Ebbsfleet International: two feet undersupported

Londonist today published a piece about, er, me.

A month ago I wanted to give the new high-speed domestic rail service a try on its first day of operation (particularly since I needed to be in the St. Pancras area that evening anyway), so I caught the train from Crayford to Northfleet and walked from there to the Ebbsfleet station, which is just 400 metres away as the crow flies.

Ebbsfleet International station viewed from Northfleet station
How hard can it be to get from here to there?

Sadly, by the slightly misguided route I took, it was 1.6 rather unpleasant kilometres; even by the shortest possible walking route, it’s 1.2km, and there’s not even a pavement at the entrance.

You can read Londonist’s post about this, and follow my journey that day through my Flickr photoset. (Best read one photo at a time, in sequence. Warning: may contain rotting fox.)

So, overall, fellow Bexley-dwellers, you’re probably better off sticking to one of our three slow railway lines for getting into London, rather than venturing a few miles outside the borough in the hope of speeding past – although it is an enjoyable ride if you do.

The service launches fully in December (at which point rail links to the place become a bit better, if you don’t mind going a little past it and back when coming from London) but the Monday-Friday preview services are running during the day until then.

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Public meeting about power cut this Wednesday

A bit of online word of mouth reaches me that this Wednesday, 29 July, there’ll be a public meeting in St. Martin’s church, Barnehurst, about the recent major power cut affecting much of the borough (you know, the one that this entire blog has so far been about).

The event’s Facebook page reads as follows:

PUBLIC FORUM
To discuss the recent EDF Networks Power Cuts

Host: Saint Martin’s. The Church of England Parish of Barnehurst
Type: Meetings – Informational Meeting
Date: Wednesday, 29 July 2009
Time: 19:30 – 22:30
Location: Saint Martin’s, The Parish Church of Barnehurst, Erith Road, Barnehurst, DA7 6LE

Description:
Wednesday 29th of July at 7:30pm (doors open at 6:30pm)

As you will be well aware the recent power cuts in the DA postcode areas have caused much distress to many members of the public. Saint Martin’s Church is hosting a Public Forum to debate and discuss the power cuts and the way that EDF Networks have handled them.

Confirmed members of the panel will include David Evennett MP, Local Councillors, The Head of Bexley Council, Directors and Senior Management from EDF Networks plus other politicians and several members of the press.

Tea and coffee will be served afterwards.For more details please phone The Rev’d. Gareth Bowen [Phone number ‘redacted’ since he has no control over this page]

Not sure who they mean by the ‘Head’ of the council – presumably the Chief Executive, but possibly the Leader.

Unfortunately I’m not going to be able to make this as I’m going to something else in central London that evening. I’d be interested to hear anyone’s reports back from it afterwards though.

Bridging shots

Following my power cut coverage (Powerless in Bexley, Powerful lessons), today I paid a visit to the cable bridge at the centre of the whole thing.

Troubled bridge over waters

My photos, including no fewer than eighteen puns on the word ‘bridge’ (sorry about those), can be seen in this Flickr set.

Powerful lessons

Tower Retail Park and the Crayford clock tower during the power cut
Tower Retail Park and the Crayford clock tower viewed from across the nearby roundabout at 10.20pm on the Wednesday of the power cut.

Thirty-two hours’ continuous power, and counting: it looks like the great Bexley and Dartford power cut of 2009 is over. So what lessons can we take from it?

On the one hand, there have been some particular frustrations over the past few days. Among the more irritating were the incessant burglar alarms affected by losing and regaining power. What possible benefit can there be to anyone from a burglar alarm being designed to sound for hours at a time? If a concerned neighbour hasn’t called the police after ten minutes’ screeching, it seems unlikely that they will do so after 180 (unless, perhaps, they wish to ask them to slap an ASBO on the noise-polluting alarm).

Another frustration was the inaccuracy of the power rota schedules issued by EDF. On both Tuesday and Wednesday I arrived home at what should have been the start of three hours’ electricity, but no power was forthcoming. On the other hand, though, despite an obviously major incident and the repairs being done in power rota schedules issued by EDF. On both Tuesday and Wednesday I arrived home at what should have been the start of three hours’ electricity, but no power was forthcoming.

On the other hand, though, despite an obviously major incident and the repairs being done in an awkward location, we still had power approximately as follows:

Power off Power on
13.15 Monday 23.00 Monday
09.00 Tuesday 21.00 Tuesday
03.00 Wednesday 09.00 Wednesday
12.00 Wednesday 15.00 Wednesday
18.00 Wednesday 00.00 Thursday

That’s a total of almost 37 hours without power, and 22 hours with power, between the first and last of those times. Given the circumstances, this doesn’t seem all that bad. We were in the fortunate position of having family members outside the danger zone to whom we could pass our freezer’s contents, but we haven’t had to throw anything out from the fridge (and aren’t ill from using our milk – yet).

