söndag 30 december 2018

lördag 29 december 2018

EU charge sheet

From the EU website:

The European Commission is the EU’s politically independent executive arm. It is alone responsible for drawing up proposals for new European legislation, and it implements the decisions of the European Parliament and the Council of the EU.

There is the key problem: the Commission alone can propose and consequently acts as a gatekeeper. Nor is it politically independent. The Commission appointments are made by politicians and the members are politicians; it is misleading to compare it to the British Civil Service. Add in multi-member constituencies and there is a built-in disconnection between individuals and their representatives.

The EEC was founded on the the principle of subsidiarity. In practice, subsidiarity was been ignored. The EUs trade and economic policies neglect the basic principles of sound economic practice as they had been understood since before the end of the eighteenth century. Four blunders is an achievement: CAP, VAT (a condition for membership), putting a tariff wall around the Single Market, and the Euro. All four would have been recognised as the road to ruin by anyone with even a passing knowledge of the teachings of the Classical Economists: the French Physiocrats, Smith, Ricardo and J S Mill.
  • The first two incarnations of CAP were absurd, with food mountains and drinks lakes, the present one - handouts to landowners - is a reverse Robin Hood scandal.
  • There could be no worse tax than VAT; it fails all four of the Canons of Taxation, the long-established set of criteria for judging the soundness of a tax.
  • Tariff barriers impoverish the many at to the benefit of the protected few and come with a heavy administrative cost.
  • The Euro is a flawed conception. With financial and banking crises looming in Italy, Spain, Greece and Ireland, 2019 will probably see its demise in its present form; the likeliest outcome is that Germany will pull out. The Euro has given Germany an unrealistically undervalued currency which has given rise to persistent surpluses and unnecessarily high prices for German consumers and German manufacturers. The converse effect has adversely affected the peripheral countries of southern Europe. The absurd situation has now arisen that the German surpluses can only be lent to countries who are unlikely to be able to pay it back.
What we see is what one would expect when Ricardian principles of economics are ignored: overheating at the geographical core and depression at the periphery. The Cohesion Policy does little to address the issue. As Lady Bracknell said of lost parents, ‘To have one misconceived policy is a misfortune; to have a string of them like carelessness.’ That is a consistent pattern with the EU. It has, for example, been known for decades that VAT fraud is substantial and endemic, but never is there a suggestion that the basic concept of VAT is flawed and that a replacement should be sought. Is the EU, as an institution, incapable of learning anything?


But even the well-intentioned policies go wrong in their execution or timing. The Directive on filament bulbs was imposed two years too soon, resulting in a heap of mercury-contaminated waste from the CF bulbs which were the only alternative at the time, when it was known that LED lighting would soon be available. In the railway industry, on which I keep a close watch, the European Railway Traffic Management System (ERTMS) project has been an inconclusive and expensive saga, promising much but delivering little. The Technical Standards for Interoperability (TSI) come with heavy compliance costs; the latest standards for electrification are an important reason why further electrification in the UK has been put on hold.

From another perspective, none of this is surprising. Government at all levels - and I have seen this from the inside - has a propensity for making bad decisions. Other considerations get in the way of good decisions. It is for this reason that the less government, and the fewer levels of government, the better. At each level of government, there are key services which only government can provide. You could say that the function of government is to prevent people from treading on each others toes and keeping sharks and snakes under control, but they are far fewer than those in which government gets involved in.

There is indeed a legitimate function for a continent-wide level of government such as the EU, but it is not the dirigiste organisation it has become.

fredag 14 december 2018

New train design fail

The 800 series stock have 88 seats in the trailer cars. Realistically, they could have 80. They have 9 bays ie 72 seats, and another 8 could be fitted in. I don't know what the bay dimension is, but optimal is 1.90 meters. I suspect the bays are 2.0 metres.

British railways are optimised for vehicles 20 metres long, with space for 64 seats and a couple of toilets. This was established in 1951. That allows them to be full width, nominally 2.82 metres, which is the old C1 loading gauge. These are the dimension of British Railways mark 1 stock, as well as the recent types running mostly south of London. Vehicles with these dimensions can run anywhere on the system.

Longer 23 metre vehicle (Mark 3) were introduced in 1971 to a new loading gauge, C3. These are 2.74 metres wide ie 8 cm narrower than the Mark 1 stock; the reduced width is to provide the additional clearance on curves where the vehicles overhang more. They also have a restricted range of operation as routes have to be specially approved to ensure that they can run safely, and works have had to be carried out such as cutting back of platform edges. A 23 metre vehicle allows for 72 seats, perhaps 76, at a bit of a squeeze.

