Tag Archives: transport

Back from oop North

Tinsley Towers and Meadowhall at Night

Image via Wikipedia

Sorry about the lack of updates this weekend guys, I’ve just got back from a weekend visiting relatives in Sheffield. A special mention to Sam, Andrew, Thomas, William and of course baby Harry!

Sheffield’s a pretty interesting place… of course we all know about Sheffield steel. Sheffield was famous as a centre for metalworking as far back as Chaucer‘s writing in the 13th Century. At the confluence of two rivers – the Don and the Sheaf, and with abundant supplies of coal in the surrounding area, Sheffield was an ideal location for furnaces. And of course things got even busier in the Industrial Revolution, with people such as Henry Bessimer and Benjamin Hunstman developing new techniques of producing quality steel.

My brother summed it up quite accurately, I feel. Sheffield pretty much reflects the developments in Britain since the 1980′s. Once an industrial centre with an international reputation, the steelworks at Meadowhall were closed down, and replaced with a vast shopping complex. All very nice, but virtually all of the shops are selling goods made outside of the UK, and people are just consumers. Whats more, most of the profits go outside of the UK too. What do we actually DO nowadays? Industries such as Coal, Steel, Shipbuilding etc might have been in a  bit of a state in the 1970′s, but was it really wise to consign them to the scrapheap? Instead why not sort out the problems and become competitive? And in favour of what, becoming a nation of shopkeepers? It hasn’t changed much in recent years either, with the refusal to give a Government loan to the Forgemasters company in Sheffield, who make critical components for nuclear submarines, amongst other things.

Having said all of that, Sheffield does seem to have adapted to 21st Century Britain better than many places. And at least the acres of redundant steelworks have provided opportunities for redeveloment. At least meadowhall gives people jobs, and pulls in investment from outside the area. The World Student Games in 1991 also provided a catalyst, with the Don Valley Stadium, Sheffield Arena and Ponds Forge Swimming Centre. It’s not a coincidence that so many great athletes have come from Sheffield in the past few years.I guess Sheffield has carved out a bit of a new identity for itself, but it was a great mistake to demolish the iconic Tinsley cooling towers, alongside Junction 34 of the M1!

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Dover Harbour to be privatised?

Port of Dover, England

Image via Wikipedia

I’ve been reading about a ridiculous plan to privatise the operation of Dover Harbour (click here and here). It’s being dressed up as a plan for a ‘people’s port’, when really it amounts to selling off the family silver for a quick buck.

Dover is a vital part of Britain’s economy and transport infrastructure. It is the UK and the world’s busiest passenger ferry port – with 9 berths, 4 services, 15 ferries and up to 65 sailings each day – and the first place where most people who visit by sea come to when they arrive. Dover Harbour has been run by the Dover Harbour Board since 1606, and currently handles over £80 billion worth of trade each year. Of course Dover also has a historic place in British History, and indeed in the national psyche- think Vera Lynn, Bluebirds etc – making this an even more emotive issue.

The standard old conservative argument has been trotted out about how the port cannot be competitive, etc etc, and being a private business will allow it to borrow money. Rubbish. The state of the railways and local bus companies since privatisation should show anyone that privatisation does not mean investment, it means profits for shareholders and destruction of an industry. Look at other industries such as Steel, Coal, Shipbuilding – communities decimated in the name of removing a line from the balance books.

It really is shocking the extent to which the current Government is willing to go to hive off the public sector. Is it any coincidence that the kind of wealthy businessmen who are likely to invest in privatisation stand to make a nice tidy profit? I cannot help but think that moves like this are ideologically driven, to reduce the state as much as possible, give wealthy investors an opportunity to double their money, and to hell with the consequences. The budget crisis has given the Government a gilt-edged excuse to finish what Thatcher started.

Ferry ports CAN and DO work in public ownership. My local ferry port, here in Portsmouth, operates under council control, and makes a tidy profit each year. In fact, the profit goes towards keeping Portsmouth’s council tax bill relatively low. So why not Dover, which is bigger and busier? If it needs investment, it cannot be anywhere near the sums that were somehow found for propping up the banks only a couple of years ago, and the kind of profits those banks are now making at our expense.

Not only does privatisation mean profit, job losses and poor services, it also means a lack of control for society over crucial functions. Look at how the railway and bus companies have operated in recent years – with no regard at all for passengers, and there is very little the Government – national or local – can do about it. Imagine if a new operating company decided to cut the number of sailings, under the pretext of saving money, much as bus companies cut services? Or put up the charges to the ferry companies? How many people are directly or indirectly employed in Dover thanks to the port?

In a similar manner, privatising the Royal Fleet Auxiliary would mean that any new private owners would be able to do whatever they liked, no doubt at a cost to the country’s defence capability, especially that of the Royal Navy.

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Portsmouth’s WW2 Dead – the Royal Air Force (part 1)

410 Airmen and women from Portsmouth died between 1939 and 1947. Analysing when and how they died tells us much not only about the war that the RAF fought, but also about the population of Portsmouth in the mid-twentieth century.

As with the Navy and Army we can analyse where in Portsmouth they came from, when they died, their ages, what ranks they held, and any decorations they were awarded. But RAF casualties also present us with some unique information – their roles, what aircraft they were flying, and even on what raids they were shot down.

