Archive for the ‘Transport’ Category

Over the last week an unusual number of ships have been in distress off the coasts of Europe. Ten people died when a fire broke out on board the Italian ferry Norman Atlantic near Corfu off the coat of Greece; the cargo ship Blue Sky M was abandoned by its crew off the southern tip of Italy with 970 migrants on board; the cargo ship Ezadeen was also similarly abandoned by its crew off southern Italy with 400 migrants on board; and eight people lost their lives when the cargo ship Cemfjord, which was carrying cement from Denmark to Runcorn in Cheshire, sank in the Pentland Firth, the strait that separates the Orkney Islands from the far north-east coast of Scotland. 

hoegh osaka, car container ship, solent, bramble bank

The Hoegh Osaka is reported as carrying 1,400 vehicles and 70 to 80 pieces of construction equipment, about one-third full, and was on route to Bremerhaven in Germany.

In the most recent incident last weekend, a 51,000 tonne car transporter the Hoegh Osaka was deliberately grounded in the Solent, the strait of water between the Isle of Wight and the mainland of southern England, when it developed a list after having left the port of Southampton. Fortunately no lives were lost and the 24 crew members and the pilot have been taken off the ship, with only two of the crew suffering minor injuries. The Hoegh Osaka is currently beached with a 52° tilt on a sandbank, Bramble Bank, which is in the middle of the Solent.

And just over six years ago, in the early hours of 11 November 2008, the 40-year old Cunard liner Queen Elizabeth 2 was forced aground on Bramble Bank by strong winds on her approach to Southampton Docks. It was her last visit to Southampton prior to before becoming a floating hotel in Dubai. Fortunately the tide was rising and four tugs were able to pull her clear of the sandbank, and she docked only 90 minutes late. 

BrambleBankMapBramble Bank, otherwise known as ‘The Brambles’ is an arrowhead-shaped sandbar in the central Solent which is often uncovered during the twice-yearly equinoxial tides. At other times it is a significant navigational hazard or a useful escape for smaller vessels from the huge ships that come and go from Southampton. The bank is moving very slowly westward and it is marked at its south-eastern limit by the Brambles sea pile, which is a meteorological station, and on its western limit by the West Knoll buoy. 

bramble bank, sandbank, solent, cricket match, equinoxial tide

Last year, the match was held on Thursday 11 September. However in 2013, the Brambles sandbank didn’t appear but the game still went ahead with water lapping around the player’s ankles, and towards the end, their knees.

On a lighter note, Bramble Bank is renowned for the annual cricket match that is held there during the late summer equinoxial tide, usually at the end of August or in early September. The game dates from the 1950s and the Royal Southern Yacht Club based at Hamble on the mainland plays the Island Sailing Club from Cowes on the Isle of Wight. The teams and their supporters arrive at the sandbank in an armada of small boats, with the busy shipping lane not far away, just as the sandbank is first exposed. The uneven surface of the sandbank with some sand and large puddles at best, ensures that the game is more a social occasion than a serious cricket match. The game never lasts long as the tide returns after about an hour. There is a 360°view of the 2014 cricket match here and a lively report here of the 2010 game in the Daily Telegraph.

The Brambles cricket match has been described as ‘quintessentially English’ with the victor of the game being pre-determined as the two clubs simply take it in turns to ‘win’ the match, regardless of how the match progresses. Conditions allowing, a temporary bar, the Bramble Inn, is set up to dispense Pimms, though more often than not the bar remains on one of the boats. Bramble Bank was referred to during a debate on a licensing bill in the House of Lords in 2003, when a government minister was asked which licensing authority was responsible for Bramble Bank and other sandbanks like it, which were exposed only two or three times a year. An answer was apparently not forthcoming.

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lunchbox, irrfan khan, dabbawala, mumbai

A lunchbox, prepared by a young housewife for her husband, is delivered in error to Saajan Fernandes (played by Irrfan Khan) at his office in Mumbai.

I recently watched an enjoyable film The Lunchbox made in 2013 by first-time director Ritesh Batra, set in modern-day Mumbai. A lunchbox is delivered to the wrong person, and this leads a young housewife, who is ignored by her husband, and an older man, who is about to retire, to correspond with each other through notes in the lunchbox, both seeking an escape from the frustrations of their lives. It is a delightful and engaging film.

The backdrop to the film is Mumbai’s remarkably efficient lunchbox delivery system that collects stacked metal boxes containing lunches that have been prepared by wives and mothers, from the suburban homes of thousands of workers in the morning, delivers the boxes to workplaces in time for lunch, and then returns the empty boxes to the customer’s house in the afternoon.

lunchbox, nimrat kaur, dabbawala, mumbai

Saajan, curious as to where the lunch has come from, places a note in the lunchbox that is then sent back to Ila (played by Nimrat Kaur), and they start exchanging notes.

