Sunday, 12 April 2015

Energy and Transport: How the Railways Moved From Freight to Passengers

When the railways were first built, they were conceived as a method of carrying goods efficiently from one place to another, and passengers were something of an afterthought. The opposite is now true: most people think first of passenger trains and freight has often seemed the "poor relation" (for example, freight-only routes are usually designated "secondary" with a lower standard of maintenance and investment than high speed passenger routes such as the East Coast Mainline). 

While freight continues to be a vital part of the rail network (and estimated to grow by 30% over the next 5 years), what and how materials are transported are a world away from the original design. This can be illustrated by the small goods depot at Poppleton station, which I photographed on my way home. Under the original model, railways were statutorily required to accept any and all goods at all stations to any destination, whether a crate of chickens or milk churns going to market or coal to factories, homes or local "town gas" plants/power stations. 

All that changed when energy started being supplied differently: rather than having a power station for every town, we now distribute electricity via pylons and the National Grid from a few large power stations miles away.

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Springing Into Action on Acomb Community Garden

As the days get longer, work continues on the Acomb Community Garden project at Acomb Methodist Church. After successful work with a digger and tree surgeon in February, the focus has turned to preparing the ground and putting some shape to the garden at the beginning of the growing season.   
View over the garden following clearance and levelling
There are two reasons for this approach: firstly, as this is not a domestic garden there is no automatic "permitted development", so planning permission is required to install structures or hard landscaping such as paths. While this is achievable and unlikely to be refused, it will take time and require fundraising to support the production of detailed plans for the planning application. 

The second reason is that we are currently tendering for the ground source heat pump (see previous post here - further updates to be published soon!) This will require drilling and pipe installation, but the exact location of boreholes/pipework will to some extent depend on the chosen contractor so it is wise to allow the garden to be shaped around the boreholes rather than vice versa.

Saturday, 4 April 2015

Holiness in Action: The Girl in Black

I wear the black for the poor and the beaten down, Livin' in the hopeless, hungry side of town… …But just so we're reminded of the ones who are held back, Up front there ought 'a be a Man In Black. (Johnny Cash, Man in Black)
This year I discovered another resonance to the Good Friday tradition of wearing black for the day, as my husband asked me if I was aiming to look like Johnny Cash, who famously wore black as a constant reminder to all who saw him that not everyone had riches or fame to rely on. 

His song was in my head all day, and got me thinking about how fasting and mourning can help us to connect with those who are on the edges. On the day which Jesus died, it seemed all hope was gone. Evil had triumphed, the authorities had had their way and fear and injustice was all you could expect if you happened not to be rich or powerful. So this seems like an appropriate theme for Holy Saturday: Even if by definition hope refers to the future, for the Bible it is rooted in the present. Anne Lamott puts it like this:  
“Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: You don’t give up.” 
So will we take up the challenge? Will we learn to lament the state of the world as it is, where the powerful usually triumph and the poor are forgotten? 

Friday, 3 April 2015

Holiness in Action: Were you there?

Fellow blogger Beth Routledge has been writing eloquently this week about our need to live out the drama of Easter, to experience the emotions and set the reality of God’s story in our hearts as well as our heads. Holy Week starts with Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem in time for the Passover feast, where Jesus and his whole community were not only a retelling of the story of the Jewish people being liberated from slavery under the Egyptians, but reliving it with unleavened bread, sandals on your feet and ready to leave quickly to start a new life in freedom.

Indeed, the story began long before this point as I have been reminded by following the tradition of reading Luke’s gospel from start to finish during Holy Week. After Jesus’ closest friends realised who he really was and Peter declared he was the Messiah, he started telling them what would happen to him but they couldn’t take it in. He set his face towards Jerusalem and there are 12 chapters of story telling what happened along the way – challenging stereotypes with stories like the Good Samaritan and the prodigal son, staying with friends like Mary and Martha and teaching the crowds who came to see him.

Thursday, 2 April 2015

Availability - do we really need a 24 hour health service?

The ICE has been trying to stimulate debate about the availability of infrastructure: for example, to what extent is it more resilient or cost effective to allow trains not to run or close a main road in cases of extreme weather? During the 2007 floods, most of Gloucestershire lost power (some people were not reconnected for 12 days). Most people believe this is not acceptable, but the answer may not lie solely in making the national grid so robust it can cope with high winds and powerful water currents, but also by beefing up secondary sources of power (whether generators or solar panels) and accepting that no system works 100% of the time.

After all, there is no railway signal box in the country that relies on only one source of power: most have some combination of having two cables in from different power sources, an 8 or 12 hour battery, a small transformer to get low voltage supply off the 25kV traction power lines and a plug at the back where you can turn up and plug in a generator. And business continuity matters too: suppliers to Network Rail must demonstrate that they have a business continuity plan in place.

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

For the Love of Malawi: Why I'm Fasting for Climate Action

Buildings at Maoni Orphanage damaged by flooding
Last month, climate change got personal. This year I have been fasting on the first of every month in solidarity with the victims of climate change, from the Philippines to Vanuatu but it was the stories from my friends in Malawi which have absolutely broken my heart. This year, Malawi and Mozambique have been hit by serious flooding on a scale rarely seen before in the country’s history. 
Two members of my church (Acomb Methodist Church) run a charity called Madalitso providing education and training for young people in Malawi, and almost everything has been destroyed. The orphanage we fundraised for ages to help build has been damaged (see photo), and thousands of people have lost their homes, possessions and crops. Celebrating Fairtrade Fortnight in York, we watched a film telling the stories of two tea farmers in Malawi, who have also found their farms devastated by the floods.