Reclaiming Additional Industry Compensation from Thameslink/Great Northern

If you get the train regularly, you may know that 2018 has not been the rail industry’s finest year. In particular, there was the disastrous introduction of new timetables across the whole network, but particularly hitting the Northern Rail and Govia Thameslink services. I know the former has probably been worse, but I was in part affected by the latter. The weeks following the highly theoretical new timetables’ introduction saw delays, cancellations and general miserableness.

The government dictated that passengers should be compensated, and GTR has set aside £15m for claims this year and won’t make a profit.

As to how you go about getting this money back? Well that can be complicated. If you’re a season ticket holder, then it should be simple. But I am not a season ticket holder because I use the line on a variable basis. Most of the time I use the train and my Brompton – but the route can vary. If it’s a nice day, or there are no handy connections, I’ll cycle a longer route. If the weather is worse and there is a good connection, I’ll change trains and cycle a shorter route. Similarly, I might go in one route, and out another. Sometimes I don’t travel at all, and work from home. Finally, I might cycle all the way into work and not bother with the train at all.

Fortunately, I don’t buy paper tickets, but use a Pay-As-You-Go Oyster card. As it turns out, this was a blessing in disguise since if I’d used a contactless bank card (which can sometimes work out better value for regular usage over a week), I’d have been poring over my old bank statements trying to establish my usage patterns over 8 weeks. A lot of work.

But since Oyster records all your journeys, I thought I’d simply log into the Oyster system and do it that way.


You can only view your last eight weeks! And the compensation system wanted me to note at least three return journeys a week to calculate compensation. Recall that the compensation system only became live for Oyster PAYG users fairly recently, but claims were for the period May to July. The Oyster system is useless for getting this information then!

Now the website did say that my Oyster card number should be enough. With my permission they can query TFL’s Oyster database and get my travel usage directly. But still, I didn’t want to say I was using the train on days I wasn’t. They might reject my claim because I was being fraudulent. (Previously I had to send multiple emails to get a miserly £5 delay-repay compensation when I was stuck in a tunnel for an hour. According to their records, the train had run fine!)

Fortunately, I use Strava for recording my cycling trips – even short commuter journeys. So I sat there with a calendar window open, my Strava account open and the compensation box open. With that information I could work out which rail route I’d taken on a given day.

Of course the system really didn’t like you going in on one route and returning home on another. While most of us probably do exactly the same route, some people have jobs in more than one location, or need to move around for work, or, you know, go out in the evening!

A cynic might say that this was to put you off claiming compensation. 

I was particularly annoyed when after entering a few weeks’ information, it stopped me entering details for further journeys. That was both a blessing and a curse.


I pressed submit and just a few hours later got an email saying I was entitled to £173 compensation! 

I will take that thank you.

So if you were travelling on the Thameslink or Great Northern during the May-July period this year – go to their compensation website and put your claim in. Even if you get as frustrated as I did with multiple dropdowns and repeatedly copying and pasting my Oyster card number into lots of boxes, it’s worth it. You have until the end of January 2019 to make a claim.

Modern Couples: Art, Intimacy and the Avant-garde

Anyone going to the Barbican’s latest exhibition is not going to go away short-changed with the number of exhibits on display. This is a massive exhibition exploring twentieth century artistic couplings – and sometimes triplings – that led to those artists feeding off one another creatively.

If I came away with one thought, it was that artists don’t look very far from home when seeing a relationship. I also came away wondering whether or not this was actually a something that would have sat better in another medium. 

There is an awful lot of reading going on here. At the start of each section, a piece of explanatory text explains the details of the relationship, and to put it mildly, these can be somewhat wordy. When you add in all the quotations, the detailed notes alongside the various exhibits and everything else, you probably end up with several thousand words pasted along the walls.

From a practical perspective this means that some of the rooms are very crowded – especially among the earlier areas on the ground floor where space is at a premium. Invariably exhibition goers tend to spend more time earlier in the exhibition than later – assuming there is some blockbuster work the whole thing is gearing up towards. I don’t think I’ve been to an exhibition where the biggest crowds were gathered by the text on the wall rather than the works themselves.

The other problem here is that there are so many big-hitters of the twentieth century art world here that you know that there aren’t going to be that many exhibits for each of them. Only the most prolific get more than a handful of  items – and often those are simply photographs taken either by themselves or friends.

This all make it sound a bit negative, and I really don’t mean it to. The various couplings are interesting and even if some are well known – or have already garnered their own joint exhibitions like the recent Man Ray and Lee Miller one – there is still new information to learn. 

It’s notable that many of these relationships didn’t last the full life of one or other party, and that sometimes the same names would move on to another pairing later. Equally, there are some significant age differences between some of these pairings, while some it’s more about pushing the boundaries of what is or was acceptable at that time. 

