Portishead Railway Line

Portishead to Bristol by Strail

A proposal to provide a commuter service from Portishead to Bristol in the Morning rush hour and from Bristol to Portishead in the evening rush hour.

The advantage of this system are:

  1. Cheaper than a railway. “Back of envelope” calculation shows it could be done for less than £40m. Current estimate for re-opening the railway is £116m for one train per hour; increasing to 2 trains per hour at £175m.
  2. Will provide a more extensive route than a railway. For example a route could start at the far end of Portishead and travel into central Bristol.
  3. Will not interfere with current use for Freight trains. (Currently only 10 per week.)
  4. Can be installed without interrupting freight trains or modifying the railway lines.
  5. Faster service than can be provided by train. (Shorter route).
  6. More frequent service. Current proposal is for only one train per hour.
  7. Possibility of adding an off-road cycle track 4kms shorter than present route.

The problem

During the morning rush hour a large number of people commute from Portishead to work in Bristol. The road system is inadequate to cope with the traffic. In the evening rush hour the roads are unable to cope with the numbers commuting back to Portishead. The current plan is to reopen the railway to passenger trains. Final funding of £31.9m is waiting for approval, and then a Development Consent Order will be applied for.

Providing a commuter service using STRAIL

Strail is a system of thick interlocking panels made from virgin and recycled rubber that fit between and beside railway lines. They are in use at 30,000 locations on five continents to provide level-crossings for road traffic to drive over railways. They have been in use for forty years.

My suggestion is to infill the railway line with “Strail” panels and run buses along the route. I estimate that this could be done for about £40m, but that doesn’t include the cost of buses, administration or project management.

This could offer a much better service than trains since buses wouldn’t be limited to starting and finishing at a railway station. The buses could start at the far end of Portishead and travel along Down Road or Nore Road picking up passengers along the way.

The buses then travel to Bristol and rejoin the road network at the Cumberland basin complex. There is now a bus lane along Cumberland road as part of Metro bus. (It would also be possible for the buses to join the 52 km of the new Metrobus network at this point so as to provide an integrated system.) This would take buses to Temple Meads, without going through Parson Street.

This would be fine for people who want to catch a train and can afford it. But most commuters work somewhere else. A bus could continue to Cabot Circus and on to the bus station for those who want to travel elsewhere and can’t afford trains. Next it could stop at the BRI complex and the University, both large employers. Finally it could go down Jacobs Wells Road and stop at the centre, if required.

The empty buses could travel back to Portishead on the A369, ready for another trip. In the afternoon the service reverses and buses travel from Bristol to Portishead along the railway.

Buses would have very little impact on existing infrastructure and offer a much more flexible service. The current proposal is for only one train per hour. At best that means only two trains would be available for most commuters – a total of 540 seats.

The Dock freight trains, at present two a day, could continue to use the railway when the buses aren’t running. “Strail” panels are easily removed and replaced if it is necessary to repair the railway line.

There is also the option to provide a cycle path alongside the line. A cycle path to Bristol already exists but this one would be 4kms shorter. The estimate for this is £263,000, but this doesn’t include a fence to separate it from railway line.

I have not done any market research to check if this service would be used in large enough numbers to make it viable. Before millions of pounds of taxpayers money is spent on any scheme thorough research needs to be done to ensure it will be used.

The demand predicted in the Metrowest Phase I bid, sec 3.1, is 242,945 journeys initially, and 433,529 journeys after 20 years. This means that even after twenty years years 69% of the seats will have no-one in them.

The recent IPCC report once again highlighted the need to reduce the use of fossil fuels. When all fossil fuel use is included, a full bus is by far the most efficient and least polluting form of transport.* However, a nearly empty bus is the worst. This is a good reason to only run the service during the rush hours.

*Chester M.V. & Horvath, A (2009) Environmental assessment of passenger transportation should include infrastructure and supply chains Environmental Research Letters 4 2.

