The Anonymous Widower

Crossrail: Report Finds Not Enough Money To Finish Project

The title of this post, is the same as that of this article on the BBC.

These are the first two paragraphs.

The cost of completing Crossrail exceeds available funding, the government spending watchdog has found.

The National Audit Office (NAO) estimates the cost of the new rail link will be between £30m and £218m above the current funding.

After such a good start with the tunneling and surface line going well, how did we get here?

My main business for nearly forty years was writing project management software and that gave me a deep insight into the dynamics and mathematics of large projects.

The software, I created in the 1970s; Artemis was deeply involved in the most important project of the time; North Sea Oil.

But then more by luck, than any judgement on my part, it was well suited to solving the management problems of North Sea Oil.

The software ran on a small Hewlett-Packard mini-computer with an attached display and a printer, whose footprint, gave Artemis an advantage over competitors who needed a mainframe, for which there was no office space in Aberdeen.

I had first got involved in scheduling resources at ICI about five years earlier and because from previous experience I knew resources would be critical, I gave the program extension resource aggregation and scheduling capabilities.

I have been told that the latter proved invaluable in successfully developing North Sea Oil. People may have been flattering me, but I do know that Shell used to ensure that all their suppliers used Artemis, so they could check easily if they were being told the truth.

I suspect that Shell and others used the aggregation capability to see that they weren’t overloading the pool of labour available.

Artemis definitely proved itself capable of handling the various projects in the North Sea.

We have now moved on forty years, but has project management moved on to cope with the advances in technology of the modern world?

As with North Sea Oil in Aberdeen, in the 1970s, Crossrail and other large projects like Berlin’s new Brandenburg Airport will always have a need for large numbers of resources, be they men, materiel or machines.

I have some questions.

  • Do all contractors working on Crossrail use the same software?
  • Does Crossrail have the right to inspect the contractors project management systems?
  • Is the upward reporting what it needs to be?
  • Does the software the contractors use, have an aggregation capability?
  • Do Crossrail track and predict the resources needed?

Someone I respect told me, that a lot of modern project management software doesn’t even have an aggregation capability- Enough said!

I must admit, aggregation and scheduling software is difficult to write, so it might be easier to cut it out and let your clients muddle through!

Worsening The Resource Problem

Crossrail,the Greater London Authority and the Boroughs should have been monitoring this growing resource problem, but I doubt they were in anything other than a perfunctory way!

Instead the politicians were giving planning permission to anybody with money, who wanted to build a shiny new development close to a station.

These project would need more men, materiel or machines.

As many of these new developments are backed by companies or funds with bottomless pockets to get their developments finished they are prepared to pay more for their labour.

So labour has been deserting Crossrail in droves, thus further delaying the project.

Senior politicians in the Greater London Authority and the boroughs should accept some responsibility for Crossrail’s delay.

They didn’t need to withhold the planning permission, just say that construction could’t commence until an appropriate phase of Crossrail was open.

In some parts of the world, brown envelopes will have changed hands, but it would be nice to know how many mayors and senior politicians have had holidays in places, they would not normally visit.

Senior project managers tell me, that they would not be surprised if developments along Crossrail had delayed the project.

The Covid Problem

No-one saw Covid coming, except possibly the Chinese.

But good project management is all about negotiating the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.

There is the story of the miniMetro production line.

The first body shells coming out of the automated welder were crooked and it turned out that the machine had hit a motorway bridge in Germany. But by good project management using Artemis, British Leyland engineers were able to get the second line working before the first and the car was launched on time.

With Covid, the Mayor shut construction, and it was some months before it restarted again.

I am certain, that with good project management we could have done better.

Covid is also a good excuse for lateness.

On the other hand good project management got the vaccines developed, manufactured and delivered into arms.

Covid also blew a big hole in Transport for London’s finances.

But then so did Sadiq Khan’s Fare Freeze, that brought him to office.

Could Crossrail Have Part-Opened Earlier?

I often ponder this and others ask me if it would be possible.

The Victoria Line was built with crossovers and it was able to open in phases.

Crossrail has crossovers in the following places.

  • Either side of Custom House station
  • To the West of Whitechapel station
  • Between Farringdon and Tottenham Court Road stations

Note.