I came away a little overwhelmed from it all. You certainly need to give yourself plenty of time to see this, ideally at an off-peak time when you wont’ be fighting crowds just to read some labels.

Chris Evans

Virgin Radio

At this point, everyone in the industry and beyond has written about the seismic UK radio events of yesterday, when Chris Evans, presenter of the biggest breakfast show in the country, on the biggest radio station in the country, decided to leave after 8 years on breakfast there. Instead, he will take up the mantle at Virgin Radio, a station so small that the smallest shows on the Radio 2 network outperform it.

I’d encourage you to go away and read Matt Deegan, Phil Riley and John Myers.

I’ll try not to duplicate what they’ve said here, although some of that will be unavoidable. 

Let’s take it in steps.

A Massive Gambit for News UK

This is unquestionably an enormous play from the UK’s (distant) 3rd biggest commercial radio group. News UK bought Wireless Group back in 2016. The group had just made bold expansion plans when it launched a number of services on the new second national digital multiplex earlier that year. They added TalkSport 2, TalkRadio and Virgin Radio.

[It bears repeating that although this whole story is being painted as a return to Virgin Radio, the Virgin Radio that launched in 2016 is a different beast to the one that I knew so well and launched in 1993. Virgin properties that aren’t wholly owned by Virgin Group (i.e. most of them) are really licencing deals. When new owners came in to buy what was then Virgin Radio in 2008, they decided not to continue the licencing arrangement and the station was renamed Absolute Radio. There are still members of staff in what is now Bauer’s London HQ that worked with Chris back in his previous Virgin Radio stint.]

Since those new stations launched, I think it’s fair to say that they’ve struggled to achieve a real impact. Launching speech stations isn’t easy or cheap – and you need listeners to complete the circle.  The new Virgin Radio struggled to cut through, given that it didn’t have the coverage or the marketing budgets of competitor stations. The growth of digital services has meant more competition in every market segment. Furthermore, these new services were exclusively digital, and a nice FM backbone to a station’s output is still very important if you want to achieve big numbers early on.

Virgin Radio did try to do a few things differently though. They put women in key timeslots which somehow still isn’t as common as it should be. And they hired some interesting and otherwise overlooked presenters, often dovetailing their output with stints on TalkRadio.

Plus News UK’s ownership allowed for promotional crossover. Virgin Radio and TalkSport were regularly advertised and promoted in papers like The Times and The Sun. That said, I’ve said before, I found the creative tired and repetitive, so I’m not sure it has worked as well as the media value might indicate.

The question then is whether that 2016 investment in new services was paying off. So, from press reports, this seems to be Rebekah Brooks’ big play. The News UK exec is definitely swinging big here.

Phil Riley has run the numbers and reckons that Evans may be being paid as much as £3m a year (he was on around £1.6m at the BBC). But you have to add to that other programming costs, and importantly, a significant marketing campaign. Plus you’re going to need other big talent to back Evans up.

The commercial part of this is actually the trickiest bit. Between them, Global and Bauer dominate UK radio. And that means that they manage to take more than their “fair share” of commercial revenues. Wireless Group has its own commercial team, and they can obviously play to their speech radio strengths, but they are at a natural disadvantage. (Smaller commercial groups are at an even worse disadvantage, which is partly why it made sense for Bauer to buy the independently owned Jazz FM recently.)

Now it’s fair to say that prior to being bought by Bauer, Virgin and then Absolute Radio both had the same issue. And when Chris Evans was on breakfast on Virgin, the station was absolutely able to charge, and achieve, a premium. Brands flocked to be part of his show, and breakfast promotions were incredibly expensive and therefore profitable with an audience across the station of around 3m.

But since then, there has been more consolidation in the industry, and getting from 400,000 to 3m seems a colossal ask.

Make no doubt, this is a major play. It’s going to be really interesting to see what happens.

Chris Evans

A big question is why is Evans making this move. It’s undoubtedly bold. He is currently enormously comfortable with the biggest show on UK radio. But perhaps he’s too comfortable?

The whole Top Gear presenting thing didn’t work out, and with the publication of BBC pay levels getting enormous scrutiny, perhaps he just didn’t want the hassle. (It’s perfectly arguable that Eddie Mair made the same decision when he recently decided to leave Radio 4 for LBC.) What you can be certain of is that it’s unimaginable that Terry Wogan would have done such a thing.

But a result of this is that Evans gets a massive pay bump, and less public scrutiny. He will certainly be the best paid person in UK radio.

And never underestimate his need for a challenge. I suspect that his time at Radio 2, at least after the initial period, has been like water off a duck’s back for him. However, this is going to be harder and there’s going to be pressure on him to bring results. But Evans has made a career of doing big and bold things.

He shook up Radio 1, then left when the BBC wouldn’t give him Friday’s off for his Channel 4 show TFI Friday.