What some may have called a cynical power rota established by EDF to avoid paying compensation to as many of us as possible, I prefer to think of as a victory for Ofgem, the energy regulator. By stipulating that people deprived of electricity for longer than 18 continuous hours would be eligible for compensation, Ofgem encouraged EDF to ensure this didn’t happen to as many affected households as possible, giving people just enough power to keep their fridges ticking over. [Incidentally, I do know that some areas were not so lucky – parts of Dartford and most of Slade Green were without power the entire time, for reasons I don’t think were ever really explained.]

That’s not to ignore the achievements of EDF in the past few days – whether cajoled into them by Ofgem or not, they’ve managed to do what, er, they themselves described as the work of three weeks in three days, with 240 people working in shifts around the clock on repairs and temporary supplies. As in my own (somewhat less high-profile) financial systems office, where my manager came into her element in the crisis, helping ensure as near as possible to a normal service was provided, it looks like workers at EDF really pulled together to dig the area out of its black(ed out) hole.

Crayford station during the power cut
Crayford station, running off a generator, was an island of light amid the darkness at 10.30pm on the Wednesday of the power cut.

All that said, there are serious questions to be asked about how this happened in the first place.

Some News Shopper commenters may be quick to blame the widely reported ‘vandalism’ (which has incidentally long stopped being ‘suspected’ or ‘alleged’ apparently without any new evidence coming to light) on local ‘youths’, but it’s hard to imagine this was some amateur gang of hoodies playing with matches – I think there might’ve been one or two fried, hooded cadavers amid the wires if so. It seems far more likely to have been deliberate sabotage by people who knew what they were doing, or at least people trying to steal metal for resale.

But even putting aside the fact that such people were able to get into the cable bridge – despite its doors, which EDF have been at great pains to emphasise the heaviness and well-lockedness of – the question most troubling me is why there exists such a big, exposed, single point of failure for such a big area of south-east London and Dartford in the first place.

Last night I loaded up Google Earth, stuck a pin in the cable bridge and zoomed out until I could see the whole affected area. By that point the entire bridge was well obscured by the little pin icon and it just seemed astonishing that something so apparently insignificant could cut off all power to such swaths of the suburbs in one fell swoop. Power companies perhaps need to pay more attention to their supplies’ resilience – which perhaps means Ofgem need to start specifying standards for this, too!

One final lesson from all this, though, is perhaps that of the value of microgeneration. If we all had solar panels and/or wind turbines powering our homes’ basic demands, perhaps even feeding back into the grid (earning us the new feed-in tariff while we did so), there would then be no single point of failure any more. If the grid goes down, sure, you might not be able to power three PCs, a plasma screen, an air-conditioner, a vacuum cleaner and a hair-dryer at once, but you could certainly keep your water hot and your freezer cold. I’m hoping to see some nicely targeted leaflets, offering discounted solar and wind powered installations and making reference to the ability to keep going during a power cut, dropping through local letterboxes in the coming weeks – as soon as the local print firms have finished powering up their equipment.

Powerless in Bexley

At 13.15 today, I was enjoying my lunch break in Bexleyheath, watching live footage from the fourth plinth and reading the newspaper, when suddenly the screen went blank and the room went darker – and eerily quiet. There’d been a power cut.

Ten hours later, we’re still suffering the same power cut. This was no localised, temporary blip: I wandered the length of the Broadway to take in the unusual sight of nearly all the shops closed at 5pm and, even more unusually all the lights being switched off; not even administration and failure had managed to dim those of the Woolworths sign.

I walked home to Crayford, carefully negotiating the various road junctions with powered-down traffic light systems, and all the way there was no sign of electricity. It seems the power cut extends the full width of the borough, from Welling to Crayford, plus beyond, into Dartford and perhaps even Orpington. Not only that, but it could take EDF Energy “at least 24-36 hours, maybe longer” to restore power to all those affected.

The total loss of power across almost an entire London borough for even a whole afternoon (let alone over a day, as it now looks like being) would, you might expect, warrant fairly excitable coverage from the capital’s media. BBC London dispatched a reporter live to the scene – well, up the road from the actual scene – of the Soho fire recently, and that hadn’t actually directly affected all that many people. And the fire and vandalism angle (did I mention that? EDF did) adds a nice bit of intrigue and crime for, say, the Evening Standard to get its teeth into.

But what did lucky, electricity-enjoying viewers of BBC London’s 18.30 TV bulletin see about this incident? Nothing at all. Not a mention. And a search on the Standard’s web site for ‘power cut’ still yields no results dated today. It appears it’s not just the national grid we’re cut off from: as far as the London-wide media are concerned, Bexley’s just not worth the train fare from Charing Cross.

The Bexcentricity starts here

Hello. This new blog will cover goings-on in and around Bexley borough. I hope you’ll enjoy it.

If you have any suggestions, e.g. for some more local links to add to my right-hand side bar, or other ideas for the site, please comment below and I’ll be glad to read them.