Saturday, 25 September 2010

Electrification: Malaysia shows the way

While the powers-that-be in this country dither over railway electrification, at least one part of our former empire is just getting on with it. Electric services have just begun on a substantial stretch of Malaysia's main north-south line. This is the first stage of a plan to electrify the whole route from Singapore in the south to the Thai border in the north. It's a British-built metre-gauge line. Here is one of the new EMUs bought for the purpose:

Kuala Lumpur to Ipoh is about 200 km and the journey time is reduced from well over three hours to just 2 hours. The article doesn't say anything about acquiring electric locos, so presumably the existing (fun but rather slow) half a dozen through trains a day between Singapore and the far north will continue to be diesel-hauled over the newly electrified section between Seremban and Ipoh.

This is, I think, the first long-distance electrification in the entire region. Up till now the only electric trains in Malaysia have been a small suburban network around Kuala Lumpur, two metro lines within KL itself (both of which are about to be extended), and Siemens' excellent standalone airport link line.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Trains of the day

Various suburban EMUs in Melbourne, Australia.

To the British eye, what jumps out is that these trains all seem to be operated by Connex. Remember them? I wonder what Melbourne has done to deserve this.

UPDATE: I've just discovered that Connex lost the contract in 2009 to Hong Kong's MTR. Ha ha ha!

Friday, 3 September 2010

Back from holiday

We were in Aberdeen and the Grampians -- "a strange choice of holiday destination", as it was put to me beforehand.

It's true one expects Aberdeen to be always grey and wet, but we were lucky -- it was so for only one day. The rest of the time we had warm sunshine. It is actually quite a pleasing city. We hired a car and explored castles in the surrounding countryside, which is delightful. The National Trust for Scotland may be in trouble over its accounts, but the people showing us some of its castles did an impressive job.

The journey from London to Aberdeen and back was courtesy of Messrs East Coast, whose ageing but nicely refurbished HST 125 performed faultlessly. To my surprise, the train was pretty much full between London and Dundee in both directions.

On the way back, a young woman getting on at Dundee and going to York found a seat marked "reserved from Newcastle". "Which comes first, Newcastle or York?" she asked another young woman in the next seat. "I have no idea", was the reply. These were both British (in fact I think English) people, clearly intelligent and middle-class. I never cease to be amazed at some people's ignorance of elementary general knowledge. Do schools teach anything at all nowadays?

Which reminds me, I had been moderately impressed with David Cameron so far -- not all his policies, obviously, but his evident general competence -- until he said on TV in America that Britain had been the USA's junior partner in the Battle of Britain. As any fule kno, the USA wasn't even in the war for another 18 months at that point.

The summer of 1940, when Britain's very survival was hanging by a thread and when it stood alone against tyranny, was always supposed to be a, if not the, defining moment of this country's modern identity. And here we have our prime minister, for heaven's sake, educated at Eton and Oxford, who apparently understands nothing about it at all. It would almost be funny, if it weren't so desperately sad.