When he moved to Virgin Radio, he put together a bid to buy the station, grabbing it from under the noses of another bid from Capital. Then, having sold his equity in it for a massive profit, he was fired from Virgin and lost a massive court case (and a significant amount more money).

While this is not as wild and reckless as some of those other moves, it remains a big move.

Radio 2

How will all of this affect Radio 2? In some respects, nothing will happen. Radio 2 will get a new breakfast presenter and they’ll probably continue to do well. That’s kind of how Radio 2 works.

Who exactly that will be remains to be seen, but Sara Cox is clearly the safest bet, and is the bookies’ favourite. Another option might be to bring forward to breakfast the new Simon Mayo and Jo Wiley show, but I can’t see the field being any wider than that.

Whatever the result, this is a rare opportunity for the station to put more women into daytime – something it has been rightly criticised for lacking.


One thing that makes this move seem especially interesting is the fact that Virgin Radio is digital only.  The single biggest digital-only radio station is 6 Music with 2.4m listeners, and that’s still a growing station, having taken years to reach that level.

Even with a big name joining them, I think that’s a tall ask, and the growth of the station might take longer than News UK might hope. 

One of the biggest challenges with breakfast is listening during the commute. DAB’s biggest weakness remains the in-car market. While new cars tend to come with DAB, older ones mostly don’t have it, and so in the car your choice tends to be more limited. Listening to Evans isn’t always going to be easy.

The D2 multiplex which Virgin Radio sits on also has less coverage nationally that the first multiplex, and less too than the BBC. Arqiva recently announced that they were extending it, but Radio 2 is much easier to hear digitally in more remote locations than Virgin Radio is.

Ofcom recently closed a consultation about Localness on local radio. That has some really interesting potential ramifications. It could lead to stations like Capital and Heart being able to network most of their output nationally, including their breakfast shows. Currently, there are much tighter rules that limit the number of hours that can be networked and when those hours can be.

Would Wireless Group rebrand its local FM stations as “Virgin Radio” and put Evans across them? Even if they didn’t rebrand every service, they could still run a networked Chris Evans Breakfast Show across those services. That would give the show an FM presence and a bigger breakfast show to sell to advertisers. It’s a thought.


This is by no means a slam dunk from News UK’s perspective. They’re giving their whole radio business a massive shot in the arm. I suspect that being a distant third in the radio market is not somewhere that Rupert Murdoch likes to be. But while the station will achieve significant growth off the back of this, whether the numbers will work in the medium or long term remains very much to be seen.

Note: I’ve been spending a few days away this week with some friends. The place we’re in has a pool and so we were hunting around for inflatables. Wouldn’t you know that one of my friends has been hanging onto Virgin Radio branded beach balls for more than ten years!

Railplan 20/20


The new timetables began today, and although I had spent time looking at them previously, it wasn’t until they first properly kicked in today that I realised that on my section of the Great Northern rail network, we seem to have got something of the raw end of the deal, in two separate ways.

This became obvious to me when the train pulled into Finsbury Park this evening and was squashed full. But I’ll get back to the return journey in a minute.

I daily use the bit of the Great Northern network that goes into Moorgate. Trains run from Letchworth, Stevenage, Welwyn, and Hertford North, and go into Moorgate on the old Northern Line branch line, going underground at Drayton Park.

The good news is that the 40 year old rolling stock is getting replaced later this year (barely padded seats, and fewer seats notwithstanding).

The bad news is that the “Hertford Loop” bit of the line seems to have got the poor end of the deal from what I can see. Let me explain why.

I tend to travel into work between 08:00 and 09:00, returning via Finsbury Park between 18:00 and 19:00. I would suggest that puts me firmly within peak. Certainly some start earlier, and lines get busy from around 07:30, with trains also busy from around 17:30 on the return. After 09:00 in the morning or 19:00 in the evening, things get a little more relaxed.

As I grasped the new train times this morning, I couldn’t help noticing that many more trains seemed to stopping in more places. The line from Gordon Hill to Moorgate includes 15 stations. All trains stop everywhere between Finsbury Park and Moorgate, but during peak periods, many trains miss a few stops in between Gordon Hill and Finsbury Park, which means the operator can get a few more trains down the line.

Here’s the old morning timetable between 08:00 and 09:00. Because the times are a little arbitrary, I’ve included those within five minutes of that period.


07:59 08:17 18
08:04 08:27 23
08:14 08:37 23
08:21 08:42 21
08:31 08:48 17
08:37 08:58 21
08:47 09:04 17
08:56 09:19 23
09:04 09:27 23

Ave 20.7

9 trains with an average journey time of 20.7 minutes. The fast of these is just 17 minutes, while the slowest (stopping everywhere) is 23 minutes.

But under the new timetable, spot the difference:


07:55 08:19 24
08:00 08:24 24
08:11 08:34 23
08:18 08:39 21
08:25 08:49 24
08:41 09:04 23
08:48 09:09 21
08:55 09:19 24
09:00 09:24 24

Ave 23.1

The same number of trains, but an average journey time of 23.1 minutes. Slightly slower than the journey time of the slowest train previously!

