April 2004

April 27, 2004

Superconductive Maglev!

Brian Micklethwait | New Trains

This New York Times article today, which Patrick has NOT yet linked to (unlike the previous NYT bit I linked to today from here without mentioning his link from here – very embarrassing) says something very Transport Blog relevant, in among a lot of other stuff:

SCHENECTADY, N.Y. – In a onetime printing plant on the edge of this tattered manufacturing city, a small company named Superpower churns out sample after sample of what looks like shiny metal tape.

The tape has five layers. The middle one, a ceramic film one-tenth as thick as a human hair, exhibits one of nature's most tantalizing tricks. At very low temperatures, the ceramic abruptly loses all resistance to electrical current.

Superconductivity! It's now coming on by leaps and bounds:

Success could spring superconductivity from the modest niches that it has occupied in fields like medical diagnostics and give it wide commercial applications. In addition to cutting costs and raising reliability in generating and distributing electricity, superconductive wire could replace copper wire in motors to save space and cut energy costs in factories and on ships. …

And here comes the Transport Blog relevant bit:

… Railroads might finally embrace maglev technology, which allows high-speed trains to ride magnetic fields above superconductive rails.

So how is this being achieved?

The alloys used in medical imaging superconduct only at supercold temperatures, about 450 degrees below zero Fahrenheit. To reach that point, they have to be cooled by liquid helium, which is expensive to make and manage.

By contrast, ceramic superconductors work at temperatures above minus 321 Fahrenheit, allowing them to be cooled by liquid nitrogen, an inexpensive industrial refrigerant. For that reason, they are called high-temperature superconductors, though they are still far from the dream of a room-temperature superconductor.

Scientists eh? Above minus 321 Fahrenheit is a "high temperature".

It sounds vaguely like a new kind of railway line that will automatically cover itself, with no help at all from the weather, with the wrong kind of snow.

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Shanghai Maglev!

Brian Micklethwait | New Trains

Via this posting, which I got to from … can't remember … oh yes, from this, I found my way to this New York Times story, about a brand new "Maglev" in Shanghai:

Their digital cameras were flashing furiously now, and passengers began calling friends on their cellphones, eager to share the thrill. With a glance out of the big bay windows came an impression of art to accompany the technological awe. Mondrian and Dali came to mind as the farmers' plots were reduced to streaking geometrical abstractions, and time seemed to bend, with the thick traffic on the parallel highway down below zooming in reverse.

For a brief instant, the car's friendly display read 432 kilometers per hour (268 m.p.h.), the train's peak speed, and just then a passenger cried out: "Slow down, this is way too fast. Whoa, where are the brakes?" Faster-than-a-bullet-train technology is a marvel to be sure, the man's cry seemed to say, but in an eight-minute train ride to the airport there is no time to read, or scarcely even time to think.

And this could be one reason the Shanghai maglev has yet to catch on since the eight-minute service was begun in January. On an average day there are reportedly only 4,000 riders, less than one-sixth of capacity.

Personally, I love riding on trains that are nearly empty, just as my favourite pubs are the ones that no one else likes and where I can get a bit of peace and quiet. For someone like me pleasure tends to be transient. My favourite trains fill up or are discontinued. My favourite pubs go out of business and get turned into yuppie hutches.

ShanghaiMaglev.jpgThis maglev will soon fill up, presumably. Economically, it may scrape along making an "operating profit", but its true costs will never be repaid. Why do people build such things? Partly because they tend to look so pretty.

But, question: will Shanghai as a whole benefit from this service? Will it, in that wider positive externalities sense, be profitable? And do they plan to extend it out into the wide open spaces of China?

One thing is for sure. Shanghai is one great place, and getting greater all the time.

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April 25, 2004

Railways need density

Patrick Crozier | Rail Economics

By which I mean that railways are at their most profitable (or least unprofitable) when they operate in densely-populated areas with large populations. This matters to me because I believe that profit is a very good indicator of whether something should be done or not.

Empirically, this seems to hold out. Profitable railways can be found in Japan’s cities and suburbs. In Britain, in London, there are some commuter TOCs which don’t need any subsidy at all and most of them need (or, at least, until recently needed) very little. Most of the subsidy (insofar as it can be apportioned) ends up supporting services outside London. In the past, private companies have found it (just about) profitable to build underground railways in both London and New York.

