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British Rail Moving Forward with Sat-Nav/GPS 192

Posted by Zonk
from the need-that-for-my-bicycle dept.
de1orean writes "The BBC is reporting that after a successful limited trial using GPS satellite navigation to improve train safety and efficiency, British Rail is committed to instituting sat-nav throughout the system. It may be in operation as early as 2008."
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British Rail Moving Forward with Sat-Nav/GPS

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  • by Dancin_Santa (265275) <DancinSanta@gmail.com> on Saturday February 12, 2005 @01:53AM (#11649934) Journal
    It's a train. It's not like these things can wander all over the place.

    Maybe if they were able to get them to run on time like they do in Japan and Fascist Italy, they could tell where the trains were by just looking at the clock.
    • " It's a train. It's not like these things can wander all over the place.

      Hmm...but, with a GPS jammer....that is available, this means someone can screw with the whole system, and possibly cause accidents??

    • by ari_j (90255) on Saturday February 12, 2005 @02:22AM (#11650030)
      That's what I was thinking. All you need, even without an accurate timetable, is an odometer. Trains' positions can be measured in one dimension - there is no need to bring two other dimensions and a constellation of satellites into this.
      • Re:First impression (Score:5, Informative)

        by ComputerSlicer23 (516509) on Saturday February 12, 2005 @02:40AM (#11650076)
        At least in the U.S., I know a couple of dispatch people (the train equivilent of "Air Traffic Controllers" for planes). One always told me that a train dispatcher made more life of death decisions per hour then then an ATC person did. He joked that guys used to retire from doing train work to being an ATC for the low pressure, low stress atmosphere. I'm not sure either of those statements is true, but I'll bet that it is true, that keeping trains running smoothing isn't as trivial as you make it out to be.

        In the end, well, trains don't always travel the same speed, they don't always travel at the speed they are told to. Sometimes they break down. Sometimes the switches aren't thrown properly (so there really are two dimensions, possibly more), sometimes a train runs away. Some times a train is on a section of track its not supposed to be. Trains aren't a trivial problem (we actually had to write a simulation of this in college in a RTS class, you had to do the computations and throw the switches at the right time, or you had yourself a fairly serious collision).

        With trains at least, by the time anyone can visually tell you this, all you can really do is jump off and save yourself. It's literally a million pound weapon of death, by the time anyone can see the problem it's over. Having a GPS system on the train would enable you to spot all sorts of upcoming problems with out having to communicate with anyone onboard.

        Kirby

        • by ari_j (90255)
          I don't know why I got an "Insightful" mod - it was meant to be "Funny" or "Troll." ;)

          I have no problem believing that train controllers have more stress than ATC. With ATC, you have three dimensions to deal with, meaning that, statistically speaking, it's far less likely that they'll run into each other, anyhow. Add to that that you have three degrees of freedom to solve any impending collisions, and it's relatively stress-free, compared to train control where the ability to correct errors is extremel
        • "It's literally a million pound weapon of death"

          And that's just the loco. [hypertextbook.com]
        • Don't forget the ground relays on engines, too!!! :)
      • by JDisk (82627) on Saturday February 12, 2005 @04:46AM (#11650406)
        It's just a matter of money. At work, a collegue next door is extending a program used to save energy on railroad engines (old link [railway-energy.org]) that originally worked with an odometer to accept GPS signals because it is cheaper to install a GPS receiver than to retrofit an exact odometer.

        Additionally, with an odometer you need additional information, like which switches were in what setting and so on. GPS is self-sufficient.

    • As TFA suggested, the GPS system was primarily intended to improve train safety and efficiency.. Aside from the regular tracker that are used on most trains, I guess this feature just adds more safety assurance.
      with the issue of GPS jammer, well, the preexisting tracker/locator should be good enough.. hey, two is better than one
    • Was this moded "Funny" because he said that Italian trains where ontime? I live in Italy and I assure you that they are not.
      • No, if you really lived in Italy you might know that there is a (very) famous saying about Mussolini--"Mussolini may have done many brutal and tyrannical things; he may have destroyed human freedom in Italy; he may have murdered and tortured citizens whose only crime was to oppose Mussolini; but 'one had to admit' one thing about the Dictator: he 'made the trains run on time.'" Look around on Snopes, it's actually quite the urban legend, he didn't make the trains run on time.
    • Re:First impression (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Bazman (4849) on Saturday February 12, 2005 @06:55AM (#11650790) Journal
      The fact that trains can't wander all over the place is part of the problem! If a faulty-set switch causes two trains to be heading for each other on the same piece of track, you can't tell them both to turn left, like you could do with airplanes.

