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Archive for the ‘transport’ Category

John Swinney MSP told a meeting in Perth a couple of weeks back that the EARL project was not technically feasible.    He said that the proposed gradient for trains was not possible for existing rolling stock to negotiate, and that tunnelling under the airport runway was too risky.    I actually found that rather hard to believe, as the EARL project started in 2001 looking at the possibility of getting rail links tied into Edinburgh airport, involving years of exploratory engineering work as well as securing legislation to emable the project to go ahead.    

Ryanair are just coming into Edinburgh Airport with new routes.   This is really welcome, but how are an extra million passengers actually going to get to and from the airport?    It is probably one of the most congested areas of Scotland.    EARL would have given a direct rail link from the airport to over 60 stations.    It is a ‘no brainer’ but comes at a price.

I asked the people at EARL to comment about the feasibility of the project.    They said that the gradient was no worse than the one getting into and out of Queen Street Station in Glasgow, so no problem there.     They also said that tunnelling under the runway was perfectly feasible, and given the extra engineering precautions built into this part of the project, perfectly safe.

So where does that leave John Swinney?    He should have said that the project was simply too expensive to sanction, and that going ahead would have put other transport projects on hold.    But he didn’t.   Poor show.

And why are the Trams going ahead in Edinburgh?   I don’t see the benefit at all.    Massive expense, huge and prolonged disruption – just look at the mess in Leith Walk and Shandwick Place, unsightly overhead cables etc. – the list of downsides is long.    Who on earth is this project for?    There are  perfectly good bus services serving this route at very reasonable prices, and with bus lanes for much of the route.    I just don’t get it.

They should have spent the money on Earl which would have benefitted many more people.

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Today is the first day that sees tolls being lifted on the Tay and Forth Bridges.    

There used to be a charge each way on both bridges, but economics showed that tolling just one way produced similar results, so while Dundee has been free to enter for a while, you have been charged to leave ………. until today.

We actually crossed the Forth Bridge at 10.30 last night, and there were armies of people in yellow jackets sorting out cones.    One yellow jacket was taking a photo of the last toll collector in her booth.    It is a bitter-sweet moment because although traffic now flows free, I imagine most of these people won’t have jobs today.

I am just old enough to remember the old ferry across the Forth which we used to cross to see our grandparents  in Edinburgh.    I remember my grandmother saying at the time that the people who worked on the ferries (which stopped in 1964 immediately the bridge opened) were to be given jobs as toll collectors.    They collected half a crown each way – that’s 12.5 pence in today’s money.

It really is the end of an era.

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I was supposed to get the 8.15 train from Perth to Glasgow today, but it had ‘failed’ outside Aberdeen and was therefore cancelled.

So I had to wait for the next one, which was the 8.40 to Glasgow, due to get in at 9.40, making me late for my meeting.   This train also came from Aberdeen, and was taking all the passengers it normally takes, PLUS all the passengers from the cancelled train.    So it was standing room only for the 65 miles.    Not pleasant, and there was no room to even open a paper – and no windows to open to let the fug out slightly.

Scotrail run these pathetically short trains a mere three carriages long between the cities in Scotland.    

The train back was good, and on time.    I am just so glad I don’t have to commute into a city every day.

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Just had a hassle-free trip from Edinburgh to London and back on GNER.    Love them, or hate them, GNER have lost the franchise to run trains on the East Coast Main Line, and National express takes over in a few weeks time.

I wonder what it will all mean?    Higher fares above inflation have already been flagged as likely – probably to pay for the paint to cover up the GNER colour scheme on all the train sets.

The East Coast Main Line is busy and crowded, and when things go wrong, they really go wrong.   The old diesel 125s on the London-Aberdeen and London-Inverness routes are actually pretty reliable, but the electric 225s are prone to be affected by windspeeds which wobble the overhead cables, resulting in speed restrictions being applied.

I actually like GNER.   They train their staff really well, and I always get the impression that they are really trying to do their best for the passenger.    OK, so some days things don’t go well, but that will be the same for the new franchisee.    But careful investment in people is important.

I am just not sure that the passengers (remember them?) will benefit from this changeover.    Presumably GNER will have stalled on investment in the run-up to the franchise decision being made, so that will have to be made up by National Express.    Perhaps it will be the same people in new uniforms in repainted trains doing the same jobs – at least initially.

I just don’t happen to think GNER were doing a bad job.   Far from it, in fact.

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Carbon Offsetting is a murky world, and a tricky concept to grasp.       Every week the Sunday Times Travel section sends its journalists all over the place, but every week, they print how much they have paid to offset their carbon use.     There is a certain smugness to all of this which I find distasteful.

Many businesses are aspiring to become Carbon Neutral.    Apart from “saving the planet”, it is a great marketing tool.

So that’s OK then?

No, I don’t think so really.   On a number of counts.      Firstly, carbon offsetting should be a last resort.    Businesses should have reduced their carbon footprint to as low as possible before offsetting the rest, and I am not sure this happens.    Secondly, who regulates the projects which benefit from the carbon offsetting money?   Nobody, it seems.   Stories of treadmills in India and the rest make for a deep uneasiness in the whole concept.    Thirdly, and linked to this, is how can businesses, organisations and individuals making carbon offsetting payments be certain that their cash is being used efficiently and in genuinely carbon-beneficial ways?

In Scotland, a new scheme is being launched in November for tourism businesses called Climate Change Scotland where projects are Scottish and vetted for suitability.    Evidence of carbon reduction by businesses intersted in contributing is required.     Perhaps this is a good way forward.

