The Anonymous Widower

Tales From Artemis Times

When I was writing Artemis, I got to meet some very interesting people.

I remember being in Denver at an Artemis Users Conference at the time of the Falklands War. I was talking over drinks with three Americans; a New York banker, the project manager on the US Harrier and the another from Long Beach Naval Shipyard.

The banker with all the naivete of no experience, said that all the Navy needed in the South Atlantic was a big flat-top and some F14s and they’d be able to blow the Argies away.

Then the Harrier guy said that they were getting the weather reports and it was so bad down there, that the only aircraft you could recover to the carrier was a Harrier. The guy from Long Beach compared everything to the Arctic convoys and said it was doubtful which was worst.

The banker didn’t say anything more on the subject.

Another incident was meeting a recently retired US Army or Marine officer. I’m not sure where this was, but it was somewhere in the States. It might even have been at the same conference. On finding I was English, he said that he’d got a lot of respect for the British Army and told this tale.

The Pentagon had wanted to find out how we handled the situation in Northern Ireland from a soldier’s point-of-view and he had been asked to go to the province to observe the British Army at work. So he turned up in Belfast, as a guest of the British Army and was given a briefing by senior officers and a couple of tours around the city in a Land-Rover.

They then asked him, if he’d like to go out on a patrol.

He said he would like to go, so early the next morning he was taken to a barracks and introduced to his patrol. He said that as a white US officer, he was surprised that the patrol would be led by a black corporal. At the time in the US Army, such a patrol would always be led by an officer or at least a sergeant.

They kitted him up, so he looked like the average squaddie and off they went. He didn’t really describe the patrol, except to say that he was impressed by the professionalism and that nothing untoward or unexpected happened.

On returning to barracks and after a good lunch with his patrol, he was taken to a debriefing. There he was shown a film taken by the SAS, who had had a sniper on the roof-tops with a film camera.

He realised that the US forces had a long way to go, if they were to handle urban situations like Northern Ireland.

October 20, 2014 Posted by | World | , , , | Leave a comment

What’s The Opposite Of Mushroom Management?

Mushroom management is an old concept, that is a big joke in the dictionary of bad project management. It even has a Wikipedia article, which gives this short description.

keep them in the dark, feed them bullshit, watch them grow

I have on the whole not really suffered from this type of management, as I’ve been managed by some good people.

So it was with great interest that I found this document on the Transport for London web site.

It is a progress report on the various capacity improvements on the London Overground.

It certainly isn’t a document to keep everybody in the dark.

It even gives the phone number and e-mail address of the guy who is in charge of the projects.

We need more fully accessible documents like this one for public projects.


August 26, 2014 Posted by | Travel | , | Leave a comment

Project Managers Having Fun In The East

A lot of people moan that London and the South East get all of the rail infrastructure investment, but next time you travel up and down the country from Edinburgh or Newcastle to London, moaning why the A1 is such an inferior road or your train seems always to be held up, then you should perhaps be pleased that things might be getting a bit better due to one of the largest rail projects in the UK, that will be commissioned later this year.

The Great Northern and Great Eastern Joint Railway (GNGE) It ran from Doncaster to Cambridge via Lincoln, Sleaford and Spalding a dozen or so miles to the east of the East Coast Main line. It was built primarily as a freight line to get coal from Yorkshire to East Anglia.

Some southern parts of the line and the by-pass around Lincoln have been closed, but the rest of the line was used by passenger trains although gauge limitations meant that moving large freight trains was difficult.

One of the problems of the East Coast Main line is the number of freight trains that need to use the line. Between Peterborough and Doncaster, a lot of the line doesn’t have four tracks, so the fast express passenger trains have to mix it with much slower freight trains, which need to be passed.

This problem could have been solved by just four-tracking the main line, but Network Rail found that it would be cheaper to enable the GNGE to take all the freight traffic.

