torsdag 28 augusti 2008

Vad är jordvärdeskatt?

Den här försök till översättningen är baserad på ”What is Land Value Taxation” som kan hittas här. Tyvärr är den felaktig eftersom min Svensk är hemskt dåligt. Om du kan hjälpa med att kontrollera, kan du kontakta mig på henry.bn{at}googlemail.com. Tack.

Jordvärdeskatt är en sätt genom att regeringen får intäkter genom en årlig skatt pǻ årshyrans värde av jord. Jorvärdeskatten ersätter nuvarande skatter. Det är inte en skatt till. Det är en enkel sätt som kan användas för att lätta många stora sociala och ekonomiska problem till exempel transportproblemet, bostadsproblemet, arbetslöshet, fattigdom osv. Hur går det till?

Varje områdes värde ska vara mätas ganska ofta – till exempel en gång om året och åtminstone varje femte år. Skatten måste betalas en gång om året. Summan räknas av en bråkdel av områdens värde. Det beror inte på ytan.

”Jord” betyder bara landområdet, utan bebyggelse. Allt ignoreras: byggnader, vägar och avlopp inom området, grödor och odlade trä. Var det gäller systemet räknas att en tomt i mitten av en rad villor har samma värde som alla andra tomterna som har byggts upp.

Värdet är det aktuella marknadsvärdet som inte är ett godtyckligt antal räknas ut av en funktionär. Värdet inte heller är försäljningspriset. Värdet är årshyran, som beror, givetvis, på vilket byggnadstillstånd det gäller på detta området. Om tillståndet andras, sedan andras värdet alltså. Skatten betalas av ägaren eller delas ut emellan ägaren och hyresgästerna eller arrendatorerna.

Jordvärdskatten måste introduceras småningom. Nuvarande skatterna sänkes och jordvärdeskatten infördes samtidigt.

Fördelar...

ETT NATURELL SÄTT GENOM ATT REGERINGEN FÅR INTÄKTER
Alla markar bidrar till regeringen och kommun. Resultatet är att nuvarande skatterna som skadar ekonomi kan sänkas och även avskaffas.

STARKARE EKONOMI
Om människors arbete, tillverkning, byggnader och fabriker taxeras, blir ekonomi hårt straffas. En stor del av arbetsgivares omkostnader består av skatt. Arbetskostnader är höga på grund av skatt även om arbetstagaren är lågavlönade. Det gäller nu även för regeringen som tvingas att skaffa skatt och betala ut skatt samtidigt. En av resultaten är arbetslöshet. Tillverkning flyttas ofta till tredje världsländer för att slippa höga arbetskostnader, även skatten. Framåtanda och duktiga blir modfälld. Under nuvarande skattesystemet, män som gör ingenting betalar ingenting, och män som arbetar bestraffas av skatt. Däremot, om sådana skatter avskaffas, blir ekonomi starkare. Jordvärdeskatten betalas oavsett. Resultatet är att arbetare och affärsmän inte blir straffas av systemet. Arbetslöshet och bidragsberoende minskas och regeringen sparar mycket pengar.

BRA FÖR MARGINALA OMRÅDER
Glesbefolkda område har stora problem med sina ekonomi eftersom alla varor måste transporteras lång bort ifrån. Resultatet är att varor blir ofta dyrare och en stor del av priset består av skatt. Där, kostar det mer att tillverka varor. I sådana område finns det också dåliga vägar, kollektivtrafik, täckning av mobilnätet, osv. Under nuvarande skatter, tillverkare och affärsmän betalar samma skatt som dem i den största städer trots att de får sämre infrastruktur. Resultatet är att i dessa område blir affärer drabbas av skatt. Eftersom finns jordvärden låg i glestbefolkada område, i sådana delar av landet bli jordvärdeskatten alltså låg. Systemet skapar legala skatteparadis precis var de finns störst brist och regeringen förlora ingenting.

JORDEN ANVÄNDAS MER EFFECTIVT
Jordvärdeskatten måst betalas oavsett jord användas eller nej. Om ägare inte vill dra nytta av sin jord, måste de sälja eller hyra den ut till någon som har bruk för den för att betala skatten.

STÄDER SPRIDER SIG UT INTE SÅ MYCKET
Eftersom skatten måste betalas oavsett jord användas eller nej, jordägare i stora städer vill inte hålla värdefulla tomtar, särskilt i centrala lägen. Om det finns byggnadslov, bygges tomterna upp snabbt. Om det finns inte byggnadstillstånd, regeringen förlora pengar, därför har regeringen incitament att vara effektiv med planeringsystemet.

BYRÅKRATI MINSKAD
Det nuvarande skattesystem är otroligt komplicerad. Det kostar både regeringen och arbetsgivare mycket en förmogenhet bara att administrera. Skattsystemet själv kostar 5% av Storbritanniens Bruttonationalprodukt. Däremot är jordvärdeskatten extremt enkel. Likadana system som det gamla Britanniska ”rates” systemet kostade bara 0,5% av intäkten. Jordvärdesskatten behöver inga komplicerade blanketter som måste fylles i. Med hjälp av moderna dator-baserade geografiska informationssystem är det lätt att uppdatera värdeslistan och kadaster.

INGA SKATFEL
Enligt Skatteverket, år 2007 har beräknats det total skattefelet till 133 miljarder kronor vilket motsvarar ca 5% av BNP eller 10% av den fastställda skatten, varav 66 miljarder av det totala skattefelet står av svartarbetet; det största del av svartarbete ligger på mikroföretag. Det är omöjligt att slippa jordvärdeskatten, eftersom kan jord inte döljas eller flyttas till en skatteparadis, inte heller kan man skicka jord halv vägs runt jordens klotet med ett musknäpp.

EKONOMISKA UPPSVINGAR OCH NEDSVINGAR FÖRHINDRAS
Jordspekulation är den viktigaste orsaken till ekonomiska svingar. Uppsvingar börjar när bankar lånar ut för mycket pengar för att köper jord, eftersom bankar tror att jordpriset alltid ska öka. Det själv gör jordpriset öka och en prisbubbla utvecklar sig. Slutligen blir priser omöjligt högt och bubblan brister. Sedan går priser plötsligt ner. Bankerna och jordköparna förlorar förmogenheter, och ekonomi drabbas av lågkonjunktur. Den kan fortsätter några år, innan uppsvingen börjar igen. Om det gäller jorvärdesskatt, sådan jordspekulation är aldrig lönt, alltså är lågkonjunkturer och högkonjunkturer minskad.