Areas

96 – Southsea (23.41%)
47 – North End (11.46%)
40 – Cosham (9.76%)
25 – Copnor (6.1%)
15 – Fratton (3.66%)
11 – Stamshaw (2.68%)
10 – Drayton (2.44%)
9 – Milton (2.19%)
7 – Buckland (1.7%)
7 – Hilsea (1.7%)
6 – Paulsgrove (1.46%)
5 – East Cosham (1.22%)
5 – Farlington (1.22%)
4 – Eastney (0.98%)
3 – Mile End (0.73%)
2 – Portsea (0.49%)
1 – Wymering (0.24%)

49 men are listed as from ‘Portsmouth’ – 11.95%. The remainder of men are listed as coming from somewhere other than Portsmouth.

Firstly, most RAF men seem to have come from Southsea and outlying areas such as North End, Cosham and Copnor. Cosham in particular is an interesting case – with a relatively low population at the time, it contributed a much larger proportion of airmen than it did sailors and soldiers. Although it had a small population, Cosham woud have been home to more educated and middle class people. Given its more stringent entry requirements and need for specialist skills, its not surprising perhaps that many Cosham men joined the RAF – a case of round pegs in round holes. By comparison, much fewer airmen came from the inner-city areas such as Buckland and Fratton – and none at all from Landport.

When they died

When they died tell us an awful lot about the part that the RAF played in the war:

1 – 1939
36 – 1940
56 – 1941
48 – 1942
95 – 1943
110 – 1944
45 – 1945
14 – 1946
5 – 1947

The large numbers of men killed in 1943 and 1944 suggest that heavy casualties were suffered during Bomber Command’s Stategic Offensive over Germany. I will look more closely at these statistics in a future instalment.

Ranks

The RAF presents an interesting case where ranks are concerned, due to its unique structure.

100 of the Portsmouth Airmen who were killed during the war were commissioned officers – 24.39% of all airmen, a much higher proportion than either the Navy or Army:

2 – Group Captain
3 – Wing Commander
3 – Squadron Leader
20 – Flight Lieutenant
38 – Flying Officer
33 – Pilot Officer
1 – Officer Cadet

310 Portsmouth Airmen killed during the war were either NCO’s or other ranks:

12 – Warrant Officer
65 – Flight Sergeant
177 – Sergeant
16 – Corporal
22 – Leading Aircraftman
9 – Aircraftman 1st Class
7 – Aircraftman 2nd Class

Of these other ranks 270 – 87% – were NCO’s. This was due to the RAF’s unique rank structure. Virtually all air crew were promoted to NCO or officer rank, almost as a matter of course. Subsequently, few other ranks came into harms way during the war, and thus far fewer were killed. Whereas aircrew flying on Bombing missions night after night or were much more vulnerable. Obviously many thousands of ground crew – Aircraftsmen and Corporals, for example – would have been serving with the RAF during the war, but for the most part they would have been serving in relative safety compared to aircrew. The exceptions of course would have been theatres where ground crew were open to air attack or capture, such as at Singapore.

The RAF also had unique customs when it came to ranks. Whereas in the Navy and Army officers led and men followed, in the RAF ranks did not neccessarily correspond with roles. It was quite possible to have a crew made up completely of officers, and another crew made up completely of NCO’s. Therefore, in one aircraft a Flight Lieutenant might be an Air Gunner, whereas in the next plane the Pilot might be a Flight Sergeant.

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Tansport Secretary hails 2010 ‘year of high-speed rail in the UK’

Transport Secretary Lord Adonis has said that 2010 will be the year of “year of high-speed rail in the UK”, according to BBC News.

Lord Adonis’s words come as plans are announced for a new 250mph line linking London and the West Midlands, and proposals for routes further north.

Lord Adonis said: “I want Britain to be a pioneer in low-cost, mass-market high-speed rail. I want to see not just ‘Easyjet’ but ‘Easytrain’ – high-speed trains with airline-style pricing and mass market appeal so that HSR is for all and not just the wealthy.”

I wonder when Lord Adonis last got on a train. I wonder if 2010 will be a year of high speed rail for commuters stood like sardines on Clapham station on a dark January evening. And Lord Adonis will more than likely retire to the Lords opposition benches after the next General Election in any case.

As I have often written before, Britain has been left far behind in rail transport, indeed in other types of public transport too. For Lord Adonis to want Britain to become a pioneer is admirable but rather late. Practically every country in Europe runs cheaper, more frequent and faster trains than Britain.

To hope that it might be affordable for all is pie in the sky. The project will be handed over to a private company, who will be answerable to shareholders and will have dividends to protect. Has nothing been learnt of the folly of privatising rail and bus transport? Companies that have no accountability always revert to type and put profit before people. The reason they are so behind is because they have been neglected, once our rail network was the envy of the world. But we have lost that ‘can-do’ spirit of British engineering. Now in its place the Governments new policy is to throw money at problems, appoint a new manager or form a new quango.

New lines, trains and schemes are positive, but glossy new flagship projects do not make up for the dire inadequacies elsewhere. A shiny new proposals for a line from London to Birmingham does not benefit be in Portsmouth. Why not sort out the problems with the networks that we already have?

(Just a final though…. if Lord Adonis goes on holiday and comes back tanned, does that make him a bronzed Adonis?)

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