.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Thursday, February 08, 2007


There was only a small amount of snow in Swansea this morning but listening to the radio I very quickly established that it was much worse towards Cardiff. As soon as they reported that two eastward lanes of the M4 were closed because of an accident I decided to let the train take the strain to get me to my 9am meeting in the Senedd.

Reports in the newspapers tell us that Industry chiefs believe that transport failures today could cost the economy hundreds of millions of pounds:

Paul Knightley, forecaster for MeteoGroup UK, the weather division of the Press Association, said, 'It's going to be pretty dire. It's enough to bring the transport system into chaos.'

David Frost, Director-General of the British Chambers of Commerce, said, 'The impact of this weather forecast on Britain will be huge.

'UK workers already have to deal with constantly delayed and over-crowded trains for which they pay exorbitant fares.

'This situation highlights the need for a real change in the current UK travel infrastructure.'

'It is expected that the lateness and loss of work hours caused by transport disruptions will cost the British economy up to £400m.

They are absolutely right about the need to invest in transport infrastructure, but is it any wonder that the main topic of conversation in Britain is the weather when a little snow cause so much chaos?
“All roads lead to Rome”, but where do our “transport failures” lead to/from?

I think the answer lies in our own public thinking – that if we ignore a problem long enough, it will go away or become “background noise”, one of those things we just have to put up with, like gusts of cold wind, wet weather, force of nature kind of thing. Then one day we all see “enlightenment” and finally realize that the problem lies not in “poor roads” or “late crowded trains and buses”, but instead lies in our own heads.

Don’t believe me?

Then take a trip to Germany – let’s say Mainz, City on the Rhine. Stay at the one of the best and cheapest hotels near the town square (I think it was called “Tulip Hotel”, near the main railway station of Mainz. “Get a room with a view” of that town square. From time to time poke your head out the window and observe the goings on in that square. You will observe that on the hour the buses leave the square in orderly fashion – always on time; forget the speaking clock, just look out the window for a time fix.

Take the ICE train back to Frankfurt Airport. Observe that it waits out the station until it is time to roll into the station – to within 20 seconds of its scheduled arrival time. Marvel at it.

Use the other trains systems around Mainz. Take a boat trip on the Rhine – observe how the boat leaves on time almost to the second. Marvel at it.

Then come back to the UK and observe the lack of mental thought about how our transport system is run and implemented.

Still think the problem is “poor infrastructure”, “poor roads” or “late crowded trains and buses”?

The realization came to me quite by accident; I flew in from Chicago to attend a meeting run by one of my former graduate supervisors. Prof. Dr. Florian Müller-Plathe, then working at the famous Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Mainz, a brilliant computational chemist that supervised me (I was his very first research student) while I completed a graduate research project at the supercomputing facility at the then SERC Daresbury Laboratory (now BBSRC) where I worked on a supercomputing molecular dynamics research project turning a turkey lysosome enzyme (a protein) into a closely related chicken lysosome enzyme or maybe the other way around! Did the chicken come before the turkey?!?

Between academic discussions I marveled at the way Germans just simply run their public transport system, the way they have worked out that thoughts (sorry, in my youth I was a Frank Herbert fan) have a certain resonance, equivalent to a transport form that equates with near perfect transport motion. Through such thoughts the Germans have developed a transport infrastructure that makes logical sense to them, i.e., it can be relied upon!
I gather Swansea has not been so lucky today. The gossip here in slushy (but mobile) Skewen is that all traffic has stopped in the centre of the city.

Doubtless there will be a letter from David Phillips in the Evening Post blaming the ruling coalition for this situation.

- Frank Little
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?