Symbolic Forest

A homage to loading screens.

Blog : Posts tagged with ‘planning’

Too much to choose from

Or, why are there so many different trains in the world

Yesterday I said that having more blog posts about trains than about politics would be a good target to aim for by this time next year; and regardless of how frequently I post here overall, that’s probably still a good rule of thumb to aim for. So today, I thought I’d talk about model trains, and how I end up never building any.

I’ve always wanted a model train of some kind, ever since I was small and had a Hornby “Super Sound” trainset with an allegedly realistic chuff, generated by a sound machine wired in to the power circuity. However, there have always been a few problems with this, aside from the perennial problems of having enough time and space for such a space-gobbling hobby. There are two fundamental ones, at root: firstly, I am perennially pedantic, and secondly, I just like such a broad range of different railways and trains that it would be extremely hard to choose just one to stick with as a project. Given the first point, I would always want anything I build to be as accurate as I could make it; given the second, I can never stick with one idea for long enough to build enough stuff to practice the skills sufficiently and be a good enough model-builder to achieve this. Whilst drafting this post in my head, I tried to think just how many railways I’ve been interested in enough to start working out the feasibility of some sort of model railway project. It’s a long list.

  • Some sort of rural German branch line (I did actually start buying stock for this)
  • A fictitious narrow-gauge line in the Rhinogydd, in Ardudwy (again, this has reached the stock-acquiring level)
  • Grimsby East Marsh or somewhere else in Grimsby Docks
  • Something inspired by the Cambrian Railways’ coast section (although the actual stations are mostly fairly unattractive, apart from possibly Penrhyndeudraeth)
  • Woodhall Junction, on the Great Northern
  • Bala Junction (ever since I saw a plan of it in a Railway Modeller years and years ago)
  • Wadebridge (come on, who doesn’t like the North Cornwall Railway)
  • North Leith on the North British Railway (at 1:76 scale, you could do it to exact scale and it would still fit inside a 6 foot square)
  • Something fictitious based on the idea that the Lancashire, Derbyshire and East Coast Railway had actually finished their planned line east of Lincoln, which was always a wildly implausible plan in the real world.
  • The Rosedale Railway (although in practice this would probably be very dull as a model)
  • Moorswater, where the Liskeard and Looe Railway and Liskeard and Caradon Railways met (ideally when it was still in use as a passenger station, although that means before it was connected to the rest of the railway network)

Even for a modelling genius, or the sort of modeller who can produce an amazing, detailed landscape, then immediately packs it away in a box and starts working on the next one, that’s a lot of different ideas to vacillate between. And some of these would require just about everything on the model to be completely hand-made: Moorswater, for example, would have to have fully hand-made track, stock, locomotives and buildings in order to even vaguely resemble the original. With something like Woodhall Junction or Grimsby Docks most of the place-specific atmosphere is in the buildings rather than the trains, but even so, getting a good range of location-specific locos and stock would be difficult.

Just lately, there’s been another one to add to the list: I read a small book I picked up about the Brecon and Merthyr Railway, and was intrigued. I quickly found it had an intriguing range of operations, reached 1923 without ever owning any bogie coaches, and standardised on using somersault signals. The large-scale OS maps that are easily available (ie, those in the National Library of Scotland collection) show some very intriguing track layouts, its main locomotive works at Machen was an attractive and jumbled mix of 1820s stone and 1900s corrugated iron, and it even had some halts on the Machen-Caerffili branch which were only ever used by trains in one direction. However, on the other hand, the small book I picked up seems to be practically the only book ever written about the line, with very little information available easily about it. I suspect I’d end up writing a book about it myself before I got around to building anything.

I am going to try to build more models, and hopefully the more I build, the better they will get and the happier with my skills I’ll become. I’m going to have to try to stick to one and only one of the above, though, and try not to get distracted. That might be the hardest part.

Not In My Back Garden

In which we talk about redevelopment and green space

Having just moved house, we’re very aware right now that in the south-west, affordable housing is hard to find. It might be getting harder, too. Yesterday’s news included an announcement that local councils will be able to block developments on garden land.