In the credits at the end of the film it mentions that the film was made with the support of the Mumbai Tiffin Box Suppliers’ Association. Tiffin was originally the name in British India for a light meal taken in the heat of the day between breakfast and dinner, and the container in which the food was stored, usually a cylindrical tin or aluminium container, was known in Urdu as a dabba, meaning a box. The person who carries a tiffin box is known as a dabbawala (also spelt dabbawalla or dabbawallah), and the film shows hundreds of dabbawalas in action. ‘Wala’ is a suffix used to denote a person performing a task relating to a particular thing, so the closest meaning of dabbawala in English is ‘lunch box delivery man’.

The lunch delivery service was started in 1890 by Mahadeo Havaji Bachche with about a hundred men. In 1956, a charitable trust was registered in  under the name of Nutan Mumbai Tiffin Box Suppliers Trust, with the commercial arm of the trust being registered in 1968 with the name of Mumbai Tiffin Box Supplier’s Association. In Mumbai, between 175,000 and 200,000 lunch boxes are transported by 4,500 to 5,000 dabbawalas, all for the extremely low charge of 300 rupees per month (about £3.20 or $5 in 2014) with the utmost punctuality and reliability.

dabbawala, lunchbox, dabba, mumbai

A dabbawala loads up his bicycle with lunchboxes collected from homes nearby, to take them to the nearest sorting point.

A collecting dabbawala, usually on bicycle, collects the dabbas either from a worker’s home or from dabba makers, who prepare the meals in central kitchens. The dabbawala then takes them to a designated sorting place, where he and other collecting dabbawalas sort (and sometimes bundle) the lunch boxes into groups. The grouped boxes are put on trains at railway stations, usually in carriages designated for the boxes. As many of the carriers are of limited literacy, the dabbas are marked in several ways: (1) abbreviations for collection points, (2) a colour code for the starting station, (3) a number for the destination station, and (4) markings for the handling dabbawala at the destination, to identify where the box has to be delivered to ie. the building and the floor. A detailed explanation of the markings can be seen here.

dabbawala, lunchbox, dabba, mumbai

Dabbawalas push a cart loaded with dabbas from a sorting point to the local railway station.

The service is almost always uninterrupted, even on the days of severe weather such as monsoons. Dabbawalas are familiar with their local area, using shortcuts to deliver their goods on time. In the past, people would communicate between home and work by putting messages inside the boxes, as in the film, but this practice is disappearing with the rise of phone texting. Delivery requests are now often made through text messaging.

Each dabbawala is required to contribute a minimum capital in kind, in the form of a bicycle, a wooden crate for the tiffins, white cotton kurta-pyjamas, and white topi or cap. Each month there is a division of the earnings of each unit, and each dabbawala, regardless of role, is paid about 8,000 rupees per month (about £80 or $125 in 2014). Many dabbawalas belong to the Varkari sect of Maharashtra in which Tukaram’s teachings of helping each other is central to their efficiency and motivation. (more…)

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I recently read a newspaper article that discussed whether human nature, when unchecked, is selfish and greedy, or caring and altruistic. This is not a simple argument. One could say that it depends on the circumstances, or that it depends on culture. People could in one situation be very selfish, but in another quite self-sacrificing in their care for people close to them or who are in need. What is clear is that there are vast numbers of people who devote their time to the service of others who are not close to them, indeed may be unknown to them, where the question of being paid for their effort doesn’t come into it. Perhaps they are in a secure position financially, or perhaps they’re not, but still give what time they have freely. Given the diversity of our lives, there will be many different situations in between. One such group of volunteers are the blood bikers.

blood bikers, nhs, london, ace cafe, north circular road

Here is a group of blood bikers at the Ace Cafe on the North Circular Road in London, a hangout for bikers since 1938. © John Stepney

The blood bikers are a band of motorbike riders who give up their time to courier medical supplies around the country, and in doing so save the NHS hundreds of thousands of pounds. Their name might sound a bit ominous, but the mission of this 1,500-strong gang is deadly serious. They are men and women all over Britain who dedicate a few evenings a week to deliver supplies to hospitals across the country as stand-ins for the daytime professionals.  In 2013 they responded to around 35,000 urgent requests from hospitals, delivering everything from blood and platelets to medicine and breast milk, essentially anything you can get on the back of a bike. The volunteers have their own organisation, the Nationwide Association of Blood Bikes (NABB)

The idea of rapid response motorcycle based charity, run by unpaid volunteers, goes back over half a century when a group was formed in London. The NABB was formed in 2010, and has been involved in setting up numerous independent regional groups, of which there are now 25, and the aim is to provide a coast-to-coast service across the UK. The volunteers have to work to professional standards and comply with a variety of regulations. Some of the bikers are retired, most of them are in full-time jobs. Most of all they are from all walks of life. More than a few of the bikers have given three decades of service to the NHS.

