December 2003

December 31, 2003


Brian Micklethwait | Air Miscellany

Did we register this here in mid-November?:


If so, sorry. If not, there it is.

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December 30, 2003

It all makes sense now.

Michael Jennings | Other

Frustrated with my horrible ignorance of the Hepplethwaite-Everard Rules, I yesterday did what any respectable transport blogger would do when faced with something he doesn't understand.

That's right. I went on a field trip.

And there is nothing like first hand experience. It all makes sense now. The fact that Mornington Crescent is only on the Charing Cross branch and not the City branch but both Euston and Camden Town are on both branches is obviously crucial to everything. How else could the float movements conflict if the junctions are wild? Next time you guys want a game, I am in.

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December 22, 2003

Mornington Crescent - Update

Patrick Crozier | Other

After 22 plays our little game of Mornington Crescent would appear to be bubbling away nicely. Play has been of a remarkably high standard (Tim Hall's attempts to employ Heidigger's Gambit notwithstanding). But something (not least the lack of Central Line stations beginning with the letter "G") tells me that it'll all be over by Christmas...

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December 21, 2003

London’s new runways

Patrick Crozier | Airport Expansion

There’s been some kind of decision this week on London’s new runways. Don’t ask me what it was – I don’t know . A report of the decision is here and there’s a neat graphic here. Some commentators think it's a Good Thing. And others think it's a Bad Thing.

I don't know what the decision was because I don’t care. I don’t care because my interest was never in what decision was made but how that decision was made. And I hate it. I hate the way it takes so long and costs so much money. I hate the way that fortunes can be won or lost and homesteads saved or forfeited at the whim of a politician. I hate the waste of human effort. Surely, I think, there must be a better way.

And, of course, there is. What the problem of airport expansion boils down to is the problem of pollution or what economists call negative externalities. It's not the aircraft, as such, that people object to but the noise, smell of burnt kerosene, development and extra traffic they bring with them.

Last year, I wrote about this. I said:

So, how should negative externalities be dealt with? The best paper I can find on this is Max More's Libertarian Pollution Control. He points out that taxation is not the answer because the government doesn't know what the "right" amount is. We now know that not only does the government not tax by the right amount but the money never gets near the people actually affected. He also points out that private ownership is vital. His solution? Have it dealt with by the courts.

Why, because:

Firstly, it takes government out of the picture. Secondly, it would be reasonably predictable…

Thirdly, it's quick…

Fourthly, it provides a means for dealing with some of the global environmental controversies.

Read the whole thing, as they say.

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December 20, 2003

Jennings on airline regulation at Samizdata – and a prophetic link

Brian Micklethwait | Air Miscellany

As he says in the posting immediately below this one, our good buddy and regular contributor here Michael Jennings today posted one of his big set-piece analytical postings, this time about the international politics of airline regulation, at Samizdata, which is of obvious interest to readers of this blog.

And yesterday, Chris Lawrence linked to it from Oxford.


A case of bloglag.

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International aviation rights and non-free markets

Michael Jennings | Air General | Best of Transport Blog

I have a lengthy piece on international aviation rights over at Samizdata. This starts out as an explanation of why precisely Cathay Pacific had to be given rights to fly from London to New York in return for Virgin Atlantic being able to fly to Australia, and devolves into a history of the (insane) bilateral regime for allocating airlines rights to particular places, a discussion of the associated politics (particularly between Britain and the US) and some suggestions as to what might be better.

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The spirit of Kittyhawk

Brian Micklethwait | Air Miscellany | Best of Transport Blog

There's been good stuff at Samizdata by Dale Amon about the development of SpaceShipOne, by Scaled Composites.

Yesterday, Dale linked to this press release:

Today, a significant milestone was achieved by Scaled Composites: The first manned supersonic flight by an aircraft developed by a small company's private, non-government effort.

