Category Archives: rail

Miscellanea: clearing the favourites backlog

These articles and links caught my attention over the last while and have collected in my favourites folder. Time to deal with the link delivery backlog:

International development

A missionary-activist (aka ‘Tarzan agitator’) helping protect Amazonian tribes from oil and mining companies – from The Guardian.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation vs ‘Extreme humanitarianism’

Is aid doing Haiti more harm than good?

Gardian article: before you pay to volunteer abroad, think of the harm you might do.

Western vs Chinese aid: Which is better? – from Moneyweb

Good interactive graphic of the Corruption Index 2010

Losing our history:

Article chronicling the destruction of some of South Africa’s irreplaceable industrial heritage, through indifference and neglect.

A view on whether Christchurch’s iconic bell tower should be restored after the earthquake –  by Simon Jenkins

Detroit in Ruins – photographs by Yves Marchand and Romaine Meffre (also see this article: Detroit: the Ultimate Food Desert)

However see this grittily uplifting superbowl ad: Imported from Detroit

New thinking and projects in sustainability and design:

A treatment plant that converts sewerage to clean water, biogas energy and compost – by Amaresco in the US. (Expect to see more like this as cities realise that there needs to be a closed loop of resource use if we are ever going to be come sustainable)

Beyond food miles – from the Oil Drum.

Interview with John Egan on the importance of design

Article from Fast Company on roll-out of electric car charging stations

Also from Fast Company: The rise of the Aerotropolis

Civil and infrastructure engineering:

‘Civilised streets’ – A report from CABE (which has subsequently been shut down by the UK govt in a misguided attempt to save money)

Fantastic website on mini-roundabouts by someone who really understands his craft.

CSIR guide to Potholes

A guided tour of London’s sewer system

A Guide to South African Passes and Poorts. (More comprehensive than the Getaway book thats currently on sale)


An article in the Financial Mail that shares my scepticism on High Speed rail in South Africa. (Lets rather spend the money on urban rail)

Interview with Charles Taylor of Ballito

Nomkhubulwane – an Andries Botha elephant

The above two are from Comment from the Couch, a blog dedicated to hot-dipped galvanising.

Dennis Guichard – architectural and engineering photographer


Two articles you get when you google ‘design efficiency’: here and here. I always though the process of design could be efficient to varying degrees, hence the name of this blog, but I never considered actually trying to measure it, as they have done.

An incredibly smart guy who solved a Cypher Security Challenge. (He won a season ticket to Bletchley Park for his efforts…)

An ode to butter and butter making


We are not getting rail right in South Africa

Two articles from the FM caught my eye.

The first by David Williams shows that Transnet are just rubbish at providing a good service with their existing infrastructure and core business of freight rail; and the second shows big thinking on a new high speed Durban to Gauteng link.

On the high speed link: its a nice idea but the massive cost (10 x Gautrain as a high level estimate – R250bn) does not justify the benefit. For passengers there is the new R8bn King Shaka International Airport and for freight, clients are looking for reliability not speed. Given the lengthy customs and freight forwarding process at the port, shaving a few hours off the rail time is insignificant.


  1. Invest in maintaing and modernising the existing line
  2. Align the port, customs, container handling facilities & rail to provide an integrated & seamless logistics service from ship to door in Gauteng
  3. Invest in a high quality public transport system (light rail for Durban, Gautrain already in place on the other side) so people can easily get from city to airport.

Pretty sure all this can be done for a lot less.

(Text of articles below)

Continue reading

Old steam locomotives in South Africa


Kaaimans River Bridge

Kaaimans River Bridge

Kaaimans River Bridge

This is ususally photographed with a steam train crossing the bridge but significantly there is none in this photo. The track has been damaged and there are no funds and less political will from Transnet to invest in reopening this section of the line. My hope is that the private sector and enlightened municipalities can take it over and restore this regoinal icon.

Will the recession rip out the soul of UK’s railways?

Following on from my last post, here is an article in the Guardian about the risks faced by some of the UK’s quainter branch lines as a result of the financial pressures. Will these qunitissential UK gems be lost in another swing of the Beeching Axe?

They mention the current Minister of Transpont, Andrew Adonis and he seems both passionate and realistic, let hope he can find a way forward.

The Wrexham & Shropshire: the future is the past

ws-mapA story of a tiny rail operator taking on Branson’s Virgin Trains in the UK is featured in the FT and elsewhere.

Almost everyone, from MPs to Welsh grannies are rooting for the small ‘quirky’ firm Wrexham and Shropshire and not the modern but faceless Virgin Trains.

The FT describes the experience:

Wrexham & Shropshire’s style of operation harks back to the days before Dr Beeching took an axe to branch lines in the 1960s. Its little trains meander along at speeds that, at times, a well-maintained milk float could better. Passengers can stretch their legs in comfort in the 40-year-old carriages – something that only an Oompa-Loompa could manage on a Virgin Pendolino.

Reservations are not displayed via failure-prone LED screens above the seats; instead, they are printed on cards attached to the headrests.

No onboard computer announces the stations as on some other cross-country train services – that job is handled by a nice lady called Jane in a smart black and claret uniform. Nostalgic poet Sir John Betjeman would have revelled in halts with names such as Chirk and Ruabon, complete with pretty sandstone station buildings.

I for one would most definitely chose this over Virgins modern fleet and it seems like of a lot of other people would as well. So what does this say about modern travel?