All 12 entries tagged Transport

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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.


January 17, 2009

What is Emma Thompson talking about?

Actress and screenwriter Emma Thompson seems to be such a fully signed-up resident of la-la land, she’s got me agreeing with Geoff Hoon.

Blimey.

I think I’ve made clear I’m no fan of Heathrow expansion (or Heathrow generally, really – I think it should probably be on the other side of London).

But how can Emma Thompson be one of the leading voices in the anti-expansion campaign while simultaneously hopping across the Atlantic whenever she fancies?

Transport Secretary, Geoff Hoon, a man with whom I rarely seem to agree, has pointed out this contradiction between fighting climate change and causing a fair bit of it at the same time.

Thompson fought back: “Get a grip Geoff. This is not a campaign against flying – we’re trying to stop the expansion of Heathrow in the face of climate change. It sounds like the transport secretary has completely missed the point. Again.”

If anyone’s missed the point here, it’s not Geoff.


January 15, 2009

Maybe we've got this transport thing wrong?

Forgive me a bit of a Clarkson moment, but maybe all this third-runway, High Speed Train news is a mistake.

I’ve come to this conclusion for one reason: Look which mode of transport is seeing the greatest improvements in energy efficiency, and is closest to becoming CO2 neutral.

Tesla RoadsterIt’s the car.

Planes look likely to pump out greenhouse gases for another 100 years or so – there’s no realistic alternative to kerosene. Its high-altitude dispersion of those chemicals also makes them even more dangerous.

High Speed Trains run on electricity. Which comes from power stations. Most of this, in the UK, at the moment, means coal or gas. And if you think the future of electricity generation is totally green, well, just look at Kingsnorth.

Fast trains also use a lot of electricity. Existing cars are arguably about as green as high-speed trains which run on coal-supplied electricity.

So to cars… hydrogen models are a reality and electric ones are there as well (albeit with the same problems as trains.)

The next five years are likely to see enormous growth in the number of CO2-free cars being produced. While I wasn’t blown away by the new Prius (a measly 50mpg) there are models like the Tesla and the Bolt which might actually be the future.

Greenpeace would choke on their organic muesli, but maybe the long-term eco-friendly choice is to build better motorways with less congestion?


Is Labour too scared of business to say 'No'?

Finding a good reason to build a third runway at Heathrow Airport isn’t hard. The trouble is, there’s only one.

It’ll apparently be good for business.

Some airlines argue that it’s good for passenger equality too because more ‘slots’ means more cheap flights for the lower-middle class. The only trouble is that it’s not true. George Monbiot estimates more than half of Ryanair’s adverts are placed in the Daily Telegraph.

Put simply, a bigger Heathrow means more flights for people with second homes in the Med.

The strangest thing about the whole Heathrow argument is who is opposing it.

Heathrow AirportThe Mayor of London, the Conservative Party (their leadership, at least) and the Liberal Democrats. All in unison.

For Labour to be left on the other side with the CBI suggests the government’s reasons are skewed somehow.

I think they’re scared.

Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling know that in the current economic climate, the economy is their soft spot. Any decision they make that could be seen as damaging to business is, right now, potentially fatal.

What’s strange is that the government hasn’t – until now, at least – taken high-speed rail more seriously. Spain is throwing 220mph lines across their country like confetti. France has had the TGV for years. We’ve got… er… the Channel Tunnel Rail Link. Eventually.

If you’re flying from London to Scotland, the plane is a) cheaper b) quicker and c) more convenient.

Perhaps allowing a third runway is just politically easier. If flights are delayed, airlines get the blame. If a high-speed rail link is delayed, the government is blamed by association.

But by the time a new rail line is built, or a new runway is constructed, Gordon Brown will be gone and forgotten.

This is a long-term decision being taken for a short-term reason: Fear.


December 17, 2008

Britain's broken back

As President-elect Obama promises to invest in the United States’ infrastructure during the recession, here there’s little sign of progress.

A depressing Friday-night journey from Nottingham to Southampton last week gave me plenty of time to ponder the uselessness of Britain’s transport network. In fact I only had to go about ten miles down the M1 before it became a car park.

We’re a long, relatively thin country with a large proportion of the population spread along a spine running from London to Liverpool/Manchester.

But the spine’s broken.

As of last weekend we’ve now got one medium-speed rail line running from North to South. It’s not bad, but it’s nowhere near enough. It’s also ludicrously expensive, hence why I was sat on the M1.

We’ve got two North-to-South motorways, the M1 and the M6. They are renowned, probably across most of Europe, for being over-stretched.

And then we’ve got internal flights, the use of which ought to be a national embarrassment.

No-one really knows how to solve the problem, and there certainly isn’t a consensus. We’re building Crossrail at the same time as considering putting the brakes on Heathrow’s expansion. We’re widening motorways at the same time as encouraging people to use public transport. It must be the least well-planned area of public policy in Britain. Nothing adds up.

