an emergency. Three or four engined aircraft could at least stay in the sky on one engine if two engines failed. However, in 1979 the Boeing 767 went into service. Long range versions of the 767 had the range to cross the Atlantic, and various airlines wanted to use them for this purpose. There were fears about what might happen if both engines failed in separate incidents.

Continue reading "Twin engine planes and Euro/American politics."

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All aboard: a nation in motion

Patrick Crozier | Railways - Japan

From the Japan Times. Interesting survey of Japan's High Speed Lines. I wasn't aware that India's and China's railways are in fact bigger (measured by passenger-miles) than Japan's. Oh, and the article is wrong about the top speed on the Tokaido Shinkansen. It is, in fact, 270kph, not 220 as stated.

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March 25, 2003

Book Review - Separation Philosphy of the European Union - Blessing or Curse? by Carlo Pfund

Patrick Crozier | Best of Transport Blog | Book Review | British Rail Privatisation | European Union | Fragmentation | Railways - Other

The British are remarkably ignorant about what goes on on Continental Europe. As a consequence we tend to make one of two mistakes: either believing that everything there is good or believing that everything there is bad. Neither, of course, is the case. We also fall into the trap of believing that what applies in one Continental country applies to all the others. That, of course is totally untrue.

Since 1992, all European Union railways and even some non-EU railways have been subject to a greater or lesser extent to fragmentation - largely as a consequence of European Directive 91/440, the principal aim of which was to reinvigorate Europe's railways and encourage the growth of trans-national rail services by introducing competition onto the network. The method chosen was to split the infrastructure from the operations (the wheel/rail split) and thereby, in theory at least, allow different operators to use the same bit of track. This was done at least in part due to the apparent success (or non-failure) of such a scheme in Sweden.

We are fortunate, therefore, that Carlo Pfund either of or in association with (I am not sure which) LITRA (a Swiss rail think tank) has conducted a survey of the effects of fragmentation on the railways of seven different European countries (not Britain you'll be glad to hear). This is not of mere academic interest to the Swiss. The Swiss have a long standing policy of incorporating EU law into their own and have already split the nationalised operator, SBB, into infrastructure and operations. I understand from a private conversation that this is already causing problems albeit minor ones and there is some anecdotal evidence (though nothing conclusive) that punctuality is slipping.

The peculiar thing about 91/440 is that every country has chosen to interpret it in a different way. At one extreme is the Netherlands (not the UK as it happens) which split the network into infrastructure, timetabling, signalling and operations. At the other is France which created an infrastructure operator (RFF) which contracts out all work to SNCF who also, as it happens, runs all the trains.

Fragmentation in the Netherlands has been a disaster. Although I cannot find a figure for pre-fragmentation punctuality the target (presumably regarded as achievable) was 88%. Since then it has slipped to 74% and cancellations have sky-rocketed. [Incidentally, whereas a British train is "late" if it arrives 5 minutes after the schedule, in the Netherlands that figure is 3 minutes] And they have had none of the compensations that we have had in the UK such as large numbers of new trains and at least some operators (Chiltern and GNER spring to mind) growing their businesses and improving customer service. In 2001, the "Crisis and Collapse" (as it became known) came to a head and the Department of Transport intervened dismissing the head of NS, the train operator.

Even in France, Pfund points out that planning for the future has become a lot harder with the beginning of a turf war between SNCF and the new upstart RFF.

So what of that Swedish model? While Pfund points out that it has not been a great success be accepts that it hasn't been an abject failure either. It seems that the effects of fragmentation are not uniform. Pfund believes that the answer lies in density. He points out that the severest problems have been felt on the densest networks: in the UK and the Netherlands while on sparsely used networks in Norway and Finland the effects have been far less. It seems that dense networks with high-intensity operations magnify the problems of fragmentation.

In writing Blessing or a Curse? Pfund has taken on an enormous task and I think he can be forgiven when perhaps the chapter, say, on Portugal isn't of the same quality of that on the Netherlands. The English translation also clearly wasn't done by a native speaker so, at times, it can seem rather clumsy. He also comes no nearer to a philisophical explanation as to the failure of fragmentation. Nevertheless, this is probably the most comprehensive survey we have of the effects of railway fragmentation and the conclusion is there for all who wish to see it: fragmentation doesn't work.

Separation Philosphy of the European Union - Blessing or Curse? Carlo Pfund, LITRA, 10 Euros

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March 24, 2003

Rail safety rules may be eased to save rural lines

Patrick Crozier | Rail Miscellany | Rail Safety

From the Times. Anything, it would appear, than admit that the wheel/rail split doesn't work.

