Archives for posts with tag: infrastructure

Did you know that Dublin has the only European capital city airport without a rail link? Well, apparently it is, and this presents problems for the traveller, as you might imagine.

When I’m flying back into Ireland, I have two choices to get home in the west of Ireland. Choice 1 is to take the coach from the airport to Galway in the west, and then make my way into the countryside. I can’t do this if the coach arrives at an unsociable hour; the inter-town services are done for the day, or should I say for the night.

Choice 2 is to take a bus, run by Dublin Bus, from the airport to the 2 main train termini, Connolly which services the north, and Heuston which serves the South, South West, West and North West.

On this occasion I had opted for the rickety 747 bus service in the form of choice 2. It was my first time taking this option, since I always preferred option 1, but the timings didn’t suit. ‘Besides,’ her Ladyship said, ‘it’s a good service.’ Very good then.

Imagine my good fortune, then, as I trotted out of Dublin airport to see a 747 waiting for me. 2 minutes later we were off. The route from the airport to the city centre is about 4 miles, and another 1 or 2 miles to the west of the city for Pearse Station. As I discovered, the route is pretty circuitous. Firstly it loops around the airport’s vast one-way system to pick up people from Terminal 2 before giving all Terminal 1 travellers a sense of deja vu as we take the same route out of the airport for the second time.

The service then takes a somewhat ’round the houses’ approach into Dublin, which, during the early evening rush hour took 45 minutes. We stopped on the mighty O’Connell Street and some people got off, along with, rather controversially, the driver, who announced that this stop was a driver shift change and the next driver would be along in 2 minutes.

20 minutes later, which is a lengthy 2 minutes even by Irish standards, we were still waiting. What made this rather illuminating was that the departing driver couldn’t leave his shift until the relieving driver turned up and the remaining travellers on the bus could hear the two-way ‘walktie talkie’ conversations between the driver and the dispatcher. The new driver was somewhere near, but not answering the phone, by all accounts. Moments later the relief driver turned up, having been waiting at the wrong stop on the street…

Somewhat wisely and ultra-conservatively I had allowed 120 minutes for us to travel the 6 miles between the airport and train station for the last train west of the day. The 6-mile journey took 85 minutes. It then took me 120 more minutes to go 120 miles to my home town.

And we wonder why public transport is always both broke and broken.

A regular refrain of mine on this blog is the single point of failure. Generally confined to transportation and infrastructure, it provides us with an instant reminder of how fragile the thread is that binds us to our daily lives.

We had a major burst water main recently in the local area. It took out the entire town and surrounding area, for more than 24 hours. No showers, no washing up, no toilet flushing. These are just household things, though, they’re easily manageable for a relatively short time.

But what about people running businesses? What about hospitals, veterinary establishments, garages, other things that rely critically on water? I hope they had – and have – a plan B.

Ironically, out here in the country, quite a few folk have their own wells, avoiding water bills and also drawing on Ireland’s plentiful – not to say incessant – rainwater supplies.

So, in some cases, the less civilised we are, in the sense of being city-tied, the more resistant we can make ourselves to the single point of failure.

We had a power failure the other day, across parts of where I live in the west of Ireland, perhaps affecting – I’m wildly guessing here – 50 to 60,000 people.

In the old days, an electricity power cut as we called it would be a major inconvenience, since all your appliances would be out, and your lights too, which, if it were winter, would mean cold houses and candles.

These days, especially during the working day, a power cut is a disaster. No electricity means – you’ve guessed it – no Internet. In a place with poor mobile signal, it also means you’re effectively off the grid. I couldn’t even vent my frustration adequately on Twitter, since I was reliant on my signal booster box – powered by electricity – to use my mobile phone.

All of which reminded me of how vulnerable we still are to the single point of failure that is our infrastructure and its systems. When a major travel accident results in thousands of travellers being inconvenienced, who compensates them for that? Similarly, when the power goes, who compensates thousands of paying consumers for the loss of productivity, or the loss of money invested in frozen food which thaws during a prolonged outage?

In the Cold War in the UK, we used to say that the Russians would wait for 2 inches of snow before they invaded; the country would be at a standstill. Our traffic infrastructure was – and still is to a degree – our single point of failure.

It still feels like that these days when the rubber bands and string of our major power infrastructures fail.

All of which leads me onto parallels with work. None of us in my opinion should be a single point of failure at work.

I’ve heard it said that you should try to make yourself indispensable, but that leads some people to become islands of information and jealously protect processes that only they know. I used to work with one such guy in a marketing agency and he was called the Mac Mason. My view is that the best staff are the ones who strive to make themselves dispensable, through leadership and innovation. And if your employers are dumb enough or political enough to make this a reason to get rid of you, then you’re better off out of there, they don’t deserve you.

I had occasion, dear reader, to travel to the Irish city of Cork from the Irish city of Galway the other day. From the provinces of Connacht to Munster. I was driving, as I don’t think you can even complete the journey on public transport, without massive detours.

My first time living in Ireland was the late 1990’s.  Although the celtic tiger had been leaping into first place within Europe’s fastest growing countries for a few years, it was still benefitting from the lag effect of massive EU infrastructure funding. Not a moment too soon either. Back then, the roads were very poor and train travel was very slow, with large parts of the rail network being single track.

I theorised at the time that this didn’t matter. You see, the web was gathering such pace that it would permeate all sections of Irish business and life and I figured the need to travel physically to and from places would be greatly reduced. The country could make jump from third world infrastructure to first world economic powerhouse with an Internet-enabled quantum leap.

Well, it didn’t quite happen like that. Which brings us to 2014. Dublin is possibly the only European capital city with no rail service to its airport. There’s no motorway connecting Galway, the fourth largest city, to Limerick, the third largest. Worse still, there’s no motorway connecting the third largest to Cork, number two on the list. Hence my rather lengthy journey from number four to number two via number three. And back.

On the rail side, it’s still largely single track which causes scheduling and punctuality challenges as the only places the trains can cross are at at stations. All tracks lead to Dublin, but travelling between the other cities on the train doesn’t really happen. Oh, and in the country you get railway crossings manned by humans.  Yes, that’s right, someone is paid rather well to close and open gates every half hour or so. I think that’s what they call a sinecure – or ‘doss job’ as we would say in England.

You see, greater Dublin accounts for half of the country’s population and its road and network systems are pretty good. Everything else is the country, literally.

Then there’s the virtual infrastructure, otherwise known as Internet bandwidth.  It’s not too bad in the seething metropolis and other city areas.  Out here, as I write my rural idyll, where the local switches have not been updated, it’s about 7MB and 1:48 contention. So I’m sharing some paper and string with up to 47 others.

All this contributes to the paradox that is Ireland, as I touched on in a previous post. Forging ahead in some areas and well behind the curve, with seemingly no chance or intention of catching up, in others.