So a £230m project was started to upgrade the GNGE and provide the line with new track and signalling. As a by-product of the work tens of level crossings on the route will be eliminated.

This may seem a lot of money for essentially creating a freight by-pass from Peterborough to Doncaster, but according to this article in Rail Engineer it is a major project. Here’s what they say about the scope.

The first thing that strikes is the surprising scale of the scheme – some £330 million pounds is being spent on a stretch of railway which does not come across as particularly high profile. The changing pattern of freight has seen the route drop below the horizon and it is the resurgence in the last few years that has brought awareness of its potential to support, and help capacity, on the main East Coast route south of Doncaster. That scale can be summed up as 86 miles of route between Werrington and Doncaster and the renewal of 27% of the track and 53% of the point ends.

On top of the trackwork itself there are 49 underbridges, 19 overbridges and 82 culverts to be dealt with. There is even a tunnel where there is a 66 metre track-lowering job.

By comparison, the Borders Railway south from Edinburgh is a 50 km stretch of reopened railway from Edinburgh to Tweedbank and is budgeted to cost £348m. It should open in 2015.

The completion of the updated GNGE line later this year, should have some major benefits.

As many of the freight trains will be removed from the East Coast Main line between Peterborough and Doncaster, this will mean that passenger trains on the line will have more paths and will be less likely to be slowed. So this should mean more and faster trains up and down from London to Leeds, Newcastle and Edinburgh.

The ease of getting freight trains between Peterborough and Doncaster should mean that more traffic from Felixstowe and London Gateway to the North will be able to go by rail.

In the longer term, will it mean that more passenger services are run from Peterborough to Lincoln and from Lincoln to Doncaster?

The only problem I can see, is that all these freight trains trundling through the level crossing at Lincoln are going to create a lot of congestion. I discussed this infamous crossing in this post. A new footbridge has been approved which could help, but this level crossing really needs to be bypassed and closed.


June 15, 2014 Posted by | Travel | , , , | 8 Comments

The Project Manager’s Lot Is Not An Easy One

I found this article on the Rail Engineer site and it describes in detail how the project managers at Network Rail reinstated the Todmorden Curve.

This paragraph talks about the checks that needed to be done before a level crossing was eliminated.

And then there’s the new footbridge. Sorry, didn’t I mention that? Previous usage surveys suggested that Dobroyd crossing was visited only by occasional dog-walkers; nobody expected any great issue with closing it. But due diligence demanded that another survey was conducted, with the crossing being monitored by CCTV around-the-clock for ten days. Initially the team didn’t believe the results: they suggested peaks of 150 users daily, most of them being children. Only then did it become clear that an activity centre had opened at nearby Dobroyd Castle in 2009 and the chosen route to get groups up there was over the railway. This launched the crossing’s risk assessment score into the north-west’s top ten.

Nothing is as simple as it is first thought!

June 12, 2014 Posted by | Travel | , , | 1 Comment

A Professional View Of The Problems Of Electrification

Anybody interested in the future of the railways should read this article from Global Rail News.

It is mainly about the electrification of the Great Western Main Line and is full of interesting and sometimes surprising information.

Take the important subject of getting electricity to the wires.

As an electrical engineer by training, I was surprised by the fact that the overhead wire all the way from London to Cardiff is fed from the main 400 kV grid at just four points; Kensal Green, Didcot, Melksham and Cardiff, with Kensal Green to be shared with Crossrail. My intuition and 1960s training said there would have been a lot more.

I think that this gives further credence to the thought behind the interesting snippet from Modern Railways I commented on here.

A project manager’s nightmare is also detailed.  If you are connecting your new electric railway to the National Grid, then you have to program your work for one of their shutdowns, as you can’t for example, let London go dead. So as with all projects, good project management is essential.

The article also talks about a variety of issues like creating enough height under bridges, the problems of the Severn Tunnel and heritage problems.

May 11, 2014 Posted by | Travel | , , | 2 Comments

Is The Northern Hub Bold Enough?