Update - another Times article mentions the Heart of Wales Line:

For more than a century passengers crossed the tracks by wooden walkways, but safety regulators demanded that they be replaced with footbridges. Now Network Rail is having to alter the footbridges, at a cost of £200,000 a time, to make them accessible to the disabled. Previously, wheelchairs could simply be pushed across the wooden crossings.

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March 22, 2003

I want private roads

Patrick Crozier | Best of Transport Blog | Road General

In a week when most eyes are concentrating on rather more important matters, my little piece on the difficulty in privatising local roads has stirred up a small flurry in the Blogosphere with both Where Worlds Collide and Cold Spring Shops picking up on my comments. (I would love, by the way, to know which Reason story Stephen Karlson is referring to.)

Tim Hall, at Where Worlds Collide, concludes that my little problem is insurmountable and that therefore anarcho-capitalism is bunk and that therefore we shouldn’t worry about it too much.

Now, I still don’t know how to solve the problem of getting to private roads but once we were there I think that the combination of freedom and market forces would produce some pretty fantastic results.

Imagine it: roads as if the users (that’s all the users: those on the road and those who live or work beside it) mattered.

For instance, some roads might choose to be bicycle only, or moped only. Others would turn themselves into express bus routes. I look forward to a dedicated expressway just for roller-bladers. OK, maybe that wouldn’t happen but at least under private ownership there is the chance that it might.

I think it would be fascinating to see how the liberated roads would deal with the problem of rat runs. Some road companies would ban through traffic justifying it on the basis of increased property values while others would positively welcome it, pocketing the extra income from road tolls.

I find it difficult to believe that parking problems wouldn’t disappear more or less overnight. Who wants to live somewhere you can’t park? Again some roads would be off-street parking only while others wouldn’t. Who knows maybe it would once again be safe for kids to go and play out in the street.

Imagine the impact on land use. Some roads would choose to be quiet, respectable places while others would choose to become epicentres of Bohemian debauchery. Great – you can have the time of your life without having to worry about upsetting the locals. Much the same could apply to planning. Some road companies would demand that all bordering properties were uniform while others would allow an almost Japanese sense of “anything goes”.

And then there’s crime. Road companies would be able to choose who they allowed onto their streets and who they didn’t. As I understand it gated communities in the US have very low levels of muggings. After all you can’t commit street crime if you’re not allowed onto the street.

Now, all this (and there’s probably more) doesn’t solve the problem of getting the state out of the business of running roads and I appreciate it is still a problem. But I think it does demonstrate how good it could be and therefore why it is worth trying to solve the problem.

I want private roads.

Update 17/05/04

They might even sort out roadworks

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Delays as drivers skirt congestion zone

Patrick Crozier | London Congestion Charging

From the Times. Actually, it seems that the traffic is not piling up on the circular routes but on the direct routes into Central London. Which seems odd.

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March 20, 2003

Central Line crash: The truth

Patrick Crozier | Christian Wolmar | London Underground

From the Evening Standard. Good, factual account from Christian Wolmar.

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How can you lose money on London buses?

Patrick Crozier | Buses and Jitneys | London Congestion Charging

Because Transport for London (TfL) certainly does. 22p per journey according to this report in the Times. Also some interesting stats on how the Congestion Charge is working.

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March 19, 2003

On privatising roads

Patrick Crozier | Best of Transport Blog | Road Miscellany

I've got it all planned. The great libertarian revolution takes place, I become Secretary of State for Transport and I get on with the job of getting the state out of the business. On Monday, I liberate the railways. On Tuesday I privatise NATS and the Civil Aviation Authority. On Wednesday morning I sell off the motorways and the major A-roads and on Wednesday afternoon I sell off all the other roads.

Or do I?

You see it's those minor roads I worry about. Everything else is easy-peasy but minor roads ie roads where people live... well, I can see one or two problems there.

I don't want to wake up on the Thursday morning and find that there's a bloke from ToadRoad at the end of my drive who says I can't access the road and he'll shoot me if I try. That is not a winner in any sort of political system. But given the policies and principles upon which they are based perfectly possible.

So, how to avoid it? Well, we could introduce the idea of reasonable access. If your property has historically had access to the road then it shall continue to do so. But what about charges? One of the hoped for advantages of road privatisation is that road pricing will follow and that this will lead to a more rational allocation of road resources. So, the road owner has to be able to charge. But what if he uses this freedom to effectively price the home owner off the road? The effect would be the same as if he had banned him.

At this point I get badly stuck. It is not difficult to see that this problem is not the fault of privatisation per se but the nationalisation that had preceded it. Had roads always been in private hands then these things would have been resolved a long time ago - probably via long-term agreements between land owners and road operators or possibly through all residents having a share in the road. But untangling the mess seems extremely difficult.