In 1947, fifty-six years ago, history's first supersonic flight was flown by Chuck Yeager in the Bell X-1 rocket under a U.S. Government research program. Since then, many supersonic aircraft have been developed for research, military and, in the case of the recently retired Concorde, commercial applications. All these efforts were developed by large aerospace prime companies, using extensive government resources.

Our flight this morning by SpaceShipOne demonstrated that supersonic flight is now the domain of a small company doing privately-funded research, without government help. The flight also represents an important milestone in our efforts to demonstrate that truly low-cost space access is feasible.

That was dated December 17th. Funny that. December 17th 2003. Take away a hundred years, and what do you get? That's right. First powered flight. December 17th 1903.

And if you want any further proof of just how well those Wrights did, way back in 1903, well, they tried to reproduce the absolute same aircraft and to fly it last Wednesday, by way of a tribute/celebration. And guess what. They couldn't make it work.

My favourite Wright Brothers story from way back then was told in the documentary they showed about it on BBC4 on Wednesday evening. It was one of those Days That Shook The World things. And it's not so much an aviation story as a photography story.

The Wright Brothers weren't out there on the sand alone with their airplane on their great day. Others were involved. There was a kid. There were four lifeboatmen. Bodies were needed to carry the contraption, for it had no wheels. And also involved was a bloke called Daniels.

The brothers had rigged up a camera to record their first flying efforts, but what with Orville needing to fly the plane, and Wilbur wanting to watch and hold the stopwatch, they asked Daniels to operate the camera.

Thus is was that the very first photograph ever taken by Daniels in his entire life was a photograph of the very first flight by a powered aircraft. The plane stayed in the air for about twelve seconds, and Daniels got it beautifully. With his very first click. Talk about photographic beginner's luck. Was there ever a better first photo? Amazing.

And isn't "Kittyhawk" just the perfect name for the place where all this first happened?

Now the spirit of the Wright Brothers lives on, not in the form of mere faked up replays of their flight, but in the efforts of similar men to take the next step into the skies. The Scaled Composites guys were the ones paying the real tribute, not those antiquarian model builders. Says Dale Amon in his Samizdata piece:

Those supporting the government position have said high costs are inherent in space flight. The short time scale, low costs and aggressive testing program of Scaled Composites should be an eye-opener to those nay-sayers. What I and others have been writing for nearly a quarter of a century is correct. The rocketmen are not underestimating the cost of space. It is the government and government contractors who have been "ripping the arse" out of the public purse.

After twenty-five years of the blood, sweat and tears of pioneering rocketmen from Zaire to Matagordo Island to San Francisco Bay to Vandenberg we have proven our case. Scaled Composites is not alone. There are others close behind them. Many first flights will happen this decade in a reprise of the totally private aviation of 1903-1910.

It is the end of the beginning and a marvelous time to be alive.

And of course there will be many more great photographs.

Click on "photos" here if you don't believe me:



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December 17, 2003

The Wright Brothers and the secret of active control systems

Brian Micklethwait | Air Miscellany

On the occasion of the centenary of the Wright Brothers flight, Mark Steyn exhumes a piece he did in 2001 about the crappiness of air travel.

But a even more worthy object of exhumation is this outstanding piece by Friedrich Blowhard about the Wright Bros. Friedrich originally had the key date as December 9, which is why he posted the piece on that date. But he was then commented into changing it to the proper date of Dec 17, which is today.

In all other respects it's a most lovely piece, and not just about technology but also about morals, two subjects that are more closely connected than is often assumed, I think. Consider the use of words like "right" (the rhyme is purely fortuitous, but then again I wonder ... maybe being called that ...) in both contexts. Think of how technological success is so often a matter of sticking by a good design and persisting with it in the face of setbacks, confusion and opposition, in the manner of some human rights campaigner.

