tisdag 31 maj 2011

Strange music in the liturgy

Went to Mass on Sunday "somewhere in the south of England". The choir showed real talent, pity about the music, mostly from the 1970s, some written by P*** I*****. Rumty-tumty stuff, OK for listening to whilst half-asleep in a park deckchair, not quite the thing for the Sacrifice of the Mass. Afterwards there was an opportunity to to try out a setting for the new English translation which comes into use later in the year. I don't know who the composer was but the style would have been right for a TV ad for some washing powder.

Adaptations of the Gregorian settings for the Ordinary of the Mass might just work with the new English translations. Some of the Swedish settings for the Mass are simple adaptations from the Gregorian music originally written for the Latin texts and these are very acceptable. They were done in the first place for the Lutheran church, presumably just after the Reformation, and the Catholic church borrowed them when the vernacular was permitted after Vatican 2.

Things go wrong when contemporary composers try to be original and modern. It rarely works. If composers fail to come up with decent settings for the new English settings, the obvious answer is to sing the Ordinary in Latin to the original Gregorian settings. But it would be a pity if competent adaptations of the Gregorian settings did not emerge in the next few years now that we have a reasonable set of English texts.

torsdag 26 maj 2011

The trouble with democracy

Democracy is presently being presented as the highest value. It was not the view put in Plato's Republic - where it was argued that democracy is a step on the path to tyranny.

The difficulty with democracy is that it demands an electorate composed of voters who are mature enough to vote for any candidate other than the ones who appeal to their selfish short-term interests.

In practice, it seems that elections actually produce a worse result than random selection of representatives.

Anyone who thinks they can represent their constitituents should be allowed to put themselves on a list for selection by lot. The only qualification should be that they live in the area they wish to represent. Remuneration could be tied to a civil service grade.

We already accept the principle of random selection for jury service, so why not for government?

onsdag 25 maj 2011

Life joins advisory panel.

The predominantly Catholic "Life" organisation has been invited to join a new sexual health forum set up to replace the Independent Advisory Group on Sexual Health and HIV. Stuart Cowie, Life's head of education, said: "We are delighted to be invited into the group, representing views that have not always been around on similar tables in the past." In contrast, the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) has been omitted from the forum despite its long-term position on the previous advisory group and 40-year track record in providing pregnancy counselling nationwide.

Predictably, the report on this in the Guardian has brought forth a tirade of objections in its Comment is Free columns.

Occasionally surprising people do something right, in this case the UK coalition government. Why abortion is seen by "progressive" people as a good thing rather than serious violence against women and their bodies is a question that still calling for an answer. It is also surprising how so many who regard themselves as broad minded and tolerant can react vituperatively when their own views are challenged. And the BPAS appears not to be quite what its name would suggest, since, reputedly, its default position is to encourage the termination of unwanted or unplanned pregnancies, which is a strange kind of pregnancy advice.

How's this for residual value?

This appears to be a Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway vehicle dating from around 1890. Now a mobile bar to promote a brand of gin under the name Hendrick's Horseless Carriage of Curiosities, seen here at the Brighton Festival.

söndag 22 maj 2011

Fares and rolling stock - the missed connection

The McNulty committee has produced a 350 page report on whether Britain's railways give value for money and how things might be improved. Proposed changes to fares have naturally received the most attention and comment, but there is an important chapter on rolling stock. The report refers to the lack of standardisation in rolling stock, with the result that some types of train are route-specific and cannot easily be redeployed.

This is noticeable south of London, where each of the three train operating companies now has a fleet which is incompatible with those used by the others. South Eastern and Southern both run Bombardier Electrostars but they have different couplings. South West Trains run Siemens and Alstom fleets which are mutually incompatible, as well as being incompatible with the Bombardier units. And all three train operating companies have trains inherited from British Rail which are incompatible with all the post-privatisation fleets.

This incompatibility should never have been allowed to develop but it seems that the rail franchising authorities were asleep when the critical decisions were being made.

It is in striking contrast to the situation on the same routes in the 1960s, when most of the fleet was standardised to the extent that all the EP types (such as the CIG class above) - everything built between about 1954 and 1974 - were operationally compatible. A train could be composed of stock belonging to any of the different EP classes. In addition, to provide even more flexibility, the class 33 diesel locomotives, the class 73 electro-diesel locomotives, and the REP high powered units could be used with any of the electric EP units, including the TC trailer sets which were specifically designed for push-pull operation.