And note that the fastest train is now 21 minutes. So the trains are stopping everywhere. My journey is 11.8% slower as a result.

OK 2.5 minutes isn’t much, but I do question whether the longer timetabled journey times are simply because the number of passengers is such that it took longer than the timetable claimed to get so many on and off, or whether the train operator is “padding” the schedule a little bit. An extra minute could save an awful lot in fines for late running…

How about the return journey?


18:01 18:19 18
18:11 18:28 17
18:16 18:39 23
18:26 18:44 18
18:31 18:49 18
18:41 18:58 17
18:46 19:09 23
18:52 19:14 22

Ave 19.5

Previously there were 8 services taking an average of 19.5 minutes, with the fastest service taking just 17 minutes. Also note that the longest you would have had to wait for a train was 10 minutes, assuming you had just missed the previous service.

Let’s look at the new timetable.


18:04 18:25 21
18:09 18:33 24
18:19 18:37 18
18:24 18:47 23
18:34 18:55 21
18:39 19:03 24
18:54 19:17 23


A slower average journey time, since only one service is “fast” at 18 minutes. Overall a 12.8% slower time.

Then there’s the fact that there’s one fewer service running between 18:00 and 19:00. And then notice that the longest wait time is up to 15 minutes. If you arrive at 18:39 just as the doors are closing – as I did this evening because the Kings Cross – Finsbury Park train I was on had its own timetable “padded” leaving it waiting outside the station for an available platform – you have to wait a full 15 minutes.

One fewer train in a busy part of peak has a serious knock-on effect on other services, leaving them very full. With new housing developments popping up all along the line, passenger numbers will continue to rise. A development close to Gordon Hill has planning permission for 500 new homes, and while not all the adults living in those homes will use the line, a significant proportion will – potentially significantly increasing the 2,000-3,000 who commute daily from the station currently. Passenger numbers have already grown 27% since 2010/11.

Anyway, apologies for the long detailed rant about why my commute is a little slower. I realise that others have it much worse. And at least, when the new trains arrive, I’ll be able to spend all that extra time charging my devices and using WiFi, even if there are fewer seats to sit on.


I wrote the following in the comments, but it’s worth stating here:

I suspect in my instance, the reason for the increased journey times is that services that stopped at Alexandra Palace, Hornsey and Harringay – the part of the line shared by both Welwyn and Hertford branches – were previously shared evenly. But with changes to schedules on the GTR lines from Peterborough and Cambridge, with some services now running further and going via the Thameslink Core, they just felt it was easier to make more Welwyn services “fast” and load the all stops side onto the Hertford North branch.

That doesn’t explain removing a peak service from the return route, with a 15 gap between services.

I’m hoping that these timetables are “evolved” a bit as the new timetables bed in.

And then thinking some more, another issue came to mind, as I travelled in this morning.

One of the problems with all-stopping services is that they get full. This isn’t going to impact me, but I strongly suspect it’ll impact passengers at Alexandra Palace, Hornsey and Harringay. Those key trains around 08:00-08:15 are going to get very full before they even reach these final stations. That’s just an exercise in frustration as people fail to board.

In the past some trains would skip stations further out, perhaps running fast to Bowes Park. That left space by the time they reached somewhere like Harringay (the closest station to Finsbury Park). Others filled up earlier and skipped those later stations.

Under this timetable, it seems most trains are stopping everywhere, and that won’t work.

Three New Exhibitions

There are some really good exhibitions on at the moment in London. Actually, there are always really good exhibitions on. But over the weekend I went to three new ones, and all three were really good, and well worth visiting in their own rights.

I spent a May Sunday visiting the three and using a Boris Bike to travel between them.

My first stop was the Victoria and Albert Museum where they have just opened The Future Starts Here which aims to show “100 projects shaping the world of tomorrow.” That could make it sound a little dry, but there are some real things of substance in here. From food to society and democracy, everything is covered.

The exhibition explores electronics that are there to help us – the first thing you see is a robot that will seemingly do the laundry for you, to exosuits that could help those who require extra support or strength. Sometimes there are projects that are relatively simple – reusing old smartphones to do other tasks around the home.

Other times, these are much bigger projects – underwater drones, or 3D printing building to live in on Mars.

The exhibition asks questions of the future of democracy. They even have an exhibit which shows Alexander Nix of Cambridge Analytica famously explaining what his company claimed it was capable of, speaking at a conference. I laughed out loud when I saw they’d included that!

The exhibition is there to challenge us, and ask us questions. What is the future going to mean for us?

It runs until 4th November 2018.

From there it was a ride through Hyde Park around Buckingham Palace, through Westminster and along the South Bank to Tate Modern. They’ve just opened a new exhibition – Shape of Light: 100 Years of Photography and Abstract Art.

