Russell admits vehicle element of former Dunoon ferry was indeed publicly funded

Today’s edition of The Herald [22 November 2012] carries a letter from Argyll and Bute’s MSP, Michael Russell, rebutting aspects of an article it had published yesterday.

This had centred on Mr Russell’s letter to the Ombudsman for Scottish Public Services, on a request to the Ombudsman to investigate Transport Scotland for alleged ‘maladministration’ and ‘negligence’ around the award of the contract to Argyll Ferries for a passenger only ferry service between Gourock and Dunoon.

The Scottish Government – and the Gourock Dunoon Ferry Action Group, have always maintained that the vehicle element of the former CalMac vehicle and passenger service was not in receipt of public subsidy and was profit making.

Regardless of hard evidence to the contrary, this is the position to which the Scottish Government has held and that the ferry campaigners maintain to this day.

In the second paragraph of Mr Russell’s letter to The Herald today, he clears the matter up once and for all. saying:

‘European law, among other factors, made it impossible to sustain the publicly funded vehicle service.’ [Ed: our emphasis]

In the face of this, revealed by Mr Russell himself, the ferry campaigners will find it difficult to sustain their argument that a vehicle service between Gourock and Dunoon town centres can be profitable.

That has clearly never been the case. It was always a loss making operation in need and in receipt of public subsidy.

This admission also makes it hard to see quite how Transport Scotland and the Transport Ministers in question can have been guilty of ‘maladministration’ and ‘negligence’ – in so far as the Gourock-Dunnon ferry campaign group is concerned, at any rate. The view of the European Commission may be a little different.

The Transport Ministers had simply established a legally subsidised passenger-only ferry service on this route, ceasing what is now admitted to have been an unlawfully subsidised vehicle service element.

The Ombudsman may find that any investigation conducted can reach a swift conclusion.

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Related Articles & Comments

  • So Western Ferries were being given unfair treatment to help them! How many years, and how many tens of thousands of pounds of taxpayers money were Cal-Mac given over how many decades? The tables are turned now, unless of course our MSP made an error in his letter to the paper.

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    DunoonLad November 22, 2012 6:46 pm Reply
    • Hard to believe there could possibly be any error in this. Mr Russell is a professional communicator and he was talking about a precise legal matter with obviously confident knowledge, a matter with clearly defined boundaries between the lawful and the unlawful, the subsidised and the unsubsidised.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

      newsroom November 22, 2012 7:07 pm Reply
      • Isn’t Mr Salmond also a “professional communicator” and he seems rather error-prone?

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        Lundavra November 23, 2012 11:22 am Reply
  • So, newsroom, if this is in fact true, how do you see this affecting the whole ferry scenerio between Dunoon and Gourock? Western Ferries for one will no doubt have comments to make.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

    DunoonLad November 22, 2012 7:20 pm Reply
    • Well, this admission – while commendably and refreshingly straightforward – obviously has substantial consequences.
      It raises the question of why Mr Russell wrote to the Ombudsman supporting an investigation he knew to be unfounded in law.
      It neuters at a stroke the attack position of a campaign he had contacted the Ombudsman to support.
      Since Mr Russell knew that the proposed investigation had no basis, that raises the question of whether he himself had given seductively misleading, if well meaning, succour to the ferry action group agitators.
      It leaves the transparent mollifier of the Alex Neil Feasibilty Study into ferry services for this route with nothing to test that the market has not already tested and rejected.
      It is now admitted that the former vehicle service was subsidised to cover its endemic losses. Therefore there is no feasible public sector provision of an unsubsidised vehicle service allied to a properly accounted subsidised passenger service.
      This study is now clearly futile and unarguably a waste of public money. It should now be put to bed.
      The question is why Mr Russell chose this particular moment to come clean on behalf of the Scottish Government about the illegal public funding of the vehicle service?
      For Western Ferries – it has been clear for a considerable time, in their challenges to the Scottish Government on this matter, that Western have been quite certain that the vehicle service had been unlawfully subsidised. It has also seemed that they could demonstrate it.
      Western is a clear sighted, well run, vigorous – and investing – private sector operation. With Mr Russell having now admitted in the national press the unlawful public funding of a state owned vehicle service with which Western was in competition on the Gourock-Dunoon route – it is hard to see Western taking this on the chin and staying silent. This would seem a prima facie case for adjudication under competition law.
      On the ferry services on this route – we see no change.
      A vehicle service on the Dunoon to Gourock town centre route cannot be profitable and cannot be publicly subsidised. This means that neither the private nor the public sector will touch it.
      This route will continue as a passenger only service – which is useful, affordable and can grow if Dunoon can meet the serious challenge to attract visitors.
      And Western will thrive on the short route four-boat shuttle. It’s business model is intelligent and successful.
      If Dunoon and Cowal can grow business, both of these ferry services have the legs to grow with them.

