Data Protection

There’s been a bit of fuss about data protection lately and I’ve had several emails on the subject, as a result of which my email inbox will be much quieter from now on (being restricted to friends, family and the one company which just updated its privacy policy instead of sending me patronising emails that begged to be deleted).

This unfortunately means that no longer will I come home to phone calls from people who want to recover my PPI payments for me and get puzzled when my first question is “Where did you get this number?” to which the not wholly satisfactory answer was “You must have not ticked a box at some point. Now why don’t you want to tell me you had PPI?”

(I eventually worked out who was distributing my telephone number to the extent that I would have got fewer unexpected calls had I posted it on here, which was that some relatively-reputable-looking survey body that UCAS signed me up for, possibly without asking, got me to do a survey from some seemingly reputable body willing to pay something for it which included a mobile number for follow-up surveys, which I foolishly provided, which follow-up surveys turned out to be working out which probably not reputable organisations – including Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospice, British Gas and the aforementioned PPI people – I would like my details selling to so the said organisations could cold-call me. The follow-up surveys seemed to consider they were doing me a favour and were unwilling to accept either my requests to be removed from their database or my pleas that I was busy, particularly as I say this a lot (well, I usually am). Having worked out what they were up to, and during a particularly insistent call taking the view that I could not possibly be busy at three o’clock on a Thursday afternoon, I may have used only very slightly better couched terms to tell the surveying caller to sod off and this they have obligingly done.)

As an amusing feature, I thought I’d take a look at one of the organisations which has been asking me for permission to keep emailing me and examine exactly how this relationship has gone.

Organisation: The Labour Party.

Modus Operandi: In 2015 I went onto the Labour Party website to discover what their policies were for the forthcoming General Election (beyond putting up blocks of concrete in Hastings car parks – not, alas, across the entrance). On the website was a questionnaire about my views on Labour’s policies. Thinking this might prove interesting, I clicked on the link and was prompted to input my email address in order to complete the questionnaire. (The questionnaire is discussed at the bottom of this blogpost, in case you missed it at the time; unfortunately the questionnaire itself has outlived its usefulness, the General Election being over, and is no more.)

Comments made at time of collecting data: Nothing terribly memorable.

Upshot: 90 emails (so far, over three years) inviting me to get excited about the activities of the Labour Party (including six on the 7th May 2015, which may have been in part because I live in a marginal seat, and seventeen over the course of the EU referendum campaign, which perhaps I should have paid more attention to). Included offers to buy postcards, calendars and a vote in the leadership elections. Also some slightly more random though highly worthy stuff, like a recent one for joining the campaign to ban bee-slaughtering neonicotinoid insect sprays.

Approach to new data protection laws: Recipients need to opt-in again. (As I can’t recall actually opting-in to communications in the first place, beyond a default assumption that putting an email address into an organisation’s box that asks for one counts as an opt-in to spam, this may actually have been a sensible attitude to take.)

Incentives: It’s Jeremy Corbyn’s birthday this weekend (it is indeed – tomorrow – he’ll be 69) and he’ll be terribly upset if his email database has shrunk.

Response: Actually, this one might have been tempting as the Party’s rather naive assumption that their database consists of supporters, instead of random people who went to look at their website at the wrong moment, is rather touching and the resultant emails quite amusing. Alas, I also have a latent desire to annoy Jeremy Corbyn, for various reasons which I will withhold on data protection grounds.

Thinking of the PPI cold caller, one of the organisations the Press have picked up on that is particularly affected by these rule changes works by harvesting your data from your email inbox and selling it to random people that they meet in the street. They are terribly upset not to be able to offer this service to citizens of the European Union any more. It takes a lot to get me to make cynical comments about capitalists, but in this case I can’t help feeling the sorrow should be directed to the shareholders rather than the erstwhile customers. (Ironically that organisation’s work is now fairly obsolete in the EU, as it was dedicated to removing people from mailing lists – something that the mailing list owners have mostly now done for themselves.)

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Dozing in the Sun

Supplies of sunshine were mixed last summer; the warmest days of August featured rather a lot of cloud; since then there has been rather a lot of snow. Nonetheless, in a spirit of vicariously providing the pleasant sensation of carefully absorbing Vitamin D in warm still air (and in the absence of any Seasonal Area updates for rather a while), here are some sunny pictures taken over the last year.

Cows on Malverns 1 JPG.jpgA herd of cows demonstrate how to do it on the Malverns in an early bout of sunshine late in March 2017. They were in a particularly placid mood, and paid little attention to efforts to take their picture.

North Hill 1 JPG.jpg The North Hill of the Malverns, seen from the path that drops sharply down a valley into Great Malvern town centre. The North Hill is relatively quiet compared to the Worcestershire Beacon (behind camera) and makes a pleasant little extra loop at one end of a Malverns walk.

