Rail: Miscellaneous

19 December 2010
Incoming from Michael:

"Belgrade-Budapest train was efficient and on time, even though there was snow and it was -7."

I know: the Balkans are better than Britain. Just go ahead and rub it in.

Patrick Crozier • PermalinkFeedback (1)Rail: Miscellaneous
30 October 2010
Aerial electricity
Brian Micklethwait

Internet connections when on the move are nice, but increasingly, as Michael J told me would happen several years ago, people now have their own.  What they don’t have is their own everlasting mobile power supply.  Or not yet.  So, the fact that these are now appearing in more and more British train carriages is very welcome.  Few use them.  I seldom use them myself.  But I like it that they’re there.

That’s not so difficult to arrange.  But in the air, where every ounce counts, supplying electricity is, as James Fallows reported some days ago, a lot harder.

Question: will ever cheaper and more fequently used international travel, combined with arrangements like this, eventually create demand for a global standard in electric plugs?  Or are we stuck with state-imposed confusion for ever?

Remember when it was said that only Government could sort out the mess of conflicting computer and computer plug and computer storage (etc. etc.) standards.  Imagine the permanent bedlam that actually existing governments might have imposed upon all that, also.

RELATED: Tube Wi-Fi trial at Charring Cross.  The point being, presumably, that our regular internet connections don’t work down there.

Glasgow is there already.

06 September 2008
The inventor of Mornington Crescent is dead
Patrick Crozier

I’ve only just heard that Geoffrey Perkins, inventor of Mornington Crescent1 and the man responsible for comedy productions ranging from The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy to Have I Got News for You has died.

Far, far, far too young I might add.

Who will we look to for our transport-related parlour games now?

1.  See here for the infamous Transport Blog game from Christmas 2003.

02 January 2008
Train travel advice
Brian Micklethwait

From Johnny Vaughan, glimpsed during a plug for QI on Dave TV.

“If you’re on a train and you don’t want anyone to sit next to you, and you see someone approaching, smile at them and pat the seat.”

Or just: look the way I do.  That always seems to work.

And, since I appear to be the first poster here this year: Happy New Year.

30 November 2007
The Rude Busker
Rob Fisher

There’s a particular busker who makes frequent appearances on the District Line and sings Seal’s A Kiss From a Rose or David Bowie’s Starman far too loudly.  These appear to be the only songs he knows.

Normally I like buskers.  Many of them are quite skilled, and they add to the lively feel of the city.  Sometimes, if they are very good, I give them money because you get more of what you reward.

But this busker is a very rude, pseudo-intellectual marxist hippy.  He enters the train and announces that everyone looks far too miserable.  He either doesn’t realise or doesn’t care that he’s the one making people miserable.  He sings his loud song and, in the remaining time before the train stops, insults the passengers by explaining why their lives are so meaningless.

I’ve taken to heckling him for entertainment.  Once, when he complained about the materialism of the advertising on the tube, I pointed out that I looked at advertising voluntarily but I was forced to listen to him.  On another occasion I suggested he stop spouting socialist nonsense and sing a song, much to the mirth of an elderly gentleman sitting next to me.  This evening he was being rude to a group of girls and I told him so.

He collects money by patrolling the carriage with a pouch and making sarcastic comments about how miserly people are.  I think what really bothers me about him is that people do give him money, and given that he is by no stretch of the imagination entertaining, I can’t figure out why.

21 November 2007
In which I stand around on Putney station for two hours in the freezing cold and learn next to nothing
Patrick Crozier

The idea was that I would get up early, travel up to Putney1, take some photos and report back on the sardine-like conditions on London’s trains in the rush hour.

So what went wrong?

The sardines didn’t show.  What I actually saw were scenes like this:
And this:

So, everything’s hunky-dory, then?  Proof positive that overcrowding can be solved without your plan of punting the fares into the stratosphere.

Well, hold your horses.  While things were a lot less crowded it could have been because it was a Friday.  More to the point, it did occur to me that almost no one on board could be described as comfortable.  If you were standing the chances were you would be doing so in a rather contorted position and if you were sitting… well, the seats are too narrow, there’s no legroom, they’re far too upright (Tornado position3) and if you’ve got a window seat your legs’ll be crushed by what appears to be metal trunking placed there for that sole purpose.
Frankly, I think I’d rather take my chances with the Tokyo rush hour.

