Archive for the ‘transport’ category

Railway cathedral

October 10, 2011

I was recently in London and had an opportunity to visit St Pancras railway station. It is a truly amazing building, a real cathedral of transport. It is now the station from which Eurostar trains depart for the Channel Tunnel and Europe.

St Pancras


Come fly with me

January 8, 2011

I was on my first ever flight when I was seven years old, at a time when flying was still not normal for very many people. The flight took me and my family from Germany to Dublin, as we were moving to Ireland. The plane landed in a regional UK airport en route, where we were led into the small terminal building and invited to sit in armchairs, where stewards in white coats came to offer us tea and coffee. Eventually we were escorted back on to the plane. Those were the days.

I am writing this post from Los Angeles airport, where I have just struggled my way through airport security. I now feel as exhausted as if I had walked all the way back home. Flying has become a challenge, not a pleasure. The pleasure is in arriving, the journey is the price you have to pay. We understand the reasons for the security of course, but on the way the airlines have turned flying into an obstacle course, a battle of wits between the passenger and the airline regarding fares, check-in, luggage, on board restrictions, and anything else they can make difficult.

Has the age of mass air travel, combined with security considerations, turned flying into something really rather unpleasant, or have the airlines stopped trying to please the customer? I confess I now choose airlines – where there is a choice – on the basis of service and support, and not necessarily price. I no longer value price and efficiency over courtesy and consideration. I think others should act similarly: the time for travel by cattle trucks in the air should come to an end.

Ramping up

September 12, 2010

A day or two ago I was walking down a road in Dublin with a friend. Behind us we could hear the all-too-familiar sound of a car revving up and racing down the road at a speed that was no doubt twice the permitted limit. As it passed us we could see the driver grinning wildly as he roared past in his 1990s Mazda sports car. But what was remarkable about this scene was that it was played out on a road that, like so many Dublin roads, had ramps (speed bumps) all down it. As he raced over each ramp his head must have hit the car roof, and goodness knows what this was doing to the car; well, what it wasn’t doing was slow it down.

I don’t believe I have ever come across a town or city with so many ramps as in Dublin. First they started to appear on residential roads, no doubt as a device to slow traffic down and thereby protect other road users, including pedestrians and children. But after a while they began to appear everywhere, and were just as likely to be found on major thoroughfares.

I suspect there is hardly a car in Ireland with its suspension intact – they have all been shaken and bumped to pieces by the hurdles they have to cross on every road. I am also beginning to wonder whether there are people whose backs or spines have been similarly affected. Of course I understand the thinking behind this policy, and agree that road safety must trump comfort and the protection of suspensions. And yet I wonder whether we have taken all this too far. Indeed the sight of the mad young man in his Mazda now makes me wonder whether ramps actually achieve their intended purpose. Quite apart from what all this stop-start driving must do to fuel consumption.

Arguing against a method to slow down cars is not easy, but Irish roads are bumpy enough at the best of times as road repairs are not our strong suit.  Let us just say that I won’t be terribly sad if we have somewhat fewer of these bumps on our roads in future.

Investing in transport

July 28, 2010

Over recent months I have tended to be highly nervous every time it was suggested that we would have an announcement on capital expenditure. The reason? Well, DCU has a very direct interest in one of the most expensive projects for investment right now: the planned ‘Metro North‘, the under- and overground train system that will ferry passengers between Dublin’s city centre, the airport and Swords (just North of Dublin). If built this will run directly past DCU’s campus, and moreover will connect DCU’s main campus with some of its linked colleges. The plans for this venture have already had a profound impact on the university, and dropping Metro North now would have a very debilitating effectb on the university.

Of course there are other reasons – other than DCU’s good fortune – why the government might want to proceed with Metro North. It has been argued by some that the Metro project is too expensive, and that transporting visitors and businesspeople to the airport quickly can be done by other, imaginative, ways. What this argument fails to grasp, however, that this project has the potential to produce massive economic regeneration; in fact, while transporting people is a very important objective of the Metro, it is arguable that it is not the most important one; economic development along this rail corridor is more significant still.

I’m not sure whether, as a country, we have a clearly focused transport strategy. We’re building roads and motorways as if there were no tomorrow, but our rail projects are slow to develop. It is arguable that the railways must once again be at the heart of new economic development, and it is important therefore that we get it right.