Great Malvern 1 JPG.jpg Mooching around Great Malvern station allows an opportunity to notice how the stark spring sunshine brings out the relief on the old canopy supports of this all-round attractive station – although the underside of the awning could do with a scrub-down and repaint. The metal leaves – looking rather like lupins – are almost more delicate that the original plants.

Wallingford 1 JPG The Thames at Wallingford, imploring the passer-by to lean on the bridge awhile and watch the river drift by.

Cholsey Churchyard 1 JPG.jpgThe view from Cholsey Churchyard, where Agatha Christie is buried, southwards towards the Great Western mainline. A hurrying train – beneath electrification masts marking that it is soon to be history – leaves behind a special peace and tranquillity on the flat fields around the Thames.

Sheffield Park 1 JPG.jpg Sheffield Park station in Sussex, seen from the Greenwich Meridian. In the early evening of a late spring day, smoke wafts from the chimney of South Eastern & Chatham Railway No. 263 as she is watered before working the last train of the day north to East Grinstead.

East Grinstead 1 JPG.jpg East Grinstead, seen from 263’s train as it crosses the Imberhorne viaduct on the final approach to the town. The church tower is prominent amongst the leafy suburbia.

River Avon Limpley 1 JPG.jpg This scene failed to get into the “Trails from the Rails” walk of Bath to Avoncliff, which was already overloaded with photographs. It shows the Avon slowly moving through the trees past the village of Limpley Stoke.

Cwm-lago 1 JPG.jpgSunset over the hills by Cwm-lago, up above the Teme Valley (and the English/ Welsh border) on the block of hills that provide the source of the River Lugg. Sheep scuttle around the photographer at a judicious distance as the sun breaks through the clouds for the first time in several days.

Above Purlogue 1 JPG.jpg A couple of miles north of Knighton and looking across a nameless pass, maybe five hundred yards east of Offa’s Dyke, at cottages and farmhouses hidden by a mix of trees. The meadows are lightly grazed by the local sheep populations. The valley off to the right falls to the scattered communities of Purlogue and New Invention.

Knucklas 1 JPG.jpgA different sort of dozing as the sun rises through the clouds across Knucklas viaduct at 05:30, seen from the station while awaiting the first train.

Ludlow Castle 2 JPG.jpg Ludlow Castle, set against a clear blue sky in the middle of May on one of the hottest days of the year.

Ropley 2 JPG.jpgThe old Southern Railway advertised “I’m taking an early holiday ‘cos I know summer comes soonest in the South” and painted their trains to match. In summer green with sunshine lettering, and summer heat burning off the exhaust, No. 925 Cheltenham rolls into Ropley station on the Mid-Hants Railway.

North Leigh Roman Villa 1 JPG.jpg The Roman Villa at North Leigh, Oxfordshire (near Hanborough; nearest station is Combe) on a quiet July evening.

Pen Moel 1 JPG.jpg Pen Moel, a striking house set into the hillside above Chepstow by the Offa’s Dyke path and at the south end of the Wintour’s Leap cliffs, seen on a sunny evening that highlights its shapes and chimneys. It has been on the market for almost a year now, although regrettably beyond the price range of most of us.

Oldbury 1 JPG.jpg Oldbury nuclear power station, seen across the Severn from the Offa’s Dyke path as it reaches the ridge of Dennel Hill. The dams of a tidal reservoir provided to give the power station an adequate water supply can be made out as dark lines on the pale blue of the river.

Arley 1 JPG.jpg The River Severn at Arley – village to the right, old ferry crossing in the centre. Seen from the modern footbridge linking village to station.

Arley 2 JPG.jpg No. 33108 chugs quietly to herself at Arley station with a scruffy rake of ballast hoppers in tow while the crew take a break in the August sunshine. The station featured in the TV comedy Oh Doctor Beeching, although with the addition of a terrace of houses and some substantial variations to the real-life layout of the building interior.

Hampton Loade 1 JPG.jpgHampton Loade station, as a train draws away towards Bridgnorth to the steady bark of its engine, briefly disturbing the peace.

Crofton 1 JPG.jpgMore modern traction as a High Speed Train coasts past the Crofton Pumping Station on the Kennet & Avon Canal, reflected nicely in the water under the deep blue sky.

Crofton 2 JPG.jpg The pumping station, saved with the help of the late Tom Rolt, was in steam for a change. The gently drifting smoke plume from the chimney, standing tall in an otherwise rural area, gave a strangely relaxed and “all right with the world” air.

Savernake Forest 1 JPG.jpg The sun permeates into the depths of Savernake Forest on the “Twelve o’clock Drive”, which runs due north through the wood from bottom left to top right. Savernake is quite a small Forest by forest standards – it is not a patch on the Dean – but nonetheless isn’t a bad place to potter around.

