fredag 26 juni 2015

Suppressed HS2 report reveals serious cost concerns

The high-speed rail project may be swept up in the latest railway crisis as a 2012 review released under Freedom of Information shows officials believed it was unaffordable.

Article in Guardian

torsdag 25 juni 2015

Midland and Trans-Pennine electrifications shelved

It has just been announced that the Midland Main Line and Trans-Pennine electrifications have been shelved due to rising costs and the need to cut back.

It was inevitable that HS2 would put financial pressure on other rail investment and so it has turned out. In a rational world, the electrification of the Midland, and reopening of the direct line to Manchester, would be a priority

The other drain on finance is the Inter City Express or Incredibly Costly Express, Britain's most expensive train ever, which is replacing stock which is good for another 20 years.

The replacement for the 1980s Pacers will also end up being a money gobbler. It is unlikely that the new trains will cost less than £2 million a vehicle.

It is worth getting this in proportion. In 1955, a new railway carriage cost £5000 - around £250,000 after allowing for inflation, but let us double it for luck and allow £500,000. Of course the 1955 design would not be acceptable today. It would need retention toilets, though these need not be on every vehicle, and power-operated doors, though the power operation could be confined to door closure, combined with a locking system. It would also need to be built to contemporary crashworthiness standards, though these should not add significantly to the cost as crashworthiness is mostly about getting the metal in the right place through careful calculation of the design. There are also development and approvals costs, which can of course be hefty, but a decent production run should spread these reasonably.

Adding all these features should, at the most, give a price tag of £1 million per vehicle. With locomotives available off the peg for around £2.5 million, there is no excuse for the runaway costs of new rolling stock.

The other option which the industry refuses to look at is external combustion locomotives with direct drive. These make it easier to meet the current stringent emission standards and, it is claimed by manufacturer DLM, could be produced at a very competitive price given a sufficiently large order.

måndag 22 juni 2015

Gothenburgs "first" electric bus

It might be unfair to call this a vanity project, but the new route 55 which started last week is being promoted as Gothenburg's first electric bus. It is not, because there were a few trolleybus routes running until the early 1960s. It is a hybrid, with charging points at each end of the route, using an overhead supply and a pantograph on the roof of the bus. Charging takes about five minutes. It runs on electricity on the flat sections of the route in the centre of the city, which makes it quiet and emission-free when running on its batteries, but the engine starts up as soon as it hits a slope.

This probably takes battery power as far is it will go. The underlying problem with batteries is the poor energy density, both in terms of mass and volume - they are bulky and heavy and can not store enough energy. They are also expensive due to the use of materials which are relatively scarce. The technology will ultimately be seen as a dead-end.

Road transport fuels must have a high energy density. Hydrogen fails because it does not liquify at ambient temperatures and can only be stored under great pressure. The same applies to methane. Hydrogen also needs to be used in fuel cells which require costly platinum as a catalyst. This is why short-chain hydrocarbon fuels such as petrol and diesel have persisted.

One possibility which has been proposed is ammonia. It has a good energy density, though not as good as a hydrocarbon. Its great advantages are that it can be liquified no great pressure - less than 10 atmospheres, if I recall, at ambient temperatures and that  the waste products are harmless nitrogen and water. It can be used in fuel cells, and has been experimentally, but for some reason the technology seems to have been neglected.

fredag 19 juni 2015

Dublin trams are 7-car sets. That is too long. It is time to think about getting double-deckers.

onsdag 17 juni 2015

It could have been so much better

Last Sunday, Sverigesradio broadcast the main 11 o'clock Mass from St Lars, Uppsala. This is a flourishing, lively and diverse parish which attracts many new converts to the faith. As the priest said in his sermon, there are seventy different languages spoken amongst the parishioners.

The sad thing is that the liturgy there could be so much better than it is. As a world-class university city, the parish should be a shop window offering the very best from the 2000-year-old tradition of Catholic music, a tradition which pre-dates Christianity by at least a millennium. The occasion of a broadcast should have been taken as an opportunity to put these treasures on display.

Unfortunately, the liturgy was barely even recognisable as Catholic. The service began with a well-known Anglican hymn "Holy, holy, holy" to the setting by the Victorian composer Dykes, and there was a popular Swedish hymn at the offertory. The Ordinary was one of the adaptations to the Swedish text to a Gregorian setting of the Latin; worse things have been written to be sung at Mass, especially in English, but they are clumsy when compared with the Latin settings such as Missa de Angelis or Orbis Factor. In the absence of a setting for the Swedish text of the Creed, it was recited.

It could have been so much better. The introit antiphon, which forms part of the readings, could have been sung, either in Latin, or the Swedish text could have been chanted. Why not use the Latin settings of the Ordinary?  Why not sing Credo 3? Everyone knows these. And why not sing simple polyphonic motets at the Offertory and Communion? There is no shortage of talent in the parish.

There seems to be an idea around that Protestant hymns should be used at Catholic Masses as an expression of some kind of ecumenical ideal, or to make former members of the Swedish Lutheran Church feel comfortable in their new Catholic environment - as though nothing has really changed.

The effect is to suffuse the liturgy with a Protestant spirit, since such hymns express the spirit of Protestantism at a subtle level. Their intrusion also has the effect of destroying the artistic integrity of the liturgy - it is rather like inserting a piece by Wagner into the middle of an opera by Handel. It also makes those who do not have a background in the Swedish Lutheran Church - and there are seventy different languages spoken amongst the parishioners - feel excluded. St Lars is precisely the sort of diverse parish where the church's official language should be used in the liturgy, to establish a common ground where no one group of people are privileged.

Given the importance of Uppsala as a flagship Catholic parish, those in charge of the liturgy need to re-think what they are doing.

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