onsdag 26 september 2018

Västlänken no longer needed

Rosa and Blå Express bus routes have now been re-routed to run direct from Järntorget to Nordstan and Centralstationen, via the Opera House. That solves the problem of the long journey time between the station and the west side of Gothenburg city centre, which is the main benefit of Västlänken.

If these buses are not sufficient, a new route could be introduced to run from the station to Järntorget via the inner ring road (past Heden).

So now Västlänken can be dropped and a few tens of billions of kronor saved.

måndag 24 september 2018

Brexit puzzle

The UK government is not proposing to restrict the flow of goods INTO the UK, nor is the EU proposing to restrict the flow of goods OUT of the the EU. That poses a set of questions, but not the ones that are being asked; there have been warnings about Britain running short of food after Brexit, due to customs delays. But there has been no threat of sanctions against the UK, so what is this all about?

More relevant was an article last week in the Guardian described the problem of reinstatement of customs at Rotterdam. EU rules will require customs checks on goods from Britain at every port. However, there does not seem to be any corresponding need to do the same thing at Harwich and Felixstowe, nor does the UK government appear to have the inclination to commit the considerable resources.

Likewise, passengers arriving at E27 destinations from the UK will theoretically have to declare goods purchased in the UK. I can envisage being made to queue for customs checks on returning home to Gothenburg after a visit to the UK. If day trippers to Dieppe are liable to be frisked by French customs, what will that do for the economy of Dieppe?

The problem is one primarily for the EU. It arises because of the way the Single Market is constructed. Why is nobody picking this up?

lördag 22 september 2018

Palestinian dream comes true

In the dream, the Jewish Israelis all pack up and go, leaving only the Christians, Muslims and Druze. The Palestinian refugees, now in their third generation and numbering five million descendants of the estimated 700,000, can now return.

To redress all the other injustices, compensation is be paid to the estates of 1948 landowners on the basis of 1948 use value, plus 70 years rent. Tenants displaced in 1948 are compensated on the basis of 70 years disturbance.

That raises a practical question. How would the restored ownership and tenancy rights be allocated seventy years later? Would there be a court to settle disputes between claimants, eg second cousins? How long would it take to settle these disputes, which would inevitably arise? What would happen in the meantime?

onsdag 19 september 2018

Will strawberries rot in British fields?

Conflicting predictions are being made by Brexit opponents.
  • Brexit will lead to the collapse of British agriculture and industry.
  • There will not be sufficient workers for seasonal agricultural work.
Both predictions cannot be true. Assuming a near, but not total collapse, there will be millions of unemployed workers willing to pick strawberries at a pittance wage.

Fantasy aside, there are not a fixed number of workers in a country, any more than there is a fixed amount of work to be done. Unemployment in the UK is allegedly at a very low level, though this conceals big regional and sectoral differences. Unemployment figures are also politically loaded. There has, for decades, been a drive to remove the unemployed, in one way or another, from the numbers of those seeking work or potentially economically active. The amount of harassment needed to claim benefit and remain as an unemployed statistic is an incentive to drop off the list, thereby becoming classified as not economically active. Thus the alleged full employment is a heavily massaged statistic.

The cry from employers that they will not get enough immigrant workers is, in the main, a plea to allow them to continue to pay skinflint wages. If it is worth their while, people not economically active will join and augment the workforce: students on vacation, over-50s who have given up the hopeless task of finding work, active elderly pensioners, even people who are unfit for work.

For decades, employers have been difficult about employing people in indifferent health or over 50. If more people are to enter employment, employers will have to be more generous and accommodating. That would be an excellent outcome from Brexit.

torsdag 13 september 2018

Was the Swedish election result fiddled?

The rumour mill in Sweden is increasingly talking about election fraud. There is certainly a big discrepancy between the pre-election predictions and the result, particularly in the case of the Sverigedemokraterna (SD), which is about one-third down.

There were reports that there were no voting slips for the SD at many polling stations (there is a different slip for each party), and that counts and registration of votes may have been irregular. The government website crashed for over an hour after the election.

The Swedish voting system is complicated and the votes are not counted as they are in Britain. It does not happen under the eye of the public, as in Britain, where the ballot papers are sorted and counted in a large hall, closely watched by scrutineers from all the parties. Nor is there the exciting moment when the Returning Officer stands up to announce the result.