Although states do not operate on a strict profit and loss basis, ultimately, how much an infrastructure project stands to lose will play a factor in whether it gets built or not. States seem to have found that it is only worth building (or running) subways in densely-populated parts of the world. Thus they’ve built them in Tokyo, Paris and Moscow, but not Birmingham or Edinburgh.

Why, this should be, I am not quite sure. I guess it has something to do with marginal costs in that the marginal cost of one extra rail passenger is, in fact, very low (no need for extra drivers, station staff or signallers), while the marginal cost of an extra road passenger is much higher. And, at some point, the average cost of a rail passenger becomes less than that of a road passenger.

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Why doesn’t Los Angeles have much of a metro?

Patrick Crozier | Rail Economics | Railways - USA

Los Angeles (I was surprised to discover) does have a metro. But at 270,000 passengers a day it’s pretty insignificant in comparison to Tokyo’s 5m, Moscow’s 9m or even London’s 2.5m.

The real surprise is that in terms of total population and population density (the things I think are the biggest single determiners of whether a railway is viable or not) Los Angeles is remarkably similar to both New York and London.

All down to the evil machinations of General Motors? [In the 1940s (?) GM bought up LA’s trams, ripped up the tracks and replaced them with buses.] Personally, I don’t much buy this argument. If a Los Angeles metro or tram system had been such a good idea someone would simply have relaid the tracks.

No, I think something else is going on here. Two possibilities: one, that subways are, in fact, a really bad idea and London and New York are simply victims of their own history; two, something else is going on. Are LA’s roads significantly wider than in other places, perhaps?

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Profit is a pretty good indicator of whether something is worth doing or not

Patrick Crozier | General Points (not just transport)

In the economic sphere, I mean. Obviously, buying your mother a box of chocolates is a pretty unprofitable thing to do (in strict monetary terms, that is) but (for most of us) it is still worth doing.

The problem is…I’m not sure why (profit is such a good indicator, that is). I think it is wrapped up with the whole idea about why markets work but I can't quite work out why. So, if there are any free marketeers out there who could tell me I would very much appreciate it.

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Los Angeles is not as densely populated as New York but it’s a pretty close run thing

Patrick Crozier | Railways - USA

When I read Gordon and Richardson’s piece about urban expansion (aka sprawl) I was doubtful about their claim that Los Angeles is more densely-populated than New York. According to these figures (from Wendell Cox’s outfit) I was right to be. Having said that the differences are not great and it does strike me that a lot depends on how you define a city’s limits and whether you include things like industrial areas and parkland.

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Why free markets tend to produce good results

Patrick Crozier | General Points (not just transport)

At their most basic level free markets depend on trade, voluntary exchange, swapping, call it what you will. But think about what goes on in some of the swaps in your life. When I go to work essentially what I am saying is that the money is more valuable than my labour, or, at least, that I guess that that will be the case. At the same time my employer is saying that (to him) my labour is more valuable than the money he is about to give me.

In other words we both win.

And that is why free markets work.

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All buses are not the same

Patrick Crozier | Buses and Jitneys

Introducing the Hampton Luxury Liner:


Walnut trim, eh? Looks like I'm going to have to eat some of my words.

Mind you, $37 for a single trip - Long Islanders must be loaded.

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April 24, 2004

Misuses of the English Language #3: Sprawl

Patrick Crozier | Misuse of the English Language | Planning

I don’t like the use of the term. The linguists out there will know the proper technical term for this but “sprawl” is a word which has two bits to it: a descriptive bit and a judgement bit. It describes urban expansion. Its judgement is that this is a bad thing.

Right here and now I don’t particularly wish to pronounce on whether urban expansion is a good thing or a bad thing, just to say that it is a legitimate matter for debate. And as such one should not seek to prejudice that debate by using a judgmental term like “sprawl”.

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Introducing Bloglines

Patrick Crozier | Blogging

I think this is brilliant. You tell it what your favourite blogs are and it tells you if there are any new posts.

One snag: only works with blogs that have an xml or rdf (don’t ask I don’t know what they stand for either) feed.

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Presidential Travels

David Farrer | Air Miscellany

This site shows us how much the candidates for the American presidency have spent on air travel.

Mr Bush favours United Airlines, with his campaign spending an average of $723 per trip on 110 bills. Mr Kerry prefers to fly American Airlines and has spent an average of $324 spread over 400 bills.

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April 20, 2004

How earthquakes do kinky things to railways

Brian Micklethwait | Rail Incidents

I went looking, as I do from time to time, for bridges, and, via a picture of a bridge in Turkey that was destroyed by an earthquake, I encountered a picture of these railway lines which were, if not destroyed exactly, at least rather severely re-arranged, by the same quake.