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Noise Abatement Kills

Patrick Crozier | Air Miscellany | Pollution

OK, it hasn't yet but according to this letter in the Telegraph, scrapping noise controls could make it a whole load harder for terrorists to shoot down passenger aircraft.

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March 18, 2003

Rail freight link to take 10,000 lorries a day off roads

Patrick Crozier | Rail Economics

From the Independent.

This story is about the privately-funded, subsidy-free Central Railway which has spent 10 years trying to get approval for this project. At last it seems that it is going to get the go ahead.

Good. And let's hope it's the first of many more to come.

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A Congestion Charge surprise

Brian Micklethwait | London Congestion Charging | Road Pricing

Patrick and I both attended a meeting last Friday evening, where we picked up a little titbit about the workings of the new London Congestion Charge. Will you post it or shall I?, we both said. I said I'd do it and here it is. Sorry about the delay Patrick.

The Big News about the Congestion Charge is of course that it is working okay. Traffic is down 20 percent, or whatever it is, and it turns out that lots of idiots had apparently been thinking, before it happened: "But traffic in London is at a bloody standstill!!! Why should we pay £100,000 per annum for that???" Now these same Einsteins are writing convert letters to the papers. "I never thought that I, a Thatcherite since I was a foetus, would have a good word to say about slimy bolshevik Livingstone, but blah blah blah. …"

But the little titbit we picked up concerned the much increased convenience with which a mutual friend of ours, whom we met at that Friday meeting, who is some kind of computer consultant or telecommunications rep or something and who needs to travel about in the western outskirts of London, now travels in his car. He never goes very near the Congestion Charge area, but he nevertheless finds the roads that he does use to be far less clogged with rival vehicles than they were before the Big C.

Two reasons suggested themselves. First, a lot of near-London and non-London people have no idea where the Congestion Charge area actually is, and now give central London a miss as if an H bomb had gone off in the middle of it. Londoners, and near-Londoners, to say nothing of non-Londoners, have quite enough difficult current realities to attend to without bothering with bewildering future possibilities, like the London Congestion Charge in the months and weeks before it actually happened.

That – Reason Number One – may go away eventually. Now that the Congestion Charge has become a difficult current reality, Londoners and near-Londoners and maybe even non-Londoners are actually finding out about it. They are slowly piecing together such things as where it occurs, how much it is, and above all they are sitting at home discussing whether it is worth it, and in many cases, surely, they are deciding that yes it is, especially if they read all those convert letters.

But Reason Number Two why driving life is easier for the bloke we met last Friday won't go away. I had pictured the Congestion Charge creating a London consisting of a central area of calm and serenity, but surrounded by a maelstrom of automotive dementia, along and around such places as my own Vauxhall Bridge Road, which is just outside the Area. But it hasn't happened. A lot of the people who drive around in Outer London have plans at some point to drive into Inner London, Congestion Charge London. These plans have now been interrupted. Thus, Outer London is now calmer and serener, just like Congestion Charge London. I'm sure if I'd paid more attention during the first two hours of my university economics course I would have seen this coming, but I didn't.

That's it. Be interested. Be very interested.

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March 16, 2003

On the aesthetics and economics of car parks

Brian Micklethwait | Best of Transport Blog | Road Pricing

Over on Samizdata I did a piece yesterday about the aesthetics of car parks. I said: they ought to be prettier than they are.

But Mark of Other Languages, commenting, brought the discussion back with a philistine crash to the economics of car parks, and cars, and roads, and road subsidies.

Or of course we could just charge parked-car space and driving-car space accurately.

Once the century-old subsidy to car users was removed and the real costs of different transport systems clarified and charged, most people would use public transport.

So question:

In the libertarian nirvana, in which roads are all privately owned, and the "government" such as it is would no more think of subsidising the road industry than it would of subsidising the chewing gum industry now, would there be lots of roads, or some, or hardly any?

And if there were lots of roads, would they be used mostly to transport people by bus, by jitneys and by taxi, or by privately owned car as now? Given that car owners would have to pay the market rate for car parking I mean? Unless, of course, their employers or the shops and cinemas and supermarkets trying to sell stuff to them built them car parks for free anyway.

Factor in the point Patrick often makes, to the effect that without compulsory purchase orders (yanks: that's "eminent domain"), there'd probably have been no railways to start with.

My understanding has long been that roads and private cars would still have been an economic success story even in the total absence of "the road lobby", or of President Eisenhower wanting them to defend the USA, or General Motors conspiring against trains, or any such thing. Roads and your own car is just miles better. People might use buses and taxis more, but they'd still have their own cars, and they'd use them a lot, tollroads and all.

But without government roads and government car taxes, what would have happened?

Maybe the answer is that Mark is right about car parks, and there'd be lots of roads still, but far fewer car parks.

