lördag 26 juni 2010

The trouble with cars

The trouble with cars is,
  1. They take up too much space and are therefore literally toxic to civilised urban life.
  2. One is moving the best part of 1000kg of which less than 20% consists of actual payload.
  3. Rubber-on-tarmac is inefficient compared to steel-on-steel.
  4. Car-based transport requires the individual to invest in and operate a very expensive and fast-depreciating item of complex and sophisticated capital equipment.
  5. Cars are a huge waste of time as it is impossible to spend time travelling in them in a productive way.
Off course we all use cars because when patterns of travel are very diverse, there is no other option. But we should not be using cars for journeys in densely built-up areas, and we should also be thinking whether land-use planning is forcing people into the unnecessary use of cars.

No technological breakthrough is going to resolve all of the drawbacks of cars as we know them today. We need a better mix of modes, including walking, cycling, buses, trams, heavy rail as well as cars. Which needs the right mix of infrastructure to make it possible to travel by different modes as appropriate.

Somehow, though, I don't think we are going to get it in Britain.

New surface line stock for London underground


S Stock On 52N, originally uploaded by oiyou.

London's entire fleet of surface line stock is being renewed with a single fleet. Some of it dates from 1960, most of it from around 1970 or 1978/79. All has been refurbished in the past ten years and looks perfectly presentable.

Of course there are advantages in having new trains and a single uniform fleet, or ought to be. They can use less less electricity through regenerative braking, and they should also cause less wear and tear on the track and need less maintenance.

But will they? And how long will it take to realise the savings and recover the cost of the investment? It's just a question.

Professor says "invest in roads not rail"


"Cutting the roads budget marginalises the masses and ignores the fact taxpayers already subsidise niche rail and bus sectors." So says Stephen Glaister, professor of Transport and Infrastructure at Imperial College, London, in an article in today's Guardian. Glaister is also a spokesmen for the Royal Automobile Foundation and so not a neutral party to the debate.

Not very professorial

Glaister begins by stating that "For most people, most of the time, the car is public transport. Ninety-two per cent of passenger travel takes place on the roads." That is not a very professorial statement. Is that 92% of trips, or mileage, or what?

Anyhow it is not sustainable, not because of carbon dioxide emissions but because of resource depletion, sheer lack of space and the fact that such widespread use of cars is not possible in a small urbanised country with a concentrated population. Nor does further investment to encourage the use of cars deal with the problem of their impact on cities, which have became a nightmare of noise, air pollution and congestion.

And why is the figure high anyway? Bad land-use planning which has resulted in car-dependency for so many. Failure to invest in public transport, which within Europe is a peculiarly British phenomenon.

The idea that railways do not pay their way arises from the use of different criteria for road and rail. A road does "not pay its way" and nobody expects it to because, unless it is a toll road, there are no direct receipts from those who use it. A road creates land value all the way along the route. But so does all infrastructure, so long as it is needed and used. To claim that railways do not pay their way is to ignore this external value. Property values in places like Oxford and Brighton are largely supported on the strength of their train services.

This is not to say that the railways are being run efficiently, or that that investment is necessarily needed in new high speed railways. There has been huge waste, for example in withdrawing fleets of rolling stock prematurely when they had a couple of decades of useful life left. But that is not support for Glaister's argument. To follow his line of thinking will lead us to more of what can be seen in the picture at the top of the page.

That said, there are serious questions that need to be asked. Public transport in Britain is poor compared to similar countries in Western Europe. Partly this is due to lack of investment, partly due to poor investment. There are some absurdly extravagant projects at the planning stage, like Crossrail in its present form. The inter-city express programme, now on the verge of cancellation. And resources are being used extravagantly. One has to ask, for example, why all the surface line stock in London is being changed just because some of it dates back to the 1960s. What is the real gain? What is the payback time?

