Coal – It once kept food on the tables of my mining community

A biomass train at Liverpool’s Seaforth Dock headed for Drax Power Station when full of wood pellets.

The BBC has the article on its website – see link below:-

www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-52973089

As an environmental campaigner this story on the BBC website obviously interests me, not least because I was born and lived my early years (late 1950’s/early 1960’s) in a community dependent on the coal mines surrounding it. Of course it has to be good news that we have gone for 2 months without needing to use coal to generate power and at some point in the not too distant future power from coal in the UK will be all but a distant memory.

However, within the BBC article there’s mention of Drax Power Station running on biomass wood pellets and the photo at the head of this posting shows a biomass train at Liverpool’s Seaforth Dock. That train takes the imported pellets to Drax which have been delivered to the UK by ship. My point here is what are the carbon implications of producing the pellets bringing them by a diesel powered ship to the UK and then taking them across the north of England by a diesel powered train?

It may well be the case that the power station is all but carbon neutral and far more environmentally friendly than it was when it burned traditional fossil fuels but is biomass really as green as we are being led to believe when you take into account deforestation and the energy used to produce and deliver the wood pellets to Drax? It would be interesting to see any background work done by environmental scientists on this.

This article from the i newspaper (linked below) tackles some of the issues I have concerns about:-

inews.co.uk/news/environment/uk-drax-power-plant-burning-us-trees-wood-pellets-deforestation-303461

And for the context of my family involvement in coal mining here’s a blog posting about that from 2019:-

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2019/06/02/nottinghamshire-the-miners-strike/

Opening up schools again – It’s NOT easy

To those outside of the often complex world of education reopening schools even on a phased basis during our health pandemic may look to be a straight forward matter, indeed government often gives such an impression. The reality of course is very different.

I’m a Trust member of a High School Academy and have been for around a year now. The school, which I also happened to attend many years ago, is not the issue here as this affects all schools across the UK. However, what I’ve learned especially since lockdown hit us is that keeping a large school of @1000 students going is a huge task. Yes the school has remained open for vulnerable students and those who are the children of Key Workers but coursework is being set and sent home to many many more students.

Schools have onerous responsibilities not just to educate our children but to safeguard them, to help manage the consequences of children living in dysfunctional family groups, to ensure they eat regularly, to help deal with all kinds of issues which affect the ability to both learn and to grow up as well rounded citizens. That’s one hell of an agenda and it’s a very different and hugely more complex one than what I encountered as a teenager in the 1970’s.

Just take the H&S Risk Assessment process which a school has to go through to enable it to teach a wider number of students within a school during this health pandemic. I can guarantee that it will be a long and complex document for any school to put together. If you think about it the RA effectively covers the students from the point they leave home to the point they return, so if they use school buses which pre-covid 19 were full to bursting but can only now accommodate say @ a dozen of them how does that work? There’s face covering to think about on those buses too. Then how many students can a school safely take in whilst maintaining safe distancing etc. etc. And what about the school’s staff members who may themselves be vulnerable due to health issues. Of course some of the students will be vulnerable too for the same reasons.

Over the past 3 months I’ve sat in on the school governors meetings (held via Zoom) as they grapple with all the above difficulties and more and I have to say the attention to detail is admirable indeed. I’m told that my job as a Trust member is to have oversight of the management of the school by the governors to ensure the objectives of the Trust are being realised/kept to. If what I have been seeing and participating in is replicated across other schools (and I’ve no reason to think that it isn’t) then seriously detailed work is happening to plan for safe workplaces and learning places for what could well be many months to come.

Teachers want to teach, they want their students to learn and be successful so if you hear of comments being made about teachers not being keen to reopen schools please take them with a pinch of salt. Teaching unions are not being obstructive they are simply trying to ensure that schools are safe for all who work or study within them. And no I’m not just saying that as a retired trade union officer, I’m saying it because of the evidence of my own eyes.

With the ‘R’ number looking very much as though it could be creeping above ‘1’ in the north west of England as I write this posting there is naturally great caution out there about reopening of schools. That caution is both well placed and seriously considered. We must ensure that reopening schools, even with significantly less students being in them each day from what used to be normal, are as safe as they can reasonably be.