During 2013, the bikers responded to requests from 262 hospitals, for urgent transport of whole blood cells, platelets, plasma, serum, surgical instruments,  patient notes, X-rays, human donor milk, and MRI scans. Requests to one of the two or three bikers on duty within a local area, usually come via telephone texts like ‘Urgent blood sample from Peterborough to Birmingham’. It may be that the blood has to go to a specialist testing laboratory with the results required for a patient early the next morning. Within minutes the biker is on their bike, riding off into the night to the pick up point. At the pick-up point a technician on night duty hands over a specially sealed sample box, the biker hands over a receipt, and the package is secured in one of the bike’s panniers. At the destination, a theatre technician in their scrubs may be waiting at reception to take the package. Then they vanish back inside. (more…)

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stonegate, railway station, east sussex

The railway station at Stonegate in East Sussex on the London to Hastings line serves a rural village of about 1,500 people. Trains to central London take about 1 hour and 10 minutes.

There were headlines in the papers in April this year about a ‘hedge-fund manager’ in the City of London who had paid Southeastern trains £43,000 to escape prosecution for fare-dodging. For five years, the culprit, who was not named at the time, regularly travelled from Stonegate in East Sussex up to London, and used an Oystercard to exit from Cannon Street station.

The rural station at Stonegate has no ticket barriers, so the man didn’t have to ‘touch in’ with his Oyster card. He got off at London Bridge and got on a different train to take him over the river to Cannon Street. Once there he touched out through the ticket barriers. By doing this, he was only charged the £7.20 penalty fare that is levied when a passengers exits from a station without having touched in somewhere else.

oystercard, buses, tube, london transport, greater london

The Oystercard was introduced in June 2003 and 7 million Oystercards are now in regular use. More than 80% of all tube journeys and more than 90% of all bus journeys in the Greater London area are made using Oyster.

The chap was eventually caught in November last year by a revenue protection officer standing next to the barriers at London Bridge, who noticed that he had been charged the penalty fare, and stopped him. It was thought that on this occasion the rogue may have changed his usual journey to go to a meeting south of the river. Southeastern soon discovered that he had last bought an annual season ticket, from Stonegate, in 2008, so it was possible that he had been evading the fare for the 1 hour 10 minute journey ever since then. The current cost of a season ticket from Stonegate to central London is £4,548. So the bounder managed to avoid ticket inspectors on the train for a long time. Could this be because commuter trains are not inspected regularly as they are invariably packed or because an assumption is made that almost all commuters on the line have season tickets? However Southeastern said that the ‘honest answer is that we don’t know how he avoided detection by our staff – he was obviously very clever about how he did it’.

cannon street, railway terminus, london

Cannon Street station is a central London railway terminus alongside the River Thames. It opened in 1866 and serves destinations in south east London, East Sussex, and Kent.

Although he didn’t admit to the fraud, the villain offered to settle the matter out of court, and within five days he had paid back £42,550 in dodged fares (based on a standard class single ticket which costs £21.50), plus £450 in legal costs. Southeastern said all passengers have the option to avoid prosecution and settle out of court. Critics have obviously questioned why the fare-dodging felon was allowed to escape being prosecuted and remain anonymous.

The tabloid newspapers sent reporters down to Stonegate to try and winkle out the name of the blackguard from the villagers. In August however, the Evening Standard published the name of the fare-dodger, and in true tabloid style, put their roving reporter on the train to Stonegate to obtain the thoughts of politicians, celebrities and fellow passengers as to what they thought of the scoundrel. The full details had come out because the British Transport Police decided to launch its own investigation, and the City watchdog, the Financial Conduct Authority, got involved too. The Standard claimed that it was a fellow passenger, disgruntled by the out of court settlement, who tipped the police off. The fare-dodger was said to have left his job the week before.

But do we know the full story? Barry Doe, the public transport fares expert, pointed out in his column in Rail magazine that although Southeastern understandably demanded repayment of the cost of the full daily fares from the artful dodger, the cost of five annual season tickets would have amounted to about £22,000 or roughly £110 a week. But his Oyster charge, based on two incomplete journeys a day, would have been £70 a week, which is only £40 less than the effective weekly cost of a season ticket! So to save this amount, the chap has ended up paying a total of £58,000, that is the Oystercard charges plus the fare-dodging settlement.

