Category Archives: Railways

Level-headed Scotland forges ahead

From time to time good news comes from Scotland and – after March’s items prompted a document search – 1097 items in which Scotland was mentioned were found. The following news items were selected and arranged simply because the country was named in the title of the file. Due to the lapse of time some links no longer work – these are marked with a cross

2004 – a fairer, less stressful house purchasing system

When you buy a house in Scotland, if your offer is accepted, you are immediately under an obligation to buy that property. This is why an agreement in principle is required before you go house-hunting. By contrast, in England and Wales, you can pull out of buying the property without penalty up until the time when contracts are exchanged. The Scottish vendor is also committed to the deal as soon as he accepts the buyer’s offer. Hence the risk of gazumping (where the vendor later accepts a higher offer from someone else) is removed. http://www.icplanning.co.uk/buying_scotland.shtml x

2004 – unfluoridated water

The Scottish Executive axed the proposal to add fluoride to the country’s water in favour of better targeted dental services.

2005 – taking freight off the roads

Councillor Julia Southcott, Convener of East Dunbartonshire’s Development & Environment Committee said “Reusing the canal for transporting freight is one of the key sustainability options being investigated.” http://www.waterscape.com/news/nid45 x Since then, though constrained by lack of funding, the Scottish government has endeavoured to preserve its shipbuilding capacity and maintain and use its waterways.

The Timberlink project, collaboration between ports, British Waterways and forestry companies, provides a good example of shifting traffic to waterways. 

2007 – fair trade in food

Points made in a report written by The Church of Scotland’s Church and Society Council, focussing on the need for fair trade in food, unusually considering Scottish farmers as well as those in the two-thirds world, included these points:

The major buyers of domestic production are the supermarkets and their suppliers who control most of the food bought for home consumption. Directly or through the food supply chain farmers must sell to large multinational businesses.

The current distribution of resources within the food supply chain is out of balance with effort and risk. The food supply chain represents a market failure. There is need to increase the bargaining power of primary producers if they are to survive.

The power of the multiples and the detached attitude of government seem likely to result in an increasing proportion of UK consumption being sourced from outwith the UK. To pay more for food than the market rate might seem contrary to supermarkets responsibility to their shareholders. However this market rate is determined by these major buyers. Change in practice would require a revision of the current concept of corporate responsibility.

2008 – re-opening a railway

The Stirling–Alloa–Kincardine rail link , which was re-opened for the first time in almost 40 years, is delivering economic, social and environmental benefits to the communities directly concerned and to the wider Scottish economy. The government website adds that there are direct hourly passenger services between Alloa, Stirling and Glasgow Queen Street and peak-time services to and from Edinburgh, Monday to Friday.

The line also offers freight services along the line and provides the option for diverting freight trains from the existing, longer route via the Forth Bridge.

2008 – no more PFI

Other measures were noted. The devolved government in Scotland has acted energetically to improve the lives of many electors. Scottish measures to help the frail elderly and students are well known but far more is being done. The Scottish Government announced that the new South Glasgow Hospital would be publicly funded instead of using the expensive and often unreliable PFI system.

2008 – Scottish food for Scottish people

The government is aiming to see more beef, lamb, pig, chicken, fruit, salmon and white fish processed in Scotland rather than being exported. The Rural Affairs secretary Richard Lochhead said “I would like to see more Scottish food ending up on our plates.”

2008 – no more nuclear power

Tidal and wave generated renewable energy, hydropower and offshore wind is being backed. Alex Salmond explained that it has no need to install more nuclear power, ‘a dirty technology’, in which it has no advantage.

More energy is now generated in Scotland by renewables than nuclear power and exports of electricity to UK rose by 50% last year.

2013 – Community land reform

Remote crofting communities are being enabled to flourish and Scots have been given the right to buy land they’ve worked for years. The Agricultural Holdings Review which was launched to examine the situation of land ownership and use, tenant-owner relationships, and the relevant legislation eventually led to Land Reform (Scotland) Bill to the Scottish Parliament  passed by the Scottish Parliament on 16 March 2016. It created a Community Right to Buy for Sustainable Development. Like the earlier Crofting Community Right to Buy and the Community Right to Buy abandoned or derelict land, the Community Right to Buy for Sustainable Development does not require a willing seller but allows ministers to compel landowners to sell if they decide that the sale will further sustainable development in the area.

2015 – GM crops ban

Scotland banned the use of all genetically modified crops in a move which the government says will preserve the country’s “clean and green brand”. There was “no evidence” of a demand for GM crops among consumers in Scotland, The SNP rural affairs secretary Richard Lochhead said, adding: “The Scottish Government has long-standing concerns about GM crops – concerns that are shared by other European countries and consumers, and which should not be dismissed lightly.”