Note that the article there is rather optimistic as to whether that type of development will be stopped. It won’t be; the decision on whether to allow it will be devolved to local government, which is in democratic terms a Good Thing that’s hard to argue against. In practical terms, though, it means that developments will be stopped in areas where residents have the means and inclination to be influential and to lean on their councillors; and will be concentrated in areas where nobody’s going to complain. In other words, another polarisation policy, to increase the economic differentiation of our towns and suburbs.

At first sight, I thought, it sounds like it might be a good idea. After all, I grew up in a leafy suburb, built in a time and place when housing plots included reasonable gardens, and so I quite enjoy tree-lined avenues and verdant cul-de-sacs that help you forget you’re in a city. But, thinking about it, I’m not so sure it’s a good idea. Verdant cul-de-sacs are nice, but affordable housing is better. A blanket ban on building over gardens isn’t what’s needed; what would be more useful is a more general control on maximum density of housing. If the planning regulations included a rule that every X square metres of new housing must include Y square metres of private or public garden space, then developers would be as free as they liked to demolish old houses and replace them with flats; the open space and the greenery would be preserved, just in a slightly different form.

It doesn’t take much, after all, to give an area the greenery it needs. Symbolic Towers, from the front, has no green space at all, one house in a line of terrace with virtually every front yard concreted, tiled or gravelled over.* At the back, we only have a small square of garden, too. But despite its small size, the garden and the gardens alongside are a quiet, peaceful, green space, sheltered from the inner city with trees and bushes.

It’s easy to forget, when a development is fresh and harsh, how time mellows a landscape. As I said, I grew up in a tree-lined surburban estate, and that’s how it is in my memory. When I look back at photos from my childhood, though, I’m shocked by how bare it looks. There’s hardly any greenery to be seen: it’s a stark landscape of red-brick houses, bare, plain lawns and sticky saplings staked into the ground here and there. In my memory it’s always as it is now, those saplings all fleshed out into fully-grown trees, and gardens grown up to fill in the spaces.** We forget that gardens take time to grow and mature; we forget, indeed, that Britain has no such thing as natural countryside at all, even our “ancient woodlands” being to some extent man-made.*** Developing on garden space isn’t necessarily a bad thing, so long as some green space remains; and it’s easy for “we don’t want to lose the green space next door” to be a cover for “we don’t want flats that just anyone can afford next door!” If we have rules that ensure that some green space will remain, we can redevelop our cities in a sensible and healthy way. And in thirty years time, those new flats will be surrounded by greenery, and people will wonder that their street was ever any different.

* Do not ask about the gravel. Unless, that is, you would like some free gravel.

** Memo to my parents, 30 years ago: think twice about moving into a house with a horse chestnut sapling planted at the end of the driveway, because before it’s a third fully-grown it will already have buggered up the drains.

*** They are still ancient, of course. But pollen analysis shows firstly that their mixture of trees is rather different to the genuine primaeval forest that grew up between the end of the recent ice age and the start of farming; and, secondly, that we probably have rather more woodland today than we did 2,000 years or so ago.

More on that guided busway

More on the guided busway, as it paves over the Bristol Harbour Railway and replaces most of Cumberland Road

As promised yesterday, I’ve been doing some closer looking at the West Of England Partnership’s guided busway – sorry, I mean “Bus Rapid Transit” plans, and some measuring up on aerial photos. It seems I made a couple of misconceptions, though. Firstly: some of the plans show the Harbour Railway converted into a sort of tramway running along the same road as the buses. Secondly, I was slightly wrong about the route in the Winterstoke Road area. My mistake was to assume that it might actually serve a residential area; I was wrong, it doesn’t, and its sole use is as a replacement for the current park-and-ride services. The council have also said it will serve the football ground; but that slightly contradicts other things they’ve said.

Anyway, here we go: what does a guided busway actually look like? Never mind the Partnership’s shiny traffic-free plan: here’s a real one. This is the A64 on the outskirts of Leeds, which has a single-carriageway busway down its central reservation.

