Wednesday 1 August 2018

Wheeling in the Chinese Trojan Horse Through ... Duisburg!

Ah, Duisburg. I lived there for a while during the Cold War, when taking the Queen's shilling.  Our barracks were a former Luftwaffe Flak-Kaserne: the Officers' Mess was a wonderful building** of a design approved personally by Goering - the minstrels gallery over the dining room was a giveaway, he always insisted on that - that is now a listed building (housing the local chamber of commerce). We were the only British unit stationed in the city, which meant we were treated royally, and often, by the locals.  There were three mayors, I recall, and we got a lot of invitations.  The local Tierpark was fine, though the shopping less so (for a town of 500,000) and one tended to go to Düsseldorf on the tram. 

We were on the outskirts, but the centre was very gritty and urban indeed.  You would hear gunfire every Saturday night; the local students included some very hard left radicals.  The local Stadtwerke used to advertise that the water was safe to drink (always a bad sign) - "contains no organisms whatsoever".  Well of course not - the cadmium content finished them all off!

It's Big: World's Largest Inland Port    pic, Guardian 

Because, yes, as well as being a mighty steel town in those days Duisburg was, and remains, the world's largest inland port.  And now, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Peoples Republic, it seems - the western end of the great new Silk Road.  “We are Germany’s China city,” says Sören Link, Duisburg’s Social Democrat mayor. “Rail freight between Chongqing and Duisburg is almost twice as expensive as shipping, but takes 12 days instead of 45. Air freight is at least twice as expensive as rail freight, but takes on average five days. If we can reduce lead times even further, below 10 days on average, then that opens up a lot more potential.” 

Could that be done?  This is a good bit:
The reasons journey times from China are still far too long ... lie mainly with the heavily unionised rail companies in Europe rather than their counterparts in Asia: trains take on average six days to travel the 1,300km from the Polish-Belarusian border to Duisburg, while the 10,000km from Chongqing to Belarus is often completed in five-and-a-half days.  “The Chinese and the Kazakhs drive thousands of kilometres a day, they really work hard. It’s ridiculous, really. Of course we are trying to work out why this is happening. You know how many train drivers’ unions we have, and the Poles are not much better”.
Haha!  The Chinese could probably make some suggestions ...

** that link is to an old C@W post - almost exactly a decade old - on which the formatting has gone a bit haywire: but you'll get the drift.  For more on this fabulous old site with some interesting history (including a famous murder and an IRA bombing), google Glamorgan Barracks.


Electro-Kevin said...


I already have to piss in my own flask several times a week. (Never accept a cup of tea from a long distance train driver.)

dearieme said...

One amusing lesson from American websites is that there are people in the US who think that Trade Unions are a good thing.

Anonymous said...

Can't you stick it out the window Kev?

Anonymous said...

"One amusing lesson from American websites is that there are people in the US who think that Trade Unions are a good thing."

Wonder who will be the first to organise the drivers of self-driving cars and trains.

AI is coming down the tracks (oooh pun) and it won't stop ... at cars.

Anomalous Cowshed said...

Must have been a programme on R4, maybe 18 months ago, where a bloke from RailFreight was discussing China; I seem to remember mention of mysterious delays occuring once trains entered the French network.

Electro-Kevin said...


"Can't you stick it out of the window, Kev."

Thing is we have DC rail and 25kv AC overhead electricity - it would be dangerous for me as electricity always takes the shortest route to earth.

Electro-Kevin said...

Anon @ 4.27 I agree. AI can't be stopped. No viable automation has ever been stopped.

I'm at a stage and an age where that would suit me very nicely.

Nick Drew said...

Anon & Kev -

Yep, there are 3 million truckers in USA, highly unionised. Battle Royal coming down that road soon

K said...

I don't really see AI replacing trucks as soon as everyone thinks. On the other hand I'm more surprised that trains, harvesters, etc, aren't automated already (probably because of cheap European labour).

E-K said...

Bad infrastructure stops trains being automated. The mechanic role of the driver makes it less of a saving than you'd think. Then there is poor rail adhesion with which a human is still best in dealing. Automation will never be total and not for at least a decade.

Electro-Kevin said...

I don't know why unionism would make the trains slower. Crew changes don't take very long and I doubt crew would negotiate long stops in sidings. They just want to get home.

Just got back from a 600 mile stint myself, slow via engineering diversions, bit of pilotman working and a fault to deal with on the loco.

Electro-Kevin said...

Another thing I noticed. We have differential speed restrictions for freight everywhere - especially Emergency and Temporary Speed Restrictions. Lots of 30/100 at the moment (30 for freight, 100 for others.) and such trains are often restricted to 40mph because of their class, to preserve infrastructure.

I wonder if China bothers.

rwendland said...

ND, OT but have you noticed the rather ominous news that re new nuclear the govt is considering "the regulated asset base (RAB) model, which allows government regulators to ensure stable returns and finance through government support" - I guess this involves the govt taking on ultimate financial risk of new nuclear builds failing in construction or economically. Looks like the govt new nuclear lobby is getting desperate now they realise they cannot pull another Hinkley C financial super-expensive CfD stunt - I suppose energy insiders have known about this detail for some time but this is the first public news I've seen.

This came out with the announcement that South Korean Kepco were no longer preferred bidder to take over from failed Westinghouse for the Sellafield/Moorside new nuclear proposal - I guess Kepco could not cut an agreeable CfD deal. The fuller info is:

The ministry noted that Kepco had held a joint working group meeting with the UK's Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy on 30 July to discuss "the profitability and risk management plan". A joint feasibility study was launched that will consider the profitability and risk when applying the RAB model. Once this study is completed, the ministry said, Kepco will "pursue in-house deliberation procedures and government funding for business participation through close consultation with the government".

Searching around, I find that Dieter Helm wrote a paper on the "The Nuclear RAB Model" in June, who says it was Greg Clark's idea (no doubt fed to him by a lobby). From that it seems RABs might be tradable units, a bit like gilts, and are cunningly off the govt balance sheet (future customers take some risks) - quite complex. Do you understand them? Helm thinks they are second best to govt direct procurement, but the Treasury won't accept that.

Electro-Kevin said...

Data recording - in-cab and signal panel, EU/UK

Any overspeeding is flagged up and investigated - I doubt this is so Eastwards. Drivers are limited on how 'hard' they work but they all want to get the job done as soon as they can, not slow it up.

"Those guys work really hard"

Driving in a straight line with the throttle open is not hard. Akin to saying a one landing Trans Atlantic pilot works harder than a 5 landing Continental pilot.

What is 'hard work' is following another (slower) train, going via unfamiliar routes and adhering to detailed pilotman instructions when going wrong direction to bypass blockages.

I've had three wrong routings in the past year and stopped in time. It is our job to check a signal indication and confirm it is suitable for our train. This is particulary important on loco hauled stock as correction requires unhooking the loco and doing a runaround (and then back) which could involve 50 miles of unexpected driving and knock-on delays for which my company has to share the penalty (often hundreds of thousands of pounds.)

When under such conditions (as freight will be around any European city) it can be fatiguing. Driving in a straight line not so much.

Sorry to have not done all this in one concise post - nightwork does not aid writing.

Nick Drew said...

we appreciate the expertise, Kev - one post or ten

Electro-Kevin said...


Rail was invented to carry freight more than it was passengers - the freight demise is the key reason why rail doesn't really work anymore. I wonder if the bias is towards freight in China. In the UK (presumably EU too) what's left of it gets moved in the night when all the engineering work is done - slowing it down.

I get caught up in it all in the night services I drive. Very very busy.