Ness Point 1 JPG.jpg Ness Point is the easternmost point of the British mainland, and therefore is kept carefully tucked away in the corner of a Lowestoft industrial estate where nobody will ever go to look at it. A friend brought on this outing was distinctly unwilling to believe that northwards from Lowestoft station was indeed the correct direction of travel. The positive side is that it makes a very peaceful tourist attraction. The compass points to various locations of note, including several cities and the other three British “cardinal points” (Dunnet Head, the Lizard Point and Corrachadh Mor). Clouds begin to form and the air cools as August ends.

Durlston Head Castle 1 JPG.jpg The mock castle at Durlston Head, south of Swanage, complete with mock sunflowers, makes a striking sight in the early September, early afternoon sun. The building has a certain squat handsomeness to it.

Swanage Station 1 JPG.jpg This steam locomotive also has a certain squat handsomeness as it dozes in the sun at Swanage station prior to working a train to Norden. The red bufferbeam nicely offsets the British Rail black livery.

Nailsworth 1 JPG.jpg Nailsworth is a charming small town – perhaps more a large post-industrial village – set near the head of a deep Cotswold valley south of Stroud. Its lovely railway is alas no more, having been converted into a cyclepath that is too stony to cycle on. A cluster of houses on the eastern side of the community are seen here pressed back into the hillside, facing into the Sun as it shines through a clear blue sky, beneath the trees towering above. October is almost past; the leaves are just starting to turn.

Widcombe 1 JPG.jpg This is the view up the side of Widcombe, just outside Bath. Late November brings trees that have very definitely turned, but still beneath a clear blue sky that makes a certain pleasant contrast with the orange.

Caerphilly Castle 1 JPG.jpg By mid-December the sky is still occasionally clear, but the weather is very definitely cold. The grey leaning tower of Caerphilly Castle, which fortress was otherwise restored at some expense by a Marquess of Bute, stands amongst the snow-capped peaks around the Rhymney Valley.

New Trains on the Western Region

The “new” Great Western Railway (as opposed to the “classic” Great Western Railway which was abolished on ideological grounds at the end of 1947) has recently been introducing some new trains.

I have been in various minds over whether to make any blog-based comments on these new trains, but having spent the afternoon enjoying one of the particular delights of January weekend rail travel (empty trains) I thought I’d feature a few pictures and some comments.

The Intercity Express Train

Didcot 2This was ordered by the Government as part of the Intercity Express Programme for the Great Western and East Coast mainlines, which will replace the IC125 High Speed Trains on both routes plus the bulk of the IC225 Class 91+Mk4 sets on the East Coast. The Government is very proud of it, and the train operator is contractually obliged to be very proud of it as well.

From the immediate passenger perspective it is actually a pretty good bit of technical kit. With the pantograph up and electricity drawing they accelerate like rockets, even when over 100mph. Longer trains mean more seats than can be squeezed into a HST without having to squeeze them, so the Western intercity traveller once again gets legroom and tables. There are more plug-in points and the train is equipped with modern passenger information screens.  Some extra seating space has been found by ceasing to heave around a full purpose-built kitchen/ buffet car with counter, so while there is still a kitchen (in the nose beyond first class) general catering is provided from a trolley. The trolley doesn’t show off the range as well as a buffet car, but no longer does the solo traveller have to choose between “no coffee” or “sorry, MI5 came round and took your luggage away because it was unattended”.

There are various underlying features relating to railway politics, general politics and operations management on which its precise benefits may be more debatable – the contract for buying the trains has a bit of an industry reputation for being pricey, which the Government fed by not releasing enough data to shut the journalist up; the Government isn’t really supposed to be imposing rolling stock solutions on an ostensibly privatised industry, particularly as the operators had an idea of their own at the time (but that’s Transport Secretary Alistair Darling for you); and the electro-diesel facility, while previously used by the Southern Region, has now reached the eyes of the Secretary of State for Transport and been used as an excuse for canning a load of worthwhile electrification projects which another Transport Secretary abruptly pulled out of his hat six months before a General Election (which he lost) and imposed on an industry not really equipped or trained to do 500-odd route miles of electrification in five years.

But the electrification debacle is not the fault of the trains, and while it would be nice for the Government not to be able to can electrification because they’re stuck with a fleet of electric trains it is also rather handy that a) canning electrification doesn’t mean having to can the new trains and rush the HSTs off for a second mid-life overhaul and b) when electrification progresses at a more realistic pace it can be taken advantage of as various bits go live. It does mean that these lightweight electric units have to lug diesel engines and fuel tanks about, and one hopes that before the end of their lives some of them will have the engines removed and their full capabilities revealed. (Not that their full capabilities are that bad to begin with. Passengers paying attention who haven’t spent time with electric trains before should lose very little time in becoming “Sparks” converts.)

