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Dr E F SCHUMACHER’S revolutionary book SMALL IS BEAUTIFUL: Economics as if People Mattered explained the concept of Intermediate Technology to a worldwide audience. That was in 1973. Since then, while the three word prefix has become a ubiquitous cliché, the expression ‘intermediate technology’ has had a more modest profile. However, the idea that relatively simple and reliable technology - specifically designed for use in less developed and less resourced environments - could be a better generator of jobs, incomes, products and self-reliance than spin-offs from the rich world’s high-tech industry has been very successful. Parry Associates have never tired of the Schumacher ‘brand’. Intermediate technology is a concept still with a million miles yet to run.
The Parry Associates motto ‘Actions speak louder…’ is a reflection of Schumacher’s concern that in the overseas development field it is too often words that pay! A recent study by the charity Action Aid found that some 40% of the international community’s $50bn overseas aid budget is spent on consultants! (How much did it cost to do the research to find this out?)
Charitable fund raising is an art in itself, sometimes only loosely connected with the final charitable objective. At the moment, £25 cheques are being sought (not by us!) to provide soft harnesses for donkeys being trained to pull ploughs. Just as rain drops converge into rivers, lots of little cheques will generate really useful untied funding, even if donkey-training is hardly an example of the liberating technology envisioned by Fritz Schumacher. But intermediate technology as an approach is actually a really big idea, one which is at present changing the lives of 100,000 adults and children in Malawi, for example : more livelihoods and better schools through IT methods of building. Repeat this story a thousand times – which we think easily possible – and a hundred thousand becomes a hundred million beneficiaries. Small is Big.
If ever there were a circumstance where words are no substitute for action, it is the aftermath of the December 2004 tsunami. Full marks for the immediate, short term response by the international agencies. Tents, blankets, bottled water, body bags were on site in a matter of hours. Fewer marks however for what is being achieved in reconstruction. Why all the delay? Because rebuilding towns and villages is difficult. With one or two exceptions, the majority of the staff of international charities and official aid organisations have little experience either of manufacturing or construction. Faced with demolished buildings, altered geography, fragmented communities and thousands of local government officials missing or dead, they are stumped. But for the press it is local administrators who take the blame: bureaucrats insisting on planning procedures, customs officers wanting import duties paid, and private contractors raising their prices in response to the demand.
It is hard to criticise the humanitarian enthusiasm of the giant aid agencies, but virtue marches with the vice of pride and the borderline is easily crossed. Functionaries have to do their jobs and contractors seek their livelihoods but the agencies expect the world to conform selflessly to their purpose. They work ‘not for profit’ and distance themselves from collaboration with business-based providers. But the task now is to channel the tsunami appeal funds into action, not the discussion of action. And first we must somehow escape from the aid industry’s familiar stereotypes of grinding poverty reaching out begging hands. This is not the relationship on which to base the reconstruction of communities of working people struck by sudden catastrophe.
The tsunami event struck rich and poor alike. Survivors, including western holidaymakers and local residents, behaved like good neighbours. Speedily implemented acts of reconstruction resulted from person-to-person help: businessman to local school, guests to hotel and restaurant owners, etc. Many small acts: big results and much satisfaction on both sides.
It is with these thoughts in mind that a new humanitarian group is taking shape which sees business differently from the ‘rat run’ image portrayed by the voluntary sector. The new organisation will work with business providers as important sources of the skills needed for self-sustaining productive activity. And there should be benefits at both ends, as UK companies’ staff involved in projects return with richer knowledge of their partners’ needs and capabilities – and of themselves.
This is the spirit of co-operation of which Schumacher wrote. So don’t put intermediate technology on the shelf. Build IT.
Cradley Heath, July 2005
THE WENSLEYDALE RAILWAY and PPM are similar organisations: their plans for the future of transport are ground-breaking and highly desirable, but neither has the luxury of large amounts of money immediately available.
The two have therefore come together to develop Community Light Rail for future public services on the WR.
A NEW TEAM in innovative transport has come into being with the formation of a partnership between the Wensleydale Railway (WR) and PPM. Following earlier contact between the two organisations (see Parry News 40), agreement has now been reached to produce a new kind of rail vehicle that meets the WR’s future requirements. The strategy is also supported by the local county council and the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, both crucial partners in the development.
The WR is widely seen as a model for innovation in transport, having reopened 17 miles of closed railway in North Yorkshire. It operates passenger trains seven days a week between Leeming Bar and Redmire and is aiming both to extend the route and to improve the frequency of services.
PPM’s vision of Community Light Rail - endorsed by the Strategic Rail Authority's Community Rail Development Strategy and by recent reports from the Transport Select Committee (see story) - fit perfectly with the full reintroduction of passenger rail transport east to west across North Yorkshire. The reopened middle section of the WR's route is suitable for heavy trains and is currently operated by heritage diesel units, but a new approach is needed for the future extensions at both ends of the line.
