Categories
Miscellaneous

The Average U.K. Train is Twice as Old as the Average Car

How can it be that the average car on our roads is about 8 years old, while the average train has spent around 19 years on the tracks. Trains will travel many times the distance of a car during its lifetime, and because they’re used by so many people, it makes sense to replace them at regular intervals of around 10 years. It keeps the experience fresh and enjoyable for passengers and keeps the railways relevant to the world changing around it. In many cases, they can keep on going, and that allows you to send older rolling stock to other lines. Especially if it allows you to replace old diesel trains with newer electric ones. You routinely see this kind of thing in Asia when old Japanese trains often find their way to less developed nations in the region for example.

If the old carriages are not needed on other lines, they can of course also be refurbished or recycled. We’ve seen an example of up-cycling recently when some old tube trains were refurbished for use on a national rail line. Vivarail have even been turning some of them into battery electric trains, which for me is how they all should be. It’s the easiest way to electrify old lines and make rail travel even more sustainable.

It’s important to remember that it’s ok to replace new trains every 10 years. You can see it as wasteful when you can keep running old trains for decades. But on lines where Pacers are still used for example, you won’t find many people who love that service or those trains, apart from the rare fanatical enthusiast. Even if we were to do the worst possible thing and just scrap the trains after 10 years, that would be nothing compared to the insane levels of waste that the car industry creates. We need huge and sustained investment and we need it to be spent in the right places. It must provide the best bang for the buck. So, in other words, everything other than HS2.

Categories
Miscellaneous

How to Fix UK Train Ticketing

One of the reasons I haven’t used trains more than a handful of times in the last decade was because of my frustration at the lack of innovation in ticketing. While they have made progress in that time, it’s still a far cry from the Suica and Passmo smartcard systems Japanese travellers enjoy.

We started with services like Trainline, an app where you can buy tickets. It has some nice features, but one of the biggest problems is that, at least here in the south, we can’t just show the conductor our phone screen. Instead, we have to enter a code provided by Trainline into the station ticket machine in order to print out a paper version of our ticket! In other parts of the country you can keep it in-app via QR code. But even then, it doesn’t strike me as an elegant solution. I think you should be able to use NFC to scan the phone on the gate to open it like you would if you were paying for something with Apple Pay. Presumably this will become an option at some point. I hope so.

But, perhaps the holy-grail of easy ticketing is the Oyster Card style tap in and tap out system where you don’t have to buy any tickets ahead of time for the quickest and most seamless experience.

Sadly, Oyster isn’t available outside of TfL lines but we do now have a dizzying array of smartcards available from every rail franchise in the country. And I’m sure you’ll be unsurprised to find out that in true British Rail tradition, they all work in slightly different ways and are unnecessarily confusing. Most of them appear to only work with season tickets or regular tickets you pre-purchase on an app, website or ticket machine, which to me seems to defeat the purpose.

The best example I’ve found is The Key Smartcard by GTR. Which fortunately for me allows me travel on my local Southern service as well as Thameslink, GX, and Great Northern. But puzzlingly, not Southeastern. Despite them also being part of Govia and also distributing their own card with the same name.

The best thing about “The Key” by far, which sets it apart from all of the others, is the ability to combine the season ticket function with this feature called KeyGo. This allows you to assign a debit card to your account, and enables pay as you go travel for lines you don’t have a season ticket for. Or just make travel super easy for less frequent train travellers. Just tap in and out as you would with Oyster. Pay attention every other train operator. You need to do this immediately.

And then once we get to this point, we need a fully integrated system were you can use one card on any line and the ticket money gets automatically distributed to the right TOC. Maybe a card branded National Rail Smartcard which works at any station. This should be a major focus for National Rail. We can’t afford to fall any further behind the rest of the world. And passengers deserve a ticketing system fit for the modern world.

Categories
Miscellaneous

How to Fix the UK Train Network

As I’m only a few months away now from giving back my Smart EQ electric car, my second EV, and my last privately owned car, I’ve been thinking about how I’m going to get around in future. I don’t tend to travel very far very often, and cycling works for me to get around most of the time. But when I want to go to Scotland for example, trains are the obvious choice. They’re efficient, they’re fun, and they’re electric in many cases.

