October 2003

October 31, 2003

The right to decline

Brian Micklethwait | Airline Seating

Further fill in not real news but transport related and vaguely funny stuff from Brian while Patrick's busy:

It's a recipe for air rage.

You're settling in for the long flight when you get the urge to recline your seat. You push the armrest button, give a little shove backward -- and nothing happens. You try again. Nothing. The seat won't budge.

You investigate, and you discover that the passenger behind you has locked your seatback in the upright position.

Welcome to world of the Knee Defender, a plastic palm-size clip that attaches to a passenger's tray table, preventing the seat in front from reclining.

The device, created by Ira Goldman, 50, a former Capitol Hill staff member, has ignited a heated debate over the longtime issue of a passenger's right to recline. On one side sit those who happily pay the $10 cost of the device and even more happily fly cross-country without damage to their knees. On the other side are outraged travelers who just want to catch a little shut-eye in a comfy, reclining position -- and think the clip unfairly intrudes on their private space.

If this gadget obliges the airlines to clarify just what you are and are not buying when you buy one of their tickets, so much the better. My legal hunch is that the guilty parties are the airlines for having reclining seats where there isn't room for them, thereby swindling those who get their knees hurt. There needs to be a "not suitable for people with sticking out knees" bit in the small print somewhere.

Photo of invention and inventor here.

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October 30, 2003

Liar liar cheaper car insurance

Brian Micklethwait | Road Miscellany

I've just had a call from Patrick saying he's busy for the next few days and could I chip in with a few extra postings. Happy to oblige, and hope you like this, and any other posts I manage in the next few days.

It so happens that my most interesting news story of the last day or so is a transport story. It concerns the fact that motor insurance may be going down in price, because of the insurers using lie detector software to spot fraudulent claims.

From the telegraph.co.uk version:

The use of lie detectors has led to a quarter of Admiral policyholders withdrawing claims that their vehicle has been stolen.

The company began testing Digilog's voice risk analysis software earlier this year but have extended the pilot after it also revealed one fifth of all motor claims are exaggerated, fail to disclose material information, or are fradulent.

Brownsword, the outsourcing company running the system for Admiral, said that policyholders who telephone are immediately told that the conversation is recorded and that information will be analysed.

The claims handler will ask general questions for a few minutes, such as the policyholders' name and details, so the software can monitor the voice and identify normal stress levels.

David Brownsword, chief executive, said that if any irregular levels occur, the handler will call back to give the policyholder a chance to withdraw his claim, suggesting he check again that the car has really been stolen. "We are trying to be as friendly as we can and not be confrontational unless it is a blatantly fradulent claim," he said.

Admiral fire and theft claims manager Sue Logsdail told Insurance Times magazine: "We started a pilot in May which we were originally intending to run for three months. We have decided to continue running the pilot as we are experiencing a higher proportion of claims that we don't ultimately pay out on."

I'm sure that if the call I had from Patrick had instead come from the people who run White Rose, I could have managed a pessimistic and depressed spin on this story. If Big Brother is recording and analysing our phone calls about insurance, what will they record and analyse next? The two edged sword of electronic surveillance, blah blah. And there probably is a downside to this stuff, and I probably will do a posting on White Rose about it.

Meanwhile, they just made it cheaper to travel by car. Well done they, I say.

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October 29, 2003

A pearl in this Oyster?

Patrick Crozier | Rail Economics

The other week I had lunch with a consultant who's doing some work on the Oyster project. This is London Underground's version of Hong Kong's Octopus smartcard. The idea is that rather than carry around a paper ticket, instead you carry around a smartcard which you can use either to pay for tickets in advance or, by loading cash on to it prior to travelling, pay for your journeys as you go.

It strikes me that (assuming that we still have railways) this could be extremely useful in getting new railways built. How's that? Well, regular readers will know that one of my ongoing themes has been the positive externalities consequent to new infrastructure. In other words, if someone builds a station down the road from me the value of my house goes up. In his book "Taken for a Ride" Don Riley reckoned that the cumulative increase in property values after the completion of the Jubilee Line Extension was £13bn. The line itself cost only £2.5bn but because London Underground didn't have a foot in the property market it still made a loss.

At the time I made a suggestion about how London Underground might capture some of the externality without having to go to all the trouble of actually buying property. But now it occurs to me that the Oyster card might make things a whole load easier.

This is how. You board the new CrozierRail CrossRail. You disembark at one of our snazzy new Central London stations. At the point you do we deduct the full fare from your card - something absolutely whopping - the average cost of your journey. However, you can redeem that cost. Go to work at Offa's Offices, or shop at SellUStuff and (subject to whatever rules they apply) you will have your card swiped and only be charged the ultra-low normal fare.

Why is this? Because both Offa's Offices and SUS are shareholders in CrossRail. Because they are shareholders they get a certain number of reduced price journeys that they are free to offer to their customers/employees in anyway they like.