Clean and quiet in town or country
Community Light Rail provides the solution. New PPM vehicles can operate in exactly the same way as modern trams: running on separate lines where appropriate but transferring on to street tramways in built-up areas. In this way, the centre of Northallerton and its station can be directly accessible from the rest of the WR. Just like trams, the Community Railcars will have convenient low-floor access for ease of boarding from pavement level - but this also means that no large railway platforms need be built in the national park, while simple low-level extensions at existing stations will make them suitable for both light and heavy rail.
As the illustration below shows, an articulated railcar is envisaged with powered bogies at each end. The middle unpowered bogie allows the low floor area to extend between the two sections of the vehicle, with step-free access from platforms and accommodation for wheelchairs. Inside the railcar, steps lead up to the raised passenger areas at the outer ends.
North Yorkshire County Council and the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority have both expressed interest in transport improvements to promote economic development in the local communities, as well as encouraging visitors to the national park to leave their cars behind and arrive by rail.
Syndicate now open!
Building on PPM's previous achievements in agreeing a performance specification and making a patent application for the bogie concept, the Wensleydale Community Railcar Syndicate will contribute to the construction of the new Community Railcar.
Announced to an enthusiastic response at the annual general meeting of the Wensleydale Railway Association on 11th June, the syndicate is now being built up. Other sources of funding are also being pursued to create a model for affordable, environmentally-conscious rural transport.
To receive information about joining the Wensleydale Community Railcar Syndicate, or to purchase one of 200 limited edition prints at £45 each*, contact PPM on email@example.com or write to Parry People Movers Ltd(Wensleydale Community Railcar), Overend Road, Cradley Heath, West Midlands, B64 7DD, UK.
* Includes post & packing within the UK. £30 per print goes to Wensleydale Community Railcar fund.
DIRECTORS OF NETWORK RAIL, which controls the railway system from Thurso to Penzance – with Stourbridge somewhere in between – are understood to have intervened personally to speed up the process of getting the PPM light railcar up and running at Stourbridge.
Recognising the value of PPM’s developments, both to its own business and the wider transport industry, the infrastructure operator has decided that the operation at Stourbridge should be judged sensibly by the risks it really presents. As the branch is operated in isolation from the rest of the network, there is no need to judge it against the standards for heavy trains.
Network Rail directors have assured PPM that they are determined to ‘make it happen’. The organisation’s status within the rail industry, strengthened by the recent Railways Act 2005, means that there is now full backing for the Stourbridge operation to start up soon. Then, finally, the travelling public and the authorities will be able to judge PPM technology on its own merits.
Concerns that the railway industry’s processes for accepting rolling stock, which involved around 1,500 separate requirements (see Parry News 41), would place an impossible delay had to be lifted – this has now happened. The problem had arisen precisely because PPM’s products are not main line trains: they are light rail vehicles specifically designed for local operation on separate lines such as Stourbridge. All the railway authorities now agree that the 1,400-metre long branch is clearly most suitable for light rail operation. The current heavy trains represent neither good use of rolling stock resources nor good environmental practice, but under the railway standards it was impossible to test out an alternative on Sunday with the trains operating for the rest of the week. Even though the trial was intended to ascertain whether light rail could completely replace the current trains, it was impossible to do a trial without total replacement of the trains! This ‘Catch-22’ situation needed powerful intervention to resolve. In the new spirit of full co-operation, Network Rail have prepared submissions, in collaboration with PPM and PMO, for the two key railway industry Subject Committees scheduled to meet next on 28 th June and 8 th July. This will be the first time that the quest for approval has the robust backing of the infrastructure controller. Fingers crossed.
THE OPPORTUNITY to experience PPM technology for free was offered in April and May when public open days were held at the Chasewater Railway. The first, on 2nd April, promoted reopening the nearby Brownhills to Walsall rail link (see Parry News 41): special headboards showing these destinations were fitted to the PPM 50 light railcar.
The success of this event, when nearly 300 passenger journeys were made, prompted Dr Paul Salveson, General Manager of the Association of Community Rail Partnerships, to suggest an operation as part of Community Rail Day on 14th May. PPM rose to the challenge and an even bigger open day - previewed in the local and railway press - was held with over 500 journeys made. Such was the interest in both events that visitors travelled from across the country to ride on the 50-passenger railcar.
Passengers' opinions were overwhelmingly favourable. The trackwork on the Chasewater Railway - which is engineered for low speed steam trains - can result in a bumpy ride for the four-wheel PPM 50, but feedback showed that people fully understood the potential for Community Light Rail to offer modern, comfortable, quiet transport in both rural and urban environments.