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      newsroom November 22, 2012 8:29 pm Reply
      • The passenger only service is “useful, affordable and can grow” ! You seem to blind to the fact that the service is collapsing because it is unusable, it has been off most of this week.

        As to the funding of the former service you are ignoring the published accounts. For your interpretation of what Mike Russell said to be true the Scottish Government would have had to have been falsifying the accounts of Cowal Ferries which very simply, neatly and clearly showed an unsubsidised vehicle service.

        I am looking forward to seeing your in depth study on the accounts where you show how all the accountants got it wrong.

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        ferryman November 22, 2012 10:40 pm Reply
  • I’ve a feeling that that’s not what he meant to say and on reflection he may have to correct it – maybe: the publicly funded ferry that happened to carry vehicles too … ?

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    Peter MacKenzie November 22, 2012 7:38 pm Reply
    • Surely not? Mr Russell would have been very careful not to make a mistake of this magnitude at this particular time – and since he chose to write the letter to The Herald, he would have had all the time he needed to craft it – and it has all the hallmarks of a carefully crafted piece.

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      newsroom November 22, 2012 8:43 pm Reply
      • You hit the nail on the head by saying it was a “carefully crafted piece”. He has supported the complaint to the Ombudsman (against the Civil Servants) and, at the same time, restated the excuses given for stopping the service (supporting the Politicians). His phrasing is ambiguous. He mentions the law, but does not state which or why, and vaguely refers to unspecified other factors.

        If the matter is so clear cut why is the Government paying a consultant to show a vehicle service does not need subsidy?

        With your usual lack of research you also seemed to have missed the point about the complaint to the Ombudsman. It has nothing at all to do with vehicle ferries does it? Isn’t it about the Civil Servants making a botch of writing the contract for the passenger only ferry?

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        ferryman November 22, 2012 10:12 pm Reply
        • Perhaps they are paying for the study to prove that any vehicle service needs to be subsidised, thereby shutting up the action group.

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          donald mcdonald November 23, 2012 8:54 am Reply
          • Or perhaps they are paying for the subsidy as a face saving way of doing a U turn on breaking their promise to supply new vehicle ferries e.g.

            “It was so difficult before, with all those complicated EU regulations, but behold this study has illuminated a clear path and we can indeed proceed – as we always said we wished to do”.

            No doubt the study will also act like a cross and clove of garlic against any potential attacks by Western.

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            ferryman November 23, 2012 9:13 am
          • Western seem to be very quiet on this feasibility study, I wonder why?

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            donald mcdonald November 23, 2012 9:34 am
  • I think we are back in the world of lies, damned lies and statistics.

    I am sure it all depends on the basis of the calculations.

    Case 1 You need a boat of a similar size to the streakers to run a reliable more or less any weather service for passengers between Dunoon and Gourock. If the said ferry carries cars then the cost of extra staffing and increased fuel consumption caused by the extra weight of the cars is more than offset by the income generated by the car tickets. Hey Presto the car service runs at a profit.

    Case 2 The ferry service between Gourock and Dunoon carries cars and passengers and both must share all the running costs, then the income from cars does not cover their share of the costs. Hey Presto the same car service runs at a loss.

    A rare occasion when you can have your cake and eat it.

    However, there was a third way!

    Case 3 The motorists of Cowal fully utilised the Dunoon to Gourock car ferry service as they did upto the 1990s and the car deck was nearly full on most trips. In this case the car ferry service could be in profit whichever accounting system is used.

    I repeat what I have posted on this site before:-

    THE REASON THERE IS NO CAR FEERRY SERVICE ON THIS ROUTE IS BECAUSE MOTORISTS DID NOT USE IT. Sadly pedestrians were the losers.

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    JimB November 22, 2012 11:23 pm Reply
    • I think that your assertion that there is no ferry service because motorists did not use it is basically correct.

      However they did not use it purely and simply because of the timetable and to a lesser but important extent the ticketing.