JORDVÄRDESKATT KAN INTE SKICKAS VIDARE
Jordvärdeskatten kan inte skickas vidare. Konkurrens betyder att affärsmän kan inte höga priser på grund av jordvärdeskatten. Även nu betalar företag på olika belägenheter olika hyran men de kan inte ber olika priser för samma varor. Hyran är högre i bra belägenheter eftersom mera kunder går förbi och affärer säljer mera varor. Om hyresgästen eller arrendatorn betalar redan den hela marknadsvärds hyran, så kan de inte betalar mer i alla fall.

SYSTEMET ÄR ETABLERAT OCH VÄLKÄNT
Systemet är ganska vanligt och gillas särskilt i delar av Australien och USA; där fungerar systemet bra och effektivt. Eftersom systemet är baserad på årshyran, jordvärdeskatten är likadant Brittiska ”Business Rates”, fastän enklare.

ÄR DET RIMLIGT OCH RÄTTVIST?
Det finns en stor skillnad emellan jord, och tillverkade varor och tjänster. Jord kostar ingenting att tillverka. Givetvis är jord inte allt tillverkad. Om överallt i landet fanns det lika mycket och lika bra jord som alla längtade efter, skulle jord ha noll värde. I verklighet, blir jord begränsad eftersom människor behöver den för boplatser, för att odlar grödor, för arbetsplatser, för affärer, för fritidsaktiviteter och så vidare. Betydelsen är att jordsvärd skapas helt av samhället och inte av individuell ansträngning. Sådant värde tillhör samhället. Däremot tillhör individer alla som produceras av individuell ansträngning. Om jordvärdeskatten ersätter nuvarande skatter kan individer befrias så att de kan spendera sina förtjänster som de helst. Det är en grundläggning av frihet.

Somliga jord är bättre än annat jord på grund av sin plats eller fruktbarhet, alltså får olika jord, olika värde. Kravet för den bäste jord ger den dessa högsta värde; det betyder att man betala högsta hyran för den.

Jordvärdeskatten är baserad på politiska filosofien att bör ha äganderätt till det de själva skapar, men att naturtillgångar, främst jord och mark, tillhör alla människor, eftersom kravet kommer från helt samhället. Jordvärdeskatt är en betalning för tjänster mottagna. Alltså är den rimligt och rättvis.

27-8-2008

Link to original English text.

onsdag 27 augusti 2008

European signalling system – ERTMS


Semaphore Signal bracket, Merchants' Quay, Workington
Originally uploaded by russell_w_b

The radio-based European Train Management Sytem should in due course replace traditional railway signals using lights on poles next to the track. Instead, train drivers will refer to a display inside their cab.

The difficulty is that the specification keeps on changing. It is now up to version 2.3.0D, though that is not presently available. A trial system on the Cambrian line is being installed to an earlier version of ERTMS which will now need to be “migrated” to the new one when the trial becomes operational next year.

Tilting Voyagers to tilt no more


Voyager at Tyseley South Junction
Originally uploaded by Kevin R Boyd

The tilting mechanism on Cross Country’s fleet of 28 class 221 Voyagers is being de-activated. Though it was only used between Oxford and Banbury, it has been a persistent source of problems. The feature will remain on Virgin’s own class 221 fleet, which use the mechanism on the West Coast Main Line to enable them to run at 125mph throughout.

The tilt feature adds 8 tons to the weight of each vehicle. A case of ignoring the maxim to keep things simple.

Settle and Carlisle railway revival


02-23 66544 Ais Gill 1
Originally uploaded by delticalco

Thirty years ago this main line was threatened with closure. It kept going, mainly through the efforts of local pressure groups who supported passenger services which provided a basic level of service through the lean years. A minimal repair programme was carried out, mostly to replace rotten wooden sleepers.

Then came the West Coast upgrade, when it became an important diversionary route, and then came the Pendolino, which left little room for freight trains. Now the line has filled up with heavy freight trains (above), mostly carrying imported coal from the West of Scotland to the Yorkshire power stations. New track is being laid and new modern signalling installed in a five year project costing nearly £80 million.

The moral of the story is to look well ahead and keep options open. Had the line been shut, the cost of reinstatement would have been far more and might not have been feasible at all.

Who needs high speed railways?


Finland double deck train interior
Originally uploaded by seadipper

The opening of the new high speed railway between London and the Channel Tunnel last November has led to renewed interest in the idea of constructing one or more high speed railways for travel inside Britain. There is much that needs to be said on this subject. It could turn out to be an expensive prestige scheme of little real benefit.

The first and most obvious point is that it is the door-to-door journey that counts, which is why the private car will remain the first choice for most people’s travel, followed by the bicycle and walking for short trips, especially in towns and cities. People will normally use public transport if they live in a city and have chosen not to own a car, or cannot afford one, or if the roads are too congested, or the journey is long and the train or plane is faster or cheaper. For long distance travel, key factors in the choice will be the ease or otherwise of getting to an airport or main line terminal, and the convenience and flexibility of the booking arrangements; any service that is not available at reasonable cost on a turn-up-and-go basis is going to be relatively unattractive.

The journey to the airport or station is critical. The railways’ claim to provide a city centre to city centre service is not as appealing as rail’s advocates would like to think, because most people’s journeys are not centre-to-centre. The situation at the Eurostar terminal at King’s Cross demonstrates the problem: there is a queue of passengers waiting to catch a taxi, another queue of taxis waiting to get into the taxi rank to pick them up, which they are unable to do because there is yet a third queue, of taxis waiting to get out of the taxi rank onto the congested Euston Road. The time saved by the five billion pound railway is being squandered at the terminal.

Transport planning should take account of the door-to-door journeys that people actually want to make. The five billion pounds that was spent on the Channel Tunnel Rail Link would almost certainly have been more usefully invested on local transport within Greater London. And when high speed lines are constructed, it is essential to complement these with improved local transport. There is no point in rushing people hundreds of miles at high speed from one taxi queue to another.