The marvellous thing about this (that's the theory anyway) is that it gets rid of the free rider effect at a stroke. The owners of Tommy Towers might refuse to participate in the scheme but then who is going to make the journey to their building? A few, but not many. Certainly not if they have to pay top whack to travel on CrossRail. Thus potential investors aren't left thinking "If I do, he won't and I'll end up all the poorer for it."

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October 28, 2003

Dealing with bus yobs in the olden days

Patrick Crozier | Buses and Jitneys

David Farrer recalls a story from his youth (which is a long, long time ago):

I used to travel home from school by bus from Ayr to Prestwick. One afternoon one of the lads sitting upstairs at the front of the bus used the "f" word. Unfortunately for him he was overheard by the conductress. She immediately rang the bell several times, the bus pulled into the roadside, and the driver rushed upstairs. He yelled to a now silent group of schoolchildren: "If any of you do that again I'll drive the bus straight to the police station where you will be dealt with and your fathers informed." That was the last time I heard such language until I moved to London at age 18.

Now that's what I call "zero tolerance". Of course, we can't do that nowadays because that would be "turning the clock back"

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October 27, 2003

Which country has the best transport system in the world?

Patrick Crozier | Transport General

A chap called Martin Brien sent me an e-mail today:

I am currently an Undergraduate Reading Transport Studies at the Bolton Institute. I am currently investigating which country has the best and which country has worst transport systems. Current reading varies in the authors’ opinions. I am very impressed with your Website and would be interested in your views?

I suppose it depends on what you mean by "best". Best for the traveller or the taxpayer? Lots of visitors extol the virtues of French and German railways, trams and buses without ever having to face the tax bills. But you can't in all fairness look at the one without looking at the other. There is also the question of whether transport is such an unqualified "good thing". Economists talk about the Opportunity Cost of something. In other words, if you do X you can't do Y. I am glad that Staying Put is an option that we occasionally discuss here. High density living is, I suppose, another (because that way you can walk everywhere).

So, what is my answer? Britain? I think not. I do tend to rule out France and Germany precisely because their systems cost a fortune. I think I'd have to rule out Japan for similar reasons, even if I do think the world of her railways. America? I know we terribly sophisticated Europeans tend to be very sniffy about America's obsession with 40-lane highways but (at least in my experience) you can get around the place.

Personally, I wouldn't pick a "where" but a "when". When I read about London and Britain's transport system of 80 to 100 years ago I'm dumbstruck. At the time there was a white heat in transport technology. Trams, buses, cars, taxis, tubes, 100mph trains, electrification. And it was well-managed. And it was profitable. And (for the most part) it was easy on the taxpayer.

Yup, that would be my pick.

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A stupid question?

Patrick Crozier | Air - Concorde | Other

In the comments section to a post I wrote sometime ago on Richard Branson's attempts to buy a Concorde, Simon Leach writes:

Does everything need to make a profit? Concorde has been an exellent advert for BA and has kept the UK only 3 hours from the USA, a large customer for Britain. Can you put a price on that?
This is what I call a "stupid question". But that does not imply disrespect. I think "stupid questions" are a good thing because they often get to the nub of an issue - as this one does.

I just wish I had a stupid answer. 'Cos, folks, I'm flummoxed. I mean really. And not a little embarrassed. The whole point of this blog is to make the case for free markets and here I find someone asking a fundamental question about them and I can't think of an answer. Drat, drat, drat.

I suppose there is a point about how lots of things don't make profits eg. clubs, societies and charities and how that's just fine - we libertarians have no problem with that. But I don't think that is what Simon Leach is getting at. He is asking whether there are things out there that make a profit for a wider community while not making a profit for themselves and if so whether they should be subsidised and if so by whom. To which my gut answer is: "No, no, no". But that's not a proper explanation. There is one out there somewhere. Hell, there's probably more than one. I just can't think of it/them right now.

Can anyone help?

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October 26, 2003

Targeting individual polluters

Gabriel Roth | Pollution

We are indebted to Daniel Klein who, from the wilds of California, found a "Washington Post" story about approval by the Air Resources Board of a plan to use road-side sensors to identify polluting vehicles in four counties in Southern California.

As much of vehicle-induced pollution is caused by a few heavy polluters, Dan, myself, and others would like to see these road-side sensors replace the ("clean-for-a-day") testing stations to which all vehicles have to report at specified intervals.

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October 25, 2003

Congestion Charging 6 Months On

Patrick Crozier | London Congestion Charging

Transport for London, the body that buggers up London's transport, has issued its 6-monthly report on the Congestion Charge. Apart from the decline in people coming into London (something I have mentioned in the past and something TfL are noticeably vague about) everything seems to be doing just fine.

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October 24, 2003

Farewells to Concorde

Brian Micklethwait | Air - Concorde

Samizdata notes the passing of Concorde, on this day of celebratory nostalgia, here and here, and I do also on my Culture Blog, because surely Concorde can only really be justified as the greatest piece of public sculpture of our time. Arts subsidies don't come any more dramatic (or lavish) than this.

But, it was also a piece of sculpture that you could be transported by, if you could afford it, so I note its passing here too.