This is over particular relevance to McNulty's analysis. It seems to have missed the connection between fares and rolling stock design. Recent decades have seen the near-universal replacement of locomotive-hauled stock with unit trains such as Voyagers and Pendolinos. Of fixed length, extra vehicles cannot be added to cater for extra traffic at peak periods. This must be a major reason for the complicated structure of fares which are meant to tailor a variable demand to a fixed supply in an attempt to get round the lack of flexibility.

Until about 1970, the railways had traditionally kept a pool of older vehicles in reserve, which would be brought out at peak periods, but modern methods of railway operation, and modern types of rolling stock rule out this option. It is a pity that McNulty failed to notice this.

fredag 20 maj 2011

A brief thought

Discussion of railway matters is bedevilled on the one hand by lack of technical knowledge and on the other by a failure to understand that infrastructure gives rise to external value which turns up eventually in land values.

torsdag 19 maj 2011

Inter City 125 trains and the disability issue

In the article giving details of the IEP project, in the June issue of Today's Railway, one of the points made is that the Inter City 125 trains would have to be extensively reconstructed to make them compliant with the disability access regulations, and this is one reason why they need to be replaced soon.

This sounds like nonsense. A small build of DDR-compliant compatible vehicles would do the job perfectly well. With a life expectancy of 25 more years for the HSTs, the new DDR-compliant vehicles should outlast them, and by 2035 they will still have another 30 years or so to run, but it should not be difficult to find a use for this stock when the time comes.

IEP - A flawed concept

Details of the IEP project have been published in the June issue of Today's Railways. It does not look like a clever design.

The first point of criticism is that most of the units are hybrids and will be fitted with diesel engines, adding 16 tons to the weight of a 5-car unit, whilst being unused for most of the time, when they will be operating under the wires.

The second point of criticism is the length of the vehicles - 26 metres. Whilst this is a standard length on the Continent, it it too long for the UK, as the width then has to be reduced significantly to prevent excessive overhang on curves. Some work is being done on the infrastructure to reduce this overhang, but there must be better ways of spending the money. Passenger vehicles designed to run in the UK should not be more than 22 metres long so that they can be constructed to the full width of the available loading gauge.

With such long vehicles, to prevent having large gaps at stations with sharply curved platforms, the doorways have been moved well in from the vehicle ends, creating odd spaces which will be occupied by toilets, which is fine, and luggage space. That is not fine, because passengers cannot keep an eye on their property if it is far from where they are sitting, a situation which gives rise to anxiety every time the train stops at a station.

It is claimed that the stepping distance will be no worse than a mark 3 vehicle, but the stepping distances are one of the features of mark 3 stock where improvements are needed. In addition to being a hazard, awkward steps onto the train add to station dwell time as people have to be more careful when getting on and off.

Seating layouts are of course a matter for the operators to decide, but with rolling stock as expensive as the IEP, there is no alternative but to cram in as many seats as possible, which means that most of the seats are in an airline configuration. Although about one-third of passengers prefer this, and another third are indifferent, the problem with airline style seating is that it leads to a loss in the most desirable luggage space, between the seat backs where the owners can keep an eye on their things. Luggage space then has to be provided in special shelving, which also consumes seating space.

That the design has turned out like this it is no criticism of the engineers and designers involved. It is implicit in the concept of a hybrid train that can go everywhere without the need to change locomotives when it gets to the end of an electrified route. IEP is a good example of how a flawed concept has knock-on effects leading to a flawed design.

söndag 15 maj 2011

Denmark introduces border controls

For Denmark to introduce border controls with Sweden is an exercise in self-harm. Many Danes live in the southern tip of Sweden because of lower house prices and they commute to Copenhagen to work. They are the ones who will be put to trouble and inconvenience. The Öresund region has been developing as a single integrated economic unit since the bridge was opened 10 years ago, a development further enhanced by the construction of the Malmö city tunnel which opened last December.

Sweden has received waves of immigrants since the end of the war, successively from Finland, Yugoslavia, Greece, South/Central America, Poland, Vietnam, Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Somalia. The earlier immigrants were predominantly Christian/Catholic and have generally integrated well, the church itself being an important means through which integration has taken place.

