Thursday, 21 May 2015


Left-wingers love to talk about "investment" but rarely talk about what investments they want. I wrote on this before, but here's 2 ideas for government investments that have been knocking around in my head:-

  1. Dual-carriageway across Wales. Actually, a bit more than Wales. Link up from Gloucester to say, Aberyswyth including Hereford. About 100 miles, total cost, around £700m. Reduces the journey time from around 2.5 hours to 1.5 hours. Opens up new avenues for tourism and for business to trade better with the rest of the UK. Much better idea than shaving a tiny amount off Birmingham to Manchester by rail. Might also want one from say, Stoke to the same point, but I've not worked it out.
  2. A container railway, linking the ports with major cities. Fully enclosed, automated high-speed trains, Containers are loaded at ports and do most of the work getting them to cities where they can be unloaded and locally distributed. No idea of cost and benefit, but seems like a better idea than having lots of small lorries being driven around.


Mark In Mayenne said...

On these points, a generalised integrated transport policy would be nice. Probably a pipe dream though.

The Stigler said...


What's an "integrated transport policy"? I hear this mentioned all the time, but I have no idea what it means.

JohnM said...

Goods doesn't need to be high speed. Most of the time is transshipment and sitting in storage rather than in motion.

Having dedicated lines is a sensible idea. Heavy goods trains are destructive of tracks. They cause the track to move on the ballast, which prevents passenger trains running at a higher speed. I've been told that one of the reasons why the speed limit on Leeds to Manchester is so low is because the track quality.

Years ago I saw a proposal for goods trains which involved driverless computerise trains, but they worked on the principle that the individual flatbed truck had the power unit and each could be run independently. The trucks would link up and unlink on the move, meaning that trains could be formed an unformed without strict timetables. Of course dedicated track was essential.

The Stigler said...


It's just an odd idea I've had. The speed thing isn't a big part of it, except that it's better than slower. Whether it adds up I don't know.

It seems crackers that we are looking at self-driving vehicles when one of the problems it's meant to solve can be done easier with railways (I don't really understand what the benefits of self-driving cars are supposed to be).

And it's not at all fully formed. Whereas, I quite strongly feel that the Welsh dual-carriageway idea would help everyone.

JohnM said...

If you think about it, driverless flatbeds are indentical to self driving lorries, albeit on a track.

I recall years ago a Tomorrow's world episode with semi-self driving cars. The driver joined a motorway and switched on the computer program. This enabled the car to effortlessly follow the car in front matching the speed, breaking and steering, all the while being only inches from the bumper of the car in front, using radar. They demonstrated this on the program with three or four cars driving in a chain showing that if the front car braked, there was no collision.

Of course the downside was
1. The driver in front still had to drive normally,
2. Not all cars perform exactly the same so consequently
3. The insurance issue was a nightmare.

Developments have eliminated the first issue.

Your biggest problem is the one of cost. Trains vehicles cost a heck of a lot more than lorries; and train tracks (whilst a bit cheaper per mile) have quite high running/maintenance costs. In addition, the higher the speed limit the higher the quality threshold for track, and the higher the build and maintenance cost.

Paul Robson said...

I used to live on that road (basically the A44) on the border. There's not really a huge amount of anything there - a few small towns, Leominster, Rhayader, Llandrindod Wells etc., not much tourism either. It's mostly just empty space.

Mark Wadsworth said...

PR - build it and they will come!

The Stigler said...

But if you've still got a driver, what's the benefit?

See, the problem with all "self-driving cars" at the moment is that there are needs for manual intervention. The benefit of fully-automated cars is that you can do something else with your time, like sleep, or play on a Nintendo DS or be drunk. If a car is 99.9% automated, you still have to be awake and sober for the 0.1% of times.

Your last point is valid though. That's why this sort of discussion is useful. My half-thought through idea probably isn't a good idea.

Exactly. Roads are like railways in that they enable trade. Marlborough is posh because it's less than 15 minutes from the M4. Devizes isn't so posh because it's over half an hour from the M4. We're talking a time reduction of an hour - someone in Gloucester might think about a weekend away to Portmeirion as it's only 2 hours instead of 3.

I'm not even saying it would be huge, but nor is the cost. And if government wants to create more of a unified country, one of the best ways of doing this is by increasing trade.

Bayard said...


First idea. Sounds good, but all the evidence is that better road links enable centralised businesses to compete more effectively with peripheral businesses, so the the effect on business at the periphery is negative. The only real beneficiaries from road building are landowners.

Second idea. There are already inland rail freight terminals, such as the one at Daventry. It would be simple to connect them, via existing lines* to a container port in say, Milford Haven (deepwater port able to handle the largest ships, very close to the Atlantic and not up a busy shipping channel). Great idea and a much better one than the Brummies' Benefit (HS2).

*Most container traffic isn't heavy freight and vice versa.