onsdag 29 juni 2011

Tu es Petrus

This setting is by William Byrd.

"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. "

"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.”

Matthew 16 : 18-19

söndag 26 juni 2011

The threat from men with Asperger's syndrome

I see that another young man with Asperger's syndrome has been accused of making cyber attacks on government websites.

Surely it is up to those who run the websites to make sure that they are sufficiently defended against that kind of thing? One way of doing that would be to recruit IT experts to special posts for which Asperger's syndrome was one of the qualifications for the job.

The accused man should be appointed immediately.

lördag 25 juni 2011

Station dwell times

Station dwell times can have a big effect on the overall performance of a railway, especially a busy commuter routes. The old slam door trains had doors spaced two metres apart, which made for fast boarding and alighting, and passengers used the open doors to provide support over the gap between the platform and the train.

Much of Britain's railway system was built when railway carriages were under ten metres long, which meant that there was never much of a gap even at sharply curved platforms. In combination with the high platforms that were standard in Britain, getting on and off trains was easy. But nowadays, carriages are twenty metres long or more, which means there can be a significant gap. Worse still, the tracks are now more sharply tilted on curves to allow for higher speeds.

This leads to the situation here at Clapham Junction, where there is a huge gap between the platform and the train. Apart from being a danger, passengers take extra care and extra time to get on and off the train, which extends the station dwell time.

Attempts have been made to help the situation. Modern trains have lower floors, and the doors are as close to the bogie centres as possible, given the 1:3/2:3 layout, as in the Electrostar train above, which is also supposed to improve station dwell time. Matters are no better with the mark 3 stock with end doors, but in that case the problem occurs at convex platform faces rather than concave ones as in the picture.

Never mind the gap
We really are at the point where new stock should be fitted with retractable steps, so that there is no gap to mind. It would also be possible to provide retractable handrails at the doorways to facilitate boarding and alighting. Retractable steps are a standard feature in new trains on the continent

These items would of course come at a cost, but the benefits of safety and reduced station dwell time would surely be worth it. With an ageing population, will soon be a necessity if the railway is to be accessible to as many people as reasonably practicable.

fredag 24 juni 2011

Olympics tickets row

I can't understand what all the fuss is about. If I was forced to choose, I would rather spend a couple of hours standing on the platform at Stratford station watching the trains go by than watching any sport. And the benefit of the station is you can always get on a train and go somewhere else when you are bored.

torsdag 23 juni 2011

The Feast of Corpus Christi

Today is the Feast of Corpus Christi and here in Brighton we shall be celebrating with a sung Mass in the Extraordinary Form, followed by a Blessed Sacrament procession. We are very fortunate in having a parish priest, Fr Ray Blake, who, gently but firmly, is promoting the traditional Catholic liturgy.

The feast of Corpus Christi commemorates the fact that the body of Christ - that is - God - is really present in the Blessed Sacrament under the appearances of ordinary bread and wine. Which is not so strange if one thinks about it for a moment. The choir is singing a Palestrina setting of the Sequence, part of the liturgy for the day composed by St Thomas Aquinas.

Gospel for the day
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. [53] The Jews therefore strove among themselves, saying: How can this man give us his flesh to eat? [54] 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. [55] He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath everlasting life: and I will raise him up in the last day.

[54] "Eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood"... To receive the body and blood of Christ, is a divine precept, insinuated in this text; which the faithful fulfil, though they receive but in one kind; because in one kind they receive both body and blood, which cannot be separated from each other. Hence, life eternal is here promised to the worthy receiving, though but in one kind. Ver. 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. Ver. 58. He that eateth me, the same also shall live by me. Ver. 59. He that eateth this bread, shall live for ever.

tisdag 21 juni 2011

HS2 Inquiry reponses published

The responses to the Inquiry by the Select Committee of the House of Commons can be viewed here.

fredag 17 juni 2011

Siemens win Thameslink order

M_378201_MSO_DMSO_Interior, originally uploaded by peter_skuce

It was announced yesterday that Siemens has won the contract to supply a new fleet of trains for Thameslink. Now the ideal vehicles for a route like Thameslink which passes through central London and can become very busy are something like the one on the picture, with seats along the sides and plenty of circulation space. This is in fact one of the Bombardier class 378 Electrostar units which have just been delivered to London Overground.

The only thing is that such vehicles would be most unsuitable to travel on between, say, Brighton and London, which is also part of the Thameslink service. On the longer distance routes, the most suitale trains are probably something like the class 442 "Plastic Pigs"

Now the obvious and traditional solution to this problem is to separate the route into long-distance and short-distance services and have different types of stock for each. Logically, that part of Thameslink that lies within the area of the Greater London Authority would become part of the London Overground network.

