October 2004

October 29, 2004

Here come the flying cars!

Brian Micklethwait | Air Miscellany

There was a fascinatingly SciFi story linked to yesterday by Philip Chaston on Samizdata, and I see that this guy has already also noted Philip's posting. He links to these urgent audio-questions:

It's the year 2000. But where are the flying cars? I was promised flying cars. I don't see any flying cars. Why? Why? Why?

Well, here they come. Air taxis. They're still not really flying cars, hence the weasel word "taxi", but they do look like a step in the right direction.


Blog Jones continues:

Of course, there are a few obvious objections, such as: With all the car wrecks we have now with only 2 dimensions, what's going to happen when we add a 3rd? What happens when an Osama wanna-be flies one of these into the capitol building or Mt. Rushmore or something?

On the other hand, since AVCEN is marketing these things as taxis instead of private air craft, and since they cost "under a million dollars," we probably wouldn't see a whole lot of these at first. And since the company is based in an ultra-cautious nanny-state, the UK, there will probably be some sort of extensive licensing procedure to pilot these mini-aircraft.


But (Philip Chaston), if they want to land one of these things on top of the Gherkin, they'll have to slice the top off, or else erect an unsightly platform on top of the top. Not good.

Still, the best argument for buildings with flat (if not flattened) rooves that I've yet encountered. And it's British. Hurrah!! This means we'll do all the work and lose all the money, and then some damned foreigners will buy the ruins of the British enterprise for peanuts and remake the thing properly. Ah well, that's the division of labour I guess.

Plus, are you thinking Fifth Element? I am. Now those are real flying cars.

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October 25, 2004

Transport opposites

Brian Micklethwait | Transport Miscellany

Last week I went a-wandering and a-photo-ing in west London, and snapped two idiosyncratic modes of transport within the space of the same ten minutes, which in their different ways embody two opposite poles of transport philosophy, so to speak.

Picture one is of one of those stretch limos, of the sort we occasionally now see in London, and where, to be honest, they don't really fit. I caught one slowly backing out into the road. (From where it lives when not on duty? Don't know.) This operation took a long time, so I had plenty of time to get out my camera and lots of snaps to choose between.

One of the most conspicuous kinds of transport consumption there is, this side of a private jet.

TrLimoS.jpg   TrBikesS.jpg

And the other transport device/philosophy is/are these bikes, which are publicly owned, and available for hire.

As green as it gets. But notice that even this greenness costs, and they had to think very carefully about how to stop the things just being stolen.

Click for the bigger picture.

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October 21, 2004

TV Alert - "Should I worry about…"

Patrick Crozier | Air Safety

…air safety.

Though it's supposed to be the safest form of transport, a third of the population say they are worried about flying. Richard Hammond tracks down scientists in the know, carries out new research on 'economy class syndrome', and gathers useful advice on how to have a safe journey.

7.00pm tonight BBC1.

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October 15, 2004

National Express puts the boot in and some thoughts about travel in the libertarian Utopia

Patrick Crozier | Inter-modal Competition

I was intrigued by an ad I saw somewhere (not quite sure where but you get much the same idea here) for National Express Coaches (NEx). Pointing out that Silverlink (a rail company thye themselves own) is no longer offering services from London to Birmingham (Virgin, of course, still is), they used the opportunity to promote their own coach alternative. I am not sure if this move on the part of Silverlink was to do with the recent introduction of 125mph operation on the WCML or a plot to get people off trains and into coaches but I don't really care.

Leather - if you like that sort of thing
The thing that really amazed me was the fares. Virgin's minimum return fare is £18. It's maximum? Probably about £150. NEx's maximum return fare is £20 and it is not one of their cheap Megabuses we’re talking about here. This is their standard offering though standard these days seems to include leather seats. And at this fare level and despite all the taxes and the fact that every coach has to have a driver, NEx is making a profit. Virgin is (at present) making a loss.