    • Not true. They're always going off the rails. Maybe they can program the GPS to beep or something when they do.
  • but they still won't run on time.

    Aww the memories of being a kid on a train platform sneaking through the fence behind the shelter only to relise I was like 2 stories up and there wasn't any barriers there to stop me falling..
  • by A nonymous Coward (7548) * on Saturday February 12, 2005 @01:58AM (#11649960)
    Why do fools insist on going to high tech solutions when they can't even get the low tech stuff right?

    I have no personal experience with British rails, but I have read about the numerous nasty accidents they have had recently.

    I do have experience with San Francisco's BART and the Tokyo subways about the same time, mid 1970s.

    BART had fancy computer controlled trains which sometimes left the station without the operator in the cab. They actually stopped correctly at the next station, usually, but sometimes the trains stopped past the station, or shot off the end of the rails for the last station, and sometimes they opened doors on the wrong side of the train, right over the third rail. They were having one heck of a time even running the trains as close as 5 minutes apart.

    Meanwhile, Tokyo's Ginza line, built just after the 1923 earthquake I believe, a completely manual system, had been running trains every minute or two without problems for years. That line was so funky that car lights would go off for a second or two as they crossed junctions; you could watch this light blanking travel down the train towards you.

    Why do these idiots insist on spending a fortune on high tech solutions when low tech solutions have been around for a hundred years and yet they can't get it right, even with examples around the world of making them work? Is it just empire building?
    • by bscott (460706) on Saturday February 12, 2005 @02:49AM (#11650097)
      > Why do these idiots insist on spending a fortune on high tech solutions
      > when low tech solutions have been around for a hundred years

      Today's idiot is tomorrow's visionary.

      The low-tech solutions are pretty expensive too, especially once unions get involved - and the cost of human labor rising is a GOOD thing, in the long run. (A comedian friend of mine suggests that presidents should campaign on a platform of promising "100% unemployment" - after all, who WANTS to work?)

      I agree that the high-tech solutions tend to be trouble-prone, at least in the early years, but give 'em time. They didn't even let people dial their own telephone numbers for the first ~50 years or so of phone service, if I recall correctly...
      • Yes, but ... (Score:3, Insightful)

        Sure high tech makes for better systems in the future. This system will make it possible to know exactly where trains are, they could have monitors at all sations, or web sites, showing expected arrival times down to the second, great stuff.

        But when they can't even get basic block controls down right, and guarantee switches are in the right position, why waste time on this? It's like putting power windows in cars when you can't even keep the doors from falling off the hinges, or worrying about computeriz
        • Re:Yes, but ... (Score:3, Insightful)

          by BasilBrush (643681)
          Given that you've admitted that you've never even been on a UK train. And your experience of other train systems sounds extremely limited, I should stop pontificating if I were you. You don't know "what's wrong here" at all.
          Now, it is quite clearly beneficial for both efficiency and safety to be able to pinpoint not just each train, but each item of rolling stock in the system. Now if you are going to do that these days, then GPS is the simplest and least expensive way of doing it.
          It doesn't mean that th
          • Given that you have never admitted knowing anything at all other than how to spout off to people you know nothing about, you are the pontificator here. What's the matter, can't answer simple questions? Why waste time on GPS exact positioning when they can't even get basic stuff right like opening the right switches?

            You have no knowledge of my knowledge of trains. You say GPS is cheaper, yet primitive countries run mechanical simple railways just fine, or at least better than Britain. Is it possible thi
          • Here's something else for you to answer. An old fashioned low tech block system, as Britain presumably still has but not necessarily working very well, is priced on miles of track and number of switches. No matter how many trains are in the system, the cost is pretty constant.

            Start putting GPS units and radios on every piece of rolling stock, and not only is the price variable, but the bandwidth goes up, the interference of transmitters grows, and costs mount further.

            Can you explain how the already sunk
            • > Can you explain how the already sunk cost of the primitive
              > block system can be more expensive than new equipment per car?