Yesterday, on my trip to Blackburn, some of the problems that will be addressed by the Northern Hub developments became obvious.

Admittedly, my problems are slightly worse than most passengers as I’m a coeliac, so my chance of buying a decent gluten free meal in Blackburn is about the sane as finding a cold bottle of water in Hell. There isn’t even a Pizza Express, although they do have restaurants in Blackheath and Blackpool.

So to be safe, I have to go via Manchester or Leeds, where there are several good gluten-free restaurants, or at a pinch Preston, where there is a pleasant Pizza Express.

The main problem is that I’m coming up from London and I want to leave Manchester going to the North. Trains from Manchester Victoria to Blackburn are rather decrepit and cramped Class 150 Sprinter DMU or scrapyard specials as I called them in this post. They seem to run twice an hour, which is better than those from Leeds and Preston, which are just hourly.

You can get from Piccadilly to Blackburn, but it involves a change of train at either Salford Crescent or Bolton. The service is two trains per hour and is probably the best way to do it.

Linking the two main stations in Manchester is the key part of the Northern Hub and involves creating the Ordsall Chord. A plan with a similar objective from 1977 was the Picc-Vic Tunnel, but this much bolder plan was cancelled.

The Ordsall Chord won’t particularly help my journey of yesterday, as I would still do the same short journey to Salford Crescent  or Bolton for a train to Blackburn.  The stillborn Picc-Vic Tunnel would probably have had a similar effect to Thameslink in London, where for example arriving passengers from Newcastle going to say Sevenoaks dive into the low-level St. Pancras Thameslink station to get their train. So I would have probably dived into Piccadilly low-level station and got the next half-hourly train to Blackburn.

So I have to ask if the Northern Hub plan is bold enough!

But Manchester isn’t London and there is one big difference! London is very much bigger and the numbers of commuters and other rail users is substantially higher.

Another important factor is that Northern Rail runs trains, that discourage rather than encourage more users.

Because of this last point, the fact that a large amount of railway electrification and refurbishment of trains is taking place is very much a positive influence. Some voices in the North may have sniffed at refurbished Class 319 for their new electric services. But if the refurbishment is as good as it was for the Class 455 of South West Trains, no-one except the new train manufacturers will be complaining.

One great advantage of the Class 319, is that there are 86 trainsets, which would mean that electrifying further lines wouldn’t require the purchase of new trains.

We also have the problem in Europe, that there is a shortage of train building capability. So would we prefer to say buy new Chinese trains or refurbish sound trains in places like Allerton, Doncaster, Ilford and Derby? Especially, if the refurbished trains are just as reliable and comfortable, at a fraction of the cost!

In some ways though, the Northern Hub is an extremely bold project, as it is a bit like Topsy on Speed.

The idea of the Northern Hub was only first mooted in 2009 and now there a lot of work in progress like the restoration and roofing of Manchester Victoria station and the electrification of routes. I took this picture yesterday, as I travelled towards Blackburn.

Electrification In Progress

Electrification In Progress

Already the first parts of the project are in place, with new Class 350 electric trains now running from Manchester Airport to Glasgow and Edinburgh via Newton-le-Willows under newly installed wires.

Before the end of this year, you should see a new roof on Manchester Victoria and electric trains connecting Liverpool and Manchester for the first time. When you consider that both cities were electrified for important services to Crewe and the South by 1961 and to London in 1966, it is a disgrace that Liverpool and Manchester have had to wait nearly another fifty years for the electrified link to be inserted.

I described the Northern Hub project as Topsy on speed.  In some ways, a project like Topsy is a nightmare to manage, but in one way the scope of this project is expanding relentlessly. And that is in the area of electrification. When first proposed it was intended to electrify the main lines between Liverpool, Preston and Manchester.  Since then Blackpool and Huddersfield have been added. There is thought to be no connection between the fact that part of the Huddersfield line is known as the Real Ale Trail and the decision to electrify that line.