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October 23, 2003

Network Rail takes repairs in-house

Patrick Crozier | Maintenance Contractors

Network Rail has announced that it is to take rail maintenance (though not renewals) in-house. This is a good thing. Much as I am against state ownership (which to all intents and purposes describes the situation with Network Rail) I have come to the conclusion that it is not nearly as bad as state-enforced fragmentation.

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October 22, 2003

Boeing phases out the 757

Michael Jennings | Air Miscellany

Boeing has announced that production of the Boeing 757 will stop at the end of 2004, due to a lack of orders. (Or, as the Boeing press release euphemistically puts it, Boeing is to "complete production" of the 757).

The 757 is the largest narrow body passenger jet ever built. ("Narrow body is normally defined as "having a single aisle" with two or three passengers on each side of the aisle, and normally five or six passengers abreast in total. "Wide body" means having two aisles, and anything from seven to ten passengers across in total). The 757 was always a niche product rather than a mainstream product, and the story behind it is quite interesting.

In the 1970s, Boeing had three narrow body jet airliners on sale. The 707 was an aging 1950s long haul design for international routes, the 727 was a three engined domestic jet that seated about 150, and the 737 was a slightly smaller two engined aircraft that seated 100-130. By the mid 1970s, it was clear that two engined jets were the way of the future for all but the largest aircraft, and the 727 was phased out. Civil variants of the 707 were also phased out, although Boeing continued producing the aircraft for the US Air Force (mainly as an AWACS aircraft) until 1991.

In any event, Boeing introduced two new aircraft in the late 1970s to replace the 707 and 727. These were the 767 and 757. The 767 was the second widebody jet built by Boeing, after the 747. The 747 was a great achievement when it went into service in 1970, but it was far too big for many international routes. (It was allegedly as big as it was as much because of a deal done between Boeing boss Bill Allen and Pan Am boss Juan Trippe in the mid 1960s, both of who wanted to do something really impressive before retirement). Some of the market for 707s had been taken by 747s, but Boeing needed a smaller aircraft to offer for smaller routes (and to compete with the A300 being built by the new Airbus consortium), and the 767 fit the bill. The 767 became very popular for transatlantic routes, longer and busier domestic routes in the US, and for many of the less busy routes in Asia.

The 757 was intended to replace the 727, but for some reason Boeing got its market research wrong. Rather than building a 150 seat replacement for the 150 seat 727, Boeing made the 757 a 200 seater. As it happened, most of the airlines that were replacing their 727s didn't want a 200 seater, but wanted a 150 seater. Boeing did not immediately have one available, and this provided a market opening that was ultimately taken up by Airbus, who built the A320, and by McDonnell Douglas, who built a stretched version of the DC-9 called the MD-80. This was the market opening that allowed Airbus to move from a niche player in the airliner world to being clear number two in the 1990s, and to perhaps even be number one today. Boeing eventually filled this gap with a new 150 seat version of the 737, but a few years later.

Although it missed its intended market, the 757 was not a failure. This was largely because the engineers did a really good job, and the aircraft ended up having much longer range than it would have needed for the 727 replacement role. (On a British note, part of the reason for this is that the engine that Rolls-Royce designed for the 757, the RB211-535, turned out to be a superb piece of engineering). The aircraft also managed great fuel economy, although it was not especially comfortable for passengers. The aircraft also has perhaps the best safety record of any modern airliner, and does very well in "hot and high" conditions, where air conditions at the airport make landing tricky due to altitude or climate. It became extremely popular for European charter operators for both European and trans-Atlantic routes, and also very popular for US airlines operating coast to coast. This was a successful market niche, although not nearly as big a niche as would have been a genuine 727 replacement.

Today, the European charter business is becoming less important due to the rise of the discount airlines, which prefer smaller aircraft, Boeing 737s and Airbus A320s. Boeing has stretched the 737 even further, and the longest version, the 737-900, can hold up to 180 passengers anyway, which is close to the capacity of a 757. More modern materials and more efficient engines mean that the range of the latest 737 variants is much longer than the older variants, so the 757 no longer really wins on this score either. Unsurprisingly, many airlines have decided to operate a mixture of different 737 types rather than a mixture of 737s and 757s. And, on top of that, the market for new airliners has dried up in the post September 11 world. (And, very sadly, two of the hijacked aircraft, AA Flight 77, which was flown into the Pentagon, and UA Flight 93, which crashed in Somerset County Pensylvania after passengers heroically attempted to take the plane back from the hijackers, were 757s).

Thus 757 production will be no more. The lower end of the market will be taken by the large 737s (or the Airbus A321) and the higher end will be taken by the new technology Boeing 7E7, which is on the drawing board and which will probably be renamed the 787 if it goes into production, which is looking close to certain. Boeing also intends that the 7E7 will replace the civilian 767. The 767 production line is safe for the moment, as the type has replaced the 707 as the US Air Force's favourite plane for assorted military utility jobs. There is an AWACS variant of that one in service, and the USAF is also expected to order around 100 soon to be used as tankers. As long as the production line is open, the aircraft will no doubt still be offered to civilian customers. And there are also freighter versions. (Production lines can often be kept open for a long time for these sorts of purposes. The Airbus A300 first flew in 1969, and there have been essentially zero passenger versions sold in the last decade. As a freight aircraft, the plane continues to sell and sell, however. Narrow body types don't seem to work so well as freighters, and the production lines seem to close once the passenger market dries up).