The arrival of the IET has the small embarrassing feature that the Government insisted it be a multiple unit because loco-hauled trains are inherently unreliable only for the first IETs to come into traffic two months before Anglia’s loco-hauled trains were announced to have topped the intercity train reliability tables. But this is embarrassing for everyone (except, obviously, the fitters at Norwich Crown Point who have finally managed to turn the Class 90 into a decent traction package a mere three years before it gets scrapped), so is not something to hold against the IET personally. (One suspects the people who wrote that statement were thinking of Cross Country’s then-recently-retired Class 47s, which by 2002 were inherently unreliable.)

Presently the trains are coming into traffic as pairs of 5-car sets each replacing one HST (except on Worcester, Malvern & Hereford services, where they run as 5-cars). This results in a small gap in the through corridor, and is a bit of a pain all round. It also creates a 260-metre long train, which makes platforms look a bit short. A second tranche of 9-car sets will look more logical and allow the 5-cars to go off doing more 5-car-ish stuff.

Reading 23 JPG

And I forgot – my personal gripe – not enough cycle spaces.

Overlooking that:

Reading 24 JPG.jpgFirst class, through a window. Now marked by a white strip at cantrail (roofline) level rather than yellow. ScotRail, “Thameslink Southern Great Northern” and Anglia still use the once-standard yellow stripes, but otherwise yellow stripes are obsolete. The blanked windows beyond cover the kitchen. Underfloor equipment is neatly panelled away – in this case generic equipment, but other vehicles have engines tidily tucked in. The engines are there, sometimes noticeably, but are not as loud as Turbos or Voyagers.

IET interior 1.jpg Standard class interior. Seats are currently a bit grey – the design spec was for a blank train with grey interiors and white paint which the operator could discretely brand for the length of their franchise. The idea is to save rebranding costs at franchise changes or, indeed, when the franchise holder realises their brand is doomed. The result is a bit dull. Some bright green branding and the rather continental-railway beechwood saloon ends lighten things up. The saloon end doors are worked by overhead sensors so open automatically. This is what passengers expect (unlike the foot-worked sensors on the HST, which were always hilarious when someone was standing just off them waving their hand at a non-existent overhead sensor) and is hands-free (unlike the push-button doors on Voyagers, which are rather less hilarious when they firmly close themselves after 30 seconds on queues of passengers and their luggage). It does have the effect of eliminating the value of the useful skill of stepping over the HST foot sensor when crossing from one side of the vestibule to the other.

IET interior 2.jpgA picture to show that the luggage racks have some depth to them. The squared-off roof at the end of the saloon is for the pantograph well. There is a bit of variety to floor height in the IET vehicles – coaches with engines have higher floors. This means that more care is needed in some vehicles than others to avoid banging one’s head on the glazed racks. Need to bring the Giant Rucksack along one afternoon and try it for size…

IET interior 3.jpg The end-of-saloon luggage rack. Some vehicles have seats here instead; my personal preference, as a window-lover with a Giant Rucksack, would be for more luggage space. Not that I like using end-of-saloon luggage racks when I can avoid it anyway. The IET version is not quite as tall as the HST equivalent.

IET interior 4.jpgThe Universal Access Toilet, in the vestibule under the pantograph. There is one of these at each end of each IET (under the pantograph in both cases) so both first and standard class passengers have access to one in their own bits of the train- in accordance with the law. Awkwardly the 5-car sets don’t come with a Universal Access Seating Space in standard class for the person requiring a Universal Access Toilet to sit in. Oops. Still, better than the last HST refurb providing a space for a wheelchair in first class that a) was off the platform end at half the stations and b) didn’t come with matching toilet. It’s understood that people who need a wheelchair space will get an automatic upgrade, and the toilet is here in case someone later decides to make a space in standard or just wants room for baby-changing. Slim-line toilets are provided in the intermediate vehicles, tucked in between the external doors and the gangway to the next coach. In this regard the IET is laid out rather like the Regional Railways Class 158s. Note the map of the toilet at top left.

IET interior 5.jpg Inside the toilet. Not a picture I would have tried to take had anyone else been travelling in the coach. The baby changing table is folded up behind the seat; changing the baby for another one is generally considered a more sociable solution to the “screaming baby in the quiet carriage” problem than, say, strychnine.

IET interior 6.jpg Look! Table bays! GW HSTs have them too, but not in any numbers in most standard coaches – they were sacrificed in the 2006 refurb for a fairly minimal number of extra seats. Table provision is one of those things which highlights the difference between the quality of the train as a technical package and the balance of comfort and capacity struck when the saloon was laid out. IET table bays are rather wider than HST table bays, allowing a bigger table. The downside is that the table is further away. IETs also come with window blinds throughout, replacing the first-class-only curtains on HSTs. The small grey clips on the wall can be used for coats. Overhead is the bright red button of the passenger alarm.