But personally I doubt it. I think car parks would still be a big reality, and the potential aesthetic no-go areas, as I called them in my Samizdata piece, that they are now. There is no "or" about it. Revamping the economics of transport would not make the entire aesthetic problem of car parks go away, although I'm sure it would provide all kinds of incentives to deal with the problem better.

Discuss. Especially Michael Jennings, the super-intelligent search engine in humanoid form (which is apparently a description of him that he likes).

UPDATE: It looks as if there may be a fierce discussion of Mark (of Other Languages)'s comment. Kevin Connors has pitched in strongly against him.

mark just struck on something, while a digression from the main thrust of this thread, [which] is so egregious a misconception propagated by the watermelons that it must be struck down right now:

Automobiles are not subsidized

On the contrary, in the US, the Federal Highway Trust Fund, which is paid for by motor fuel excise taxes, is regularly raided to support the general fund. In California, as with many other states, the general fund is also enhanced by sales taxes on motor fuels while taxes and use fees on vehicles more than cover the cost of the road system.

On the other hand, no passinger rail line runs in the black

The closest thing in the US is the San Diego Trolley, built on the cheap using existing right-of-way and refurbished cars. IIRC, it's costs run 1.4 times what it collects at the farebox.

Kevin Connors usually spells quite well. He is excited.

It could get interesting.

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March 15, 2003

The UK Transport System, Can it be Fixed?

Patrick Crozier | Best of Transport Blog | Transport General

Last week I spoke to the London Junto here in London on the subject "The UK Transport System, Can it be Fixed? Does a Free Market Solution exist?" This is what I said:

It is generally-accepted in this day and age that the free market is the best way of providing most of the goods and services we want. There is really no question that when it comes to fields like food distribution, TVs, telecoms, pharmaceuticals, holidays and home improvement that these things are best left to the market.

Indeed even in the field of transport there is little question that it should be left to the private sector to build the cars, trains, buses and other vehicles that we require. OK, Airbus is an exception to this rule but again, generally-speaking, it applies.

So, why shouldn’t the market take over everything else?

Continue reading "The UK Transport System, Can it be Fixed?"

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March 14, 2003

The Search for the Holy Rail

Patrick Crozier | Railways - USA

From the Weekly Standard. Good article on how and why urban railways in the US don't work.

Thanks to Billy Beck for the heads up.

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March 13, 2003

On child seat laws

Patrick Crozier | Road Safety

Natalie Solent gets all in a huff over child seat laws. As she points out:

And there is one last oddity about all the reports of this law I have so far seen. A friend pointed it out to me. There is no mention of an upper age limit. As far as I can judge anyone of any age who is under the height of 4ft 11in will have to have a kiddie seat.
Which is not half as ridiculous as if they didn't have to - what with the aim being to save lives, you know.

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A few changes

Patrick Crozier | Blogging

After being badgered relentlessly (OK, a few times) over the site's manifold niggling inadequacies I decided to sort a few of them out. I even managed to sort one out by accident. Hope you like the updated look. It certainly helped to remind me why I am no longer a computer programmer.

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New trains are no match for reliable 1960s 'workhorse'

Patrick Crozier | New Trains | Rail Delays

From the Times. It isn't the old trains that need scrapping.

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March 11, 2003

Eurostar Copies Discount Airline Fare Structure.

Michael Jennings | Best of Transport Blog | Eurostar | Fares and Ticketing

Until now, if you have wanted to buy a relatively cheap ticket on the Eurostar train service from London to Paris or Brussels, and you were 26 years old or over, the only way to do this was to buy a non-changeable non-refundable advance purchase ticket. For second class, these came in two types: 14 day advance purchase (costing 79 pounds return) or 7 day advance purchase (costing 95 pounds return). (Cheaper promotional fares were at times available, particularly in winter). These fares were quota controlled, but availability was generally fine, unless you were attempting to travel on a Friday evening in July or similar.

As of today, this fare structure has been replaced with a new one. Not coincidentally, this fare structure is essentially identical to those used by discount airlines.

Continue reading "Eurostar Copies Discount Airline Fare Structure."

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Happy Blirgday to me!

Patrick Crozier | Best of Transport Blog | Blogging

It’s my blirgday. Transport Blog (UK Transport as was) is now a year old. So, perhaps this would be a good time to reflect on some of those first order questions.

Like why did I set it up? Actually, this is a rather good question as I am not entirely sure. At the time lots of people were getting very excited about blogging. Initially, I was underwhelmed to say the least. I couldn’t see what blogging offered that couldn’t just as easily be delivered by newsgroups and e-mail lists. And then there was the whole business of top posting which meant that you had to scroll down to see what the top article was all about.

