Quotulatiousness

July 6, 2017

British tram-train project is already 500% over budget and years late

Filed under: Britain, Government, Railways — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

It was decided, at some point, to spend £15m to build a hybrid rail connection between Sheffield and Rotherham. It’s late (not too surprising) and over-budget (also not too surprising). What is surprising is just how far over-budget the project has gone: that initial £15m budget has now grown to an estimated £75m, and there may be no end in sight. Hannah Boland reports for the Telegraph:

Artist’s conception of the Sheffield-Rotherham tram-train. (Railway-Technology.com)

Transport company Stagecoach has won £2.5m in compensation from the Government after the completion date for the Sheffield to Rotherham tram-train project, for which it is supplying vehicles, was pushed back multiple times.

The National Audit Office (NAO), in a report released on Tuesday, said Stagecoach had claimed “prologation costs” and loss of revenue for the two-and-a-half-year delay of the government-sponsored project.

The scheme was approved in 2012, aimed at modifying train and tram infrastructure and buying vehicles capable of operating on both networks.

The Department for Transport had originally said it would be completed by December 2015, and would cut transport costs in the region.

However, Network Rail, which is undertaking the first stage of development, pushed back the deadline, first in 2014 and then in 2016, to May 2018.

The £15m budget originally agreed between the department and Network Rail has rocketed to £75.1m.

Tim Worstall offers some comments:

We hear ever louder cries, in both the UK and US, that government really must get on with spending billions, trillions even, on building out vital infrastructure — the problem with this being that government isn’t very good at building infrastructure. In fact, government is so bad at building infrastructure that there is a very strong argument to have it built by private economic actors. Yes, true, it’s entirely possible that the plutocrats will then profit from the public, even that only projects which make a profit get built, but we would have, given government’s record, more infrastructure for less money.

At least, that’s the lesson to take from this disaster with the Sheffield-Rotherham tram-train project. It is currently an alarming 5 times over budget and horribly late. Further, at this price it should never have been built. It is simply not possible that the value in use of this will exceed the costs of doing it — this is something which makes us all poorer […]

And here is in fact that cost benefit ratio [PDF]:

    1.0 the benefit–cost ratio for the programme when it was approved
    in May 2012. The business case was based on benefits to local
    transport users. The Department approved the project on the basis
    of the ‘strategic’ business case. Wider industry and economic
    benefits were considered ‘very uncertain’

    0.31 the Department’s estimated benefit–cost ratio – based on the
    local public transport case – as at October 2016

For any project, however funded and whatever it is, we need to have benefits higher than costs. This is simply because economic resources are scarce therefore we need to use them to add value. We have here a project where the benefits are one third of the costs — this is something which makes us all poorer. It should not be done therefore. And even after it was started once this fact became known it should have been stopped.

But it wasn’t stopped, of course:

It wasn’t cancelled for political reasons. It was felt that cancellation would lead to “reputational damage.” The way to read that being that once government has decided to do something not splurging the taxpayers’ money like a sailor on shore leave might call into question the right of government to splurge the taxpayers’ money like a sailor on shore leave.

Words & Numbers: Let Amazon Play Monopoly

Filed under: Business, Economics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on 5 Jul 2017

Amazon’s offer to buy Whole Foods for $13.7 billion sounds pretty great to both parties, but it seems that isn’t good enough. The proposal has a lot of people worried about Amazon becoming an indestructible monopoly, and the government is all too happy to step in and settle the issue. But this concern ignores consumers’ own preferences as well as business and entrepreneurial history. This week in Words and Numbers, Antony Davies and James R. Harrigan discuss the probable future of the Amazon-Whole Foods merger, what it could mean for us, and what it could mean for another once-equally feared corporation: Wal-Mart.

English place name pronunciation for non-English folks

Filed under: Britain, History — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 03:00

I was born in England, but having been in Canada for most of my life, I don’t have an infallible key to remembering how to pronounce many English town and region names. Kim du Toit is on an extended visit to Blighty, so he does his best here to clue in all us furriners about English place names:

The town of Cirencester is pronounced “Siren-sister”, but the town of Bicester is not Bye-sister, but “Bister”, like mister. Similarly, Worcester is pronounced “Wusster” (like wussy), which makes the almost unpronounceable Worcestershire (the county) quite simple: “Wusster-shirr” (and not Wor-sester-shyre, as most Americans mispronounce it).