In any event, it will be sad to see 757 production close, as the aircraft is one of the few that has a really distinct look in this day and age of aircraft that all look the same. The aircraft, with its long, narrow fuselage, and its big wing with two fat engines underneath has long been affectionately nicknamed the "praying mantis".

Of course, we will see them around the airports of the world for decades yet.

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The revolution's here

Patrick Crozier | Road Miscellany

And Rachel Sylvester is documenting it:

By day, he is an inconspicuous odd job man in his forties. By night, he is Axle Grinder Man, a caped crusader who prowls the streets in a blue catsuit and gold boots, "liberating" clamped cars.

Actually, luv, it's Anglegrinderman but not that that matters much.

In other parts of the country, apparently harmless lawyers, accountants and bank managers are developing secret lives as well. As night falls, they pull on black balaclavas, pick up chain saws and sneak out to burn, bomb and decapitate. Operating as part of a shadowy organisation called Motorists Against Detection, they have chosen speed cameras as their targets. So far they have "neutralised" more than 700 yellow boxes.

Their slogan, seen in Volvo rear windows all over the country, is "Fleecing not Policing"...

Meanwhile, the number of speeding fines has shot up. The rate at which fixed-penalty notices were issued more than trebled in Labour's first five years in power...

Labour's culture of targets has created an Alice in Wonderland world where outcomes are distorted and nothing is quite what it seems.

What can you add to that apart from:


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October 21, 2003

Proof from Sweden that there is more to transport than trains, planes and automobiles

Brian Micklethwait | Transport Miscellany

Via the great Dave Barry, this sublime mode of transport:


Goed bless Sveden.

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October 20, 2003

Solent on Livingstone on PPP

Patrick Crozier | LU PPP

Ken Livingstone is having a go at PPP after two derailments (see below)on the London Tube. Natalie Solent thinks he may be being a teensy-weensy bit insonsistent. She says:

Mr Livingstone added that, in the interests of consistency, if metal fatigue is shown to be the cause he will seek to suspend the periodic table and if lustful daydreams on the part of the driver are shown to be the cause he will suspend sex.

OK, I made that last bit up. Mr Livingstone is not interested in consistency at all. We know that because later in the article we learn that if problems dating back to state ownership are shown to be the cause, our beloved Mayor will not be seeking to rush through an emergency programme of privatisation. No siree!

An emergency programme of privatisation - now there's a thought.

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Behind the scenes

David Farrer | Air Miscellany

On Friday evening I attended the 50th Anniversary Dinner of the Prestwick Airport Aviation Group. I was a member of the group when I grew up near the airport as a teenager. It is a bizarre experience to meet people one hasn’t seen for three decades or more. The next day we took a tour of the airport and very interesting it was.

When Prestwick was sold by BAA to a local consortium about ten years ago it had lost all of its passenger services. Staff numbers were cut to fifty, thirty-five of whom were qualified firefighters (a legal minimum). These men doubled as aircraft loaders, security staff and handymen. At the time, they weren’t very happy! The sub-officer (equivalent of a military sergeant I would guess) who showed us round the fire station now acknowledges that the airport wouldn’t have survived without those hardships. He knew exactly how much each of the three recently acquired fire engines had cost (£370,000) and details of options to acquire more machines. I suspect that local government firefighters aren’t as switched on to the economics of their operation. Prestwick is now prospering and is on its way to carrying 2 million passengers a year.

We were shown round the Royal Navy air sea rescue base. One helicopter was out on a mission and the crew of the other machine were watching the rugby game but fully kitted-up for any emergency. Next we saw round the Polar Air Cargo maintenance hangar and looked inside a Boeing 747 freighter. That was followed by a tour of the control tower and local radar control room.

In the afternoon we visited the Scottish and Oceanic Air Traffic Control Centre. “Scottish” covers all aircraft over the northern part of the UK and part of the North Sea as well as out to 10 degrees west. It was fascinating to watch the radar screen covering Scotland and northern England. We could see in real time a procession of about 50 airliners moving towards the Atlantic, sixty miles apart at each altitude. “Oceanic” controls all aircraft from 10 west out to the boundary with the Gander control zone half way across the Atlantic. Beyond radar limits (about 10 west) they rely on regular position reports from pilots. We saw one guy controlling 38 aircraft on his screen and he was merely covering planes between 35,000 and 36,000 feet. There was an air of quiet concentration and complete professionalism. Even the BA pilot in our group was impressed. Think of these controllers next time you fly.

We rounded off the day with a three-hour slide show complete with 1940s Luftwaffe reconnaissance photos of the airport and the nearby Clyde shipyards with every ship accurately identified by the Germans.

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Aircraft safety over the years

Patrick Crozier | Air Safety

I love stats. I got poring over some here after reading a letter here. Just for the record the author of the letter was pointing out that Concorde had an extremely poor safety record.