IET interior 7.jpg Under an airline seat (IETs have these too, for people that prefer them). The chair leg by the bodyside/ heating panel is a bit of an annoyance, but can be worked around. Two under-seat plugs are provided in place of the one on the HST (and they are always under-seat, unlike the HST where table plugs are at the window end of the table). Various views are expressed on the seat padding, but personally I find the base quite comfortable – although the upright seat back is another matter. Armrests are provided throughout.

IET door 1 JPG.jpg An IET door, belonging to unit 800 009. The label to the left of the door shows seat numbers most easily reached by this door. Upper right is the bodyside camera for Driver Controlled Operation. To the right of the door is the control button with the emergency handle in bright green at lower right. White door rims and bogie pivot points highlight that 800 009 is painted white and vinyled into GWR green. Sliding doors are provided, retracting into a bodyside pocket which precludes windows within three feet of that side of the external door. This means no more droplights, so no more fighting with outside door handles, no more bashing people with slam doors, no more doors gently swinging shut on people when the coach is on sloping track, no more decapitations on signal posts or lost hands on tunnel walls (yes, I have been on a train delayed at Chippenham because someone stuck his hand out of the window in Box Tunnel and half of it got shredded off – blood everywhere apparently), no more photos out of the windows and no more sniffing the fresh Cornish air on the moors between St Austell and Truro.

(Also no more burning brake block smell. IETs have regenerative/ rheostatic brakes combined with modern friction brakes that make squealing noises.)

Paddington 7 JPG.jpg At Paddington, providing a comparison with a HST. The IET nose is longer and more has been done with the windscreen. Rounded glass has been possible for years, but after fitting 1950s multiple units with rounded windscreens (notably classes 123/ 303/ 309) British Rail rapidly went off the idea due to the costs of replacing the curved sheets of glass when they got smashed. There have been exceptions, but generally flat sheets have been normal since then. The HST nose always exudes mass and power, while the IET looks rather powerful from some angles and a bit thin from others. What it does manage to avoid is the rather bug-like look of a Voyager. The small black pole sticking out of the coupling cover is a bit of the coupling which features on every European train with a covered automatic coupling, but which the coupling designers have no enthusiasm to remove. The HST does not have such a hole because behind the HST’s coupling cover is a conventional drawhook – a long-standing flaw with the design as drawhooks are supposed to come with buffers and be prominently displayed. The HST (usually) has no buffers and hides the drawhook so it’s a bit of a pig to use.

Class 387

The 387 is the latest in a long line of electric multiple units built at Derby by the site’s owners, all branded as Electrostar. Aside from being Built In Britain, they are pretty apolitical things so don’t need much of a run-in.

The Electrostar started off looking like this:

Fenchurch Street 2 JPG.jpg

Then they looked like this, after someone had decided that through gangways were jolly useful (and, on 100mph square-fronted trains, not inclined to wreck attempts at streamlining):

Folkestone Central 1 JPG.jpg

And now they look like this – with neater light clusters and the ribbon-glazing replaced by something easier to maintain:

Acton ML 1 JPG.jpg

But the manufacturer has withdrawn them from the product catalogue, so that’s it for the Electrostar.

They’re replacing the Thames Turbo units ordered for Great Western suburban and lower-loading medium-distance services in the early 1990s. These are perfectly respectable trains, but were based around a high-density travel concept so have 2+3 seating with no armrests or tables. This is good for peak commuter traffic, but not so ideal for leisure flows in the Kennet Valley or business travel to Worcester and Hereford.

Paddington 8 JPG.jpg This is a Turbo. This particular example is named after Roger Watkins, a GWR planner who was involved in their introduction to the Thames Valley. It is looking obligingly slightly grubby, thus making the 387 look flasher and newer by comparison.

So the Kennet Valley and Worcester, Malvern & Hereford services are going IET, the suburban services are being electrified so the 387s can take over and the Turbos are off to Bristol, where they can replace smaller and (slightly) older Sprinters.

Inside the 387 is absolutely nothing like a Turbo.

387 interior 1 JPG.jpg General interior view. This is the standard GWR seating colour scheme, also seen on GWR-refurbished HSTs, Sprinters, Pacers and Turbos. The seats are the current standard for suburban stock, which the odd commentator will refer to as “ironing boards”. For the duties that they work, which is stopping services out of London, they are perfectly good seats. They are laid out in 2+2 formation and come with seat-back fold-down tables and armrests. The large blocks reducing a couple of window heights are the bodyside passenger information panels.

387 interior 2 JPG.jpg A 387’s luggage rack. Two levels, sloping backwards to stop stuff falling out. 387s have swing-plug sliding doors, so there is no internal door pocket and therefore no dead bodyside to put racks against, so the luggage gets a window view.

387 interior 3 JPG.jpg A vestibule – specifically for the Universal Access Toilet with Universal Access Seating Spaces and Universal Access Bin (which some people bother to use). The toilet is set up differently to the IET and doesn’t come with a map.