On no account neglect the comments. Under pressure to justify all the fuss that is made of the Wrights and their unwieldy contraption, Friedrich added this especially umissable riposte:

Hold on a second there, Mr. Hulsey. The historical significance of the Wright Brothers is that all lines of development of air travel narrowed into them and then diverged out of them again. In the time when they succeeded in flying, no one else (other than the bizarre, misconceived effort by the Smithsonian) was actively working on the problem: the French, who had pursued the question most vigorously, had given up in despair of achieving a solution. The French effort was revitalized by photographs and accounts of what the Wrights were doing.

Yes, the original Wright flyer was not a "practical" airplane, and they knew that. They then retired to a farm field outside Dayton (now the site of Wright-Patterson AFB) and worked on developing their machine. In the five years they spent doing this others developed crude airplanes and the Wright's accomplishment was often doubted. Then they came out of seclusion and demonstrated in trials in the U.S. and Europe that their machine was vastly superior to anything else in the air. As a consequence they sold aircraft to the U.S. Army; U.S. Army Aircraft #1 is on display at the air museum at Wright Patterson.

Yes, their airplanes were surpassed in a few years technologically (although not in all details; there wasn't a non-Wright propeller as efficient as the one on their original flyer until 1911.) But who is going to stay at the head of the pack forever?

And their main accomplishment remains: the Wright brothers were the first people trying to crack the problem of flight that understood the importance of active control systems. They developed the three axis control systems used by all subsequent airplanes. (Whether the method was wing-warping or flaps, the concept had been demonstrated.)

In a formula: prior to the Wrights, no active control systems, no flight; after the Wrights, everyone uses active control systems, aeronautics advances at lightning speed.

Or, to put it another way ... anybody can do it, once you know the secret.

I don't know if that's all technically correct, but how beautifully he lays out his case. Transport blogging at its best.

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The cost of tarmac

Patrick Crozier | Airport Expansion

I saw this in the Telegraph:

Leading airlines last night called for the break-up of BAA after the airports operator admitted it may have to use revenues from its operations at Heathrow and Gatwick to fund a new £4 billion runway at Stansted.

Can anyone explain to me how a piece of tarmac (and not a particularly long piece at that) can end up costing £4 billion?

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December 16, 2003

Fun with stats (and the M6 Toll)

Patrick Crozier | Road Pricing

Now that the M6 Toll road has opened (don’t say you hadn’t heard) it gives us the opportunity to answer a few questions. Like, for instance, will it make money? Just for fun I did some calculations based on the numbers where available and my own guesses where not.


Building the road: £900m
Assumed interest rate: 5%
Length of concession: 53 years – call that 50 years
Assume interest payment constant (yes, I know)
Assume costs of maintenance, collecting tolls negligible

Annual expenditure = Interest payment + capital payment.

Capital payment = £900m/50 = £18m/year

Interest payment = £900m × 5% = £45m/year

So, Annual expenditure = £63m ≈ £60m


Assume only cars use the road (probably not so far of the mark as it happens)
Assume 300 days in the year (weekends count as one day because fewer people moving about)
Toll = £2

Number of cars per day to break even = Annual expenditure/Number of days x Toll

= 60m/300 × 2

= 100,000 a day

But, 180,000 vehicles use the M6 every day. M6 was designed to take no more than 72,000 per day. So, it seems reasonable to assume much the same is true of the M6 toll and, of course, if it exceeds this figure it is in danger of wrecking its unique selling point (convenience). In other words, on my calculations MEL is going to go bust.

Except it probably isn’t. They reckon it is a licence to print money and let’s face it they’ve got lots of experience in this field. I’d love to know where I’ve gone wrong though.

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December 15, 2003

Financing transit systems through value capture: an annotated bibliography by Jeffery J. Smith and Thomas A. Gihring

Patrick Crozier | Positive Externalities | Rail Economics

Regular readers will be bored to death by the way I keep on going on about how rail systems often massively increase the value of the surrounding property (see here). Well it's not just me. The Victoria Transport Policy Institute has recently published the above paper which is concerned with much the same area.

