July 2011

18 July 2011
Crossrail goes past City Airport without stopping
Brian Micklethwait

In recent weeks and months I have been exploring the area around the big old East London docks, beyond the Docklands Towers, the ones that feature in the opening credits of Eastenders, and the ones which have London City Airport in the middle of them.

Here is the relevant bit of google maps.  Zoom in a couple of times in the middle of that, and you will see the area I’m talking about.  You will see it even better if you click on “satellite”, which I have only recently learned to do.  Do that and you can see actual railway lines and actual airplanes.

My most recent wanderings around there saw me trying to find a path beside the river, starting at the north end of the Woolwich Ferry, going west.  I didn’t get very far.  I soon came upon industrial estates and jetties sticking out, places where actual work was being done, and actual transport, on the river.  (A surprising amount of freight still seems to move up and down the river these days, in among all the more eye catching and frequent pleasure boats.)  In the industrial estates pedestrians are not encouraged, although I did venture into one of them, until I got to a wall and had to turn around and go back.  As for the jetties, random pedestrians can’t get anywhere near the river near them.  Basically the Thames footpath stops.

On an earlier expedition, I had started at the same point, north end of Woolwich Ferry, and travelled East.  For a while, fine, there was a rather nice park right next to the river.  But then it again stopped.  There does seem to be an aspiration to have a continuous Thames Path in that part of London, on the north of the river as well as the south (which already has such a path), just as there is everywhere else.  But it is taking a very long to time to join up in that particular part of London.  At present the path there exists only in rather forlorn and run-down little fragments.

So, anyway, on this most recent trip going west along the river, frustrated by industry, I turned right, northwards, back towards the docks and the airplanes.  And I bumped into Crossrail.

It’s pretty hard working out where all the various railways in that part of London go, just as footpaths are also hard to identify.  Maps are not always helpful, often showing stations but not the lines between them, especially if they are in tunnels.  (Although, as I have only just now discovered, if you click on “Public transport” in Google Maps, then things like underground railways become a lot clearer.  (No, scrub that.  It doesn’t become clearer, because the blue line calling itself the Docklands Light Railway does not appear where the DLR physically is.  It merely connects the stations, like a crow flying between them.  There are separate graphics, sometimes but not always, for where the railway actually is.  Very confusing.))

Basically, there are two branches of the Docklands Light Railway, one going north of the docks, and one to the south of them and then under the river to the Woolwich Arsenal.  Plus, there is also a defunct regular railway line, that starts off on the north side of the docks, but then goes under them, and then goes along the middle of a long straight boulevard called variously (depending which side of the boulevard you are on), Connaught Road, Factory Road and Albert Road, between the docks and the river, just south of the southern branch of the DLR, and then it too disappears into a defunct tunnel that goes under the river to the south.

However this defunct railway and its defunct tunnel will soon both be funct again, because Crossrail will be making use of it.  At present, the line is a charming rural wilderness trail, fenced off, and dividing the Connaught Factory Albert boulevard down the middle.  So make up your mind good and early which side of the Connaught Factory Albert bourlevard you need to be on.

But although this means that although Crossrail will be going within a couple of hundred yards of the City Airport, which is right in among the docks to the north of where Crossrail will be, there are not now any plans for the trains to stop at this spot.  It will stop at the top left of the docks, as it were, at a station called Customs House, nearly half a mile’s walk to the airport, and it will stop on the other side of the river, but, so far as I can work out from the www, not near to City Airport.

There already is a Docklands Light Railway stop at City Airport, on the southern bit of it.  However, the DLR is, for users of City Airport, very slow and frustrating.  It takes an age to trundle its toy train way, stopping at every little stop on the way, from real London out to these docklands, which are beyond even the regular Docklands that people mean when they say that.  I imagine most users of City Airport arrive by car, typically driven by someone else.

The relationship between City Airport and Crossrail seems to have been quite acrimonious (sorry I read this on the www recently but I forget where).  The impression I get is that Crossrail is perceived by City Airport almost as a bug rather than a feature, which seems a bit strange.  It’s as if Crossrail is threatening to flood City Airport with Ryanair plebs, rather than the genteel taxi-delivered suits it now caters to.

Or, maybe all this Crossrail activity is driving up local land prices and threatening to complicate various expansion plans that City Airport has.  City Airport is certainly very busy.  Airplanes land or take off there pretty much continuously.  So I guess they figure that getting yet more people to their airport is not their problem.  Their problem is making their airport shift more people to and from the air.

I have lots of photos of this part of London that I have taken on my various trips.  I hope to post some of these at my personal blog in the nearish future, but promise nothing.  If any such snaps do materialise, I will put a link to them here.

