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This story was pinched (then embellished, re-written and generally tarted-up) from recent posts on a railway enthusiasts' online forum
 

 
While motoring up the A11 in East Anglia recently, a railway enthusiast came up behind four low-loader lorries carrying railway carriages he didn't immediately recognise. They were pale green, a colour not used on any UK railway except for the rather bilious Central Trains livery, and had sliding doors like an underground train.
 
Only when he overtook the lorries did he recognise them - they were from the Dublin rapid-transit electric railway system (DART for short) which he had seen while on holiday in Ireland. But what were they doing in East Anglia?
 
Someone on the internet forum eventually revealed the secret. The four coaches were being taken to Germany to be refurbished, a fact confirmed by the German number-plates on the lorries.
 
Now let's just think that through.
 
These coaches had been lifted off the rails and off their bogies, and lowered carefully onto four enormous German lorries which had, presumably, travelled all the way from Germany - empty.
 
They then travelled to the ferry port at Dun Laoghaire and were shipped to Holyhead. The lorries then wound their way across Anglesey, through Snowdonia, across the Welsh Marches, along the M54 and the M6, then the A14. Arriving in Harwich they were loaded onto another ship and carried across the sea to Holland. There they travelled by road once again across Holland and into Germany to their destination.
 
Once they have been refurbished by the jolly kraut coachworks, they'll be shipped back to Ireland the same way and re-united with their bogies and their eager passengers.
 
Quite an odyssey!
 
Now the hard part: WHY?
 
For Paddy's sake, what insane logic makes this cost-effective? Don't they have anyone in Ireland who can refurbish a railway coach? It's hardly rocket-science, is it? At the very least they could have had the work done in England - this used to be the workshop of the world railway industry. English and Scottish factories supplied half the world's steam locomotives. Some of them are still running a hundred years later. In more recent times, British-built diesel trains were sold as far afield as Australia. For most of the history of railways in the British Isles, individual railway companies did their own dirty work - they laid and maintained their own track, they maintained their own locomotives and rolling-stock, they sold their own tickets, they ran their own buffet-cars and restaurant-cars, they cut their own grass, patted their own ballast and emptied their own toilets - onto the track, mostly. They even built their own locomotives as, to keep the East Anglian thread going, the Great Eastern Railway did at their Stratford works, the site of which is fast disappearing beneath the alleged 2012 Olympics.
 
Besides, if Irish and British engineering firms aren't up to the job, wouldn't it have been cheaper to ship German workers over to Dublin to do the job?
 
There's an absurd spin-off from the Elf'n'Safety industry these days - everything has to be done by "an expert" or "a specialist". Want to design a children's playground? Don't for heaven's sake try and do it yourself - common-sense just doesn't cut it, there are people who "specialise" in that sort of thing. Put up some Christmas lights in the High Street? No, your common-or-garden council workers can't possibly cope with that, you have to call in a specialist contractor. Councils don't mend their own roads any more, or collect their own rubbish.
 
At the drop of a hat, local authorities commission reports from so-called "consultants" telling them what to do on almost any issue, which conveniently enables them to blame someone else when it all goes pear-shaped. It even permeates all the way up into government: 2.8 billion was spent on consultants just in England in 2005/06, and "experts" suggested that half a billion of that was a waste of money. Neue Arbeit have actually had legislation framed for them by an outside contractor, in fact a single-issue gay rights campaign organisation.
 
All very sad. Expertise, self-reliance, pride in the job, common-sense, all gone. In a few years' time one can envisage a society in which no-one can do anything for themselves any more. The GOS used to maintain his own Austin Allegro (easy, just fit a new rubber-band occasionally). Now he doesn't dare open the bonnet. Actually, these days he drives a Renault Clio, so it opens itself.
 
Already we can't mend our cooker, our fridge, our washing-machine or our heating system, and in some cases we aren't allowed to. Elf'n'Safety are making strenuous efforts to prevent us from doing our own electrical work in the home. Before long we'll have to call in an electrician to change a light-bulb or plug in the telly. And it's only a matter of time before RoSPA remind us that the majority of accidents happen in the home, that many of them are in the kitchen, and that we all ought to give up cooking and phone for a takeaway. The Americans already do.
 
Mind you, when someone realises there are risks inherent in a man and a woman fulfilling their more intimate conjugal responsibilities for themselves, we could see the birth of a whole new "service" industry. If only the GOS were a little younger
 

 
The GOS says: While we're talking about air-miles, or the carbon footprint of a railway coach on the back of a lorry, or some such garbage, consider this
 
The American government has bought 9 billion condoms for family planning and HIV programmes in the Third World in the past 30 years. Thanks to "buy American" rules, most are made in Alabama and cost 5 cents each. The American taxpayer then pays to ship them to countries like Indonesia, India and China where they cost 2 cents each to buy. This has cost the American taxpayer $270 million.
 
A condom used in East Timor and made in Alabama from Sumatran latex has travelled 20,200 miles. And it's only the last six inches that count.
 

 
(This last bit of information came from a review of The Wisdom of Whores by Elizabeth Pisani.
 
She spent years as an AIDS expert working for UNAids, the United Nations anti-HIV programme. This is an enormous industry: in Haiti alone the US government spent $84.7 million last year, and that's without the input of other international organisations and UNAid itself.
 
Pisani tells a fascinating tale of inept statistics gathering, of aid agencies deliberately distorting the facts, of the Bush administration's obtuse insistence that of the $15 billion it spent on HIV programmes in the five years from 2002, the majority must go not on condoms but on encouraging people not to have sex at all, a strategy that has a 76% failure rate in the US itself. Now there's a surprise. Not.
 
She also has some cogent things to say about the spread of the disease itself, such as the fact that despite "expert" threats that it would "blaze through the general population", it has signally failed to do so. She suggests this is because (a) it is, like so many other contagions, a disease of the very poor, and (b) it is principally spread by activities most people just don't indulge in - anal sex, rough sex, and shared needles.
 
All in all, a good read. Now, where did we start .? Oh yes, trains )

 

 
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