A few things I picked up on:

R. T. Meakin notes that Hong Kong’s rail transit system receives no subsidy, all costs, including interest on bond indebtedness [my italics], are paid from land rents derived from development in station areas


In the past, private developers often built transit systems as an associated amenity, and recouped the capital costs from the sales of developed sites (still common practice in Japan). Such profits from land residuals are commonplace in the private sector, but could reasonably be extended to the public domain...

Or you could keep them in the private sector.

I did find the assessments of light rail projects in the UK amusing:

Tyne & Wear Metro, Newcastle,U.K...Retail activity or office developments in proximity to stations does not appear to be directly linked to LRT

Manchester Metrolink (LRT completed 1992)...Yet, no evidence of urban development outside City centre

Croydon Tramlink, South-London...Economic impact yet to be felt


London Docklands Light Railway...A priori assessment proved correct: 50% of capital cost was recaptured through transport costs reduction, reduction in congestion and in accident, while 50% was recaptured through overall office development and job creation

In other words keep railways where they belong: on axial routes in large, densely-populated cities.

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December 14, 2003

News Round up 14/06/03

Patrick Crozier | British Rail Privatisation | Buses and Jitneys | Fares and Ticketing | New Trains | Planning | Rail Delays | Railtrack and Network Rail | Road Pricing | Road Safety

What was the problem you were originally trying to solve? That is the question that really ought to be being asked in Whitehall after it was revealed that despite spending at a rate of about 50% its predecessor, Network Rail, NR, has still failed to get to grips with punctuality. This in the week that the Rail Regulator announced a huge increase in funding for NR. For some that still wasn't enough. David Farrer, over a Freedom and Whisky thinks he may have part of the explanation. It certainly doesn't help when you have stations patronised by precisely one passenger. At least the Telegraph finds it amusing.

Similar questions ought to be being asked about the news that rail fares are to rise. At the time of fragmentation many fares were held to the rate of inflation minus 1 per cent. This seems to have gone well and truly west.

One startling element to this news was Transport Minister Alistair Darling's attempt to defend the decision by blaming the victims. He pointed out that the passenger share of the railway's running costs has, in recent years, fallen from about 70% to 50%. What he didn't point out was that this was almost entirely due to the way that the government has had to spend more money on the railways after the government, through fragmentation, franchising and the tender mercies of the Health and Safety Executive, saddled the railway with massively increased costs.

Another rather odd element is that I cannot find any mention of where this announcement came from. It is mentioned on the websites of neither the Department or Transport nor the Strategic Rail Authority.

Just for the record, I favour fare deregulation.

Thames Trains, the company at the centre of the Ladbroke Grove train crash, has admitted guilt in its court case and faces massive fines.

Just when you thought things couldn't get worse a London Underground proposal for a massive development at South Kensington station (making the most of all those lovely externalities) gets turned down.

In the Telegraph, Tom Utley laments the general situation.

At least the new Pendolinos look like offering passengers a nausea-free ride.

Away from the railways, Britain has acquired its first toll motorway. Not that there is anything particularly new about tolls. And Tom Utley writes about buses.

Finally, the Telegraph finds that it is almost as confused about speed cameras as Transport Blog. On the 10th its headline is:

Road deaths rise as police shun cameras

While on the 12th it is:

'Speed cameras don't save lives'

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December 13, 2003

Tories: we were wrong on rail

Patrick Crozier | British Rail Privatisation

In an interview for the Daily Telegraph, David Willetts, the Conservative Party’s policy wonk said:

I would not defend the way we carried out the railway privatisation.

Perhaps not the fullest apology ever but as close as we are likely to get any time soon. Anyway, the point is that the Conservative Party has admitted the mistake – always a good sign. The second is that they realise the damage that was done by fragmentation. Willetts said:

We had a model for gas and electricity, where you had a neutral grid then you had competing providers putting electricity or gas into the grid.