15 July 2011
Mandatory vehicle insurance moan
Rob Fisher

I am a fair weather motorcyclist. I tend to tax my bike for 6 months of the year. For the other 6 months I have to declare SORN—statutory off road notification. This is onerous enough. And if we get some freakish good weather in November it takes considerable effort to get it taxed and then SORNed again. Since tax refunds are only given for whole months, if the good weather only lasts a week I lose.

To add insult to injury, there is a new rule that you must have insurance unless your vehicle is declared SORN, even if you are not using it on the road. It so happens that my insurance expires tomorrow but I have no plans to use the bike for a few weeks. I don’t want to pay for insurance I don’t need, and if I do SORN the bike in the middle of the month I won’t get the full refund. Perhaps more importantly, I don’t have time to research insurance quotes and I don’t have time to visit the Post Office for SORNing and re-taxing.

Politicians and bureaucrats do not consider the full costs of their interference in people’s lives.

12 July 2011
Landing on Barra beach (provided the tide is out)
Brian Micklethwait

A friend recently journeyed to the Hebrides, for one of those team-bonding, business-building get-togethers.

She had an interesting journey.  If, like me, you like small airports, you’ll love Barra.  It’s a beach with a bungalow on it!  Well, a bit more than a bungalow, but not a lot more.

So, presumably you can only land when the tide’s out.


The schedule is still governed by the ebb and flow of the tide …

Here’s the plane she rode in on, on the beach, snapped with her iPhone:


It’s a British European de Havilland Canada DHC-6 Twin Otter, or so I presume.  I like these obscure planes you’ve maybe not heard of, that do so much of the quiet donkey work in the world’s out-of-the-way places, of which, I surmise, there are a very great many.

Here’s a video of the same (or an extremely similar) plane landing at Barra.

And here’s an iPhoto my friend took from inside her plane, of that bizarre propeller effect that you get with mobile phone photography of propellers:


It’s fun the first few times you see this.  Ah the romance of propellers.  It’s like there are still real steam trains everywhere, rather than just pretend ones for tourists and for weekend loonies to play with.

08 July 2011
Transport infrastructure costs
Rob Fisher

Virginia Postrel reports on Bent Flyvbjerg’s studies into the costs of public infrastructure projects:

On average, urban and intercity rail projects run over budget by 45 percent, roads by 20 percent, and bridges and tunnels by 34 percent.

And the averages tell only part of the story. Rail projects are especially prone to cost underestimation. Seventy-five percent run at least 24 percent over projections, while 25 percent go over budget by at least 60 percent, Flyvbjerg finds.

By comparison, 75 percent of roads exceed cost estimates by at least 5 percent, and 25 percent do so by at least 32 percent.

Promoters of rail and toll-road projects also tend to substantially overstate future use, making those projects look more appealing to whoever is footing the bill. Rail projects attract only about half the expected passengers, on average, while in new research still in progress, Flyvbjerg finds that toll roads (including road bridges and tunnels) fall 20 percent short.

H/T Instapundit.

This doesn’t bode well for Crossrail. I’m also wondering how the M6 toll road is working out. It seems like a fantastic road to me, but is it making enough money?

04 July 2011
Car bureaucracy
Rob Fisher

She has a folder of information. Everyone has folders for their car stuff? How can the whole world be so organized? How can the government require that you be this organized to get through life? Why is no one protesting?

That’s from a post by Penelope Trunk who has Asperger’s syndrome, about struggling with registering her car at the DMV, which is presumably one of those rituals people in the USA take for granted. We have similar rituals here in the UK, and I can relate to a lot of what’s in that post, particularly the above quote.

03 July 2011
Brian Micklethwait

This, on the other hand (see immediately below), looks like it might have its uses.

When I was a kid I used to have a lot of fun throwing rulers through the air, while imparting a massive amount of under spin, like one of those hovering slices you do in ping pong, releasing the ruler sideways on.  Hope that makes sense.  The result was a whirring tube of physics activity that used almost to hover motionless.  I’m guessing that the FanWing concept makes use of the same principle, and gets it seriously organised.  The principle seems to be that, since an aircraft gets its lift from air passing fast over its wings, the more “wing” you can contrive to get air passing fast over, and the faster it can pass (even if the aircraft itself is moving very slowly, like my rulers), the more lift you get.

On the other hand, they’ve been messing around with this thing for over a decade, and it still seems like little more than a toy.

But then again, I presume it took them quite a while to get those other contraptions based on similar principles, helicopters, working usefully.

Mad new machine for not getting around devised by some students from Adelaide University
Brian Micklethwait

When someone invents a totally new kind of transport, usually with not enough wheels, they tend to release a video which at least tries to suggest that, although actually mad, the new means of transport has glimmerings of sanity, and might have its uses for something other than sport, where the new mad machine merely competes against itself.

But this video, of EDWARD the Electric Dicycle, seems to be going out of its way to prove that EDWARD the Electric Dicycle is completely insane, and has no uses whatever apart from turning its insane occupant upside down for no reason.