The €10,000 airline meal

February 27, 2010

I kind of like this story. Apparently a passenger who bought a winning €10,000 scratch card on a flight from Poland to the UK on Irish airline Ryanair wanted to have the sum paid out on the spot – i.e. in the air – and when he was told that this was not possible and that he would have to claim it on the ground proceeded to eat the card in anger. And in doing so he lost his winnings.

I guess that there may be several things at work here, some of them no doubt personal to the passenger concerned. But is this also connected with the particular kind of mood that nowadays comes with airline travel, and maybe travel with Ryanair (now Europe’s largest airline) in particular? There is now, from my own experience at least, an edginess to flying, derived in part from all the security measures you now have to go through, and in part from the way in which passengers must now be highly alert to ensure that they understand the sometimes unpredictable conditions and measures that airlines impose on them and which are associated with fees and payments that come up unexpectedly. Maybe the man had misread or misunderstood the terms and conditions applied to the scratch card – maybe he thought he had to eat it to claim the prize. Indeed if that had been the case it would hardly have surprised me.

These days, on my flights between Ireland and Britain, I can never help feeling that the crew member saying over the PA system, ‘enjoy your short flight with us,’ is being sarcastic.

It’s really the limit!

February 6, 2010

Yesterday afternoon I was driving in Dublin city centre for the first time since the new 30 km/h speed limit was imposed. You couldn’t help being aware of it, as electronic billboards had been shouting at us about the new city centre limits for a while. So as I entered Dame Street (my first 30 km/h location), I put my foot gently on the brake, and settled down for a quiet ride.

A quiet ride? Like hell! The elderly lady ahead of me was working on the principle that if 30 km/h is good, 20 is probably better, and as she was crawling along she was clearly annoying other drivers to the point of fury, and so all around we had a clanking of car horns, and one idiot behind the wheel of a 10-year-old BMW overtook her (and me) with oncoming traffic, doing 60 or 70 I reckoned. As for the law, I could see no Garda (police) presence anywhere, and I felt vaguely cheated that nobody officially noted my heroic serenity in the face of all that excitement. And my law-abiding nature.

I could not credibly complain about the 30 km/h speed limit. After all, one of my early acts as President of DCU was to impose a campus-wide speed limit of 20 mph (i.e. 30 km/h), and every so often if I am feeling really officious I’ll make a point of stopping a boy racer going at 60 and telling him he’ll be barred from the campus if he does it again. It’s always a ‘he’, by the way. And yet, as I travelled along Dame Street I couldn’t help wondering whether this new speed limit was doing any good. Before I reached the end of the street I had also seen a car stall, with the driver clearly not practiced at combining the correct gear and acceleration with the new speed limit. And there was all that ongoing aggression.

Also, if that’s supposed to be a genuine speed limit (as distinct from a policy stroke), you had better police it rigorously. There was no sign of that yesterday. And we could, as a nation, probably do with some compulsory remedial tuition, learning for example thad a steady speed of 30 km/h in city traffic actually gets you there faster. Though to be fair, I’m not sure I believe that, but I think we should pass it round as dogma anyway.

Clogging up Dublin traffic

October 6, 2009

Last month I wrote a post on the new traffic restrictions in College Green in Dublin’s city centre. I took the view that closing College Green to traffic seemed to me to have very little point – but a number of readers disagreed with me. I now see that traders have been complaining to Dublin City Council in the matter, and that there may be a review of the scheme. You can read more about this here.

I confess that I am still wholly sceptical about the whole measure. If the purpose (as has been suggested) was to free up Dame Street for buses, then that could have been achieved by closing Dame Street rather than College Green, which would have caused fewer traffic problems elsewhere. Or more logical still might be to close off the entire city centre to private traffic and to make proper park and ride services available. But what has actually been done seems to serve no particular purpose.

And my apologies to anyone from outside Ireland reading this – let me assure you that traffic problems are a de rigueur topic of conversation at any Dublin dinner table. Indeed, maybe that is what the Council have wanted to achieve with this measure in the first place, now that I think of it.

How exactly is this helping anyone? Traffic management oddity

September 12, 2009

This brief interjection will only be meaningful to those familiar with Dublin – apologies to everyone else.