Anyway, I started asking myself how safe jet-age aircraft are. I compiled a table:


747 707 767 A300 A320 DC8 DC9

69- 54-91 81- 72- 87- 58-7265-

# Built
1316+ 858 888+ 522 1108+ 556 2350+

Hulls lost
30 136 6 16 9 72 100

% lost
2.3 15.9 0.0 3.1 0.8 12.9 4.3

Now, that percentage figure is a bit dodgy because there will be quite a few of the more modern planes that haven't crashed yet. Even so the order of magnitude involved I would think outweighs this effect. In other words planes are a lot safer these days.

Incidentally, I had no idea that were so many DC9s knocking about.

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Patrick Crozier | Road Miscellany

Seeing as we are talking about High Occupancy Whatevers this BBC article seems pertinent. Seems Washingtonians have come up with an answer to their commuting nightmares. It's called "slugging". According to the BBC:

At certain times of day, cars must be carrying at least three people to use the lanes. Casual car-pooling began as solo drivers picked up passengers from bus stops, offering to drive them into the city for free so they could dodge the jams in the non-HOV lanes.

Via Iain Murray

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October 19, 2003

Objections to HOT Lanes

Gabriel Roth | Road improvement

HOT lanes - electronically tolled lanes which allow free access to buses and (sometimes) car pools - are one of the most promising ideas for improving road networks in US urban areas. Implementation in the Washington DC area is supported by many, including the American Automobile Association, public transport providers and the Environmental Defense Council.

However, The Washington Post [registration required, Ed.] of October 19 reports that the Sierra Club is opposing a major HOT Lane proposal in the Northern Virginia suburbs, on the grounds that the HOT lanes would "degrade the region's air quality" and that a rail line along the ring road would be preferable.

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Another London Underground derailment

Brian Micklethwait | London Underground

Tim Hall commented today on our previous London Underground derailment report here, to the effect that there's been another. As he says, this second one was worse, and worse even than worse because now it looks like a pattern. Bloody hell.

Queue the money-no-object derangement-no-object programme of mismanaged safety improvements that turn out not to be because twenty more people get killed on the roads than would have been otherwise.

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Some howlers in the Sunday Times

Patrick Crozier | Media

From an article entitled "Trains are getting back on track, says rail supremo":

Tony Blair went to Kent to open the new high-speed rail link to the Channel tunnel, Britain’s first new main line in more than a century. As Blair was cutting the ribbon, a train derailed at Euston, reducing services from the London station to chaos.

All very well except that it derailed at Kings Cross.

Pragmatism marks out Bowker’s regime from those that have gone before. His predecessors entertained grand plans for more capacity in London, including a tunnel from Clapham Junction to Waterloo.

Clapham Junction to Hackney, maybe. Clapham Junction to Waterloo? Surely not.

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End of Concorde Watch - Part I

Patrick Crozier | Air - Concorde

Yes Part I because I can confidently predict there will be plenty more End of Concorde Watches over the course of this week. Some of them will even be quite good. This article by Jeremy Clarkson in the Times certainly passes muster.

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Gray Davis re-election poster...

Patrick Crozier | Frivolity

...or Indian anti-groping sign? You decide. (via Going Underground)

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October 18, 2003

London Underground train derailment

Brian Micklethwait | London Underground

Yes. A London Underground Picadilly Line train derailed last night. It happened just before half past nine yesterday evening (Friday 17th). Here's the BBC report. And here are the first two paragraphs of that BBC report:

A Tube train has derailed at Hammersmith station, but there are no reported injuries.

All the carriages of the Piccadilly line train remained upright, according to British Transport Police (BTP).

It was a rusty rail, they think. The train was going slowly. The drama will be all the delay and arguing. The event itself wasn't that dramatic, thank goodness.

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October 17, 2003

Rail Regulator calls for extra cash

Patrick Crozier | Rail Regulator


headlines today are filled with the announcement that the Rail Regulator is demanding (actually allowing) billions more to be spent on the rail network. I appreciate that to anyone new to this subject talk of regulators, SRAs, fragmentation, HSEs, track access contracts and PTEs must seem rather confusing. Who knows, maybe it's supposed to be. I have previously written a couple of articles on the structure of Britain's railways here and here which I hope people will find useful and, last time I checked, are still reasonably up to date.

There were a few things that struck me about all this:

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German Railways

Patrick Crozier | Connex | Railways - Germany

What follows was originally written about a month ago. It was then sent to Richard Malins of the Railway Study Association (RSA) who commented on it. Rather than incorporate his comments I thought it might be best to publish them verbatim even it meant exposing my gargantuan ignorance to the full light of day.

A couple of weeks ago I spent an excellent few days on a study tour of German railways organised by the Railway Study Association and Deutsche Bahn. This included lectures on subjects as diverse as S-Bahns and the Thalys, to trips on the latest high-speed line along with plenty of time to explore Germany's rail network for ourselves. Our hosts did an excellent job in making it such an enjoyable and informative couple of days. While it is a cliché to describe the Germans as efficient and organised I can't think of a better way of putting it - they were efficient and they were organised.

