The emotional appeal of past glory – Grimsby, UK

This interesting article in the New York Times does a good job of explaining why and how nostalgia for a past phase of the UK’s achievements came to dominate decision-making by local electors at the expense of an understanding of current reality.
This problem is endemic when extractive and exploitative land and sea-based industries decline due to the exhaustion of resources, or the Tragedy Of the Commons. Local and regional economies built on those industries have trouble dealing with the decline, partly because it is often dramatic and sudden, and it impacts such a high percentage of local employment. The decline in steel manufacturing, followed by coal mining in parts of the UK that began in the 1960s left large areas of the UK in severe economic distress, which in turn fuelled resentment and antagonism towards governments (who were perceived to not give a damn) and experts, whose exhortations about “technology” and “re-training” were unlikely to be received well by workers who left school at 16 precisely because they hated the school system.
The underlying reality is that the image of Grimsby as a fishing port that electors want to restore is totally out of touch with present-day reality. The Golden Age Fallacy won out over reality when it came time for the electors to vote. These kinds of situations never end well. Reality tends to win when it collides with fantasy.
The fantasy of the UK as a present-day Great Imperial Power, the stuff of history textbooks, is still fixed in the minds of many UK residents, as exemplified by this piece of bluster from a Grimsby resident:

“Europe needs the U.K. more than the other way around,” said Ian Thompson, a Grimsby resident and former merchant marine, having a drink under one of those sepia-toned photographs. “We will prevail.”


Enablement of abuse by churches

I know several women who have been the victims of abuse (both mental and physical) in relationships.
My tentative conclusion from conversations with those women, and their friends, is that abuse, once entrenched in the relationship, will continue until the abused party walks a long distance away from the entire relationship, or the abuser suffers a painful epiphany (as in, jail time).
The saddest part of viewing abusive relationships from outside is that, in addition to the abuse, the abused person is often not supported by their extended family. In addition, abusers are enabled in the continuation by the value systems of those they associate with and respect.
One of the most pernicious and long-lived enabling bodies for marital abuse are churches, who are mostly governed by patriarchs whose attitude to women is that they are useful as submissive chattels and child production units.
This church leader exemplifies the problem. Not only is he an enabler, and therefore an asshole, he also seems to think that he has said and done nothing wrong. For him, Denial is definitely the place to be.


Saturday thoughts – Cinco de Mayo

1. Poor decisions made by electorates
I have to listen to and read pissing and moaning by electors on a daily basis about how most politicians are “con-men”, “hucksters”, “snake-oil salesman”, along with other words that my mother would not approve of.
The fact that those politicians were elected (and in many cases, re-elected) by electors somehow never makes it into the conversation. My cynical side says that this is because it requires electors to face up to the reality that they were persuaded to vote for those defective representative, thus the joke is on them, and that would require humility, self-awareness and reflection that they do not possess the capability to engage in.
In the meantime, jerks like this guy get elected even though they engage in arsehole smack talk on social media, and because the political party that this guy belongs to is dominated by power-hungry jerks with no scruples, he has been magically un-suspended by the party so that he can be seated.
So…the electorate has, once again, enabled bad behavior. This is a pretty good illustration of why I have limited patience for whining by electorates about their elected representatives. A lot of the time, they voted for these human dumpster-fires.

2. And…talking about human dumpster-fires…
Ex-Sheriff Joe Arpaio is a living monument to the collective inability of an electorate to understand how not to vote for a fascist dickwad. The voters of Maricopa County in Arizona re-elected him for decades, and he has cost the county untold tens of millions of dollars in lawsuit settlements in the last 10 or so years.
Arpaio has be pardoned by Donald Trump for criminal contempt after failing to own up to Bad Stuff done on his watch. However, there is other even worse stuff that he was involved in that he has managed to weasel out of accountability for. Like this horrendous abuse of the judicial process:

Note to electors in Maricopa County; don’t even try to convince me that you had a damn clue what you were doing when you voted for this guy. You didn’t, you didn’t learn despite all of the accumulating evidence, and now Maricopa County appears in Google for a lot of wrong reasons. Your bad.