Knowing the area and its problems well as I do, I can’t believe that by 2020 there aren’t plans in place to add more lines to the electrification program.

Already the Todmorden Curve is being rebuilt, so that direct diesel services from Manchester Victoria to Burnley can begin later this year. Although Wikipedia says that services might not begin, due to lack of suitable rolling stock. Every line electrified would need new electric trains, but would also release some diesel ones for use elsewhere.

So do we have the virtuous circle, where by refurbishing Class 319 trains, we get the rolling stock to electrify lines, which releases much needed diesel trains to be used to provide a better and more frequent service on other lines to increase the passenger traffic, so that the lines are worth electrifying. And as any number of examples have shown, clean, reliable and frequent electric train services generate a momentum of their own.

In some ways, these lines are very similar to the Valley Lines  in Wales. Important to their communities, but neglected and depending on scrapyard specials to move everybody around. But the government has plans for the Valley Lines, as detailed in this extract from Wikipedia.

On 16 July 2012 the UK Government announced plans to extend the electrification of the network at a cost of £350 million. This was at the same time of the announcement of electrification of the South Wales Main Line from Cardiff to Swansea. This would also see investment in new trains and continued improvements to stations. It is thought to start between 2014 and 2019.

We should boldly go on the development of the Northern Hub. On the other hand, progress has been so good this far, perhaps we just need to ensure that it continues at this rate.

I would also suggest that those in charge of the Valley Lines upgrade, take note of what must be good practice in Lancashire.



April 6, 2014 Posted by | Travel | , , , , , | 2 Comments

Do I Pass The Branson Test?

Richard Branson is being quoted on the BBC about his ten tips for success in business.

So as someone, who likes to think he’s been successful at times, how do I think I stack up?

1. Follow your dreams and just do it!

Guilty as charged!

2. Make a positive difference and do some good

I argue, that I was part of the movement, which of course included the mighty Artemis, had a lot to do with transforming project management, so that important projects are now more likely to be implemented on time and on budget.

Unfortunately, some people, who tend to be mainly politicians and government employees, don’t abide by the principles we laid down.

But it did deliver the London Olympics and it looks like it’s going to deliver Crossrail in the next few years.

3. Believe in your ideas and be the best

Guilty as charged!

4. Have fun and look after your team.

I certainly had fun and it is not for me to say, if I looked after my team.

But I will say that many people, who I worked with in the past, are still friends. Some also looked after me, through my troubles of the last few years.

5. Don’t give up

Many people after what I had been through with the loss of my wife and youngest son to cancer and a serious stroke, would have taken the easy way out.

But then London mongrels have more fight, than a whole kennel-full of pit bulls.

6. Make lots of lists and keep setting yourself new challenges

I managed bugs in Artemis with lists and I still use them extensively on a card for each day. But then my father was the master of creating paper-based management systems, so it must be in the genes.

7. Spend time with your family and learn to delegate

Not sure about this one, but I’ve always organised my work from home since 1971. I can’t understand those who commute!

I don’t know about delegating, but if I have a problem that needs solving, I usually delegate by finding the best and getting them to do it.

8. Try turning off the TV and get out there and do things

I always have the TV on and have done for years, as I created Artemis, whilst watching the box.

But I’ve always been open to distraction by a pretty woman, who wants to take me somewhere to enjoy ourselves. C was a master, at coming in and saying that we perhaps go out to see a play in a Cambridge College.

I am obsessive about completing major tasks, but very easily distracted.

9. When people say bad things about you, just prove them wrong

I use criticism as a motivating tool and generally go on to prove people wrong.

10. Do what you love and have a sofa in the kitchen

C and myself, generally did what we loved and lived in the kitchen. We had a sofa there since we moved to Debach about 1980.

Even today, I live in a large living room, with a bedroom behind and a kitchen in the corner.