One decision ought to be a no-brainer. We need new railways, stretching from the North to the South. They don’t necessarily need to be TGV-fast – in some ways making them as cheap as possible might be the most important priority.

And it actually makes more sense for them to be freight lines than passenger ones. Anyone who’s tried overtaking a lorry which is itself overtaking another lorry will tell you what causes most of the congestion on the roads.

But we’ve not built the country for rail freight. I spent much of the summer listening to people fight for or against a Tesco Megashed in Hampshire. It was to be bigger than T5 at Heathrow, and would have served most of their supermarkets in the South-East of England. It was right next to a railway line, but they had no intention of ever using it.

Personally I’m not a fan of expanding Heathrow, as it seems obvious to everyone that it was built in the wrong place. The more we expand it, the more we compound the problem. The Thames Estuary idea apparently favoured by Boris Johnson seems a good idea to me, and is worthy of investigation by the government.

Unfortunately it’s all a bit too late. A recession is the ideal time to do some of these things (it’s cheaper and employs people). But it’ll take decades for anything to be done.

We’re in real danger of becoming a country of motorway-bound I-Spy players.


July 31, 2007

Housing or railways – which is worse?

I can’t decide which is in a bigger state of crisis: Britain’s railways or its housing?

Ruth Kelly must have been stifling her laughter last week as she announced exciting plans to essentially cut the number of train seats in Britain. Oh yes, she’s going to increase the actual numbers by about 2-3%, but compare that with the 10% rise in passengers and you can see what sort of mess we’re in. We either need double-decker trains or a new high-speed line up and down the country. But that would put us in danger of getting something right, and we can’t have that.

But then there’s Andrew Gilligan’s documentary on housing which was broadcast on Channel 4 last night. The first section didn’t quite work (it was new homeowners whinging about the quality of new-build homes, and naturally wasn’t very surprising), but the levels of corruption between the government and the construction industry in the latter two-thirds of the programme was incredible, and ultimately depressing.

Remember John Prescott’s miracle £60,000 house that was wildly trumpeted in the heady days of New Labour? He showed us all a prototype and said it would solve all our problems.

Well, it will if you’re willing to pay £255,000 instead. Because that’s what it sells for in reality.

Regular readers of this blog won’t be surprised to hear that I have a solution (albeit pilfered). Will Hutton has the right idea, as usual. Debt-financed railway building, as proven by the wonderful world of private equity. But more surprisingly, Germaine Greer has the right idea on housing: we need to build upwards. Not only that, but we need to make high-rise attractive. There’s not enough land, we all seem to want to work in cities, and it’s the only answer.

If I was in a sarcastic mood, I’d suggest letting Guardian columnists just launch a coup and be done with it. The Polly Toynbee-loving Tories might not complain any more.


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.


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.


December 01, 2006

Friday a good day for daft ideas?

The government’s been working like a smoothly-run machine this week (makes a change) and have announced several controversial things all at once. This morning we have:

  • Rod Eddington’s transport report which suggests road charging rather than high-speed rail links
  • England’s smoking ban will start on July 1st 2007
  • Sex-offenders will face compulsory lie-detector tests
  • Trials are to being of genetically-modified potatoes in Britain

and yesterday they proposed sending Britons to the moon, keeping life peers, building more City Academies, and Wales’ First Minister Rhodri Morgan stuck the boot in by declaring the end of New Labour.

Given the above, I think this may be wishful thinking on Rhodri’s part.


November 20, 2006

In a continent that loves regulation, drivers give anarchy a go

One of the new 'regulation-free' roundabouts (c) SpiegelConsidering Europe’s passion for regulating anything that moves (and most things that don’t), it’s a bit surprising to see European cities so specifically do away with rules. But that is what’s happening.

Planners in seven European cities are experimenting with motor vehicle anarchy, and the results have been surprising. From the article -

They want drivers and pedestrians to interact in a free and humane way, as brethren—by means of friendly gestures, nods of the head and eye contact, without the harassment of prohibitions, restrictions and warning signs.

Where else could we apply this idea?


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?


July 19, 2006

I've got a good idea…

I've come up with a brilliant idea. The EU are always making us do stupid things, using the excuse that everyone else in Europe has to do it too.

This isn't always bad. For instance our car emissions standards, if replicated in the US, would mean they wouldn't require ANY oil from the Middle East. That's right. SUV drivers are responsible for the war in Iraq.

But that's not my point.

The EU should introduce compulsory cruise control in all new cars. It'd be like the button Formula 1 drivers press when they enter the pit–lane, but would limit cars at 30mph. Whenever a driver enters a 30mph zone, they could elect to press the button and the car will be brought down to a steady 29.9mph.

It makes sense, doesn't it? It's very easy to drift well over 30mph without really trying. And constantly looking at the speedo means you're always taking your eyes off the road. It would slash the number of speeding drivers in residential areas. But of course it would slash income made from speed cameras, and so would probably never happen.

Anyway, it's genius, I reckon.


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