måndag 28 februari 2011

It's about capacity

"It's about capacity", advocates of HS2 keep saying. If that is the main reason, surely the solution is to build a new conventional-speed railway on roughly the proposed alignment? This would in practice amount to the reinstatement of the Great Central line, preceded by the upgrading and electrification of the Chiltern route.

Ticket troubles - 2

Brighton Station ticket queue, originally uploaded by seadipper.

Buying a train ticket can be a trouble. You can get them on the internet, and some train operators have excellent web sites. An example is sj.se, which lets you print out your ticket and reserve a seat, showing a plan of the train so that you can pick a genuine window seat if you want.

In some places, including parts of Denmark, the ticket machines are on the trains, which is the best place of all.

In the 1980s British Rail introduced a simple ticket machine called the Quickfare. These sold, for cash, a limited range of tickets with a couple of button presses, the whole operation taking about 15 seconds. But they were replace about five years ago by the machines in the top picture, which To buy a ticket with the new machines takes a dozen or more button presses and about two minutes for the transaction.

It is obvious that people have trouble with them. You can see them with puzzled looks on their faces, with their fingers hovering over the screen wondering which button to press. Many people are scared to use the machines and go to the ticket office instead, which they would not have done with the old machines. The result is long queues both at the ticket machines and in the ticket office. I have often missed trains even though I allowed 20 minutes to buy a ticket.

I have complained endlessly about the machines but this being Britain, complaining is useless. But it shows that there are easier ways to cut journey times than by spending billions on new railways.

Ticket troubles - 1

For the best part of 150 years, train tickets all over the world looked like this. Known as Edmondson card tickets, all the information was clear, and passengers and staff could take it in at a glance.

In Britain, these were superseded by the present credit-card style of ticket about thirty years ago, when new computerised ticket-issuing machines were introduced.

At first, they were printed with dot-matrix printers which were blurred and indistinct, and this often led to disputes as passengers ended up with the wrong tickets. Nowadays, the printing on the tickets is better but the information is still not presented in a user-friendly way. This makes unnecessary difficulties for both passengers and staff. There is no excuse because there is plenty of room on the tickets to put on the information in a way that makes it possible to take in at a glance.

tisdag 22 februari 2011

Should scripture be believed literally?

Reaching Catholics for Christ is a website that is not what it appears at first sight to be, but actually aims to "disprove" the teachings of the Catholic Church. The giveaway is the text on the front page "But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness." Romans 4 : 5.

It is interesting that this style of protestant usually quotes the King James translation. But of more interest is that they promote a literal interpretation of scripture, but then stop short of interpreting chapter 6 of St John's gospel literally. Here is the (Douai-Rheims) text...

48 I am the bread of life.
49 Your fathers did eat manna in the desert: and are dead.
50 This is the bread which cometh down from heaven: that if any man eat of it, he may not die.
51 I am the living bread which came down from heaven.
52 If any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, for the life of the world.
The Jews therefore strove among themselves, saying: How can this man give us his flesh to eat?
53 Then Jesus said to them: Amen, amen, I say unto you: except you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you shall not have life in you.
54 He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood hath everlasting life: and I will raise him up in the last day.
55 For my flesh is meat indeed: and my blood is drink indeed.
56 He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood abideth in me: and I in him.
57 As the living Father hath sent me and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, the same also shall live by me.
58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. Not as your fathers did eat manna and are dead. He that eateth this bread shall live for ever.
59 These things he said, teaching in the synagogue, in Capharnaum.
60 Many therefore of his disciples, hearing it, said: This saying is hard; and who can hear it?
61 But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples murmured at this, said to them: Doth this scandalize you?
62 If then you shall see the Son of man ascend up where he was before?

It is clear from this, bearing in mind the abhorrence felt by Jews at the idea of drinking blood and eating human flesh, that the notion of eating My flesh and drinking My blood is intended to be interpreted literally. The reference would not have been made were it not for the express purpose of emphasising that the words should be taken literally.

