Saturday, May 04, 2002
The Royal Train
Stories in the press about the history and present of the Royal Train give me the opportunity to pen (or is it key these days?) some inconclusive meanderings on the nature of royal transport. I don't mean to go into the ins and outs of whether there should or should not be a monarchy or indeed a democracy for that matter. More, if we accept that we have a monarch, how should she travel.
It seems that the Royal Train has gone through a sad decline over the decades. The modern version is hauled by a 30 year-old Class 47 diesel locomotive. It seems so sad, so unroyal. It is not state of the art - Class 47s have long been superseded by HSTs, tilting trains and TGVs. And it doesn't hold the romance of steam-hauled splendour. I also feel that, well, train travel is no longer a monarch-like thing to do. A hundred years ago things would have been different. Then the main stations must have seemed the most glamorous places in the world - much like airports do now. The Royal Train would have had a marvellous combination of high technology and refinement - the best that the best could do. And then there is the view. Queen Victoria may have closed the blinds when passing the poverty-stricken regions of her realm but I would rather the monarch see poverty than the moronic graffiti and piles of rubbish so characteristic of our own time.
I wonder if the Emperor of Japan has a Royal Train - he ought to. Yes, a dedicated Shinkansen set painted in royal purple, able to whisk imperial personages along at 170mph. He wouldn't have to suffer graffiti and litter - or poverty. He would be able to look out and take pride in such a well-organised realm - albeit one in the grip of a terrible economic crisis.
For us, though, the Royal Train is neither cutting edge nor glamorous. I fear that its time has passed. Shame, it has served us well but we can't cling on to the past. Or at least it is best that we don't.
Can You Build A Railway (Or Road) Without Compulsory Purchase?
The problem with building a railway (or road) is that first you need to buy the land on which it will be built. You have to buy all of it. If there's so much as one square yard missing then you can't even start. So potential sellers are in a monopoly position. But they aren't the real problem. The real problem is Granny Green Teeth who has lived in her cottage for 60 years and is damned if she is going to move now. For her there is no amount of money that would make it worth her while.
One option is to increase the number of sellers. Rather than make an offer on only the one route you make an offer on several. You would then have a choice of sellers and, hence, would be able to bypass the Granny Green Teeth problem and haggle down the wannabe monopolists. This could work although you might get some problems when it comes to challenging geographical features where there is simply only one way of getting the railway through. You might also have similar problems spearheading a route into a major city and dealing with thousands of owner-occupiers any of whom could turn out to be the Granny Green Teeth from Hell.
It's a possible solution but I have a real difficulty with it. To the best of my knowledge every single railway ever built in the UK was built using compulsory purchase powers. And it is not as if railways did not have every incentive to look for an alternative. UK railways were the most expensive in the world. The railway companies were screwed by landowners once when they bought the land and again when they needed compulsory purchase powers from those very same landowners sitting in the House of Lords. If railways could have found a cheaper way of buying land they would have found it. But they didn't. Nor are they now. Central Railway, which is planning a freight railway from Liverpool to the Channel Tunnel is applying for the exact same compulsory purchase powers as its ancestors.
This is where my commitment to ultra-anarcho-capitalist principles starts to get a bit flaky. Compulsory purchase is a bad thing. Regardless of whether the compensation offered is generous or otherwise, it infringes, in the most blatant way, an individual's right to the enjoyment of his own property. But it would appear to be essential. Had I lived in the 19th Century I would have wanted railways. I would have wanted the food, the fuel, the goods and the work and leisure choices they brought. I would have wanted to have known that any invader would have faced an army that could be quickly assembled and then moved to anywhere in the country.
If I could come to a different conclusion I would, but when it comes to a straight fight between practical, real-world benefits of the railway on the one hand and ideologically-pure libertarian principles on the other, ideological purity loses out every time. Such dilemmas are, fortunately, rare but that does not make my conclusion any more comfortable.
Friday, May 03, 2002
Poor Old Anglia
The news that GB Railways, parent company of Anglia Railways, is in financial trouble is to be regretted. Anglia, which runs trains in East Anglia, is one of the most innovative TOCs there is. It has introduced Crosslink, a cross-London service, doubled frequency on the Ipswich to London route, introduced new trains and, as I understand it, introduced an automatic discount service to season ticket holders in the event of poor performance. It's website is one of the best in the business. It's parent company has bought a new fleet of locomotives for a freight business and introduced an entirely new service connecting Hull and London.
