Archive for This can only end badly for taxpayers

The wonderful world of the railways

Posted in And thus the Mystery was solved Watson!, The Railways, Tunnels with tags , , , , on November 10, 2011 by awickerman

Started the week all set for an exciting run of tunnel inspecting night shifts, having made the mistake of not getting it wrong the last few times round I was top of the list this year. While some idiot had booked Tuesday to Friday night, instead of the more civilised Monday to Thursday I had carefully established as the norm, it was still four short nights work for five full days pay. Variety being the spice of life I was also looking forward to the change of scene and a chance to escape the office.

Things began well when, before we even began, Thursday night was cancelled as Network Rail wanted to put a test train through and so cancelled all other work on site. When we arrived on Tuesday night things improved further when, due to a combination of the world’s slowest road-railer and a double booking, from our original 3 hour time slot we managed about 1hr 30 of work. That’s 1hr 30 including travel time around the site, so you can imagine how little we actually achieved.

Things hit a peak on Wednesday night when both that night’s work was cancelled due to a tiny mistake in the paperwork AND Friday night was also canned, as Network Rail belatedly pulled the plug, perhaps realising that Friday night is a right bugger to resource and they couldn’t manage it. Almost as if I had deliberately avoided Fridays in previous years for a reason that wasn’t just personal comfort…..

As this is all abortive works we can just pass all the costs onto the client and leave them to argue over who’s fault it is, thus I can happily stick down a full week on the timesheet having only gone to site twice and done barely 1hr of actual work. As a bonus all the work still needs doing before year end, so we’ll be back out in a few weeks for a second attempt, all charged as extras.

To all politicians, rail users and transport pressure groups I say thank you for this wonderful paid holiday. If you focused on the current network and all the problems there, instead of scrapping over white elephants like HS2, I might have been forced to some real work this week.

A lack of trust in politics? I wonder why.

Posted in Almost Beyond Words, Irregular Features, Rantings, Tenuous Link of the Day with tags , , , , on April 8, 2011 by awickerman

Ignoring quite how I came across this story I give you this;

MPs excluded from tax avoidance legislation

Having badly written the current finance bill MPs decide the best solution is not to correct it so it does what it is supposed to, but instead just give themselves a specific exemption so they’re OK and leave everyone else to suffer.

To be fair it hasn’t actually passed yet but there seems little doubt it will get past the House of Commons, it has so far. There is still the matter of the House of Lords, and if any of them have any sense they will jump on this and shout about it from the roof tops. If there is any point having a second chamber then surely this it is to stop MPs getting away with blatant hypocrisy and arrogance like this?

However as the Lords is now stuffed with political appointees from all sides, most of whom appear to be ex-MPs, failed MPs or wished-they-had-been-MPs I’d be surprised if this doesn’t just get waved through with little more than a ‘I wish I’d thought of that’ from most peers.

Still, it will remove one of the last arguments in favour of the House of Lords so we’ll be one step close to closing it down,  sacking the buggers and stripping John Prescott of his title and hurling him into a rat filled sewer. Which is something I suppose.

Another London Transport Mystery Explained

Posted in Almost Beyond Words, And thus the Mystery was solved Watson!, The Underground, Tunnels with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 25, 2011 by awickerman

Do you have a burning desire to check people’s tickets on public transport? Do you want to spend all day standing on a bus or train and argue with commuters and passengers about whether or not they have a valid ticket? If so become a Revenue Protection Officer! And for god’s sake work for those idiots at Transport for London who’ll pay you more than anyone else would dream of.

If you ask those nice chaps at the Department of Eduction, through the yoff orientated Job4U site, they will tell you a Revenue Protection chap could earn £14,500 as a new entrant, up to maybe £22,500 for a senior role.  The Transport Skills Council agrees and give the helpful advice that about £17,000 is what a trained, post-probation officer should expect, though I suspect they may have added an extra ‘0’ on the starting salary. That or they think the starting salary really is £145,000 which looks a bit steep even by TfL standards.

With that in mind how much do you think TfL pay a new starter? No, it’s more than that, it is in fact £30,150, rising to £34,141 after 1 years probation, plus of course 30 days holiday and a final salary pension. For this you will have to do a 36 hour week, earliest start of 6:30, latest 22:40 and no night shifts (fair enough, who’d want to revenue protect a night bus?) and ping around London on various bus routes. In the unlikely event you can’t imagine what the job involves there is a hand youtube video explaining it.

Neither the work nor the conditions are worse than a revenue inspector anywhere else in the UK would experience, yet they pay more than double what everyone else does. This is just one of the reasons why the ‘Bus’ part of TfL requires a subsidy of £600 million a year,  but don’t expect anything to be done about it. After all if people asked questions about salaries rather than just brutally cutting the network someone might ask questions about why Paul Hendy is on £430,000 despite being an idiot, why so many of his minions have to be paid over £100,000 despite a track record of incompetent failure or why we need a £75,000 Head of Behaviour Change Programme.

I’m sure it doesn’t need saying that Revenue Protection Officers are, of course, covered by that friend of the traveller Bob Crow and his loveable funsters at the RMT. However it’s only in London that he’s managed to gain such hansom remuneration for his members. Explanations vary. You could believe that only in London were management stupid enough to grant such pay rises, you could say that only in London is public transport important enough to allow a union to blackmail people or you instead note that all the payrises occurred under that union favourite Ken Livingstone who probably just hurled money at them as payment for that support. And frankly if you don’t think it was option 3 you should take a long hard look in the mirror, and then look at this marvellous Kabul time-share opportunity I have for you…..

