The Anonymous Widower

Don’t Get Your Facts Wrong

In August 2011, Richard Ford, published a table in Modern Railways showing track access charges for the new IEP against the IC125 and IC225.

Unfortunately, he made a mistake in the figures.

Then a Government Minister then used the figures to answer a question in Parliament many months later, giving an answer that was plainly wrong.

Probably, this shows the reasons why you shouldn’t use that thinking technique beloved of idiots everywhere; cut and paste.

The real problem here, is that the Department of Transport civil servant, who made the mistake, is probably too precious to be disciplined.

But Roger gave him or her, a good kicking in the article and has passed the real information to the National Audit Office.

February 24, 2013 Posted by | Transport | , , | Leave a comment

A Paragon Of Track Kindliness

Richard Ford in Modern Railways uses this lovely phrase to describe the High Speed Train in an article comparing track access charges.

Needless to say, British Rail’s iconic 1960s design comes out almost as cheap or even cheaper to run than the new electric ones that are supposed to replace it.

It just goes to show, what a great design it is.  Knowing the stubbornness of engineers, these trains will outlive me and might still be running in the second half of this century.

February 24, 2013 Posted by | Transport | , | 2 Comments

A Benefit Of Fracking

To many there isn’t one benefit from using fracking to extract gas from the ground.  but here’s one even the most total opponent of the technique might concede.

Modern Railways this month states the following.

The major rail operators in the US are all reporting reduced profits as coal volumes plummeted by up to 20% in the last year. Here, the shift in generation mix is being driven principally by the exploitation of shale gas now being produced on a massive scale as a by-product of crude oil exploitation. although a frighteningly high proportion of this gas is just flared, sufficient is being used in power-generation to undermine the need for coal, and for rail freight.

I would suspect the facts are correct. So fracking is cutting the need to burn coal, thus reducing global warming, as burning gas creates less CO2.

February 24, 2013 Posted by | News, World | , , , | 5 Comments

A Great British Compromise

This is the title of an article in Modern Railways which discusses how you measure how late trains are.

The trouble is that what is late to passengers is very different to what is late for the train companies.

Take these scenarios.

1. You are wanting to catch a particular train at 10:00 and you get there at that time, just as the train is moving off. You’ll be annoyed and ask why couldn’t the train wait. But then to the train company, every time they’re late away means they’ll have to catch up somewhere to avoid their punctuality figures being ruined.

2. If train timetables had contingencies, they’d all wait regularly, so they left and arrived on time. Do we want more time to sit and twiddle our thumbs?

3. What passengers like too, is being early and how many times, have you waited outside a terminal station for a platform, before arriving dead-on the correct time?

4. You’re catching a connection at somewhere like Ipswich and you have two minutes to get the other train.  But you’ve got a heavy case and you’ve got to get across the overbridge, which has got lifts.  The lifts however are busy with someone in a wheelchair and you miss the train you need to catch. Who’s fault is that?

You can probably think of many other scenarios.

You get annoyed because of the lost time, but rail companies get their statistics mucked up. You might not travel that way again and the train company is out of pocket.

So we have two possible solutions.

1, We either build enough slack into the timetables, as they do in some other countries, so that the trains always arrive and leave as the timetable says.  But this means a lot more thumb-twiddling.

2.  We adopt a good British compromise, with give and take on both sides.

If we go for the second option, passengers must accept that occasionally they will be late, but sometimes they will be early. So you win some and lose some.

There are also a few responsibilities, that the second option places on both parties.

1.  The first is a variation of the mirror-in-the-lift solution.  I can’t find a full reference, but there is this post on Yahoo Answers. Basically giving people something to do, makes the waiting shorter.  So perhaps a cafe and a toilet would help pass the time. Even good informational posters will help!

2.  Train companies must also provide information in a timely manner. I was on a train recently and as it approached a stop, an announcement told passengers wanting the train to Somewhere, that it was on Platform 3 over the bridge or whatever.