The Treasury applied that model to railways and it was the wrong model. The equivalent of the grid, the track, is a much more important part of the railways. It is where a much higher proportion of the capital expenditure is. You must apply your principles in the light of circumstance.

Historically, the way the railways had worked was by what the economists call vertical integration...

...If you ran a good railway service, you wanted to maintain your track. A good service meant that there was more business through the hotel you had by the station at the end of the line. You bought some land beside the track and did some property development.

Which brings us on to the third point – they’re waking up to the potential of externalities ie property development. This is very good news indeed.

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December 12, 2003

Transport Blog Quote of the Day

Michael Jennings | Frivolity
The English motorway system is beautiful and strange
It's been there forever, it's never going to change
It eliminates all diversions, it eliminates all emotions
(All you got to do to stay alive is drive)

There are things we need to talk about
There are things I cannot do without

If you think the journey's over
Let me know, don't make me wait

(Driving with no aim or intention)
On the English motorway

The English motorway system can be quite hypnotizing
You achieve a Zen like state, as someone else's driving
It becomes detached observing, colours and straight lights
Distant town and exit signs

(Do you really want to break up?)

There are things we need to talk about
There are things I cannot do without

Is this the end of the rainbow?
Am I just colour-blind?

(Leave the north, visit friend's at south)
On the English motorway

-- Black Box Recorder, from their album The Facts of Life, perhaps demonstrating a lack of knowledge about the actual development of the English motorway system.

(Patrick, I'll write something serious soon. Promise).

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Sean Gabb on drink driving

Patrick Crozier | Road Safety

Drink driving is an issue that has come up here before ('tis the season). But here and here are a couple of (rather better) articles written by libertarian Sean Gabb.

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December 11, 2003

Speed cameras - let's privatise them

Guest Writer | Road Safety

Andy Wood suggests that speed cameras might actually have their uses.

Advocates of speed cameras claim that their presence can reduce accident rates, perhaps by as much as seventy percent. I have little reason to doubt this claim, so let us assume that it is true. Some of the revenue generated by a speed camera goes to the police force which installs and operates it. Unfortunately, the incentives created by the latter fact are not consistent with the goal of minimising accident rates.

Here's why. Crasham Junction is a notorious accident blackspot. Several accidents a year occur here, most of them caused by a small number of drivers who drive too fast. Installing a speed camera would considerably reduce the accident rate. However, local drivers read the local papers and listen to local gossip. They know that they should slow down here. Furthermore, it is obvious to anyone driving through that Crasham Junction is a dangerous location. Sensible drivers slow down; only idiots speed through. A camera located here would only catch a handful of drivers, but it would be effective.

Continue reading "Speed cameras - let's privatise them"

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December 10, 2003

Dave Barry is completely wrong about the Nap-Strap Airline Passenger Head-Restraint Device – it's a really good idea

Brian Micklethwait | Transport Miscellany

Yes, I know, shocking. Is nothing sacred? Even a Dave Barry joke turning out to be not funny and taking wholly unwarranted piss out of something which is actually very good? It's hard to live with the thought, I know, but in this case it's definitely true.

This extraordinary comedic faux pas comes in the form of item number four in this list of would-be hilarious true life Christmas Gifts.

Barry demonstrates the excellent Nap-Strap Airline Passenger Head-Restraint Device with this outrageously unfair photograph.


As you can see, this photograph implies that it can be used not merely by airplane passengers, but also by airplane drivers. Need I elaborate on the wrongness of this interpretation?

As the makers of this device explain:

When people fall asleep in transit, their unsupported heads helplessly flop forward and to the sides. The result, besides sleeping poorly can be neck strain, headaches and general discomfort. The Nap-Strap and The Nap-Cap solve this common problem once and for all!

They feature our exclusive fully adjustable elastic retention system, which keeps a passenger's head supported in an upright and comfortable position while sleeping in transit. This system provides a gentle give and take to ensure mobility as well as support.