Continue reading "German Railways"

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October 16, 2003

The House of Commons Transport Select Committee - Seventh Report - Overcrowding

Patrick Crozier | Fares and Ticketing

This report has garnered quite a lot of coverage in the media today. One day, not long from now, Transport Blog will have six or seven writers enthusiastically ripping nonsense like this to shreds. But for the time being we'll just have to confine ourselves to looking at the conclusions:

Some crowding can be inevitable at peak times...

You don't say.

There should be immediate and urgent plans to improve the situation.

No shit Sherlock

Moreover, on the rail systems where overcrowding is most acute, bringing the infrastructure up to the necessary standard will need years of work.

Jam tomorrow. Now where have we heard that before?

Most depressing of all (and I admit it was something of a cursory examination), nowhere can I find any discussion of the possibility of putting up the fares - the only solution that in the short-term might do some good.

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October 15, 2003

How and how not to get transport running like clockwork

Brian Micklethwait | Transport Miscellany

Today China launched an apparently successful manned space rocket mission, which prompts the question here: Does space travel count as "transport"? Maybe not quite yet. It's too sexy, too expensive, and too pointless. But eventually, it surely will be just plain old transport.

This posting by would-be space traveller Madsen Pirie at the ASI Blog looks forward to the time when space travel will be transport, as also does (especially) comment number two from Steve Masty. He's a good writer, I think.

I know it's off topic, but I especially liked Masty's piece on Monday about how protectionism wrecked the nineteenth century British watch industry. And I suppose I could get back from protectionism to transport again by saying that Michael Jennings was saying to me yesterday (in among other things) that experienced French engineers of high speed railways could have built an entire high speed railway from London to Birmingham to Manchester for the price it took our English plodders merely to upgrade the existing lines, whatever upgrade means exactly.

To get any industry moving, denationalise it, the way the Americans are now inching towards denationalising space "transport", and when you've done that, keep it moving forward fast by not "protecting" it. (Meanwhile China is still taking the King of Spain approach to transport financing, as Dale Amon explains today at Samizdata.)

I reckon all that just about hangs together.

And besides, accurate watches and clocks are all part of running a transport system like clockwork, wouldn't you say? Can it be coincidence that the Swiss seem to have done both rather well? And the Japanese also, come to think of it. Wow. A new Theory there.

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A couple more things to read

Patrick Crozier | Pollution | Roads - Parking

Daniel Klein has e-mailed me to recommend a couple of (online available) chapters in a new, snappily-entitled Cato book, The Half-Life of Policy Rationales: How new technology affect old policy issues. The chapters relevant to transport are: Buying Time at the Curb by Donald C. Shoup and Fencing the Airshed: Using Remote Sensing to Police Auto Emissions by Daniel B. Klein

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October 14, 2003

Bus or Train - which is best?

Patrick Crozier | Inter-modal Competition

For some time now I have made the assumption that for densely-populated cities, in terms of capacity and speed rail is the best means of moving people from the outskirts to the centre.

Old hat?
I have made that assumption for a couple of reasons. First of all, because the only study I have ever heard of (the Smeed report of the 1960s) says so. Secondly, because all the world's successful high density cities eg. New York, Tokyo, London and Paris, have extensive rail networks.

That was until Gabriel Roth, in a comment to a recent post, put a spanner in the works:

A basic problem of rail transport, (as mentioned by John Redwood in his September article in "The Times") is the low carrying capacity of systems using steel wheels on steel rails: Trains cannot stop easily and each needs miles of empty track in front of it. On the other hand, the dedicated "busway" leading into New York's bus terminal has carried over 500 buses in one hour, which could seat 25,000 people in comfort.

I am very surprised at this. Mainly, I am surprised that it should be controversial at all. Surely, there are studies out there which prove that the one is better than the other? The Smeed report may be 40 years old but it is difficult to see how much has changed in the intervening period. It strikes me (he says tempting fate) that neither train nor bus technology has advanced much since.

The future?
I also don't want it to be true. I don't like buses. I often don't like trains much more either but I would far prefer to travel on them. Why? Because, they're smoother, you can read on them and they're faster. They also seem somehow airier and more spacious. Standing on a platform seems somehow so much more civilised than standing at a bus stop.

Of course, this prejudice is based on what we have now. Buses have the enormous problem that they have to run along government-run streets with all the congestion (even in dedicated bus lanes) that that implies. But what if they were able to run on dedicated, higher-speed routes? What if they were able to offer a higher-quality, smoother alternative? The only objection I could think of then would be pollution. Possibly the width of the lanes (rail tracks are narrower) would be a factor.

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October 13, 2003

Well, it works in Japan

Patrick Crozier | UK Train Operators

Both Jeannie Fiona Macaulay and Tim Hall are fairly dismissive of Virgin Rail’s proposals to have passenger baggage go by road while the passengers themselves go by rail. This has been brought about by the lack of luggage space on Virgin's new Voyager trains.