3. Some station signage is also pretty poor.  If you get the Overground from Stratford, you walk up the  stairs and there are often two trains at the top.  So do you go left or right? A simple next train out sign, like several Underground stations have, would solve the problem.

4. Passengers should be prepared and if they don’t know what to do, then they should leave themselves more time.

So it’s all give and take and if we get it right everybody wins.

February 24, 2013 Posted by | Transport | , , | 1 Comment

The Only Disadvantage Of London’s Two Door Wheelchair-Accessible Buses

Tonight I took the bus to the Angel to get some money and have some supper at Carluccio’s.

I had a lamb shank, which was excellent, as was my handling of the carving of the meat from the bone.  The last time I had one in Liverpool, soon after my stroke, I made a complete mess of the operation.  So I must be doing something right!

Catching the bus back was very easy and as soon as I got to the stop in the Essex Road, a 56 arrived to take me home.

The only problem was the cold weather, which meant that when a lady in a wheelchair backed it out of the bus down the ramp under the middle door, the time taken allowed an awful lot of cold air to get in through the open door.

But if that is all that we’ll have to live with because of full wheelchair access to the buses, I don’t think we have much to complain about.

Could this be the reason that the North and Manchester in particular doesn’t have second middle doors on their buses? The extra door will let much more awful cold and wet weather in to annoy the other passengers.

February 24, 2013 Posted by | Transport | | Leave a comment

1960s Architectural Failures

Yesterday, I went to or through four stations; Highbury and Islington, Euston, Manchester Piccadilly and Huddersfield.

Huddersfield is a Grade 1 Listed Building which means it is one of the finest buildings in the country. The others  are three of  the worst examples of how we designed and built stations in the 1960s.

So it got me thinking about what are the worst examples of 1960s architectural design, that I’ve seen. I’ll start with the three I’ve already named.

Euston station – I probably went to Liverpool a couple of times from Euston before the current station was built and I have vague memories of catching trains there during the building in perhaps 1965 to 1967.  The design shows classic “Think Small” attitudes as it was deliberately built with foundations that couldn’t support development above.  Only twenty or so years later, Liverpool Street station was remodelled, which shows how good design can be applied to old buildings. Since then St. Pancras and Kings Cross have been rebuilt using similar thought processes to those used so successfully at Liverpool Street.  One does wonder what would have happened at Euston, if the rebuilding had been a few years later.  Euston is now to be rebuilt for HS2 and I suspect they’ll get it right this time.

Euston has another big problem, that you don’t see on the surface.  The Underground station is one of the worst in London, with no step-free access, innumerable staircases and escalators and a dingy cramped ticket hall. The only good thing about Euston station is that coming off a train, it’s easy to walk to a bus, as I did last night. But try taking a heavy case on the Underground.

In some ways, Euston’s problems with the Underground should have been solved, when they built the Victoria Line, which opened at around the same time as the new Euston station. It just showed how bad project planning was in those days. The fact that the Victoria line was built on the cheap didn’t help.

Highbury and Islington station – This suffers badly because of the decision to build the Victoria Line on the cheap. Again it is not step-free and it perhaps is one of the worst stations for disabled access in the Underground, as when you get down the escalator, you then have a tunnel and a staircase to get to the platforms. At least the Overground platforms have lifts to the surface. Since I have moved to the area, the station concourse has been opened up considerably and it is not dark and cramped like it was a couple of years ago. To be fair to Transport for London, I think they’ve achieved the improvement without using tons of money. But solving the problems of access to the underground platforms will be very expensive.

Manchester Piccadilly station – This suffers in that it doesn’t have enough platforms and lines. Additionally, of all the main stations in the country, it probably has some of the worst connections to other means of transport.  It makes you wonder if it was designed as a cheap stop-gap solution to accept the new electric trains from London. They are spending a fortune on the Northern Hub, but will it get rid of all the hangovers from the 1960s and all the resulting layers of sticky tape? Only time will tell, but judging by the improvement of planning in recent years, it probably will. If you want to read about planning failures in the area, read this Wikipedia topic about the Ordsall Curve, which is a crucial part of the Northern Hub.  It would appear that it had the go-ahead ( and money) in 1979.

