Wednesday, October 04, 2006


And this under one of the world's "greenest" governments!

Thousands of seats are being ripped out of trains to create more standing room as a cheap solution to overcrowding on the busiest rail franchise in Britain. South West Trains is installing extra handholds and creating "perches" in place of seats. Almost 500 carriages, including some which entered service only two years ago, will lose more than a fifth of their seats. The increase in empty floor space will allow the Government to claim that it is meeting targets on reducing overcrowding. Passengers with 0.54 square metres of floor space are not deemed to be on an overcrowded train. (That could, for example, be an area 60cm by 90cm, that is slightly less than three double-page spreads of The Times, which laid toe-to-toe measure 60cm by 108cm).

South West Trains is already officially the most overcrowded franchise and is forecast to carry 20 per cent more passengers by 2016. The Department for Transport does not consider a train to be overcrowded until there are more than 35 people standing for every 100 with seats. But South West Trains breaches even what the department describes as "the acceptable number of passengers in excess of capacity". The 8.04am from Isleworth to Waterloo has 792 seats but carries an average of 1,138 passengers (44 standing per 100 seats), according to figures released under the Freedom of Information Act. The 6.42am from Haslemere to Waterloo has 598 seats but carries 845 passengers (41 standing per 100 seats). The company, which carries 160 million passengers a year on a network stretching from the South Coast to London Waterloo, said that the changes "will allow more people to stand in comfort".

SWT claimed last month that it would increase the number of seats on peak suburban services by 20 per cent under its new ten-year contract. But when questioned by The Times, the company said that this had been a mistake and that much of the promised new capacity would be in the form of standing room rather than seats. Under the terms of the contract, it add ten carriages to its fleet of 1,400. The company has already begun removing 72 seats from its 20-year-old class 455 trains, which operate between Waterloo and the suburbs, including Chessington, Kingston, Guildford, Epsom, Hampton Court and Shepperton. It is also planning to take seats out of 28 Desiro trains, which were delivered from their German manufacturer only two years ago. These trains serve Wimbledon, Surbiton, Woking and dozens of other stations.

A spokeswoman said: "In an ideal world no one would have to stand but we do not live in an ideal world. We recognise that passenger numbers are continuing to grow and we are reconfiguring the trains to give the best possible capacity." The company believes that creating wider aisles will encourage people to move away from the doors, allowing all the available floor space to be used. It claims that most passengers who cannot find a seat have to stand for only 20 minutes.

Britain has the fastest growing railway in Europe, with passenger numbers up 42 per cent in the past decade. In 2003 the Strategic Rail Authority proposed lengthening platforms on routes into Waterloo to accommodate trains with up to 12 carriages. The authority was abolished last year before it could make any progress towards this. Network Rail made similar suggestions in March but admitted that there was no budget or timetable for the improvements. The Government made no mention of lengthening platforms when it awarded the new ten-year franchise last month. Chris Grayling, the Shadow Transport Secretary, said: "We must provide longer trains rather than squeezing more standing passengers into existing carriages. It is unacceptable that people are paying more for their tickets but are increasingly less likely to get a seat."



It's their only remaining option

A struggling NHS hospital is on the verge of being taken over by a foundation trust. Heart of England, a much-vaunted foundation trust in Birmingham, is poised to acquire the nearby Good Hope Hospital, which has been in dire financial straits. Good Hope would be formally dissolved and its assets, liabilities and staff taken over. Foundation trusts, unlike ordinary ones, are able to borrow, make surpluses and invest while also being at risk of going bust. In its first year of operation Good Hope made a 5 million pound surplus on a 280 million turnover.

According to the Financial Times, Heart of England will be guaranteed some business from the strategic health authority. The deal will not be finalised until it has been agreed how much of Good Hope's historic debt of 27 million can be written off or absorbed by the strategic health authority. Monitor, the foundation trust regulator, said: "This approach will not be suitable for every NHS hospital that gets into financial difficulties, because Good Hope can be made viable. But we expect there will be similar transactions, in perhaps double digits."


Should kids stop eating crisps?

Panic: `The pack-a-day habit threatening our kids' health,' intones the British Heart Foundation (BHF) to promote its Food4Thought campaign. According to the BHF, eating one pack of crisps per day will lead children to consume almost five litres of cooking oil in the course of a year. Their press release notes that half of British schoolchildren `admit' to eating a pack of crisps everyday while almost one-in-five eat two packs or more.

Other nutritional shockers include the finding that three quarters of mothers feed their children ready meals or takeaways more than three times a week and only 13 per cent of boys and 12 per cent of girls reported eating the recommended five portions of fruit and vegetables daily.

Don't panic: This campaign is as heavily laden with spin as the crisps are with oil. The reference to consuming a `pack-a-day' has a strong whiff of cigarettes about it. Since in the popular imagination, `cigarettes=death', the implication is that eating so many crisps will have a similar impact. Yet, while the picture of a little girl pouring a gallon container of oil down her throat looks repulsive, the comparison is no less grotesque.

Oil is a perfectly normal and healthy part of the diet. Eating nothing but crisps would be quite likely to produce a greasy and rather anaemic looking child, but as long as there is some variety in children's diets (and not just between cheese and onion and smokey bacon), there shouldn't be a problem.

Another way of putting that `almost five litres of oil' figure would be that children consume about two-and-a-half teaspoons of oil per pack. In energy terms, the oil contributes about 100 calories. Not exactly devastating. But the ruse of adding up a year's consumption is ludicrous. For example, if a child drinks a litre of water per day, that means they consume 365 litres per year - enough to fill four baths. If they attempted to drink all of it at once they'd certainly drown. Yet no-one is suggesting that drinking water is bad for you.

There is no such thing as `bad' foods, only bad diets. Even then, the link between eating fat and ill-health has never been backed up by the evidence. When major studies have been conducted into the effect of changing diet to a low-fat or low saturated fat intake, the results have been extremely disappointing for those seeking to establish such a link. Rather than targeting health campaigns at children which cause unnecessary worry, finding the root causes of heart disease and better ways to treat it more effectively would be the right path to take. Unlike our children's diets, it's always proven to be more fruitful.


Nutty Church of England blames Christians, not Muslims for abuse of women: "Misguided and distorted versions of Christian belief have contributed to domestic abuse in Britain, says the Church of England. And the Church itself has not done enough to protect victims. The report, which has been backed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, says that domestic abuse is as "prevalent among Christians" as among other groups and identifies problem areas in Christian tradition."

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