UK Transport

As its title suggests UK Transport covers all aspects of transport in the UK. It is written from a libertarian perspective, in other words, that the less the State involves itself in the running, regulation or funding of roads, railways or anything else - the better.
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Saturday, April 20, 2002

Accentuate the Negative, Disregard the Positive

Passengers hit by rail delays. That's what the headline says so it must be bad news, right? No, wrong. Actually, it is a good news story. Chiltern Railways is actually laying a whole new piece of track. This will mean that the section between Banbury and Bicester is a double track. This is good because it means trains heading in opposite directions won't in future have to wait for one another. This will mean more services, faster services and more reliable services. But because the story in the UK right now is all gloom and doom of course the headline has to be about the unfortunate but unavoidable delay that is the inevitable consequence of carrying out this very useful work. Tossers.

Friday, April 19, 2002

Transport Iberia

Our friends at Spangolink explain how things are done (sort of) in Spain

Imagine a hub (Madrid) with six spokes, pointing northwest to Valladolid/Galicia/Oporto/La Coruña, north to Burgos/Bilbao/Basque Country/France, northeast to Zaragoza/Barcelona/Catalonia/Costa Brava/France, east-southeast to Valencia/Alicante/Costa Blanca/Murcia, south to Córdoba/Sevilla/Costa del Sol/Cádiz/Málaga, and west-southwest to Badajoz/Lisbon/Portugal. Now imagine a wheel connecting the endpoints of those spokes. That's the traditional and correct model of land transport in Iberia.

Today modern divided limited-access highways trace the spokes and wheel; the older ones, in Catalonia and the northeast, carry heavy tolls. Resentful Catalans often whine, whimper, and weep about this shockingly clear evidence of the perfidy of hated Madrid.

The basic rail network also traces the spokes quite well, but the wheel fairly badly except along the France-Barcelona-Valencia-Murcia Mediterranean route.

Now. Let's imagine that it's the mid-80s and you're introducing a high-speed rail network to Spain. What do you do first? Logical answer: Build the spoke connecting your hub (Madrid) to your sixth city, Zaragoza, and your second city, Barcelona, also a sea and air hub, which would then go on to link with the high-speed network of your biggest neighbor, TGV pioneer France. Spanish answer: Build the spoke to your fifth city, Sevilla, because they were having a World's Fair there in 1992 and because the PM at the time, Felipe González, is from there. Then get working on that Madrid-Barcelona-France spoke sometime or another, like maybe so it'll be done as far as Zaragoza by 2005 or so.

Originally published by Spangolink. Reproduced with permission.

Flights to London to double

Well, what do you expect? People want to come to London and Londoners, having earnt a packet want to spend it on holidays in the sun. But, of course, this is not going to be presented as good news or a sign of progress but as an opportunity to whip up fears about noise. I have an interest in this. I live underneath the flight path at Heathrow. When most planes fly over the TV goes funny and when Concorde flies over I have to explain to anyone on the phone that they'll have to wait because I can't hear a word they are saying. Heathrow and its planes are a minor inconvenience to me. A doubling of flights would be a slightly bigger minor inconvenience.

If there is to be such a doubling I would like to receive some form of compensation but in the crazy world of statist economics this possibility doesn't exist. The only way potential losers can fight is by opposing ALL development. This is done through local councils who hire armies of lawyers to fight the airport and its army of lawyers. The whole thing lasts an age an at the end of the day everybody loses. If, on the other hand, the airport just built the facilities and asked a court to sort out the compensation, not only would we get the extra capacity in double quick time but us locals would not feel so put out. So, why doesn't it happen? Beats me.

Read This

In his blog from yesterday Tim Evans listed a number of articles related to road privatisation including this one by Brian Micklethwait. For some reason I had overlooked it. Damn. It really is very good. It looks at many aspects of how private provision would work and does it very well. Rather better, in fact, than I have done here. Double damn. I don't know what Brian's talent is. I suppose it is the ability to put down in writing what the rest of us think. Sounds easy but it isn't. The only consolation is that Brian admits that it took him two years (on and off) to produce. So, the rest of us don't have to feel completely inadequate.

Thursday, April 18, 2002

Take me to the supply side, Comrade Ken

Dr. Tim Evans welcomes 'Red Ken' to the world of capitalist rationality... sort of

I have long been an advocate of private roads and road pricing. State ownership of public space and its attendant services such as police beat patrols is madness. Indeed, I have long believed that London and all other geographic areas will only get decent integrated roads and transport systems through genuine private ownership and good old free market price signalling.

What I did not expect was that that doyen of the British left and now Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, would be the man to instigate the transition to such an approach. Let me be clear, Livingstone is planning to introduce road pricing into the capital city early next year. However imperfect his plans will be (and my God, they have some glaring holes at present) and however he seeks to dress this move up with all the usual environmental waffle, the long term affect of his policy of "congestion charging" is going to lead to the commodification of public space. By pricing roads, encouraging an income stream down them and therefore deriving revenue, Livingstone will slowly become addicted to the money.