They are very effective, simple to use and compatible with headrests and seats in cars, planes, buses and trains. For added comfort, a light blocking fleece eyeshade and a free pair of earplugs create the ultimate sleeping environment for adults. The Nap-Cap for Kids installs in minutes and is compatible with virtually all child safety and booster seats.

Nowhere at all in this helpful explanation is it suggested that anyone except passengers should use these devices. Here's the Nap-Strap, here's the Nap-Cap, and here's the Nap-Cap for Kids, being used by passengers.

And, of course, another aspect of the situation ignored by Dave Barry: they're not just for use on airplanes, but also on cars, trains and buses.

You can now sleep comfortably when your stop comes and goes, ending up in Walthamstow when all you wanted was Euston, and miss that vital plane connection in complete comfort and with no worries!

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December 09, 2003

Ryanair boobs

Brian Micklethwait | Air Miscellany

According to news reports such as this the Ryanair angel has had a breast implant. It looks more like a full sex-change operation to me, based on this before/after comparison which I found here:


A Ryanair spokesperson elucidates:

Lotta Lindquist, head of Ryanair in the Nordic area, was not informed about the change when TV 2 Nettavisen contacted her earlier in the week. However, she had been informed by Friday afternoon.

"We do not wish to milk the situation," Lindquist said with a hint of irony. "The change was made due to aerodynamic reasons. Since we are going to upgrade the fleet, we will use this opportunity to give our passengers a more uplifting experience."

My first reaction was: what does Nordic Lotta mean about aerodynamics? How can changing a logo make any difference to that? But I guess it means that since they were repainting all the planes anyway, for those aerodynamic reasons, this was a good time to add breasts to all the angels.

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Mornington Crescent

Patrick Crozier | Other

In the comments section of Ways of making your train journey ever, ever so slightly less dull Mark Holland mentions and Andy Wood initiates a game of Mornington Crescent, his first move being Barons Court - a fine example of the Zarkhovsky Offence.

I would remind players that at Transport Blog we play strictly by the Hepplethwaite-Everard Rules and that junctions are wild.

My go: Gunnersbury.

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December 08, 2003

What do you have to do to get noticed in this country?

Patrick Crozier | London Congestion Charging

According to the Times:

HE SHUT Tower Bridge for almost a week, caused 40-mile traffic jams, cost businesses £30 million and required 50 police to coax him down.

Yet when 36-year-old David Chick last month donned a Spiderman outfit, scaled a crane and stayed there for six days, creating girdlock [sic], the organisation which looks after the capital’s transport infrastructure — from Coventry — missed it.

And as a consequence fined all those who had entered the Congestion Charge zone because of the police diversion.

Esprit d'escalier

It's just occurred to me what's going on here. One branch of government infuriates a class of people so much that they feel obliged to engage in stunts of this nature (the guy IIRC was protesting against the Child Support Agency), another (Parliament) imposes the Human Rights Act on us so dealing with this guy swiftly becomes impossible as, indeed, does a sensible traffic management policy because someone "might get hurt", another branch (the police) does about the only sensible thing it can ie diverting traffic, and yet another branch (Crapita as it is known) feigns ignorance of the whole thing and fines the motorists so diverted.

What we need, of course, is the appointment of a Superhero Protest Road traffic Administation Tsar, or SuperPRAT for short. As we all know, the answer to bad government is more government.

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December 07, 2003

Ways of making your train journey ever, ever so slightly less dull

Patrick Crozier | Frivolity

Cold Spring Shops links to Apt 11D's way of whiling away the minutes waiting for a train:

We would bide our time on the train platform by playing a game with the subway map. You link up station names to make a person's name and then provide a fitting character description. Examples:

Winthorp Hewes Whitehall -- A Park Avenue retired banking mogul. Smokes cigars at the Harvard Club. Secretly tries on wife's shoes.


Sutter Simpson -- Likes guns. Hates varmints and those stinkin' liberals.

