damerell: (trains)
posted by [personal profile] damerell at 06:21pm on 23/05/2017
I've been meaning to write this for a while, but I just got blocked on Twitter by the editor of Rail magazine for pointing it out (!), so now seems like a good time. If there is some reason I am laughably wrong, now's the time to point it out.

Fairly often, when renationalisation of the railways is discussed, a neat little pie chart turns up showing some small percentage of income goes on TOC profits (here is an example: http://www.nationalrail.co.uk/static/images/structure/css/fact-about-fare-2014.jpg - this one discusses fare income, but as far as I can make out from http://www.orr.gov.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0020/24149/uk-rail-industry-financial-information-2015-16.pdf today's figure of 1.9% does reflect the distribution of all income. I don't know why Network Rail can't replace their pie chart with one based on more recent figures...)

As far as I know this is true, but what pops up next is the assertion that only that small percentage is to be saved by renationalising the railways. That seems to be totally untrue, as a bit of a peek at the other slices of the pie chart will reveal.

First of all, there's a much bigger chunk (11% in 2014, 7% now) marked "leasing trains". Do the rolling stock companies (ROSCOs), which were of course created out of British Rail, make a profit? You bet they do. Their surplus is about 20%, so there's another 1.4% right there.

Secondly, there's "interest payments and other costs". There was a bit here about how the TOCs are probably hiding some profits via (say) borrowing money from associated companies in countries with less corporation tax, but as far as I can make out all the interest payments are made by Network Rail. There is a pretence that Network Rail is not just a bit of the government, and that compels it to borrow money at a higher interest rate than the government would.

(However, the ROSCOs may well be posting an artificially low surplus, either through such tax avoidance or via the private equity practice of buying an asset with a loan secured on that asset. That would represent yet more profit that doesn't show up on the pie chart.)

Then we have staffing costs (25% of the pie chart). Fragmenting the railway has added untold layers of bureaucracy; the ROSCOs have staff to deal with leasing the trains to the TOCs and the TOCs have staff to deal with leasing the trains from the ROSCOs. The TOCs have staff to deal with Network Rail and Network Rail has staff to deal with the TOCs - a lot, because a train cannot simply be delayed now without a careful apportioning of the costs arising from that delay. A vast management tree is essentially duplicated across 20-odd TOCs (yes, it would be a bit bigger in a company the size of BR, but there wouldn't be 20 of it). It's hard to obtain any decent estimate of this (I would be intrigued to see figures on the relative number of officebound staff employed by BR and the current system, but I suspect they are well hidden) but it's hard to suppose it's too small a proportion of that 25% to show up.

So I think two things are true; the proportion of the railways' income that is lost to the structures of privatisation certainly is not 1.9% - it must be at least as high as 3.3% if we add the ROSCOs' profits in - and there is every reason to suppose it is considerably higher, even if it is hard to know exactly how much.
damerell: NetHack. (Default)
posted by [personal profile] damerell at 11:07pm on 17/05/2017
I've finally got around to looking at travel for the Worldcon. What I wrote here before is moot because it turns out the Travem√ľnde-Helsinki ferry is much cheaper than I expected (you can get a berth in a cabin with 3 strangers), so I'm taking that.
damerell: (dating)
posted by [personal profile] damerell at 04:01am on 06/05/2017
This seems to be a theme at the moment, so here's H. Rider Haggard, "Dawn", 1884:

"But his glance did not stop at the raven, for a yard or two beyond it he caught sight of a white skirt, and his eyes, travelling upwards, saw first a rounded waist, and then a bust and pair of shoulders such as few women can boast, and at last, another pair of eyes; and he then and there fell utterly and irretrievably in love."

All else aside, is her face just an otherwise featureless mask, or do her eyes protrude on stalks from her neck-stump? That would put me off falling utterly and irretrievably in love at first sight.

(Also, I had to read it twice to realise it's "another pair of eyes" in addition to his well-travelled ones, not in addition to a spare pair she keeps on her shoulders or something, but I think that's just me.)
damerell: NetHack. (Default)
posted by [personal profile] damerell at 05:00pm on 01/05/2017
I've recently read Sam Stone's _Zombies at Tiffany's_, which is basically a harmless light [1] novella with zombies, a certain amount of steampunk to provide the heroine with a portable machinegun for zombie murder, and any number of anachronisms in speech, set during the American Civil War. I did wonder about this, though:

"Martin had discovered a way to boil a kettle by generating power from steam. He used a mini boiler fire in which he burned a piece of coal. This created steam that in turn ran a small engine, 'not unlike trains', Martin had explained, and it warmed the water."

Martin is certainly ingenious but I think there may be some optimisation work possible.

[1] Very light; "now they discover the secret hidden airship chamber on the top floor of Tiffany's and they escape" light, a plot twist worth of Fanthorpe in a hurry.
damerell: NetHack. (normal)
posted by [personal profile] damerell at 03:49pm on 26/04/2017
I've been chewing through quite a lot of Robin Hobb lately, and have come to the Farseer trilogy, which was her first. I was pretty amused when I read this:

"A very faint scent of her clung to my shirt from her brief embrace, and I agonised over whether to wear the shirt that day, to carry the scent with me, or to set it aside in my clothing chest, to preserve it."

I laughed because in the last chapter a weasel vomited on his shirt. (This is a bit unfair - on careful review, he does spend a sentence changing clothes "hastily", but wouldn't he still be a bit weasel-vomity?)

More seriously, it's not as good as her other stuff. The youngest prince forms a murderous plot, they thwart it, inexplicably they decide he's learned his lesson, rinse and repeat. The protagonist has trained as an assassin, so after a few rounds of this, really, you had one job, Mr Protag. Kindly stab him up so we can get on with the zombies^W Forged ones.

I have not agreed to the new Livejournal TOS (they do it with javascript) but I suspect this is my last crosspost.
damerell: NetHack. (normal)
posted by [personal profile] damerell at 05:02pm on 15/03/2017
Dear Lazyweb, if you live in Cambridge and go to an optician, who is it and are they annoying? Thanks.
damerell: (religion)
damerell: (music)
posted by [personal profile] damerell at 08:09pm on 24/11/2016
It's my birthday on Sunday and I'll be in London. I'm going to see _Pretentious Moi?_ [1] at Nambucca in London on Saturday and in the Pembury Tavern in Hackney from about 3pm on Sunday.

[1] Some of their stuff is on Youtube, Soundclod, etc. They're "modern trad", if one can use such an expression.
damerell: (POWDER)
posted by [personal profile] damerell at 02:28pm on 22/11/2016
I realise about three of you care about Crawl victory posts, so I'm going to set up a custom fiends group to filter these. Let me know if you'd like to be on it.

Demigod fighter )
damerell: (POWDER)
posted by [personal profile] damerell at 08:45pm on 30/09/2016
Hooray, won again! 2 from 39 games. Whoops, knew I'd forgotten something )


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