I fear that these questions will not be asked and that Britain is being softened up by the Roads Party for another round of road building. Ultimately, it is a decision about what kind of a country we want to live in.

fredag 25 juni 2010

UK budget row

The budget has caused a deal of uproar with comments like this

"The tories will attack anyone and everyone that they don't perceive to be one of their own - White, Etonian/public school, Oxford/Cambridge, old school tie, land owning, bank running millionaires. Not much chance of most people getting into that demographic, although they will favour their lap dogs as the budget has shown."

It is typical of the criticism coming from the Left. It is off the point. Forget their colour, forget their education. There is only one thing that counts. Land owning on the largest scale.

Britain is run for the benefit of the handful of people who own most of it, such as the half-dozen "aristocratic" families who own the most valuable areas of Central London, their ancestors having got hold of it mostly by near-fraud about 400 years ago. Though do not forget the Oxbridge colleges, some of whom are also big-time landowners and would not allow anything to be taught that brought this state of affairs to wider public attention. All the other privileges follow.

This caste has cleverly got a lot of other people on-side by encouraging ownership of the teeny-weeny bit of land their homes stand on and kidding them that they own it when really the banks usually own it. How many people actually own both the land their homes and places of work stand on?

When there was the threat of socialist revolution, they were willing to give a bit by allowing people to have a welfare state, but with that threat gone, they will gather up all their old privileges and leave everyone else in penury. Think of one of the middling countries of South America - that is where Britain is heading. The squalor in Britain's public realm is already marked in comparison to the rest of Western Europe. It will be downhill all the way.

The only danger is they could miscalculate and then things will get ugly, but the army and the police will always be available to sort things out. A few can and will escape to mainland Europe, which will drain Britain's talent, but for the majority, there is no longer the safety-valve of countries like Australia.

Be afraid.

onsdag 23 juni 2010

Full marks for Ubuntu 10.04

There is plenty of good quality computing to be had without spending more than a couple of hundred pounds.

For the past ten years or so I used SuSE Linux but since version 11.1 it has been troublesome, so I tried out Ubuntu 10.04 on my laptop, an IBM X31 Thinkpad, probably about six years old. They can be picked up for £100 or so now, having been superseded by the X60 and X61 series.

So far, so good. Problems with the sound and problems with wireless connections seem to have been solved and it is fast and generally well integrated. In its overall "feel", it is very much like an Apple, with some slick-looking windows decorations.

System management works in a different way from SuSE and a decent broadband connection is needed to set it up in the first place, but I really don't have any complaints.

söndag 20 juni 2010

East of England agency calls for faster trains

Presumably as a parting shot before being shut down, the East of England Development Agency put out a wish-list for improvements to the Great Eastern main line to Ipswich and Norwich, including new trains.

The worrying thing about this was the number of things that were stirred into the pot. Necessary infrastructure improvements are one thing. New trains are another, especially since it is now accepted that the mark 3 fleet presently in use has an economic service life of at least sixty years and new trains offer the passenger little if anything more.

This is a good example of the wasteful and profligate attitudes that characterised the Labour administration and the bureaucrats and consultants who were living off the system. We are now all about to pay the price.

Locomotive stored out of use

I noticed in Rail magazine that 14 class 66 locomotives are stored out of use. This is not many out of a class of several hundred but it illustrates a more general point. Rolling stock has such a long life, several decades, and in that period changes in economic circumstances mean that it may spend extended periods under-used or out of use altogether.

There is a good case for procuring units of lower initial cost even if the running costs may be higher. This is also why it may be desirable to retain old stock in storage rather than rushing to send it for scrap.

On the passenger side, it is a good argument for using locomotive-hauled vehicles rather than multiple-unit trains, which gives the operator the flexibility of using a variety of different power units depending on what is available. This is why locomotive-hauled passenger trains persist despite all attempts to get rid of them. However, it is of course desirable to run in push-pull mode where possible to avoid the need for locomotives to run round trains at terminals, although it would be no bad thing if facilities were more widely available to allow for this. It is unfortunate that these run-round loops were taken out where they were already present - it shows a lack of forward thinking.

lördag 19 juni 2010

What happened to the 1300 new carriages?