I didn’t get it but lots of people did and most importantly they (especially Samizdata) were getting hits. The idea that I might get heard mattered. I was going to be a blogger. It was at this point that I made a thinking error. I made the assumption that in the long run the Blogosphere would develop a hierarchy. At the top would be digest blogs which took in the best stories from all the other blogs. At the bottom there would be the small, specialist blogs providing the stories. I doubted my ability to found and run a digest blog (all too true as it turned out) so plumped for a specialist blog instead. As I was already the Libertarian Alliance’s Transport Spokesman the choice of subject seemed obvious. UK Transport was born.

What I didn’t realise was that the Blogosphere is peer to peer. Stories do not flow top to bottom but side to side. This is an enormous strength as it means there is no real centre of power. If Glen Reynolds goes mad then he will lose readers pretty pronto. But it is also a weakness because stories tend to move around it only slowly. The only reason why the Blogosphere seems to have so many scoops is because the mainstream media is often even slower to pick up on things.

So, did I achieve my aim? To some extent yes, but not as I expected. I am being read. Transport Blog, last time I looked, is getting about 80 hits a day which I regard as pretty respectable. 80 people certainly weren’t reading my output every day before I took up blogging. But funnily enough I am not being particularly read by the Blogosphere. Only occasionally do people pick up on what I am writing. But I am being read by the wider Internet community – mostly finding me through search engines.

[Indeed, the most frequently read article is: “Why oil will never run out”. Which is odd because it is at quite a remove from the main thrust of Transport Blog]

But I do think I (now along with Brian and Michael) am beginning to have some influence. Nothing earth shattering you understand but here and there in the mainstream media I notice opinions not dissimilar to my own that I am sure weren’t there a year ago.

And that is good.

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March 10, 2003

Why (and When) are There Three Classes?

Michael Jennings | Best of Transport Blog | Transport Miscellany

In the 19th century, when train travel was the "normal means of travel": used by all manner of people, railways in Britain had three classes of service: first, second and third. As cars became more widespread and trains became a minority means of travel, the third class of service was pretty much universally dropped. Most trains these days have only two classes of service. (Some railways - mostly commuter services - have only one). First normally provides a larger seat, a less crowded carriage, and in some instances at seat service and meals included in the ticket price (or access to a dining car that second class does not necessarily entitle you to). Second is what most passengers use, and provides a perfectly reasonable means of getting from A to B, but that is all. The drop from three classes to two indicates that the demographics mix of people travelling by train has shrunk.

Similarly, when the ocean liner was the normal means of travel from continent to continent, there was again usually three classes of passenger cabin. If you watch the movie Titanic, this is very obvious. The Rockerfellers are in first class, people who can afford comfortable service but are not Rockerfellers are in second, and ordinary people like Leonardo De Caprio are in third. It seems that a third class ticket conveys you perfectly satisfactory, a second class ticket conveys you in comfort, and a first class ticket is largely for the extra cachet of flying in first class.

Airline travel has now supplanted travel in ocean liners as the principal means of intercontinental travel, and the same three class structure has asserted itself. Economy travel conveys you, Business class travel provides you with much more comfort and better service than does economy travel. First class travel provides you with better service and comfort still, but the jump from Business to first in these respects is rather less than the jump from Economy to Business. First class is once again about cachet. Hollywood film stars fly first class. In the investment bank I used to work for, on long flights Managing Directors flew First, and all the rest of us had to make do with Business.

However, today there is little cachet in travelling by train, and therefore another class in which you are paying for the cachet rather than the actual better service is no longer practical.

However, there is an exception to this....

Continue reading "Why (and When) are There Three Classes?"

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On the new Rolls-Royce Phantom (which exists) and on Rolls-Royce transport (which doesn't)

Brian Micklethwait | Best of Transport Blog | Road Miscellany

It has for several weeks seemed to me (that's Brian Micklethwait - hello there happy travellers) an omission that Transport Blog hasn't discussed the new Rolls-Royce Phantom. Trains, and busses, and trains, and regular cars, and trains, and congestion charges for regular cars, and trains, and trains - and did I mention trains? - are all very well, but transport also includes the Rolls Royce Phantom.

I liked Neil Lyndon's piece in The Sunday Telegraph Magazine yesterday (couldn't find it in electronic form):

It is an immense relief to report that – during its recent launch in California, when I was one of the first journalists in the world to drive the new Phantom – nothing went wrong. A fault-free Rolls-Royce is headline news. So shameful has been the build quality of Rolls-Royces and Bentleys in recent decades that anyone who bought one at full price was committing a financial folly on the scale of blowing the family fortune on the Vegas crap tables. Those cars depreciated at such a vertiginously steep rate that, within a few years, they were with the reach of your neighbourhood scumbag crack dealer. If this new car, built at Goodwood, is going to succeed, it must offer its owners true value for their quarter of a million pounds. This means that those owners might never again have to think about buying a car because the Phantom will outlive them, and conceivably, their heirs. The car must be capable of covering 500,000 miles without needing much more than a few sets of new tyres. In other words, it must be like the cars Sir Henry began to build 100 years ago.