European Union

Why I’m a remainer

Today is 31st October 2019 and I’m delighted we’re not leaving the EU.

My Father was born in Berlin. He was just 18 in 1939. There were 32 young men in his class and they had all just got their entrance to University. By 1945 there was only my Father and one other left alive. I’m 69 and I’ve never had to fight a war or even join the army. We have had the longest period of peace in Europe since Roman times. That is because we have cooperation in Europe instead of conflict.

You may think my Father was particularly unlucky. He wasn’t.  Warsaw was a city of 1.3 million people in 1939. When the Russians “liberated” it in 1945 there were 163,000 left. The truth is that because Britain hasn’t been invaded since 1066 people here have no ideal how terrible war really is.

I want a safe world for our children and Grandchildren. Staying in the EU is the best way to ensure peace in Europe. It’s also the best way to go about stopping climate change. We certainly can’t do that on our own!

Bus Franchising

Bus Franchising

What is it? Why do you want it?

Imagine a place where buses ran on time, were frequent, cheap, and went everywhere in the city. Enthusiasts say that is what Transport for London has achieved. Yet Transport for London doesn’t run buses. It franchises them.

Under bus franchising, the deregulated bus market is suspended and bus operators are only able to provide services under contract to the local transport authority. This approach is used extensively across Europe, in London and elsewhere as it offers a range of significant advantages:

  • integrated ticketing

  • network planning

  • cross subsidy across bus services and other transport modes

  • unified marketing i.e. one “brand” (not allowed under deregulation)

  • Consistent standards of service in vehicles, drivers and customer care

  • One accountable point of contact for customers

Franchising’s supporters claim it brings together the strengths of private operators in efficient service delivery but within a co-ordinated and planned public transport network. It is a mechanism that allows the sensible co-ordination of bus services within a competitive market that drives operators to deliver better value for the public purse.

So what’s the difference?

Bus services in London are regulated

This means they’re run under different legislation to the rest of Great Britain. (Bus services in Northern Ireland are also regulated.)

The bus network and fares are set by Transport for London. Bus operators submit tenders to operate the routes, times and fares laid down. Transport for London pays the bus company to run the bus route and keeps the fares.

Bus services everywhere else in the UK, including Bristol, are deregulated.

Bus companies are free to run services where and when they choose, and can set their own fare levels. They do have to have a licence issued by the Traffic Commissioners. They have to register bus services with Traffic Commissioners, giving them full details of the route and timetable and 56 days notice. However if they want to stop running a service, if it’s not profitable for example, they can do so after giving 56 days notice to the Traffic Commissioner. If a local authority deems a route socially necessary, but it is unprofitable it has to pay an operator to run it.

Franchising for Bristol?

The Bus Services Act 2017 provides Mayoral Combined Authorities (e.g. the “Metro” Mayor) with the powers to implement bus franchising in their area. In effect, the system operated by Transport for London. Other local authorities (e.g. Bristol Council) are able to apply to Government for access to the same powers.

As many bus journeys are now made in London as are made in the rest of England put together, around 2.3 million a year. Many people believe this system would provide better bus services elsewhere. There is a petition requesting a Bristol City Council debate on franchising for Bristol.

You can sign it at: https://www.change.org/p/bristol-city-council-take-control-of-bristol-s-buses

Please do so!

Smoking and Brexit

Leaving the EU without a deal may mean that we have to allow tobacco advertising again in the UK.

Now I’m not a Brexit expert, nor am I an expert on World trade organisation rules and I am a remainer. But this is what I read today.

The 1974 Trade Act in the United States of America contained the provision for the US President to slap retaliatory tariffs on foreign products if the country that produces them discriminates against American companies.  This is called section 301.

The U.S. Trade representative threatened South Korea, Taiwan, Japan and other countries on the Pacific Rim with a section 301 action unless they allowed Marlboro and others to advertise cigarettes. This was despite the fact that no one else was allowed to advertise tobacco in those countries.