387 interior 4 JPG A table bay – there are a couple of these in the smaller saloons at the vehicle ends and also one at each end of the main saloon, next to the vestibule. Under the table are a couple of plug sockets. Over this particular table is the emergency “hopper” window for use if the air conditioning breaks. The table bays mostly line up neatly with the windows, although the ones directly behind the cab get a smaller window.

387 interior 5 JPG.jpg The vestibule, with bin and standard door controls. Doors are placed at what is usually described as “one-third and two-third” intervals, although in practice since about 1990 designers have favoured one-quarter and three-quarter intervals.

The 387s run more enthusiastically than a Turbo and of course offer all the standard electric train benefits regarding quiet running – there is just a slight whine from the motors and wheels.

They largely run in 8-car formations, which in the peaks mostly offsets the lower per-vehicle official seating capacity than a Turbo and off-peak means lots of lovely room. No longer will commuters have to brave the middle seat of the line of three. During an awkward period when electrification ran from Paddington to Maidenhead 387s were used on Paddington to Maidenhead stoppers – peaks only in the week and all day at weekend, interworked with Turbos running on to Reading and Oxford. The ordinary day-to-day passenger might not have been bouncing up and down with joy that their train now had a pantograph, but they were appreciating the table bays. (Of course Turbos consisted almost entirely of seating bays, but 387s come with tables for putting drinks and crisp packets and magazines on.)

Electrification now terminates at Didcot, which is a trifle awkward because it means the Paddington to Oxford stopping trains now have to terminate at Didcot too. Turbos connect there to continue to Oxford and Banbury, with the happy upside that the Banbury stoppers now run through to Didcot for easier connections.

Next

Well, actually, the 387s and IETs are the new train designs for Great Western services (Crossrail will be bringing along the successor to the 387s, the Class 345 “Advenza”, in a few years time for stopping trains between Paddington, Heathrow and Reading) and the 387s are all in traffic, so that is It as far as surveys of the designs go.

But IET introduction is yet young, and there are rather more of them to be introduced over the next year. Some of the HSTs will also be staying around with fewer coaches and new doors for inter-regional services. Other HSTs are already heading off to Scotland to provide a welcome replacement for intercity Turbostars. The balance will be available to anyone looking for novelty garden ornaments.

Paddington 9 JPG.jpg Enjoy while it lasts – four HSTs line up at Paddington station. This will be the sight at Glasgow Queen Street in just over a year, by which point Paddington will be a hub of IETs and 387s.

Travel Costs

An amusing little distraction for Christmas – whether you, dear reader, have spent this year travelling in the most cost-effective manner.

Let us imagine that two adults wish to travel from suburban northern Newport (Casnewydd) to spend a day walking Cwmcarn and Twmbarlwm, the signpost to which is pictured below:

Twmbarlwm 1 JPG.jpg

Car

The drive is fairly simple, being around the suburban roads to the A467 and then straight up the Ebbw valley at a theoretical maximum of 70mph. As the AA reckons it’s 10 miles and takes 21 minutes the average is slightly under 30mph.

A car which is bought for free, does not need insurance or MoT and does 60 miles per gallon on start/ stop running will manage about 14 miles per £1, or £1.50 for the round trip. This is a grotesque under-estimate of the actual costs, which on a moderate-mileage car including depreciation/ hire-purchase costs, maintenance and insurance will come to around 50p per mile, or £10 for the trip. To this should be added a £3 parking charge. Total calculable cost is thus £13. Other costs relating to atmospheric pollution, accident rates, health problems caused by inactivity travelling in a cramped box and alternative uses for car parking have not been properly assessed as the transport planners would rather not calculate them.

Bike

The area is hilly. The run is not unduly challenging, being on suburban roads, but the cyclist may not be in much of a state to do a serious walk afterwards. Still, if planning to go mountain-biking at Cwmcarn this is the logical way to transport the bike.

About every thousand miles the bike will fall due for an overhaul encompassing bike light batteries (£5), two new tyres (£60), two new gear cassettes (£60), a new chain (£30) and a half-life on a new helmet (£25). To this should be added periodic cleans (this run is on tarmac so will not require a one-off extra deep clean) and a £50 bill for getting someone else to do the overhaul, possibly bodging it in the process. Divide the depressing total (£180, not employing the mechanic) by 50 for the share incurred by a 20-mile run, multiply by 2 for two bikes and get £6.40.

Bus

The bus is operated by Stagecoach South Wales and will in all probability be a 151 to Blackwood. This is Traveline’s preferred solution.

This will take anything between three-quarters of a hour and a hour, depending on precise location relative to the bus route through Newport. The bus journey itself takes about 20 minutes. A return for two adults costs the same as a return for a group, which is £13.20. A South Wales Explorer ticket allowing return from Cwmbran after walking over the hill (more interesting than simply returning to the car) is £15.80.

