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, July 27, 2002

Friday, July 26, 2002

On the environment

I saw this phrase in an article by Christian Wolmar in the Evening Standard:
Governments are charged with a difficult responsibility of balancing economic development against environmental damage. Labour seems to have forgotten completely about the second half of this equation.
Ah yes, the environment. I was going to blog something when I realised that it was something of a minefield. It is a vast subject. I hope to return to this sometime but for the time being I will leave with these thoughts: what do we really mean by the environment? Is it really a choice between no development and concreting over the whole of the South East? And, just how important are trees?

Thursday, July 25, 2002


I spotted this in the article on penalties for dangerous driving:
Drivers caught using mobile phones behind the wheel could be given points on their licence, under a clamp down on careless driving.

But the government has stopped short of making mobile phone use while driving a specific criminal offence.
I knew that the government had contempt for our legal traditions and would be quite happy to punish people without a jury, but without even an offence? Please someone tell me I've made a mistake.

In the news

Taxpayers could face rail bill of £556m
Tougher penalties for killer drivers
Passenger planes in near miss
Gridlock as 800 traffic lights seize
'I could have ticketed whole streets'
Commuters revolt over rail failures - complaints up
New record set on the Tube - for visiting every station in a day
£733m debt hits air control service - sounds a lot but it's trifling by railway standards. West Coast Route Modernisation: £10bn and counting.

Wednesday, July 24, 2002

Compulsory Purchase - a justified grumble

I was slightly alarmed to read the following in an article on the village that will have to make way for the third runway at Heathrow:
"We all know how hard it will be if our homes are compulsory purchased. We will not get full value for them and as a result will not be able to buy anything similar unless we move miles away."
Compulsory purchase is the one big exception to libertarian principles that I am prepared to make (see also Update) - largely on the grounds that I cannot see how else you could build railways and roads (and now, I suppose, runways). But I am distressed to hear that under the current arrangements not only are people forced out of their homes but they don't even receive full value for the physical things they have lost - let alone the intangibles like neighbourliness and familiarity.

According to Antoine Clarke (of Samizdata fame) under compulsory purchase in France you get the value of your property plus 25%. It seems a pretty arbitrary number but it is whole load better than 0%. In the past Antoine has explained that this is one of the reasons why people in France don't kick up such a fuss about new developments. I think I'd up the premium to 50%. That would make it absolutely clear that the development was a good thing.

The NATS crisis

It's fascinating to note that whenever air traffic control is mentioned, as it today, the adjective "part-privatised" is always used. Why never "part-nationalised"?

Whatever, NATS, the air traffic control service, is losing money and the National Audit Office thinks its all the fault of "part-privatisation". Which is odd, because everyone knows, that it is losing money because of the general downturn in the industry since 11 September.

Which brings us on to the difference between real privatisation and pseudo-privatisation. Under a pseudo-privatisation, like this one, no one is allowed to go bust and so the taxpayer is obliged to keep on paying. Under real privatisation, NATS would go bust under unpayable debts and a new company would buy its assets at a more realistic price.

Tuesday, July 23, 2002

Monday, July 22, 2002


Many readers will remember that the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) published an interim report into the Potters Bar accident. It said that 20% of the points in the Potters Bar area had loose nuts. It also made all sorts of recommendations which led me to think that they didn't know what happened but I would be looking forward to their final conclusions.

In doing so, I assumed that the HSE knew what they were doing when they made the claim about the points. It appears they didn't. According to RAIL No.440 (no link, hard copy only) the only way you tell if a nut is loose or not is with a torque wrench. But the HSE's tests weren't carried out with a torque wrench - they were carried out with an adjustable spanner. There is no way they could have known if the nuts were tight enough.

If this is true there are two conclusions: either the HSE knowingly issued a false report or they are incompetent. Either way it is absolutely scandalous.

It gets worse. The HSE also claimed that it had found a duff set of points somewhere on the network and issued an "enforcement" order. But when journalists checked the story out they found that the set of points in question (at Wembley) had been locked out of use well before the HSE stuck its oar in.

The HSE has previous form on this. After the Hatfield crash, they issued a report where they managed to misidentify the vehicles involved. This was quite an achievement given that the numbers were all clearly marked on the outside of each vehicle. Readers may also remember that at the same time Railtrack bombarded the network with temporary speed restrictions (TSRs). What readers may not know is that although Railtrack could place a TSR it could not remove it. That was the job of the HSE (see Broken Rails by Christian Wolmar p12). The HSE dragged its heels in lifting TSRs so prolonging the post-Hatfield crisis.

If the HSE is found to be lying then the people responsible should be sacked. If it is found to be incompetent then it should be abolished, preferably without replacement.

Sunday, July 21, 2002

Road tolling by satellite

The government looks like putting its weight behind plans to levy roll tolls via satellite. So what do I think?

I have to say, I am in two minds. I start from the libertarian standpoint, that government should get out of the roads business entirely. It shouldn't own roads, run them, regulate them or tax them. But what if it is in the roads business? What then?

Should I be advocating policies that will do the least amount of harm or should I hold my hands up in despair saying "it's all going to end in tears anyway so the sooner the better. No clues."?

The problem with taking the ideologically pure position is that although what the state does will be bad it may not lead to collapse. And even if it does lead to collapse that does not mean a free-market approach will be taken.

The problem with suggesting less damaging approaches is that the state will somehow contrive to screw it up and free-marketeers will get the blame - just look what happened with rail privatisation. A similar thing is likely to happen with congestion charging in London, though at least with Ken Livingstone in charge it is unlikely that the free market will get the blame.

There is another danger here. Although, a free market would lead to charging on many roads there are many others on which it wouldn't. One thinks particularly of residential streets and link roads to out of town shopping centres. This scheme is likely to charge for everything regardless which will cause enormous resentment - especially, if it isn't linked to a reduction in other forms of road taxation.

Another problem with this specific scheme is its reliance on new technology. The state has not exactly covered itself in glory in this field in recent years. Just look at EuroFighter. Only yesterday, the BBC trotted out a whole list of government IT failures. It could have mentioned many more. If the government is to encourage some form of road pricing, which, by and large, I support, it should keep the technology simple. That way there is less to go wrong and the principle can be applied at an earlier stage.

Some Stelios quotes

From the Radio 4 programme "On the Ropes":
"If you think safety's expensive try an accident."

"One accident can actually destroy the airline."
And from one of his passengers:
"Thank you for setting up EasyJet. You saved my sex life."
Makes it all worthwhile.