May 2003

May 31, 2003

History of the West Coast Main Line

Patrick Crozier | Rail History

Interesting site all about the history of the West Coast Main Line. Created by Virgin of all people. Link via RAIL.

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Anti-road rage device unveiled

Patrick Crozier | Road Miscellany
The personal attack system, compatible with all vehicles, contains a panic button to trigger a siren which, at 120 decibels, is louder than Concorde taking off.
From the Telegraph.
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The 150mph road - a follow up

Patrick Crozier | Road Miscellany

Just as a follow up to my piece on the 150mph road I would recommend articles by Highway (who seems to know what he is talking about) here, here and here.

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May 29, 2003

"No evidence" of Potters Bar sabotage

Patrick Crozier | Potters Bar Crash

according to a report from the HSE. One might add that there's no evidence of anything else. From the BBC.

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May 28, 2003

Upgrade yourselves, Eurostar tells the scruffs

Patrick Crozier | Rail Miscellany

According to fashion designer, Phillipe Starck:

There is a tendency today for people to travel wearing purple jogging bottoms, green fluorescent sweaters and orange Nike trainers.
Quite right too. That's just what we've been trying to do over here at CrozierBus. From the Times.

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May 25, 2003

Transport postings on Samizdata

Brian Micklethwait | Transport General

I've recently done a couple of transport related postings over at Samizdata, and there's also another by Malcolm Hutty.

My first was about pilotless flight, mostly being used for military purposes of course, but also if this is anything to go by (it was linked to by a commenter) for transporting civilians, although other commenters were scornful.

And yesterday I did a posting about the modern uses of the DUKW which is a combination of a boat and a bus. These Ducks were first used for WW2 amphibious landings, and now make a living showing tourists around big cities with rivers in the middle of them.

Hutty's posting concerned possible future uses for now-being-pensioned-off Post Office Underground Railway. He says, couldn't it be widened, to provide London with another badly needed road link?

The great thing about Samizdata postings on technical matters is that there are invariably a host of comments, many of them techically savvy. Steven Den Beste, for example, answered Hutty's question as follows:

Actually, the way that modern tunnel borers work, it would be cheaper to create a new tunnel than to widen an existing one, probably a lot cheaper. I'm not sure it would even be safe to try to alter an existing tunnel, and it couldn't be done using any of the standard boring machines. That isn't how they work.

The ever informative Michael Jennings also comments, about London's transport problems generally, and in particular to the effect that he agrees with Den Beste about the widening of tunnels.

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The Safety Executive is bad for your health

Patrick Crozier | HSE

Alistair Palmer points out that while the Health and Safety Executive is more than happy to make rules for others it's not so keen for those rules to be applied to itself. He says:

Some might find the HSE's attachment to the principle that "the buck stops with the boss" curious, because it is not a principle that the organisation applies to itself. When it comes to its own doings, the HSE has spent several years trying to establish the opposite principle: its directors are not responsible for the consequences of any procedures or rules which they might order another organisation to follow. In particular, the HSE has maintained that it could not be held legally liable if its own orders turn out to have disastrous consequences for people's health and safety - such as, for example, killing them.
He mentions the Paddington case and talks about the"signalling system". My understanding was that the big problem was the track layout - again approved by the HSE. I wonder if that's what he meant.

It will be interesting to see if the HSE is ever prosecuted for its role in the Hatfield aftermath. There, the failure to lift speed restrictions crippled the rail network forcing thousands to take to their cars and the far more dangerous roads.

From the Telegraph.

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EU axe hovers over islands' lifeline

Patrick Crozier | European Union

From the Telegraph. Seems that the EU's fixed compensation scheme is going to put an end to the helicopter link to the Scillys. Unbelievable, because it is even worse than I predicted at the time.

How are the luvvies going to pay their respects to Harold Wilson now?

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May 24, 2003

The price of vigilance

Patrick Crozier | Air Miscellany

From the Telegraph. How El Al deals with the terrorist threat. Do their aircraft really have heat-seeking missile countermeasures?

