Monday, 12 December 2016

Wheels fall off - or pedal to the metal for UK and Thailand road safety?

Khun Ploenpote Atthakor raises some horrifying and interesting points in her Bangkok Post article on the Songkla bus crash with one death.
Horrifying that it's just one of 35 bus crashes this year and pssibly even looser regulation with the doubling of such mega-double-decker from 4,000 to 8,000 in a year.

If nothing that last point shows the appetite for bus travel in Thailand and through to Myanmar - both nations each the size of France and requiring excellent road-rail connections through to their rural hinterland as well as in Bangkok.

One doesn't have to strip down to their Union Jack underpants and stand on East Kent's nearby White Cliffs of Dover gesturing at the Continent, to be proud of the UK's bus expertise - whether the iconic London double decker bus or the National Express cross-country routes.

Stagecoach local buses, part of the Gloag and Infratil transport empire, are more problematic though given the Manston-Infratil scandal and missing pollution fines, yet the eco-buses and 15 minute routes and electronic timetables etc are superb.

It's a travel concern too with Wellington airport, the last site owned by Infratil and almost certainly Asia's most dangerous airport, give such an operating scandal, whether for British Airways or Thai Air crews and passengers, or any other airline.

Perhaps more astonishing is Khun Ploenpote receiving no information or guidance from the Thai bus press authorities. Surely they should be standing to attention if not falling over themselves to help if a Bangkok Post journalist, one of the world's great newspapers, calls on such a crucial issue?

It's as concerning as the BBC Thailand office being closed. Hopefully that's because the journalists are holed up in one of Bangkok's Great British Eire pubs, or FCCT, cooking up some interesting stories over a Guinness or ten.

Hopefully they won’t be driving home on a scooter without a helmet, on the wrong side of the road, at speed, clad only in Union Jack shorts and adding to the excessive toll of UK citizens flown home in a box.

A toll matched barely matched by missing seatbelts, suicides and spiked drinks.

Press freedom aside, the Great British taxpayer at the very least would be concerned at funding an empty office? If nothing it should be on the Dept of International Trade's (UKTI in old money) radar for Thai-UK investment and expansion?

As Khun Ploenpote points out such safety measures as a 30 degree tilt test and rear escape doors are factors engineered into UK buses - whether Dennis the largest manufacturer in UK also has companies in Asia.

As seriously, UK road safety is the best in the world - narrowly contested by Sweden with a smaller population but more severe winters. UK road deaths are only 1,700 each year - and that a massive 80% reduction since the peak of the 1940's with cars and buses contesting with German bombs and blackouts, and the subsequent huge post-war increase in road use.

Thailand's road safety is unfortunately nothing short of horrifying with at least 20,000 deaths a year, and the second worst in the world after Libya. The Xmas carnage is so severe particularly with the Bangkok-Isaan flow of traffic that it's often best not to travel which isn't ideal for Thai or UK tourists.
Libyans though might relish the comparatively safer roads.

I’ve less than happy memories of a panoramic view through a bus in Thailand as the lorry in front plunged into a sala and tamarind stall. Or the bloody trail to Kyaiktiyo with not one but three motorcyclist deaths on the road in one afternoon.

All the more reassuring then that the dynamic Tourism Minister Khun Kobkarn is highlighting with Richard Barrow (@richardbarrow), perhaps Thailand’s best Tourism and Education blog, the new Chiang Mai sleeper train and the rail safety advertising museum in Hualamphong (who knew - and looks as interesting as the Bangkok City Museum rail exhibits?).

The huge UK tourist market could well want to take advantage of avoiding another flight on heading North in comfort.

UK has the safest railways in Europe too, with deaths in single numbers from an occasional level crossing or tube platform death. And British Transport Police active with the rail companies on reducing those deaths even further - unfortunately Ramsgate station here in East Kent featured in their Xmas campaign for drunk passengers walking across the line etc.

A Xmas hazard even on London Underground, with a schoolchild walking across the electrified rails at Latimer Road last week - London Underground and Transport Police reassuringly swinging into action with extra travel safety lessons at the local school.

Surely then Thailand and UK should be forging a partnership not just in bus or metro engineering expertise - UK and Japan do it here in Meiji Kent with the excellent Hi-Speed 1 and Eurostar train routes to Europe and London through the Channel tunnel, and Hitachi this week launching its first UK-Japan built hispeed train in Newcastle.