  1. It doesn’t appear to have been built for part opening.
  2. From media reports, it appears Whitechapel station is the basket case in the East.

The answer is probably that Crossrail can’t be part-opened, but there are reasons, why it could be opened earlier.

  • To generate a small amount of revenue.
  • To give travellers and Londoners in general a lift.

The only practical service would be a few trains turning at Farringdon.

July 10, 2021 Posted by | Finance, Transport | , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Is This The Shape Of Freight To Come?

This article on Rail Advent is entitled Eversholt Rail Unveils First Swift Express Freight Train In Doncaster.

It is a full report on the first of a new breed of freight trains based on redundant 100 mph electric multiple units.

Three Rail Problems

The rail industry, its financiers and customers have a lot of problems, they’d like to solve, but these three seem to be coming together to create a whole new industry.

Rolling Stock Leasing Companies Have A Surplus Of Redundant Rolling Stock

 

Most of the released rolling stock has been made redundant because of the arrival of new trains.

What will be left will be a an assortment, which will contain a lot of trains with these characteristics.

  • Four cars
  • Can run in formations of 4, 8 and 12 cars
  • Electrically-powered.
  • Some trains are even dual voltage.
  • 100 mph operating speed.
  • Good reliability.
  • Easy maintenance and modification if needed.

Many were even built over thirty years ago by British Rail Engineering Ltd.

As someone, who used to part-own a company that leased trucks to operators, I know that to maximise cash-flow and ultimately profits, you don’t want them sitting in a yard or a siding.

Conversion to zero carbon is one option.

  • Porterbrook have said they will convert the Class 350 trains, that they own to battery-electric operation.
  • Porterbrook have also converted some Class 319 trains to electro-diesel Class 769 trains.
  • Porterbrook have also converted a Class 319 train to hydrogen operation.
  • Eversholt Rail Group and Alstom are converting Class 321 trains to hydrogen operation.

I also believe that the redundant Class 379 trains will also be converted to battery-electric operation.

But there will still be a substantial number of quality trains, that need a second life.

The Growth Of Parcel Freight

Parcel freight traffic driven by on-line shopping, has boomed in the pandemic.

This type of traffic often originates from outside of the UK and enters the country at places like London Gateway or East Midlands Airport.

Much of it is currently distributed to large cities by truck, which in this day and age is not a green option, or even an option at all.

Rail Operations Group have leased ten Class 769 trains and 9 Class 319 trains with the intention of running parcel services under the Orion brand. I wrote about this proposal in A Freight Shuttle For Liverpool Street Station Planned.

Road Congestion

Road congestion is getting worse and there is bir much point in having product stuck on the motorway, when it can be running along at a 100 mph on an electrified rail line.

The Need For Just-In-Time Deliveries

Many factories these days work on the Just-In-Time principle, with product delivered just as its needed.

As an example Toyota build their cars at Burnaston near Derby, but the engines are built in North Wales. I suspect that they go across the country by truck.

Looking at maps, the engine plant could be rail connected and I feel one could be arranged at Burnaston.

Do they keep a good stock of engines at Burnaston?

I can see several situations like this needing a regular company train.

Fast Food

Because of Brexit we will need to be growing more of our own food.

Traditionally, the Class 43 power cars of InterCity 125 trains carried flowers and fish up from Cornwall.

So will we see rail provide an alternative.

Conclusion

Put these problems together and you can see a fair number of four-car electric multiple units being converted to short 100 mph electric freight trains.

Eversholt Rail Group‘s Swift Express Freight Train is very much a demonstrator for their ideas and it has some expected and unexpected features.

Based On A Class 321 train

The train is based on a four-car Class 321 train.

I rode one recently and I timed it at over 90 mph on the way to Southend.

Trolley Cages

Pictures in the Rail Advent article show a stripped-bare interior with a steel floor, with another picture showing three supermarket trolley cages arranged across the train.

One estimate in the article says that each coach can handle over fifty of these cages and up to nine-and-a-half tonnes of cargo.

Four Seats And A Toilet

Eversholt feel that some of the trains could be used in a Travelling Post Office mode and there may be a need for sorting en route, so two first-class seats, two second-class seats and a toilet are provided.

This train would enable an Anglo-Scottish parcel service.

