About me
Archive
About me

The next calling point for this service will be…

I usually try to avoid ‘grumpy’ columns in magazines. As a general rule, they are not very interesting and are not nearly as funny as the author intends. Turning a ‘moan’ into interesting writing is a tricky skill to pull off.

All of that aside: In 1843 magazine, Adrian Wooldridge recently wrote about irritating announcements on public transport:

Some companies seem to revel in redundancy. In the railway world Amtrak is the champion of verbosity. Recorded announce­ments on its trains proclaim the arrival of each station with a peroration ending in a request to “please take this time to look about you and collect your bags”, as though the majority of passengers were otherwise likely to canter off the train in a spiritual ecstasy, leaving their material possessions in their wake.

This complaint touched a nerve. When I was commuting to London on a weekly basis a few years ago, there was one particular train guard whose name became lodged in my memory, so annoying were his announcements. His tone tended to convey a weary sense of superiority: it was with some mild irritation that he reminded passengers to check that their tickets were valid for this particular service, as though only a moron could be confused. He spoke extremely slowly, as though he had been told in training not to speak too fast and had overcorrected. And, most irritatingly of all, he seeemed intent on lengthening every announcement to the greatest possible extent by including superfluous words.

Peterborough would never be the ‘next stop’; it would inevitably be ‘the next station stop at which our service will be calling this morning’. Passengers should not merely content themselves with ‘reading the displayed safety instructions’; rather they should ‘be sure to fully familiarise themselves with the safety information cards displayed on the walls of the vestibules at the end of every carriage on board this service’. Customers should not simply ‘have tickets ready for inspection’; they should ‘be aware that a full ticket check will now take place in all coaches, starting from Coach B at the front of the train, and ensure that they have all tickets, travel documents and railcards to hand both at their seat and when moving around the train.’

The verbosity was almost too much to bear. So while I disagree with Adrian’s preference for not knowing the names of service workers and wearing headphones through safety demonstrations on aircraft, I find it hard not to have a little sympathy with his complaints about excessively loquacious train guards.


As an aside, on a recent train journey, the guard issued the typical reminder that passengers should “take all of their personal belongings with them”. Somebody loudly responded that this wasn’t practical, as most of their personal belongings were at home rather than on a train. I’ll laughed quite loudly, despite myself.


The image at the top is of a Virgin train at Brighton station. The full version was posted on Flickr by Matt Davis, and I’ve reproduced a cropped version here under its Creative Commons Licence.

This 2,436th post was filed under: Posts delayed by 12 months, Travel, , , , , .

Weekend read: New York’s hidden subway station

This week, I’ve chosen something that could perhaps more properly be called a weekend gawp than a weekend read. Before reading Sophie’s Travellettes post, I was already aware of City Hall station on New York’s subway, having read about it somewhere else at some dim and distant point in the past. But I’d never seen pictures, and, by golly, does Sophie have some pictures to share! Her post is well worth a look.

This 2,003rd post was filed under: Weekend Reads, , .

Photo-a-day 317: Emirates 777

20121113-112808.jpg

Thanks to an on-call that was rather busier than I prefer, I forgot to post a photo last night. So, to make up for that, here’s one from this morning.

According to some plane geeks sat near me, this is the Emirates Boeing 777-300ER, the biggest aircraft to regularly service Newcastle airport. There was quite some fanfare when the 428-seater started running earlier in the year.

In interviews, Emirates pilots describe Newcastle’s as one of the more “challenging” runways on the 777 route, thanks to its short length. To me, 2.3km sounds quite a long runway, but then I’m not trying to comfortably halt a quarter of a million kilos which hits the ground at 150mph, so perhaps I’m not fully appreciating the situation!

This 1,886th post was filed under: Photo-a-day 2012, , .

Photo-a-day 314: It’s a miracle!

20121109-213227.jpg

On the day of the announcement of the new Archbishop of Canterbury, evidence of a miracle unseen at Newcastle Airport! Praise the Lord!

This is the second photo today, making up the numbers as I forgot on some previous occasion….!

This 1,883rd post was filed under: Photo-a-day 2012, , , .

Photo-a-day 313: Whistlestop

20121109-210213.jpg

This is Whistlestop. Or to give it its full name, Whistlestop Foodwine. So fast are they moving that they can’t even pause for an “and”.

Whistlestop is the shop right next to the domestic arrivals area at Newcastle airport. It markets itself as ideal for picking up some bread, milk, or other sundries on return from one’s travels. The bizarre thing about this proposition is that in all the time I’ve been a regular user of this airport, I think I’ve only seen it open once. It seems to have absurdly restricted opening hours.

Now forgive me, but I would’ve thought that a shop like this would cash in on, for example, travellers who return on a Sunday night and need supplies for the following morning. Other shops are frequently closed, so this small store could cash in. Except it’s not open.

Which begs the question… what is its market?! It’s been here for years, so it must be doing something right!