Despite vastly increasing passengers (no, I don't have figures), it is still losing money. Hatfield and its aftermath hit Anglia badly and the compensation it received from Railtrack came nowhere near to covering its losses. That's why it is having to pursue this insurance claim through the courts.
One of Anglia's problems is that it is one of the smaller TOCs. It seems sad to relate but in the railway industry size really does matter. Big companies have big balance sheets and find if far cheaper to raise the sums necessary to buy (or rather lease) all those fancy new trains. Connex (being owned by French giant Vivendi) is very big and has been able to sustain losses while building for the future. The shame is that the smaller, more nimble, more customer-focused, almost family-style operations like Anglia don't get a look in.
Thursday, May 02, 2002
I have been meaning to blog this for some time but Phil Craig's article for the Spectator about a fight on a train has forced the issue.
The incident must have happened about a month ago. I was on a South West Train - just like Craig - on the same line just going in the opposite direction. I too was getting off at Strawberry Hill - it's my nearest station.
It was a Saturday afternoon and I was minding my own business on an almost deserted carriage. At Kingston, some youths got on. You know the sort: hoods, track-suit bottoms and lots of swagger. They came through the connecting doors (why are yobbos so keen on the connecting doors?) They were making plenty of noise but I had my back to them so I couldn't see what they were doing and anyway for precisely the reasons that Craig mentions I was hardly going to do anything.
And then I heard a lot of noise. I turned round to see one of these youths knocking the hell out of another bespectacled youth, not one of their party. At that point, for one of the few times in my life, I did something brave (or at least what for me is scary). I pulled the communication cord. I was half expecting to get beaten up myself but many years ago a friend had done the same thing in far worse circumstances. Nothing happened to him. The thing is that when you're on a train stopped between stations there aren't a whole load of escape routes. You're trapped.
The fight stopped there and then. After a few minutes the driver entered the carriage. He asked what happened, made some perfunctory enquiries, reset the cord and carried on. He made some announcement to the effect that there had been some fighting. The police were not called, no one was arrested and these yobbos were free to carry on. And one day, no doubt, they'll do someone some real harm.
What's depressing is the casual nature of the official reaction. I don't blame the driver - I blame the system. We all know that youths are untouchable, that we're not allowed to defend ourselves and that authority is ridiculed. He probably knew it as well. That's why he didn't do anything. Or he had been told not to on similar grounds.
I believe that railways say a lot about a country. I think it was Paul Theroux who said that "Shabby and depressed countries have shabby and depressed railways." What do ours say about us?
The Plane to Spain is faster than the Train
In last week's Spectator Matthew Parris laid off the politics and recounted a recent trip to Catalunya (my favourite place on earth) by train. I couldn't resist forwarding this on to the folks at Spangolink. What follows is their reply. [Readers will need to know that I referred to Barcelona as Barca, that Barcelona lost to Madrid in the European Cup tonight, that Parris took a rather circuitous route and that Mr Parris described Barcelona as overrated]
Thanks for sending the story. I was aware that you could do that but have never seen the point, since the faster trains through France run through Portbou and Cerbere (and since, frankly, the way to go Barcelona-London is by air). One thing about that line is that you can get off at Ribes de Freser and take the rack train, I believe it's called in English, up to Núria. Rural Catalonia is lovely. I'm not sure why he says that Barcelona is overrated. It's very lively with a lot to do, and it's cheap, the food's good, and the people are friendly unless they're waiters. By the way, the football team is el Barça. Barna or BCN (from the airport code) are abbreviations for the name of the city. It can get confusing. A barcelonista is someone who supports FC Barcelona, and a barcelonés is someone from Barcelona. So many barcelonistas are not barceloneses and many barceloneses are not barcelonistas, if that makes sense. And yes, today there is no joy in Mudville. ("The outlook wasn't brilliant for the Mudville nine that day / The score was three to two with but one inning left to play / And then when Sweeney died on first and Barrows did the same / A deathly silence fell upon the patrons of the game") That's a bit of 1800s doggerel whose last line is sometimes used in America in a mock-tragic tone when something not-really-too-awful happens. Ironically, the city of Barcelona is called "Mudville" (Can Fanga) by rural Catalans, insultingly. We still haven't gotten round to translating the train article, but no worries, we will.OK, so this may have only the most tenuous link to transport but I don't care. I love the Blogosphere.