Now pay careful attention. A “shire” (pronounced “shyre”) is a name for county*, but when it comes at the end of a word, e.g. Lincolnshire, it’s pronounced “Linconn-shirr”. The shire is named after the county seat, e.g. the aforementioned Worcester (“Wusster”) becomes Worcestershire (“Wuss-ter-shirr”) and Leicester (“Less-ter”) becomes Leicestershire (“Less-ter-shirr”). Unless it’s the town of Chester, where the county is named Cheshire (“Chesh-shirr”) and not Chester-shirr. Also Lancaster becomes Lancashire (“Lanca-shirr”), not Lancaster-shirr, and Wilton begat Wiltshire (“Wilt-shirr”). Wilton is not the county seat; Salisbury is. Got all that?

    *Actually, “shire” is the term for a noble estate, e.g. the Duke of Bedford’s estate was called Bedfordshire, which later became a county; ditto Buckingham(-shire) and so on, except in southern England, where the Old Saxon term held sway, and the estate of the Earl of Essex became “Essex” and not Essex-shire, which would have been confusing, not to say unpronounceable. Ditto Sussex, Middlesex and Wessex. Also, the “-sexes” were once kingdoms and not estates. And in the northeast of England are places named East Anglia (after the Angles settled there) and Northumbria (ditto), which isn’t a county but an area (once a kingdom), now encompassing as it does Yorkshire and the Scottish county Lothian — which I’m not going to explain further because I’m starting to bore myself.

And all rules of pronunciation go out the window when it comes to Northumbrian accents like Geordie (in Newcastle-On-Tyne) anyway, because the Geordies are incomprehensible even to the Scots, which just goes to show you.

Now here’s where it gets really confusing.

Update: I managed to get seven of the nine (but one was a guess … a friend on the outskirts of Pittsburgh had tipped me off): Atlas Obscura on unusual demonyms. The ones I didn’t get were Leeds and Wolverhampton.

Here’s a very fun game to play: Take a list of cities with unusual demonyms — that’s the category of words describing either a person from a certain place, or a property of that place, like New Yorker or Italian — and ask people to guess what the demonym is. Here are some favorites I came up with, with the help of historical linguist Lauren Fonteyn, a lecturer at the University of Manchester. It’s tilted a bit in favor of the U.K. for two reasons. First is that Fonteyn lives and works there, and second is that the U.K. has some excellently weird ones. The answer key is at the bottom.

  1. Glasgow, Scotland
  2. Newcastle, England
  3. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
  4. Liverpool, England
  5. Leeds, England
  6. Wolverhampton, England
  7. Madagascar
  8. Halifax, Canada
  9. Barbados

Demonyms are personal and vital to our conceptions of ourselves. Few things are more important to our identities than where we’re from. This explains why people invariably feel the need to correct anyone who gets their demonym wrong. “It’s understudied but it’s kind of important,” says Fonteyn, who is originally from Belgium. “I moved to Manchester and had no idea what the demonym was. And if you do it wrong, people will get very, very mad at you.”

The demonym for people from or properties of Manchester is “Mancunian,” which dates back to the Latin word for the area, “Mancunium.” It is, like the other fun demonyms we’re about to get into, irregular, which means it does not follow the accepted norms of how we modify place names to come up with demonyms. In other words, someone has to tell you that the correct word is “Mancunian” and not “Manchesterian.”

Hunting the Bismarck – IV: Sink the Bismarck – Extra History

Filed under: Britain, Germany, History, Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on Jun 1, 2017

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Sink the Bismarck. Churchill’s orders were simple, but executing them had proved tricky. Admiral Tovey and his hastily summoned handful of ships and planes had one more opportunity to sink the German juggernaut, and they were determined not to waste this chance.

QotD: Youth

Filed under: Quotations, Randomness — Tags: — Nicholas @ 01:00

You see, when one’s young one doesn’t feel part of it yet, the human condition; one does things because they are not “for good”; one thinks everything is a rehearsal. To be repeated ad lib, to be put right when the curtain goes up in earnest. One day you know that the curtain was up all the time. That was the performance.

Sybille Bedford, A Compass Error, 1968.

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