This is an exhibition to be experienced rather than described. The images – mostly photographs – are broad, and arranged thematically by subject. The tale is told of abstract movement and photography moving in parallel as artists began to understand what was achievable. Sometimes they utilised nature – other times very close up imagery to present us with things we mightn’t understand.

I went away quite enthused and keen to explore some of the themes in some of my own work.

Shape of Light runs until 14th October 2018.

Finally it was over the bridge and into the City to the Museum of London, somewhere I’ve not been for a while. They have a new photographic exhibition called London Nights. It displays an enormous range of often extraordinary photos taken over the last hundred years or more. While today we expect our smartphones to be able to take halfway decent photos in the lowest of light, it’s worth noting that photographers in the past had to go to great lengths to take photos in such conditions. Some of the earliest pictures, showing London’s fog-filled streets, are therefore remarkable.

The real fun can come from seeing everyday shots of London from the past, particularly in familiar settings. Trafalgar Square, Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circus appear repeatedly, with the people and the signs being fascinating.

The exhibition is thematically structured, and reaches right up to some very contemporary photographs. But sometimes a photographer like Bill Brandt will have photos in a variety of sections, seemingly able to cover it all.

Often it’s the very ordinary that becomes extraordinary. There are a series of perhaps a couple of hundred contact prints taken in the fifties, and even though the images of are “just” of people, you can’t help staring into the lives of those captured at that moment in time.

The exhibition catalogue is particularly good and worth mentioning, being published by the excellent Hoxton Mini Press who publish some excellent photographic books. Furthermore, compared with many equivalent exhibition catalogues, it’s really good value at just £14.95 for a hardbound copy (for exhibition ticket holders).

London Nights runs until the 11th November 2018 and is well worth a visit.

Rail v Road During Holidays: Compare and Contrast

The above press release dropped into my inbox the other day.* It’s from Highways England, and is of the sort that is regularly published at holiday times of the year. So as we enter the Easter weekend, roadworks all over the country have been temporarily lifted to enable the flow of traffic.

They even have a quote from the MD of National Express: “It’s great that Highways England have lifted roadworks on key routes, including those serving airports, helping us make sure we can get passengers where they need to be for their Easter plans.”

Compare and contrast with this message from the National Rail website.

While the roads are cleared to ensure easy travel, lots of rail works are scheduled for precisely this period, notably including Bristol, the West Coast main line, Manchester Victoria, London Euston and more.

The reason given is that the period is, “A time when less people travel on the railway and when traditionally a considerable amount of improvement and engineering work needs to be undertaken on Britain’s rail network.”

Let’s parse that a little shall we? The first part of that sentence, grammatically should probably say, “fewer people.” But we’ll come back to that first part of the reasoning in a while.

The second part of the sentence is basically saying, “We’re doing works now because we always do works now.”

I’m not really sure that’s an excuse.  I completely understand the need for maintenance and improvements – these are essential. What I’m not clear about is why these have to be scheduled at a time when large numbers of people are travelling often long distances to be with family and friends.

Network Rail actually has a page on their website explaining, “Why we carry out work at weekends and bank holidays”

Here’s the key text from that page:

We plan works for certain times so they cause the least disruption to passengers, such as on bank holidays, Sundays and overnight, when the network is less busy.

An independent review in 2016 looking at how the rail industry plans and schedules major improvement work concluded that Christmas, Easter and bank holidays are the best times for upgrades that need major lines to be closed. Even though it might seem strange to carry out work at Christmas – when people are travelling to see friends and family – on average, around half the usual five million people travel by train each day during the Christmas period.

I’m not going to dispute the claim that fewer people travel during the Christmas period (although that doesn’t mention Easter), but there a couple of things that I would bring to bear on this.

First, overall rail travel is vastly driven by travel in London and south east, and in particular commuter traffic. That largely stops over the holiday period, and might easily account for most of the overall reduction. According to the Department of Transport’s most recent Rail Factsheet, 69% of all passenger rail journeys are accounted for by London and the south east alone. Much of that is commuter travel.

What would be much more useful would be to understand how much the traffic flow changes for different types of journeys. For example, does long distance or inter-city traffic decrease, stay the same, or even increase?

The second thought I have is that because rail travel at holiday times is so unpredictable, more people take to cars. But this disadvantages those who don’t drive or don’t own a car – notably many of those in inner-London boroughs, or those who are poorer.

The statement above talks about a 2016 independent review, and I confess that I had trouble tracking that down. I did find a 2015 report commissioned by the Rail Delivery Group: Planning and Timing of Engineering Works on the GB Rail Network. This followed the failure to complete works on time over Christmas 2014 when there were overruns and serious problems with people travelling around the country.