Whisky Tango Foxtrot – Astroturfing in Louisiana

Today’s eye-opening hair-raising story about how an energy company packed a council meeting with paid supporters pulled from the acting profession, apparently via a Los-Angeles based company with the name Crowds For Hire. Crowds For Hire was clearly a “cut out”, the third party that allowed the energy company to (legally correctly) claim that THEY had not paid anybody to attend the council meeting.
You can’t make this stuff up.


Thoughts – Friday 4th May 2018

1. Facebook
I have de-activated my Facebook profile. This occurred after I responded to a somewhat contentious and pointed posting from a dear friend who, in the posting, seemingly forbade people from commenting on the posting.
I unfollowed the friend on Facebook, not wanting to be placed in a situation where I could read postings, but not be allowed to comment on them. (NOTE to readers – this is not Unfriending. That is something else). That’s not really how an open-exchange platform like Facebook works. I then was challenged by a mutual friend of the friend about my response. In hindsight, I made a mistake by announcing that I was unfollowing somebody and explaining why.
Although I did not name names (I never do that, naming and shaming is not generally a useful interaction approach in life), the discussion that started under my posting started to reach the point where it was possible for people to find out who I had unfollowed. This was not what I intended or wanted.
Additionally, I was informed that I was behaving badly.
So, I am off of Facebook. I spend a lot of time on the platform (maybe too much time). The platform is useful, but it has frustrations in the level of balkanization and poor quality of debate and discussion. But, the bottom line is that, having been socially rejected as an adolescent, I determined a long time ago that I don’t stay anywhere where I am not wanted or appreciated.
I will decide later whether it is worth returning, based on what reactions I get. In the meantime, I will communicate via other processes and forums. I have joined and I now can be found online there, also on this blog, and on Twitter and Ello.
White Cat Publishing also still exists, and has its own area on Ello.

2. Great Lawyer letter responses
The best response ever is probably Arkell v. Pressdram. However, this one runs it close.

3. Stupid advertising copy of the day

4. Remember Jade Helm? All of the paranoia and fear? Well, it may have been an attempt to seed nonsense
This analysis by JJ MacNabb explains how Jade Helm was actually an attempt to tap into conspiracy theory thinking in the service of undermining trust in government, and the Governor of Texas fell for it hook line and sinker.

5. You Cannot Be Serious! Entry for today
In which blogger Matt Walsh has a mini-sad over the supposed inequitable way in which men are treated in their own homes. Phrases like “cry me a river”, and “here is the world’s smallest violin” do spring to mind when I have to read this kind of “poor widdle me” nonsense.


My day at jury service (or not)