That must have taken a bit of straightening out. Meanwhile, I guess you had to go very slowly.

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April 19, 2004

Getting around, the Chinese way. Part I: How to drive.

Andy Wood | Frivolity | Road Safety | Third World Transport

At Marginal Revolution, Tyler Cowen reports that China has the worst record for road deaths in the world. I can't say I'm in the least bit surprised.

About eight years ago, I backpacked from Shanghai to Beijing. I flew to Shanghai from Tokyo. Customs at the airport was unmanned, to my surprise and relief, as I had experienced everything short of an intimate cavity search at the hands of Japanese customs a fortnight earlier. A fellow passenger, whom I sat next to on the plane, was a Chinese-American, visiting his family in Shanghai. His father was to pick him up at the airport, and he offered to give me a lift to my hotel. Thus began my induction into the Chinese way of getting around. I have never known terror like it.

During that twenty minute trip from the airport to my hotel, I was able to discern a few rules for driving on Chinese roads, which I summarise here as a little FAQ.

Continue reading "Getting around, the Chinese way. Part I: How to drive."

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How much better might laissez faire have done?

Brian Micklethwait | Transport General

Some of the comments on this review article at Samizdata took a transport turn, what with one of the books being about the "robber barons", many of whom were railway tycoons.

Kit Taylor:

One wonders how the distribution and quantity of American wealth might be different had the country pursued a pure free market without selective perks.

Grand infrastrucure projects, monster investment subsidies, eminent domain, monopoly patents and fiddly little pump primings do apparently increase GDP, and "national greatness" righties and NPR liberals alike tend to take the fact that these things aren't likely to happen under laissez faire as proof that political intervention in the economy is A Good Thing.

Trouble is, he continued, for all the good they might do, subsidies don't necessarily achieve all of the above, but are all too likely to achieve other things.

I've some sympathy for the anarchist argument that these schemes are a corporate con to socialise the costs of private profit, concentrating wealth and sustaining all manner of waste and bloat.

Ken (who has only a day or two ago posted this at Alien Landscapes) responded with enthusiasm. How might pure laissez faire have worked in twentieth century America?

I figure the quantity of American wealth would be so much greater that any remotely likely distribution of it would have left everyone better off than they are now.

Plus, a full century of unfettered Edisons, Wrights, Bells, Rockefellers, Carnegies, Fords, and so on, in place of the century recently completed full of increasingly powerful regulatory agencies, would have left our roads decaying and crumbling through being completely obsolete while skycars zoomed overhead, and also left us a flag with a couple of hundred stars on it representing a large number of extraterrestrial states.

Discuss, as they say.

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The "hold out" problem. A possible solution using the very minimum amount of force possible

Patrick Crozier | Compulsory Purchase | Pollution

The "hold out" problem is the justification for compulsory purchase. Being a libertarian and believing that "over his body and justly acquired property man is sovereign" I (and many other fellow libertarians) object to this. But, on the other hand, it is difficult to imagine how anything like a road or a railway would get built without such a power.

What if, instead of nasty, heavy-duty compulsory purchase there were a little bit of compulsion? What if every property owner were forced to state their selling price? What if that price could be anything? "You want the selling price for your cabbage patch to be a trillion pounds? Fine Madam." And what if property owners had to stand by their price for a year at a time?

Two questions. Would it work in that roads and railways etc could be built? Would it have some unintended consequences? Would it, even though it is a very, very small breach of the principle, be a breach too far? That's three questions.

I think it would work. Most of us would be quite happy to sell so long as we got a healthy profit. We'd probably add a 25% to 50% mark up. So, there would be property available. I think the average road and railway developer would be absolutely delighted that the price of property was predictable. I suppose I am assuming here that there would be a publicly available register.

Another question. Make that Number Four. Could this be used to deal with pollution? I want to build an airport. A judge concludes that this will increase pollution. I can have my airport but first I must offer to buy up the property of anyone who wants me too at the price they have previously set.

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April 18, 2004

From now on Wagon Wheels will mean square wheels

Brian Micklethwait | Frivolity

Wheels can be square after all:

Stan Wagon, a mathematician at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minn., has a bicycle with square wheels. It's a weird contraption, but he can ride it perfectly smoothly. His secret is the shape of the road over which the wheels roll.