Interestingly, it seems that getting accurate and full data for the report was something of a problem:

“Whilst rail travel is popular around Christmas passenger volumes are lower than the rest of the year. We looked at passenger numbers and type of passenger (leisure or commuter) during the year, which were difficult to obtain in any detail. Although we expected the passenger mix to vary with the time of year we did not find significantly lower passenger flows during the summer holiday periods or around the bank holidays on the major London routes. Obtaining more detailed insights into passenger flows during the year as a base for planning is essential and is one of our recommendations.”

Another point of note was this:

The passenger mix at Christmas is different than at other times of the year with a higher proportion of leisure passengers who are unfamiliar with the railway and less capable at coping with modal transfer during disruption.

But they also noted that fewer elderly travel at Christmas – perhaps because people travel to the elderly rather than expecting them to do the travelling.

I found this to be an interesting paragraph:

At present the major blocks at Christmas and Easter contain a range of work. Some of this can be done only at these times: other work can be undertaken at weekends but often is not done because the amount of weekend access is limited and there is pressure to add work to major possessions to improve the overall productivity of work. If the industry were able to make greater use of extended midweek night access (having full due regard for revenues generated by traffic that operates at night, especially freight) it would be possible to move some work undertaken at weekends into midweek nights. This would, in turn, free up weekends to do work that is currently being squeezed into the margins of long blockades. However, this will need to be balanced with the potential revenue benefit from reducing weekend access, which has been a focus of APSCM work.

In other words, if some freight traffic were disadvantaged, then weekend work could move to mid-week overnights, and holiday work move to weekends. That at least would leave the big holiday periods more free of disruption.

There are lots of other issues including adjacent line working (work being carried out alongside a working line), bi-directional signals (lines being capable of running trains in both directions – largely not the case in the UK), and other factors. Not least is the various recharging and pricing elements in terms of the timing of works. It seems Christmas overtime costs might be negated by other pricing determined by government.

It’s interesting to note that in other European countries they do things differently.

  • In the Netherlands: “There is no project work undertaken during the Christmas holidays and the burden of engineering projects is better divided over the year including long blockades during summer holidays.”
  • In France: “While passenger flows into Paris are similar or higher then these into London, enhancements and renewals are being done throughout the year, but not at Christmas. Long possessions are taken during the August summer holiday period, even at the RER for which busses and alternative routes are being offered as alternative; It should be noted however that there is hardly commuter traffic during that month.”

What I didn’t see in the report is any comparison of rail travel over different route types. In other words – shorter distance largely commuter travel v longer distance inter-city travel.

It’s evident that this work needs to be done, and I’d never want to underplay the complexity of track access, and the various calls there are on our rail network. But as I’ve argued before, it feels as though those who need to travel during holiday periods are actively disadvantaged. Furthermore, carrying out works in short bursts is less efficient than closing a line down for a longer period – a blockade in the industry parlance – and getting more work done. It’s notable that in cases where some major work is required, shutting down a station for a longer period, despite inconveniencing commuters, leads to fewer overall disruptions.

I would just like to see more innovative thinking from the Department of Transport and Network Rail.


* No. I’m not entirely clear why I was sent it either. But I was.

Things Annoying Me Right Now

  • People labelling their Tweets “Breaking” before highlighting a story they believe is more important than others.
  • People you generally respect getting so annoyed that a news organisation doesn’t reflect their personal choices, that the news organisation is suddenly worthless.
  • Left-leaning British commentators weighing in pointlessly against right-leaning US gun advocates on Twitter. It’s not that I disagree with those commentators about gun control. Obviously I completely agree. But we’re talking about a people that did precisely nothing when 20 six and seven year olds were shot, and then did precisely nothing else when another 58 people were murdered and another 851 were injured at a music festival. And that’s aside from the thousands more who die needlessly on an ongoing basis. But outrage on Twitter can feel like King Canute trying to turn back the tide. A different approach is needed. Sadly, I don’t know what that approach is.
  • That politicians fear their own parties so much, they can’t actually say what they genuinely believe.

Mostly I’m annoyed at the entrenchment in all kinds of political discourse everywhere. From factions within the Tory party over Brexit, to the ability of Northern Ireland to form a government, and yes, for the ability of US politicians to reign in gun violence in any way whatsoever.

I don’t think it’s completely the fault of social media, or the internet in general, but political discourse and the idea that there might be some middle ground between two entrenched viewpoints seems to have diminished. And that’s bad for society.

Digitising My Life in 2018

Life is digital. We’ve known that for a long time. Digital offers lots of convenience, but it brings with it complications. In particular, safe storage.

In 2018 I need to try to fix three or four problems/issues I have coming up.

1. Cloud Storage

As longtime readers might know, I have a couple of Synology NAS drives at home, each with a RAID 0 arrangement with pairs of matched hard drives storing my data. In total they store just over 4TB of data, with a further 1TB of headroom between the two NAS drives.

While I have local copies of music and other documents, space is really taken up by photos (in RAW format) and videos. As more devices move from HD to 4K, those video file sizes aren’t going to be coming down much any time soon.