I was invited to Jury Service in Dallas County in Mid-March. This being in the middle of System Integration Test for Release 2 of the solution our Testing team is supporting, I applied for a postponement.
So I was told to come back on 1st May. This was not convenient either, but best to get it out of the way before things became even busier on Release 3…
So in due course i got up way too early, and drove into Dallas in the morning rush hour, suffering the usual accordion-slinky speed increases and sudden decreases, as the incompetent and insufficiently-coffeenated were driving like doofi up I-35. By dint of getting stuck in a traffic jam on Riverfront Boulevard, I arrived 5 minutes late at the court building. The usual security line, turn out your pockets etc.etc.
Then I found myself staring at a set of wall monitors, looking for my name on the display.
No “Graham Shevlin”.
No “Shevlin Graham”, “Graham Chevlin” or any other distortion of my name.
Hmmmm. So was there some mistake?
I wandered over to a court official and asked why my name was not on the video panel display.
His reply was wry. “You probably don’t want to see your name on that display” he said. “That lists all the defendants for the day”. He took my Jury summons from me, removed the juror id tear-off, and pointed round the corner.
Thus it was that I found myself marching into the main jury assembly room at the Court building, to be greeted by the sight of 200+ other jurors, all sitting in neat rows like a high school assembly. Most of them had facial expressions indicating tiredness, resignation or boredom. Some were texting on phones. The power guys were walking up and down talking into phone earpieces as they fixed Important Stuff At Work.
Since The Powers That Be decreed no standing (fire codes), some of us were shuffled off to an overflow room. This was good since it had comfy chairs, and more space. No sitting in rows like confused penguins.
We then got to listen to several speeches from court officials, and then we all stood to recite the rather wordy juror’s oath (of which more later).
Then, they announced that jurors 1 though 142 were to go to District Criminal Court 1. (I was #88). Up to the 6th floor to the ante-room for the court, where they handed out…The Juror Questionnaire. Strangely, they called people’s names off a list one at a time to do this, instead of just handing out forms and pens.
Aha! I said inwardly. Time for me to fashion a cunning response that would signal my total lack of suitability for anything as serious and weighty (and potentially time-consuming) as being on a jury. However, after examining the questions, the cynic in me concluded that simply answering each question honestly would probably disqualify me anyway (“WHAT? We’re not having HIM on OUR jury!”).
So, using the court-supplied blue pen, I set to work, scratching my head over some of the questions.
The one that really made me laugh out loud was the one that asked me to rate where I was on a scale of Liberal vs. Conservative. Clearly no room in this universe for people of the libertarian persuasion then.
I was able to inform the court that I considered the criminal justice system to be defective, with some good aspects and some bad aspects, and that i considered The War On (Some) Drugs to be a waste of resources. That would surely work if it was a drug trial… I was trying to convey my fairly strong skepticism of a system that is not only defective, with far too many innocent people being railroaded or convicted, but a system that is pathologically unwilling to admit to any error, and which denies victims of miscarriages of justice fair compensation and accountability within the system for mistakes.
After a while they started to call out names of people being selected to form the panel from which the twelve good people would be selected. Again they named people, this time in a completely different sequence. I marched up, handed over my questionnaire, and marched into the court room, listening for (and failing to hear) any laughter from the court official as he began to read the questionnaire.
They packed 62 of us into every available chair, including temporary chairs.
Judge Robert Burns was already at his podium, so we had none of the usual “all rise for the Judge” hoopla.
So there we were, all looking around and at each other. We were all doing the usual sizing up of others, looking at them thinking stuff like “I wonder what he does for a living” etc. etc.
The case was listed on the courtroom monitors. State of Texas vs. Somebody. The defendant was an African-American man, who looked sullen and not at all at ease (well duh, I think if I was a defendant in a criminal trial, I would not exactly be jumping up and down and saying things like “Oh goody, this is going to be a shitload of fun”).
The defendant’s lawyer looked like a public defender; a smiling, amiable-looking guy in his late 50s or early 60s with tousled gray hair and a very conservative off-the-peg suit.
The prosecution team comprised two young female Assistant DAs. They were dressed sharply but not flamboyantly. No doubt they were eager to ensure that the defendant would ultimately get to feel the firm and compelling Hand of Justice.
After some preliminary whispering to his stenographer, Judge Robert Burns began to speak, and I was impressed by his demeanor. He even cracked a joke against the legal profession; when asking if anybody in the court had not yet taken the jurors oath, he remarked “you can tell it was written by a lawyer, because it is rather long”. He seemed un-stuffy, not a stiff, pompous, authoritarian gavel-banger.
We sat through the usual injunctions – defendant innocent until proven guilty beyond all reasonable doubt etc. Then we were reminded that juries in Dallas County get to decide not only guilt, but also sentencing. The judge also told us that they expected the trial to commence on Wednesday and last no more than 2 days, so everybody would be finished by Thursday pm. This disposed of some questions from jury candidates who had appointments on friday.