2016 – MSPs back fracking ban

MSPs backed an outright ban on fracking proposed by Scottish Labour. There are ongoing calls for first minister Nicola Sturgeon’s temporary prohibition or moratorium on the technology being used in Scotland to be made permanent.

2017 – basic income trial

Four Scottish councils are to undertake feasibility studies and to develop pilot models for the first pilot basic income schemes in the UK, with the support of a £250,000 grant announced by the Scottish government last month. This funding will cover the financial years 2018-19 and 2019-20

2019 – call to recognise state of Palestine

A cross-party coalition of Scottish politicians urges Britain to uphold the rule of law and recognise the state of Palestine.

2019 – dignity in dying

On March 31, The Sunday Times reported that a group of nine MSPs has called for dignity in death for people who face ‘terrible suffering’ called to mind many other reports of beneficial developments in Scotland.

 

 

 

 

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Hawes: as government sheds commitments, ‘we are going to provide for ourselves’

As large-scale cuts in public expenditure began to ‘bite’, the 2010 Conservative manifesto presented the Big Society as its flagship policy, later endorsed by the Conservative–Liberal Democrat coalition. The Big Society Network was formed, owned by The Society Network Foundation charity. It had £2 million from the National Lottery and public-sector grants. However in July 2014, the Charity Commission investigated alleged misuse of funds by the network; it went into administration and was wound up. David Cameron did not use the term in public after 2013 and the phrase ceased to be used in government statements.

Years earlier the people of Hawes in the Yorkshire Dales were realising this vision, because, as John Blackie, a district and county councillor explained: “Here we say (to government), ‘If you aren’t going to provide for us, we are going to provide for ourselves’”.

Necessity has been the mother of invention.

Hawes: 1137 population, 683 dwellings

The Wensleydale line and Hawes railway station had closed in 1959. Then both police houses closed. Last year one of the town’s two banks left, leaving Hawes with a single branch open three days a week. “One of the big issues here is that we are losing young families; if we lose services we lose families,” Mr Blackie said. Four local schools in the Upper Dales are only half full, he added.

In 1992, Dairy Crest, its biggest employer, sold the Wensleydale Creamery, featured in the 1989 Wallace & Gromit film: ‘A Grand Day Out’.

Four of the creamery’s managers and a local businessman bought the enterprise and revived it. More than 200 people now work there and it produces 4,000 tonnes of cheese a year.

Since then the business has gone from strength to strength and a new dairy was built there in 2014.

In 1997, the community opened the Upper Wensleydale Community Partnership, in a place where people could get access to council services and pay rents and rates five days a week. Before this, a council clerk visited Hawes one day each week.

Over the years they began to run their library, post office and police station. The police moved in, using a room in the community centre which moved to a new site in 2005, bringing the library with them and opening it five days a week instead of two. These local services would have shut down if locals hadn’t volunteered to run them ‘on their own terms’. The town has a retained Fire Station, crewed by firefighters who provide on-call cover from home or their place of work.

After years of dwindling bus services the community launched its own Little White Bus in 2011 to meet the trains at Garsdale station seven miles away. Today they have a fleet of 10 minibuses that rely on 53 volunteer drivers and nine part-time staff, ferrying 65,000 passengers a year. They also have a Land Rover to take children from the most remote farms to and from school.

After the village was hit by Post Office cutbacks, the Northern Echo reported in 2014 that the Upper Wensleydale Community Partnership had voted to run a post office at the Community Office, a sorting office in the town’s business park and outreach services in Askrigg and Bainbridge. The move followed the retirement of Hawes postmaster whose departure left residents facing a 17-mile drive to the nearest post office. Councillor Blackie said he would also aim to relaunch post office services in some of the 11 villages where sub-post offices had closed over the past 17 years.

Their latest enterprise (October 2017) is taking a three-year lease of the petrol station which was closing down. They hope to install a 24-hour self-service pump and an electric charging point and – one day – to buy the site, offering community shares. It is the first in the country to be run by its community, (part-time staff and volunteers) not for profit but to save local people from making a 36-mile round trip along narrow roads to the nearest filling station open full time. Hawes is so remote that they qualify for a government rebate of 5p per litre to keep the prices down.

Many readers will wish them well as, next year, the partnership plans to buy two plots of land to build affordable homes for rent in perpetuity . . .

and as the Wensleydale Railway Association plans to rebuild the railway from Northallerton to to join the Settle-Carlisle Railway at Garsdale, re-opening the station in Hawes.

