May 2007

20 May 2007
The Ideal of Train Travel
Patrick Crozier

I like the current crop of animated Lloyds Bank ads.  The first stars a train that is sleek and comfortable.  The second, one that splits, with each carriage stopping at the front door of the occupants.

Together they perfectly encapsulate what I call the Ideal of Train Travel.  The first being the current ideal - the idea of clean, comfortable, punctual, stress-free travel - using existing technology and layouts and the second being the future ideal when all practical obstacles are removed.

But it’s a chimera.  Probably.  Especially, the future ideal.  I don’t know about the economics but I’d guess the chances that you could run track to everyone’s front door are probably rather low.  There’s the expense, the inconvenience, the difficulty in getting carriages to marry up with one another.  My guess is that if someone hasn’t already come up with it there are probably good reasons why they haven’t. 


The nearest I have heard of was the “slip” carriages that Great Western introduced in the 1930s.  These were carriages that would be detached from the train while it was still in motion and be slowed down to a stop by the brakeman.  Lord knows what happened if he stopped long or short of the station.  Maybe in those days things like that didn’t happen.

I am not even particularly optimistic about the current ideal.  To create that much on-board space would require either much higher fares or much higher taxes.  And all the business to do with punctuality and cleanliness requires culture - something that you (especially if that “you” happens to be the government) can’t create over night.  And that’s not to mention crime, vandalism and graffiti which are to a large extent outside the railway’s control.

Frankly, when all things are considered, the family car is a damn sight closer to the ideal than trains are or are ever likely to be.

Next post: Why railways are doomed.

17 May 2007
The obvious answer
Brian Micklethwait

As Amit Varma says, you’ve got to love a headline that goes “Train passengers asked to get out and push”:

Hundreds of Indian rail passengers got more than they had bargained for when the driver of their train asked them to get out and push.

It took more than half an hour to move the stalled electric train 12 feet so that it touched live overhead wires and was able to resume its journey, officials said on Wednesday.

The incident occurred in the eastern state of Bihar on Tuesday after a passenger pulled the train’s emergency chain and it halted in a “neutral zone,” a short length of track where there is no power in the overhead wires.

Which is all perfectly logical.  This could happen to any train operator.  They did exactly the right thing in asking the passengers to assist.

Here in England, if anything similar occurred, the passengers would have been delayed for far longer.  That’s because India is now a self-help we-can-do-it society, while England is now a what-are-they-going-to-do-about-it? safety-worshipping society.

12 May 2007
Transport Blog quote of the day
Michael Jennings

I put my complete trust in the satnav and it led me right into the path of a speeding train.

- Paula Ceely of Worcestershire, narrowly avoiding both death and a near certain Darwin award. There isn’t really a lot more that needs to be said.

09 May 2007
The Kings Road really was the king’s road
Brian Micklethwait

Apparently so:

Little bit of London trivia. Up until 1830 the Kings Road was just that - a private road owned by the king for nipping down to Hampton Court.

I wonder what His Majesty’s views were on road pricing.

Celebrity green car is declared unsafe - it's official: the G-Wizz is a deathtrap. Oi you, stop sniggering  …link
Patrick Crozier • PermalinkFeedback (2)Road:Climate ChangeRoad Safety
03 May 2007
Europeans chase shadows
Patrick Crozier

It’s fun to see the economic lessons of the 1960s being replayed 40 years later.  Way back then you will remember European politicians bet the farm (that was your farm) on speed being the future of air travel.  So, they built Concorde.  Meanwhile, Boeing looked at the numbers and came up with 747.


Now, forty years on, Airbus, Europe’s champion, nothing if not quick to adapt, has bet the farm (that’s…) (probably) on that lumbering giant the A380.  A more apt corporate symbol there has never been.  Meanwhile, Boeing has checked the numbers and worked out that the future lies in fuel efficiency and direct flights to Australia.

Incidentally, in a world where planes and engines are sold separately why all this talk about the 787 being fuel efficient?