And I suspect it may be. …

Jason Barlow in explains why this has happened:

"The best car in the world." How those six words have haunted the company through the years. To be fair, Rolls-Royce's decline has been more of a gentle slither into irrelevance rather than a vertiginous tumble, and the company curriculum vitae contains other notable highlights (as I'm sure many Daily Telegraph-reading R-R supplicants will be delighted to point out). Like most, I find the 1950s Silver Cloud fairly irresistible. And the Silver Shadow, which replaced it in 1966, still has a certain louche, rock star charm.

However, the most recent-but-one Roller, the Silver Seraph, wasn't much good at all. Even the company's legendary craftsmanship appeared to have gone AWOL. Large chunks of centre console aren't supposed to come away in your hand in any car, but in a Rolls-Royce? Heaven forfend. As I drove down the motorway waving a piece of errant hand-crafted walnut, it seemed that this particular Rolls-Royce had become just another bad British car.

The new Phantom, on the other hand, is an exceptionally good German one. There, I've said it. The G word. Big deal. BMW, official custodian of Rolls-Royce since January 1 this year, has delivered a car that is substantially better than anything the company would have managed had it been left to its own devices. This is not an opinion that will make me especially popular over at the RAC Club, I suspect, but sometimes the truth hurts. The new MINI turned out all right, didn't it?

But, as Jeremy Clarkson has pointed out, a car is still a car:

Obviously I was interested, but it’d be two hours there and two hours back and I just don’t have the time. So the PR man came up with a solution: “We’ll send a helicopter.”

Interesting. The new Phantom is supposed to be the last word in engineering excellence, a road-going private jet, a luxury yacht with a point, a car that separates and distances you from both the tedium and the discomfort of travel.

And yet if Rolls-Royce had offered to pick me up in one I would still have said no, because no matter how much soundproofing there is between the cabin and the road it would still have got stuck in traffic around Newbury. It would still have taken two hours.

What is the purpose of Transport Blog? I'll tell you. The purpose of Transport Blog is to explain to the universe not just how to make a metaphorical Rolls-Royce transport system which is as good as a literal Rolls-Royce car. We can't tell you anything special about Rolls-Royces. There are, you know, people, whom we can quote, who are doing that already. All we need do is nod in their general direction. But these people are not now telling us how to get a transport system as good as the best cars you can now buy to get stuck in a traffic jam in. On that subject they have given up. A Rolls-Royce stuck in a traffic jam about sums up the present state of our civilisation.

At present transport is hopelessly politicised. What's needed is to separate transport policy from poverty relief policy, and do both of them properly, i.e. as exercises is rampant free market capitalism (the stuff that enables people to afford to buy Rolls-Royce Phantoms). Poverty relief (socialism) should be replaced by poverty abolition (capitalism), and that would leave the way free for transport providers to charge whatever they want to charge to their customers, who would then be rich enough to be able to pay.

And the really good news is that the tickets wouldn't actually end up being that much more expensive. It's just that there wouldn't be these terrible queues everywhere. Transport queues have a dreadful tendency to take place on top of the product and thereby to lower the quality of the product, often to the point of destroying the product. So transport queues are especially bad, and getting rid of them would be especially good. Cars might eventually become as good as helicopters. Cars might become helicopters, like in The Fifth Element.

Interesting that one of Patrick's Constant Themes here, that Good Transport Systems are Systems that Never Go Wrong, is echoed in the Constant Theme in accordance with which Rolls-Royces are also now made, again.

God bless the Germans.

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Japanese train driver falls asleep

Patrick Crozier | Railways - Japan

From the Times. The really interesting thing is that it doesn't seem to have mattered much.

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March 09, 2003

Property Development and the Channel Tunnel Rail Link

Michael Jennings | Best of Transport Blog | Channel Tunnel Rail Link

Last month, I was sitting on a train reading the Times, and I found a page devoted to the government's plans for building new homes in the South East. Basically, population is increasing in this part of the country, and in addition the average number of people living in a house is declining. The government has plans for the construction of 200000 homes in new developments around London. (This is in addition to houses planned by local authorities).

The articles in the Times had little to say about transport, and transport is of course crucial. Many people living in these areas are going to want to commute to London.

This is why it is particularly interesting to look at these two maps that were provided with the article, and to compare them with a map of the domestic services that will run on the Channel Tunnel Rail Link, as I do below.

