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Pardon me Boy, but the Chattanooga Choo-choo is way out of line


I seem to have upset some railway fans by reminding them that it is an outdated technology. I wasn't able to answer them here or over at Longsider's as we were away for the weekend.
We drove a 100 miles to some friends, it took about 2:30 hours. I note that if I wanted to repeat the journey this afternoon by train we would have to get six miles to our local station and a similar distance by taxi at the other end. The train would take 3:51 and cost £63.50 for cattle class - a fairer comparison for comfort would be first class at £127.00, so for the four of us it would cost £500.
My car costs were a lot less than that.

Any speed comparisons with railways assume you want to travel from and to stations. It is door to door time that counts and railways lose to cars and long distance coaches nearly always.

(To answer the critics to get to York from my local station by rail is 4:17, by car from my home 4:20 according to Google maps).

The comparison for commuter travel should be against specialist coaches running in coach lanes.

To take an American example - The Lincoln Tunnel provides a dedicated bus lane, in the direction from New Jersey to Manhattan, during the morning peak hours of 06:10 am to 10:00 am. During these four hours, the typical flow is 1700 buses, each carrying on average 36 passengers.

I make that 61,000 on one lane through a tunnel. Waterloo doesn't manage double that on all its lanes. (Land value taxation on the space anyone?)

Look at the photo above from Google of Paddington station and the A40 - which one is moving more people? Go and search the line, look at other stations, you will see the same thing - the tracks are nearly always empty because you can't get the density of traffic onto rail that you can on road.

Safety - comparisons of safety are difficult because on roads we have traffic, including walkers and cyclists who not comparable to the rail network - the comparison should be with trunk roads and motorways and the figures and caveats are here. It is a wash.
But one area where rail is detrimental to public safety is the cost of safety measures. Lives are worth about £1 million in terms of public spend to save, that's not my figure that is what as a society we act as though we believe and the is the figure the Government uses in pricing road safety. On the railways figures of £30-50 million spend to save one life are mooted. Which is an extraordinary waste. That safety money could save 29 more people if spent on roads.

Coach -€“ Full Coach:                     26 grams CO2 per passenger mile
Car - Four People:                       86 grams CO2 per passenger mile
Train -€“ Average occupancy:          96 grams CO2 per passenger mile
London Underground 127 grams CO2 per passenger mile
Rounded figures from DEFRA July 2007 Report: Passenger Transport Emissions Factors.

So not cleaner, not faster, not more convenient, not cheaper, so what are trains better at?

I'm sure they can figure in the transport mix somewhere but at the moment they are worshipped beyond reason, maybe only Freud could explain.


You haven't upset me, you are presenting as fact that a technology is outdated based upon your own prejudices.

You can repeat the monetary cost as much as you like - I was already aware of it - and yes, there is a discussion to be had about whether the system should be in public or private hands, which would have a direct effect. I have no particular preference either way on that one, having experienced both. The current arrangement isn't poor because of privatisation, rather how that privatisation was implemented - but that's another discussion entirely. It's no good quoting CO2 figures at me as I'm not a follower of the warble gloaming religion, so it's a meaningless point to be making. CO2 is essential for life on this planet as you well know. That's why we have trees. The idea the CO2 is a pollutant is a wonderful propaganda coup, but that's all it is. A measure of pollution should be unburned hydrocarbons as they are pollutants. Again, another discussion.

The decision to use a particular form of transport will be based upon a range of factors, not just the cost of the ticket. Of course the decision will depend on how near you are to a rail link - no one is suggesting otherwise. Exactly the same applies to coach travel. Just as possible delays due to infrastructure problems and accidents will occur to both systems. It was your attempt to claim that what happened to these politicians was unique to rail that irked - because, frankly, with the M1 incident in the news at the same time, it was obvious bunk.

You claim that it is obsolete. Obsolete technology rapidly withers and dies, yet worldwide rail is still used. This is primarily because it can do what road cannot - it can use discrete infrastructure that is controlled centrally to enable a flow of traffic in a way that roads simply cannot. Mass transit into the city centres is possible with rail without the congestion that occurs on the roads. On intercity routes, travel at three figure speeds is achievable on rail but impossible on the roads - even if we took away the over-restrictive speed limits. Which would I rather do; stop-start battle with the trucks at 50mph up the M1 or sit in comfort reading a book on the East Coast Mainline and be at my destination an hour or two earlier? No contest, frankly. I'll choose the M1 if I am not going anywhere near a station, but otherwise, yup, rail every time.

If I have a long journey to make, I have a range of options available to me. Depending on where I'm going and how long I have available, what I need to take with me and how long I'll be away, I choose between rail, car or motorcycle (bus would rarely be an option as it has all the disadvantages of both rail and car with none of the advantages). Choice is a good thing, not a bad one.

Oh, and Transport Watch's idea for paving over the existing rail network would be laughable if they weren't so serious. Next time, try to offer a source that is not quite so obviously biased, eh?