      For most people it would have been madness to buy books of tickets for the restricted CalMac service and so they really had no choice but to sail on Western.

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      ferryman November 22, 2012 11:39 pm Reply
  • Let’s get one thing clear. This whole issue revolves around one very important set of accounts which, apparently, show that the former car ferry service to Dunoon made a profit. It’s shown in the EU investigation report as a commercial operation with a modest contribution to costs each year.

    For anyone to claim that it made a ‘profit’ there needs to be total clarity – a distribution of costs incurred against revenue taken.

    Before it can really be claimed that CalMac, and their successors Cowal Ferries, made a profit from the vehicle carrying activities, one other set of figures needs to be made public.

    How much, in terms of ticket sales for vehicles alone, did CalMac/Cowal make each year for the period covered by the EU report? If that figure matches exactly the amount claimed as ‘profit’, then someone’s sense of accounting is very warped. It would mean that the service was provided at zero cost, and that the ferry was, in actual fact, being provided with the help of a public subsidy.

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    Jim Williamson November 22, 2012 11:26 pm Reply
    • The CalMac/Cowal Ferries used vessels capable of providing a reliable service.

      The EC split the accounts in two;
      The “Public Services Activities” , that is carrying foot passengers, were shown as generating a loss every year.

      The “Commercial Activities”, that is carrying vehicles, were shown as generating a profit every year.

      The sum of the two was a loss every year, but less of a loss than would have resulted without the vehicles.

      That is all that concerned the EC. Carrying vehicles resulted in less subsidy being required than not carrying vehicles so the vehicles were not being subsidised.

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      ferryman November 22, 2012 11:53 pm Reply
      • Just the response I expected!

        While you’re at it, how much did Cowal Ferries pay to charter their vessels? The figure can be worked out for the Jupiter/Saturn, but how much did they pay to hire the Ali Cat ?

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        Jim Williamson November 23, 2012 12:17 am Reply
        • They should have been paid to take the Ali Cat!

          It is quite interesting though that now Ali Cat and Argyll Flyer have been bought by David MacBrayne and are leased back to Argyll Ferries.

          All the other vessels and infrastucture are handled by CMAL (not David MacBrayne) aren’t they? Why not the Ali Cat and the Argyll Flyer?

          Perhaps CMAL did not want to tarnish their reputation by getting involved in the supply of vessels so patently unsuited for the route.

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          ferryman November 23, 2012 9:34 am Reply
          • CMAL has no involvement with the current vessels because the contract stated that the bidders would have to supply their own. That meant that none of the bidders had any advantage over any other. More importantly it also meant that any possibility of cross subsidy was removed at a stroke.

            You didn’t answer my question. Again, how much did it cost to hire the Ali Cat?

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            Jim Williamson November 23, 2012 9:49 am
          • @Jim Williamson

            Argyll Ferries hire or lease their vessels from David MacBrayne. I don’t see any difference between doing that and hiring or leasing them from CMAL. Except perhaps CMAL were smart enough not to get involved.

            If you remember back to the Queens Hall meeting the departed Archie Robertson was asked why he put such inadequate vessels on the route. His reply was along the lines that he put in place a solution that matched the Transport Scotland tender. That was foolish. He should have considered the reputation of his company and offered vessels that could actually run as the current disaster should have been obvious to him and was being predicted. I am not surprised he departed.

            I have no idea what Ali Cat costs to hire, if you know and have a point to make why not just say so and make it?

            You have things back to front about bidders having a level playing field by supplying their own boats.

            Had the SNP honoured their promise and built two decent vehicle ferries and offered them to all bidders on the same terms that would have been a level playing field.

            Asking people to bring their own boats favours the company already on the route who already has boats. Especially if you set ridiculous timescales.

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            ferryman November 23, 2012 12:47 pm
    • You are asking the correct questions. Ferryman’s account below is seriously astray of the facts.
      The accounting strategy that made the vehicle element look profitable was to split the cost of the service 90% to 10% weighted towards the passenger element.
      This strategy allowed 90% of the costs of the combined service to be subsidised – a practice which was roundly condemned by the EC report which insisted on a demonstrably defensible allocation of costs in future.
      You have only to consider even the most obvious matters like the cost of servicing the capital investment in the boats and the insurance costs to see how grossly and transparently manipulative this 90%/10% split was.
      Had the vehicle service even been able to wash its face on its costs, never mind make a profit, the Scottish Government would not have had to deploy so bald a manoeuvre or be left so exposed in what must be remembered was an effort to help Dunoon.
      We’ll provide the specific reference from the EC report on this manipulated cost split when we dig it out of the files – but this account is accurate.