In fifty years' time...

torsdag 16 juni 2011

New locomotive designs for UK railways

Impression of Bombardier Transportation Traxx P200 AC UK locomotive.
Impression of Bombardier Transportation Traxx P200 AC UK locomotive.

UK: Bombardier is targetting Greater Anglia and InterCity East Coast as possible customers for a UK version of its successful Traxx electric locomotive family. According to Alberto Lacchini, Director, Sales, in Bombardier’s Locomotives Business Unit, ‘we are well advanced in the design and are ready to launch the product’.

Bombardier believes that the Traxx P200 AC UK Bo-Bo electric locomotive fitted with a ‘last mile’ diesel engine would offer ‘a lot of value for money’ for UK operators such as Greater Anglia. Whereas the MkIII coaches used on London – Norwich inter-city services are ‘excellent’ vehicles that may last for another 20 years, the Class 90 locomotives will need to be replaced before that.

Lacchini emphasises that a 25 kV 50 Hz version of the Traxx family suitable for the UK with its small loading gauge will not require a special design to be developed. About 60% of components are common to all versions of the Traxx, one feature being the location of the main traction package in the centre of the locomotive rather than on either side of a central aisle. This makes it relatively easy to build a smaller and narrower version that would fit the UK loading gauge, Lacchini indicated.

Earlier this month, Bombardier announced two new versions of the Traxx - an electric locomotive with a low-powered diesel generator for use over short distances of non-electrified line, and a Multi-Engine locomotives, which will have four small diesel engines in place of one large prime mover. The four 540 kW engines will be of a proven and efficient industrial mass-produced type produced in very large series.

The use of multiple engines should to reduce fuel consumption and exhaust emissions as it will be possible to shut down engines altogether when idling and at times of low power demand.

The engines will be installed in exchangeable modules to cut the cost of maintenance, overhaul and upgrading, whilst the use of a mass-produced unit will mean that spare parts are readily available.

Another German manufacturer, Vossloh, is also making a pitch for the UK market with a version of the EURO 4000 passenger locomotive (below). Built in Valencia, Spain, this is clearly a derivative of the General Motors Class 67 which, after a faltering start, is performing well in the UK. The locomotive, which, at 4250 hp, is claimed by the manufacturer to be the Europe's most powerful diesel, is driven by an EMD two-stroke engine satisfying the latest emission standards.

In a rational world, these developments would point to the obvious idea of converting the HSTs into train sets for electric or diesel haulage in push-pull mode using locomotives such as these, available virtually off-the-peg. To cater for additional growth and to satisfy accessibility requirements, additional vehicles will eventually be needed. Now that suitable locomotives are at last available, it is the time to develop the design for a new generation of passenger coaches, incorporating all the knowledge and experience that has been gained since the mark 3 stock was on the drawing board forty years ago.

Article in Railway Gazette International

Railway Gazette's Web Discussion

The Railway Gazette has hosted this discussion on the HS2, including principal proponent James Steer and a leader of the opponents.

Steer puts up a good case but it is the case for building a new railway if demand is not to outstrip capacity. The opponents' argument is that there is plenty of slack that can be taken up by better management of the capacity that already exists, with judicious improvements to the infrastructure at key locations such as Ledburn Junction.

Steer suggests convincingly that this will be insufficient to cater for the projected growth. However, that argument is the case for building a new conventional speed railway, not that the new railway should be a high speed line. But a conventional speed railway could provide the same additional capacity, without disrupting existing services, through a rolling programme of reinstatement of the Great Central and its connecting links, substantially on its original trackbed. The proposed high speed railway follows the same general alignment but the need to avoid curvature means that it could not use the original trackbed, and additional costs will be incurred. Then there is the cost of the special dedicated fleet of UK gauge stock to run on the high speed line, and the energy costs which increase by a factor of 2 for every 40% increase in speed.

It is inconceivable that the cost of building and operating a new line as a high speed railway will be just a little bit more than the cost of building a conventional speed one.

lördag 11 juni 2011

New Leica to be released soon.

As I guessed in this post last Autumn, some of the features in the experimental special Titanium edition M9 are now to appear in a new version of the standard M9. One of these changes will see the end of the opal window for projecting the frame lines onto the viewfinder image. This has been a feature of the Leica M series since it was introduced in 1953.