Freud can explain nothing, frankly.

I don't give a shit about carbon footprints; there are far more important issues to consider when discussing public transport, one of which is the fact that many people do not have access to a car - I myself, because of my disability am not allowed to drive, so rely on trains and buses to get on with my life.


Your argument is specious and I don't think you have sufficiently thought it through.

Like you I care not one jot for things like carbon footprints; my lack of, concern, however is for entirely different reasons: Railways are inefficient, inflexible and unsuited to a modern society, even for people like yourself. My proof? The market.

In the 1960's a growing number of people started to have access to private transport. At the same time the availability of public transport remained high. So what happened? Passenger numbers dropped. The same happened to freight volumes. As better* means of transporting people and goods became available, the usage of the old ways fell. And this effect is not limited to Britain.

In South Africa the old apartheid regime used the railways as a means of guaranteeing "suitable" (ie supervisory work) employment for whiteys really only fit to perform jobs demed "unseemly" for a white man to perform. In order to do this they were forced to load the road transport industry with ever increasing regulations. The big problem was that even with a growing mountain of protectionist regulation the state could not stop customers moving to the road hauliers. And I'm not just talking small volume, high value stuff. Another grouop beloved of the old regime was farmers. Rural areas were strung (at public expense) with a web of rail spurs, generously equipped with silos and cattle loading points every few kilometres. This still didn't stop die Boere flocking to the road hauliers. Why? Because trucks were cheaper, arrived when the farmer wanted them to arrive and delivered his produce exactly where he wanted it delivered and at the time he wanted it delivered. Eventually the government gave up trying. It was cheaper to let the rail spurs grow over, let the bats and owls colonise the grain silos, pay the white jobsworths to push paper in other branches of the civil service and build more roads for the hauliers to use.

So does this apply to yopu as well? Of course it does.

In your case an unfortunate disability prevents you from driving but to think that this means you must use public transport instead is to close your mind to other possibilities. Better ones. Try this:

Why not use a taxi service?

Now before you start shouting about the expense consider this. The general public currently maintains a rail network and fleets of trains and buses in order to provide a service of limited availability and low standard partly for your convenience. If we took the share of the total subsidy enjoyed by you and other people in a similar situation, I wonder if we couldn't provide you all with your own personal cars and drivers and still see a saving. Probably not, but I am sure we could provide you all with discount cards to your local taxi companies.

*By "better" I mean "increassed utility".

You forgot to factor in the control factor. It is where we give up our cars, this stops the public transport subsidy because we can't be taxed for entering cities etc., and the cost of trains and buses shoots up. Soon we will need a license to get on public transport. At that stage only those pesky bikes will be an issue but only for local use only because they won't be allowed on the politician only roads.

We will never get there though because we are already reaching our limit. I've just been visiting one of the rougher estates areound here and I notice four cars in a row on the road with no tax. Used as I have been told every day to travel a few miles to work and back. Thats they way to do it but sadly I need to go on motorways.

Rail is good for one thing today:

Movement of bulk/containerized goods medium to long distances. Think of them as Land-ships, then it makes sense. The unloading/loading of goods is tedious, but the cost to move it once you are loaded is dirt cheap.

As to people... I'll let you lot argue it, please in include the opportunity cost of all the futzing around to and froing from stations.

I used to commute by train. 45min but entire commute 1.5 hours each way what with waiting around, never mind the PIA factor of having to wait until the trainings came and went, which is your job wasn't 9-5 was a pain in the derriere at 10pm.

Well, to be anecdotal for a moment, I just travelled from Glasgow to Edinburgh and back in the rush hour by train and got back before lunchtime. Try that in the car, just try it - after you've sat for half an hour to get across the Kingston Bridge, crawled the first five and the last ten miles of the M8 (if you're lucky, otherwise the last 15 miles), then come to a halt many many times in Edinburgh itself, gone mad trying to park, paid a fortune once you find a parking place, then do the whole thing in reverse an hour later - well, when you've done all that, not before, remind me why cars are so much better.

And if you're travelling medium distances like France or Italy, and you go on the train, nobody weighs or searches your suitcase or makes you take your shoes off or takes naked X-ray pictures of you, or confiscates your eighty-year-old mother's shampoo, or .... need I go on?

Cost isn't everything.

It should be mentioned that the railway industry has now got a very complex fare pricing system that most ordinary users do not understand then on top of that they have some employees who seem to get some sort of sadistic pleasure from giving excessive "penalties" to anyone who makes the slightest mistake with their ticket.


Make that "Some bulk/containerised goods" and I might agree with you.

But when your of freshly harvested mealies need to be at the market by five o'clock tomorrow morning and the jobsworth at the rail dispatch office says he can only get you a train next tuesday or the ship is leaving on tonight's tide and your container is stuck in a marshalling yard at Crewe, you get pretty grateful for Eddie Stobbart and his chums.