“OK,” you say, “I’m sure that’s all very true but we’re not talking about a level playing field because of pollution and subsidy.”

True enough. But what if they were removed? What if at the same time roads were privatised and tolls introduced? And, of course, all the railway regulations were similarly abolished? What if we made that Great Leap forward into the libertarian utopia? What then?

A lot depends on the pollution charges (which very definitely, will exist). My guess is that they would not be that great. My guess is that they would vary according to where the pollution was generated. So, high taxes in cities, low taxes elsewhere.

Roads would be pretty much free-flowing. But they might well be faster.

So, rail would be more expensive, coaches probably about the same price. And coaches would be quicker, maybe much quicker.

The only advantage rail would have over its rival would be comfort. But is this forever? Is it inevitable? Because if it isn’t rail would in really big trouble.

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October 11, 2004

More on Bloglines

Patrick Crozier | Blogging

I mentioned Bloglines sometime ago but I think so much of it I am going to mention it again.

What Bloglines allows you to do is to keep up to date with your favourite blogs. This is especially useful to readers of blogs like this one which, as most of you have probably noticed, is definitely not a something-every-day blog. Anyway, to get you started here is a button:

Subscribe with Bloglines

You'll have to register first if you haven't already done so.

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October 09, 2004


Patrick Crozier | Blogging

As some of you will be aware I have been quietly compiling a Glossary. The rationale was that as I spend a lot of time talking about railways and as railways are a jargon-rich subject it would be best to have a repository of jargon-busting posts which could be linked to when needed.

That was before I heard about Wikipedia - the online encyclopaedia. No, that's not quite right. It was before I started to look seriously at Wikipedia. I had been put off because the rule was that anyone (and I mean anyone) could change anything. This seemed crazy - a troll's charter. And yet, that doesn't seem to be how it has ended up. Perusing the railway entries, most seem pretty good - a bit left-slanted in places but that is to be expected. Most importantly they are much more detailed and comprehensive than Transport Blog's Glossary is ever likely to be.

I am not quite sure why it has avoided sliding into anarchy - the controls seem very lax. But the fact is it has.

If I had a quibble it would be that it does seem quite involved both with the rules and the tags needed to compile entries. Nevertheless, that is probably survivable and so, it looks like it is goodbye Glossary and hello Wiki.

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October 03, 2004

The trouble with high-speed railways

Patrick Crozier | Rail Miscellany

In my fisking of Ross Clark I mentioned that I would explain the theory behind tilting trains. So here we go.

High-speed rail is simple, isn't it? All you need is more powerful locomotive and bingo... er, well, and, as with so many other things, not quite.

The trouble starts at 90mph. At that speed the noise from open windows is too great. So, you have to seal the windows which means that you have to provide some other means of keeping passengers cool in summer which means air-conditioning and, normally, a completely new fleet of rolling stock. That was one of the reasons for the introduction of the Mark II.

At 110-125mph you get another problem. Going round curves gets uncomfortable for passengers. (As I understand it, there is little danger of the train derailing. This doesn't happen until much later). Anyway, the discomfort for passengers is all to do with the g-forces. On a rather different scale this is precisely the problem that Formula One drivers face. The range of speeds I mentioned is related to the straightness of the track. In Britain the Western Main Line and the East Coast Main Line are relatively straight and we have had 125mph operation on each for over 20 years. The West Coast Main Line, on the other hand, is full of reverse curves which restricts its maximum speed to 110mph.

Er, hang about, that doesn't stack up. If the only problem is curves presumably you could do any speed you liked on a straight section. Hmm, dunno. But anyway, any old-ish railway is going to have plenty of curves and they will restrict the top speed of a conventional train.

So, what's the solution? The first solution, as pioneered by both the Japanese and the French is to build entirely new railways with the minimum number of curves possible making sure that what curves you do have are extremely gentle.