A related issue is the cost and value of speed. The time taken for a journey is equal to the distance divided by the speed. This leads to diminishing gains with increasing speed: each increase in speed of, say, 10kph, produces a diminishing reduction in the time saved on a particular journey. The implication here is that it high speeds are not worth while for short journeys. The terms are relative, but it is not worth travelling at a maximum speed of more than about 160kph for a 100km journey, whereas for a journey of 300km, a top speed of up to 300kph is worthwhile. For journeys within Britain, there are optimum speeds, and they are lower than the speeds for journeys between cities in big empty countries like France.

One of the aims of high speed railways is said to be to combat the “greenhouse effect”, the argument being that railways use energy more efficiently than aircraft and that in any case, electricity can be generated without giving rise to greenhouse gases – which in practice means by the use of nuclear energy, though it should not be forgotten that greenhouse gases are emitted in the construction of a nuclear power plant and the extraction and processing of the fuel. From the point of view of cutting carbon dioxide emissions, it is a good thing to get people out of cars and aircraft and into trains.

Some basic physics comes in here. Newton’s First Law of Motion says that a body will continue in its state of rest, or uniform motion in a straight line, unless acted upon by a force. A close approximation to this state of affairs would be a stone on an icy surface, which will keep on going unless something gets in its way. An aircraft will not keep going in a straight line because it is being acted on by gravity and if the engines are cut will glide to the ground. So all the time an aircraft is in the air, some work must be done to counteract the force of gravity.

Newton’s Second Law of Motion can be formulated in various ways, and states that if a the force is applied to a particular mass, the acceleration produced is proportional to that force, and, put another way, the force required to produce a particular acceleration is proportional to the mass.

At low speeds, a train on a straight level track behaves in accordance with these laws. In these circumstances, if follows from the Newtonian laws that the energy required to get a train up to a particular speed is proportional to the square of the velocity. Once the train is up to speed, on a level track it should then go on for ever. If the train is going to be stopped, the kinetic energy of the moving train must be converted into some other form of energy through the braking system, or, preferably, back into electrical energy through regeneration or perhaps to mechanical energy through the use of flywheels. It is even possible to brake the train by making it run up a hill, for example, at the approach to a station, thereby converting the mechanical energy into potential energy, ready to be changed back into kinetic energy as the train leaves the station; the Metropolitan Line in London was constructed on this principle in the 1860s and the system has worked effectively ever since, despite a change of traction from steam to electricity.

The two Newtonian Laws apply at low speeds as far as the motion of a train is concerned. The velocity-squared rule is important when it comes to braking and suspension systems, crashworthiness requirements, wear and tear, and so on, which push up capital and running costs. But the energy consumed by high speed trains is mostly in the overcoming of air resistance, due to the viscosity of the air.

Anyone who has ridden a bicycle will know that at speeds of about 10kph, the wind resistance is negligible. At double the speed it is significant and it becomes increasingly so at speeds of up to 40kph, which most cyclists would be unable to keep up for long. This is because air resistance contains a term that is proportional to the square of the speed. For trains, this means that whilst at speeds of up to about 130kph, the air resistance is small, at higher speeds it become increasingly significant. A train running at 300kph will always, however, be using less energy than an aircraft flying at the same speed because it does have to keep itself up in the air, nor does it have to use energy climbing to its cruising height. Nevertheless, the energy savings to be made by switching from air to high speed rail need to be looked at with care. Since there are optimum speeds for different lengths of journeys, it is important to establish what they are and resist the temptation to run faster for the sake of prestige or headline-grabbing figures – though the ability to promote a service through good advertising copy obviously comes into the picture.

In the light of the above, what should Britain’s new high speed railways be like? Obviously they must be engineered for high speeds. But it may be that except on the long runs between London and Glasgow, Edinburgh and Newcastle, the trains will be running at more modest speeds, following the fastest trains in a flighted service pattern. Obviously the route or routes must be able to accommodate trains such as the TGV Duplex. But there are other questions that need to be answered. What about freight, which might run at night? Should the line be constructed to US standards so that it can take double-stack container trains? If the latter is the case, then the passenger trains could be full-sized double-deckers trains like the Finnish example illustrated. And since the line or lines are to be constructed to some other standard than the restricted British one, to what extent should they or can they be used for services running also over the existing routes where the rolling stock is built to the small British loading gauge?

This consideration of loading gauge restrictions implies that the new lines will need their own city centre terminals if the best use is to be made of them. Limitations of space mean that these terminals, and the approach lines to them, will probably have to be underground and very expensive. They will generate huge amounts of land value in their vicinity but in the absence of a land value tax, the value created will disappear into private pockets.

The development of Britain’s railways has been hampered almost from the outset by the decision to adopt too small a loading gauge, with the result that Britain’s trains are no larger than some running on 3ft 6in gauge routes such as those in Japan and South Africa. If new railways are to be built, suitable for the twenty-first century, the planning must look to a hundred years ahead. The overall concept needs to be considered both in breadth and in depth. And some means of paying for it must be found, for example through land value capture, which would prevent the benefits being syphoned off into private hands in the form of enhanced land values.

Lewes-Uckfield reopening stalled again


Isfield Station. The Lavender Line.
Originally uploaded by Wastrel UK

The 7 1/2 mile long Lewes-Uckfield line was shut in 1969 as part of the Beeching cuts. The closure put an end to through running to Lewes and Brighton and turned the Uckfield line into a long dead-end branch. A short bit in the middle of the route (above), called the Lavender Line was reopened and is runs by a group as a hobby and visitor attraction.

Ever since the line closed, there have been attempts at reopening. In the late 1980s, the cost was going to be about £6 million. Since then, as one report has succeeded another but the line has stayed shut, the cost has crept up; figures of ten or twenty million pounds were mentioned a few years ago. The latest estimate is £109 million, which apparently does not meet the criteria for an economic case for reopening. Presumably, the next time a study is done, the cost will be up to nearly double that amount.

One wonders about how the economic case was made. Was any attempt made to estimate the effect of the reopening on land values in the area? What about the reduction in traffic congestion in Brighton, as people from the town’s hinterland found themselves able to travel in by train instead of having to drive? Considering that the Chancellor committed a few billion to Northern Rock without there being much of a debate at all, what indeed does this say about the entire mechanism of British government?