For several years the Labour government promised that 1300 new carriages were going to be delivered. They probably will never be because of the cuts. So the trains are getting more and more overcrowded and uncomfortable, which makes passengers opt to go by car or bus instead.

Uncosted safety costs lives
Now 1300 vehicles is, by coincidence, roughly the number of mark 1 vehicles that were scrapped in 2005, despite the fact that they were good for another 15 years in service. These spacious and comfortable trains (above) were hurriedly withdrawn due to their supposed lack of crashworthiness. Following the serious accident at Clapham Junction in 1989, it was realised that they were well below current safety standards. From that time on, there was an ill-considered and uninformed campaign to get them replaced. But they were still at least an order of magnitude safer than the alternative of travelling by bus or car. And they could have been confined to routes such as branch lines where speeds were slow and there was next to no possibility of a collision, let alone a high-speed accident.

This is a good example of the hazards of applying safety measures without regard to the cost. Uncosted safety costs lives.

fredag 18 juni 2010

Complaints piled on complaints

A few months ago I complained about a whole string of problems I had in the course of a weekend's journeys. Eventually I received £20 in vouchers(4 x £5). Yesterday, my last day in Britain, I used them to pay for my trip from Brighton to Harwich. It took nearly ten minutes to buy my ticket as the man in the booking office had to fill in the details of the journey on each of the four vouchers. I nearly missed my train, which for some reason was parked at the far end of a platform. It was not funny to be asked by a man with a whistle to hurry up, whilst dragging a heavy case behind me.

Surely there is a better way of dealing with compensation for complaints? What a waste of time. The train companies all have big call centres to deal with all the complaints, which of course is just the tip of an iceberg of dissatisfaction. What does it cost to deal with them? How much would they save by getting the service right in the first place?

Bidragsberoendet

Den Brittiska regeringen, samt Sveriges, har svårt med bidragsberoendet. Regeringen anser att bidragsberoende är parasiter och vill att alla ska jobba. Men vad är bidragsberoendet egentligen? De bidragsberoende är människor som inte vill eller kan jobba och är beroende av bidrag.

Några bidragsberoende är helt och hållet fuskare, förstås. De får bidrag av regeringen men jobbar samtidigt. Några bidragsberoende är bara lata och vill hellre sitta hemma, liggea i sängen och titta på tv-n eller spela på datorn. Några är verkligen sjuka. Och där finns det stora problemet. Det kan illustreras av ett exempel, vilket var typiskt för tjugo år sedan.

För många år sedan, och i många områden av Storbritannien var ekonomin beroende av kolgruvor. Arbetet i gruvorna var hårt och smutsigt. Att vara gruvarbetare var ett jobb bara för starka unga killar. Men jobbet var farligt. Det hände många olyckor. Luften var dammig och många gruvarbetare blev skadade och fick lungsjukdomar. När det hände kunde männen inte fortsätte jobba under jorden men fick jobb på ytan, till exempel som kontorist på gruvans kontor, eller ansvarig för gruvans hissar, säkerhet, osv. Sådana yrke var väsentliga trots att lönen var mindre, och människor kunde fortsätta jobba till pensionsålder.

Men under 1980-talet lades de flesta kolgruvor ner. Det var ett val av politikerna, särskilt dåtidens premiär minister Margaret Thatcher som hatade kolgruvarbetarna. De flesta gruvarbetarna blev arbetslösa. Men de äldre gruvarbetarna blev sjukskrivna. Praktiskt taget var det bara ett knep för att minska arbetslöshets siffrorna. Om de hade funnit arbete som skulle ha passat bra för dem, skulle de ha fått jobb. Men det fanns inga lämpliga jobb.