You’re kidding me!  Don’t they have people pushers?

Apparently they do, not that I have ever seen them.  And I’ve my own memories.  But last time I went things were much more civilised.
The point about this, is that although everyone’s standing - they have to be the seats are locked out of use - they’ve all got a grab handle and can stand upright.  Plus there at least four doors per carriage2 so they’ll be able to get out easily. The thing is I suspect that British seats are so bad with knock-on effects to those standing because of incentives written into the franchise agreement between government and TOC.


Well, these thing are subject to commercial confidentiality.

How convenient.



1. I chose Putney because in the days when I did commute, this was by far the worst stop with long waits as people shoved themselves aboard.

2. In some cases there are six.

3. So named due to the amazing similarity between the position they force the passenger to adopt and the position a Tornado pilot adopts immediately prior to ejecting.

Update.  People pusher link fixed.


22 October 2007
Mobile phone news
Rob Fisher

I recently learnt a couple of things about mobile phones by reading the backs of other people’s newspapers on the train.  (I don’t read my own newspapers as a rule because I like to maintain a cheerful, optimistic outlook.)

The first thing is that a system is being trialled that will allow a mobile phone to be used as a train ticket.  The newspaper story contains almost no details about how this will work, but Chiltern Railways provide more information.  It’s actually quite clever:

Passengers receive their ticket in the form of a barcode sent directly to their mobile phone by an SMS text message. Staff on board the train and at London Marylebone station will be able to check the ‘mobile ticket’ with special barcode scanners.

The second thing is that airlines are gearing up to allow the use of mobile phones on aeroplanes.  Previously airlines and the FAA have maintained that this is far too dangerous, what with the radio waves and sensitive equipment on board.  Certainly any interference problem would be exacerbated by the fact that, unable to see a nearby base station, a phone ramps up its power.  The system planned by airlines including Ryanair works by putting a base station repeater on the plane, enabling phones to work at very low power levels.

The Metro article does not go into much detail, but a very well referenced Wikipedia page comes to the rescue, with information on these developments and the issue in general.

17 October 2007
Liquid crystal Professor
Brian Micklethwait

A recent posting chez moi combines transport and, sort of, blogging.  A train named after the man who discovered the principle behind liquid crystal displays.  My posting was just a little snap of his name.  Here is the stuff about the man himself, a certain Professor Gray, and here is the train.

imageI noticed that this train itself sported LCD type displays on the outside, with information about itself.  And of course there are now many LCDs inside trains, telling you what stations will be visiting, not to smoke, etc.

Best of all, I think, are the constantly updated LCDs at stations giving you at least an up-to-date guess about what will soon be arriving, when, and where it will go.  I find these signs immensely reassuring.  (They are even more useful at bus stops, because until bus stops had them, there was nothing to tell you when buses were arriving or where they would be going, apart from those ludicrously complicated spreadsheets prepared last November, which were impossible to unscramble.)

At present, however, the LCDs at stations only tell you where the next train is going to go.  They don’t do the same for the second or third train on the way.  That can be annoying, because your decision about taking the first one might be influenced by knowing where later trains will be going.

How soon before the LCDs in trains are as good and as useful as the LCD you may well be reading this on?

By the way, is that nob beyond the LCD in my picture by any chance a camera?

04 October 2007
Transport Bloggers talk about transport
Patrick Crozier

Last night a few of the Transport Blog crew met up in Central London.  Surprisingly enough the subject of transport did in fact crop up now and again.

One discussion we had was over the Boeing 787.  It seems that one of the big advantages of its lightweight construction is that it allows higher cabin pressures.  For some reason, it’s to do with white blood cells apparently, this means that passengers won’t be so tired when they reach their destinations.  It’s amazing how advances in technology can have strange knock-on effects.  I wonder if the Airbus 380 will be similarly blessed.  I suspect not.

Another discussion was over train gauges.  They differ between Spain and France, so how, we wondered did Rob manage to board a train that managed to take him all the way from Paris to Barcelona?  And how did they manage to make the change of gauge without him noticing?  This is how.