Tim says:

When Virgin first introduced those tinny things, the first thing everybody said was "where's the luggage space". These trains are used on busy holiday routes to Bournemouth, Devon and Cornwall. On the old trains they replaced, Virgin had taken out a bay of seats in every coach to make room for an additional luggage stack. And those luggage racks were always full of bags. And these trains also had more seats and more coaches. Nobody at Virgin Trains should have been under any illusion that their long distance passengers, whose travels tend to involve overnight stays, carry luggage. Instead they dream up a new train with an interior layout best suited for short distance commuter journeys. What were they thinking?

And I am sure he’s right.

It works... in Japan
Bizarre as this arrangement seems it is not unheard of. On my trip to Japan with the Railway Study Association last year while we in the party all went by train our bags went by road. Much to our surprise they even got to our hotel rooms before we did.

Even so, I did find the whole arrangement rather puzzling. I mean, why would someone pay extra (presumably quite a lot extra for guaranteed same-day delivery – think what the couriers will charge you) when they could just take the bags with them? Because they're Japanese perhaps?

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October 12, 2003

Rapid transit in Cambridgeshire

Guest Writer | Inter-modal Competition
Gabriel Roth has been writing about roads from a free-market perspective for over twenty years (and for all I know a lot longer). His publications include:

Roads in a Market Economy
Federal-Free Highways
Private Road Ahead, with Eamonn Butler, Adam Smith Institute (no web version available)

Here, he considers the proposed Rapid Transit system between Cambridge and Huntingdon.

Does anybody know what is happening about the "Rapid Transit" scheme to provide a 23 km "guided bus system" [click here for an example from Adelaide. Ed] on the abandoned St. Ives to Cambridge rail right-of way?

Cambridgeshire: courtesy of MultiMap
While the idea of using abandoned rail track for bus transport is commendable, the current plan (for which public comments were invited last summer) is not designed to make efficient use of the available capacity. Only twenty buses per lane per hour are expected to run on the system in peak-time in 2016 - taking up less than five per cent of lane capacity! Two unexamined alternatives, which allow more vehicles to use the route, would substantially increase the benefits and reduce the costs to public funds:

First, to provide the system as described, but without the "Guided bus" technology, and allowing all buses and minibuses to use an "unGuided" system;

Second, and even more interesting, to open up the "Rapid Transit" system not only to buses and minibuses (at no charge), but also to other vehicles on payment of a fee. Fees would be charged electronically and varied in response to traffic levels so as to ensure free-flow conditions at all times.

The first alternative, to dispense with the guidance system and allow all buses to use the system, would effectively turn it from a "Guideway" to a "Busway". More buses would use the system, so usage and benefits would increase.

However, even if all buses were allowed to use the system, much unused capacity would often remain on it The second alternative would allow this excess capacity to be used by other vehicles on payment of a fee, collected electronically, without vehicles having to stop. And the fee would be varied, and kept high enough to ensure "free flow" traffic at all times.

Express Lanes, accommodating both buses and toll payers, have important advantages:

Such "Express Lanes" have been operating successfully in California since 1995 and are being considered for major US cities. They seem to have potential in other countries also, and the Cambridge "Rapid Transit" proposal, suitably amended, could be the first application in the UK. Or do bloggers see good reasons for not applying them in Europe?

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October 08, 2003

A motorbike with 48 cylinders and a 4200cc engine

Brian Micklethwait | Cycling

That's transport. Link from Dave Barry.

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October 07, 2003

The ASI's dilemma

Patrick Crozier | British Rail Privatisation

As some of you may know the Adam Smith Institute (ASI) has set up a blog and very good it is too.

As some of you may also know, it was the ASI that first suggested splitting the wheel from the rail on British railways which I, and many others, feel was the root cause of our current difficulties.

We should perhaps not be too harsh on the ASI. For starters they did get a lot of other things right and we shouldn't forget that they occupy a rather unusual niche on the British political landscape. While we, here on Transport Blog, are trying to make the case for the most extreme position possible, the ASI is trying to develop policies that might actually work. Their policies have to deal with the real world of interest groups, elections and media distortion.

So, given the "politically possible" part of the ASI's remit could they have done better? What if I had been around in 1987 and it was me writing that fateful report and taking full advantage of hindsight what would I have said?

The first thing is to be clear on just quite which circle we are trying to square. On the one hand we are trying to inject the disciplines of the free market: greater efficiency, better maintenance of assets, better exploitation of markets into the railway. On the other hand we are trying to keep the voters happy by: keeping uneconomic lines open, keeping certain fares (especially commuter fares) low and building the odd super-project eg Crossrail or the West Coat Route Modernisation that would otherwise be uneconomic.

I think if I were set that challenge and knowing what we now know I would try to do the following:

I would start by dividing the rail network into two: those bits that are going concerns and those bits that aren't. I would sell off the viable bits in one go. I would allow them almost complete freedom the with exception of the setting of politically-sensitive fares. These I would allow to rise but only slowly. The non-viable bits I would keep under state ownership with all the subsidies and all the usual problems.