A square wheel can roll smoothly, keeping the axle moving in a straight line and at a constant velocity, if it travels over evenly spaced bumps of just the right shape. This special shape is called an inverted catenary.

It looks more like a tricycle to me.

Joking aside, throughout its history maths has cranked out inspired solutions, or a sort which needed only their required problems to prove themselves to be valuable contributions to the ongoing march of civilisation.

So what is the problem to which this is the solution? My guess is that, current appearances to the contrary, it may not be anything much to do with transport.

Salutations to Dave Barry.

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April 17, 2004

The nuclear option when negotiating the price of new infrastructure

Brian Micklethwait | Channel Tunnel | Subsidy

I like the quote from the politician who has the misfortune to preside over this mess. According to the caption under his mugshot:

Transport Minister Peter Batchelor said unexpected costs were normal for any large project.

Yes, the unexpected is to be expected, with big infrastructure projects.

But Opposition transport spokesman Terry Mulder said every dollar taken from the contingency funds was an extra dollar of taxpayers' money spent.

Give the man a Nobel Prize.

He said further substantial calls on the contingency fund were certain, with major work on the Bendigo line to still begin.

Sounds that way, doesn't it?

Mr Batchelor said the amount of money in the contingency fund was a commercial secret, but he believed it would be sufficient to meet future needs.

You can see why it would be kept secret, can't you? But I bet the various contractors know how much is in the kitty, and expect to end up getting their hands on at least double that amount.

This kind of renegging will always happen, until the magic day comes when some politician announces that since the damn thing (whatever it is) is costing too much and the contractors think they have me over a barrel, two things will now happen.

First, the thing will not now be built at all. Walk. Take a bus. Hire helicopters. Stay put and get jobs working from home. Live in crap hostels during the week and only go home at weekends. Whatever. Fuck you. I don't care, I'm going to retire soon. Meanwhile, I have the power to end this project by selling vital bits of the designated land, blowing up tunnels and bridge approaches, etc., and I will now do this.

Second, the extorting bastards who are now trying to screw more money out of us, despite promising that they wouldn't, are not now going to get paid anything at all.

Oh, suddenly willing to complete the job for the originally agreed cost are we? Tough. Too late. Bang bang bang.

It would make a great TV play. I remember Robert Maxwell doing this with a brand new printing works he had built out in the countryside somewhere. The printing unions agreed the rates they were going to be paid. But then, just before the new place opened – what do you know? – they suddenly decided they wanted more than they had sworn in blood on their granny's graves. So Maxwell shut the place down and refused to open it, even though the unions then begged him to open it at the originally agree rate of pay.

This is what a politician will have to do.

This will never happen.

Although, actually, I can just about imagine one place where it might.

Continue reading "The nuclear option when negotiating the price of new infrastructure"

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April 16, 2004

The trouble with buses

Patrick Crozier | Buses and Jitneys

I hate buses. There. I said it. I got it out. I mean it. I just don't like them. Never have. And I will go to considerable lengths to avoid using them.

A few years ago I spent 3 months working in Milan. While I was happy to take the metro or the tram, I would suffer just about any indignity rather than take the bus. Much the same is true of London - so it's not just a question of language or unfamiliarity with the system.

It's not difficult to see why. Just lead yourself through a typical bus journey. You walk to the stop. [Incidentally, did you know that in London, at least, bus stops are a relatively recent invention? Post-war apparently. Before then all passengers needed to do to hold out their hands and the bus would stop at the side of the road. Considering that braking and acceleration would both have been more difficult/time-consuming in those days I find that pretty amazing.)

Anyway, you walk to the bus stop. Which is fine.

Until you get there.

There are no good bus stops. They range from the bearable to the truly appalling. At best you get an only-partially-vandalised shelter with some plastic seats and an LED display - the accuracy of which I wouldn't like to vouch for.

At worst you are taking your life in your hands.

Passenger information is dire. Which bus or combination of buses do I need? You try answering that question. If you are very lucky you'll have a map. But I struggle to recall any time when it was of any use. It's pure pot luck.

Feeling lucky?
Next question: when will the bus arrive? Ha. Well, you could look at the timetable. Well, you could. But again, I've never really seen the point - their relationship with reality is very much only in passing. And the LED displays? Wrong too. Just more precise in their wrongness.

This is London. Outside (where buses are de-regulated) is, in my limited experience, far worse.

