Category Archives: travel

Antwerp in a Day!

Today I’m heading to Belgium…for the day! In a couple of hours I’ll be taking a whole series of nightbuses from home to St Pancras International, before zooming out along High Speed One from St Pancras International to Brussels. From there I intend to nip up to Antwerp for the first time, for a day’s exploration with the D50 (check my Flickr on Friday), before heading back home later today. It’s the beauty of a week’s holiday – I’ll be shattered, but can sleep in all day tomorrow if need be!

I’m going to liveblog as much as I can (I don’t know how many wireless hotspots I’ll find), and to keep track of my misadventures you should (from 3am BST):

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Third Runway Appears Dead

I wrote the other day about the inconsistency in Transport Secretary Lord Adonis’ position on the planned third Heathrow runway, given that he aims to replace the UK’s short-haul air travel with a high speed rail network. It looks as though it’s not really inconsistent after all:

High Speed Two, the company charged with proposing a north-south route, is working on a business model that features a Heathrow station but does not factor in a new runway at the UK’s largest airport, reflecting Tory policy to block expansion.

In an interview with the Guardian, the High Speed Two chairman, Sir David Rowlands, and the company’s chief engineer, Andrew McNaughton, said the scheme required a plan that could be used by a Labour or Conservative government. “Our ambition is to produce a report that is useful to the government before and after the election. We are modelling Heathrow with and without a third runway, so that it is equally useful to either kind of government.”

So despite the Department for Transport still publicly supporting the third runway, HS2 is essentially being set up under the premise that it will never happen. It makes plenty of sense, since moving away from domestic, short haul air travel removes entirely the justification for a third runway; the expansion predicted for Heathrow would be generated entirely by short haul travel. Good news all around really – it’s been crazy that Spain, a country moving out from a dictatorship merely 25 years ago, should imminently have the largest high speed rail network in Europe, that China (a country which notably has banks under state control) should be aiming to have the largest network in the world, whilst Britain makes do merely with the recently completed HS1. I don’t care if it’s a policy being introduced to damn the Tories if they decide it can’t be afforded after they win next year – if we’re on the road to HS2 and beyond, I’m pleased.

Yes to High Speed Rail? No to Third Runway!

Transport Secretary Andrew Adonis has nailed his colours to the wall, surprisingly speaking out in favour of a future of high speed rail in the UK, at the expense of short haul air travel:

The transport secretary, Lord Adonis, said switching 46 million domestic air passengers a year to a multibillion-pound north-south rail line was “manifestly in the public interest”. Marking a government shift against aviation, Adonis added that rail journeys should be preferred to plane trips.

“For reasons of carbon reduction and wider environmental benefits, it is manifestly in the public interest that we systematically replace short-haul aviation with high-speed rail. But we would have to have, of course, the high-speed network before we can do it,” he said.

Goodness me. It’s a laudable aim, which I thoroughly support. It’s clear to me how long it’ll take, but an infrastructure upgrade such as this has been long overdue for decades. Our roads are rubbish, our rail system remains a joke, and moving to a low carbon domestic transport policy would be an amazing achievement for a government which over 12 years has shown scant regard for climate change. Surely this represents an about-turn for the Department of Transport, and the widely reviled third runway for Heathrow is now dead? No:

Adonis said a high-speed rail scheme would not undermine an aviation policy that calls for new runways at Stansted and Heathrow over the next decade.

“If you look at projections for long-haul air demand the third runway just on long- haul demand alone is justified,” he said. According to government estimates, air passenger numbers will nearly double to 465 million a year by 2030.

So it’s justified purely on his figures of long-haul air demand? Yet local businesses don’t want the third runway, nor do local residents, and BAA has recently been forced to admit twice as many people are affected by the airport’s noise than previously estimated. Thirteen CEOs of major British firms are against it, and passenger numbers are falling, and what about those figures…don’t they just fall down if short haul flights, which account for a third of all Heathrow’s traffic, and which are the driver of airport expansion get taken out of the equation? Adonis’ position on the third runway is untenable if he retains his commitment to using High Speed Two and beyond to move from short haul flights entirely; he can’t have it both ways.

Air France 447 – Some Answers?