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May 23, 2003

The joy of privatised airports

Patrick Crozier | Air Miscellany

David Farrer gives the example of Prestwick.

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May 21, 2003

Corporate killing law 'will create climate of fear'

Patrick Crozier | Corporate Manslaughter

From the Times.

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Ex-rail engineer stole two miles of track for scrap

Patrick Crozier | Rail Miscellany

From the Telegraph. At least it was put to some use.

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May 18, 2003

Air Terror Saves Amtrak?

Patrick Crozier | Railways - USA

From the American Enterprise Institute. Ryan H. Sager profiles America's socialized passenger rail operator. Written shortly after 9/11.

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Having said there is no such thing as a monopoly...

Patrick Crozier | Monopolies | Road Pricing

...I have to accept that there may well be an issue with the Birmingham North Relief Road's charges. Maybe, they are not optimal. And maybe, in the absence of other road competition, they are higher than they would otherwise be. But if so, that is not an argument for fare regulation: it is an argument for allowing BNRR's competitors to build competing roads.

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What do you mean by a monopoly?

Patrick Crozier | Monopolies | Road Miscellany

Last weekend someone at Macquarie Bank got sacked (see the Telegraph) for suggesting that the Birmingham North Relief Road was like a monopoly. Boos and hisses all round because we all know that monopolies are bad because they can charge what they like.

Well, I am not so sure and I am not so sure because I am not sure that they ie monopolies really exist at all. To take an extreme example, I have a total monopoly on Patrick Crozier services. No one else can offer them. Does that mean that I am rolling in it? I wish...

In my case my monopoly does not make me rich because there are lots of other people who can offer similar services.

That is true of almost anybody and anything including the Birmingham North Relief Road. For starters it faces competition from the M6, the very thing it is relieving. But it also faces competition from rail and air and, nowadays, various forms of electronic communication.

And one other. Not doing the thing you were going to do in the first place. And so long as we live in a free country we always have that option.

There is no such thing as a monopoly.

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May 16, 2003

Flying to the south of France and back

Brian Micklethwait | Air Miscellany | Fares and Ticketing

I have just spent a week in the south of France, to the south even of Perpignan, and that involved me being transported. Here are my transport thoughts about this holiday.

The total cost of my travelling, to and from, was around £70, which is amazing. The money was divided about equally into train travel to and from Stansted airport, tribute for the privilege of making use of Stansted airport, and money to Ryanair to be on a couple of their airplanes.

Airline ticket purchase is a procedure which I feel sure now figures prominently in economics courses at the upper reaches of schools and the lower reaches of universities, because it is such a perfect example of such things as perfect competition, elasticity of demand, (in)elasticity of supply, sunk costs, marginal income, and such related things. My demand was elastic. I was willing to juggle my timing to get the cheapest flights. Ryanair's supply was inelastic. They had decided to fly the planes at the times I chose, and wanted to make sure their flights were nicely crowded and nicely profitable. Ergo, I got two very cheap flights. Hurrah. None of this would be possible without computers to allow Ryanair to do all their sums, and to allow my lady friend to make the purchase. So hurrah also for computers.

Continue reading "Flying to the south of France and back"

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May 12, 2003

Scottish rivalry

David Farrer | Airport Expansion

The battle continues between Edinburgh and Glasgow airports. Edinburgh won round 1 but now Glasgow is fighting back.

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May 11, 2003

The 150mph road

Patrick Crozier | Best of Transport Blog | Road Miscellany

It is 42 years since the launch of the Jaguar E-Type, the first production car advertised as being capable of 150mph. Which begs a question: if we can drive around at 150mph why aren't we?

Well, of course, some of us are but we're breaking the law and if we keep doing it for long enough we will eventually be caught and banned. But what if it weren't against the law? And what if motorways were privately owned - run for profits not votes? What then? Imagine, to paraphrase Rachel Lucas, no safety fascists. What would stand in our way then?