The government is particularly interested in building homes in what they call the "Thames Gateway" zone to the east of London. One reason for this is that much of the land in these areas is what is called "brownfield" sites: essentially disused industrial areas. Hopefully the area can be turned into residential land and somebody will pay to clean it up in the process. Perhaps better than this, building in this type of area is less likely to upset people who are attached to green countrysides than is bulldozing green countrysides. (As a downside, building on a brownfield is generally more expensive due to the cleanup costs).

This is where it gets interesting. Patrick linked to this piece on my own blog that I wrote a couple of months ago on the Channel Tunnel Rail Link (CTRL). When I wrote that piece I was thinking primarily about international services. Domestic services using the CTRL between London and Kent are also planned. Look at this map, and compare with those above.

Continue reading "Property Development and the Channel Tunnel Rail Link"

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Blair clocks up congestion zone fine

Patrick Crozier | London Congestion Charging

From the Telegraph.

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This on-the-spot 'justice' needs clamping

Patrick Crozier | Road Miscellany

From the Telegraph. Kevin Myers puts the practice of wheel clamping to the Magna Carta test and finds it wanting.

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More on Trains in New South Wales

Michael Jennings | Best of Transport Blog | Railways - Other

As someone who used to live in New South Wales and commute by train, I can perhaps add a little background to Michael Darby's piece that Patrick has linked to below.

Sydney has a suburban rail system owned and run by the state government. This system covers some parts of the city quite well, but other parts of the city not at all. There are some parts of the city from which it is possible to commute by train, other parts from which it is possible to commute by ferry on the harbour, and other parts from which the only way to commute by public transport is by bus. (These are some of the poshest parts of the city. I personally find a bus commute intolerable, and wouldn't live in these parts of the city unless I could commute by car). There is no separate underground system in Sydney. Mainline services typically enter tunnels as they approach the city centre and go under the city centre (where they make a few stops) before coming up again and returning to the suburbs. This means that underground trains services use much wider tunnels than is the case in London, and possibly their extent is limited because of this. (The system is perhaps similar to what Paris would be like if you had the RER and no metro).

One interesting feature of the Sydney train system is that virtually all trains are double deck. You enter the train, and then go either up or down a flight of steps. If you go down, the floor of the carriage is well below platform level, and the bottom of the carriage windows is at about platform level. If you go up, you are higher than is common in trains in other countries. The overall height of the carriages is not any higher than you would see in a British mainline train, which means that getting on a suburban train in Sydney feels a little like getting on an underground train in London: there isn't a lot of headroom and you have a relatively large number of people in an enclosed space.

The entire Sydney suburban system was built by the government. One consequence of this is that it has a uniform loading gauge, and a uniform system of electrification (although this is a 1500V DC transmitted by overhead wires, which is 1920s technology and is not a system that anyone building a new railway system would use). As a consequence, the same rolling stock can be used throughout the system, and trains that are on one line this week could end up on any other line next week.

As for procurement of rolling stock, the system isn't big enough to support a continuous process of retirement of old trains and building of new ones. What happens is that every fifteen to twenty years a government realises that new trains are need, and a large order of some new generation of trains is made. These come off the production line for a few years until the government decides it has enough trains and production of that generation of trains stops. Every generation of trains produced in the last 30+ years has been double deck and the all have had approximately the same dimensions, but quite a bit of trouble has been gone to to ensure that each generation looks different on the outside. However, this state of affairs in which no trains are made for ten years, then a lot for five years, and then none for the next ten years etc does not lead to efficiency. Train building companies have to ramp up production, then ramp down production a few years later, and then the whole process repeats itself.

All this needs to be borne in mind when reading Michael Darby's piece. Another key fact is that a state election is due in New South Wales in a few weeks. A new generation of trains (the so called "millennium train") has just gone into production. They are suffering all the usual teething problems that occur when you open a new production line. The state government is making a big show of having the new generation of trains running on the rail network to try and score political points. The opposition is blaming the government for all the teething problems in order to try to score political points in the opposite direction. It is all pretty boring politics. In my opinion the teething problems are not really the point. What is the point is the age of the trains on the system. And the only relevant point in this regard is the size of the order for trains. This is actually too small, and some of the old non air conditioned trains will still be on the network for a long time.

And in Sydney, the question of whether the trains are air conditioned is extremely important. In summer, it can be over 35 degrees and very humid even when commuting at 8.30 in the morning. A crowded, non air conditioned train can be horrible in those circumstances, particularly if it is double decked and there isn't much headroom. What happens is that you wait on the platform waiting for your train. If the train you see approaching is one of the newer generations that is air conditioned, you feel relief. If you see a forty year old trainset coming toward you, you inwardly groan and you suffer on your way to work.

