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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Friday, October 18, 2002

The Keio Electric Railway

On Tuesday of last week we visited Keio Electric Railway, starting with a lecture at Shinjuku station in Tokyo and ending with a tour of their Chofu Control Centre (outside Tokyo).

Keio is what the Japanese call a "private" railway. This is to distinguish it from the JRs which are also private but up until 1987 were part of the state. "Private" railways (as far as I know) have always been private. It operates trains from the suburbs into Shinjuku which is Tokyo's biggest station. It is estimated that 3 million people pass through Shinjuku every day.

Its trains are built to much the same design inside and out as everyone elses and are just as punctual and just as clean. Boring. They've even introduced a late night "Women Only" carriage.

But Keio does a whole load more than simply run trains.

It runs buses.

It runs taxis.

And it owns department stores.

I also understand it runs hotels and owns a new town (through which its trains pass) to the west of Tokyo. In fact our interpreter lives there and said it was very nice.

According to the accounts Keio seems to be profitable enough.

So why the property interests? And why the alternative, nay competitor, travel businesses? The travel businesses I can't account for but property makes sense. As Don Riley pointed out in "Taken for a Ride" railways don't make money. But the property surrounding the stations does. It is an odd phenomenon but that's the way things are and if you want to make money out of running a railway then you had better make sure you have a pretty healthy grip on the sorts of places your passengers might visit.

Rumour control has it that one railway (not Keio) had a problem with a station at one end of the line which few people seemed to want a visit. They built a brothel and trade soared.

You can click the photos...

and get a bigger version. The reason I have posted up thumbnails is because lots of large photos is going to cause major problems to people with puny connections - like me.

Thanks to Brian Micklethwait for pointing out the confusion.

Thursday, October 17, 2002

Just to let you know...

There was plenty that came out of my trip to Japan that had nothing to do with transport. This stuff is being posted on my other blog, CrozierVision.

The barriers at Tokyo station

Image100,000 people use these barriers every day. Not perhaps so amazing when you know that 300,000 people (or thereabouts) use Waterloo and Liverpool St every day. But then again these aren't just any barriers. These are the barriers for the Shinkansen (Bullet Train). I don't think Euston comes anywhere close.

According to JR Central's Data Book they carry 360,000 people every day and the Shinkansen accounts for something like 85% of all revenues. Their "ordinary" network is an impressive thing in itself - I know I have seen it - and only serves to underline the mindboggling size and importance of the Shinkansen. As one of our party asked: "Where are all these people going?"

Conservative safety fascists

Over on CrozierVision I have just posted up an article suggesting that the Conservatives are back. Then I read this from Tim Collins their Transport Spokesman:
Our fourth principle is that safety is of critical importance. We’ll review the case for seatbelts in all school buses, because our children must be safe. We’ll make it easier for local communities to get speedlimits near their homes altered on dangerous stretches of road.
Ugh. What's wrong with a remark like that? Put quite simply, you cannot make the case for freedom by making the case for tyranny.

Wednesday, October 16, 2002

Tim Hall writes

Tim Hall has replied to my article on simplicity. I really had no idea how much standardisation there already was in the UK. I was particularly interested in his comments on the rolling stock bought in the last splurge in the 1950s. That's the problem with splurges - they're the railway equivalent of a premature ejaculation: they're no use to anyone and the result is a dreadful mess. A pointer for the SRA and Network Rail perhaps?

0830 Shinagawa Station

One day last week (I think it was Wednesday) I decided to experience Tokyo's legendary rush hour. So, I wandered down from the hotel to Shinagawa Station and on to the platform for the Yamanote Line (Tokyo's Circle Line).

The scene was busy. Lots of people were lined up from one side of the platform (next to the mark indicating where the doors would open) to the other. It wasn't a particularly wide platform.

The train drew up. It was packed. The doors opened by the mark. Nothing happened. At least not initially. Then people by the doors started popping out. They didn't want to and many resisted but eventually the force of people behind them proved overwhelming.

People started streaming off. The "expelled", resigned to their fate, formed a second, orderly queue.