But things don’t add up. How can someone incur an Oyster penalty charge twice a day for five years without being spotted? Surely repeated penalty fares can be picked up by the operators of Oyster? And why didn’t the fraudster buy an annual Zone 1-2 Travelcard for about £1,200 to avoid the Oyster penalty charge. Barry Doe also questions how there could be no ticket checks for five years. Perhaps Southeastern doesn’t want us to know how the chap did it? Perhaps as a hedge-fund manager, he got a kick from taking risks. If it wasn’t that, he wasn’t very good at arithmetic.

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On Monday, Sir David Higgins, produced his review of the high-speed train project, HS2, which included the ambitious proposal to completely rebuild Euston railway station in London, and at the same time maximising the commercial opportunities. The original redevelopment plans for the station had been downgraded last year, but in February this year, Chancellor George Osborne came out in favour of the complete redevelopment of the station and surrounding area which would lead to the creation of more jobs, and more houses being built.

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin in responding to the Higgins report agreed, saying that he will ask HS2 Ltd and Network Rail to work up ‘more comprehensive proposals for the development of Euston’, but added that ‘this work should include proposals for the Euston arch which should never have been knocked down and which I would like to see rebuilt’.

What was the Euston Arch?

Euston Station, when it opened on 20 July 1837 as the terminus of the London and Birmingham Railway, was the first mainline terminus station in a capital city anywhere in the world. The architect was Philip Hardwick, who worked with structural engineer Charles Fox. Although at first the station only had two platforms, one for departures and one for arrivals, the directors of the railway thought that:

The Entrance to the London Passenger Station opening immediately upon what will necessarily become the Grand Avenue for travelling between the Metropolis and the midland and northern parts of the Kingdom … should receive some architectural embellishment. They adopted accordingly a design of Mr Hardwick’s for a grand but simple portico, which they considered well adapted to the national character of the undertaking.

euston arch, london, painting, john cooke bourne, augustus pugin

The construction of the London & Birmingham Railway was the subject of many paintings by John Cooke Bourne. This one of the Euston Arch likely dates from 1938 not long after the arch was completed. The arch was not admired by everyone in its early years. Augustus Pugin, designer of the new Palace of Westminster, said in 1843 that it was ‘a Brobdignaggian absurdity’, and a guide to the Great Exhibition in 1951 described it as ‘gigantic and very absurd’. Courtesy of EAT

Hardwick’s arch, completed in May 1837 at a cost of £35,000, was huge, 70 feet high, and was the first great building of the railway age. It was built using Yorkshire gritstone, in the Doric style with the arch also supported by four 8 foot 6 inch-diameter columns and four piers, with bronze gates placed behind them. Gatehouses were also built on either side. The arch, which architects would call a propylaeum (‘the entrance before the gate’ to a sacred place in Ancient Greece), complemented the Ionic entrance, which still stands, to the Curzon Street Station in Birmingham at the other end of the new railway line.

great hall, euston station, waiting room, george stephenson

The Great Hall in Euston Station completed in 1846, served as a very grand waiting room. This photo was taken in 1960 and being a Sunday there are relatively few people around. The staircase leads to the gallery and shareholders’ room, past the 1852 statue of George Stephenson. Tickets were bought from hatches in nearby passageways.
© Ben Brooksbank/Creative Commons Licence

In 1849, in order to cope with the increasing number of passengers, Hardwick’s son, Philip Charles Hardwick designed a magnificent waiting room, the Great Hall. This was built in the Italianate Renaissance style, and was 126 feet long, 61 feet wide and 64 feet high, with a coffered ceiling and a sweeping double flight of stairs leading to offices at the northern end of the hall.

The early station was set a long way back from Euston Road and the arch faced Drummond Street that ran east-west through the area, though only the western end of the street going towards Hampstead Road remains today. For many years there was nothing on the arch to say that it was the entrance to the station, but in 1870 the London and North Western Railway Company inscribed ‘EUSTON’ on the architrave in letters of gold. A road was also created for the first time from Euston Road to the portico.

By the end of the 1950s, the station was considered to be poorly located and impracticably small, and at odds with the British Transport Commission’s (BTC) plans to upgrade and electrify the main line between Euston and Scotland as part of its Modernisation Programme. In January 1960 the BTC served notice on London County Council (LCC) as planning authority that it intended to demolish the entire station, including the arch and the Great Hall, which were both Grade II listed buildings. To allow for longer platforms and a  much larger station concourse, the station was to be extended southwards over Drummond Street and Euston Square towards Euston Road. This led to an almost two-year long battle to save the Great Hall and the arch.