Surely a system of express lines could develop? A train is much faster if it doesn't stop all the time - indeed the present non stop to coventry would, if it kept going to Birmingham be almost as fast as the £30bn train set planned....for no more money. Instead of the central planning, "concorde" approach - big, fast, expensive and aimed at a mythical "businessman" (in reality a politician travelling on so called vital business) - why not have the "Easyjet" approach? Private companies keep their trains parked just outside mainline stations, then move in like a big electric bus to collect prebooked passengers with a 10 minute turnaround time then direct to Manchester, birmingham or whereever, non stop. Charge for "parking" and terminal access, but not for track usage and they would be cheaper than buses (then you can get rid of all the bus terminals in city centres as well)

Come to think of it an express line on the piccadilly from Hammersmith to Heathrow would do wonders for traffic on the m4 (though the world's most expensive train line per mile - the Heathrow express would lose out). On a final note, there is a one mile spur that could be built to take mainline trains into terminal 4 and connect to the old eurostar terminal in waterloo. Lateral thinking please!

You are correct in remarking that trains are outdated technology, but perhaps your solution, more and better roads, is not the best one.
According to the Economist pocket world book 2008, the UK population was 60,000,000 growing at 0.4%pa and the land area is 242,000 kM2, fixed.
Shifting such a population around in such a small space will require huge resources which should, prudently, be a mixture of rail, road and air. The proportions of the mix will of course vary, and the variation will vary according to time of day. Take another look at your photo of Paddington and the M4. Whereas the railway tracks are empty, the M4 is in fact carrying only 20 vehicles, say 40 people.
Even so, you have a good point about trains, as being obsolete. But the concept is not obsolete, it is the way it is utilised. Properly designed a railway system is a wonderful mass people mover, or mass freight mover. But not the trains we have today.
In terms of power usage, by virtue of the steel wheels running on steel rails, a railway is less energy-inefficient than almost any other form of transport. For that reason alone, it should be kept alive, but improved.
Here’s how:-
Consider any present day railway, the trains are fast, long and thin.
Why are they fast?
They have to be fast because the Japanese made the first fast trains. Those Shinkansen were a delight to travel on, fast, smooth, quiet, good service, punctual, wonderful.
Then the French decided to play catch-up, and did it very well. The TGV is also a fast, smooth, quiet, reasonably punctual train. Service is, well, French. France is an ideal country for trains, by virtue of the 80% nuclear power system. Note how the TGV’s have evolved. The original consist was an 8-car unit, with a power unit at each end. This was found to be inadequate and so the consist was doubled, so now the standard makeup is a 16-car unit, with 4 power units. The current incarnation is the 16-car consist with double-deck trains. So the present TGV is 4 times the size of the original.
Why are they long?
They have to be to cope with demand. So as we have seen the TGV was doubled in length, no doubt others will follow suit.
Longer trains have two effects, the first is, of course, they carry more people. The second is that the PBP, the Poor Bloody Passenger, has to walk much longer along platforms to get on and off, in and out of the stations.
Why are they thin?
Because the original railway gauge was decreed by the British parliament at a certain small size, to suit Northern railway owners, to the disadvantage of Southern railway owners, during the mid 19th century. As Britain then was the workshop of the world, and regarded as the fount of all railway knowledge, since we invented trains, the whole world adopted the British gauge. So the Shinkansen, the TGV, and all other High Speed Trains in the world today, are on the same gauge as Stevenson’s little steam engines, and, so the story goes, as the Roman chariots. And they cannot be made wider without widening the gauge. But we cannot do that can we? Pantograph systems, bridges, tunnels, widening them all would cost a fortune.....!
Sheeplike, the Germans have followed, then the Chinese, and heaven knows how many other countries, even Obama wants them. Even more absurd, our David, wants them. He wants to “bequeath” to our children a super-modern HST system, for them to be proud of. When in fact all he will be doing is bequeathing to them a railway system locked into Stevenson/ancient Roman technology, and of course, an enormous debt.
The solution is to bite the bullet, repeal the Railway Acts, then build a test wide-gauge railway system, say for a container service between Birmingham and Lowestoft (our principal container terminal). Let the containers be the standard 20 footers, the worldwide transport standard, carried sideways, and let the gauge be suitable to handle this. Then in the length of a standard railway car we could get many more containers. But don’t stop there, let the containers be 3 high, that is 24 feet high.
So our new 21st century train would be 20 feet wide by 24 feet high by some multiple of 8 feet long.
In effect we would be jumbo-ising the train, just as Brunel jumbo-ised his ships, and Boeing jumbo-ised their aircraft. Just as Brunel and Boeing revolutionised their fields of transport, so our David’s wide container train would revolutionise railway transport.
Then, having proved the concept, of wider trains, noting the reduced fuel requirements, (the cube law kicking in) with a much wider and therefore more stable wheelbase, the railway engineers could set about making wider, shorter, faster passenger trains.
And then, Mr Englishman, we would have a non-obsolete railway system.

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