Competitive swimming – only giants need apply


henry flixing his mussels
Originally uploaded by lomokev

I was looking at the vital statistics of the Olympic swimming gold medalists. The only one under 6 feet tall was the Japanese breast-stroker, at 5ft 10in. Anyone less than 6ft 4in tall might as well forget about competitive swimming, freestyle. It is a natural consequence of the laws of hydrodynamics.

This effect begins with swimmers at school age, favouring the big ones at the expense of the little ‘uns and late developers. No amount of training will make anyone taller. Leaving aside the most important question, whether competitive sport is a desirable and worthwhile activity at all, do those responsible for regulating the sport really want it to exclude everyone apart from those with the right gene?

tisdag 26 augusti 2008

High Speed Train replacement saga continues


P3194902
Originally uploaded by Ingy The Wingy

This project is another one the Department of Transport and the consultants have got into a deeper and deeper mess with. So far, nearly £10 million have been spend in consultancy fees, and at the end it is likely to end up at about £15 million and still not deliver anything that fully meets the specification and could not have been bought virtually off-the-shelf.

The problem is that the Department of Transport has got up a concept for a train that can be almost everything at once. They want light weight, to save energy, 140 mph capability and the ability to operate both with electric power and under some other form of power when running on lines that are not electrified. And very high reliability.

Light weight on its own should not be too difficult to achieve. Adopt an efficient form of construction for the body shell and pay attention to the weight of components such as seats, which can add up. Constructional systems such as the mark 3 have proved more than adequate in most situations and it may be that crashworthiness requirements need to be re-thought. There are other constructional systems for bodyshells which may deliver what is needed; stainless steel with corrugated panels has been widely used though not in Britain. Seats have got heavy in recent years but that is partly due to the adoption of airline style configurations, which mean that each seat requires a sturdy frame. If seats are arranged in a back-to-back configuration, the seats together can be made to form a substantial structural unit, and, incidentally provide luggage space between the adjacent seat backs, the lack of which has become a widespread source of dissatisfaction.

140 mph capability is another matter. It probably is not needed. With the rising costs of fuel, the competition from low cost airlines and cars is going to be of diminishing importance. The costs of speed are high. An object moving at 140 mph contains twice the kinetic energy of one going at 100 mph. Air resistance increases at a rate of more than the square of the speed, and there are other costs associated with higher speeds such as the need for more sophisticated suspension, signalling and braking systems, better crashworthiness, and added wear and tear on both track and mechanical components on the trains. In a country with a population distributed as it is in Britain, with 85% of people packed into one-third of the land area, the benefits of very high speed rail travel are nowhere like what they are in France, with its large cities and areas of empty space between. Britain’s railways need to provide good coverage and journey opportunities, which mean having stations relatively close together and trains having high capacity and good acceleration. The only possible routes where TGV-style services might be justified are London to Newcastle, Edinburgh and Glasgow.

What of the ability to operate with different kinds of power? The obvious answer is to use a separate traction unit, usually known as a locomotive, which does not necessarily need to be at the front end of the train and can equally well be at the rear. But if one examines the precise routes where the new trains would be running, the entire multi-mode requirement comes into question.

The two routes concerned are the East Coast and Great Western main lines. The former is electrified between London and Edinburgh, and the likelihood is that the independent Scottish authority will give the go-ahead for electrification between Edinburgh and Aberdeen. So on this route there should be no need for a train that is both diesel and electrically powered. And if a new line of TGV standard is eventually built, then the need will be for standard TGV-style trains to run on it.

The Great Western is another matter. London to Bristol and Cardiff has turned into a commuter route with frequent stops, where the need is for frequent trains with high capacity and good acceleration. Much like the Southern routes, in fact, where a train such as the class 444 suits the requirements perfectly well. Electrification from London to Bristol and Cardiff is overdue; the important junction at Reading, 36 miles out of London, must be one of the busiest non-electrified stations in Europe. Electrification to Reading is now agreed as part of Crossrail (if it happens), and there can be no justification for persisting with diesel traction as far as Bristol and Cardiff.

Beyond that, the case for electrification is weaker, due to the lower volumes of traffic, except perhaps to Newbury and possibly Exeter. But the latter town is also on the line from London via Salisbury, another destination which, sooner or later, is likely to see electric traction extended there from Basingstoke. So it might be more worth while to electrify to Exeter via Salisbury, using a route which serves a number of medium-sized towns on the way, unlike the Great Western route through Westbury. In that case, the best way to run the route beyond Exeter (where a reversal takes place in any case due to the track layout) would be on the same principle that the London to Weymouth services operated when electrification went only as far as Bournemouth; the electrically powered half of the train was split off and the trailer cars were worked on to Weymouth using diesel locomotives in push-pull mode. The same method could also be used for trains on the Great Western main line running beyond Bristol if electrification was only taken that far.

Details aside, this demonstrates that if electrification schemes that were long overdue were actually carried out, the requirement for the Department of Transport’s high speed dual-mode train disappears.

There are other issues on top of this. The Department of Transport is talking about the need to save energy. A train contains an enormous amount of embodied energy – that is, the energy used to dig the raw materials out of the ground and convert them into steel and the other metals used for construction. It therefore makes sense to keep the hardware in service for as long as possible. Experience suggests that monocoque steel railway vehicles should have an economic life of around sixty years. Mark 3 stock, built between 1970 and 1985, is not showing signs of serious corrosion and should therefore be expected to last until from 2030 to 2045. On the same basis, Mark 4 stock (photograph) should be able to continue until into the 2050s, and the same could be true of the class 91 locomotives that power the East Coast Main Line trains. So what is the DoT even thinking about when discussing replacements for these train in the period up to 2020?

Beyond that, there is the possibility of the construction of one or more high speed lines in Britain. As suggested earlier, apart from the exceptions mentioned earlier, the need for high speed in Britain is questionable, but the need for new lines to provide additional capacity is not. Whatever form these new lines will take, it is inconceivable that they will not be built to full European standards; in fact, they will have to be to enable non-dedicated European trains to use them. So these routes will indeed need a special fleet of trains, though they may in practice, and ought to be, a standard off-the-peg design such as the Alstom TGV replacement.