11 September 2007
Public Service Announcement
Patrick Crozier

Now that everyone’s back at work again, and particularly with the overland trains crowded with Tube refugees, it seems a recap is in order. We should all now be familiar with the fact that feet and bags do not get a seat. Other things that do not get a seat are, in no particular order, your newspaper, your jacket, your lunchbox, your lunch, your breakfast and your dog.

The Disgruntled Commuter

28 August 2007
Britain’s longest private railway
Rob Fisher
Butlins Express

This weekend I visited a friend who is a train enthusiast and all round public transport expert.  We took a special service from Bristol to Minehead called the Butlins Express.  It runs partly on Network Rail track, and partly on the West Somerset Railway, a preserved railway run by volunteers.  According to the BBC, it’s the longest privately owned passenger line in Britain.  Few things are untainted by the state, though.  The engine and carriages for the Butlins Express are provided by ECT Mainline Rail.  This is a “social enterprise” (read: government teat suckling contractor), tagline:  “Combining Business Thinking With Social Values”.  Yuck.

Once off of the main line, the train seemed slow.  My friend explained that the Light Rail Act of 1896 means trains are limited to 25mph.  You can run your trains faster than that, but this presumably involves meeting stringent track and signalling requirements.  On the bright side, the train passed through a number of tiny stations run by volunteers, the route was picturesque and in Minehead there were various unusual trains to be seen, including some working steam trains.

I learnt some other fascinating facts this weekend:  rail regulators go so far as to specify the number of seats on trains to London (is there any aspect of running a train service the regulators don’t control?); and a strange emergent property of the fare system is that while a single from Swindon to Ealing Broadway costs more than £30, a ticket from Swindon to Didcot Parkway and another from Didcot Parkway to Ealing Broadway together cost £21.60.  Now I just need to design an algorithm to search the fares database for other such anomalies.

30 June 2007
Mark Holland

Whereupon we attempt to out You Tube (that’s a verb that is) James Hamilton. Even with a doubtless rich seam of transport related video to mine, I’m fairly certain that such a feat is not possible.

Coming out with guns blazing, or rather with LMS firebox blazing; surely the greatest transport film of all time. It’s a shame about the “Cor blimey Bert, How’s your missus, Rovers lost again then dintcha you know Alf” cheeky patter the voice over man does when the working classes talk, mind. I chalk that down to the era and instead wallow in the sight of LMS Royal Scot Class 6115 Scots Guardsman cresting Beattock Summit and dropping into Glasgow.

I’m not sure it’s possible to ever tire of that.

15 June 2007
The Southern Travellers Handbook for 1965/66
Mark Holland

Arty farty, enduring image, photo blog “if charlie parker was a gunslinger, there’d be a whole lot of dead copycats” has a new category as of today.

One of their contributors has obviously discovered a copy of a British Rail publication, “The Southern Travellers Handbook for 1965/66”, mouldering in a drawer or antique shop somewhere and is scanning its contents for our enjoyment. Thus far he’s posted a portrait of the manager of Southern Region and a great phalanx of commuters making their way from a train across the heaving platform to the exits. Enduring image.

You can find it here.

Of special interest to us is the regional manager’s introduction:

We shall be revising and re-issuing this handbook each year and recovering most of its cost from advertisements and the revenue from sales.

I’d have hoped they’d want to recoup that hole in the publication’s costs through increased ticket sales myself. The BR Southern Region’s predecessor, The Southern Railway, published an awful lot of material - “Sunny South Sam’s Hints for the Holidays”, that sort of thing - but this was in order to get more passengers on their trains, not out of vanity.

15 February 2007

This seems rather sarcastic, doesn’t it?


Apparently it’s part of a genuine campaign.  But, in Melbourne, Australia.  So that’s okay then.  Quite what the idea is I didn’t discover.

Brian Micklethwait • PermalinkFeedback (0)RailRail: Miscellaneous
01 February 2007
A bit late in the day - but last week it snowed. Rather put me in mind of what I said last time this happened. I think it stands up pretty well  …link
Patrick Crozier • PermalinkFeedback (0)Rail: Miscellaneous
29 January 2007
Brian Micklethwait

Boris Johnson piles in on the (not actually – we wish!) First Great Western train disaster:

Unbelievable! And even if they did want to lay on more capacity now, the Government interferes at every turn. There are currently 14 officials in the Department of Transport who are working on the railway timetable, and at a recent meeting with angry MPs Alistair Darling, the Transport Secretary, was seen to be poring over his copy of Bradshaw and musing on whether or not an 0848 service could be added to some branch line, in addition to the 0932. The Secretary of State!