The later immigrants have been predominantly Muslim and it seems that they have not integrated will, with high levels of unemployment and crime. The reasons for this are complex, but one of them is that a substantial and conspicuous minority of them have no respect for the local culture, customs and religion, and no desire to integrate. However, the same is true in Denmark so one wonders who is trying to keep out whom?

The problem of unintegrated immigrants has a strong economic component. Wage-related taxes in both countries are high, which adds to employment costs. In Sweden this is aggravated by extra high VAT on services such as restaurant meals, thereby crippling the very industries where immigrants might have had the best chance of establishing themselves in employment.

There is a general need to establish an alternative model for raising government revenue so that public services and a welfare state can operate sustainably. The left in particular must recognise that it is time to get rid of the job-destroying taxes which have been the main source of funding for the welfare state for the past 60 years.

lördag 14 maj 2011

Great Western franchise to be handed back early

FirstGroup is handing back its £1.1bn Great Western rail contract three years ahead of schedule after admitting that the deal, one of several £1bn-plus franchises struck at the height of the credit boom, had become unsustainable.

The company is exercising an option to terminate the franchise in March 2013 and avoid £826.6m in payments to the government due by 2016. It will join a new round of bidders over the next 18 months for a longer franchise to run trains from London Paddington to the west country, Wales and Oxford.

Read full article in Guardian here

The article refers to changed economic circumstances, but what seems to have been missed is that the Great Western route is going to be a headache for whoever runs it over the next few years, what with electrification, works associated with Crossrail, continuing disruption at Reading with the construction of a grade-separated junction in a built-up area with a high water table, and the introduction of fleets of new rolling stock to new designs - always a difficult time for operators having to maintain services whilst dealing with teething troubles.

Taking advantage of the provisions of the franchise, the decision to cut and run sounds like prudence. It could also pose a knotty problem for the future since FGW owns the fleet of HSTs (photograph) that operate on the route at present. If FGW is not awarded the franchise, where will the new incumbent get its trains from? So who else is going to bid for the franchise? Could First Group end up leasing and maintaining rolling stock for another train operating company? Or will no-one else even be interested?

söndag 8 maj 2011

LibDems now dead meat

The LibDems are, at last dead meat. This was inevitable from the time the Liberals mated with the Social Democrats. The party never had a coherent philosophy as a base from which to work. But the Liberals had long before forgotten what they were about, and that was why they could slip into their empty partnership.

There is nothing the LibDems can do to make itself credible. It attracts nice people but, as a party, it has always lacked a coherent ideology and without that it has no driving power and no sense of direction. This did not matter so very much as long as it was merely a local force.

Those in the LibDems who do have a coherent vision now need to refine that and set something up from scratch. What the country needs is a party founded on the principles of the Liberals of 100 years ago. I was going to say they need to be updated, but they do not, as the same problems still need to be dealt with. I have no great hopes that any such grouping will emerge, but would like to be proved utterly wrong.

Will Hutton should read the paper he writes for

Will Hutton, has written a piece in the Observer, arguing that Britain needs an economic vision. He should read the Guardian more. The economic vision starts with the ideas of Henry George as explained in articles such as this one.


This policy was embedded in the constitution of the Liberal Party but it forgot about it after world war 2, lost its way and embraced Keynes. From there it was a logical step towards the soggy centre of social democracy, and was always vulnerable to be blown in any direction. Guided only by notions of fairness and a desire to be nice people (and most of its members seem to be), the LibDems, lacks any firm principles to which it can hold on to and was bound in the end to be sucked into whatever project one or other of the big parties was running at the time, as it happens, the neo-libertarian tory one.

lördag 7 maj 2011

No win for UK

Shocking that the country has thrown away the opportunity for much needed reform by using the referendum as an chance to kick a dishonest politician. But the £ has been rising sharply on the foreign exchange markets over the last 48 hours, so perhaps the result has given confidence to somebody that Britain is moving in the right direction.

Gissa vart spårvagnar går?

Göteborgs spårvagnar rullar i tjänst utan linjeskyltar. Problemet uppståd i början av förre sommar. Förklaringen är att skyltar använder ett...