Beware easy political solutions and ‘just get on with it’ rhetoric from those in power, turning a governmental wish to re-open schools this month into lager numbers of children actually being in schools is far from easy.

And just as I had completed this posting it seems that the Penny had dropped with government, at least as far as with primary schools are concerned, as this BBC article explains:-

www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-52969679

Speeding – Is it an addiction akin to alcoholism/drugs?

There can be little doubt that driving standards have plunged during lockdown and that this has mainly manifested itself via excessive speeding. That’s certainly been my experience travelling around Sefton and West Lancashire by car, cycle and indeed walking.

We had quite a number of weeks when there was little or no traffic on our roads and this seemingly became an invitation to those who enjoy/can’t resist speeding to put their clogs to the floor in both urban and rural areas regardless of pretty much anything. ‘We can so we will’ and they certainly have been doing! Maybe they thought the police would be enforcing social distancing and would not be bothered about speeding?

But now speeding become the norm will the petrol heads slow down as our roads are pretty much back to what they used to be? Frankly I’m not sure. Yes they’ll be slowed by the weight of traffic but will the urge to speed mean they’ll take greater risks to get past anything which slows them down? Or put another way once you’ve had a taste of speeding and done it regularly can you stop the addiction?

I’d like to see the stats for speeding enforcement on Merseyside and in Lancashire during lockdown as logically more speeding tickets should have been handed out assuming of course that police resources have not been reallocated elsewhere.

But what are our two local police forces going to do to try to normalise traffic speeds? Letting them rise was an inadvertent consequence of less traffic on our roads, bring them back down may well be a much harder task.

And yes I know some of you reading this will say the police have better things to do than fine motorists but you may have a different thought if a relative or friend is killed walking a country lane, cycling a local road or even being in a vehicle hit by another driven far too fast.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the most important and vulnerable thing on our highways is the pedestrian followed by cyclists. Only after that come powered vehicles.

My point in raising this issue once again is that if someone is caught say 2nd or 3rd time speeding within a specified period then is there not a reason to look upon that driver as someone with an addiction problem who needs help? They may also need to be stopped driving until their addiction has been tackled.

Altcar – Light & shade on the S&CLER

Great Altcar Civil Parish in West Lancashire remains a predominately rural community to this day. It lost its very rural passenger service along the Southport & Cheshire Lines Extension Railway in 1952, well before Beeching came along.

The trackbed is now a part of the National Cycle Network, the Trans Pennine Trail and is known as the Cheshire Line Path.

The two light and shade shots in this posting were taken just to the north of the site of the former Altcar & Hillhouse Station. Both are looking south and from the same location – the next bridge north of the B5195 Wood Lane.

If you click on the photos to enlarge them you will see more detail. The first one shows the next bridge south (Wood Lane) and the former station would have been just the other side of it where a sewerage works now stands at the side of the Cheshire Lines path.

I love the stone and brickwork in these shots, built to last you might say. The line opened in September 1884, so these bridges are over 130 years old and still looking pretty much as good as the day they were erected.

The first shot is also amongst my Flickr photos at – www.flickr.com/photos/86659476@N07/

Rimrose Valley Country Park – An Update

Rimrose Valley Country Park.

The latest news from Rimrose Valley Friends is available via the link below:-

www.rimrosevalleyfriends.org/news/running-track-restoration-valleywatch-and-more/

Rimrose Valley Country Park

Merseyrail – Testing the new Class 777’s

A mock-up of a Class 777 – The new Merseyrail trains that will soon replace the Class 507/508 EMU’s

I’ve not actually snapped a new Class 777 live so the two shots in this posting are of the the mock-up which was on public view a while back at Liverpool Lime Street Station and Pacific Road in Birkenhead. However, there are videos appearing on You Tube now of the testing of the first batch of new units on the Merseyrail Network and here’s a link to one:-

www.youtube.com/watch?v=xOzovLI3Qno&feature=youtu.be

This shows a Class 777 at Sandhills and at Bootle Oriel Road only yesterday evening.

A mock-up of a Class 777 Stadler EMU as displayed in Birkenhead a while back