The Government is simultaneously blaming the train companies for the mess, while bleeding them of cash and micromanaging the timetable to destruction, and at a time when passenger numbers have risen by 40 per cent over the past 10 years.

That was up at the Boris blog four days ago, so sorry about the delay linking to it.  But, I don’t suppose things have improved that much since then.

Some interesting comments at Boris’s, of which this was my favourite, from “idlex”:

I got lost on the subway of a Japanese city some 18 months ago, laden with shopping, baffled by the ticket machines and the maps. All of six Japanese people came to my assistance, one after the other, independently of each other, and guided me to my destination. The last one came up to me to simply ask if I needed any further help.

I wonder if that ever happens in London?

Probably not.  In London, we mostly mind our own business.  Which can be scary, I’d be the first to admit.

Most of the rest of the comments are of the “You started it”, “You’ve had time to fix” it, political bickering variety.  Apart from some nincompoop recommending this.

24 December 2006
Have we ever blogged from a moving train (or any other form of moving transportation) before? Because if we haven't, then this posting (from the 1005 to Watford Junction) is a first.

Isn't 3G good?

Patrick Crozier • PermalinkFeedback (1)Rail: Miscellaneous
Tracking the trains
Brian Micklethwait
Train Tracker

I had a Christmas query about trains, and rang 0845 7484950, which is the number written on a Post-It Note above my desk together with the word “TRAINS”.  The robot-woman at the other end told me that what with planes being befogged, they are very busy, but mentioned a phone service called “traintracker”, and mentioned a website where the “terms and conditions” (which sounded to me like: extortionate cost) for traintracker were spelt out.  I googled “traintracker” and got to this.  Not wanting further ordeal by robot, or expense that I might be able to avoid, I then clicked on something called TrainTracker Text.

I am crap at internetting.  I still buy books in bookshops rather than on line.  But, after a brief hickup while I told it that by Waterloo I meant London Waterloo rather than Liverpool Waterloo, I found the text version of TrainTracker most helpful.  I liked that I got a choice of trains at around the date and time that I specified, and I liked especially that I had the option of looking also at earlier or later trains between the same two destinations that day.

I am in the habit of saying that Britain’s trains – well, the London based surface trains that used to be British Rail, that I know about – have got better in the last year or two (although at what cost to me as a taxpayer I shudder to guess).  This is just one of the ways in which I sense that things are improving.  This TrainTracker thing - which presumably covers all of England, Scotland and Wales - didn’t exist a few years back.  Did it?

02 November 2006
Part of North London Line to close - this should be fun bearing in mind that there is a three-year gap between the closure and the opening of its replacement  …link
Patrick Crozier • PermalinkFeedback (1)Rail: Miscellaneous
25 October 2006
Madverts in Japanese stations
Brian Micklethwait
Giant tea bottle

PingMag has a superb piece up called Top 10 ad-tricks in Tokyo’s train stations, of which my personal favourite is the giant tea bottles.  There are about thirty pictures – many superb.

Hat tip: Kristine Lowe, who I can personally vouch, wears great hats.  She got to this from Wired News.

Sorry, I edited this in “open” rather than in closed.  So very recent visitors will have been suffering extreme weirdness, involving two big bottles, then one big bottle, then the same bottle only smaller, and all the while with a caption just saying “Caption”.  Live and learn.  Plus, I discovered that in order to accommodate even the small version of the big bottle, I had to have more text.  Which was this drivel.  I wonder if I could get the picture to line up with the heading, rather than the top of the mere text.  That would have sufficed.

Patrick, why is there as space at the very beginning, just before “PingMag”?

Growing pains.  Lucky this blog isn’t a railway line.

06 July 2006
Most joyriders steal cars. This one stole a locomotive. Class.

Patrick Crozier • PermalinkFeedback (0)Rail: Miscellaneous
14 November 2005
Test track to close - Asfordby will be no more  …link
Patrick Crozier • PermalinkFeedback (1)Rail: Miscellaneous