However the matter is looked at, the Department of Transport is just throwing money away on consultancy fees with this project. It does not make sense in any terms.

måndag 25 augusti 2008

Replacement trains for Thameslink - it gets worse


crowded train thameslink railway
Originally uploaded by seadipper

The Department of Transport and the consultants it is employing seems to have a habit of getting into a mess over rolling stock procurement.

New trains – 1100 new vehicles – are being ordered for Thameslink, to come into service in 2012. The project is in the hands of the Department of Transport. Thameslink, now rebranded under the meaningless name “First Capital Connect”, is a service that attracted crowds of passengers right from the day it opened in the late 1980s, and people have been complaining about it ever since. The route, which links Brighton and Bedford with a through service, runs through the middle of London and serves Luton and Gatwick Airports. It is a long distance service, an airport service and an inner suburban service all at once. The trains were designed to satisfy these diverse requirements and ended up failing to do any of them properly. There are not enough seats, and what there are are cramped and uncomfortable. There are insufficient doors and circulation spaces in the trains, so they spend too long standing at platforms while passengers got off and on. And there is not enough luggage space.

It is excellent news that the trains will be replaced. The present ones, as described above, are truly awful, and apparently troublesome to maintain. And the new stock is more than a replacement; it will enable trains to be lengthened from eight cars to twelve.

So what does the Department of Transport want of the new design? Reduced weight and energy efficiency; enough standing space for inner suburban journeys; enough seats for outer suburban journeys; luggage space for passengers travelling to and from Gatwick and Luton airports; sufficient comfort for the off-peak, longer distance leisure market; and enough doors to enable 1,000 people to leave or join the train in a 45 second stop. And if that is not enough, the train must be capable of working under “automatic train control”, whatever that is supposed to mean, and at 100 mph, and it must be very reliable. Presumably it will need a new flashy front-end design to give it forecourt appeal.

The big four manufacturers, Alsthom, Bombardier, Hitachi and Siemens are now shortlisted and said to be “racing to develop detailed designs” with the first train to be ready for testing in three years. Good luck to them. The Department of Transport is asking for too much, too soon. Such is the complexity of modern train that three years is not enough time to develop a new type and get it working reliably; the same process for Electrostars took nearer nine years; design started around 1998, the prototype was ready in 2000, but it was 2007 before the problems that could actually be solved were finally ironed out, leaving the inherently unsatisfactory features of the design unresolved.

As far as the Thameslink replacements are concerned, there is too much conflict between the requirements for the different types of service where the trains will be operating. If the staff at the Department of Transport had got out and spent a day travelling the entire length of the route from six in the morning till ten o’clock at night, and then had a look at what was happening at the weekend, they would have quickly realised that they are seeking the impossible. What passengers will end up with is a bad compromise that is not much good for anything.

So what should be done? In principle, the long distance and outer suburban services need to be separated from the inner suburban ones. Precisely how this is done depends on knowing exactly what stations people are travelling between, and when. The longest distance journeys are probably best catered for by running into the main London termini, using suitable long distance stock, similar to South West Trains class 444. The inner suburban journeys might be better served by handing the Thameslink operation to London Overground and running solely within the M25; south of the river; the route might take over the Caterham and Tattenham Corner or Epsom services, with Brighton/Gatwick services terminating at London Bridge or Charing Cross, using stock similar to the class 376 units running on the North Kent routes. Such a break-up would minimise the inconvenience of having to change trains as East Croydon is an easy interchange, with many being cross-platform and easy movement between the platforms, since each of the present six has two sets of ramps. North of the river, suitable places to terminate are less obvious, though destinations close to the M25 would make sense. Another option worth exploring if the inner suburban services were to be separated off would be to run just between Luton to Gatwick, which in practice would mean Three Bridges as there is restricted space to terminate trains at Gatwick. This would pick up the airport traffic. Whatever the case, the fact that the specification has turned out to be so complex surely demonstrates again that the service requirements themselves need to be reviewed.

The decision to introduce a new generation of stock without addressing the fundamental issues relating to the service will compound the problems. Because of the complexity of the network and the fact that Thameslink shares so much of the route with services operated mostly by the relatively new Bombardier Electrostars, this is not the place to start with a brand new design. It will maximise the disruption caused by teething troubles.

One might have thought then, that the Department of Transport would have simply negotiated with Bombardier for more Electrostars. They are not wonderful, they are overweight and guzzle electricity. But following a long period of teething troubles, and though with a few remaining niggles, they have settled down to become a reliable workhorse; London Overground has selected Electrostars as a replacement for the East London and North London line services. However Thameslink will look in the future, Electrostars must surely be the obvious choice, whatever their shortcomings.

Apart from the savings of continuing with an established production line, there are huge advantages in having a standard design of train on a route; one set of maintenance procedures does for all, staff do not need to be specially trained to service and operate another type of stock and there is no need to keep supplies of new types of components. When failures occur, spare trains are more likely to be available. With the Electrostar fleet likely to remain in service on the route for another thirty years or so, there is no justification for introducing a new design on a line already operated mostly with this type of train.

Obviously a new generation of electric multiple unit trains is required, but development should not be rushed. The excessive weight and power consumption of most recent types needs to be addressed, together with their other faults, which probably won’t be. The introduction of these trains should take place on a line which was relatively self standing, such as one of the Liverpool suburban lines where replacement trains will also be needed in the near future. And the most important need must be to reintroduce the old concept of full operational compatibility between different classes of rolling stock from different manufacturers and to include this requirement in all future specifications. The indications are that the Department of Transport has not cottoned on to this yet.

söndag 24 augusti 2008

Allt är inte vad det synes vara

För några veckor sedan fick vår svenska klass en mycket konstig övning. Läraren gav ut en sida som visade bilderna av olika människor. Eleverna bad hålla om deras historia, hur människor hade träffats och deras förhållande.

