Archive for Railways

Of Trees and Railways

Posted in Engineering, Irregular Features, The Railways, Your cut-out-and-keep Guide with tags , , on May 21, 2012 by awickerman

With the cutting edge up-to-the-minute reportage that this blog is justly famous for I now give you a report from January; the gripping London Assembly report into railway embankments.

The shocking conclusions are;

1. People don’t like it when the trees and greenery between them and train lines is removed.
2. Enviromental groups don’t like it when trees and greenery are removed at all. (Except Japanese knotweed which they want removed faster.)

However all this is somewhat irrelevant as;
3. Network Rail isn’t run by tree hating tyrants who destroy greenery for fun and all the work is in fact necessary.

If this wasn’t obvious to you without that report well done, you are well qualified to be a London Assembly member. The report is full of such utter tosh as recommending Network Rail join the London Bio-Diversity Partnership, as;

While responding to the need for safety, the value of biodiversity and wildlife should always be taken into consideration.

Regular readers (hello to both of you) will know I don’t often have a good word for NR but in this case they are bang on the money. What is the point of considering biodiversity in relation to vital engineering works? If the tree needs to come down to keep the embankment safe, it will and all the consultation and partnerships in the world wont change that. That is in fact one of the curses of the modern age, the fake consultation – pretending to take account of public opinion while in fact intending to plough on regardless. NR should be congratulated for not pretending and anyone looking for savings in the TfL/LU budget should start by sacking everyone involved in such pointless partnerships.

To be fair I can see the point of the recommendation on  better informing people, a bespoke letter and a working phone number would probably keep the locals happier than the current form letter and main switchboard approach. Just remember though, all this extra consultation and caring for trees is why railworks in Britain are 40% more expensive than in the rest of Europe. France just cuts down any tree anywhere near a railway line on general principle and without telling anyone, though interestingly anyone who isn’t a state monopoly industry needs a permit (une demande d’autorisation de coupe ou d’abbatage d’arbres) to cut down their own trees or indeed to plant a tree in your own garden.

So on that note I remind you that bad as things are, it could be worse. You could be in France, applying for a government permit to do your own gardening.

Rail Strike Incoming

Posted in Almost Beyond Words, And thus the Mystery was solved Watson!, Even Stevie Wonder Saw That Coming, The Railways with tags , , , , on July 26, 2011 by awickerman

So a train driver has been caught reading the paper while ‘driving’ his train. Now the train operator pretty much has to discipline the driver or risk attracting attention from the safety regulators, but it is well established RMT policy that no member will ever suffer regardless of what they do and never face the consequences of their actions.

Thus I predict after the full investigation establishes the driver should be disciplined the local RMT chapter will ballot for strike action until he is re-instated (and pay rises all round to cover the emotional distress of the members seeing someone being accountable for their actions). Now FGW will probably back down, train operators normally do, but some form of industrial action has to be on the horizon.

A Striking Matter

Posted in Alas the Mystery Remains Holmes, Posts that are far longer than I first intended, Tenuous Link of the Day, The Railways, Your cut-out-and-keep Guide with tags , , , , , , , , on June 6, 2011 by awickerman

After Vince Cable’s subtle and well judged speech to the GMB two points spring to mind, the first general and the second very rail parochial;

1. Of course strikes are at an all time low; there are barely any trade union members left outside of the public sector. It’s at 14% of the private sector workforce and 56% of the public sector, and bear in mind for these purposes I’m fairly sure the rail industry counts as ‘private’ as part of the whole ‘Ignore Network Rails debts from the national debt total’ scam (NR is technically a private company limited by guarantee after all). And if NR are off the books I’m sure a host of other organisations are as well, if Labour left us nothing they left us lots of thoroughly cooked books.

2. If anyone is serious about implementing the McNulty Study on lowering the costs of the railways the will need those new laws. Amongst the other recommendations was one to stop the constant trend for above inflation pay raises for train staff regardless of ability or performance, which they have very successfully gained through blackmail and extortion, exploiting a monopoly position that would be illegal for a company to have, legitimate strike action;

You can't help but see this graph and be grudgingly impressed with Bob Crow

You may hate Bob Crow, but you cannot deny the ugly hypocrite is damned effective for his members.

So what was the RMT reaction to this idea that future pay rises be in proportion to average earnings and linked to efficiency improvements? Well the report came out on the 31st of May, and had been leaked fairly thoroughly before hand and the weekend before the RMT was organising a strike on the Heathrow Express saying the above inflation 4.5% pay rise linked to performance improvements was “too low” and “loaded with strings”. Ohh and demanding the same Olympic blackmail payments they’ve bullied out of the rest of the railways under threat of a summer of strikes all summer. Not exactly embracing the findings is it?