The judge asked if any prospective jurors had any personal conflicts. He listened patiently as several jurors tried variants of the “I am needed at work” line, then pointed out that no employer is allowed to penalize an employee for participating in jury service. He even said “if you have a problem, I will call your employer and remind them of what the law says”.
One juror whose mother had end stage Alzheimers was immediately excused.
Then the judge revealed some of the details. The defendant had been indicted for Aggravated Assault on another man. The judge explained that he had been indicted via a Grand Jury hearing, which (interestingly) did not require the disclosure of any of the evidence that the prosecution was going to present at trial. (this I found odd. How do you persuade a Grand Jury panel to issue an indictment without revealing any evidence?).
At this point, a lady in the room revealed that she had been a victim of an assault that weekend. Asked if she had any injuries, she showed bruises all over her hands and forearms, as in significant bruising. The judge immediately excused her.
Then, it began to get interesting. The judge informed us that the sentencing range for the offense was anything from 2 years of jail time up to…life. Yes, life imprisonment. A very large range (more later).
In response to a question from a prospective juror about why probation was not an option, Judge Burns had an interesting response. Under Texas law, probation is only a sentencing option for Aggravated Assault if the defendant has no prior convictions. Since the defendant had a prior conviction, probation was off the table, not an option. The judge went on to say that he was not allowed to tell us what the prior conviction was for.
At this point, the Prosecution lawyer took over and began to walk us through the definition in law of Aggravated Assault. This is where it started to get really interesting…
The main fact that soon became a topic of feedback and discussion was that under Texas law, Aggravated Assault does not require that the victim actually suffer physical or mental harm. Merely being and feeling plausibly threatened is enough if you are a victim.
At this point a lady piped up and told the prosecution attorney “I cannot be on a jury for a case where the victim is not even harmed”. This triggered a discussion about what feeling threatened might comprise, with the judge opining that if a defendant (for example) was to point a gun at somebody and threaten to shoot them, that would meet the definition of Aggravated Assault.
After some amusing back and forth over the evidence that would be required to show that the victim felt threatened, the judge reminded us that, you know, finding the defendant Not Guilty is very much an option…
The discussion then moved on to the credibility of witnesses, particularly prosecution law enforcement personnel. At this point, several prospective jurors began to signal that they did not trust law enforcement to tell the truth in court. One African-American woman explained how her son had been charged with an offense and two police officers had lied on the stand, so she had no confidence in the veracity of law enforcement tendency.
As she was explaining this, a woman next to me snorted “well she would say that wouldn’t she”. Hmmm, I thought to myself, if you’re going to be a racist, you might not be so casual about it.
As he had been doing throughout, the judge was writing down juror reservations and issues on a pad. From his careful process of making sure that he got the right names, it seemed clear to me that he was probably red-lining certain people before the prosecution and defense even got to make any objections.
However, we now reached the discussion of the sentencing guidelines. And this is where a whole slew of us began to state our discontent with the sentencing guidelines. The judge asked for a show of hands about whether we felt that the maximum sentence of life was not something we could consider. Over half the hands in the room were raised, including mine. A similar request for feedback on the lower level of the sentencing guidelines resulted in many of the same hands (including mine, for the second time) being raised.
A background to my objections. In the UK, where i grew up, this defendant would likely not have been charged with Aggravated Assault. Threatening somebody in the UK will most likely result in a charge of Threatening Behavior, which usually results in a fine and probation for guilty defendants. Then the next level is Assault. Then Assault with Intent to cause Grevious Bodily Harm. Then murder/manslaughter.
From the hints being dropped in court, it seemed likely that the defendant had not been physically harmed in the encounter. In the light of this possibility, the idea that one should consider a life sentence was, I think, bonkers to most of us. Also the inability to consider probation was another troubling aspect.
After the completion of the questions about sentencing guidelines, I said to the lady next to me, “At this rate,they will not have enough people left for a jury”.
Less than a minute after I said that, Judge Burns called the lawyers up to his podium and talked to them for a minute. Then he turned on his mike and announced “ladies and gentlemen, we cannot empanel a jury today. You are all free to go”.
So we all trooped out and checked out of the building, not to return this time around.
I drove home, and was back on the day job by 2.00pm.
My conclusion is that the judge, after reading the show of hands responses on the sentencing guidelines, concluded that indeed there were insufficient juror candidates left to even move to the next phase. We had effectively rebelled as a group against sentencing guidelines that most of us felt were way past proportionate to the alleged crime.
So, no more jury service for me for a while Now back to getting a Testing project to the finish line…