Then of course there is Matthew 16
18 And I say to you, that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.
19 And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatever you shall bind on earth shall be bound, even in heaven. And whatever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed, even in heaven.

söndag 13 februari 2011

Beijing reviews high-speed rail plans

China’s Ministry of Railways is conducting a review of the country’s ambitious high-speed rail proposals after an influential state-backed think-tank raised questions about the affordability and practicality of the planned network.

In a report submitted by the China Academy of Science to the State Council, experts urged a rethink of the emphasis on massive infrastructure investment, particularly the bullet train expansion programme.

One of the concerns expressed in the report is the unsustainable level of debt that has propelled rail building projects across the country, particularly since the government launched its stimulus package in late 2008 to combat the effects of the global economic crisis.

The report found that the acceleration of infrastructure investment triggered by the stimulus package had caused a lack of integration between transport services across the country, leaving highways, subways, train stations and airports not properly connected.

Article in FT here

måndag 7 februari 2011

The dismantling of the state

UK government policies are best understood as a manifestation of the beast named ANARCHO-CAPITALISM (A-C).

Its prophets are Ayn Rand, and its high priests are Murray Rothbard, Bruce L. Benson. The economic theory comes from the Austrian School via Chicago, and it is founded on the fallacious theory of property rights put forward by John Locke. This leads them, paradoxically, into the same trap that Marxists fall into - that land and natural resources is a form of capital or nothing other than capital. That particular error makes it impossible to analyse contemporary economic and social problems.

A-C was the guiding principle behind Thatcherism, probably having entered the political bloodstream via academics at St Andrew's University. Early UK advocates included Keith Joseph. The principles of A-C underly the utterances of such as John Redwood. In a diluted form it was and remains a strong influence on both Labour and the LibDems. With Marxism discredited, there is nothing much else to draw on at the moment as a source for ideas in political economy. In the UK, the Taxpayers' Alliance is a front for this movement.

Although it is unlikely that more than a minority of MPs will be conscious of A-C, the young bloods who are responsible for shaping policy at Conservative Central Office are fully aware of what it is about, know exactly what they are doing and are committed to putting their ideology into practice.

It is a dog-eat-dog view of humanity. It will destroy society if left unchecked. In the meantime, much misery will be inflicted, people will start to get very angry and there is no knowing where it will end. With the left lacking any alternative body of thought, the opposition will lack coherence. We can expect the disease to run rampant.

It is not a prospect to look forward to with equanimity.

söndag 6 februari 2011

Get rid of the City of London Corporation

There are rumblings about getting rid of the City of London Corporation. The City of London certainly makes no sense in administrative and planning terms as a separate entity.

A new borough of Central London should be created, taking in the City of London, Westminster, Tower Hamlets, Hackney, Islington, Camden and parts of Kensington and Chelsea, and Southwark. The boundary would be almost the same as the congestion zone, which would be logical for a local authority.

Map of London Congestion Charge zone

This is primarily about the planning and organisation of public services by rational administrative units so that they can do their job efficiently and democratically.

From time to time, boundaries need to be reviewed to take account of changes in patterns of settlement, demographics and land use. The last time this was done in London was almost fifty years ago when the present London boroughs and the Greater London Council were set up. At that time the City of London remained unchanged. The previous arrangements had dated from the 1880s. With Greater London effectively a city region now 50 miles across, it is time for a review.

tisdag 1 februari 2011

Wrexham and Shropshire closes

The Wrexham and Shropshire service closed last week, despite having the highest satisfaction rating (99%) of all train operating companies.

The service had been operated with push-pull mark 3 coaches powered by class 67 diesel locomotives. The reasons for the failure of this venture will no doubt be argued over but the main factor seems to be that the alternative routes were quicker and there was little scope for competition. The territory on the Welsh borders north of Wolverhampton is thinly populated and was never going to generate much traffic.

I would not be surprised to see the stock redeployed very soon on a service between London and Birmingham. There are substantial towns along this route, including High Wycombe, Banbury and Leamington Spa. The prospects for business are altogether better. Moor Street station has recently been refurbished and well located so long as one does not want to change trains to travel on from New Street.

Virus questions - and the Swedish exception

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