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I like reading, and try to read a bit every night before I go to sleep.    It is quiet and peaceful and you get time to concentrate.

Which brings me to admire people who can seemingly read in all sorts of busy situations.    I saw people in a queue to a museum reading books the other day – if I am in a queue, then I really like to ‘people watch’.    There is actually too much going on round about to get your head down in a book.

I also discovered that I have difficulty reading a book on a plane – which is probably one of the most boring environments ever.    The thing is, I don’t like flying at the best of times, and actually avoided it for years until I got fed up of it being a problem, and just dealt with it.     I still find it an alarming way to travel, and am recovering from having been on three planes on Monday.     So, no to books on a plane – but a newspaper or magazine seems to fit the bill.

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Luggage

Our lost luggage finally arrived here today – that’s over three days late, but at least it got here in the end.    Everything in the suitcases was damp – except our dirty clothes which were in a poly bag.   We did see what we thought was our luggage sitting outside in torrential rain in Paris CDG and thought it would be getting wet.    Must remember to put everything in a big poly bag next time- camping  style.

But it has been an interesting exercise in trying to get in touch with airport baggage agents and airlines.    Phone lines that have an answering machine;  phone lines that have an answering machine that is so full it can’t take any more;  phone lines that ring and ring and ring and ring, and those expensive phone lines that answer and say (every time) that they are experiencing high volumes of calls, then play music.   Getting hold of a real person is difficult …….. but it is possible.    I think the trick is to go somewhere else and ask to be transferred to where you are trying to get to.

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Living in deepest darkest Perthshire, we like to visit cities on holiday, so we rented an apartment in Paris for a week.   Nice and central with the big attractions within walking distance.  

Actually, the less obvious things to do and see were as enjoyable and much less crowded than the main things.    And although we visited Notre Dame, the Pompidou Centre, Musee d’Orsay, Sacre Coeur, Saint Chapelle and took a boat trip on the Seine – all busy – we really liked the Opera Garnier, Mamottan Monet Museum, and various churches we visited.     The Louvre, Eiffel Tower, Champs Elysees etc. will have to wait for another time.

St Eustache, 10 minutes walk north from Pont Neuf, was particularly interesting.   Half an hour before mass on Sundays, the organist gives a mini recital.   He peeps out from behind the huge instrument high above the great doors and explains what he is about to play, and then, watched by his keen organ scholars, plays wonderfully.

Apart from the seriously good food, a couple of things struck us:   Parisians just seem to know how to dress tastefully – no bare midriffs and exposed bellybuttons on show in the street here.    And few fat people – we saw no fat children at all.   Also, the Metro works reliably and is pleasant to use.

So back home after a nightmare journey:   Flybe Paris Edinburgh was cancelled (stuck flaps on the plane just before take-off), so we went to  Southampton, and then another flight to Edinburgh.   Arrived at midnight 7 and a half hours late.    One bag has been delivered home after 24 hours;   the other will hopefully follow.

But great to get away to a city for a week, and to be in Paris on Bastille Day.

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Grumpy Bus Drivers

Another trip on Megabus yesterday to the (Scottish) big smoke.   Big queues to cross the Forth Road Bridge due to Highland Show traffic.   The driver did really well using bus lanes etc. so we were not too late into Edinburgh.

The bus back was going from Edinburgh to Inverness, and boy, was the driver grumpy.    These days, they have to do an airline type talk – it is now compulsory to wear seat belts on busses fitted with them – so there is that to say, a no alcohol message, and a message about the location of emergency exits, fire extinguisher and first aid kit.    This message was delivered in possibly the most unsmiling way possible – it actually felt like a threat.  

Now I’ve nothing against Inverness, but this is the second grumpy Inverness driver I have come across.    Perhaps it has to do with battling up and down the A9 north of Perth, which, I agree, is no fun.   But it really costs nothing to be nice to your customers.

An enormous lady in the seat behind me interrupted the driver to ask about a seat belt extension – something the driver clearly did not have.    He merely repeated that “wearing belts is a legal requirement …… (pause) …… there are exceptions” and sat down.   That was it.

He had to go through the whole thing again when we stopped in the middle of Queensferry Road to collect passengers for Aberdeen off a broken down Megabus.    Not a happy bunny at all.

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Decisions, decisions.

Big fuss in the parliament yesterday.    The SNP want to re-assess the case for trams in Edinburgh, and I can’t say I blame them.    I still have not seen a decent explanation about why the capital needs trams when it has a perfectly good bus service.   OK, the busses could become more environmentally friendly busses and so on, but the trams will cause huge traffic disruption, will take up a disproportionate amount of road and cost £600 million – probably more.    The value of the work already done, and cancelling existing contracts is around £100 million.

The SNP also want to cancel EARL – this is the Edinburgh Airport Rail Link.    I actually think the folk in Edinburgh need to remember that this link can go North as well as West, and it could actually be a very useful addition to our transport infrastructure if it works as it might.

It looks like most other parties are in favour of the trams and EARL, so Alex Salmond will be struggling here.

One thing I am absolutely with the SNP on is the dualling of the A9 north of Perth.   Anyone who has driven this road will know that this is Scotland’s Secret Shame.   Given the growth of Inverness, there has been a huge traffic increase, and lorries have taken to travelling by night as well as by day now.    It is 122 miles long, and much of it is two lane leading to frustration  and danger as drivers take huge risks to pass slower traffic.    There have been plenty of accidents, injuries and fatalities.    It is high time this was made dual carriageway.

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