With the people who wanted to get off having got off the "boarders" got to work. At all times the Japanese are a courteous and considerate race. At all times that is except at 0830 at Shinagawa Station on a weekday. It was a hell of a push. Dignified was it not. Conversations such as "After you" "No, after you" were decidedly thin on the ground.

And then a moment of peace. All those people who get on had got on. Some had not managed the job 100% but one got the feeling that they would. Meanwhile new orderly queues formed on the platform.

Eventually, the doors closed, the less that 100%ers managed to cram the last remaining bits of skin, flesh and bone onto the train and the train drew away.

Much as I would have liked to I didn't take any photographs of this scene. I felt it was too much of an invasion of other people's privacy.

So, why the crush? Some background may be helpful. In Japan fares are controlled. Season tickets are cheap in comparison to ordinary fares. Employers will usually by season tickets for their employees.

But it occurs to me that this dreadful scene may not be entirely due to fare control. A railway company may well have all sorts of incentives to keep the fares low. For instance, if you are a railway company and you own commercial property (as many do in Japan) the value of the property (in terms of rent) is, at least in part, determined by the number of people who can get to that property in peak hours. Sure, you can put up the fares but what you gain on the fares you lose on the property.

Sadly, I didn't get the chance to ask this question while I was in Japan. One of many I am afraid. So, if anyone out there knows better I would love to hear from you.

Monday, October 14, 2002


Look at this photo:?

And now this:?

And now this:?

Notice any similarity? OK, they're pug ugly but other than that they are all a very similar design: straight sides, connecting doors at the front, three or four sliding doors per car. For the record they are also very similar inside. With very few exceptions, all trains of this type have bench seating and large numbers of grab handles.

These trains are the backbone of Japan's commuter network. You see the same design everywhere you go - on commuter trains, subway trains and regional stopping services. The only real variation seems to be in the number of doors per side: 4 is typical in Tokyo, 3 elsewhere.

Now, this is idle speculation but I suspect that Japan's decision to Keep It Simple Stupid (KISS) is to a large degree the basis of its success in moving an enormous number of people reliably and punctually.

If you standardise on one design that means you can constantly improve upon it over the years. You can introduce a model, find out how it works in service, how easy it is to maintain and incorporate the lessons in the next release.

Strangely enough in Britain we also have trains that are extremely reliable. They are known as Mark 1s. They were also the product of many years of experienced-based improvement. They are due to be scrapped by the end of 2004.

And their replacements? Not such a happy tale I am afraid. The replacements are to be a mish-mash of different designs from different manufacturers. They are being introduced in a rush. Already, there are signs that they are way off the reliability of their predecessors. No great surprise really as there simply hasn't been the time to get it right.

Virgin Trains

Alice Bachini got on a train this weekend and didn't like it.

Meanwhile, I also got on a train this weekend. It was clean, there was space, the loos worked and it was very fast. It was also privately-owned and, err, in Japan.

?So, how come Japanese private trains work and British private trains don't? That is not an easy question to answer. I suspect that there are two factors at work. First of all Japanese people are very considerate towards each other. Secondly, since privatisation the government in Japan has (largely) left the railways alone. Sadly the same was never the case here in the UK - what with franchising, fragmentation and the unleashing of the health fascists of the HSE.

I'm back !

I am now back from a week's study tour of Japan's railways organised by the Railway Study Association. It has been quite an eye-opener. If anything that is rather understating the case - I have been overwhelmed by what I have seen and heard. There is a huge amount of information to process and it will take quite a while (if at all) to form some definite conclusions. For the time being what I will do is to blog the many observations I made during my time there. Hopefully, firmer conclusions will follow.

But before I do anything, though, I would like to thank our hosts, JR Central, and the many other companies and organisations who put up with us during our stay. They were unstinting in their generosity, politeness and helpfulness. The fact that they never failed to get 50 wilful railway buffs to the right place at the right time says a lot for the thoroughness of their planning and single-mindedness in carrying it out (a theme, by the way, which will run through much of the posts that will follow).