Faced with U.S. pressure they buckled. Smoking by male teenagers in the first year of advertising in South Korea rose from 18% to 30%. For female teenagers it rose from 2% to 9%. The trend was the same in the other countries.

If we leave Europe without a deal, as I understand it, we then operate under World Trade Organisation rules.  So, unless the rules have changed, we could be forced to allow tobacco advertising here, if the U.S. president decided to make us. Would Trump do that?

And what other products could this apply to? It could mean a whole new “special relationship” between the UK and US.

Do tell me if I’m wrong.

Rail tickets are too cheap!

Let me begin by saying that enjoy Industrial Archeology as much as the next man. Indeed I’ve got shares in the West Somerset Railway and a very worthy institution it is. Every so often I go down there for a wallow in nostalgia, but I haven’t been on a modern train for years and years.

The fact is I can’t afford to go by train. Last time I needed to go to London  a return ticket cost £147.50* and parking £6.90.  Megabus cost £21.46**  and National Express £24.60**. The coach guarantees a seat but I understand you are permitted to stand all the way on the train.

The response of the railway enthusiasts amazes me. “You can get a much cheaper fare if you shop around” they say or “you need to book a month ahead”. A new one on me was “Have you tried a split fare?”

This means you buy a ticket to Didcot, say, and then another to complete the journey to Paddington! Even Ryanair don’t sell you a ticket half way to New York and then ask if you’d like to buy another to complete the journey! “No thanks Mr. O’Leary, I think I’ll get off here in the middle of the Atlantic!”

But what really gets my goat is that the £147.50 isn’t the full cost of the train ride. No, in the last financial year running our railways was subsidised by the taxpayer to the tune of £4,199 million. GWR received 6.4p per kilometre. For a return trip to Paddington that works out at £23.89 – more than Megabus charge for the whole trip.

Why should I, who cannot afford train fares, pay taxes to subsidise the rail fares of people rich enough to travel by train? The whole point of privatisation was to bring the efficiency of the private sector to the nationalised industries. Yet British Rail only received £1,000 million a year in subsidy.

I say that rail fares should go up to cover the true cost of running them. Let those who think the damn things are so wonderful pay for them.

*Parkway to Paddington return 13th Nov 2018,  includes £1.50 booking fee.

**Bristol to London Victoria return, includes £1 booking fee.

Recycling Box Cover

A friend asked if I could make a cover for her recycling box as she has no front garden and it lives on the pavement. I was wondering how to make it when I spotted an old water tank in a skip.

It looked just the right size to cover a recycling box. So I fished it out and then borrowed a green box from someone’s garden and sure enough it covered it nicely. I don’t think anyone saw me doing this but I can’t help wondering what they thought if they did. It’s the ideal material because it won’t rust or rot and it can be painted if you wish.  All I had to do was cut a hole in the front so the green box could slide in and out.

So I put them together and marked out where I needed to cut. It was at this point I made the obligatory mistake. I always get something wrong. You’ll notice that the tank is open end up. It needs to be the other way round to cover the green box! So when I tried to slide the recycling box in I found I had to cut two semicircles to accommodate the ridge round the top. Tip: With a little forethought you can avoid this step if you try to make one of these.

So I made a cover without spending any money; reduce, reuse, recycle! Here it is in place providing a home for potted plant.

What a Journey!

After a journey of 4,000,000,000 miles the New Horizon space probe has rendezvoused with Ultima Thule.  It has travelled at an average 35,100 miles an hour for 13 years  to an object 21 miles by 9 miles in size.

On the same day my daughter came home to Bishopston having spent new years eve at a friend’s house in Avonmouth. She used the bus “service”. A journey of 4.25 miles as the crow flies took two hours. An average speed of just over 2 miles and hour. She could have walked it quicker.