Frankly a strike law that requires at least half of the RMT to turn up to vote is the only way to stop them, given the number of dogs and dead men on the RMTs books I doubt they’ve even got enough real members to reach a 50% quorum. Besides if Bob is right and his members are all solidly behind his regular strikes then it shouldn’t be a problem, all his members have to  do is be bothered to vote for a change rather than not bother as they normally do. Then again the RMT came out against AV, probably requiring something to have the support of at least 50% of the electorate was felt to set a dangerous precedent for their own strike ballots.

But of course there is bugger all chance of this happening. For some reasons a group of rich industrialist abusing a monopoly position to gouge the population is rightly illegal, but a group of rich train drivers doing the same is a vital social democratic right. Prizes will be awarded if anyone can explain why.

Someone is lying, but who?

Posted in Alas the Mystery Remains Holmes, Engineering with tags , , , , , on May 13, 2011 by awickerman

The railways have got pretty paranoid about electrification recently, back when I did my first batch of training on track access the whole group was taken out to go and play around Waterloo station while being taught the correct way to cross live tracks, now Network Rail are pushing the line that nobody can cross live third rail tracks outside of an emergency. Which brings us neatly to this story;

Station manager sacked for averting death and disaster

The man’s story is that he rang the signal box, told them to turn the power off, got it confirmed it was off and then went onto the track to remove a shopping trolley. Then someone in management noticed he’d been ambling around the track and sacked him for a gross misconduct.

Now either he’s lying (and frankly the details of the story change depending on which version you read, the BBC account is far less clear cut and makes him look a lot worse) or someone at the signal box should be sacked not him. Simply if he did declare an emergency to the signal box and was then told the power was off then the signaller should be sacked (or, as the signaller doesn’t normally control the power, then the local electrical engineer who ballsed up). However if he didn’t actually declare an emergency properly or get it confirmed the power was off then this is just a pile of twisted facts and selective reporting serving as after-the-event justification and he’s a lying bugger who deserves it.

However this does bring us to why I stopped posting. Frankly I just don’t know enough about what the hell happened to make any useful comment beyond “What’s being reported is rubbish”. The truth is known, I suspect it came out at the appeal to the disciplinary that sacked him, but I doubt that it will come out. So all that’s left is a vague story on which all you can do is make an arbitrary decision and rant about it, and what’s the point in that?

The wrong opportunity

Posted in Engineering, Irregular Features, Rantings, Tunnels with tags , , , , , , on February 27, 2011 by awickerman

You know you said “Yes” to the wrong overtime opportunity when you spend the early hours of Saturday night/Sunday morning huddling in the exhaust fumes of a diesel generator because, though the fumes are unpleasant and it’s noisy, it is at least warm and out of the wind.

A good time was had by almost no-one down that railway tunnel.

The Railways: An Apology

Posted in Engineering, Rantings, Tunnels with tags , , , , , on December 9, 2010 by awickerman

I may have at times implied that the railways were particularly incompetent at arranging things. This I now accept was unfair.
Don’t get me wrong they’re still awful, just not uniquely so. I know this as I’m sat at heathrow airport trying to do an inspection and out of a 3 man team only I’m here. And I’m late. One bloke will be 1hr late at least, the other is trying to.sort the permits that were confirmed last week bit never turned up.
I just want to work for someone competent, is that really so much to ask?

Calendars

Posted in And thus the Mystery was solved Watson!, Tunnels with tags , , , , , on October 19, 2010 by awickerman

One of the minor foibles of engineering is the insistence of many clients on using different calendars. This has recently been a quite hilarious issue on a job where a large water scheme must cross the railways.

Network Rail use a calendar where weeks start on the personal tax year, the 6th of April, while the Water companies have a ‘water year’ that runs September to September (that way their annual rain data will catch the whole of winter). Of course both organisations also have financial years  that run from the 1st of April, the dates they used when they were still state owned and occasionally throw in references to the actual calendar year.

All this is fine, until someone starts talking about ‘Week 40’ and you have absolutely no idea which of the various calendars they are using.

Fortunately Network Rail have a built-in system to protect from such mistakes; ludicrous delays giving everyone time to think things through carefully. On trying to book some time on track to put in some monitoring our liaison chap was told we could get access “Next August”. “August 2011?” he asked. “August 2012”  came the reply.

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