              If you want to frame your argument merely on the bottom line of overall cost, then you're right and we should all go home and write our congresscritters. May I suggest that the reality is more complicated than that - your position has probably occured to almost everyone else involved, for one thing, and money is almost never the sole cause OR solution to a problem involving peo
            • Price and bandwidth of radio is irrelevant. European railways, including the British system are installing cellular radio systems which are a railway specific variant of the GSM system. I belive it's Nortel who are doing the UK infrastructure. This will provide all the infrastructure for any and all data or voice systems.

              Now, the marginal cost per rolling stock unit? Nokia produce a device that will send a GPS location when queried from the network. It's smaller than a pack of cigarettes. At the time

        • > But when they can't even get basic block controls down right,
          > and guarantee switches are in the right position, why waste time

          It's not necessarily a waste of time merely to investigate whether this approach will improve overall safety (which is all the article stated). If it was simple to fix the basics, as you seem to imply, I reckon it would have happened already. Maybe there are other factors preventing the old-tech moving parts from being "right" in all situations, and a secondary system to
    • by ozmanjusri (601766) <[aussie_bob] [at] [hotmail.com]> on Saturday February 12, 2005 @03:16AM (#11650178) Journal
      Why do fools insist on going to high tech solutions when they can't even get the low tech stuff right?

      Because they can't even get the low tech stuff right. The key failure points on rail systems are the switches & signals that control which section of rail the train is on, and the locomotives themselves which can stop, speed up or slow down.

      Knowing precisely where a loco is on the track is the single most important aspect of rail safety, so that train control can switch a train onto another section of track, or into a siding to avoid collision, or can warn the driver to speed up or slow down to achieve the same result. In non-gps systems is this is done with trackside transponders and dead reckoning. A modern positive train separation (PTS) system based on GPS is simpler and more reliable than the transponders it replaces, and allows for more sophisticated controls such as automatic speed limiting.

      It's also far from uncommon. Similar systems have been available for years.
      • Because they can't even get the low tech stuff right.

        Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against using GPS data for this purpose (or whatever else for that matter).

        But usually, from an engineering point of view, is usually not a good thing to replace a fairly sophisticated system with problems with a system with even higher dergee of complexity. Giving more control to automation can lead to more problems if the system is not good enough (and every system has it's problems), giving more control to humans
        • But usually, from an engineering point of view, is usually not a good thing to replace a fairly sophisticated system with problems with a system with even higher dergee of complexity.

          True enough, but from a railways point of view, GPS is less complicated. The GPS units used on the locos integrate with systems like the Digitrac [switch.com] as transparently as transponders or track circuit systems do, but whereas the transponders require a large outlay in location boxes, power supplies, wired and wireless networking
      • The low tech problems have made migrating to a moving block system like used in TGV networks in France impossible. The use of GPS to give speed and location is certainly a good option for making moving block signalling a real option on the UK's somewhat knackered railway network.

        Currently the UK runs on a fixed block system whereby the maximum speed on the line determines the separation in terms of blocks. This is inefficient and causes corners to be cut. Moving to a 'Moving block system' whereby the sp
      • Is GPS going to be accurate enough to tell which track of 4 parallel tracks the train is running on? Because from a safety perspective, this is probably the single most important thing to know. I suspect we're going to be subject to more delays due to GPS readings that are a couple of feet out causing panic to set in unnecessarily, until the controllers get complacent and eventually we have another high speed collision because too much faith was put into GPS readings instead of the traditional tracking of t
      • The only things missing from this scenario
        are: (1) a WinXP/WAS2k3 control system, and
        (2) same 3rd party support as British Health
        Services (you know WHO I mean).

        Talk about a train wreck waiting to happen...
      • I agree - sometimes it's more efficient to check the end result, rather than attempt to ascertain the status of all the sub-systems, components and events that would cause that end result.

        I have this discussion monthly about web application monitoring with our data centre: they want to monitor the DBMS instance, the network links, the app server, the web server, the Internet route etc etc. You can monitor all of this and strill have problems go unnoticed. And why bother when you can just monitor the end
    • I'm thinking that the low tech solution is comprised of a few thousand human individuals working the same routine each day - this old tried and true method could well be more expensive than an automated computer based system.

      Automation - expensive start up. Periodic maintenance.

      Humans - Medical, dental, wages, holidays, etc... (Until they retire)

      I like the human touch better myself, but feel that anything risking human lives should probably have at least some level of automated oversight. (Alarm buzzers
    • Why do these idiots insist on spending a fortune on high tech solutions when low tech solutions have been around for a hundred years and yet they can't get it right.