The second solution is to make the train tilt. That way the passenger experiences less lateral g-force, though, presumably, greater vertical g-force. I guess we're better at coping with one than the other. This is what we Brits tried but, ahem, failed to successfully introduce 20 years ago with the APT.

The problem with new lines is that they are extremely expensive. The problem with tilt is that you have to resite your signals. In Britain tilt also seems to mean carriages that are narrower at the top than at the bottom - so that they don't bang into one another on curves. Not good, especially when you bear in mind Britain's already restricted loading gauge.

There's one last thing. Above 150mph drivers can no longer see the signals so you need in-cab signalling.

Update 04/10/04 A reverse curve is a curve in one direction immediately followed by a curve in the opposite direction.

I should also point out that there is a third solution to the problem: don't bother. Something I generally favour.

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October 02, 2004

Why is the Pendolino so bad?

Patrick Crozier | New Trains | Virgin

I am assuming here that it is though I accept there are other points of view.

Re-reading what I wrote it seems to be that it all boils down to a general lack of concern for the comfort of second-class passengers.

Now, why is that? The machinations of evil capitalists, trying to force us all to upgrade to First Class? Well, maybe but there are plenty of reasons to think it isn't. I couldn't believe how nice second-class was on Japan's private trains. In the 19th Century it was the privately-owned Midland Railway that (in what became known as the abolition of Second Class) offered Second Class seats at Third Class fares and First Class seats at Second Class fares. In both cases there are/were (presumably) perfectly good commercial reasons for so doing.

So, why not with Virgin? Could it be that they have been too-greatly influenced by their airline experience? If so, what makes airlines so different? They certainly seem to cram you in.

Or is something else be going on? Could the existence of "protected" fares be encouraging the provision of low-quality accommodation in much the same way that rent control encourages poor quality housing? But then again, to the best of my knowledge the only protected fare is the Saver which I, for one, have never bought. Or does the deal they have the government have some sort of funny clause in it which has led to this unintended consequence?

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What if you can't drive?

Patrick Crozier | Planning | Road Miscellany

Tim Hall makes a good point:

The problem with sprawl, so worshipped by a certain type of libertarian, is that anyone who for any reason doesn't drive is, to pardon my French, completely f***ed.

Firstly, I take issue with the term "sprawl". I prefer the term urban expansion, though there are probably better ones. And I'm not that type of libertarian. I am strictly neutral but I accept that given current technology and a libertarian world car-based urban expansion is highly likely and (for most people) would be a good thing.

But what of those who can't drive? Just tough, eh? Learn to hitch hike? It's a tricky question and I really don't know the answer. And I'm not alone. Catallarchy had a go at answering precisely this point a month ago, and if I remember correctly, didn't reach any firm conclusions. In some ways not being able to drive now is analogous to not being able to read a century ago. Though for some reason I have far more sympathy with those who cannot drive.

We could subsidise them. But I have two fears about this: a) the state might get this wrong and b) (even worse) the state might get it right.

What about charity? I have doubts about charity.

Maybe non-drivers should move to the city assuming that cities on the you-don't-have-to-drive model survive and that they survive at a reasonable price. Or, maybe, on similar lines, the answer lies in the establishment of colonies of non-drivers just like you get cities just for old people in the US. That way, they can use their numbers and density to get the sort of transport infrastructure they need.

Maybe alternatives would appear in a free market. Both of the currently technically possible sort and the currently not technically possible sort. Perhaps it might even be the spur for Personal Rapid Transport. We shouldn't forget that all sorts of alternatives eg informal taxi and bus services are almost universally banned.

Maybe it's one of these things where a whole bunch of things will combine to solve the problem.

Are there any precedents? I wonder what happened to all those men made invalids in the First World War. Is there an analogy there I wonder?

In the meantime, I won't deny Tim's point has hit me straight between the eyes. He has identified a class of people who stand to lose big time. This is not what I want (see bit on equality).

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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