I början av 1990-talet kom lågkonjunkturen och arbetslösheten ökade. Myndigheterna rådde arbetslösa som inte var helt friska att besöka sina läkare och bli sjukskrivna. Antalet sjukskrivna exploderade. Och kostnaderna också.

När man blir sjukskriven är det mycket svårt att få jobb igen. Arbetsgivarna är motvilliga att anställa dem. Sjukskrivna själva är motvilliga att ta jobb i fall att deras sjukdomar försämras och de inte kan arbeta igen.

Regeringen har försökt att minska antalet sjukskrivna genom att införa tuffare reglemente men har aldrig lyckats. Faktum är att tuffare reglemente gör de nuvarande sjukskrivna mer motvilliga att jobba, eftersom om de blir sjukskrivna igen, får de minskade bidrag.

Finansminister George Osborne annonserade att bidragssystemet ska reformeras så att arbetslösa och sjukskrivna vill ta jobb. Vi får se. Faktum är att arbetsmarknaden är så dålig. Varför det? Experterna och politiker anser att dessa problem är någonting som påverkar hela världen men det är bara en ursäkt. Egentligen ligger orsaken under våra fötter. Man behöver bara titta runt stadens centrum här i Brighton. Det finns många tomtar, som har varit tomma i mer än 25 år. Tomterna ägs av spekulanter. Men på tomterna finns rum för byggnader som kan användas av affärer, kontor, lägenheter och så vidare. Samtidigt kan affärsmän inte hitta lämpliga fastigheter. Marknaden kvävs och resultatet är att hela ekonomin inte kan fungera effektivt. Och så är bidragsberoendet oundvikligt.

onsdag 16 juni 2010

Catholic Bishops screw up again

The Catholic Bishops of England and Wales have an unlimited capacity for making a muck of things. In preparation for the visit of the Pope, they have produced a 32 page booklet called "Heart Speaks unto Heart".

Rarely can such a amateurishly produced piece of typography have been printed in such large numbers - at least a million copies, probably more.

There was a time when many of Britain's leading typographic designers were Catholics. There is Eric Gill, of course, designer of the famous Sans and Perpetua typefaces. There is Edward Johnson, who designed the sans-serif Johnston typeface that was used throughout the London Underground system from around 1916 until it was re-designed in the 1980s, as well as the famous roundel symbol. There is Stanley Morison, who designed what is probably the world's most-used typeface, Times New Roman.

So what have the Bishops given us? A publication that breaks every rule of typography. The recommended length of a line is 2 1/2 alphabets, that is about 65 characters. The average line in the book has well over 80 characters and some have as many as 95. Most fonts need white space between each lines, known as leading. This booklet has none. These two defects make the book very difficult to read at all, so it probably will not be. I have not read the thing and have no intention of doing so. The Bishops have just wasted our money.

The general design of the publication is appalling. Those fliers that supermarkets send out with a list of the current bargain offers are sophisticated in comparison. The pages are cluttered and confusing. There is little white space, which makes it difficult for the reader to orientate himself. Most of the pictures are of poor quality, of little interest, and not worth publishing.

And all of this in full-colour printing throughout, which is never cheap.

If the Bishops cannot get arrange for the production of a simple booklet without it having the mark of incompetence and ignorance stamped on every page, what can they get right? The message that comes across loud and clear is "We are ignorant, incompetent philistines!"

Considering that the Catholic Mass has brought forth the ultimate in world art, there is something very wrong here.

tisdag 15 juni 2010

Sunday evening travel

Last Sunday - train left Salisbury 19.28, arrived Brighton 22.48. It was perfectly pleasant, but who would do it if they had the option of a car?

söndag 13 juni 2010

Liturgy problem

Today I went to Mass at a church in a cathedral city in the south of England. It was a children's service and a group were receiving their First Communion, so it was a family affair. I would guess that a good number of the congregation were not Catholics. Good to see a flourishing parish with plenty of young families.

