Tag Archives: trains

HS2 is world class stupidity

£106Bn is the new estimated cost of HS2, with a new delivery date of 2040


We hear figures in the billions all the time, and I guess politicians especially lose their sense of what they really mean. A few billion here, another few billion there, so £106Bn just sounds like a decent sized public infrastructure project, equivalent to a few power stations, what’s the big deal? Let’s do some simple sums to find out and get some perspective.

The money has to come from tax and regardless of the diverse routes it takes, people ultimately pay all that tax. There are 66.5 million people in the UK, so that’s only £1600 each. Most of those people will never or hardly ever use HS2.

However, according to the Office of National Statistics, HMRC, only 31.2 million of those people pay income tax, so they contribute an average £3400 each. But actually the top 50% of those, 15.6 million people, pay 90% of the tax, so that means HS2 will effectively cost them £95.4Bn, a whopping £6115 each. I could go more sums but you get the point.

It’s a fair bet that the half of UK taxpayers paying over £6000 each for HS2 could write a long list of things they’d rather have than the option to buy an expensive rail ticket that might save some people, but probably not them, 20 minutes on a journey to London, but for most people might actually take them longer if they have first to get a slow train to one of the privileged HS2 stations.

6000 quid, each, 12k for a professional couple. For a slightly faster train? Remember, the original spec was for very fast trains, but they had to wind the speed down because it was discovered that trains might sometimes derail due to lethal combinations of aerodynamics and subsidence, so the realistic spec is about 150mph, compared to 125mph for a normal intercity.

This is the economics of the madhouse.

Trains are 19th and 20th century technology. 21st century technology allows driverless pod systems that would be far cheaper, far more versatile, far more socially inclusive, and far faster end to end. Pods could carry people or freight. Pod systems could start off mixing with conventional trains by grouping to make virtual trains. As antique old stock is gradually upgraded, along with stations, we would end up with a totally pod-based transport system. Pods could just as easily run on roads as on rails. The rails could be ripped up and recycled, railways tarmacked over, and public transport could seamlessly run on roads or the old railways. With potential occupancy of up to 95%, compared to the 0.4% typical of conventional rail, the old railways could carry 237 times more traffic! That wouldn’t eliminate congestion – there would still be some choke points – but it would make one hell of a dent in it. It would be faster because someone could have a pod pick them up at their home or office, maybe swap onto a shared one at a local node, and then go all the way to their destination at a good speed, with hardly any delays en-route, now waiting for the next scheduled train or having to make pointless journeys to get to a mainline station. They could simply go straight to where they want, and save much more time than HS2 would ever have saved.

Pod systems could serve the whole country, not just the lucky few living near the right stations. Fixing ‘the North-South divide’ still favours pod systems, not HS2. Everyone benefits from pods, hardly anyone benefits from HS2. Everyone saves money with pods, everyone is worse off with HS2. Why is the idea still flying?

The problem we have is that too few of our politicians or senior civil servants have any real understanding of technology and its potential. They are blinded by seeing figures in billions sever day, so have lost their understanding of just how much £100Bn is. They are terrified of pressure groups and always eager to be seen to be doing something, however stupid that something might be if they examined it.

HS2 is a stupid idea, world-class stupidity. It is 20th century technology, an old idea long past its use-by date. It locks in all the huge disadvantages and costs of old-style rail for several more decades We should leapfrog over it and go instead for a 21st century solution – cheap driverless pods. We’d save a fortune and have a far superior result.



The future is magnetic

‘It works by using magnets’ has been a description of many a perpetual motion machine. Magnets bring out the nutter in people. But they are incredibly useful, and I say that as someone who thinks ‘incredibly’ is used far too often these days.

Magnets are very good fun as toys but you need to be a bit careful with them. I have had a few accidents with them, the most recent playing with magnetic ferro-fluid, which I can vouch makes a real mess of your hands for several days. I also have some levitation toys that are extremely good fun.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/news/10235261/Inside-the-Hyperloop-the-pneumatic-travel-system-faster-than-the-speed-of-sound.html describes a futuristic high speed rail system. Well, it isn’t all that futuristic, the idea is 100 years old. But it hasn’t been built yet so it is still in the future, and is at least 10 times better than the UK’s pathetic high speed rail proposal which only floats at all if you use extremely misleading figures about costs and benefits. That is worth a small fraction if what is claimed and like all government projects will cost three times as much as claimed.

I am a big believer in magnetic train propulsion, and levitation, not least because they are proven tech. Putting the system in a tube and using rail gun tech will reduce drag enormously and allow far higher speeds. Remember, in free air, drag goes with the square of velocity and power is drag x velocity. In a tube, air can move at the same speed as the train, so drag can be reduced to almost nothing. So with low friction thanks to levitation and low drag thanks to the tube, supersonic speeds are doable. Other groups have suggested vacuum tubes, but that is not as sensible thanks to increased engineering difficulty, with big cost and safety issues.

I proposed a linear induction bike lane several years back which of course is a sort of magnetic propulsion. Nobody has built that yet.  The Car in my recent sci-fi book levitates magnetically on a plasma cushion. That sounds futuristic but it was proven in principle in 1964 and is easily feasible with 2092 technology. The lift to the heroes’ base is magnetic, some of their weapons are magnetic, their pet drone orb thing and their holographic disks all rely on magnetic levitation based on plasma. I even invented magnetic carbon muscles for my heroes’ suits. They would use tiny graphene coils in a folded structure in the material to achieve strong contraction and super strength at low cost. One of the social problems they had to contend with was use of smart electronic drugs in conjunction with deep brain magnetic stimulation.

There is a lot of pseudo science that gives magnets a bad name though. Stuff like magnetic bracelets that some people wear who really ought to know better, that allegedly align the iron in your blood, and somehow it doesn’t immediately go back to random as soon as it has passed by, or magnetic descalers that align the water molecules or something, or the fuel treatment magnets that magically add lots of extra energy to your petrol. These are the stuff of nonsense. So are all things that claim perpetual motion.

But cars, trains and bikes, yep, they can all be made magnetic very usefully indeed. And carbon muscle fabric. And all sort of levitation systems. The future is magnetic, even if a lot of nutters say the same thing.