I cannot help wondering what exactly is the purpose of the new traffic management system on College Grren, under which only buses can pass through at rush hour. Who is helped by this? The traffic is as a result backed up more than ever all around the area. And in any case, before this particular rush of blood to the head occurred I don’t recall College Green itself being a public transport trouble spot. The only other effect I can think of is that the Provost of Trinity College can no longer drive home; can’t say whether that’s a good or a bad thing.

It just seems to me that a new system has been set up at some cost and considerable inconvenience that doesn’t really help anyone at all. Unless I’m missing something. Maybe someone reading this knows the answer.

At the end of the runway

May 30, 2009

I had business in London today. For me London is a bit like New York – there is a sense of being in the whole world at once. The sheer diversity of the place radiates energy. But there is a catch. To get to London from here, you have to travel there. And all too often, that means Heathrow. And if London itself is one of the places I really like, Heathrow airport is possibly the place I dislike most in all the world. Everything about it is wrong, as far as I am concerned: from the excessively congested skies above it, to the chaotic lay-out, the 5-mile walks you seem to have to do to get anywhere at all within it, the near-inevitability of baggage loss every so often. And then there is that special disaster area that you have to pass through if you are travelling to or from Ireland, that outlying area of Terminal 1 connected to the terminal itself by those weird walkways which, whatever the weather, are always too hot and sticky.

And they have just managed to make it all even worse. You didn’t think that was possible? No, I mightn’t have, either, but it’s true. For some reason they have decided that they need to separate incoming and outgoing passengers. And to do this they have created separate walkways, but only to a point. In order to decontaminate the outgoing passengers from the incoming ones, they have put a regulated traffic system in place, so that suddenly, without warning, you get locked into wherever you happen to be and have to wait there while the other lot are whisked past. Well actually, not whisked, they meander past quite slowly. While you wait. And while you begin to realise that unless they let you out and on to the next area you’re going to miss your flight. But the officious looking man who is separating you from the incoming lot isn’t at all interested, and only suggests that you could have come earlier and you wouldn’t have had a problem.

I understand that some people actually make their travel arrangements deliberately so as to fly to or via Heathrow. I just cannot get into the mind of a person who would do that. They are a total mystery to me, like birdwatchers or flyfishermen. And I am not alone in my dislike.  The chief executive of Virgin Atlantic (which uses Heathrow as a hub) feels the same way.

Sometimes when in Heathrow I console myself that I won’t be there long. Like hell! Because the chances are that your flight will be delayed, and you’ll only find out when you’re already in that completely soul-less departures area they lock you into, from where you cannot emerge except into the sky. When that will be depends on air traffic control. And they like to keep you there for a while. And today there was the added entertainment of a little baby girl screaming her head off. But then again, who could blame her?

Area talk

May 22, 2009

A few days ago I was checking in for my flight at an airport, when a flustered lady pushed her way up to the desk where I was just being served.

‘I need to check in, I am late,’ she pleaded. I stood aside. The woman behind the desk asked, ‘where are you flying to?’ – ‘Toronto, Canada,’ she replied.

The check-in woman took her hand off the keyboard. ‘There are no flights to Canada from here. You are flying via where?’ The anxious passenger responded, ‘Via Area B.’

‘Where are you travelling to first, I mean?’

‘Nowhere, until you’ve checked me in. This is Area B!’

‘Yes, it’s Area B, but I that doesn’t help you. Can I see your ticket?’

The anxious passenger was now coughing madly. My eyes met those of the woman behind the counter, and you could see we were both moving back a little, thinking Mexican swine flu. Through the coughing fit the passenger tried to say ‘e-ticket’ (which she pronounced like ‘EEEEE-ticket’). ‘Look, I was told to come to Area B, or maybe another area, I don’t recall. But this is an AREA, right? You can check me in at this AREA, yes?’

‘I’m not sure you are at the right area, and I do need to see a ticket or an e-ticket number.’

“My flight is leaving, I am not going to any other area, please, you must check me in.’ Coughing lady now dropped her handbag and varied contents rolled out over the floor. I helped her recover her possessions. ‘Thank you, Sir,’ she said; ‘Do you think this is my Area?’

Just then the person at the next desk beckoned me over to check me in, and I do not know whether the anxious, coughing passenger made it to Toronto, or whether she was able to persuade anyone that one area is as good as another. One thing is sure, getting through airports can be a challenge these days. I hope she made it.