Wednesday, May 01, 2002
What the Victorians did for us
If you read my little piece on the Central Railway you might think what a fantastic new idea. But you'd be wrong.
Edward Watkin came up with it over a hundred years ago. He started off as General Manager (I think) of the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincoln Railway. To this he added the Metropolitan in London and the South Eastern Railway in Kent. Then he linked up the MSL and Metropolitan to create the Great Central Railway, the last mainline built in the UK, which opened its southern terminus at Marylebone in 1900.
The whole idea was to link these railways together and then to build a Channel Tunnel. The Tunnel did indeed get started. Recently, I heard a Radio 4 programme on the subject. It seems that the works are still there and in remarkably good condition. Unfortunately, the Tunnel was killed off when the military feared that it might be used as an invasion route. Judging by the nightly activities of illegal immigrants in and around the Channel Tunnel who's to say they were wrong?
By all accounts Watkin was not the easiest man to get along with. For years he carried on an entirely pointless dispute with a near neighbour (the London, Chatham and Dover Railway) and when that was over carried on another entirely pointless dispute with the Metropolitan District Railway in London. Having said that none of the big Victorian names: Brunel, Stephenson or Huish seem to have been a bag of laughs exactly. Still, they got the job done.
Incidentally, Watkin was an active member of the free-trade supporting Cobden Club.
May News Stories
Byers 'knifed in back' says Prescott - sour grapes.
Darling warned of Railtrack rough ride - is this the shortest honeymoon period in history? The Railtrack scandal has not gone away.
Sixsmith tries to sell story that will 'finish' Byers
Fewer flights lift punctuality
'Our roads are Third World standard' - no they aren't.But John Dawson, AA's director of policy, said: "There's a serious underlying problem here. Can the local authorities, elected on a short-term basis at a political level, actually be trusted to understand the long-term infrastructure problems?"
PPP 'will cost more than estimated' - just for comparative purposes. The government will be spending £1bn a year. LU's average annual loss is between £150m and £200m.
What are the challenges facing the new transport secretary?
Transport challenge 'will take time' - you bet it will.
Darling faces daunting in-tray
Byers 'still a key witness' in potential Railtrack trial
What Darling must do to get the railways working again - written by Phillip Beck, former Chairman of Railtrack, known as the Invisible Man. Some useful insights and quite a lot of special pleading for engineering.
A word in your ear about the road ahead, minister
Now can Blair make Mandy chancellor? - BoBo stirs it."Byers incarnated all the vacuity, the spin-driven vanilla-flavoured candyfloss nothingness of this Government."
Victims of the worst post in Whitehall - history of the Ministry of Transport. By the way, Barbara Castle did not introduce the compulsory wearing of seat belts. That was done under Margaret Thatcher.
Replacement takes time and money - no direct link, it's a pop-up. Author makes much the same points that I usually make about vertical integration. Not sure about the role of the EU though.
Forget Byers, Brown should take the blame - Anatole Kaletsky
'Timeshare' private jets take off - meanwhile the private sector just gets on with it.
This resignation is Blair's Major moment - excellent analysis by Daniel Johnson. Rather overstates the role of the Telegraph and IDS.
Byers had passed too many signals at danger
Critics say problems won't vanish with new minister
The truth about Byers - Telegraph editorial
Commuters will still be waiting no matter who takes charge
Resigned to fate
Wanted: transport minister - must have brains, courage and cast-iron political clout - excellent article from the ever excellent Neil Collins.
Cycling tsar mocks 'martian' helmets - for once Norris is right.
Labour spends less on transport than the Tories - and gets less for it one might add.
Eurostar trains join East Coast line - I am not entirely sure I believe this. There are already some Eurostar sets on the line and have been for some time. They're hardly the sort of thing you keep in storage for a rainy day.
Road tolls seen as tax on business
Utilities fight hole-in-road charges
Eurostar goes on wrong line - but read the last paragraph: A Railtrack spokesman said today: "There was absolutely no safety issue involved here. An error by a signalman sent the train on to the wrong track." The thing that impresses me is that the train was only 25 minutes late.