The 800 series are, as you say, a nominal 26 metres. These are the same width as the mark 3 stock but are tapered from the doorways to the ends; this means that about 6 metre length of each vehicle is not full wide and cannot be used for seating. Further additional works are having to be carried out to accommodate these; I understand that there are still issues at certain stations with sharply curved platforms. The tapered end areas can be used for luggage but it is not safe storage as they are out of sight from the passengers.

There is a further loss in width due to the use of pocketed sliding doors, instead of plug doors. Due to the tapered ends, these doors cannot slide towards the vehicle ends but slide inwards and intrude into the seating areas, which means that there are 8 windowless seats at the ends of each car. From which it can be concluded that 26 metre vehicles are too long for the British system and the choice was a bad decision.

If you look at the train as a whole, the use of the space is inefficient. They are five-car units which are in most cases coupled together. This results in large driving cab areas uselessly located in the centre of the trains. These waste not only space but also the considerable investment in providing them with all the costly equipment which now has to be fitted into a driving cab, and these cabs are not just the cubicle style of driving cab customary on conventional multiple unit trains such as the Great Western’s own Class 387 Electrostars, but large cabs with a sloping apron in front. Because they are not provided with through gangway connections, the two halves of the train have to be fully staffed, and there is more wasted space as two sets of catering facilities have to be provided. These are inefficient trains to operate.

Finally, for reasons which are not immediately obvious but are probably due to the length of the vehicles and the large relative movement between them on curves, there is an exceptionally wide gap between each pair of vehicles, which is more wasted space. In the case of mark 1 stock, this was just 30 cm, resulting in a very short ‘tunnel’ to pass through from coach to coach.

All in all, then, these are a poor concept. No criticism of Hitachi in intended here, because they have achieved a high standard of finish inside and out, with a real feeling of quality. The blame lies with the Department for Transport who specified the trains. These trains are, incidentally, probably the most expensive trains in the world for normal speed running.

tisdag 11 december 2018

Diminishing returns of British high speed rail

The typical inter-city journey in Britain is about 100 miles. Now look at this table of speeds and journey times; remember that to achieve an average speed of 100 mph will involve a period of running at 120 mph or more.
  • 30 mph, 3 h 20 m 
  • 40 mph, 2 h 30 m 
  • 50 mph, 2 h 
  • 60 mph, 1 h 40 m 
  • 70 mph, 1 h 26 m 
  • 80 mph, 1 h 15 m 
  • 90 mph, 1 h 7 m
  • 100 mph 1 h 

The time savings for each successive 10 mph speed increment are 50, 30, 20, 14, 11, 8 and 6 minutes respectively. It is a situation of diminishing returns.

It gets worse than that, because there are break points. 50 mph is the maximum operating speed for light rail. After that, the regulations for heavy rail come in, which affects safety standards, signalling systems, vehicle design and track design, with engineering costs to match. At 100 mph, the EU’s Technical Standards for Interoperability apply, which are even more stringent; at over 125 mph, there is another step change, in design requirements, and for TGV speeds, yet another. All of these factors generate higher costs for construction and equipment, as well as additional wear-and-tear, which has implications for running costs.

There is more. The faster the running speed, the less the curvature, which restricts the choice of route. Then there is the physics. At speeds above 80 mph, air resistance is an increasingly important factor. Energy consumption is proportional to the square of the speed. This gives rise to a situation of accelerating costs, added to the diminishing returns referred to earlier.

Where stations are relatively close, there is little opportunity for running at top speed. For the stretch between Reading and Didcot, trains are approaching Pangbourne before they are running at 125 mph and are already braking soon after they have passed Cholsey.

All these factors give rise to high costs which means that sophisticated yield management systems must be used to fill each train; HS rail is not a walk on service. This means that passengers have to allow plenty of time in order to be sure of arriving at the terminus in time to catch the train for the journey they have paid for. Prudence would suggest between 30 minutes to an hour. This of course adds to effective journey time, resulting in the paradoxical situation that a slower, walk-on service can offer shorter transit than the high speed train where you arrive long in advance and then go and have a coffee while you wait for the train you have booked for.

HS rail is centre-to-centre, but most journey are not, and involve a local trip at one or both ends. It is much more cost-effective to cut times for local journeys, which carry a volume of traffic a couple of orders of magnitude greater than long distance routes.

måndag 10 december 2018

The real Crossrail scandal

Crossrail has been plagued by delays and cost over-runs which have attracted widespread criticism. A simpler scheme, possibly a tube line, could have been built for, perhaps, 40% of the cost, given 80% of the benefits and opened 15 years ago. However, the scheme as it is will transform ease of movement in and across London and will be adequate for many decades to come, which a new tube will not have been. The delays and extra cost will soon be forgotten.

The real Crossrail scandal is that it will generate many times the construction cost in land value uplift but the taxpayers will see little of that back in return for the money that has been spent.

Ricardo’s Law in brief