Det fanns en kvinna som såg ut som en tant som går i kyrkan på söndagarna. Egentligen är hon en elak kvinna som äger en bordellkedja. ”Tanten” misstankes för allvarliga brott, till exempel mot unga flickor. En ung flicka som såg ut som ett fnask är en kvinnlig polis som jobbar på sedlighetroteln. Hennes arbete är givetvis ganska farlig. En man i medelåldern som såg ut som en revisor är också kriminell. Han har dömts för stort internationell fusk. Han fångades av man som såg ut som en gammal student men egentligen är konsult och arbetar hos polisen som forskare. Han är specialist på databrott. En gammal hippie var också polis. Han är knarkspanare. En av bilderna visade en par klädda i fina kläder, som är bondfångare, och en man som såg ut som en snickare är deras medbrottsling. De lurar gamlingar och stjäler pengar och smycken. Bara man som såg ut som ut som en idrottsman är precis som han såg ut. Han är vanlig polis.

Hur träffades personerna? Alla poliserna är kompisar, förstås. Idrottsmanen och fnasket grep bondfångaren, medbrottslingen, tanten och revisorn. Alla träffades i domstolen. Nu sitter bondfångaren, revisorn och snickaren i samma fängelse. Samtidigt sitter tanten och den kvinnliga bondfångaren tillsammans på en kvinnofängelse. Polisen anser att de har varit duktiga eftersom de har fångat dessa elaka kriminella personer och skaffat bevis så att de misstänka krimineller kunde dömas.

Förresten är alla skådespelare och träffades i dramaskolan. Allt är inte vad det synes vara.

lördag 23 augusti 2008

Black becomes white in Sweden


Black & White dog Borry
Originally uploaded by andzwe

Two years after being elected, the Swedish coalition government is planning a raft of tax reforms. There are to be reductions all round and “black” work is to become legal. Sweden spends a lot on public services, over 50% of GNP being in the public sector. If it is going to improve its defences as well, it is going to have to spend a lot more. So how is this going to work?

Presumably somebody has been reading Laffer, who devised the famous Laffer curve which shows that tax yields reach a maximum at a certain rate of tax and decline if tax rates are higher. There is some truth in the argument; it would be expected on theoretical grounds, as most taxes give rise to a deadweight loss, consisting of production that would take place were it not for the tax. The effect takes place at the margin, in that taxation at locations close to the margin has the effect of knocking enterprises at those sites out of production by rendering them unprofitable. For this reason there should be a further benefit from tax cuts in that unemployment ought to come down and with it the costs of paying out benefits. The trouble with Laffer is that the theory is simplistic. It ignores the simple and obvious fact that the effects of taxes depend on what is taxed. Taxes on windows lead to bricked-up windows. Taxes on alcohol and tobacco lead to less smoking and drinking. Taxes on work lead to idleness. A tax on the rental value of land leads to – what?

It may be that lower rates of taxes in Sweden will increase the yield but time will tell. But what will certainly fail is the plan to make “black” work “white”. Of course it is wrong to tax people’s labour. But the tax system can be compared to a net. If holes are cut in it, for instance, by making concessions, this gives people opportunities for legal tax avoidance, and they will take advantage of them.

The only way round this is to phase out taxes on labour, goods and services altogether, and to replace these with a tax on the rental value of land. The yield from such a tax is buoyant and avoidance and evasion are impossible. As long as the timetable for the change is realistic and the land value tax is not an additional tax, the flow of revenue is sustained and business flourishes.

Russian in Georgia

I rarely comment on international affairs as the issues are too complex, but in this case there are general points to be made. The break-up of the Soviet Empire was a humiliation for the Russians, as many of the countries that became independent had been part of the Tsarist empire for centuries. Others, including the Baltic republics, had enjoyed just a brief period of independence from 1918 to 1938. All of these ex-Soviet countries have ended up with significant Russian minorities. It is also a fact that post-Communist Russia is not turning out to be a very nice country, though that should have been expected. A further complication is that Western Europe is becoming dependent on Russia for its energy supplies. All of which creates problems all-round, and especially for the ex-Soviets.

If I was a politician in any of these countries I would want to make sure that my Russians would not become a focus of discontent. If there were any areas with significant concentrations of Russians, I would organise plebiscites with a view to redrawing national boundaries, even if it meant having enclaves of Russian territory and the loss of mineral rights, pipelines and other sources of what are, in effect, rental income. It just is not worth trying to hang on to territories where the inhabitants want to be independent or part of another country.
Where the Russians are dispersed, matters are more complicated. The first priority here must be to make sure that economic opportunities are available to all, which means that land value taxation must be a key policy. The other issue relates to citizenship and other rights. As I understand it, Russians in Estonia were, and possibly still are, required to take a language test and satisfy other requirements if they are to obtain citizenship, which thereby makes them EU citizens. At the same time, Russians in general seem not to have shared in the prosperity of the country, which is far from being a welfare state, and the same applies to Latvia. A possible way round the problem would be to give Russian residents of the Baltic states the usual rights of EU citizens, to work in any EU country, which I am not sure is the situation at present. Apart from considerations of natural justice, this would give these Russians a vested interest in things remaining as they are and possibly reduce their numbers. This policy has prevented the Israeli Arabs from becoming a source of unrest for the past sixty years – despite the trouble all around, the Israeli Arabs are well aware that they enjoy greater freedom, security and prosperity than Arabs anywhere else in the Middle East and that is it not in their interest to rock the boat.

Finally, there are the military implications of all this. Was it a good idea for the Baltic republics and the former Warsaw Pact countries to join NATO? The Russians may be the bad guys but it is not surprising that they now feel encircled. What was the point, other than to treat Russia as a potential enemy? Now it is on the way to becoming an actual enemy. And if Russia sent its army into Estonia, what precisely would the NATO response be? Would anyone risk a nuclear confrontation? And what of Sweden, which has almost dismantled its defences to save money? The possibility of joining NATO is now being discussed, a notion which goes against a tradition of over 200 years of neutrality. Looking further back into history, however, Sweden once projected its power over the entire Baltic and included in its territory Finland, Estonia and parts of what are now Russia, including the site occupied by St Petersburg; most was lost to Russia at the beginning of the eighteenth century, Finland at the beginning of the nineteenth, and there was a narrowly avoided war with Russia in the 1850s. The stupid thing about all this renewed confrontation with Russia is that if there is any real enemy; the threat, surely, is a common one against both Russia and all the western countries? And boxing the Russians in by encircling them with threatening alliances just helps to feed their paranoia and makes it more difficult for a reasonable leadership to emerge.