Stephen reckons that it might also work for Chicago. Not sure about London though. Sure, there are a few to play around with: Angel Aldgate and Victoria Pimlico but not really nearly enough.

The problem is that our station names are quite funny enough on their own. What, one wonders, goes on at Tooting Broadway? Do they really succeed in their stated intention at Turnham Green? Would you be better off taking your ironing to Preston Road. And, after Ponders End do passengers then head for Hanger Lane?

Transport Blog readers are advised not to dwell too long on what might take place at Queen's Park or Swiss Cottage...

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December 06, 2003

News Round up 6/12/03

Patrick Crozier | Airlines UK | Industrial Relations | New Trains | Rail Miscellany | Rail Regulator | Railtrack Administration | Railtrack and Network Rail | Railways - Other | Railways - USA | Road General | Road Pricing | Road Safety

A listing of stories we could have covered but didn't.

Network Rail remains stuck in the sidings - review of a leaked report from the Government's expenditure watchdog. It is pretty damning stuff. As is Network rail going nowhere by the same author

Regulator denies that Treasury is meddling in rail budget

Winsor convenes rail summit on punctuality

Taxpayer to face £70m bill for Network Rail - because its borrowing costs are higher than they would be if it were an honestly nationalised enterprise

Railtrack shareholders to sue Byers - one of my very first posts was about this and that was in March 2002.

Virgin takes 13 Bombardier trains off track

Tube go slow

Fuel cell loco investigated - interesting idea given that it would be running using the ultimate clean fuel - but at 1MW does it have enough power? - via Live from the Third Rail

Buoyant US economy catches railroads on the hop - seems they have more business than they can deal with. So, why don't they just put the prices up?

On the right track: the old Soviet rail network keeps on running - at least when it isn't having the hell blown out of it by Islamo-loons.

How much more of a bashing does the motorist have to take? - Conservative politician John Redwood makes the case for roads

Congestion charging not to be extended - beyond London and Edinburgh, for now, that is

Let private sector combat congestion - the Heritage Foundation argues that tolling is inevitable - via Live from the Third Rail

Norris promises to cut buses and bus lanes - the sort of populist claptrap that gives the Tories a bad name

Police blame speed humps for 999 delays - oh, and for wrecking their cars

Ryanair woes - First of all they fall foul of the advertising people when a passenger shows up at the wrong airport and then a cripple sues them for daring to pass on to him the cost of using a wheelchair

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December 03, 2003

Acela – a line of places like no other?

Brian Micklethwait | Rail General

By some convoluted blog-route which I now forget, I found my way to this posting by Highway, way back in October, about a new American train called Acela. He makes an entertaining observation about such trains as these:

Yet it also struck me that that's about the closest you can get to something moving that fast without trespassing. At this particular platform, the train was using the set of rails adjacent to the platform, and going at least 120 mph (that's a guess, but I'm fairly sure of it, as the trains are rated at 150 mph). It would be far too easy to be too close to that train (indeed, standing on the other side of the fence at track level felt too close). But there is no other vehicle moving that fast that you can legally and regularly get right next to. Cars just don't go that fast on the road, and race tracks have many features to separate the people from the cars. Airplanes don't reach speeds like that on the ground, and boats never go that fast. So I'd have to say this was a unique experience.

Highway offers no links, Transport Blog style, but Googling is a wonderful thing and here's the Acela website. If you go there, you'll find a map, and a list of all the stops on the line.

And here, it seems to me, is one of the juiciest straight(ish) lines of places to be found anywhere on this planet. It includes Washington DC and New York, for starters. Plus: Philadelphia, and, at the top end of it, Boston. Plus: Baltimore, Newark and New Haven. If a railway doesn't make sense here, then it doesn't make sense to have railways at all, anywhere.


(If you go to the Acela site, click on the little map, and then mouse over the unname blue dots on the big map you then get, you get the names of all the other stops.)