The issue New Labour can no longer duck - Christian Wolmar (see posts passim) makes some good points along with a few bad ones.
Byers will back motorists - the transport plan gets changed
Critical MPs just don't understand, says Byers - same sort of thing from the Telegraph
Transport plan needs early service - same again from the Times. Only the spin has changed.
The promises made by Prescott
Train overcrowding is 'breaching rules'
Potters Bar points were 'badly adjusted'
MPs condemn transport plan - and boy, do they do it. But one thing bugs me. Why is this news today, a Sunday?
Railtrack says faulty installation was cause of Potters Bar crash - if true this is really bad news for Jarvis
Gridlock: Head to Head - statists clash on the state of the roads
Rail line 'not safe', says commuter - well, actually, he's not sure.
Anyone have a good word for Stephen Byers? - some, but by and large those who have reason to fear him.
Cramped airline seats are 'safer' - bizzarely they are easier to get out of in an emergency.
High cost of access on common land - follow up to the story from earlier this week
Byers faces new charge on Railtrack - actually it's an old one
Crash survivor accuses Byers - now tell me if I am wrong but the accusation that Byers was planning to wind up Railtrack well before October strikes me as a real scandal. Yet, I have not a heard a word of this on BBC TV and it is not as if there is a great deal of other news about at the moment.
Car charge could backfire - but Ken says he doesn't care. A muted cheer I think. Graphic
Afghan gangs taking over stowaway routes, rail firm says - tales from the frontline in Northern France
Rail union calls fresh strikes - at Arriva NOT at Virgin who operate the train in the accompanying picture.
Charges possible over Paddington - one of these days I really must get round to deciding what I think about corporate manslaughter.
Transport plans under fire
The first year: how the 2010 plan is missing its targets - priceless
No 10 backs Byers on 'Railtrack lie' - shameless
Disbelief on the line - the Times points out that the latest "lie" may have implications in the courts.
Hi-tech bolt may have stopped crash
Screens blamed for 'air blunders'
Driving a company car 'one of the most hazardous of occupations' - Research shows that construction workers have a one in 10,000 risk of being killed or seriously injured at work, while high-mileage company car drivers have a one in 8,000 risk and coal miners a one in 7,100 risk. Well, I never.
Scot Rail adopts no-frills approach - well, actually, they are simply offering bargain fares which is what everyone else does. In fact, bargain fare offers are one of the few real plusses from rail privatisation.
Firms want to keep slam-door trains
Safety fears close 50 escalators - "The JLE, which cost double the original budget and opened 18 months late..."
Tube strike looms over PPP safety - I don't think this has anything to do with safety. Maybe, we'll find out one day.
Dossier of train danger
For whom the road tolls? - £750bn for Birt's super-highways - come off it.
Britain facing gridlock over transport failures - now get this. The Government's own commission is publishing a report saying how the 10-year transport plan is getting nowhere.
'Railtrack has cash for safety' - according to the Regulator
Funding levels 'not to blame for Potters Bar crash'
Byers 'lied over Railtrack axe' - so he didn't make up his mind 2 days before forcing Railtrack into administration: he'd done it a least a month beforehand.
Dossier of train danger
Six days of despair - interesting insight into daily disruption and its causes.
Byers blamed for Labour poll plunge
Congestion battle gets in gear - for once Ken is the defendant
Super motorway plans are 'barmy', say Green groups
- it's wonderful to see them fighting each other
Charging by satellite - or how the Government is slowing moving towards road tolls.
BA touches down with £200m loss
Pilot Eddington ejects the dividend as British Airways goes into a spin
Byers says Railtrack's successor will be safer
Travellers return in sadness to disaster scene
Student's rail death 'unlawful'
The 'world's favourite airline' hits turbulence in tough times for national carriers - bring back the "ethnic" tailfins.
Waterloo commuters' daily worry - the Evening Standard reports that the tracks used by South West Trains are the worst around London. It is certainly true that they look bad. I can't find the exact quote but I seem to remember that although SWT hands over £260m to Railtrack in access charges Railtrack spends a mere £60m on the infrastructure.