A change that I would like to see is the removal of the motorised shutter cocking and its replacement by a traditional lever-wind, which would be quieter, save battery and be one less thing to go wrong.

onsdag 8 juni 2011

Second thoughts on the Javelins

Hitachi's new Javelin trains give an impression of quality. But the first thing most people do when they step onto a train is to look for a seat by a window, and if they having any luggage with them, somewhere to put it, close to where they are sitting.

This is where the Hitachi trains are a big let-down. Few of the seats are well aligned with windows to give an unobstructed view out of the train. Most of the seats are unidirectional, leaving no space for luggage between the backs of the seats. Luggage shelves have been provided near the doorways, which is not secure. Unidirectional seating also means that people travelling an a group cannot sit together so they congregate in the gangway like the teenagers in the photograph.

A few of the seats are in facing pairs but most of these are at the ends of the vehicles. If one chooses to sit in one, another problem becomes surprisingly evident - the ride quality. On ordinary track at around 55 mph between Ashford and Canterbury, the ride at the end of the vehicle was bumpy - nowhere near as smooth and steady even as a Mark One with a B5 bogie. Sitting in the middle of the vehicle, however, the ride between Dover and Ashford was very much better, but something clearly needs attention.

Bicycle space, if provided, does not appear to be sufficiently well labelled - these two cycles were parked in the gangway.


The key mistake with the Javelin design is the window spacing, which appears to be around 1.4 metres. With this dimension, unless the seating is arranged unidirectionally and very generously spaced, it is inevitable that many seats will be misaligned in relation to the windows.

The mistake was compounded by moving the doors from the end-vestibule location, as in the standard Japanese version of this train, to a position about 4 metres in from the ends. This was a requirement imposed by the Department for Transport, which oversaw the procurement of the trains. Supposedly, it reduces station dwell times.

The result is to divide the carriages into two small compartments with room for 16 seats, and a large saloon seating 34, two seats being lost to the luggage shelves. This loss of seats is itself something of a mystery since the equivalent, slightly shorter Mark One vehicle had 72 seats, quite generously spaced.

From which it can be concluded that the way to design a railway passenger vehicle is to take between 1.2 and 2 metres from each end for the entrances, another 1.2 metres from one end for the toilet, and divide the remaining space into equal sized bays of between 1.8 and 2.0 metres, depending on the standard of comfort to be provided. As long as the bay dimension is in this range, most of the seats will align. Not difficult, but neither Hitachi nor the DfT mandarins who commissioned the trains seem to have grasped the point.

And DfT mandarins bring us to the Inter City Express Project, which is one of their brainchilds. The winning bid, from Hitachi is presumably based one of the company's standard products. As a commuter train, the Javelin does the job reasonably well, though it is less appealing to the occasional travellers who use it for their leisure journeys. But illustrations released for the Hitachi IEP train show what appears to be the same bay spacing, which is definitely not good for an inter-city train. If the order goes ahead for the train in its present form, this will not enhance the experience of rail travel in British. Passengers will have to live with this mistake for the next few decades. And it is not as if these trains are cheap.

Marxism - the undead corpse

Marxism is like a corpse that people will not accept is dead. The present difficulties with the economy have led to a revival of interest in his ideas. All the old stuff is coming up again.

The rise of evil regimes is an inevitable consequence of following Marxist ideology. The underlying philosophy is false. It rests on a false view of human nature. All the rest follows, Gulags, the NKVD. Pol Pot. And that is before the mixture of nonsense laced with half-truths that is his economics, which is bound to lead Marxist followers into chaos, poverty and dictatorship.

Marxist apologists give all sort of excuses, such as this

"The rise of evil regimes was a historical contingency, engendered by many other historical contingencies, such as: communism was not introduced on a global scale; the first communist revolution happened in a poor and backward country like Tsarist Russia, instead in democratic countries like Britain, France or USA with strong, politically conscious working classes and a tradition of relatively democratic politics; World War I diverted everyone`s attention from class struggle to national struggle; authoritarian tendencies of Tsarist ruling classes were carried over to the Russian communist ruling classes; Stalin was a paranoid and unhinged person (Trotsky for example was against anything totalitarian, with him in charge it would have been a different story); western capitalist countries were hostile to communist ones and helped curb any beginnings of democracy there by the constant threat of war."

The trouble is that there always is a historical contingency. It is interesting how the name of Trotsky so often comes up, as if there is some kind of lost paradise that is waiting to be brought back into being. Trotsky himself was as murderous as the rest of his gang, who demonstrated their proclivities in that direction the moment that Lenin came to power. There is no lost paradise. But even to blame it on contingency is to demonstrate the flaw in the Marxist system of thought.