As he becomes addicted and the approach spreads - already Durham, Cheshire, Milton Keynes, Surrey, Warwickshire, Isle of Wight, Cumbria, South Gloucestershire, Leeds, Hampshire, Derby and at least twenty other areas are already talking to the Department of Transport about introducing road pricing - the incentive for a supply side revolution in roads and public space will mount. For as money pours into the coffers and drivers slip into the psychology of becoming consumers of road space, so there will be ever more pressure to find new ways of generating more income and therefore getting the supply side of public space to meet people’s demands: that is - some semblance of a market approach.

It is with this in mind that the utopian ideas so long espoused by the Libertarian Alliance in such glorious pamphlets as:...will begin to become relevant to everyday experience and discourse. And that in turn could well mean fantastic new private roads and even maintenance work being undertaken with the customer in mind and not the producer interest.

Sure, these new roads might be built underground by private sector companies who put in the latest air purification technology. And yes, the owners of X road might well want to contract with a private security company to breath test one in every 10,000 drivers for excessive alcohol. But hell, that is capitalism. The owners of X road will want to tell customers that this road is the cleanest and safest way to travel.

None of this will happen in the short term. But slowly, step by step, the incentives to engage a market in road provision are mounting. Sod the Queen’s nationalised highway. I want it owned by capitalists. As a driver, I want roads to be appropriately priced and to be served as a customer.

Come to think of it, perhaps that is why those most hard-line privatisers at the Adam Smith Institute had Ken Livingstone visit their offices three times over the last year on the subject of roads?

Come on comrade Ken, scatter those libertarian seeds and take us to the supply side!

Dr. Tim Evans

Originally published by Libertarian Samizdata. Reproduced with permission.

Apologies Connex

In an article I wrote about Connex a month ago or so, readers may have got the impression that I thought the organisation was on a downhill path to nowhere in particular. Last night I went along to a Railway Study Association lecture given by Olivier Brousse, Connex's Chief Executive, and now I am not so sure. Brousse gave the impression of being a man in charge of his business. In my earlier article I said that I felt that getting railways right was about getting a whole bunch of small things right and - hey presto - that is exactly what Brousse talked about. In the two years since he took over they have improved depot procedures, cleaning, staff rostering, staff training, staff conditions, communications between signal boxes and control centres and introduced co-operative working practices with Railtrack. They have decided to start listening and communicating with staff. They undertake an annual staff survey, publish an internal newsletter, gave staff money to spend on mess rooms and allowed staff to design their own uniforms.

Over the last few months I had been wondering why Connex no longer appeared at the bottom of punctuality league tables. Now I know why - it's improved. At some point Connex realised that rather than concentrate on profits it was time to concentrate on the business. This is a point that Michael Gerber and many others have made - concentrate on your system and profits will follow. As it happens Connex profits have not followed - yet. And there are still all sorts of problems but they are likely to be in a stronger position in the long term.

Brousse also made an interesting point about safety. He said "Even a minor derailment or a collision can cost a fortune. I mean millions." That would appear to echo what I have said in the past about how expensive accidents can be.

There were a few other gems. People (including me) often complain about the fragmented nature of Britain's railways. According to an SNCF (French railways) friend of Brousse, there the fragmentation is on the inside. SNCF may be one company but that does not mean that the different bits talk to one another. Connex seems to have made the decision to bury the hatchet with Railtrack. Which is odd because that is exactly what seems to be happening between Railtrack and its maintenance contractors. Maybe, just maybe Britain's railway is starting to sort itself out.

April News Stories

I know I haven't published for a while but I have been reading the papers so here is a list of the stories I have noticed:


Blaze cripples Liverpool St
Rail safety options announced
Germans recreate little bit of England
Two killed in California train crash
Worried banks put bid for Railtrack at risk
Why rail legal ticket's a sticky wicket (scroll down to end)
Crossrail back on track
'Paddington trauma made me kill'
New £3.5bn rail safety system 'will cost lives'
Rail safety system under fire
US groups plot £20bn rail deal
Delayed report shows Byers is failing to fulfil transport goals
Glass graffiti craze could halt trains
Analysis: Safety issue adds to Amtrak woes
NHS 'doctor' could be a sick joke [includes section about the treatment of the Rail Regulator]
US train crash kills three
Rail firm writes Winsor fears into contract
Regulatory buffer
Commuters: Don't ever expect a seat
Effect of a new North-South railway
Fast train to Provence puts Britain to shame
WestLB 'set to drop Railtrack bid'
Railtrack investors to reject compensation and sue Byers
100 left on tracks as train splits in middle
Railtrack payout
Cash plea to boost West Country rail
200mph dream of North-South railway to end roads gridlock
Commuters 'expect lasting chaos'
Rail safety system costs 'soar'
Rail link slammed over advert claims
Wrong Track - The Spectator
The track controller - Interview with Chairman of Network Rail
Christian Wolmar: £300m is worth it to get railways heading for the right destination

North Circular roars into first place
The biggest hole in the road yet
'A tidal wave' of road restrictions
BA in new cuts as bmi suffers
Blackwall Tunnel safety slammed
Heathrow pollution extends 17 miles
In the Easyjet stream of a serial entrepreneur
Flights to London to double
Challenge of 'fly-by-nights' that fly all over