'An excellent idea'
Passenger comments praised the quiet operation, accessibility and environmental performance of PPM technology. 'Excellent idea' was a typical response to the concept of running local railways such as the Brownhills line in this way.
The railcar's level access from station platforms enabled prams, pushchairs, bicycles, wheelchairs and even dogs to be carried easily and comfortably between Brownhills West, Lakeside Halt and Chasewater Heaths. Its large windows and light, airy interior were much appreciated by people riding through the attractive country park on two sunny spring days.
THE CIVIL ENGINEER of Croydon Tramtrack has criticised over-engineering on UK tramways, compared with overseas practice.
JPA is only too aware of the fact that savings in vehicles count for little if the tracks on which they run are built uneconomically.
Therefore, JPA, HoldFast Level Crossings, the WTB Group, Baggeridge Brick, Glendenning Plastics, Heath Lambert and Mostyn Estates have submitted a proposal for a 12-month project under the Department of Trade & Industry's Collaborative R&D scheme. Outcomes include modular products, results from full-scale trials and conclusions on legal, planning and cost advantages.
An approach has also come from a Europe-wide scheme led by Transport for London. Phil Hewitt, Head of London Trams, has written that ‘at the UK Tram Steering Group on 20th May (attended by the Department for Transport) it was agreed that London Trams would, on behalf of the UK tramway industry, submit proposals for further design, development and site testing of the modular trackform to the EU for development funding’. This follows previous interest from London Trams (see Parry News 38).
Once the concept of modular tramway infrastructure has been proved, it will be commercialised by HCT.
RECENT MONTHS have seen repeated reference to the barriers to innovation found in the British transport industry. Criticism of past performance has come in the form of a number of reports from the House of Commons Select Committee on Transport, as well as in speeches in both chambers of the Palace of Westminster.
Back in January, Ross Cranston - then Labour Member of Parliament for Dudley North - praised the achievements and potential of the PPM concept in the Commons debate on Community Railways: ‘The forms of light rail carriages that have been developed have great advantages. They cause less pollution, use less energy and have high-performance acceleration and braking systems. They do not have to be segregated from the surrounding environment with, for example, fencing and are less costly to run’.
‘Innovative thinking urgently needed’
In March, representatives from JPA and HCT gave evidence to the cross party Transport Committee (see Parry News 41). The resulting report, Integrated Transport: the Future of Light Rail and Modern Trams in the United Kingdom,
summarised the lengthy process to operate a trial PPM service at Stourbridge succinctly: ‘Although the vehicle had been passed as safe by the Railway Inspectorate in 2002, after four years the company remained in negotiations to allow it to run its vehicle ... We can say definitively that an answer should have been given years ago. Delays like this are not only frustrating, but they put at risk the commercial partnerships set up to support such innovation’.
Shortly before, the Transport Committee had produced another report on Rural Railways. Included in the recommendations was this statement: ‘Some innovative thinking about the rolling stock market is urgently needed. In the longer term the Department for Transport must start planning for new trains for community railways, possibly building on light rail technology’ - a clear call for concepts like Community Light Rail, championed by PPM, to be rolled out in order to provide high quality transport in rural areas.
The most recent references to PPM's developments were heard in the House of Lords on 24th May. In a debate in response to the Queen’s Speech, peers of different political persuasions, Lords Snape and Bradshaw, both picked up the theme of how valuable innovation has been prevented from proving itself in practice.
Describing the benefits of the Community Light Rail approach, Lord Snape emphasised that ‘if community railways are to be segregated from the main network and their lower speeds and perhaps lighter rolling stock are to be complemented by, we hope, less demanding regulatory standards, we need to look at new kinds of vehicles for our railway industry’ and cited PPM. However, he then criticised the fact that the Stourbridge project - intended to demonstrate the usefulness of the concept - had not commenced twelve years since the first approach was made from Centro to JPA.
'A train’s weight of paper'
Lord Bradshaw, transport spokesman for the Liberal Democrat party, was even more critical. Referring to the length of time elapsed since the Stourbridge project was first proposed as ‘a monument to the regulatory constipation we have in this country’, he went on to suggest (not unreasonably) that ‘the amount of paper that has been generated weighs more than the train itself - it is as bad as that’.
JPA HAS APPLIED for a patent covering the use of flywheel-powered bogies on rail vehicles. The key innovation is the ability to fit an entire driveline into the bogie itself. Conventionally, traction equipment on trains and trams is split between the bogie and either the underframe or the roof. Bogie-fitted PPM vehicles will not require any passenger space to be sacrificed to house powertrain equipment: a virtue of the compactness brought about by the use of energy storage. This further design advance is being licensed to PPM for use in larger railcar and tramcar designs, such as the Wensleydale Community Railcar.Return to Newsletter Archive