  • It might stop several times en route.
  • At each stop parcels would be rolled out and in, perhaps with the help of a Harrington Hump.
  • The on-train staff would sort the incoming parcels and put them in the required trolley for offloading.

I don’t think though, they’ll be delivering postal orders.

A Last Mile Capability

The article also disclosed that Eversholt were thinking of fitting a Last-Mile capability to the Swift Express Freight Train.

Batteries were mentioned and they would obviously work.

But one development recently is Porterbrook’s HydroFlex train, which has converted a Class 319 train to hydrogen power.

  • The conversion was done by Birmingham University.
  • It appears that all the hydrogen gubbins is underneath the floor, so cargo capacity would not be reduced.

I suspect underfloor hydrogen power could be very viable in an express freight train.

Fleet Size

The article talks of a fleet size of twenty and also says that the first train has been leased to an unnamed parcel distributor in the UK.

July 3, 2021 Posted by | Design, Finance, Transport | , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Gravitricity Battery Generates First Power At Edinburgh Site

The title of this post, is the same as that of this article on the BBC.

This is the first paragraph.

A project to create electricity from gravity has generated its first power at a demonstrator site in Edinburgh.

The article gives a good explanation of the uses of the Gravitricity system and shows a video.

I suppose, I should declare an interest, in that I have invested money in Gravitricity through crowdfunding.

But then I like the concept and they are also using some of the best winch technology in the world from specialist company: Huisman.

May 27, 2021 Posted by | Energy, Energy Storage, Finance | | Leave a comment

Rolls-Royce Seeks Private Funds To Power Nuclear Project

The title of this post, is the same as that of this article on The Times.

The article is based on this press release on the Rolls-Royce web site, which is entitled More Power And Updated Design Revealed As Nuclear Power Team Targets First Place In The Assessment Queue In Autumn 2021.

This is the first two paragraphs.

The consortium, led by Rolls-Royce, which is creating a compact nuclear power station known as a small modular reactor (SMR), has revealed its latest design and an increase in power as it completes its first phase on time and under budget.

It has also announced it is aiming to be the first design to be assessed by regulators in the second half of 2021 in the newly-opened assessment window, which will keep it on track to complete its first unit in the early 2030s and build up to 10 by 2035.

It would appear that they are following AstraZeneca’s example and building the relationships with the regulators early, so the process of regulation doesn’t delay entry into service.

An Updated Design

These two paragraphs describe the design changes.

As the power station’s design has adjusted and improved during this latest phase – with more than 200 major engineering decisions made during this latest phase – the team has optimised the configuration, efficiency and performance criteria of the entire power station , which has increased its expected power capacity, without additional cost, from 440 megawatts (MW) to 470MW.

The refreshed design features a faceted aesthetic roof; an earth embankment surrounding the power station to integrate with the surrounding landscape; and a more compact building footprint, thanks to successes optimising the use of floor space.

These changes appear to be positive ones.

Transformation To A Focussed Business

Rolls-Royce are transforming the current consortium to an as yet unnamed stand-alone business, as detailed in this paragraph from the press release.

With a focus on continuing its progress at pace, the UK SMR team is transitioning from being a collaborative consortium to a stand-alone business, which will deliver a UK fleet of power stations to become a low carbon energy bastion alongside renewables, while securing exports to make the power station a key part of the world’s decarbonisation toolkit.

Are Rolls-Royce aiming to repeat the success they’ve had with Merlins in World War II and large turbofan engines for airliners with small modular nuclear reactors that decarbonise the world? The strategy is certainly not going against the heritage of the company.

Use Of A Small Modular Nuclear Reactor

This paragraph from the press release outlines a few uses.

The power station’s compact size makes it suitable for a variety of applications, helping decarbonise entire energy systems. Each power station can supply enough reliable low carbon power for around one million* homes, or be used to power net zero hydrogen and synthetic aviation fuel manufacturing facilities, desalination plants or energy intensive industrial sites.

Their size would appear to increase the number of applications.

Hydrogen Production

I particularly like the idea of using an SMR to produce hydrogen for chemical feedstock or to make steel.

I indicated this in Will INEOS And Rolls-Royce Get Together Over Hydrogen Production?