(more…)

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dr richard beeching, british railways board, reshaping of british railways, railway line closures

Dr Richard Beeching, former ICI director and first Chairman of the British Railways Board, holding his 1963 report The Reshaping of British Railways. Beeching had not been asked to look into the social and economic value of the railways, but to find the means to make the railways pay.

In March 1963, a report The Reshaping of British Railways written by Dr Richard Beeching, Chairman of British Rail, was published by the then British Railways Board. The report identified 2,363 stations and 5,000 miles (8,000 km) of railway line for closure, that is 55% of stations and 30% of route miles, with the objective of stemming the large losses being incurred during a period of increasing competition from road transport.

This was at a time when roads and cars were the future; rails and trains were the past. And it didn’t help that the Transport Minister in the Tory administration at the time, who had opened the first section of the M1 motorway in November 1959, and who appointed Beeching, was Ernest Marples. Marples was a businessman with rather too many fingers in an ever-meatier road construction pie, being previously managing director of the road construction firm Marples Ridgway. By the bye, even though his department was awarding road building contracts to his ‘old’ firm, he still held shares in the company until he was forced to sell them, but he sold them, in secret, to his wife. His political career came to a bizarre end in 1975 when pursued by the taxman, Marples did a flit to Monaco by the Night Ferry owing the Inland Revenue £10 million.

The cuts in the network were driven by a mistaken hypothesis: that cutting the network sufficiently would yield a ‘profitable railway’. But British Railways had little real information as to where its costs were actually being incurred; a large share of which were interest charges and a sizeable bureaucracy. Further, the branch lines that were closed had been feeder routes for the remaining main lines, and traffic on these lines fell disastrously. In the four years following the Beeching report, the route mileage of the railways fell from 14,000, to 11,000 in 1967 (though since 1950 about 3,100 miles had already been closed), but the cuts failed to achieve their objective, and BR’s losses continued to increase.

british railway network, dr richard beeching, railway line closures

This is what the BR network would have looked like by the 1980s, had a second phase of Beeching’s closures gone ahead. The faint lines are major through routes that would have closed. Creative Commons Licence/Cronholm144

Fresh thinking was urgently needed: how do you put the UK’s road and rail infrastructure on an equal financial footing and get long distance heavy freight traffic off the roads? However there was an anti-railway and pro-road culture amongst senior civil servants in the Department of Transport, which was headed by David Serpell, the Permanent Secretary. Reducing the costs of the railways by further cuts to the railway network were seen as the only answer. It was Serpell who much later in 1983 was to write an infamous report on railway finances for Margaret Thatcher, which included an infamous Option A, which would have cut the railway network to a mere 1,630 miles.

In 1968, Dr Stewart Joy, an Australian economist, was recruited to advise Barbara Castle, the Transport Minister in the Labour administration, on implementing a pro-rail policy of subsidising unprofitable railway lines. The Cambrian Coast Line which ran from Machynlleth in mid-Wales to Pwllheli in the north, and which had survived the Beeching cuts, had been selected as the first line to be looked at in a cost-benefit study of these unprofitable lines.

This is where Reginald Dawson, who in 1960 had been appointed a principal civil servant in the Ministry of Transport at the age of 38, comes into the story.

(more…)

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Daughter Anna Gryce had a further success at the Lambeth Horticultural Society Show, this time at the Summer Show on 7 September 2013.

Her two exhibits in the ‘Dark and Light’ photographic class won first prize, and best exhibit in the photographic section!

sharpthorpe tunnel, bluebell railway, west sussex

‘Dark’
The train in Sharpthorne Tunnel

The original photographs were taken from a steam hauled train on the Bluebell Railway heritage line in West Sussex as the train approached Sharpthorne Tunnel between Horsted Keynes and Kingscote stations.

The image of the train in the tunnel was modified to emphasise ‘dark’. In this photograph, the red from the fire of the engine is reflected on the tunnel roof and the light from the carriages reflects off the smoke and the stone ballast of the track.

sharpthorpe tunnel, bluebell railway, west sussex

‘Light’
The train enters Sharpthorne Tunnel

The image of the train as it is about to enter the tunnel was modified to emphasise ‘light’. Here the light from the sky and the smoke from the engine merge into one.

Incidentally the wooden carriages are from the London Metropolitan Railway and date from 1900.

Anna’s previous success at the show can be seen here.

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