Potters Bar reopens after crash
Forget the jetpack - the future of motoring according to the RAC Foundation
EasyJet set to spread its wings - now that it's bought Go
Byers engulfed in row over M-way tolls leak - what amazes me is how members of this Government can get so worked up over such trifles. I can never work out if ministers being distracted from their jobs in this way is something we should fear or welcome.
Road tolls in ten years as Byers is overruled by Blair - it seems that the Government is sold. Good.
Owners must pay for common land access - I had always thought that Common Land was owned by the State or in common. It isn't.
Falling to pieces - the Mirror reports on Britain's crumbling rail network
Toll road network 'planned for UK' - don't get excited; it sounds better than it actually is. This is the product of ex-BBC Managing Director, John Birt's "Blue Skies" unit and is all a bit dreamy. It won't happen.
Congestion charges explained
More councils back road tolls
'My flight delay hell' - A BBC reporter gets delayed - this is serious
Crash firm defends sabotage theory - this is a high-risk strategy playing for high stakes
Potters Bar crash not sabotage, say inspectors
Virgin's 'captive audience' gets Branson sales pitch - 'A Virgin employee at Euston station found it hard to believe. She said: "You must be joking. These are our passengers they're going to be harassing."'
Criminal linked to £1m Railtrack share probe
Railway warning - insight into what it is like to run trains over Railtrack's infrastructure
Sabotage 'may have caused' rail crash - the mystery deepens. Report contains the suggestion that the points were photographed - that could help clear things up.
Crash was sabotage, says rail contractor - good graphic
Rail sabotage blamed for fatal accident - same thing in the Times - just better. The Times really has been very good on this. The article also (to some extent) clears up something that had been bugging me. How did the set of points come to move? It always struck me that the train would be forcing the points to stay in place. This may explain why they didn't.
Jarvis in the spotlight
What price talk when silence isn't golden? - Jarvis's decision to go with the sabotage story is a brave one. Not the sort of thing that lawyers would normally countenance.
Flights misery as new air traffic system fails again
Pressure on Byers over flights chaos
Third failure in two months confirms privatisation fears
Euro gaffe Byers under axe - or should that be "Byers tells truth - shock!"
Easyjet buys Go for £374m
Q&A: Budget airline takeover
Fares may rise after airline takeover
'Near miss' as runaway train is derailed
Rail travel safer than car travel - pop-up in Letters section. From Professor Rod Smith of Imperial College - good.
80mph train narrowly misses children
Inquiry after Tube death
UK rail safety 'is improving' - now isn't that strange. Safety has been improving for decades but no minister sought to point that out before Ladbroke Grove or Hatfield. So, what has brought about this sudden change? Couldn't be because the Goverment is now paying the bills, could it?
Will we ever see train seatbelts? - some sense on this issue
'I spotted track fault'
Tube doors open on wrong side
Market Report: Potters Bar disaster takes toll on maintenance companies
Byers is 'hung out to dry' by Blair - there is a consensus that Byers is finished. There is, however, a counter argument. It is just possible that the rail network could look a whole lot better in time for the next general election. The new Pendolinos will be in service this year with their top speed gradually increasing from 110 to 125mph. The first phase of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link will open in October 2003. That will certainly lead to a "feel good" factor. The Train Protection and Warning System is beginning to roll out across the country. This will dramatically reduce Signals Passed at Danger (SPADs). The power supply problem on Southern Region looks like it is going to be sorted out so we'll be able to say goodbye to slam door stock and hello to air-conditioned luxury. In that time the Government might even get round to approving the Central Railway and a new North-South rail link. It could just happen.
Points 'badly repaired' 9 days before crash
Track team spotted flaw but failed to report it
Solicitor's widow tells of her loss - this is just an observation but isn't it odd that three of the victims of the Potters Bar crash were in the public eye? One was a former head of the World Service, one a well-known Hong Kong journalist and another a potential Nigerian king.
Vandals try to derail train
Heathrow car charge shock - Ken's congestion charging scheme goes West.
David Farrer reports on Scottish Airports
£60m for a Jumbo Jet! - I did not know that. David Farrer is in fact making an entirely different point but I am interested to know how much aircraft cost. You see I have this theory that the safety of a particular mode of transportation is in proportion to the cost per seat. Planes (£100,000/seat) are safer than trains (£10,000/seat) are safer than push bikes (£250/seat). It all starts to break down with cars and motorbikes - and depends on how many seats a motorbike is deemed to have. It has two "seats" but how often is the second one used? Mind you, you could say much the same for the family car. The general point is that the more something costs the more people take care of it.