The Joy Ann Reid postings flap – Part 1

Short summary: Joy Ann Reid, assumed by many to be a liberal Democrat commentator, is found to have posted numerous anti-gay comments and articles in the past on the Internets.
Shitstorm erupts.
Reid, after first hemming and hawing and then issuing bizarre and contradictory statements, now announces that her blogs and accounts online must have been hacked. Her representatives are now running around all over the place attempting to persuade the owners of internet archives and other forums to delete her old postings and comments, on the grounds that her accounts were hacked, and have seemingly demanded that the FBI conduct an investigation.
There is a big problem with this approach, quite apart from the reality that it is a really good way of keeping an unflattering story alive. It is unlikely to be true. Here is one reason why.

The idea that your accounts were mysteriously “hacked” by bad actors loses credibility when (for example) contemporaneous commentary and discussion, based on those comments, is found. In order for this to be plausible, you have to accept that there was a Joy Ann Reid impersonator operating on the internets from 2007 or earlier for several years, and that Joy Ann Reid never once noticed. Hmmm. Somehow that seems highly…unlikely.
People do change their views over time. Sometimes people holding exclusionary, odious or obnoxious views abandon them later in life. George Wallace famously abandoned the open racism he espoused in the 1970s towards the end of his life, and publicly recanted many of his previous positions.
And..Americans just love redemption narratives. Think of all the times that people rise, fall and are redeemed. The image of the imperfect defective human failing or falling, only to rise again, is a deeply enduring positive narrative that fuels hundreds of news stories, movies, and books a year.
So, if Joy Ann Reid had held and espoused anti-gay views 12 years ago, it would have been way way smarter of her to have owned up to it, said “look, I used to believe these things, I moved on, I realized that I was wrong, and I ask for forgiveness for my earlier ignorance”, then sure, there would have been a shitstorm for maybe 72 hours, then everybody would have moved on to the latest scandalous utterance by Donald Trump, or whatever the latest media-entrancing shiny object was.
Now, instead of that rapid shuffle out of the limelight, Joy Ann Reid is going to be in the news for days, probably weeks, as thousands of internet sleuths of varying capabilities, seeing prima facie evidence of a cover-up, start digging. And one thing that is true is that just about everybody on the internet has stuff that lurks just below the surface and which can be uncovered.
Along the way, whatever remaining credibility that Joy Ann Reid has will leach away, slowly and irredeemably, just like the inevitable drop of the sand in the hourglass from top to bottm.


The Posturing Rambo tendency of gun nuts

I know a number of people who own guns.
I know people who own multiple firearms.
As far as I can tell, none of those people are what I could term “gun nuts”. I have yet to see any images of them prancing around in camo gear waving their firearms in the air, pointing them at real or imaginary targets, standing looking purposeful with their main weapon posed next to The Bible, or taking part in the Texas elimination heat of the World Shooting-In-The-Air Competition.
However, there are definitely people who do those things.
There are also people who cannot stop talking confrontational, macho smack online about how they are going to defend themselves and anybody else they feel like defending against all enemies, foreign and domestic, using…their guns.
“enemies”, depending on who you read and whatever is happening in the world, appears to be one or more of a long laundry list of anti-American groups, including (but not limited to):
1. The Government (at whatever level they currently despise the most)
2. Liberals, Communists, Marxists, Atheists
3. Antifa
4. Colin Kaepernick and any other sonofabitch who dares to kneel for The Anthem
5. Scary Brown People (who are assumed, most of the time, to be either terrorists or muslims)
6. Gun grabbers
7. Gun grabbers
8. Gun grabbers
9. Did I say “GUN GRABBERS?”

The verbiage used is wearily familiar, reading like a mutant combination of John Wayne, Arnold Schwartzenegger, Charlton Heston and whatever mangled quote from the Founding Fathers they can recycle (including numerous fictitious or mashed-up quotes they find in the meme bucket).
The premise is simple: there are good reasons why they own firearms, they have a Right to own as many damn firearms as they like, they intend to own those firearms until their dying day, and anybody who they think is Coming For Their Guns can expect to be met with Lethal Force from Their Guns.
The mindset is like reading a cross between the outpourings of a desperate schoolyard bully, and Rambo on an off-day. Here is an excellent example from Twitter:

You could probably create this kind of verbiage using a machine algorithm. That is how predictable this juvenile smack is.
The question is: who are they trying to impress. Not me, that’s for sure. I came to the conclusion that they are really just desperately trying to convince themselves they are Tough Guys. Because, in most contexts this sort of braggadocio simply reads and sounds like desperate chicken-strutting from little guys.