      I was just on the BART system two weeks ago, and it was wonderful. The trains were always on time. The computer announcement were completely audible, and the trains felt modern and safe.

      On the other hand, I took the NYC subway for years, and while it gets you anywhere in the city, it runs on the older systems of fixed length signals. The
    • True: the high tech stuff isn't always better neither:

      I live on the South Coast of England and we are in the process of phasing out our old trains (from the 1950s and 1960s!!) and replacing them with new ones. The new units are very high tech, with air con (at last!), electric doors, LED indicator boards and high-tech toilets etc. The first problem encountered was that even with new, efficiant motors and electronic switchgear the new trains took more power to run than the old ones and so much of the power
    • The Docklands Light Railway in London is completely computer controlled - no drivers in sight, and it is the second most reliable railway in the country.

      The most reliable is the Isle of Wight Line which is so small and simple that nothing could possibly go wrong.
  • by sulli (195030) * on Saturday February 12, 2005 @02:00AM (#11649967) Journal
    They renationalised and didn't tell anyone?
    • The network is now Network Rail and is a non-profit making organisation.

      Of course this GPS tech will mean new excuses like there's leaves on the receiver etc....
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 12, 2005 @02:05AM (#11649979)
    CSX rail in NY has been using sat nav to guide trains and to also NOT have a live person DRIVING the train!!!
  • by ABeowulfCluster (854634) on Saturday February 12, 2005 @02:07AM (#11649989)
    So, they're implying the conductor is dumber than a GPS unit?
  • >> It could also tell controllers whether trains are running to timetable, and which services are running.

    ... use a clock? :-)

    Now what might be fun is if stations had real-time (public) monitors tracking incoming traffic.
  • by 1_interest_1 (805383) on Saturday February 12, 2005 @02:19AM (#11650023)
    Is it that hard to follow the track?
    • by TechyImmigrant (175943) * on Saturday February 12, 2005 @02:34AM (#11650063) Journal
      No. However the infrastructure across the UK is ancient and so neglected since Thatcher put the knife in that it pretty much needs completely replacing.

      Rather than installing a *lot* of cabling, a wireless system would obviously be cheaper.

      They are doing it because its cheaper.

  • by TechyImmigrant (175943) * on Saturday February 12, 2005 @02:29AM (#11650047) Journal
    This joke did the rounds during the first US-Iraq war and shortly after a big train accident..

    What is the difference between British Rail and a Scud missile?

    British Rail kills people.
    • And don't forget that British Rail is the organization that claimed they could not run "because the wrong kind of snow fell" and "there are leaves on the tracks" to list just two of the lame excuses I've personally heard.
      • Hey that is interesting, Dutch Rail uses the same excuses... maybe they copied them?

        I always found it interesting that a railway company claims "the tracks are slippery". It is their business, they claim it is a good idea to put iron wheels on iron tracks to move tons of heavy iron all to transport a few people, and when there is a problem it is blaimed on the weather.

        They should blame it on the design of their equipment. When I drive around in my car on tires with not enough profile, I get a ticket.
      • And both of them are actual, real things that can cause problems for trains!

        Gosh, it's amazing that trains might not be utterly impervious to all the variations of their surroundings.
  • lol (Score:2, Funny)

    by mpower1 (858744)
    and they say canadians are dumb, at least we dont get lost following rail tracks
  • song [neverforever.net]...

    credits to whoever made it. NSFW.

  • personally, we're all just so damn glad to see our thoughts finally being modernized ... we were getting quite tired of losing our trains
  • "GPS-tooth" on the train to Bath ...
  • BR (Score:2, Informative)

    by ataltane (225883)
    "British Rail" hasn't existed in over a decade...
    • by jabuzz (182671)
      Wrong, British Rail still exists as a corporate entity and will in all likely hood continute to do so for a long time. That it just manages the pensions of British Rail employees is not irrelevant in this context, but to claim it no longer exists is ill informed. This was fairly extensively covered on the new when the old Rail Track when bankrupt.
  • by stimpleton (732392) on Saturday February 12, 2005 @04:07AM (#11650314)
    ...as the onboard unit would have to send data at the rate of hundreds of location datagrams per minute. The point being, a location is a point in time - may not be relevant 30 seconds later, travelling at 150km/hr. Trains move quite quickly, and given past British rail mishaps, existing systems must have to be sped up a bit.