Eventually the bus, or buses, will arrive. There's a scrum to get on. You might find a seat though there's a good chance you'll be sitting next to a chav/ned/creep/weirdo. And the seat'll be too narrow and your knees'll get crushed. The ride is poor. The engine thunders. The vehicle sways in all directions. You can't read. Though perhaps I should look on the bright side. At least in London you won't have to put up with Awful Bus Smell, like they do in Miami.

It is just at this point, if your are me, that really hard part of the journey starts.

Where do I get off?

No clues.

It is not simply a matter of not being familiar with the area. Even if you are, you don't necessarily know where the stops are or even in which order the bus stops at them.

In fact, the only redeeming feature I can think of is (when it hasn't been completely colonised by the muggers and junkies) the top deck. On a summer's day in London travelling on the top deck is one of life's great pleasures. The sun is shining. London is beautiful. And the world meanders on.

But otherwise bus travel is awful.

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Why car seats should not be compulsory up to the age of 11

Patrick Crozier | Road Safety

The latest news is that the government wants to make the use of car seats compulsory for all children up to the age of 11.

This is a bad idea. First of all, it assumes that we all want to live as long as possible. This is not true. If parents are forced to buy their offspring child seats that means they can't spend that money on other things. Secondly, it assumes that it will make the world a safer place. That is at best questionable. It might and it might not. In many cases safety is dangerous. The obvious possibility is that money that parents spend on child seats won't be spent on smoke alarms (or some other more cost-effective safety measure)

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April 09, 2004

Safety is dangerous

Patrick Crozier | Air Safety | Rail Safety | Road Safety

Meaning government safety regulations are dangerous.

This week Thames Trains were fined £2m for breaking health and safety regulations. Does this make the world a safer place? Actually, I don’t think so. Because I think safety is dangerous.

For starters there are some astonishing examples of government safety regulations actually introducing far greater dangers into the world than ever existed in the first place. A classic example might be the reaction to the Hatfield crash which so paralysed the UK’s rail network that thousands of people gave up taking the train altogether and started driving on Britain’s much more dangerous roads.

A few months ago on Samizdata, Brian wrote an article which provoked a comment from a lighting engineer who had direct experience of a safety regulation making his life much more risky.

Only this week the Association of British Drivers highlighted the perils of speed-limited HGVs. The drivers lose their sense of responsibility, lose concentration and start to crash.

These are what you might call the direct dangers of safety but there are a whole bunch of indirect dangers.

Think about what happens when a safety regulation is passed. Say, it leads to the erection of a speed camera. I am not quibbling about it’s positioning for once. It can be in an entirely sensible place but what it is doing is reducing people’s speed by threatening to fine them.

Which one's the life saver?
Just think about who is being affected by this: the doctor on his rounds; the nurse on her way to work; the pharmaceutical salesman on his way to demonstrate his product; the plumber; the air-conditioning installer. Result? The doctor can’t fit in so many calls in a day – so people die. The nurse decides that it takes too long to get to work so quits and does something else – so people die. The salesman can’t make so many calls so fewer people will know about his wonder drug – so people die. The plumber can’t fit so many central heating systems, so fewer people have a reliable heating system in the winter – so people die. Ditto the air-conditioning guy.

This is bad enough, but I think there is another effect of safety regulation – especially bad safety regulation – which doesn’t get nearly enough mention. And that’s indifference. Most of us will at some point in our lives have encountered a regulation that we had to obey but we couldn’t see the point of. Now each of us will have had an entirely individual reaction to that regulation. It might have been anger. It might have been indifference. But it is unlikely to have been equanimity. For me it is usually indifference which I think is dreadful. You cease to care. You follow the letter rather than the spirit of the law. You take your eye off the ball. You cease to pay attention to the things around you. And the world becomes a, just ever so slightly, more dangerous place.

Update 15/05/04

Another way of putting it. You have two choices in life. You can live to 81 and be thoroughly miserable or you can live to 80 and be thoroughly happy. Which one are you going to choose?

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Scottish taxi drivers not as laissez-faire as once thought

Andy Wood | Taxis

St Andrews taxi drivers are complaining about unfair competition from their unlicensed competitors.

Apparently, travel companies can undercut taxis' fares because they don't need to meet the council's stringent rules to deal with ... what? .... paedophilia?.... terrorism? No. Safety, exhaust emissions, starting and finishing their journeys within their operational zone, and ensuring that women don't travel in cars more than eight years old.

A prize for anyone who can spot a reference to the possibility that low fares might be good for passengers, or that the solution might be fewer rules.