And as for trains being overcrowded, this is just political posturing. There is really not much that can be done about this. The sections of line through the centre of the city are at capacity during peak hours, so the only way to make trains less crowded would be to build another line through the city. While there are plans on the drawing board to do this, and there is an underground path through the city reserved for a new line, this is a long way down the government's list of transport priorities. (The present Labor government has a good record of building roads, but its rail projects are generally a mess).

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March 08, 2003

Trains in New South Wales

Patrick Crozier | Nationalisation | Railways - Other

Michael Darby highlights some of the problems on New South Wales's nationalised network.

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The London Junto

Patrick Crozier | General Points (not just transport) | Rail Economics | Road Miscellany | Transport General

Last Thursday (6th March) I spoke to the London Junto on the subject of the UK's lousy transport system at the Sherlock Holmes pub in central London.

The Junto is a discussion group that takes its name from a group founded by 18th century polymath and revolutionary, Benjamin Franklin. The modern version was originally founded in New York and has recently set up a branch over here under the watchful eye of Michael Balboa.

I can't speak for the speech (which I will post up soon) but the discussion that followed it was excellent. We learnt that one of the reasons that Japan's train usage is so high is that there are all sorts of restrictions on car use. Petrol taxes are high, there are toll roads everywhere and if you want to even buy a car you have to prove to the police that you have somewhere off street where you can park it. Come to think of it I can't remember once seeing a car parked at the side of the road the whole time I was there.

I understand that there are also all sorts of hoops that owners of old cars (that's three years or more) have to jump through in order to keep their cars on the road. The hoops are so many and so high that for the vast majority of people it is simply more cost-effective to buy a new car and scrap the existing one. That would go a long way to explaining why when I was over there the cars seemed so new. It would be nice if I could get some confirmation of this.

We also had an excellent chat about the Central Railway and the struggle this privately-funded railway has had in even getting Parliamentary approval for its project. It seems that there are powerful lobbies out there that would be threatened by an unsubsidised competitor. And it didn't help that a key government official had it in for one of the directors.

But the most interesting discussion from my point of view was one that came up more than once about the nature of government. People would say that what we need is a sustained government policy on transport. I would point out (as politely as I could) that they had tried. In 1997 a Labour government came to power with probably the best economic outlook since 1914. In John Prescott it had a Transport Minister who was committed to a long term vision of transport. And yet... and yet transport policy is still a mess. Now, my conclusion was that if after more than 50 years of trying and the most promising scenario ever they still can't get it right the chances of the state ever getting right at some point in the future and certainly in our lifetimes is about zero and that therefore the best thing we could do would be to accept defeat and give up.

To which I was greeted with some pretty dusty looks. And then the mantra would start up all over again: "What we need is for the government to engage in some long-term planning..." Sigh.

Did I really expect it to be that easy? I did but I was wrong to. It takes a long time for people to change their opinions (note who is doing the changing). There are very real and probably well-founded reasons for not being so easily moved. After all, in this day and age our political beliefs are, for most of us, as near as we get to religion. They are a part of what we are. That goes for the rest of the world just as much as it does for me.

I should be grateful that Thursday reminded me of the fact.

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March 05, 2003

CrossRail - Enter the Capitalists Part II

Patrick Crozier | Crossrail | Positive Externalities | Rail Economics

You may remember my mentioning a private sector scheme to build CrossRail (the mainline railway in a tunnel connecting East and West London). Well, they now have a website.

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March 04, 2003

The tunnels of Tokyo (and London)

Patrick Crozier | London Underground

Michael Jennings picks up on a quote from a Japanese journalist: "Every city with a historic subterranean transport system has secrets," he says. "In London, for example, some lines are near the surface and others very deep, for no obvious reason."

Actually, I have always wondered about this. The near surface lines were built using a technique known as "cut and cover" where you take a street, dig a big trench, line it and cover it. This is how London's first underground lines (Metropolitan and District) were built. They were built (if memory serves me well) between 1862 and 1880.

Deep level "tubes" are a lot further down and are built using a shield boring its way through the earth. They are a lot more expensive. All (I think) of London's tubes built after 1890 were built this way.


I seem to remember reading once that it was because "cut and cover" had become too expensive. But why would that have been? Surely, these things would have become cheaper as the technology improved and after all it is a technique that suited the Parisian and New York undergrounds to a tee.


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Blogging has been light...

Patrick Crozier | Blogging

and is likely to remain so for the next few weeks.

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This is a list of date-based archives from the In Brief section:

November 2004
October 2004
September 2004
August 2004
July 2004
June 2004
May 2004
April 2004
March 2004
February 2004
January 2004