Canal

The canal coincidentally terminates at the entrance to Cwmcarn Forest Drive, having been truncated on its way to Crumlin to make way for the A467. It has also been breached in several places to allow access to housing estates.

Aside from the costs of procuring a canoe and carrying it round the obstructions, plus the question of how to stop someone from walking off with it while it’s parked in Cwmcarn (and of course the challenge of an 18-mile round paddle) this is a fairly low-cost option. The waterway owner may appreciate a donation reflecting a proportion of the savings relative to other options. A journey time of three hours each way would be reasonable.

Walk

There are multiple walking options, the simplest of which is to go straight up the canal towpath. It is also possible to head straight up Twmbarlwm without going to the Cwmcarn visitor centre at all.

This will take about three hours each way, though can be viewed as part of the walk.

Make some sort of allowance for shoe leather.

Train

This is an hourly service from Pye Corner to Crosskeys, taking 12 minutes. Bikes are carried. Trains are usually 4-cars, providing 4 cycle spaces and about 250 seats.

The option exists to vary the trip by using Risca station to approach Twmbarlwm from a different angle or incorporate parts of the Raven Walk.

The fare for two adult passengers with railcards (assuming weekly use of a £30 annual railcard at a sunk cost of 58p per week) is £5.08, or £6.80 without a railcard.

The rail network as a whole receives about 40% of its revenue as subsidy, being the replacement for shareholder investment in capital spending. Were this support to be removed and the railcard be withdrawn, the fare would rise to £11.35.

Summary

Overall costs for return trip:

  1. Walk: Shoes + 6 hours
  2. Canoe: Boat + 6 hours
  3. Train with railcard: £5.08
  4. Cycle: £6.40
  5. Train without railcard: £6.80
  6. Train charged at full commercial rate without any industry subsidy or railcard: £11.35
  7. Car: £13
  8. Bus (return): £13.20
  9. Bus (rover): £15.80

Conclusion

If you don’t want to walk all the way the train is cheapest.

Declaration: This post was brought to you by a member of the rail lobby.

Martin Luther Day

It’s 500 years (ignoring the effect of the Calendar Act 1750 and continental equivalents) since Friar Martin Luther sent his Bishop a list of 95 reasons why the Catholic Church shouldn’t sell indulgences. Indulgences are a pay-per-use means of getting off sins and Purgatory and gaining quicker access to Heaven, which generates the standard “progressive” objection that they allow the rich to buy salvation while the poor have to sit in Purgatory for years. (The rich point out that the Scriptures say “it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven” and they therefore need as much help and support as they can get.)

Luther reportedly also attached these reasons (“theses”) to the Parish noticeboard on his church, which happened to be the church door.

None of the laity will have had a clue what the theses were about beyond something regarding the existing controversy regarding indulgences, St Peter’s Basilica, etc., as they were based on detailed interpretations of the Bible which was in Latin and therefore inaccessible. (The inaccessibility being the Point by this stage. Some of it had been translated into English, but Luther lived in Germany where they didn’t speak that much English, and in any event the translator had died and then been dug up and burned at the stake for heresy, which made his books a trifle less available in the ordinary authorised bookshops.) However, the Bishop did know what it was about and told Luther to recant, Luther refused and the Church was tragically obliged to excommunicate him. (He wasn’t burned at the stake, because he got kidnapped by a friendly noble and locked up in the Wartburg Castle until he translated the Bible into German.)

So to commemorate, here are ten things you can put on your parish noticeboard.

  1. The contact details for the vicar;
  2. The contact details for the flower-arranging committee;
  3. A warning about the church being Smartwater protected;
  4. The details of the next service;
  5. The Parish newsletter;
  6. A promotional feature about the good work that the church’s fundraising is doing in Africa;
  7. A further promotional feature about the need to fundraise to stop the 12th-century tower falling off;
  8. An invite for passers-by to enter God’s Home for a moment of contemplation and wider understanding;
  9. An invite to the cake sale next Tuesday;
  10. A long and detailed attack on a specialist and largely unimportant part of Church teachings that causes a major schism in the Church which will still be causing small wars, substantive differences of opinion and general controversy as to whether you were right five hundred years later.

EU Negotiating Positions

The Torygraph is, perhaps optimistically, reporting that the European Union may be about to reorganise its stance on negotiating Brexit.