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April 05, 2004

The "state must fund rail because otherwise the roads would be clogged" fallacy

Patrick Crozier | Fallacies | Subsidy

The state should fund this…
I have seen this line twice over the last couple of days in two entirely separate contexts. The first was in an article relating to the Beeching cuts from the 1960s:

Outcries from the country have stressed that there are not roads suitable to carry buses in some rural areas threatened with loss of their trains and sounded the alarm for the road congestion that will ensue from B.R. load-shedding at the holiday peak.

The second was in an article about South Korea's new high-speed line:

High-speed rail, for 40 years a Japanese preserve, is spreading in middle-class Asia as a glut of vehicles slows traffic

What they are basically saying is that the state must fund rail because there isn't enough road capacity. I wonder if that would apply to some other things:

The state should fund KitKats because there aren't enough Mars Bars.

The state should fund Ataris because there aren't enough PCs.

…because there isn't enough of this
Of course not. It's absurd. When did you ever hear of a Mars Bar shortage? Or a run on PCs? It just doesn't happen. The difference is, of course, that KitKats, Mars Bars and PCs exist in something pretty close to a free market. Roads don't. Unlike PCs you can't just build a road*. Unlike KitKats you can't just charge what you like. And because those freedoms do not exist in the road market extra demand does not lead to extra capacity.

* Yes, I know you can't just build a PC or a Mars Bar factory - you need the funds to do it. What I am saying is that even if you had the funds to build a road you wouldn't be able to.

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The way underground stations ought to be

Patrick Crozier | London Underground

With apologies to Brian (who doesn't like panoramic photos) here's London Bridge station on the Jubilee Line (built at vast cost to taxpayers and vast profit to landowners)


Click to enlarge, as they say.

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April 04, 2004

Joyce's World of Transport Eclectica

Patrick Crozier | Links | Rail History

This is a fun site run by someone or some thing going by the name of Joyce Whitchurch. So, if your thing is pre- and post-Beeching railway maps or British Rail sandwich adverts, this could be the site for you.

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April 01, 2004

The West Coast fiasco

Patrick Crozier | Railtrack and Network Rail

There was an article in the Guardian yesterday about the origins of the West Coast Route Modernisation fiasco. It’s a long piece but if you can get past the sneering is well worth reading. It is the story of how a £1.5bn/140mph dream for Railtrack turned into a £10bn/125mph nightmare for the taxpayer.

This article did something rather unusual: it changed my mind. Up to now, I have tended to the view that the Railtrack was largely a victim of the way it was set up by the Government. This article demonstrates how Railtrack was in many ways the author of its own misfortunes. It systematically stripped itself of the knowledge needed to run its own business and ended up at the mercy of its contractors. Specifically, in the case of the WCRM, it bet the farm on a technology (moving block signalling) that had not only not been tried but had not even been created.

So, do I give up on the idea of free market rail? Not quite. The claim for the free market is not that that it produces good results all the time and certainly not that all companies are well run. The claim is that it produces consistently better results and that badly-run enterprises are weeded out. Which is precisely what happened.

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Upholstered seats in the UK. Why?

Patrick Crozier | Rail Miscellany

Sancha Briffa e-mails me to say:

My husband [this guy by any chance?] recommended that I contact you as he says that you are a genius.

He's not wrong.

I am studying Design History and have a bit of a thing for transport - I have written about the recently retired Concorde and am now turning my attention to the demise of the Routemaster bus. One thing that occurs to me is that I have never used public transport anywhere else with upholstered seating.

In New York, Paris etc, molded plastic seating is the standard thing but here we have fabric covered seating. A left over from the Victorians I expect - I wonder if these other transport systems were set up much later and were less stuck in the idea of trains/buses etc as moving rooms?

I have searched Transport blog but found only airline seating info.

Do you know why this is? I wondered if you had any links ??

Comfy Circle Line seats
A couple of points. First of all, I am unaware of any public transport in the UK that uses moulded plastic seats. The only time I have ever encountered them was abroad. You can add Holland to your list. However, I can think of plenty of examples from around the world where metro seats are upholstered. Tokyo, Barcelona, Cologne and Lisbon spring to mind. Having said that they often seem to choose slip-slidey PVC rather than our more frictionful moquette.

Why this should be is anyone's guess. Much as I might like to claim that it is a hangover from the days when London Underground was privately-owned (and therefore customer-focused) it could just as well be because our tracks were in poor condition - though I doubt this.

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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