Marxist apologists have more than a little of the religious fanatic about them. On indicator is a failure to look further than Marx. Thus

"To say that there is something inherently evil in Marx`s system of thought, the basic tenet of which is removing a flawed system of economy and replacing it with a fairer one, where people don`t exploit other people and keep them in poverty to get rich themselves, is about as ridiculous as saying Catcher in the Rye directly inspired Mark Chapman to shoot John Lennon, unless there is a line in the novel that says SHOOT HIM MARK!! that I seemed to have missed."

The assumptions in this statement are that the Marxist system of economy is not also flawed ort exploitative and that it actually addresses the wrongs of the "capitalist" system without replacing it with a fresh set of flaws of its own. That is a very big and unjustified assumption.

I would agree with Marxists that the capitalist system of production is flawed, but I would suggest that Marx was far from identifying the genesis and nature of the flaws. More plausible explanations exist and solutions have been proposed that would stand a better chance of success.

I suspect that most people who are attracted to Marxism simply because he was amongst the first to draw attention to the problems that arose in the years immediately after the Industrial Revolution and put forwards suggestions for doing something about them. And his followers made a lot of noise. Subsequent and more precise analysts have simply failed to get much of a hearing. In part this is because their analysis is more subtle (though not more complex), and not easily translated into slogans.

tisdag 7 juni 2011

E coli epidemic - not bean sprouts after all

I said a few days ago that I had my doubts about bean sprouts as a cause of the epidemic in Germany, and now it seems my doubts are confirmed.

Anyone with a passing knowledge of bacteriology would have come to the same conclusion so one must ask what kind of experts are being consulted by the authorities?

måndag 6 juni 2011

Hitachi Javelin trains exude quality

Very clean design, well thought-out detailing and high quality finishes mean that the new Hitachi Javelin trains (class 395) exude a sense of quality. The trains run on the high speed line from Ashford to London St Pancras, but they also provide many of the local services in East Kent, in the area around Margate, Dover and Canterbury.

The seats look a little on the spartan side and are thinly upholstered, but a good profile with careful attention to providing lumbar support means that they are very comfortable, and there is plenty of leg room. Although it is difficult to pass judgement on such things unless one uses them daily for a long period, as trains for commuting in, first impressions are that they cannot be faulted. I have reservations about them nevertheless, but that will have to be the subject of another piece.

Who is creaming off the wealth?

Yesterday there was a visiting priest from the Holy Ghost Fathers making an appeal for funds for his parish in Zambia. He was saying how poor the people were.

Strange because Zambia produces nearly 20% of the world's copper. The country also has plenty of coal. If the wealth was nicely spread around most people should be comfortably off. Who is being allowed to cream it off? Why are they being allowed to get away with it?

E coli epidemic - rushing to conclusions

On further investigation, bean sprouts rather than Spanish cucumbers now turn out to be the likely cause of the toxic E coli epidemic. All of which shows that commentators are too quick to rush to conclusions.

However, I am still not entirely convinced that this is the whole story. From my own experience of bacteriology, I would suggest that to get them growing nicely, E coli need more nutrients than are to be found on the outside of a sprouting bean, where the bugs would just sit quietly waiting for their food. I suspect that something like mayonnaise dressing is involved too, and the concoction would need to be in a warmish place for a few hours for the numbers of bacteria to build up.

All of which sounds as if there could also be broader issues of hygiene in the places where food is being prepared, going beyond this particular epidemic.

Blue and yellow

Storskär at Stockholm quay by seadipper
Storskär at Stockholm quay, a photo by seadipper on Flickr.

Cloudy summer day in Stockholm

lördag 4 juni 2011


I just discovered that £30 had been paid into my bank account by my local train company. This was a refund for overpayments that I had made due to buying the wrong tickets from their ticket machines, which are much too complicated.

It has taken about three months and an exchange of correspondence to get these refunds, which must have cost the train company two or three times more in overheads.

The shocking thing is that the train companies have to maintain big departments to deal with the complaints. This would be a good thing if they then acted on the information that the complaints departments collect. The services would then go on getting better and better. Sadly it seems that they do not.

torsdag 2 juni 2011

What is the point of fining the railways?

Network Rail has been given a fine for negligence, following an inquiry into the Potters Bar accident. Chiltern has got one for delays to its upgrade programme. What is the point? It might make sense of sorts if those responsible were personally liable, but all this does is to take away funds that could be used to improve the service. What is the point?

Croydon tram accident ‒ no charges

It has been announced that no charges will be brought in respect of the accident in 2016 when a tram was derailed and overturned at Addisco...