Religious vocations


Mass at North Stoke
Originally uploaded by seadipper

I have just finished a week’s retreat. I stayed in a guesthouse run by a community of nuns. It was very comfortable and good value. My room had a view over a lake. The nuns meet in the church to sing the office four times a day, which they do beautifully, in the vernacular, which unlike the English translations, are true to the Latin.

The median age of the sisters is, I would guess, on the wrong side of fifty, which is not disastrous but nevertheless worrying if the continued existence of the community is to be assured.

The interesting thing is that this community survived the upheavals of the 1970s, despite, or possibly because it adapted to the changes that followed on from Vatican II. The question that comes to my mind is whether there is a need for further changes in the near future. Most, if not all, of the community members seem to have come from another country, which is not in itself significant, but it must be a disappointment that there there have been few, if any, local vocations. Could it be that the changes that seemed so up-to-date forty years ago appear out of date to the young people of today?

Things are moving on. Present day trends need to be examined and opportunities grasped. For example, while I was away, I attended a concert in the local (Protestant) church, a medieval building which had originally been a Catholic church. The performance, by two women, consisted of Gregorian chant settings in Latin, of the sort that used to be sung, usually badly, every Sunday. It was extraordinary. The singers had worked out a way of exciting the natural resonances of the building, which effectively added a third voice. The sound was out of this world, with just the two singers filling the enormous space with sound. I have never heard of such a technique before, even though I have been to many courses in Gregorian chant over the years. On thinking about it, it seems obvious that this would have been the normal style of singing; the performers thought that the building had been deliberately constructed for just this purpose.

Music in the liturgy is only one aspect of the way times are changing. In the English-speaking world, problems with translations, and the increasing movement of people, mean that the use of Latin is an effective way of side-stepping all the potential problems and sources of conflict. There is a growing sense that being able to “understand” the words of the liturgy is a delusion, since it is the action as a whole that counts and this can only be understood if the liturgy is studied in depth as part of catechesis; its meaning is not something that can be grasped at a single hearing on the basis of the words spoken at the time, even with a good translation. There is also the matter of the general conduct of the liturgy and the ordering and architecture of churches. Priests and congregations are rediscovering the value of having everyone facing towards the east, which is not to be dismissed as “the priest turning his back on the people”; the liturgy becomes a procession led by the priest. Also entailed in these changes is an renewed appreciation of traditional designs of vestments, in contrast to the bland lengths of furnishing fabrics that have passed for vestments since the 1970s. And of course there is the persistence and rediscovery of the ancient rite of the Mass, now designated as the Extraordinary Form and freed from restrictions as to its use. It is certainly the case that in most countries in Western Europe, the changes of the 1970s did not lead to a reinvigoration of the church – quite the reverse, in fact, even if other factors are taken into consideration.

What has this to do with vocations? Possibly nothing but perhaps quite a lot. Reputedly, those orders which follow tradition more closely have been attracting more vocations in recent years. This ultra-conservative trend would be worrying if it were driven by the same desire for certainties as leads young people into fundamentalism – as if putting on the right clothes and reciting the right formulae is the way to salvation. On the other hand, it is surely only common sense and can do no harm to question and re-evaluate the radical changes that were made a generation ago.

onsdag 13 augusti 2008

Vadstena


Vadstena
Originally uploaded by seadipper

I am off to Vadstena for a week and will be out of range of the internet so no more postings until 23 August at the earliest.

Olympic swimming

As predicted, the tallest swimmers are getting the gold medals. Yet people still tell me that it is all a matter of skill and training. Unless a 1.5 metres tall man wins a gold medal in the swimming events, I am not going to be convinced. Or is there a way of training swimmers to become 2 metres tall?

If success in swimming and some other events is primarily a matter of inheritance, then the games are the equivalent of a human vegetable show and of no more consequence.

tisdag 12 augusti 2008

War in Georgia

Having a war in Georgia while the Olympic Games is distracting everyone looks like a clever strategy on the part of the Russians.

The break up of the Soviet empire has left Russians stranded in independent countries all round Russia's borders. This was always going to be a potentially dangerous situation. Closer to home are Estonia and Latvia, which cut Russia off from its enclave in the former East Prussia.

What are these countries to do? Would the US or the EU come to the rescue if Russia invaded?

Competitive Swimming

Take a look at the swimmers on the Olympic starting blocks. The men are typically about 6ft 5in (2M) tall. This is, for example, the average height of the US Olympic team members, the shortest of whom is one dwarf who is a mere 1.84M tall. I don't know what this is as a percentile of the human population but it must be less than about 2%.

This is entirely predictable according to the laws of hydrodynamics. Whether competitive sport is worth while at all is a question that ought to be questioned more. Is it a good thing for young people to spend some of the best years of their lives churning up and down a swimming pools? That aside, competitive swimming, as presently ordered, is comparable to putting heavyweight boxers in the same ring as featherweights. They have not got a chance. However well anyone trains and develops their technique, they are not going to get anywhere if they are not tall enough. Height is mostly a matter of genetics. And the issue comes into focus even more sharply with juniors. Fast developers do best - a mixture of ten year old children can range from 1.2 to 1.6 metres in height, and the small ones are going to be discouraged and drop out. If anyone does not have two tall parents, they should not even think about competitive swimming.

I doubt if this is what the authorities in charge of the sport actually want, but equally, I doubt if they have given the matter much thought.

lördag 9 augusti 2008

Banks losing money right, left and centre

The loss of money by the banks is a wonder to behold. How many boardroom members have lost their jobs as a result of this monumental blundering? Nobody in charge can really say they did not know they were taking a huge risk. At the root of the trouble is that the banks have been lending money for people to buy land. LAND IS NOT WEALTH. The primary value of land is its rental, which is a residual value after all the other claims on production have been made, for example wages, the suppliers of actual physical capital, and tax. What is left over is rent. Land price is the capitalised rent; think of land purchase as the purchase of an income stream. Then there is a chunk added on, the expectations of future growth. That is the hope value, which is the bit that bubbles up every so often. No prudent banker would lend money on the strength of hope value, even if that value had been rising for years and years. But they do, and now we can see the result.

Worse still, those who run the banks seem not to have investigated too closely whether the people they were lending to would be able to pay back the money they owed. Evidently they could not. It is all very interesting but one wonders how this level of stupidity could have spread into the highest levels of the business community?