Broadly, and based on my understanding, negotiations since Article 50 was triggered in April have gone as follows:

  • Britain took the view that a contribution to the EU budget and ongoing costs was part of the final settlement and future relationship.
  • Whereas the EU took the view that the contribution to the EU budget and ongoing costs is part of past commitments and the final settlement is part of the future, so will be discussed in the future once the past has been straightened out.
  • So the Government decided to prove that the Prime Minister was about to be really really popular and win a huge Parliamentary majority for her negotiating position in a snap election, thus showing that Europe had to do what she wanted. Of course she then lost her overall majority, and made her Government look really not very brilliant by leaving a distinct air that the only reason she stayed in post was because nobody else in Parliament would be any better at the job. Evidently Tony Blair’s legacy to politics (not a career choice for anyone who knows how to make a difference, or do anything at all, with perhaps a couple of exceptions who are keeping their heads down) is ongoing.
  • Meanwhile the British position was compared to membership of a golf club, where members can resign their subscription and make no further contribution to the new clubhouse and revised green mowing arrangements (and play golf however they like).
  • Whereas the EU preferred the concept of a highly emotional and rancorous divorce, with alimony to be paid on an ongoing basis.
  • Britain made a very quiet and unspoken move towards the EU position that the divorce bill would be discussed first, followed (if the bill went well enough by, say, September 2017) by discussing the future relationship.
  • Britain then raised the suggestion of a transitional arrangement of some point for three years.
  • Whereas the EU began talking of a £100billion payout towards the hole left in the remainder of the 5-year budget (that Britain agreed to) as a result of Britain going.

It is the transitional arrangement which has become rather fun in all this. The transitional arrangement would of course involve paying the EU something, which obviously would most sensibly be what we would have paid anyway in exchange for most of the benefits of being inside plus most of the benefits of being outside. This would be a temporary semi-informal cake-and-eat-it scenario, with no immediate attractions for other members because a) it would largely be so they can have our money, and therefore unlikely to be repeated for Italy because the immediate cash savings following formal withdrawal would rather appeal to the EU; and b) after the three years we would be Out, without the benefits of being inside.

But if we’re going to pay what we would have paid anyway over those three years, we meet our commitments to the EU Budget and so there is no lump sum divorce bill.

This of course means the lump sum divorce bill is not relevant until it is decided there is no transitional period, but the transitional period is a technical affair that will lead from the In state to the Out state and the Out state has to be established before the transitional period can be properly considered. Thus the transitional period’s relevance doesn’t arise for some time, and the lump sum comes up when that has failed.

Perhaps more seriously, the lump sum has been progressively rising as the EU finds more and more costs that the UK will not be paying after April 2019. One major question which arises from this growing lump sum is whether the EU can afford the UK’s departure. Some months ago a bunch of Euro politicians were happily banging on about all the things they can do now the UK is off, overlooking that standing armies, worldwide diplomatic missions and proper integrated financial regulation are extremely expensive. If they are to be £100billion short of current spending in the 2020 Budget, the attitude should be towards retrenchment and lining up gigantic programme cuts that will make Tory austerity look like the insignificant fiddling of small but painful slashes that it is – not expansion of the Imperial power.

Britain meanwhile has been querying the lump sum and asking to see an itemised bill. From the response, it seems that people on the Continent are very honest. When you get your house rebuilt in, say, Belgium, it appears the builder will simply present you with a bill for €9000 and you simply sign the cheque, without asking the builder to point out what’s been done. In this country it would be called an excuse for embezzlement.

The problem for the EU is if at the end of September the view remains “No lump sum agreement by September = no deal”. Because if there is no deal, that includes no lump sum payment. By the end of this month, the EU would have committed to a position where in April 2019 we simply withdraw from the EU and begin the lengthy process of deporting the unattached EU citizens who, owing to the absence of a citizenship deal, no longer have any right of residence in the UK.

And the EU? Is, by its own maths, some £100billion out of pocket.

That’s not a good position for a bunch of supposedly brilliant negotiators to find themselves in – negotiating the other side into not paying you anything.

How you sell to your population that they are now £100billion poorer because you thought being paid by instalments over an extended period was an unacceptable compromise is an interesting question.

The solution is very simple – to forget the £100billion lump sum and focus on getting a transitional arrangement which will result in Britain paying that over a three-year period, very quietly and with obvious benefits to both sides. And, of course, with a recollection that this makes David Davis’s job much easier because he can go home and say “I got rid of that stupid bill today,” and after that can agree more or less any rubbish wanted.

It looks like some portions of the EU may be realising this. It would have helped of course if someone had suggested it more loudly at the outset.

EuroParl Strasbourg 1 JPG.jpg The European Parliament building in Strasbourg, showing the immense interest displayed by the citizens of Europe in their unified democratic institution. (At least, the interest displayed on a Thursday afternoon in September.)

Women-only carriages

This came up in 2015, when I wrote a long blogpost trying to delicately dismantle it that, in the end, I didn’t hit “post” on and which you have, therefore, not read.

Anyway, it has come up again: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-41028234

Mr Williamson is obviously not a rail-using MP, otherwise while out and about on the trains around his Derby North constituency he would have encountered a certain operational flaw in his idea called the Class 153:
Knighton 1 JPG.jpg

So once this carriage is women-only, where do I sit? On the roof?