But oh, dear, the liturgy was dreadful. We had the notorious "Clapping Gloria", and a collection of the most banal hymns and mass settings composed by I won't say who. We had bidding prayers read by the children, which would have been fine, but some of the children could hardly read.

This kind of thing is almost the rule in Catholic churches in Britain. What is the effect of tailoring the liturgy to what adults imagine are children's tastes and needs? The music is actually incredibly dated, being firmly rooted in the early 1970s, before the arrival of Punk. And so once children reach their teens, they regard it a babyish and unsophisticated, as something to grow out of. Which most of them promptly do, most of them never to darken the doors of a church again.

If on, the other hand, the liturgy was something they could only just begin to grasp, they would feel that growth in understanding was part of growing up into adulthood.

This is not unrealistic. There is plenty of scope for children to participate in the traditional Latin Mass, through the responses, and through being present with Christ in the silence of the consecration. This latter is certainly not something that is beyond the understanding of children, but if it is crowded out with jolly hymns with the subtlety of TV advertisement jingles, there really is nothing for them when they approach adolescence.

måndag 7 juni 2010

Class 66 for passenger trains?


Rated at 3,300 hp, these diesel locomotives intended for freight services are about as powerful as a Deltic or a four-car Voyager set. Although top speed is only 75mph, they would still give excellent performance on stopping trains with up to ten cars, running on services with stations about 15 miles apart, where there is little opportunity for high speed running anyway.

As the locomotives are not normally used for passenger trains they can not provide electric train heating. They would either have to be adapted or the train heating/air conditioning power would have to come from a generator van.

Class 66 on passenger train

Steam but not as we know it



The cab of a steam locomotive strike me as an unsuitable environment for a laptop computer but obviously this technology has finally cleaned up its act.

lördag 5 juni 2010

6th June



Flags are just bits of cloth but like all symbols they carry meanings that change over time. What does this one mean today?

Hotel power


8911 at Connolly, originally uploaded by rowanC82.

"Hotel power" is the name given to the electrical power used to run things like heating and air-conditioning systems on trains. Each type of vehicle has what is known as an electric train heating (ETH) index. Typically, the power consumption of a modern air-conditioned vehicle is about 20kW per vehicle. The power consumption of each type of stock is expressed as a figure known as the ETH index. Mark 3 stock has an ETH index of 6, stock without air conditioning has an ETH index of about 3.

The power to run the heating and ventilation system is normally drawn from the locomotive and with electric traction, the power comes from the overhead line. With diesel traction, it is taken from the traction current generator on the locomotive.

In the case of mark 3 hauled stock, the power supply is run down the train via a 1000V DC line. In the case of HST trailer cars the power supply is 415V 3-phase. The locomotive must, of course, be able to deliver sufficient power to run the services in all the vehicles in the train. Freight locomotive types such as class 66 do not normally have the ability to provide ETH power.

An alternative is to use a generator van, which is the practice in Ireland (above). There were, at one time, an number of generator vans in mainland Britain, which could be used to enable HST sets to be hauled by locomotives. If generator vans are used, modern air-conditioned stock can be hauled by any type of locomotive, including all types of freight locomotive and even steam locomotives.

Electric train heating is not particularly efficient due to thermodynamic losses. With steam traction, the heating was direct from the boiler and in some cases by waste steam, which avoided these losses.

One way of avoiding thermodyamic losses would be to provide the hotel services on each vehicle with a mini-CHP (combined heat and power system). If my calculations are correct, it is about three times the power of a large portable generator and a de-rated motorcycle engine of about 200 cc would deliver what is needed. An engine and generator of the necessary power would weigh about 200kg. Whether the efficiency savings would be worth the trouble of having to carry the units around, maintain them, and keep the fuel tanks filled is another question. Vehicles fitted with such equipment would certainly have the advantage of flexibility. It is an idea that could be worth looking into.

Swansea Bay barrage dropped

This project sounds like one of those environmentally friendly schemes which is almost certainly just the opposite. Just a few of the doubts...