Pendolino Farraday cages

I’m writing this aboard the 22.05 Virgin Pendolino service from London Euston to Manchester Piccadilly, so I’ll be actually publishing this when I get back to Manchester. The reason why I can’t publish it straight away is ironically enough the subject of this post.

Virgin’s marvelous new Class 390 “Pendolino” electric multiple units which they use for many of their inter-city services, replacing the HST and Mark 3 hauled stock trains which were perfectly good and had many years of service left in them given a refurbishment programme, have several annoying design flaws which directly affect passengers.

You would be forgiven for assuming that modern rail vehicles such as these would have been designed with the modern rail traveler in mind, given that they were designed since the turn of the century. The modern rail traveler likes to be able to use his mobile phone on the train and, if possible, their laptop connected to the Internet using a wireless Internet connection. But this is not to be.

In order to cut costs and enable them to install cheaper air conditioning systems, the manufacturers of the Pendolino opted to use a special metallic sunscreen on the windows in order to reduce the heat inside the train produced by the sun. However, a side-effect of this sunscreen is that it effectively turns each coach into a Farraday cage when combined with the metal shell of the coach itself, making it impossible for mobile phones inside each coach to connect to their respective networks in any useful way. Genius.

Signal can be obtained in the vestibules at each end of each coach, because the metallic sunscreen has not been applied to the train door windows. This is great, until the train applies its brakes. Then it all goes wrong again.

The Class 390 Pendolino has “regenerative braking“, a technology widely publicised by Virgin, which, when applied, actually returns electricity back to the National Grid. Each Pendolino multiple unit apparently returns enough power each year to supply Birmingham with electricity for a day or something like that, the details aren’t really relevant, but it’s something along the lines of the claim that if everyone gave up toast the electricity saved each day would power Birmingham for a week. Of course, if we just unplugged Birmingham, the rest of us could all have as much fucking toast as we like, but I digress.

So yes, regenerative braking sounds like it’s a good idea, returning power to the National Grid and helping to reduce the rail vehicle’s carbon footprint, all very grand and noble. Except, when applied, these regenerative braking systems create an enormously powerful electromagnetic field which, you guessed it, knocks out your mobile signal, whether you’re in the vestibule or not. Genius.

The same problem has been flummoxing Virgin boffins charged with the design and deployment of wireless Internet connections aboard Virgin trains as successfully implemented by other train operators, namely GNER, on their East Coast Mainline services which use different types of trains (namely HST sets and Class 90 plus Mark 4 stock trains, neither of which have regenerative braking).

So I can’t publish this post right now. Not only is Virgin’s onboard wireless Internet service doomed, but I can’t even get a mobile signal to post it via GPRS. Were I on a train that was designed in the 1970s, as is the case with the HST, I might understand. But the irony is that it would actually work on the HST, in stark contrast to this soulless electric multiple unit designed thirty years later. The terrible locomotive irony.


What the CWU doesn’t want you to know

_46586910_008154934-1This wretched postal strike pissed me off even before it started; my feelings on strikes and unions and all the associated irrelevant and redundant attitudes are well known. The posties are claiming the usual shit – they demand absolute and guaranteed job security and a nice fat pension, two things which the vast majority of people in this country haven’t a cat in hell’s chance of enjoying in a modern economy. But oh no, Royal Mail workers are special, just like the train drivers, and public sector workers. They deserve better!

Except they don’t. Today Royal Mail did the dirty on them (via The Daily Telegraph) and told everyone just what sort of unreasonable shit their workers demand of them on a daily basis. Ninety two points were made in total, the twelve most notable of which are as follows:

  1. Two or three hour minimum daily overtime – so if 30 minutes of actual work is required and completed, then between two and three hours’ payment is demanded.
  2. An additional allowance claimed for using particular vehicles – regardless of whether the individual has actually driven the vehicle.
  3. Automatic overtime if mail volumes reach a certain level – regardless of how many ordinary working hours remain that day.
  4. If a delivery round is finished before the end of the paid shift, the employee expects to be able to go straight home. But if it takes 10 minutes longer two to three hours’ over time is claimed.
  5. Set overtime level is claimed at Christmas, even if there is no need for any additional hours and no extra hours are worked.
  6. An additional two hour payment on Easter Saturday – regardless of whether any work required.
  7. No flexibility between different parts of the same sorting office – if an employee sorts letters for a particular postcode, they will not sort for the adjacent postcode, even though both activities are often in the same room.
  8. Signing in and out for a shift on arrival – so that no record of actual hours worked exists.
  9. Collection drivers expect overtime pay for doing collections outside usual route – even if it is done within usual working hours.
  10. Overtime to cover for an absent colleague – a full day is claimed, even if only half day needed and worked.
  11. Ban on any cross functional working, even of similar tasks under the same roof.
  12. Additional meal and grace breaks as custom and practice.

If you felt sorry for them before then I don’t see how you can now. Royal Mail, now a private company fighting for survival since it lost its cushy monopoly, should at this point be firing those on strike in blocks of 100 and rehiring from the pool of migrant workers who are only too happy to work twice as hard and for half as much. Want job security? Don’t fuck over your employer then. How is it difficult to see the logic in that?


Crossrail gets the green signal

BBC NEWS | England | London | Crossrail gets the green signal – oh look, Gordon Brown has announced funding for a major public transport project the day before the weekend that he’s tipped to decide whether or not to hold a general election, his party having previously announced it on the eves of both the 2001 and 2005 general elections. Imagine that.

Crossrail, although undoubtedly needed, is however a bit of a red herring. Most of the new route has already been built and has been in use for many decades. For the most part, the new trains will run on existing lines. The part that needs to be built, that will use up most of the £16bn, and will undoubtedly go over time and budget as all the usual suspects (consultants, New Labour cronies, etc.) jump on the gravy train is the tunnel under the centre of London. It really isn’t like they’re building a brand new east to west rail route through London, so the £16bn price tag and the planned timescale (over a decade from now) does seem a bit hefty. One has to wonder how far £16bn would go towards building one of the many shelved proposals to improve the urban motorway network in London, political correctness over climate change notwithstanding.

In any case it isn’t right that a new public transport project, which the commuting public cries out for every day of their lives as they are packed onto their sardine tins on a railway network that hasn’t seen any significant expansion since the second world war, is used as a shiny election badge. New Labour have had ten years to do something about the railway network in this country and they’ve fucked it up at every opportunity, except of course when it suits them.