I find it very difficult to write about this story, let alone read about it. A plane crash of this kind is perhaps my greatest terror, and for it to happen in this day and age with a modern plane from a long-established airline is unthinkable. There are however some unconfirmed rumours coming from the investigation (which it turns out received significant amounts of data transmitted by the plane before it broke apart):

The Air France jet that crashed into the Atlantic killing 228 may have stalled after pilots slowed down too much as they encountered turbulence, new information suggests.

Airbus is to send advice on flying in storms to operators of its A330 jets, Le Monde reported today. It would remind crews of the need to maintain adequate thrust from the engines and the correct attitude, or angle of flight, when entering heavy turbulence.

Pilots slow down aircraft when entering stormy zones of the type encountered by Air France Flight 447 early on Monday as it was flying from Rio to Paris.

Jean Serrat, a retired airline pilot, told Agence-France Presse: “If the BEA [accident investigation bureau] is making a recommendation so early, it is because they know very well what happened. If they know what happened, they have a duty to make a recommendation, for safety reasons … The first thing you do when you fly into turbulence is to reduce speed to counter its effects. If you reduce speed too much you stall.”

Why would they reduce speed too much?A theory has appeared in the New York Times:

Airbus, the manufacturer of the missing jet, issued a warning on Thursday to all its customers to follow established procedures when pilots suspect airspeed indicators are not functioning properly. The bulletin appeared to be the first hint that malfunctioning instruments indicators might have played an important role in the crash.

The message, approved by French investigators, said that the message had been sent “without prejudging the final outcome of the investigation,” but clearly it pointed to the possibility that mismanaging the plane’s speed could have been one step in a cascade of on-board failures, leading to the crash northeast of Brazil on Monday and the death of all 228 people on board.

The message noted that “there was inconsistency between the different measured airspeeds” in the Airbus 330 that crashed, one of several error messages that were sent by the plane’s automatic systems to an Air France maintenance base.

Airspeed on jets is measured by the combination of a tube that faces forward, called a Pitot tube, and an opening on the side of the plane known as a static port. The plane’s speed is determined by comparing the pressure in the Pitot tube that is created by the oncoming wind with the pressure from the static port.

The model that crashed, an A330, has three pairs of tubes and static ports. But other instruments can also be involved in calculating air speed, and the notice to airlines, called an Accident Information Telex, did not specify the nature of the inconsistency.

The Wall Street Journal goes further:

But tropical thunderstorms that develop in the area where the plane was flying often form tiny particles of ice at high altitudes, and air temperature at the plane’s altitude is below zero.

A theory is that ice from the storm built up unusually quickly on the tubes and could have led to the malfunction whether or not the heat was working properly. If the tubes iced up, the pilots could have quickly seen sharp and rapid drops in their airspeed indicators, according to industry officials.

According to people familiar with the details, an international team of crash investigators as well as safety experts at Airbus are focused on a theory that malfunctioning airspeed indicators touched off a series of events that apparently made some flight controls, onboard computers and electrical systems go haywire.

The potentially faulty readings could have prompted the crew of the Air France flight to mistakenly boost thrust from the plane’s engines and increase speed as they went through possibly extreme turbulence, according to people familiar with investigators’ thinking. As a result, the pilots may inadvertently have subjected the plane to increased structural stress.

Very very sad. And very very scary. I’ve been panicky about pilots flying through severe weather for a few years now. Apparently with cause. I hope lessons are learned should this be determined as the likely cause, given that the black box flight recorders are unlikely to be retrieved from the Atlantic Ocean floor.

I Said I’d Remind You…Again…

It turns out that the IPCC really is rotten to the core after all. Some of us realised this beyond any reasonable doubt after they exonerated Sir Ian Blair and a good number of corrupt and rotten Metropolitan Police officers of any blame in the murder of Jean Charles de Menezes. Favouritism towards the police? Rudeness to complainants? Incompetence? It seems it’s all true after all. Oh and apparently many IPCC investigators are former police officers.

Oh and if you care to have a look at some Metropolitan Police incompetence all you have to do is look here.

Crash at Heathrow

In all honesty I really wouldn’t want to fly BA again any time soon. Not only was this not the first total electrical shutdown in the air they’ve faced, but it’s been established before that they will do anything to keep their planes flying, even when they’re clearly in an unsafe state. They’ve been lucky before, even yesterday, but I personally wouldn’t want to take my chances again.

St Pancras Reborn

Home of Eurostar

I don’t know what the rest of you people think, but I think train travel’s suddenly become cool. I’m in the mood for Brussels or Paris once more.