 

 

 

Working for the common good: Ketumile Masire,1925-2017

Emily Langer in the Independent has written an obituary of Ketumile Masire – a statesman who described himself as ‘a farmer who has been drawn into politics’.

A summary with added links and photographs

Masire herded cattle before enrolling in a primary school at 13 and receiving a scholarship to attend a high school in South Africa that trained many leaders of the first government of independent Botswana. When his parents died he supported his siblings, becoming a headmaster. He later earned a Master Farmers Certificate, and having saved enough money to buy a tractor,  became a BBfarmer, using modern agricultural techniques.

Botswana cattle

He served on tribal and regional councils and was a founder and secretary-general of the Botswana Democratic Party, now the country’s leading political party. He once travelled 3,000 miles of the Kalahari desert to attend two dozen meetings over two weeks.

After serving as minister of finance and development planning and Vice President, Ketumile Masire became President of Botswana (1980-1998): roads and schools were built, healthcare improved, access to clean water expanded, farming techniques advanced and life spans extended.

The discovery of diamond reserves had transformed the country’s prospects and Masire continued to use the revenues for the public good after the death of his predecessor Seretse Khama.  He became ‘a model leader in a model nation on a continent where poverty, corruption and violence had crushed the hopes of many for stability and prosperity’. 

After leading Botswana through a drought that persisted for much of the 1980s, he shared the Africa Prize for Leadership awarded by the Hunger Project in recognition of the food distribution efforts that helped the country avoid starvation during the crisis.

Though South Africa was Botswana’s major economic partner, Botswana opposed apartheid. “He had to walk a fine line in a really rough neighbourhood,” said Chester Crocker, a former US assistant secretary of state for African affairs. “He had to get along with everybody, without sacrificing his principles.”

After leaving office, in addition to tending the cattle on his ranch, Masire advised other African leaders and chaired an international panel that investigated the Rwandan genocide of 1994. He made important contributions to peace efforts in Congo and, more recently, Mozambique. He established a foundation which seeks to improve agriculture, governance and children’s health in the region.

He once said: “We have a saying in Botswana: A man is never strong until he says what he believes and gives other men the chance to do the same. I am proud to say without a doubt – we are a strong democracy.” 

A more chequered account of his life is given in Wikipedia.

 

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Rooftop solar power systems on India’s railway stations funded by coal tax

Saurabh Mahapatra is a young solar enthusiast from India who has reported on emerging solar power markets in several countries. On the Clean Technica website, he records that in  February’s union budget Indian Finance Minister Arun Jaitley announced that 7,000 railway stations will be fed with solar power as part of the Indian Railways’ mission to implement 1,000 megawatts of solar power capacity.

The minister stated that work to set up rooftop solar power systems at 300 stations has already started, and this number will increase to 2,000 stations.

According to data released by the Minister of Railways, India had 7,137 railway stations at the end of March 2015. The project developer will sign a long-term power purchase agreement with Indian Railways.

In addition to rooftop solar power systems (above, Udaipur station), Indian Railways earlier announced plans to launchtender for 150 megawatts (MW) of rooftop systems. IR entered into a partnership with the United Nations Development Programme to set up 5 gigawatts of solar power capacity.

Indian Railways has identified solar power resources in two states so far — Gujarat and Rajasthan — where 25 MW of rooftop and 50 MW of ground-mounted capacity is to be commissioned in the first phase of the program. In the second phase, 60 MW of rooftop and 660 MW of ground-mounted capacity will be installed in nine other states. During the third phase, 400 MW of rooftop and 3,800 MW of ground-mounted capacity will be installed in the rest of the country.

Sputnik International adds that to pay for these solar platforms, as well as other renewable energy sources, India has collected $1.8 billion in taxes on coal mined in India and imported from elsewhere. The revenue from the tax has also gone to cleaning drinking water and conserving forests. India has collected about $8 billion from the coal tax, about 40% of which has gone to the National Clean Energy Fund (NCEF). 

 

 

There are plenty of brilliant plans for getting us moving without trashing the planet

George Monbiot asks: “So why aren’t they happening?”

In the Guardian he described and denounced the current inefficient and polluting transport system.

traffic

“If you controlled the billions that are spent every year, privately and publicly, on the transport system, and your aim was to smooth the passage of those who use it, is this what you would do? Only if your imagination had been surgically excised.

“Even in a small, economically mature, densely-populated nation like this one, where change is easy, we’re still driving in the wrong direction.

