All 6 entries tagged Trains

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February 12, 2009

How 12500 new British jobs is actually just 500.

Much of the media seemed to fall for the Department for Transport’s PR this morning.

‘Super express’ trains contract gives boost to British jobs said the Guardian.

The Daily Mail said: Government buys British for intercity train fleet

The Telegraph seemed to fall hook, line and sinker: Next generation of Intercity trains to be built in Britain they said.

The only trouble is, none of those headlines appear to be entirely accurate.

They all stemmed from the DfT’s confident announcement that ‘This will create or safeguard some 12,500 manufacturing jobs in these regions [of the UK].’

But as the day’s gone on, that number’s begun to look like a big ball of spin.

The 12,500 appears to include maintenance workers, who could hardly have found their jobs offshored! “Safeguarding”, here, seems like an exaggeration.

Hitachi, part of the winning consortium, issued a UK press release that goes along with the DfT’s version of events. But they also issued a global press release, which has a different version.

Rather than 12,500 manufacturing jobs, as stated by the DfT, Hitachi promise their shareholders the deal will “secure up to 12,500 direct and indirect jobs in the local supply and services industry and local supporting communities.” It doesn’t say create, and doesn’t say manufacturing. “Local supporting communities” could mean Joyce who works in the nearby corner shop.

What’s more, it appears the trains will be designed and, largely, constructed in Japan. Only the final assembly and some basic manufacturing will be done in Britain.

Transport Briefing says just 500 manufacturing jobs will be created here in Britain. I’ll repeat that again: Five Hundred.

It appears that of the Department for Transport’s headline figure, just 2.5% are new jobs.

Why does all of this matter? Well, there was another bid for the £7.5bn tender from Bombardier, who are based in Derby and would have designed and constructed the trains in Britain.

I’m not a protectionist, but the spin coming out of the DfT today has been particularly effective, and particularly deceitful. Slowly the media’s realising they’ve been had.

Edit: The BBC just beat me to it on the spin story.


April 30, 2007

Criminal Ear Damage

What’s the most insipid invention of the 21st Century so far? This is:

No, it’s not a set of aeroplane landing lights, it’s a portable speaker system for MP3 players. AND THEY’RE DRIVING ME NUTS.

I’ve been doing a lot of travelling by train recently, and several times some spotty teenager has been playing some rubbish music through these tinny monstrosities, VERY LOUDLY.

As a product, they’re not necessarily offensive. Except I don’t think they’re being used in people’s bedrooms as much as they are being used on various forms of public transport where – neglecting the invention of the headphone – they’re broadcasting their appalling choice of music to a wide audience in a confined space.

On my next train journey I shall be armed with a large hammer with which to smash the next one of these I hear. Consider this a fair warning.


March 19, 2007

Stupid railways

You begin to realise there’s something wrong with our railways when you arrive at a station at 2pm on a Friday afternoon and read the certificate saying “Small station of the Year 2005”.

You realise there’s something wrong because:

a) the station closed at 1.30pm, including toilets and waiting room
b) there isn’t a bus for over two hours
c) there’s no telephone from where you can call a taxi
d) it’s freezing cold outside

And yet this is “Small station of the Year 2005”. It seems cute plastic flowers and paintwork is more important to some than actually providing transport.


February 25, 2007

Richard Branson

I was on a Virgin train on Friday afternoon, travelling up the West Coast main line. Only as far as Preston thankfully, and several hours before a crash on the line. But at the start of the journey, a precocious kid had been asking his parents why trains don’t have seatbelts. His dad’s answer? Because trains don’t crash.

I bet they had an interesting conversation yesterday morning.

Anyway, the crash is proof that these new trains really don’t need seatbelts. I was amazed that the train will probably be repaired and sent back out onto the tracks. It is, as Sir Richard Branson said, “built like a tank”. In fact we should sent them to Iraq – they’d probably do a better job than many armoured personnel carriers.

Branson has gone up in my estimation since the crash. He might be a publicity-seeking maverick, but he’s not afraid to show his face even when things have gone wrong. Many people would have shied away.