There is much wrong with the British first past the post system, where people vote for the major party or candidate they dislike least, but the nuts and bolts of the British election procedure are less vulnerable to tampering. The Swedish system lacks transparency. It needs to be changed before people lose confidence in it, and from that point, lose confidence in democracy itself.

Sweden is now saddled with a government that most people do not want, and which has failed to deal with the mounting number of problems in the country. Expect growing unrest. In the meantime – and an election may not be far off – expect increasing unrest and the rise of the genuinely nasty far right. This has created the situation that they feed on.

tisdag 11 september 2018

Time for a new centre party in Britain?

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair, shocked by the shift of the Labour Party back to the Marxist Left, has argued that it is time.

My reaction is just a weary, “Here we go again!”. In the 1980s it was called “Militant”. Now it is “Momentum”. Behind it are the same public sector white collar staff and college lecturers.

We need to think beyond the one-dimensional Left-Right political model. Left and Right are both failed paradigms. Both are driven, conceptually, from the extremes. It was Lenin who said that “The wind always blows from the Left”. At the other end of this spectrum is the false libertarianism inspired by thinkers such as Rothbard, Benson and David Friedmann (son of Milton),

More success is likely from a party which stood in a triangular relationship to Left and Right, as indeed did the British Liberal Party until the end of World War 2. If it had held to its guiding principles, an alliance with the centrist SDP would not have hapened since it would have been conceptually impossible.

Perhaps an updated Gladstonian Liberal Party is just what the country needs. Where it realises this or would support it is another question. Given that its values were Judeo-Christian, it is unlikely; we will continue to flounder around. The future will look more like the present post-election mess in Sweden, a state of affairs that affects all western-type democracies.

måndag 10 september 2018

Protectionist question

Here is a mystery which I cannot unravel.

The Midland Railway procured a fleet of locomotives from US manufacturers in 1899. This is what was said about them.

The American 2-6-0 tender engines were erected at Derby in 1899 and were supplied by Burnham Williams and Co., namely Baldwin Locomotive Works, Philadelphia and by the Schenectady Locomotive Works, New York. Recourse was made to America as the Derby shops were full to capacity with work, and the private locomotive builders were in the midst of a boom and suffering from strikes. As more six-coupled locomotives were needed Johnson (the Midland Railway’s Chief Mechanical Engineer), in company with his opposite numbers on the Great Central and Great Northern Railways, obtained sanction to purchase from the USA and orders for thirty locomotives were placed with Baldwin and ten with Schenectady. 

Within a few weeks the first crates arrived at the Derby Works on 24 May 1899, the engines having been previously assembled and then dismantled again at the parent companies works. Space was found at the bottom end of No 3 bay in No 8 shop at Derby for the re-erection of the Schenectady locomotives, but the Baldwin's exceeded the capacity of the shops and space was cleared in front of the Locomotive Works offices and they were erected out in the open, this fortunately being summer time. The first Baldwin was ready to go into service by the end of May, the range of running numbers allocated to this type being 2501-10 and 2521-40, and the first ten locomotives were completed by the end of the following month. 

These engines were almost entirely American save the Johnson coal-rails and MR buffing and drawgear. They had the normal (for the USA) bar frames and outside cylinders (18in x 24in) with inside valve gear. The driving wheels were 5ft diameter on a wheelbase of 6ft 3in + 8ft 6in and the pony truck wheels were 2ft 9in diameter, being 7ft 5in in front of the leading driving wheel. The boiler was pressed to 160psi and had three domes of varying sizes, one being a sand box on the first ring of the boiler, the next the steam dome housing the regulator and twin Coale pop safety valves and the last and smallest one housing chime whistle and spring safety valve. The cabs were very large by Midland standards with two side windows. One unusual feature was the bar steel support struts from the smokebox to the footplating over the pony truck. 