“The simplest, cheapest and healthiest solution to congestion is blocked by the failure to provide safe transit. Last year the transport department crowed that it could cut £23m from its budget, as a result of an “underspend on the Cycle Cities Ambition budget”. Instead of handing this money back to the Treasury, it should have discovered why it wasn’t spent and ensured that it doesn’t happen again”.

So here’s a novel idea: how about a 21st Century transport system for the 21st Century? Here is a summary of the excellent constructive advice he gave:

  • aggregate people’s requests via a smartphone app,
  • use minibus services to collect people from their homes and deliver them close to their destinations while minimising their routes.
  • build a network of such safe, pleasant and convenient walking and cycling paths (like those in Hamburg) that no one with the ability to do otherwise set a date by which no new car is manufactured unless it’s electric,
  • set up household charging points, allowing people to plug in without having to take their car off the road,
  • introduce a scrappage payment to replace old cars with no car at all: it would take the form of public transport tokens,
  • facilitate ‘walking buses’ to school: parents take turns to lead a crocodile of children,
  • organise local drop-off points, so that parcel companies don’t clog our streets, and we never miss deliveries,
  • provide bikes to hire at train and bus stations,   synchronising bus and train timetables,
  • reopen old rail lines which were closed in the mistaken belief that train travel was on the way out and build new lines to bridge the gaps,
  • bring train services under public control and use the money now spent on road building to make tickets affordable for everyone,
  • implement the brilliant plan proposed by Dr Alan Storkey: for an intercity bus network faster and more convenient than car travel, using dedicated lanes on the motorways and interchanges at the motorway junctions and
  • build new settlements around public transport hubs – light rail, tram and electric bus systems – rather than around the car.
  • (Ed: place more bulky freight on our waterways.

What is difficult about any of this? What technological barriers stand in the way? None. Transport is among the simplest of our problems to solve.

 

 

 

Report: road freight over 300km should shift to rail or waterborne transport

1pteg header

In February, the Passenger Transport Executive Group – pteg – which brings together and promotes the interests of the six strategic transport bodies serving the largest city regions outside London, published a report: ‘Delivering the future: New approaches to urban freight’.

It highlighted the role of urban freight in the UK economy and envisaged that every opportunity should be taken for freight to make its way into urban areas by rail or water or into the distribution parks that serve them.

As the report’s main focus was on ‘last mile’ journeys, it argued that those distribution sites should be located so that goods could travel the last mile(s) into urban centres with as little environmental impact as possible using zero/low emission modes.

1domestic freight pie chart

The European Commission’s goal is that 30% of road freight over 300km should shift to other modes such as rail or waterborne transport by 2030, and more than 50% by 2050, facilitated by efficient and green freight corridors.’ The writer is particularly interested in the use of our extensive networks of inland waterways – a neglected and underused resource in comparison with other European countries where larger inland waterways are used as major freight routes as well as for making deliveries directly to city centre businesses. One of the brief case studies cited:

The city of Utrecht in the Netherlands uses a zero emission electric boat to make deliveries in the city centre. Owned and run by the city and known as the ‘Beer Boat’, the vessel makes six trips, four days a week supplying more than 60 catering businesses located along the canal network. Funding for the boat came from the city’s air quality improvement budget.

1utrecht canalside2

The advantages of water transport of freight include:

  • greater safety: a key advantage of  water freight over road freight is that it is largely separated from pedestrians, cyclists and motorists,
  • lower emissions,
  • lower fuel costs (by water),
  • less need for road and track maintenance,
  • less road traffic congestion: water freight has the potential to cut congestion. A modern barge operating on an inland waterway can carry up to 550 tonnes in some areas and up to 1,500 tonnes on larger waterways. In the UK most lorries can carry up to 29 tonnes.
  • less noise and vibration,
  • improved quality of life and urban environment.

1barge freight load

To enable more road freight to transfer onto water, ‘network capacity enhancements’ should be undertaken, including the development of a more extensive network of water-connected distribution sites, more support for ongoing maintenance of waterways and the removal of barriers (such as low bridges or narrow locks) to ensure that they can accommodate more freight traffic.

Infrastructure for the loading and unloading of waterborne freight can also be available in cities that have rivers or canals passing through them, although freight must often compete against potentially more remunerative uses for the land, such as residential and office developments.

1pteg graphic

Government, in partnership with local authorities, could work to ensure that all major new distribution parks are planned with a presumption of rail and/or water connections so that suitable sites are identified nationally and protected for freight use and the development of Urban Consolidation Centres (UCCs) with rail and water-connected distribution sites is encouraged, reducing inefficiencies and ensuring that low emission modes are a practical option for the last mile.

For more news on freight by water go to the Commercial Boat Operators Association