All of this NAS drive storage is backed up to Amazon Cloud – more of which later.

Beyond this storage, I have a further 4TB drive of older files sitting on a new standalone 4TB external HD. This data is not backed up in the cloud, but is duplicated on a series of older “passport” sized portable HDs.

Amazon introduced its unlimited cloud storage system last year, and I jumped at spending £59.99 for a year’s worth of unlimited storage. I could use an app on my NAS drive to upload files in the background and keep the two in sync. My older NAS drive didn’t really work with this method, but I managed to create a virtual link between the two NAS drives from the drive that did work, and I safely backed up all my files.

But the writing was on the wall for the Amazon deal almost from the start. In the US, where they’d had the initiative for a longer time, Amazon had cancelled it because some users were storing vast quantities of data. It would only be a matter of time before Amazon UK followed suit, and sure enough, I got an email announcing the end of the scheme towards the end of last year.

Because Amazon will continue to store photos free of charge, I would only require 3TB of data for video and other files. Amazon prices that at £237 a year.

But that excludes my other 4TB of data. Even if some of that is also photos, I’m probably looking at 5TB at £400 a year to be fully backed up with Amazon.

So my first job is to find a robust backup provider that can help, ideally coming in at well below £400.

One alternative is to buy an 8TB external hard drive, sync my drives to it (I would estimate that will take at least a week), and then store that drive at work, returning it home fortnightly or monthly to do intermediate syncs.

Another suggestion via Twitter was:

I do kind of like the idea of this. In reality, I’m probably not going to find a friend with unlimited data willing to put my Raspberry Pi/USB HD combo under their stairs or wherever, but it’s definitely an idea. Nextcloud in particular seems interesting application to enable this.

I will continue to explore paid for options and see what I come up with.

2. Scanning Photos

Yes – just about every photo I take these days is digital, and even those shot on film get scans at the time, so I have digital copies of them. But I still have a few thousand (I think) printed photos.

Included amongst this is a historical archive of old Virgin Radio pictures – mostly press photos – saved from the bin around the time that Virgin Radio was rebranded as Absolute Radio.

I’ve been meaning to scan this trove for years. But I’ve always been stuck since although I have a reasonable scanner, it’s only USB 2.0 and doing a decent scan of a photo takes quite some time. Even if you place half a dozen or more photos on the flatbed at the time, it’s a painful process. Invariably I choose to scan at high quality – probably higher than I’ll ever need.

The other option would be to scan negatives – as I usually still have them. But that involves dust removal and other slow to process issues.

One popular alternative is to pay a third party company to do the scanning for me. That involves boxing the photos off, sending them off, and getting a digital download or USB stick back with the results. It’d safely cost me several hundred pounds.

My 2018 solution is to not be quite as fussy about the quality of my scans. Anything really worthwhile I may spend more time with. But in the main, we’re talking about photos that have barely seen the light of day since I took them (I’ve never really had physical photo albums).

I own a Fujitsu Scan Snap iX500 which I bought to scan a large number of documents. It’s really good at this, and I also save things like cycling or walking routes from magazines, or other things that might be useful to hang on to.

Importantly, it has a sheet feeder that means you can scan things pretty quickly. For documents I make searchable PDFs using optical character recognition at the time of the scan.

But I’d not used it for photos because – well – I was concerned about quality issues. But it will scan to 600 dpi, and while that might not be enough to print billboard sized photos from, it should be fine for regular use.

I will report back and let you know the findings.

[Update: Well I did a bit of a test run through with 800 Virgin Radio photos that I, er, acquired when the station rebranded as Absolute Radio, and it was fairly painless. The quality is decent and it didn’t take an inordinate amount of time to do. This should be very achievable.]

3. Digitising Video

I also have something approaching 100 MiniDV video tapes with various footage on them. While I’ve already captured and digitsed all my oldest Hi8 video footage, this MiniDV footage needs capturing. I have a working camera to play the tapes back from, but the only way to capture is in real time. In reality that means a dedicated PC (fortunately I have such a beast), and regularly running tapes through the camera to capture the material.

There are no short cuts for this one that I can see.

4. Supplemental

I found a load of 3.5″ floppy discs the other day. I suspect that there’s little to nothing I really need to keep from them, but I’ll probably pick up a cheap USB drive and run through them anyway. I’ll keep a handful for posterity, but probably ditch the others – especially the numerous covermount discs!

The other job I have is to properly digitise the family’s Super 8 films. Many years ago, I pointed a digital video camera at a projection screen and captured them that way. I have that now converted to mp4. But it’s dreadful quality. Again, third parties can do this, but the costs are high. I’ve been quoted £600-£1000. So at some point, getting a machine like this Reflecta Super 8 scanner might be a good idea. It looks like it’ll create HD video from footage, although a bit of post-production will be required to correct the frame rate.