As a child I loved trains, and at one point I wanted to be a train driver. Now that I’m rediscovering my love of rail, I suppose it may still be possible, but that’s something to consider in the future. As far as the train network itself, it has many problems, and as someone who hasn’t been paying much attention to it for a long time, I’d like to offer my fresh perspective on what can and should happen in order to bring the British rail network up to the level it should be.

Trains are one of those things that the British invented before they got left behind as other countries surpassed them. If you look at the Japanese or Dutch railway systems now, and then you look at our trains in 2020, you should feel ashamed and embarrassed to be British. I know I do.

One of the main reasons we’ve put ourselves in this position is because of the nostalgia people feel in this country towards those good old days. Most of the people who truly care about trains are the same people who have grown up with and have great attachment to steam and diesel rolling stock. It has prevented us from moving forward and causing this huge resistance to change. But there are other reasons too. Politically, we’ve seen awful government after awful government who haven’t been willing to invest. And because our society has fully embraced the car to the detriment of trains, buses and cycling, our ancient and crumbling train infrastructure has been left to rot. Even keeping it from disintegrating further costs huge amounts of money which is then translated to sky high ticket prices. For a service that doesn’t even come close to justifying this cost. It would surely be cheaper to just rip it all up and basically start again.

Everything about rail travel in this country feels antiquated and long overdue a total overhaul. From the track and stations to ticketing and railcards. We need full electrification, we need contactless payments and Oyster support nationally, new trains, timetables you can rely on. And most importantly, if the prices are to remain high, then the service quality has to match.

In the coming posts, I will go into more detail about each of the topics I’ve outlined here.

Categories
Miscellaneous

How do you live sustainably as a Billionaire?

If you were a billionaire and you chose to live a sustainable life from this point forward, what could you actually spend your money on? It’s a pretty interesting question.

Living sustainably means creating the lowest impact you possibly can in every area of your life. Your home, transport, food and drink and everything in between. I’m certainly not an expert on this. I just think it’s an interesting topic to speculate about. And it may not be long at all before the age of Jeff Bezos buying the biggest house in LA without a second thought is over with. So why not prepare ourselves for that day now?

I imagine that for housing, you’d be limited to either a tiny house of some description, or the smallest flat that could meet your living requirements with no excessive space. The only real difference between the rich and the poor would be the area the building is located, and the materials used in the construction.

Transport is quite a simple one as I see it. We will have autonomous cars pretty soon, and I imagine that as part of this transition, you will no longer be allowed to own a car for your own use exclusively. And you certainly won’t be able to accumulate giant garages of exotic fossil fueled sports cars. Money will certainly give you access to more luxurious autonomous vehicles, but it will still be a far cry from the private jet lifestyle we see today. We will likely also see Hyperloop emerge as a replacement for flying and this will likely offer private pods for the wealthy in a similar way as we see today. But you won’t own them as the billionaires of today own their jets. So again, another area where more money won’t give you the huge difference in experience which is currently the case.

When it comes to clothing and general stuff, we will all be living in these small homes, and any stuff you buy will need to be useful and not excessive. You’ll still be able to use your wealth to buy the nicest clothes out of the most exclusive sustainable materials, but you’ll be limited in how much you can own. We will all have smaller wardrobes, filled with much higher quality stuff that we will actually wear. This will be a huge improvement over the current situation, and will massively narrow the gap between the haves and the have-nots.

I could go on but I think this makes the situation quite clear. The future that we know is coming requires us to live smaller, more locally, with less (albeit higher quality stuff). There will be no mansions, giant yachts, private jets or supercar collections to spend your billions on. So perhaps this has something to do with the fierce resistance to the ideas of Bernie Sanders, Jeremy Corbyn and anyone else who dares spout just a tiny amount of this thing called common sense which has been long forgotten in world society.

The end of capitalism is required in order to make a better world, and they will fight us all the way. Which doesn’t really make a lot of sense considering we want a better world. It’s not like we’re threatening to blow everything up like a villain in a blockbuster movie after all.