Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Of Trains, planes and Segways

If the world supply of crude is going to become tight a little sooner than the general public, and many governments, realize, then rates at which change is occurring should probably get more prominence than it does. For example the two major producers of crude at the moment are Russia and Saudi Arabia. Looking at Russian production and exports, these are reported down from last month, though refined products are up over last year. Overall Russian oil output has increased 1.4% over last year, though crude exports are down. Overall Russia is projecting that crude production, which fell in 2008 over 2007 will stabilize this year at about last years number, but will then start declining again. This will, in turn reduce the amount of crude, and refined products, that are exported. So given that Russia is the largest non-OPEC producer that really isn’t that exciting a set of news. (Natural gas production is also declining, but some of that may be seasonal at this time).

Some governments are taking note of this – in the UK there is a new plan to shift some 46 million domestic air passengers from commuting by plane to high speed trains. This will require a higher speed network (at up to 250 mph) and that is going to take over a decade to install. There has been a criticism of the plan by local carriers and the response of the transportation minister is instructive.

Those who think that the airlines will continue to monopolise short-haul European destinations from London have got their heads in the sand," he said. "It is nonsense to suggest that high-speed rail will be competitive with airlines only for internal British journeys. High-speed rail already has the lion's share of the London to Paris and Brussels market. Once the Dutch high-speed line from Brussels to Amsterdam is open later this year, rail will be competitive from London to Amsterdam and Rotterdam; and it won't be long before the same is true of Cologne and Frankfurt."

The airlines point out that where it took decades to get 3 km of runway built (at Heathrow) so that anyone expecting the rail to be put in anytime soon is incurably optimistic. However both the government and their opposition, in their arguments are focusing around the impact of fuel on the climate.

While I will hold off on discussing the reality of that reasoning given the growing gap between IPCC forecasts and actual temperatures, it is much more likely that the argument will soon change to one over the availability of fuel, and the costs that are being paid for it – an appreciation lacking on both sides at the moment.

But the public may also be taking notice. Sales of Segways, the scooter that you stand on, after being very slow in the UK have started to rise. The Segway is a fairly expensive toy over there since it can’t be operated on the roads. But on the other hand an 11.5% increase in sales is indicative of something in the current climate. Perhaps some folks are just being prescient.

"The battery needs replacing after about three years, and that can cost up to £800, but it can run 18 miles on about 15p of electricity."

A Department for Transport spokesman said the Segway "does not currently meet minimum safety standards for vehicles on UK roads" but could be used on private land such as airports or shopping centres.

A basic Segway costs £4,795 including VAT but extras such as a £75 lock kit, £120 bag and £25 tail-light can add to the cost.


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