That, at least, would be the theory but would it be possible? Would there be technical difficulties in achieving such a division? There might be a problem in determining which bits were truly viable. You could sell the whole lot off to the bidder who offered to take the most track off you but he could just decide to close it all down. No, you're probably best selling to the highest bidder - he is not going to want to burden himself with loss-making lines.

But could there be other problems? What if you sold off one part of a line but not the end bit? Would that mean that at the junction of the two you would be operating entirely different services with passengers having to engage in the tiresome business of alighting and boarding? And if you could sort that out might there be some interesting network effects if the state ever decided to close its bit of the line? By this I mean would the decline in business render the private bit uneconomic? Mind you, the state might not consider this such a problem.

I could imagine all sorts of problems if the private operator wanted to electrify its bit but the state didn't want to do the same with its bit. Or maybe it wouldn't be so serious.

So, that covers uneconomic lines and fares but what about the grands projets? My guess is that the best thing is if the state simply builds them and then sells them. Build Crossrail and sell to the highest bidder. Don't even think about the West Coast Route Modernisation. Instead build an entirely new line and see if anyone's interested. OK, it's risky (what if they aren't interested?) but at least it keeps the two sectors separate.

You know what? This is very similar to the structure that exists right now in Japan. And that seems to work.

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October 06, 2003

Tonight, 8pm Channel Four

Patrick Crozier | Rail History

"Speed Machines". The blurb says:

The series about the history of speed and the intense rivalry to be the fastest revisits the golden age of the train. In the 1930s, Britain's railway network was the envy of the world, the east and west coast railway companies fighting to transport passengers from London to Scotland as quickly as possible.

I wonder if they'll give a nod to the Streamliners.

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October 05, 2003

Compulsory Purchase in Japan

Patrick Crozier | Compulsory Purchase | Railways - Japan

Some time ago, Natalie Solent, quoted Jim Bennett on the Japanese approach to compulsory purchase:

No discussion of eminent domain is complete without reference to Japan. Basically, they have no almost no eminent domain or planning and zoning. They deal with hold-outs by paying them more, or in extreme cases by building around them. Read Tokyo: The City at the End of the World, by Peter Popham (1985) for a discussion of this and a great photo of a tiny rice farm surrounded by skyscrapers -- a holdout resolved in the Japanese manner. How they dealt with railways, the book didn't say.

She said:

If the Japanese have managed to raise mighty cities without denying the rights of the holders of the land then they are an example to us all. I do hope they managed the same trick with their famously efficient railways.

I am not sure about railways but they don't seem to have managed it with roads as this article in the Japan Times illustrates:

There is no known precedent in which land expropriation tied to road construction has been suspended by the courts.

I wonder if Natalie had any luck in tracking down Popham's book.

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October 04, 2003

Railway competition in Nagoya

Patrick Crozier | Railways - Japan

This is a posting I have been meaning to write for about a year but never quite got round to. Better late than never, I guess.

On the last day of our tour we were given a lecture on JR Central's Nagoya programme. On privatisation, JR was losing out badly to Meitetsu (a large private railway) in the area. JR decided to respond. It increased both the speed and frequency of its service as well as introducing new rolling stock. The effect was astonishing. JR took out great chunks of Meitetsu's market.

Meitetsu train at Gifu
After the lecture I decided to take a ride on the two railways to see this competition for myself. I took the Meitetsu train up to Gifu. It was on time and clean as you would expect but the train was very old. 40 years I think.

On the way back to Nagoya I took the JR competition. It was brand new, spotless and far faster than Meitetsu's alternative. It was also cheaper. It was not difficult to see why JR Central was (apparently) doing so well.

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October 03, 2003

Bump and (angle) grind

Patrick Crozier | Road General

When I heard the story about the man who dug up a hump outside his house I thought that this kind of thing (taking matters into one's own hands) was getting rather common. We have Captain Gatso, Anglegrinderman and who can forget the Fuel Protestors? I was going to wax lyrical about how this represented a movement and how it could put paid to all sorts of transportational schemes - including my own.

And then I found out I already had.

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October 02, 2003

If you read no other article on British railways then read this one

Patrick Crozier | Rail General

"Why our trains don't run like clockwork" by Richard Morrison in the Times. Morrison has managed to track down a senior Swiss railwayman, put him on some British trains and, well, you'll see.

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ASI aviation power breakfast

Brian Micklethwait | Airport Expansion

Patrick, sorry I've been neglecting this blog somewhat. But here's the sort of titbit readers of this will presumably appreciate being told, whatever they think of it:

All the leading aviation policymakers were at the Adam Smith Institute Westminster breakfast on the future of UK airports, and some interesting facts and figures came out.

Best subsequent paragraph, I think:

An environmental problem? No, there's been a four-fold reduction in aircraft noise levels in the last 30 years. The noise 'footprint' is a twelfth of what it was then. Particulate emissions have fallen tenfold. Technology, in other words, is solving the environmental problems, not creating them.

Best single sentence:

… The enquiry on Heathrow's fifth terminal (just a terminal building, not a runway) has taken longer than the First World War. …

That ASI blog is definitely working.

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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