Archive of Postings for April 2014

29-Apr-2014

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MollyCD1Eurovision 2014 - The UK entry - Molly singing Children Of The Universe - has stayed around 5th in the betting for the past few weeks. No doubt the UK betting is weighted in her favour but some expert commentators are predicting a much better British result this time around. However a number of Molly’s promo CDs have already been seen for sale on eBay - unopened. And the Eurovision favourite, Armenia, is still well ahead.

With events in Copenhagen, Denmark starting in just six days time get ready for many hours of BBC coverage next week.

High Speed Trains - The House of Commons have voted 452 to 41 in favour of progressing the massive HS2 project on to its next stage. And future votes are also likely to crush any opposition arguments by sheer weight of numbers; given that all the party leaders are in support. This level of support makes the outlook very good for the big engineering companies - who will be hoping to move their Crossrail teams over to the HS2 projects without a break. So buy your civil engineering shares now - but sell up before things get messy. Corporate sponsors will be laying on the champagne and caviar in Westminster in the short term but in five or so years time the politicians will be keen to deny any responsibility for re-thinks, overruns or failures.

MelScot3Scotland’s Vote - In a surprising development both politicians and the general public seem to be taking a much more serious interest in the issues that a Yes referendum vote would raise. Perhaps because some polls have shown a significant shift towards victory for the Yes campaign both sides are upping their game to try to influence the electorate.

The No outcome is still the most likely - at 1/3 in today’s betting - but plenty could be convinced to cast their vote for Independence; if only because they may never get another chance. And because the eligibility of voters depends simply upon their place of registration - rather than place of birth or adopted nationality - there could be some unexpected results come September.

Repeat Of History? - As the situation in Ukraine increasingly takes on the guise of a train wreck happening in slow motion we are lucky that none of the Western leaders have been prodded into escalating their military involvement. But the spectre of a NATO-Russia conflict has been already been raised by a Kiev government out-played and out-gunned by thinly disguised Russian forces in Crimea. Perhaps the EU should now stop trying to expand its membership eastwards. Political alignments are a big issue for a re-born Russia. It’s not as simple as extending the number of nations in Eurovision.

tags: song, contest, BBC, UK, Eurovision, railway, hst, high speed, transport, government, Scotland, war

 

26-Apr-2014

Trainspotting

Many Grandads will look back to the days of steam railways with a touch of nostalgia. Trips to the seaside, a day out in big city or a visit to an exhibition with, perhaps, the added incentive of seeing some new engines to be marked up in their Ian Allen guides.

man6But then much of the railway network was axed by politicians switching their spending of our money to roads. Railways were out, motorways were in. Large areas of the country were left without rail links as buses took over the routes. It was left to grass roots volunteers to rescue and restore a few fragments of what was so quickly abandoned.

But today those roads have filling up with traffic and the politicians want to spend more of our money subsidising the building of new railways.

One of the biggest of these projects being Crossrail. Work on this started in 2009 and is not due to be completed until 2018. Then it will run for 118 km linking Berkshire with Essex via central London - and involve 42 km of tunnels. Unlike existing London Underground lines it will be powered 25,000 volt overhead lines - the same as the electrified mainlines it links with. And the new Crossrail trains are expected to have a maximum speed of 160 kph. A bit faster that most commuter services. This massive project is expected to cost around 15,000 million - but that figure may not include cost of the trains or their power generators.

Meanwhile the final, final decision on HS2 has yet to be made - even though the supporters (and those already employed) are pushing on. Seemingly unconcerned about the railway’s long-term viability. A key incentive for both groups is short-term financial gain. The employees have well-paid jobs on a high-profile project and, even in the increasingly unlikely event that final approval does not come, they will still get a payout and a boost for their CVs.

Reading the supporters websites it seems that the biggest are either civil engineers lined up for decades of profitable contracts or local authorities hoping to get expensive amenities paid for out of someone else’s budget. No supporter group seems to be putting up any money themselves or carrying any risk. It’s a no brainer for everyone that gains.

But will our children and grandchildren thank us if it all goes wrong? And it might since few if any supporters seem prepared to put their reputation and personal wealth on the line as backup to some of the fanciful benefits being promised?

For example, HS2 supporters (Centro, Birmingham City Council, etc) claim that the two new Birmingham stations will add 50,000 jobs and 4,000 million per year to the West Midlands' economy. Great headlines but not supported by any detailed analysis and lacking any process for tracking what actually happens. But these huge benefits cannot be for free. Take the jobs promise. In order to provide 50,000 jobs employers would incur salary bills of 1,350 million per year. They would need to generate 3 times that in gross sales - or around 4,000 million per year - to make the business profitable. And where would these extra sales come from? Not from those 50,000 extra workers - because they only earn around one third of that. Will anyone loose their job, pension or assets if these promises are just pie in the sky?

HS_Steam1Of course not. HS2 is a project being sold as a grand vision - something above the mundane trivia of measurable results. Imagine the crowds cheering the first sleek, super-fast train as it accelerates away on its 45 minute flight to Birmingham. Like a modern day version of the Coronation Scot or the Flying Scotsman steaming out of London on its record breaking run. The style and glamour of the 1930s are reborn.

But it was just 26 years between the inaugural run of the Coronation Scot in 1937 and the Beeching Report in 1963. A report that was the basis for the closure of over half of the nation’s railway stations.

Today we have around 20 years before the first high speed train reaches Leeds. By then will the new politicians in government be looking to get rid of the financial millstone that the railways have become? And if so will some volunteers come forward to run heritage high-speed trains on the redundant mainlines. And so history would repeat itself ... with only the names changed.

tags: railway, hst, high speed, transport, big spender

 

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