Aerial shot of East Leeds guided busway

Never mind the bus lanes at top and bottom; the busway is that lovely expanse of concrete in the middle. The width of the whole thing, by my calculations,* comes out at about 3.8m. So, for a two-way busway such as the council wants to build in Bristol, you’re looking at 8m width. That’s for plain road without stops. Here’s a picture of where the council wants to build it: Cumberland Road. To the same scale, as you can tell by the cars.

Cumberland Road, Bristol

From the top: road, railway, cycle track, river.

The plans include building over the railway for one side of the bus route. Remember what Councillor Bradshaw told me: the plans “do not prevent” trains being run. Does that mean no bus services at weekends when the railway’s running? Or fewer trains? Who, at present, knows? Anyway, that means, for our FP Militant Invective Laboratories simulation (better value that the Partnership’s, I’m sure), we only need paint over part of the road:

Cumberland Road with added busway

There goes the railway and just under 4m of the road, painted over in wobbly freehand. That’s the amount of land the council’s planning to concrete over for its posh new buses (and all the older ones which will also be allowed to use the busway).

So, goodbye to half of Cumberland Road – even by narrowing the pavement on the north side, there wouldn’t be enough room to make the road full-width. The council’s simulation does seem to show there being a bus lane in the road at this point, rather than a proper busway. However, there’s a slight problem with that: the buses and the road traffic would be going in opposite directions, unless one were to drive on the right, so no space gets saved. The published proposals go on and muddy this point by showing both buses and normal traffic driving on the right at this point – which, of course, would be no help at all.

Still to come: the even more awkward pinch-point where the busway is due to run alongside the Portbury Dock railway line, at Winterstoke Road, with a stop which will take up even more space. They seem to be planning to run the busway over Network Rail land – I wondered if Network Rail knew about that, so I’ve asked them. For that matter, I wonder who owns the land the rest of the busway will run on – presumably either Network Rail or BRB Residuary, the organisation that is one of the last remaining stubs of British Rail. BRBR’s website is a bit broken at the moment, so I can’t search their property listings to see what they do or don’t own.

* including the small width of kerb separating bus and road on the buses’ left, which is presumably needed for safety reasons.


Or, a story of incompatibility

As part of all the building work that’s been going on at the office, we’ve been getting the security systems upgraded. A new alarm system, new motorised front gates,* and new electronic locks on most of the internal doors. All to be worked by RFID tags, kept on our keyrings and carried round all the time.

Now, being logical and sensible, we assumed that the company had specified either a single system, or compatible systems, so that we could use one single tag to unlock everything. Therefore we were pleased to spot, as the contractor** started to install the hardware, that all the sensors we could see came from the same manufacturer. Very sensible.

We each get a tag the other week, and start using it to open and shut the front gates. Three days ago, the contractor pops his head round the door to say he’ll be issuing us with the rest of the tags, the ones for the indoor locks, soon.

“The rest of the tags? We’ve already got one.”

Apparently, we need separate ones for the outdoor locks, the indoor locks, and the alarm system itself. Because “the systems are from different manufacturers.”

“But they’re not from the same manufacturers! We’ve seen them, and they’re identical! If you hold an outdoor tag up to an indoor sensor, it recognises it!”

“No it doesn’t.”

I held my “outdoor tag” up to the newly-installed sensor by the office door. It bleeped, and flashed a little green light at me.

“Well, I can try to set it up so that that tag unlocks this door,” the contractor said. “But it won’t work.”

(to be continued, otherwise this post would get a bit long)

* This is a Good Thing, because guess who’s job it is to unlock and open the old front gates every morning.

** Our usual security contractor, a friendly chap, who is very anal about making sure his cabling is put in and terminated neatly, but isn’t very good at setting up the security systems themselves properly.

Stress and strain

On being unmotivated

Work is wearing me down again. We have several projects on our menu, for different divisions of the company, and of course everybody thinks their own project is urgent. Our manager’s opinion of the most urgent depends on who he had last talked to.

When people ask me: “have you done X? When will Y be ready?” over and over again, I get annoyed and irritated. Unfortunately, most of the other managers in the company seem to think that this is the best way to go about motivating people. Of course, some go further, and lie directly: “I know Z is supposed to be ready by the end of the month. I’m sure someone told me that. I’m not sure who, but I’m sure someone did.”