The last 20 Baldwins were built between September and November, 1899 and the class was divided between the Toton, Sheffield and Leeds running depots. A driver of that day, James Gibbs Hardy, observed very rough workmanship when the crates of material arrived, but modified his criticism when the first commenced running on 21 June commented in his diary, splendid weather cab, upholstered seats and the engine looks considerably better now it is in working order. He had one of these engines No 2503, booked to him to do 1000 miles and found them hard to reverse and rather poor steamers. He took the first one to Normanton where everyone stared at it, and on 24 July took the first one up the Peak to Manchester, recording that she went up the bank with 80-901b of steam. By August 8, he had completed his 1000 miles and was very glad to get rid of her. 

The Schenectadys were rather nearer to looking like Midland engines, although they also had bar frames. The outside cylinders were 18in x 24 in and the tapered boiler was pitched 7ft lin from rail, the working pressure being 160psi. Driving wheels were 5ft diameter on a 7ft + 8ft 6in wheelbase and the pony truck, having 3ft diameter wheels was placed 7ft 6in in front of the leading driving wheel. Total wheelbase was 43ft and length over buffers 51ft 11¼in with basically Midland 3,250gal tender on a shorter 12ft 3in wheelbase. Working weights were engine 49.75 tons and tender 37 tons. 

These were all stationed at Wellingborough. These engines were not popular and some criticisms reached America causing bad feeling. Johnson (the MR Chief Mechanical Engineer) gave some comparable figures quoting that, work for work, they consumed 20-25% more coal, and 50% more oil than his standard goods engines, while repairs cost 60% more. To their credit he observed that the engines cost £400 less than their British counterparts, and were at least supplied within a few months of the contract being placed, while he had to wait about three years for locomotives ordered from British firms, due in the main to the engineering strike which had forced the Midland Company to buy Yankee in the first place.

They didn’t last very long on any of the three railways which had them, which was a pity, as the basic design concept was advanced by British standards.

With their large comfortable enclosed cabs and easy access to working parts, they should have been popular with the enginemen and set the standard for future production. Similar locomotives, the 4300 class were built soon after by the Great Western, and then by the South Eastern and Chatham Railway (class N) and Great Northern (LNER class K2), and after 1923, several hundred, such as as the LNER K1 class, the LMS classes 4MT and 2MT, and the British Railways classes 2, 3 and 4. They were a popular and versatile type suitable for both passenger and freight trains. But the imports were not up to the job and were quickly scrapped - all were gone by 1914.

What was the reason for the unpopularity and poor performance? Could it be that the US manufacturers were protected by trade tariffs and therefore not worried about competition?

The US railways were not unconcerned about efficiency. An inefficient locomotive does less work than an efficient one of the same size. So a larger locomotive is needed to pull the same load as an efficient smaller one could have done. Efficiency adds next to nothing to the construction cost of a steam locomotive, as it is a matter of getting critical dimensions right and putting the machine together so that the steam and oil does not leak away. The Chicago and Northwestern Railway had its own testing plant, where in 1896, experiments were conducted for the Master Mechanics’ Association under the supervision of Professor W F M Goss of Purdue University - just in time for the information to be used for the Midland Railway machines.

This makes the example of the locomotives supplied to the Midland Railway is curious. The thermal efficiency of the Midland’s own locomotives, such as the 2P class 4-4-0, was poor, due to the short-travel valves; they were no match for the superficially similar Southern classes D1, E1 and L1. Standard Midland Railway axleboxes were a perpetual nuisance. Worse still, like most British locomotives at the time, they had internal cylinders and a crank axle, an expensive item. They were an easy target to beat.

Foreign appearance notwithstanding, the Yankee engines ought to have been an immediate success and forerunner of large orders for the US companies.What is behind this story?

söndag 9 september 2018

Crossrail delayed

The opening of Crossrail has been delayed by yet another year. It never was a good scheme. The stated need was for additional capacity on the northern section of the Metropolitan between Paddington and Liverpool Street. This could have been met by a new tube line between Paddington and Liverpool Street, on the same alignment as Crossrail. Because these are not logical starting points, it might have run westward to Heathrow and/or Hammersmith (the Metropolitan branch), and eastward to Stratford or Woolwhich, but as a tube.

With no need to run on the national network, and running in tunnels of just over half the diameter, it could have been completed 15 years ago at a fraction of the cost.

This was a bad case of mission creep. Like HS2.

Ricardo’s Law in brief