5. Summary

One thing I’m aware of is that all the scanning and capturing from 2 and 3 will create a bigger haul to store in 1. Such is the way of these things.

I should also note that I still have unripped CDs to capture, old cassettes I might digitise, and never mind my ongoing DVD/BluRay collection just about none of which is in a pure digital format.

I can see format conversion and digitisation being a theme for the rest of my life somehow…

Note: Just because I’ve digitised something, it doesn’t mean I’ll be throwing the originals out. They don’t take an enormous amount of space, and it would be foolish to do so.

Stuck in Draft

If you follow this blog on a regular basis, you’ll know that my publishing can be a bit hit and miss. Certainly there’ll be something about UK radio ratings at least four times a year (RAJAR), and there’ll be some annotated Radio Times – especially at Christmas. But otherwise, it’s as and when I feel like it.

What you may not know is that sometimes I draft articles and then either don’t quite get around to completing them, or forget to hit publish all together. At time of writing, I have 85 pieces in my draft folder. The majority won’t see the light of day, but some probably should. So during the gap between Christmas and New Year, I’m going to publish a few that I’ve been meaning to post, even if they’re not always as timely as they might have been.

On Uber in London

(Note: This mostly comes from something I wrote on Facebook. So I thought I may as well broaden it out and publish it here.)

TFL has decided it will not award an operator licence to Uber from 30 September. In essence, it is saying that Uber must cease operations in London.

TFL says that the reason’s behind this Uber’s approach and a “lack of corporate responsibility in relation to a number of issues which have potential public safety and security implications.”

These include:

  • Its approach to reporting serious criminal offences.
  • Its approach to how medical cetificates are obtained.
  • It’s approach to how Enhanced Disclosure and Barring Service checks are obtained.
  • Its approach to explaining the use of Greyabll in London, software that could be used to block regulatory bodies from gaining full access to the app and prevent officials from undertaking regulatory or law enforcement duties.

In response, Uber released the following:

It speaks of 3.5m Londoner who use the app, and the 40,000 drivers they have on their books. They claim their drivers undergo the same background checks as black cab drivers, and that “Greyball” was never used in the UK “for the purposes cited by TFL.”

However I don’t think their response is quite a point by point rebuttal of TFL’s accusations. The Metropolitan Police, for example, say that Uber has in fact failed to report crimes, and claims that it is more worried about its reputation.

Uber’s response also doesn’t explicitly say that “Greyball” was not used in any shape in the UK.

Safety and regulatory issues aside, a lot of people are disappointed. Not the representatives of black cabs of course. They’re delighted.

But what of the 40,000 drivers. They’re going to lose their jobs are they not?

Well, not exactly. First of all, Uber goes out of its way to say that these are not jobs. Uber drivers are self-employed, and as such, have no real protection or employment rights. That obviously saves Uber a lot of money.

Personally I can see both good and bad sides of Uber. They’re revolutionary, but they’re also incendiary. They undercut everyone else in the market, but they do this by effectively subsidising each trip. They can’t burn cash forever, but if they kill the competition, then they have it to themselves.

Black cabs, on the other hand, are protectionist, and that too is unsustainable in the 21st century. Their pricing is too high (although their prices appear even worse if Uber rides are subsidised), and they seem to believe they have god-given rights to the roads ahead of nearly all other vehicles. (Cf. Objections to just about any and all cycle infrastructure).

But Uber users can relaxe. In reality, nothing will change.

Uber can appeal, and eventually win back its licence. It just needs to make some structural changes. All the things TFL called them out for are correctable, and should be corrected. They have behaved badly – driven from the top by a now ousted CEO.

Issues like reporting not reporting crimes would get any cab-firm banned. Uber should expect no difference. Just because you’re big, it does not give you carte blanche to behave as you like.

Uber will appeal this process for months and/or years; fixing the issues and remaining on London’s streets all the while.

Those 40,000 drivers will mostly carry on driving regardless of outcome. Lyft can fill the void if necessary – or all the local mini-cab firms that many of those drivers came from in the first place. But the structure of their work was no more secure as Uber drivers than someone on a zero hours contract working for Sports Direct.

In any case, there are other criticalities.

The number of private hire vehicles in London has skyrocketed, from 49,400 in 2009/10 to 87,400 in 2016/17. That creates congestion, and also has an impact on London’s abysmal air quality. Even a Toyota Prius burns petrol some of the time. Those volumes are unsustainable, and TFL is no doubt looking at ways to limit those numbers.

And like other groups, Uber’s long-term plan is to do away with human drivers altogether. How long it’ll be before we see self-driving cars on London’s complex street system is anyone’s guess. I’d expect it’ll be later rather than sooner given our medieval road layouts. But it’ll come, and Uber is spending big. And at that point it will revolutionise transport, and indeed, transport ownership. And jobs like driving will be gone forever.