According to the News of the World, the driver may have paralysed himself by staying at the wheel and wrestling with the train’s controls until the last second. Little kids might be afraid of the fast speeds that trains manage – but with drivers like him and trains as sturdy as Branson’s, they shouldn’t be.


January 18, 2007

Standing room only

Britain’s trains seem to be becoming like low-cost airlines. Only without the low cost.

The Head of Railways at the Department for Transport said yesterday:

If you are travelling a relatively short distance I do not think that it is unacceptable to expect to stand in the peak. The cost of providing sufficient capacity to enable everyone to get a seat would expand the railway budget way beyond anything we have here.

Dr Mike Mitchell clarified his remarks, saying a ‘short journey’ was anything under thirty minutes in length.

Given that a season ticket into London costs £5,000 a year, this is unbelievable. There should be an urgent investment in longer trains and longer platforms, as well as an attempt to reduce prices from their spectacular highs.

For many years, train travel has only been a realistic option for wealthy people. Now it seems you also have to be patient, well-balanced and slim to use the railways. How come most European countries can manage to provide a civilised train system, yet we can’t even come close.


September 08, 2006

We need Maglev… and we need it yesterday.

Maglev. About twenty years ago it was “the future”. Today, it remains a figment of our imagination unless you happen to visit Singapore or one of the ‘toy train’ test tracks in Germany and Japan. The world’s first commercial Maglev train was – believe it or not – in Birmingham, linking the NEC and the Airport. It was replaced a few years ago with a chain-based train.

But since the 2005 election, politicians are starting to take the proposition seriously again. Labour’s 2005 manifesto pledged a high-speed rail link between London and Scotland (presumably something Gordon Brown will eagerly approve if given the chance) and the government’s report into the various options (basically either Maglev or something like France’s TGV) will – hopefully – come out soon.

It’ll revolutionise British transport. According to pressure group 500km/h you’ll be able to travel up and down the spine of the country at 311mph, which means London to Manchester will take 45 minutes. That’s forty-five minutes. Liverpool to Newcastle (perhaps a more vital link than London-Edinburgh) would take under an hour. Linford Christie couldn’t even come close.

There’s a tonne of economic reasons why we should do it, but I’m not sure they’re the real reason we should start building now.

The real reason is that public transport in Britain is a shambles. Why would most people want to take a train from London to Manchester when driving there takes only a little bit longer (if you ignore the traffic within the M25) and costs considerably less (a London-Manchester return for tomorrow is a minimum of £60 and more like £200 if you want to go in peak-time).

The premise that many people would choose to travel by train is a nonsense. If you enjoy driving even a bit, it’s just not worth waiting at stations and missing connections. And don’t even mention luggage. The reason people do it is that they’re often going somewhere where parking their car is impossible. Or they don’t have a car. Today’s train system is geared towards the business traveller, and a huge proportion of its potential customer base is put off by the sheer stupidity of the way it works and the amount it costs.

For sure, Maglev isn’t going to be cheap. In Shanghai though, it’s about £3 for a single fare. Bear in mind that the length of track there is pretty short and that it was built with what we would probably characterise as slave labour (at British prices anyway). But it is the most reliable railway in the world, and from the video (see below) looks incredible. And the environmental cost is a fraction of aeroplane use.

There’s a danger that the North-South line in Britain will be scrapped because rail bosses think they can just squeeze more intercity trains on to the existing tracks. But this would be a disaster. The fares would still be extortionately high considering the lack of utility gained by travelling on a train (over a car journey).

This line shouldn’t be about increasing capacity. It should be about making the railway attractive again. Per mile, it’ll be half the cost of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link, which has been built on time and nearly to budget.

George Osborne, the shadow chancellor, favours Maglev. But apparently Gordon Brown’s allies say it’s too expensive and impractical. Brown needs to look above the parapet of Westminster bureaucracy and see the benefits of the Tories’ blue sky thinking. He has a simple choice between a revolutionary railway system or congested roads, environmental disaster and a growing North-South divide.

A final thought for you…

Cost of replacing the Trident nuclear deterrent: £15bn
Cost of building a Maglev line between London and Edinburgh: £16bn

Which would you prefer?


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