Why can we send a probe so efficiently to the far reaches of the solar system but can’t provide an efficient way to get around a major city?

Now I know what you’re thinking –  “It’s easy to mock but what would you do about it?”

Well, this is the statement I made to  the meeting of Bristol City Council on 11th December 2018:

The problem with our Transport System is that those in charge never consider anything invented after 1900. As my proposal for the Portishead Railway line shows newer can be better and cheaper.

In Bristol itself our elected Mayors look consistently to the past. The first one wanted to build trams. In Edinburgh eight and a half miles of tram cost £1004 m. Even Captain Red-pants himself admitted that wasn’t affordable.

Mayor Rees looks even further into history with a proposal from the 1860s – an underground railway. £5 billion would provide just 4 routes across the City. That amount of money, £5,000 million, would be enough to build 490 miles of Skytran. I’ll spell that in case you wish to look it up: S,K,Y,T,R,A,N. Other systems are available.

Imagine it! 490 miles would cover every major and minor route in Bristol with on-demand transport 24/7 at up to 60 mph!

Councillors. Stop looking backwards and saying what a great engineer Brunel was. Turn around and face the future. It’s coming whether you like it or not!

Real men don’t need Guns!

white feather

What is the answer to gun violence in America? I think it is white feathers! I have watched with sadness and horror the reports of massacres and the murder of black teenagers by white police. Today’s reports of 12 cops shot in Dallas was sadly inevitable.

Supposing I lived in the USA. What could I do about this? Here in Britain we have an unarmed police force and strict gun control. Gun crime is vanishingly rare. Changes in America’s gun laws will eventually come whatever the National Rifle Association do. But in the meantime people are being killed and maimed.

Watching from across the Atlantic I think the problem goes much deeper than lax gun laws. I grew up watching TV in the 50s and 60s. Westerns were very popular then. In every episode the hero resolved the problem by arriving with a gun and shooting the bad guys. The Wild west was never like this. There are no contemporary pictures of cowboys carrying guns. They didn’t even wear Stetsons! The bowler (or Derby as the yanks call it) was the usual headgear.

The violence continued when the popularity of Westerns faded. Apart from Columbo how many police shows ended without a shoot out? And that is the real problem. Americans think the only way to solve a problem is to shoot at it. I have even heard of one case where a lost dog was reported to the local police and they returned it to the owner with 14 bullet holes in it!

So how to change attitudes? That’s where the white feathers come in. They need a campaign to convince citizens, particularly men, that reaching for a gun is not the manly way deal with a difficult situation.

Britain fought the first world war with a volunteer army until 1917. One of the reasons for this was that young girls gave a white feather to any man not in uniform. The white feather signified cowardice and shamed men into joining up.

I suggest American women should give a white feather to anyone carrying a gun and say “real men don’t need guns”. Including Police Officers? Yes. They don’t need to carry guns. The gun should be their last option not the first.

There would be massive objections to this, particularly by the Police. But the fact is that armed police do not make you safe. My daughter went to Paris last summer. She said the airport was full of police armed with machine guns. Every cop in Paris carries a gun. Yet when the Jihadists attacked they had 300 casualties. The same is true of Orlando. Every police officer in Orlando is armed yet it didn’t stop the massacre.

There are incidents that will need an armed response from the Police. In Britain we have armed officers to deal with these. The guns are kept in a locked safe in the car. A senior officer has to authorise the despatch of armed police to an incident. America needs to move towards this approach.

I could talk at length about the pros and cons of gun control and the 2nd amendment. But that is only part of the solution. The point I will make is that America is a democracy and there are elections this year. If every Mother, Grandmother and Auntie decided they want their kids to be safe and tells their Senator, Congressman etc, “I will not vote for you unless you support gun control”, the politicians would fall over themselves to support it. This will happen one day when the massacres are frequent enough .

Until then people will continue to die. The immediate solution is to tell America to”man up”. Real men can walk the streets and face the world without “packing a piece”. Give the ones who can’t a white feather and save a life. It might be yours!