Seriously, is there, anywhere else on earth, a line of potential rail destinations as impressive as that? The world contains many clusters of such places, but lines? No wonder they actually built a new railway there.

My guess is that the only potential challenger would be the other coast of the USA, but I'd love to be proved wrong. And anyway, does even that coast contain a line of places or just a vaguely concentrated zig-zag of them, like everywhere else. E.g. Britain.

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Tube workers sacked over alcohol find in staff room

Patrick Crozier | London Underground

According to the Telegraph:

Five Tube maintenance workers have been dismissed after more than a hundred cans of beer and cider were found in a staff room.

Well, they deserved it.

Some of the 111 cans found in a mess room near Farringdon station were empty, as was a bottle of brandy.
See what I mean? Some were empty. As in, some weren't. Flipping lightweights. This is how to drink.
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December 02, 2003

It's not the speed cameras that are to blame - it's the law

Patrick Crozier | Best of Transport Blog | Road Safety

There is a big hue and cry here in the UK at the moment over the issue of speed cameras. This is just an example of the sort of article being written. Peaceful campaigns are being run by the motoring press, while others are running campaigns that are altogether less so. I understand that speed cameras have even managed to deprive Peter Bottomley, the very minister who introduced them in the first place, of his hitherto unblemished licence. Irony - doncha love it?

But it occurs to me that blaming speed cameras for turning perfectly safe drivers into criminals is a bit like blaming guns for crime. It's not the object - it's the people. At the end of the day, all that speed cameras do is to catch people who are breaking the law. The reason that this has become such an issue is that in many cases the law is just plain wrong.

For many decades speed limits have had an almost unique place in British law: motorists have pretended to obey them and policemen have pretended to enforce them. All parties kind of knew that they were rather silly (especially as brakes improved) and they tended to get used to stop the real nutters. Unfortunately, someone went and broke the contract - and the current disquiet is the effect.

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December 01, 2003

David Carr on mobile phones in cars on the Jeremy Vine show

Patrick Crozier | Road Safety

I've just been listening to David Carr, Samizdatista and Libertarian Alliance Legal Affairs spokesman, talking on BBC Radio 2's Jeremy Vine Show on the subject of the new law banning the use of non-hands free mobile phones in cars in the UK.

Unfortunately, I was slightly late in hitting the record button on my radio so I can't reproduce his remarks verbatim, but David's basic point was that the use of a mobile phone in and of itself doesn't cause accidents; driving without due care and attention causes accidents and we have plenty of laws against that already.

Which is quite right.

I was rather glad that it was David on the phone-in rather than me because I tend to take the ultra anarcho-capitalist line that in an ideal world roads would be privatised and it would be up to the road owners to enforce whatever rules they liked. He is also a rather calmer and nicer-sounding person.

For what it's worth, I think that driving while using a mobile phone (hands-free or not) is, like driving after drinking, generally speaking, a dangerous thing to do. Some reports indicate that it is even more dangerous. But there are other ways of looking at this. Earlier this year Iain Murray, writing for Tech Central Station, suggested that the economic damage (which includes things like safer cars and better medical treatment, remember) might be greater than the saving in terms of safer roads.


Despite the link-fest above there was one I managed to miss. A rather important one in fact. This is what I wrote over a year ago:

I believe that laws like this cause untold damage. I mean damage that really is untold. The effects of regulations such as these are both unpredictable and unmeasurable. I believe that they undermine respect for authority and lead to a decline in personal responsibility: if you treat people like idiots that's how they'll act. I believe that there is a definite correlation in the number of petty regulations that have been introduced over the last 30 years and the general decline in our society. I just wish I could prove it.

And that is the key point: not that these laws are unnecessary but that they do real harm.

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A year in the life of Transport Blog

Patrick Crozier | Blogging

It is a year since we made the switch to Movable Type and changed the name to Transport Blog. And this is what our hit counter's been doing in that time:

Site Meter2.jpg

Not bad, I'd say.

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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