The latter town just a stone's throw from what was the largest Thailand investment in UK at the SSI Redcar steelworks - a shame Thailand's investors and manufacturers didn't hold on longer, given the sterling efforts of the Thai Embassy in London, as UK steel is refloated at Port Talbot for the UK rail and car industry.
Such a foundation industry will certainly be eclipsed in the future by the graphene developments in UK. Surely Thailand should be in the driving seat in working with UK on new graphene production and auto parts - as well as road safety sharing.

I'm a keen follower of @ciphilvickers with its road safety tips by Chief Phil Vickers of Lincolnshire Police. Unfortunately Kent road deaths have increased slightly this year with c.54 KSI - Killed and Seriously Injured requiring a refocus on drinkdriving, mobiles and designing out road blackspots as well as 20mph zones.

The UK is rightly proud of its extensive investments in public safety campaigns, sadly neglected in recent years - Thai readers may not be familiar with Dave Prowse as the Green Cross Code road safety man, but may know him as Darth Vader in Star Wars.

I've also raised the urgent need, with the likes of EKFOS East Kent Film Office and Studio to preserve and digitally restore with the British Film Institute such public safety work as a global resource.

But also parliament is urging a tighter review of the Vauxhall Zafira and Ford Corsa car fires by the auto manufacturers and their supply chains - again it raises a red flag for auto safety and forward planning, with over 865,000 Zafira cars recalled in UK.

While Kent Police have a superb HGV patrol car to clamp down on the recent spate of HGV mobile phone deaths - often, as with the Songkla crash, exhausted or distracted, Polish and Romanian HGV drivers on the long route through to London unfortunately stoking the fires of the worst Farageland racist excesses (thankfully very rare and rapidly clamped down upon) of Kent.

And as an aside the recent Kent Police capture of an FBI Most Wanted paeodopile highlights the potential for closer UK-Thailand working on human trafficking as part of Spain's Operation Captura to reduce the Costa Del Crime aspects that can affect Phuket and Pattaya as well as Benidorm and Blackpool.
While Kent Fire and Rescue Brigade, usually first at the scene of road crashes, have changed the potentially deathly dull subject of road safety with the innovative Road Safety Experience museum.

It's a Kent tourist attraction in its own right to almost rival the new Paramount or Dreamland theme parks. The latter funfair one of the oldest in UK and capable of giving Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen a run for its money with its rare wooden rollercoaster.

While Paramount is under development and about to break ground as the largest tourist site in Europe outside Paris EuroDisney.

Tighter Thailand and UK cooperation would no doubt also reverberate through ASEAN and China and help speed up China's Silk Road and Belt. The Yiwa to Madrid express and new Gotthard Tunnel in Switzerland is already moving the China's commodities market of orchids and fruit and vegetables that much nearer to Europe. UK and Thailand should both be taking advantage of the proximity of those markets.

While lessons in hispeed rail and bus connections could well be learned from the excellent Spanish RENFE - and connections with the excellent Almeria Group of universities a key Meiji Kent policy.

Even British Rail has finally learned to assist its passengers to uncross their legs spend a penny at train stations by not charging a penny to use the toilets.

The Stanford Swab Campaign is a key feature of New York's metro and buses that UK and Thailand public health activity could well benefit from. As would Thai-UK hospitals etc cooperation on bird flu pandemics - indeed any pandemic given London is the TB capital of Europe.

The latest pandemic is yet again catching Britain by surprise and no doubt with a lack of vaccines to be flown in, eventually, at great expense.

Minor SRT tweaks such as the Missing Link or Makkasan site or Airport rail link disabled access, or bus shelters and telephone poles in the wrong place could fade into insignificance compared to fully integrated ASEAN transport links.

And UK could well learn much from Thai Police not just the 1155 Tourism hotline - how will any stranded Thai tourists cope in UK if their English language skills aren't that great?

As relevant is language learning for court translators, or yaba crackdown with Shan state, along with a mix of police and university exchanges - CCU University in Canterbury already the Hendon of the South for police studies.

The latter important for resisting the silo mentality of the public sector with the bloat of separate police colleges not taking advantage of existing universities and even MOOC courses and diffusing learning on road safety etc.

Thailand shouldn't be relegated to the back of the bus but in the driving seat for UK-Thailand cooperation on transport and road safety.


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