So that’s dealt with yesterday’s examples, what others can be added to this list?

Kings Cross station – Although not specifically 1960s, but a few years later, this now virtually demolished extension was best described as a wart on the face of the Mona Lisa. The man who designed it, must have had the biggest conservation stopper of all time. I can’t wait until I see the new Kings Cross plaza in the autumn.

Various stations – There were a lot of stations built in the 1960s that I don’t like, although some are listed.  I would start with a short list of Harlow Town, Stevenage, and Walthamstow Central. Railways have a lot to answer for, but some of their worst excesses were reserved for buildings like this signal box in Birmingham. Many reckon that Birmingham New Street station is another bad example, but at least the operation of the station seems to be pretty good. In fact the planned reconstruction of the station; Gateway Plus, is all about greater passenger comfort. So yet another 1960s monstrosity will bite the dust. Gateway Plus has this condemnation of 1960s thinking.

The current New Street station was built to cater for 650 trains and 60,000 passengers per day, which was roughly the same usage it experienced when it was first constructed. It was believed that demand for rail travel would decrease. However, it now caters for 1,350 trains and over 120,000 passengers – twice its design capacity. Passenger usage of New Street has increased by 50% since 2000.[2] It is predicted that passenger usage of the station will increase by 57% by 2020.

We do seem to have cut corners for decades and only now the chickens are coming home to roost.

February 24, 2013 Posted by | Transport, World | , , , , | 5 Comments

Chains Of Indian Restaurants

As a coeliac, one of the safer places to eat is an Indian restaurant.  Especially, if they are one that uses gram or chickpea flour, like most good ones do!

But what is surprising, is that we’ve had lots of restaurant chains with an Italian theme, but I’ve never really come across a nationwide chain of traditional Indian restaurants.

Years ago, I ate with C and a couple of friends at a restaurant in Doncaster, which was part of a small chain. I wasn’t sure of the name, but it was something like Aargh.

Yesterday, when thinking about eating in Manchester, I thought how easy it would be, if there was a well-known Indian chain, that could be searched. Using such things as Trip Advisor is always a bit hit-and-miss, but if you’ve eaten in one of the chain and know the standards are acceptable to you, you know you’re probably safe with another. It’s probably one of the reasons, I eat in Carluccio’s so much!

I did find the restaurant and it’s called Aagrah and according to their web site, they have twelve restaurants.

February 24, 2013 Posted by | Food | | Leave a comment

Twilight Cleans Up At The Razzies

I like this story from the BBC, abpout how the last Twilight film picked up nine awards at the Razzies. Here’s an extract from the story.

The five Twilight films have made a total of $3bn (£1.9bn) at the box office.

Razzies founder John Wilson said the worst thing about the franchise was that “people take it so seriously”.

“I believe that rather than 40 million girls who bought tickets, it was four million girls who bought 10 tickets each,” he added. “That makes me feel better about the American public.”

Kristen Stewart won the award for worst actress, but didn’t have the guts to attend, unlike Halle Berry and Sandra Bullock.

I’ve never seen any of the films, but I have seen their posters on the side of London buses.  Usually, the more posters, the worse the film. Perhaps Skyfall was an exception, as I enjoyed that film.

February 24, 2013 Posted by | News | , | Leave a comment

Playboy Launch A Non-Nude App

I read of this in the Sunday Times, but it’s here in Tech Dirt.

It’s not much good for me, as I don’t buy Apple products.

So perhaps that old chestnut about buying it for the articles might be true.  As now you can?

February 24, 2013 Posted by | Computing, World | | Leave a comment

Did I Hear That Right?

They’ve just said on BBC Radio 5 Live, that the Scottish rugby team, were welcomed on to the pitch by a lady bag-piper and two drummers.


February 24, 2013 Posted by | Sport | , | Leave a comment