Then there is the special case of Northern Rock, which has just been fed another £3 billion to keep going. It is strange how this money suddenly becomes available. It is about the same amount as the government made such a fuss about when the 20% tax rate was abolished. It would also pay, for instance, for a good length of high speed railway, or half a dozen city tramway schemes, of the kind that the government refused to support on grounds of cost. To put this in perspective, the cost of reopening the Uckfield to Lewes line has escalated from £6 million to about £100 million in the past ten years, but it is still negligable compared to the money that is now having to be shovelled into a pit because people who have been running the banks have ignored the most fundamental principles of banking.

Nationwide Building Society cockup

Yesterday I went to Stockholm and caught the ferry to Waxholm, through the Skärgård. My enjoyment was marred by the fact that my Nationwide debit card had, suddenly, not worked and I had had to pay by cash, which left me with only just enough for the return journey. I could not help wondering what had happened. When I got to Waxholm I tried three cash machines, all of which refused to issue me with any cash. Which left me with about 10 kronor after I had paid to get back. I thought at first that the problem was with the magnetic strip, but rang a friend of mine who told me that her Nationwide card had suddenly stopped working too.

Eventually I rang, at great cost, the Nationwide office in the UK and they explained that I should have been using a new card which they had issued in April. I had not received any such card, though I had been issued with a special electronic card reader, and in any case my present card was valid till 05/10. No, they said, it was no longer working,and no, they could not reactivate it. No, they said, they cannot (= will not) post a replacement card to Sweden.

So someone is going to have to go through my post, recover the envelope with the card in it and post it to the right adress in Sweden, which is going to be awkward as I am going to one place next week and a different one the week after. Fortunately I have my Co-op Bank card with me.

No doubt Nationwide will be getting a deluge of calls soon from alarmed customers who suddenly find they can't get cash and can't pay for anything, and not all of them will have other bank accounts. It was all very avoidable. Nationwide should have made sure that the new card readers would read the old cards, or alternatively, introduced the new cards at their normal expiry date.

But there is another point about Nationwide. They maintain a substantial department of economists and publish a monthly index of house prices. These indices are highly misleading as they are really indices of land prices, so far as they mean anything at all. The value of bricks and mortar does not change according to the economic cycle; it is the value of the underlying land. This confusion makes it difficult for policy makers and the public at large to understand what is going on and, possibly, come up with solutions, for such do exist. All Nationwide does is to spread the confusion.

In the meantime, one has to ask why Nationwide bothers to collect and publish this information. It would be better to get rid of this expensive department. They should concentrate on making sure that their customers were not faced with problems like the one just described. They could also do with more staff in their branches, as there are always long queues, especially since they merged with the Portman.

onsdag 6 augusti 2008

A good time to hide bad news

If I was a politician planning to do something unpopular, I would choose the next three weeks to do it, while the media are preoccupied with the Olympic Games. I do not suppose this has passed unnoticed and it will be interesting to see if we get through to the end without something nasty happening.

tisdag 5 augusti 2008

Va' sa' du?

"Vad sade du?" is the commonest phrase in Swedish. You will hear it all the time, in shops, streets, restaurants, people's homes. It means, "What did you say?" Swedes often don't seem to be able to understand each other, so how foreigners are expected to know is an interesting question. If I say it, the chances are I will get a reply in reasonably good English which doesn't help my learning.

We have been having lessons in Swedish pronunciation. The general idea is to drop about one-third of what is written and mumble the rest, apart from a couple of key words in every sentence, which much be pronounced absolutely spot-on.
It is also the case that there is, we have been told, no standard and accepted way of speaking Swedish. There is nothing corresponding to "Received Pronounciation", apparently. But at least the teacher assured us that we are not being taught to speak like teenagers, though we have to take that on trust.

Konstigt. Eller hur?

New Mass translation for English speaking countries

The Catholic Church is introducing new English texts, which follow the Latin very closely. I am inclined to agree with those who think this archaic and affected even though it is accurate. You can't get away with this kind of thing in English. It is useful to have the translation but for study purposes, I don't see the point of it for public use, one might as well stick to the Latin and be done with it.

Styles of English are so dependent on social class, age and place of origin, with all the connotations that go with these things, that the language should not be used in the public liturgy at all. Whatever style of English is used will be divisive. I don't know why the sixteenth century Trent rejected the use of the vernacular but I would be surprised if the reasons that applied then do not still apply now.

söndag 3 augusti 2008

Lambeth Conference


Canterbury Cathedral (112)
Originally uploaded by Wayne Huzzey

It is depressing to have to listen to the travails of the Church of England, which took up the whole of today's BBC Sunday programme. Really, it should not have done. From a world wide perspective, the C of E just isn't important.

Were it not for King Henry VIIIs divorce it would never have existed and it only got as big is it has because the British were colonialists. It claims to be both Catholic and Protestant, which means it is founded on an impossible proposition. Those of its members who think themselves to be Catholic and orthodox ought to get the matter clear in their minds and join the actual Catholic church, which would resolve their confusion. Those of a more Protestant inclination have plenty of choice - there are Baptist churches, more or less independent, where the emphasis is on Scripture. There is the United Reform Church, with a Presbyterian organisation and linked to the Church of Scotland. There is the Methodist church, which seems to be made up of perfectly reasonable people as far as I can tell. There can be few C of E members who would not be perfectly comfortable, or even more comfortable, in some other church.

The difficulty is that the break-up of the C of E in England itself would have important constitution problems. Where they would lead to is impossible to predict but it could take the country into dangerous territory. Business unresolved in the sixteenth century may finally have to be dealt with. But this is not the sixteenth century and the outcome will be very different than it would have been then.

fredag 1 augusti 2008

Folkestone Harbour heritage threat


Folkestone Harbour
Originally uploaded by seadipper

The attractive brick viaduct that carries the railway from the main line down to the pier is only used occasionally for special trains such as the Orient Express. The line is due to close, the track will be taken up and the viaduct demolished.

But it is a fine piece of heritage, and surely there is no need to demolish it as part of the town's "regeneration"? In fact, I would suggest, it needs to be preserved as part of that regeneration. Why haven't the town's planners realised this?

The Journey East #3

The local situation The Catholic church in my part of the world is apparently in quite good shape. However, the liturgy is resolutely Luthe...