    With that said, GPS/GPRS units would have to communicate fairly frequently. At the very most a location sent to the server(probably over GPRS as a UDP datagram) every 2 minutes.

    In New Zealand, the GSM provider here (business plan) charges per 10,000KB packet, even for a 500byte datagram :-(

    Some rough maths:
    A location data packet(charged at 10k) every 1 minute.

    Thats 0.6 MB per hour.
    Train runs, say, 10 hours per day, thats 6mb.
    Per month thats 180mb.
    In New Zealand, thats about $200 of data.
    In my town, a taxi company uses it. The combined cost per month is $33,000 in data charges.
    And thats on 5 min updates!
    Anyone got some info on charges from other countries?
    IE how much will is cost our pommie friends per month per train, running 10 hr/days, sending location every 5,2,1 minutes, 30 seconds?
    • >The point being, a location is a point in time - may not be relevant 30 seconds later, travelling at 150km/hr.

      Of course you not only send location but also speed and direction. And this could be improved by sending acceleration as well.
      Trains in normal service often adhere quite closely to predetermined speed over time (and thus location over time) curves. The GPS measurements only need to fix points on that curve and inform about deviations.
    • ... send data at the rate of hundreds of location datagrams per minute
      You'd just send position, speed (and maybe acceleration) every minute or so and special packages if acceleration (or speed) changes

      ... cost
      First, such a system using public GSM would probably be implemented using GPSR where you'd keep the data connection open (you pay per byte, not per second).
      Even if the system uses public providers, the railroad companies are certainly big enough that they can easily negotiate much better con

    • There are competing networks for the UK. They'd put it out to tender, and accept the lowest bid. They wouldn't be paying the same price as a consumer.
    • (simpleton multiples amusingly overestimated train GPS data-rate by the cost of consumer GPRS connection to estimate the cost of this scheme)

      Don't know if we already mentioned this, but the rail network already has radios. Lots of them. Every station has a mast that they can add aerials to. They probably won't be using vodafone's "30 minutes with free text messages" service to send train-position data back to the controller (nor will they be sampling it hundreds of times per minute). Trains in the UK are
  • by timboc007 (664810) on Saturday February 12, 2005 @04:16AM (#11650335)

    GPS is not so much to let the train driver know where he/she is (although that is a valid use under some control systems) as it is to let the train controllers and the safety interlocking systems know where the train is. This is obviously an important consideration before trying to place another train into that location ;-)

    Historically there are rail systems around the world that do without this basic functionality, particularly in areas of low density traffic. Instead, procedures were established by which a section was proven clear. The signaller at the entrance to the section (or 'block') would ring a bell to let the signaller at the exit from the block know that a train was entering the block. The signaller at the exit would then ring a bell back to the signaller at the entrance when the train cleared the block section.

    This worked to some extent (and indeed continues to work in many places around the world), but was highly susceptible to human error. A couple of years ago, at Glenbrook in Sydney's west, a crash may have been averted had the signaller had some indication to remind him that the Indian Pacific had not yet cleared the section ahead of the suburban passenger train. As it was, he forgot to inform the second train of the first's existence, with the result that the second rammed into the back of the first.

    The most common method for establishing a train's locations is the track circuit - a power source is placed on one end of a section of track, whilst a receiver measures the voltage at the other end of the section. When the train is on the section, the axles of the train short out the circuit, and the receiver measures a 0V potential. This is fed back to the local interlocking, and any signals which require this track to be clear in order to give a proceed aspect will go to stop, preventing any other trains from entering the section and hence avoiding a crash. This is what the article refers to as the "current block signalling system".

    The problem with track circuits is twofold. As mentioned in the article, the accuracy is not great - track circuits can often extend over several kilometres, so the best that can be said is that the train is "somewhere within that circuit". Secondly, the track circuits are relatively difficult to maintain - maintenance crews must go to each track circuit in order to perform routine maintenance. Travel time being relatively unproductive, rail operators would much prefer that maintenance be achievable in one location.

    GPS would overcome both of the problems listed above. The accuracy would be greatly increased, limited only by the accuracy of the GPS. Similarly, the equipment for the location would all be located on the rollingstock, rather than trackside, and could be brought to the maintainers. Further, with systems like the European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS), GPS can be used to run trains much closer together in what is called a 'moving block configuration'.