The Dawlish Question – Part 2

The main Network Rail route to the South West of England, ending at Penzance in Cornwall, is the only contiguous route through that part of the country.
At one time, other routes, both main and branch, existed, but most of those routes were closed and dismantled in the period 1964-1972 as a result of the rationalization of the UK rail network that implemented the Beeching Report.
The route runs through the countryside of Somerset and Devon down through Exeter. It then runs along the estuary of the River Exe before reaching the English Channel coast near Dawlish. At that point the line runs along the base of the cliffs, carried on a concrete bed behind a sea wall built in the 19th Century. The coastal strata and cliffs behind the sea fortifications and the railway line are also vulnerable to erosion.
The vulnerability of this part of the rail route has been known and understood for many decades. The coastal wall and other fortifications are over 100 years old, not built using modern materials and techniques, and like all infrastructure, they have a finite life. There has always been a fear that The Big One – a destructive storm, would damage or destroy the coastal part of this important rail route as it runs along the sea at Dawlish.
The fear was converted to reality on 5th February 2014, when a massive storm hit the UK, and enormous seas and winds hammered the sea wall East of Dawlish. A significant section of the sea wall was breached by the sea, carried out to sea, and the waves eroded out the strata and the road behind the rail line. When the storm subsided, a 100 yard long stretch of rail line was hanging in the air…literally, with all of the base gone. Elsewhere either side of the breach, ballast was washed away from the track, and massive amounts of wood, damage debris from the sea wall and other flotsam were thrown onto the rail tracks and surrounds.
The damage took nearly 2 months to repair, with Network Rail crews working close to 24×7. In the meantime most of Devon and the whole of Cornwall had no rail connection to the rest of the UK.
Services on the route were finally restored on 4th April 2014.
At this time we need to examine some history. In the 1800s, railway companies competed to reach many major cities in the UK, to bring the iron horse, with its promise of fast and easy travel. In the West Country, the Great Wester Railway and the London and South Western competed to reach the city of Plymouth. The GWR and the South Devon Railway company went South and along the coast, building the current route via Dawlish. The LSWR decided to build a route around the North side of Dartmoor, from Exeter through Crediton, Okehampton and Tavistock down the Tamar Valley to Plymouth, reaching Plymouth in 1876, some time after their rivals.
That northern route, steeply graded and curved, was a main route through until the 1960s. At that point, the Beeching Report was published. One of the principles of Beeching was to eliminate route duplication. The LSWR route via Okehampton to Plymouth was squarely in the crosshairs of the Beeching report. It was well-maintained but expensive to operate, had been transferred to the Western Region from the Southern Region, and the Western Region regarded it as superfluous to requirements, and there were question marks about the health of Meldon Viaduct, which carried the line over the West Oakment valley West of Okehampton. The route ran through rural villages with limited passenger traffic, so it was losing money.
So, the Beeching axe swung on this route. The section between Okehampton and Bere Alston was closed in 1968, and dismantled in late 1969. In 1972, the remaining section between Okeampton and Crediton was closed to passengers and the line singled, although the line was retained for transporting railway ballast from a quarry at Meldon. At the same time, the line from Bere Alston to Plymouth down the Tamar Valley was singled also.
So, via the Beeching Report, one alternative backup route for the route via Dawlish had been eliminated. At more or less the same time, another alternative route via the Teign Valley had been closed as part of the Beeching cuts. This line, originally built by the GWR, was never a main line. It was a branch line , ran through countryside that was vulnerable to flooding, and had sharp curves and a low speed limit.
So, when the Dawlish route was severed in 2014, it took…ooh, all of 24 hours before people began asking the obvious questions (1) why was there no alternative route into Devon and Cornwall, since everybody knew that sooner or later a storm would close the Dawlish section of the line, (2) was it not time to consider adding an alternative route?
The resulting furore from people in Devon and Cornwall, and their elected representatives, led to a Route Resiliency Study, which discussed (among other options that included spending more money on sea fortifications, and building a new alternative route inland) re-instating the 19 miles of missing line between Meldon Quarry and Bere Alston, in order to create an alternative route.
Although everybody was in agreement that this would be a Jolly Good Idea, the Route Resiliency Study was never a proposal. It was simply a collection of possible alternatives thrown together with not much detail work or estimation. Part of the reason being that nobody could agree on the likely costs for most of the options, including the reinstatement of the route via Okehampton.
