The way forward for Scotland’s airports and railways

There’s only about 60 km between Scotland’s two largest cities, Glasgow and Edinburgh (counting from city boundary to city boundary along the motorway), yet they have separate airports and it takes 50 minutes to take a train from city centre to city centre.

Looking further afar, Inverness is only about 180 km north of Glasgow as the crow flies, or about 270 km by road, yet the fastest train is under way for almost 3½ hours.

I could give similar figures for travel to the other Scottish cities, such as Aberdeen and Dundee.

This is ridiculous! It’s like all efforts go into providing good connexions to London, instead of tying Scotland closer together.

In an ideal world, I’d shut down Glasgow and Edinburgh airports and build a new one south of Falkirk (the exact location would of course have to depend to the geography). I’d then build some very straight rail tracks from Glasgow via the new airport to Edinburgh, so that the trains could achieve a decent speed (I’m imagining something like 15 minutes from either city centre to the airport, or about 30 minutes from Glasgow to Edinburgh).

Furthermore, I’d straighten out the tracks to at least Inverness and Aberdeen, add parallel tracks and electrify the whole lot, so that decent speeds could be achieved there, too. I’m not sure exactly what would be possible, but I reckon it should be possible to get the travel time from Inverness to Glasgow or Edinburgh down to under two hours, and hopefully close to one hour.

The effect would be that all Scottish cities would be within easy reach of each other, which would no doubt do wonders for the Scottish economy. It would also mean only one airport was needed for mainland Scotland, which would result in a big airport with lots of direct connexions, instead of just having small airports mainly sending passengers on to the larger hub airports such as Heathrow.

Besides, I’m sure a big infrastructure project such as this would be just what the doctor ordered against the recession…

Scottish phone numbers after independence

Originally uploaded by zigazou76

Once Scotland becomes independent, it would be natural to get its own international calling code instead of the British +44.

My guess is that Scotland would get +424 – it’s similar to +44, it’s available, and it’s in the European block.

There’s of course nothing that would prevent Scotland from stopping there, resulting in phone numbers such as +424 (0)141 639 9718. However, this would be unnecessarily long.

There are only two three-digit area codes in Scotland, (0)141 (Glasgow) and (0)131 (Edinburgh); these could easily be mapped to one-digit codes instead, such as (0)4 and (0)3.

Similarly, the four-digit codes could be mapped to two-digit ones, e.g., (0)24 instead of (0)1224 (Aberdeen). (See all the current area codes here.)

After shortening the area codes, all Scottish phone numbers would effectively have only eight digits in total, so perhaps the area codes could be permanently fused with the phone numbers, just like it happened in Denmark a few decades ago.

A few examples:

Area Current 1st stage 2nd stage
Glasgow, 0141 +44 (0)141 639 9718 +424 (0)4 639 9718 +424 4639 9718
Edinburgh, 0131 +44 (0)131 348 5200 +424 (0)3 348 5200 +424 3348 5200
Aberdeen, 01224 +44 (0)1224 272 000 +424 (0)24 272 000 +424 2427 2000
Isle of Arran, 01770 +44 (0)1770 600 341 +424 (0)17 600 341 +424 1760 0341


Originally uploaded by slowburn?

I’ve been trying for a wee while to deploy iOS apps to my two-year-old iPod Touch. I kept getting an error message from codesign: “object file format invalid or unsuitable”.

At first I thought it had something to do with my provisioning profile or something, or perhaps that my iPod was too old to work with the newest Xcode, but the error turned out to be quite different, obscure, yet simple to fix.

I found the solution in Martian Storm. Somehow /usr/bin/codesign_allocate had been deleted (or never created), so I needed to issue the command

sudo ln -s /Developer/Platforms/iPhoneOS.platform/Developer/usr/bin/codesign_allocate /usr/bin

That was all that was wrong – it works beautifully now!

A suggestion for the European Parliament

It seems that the European Parliament can decide on its own how to distribute the seats amongst the various member states:

The Treaty of Lisbon therefore leaves it to the European Parliament to propose its own distribution of seats, but lays down the basic rules under which that distribution is to take place:

  • the maximum number of MEPs is set at 751, including the President of the Parliament;
  • the minimum threshold of seats per Member State is set at six MEPs, to ensure that all major political movements have a chance to be represented, even for the least populous Member States;
  • the maximum threshold of seats per Member State is set at 96;
  • the distribution of seats is to be based on the principle of “degressive proportionality”. In other words, the more populous a State, the more MEPs it has and the larger the number of inhabitants represented by an MEP.