    This translates into lower running/maintenance costs, combined with greater efficiency - is it any wonder BR are interested? Aren't you?

    • Excellent post, but it ignores is availability of GPS or Galileo. I'm sure that question is being considered by BR and has been solved by other systems that use a satellite system - but I do have to wonder how much of the lower running/maintenance costs are needed to solve it.
  • In few days GPS-enabled trains could create a map of the entire rail system.
    Train drivers will be happy... no more asking directions!
  • by mbrett (751233) on Saturday February 12, 2005 @04:42AM (#11650396)
    1) "British Rail" doesn't exist. I assume the OP means the British railway system.

    2) They're not "committed" to using it. "Key industry figures" (lobby groups?) had a meeting on Tuesday about whether to implement it system-wide. RTFA.

    3) It won't be ready for service in 2008, that's when Galileo will be operational. RTFA.

  • by Gelfman (802827) on Saturday February 12, 2005 @04:50AM (#11650419)
    I ride the 'southern operator' they mention every day - Southern Trains by no curious coincidence whatsoever. There is this kind of subliminal pecking order amongst commuters. If you tell people you have to ride Southern every morning their response varies from abject pity to amused disbelief. In the 5 months I have used their service, I have been (on average) delayed by around 25 minutes for my morning journey and 45 in the evenings. Why? It's a myriad of things but suffice it to say that this company is a prime example of throwing money at the wrong bits of a problem.

    The GPS one is a prime example. The door systems on the modern trains (the ones with sliding doors that don't have to be slammed shut and opened by reaching out of a window and fumbling for a lever) are GPS actuated. These doors will not allow passengers to open them unless the location of the train can automatically be established as being within a few metres of a normal station platform stopping point. The upshot? When it's cloudy or there is any kind of reception fault (as when we get back into London's Victoria station and we're under 20 ft of steel-reinforced concrete) the doors cannot be opened without the driver entering the positioning coordinates manually.

    A driver was telling me that there is no 'look just open the bloody doors - I've got a key' button. So journey's all over the south coast are now delayed by really stupid door faults. Ironically the most reliable trains are the slam-door variety I mentioned earlier (which are eminently usable despite feeling like Stephenson's Rocket - unless you are in a wheelchair and then you can pretty much forget it).

    • That sure sounds like a dumb system. The trains here have had automatic doors for many years, but they are simply controlled by the driver. Train stops, driver releases the doors, from that time the passengers can press a button and the doors will slide open (they remain shut when nobody presses the button or when the button is pressed when the driver has not enabled it).
      There is also a button to close the door, but rarely anyone pushes it. When the train is ready to depart, the conductor uses a key to c
    • I am SOOOO glad I don't make the run into Victoria from the South Coast any more!!! I now work locally and it takes 15 minutes in the car along a deserted seafront road with wonderful sunrises. You have my sympathies.
    • by weave (48069) * on Saturday February 12, 2005 @07:15AM (#11650850) Journal
      Tis always interesting to read about the nightmare of the privitized British rail system and then listen to people here claim how all of Amtrak's problems could be solved if we just privitized it.
    • "unless you are in a wheelchair and then you can pretty much forget it"

      The slam-door trains also have a very useful feature known as a "guard's van" which is missing on modern trains, basically half a carriage of empty space.

      Not only does that solve the wheelchair problem (large doors for wheelchairs, and there's a wheeled ramp on every platform to get wheelchairs into the guards van), but it means that you can have a combined bike/rail transport network (put bikes in the guards van) which is slowly being
  • This is rubbish.... (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward
    They used this on the line I used to get to work, Hastings to Cannon St.
    It was great in the summer, but not so great in the winter. When there were clouds. And no GPS reception.
    We had to sit outside each station for 5 minutes while the driver got 'authorisation' to open the doors, becasue the GPS didn't know we were sitting beside the station.

    Wonderfull bit of over engineering.
  • by jb.hl.com (782137) <joe@joe[ ]ldwin.net ['-ba' in gap]> on Saturday February 12, 2005 @05:22AM (#11650517) Homepage Journal
    We've not had "British Rail" for some time. For you USians who may be a little confused, here's a little history.

    Before the 50s, the railways were all in lots of groups of competing companies. The government then nationalised these companies (OMG SOCIALISM!!!1) as, well, you can't really run a railway for profit and even if you could it's a son of a bitch to do so without killing hundreds of people. This new confederacy was British Rail, and had that pointy double arrow logo some of you may have seen.