I think it is a worthwhile question because if we could bomb around in our automobiles it would go a long way to putting certain debates to rest. For instance, it would throw the case for taxpayer-funded high-speed rail lines straight out of the window. One should bear in mind that although TGVs have a top-speed of 186mph, by the time you have factored in the time for acceleration, station stops, speed restrictions and the extra journey time to and from the station, door to door they are not actually that much faster, if at all, than a 150mph car.

Trains, in fact provide us with one of the potential problems. On conventional tracks, using conventional technology and above 125mph, travelling on a train gets pretty uncomfortable. Passengers get hurled around every time the train rounds a bend. The solution is to either build new, straighter lines, as they have in France and Japan, or to make the trains tilt, as they to in Italy and soon will in the UK. As roads do not seem any less curvy than railways, this would presumably be a problem for high-speed roads.

But would there be others? Were I, through CrozierRoad, to build a high-speed road I would want it to be just that: high speed. I would definitely not want to find my Ferrari-driving customers baulked by mobile chicanes in the form of puny Ford Focuses. One solution might be to use the price mechanism to keep the road sufficiently free that 150mph an hour would be a racing certainty but that would be a rule of thumb matter. If, on the other hand, I introduced a minimum speed of, say, 130mph, how would I enforce it?

I suppose there is another question here. Are there enough cars around that can do these speeds? If there aren't what is the constraint? Is it technology, in that building a 150mph car is actually a rather expensive thing to do or is it the existing law which has rendered high-speed motoring more or less impossible?

There is one more question here. What about accidents? CrozierRoad is not going to want accidents - they're bad for business. In that case, are high-speed roads likely to be any more accident-prone than conventional roads. If so, what sorts of measures might have to be introduced?

Update 10/05/04

Highway has some comments on the technical side.

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May 09, 2003

Bad Service

David Farrer | Airlines UK

This link will take you to reports on some Air Scotland flights. It doesn't look too good for this new company. The rest of the site has many reviews of flights on other airlines.

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Reform transport now

Patrick Crozier | Transport General

Commenting on the situation in Scotland, David Farrer says:

The Road Haulage Association may feel that they are the "victims of discrimination". It's impossible to know until we privatise the whole transport system, including roads. Only then will we know whether lorries are paying a fair price for access to roads or indeed whether railways are profitable.

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May 07, 2003

£2 to use first toll motorway

Patrick Crozier | Road Pricing

Good. From the Telegraph.

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May 04, 2003

Virgin Concorde

Patrick Crozier | Air - Concorde | British Rail Privatisation | Virgin

Richard Branson wants to fly Concordes. There are many reports to this effect, here's the latest from Sky.

The funny thing about this is that British Airways doesn't want to sell. And it's not a question of negotiating the right price. It appears that they do not want to sell at any price.

So, what is going on here? And what should us libertarians think? Is this, as it appears, a market failure - one of capitalism's downsides? Is it in reality, actually a good thing? Could it be related to Concorde's tortured history? Or is it in fact the product of some bone-headed regulation or other?

As it happens, this mirrors something that has been going on in the rail industry. There, having bought a brand spanking new fleet of diesel locomotives, EWS, the UK's main freight operator started scrapping its existing rolling stock. Again, it was most unwilling to sell.

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May 03, 2003

More food for thought

Brian Micklethwait | Air Miscellany

Following on from my posting about the horrors of Lot-food, news of a crucial website devoted entirely to airline food.

It's important that this important subject be wrestled out the hands of comedians, especially quite important ones like Dave Barry.

Airborne food is an important matter.

UPDATE: I missed this, also via DB.

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Interesting urban design ideas from the USA

Brian Micklethwait | Planning

Yesterday I did a posting on a subject that has ramifications in all directions, namely a new trend/fashion/movement/maybe even upheaval in the design of housing in the USA. The subject has been inserted into the blogosphere (a lot, but especially this week) by the 2 Blowhards, who emailed me in my capacity as junior member of the Culture Blog tribe, soliciting attention. It was this article that got my particular attention and I wrote about it on my Education Blog, and now I'm writing about it again here, because in addition to having education vibes, it also has transport vibes, the former being a direct result of the latter.