Statement due on rail crash
Rail crash 'unique incident'
Why were the points faulty?
Points were checked the day before rail disaster - an unusually good piece of reporting. Not only does it raise questions but it tells us what they are.
Killed by rail neglect - if the allegations in this story are true then either someone is lying or someone is grossly incompetent.
Police to quiz engineer
Commuter warned of crash line problems - this has come up before - commuters complaining of jolts on the line near Potters Bar. But were the jolts caused by the points? If they were, then that suggests that there was a problem with the points going back several months. If they weren't then I would like to hear some assessment as to whether such jolts pose a threat to safety as opposed to merely a threat to passenger comfort.
Look no further than Byers for the railway saboteur
Rail firms still failing to scrutinise contractors
Rail chief had safety fear over casual labour
3000 miles of line 'should be closed ' - Institute of Directors calls for a Beeching Mk2. Quite right too. Unfortunately, they are quite wrong about the relative sizes of the British and French networks. The French is almost twice the size of our own.
Chain of command
Graphic of the points - very useful.
Byers: wrong, foolish and running out of time
Death on the railways - safety statistics in recent decades.
The state must step in to save our railways - Anthony Hilton calls for re-nationalisation. Utter drivel of course. I only hope I get the time to do a proper takedown one of these days.
EasyJet keeps Go deal alive
Budget airlines are not always the cheapest
'Faulty track' focus of crash inquiry- looks like it's the points
Papers press Byers on train crash
Crash track had 'jolt' say travellers
Faulty points are the prime suspect
40 minutes later, a car crash - the Times takes the time to remind us that generally-speaking trains are very safe
Railtrack faces questions over maintenance - again
Investigators examine damaged set of points
'Job offer' row clouds easyJet talks with Go
Byers 'to speak out' on spin row
Air of resignation over transport
Easyjet to swoop for BA arm in Germany
Easyjet flies close to the wind - the ink is hardly dry on Stelios's resignation as Chief Executive and EasyJet has transformed itself from corporate upstart to corporate raider
Legal challenge could delay London car toll - Flip. The legal challenge is all about the environmental effects of rat runs. For heaven's sake, if a rat run is bugging you put a toll on it.
Congestion charge review
Ken's traffic plan "will work"
Livingstone in Tube fare worry
Tube row grows as PPP contracts are signed
Airlines sell economy to the business class - what interests me is the vast difference in price between el Cheapo Economy and slightly less el Cheapo Economy with 7 extra inches. Who said size doesn't matter.
The housing shortage in the South - I link to this letter from the House Builders Federation because transport issues are inextricably linked to those of general development. By the way, most of London's transport boom took place at a time when there were no planning laws.
Rail staff vote on pay dealsMiddle classes add to £100m bill for graffiti - it's times like this that I warm to Christian Michel's ideas on restitutional justice
'Children writing on walls is better than robbing old ladies' - yes, but it's still wrong.
Well-off motorists face extra road tax by 2007 - looks like Tim Evans was right.
Traffic wardens in city 'outnumber the police' - maybe, but they are actually useful.
There is nothing easy about defending our name - Stelios on brand protection
Flying fear man dies in Spain
Citigroup drawn into Railtrack inquiry
Rail Regulator in court battle - yet another turf war
Long and short of rail inquiries - computers can be wrong
Flair on the rails - short diary item on the late Peter Parker
All systems Go? - why EasyJet is buying Go
Cherie Blair runs transport seminar at No 10 - more about the constitution than transport
Byers team in £1m share deal probe - shady dealings at the Department
The coal was painted white so as not to offend Victoria
Royal Train more B&Q than Orient Express
Go Easy on Eddington, he's heard all the jokes
Easy come ... EasyGo
Easyjet in talks to buy rival Go
No wonder voters have lost faith when politicians behave like Mr Byers
New chaos for rail travellers
Crew from the first passenger jet celebrate its fiftieth anniversary
May madness expected on all routes to West Country
Insurance fight for GB Railways
Leave London by train after work on Thursday and be in Barcelona for coffee the next morning
Cellphone 'hazard on trains'
Two-thirds of rail advice 'wrong'