It seems they’re basically just deciding on the number of seats through negotiations. There have been suggestions to use the square root of population figures instead, but that results in some rather drastic differences.

However, I have now come up with a very elegant formula, namely round(0.00003892p0.8) + 5, where p is the population. This formula results in seat allocations that are very similar to those agreed by the European Parliament on the basis of the Lisbon Treaty:

Many countries end up with exactly the same number of seats as before, including Malta, Sweden, Greece and France; others gain a few, such as Estonia, Denmark, the Netherlands and Spain, while the losers include Bulgaria, Hungary, Italy and Germany. Because all the lists include both small and large countries, I doubt it will be possible to create a significantly better formula.

Obviously, the constant (0.00003892) has been chosen to make the number of seats add up to 751. When the population figures are updated, or when new countries join, the constant will have to be updated to make the total equal to 751 again (the interested reader can use “goal seek” in Open Office or Excel to do this).

If the European Parliament want to use my formula, they are welcome do so free of charge! 🙂

Scotland and the RUK in the EU

I’ve blogged before about the fact that Scotland on its own has a very normal-sized population within an northern European context.

It’s quite illustrative to look at all the member states of the European Union (logarithmic scale):

Scotland (the small pink column) is slightly smaller than the average, being of almost exactly the same size as Denmark, Slovakia and Finland, and somewhat more populous than Ireland.

Interestingly, the graph also says something about England’s reluctance to let Scotland leave: While Germany is by far the most populous country, the current UK and France are competing for second place; however, without Scotland, both France and Italy have significantly larger populations that the Rest of the United Kingdom (RUK) – I’m sure this relegation won’t go down very well in certain quarters.

Let the EU manage the railway networks

Europe rail electrification

Europe is a real mess when it comes to railway networks. The gauges aren’t the same, the ways they’ve been electrified vary (see the map on the right), and the signal systems aren’t the same.

To quote from Wikipedia:

While most railways use the standard gauge of 1435 mm, some countries, especially Spain and the former member states of the Soviet Union have widespread broad gauge tracks (1,520 mm). Likewise, electrification of lines varies between countries. 15 kV AC has been used in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Norway and Sweden since 1912, while the Netherlands uses 1500 V DC, France uses 1500 V DC and 25 kV AC, and so on. All this makes the construction of truly pan-European vehicles a challenging task […]

It probably would be prohibitively expensive to unify everything, but rational decisions need to be taken, and that can’t happen on a national basis. For instance, Danish politicians are currently discussing whether to electrify anything other than the route from Copenhagen over Funen to the German border; this is obviously a no-brainer on a European scale, but to a small country the cost can still be prohibitive.

At the moment, efforts are concentrated on the high-speed lines, but wouldn’t it be more efficient to hand over the entire railway networks to the EU? I’m not saying EU politicians should necessarily unify everything, but they could at least change situations where one country is the odd man out.

Actually running trains could still be handled/outsourced by the individual countries, but it would be so much easier to create attractive franchises if a train in most cases could run directly from any point in the EU to another other point, and if trains purchased for use in other country could just be used in another.

Why the UK should have joined the euro

Most British commentators and politicians seem to be very happy that the UK never joined the euro. There’s sadly a lot of schadenfreude in the British media at the moment, as if the UK was doing well while the eurozone was suffering. However, in reality the UK is experiencing a deep economic slump, too, and the UK’s economy is tightly tied to the rest of the EU, euro or no euro, and the UK won’t recover fully until the rest of the EU are doing well again, too.

The UK is so clearly affected by the euro crisis but can’t do very much – British advice is clearly not received very positively by eurozone politicians. Wouldn’t it have been better to have been part of it so that the UK had been a central part of the negotiations to solve the crisis?

If the UK had joined the euro from the beginning, British politicians could also have influenced the project. For instance, they might have managed to keep out Italy or at least Greece, or prevented the budget deficit rules from being watered down.

However, now is definitely not the right time to join. The eurozone is clearly going through a lot of upheaval at the moment, and one might as well wait for the situation to settle down before joining.