I estimate that a 470 MW SMR would produce around 4,900 tonnes of hydrogen per day.

The numbers certainly seem convenient.

Cost Of Energy And Capital Costs

Tom Samson, Chief Executive Officer of the UK SMR consortium is quoted as saying.

Nuclear power is central to tackling climate change, securing economic recovery and strengthening energy security. To do this it must be affordable, reliable and investable and the way we manufacture and assemble our power station brings down its cost to be comparable with offshore wind at around £50 per megawatt-hour.

Hinckley Point C has a strike price of over £80 per megawatt-hour.

The release also gives a price of around £2.2 billion per unit dropping to £1.8 billion by the time five have been completed.

Benefits To The UK

The press release lists these benefits to the UK.

  • create 40,000 regional UK jobs by 2050
  • generate £52 billion of economic benefit
  • have 80% of the plant’s components sourced from the UK
  • target an additional £250 billion of exports – memoranda of understanding are already in place with Estonia, Turkey and the Czech Republic

The value of exports would indicate export sales of over a hundred reactors.

Lifetime

The press release indicates the following about the lifetime of the reactors.

  • The reactor will operate for at least 60 years.
  • The design, which will be finalised at the end of the regulatory assessment process, proposes that all used fuel will be stored on each site for the lifetime of the plant.

I would assume that Rolls-Royce are developing a philosophy for taking the SMRs apart at the end of their life.

Construction

This paragraph from the press release talks about the construction process.

The power station’s design cuts costs by using standard nuclear energy technology used in 400 reactors around the world, so no prototyping is required. The components for the power station are manufactured in modules in factories, before being transported to existing nuclear sites for rapid assembly inside a weatherproof canopy. This replicates factory conditions for precision activities and further cuts costs by avoiding weather disruptions. The whole sequence secures efficiency savings by using streamlined and standardised processes for manufacturing and assembly, with 90% of activities carried out in factory conditions, helping maintain extremely high quality. In addition, all spoil excavated will be reused on site to build the earth embankment, removing the need for it to taken off site, reducing road journeys that are both financially and environmentally costly.

I have talked to project managers, who have assembled factory-built railway stations and their experiences would back the Rolls-Royce method of construction.

My project management knowledge would also indicate, that the construction of an SMR could be much more predictable than most construction projects, if the factory-built modules are built to the specification.

Funding

According to the article in The Times, the consortium now seems to be in line for £215 million of Government funding, which will unlock £300 million of private funding.

Conclusion

It looks like this project will soon be starting to roll.

 

May 18, 2021 Posted by | Energy, Finance | , , , , | 1 Comment

Gravitricity Celebrates Success Of 250kW Energy Storage Demonstrator

The title of this post, is the same as that of this article on the Solar Power Portal.

I have already posted about this success in Gravitricity Battery Generates First Power At Edinburgh Site.

But the news story has now been mentioned in several respected publications and web sites.

So this idea, based on traditional Scottish products of heavy weights and girders seems to be getting valuable publicity.

The demonstrator is only small and uses two 25 tonne weights and a fifteen metre tower.

This is only a storage capacity of only 2.04 kWh, but the company is talking of weights totalling up to a massive 12,000 tonnes.

With a fifteen metre tower, that would be 490 kWh.

Note.

  1. The shafts at Kellingley Colliery in Yorkshire are 800 metres deep.
  2. The TauTona mine in South Africa is 3.9 kilometres deep
  3. In this article in The Engineer, Gravitricity talk about weights of up to 12,000 tonnes.

These are typical storage capacities.

  • Kellingley – 50 tonnes – 109 kWh
  • Kellingley – 12,000 tonnes – 26.15 MWh
  • TauTona – 50 tonnes – 531 kWh
  • TuaqTona = 12,000 – 127.5 MWh

Accountants before they invest in a company look at the financial figures. As an engineer, I look at the numbers in the science behind their claims.

If the engineering can be made to work, these figures are to say the least; very promising.

They are also beautifully scalable.

If say your application needed a 2 MWh battery and you had a 400 metre shaft available, you can calculate the weight needed. It’s around 1836 tonnes.

The Solar Power Portal article finishes with these two paragraphs.