I hope our “cousins” will not consider me impertinent. But sometimes you can see the trees better from outside of the forest. Hearing that young woman watch her man being shot and killed yesterday means I can no longer remain silent.

Renewing Trident

stock-photo-nuclear-explosion-in-an-outdoor-setting-symbol-of-environmental-protection-and-the-dangers-of-164761160I don’t know whether renewing Trident is a good ideal or a bad ideal but I’m willing to listen to the arguments. The trouble is what are the facts?

Today (16th Jan 2016) on BBC’s question time I heard Ann Widdicombe telling us that Trident costs just 6% of our defence budget. Yet another panellist asserted the bill is about £30 bn. I asked Google.

The Defence Budget for 2016 is £33.6 bn according to official Government statements. The latest Government estimate for replacing the 4 submarines is £31bn with a £10 bn contingency fund. Note that this is just for building the submarines it does not include the warheads, anti submarine measures, personnel or infrastructure costs. Some sources suggest that the total bill for Trident is well over £100 bn.

So Ann where does your 6% figure come from? It seems to me that Trident is reducing our conventional forces by a lot more than 6%.

One reason advanced on Question Time for replacing Trident is that the submarines are undetectable and so provide a deterrent. But do they? The New Scientist Magazine has a section in which you can ask technical questions for scientists reading it to answer.

I asked this question: “One argument for continuing the UK’s nuclear submarine fleet is that they are undetectable. Is that still true? And is it likely to be correct when replacement vessels are ready?”

I got two answers. Here is the first:

This is a controversial and often misunderstood issue. While nuclear-powered submarines have advantages in speed, range and submersion time, they are far from undetectable. Surprisingly, modern diesel submarines are often far quieter than their nuclear-powered counterparts.

The problem lies in the power plant itself. A nuclear reactor cannot be turned off and on like a diesel engine can. Although a nuclear submarine can rapidly stop its propeller, it wouldn’t shut down the reactor because of its long start-up and shut-down times.

When it is running, the reactor emits an acoustic and thermal signature which can be picked up by modern detection equipment. In contrast, diesel subs can shut down their entire propulsion system, lying almost completely silent on the bottom of the ocean.

Oxygen-free propulsion and battery technology in diesel submarines have improved vastly since the inception of the nuclear submarine, increasingly closing the gap between nuclear boats and their cheaper conventional counterparts.

Next-generation submarines promise to be even quieter, using hydrogen-cell propulsion and nanotechnological acoustic barriers. These vessels would be virtually undetectable using current anti-submarine military technology.

However no vessel can ever be truly “undetectable”. As submarine technology advances, so too will the techniques and technology used to find them.

Benjamin English
First Lieutenant, US Marine Corps
Pensacola, Florida, US

Here is the second:

Germany’s U-480 submarine used in the second world war was arguably the first stealth submarine. It was difficult to detect using sonar because it was coated in rubber that contained air pockets. The cat-and-mouse game has continued unabated ever since.

Submarines usually lurk on continental shelves, where they are difficult to detect against the clutter of sonar echoes off the surrounding underwater topography. Skilled submariners also position their boats amid water layers called thermoclines, where temperature changes abruptly, refracting sonar away.

Propellers are deliberately not spun so quickly that cavitation bubbles are created because when these bubbles collapse they create a tell-tale acoustic signature. And, during “silent running”, the crew will make minimal noise.

Meanwhile, modern techniques reduce acoustic signatures. Apart from quiet propulsion systems and running on electricity by direct current, deck structures are isolated from hulls with vibration-absorbing mountings and hulls have coatings that eliminate echo.