Briefly, what is being argued is that American houses need to be nearer to one another, to encourage neighbourliness and to enable the young to avoid having to make a leap between young childhood, and older teendom when they have the magic of their own wheels. During older childhood, they are either trapped, or make dangerous journeys into the suburban wasteland or worse, into the big city dystopia. There's no gradual habituation to the danger zones, only dangerous lunges into the unknown or nothing. Followed by those wheels.

Central to the new vision is that if houses are closer together in a (geographically but not numerically) smaller community, the place will be able to support a public transport node that will be near enough for all inhabitants to use and therefore to keep it in business. With public transport, the older kids have a way to go beyond their childhood space, but not too far.

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May 02, 2003

Road tax minister voted out

David Farrer | Road Pricing

At the first election for the Scottish Parliament the Conservatives failed to win any of the "first past the post" seats but gained 18 proportional representation top-up places. Last night the Tory leader, David McLetchie, won the Edinburgh Pentlands constituency by beating Iain Gray, the sitting Labour MSP and Minister for Enterprise, Transport and Lifelong Learning. McLetchie had campaigned strongly against Edinburgh's proposed road congestion charge and often drew attention to the controversy in London. The Tories have failed to propose any market-based solution for road congestion in Scotland.

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May 01, 2003

You'll like it … unless it's Lot

Brian Micklethwait | Air Miscellany

Okay I've been meaning to post this item for several weeks, concerning the food on the Polish airline called, I think, Lot.

Normally I like airline food. I really do. The bad rep of airline food I think dates from the days when only really rich and well fed people ever went on airplanes, and ever since then, the rest of the world (apart from me) has felt it their duty to agree that airline food is disgusting, when most of them know perfectly well that it's fine. Not cordon blue cinq étoiles, but fine. So, when I go by plane, I'm careful not to eat too much beforehand, to make space for a tasty meal.

However, the exception is Lot.

Lot food is truly disgusting. I went on a trip to Poland last month, and I have not forgotten this food. It was memorable. Memorably revolting.

At its heart was a lump of sludge that could have been anything, but which I prefer to think of as Filboid Studge the food of that name featured in a short story of that name by Saki. Is it made of cement? Glue? Three dimensional blotting/toilet paper? Some sort of industrialised chicken substitute? The hooves of horses ground up and then turned into … well, that would be glue again I suppose. Anyway, not good, at all. And don't start me on the "salad", which was a mixture of potato peelings, mouse droppings and lawnmowings soaked for a decade in vinegar. Oh yes and a bar of chocolate made of chocolate, and more cement/glue/horse hooves.

Lot. A perfectly good journey ... that still makes you sick!

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Low-cost update

David Farrer | Airlines UK

The Scottish low-cost airline saga continues. Air-Scotland were advertising on the peak 8.30 pm slot on ITV last night. A quick look at their website shows a note stating: “Due to operational reasons, there may be some minor adjustments to your flight times.” The site still proclaims that services are being operated by the Greek company, Electra Airlines SA. A link takes you to a photograph of Electra’s Boeing 757 registered SX-BVN, which just happens to be impounded at Glasgow airport!

Rival new airline were this morning offering a two-night deal to Majorca for £99, including accommodation and return flights from Prestwick with free rail travel between the airport and Edinburgh (80 miles each way). On the other hand, Globespan were also selling one-way flights from Scotland to Malaga from between £137 and £213. Why the large price difference? Simple. Celtic are playing in the final of the UEFA cup at Seville, and Malaga is sufficiently close for the diehard fans. What about getting back home you may ask? Well, when Celtic won the European Cup in Lisbon in 1967, several of the Glasgow fans liked it so much in Portugal that they haven’t made it back home yet – 36 years later.

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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