I can’t understand why people want to live in houses with masses of rooms and an eight figure price tag.

I certainly do what I love, too!

So I think I followed Branson’s principles pretty well!

Would I add any of my own? Yes!

1. Experience as much as you can of life

So if someone offers you a trip in the sewers of East London, don’t turn it down!

Branson is certainly not short on experience.

2. Never forget anything

I have an elephantine memory, but there are successful people, who make sure everything they have read, written or said is archived.

You never know, when you might need that information.

As an example, I went on a Health and Safety course at ICI. Some of what I learned has been invaluable since my stroke, when navigating my way around streets with impaired vision.

3. Don’t get divorced.

Branson hasn’t! But I suspect, he’s not always been a Saint, where the ladies are concerned.

4. Steal ideas from the public domain or experience

Two things in the design of Artemis come to mind.

The report writer of the original Artemis broke new ground, but I stole the template from a dead IBM program called 360-CSMP, that I’d used at ICI.

The other was perhaps more trivial. When I developed the PC version of Artemis, I needed a strong well-designed interface. So I mimicked the keyboard and the function keys on the old IBM-PC and used the bright colours from a BBC Television program called Three of a Kind, which used jokes on the screen in a system they called Gagfax.

One of my colleagues disagreed with my choice and said we’d employ an expert to choose them. But we didn’t and I won the argument by default.

5.Don’t trust lawyers, accountants, bankers and patent agents

I could add a caveat here, in that if they have a stake in the success of the venture, then in many cases it turns out for the better.

I’ve only met one accountant and one banker that I would ever trust. Sadly both, are sorting out God’s problems!

As to lawyers, I got to screw my own for forty years and luckily we bred a good one. So if I need a good one, I can generally get a good recommendation.

On the other hand, the biggest mistake, I made in life, was when after C’s death, I didn’t sell everything and move to something like a two-bedroom flat in Docklands or the Barbican!

I’d love to hear Branson’s view on what I call Professional Theft



March 16, 2014 Posted by | Business, World | , , , | Leave a comment

Why Is It Public Projects Tend To Be Late?

I read in The Times today that the new headquarters building of the European Central Bank is three years late and €500 million over budget.

It’s only similar to Portcullis House, Philharmonie de Paris, the Jubilee Line Extension and innumerable cancelled government computer systems.

At least though in recent years, we seem to be getting our project management better, even if the Eurozone will have to pay the bill for the new ECB headquarters.

February 21, 2014 Posted by | World | , | 2 Comments

Network Rail were going to close the West Coast Main Line in the Watford area for track works this Summer and in February next year. But these closures have been cancelled, according to this article in Modern Railways. It looks like that some nifty project management has been applied. So often this type of major project ends up causing troubles all round, as the project management is non-existent.

Here, Network Rail deserve praise, especially, if it works out as planned.

February 3, 2014 Posted by | Travel | , , , | Leave a comment

Work Starts On A Bigger Overground

I found this article about work at Clapham Junction station to prepare for longer trains on the London Overground at the end of 2014.

You don’t hear or read many complaints about London’s newest railway, from passengers or even moans from staff. In many ways this is a tribute to the engineers and architects, who’ve turned a very shabby almost-derelict railway into a superstar.

There are a lot of lessons to be learned from how Transport for London has created the Overground, that should be applied to transport projects throughout the world.

In some ways , the stars of the line are the Class 378 trains. You rarely hear of train failures and the interiors still seem pristine after nearly four years of service. And now, because of their design, they’re being extended by the simple addition of a fifth carriage in the middle.

And of course they were all designed and built in Derby!

Gradually, the stations are being improved and in a few years, some of the grubbier will be up to the standard of the best.

On a personal note, as well as giving me a lot of transport options, in common with many others who live along the line, the Overground has probably contributed to the rise in the value of my house.

January 3, 2014 Posted by | Travel | , , , | 1 Comment


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