The joint Italian and German type 212A class submarines promise to be quieter still. Powered by Hydrogen fuel cells, they will radiate virtually no heat. They also use a non-magnetic construction, and it is claimed they will be nearly impossible to detect. Nano-coatings on the hull, designed to reduce fouling caused by organisms – and the associated turbulence that comes with it – might also guide sonar smoothly around the outside of the hull, making science-fiction’s cloaking device a possibility.

Mike Follows
Sutton Coldfield, West Midlands, UK

I’m not sure whether we should replace Trident or not. What I am sure of is that to make the right decision we need to know the truth. And we’re not being told it.

Bristol Green Capital 2015

Green logo


So how was it for you?

For George Ferguson the high point of 2015 was “having the privilege of representing Bristol as European Green Capital and star city at the successful Paris Climate Summit”. Well I’m really pleased you had a good time in Paris George, particularly as my taxes paid for it.

Personally I found our Green Capital year pointless and frustrating. When Stephen Williams got £7m from the government for Bristol, I had high hopes. We have a huge array of talent in the City. I understand Bristol West is supposed to have more Ph.Ds living in it than any other constituency. We ought to have made a real difference, but we didn’t.

I first heard about neighbourhood grants when I went to the Bishopston Neighbourhood partnership meeting on 11th September 2014. Unfortunately when I investigated I found that the deadline for applications in Bishopston was September 5th! Other places had longer submission periods but none more than six weeks away.

I had several ideals I should liked to have submitted but like most citizens I was excluded. There are some new wind turbines that are supposed to work in urban areas. Would’t it have been useful to get one and test it out? If I could have demonstrated it was cost effective how many others might have copied my example?

The biggest environmental problem we have is climate change. Transport is a big user of fossil fuels so anything that reduces fuel use would be worth investigating.

I should have liked to bring to Bristol a Denby Ecco trailer to show what is possible. This claims to reduce fuel use by artics by up to 15.8% and is in use in the Netherlands but blocked here. It would also be very good to demonstrate ULTRa PRT – after all it was designed here. However the criteria for transport in the small grants only allowed proposals to encourage “active transport such as walking and cycling” which will make no significant difference to climate change. So that excluded anything that would really make a difference.


Never mind they gave £37,500 to Bristol Ensemble for Treesong Bristol 2015. A project: “To create music from fruit falling from a tree – will be set up as a public display and a series of performances”. They chose a nut tree. Unfortunately the only “nuts” were the ones looking up and wondering where the nuts were!

We could make a real impact on climate change and Bristol with a modern 21st century transport system. The problem is that the people in charge refuse to look at anything invented later than 1900. I have long dreamed of organising a Festival of Future Transport to show the people of Bristol all the fantastic new ideals that are available.

£50,000 from the capital grants fund would be just the job. However I didn’t find out about these grants until 14th October. You had to register your intention to bid by 10th October and the full bid had to be in by 5th November. Even if I had known about these deadlines in September it would have been impossible to put together a bid for a project like the Festival of Future Transport in the time available.

I tried complaining about this to the Council. They sent me a letter saying I could still have applied even though I didn’t register an intent by 10th October as long as it was by the final date, 5th November. Unfortunately they wrote to me in March!

They gave £50,000 to the People’s Republic of Stoke Croft to: “Install shipping
containers at the Bearpit roundabout in Bristol and encourage local
artists to debate green issues through art form and growing produce on
site”. Much better value than a Festival of Future Transport I have to agree.

I could go on and on but this sounds like a rant already. Well it is a rant. The planet is cooking and we have been treated to ridiculous stunts like shining green searchlights at the suspension bridge and enveloping Pero’s bridge in mist. There is more chance of an Indian Rain-dance ending a drought than there is of shining green searchlights helping to combat climate change.

Worse we do not even know where all the money has gone. The £7m from government and £1.2m from the City Council was put into Bristol 2015 Ltd. As a private company this is not subject to the Freedom of Information Act or to scrutiny by our Councillors. It’s absolutely scandalous.

George Ferguson shouldn’t be wearing red trousers he should be wearing a bright red face!