This 1,882nd post was filed under: Photo-a-day 2012, , , .

Some interesting rail statistics (really!)

Rail fares are going up again. Every time this happens, talking heads on the news suggest that a re-nationalised railway would be cheaper. Is this true?

That is, of course, an impossible question to answer. It is undeniable that private companies now take profits that would otherwise have been returned to the Treasury under a nationalised system. But there is some data to crunch – There’s some data I’ve located with the help of @jrothwell (he blogs here) and @welsh_lisa2 in the House of Commons library.

This sets out rail fare increases in real terms since the late 80s, using the contribution of rail fares to RPI. I don’t think it’s too erroneous to assume that this is an okay proxy for an inflation-corrected comparison of the average change in rail fares. Because it’s based on a comparison of contribution to RPI with a 1987 baseline, the data isn’t in intelligible units – it’s all comparative.

This data shows a 42% increase in the real cost of rail fares from 1987 to 2011: this seems like a bad thing. This graph shows how rail fares increased over time. It shows the percentage increase on the 1987 fare for each year (including the 42% increase over 1987 fares in 2011).

That looks fairly damning! But is it down to privatisation? Privatisation got underway in 1994. The average year-on-year increase in fares between 1987 and 1994 was 2.34%. If we assume that this level of increase would have continued had privatisation not happened, we can plot the new course of history (red) versus the old one (blue):

As the new red line shows, had fare increases continued at the pre-nationalisation level, they would’ve ended up higher: they would be 73% higher than the 1987 equivalent.

However, some people claim that between 1992, when the Conservatives were re-elected with a mandate to privatise the railways, and 1994, when this actually happened, fares were artificially inflated to make the franchises seem more desirable. So, perhaps it’s unfair to include 1993 and 1994 in our calculation of the pre-nationalisation average increase. If we exclude them, the average year-on-year increase drops to 1.73%. The graph then looks like this:

That is, fares still end up higher in real terms than they actually did: in this scenario, the 2011 fare is 53% higher than the 1987 equivalent.

It would be great to have some pre-1987 data to see if that suspicious looking flick up in 1991 is really unusual, or just part of the pattern of the background picture: certainly if the 1987-1990 trend had continued, fares would hardly have increased. Combined with the above data, this answer in Hansard from Norman Baker suggests that the change from 1980 to 1986 was of the order of 6%. If we assume a 1% year-on-year increase, as that figure suggests, then the predicated and actual fare increase from 1987 to 2011 are pretty much equal.

Bearing in mind all of the above, I’m not sure it’s fair to say that privatisation has driven up passenger fares, even if some of the revenue is now siphoned off to private profit rather than being invested in public services.

Add this decrease in the rate of increase of fares to the indisputable data showing that passenger numbers have risen, passengers satisfaction ratings with both trains and stations have risen, and delays have decreased considerably, and suddenly privatisation seems like it might not have been the disaster we’re often lead to believe it was.

Of course, this is an extremely simplified view of things. I’m ignoring the complexities of the timing of various changes, I’m ignoring the government subsidies that have happened even under the privatised system, I’m ignoring the added jeopardy of train operating companies handing back franchises and leaving the government to pick up the pieces, and I’m ignoring the potentially dubious morality of selling off national infrastructure.

I’m not left with an overwhelming sense that privatisation is the best thing since sliced bread – or even that it was the right move – but I think that perhaps the waters are a little muddier than some would have us believe. And I’m going to stop being geeky now, and resume normal service…!

This 1,732nd post was filed under: News and Comment, Politics, , .

Photo-a-day 193: Royal Victoria Dock Bridge and Emirates Airline

20120711-230603.jpg

A few days ago, I mentioned the Royal Victoria Docks Bridge – and since I’m in London today, I thought I’d share a picture of it. As I said, it was built with the capability of running as a transporter bridge like the one in Middlesbrough, but this facility hasn’t been used.

Just a little way from that bridge is the new Emirates Airline. The consensus amongst Londoners that I know is that this is far more a tourist attraction than a serious transport proposal. As a tourist of sorts, I didn’t want to buck the trend, so I hopped on here, at the station on the North bank:

20120711-230613.jpg

And here’s a pretty picture of the venue formerly known as The O2, but which the IOC now insists on us all referring to as the North Greenwich Arena:

20120711-230622.jpg

But the most pressing question I had after my brief “flight” was: what’s in the box?

20120711-230631.jpg

I assume it’s some sort of emergency equipment, but it’s a pretty small box. Do any of my well-informed readers know what’s in it? I’m intrigued…

This 1,719th post was filed under: Photo-a-day 2012, , , , .

The content of this site is copyright protected by a Creative Commons License, with some rights reserved. All trademarks, images and logos remain the property of their respective owners. The accuracy of information on this site is in no way guaranteed. Opinions expressed are solely those of the author. No responsibility can be accepted for any loss or damage caused by reliance on the information provided by this site. This site uses cookies - click here for more information.