    In the 60s, the government axed all of the loss making lines in an attempt to make a profit. This involved axing all of the lines to small rural communities, and it made the railway much less attractive to people and made the car a de facto requirement.

    In the 80s, Margaret Thatcher grew weary of nationalised industry, and while sitting on her stylised throne of evil ordered that the railways be privatised, which took effect in 1997, just when the new government was coming in. Clever that.

    So now we're stuck with a bunch of fucking idiots who can't run trains on time and have to rely on satellites to do so. As I once heard someone describe, it's fairly simple to run a decent train service; you have a train, you have a track, the former rides on the latter. The problem is that we have lots of people trying to make money off it, which just won't work.
    • In the 80s, Margaret Thatcher grew weary of nationalised industry, and while sitting on her stylised throne of evil ordered that the railways be privatised, which took effect in 1997, just when the new government was coming in. Clever that.
      You make it sound as though Thatcher planned the timing to embarrass Labour, which would be quite impressive given that her term as PM ended in 1990.
    • The problem is that we have lots of people trying to make money off it, which just won't work.

      Unfortunately, it is illegal to ignore the fiducial duty of a company. It pretty much goes without saying that running a public service is going to be loss making (all those rural community routes, etc), which effectively makes it illegal (as a private company) to run a service that has 'public service' as its number one motto. Instead, it has to obey the fiducial duty, and maximise profit for those involved.
    • and that damn Thatcher she closed the coal mines too!
  • by nicklott (533496) on Saturday February 12, 2005 @05:31AM (#11650539)
    ...anymore. It stopped being British Rail about 15 years ago when it was privatised and split among Conservative party donors (and they expect people to vote for them again! idiots...).

    The article doesn't say, so it's reasonable for someone non-British to assume it's still called that, but it's probably Network Rail (formerly Railtrack) doing this. They are a now part-re-nationalised company that looks purely after the rails, stations and other non-profit making infrastructure. The private rail companies still own and (sometimes) run the trains and are doing very nicely thank you very much Mr Major (A stunning example of how privatisation actually works: Public funding, Private profit).

    Rant over

  • it was disolved ages ago, its privatised now, with diff train companies for different regions and one company for the rails etc (which went bust / was broken up a bit ago)
  • They ought to concentrate on getting the things THERE first, doesn't matter where THERE is.

    For the record, my trip is 25 miles each way to work... the record time to get home is leave work at 15:35, arrive home at 20:55. It would be quicker to walk.
  • This can't be to improve safety.

    GPS resolution is LESS THAN the spaces between adjcent tracks. How the hell this system is gonna tell on which track a given train is? It's a little bit important to make sure that trains don't run into each other, à la "cornfield meet".

    And, besides, trains run on tracks, whose position are firmly anchored in space and time. Furthermore, those said tracks are already divided in blocks, each of which is equipped to detect the presence of a train on it, in order to effec

  • I knew a fellow who was worked on Advanced Train Protection (APT - not the Debian tool, which works really well), and he was telling me about some of the problems they had. The biggest one was that when he was working on the project (in the 1980s), the maps they had of various railroad lines were in some cases a hundred years old - and hadn't been updated properly. They built a prototype based on old data, and after it did nothing to stop the train in the station went out and did some direct measurements -
  • by way2trivial (601132) on Saturday February 12, 2005 @02:37PM (#11652943) Homepage Journal
    should be both
    'cause if a car falls off the end, who knows?

  • by Detritus (11846) on Saturday February 12, 2005 @02:50PM (#11653062) Homepage
    An inertial navigation system would be an obvious fix to the limited availability of GPS. When GPS fixes are available, they can be used to zero the drift on the inertial platform. What's the going price for a complete inertial navigation system these days? Today we have laser ring gyros and micro-machined accelerometers, which should cut the cost. If they can install them on commercial aircraft, they should be able to put one on a train.
  • British Rail was the name used by the last nationalised rail network. Since the government sold off pretty much everything to private companies (with or without various unenforceable guarantees about service levels, etc.) there has been no such entity as British Rail.

    Railtrack (alias Railcrack, railcrap, etc.) gave way to the current quasi-non-governmental organisation (Quango) called 'Network Rail'.

    Network Rail STILL cannot work out the easiest route between Ryde Hoverport and Ryde Esplanade (Clue: Use

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