The low-end estimates for this option (probably way too optimistic) were of the order of £150m. The top end “Rolls Royce” estimate for a high-speed route with double track were up near the £875m mark. As a general rule, a medium-speed railway line costs around £10m a mile to create, even without factoring in special projects like large bridges and new earthworks. The likely cost for a long single line with high-speed passing loops would be around £600m+. In other words, not cheap.
One reason is that the cost of re-instating the route to Plymouth via Okehampton is a lot more than simply re-instating the 19 miles of track. The entire route from end to end will require upgrading, since the disconnected ends have been treated as branch and freight lines for 40+ years, and the track infrastructure is worn out. This is therefore not a simple “lay some track in the middle again and start the service” project. Issues are as follows:
1. Meldon Viaduct, used by the original route, is now a listed monument and cycle trail, and is almost certainly not safe for use by modern trains. (The viaduct was nearing the end of its life when the route was closed in 1968, and was under single-line use with a speed restriction). So, a new bridge will be needed across the West Oakment valley.
2. The line is blocked in Tavistock by the city council offices.
3. 2 stations (Bridestowe and Brentor) are now in private ownership, which may require the sensitive use of eminent domain.
4. The route from Meldon down to Coleford Junction near Crediton is currently owned by a subsidiary of Iowa Pacific. This section will probably need to be bought back from that company
5. The track from Meldon through Okehampton to Crediton will require renewal, since it has not been properly maintained for some years, since Meldon Quarry was closed in 2011. (it currently has a speed limit of between 30 and 55 mph)
6. Okehampton needs a new station, since the current station is at the wrong end of the expanding town and has no car parking.
7. The route down from Bere Alston to Plymouth will also require upgrading since it is used only by stopping local trains.
This is not the work of a moment. However, if the government had started work on this project after the initial big storm in 2014, they would probably already be close to having an alternative operational route.
And, in true “bright shiny object” fashion, the government’s top spending priorities are the HS2 link, which is going to consume up to $50bn of money in the next 19 years. That is the Big Glamour Project.
An additional complicating factor is that the rail network has been staggering from crisis to crisis for 15 years, with RailTrack (the original infrastructure corporation) essentially going bankrupt and having to be bailed out by the government. The current two-part operating model for railways in the UK; an infrastructure company to run track, signaling etc. and stations, and Train Operating Companies (TOCs) to run the trains on a franchise basis, has a number of issues. Some franchisees want out of their current contracts, and the current move by the UK to leave the EU may cause more TOC franchisees to not renew their contracts. In a worst case scenario, the government may have to effectively re-nationalize the network. In the meantime, there is no obvious pile of money available for projects to re-instate alternative routes.
So, fast forward to March 9th 2018. Once again, a powerful storm showed up in the West Country, pounding the Devon coast. And once again, the line near Dawlish was closed. This time, it was not due to obvious storm destruction. Ballast was washed away, and line communications damaged. This required the line to be closed for several days of inspections and checks before it could safely be re-opened.
However, the lack of an alternative route is starting to remind me of the old definition of madness:
i..e. doing the same thing over and over again but still expecting the same result.
We are heading into an era of atmospheric instability as the Earth warms. We can expect more serious storms, not less. Sooner or later another storm will damage or destroy another section of sea wall and the railway line, and the line will be out of action for months. 100 yards of route were destroyed in 2014, and that took 2 months of flat-out work to repair. If half a mile of track is destroyed next time, the line could be shut for a year or more. This will lead to even more light heat and sound as millions of people West of Dawlish once again have no rail link to the rest of the UK The political consequences will be significant. As in, litigation, as the TOCs using the infrastructure sue the infrastructure companies, and the government has to fend off the question “why did you not do anything about an alternative route?”
Oh, and by the way, just to make matters worse, the UK is planning to leave the EU, so any route improvements or duplications will not be getting any EU grants.
Right now, if another big storm shows up next Winter, there will be no alternative and Devon and Cornwall will be cut off once again.
This is an avoidable cluster.

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