The company will now look to rollout the technology in a series of full-scale 4-8MW projects, with conversations already underway with mine owners in the UK, Scandinavia, Poland and the Czech Republic, it said. Additionally, in South Africa Gravitricity is working closely with mine operator United Mining Services as part of a programme funded by an Innovate UK Energy Catalyst programme to identify potential schemes.

“A key feature of our full-scale projects will be their long life” added Blair. “Once built, our system can last for over 25 years, with no loss in output or degradation over time. This makes gravity storage cost-effective. And unlike batteries, we have no reliance on rare metals such as cobalt and nickel which are becoming increasingly scarce in the global drive to electrification.”

Note.

  1. I assume that they are 4-8 MWh projects.
  2. Charlie Blair is the Managing Director of Gravitricity.
  3. A weight of 1836 tonnes would give 4 MWh in the 800 metre shaft at Kellingley.

I wouldn’t be surprised that those owning a deep empty hole in the ground will be starting conversations with Gravitricity!

Conclusion

I am not worried, that I bought a few shares in Gravitricity in the crowd-funding last year!

All this good publicity from the BBC, Good News Network, Science, The Engineer, The Times and other media sites won’t harm my investment.

 

April 24, 2021 Posted by | Energy, Energy Storage, Finance | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Gravitricity Battery Generates First Power At Edinburgh Site

The title of this post, is the same as that of this article on the BBC.

This is the first paragraph.

A project to create electricity from gravity has generated its first power at a demonstrator site in Edinburgh.

This is only a demo to prove the technology, but all great oaks start as acorns.

I have great hopes for Gravitricity and I should declare an interest, as I bought a few shares in a crowdfunding.

April 21, 2021 Posted by | Energy, Energy Storage, Finance | , | 1 Comment

Oxford Vaccine Team Use Same Tech To Revolutionise Cancer Treatment

The title of this post, is the same as that as an article on The Times.

I’m no medic, but I know enough about cancer, vaccines and the human immune system, to know that the team that developed the Oxford vaccine, could be on to something here. Especially, as they have got backing from Google’s venture capital arm.

March 6, 2021 Posted by | Finance, Health | , , , , | 1 Comment

Never Remove A Feature In A Computer Program

One of my golden rules in updating computing programs, is never to remove a feature however obscure it is. The reason is obvious, in that if the feature exists someone will find an extremely useful way to use it.

Here are two changes in other software systems that are annoying me at present.

The Windows 10 Photo Viewer

I use an SD card to capture images in my camera..

On my old laptop with Windows 7, if I was looking at a folder of images, I could scroll past the last image to the first and vice-versa, which was a very useful feature, when looking for an obscure image.

Windows 10 doesn’t have this feature and it is very annoying.

Zopa’s New System

I invest some of my savings in Zopa and use it as a high-interest one month-access deposit account in a concept that I call hybrid banking, which I wrote about in The Concept Of Hybrid Banking.

The old system used to give two figures about your money, that was yet to be invested.

  • The money sitting there waiting in the queue for new borrowers.
  • The allocated money waiting for the borrower to be checked and sign up.

The first figure was invaluable, as by watching it, it enabled me to see how constipated the system was. There’s not much point, of putting more money in Zopa, if it will just sit there. It could be more productive in crowdfunding an outstanding idea.

But in the new system, they have added these two figures together.

It’s not catastrophic, but it’s a nuisance.

Conclusion

Never disobey, the title of this post!

February 16, 2021 Posted by | Computing, Finance | , | 9 Comments

Memories Of Old Money

I don’t specifically remember Decimalisation-Day on the 15th February, 1971, which is fifty years ago today.

But I do have a few memories of the old currency.

  1. Before 1970, I served in pubs and will always remember that three bottles of Guinness at 1/8 each cost five shillings.
  2. I once complained to British Rail about a late train from Glasgow to Manchester and received a nine shilling postal order in return.
  3. I also remember the Kings Head theatre pub did everything in old money for some years, until the till broke.

You just got on with the change.

February 15, 2021 Posted by | Finance | | Leave a comment

Inappropriate Language

My bank sends a six character code of three letters and three numbers to my phone, so that I can login.

Today, the three letters were KKK.

How inappropriate is that?

I have complained!

February 5, 2021 Posted by | Computing, Design, Finance | , | 3 Comments