Offshore Wind – Tricky

Posted in Irregular Features, Your cut-out-and-keep Guide with tags , , , , , on November 5, 2010 by awickerman

The chaps at the Carbon Trusts have belatedly worked out that off shore wind farms are tricky beasts, particularly the upcoming ‘Phase 3’ lot of deep water wind farms. As we’ve used up all the easy to get to spots off shore, and as people are starting to complain about having a large, noisy, ugly bird muncher on land, we must head to deep water and that is a problem.

To solve this they have launched OWA, the Offshore Windfarm Access challenge. For obvious reasons the normal deep offshore approach wont work (helicopters and windmills go together almost as badly as birds and windmills) so they need to get there by boat. For the current generation pretty much anything will do as it’s not to choppy inshore, so the waves are small and currents low, while the windmills themselves are relatively small. It’s usually a small little 10m jobbie that uses a gangplang to get onto the access platform, no crew accommodation to speak off and fairly limited range and endurance.

In contrast the Phase 3 windfarms will be something like 300km into the North Sea, be far bigger and have to deal with high winds and big waves, the design scenario being 5m high waves and 30knot wind. Hence the need for a new shiny transfer system. And make no mistake a transfer system is important as offshore windmills run at only ~90% availability (not load factor, though availability is one of the components of load factor) and that’s for windmills in shallow water. In deep water and being hit by North Sea storms that figure will plunge, particularly when you consider the main causes of failure; the turbine controller trips out. No seriously, 70% of all ‘repairs’ are turning-it-off-and-on-again which apparently cannot be done remotely and needs a bloke on a boat to do. If the controllers get phased by inshore conditions the central North Sea is going to eat them alive, in all honesty this should probably be a contest to make hardened and competent control systems, but that would be too logical for the Carbon Trust I suppose.#

For those of you with an interest find here the project spec, you too could win £100,000 in development money and possibly millions to build a prototype. For everyone else fear not, windmill makers still need help building foundations (it’s deep, giant concrete pillars just aren’t cutting it), sorting out the wake effect of windmills (i.e. how far apart they have to be) and electrical transfer systems (how on earth to get the electricity back to the mainland).

As the Carbon Trust is very generously funded by the inordinately retarded Climate Change Levy (which is far too mind blowingly stupid to discuss here in detail) there will be plenty of money to be thrown at all these problems, not to mention the dozens of other problems they haven’t even thought of yet, because as I said at the top; Offshore Wind – Tricky.

Construction Inflation

Posted in Irregular Features, The Underground, Your cut-out-and-keep Guide with tags , , , , , , on August 26, 2010 by awickerman

Today I found myself going through the big book of costs at work and was interested to come across the pricing for the previous Bond Street station upgrade, this was from the 1995 attempt at CrossRail not the current one. It was a similar scheme (bigger ticket halls, better access, CrossRail connection, etc) but the price was a surprise.

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Railway Costs, Yet another misguided review thereof

Posted in Alas the Mystery Remains Holmes, Even Stevie Wonder Saw That Coming, Your cut-out-and-keep Guide with tags , , , , , , , on June 16, 2010 by awickerman

Amongst the scintillating reads I receive was this gem, the review into railway costs has, despite reporting early, discovered the well known fact that British railway works costs far more than anywhere else. They’re also expected to report that the Pope has Catholic tendencies, though that has not yet been confirmed.

Sadly after this promising start it appears to go down hill as it starts talking about ‘innovative working’ and other such border line management waffle. While some new thinking would of course be welcome, starting with banishing the Luddite fear of new technology, that is not the real problem. The real problem is summed up by my work on the railways last night.

I arrived on site at 11:45 or so, as is always the case with these things I drove there. (No-one who works on the railways actually uses them, they’re just too inconvenient.) I meet the cast of thousands that is required these days and had a chat with the sparkies (HV electricians) about the books/papers they’d brought to read that night, sparkies only being employed to turn the power off at the start of the night and then on at the end, in between nothing.

Eventually by 12:15 I started wondering when we were going to start, at which point the supervisor turned up and announced the driver hadn’t turned up and as such our nights work was off. Of course the other job was going ahead and had the space for us to tag along, however that wasn’t in the paperwork and so would have been illegal. After checking this was definitely the case I gathered my merry band, gave them the bad/good news and we went home to enjoy a moderately late night and then a day off. Last nights work will be rescheduled as soon as possible as an urgent job, which means in at least 8 weeks time thanks to minimum notice periods.

In those two paragraphs you see all the problems afflicting railway work; the huge number of people needed for even a simple job, the bureaucratic delays, the problem of abortive work where jobs get cancelled on the night but the client still gets charged, the fact ‘urgent’ means ‘in a couple of months’, the paper work which means last minute changes are impossible and most importantly the fact all of this happens alarmingly regularly.

Unless this review deals with those problems, and the real elephant in the room of  the Railway’s horrific approach to health and safety (which is more about paperwork and arse covering for management than safety) it will be just another waste of paper. My hopes are not high.

A Night in the Life of a Tunnel Engineer

Posted in Irregular Features, Rantings, Tunnels, Your cut-out-and-keep Guide with tags , , , , , , on May 19, 2010 by awickerman

Last nights work or, as it could also be called; Why everything on the railways costs an utter fortune. The one fact you need to know before reading is this, whenever you work on the railway you need to be accompanied by a COSS, the man responsible for making sure you don’t die.

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