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      newsroom November 23, 2012 4:15 pm Reply
  • There is a lack of clarity over what Mikey Boy is referring to when he says “European law, among other factors, made it impossible to sustain the publicly funded vehicle service”.

    That lack of clarity hasn’t stopped Newsie leaping to a conclusion and penning yet another piece designed to get a reaction rather than to inform.

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    Simon November 23, 2012 9:45 am Reply
    • I think it is clear what he siad, and Mr Russell has not taken the time to clarify or correct FA.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

      donald mcdonald November 23, 2012 10:05 am Reply
  • I see there is a letter in today’s Glasgow Herald proposing a tunnel and claiming it would only cost £24 million. I find that cost very implausible especially with the record of keeping cost of projects in Scotland on target.

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    Lundavra November 23, 2012 11:26 am Reply
    • M74 extension? The Commonwealth games facilities? On time, on budget. If you’ll pardon the hijack of Obama’s nursery school chant, ‘Yes we can!’.

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      db November 23, 2012 7:29 pm Reply
  • Given that our MSP has not made any effort to correct, withdraw, apologise etc, for this statement, we have to assume that it is correct. No doubt this saga will continue for many months to come.

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    DunoonLad November 23, 2012 1:32 pm Reply
  • This whole issue has only one company to blame – Western Ferries! If they had not started in competition to Cal-Mac, we would not have had drive through ferries, frequent services, open ended tickets and un-restricted vehicle usage, friendly crew, etc, to put up with for all these decades. Problem now is that the clock cannot be turned back!

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    DunoonLad November 23, 2012 1:42 pm Reply
  • DunoonLad has it exactly.

    Western Ferries are the real culprits here. I’ll add to that. Without their interference and upsets, you’d never have had the Streakers, you’d have had decades more of a winter service that used to finish at about 6pm and the Caley/Calmac bad weather fallback pier (Hunters Quay!!) abandoned by them in the early 1960s, would now be stumps on the foreshore. Commuting, for most people, would not be feasible, so no one with that in mind would be living on the Cowal side. The consequent glut of housing, post-holiday-resort era, post-Polaris, would have demolished property values throughout Cowal.

    In short, had it been left to Calmac and its direct antecedent, Dunoon would be a ghost town with no need for a six vessel service. The demand simply wouldn’t be there, and Calmac (a dependency culture in its own right, drawing nearly 60% of its income from the taxpayer) would not see it as company “business” to develop a falling market. That is fact: retrenchment and fare hikes were Caley/Calmac’s Pavlovian response to every revenue shortfall in the years leading up to WF coming on the scene.

    With regard to charter fees, etc., that someone was asking about, Cowal Ferries paid £500k for ship leases in the last full year. Presumably, this is for Saturn, with Jupiter on standby, and Ali Cat. For AF, the first accounts show 15 month leases of Ali Cat and Flyer total £175k. Accounts and carrying figures for CF are on MacBrayne website. I estimate from the Cowal Ferries carryings for the last full year that the revenue from vehicles was about £1M, from passengers about £0.8M. Total costs were £5M, overt subsidy was £3.2M.

    In other words, the subsidy/takings ratio for the CF car and passenger Dunoon service was similar to, albeit worse than, that of Calmac’s overall business (£72M subsidy, £58M from fares, catering, etc.). Meanwhile, Western Ferries, growing a market, operating profitably, unsubsidised, and investing in new UK built ferries, continue to show what can be done. Shame on them.

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    Peter MacKenzie November 23, 2012 3:38 pm Reply
    • Thank you, Mr MacKenzie, for providing the answer that ‘ferryman’ failed to.

      Leasing charges by Cowal were (rounded of for arguments sake) £0.5m. Delve furhter into the Cowal accounts for 2012-11 and you see that they paid CMAL £34,000 in vessel leasing costs. That’s less than a pound a day to hire a streaker. Would it be fair to say that the balance of was to hire the Ali Cat? That’s a heck of a lot of money that was given to its owners every year – £475,000!

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      Jim Williamson November 23, 2012 3:55 pm Reply
      • Cowal chartered the Saturn from CalMac as it is one of the ships in the main contract, and I believe still is. The £34,000 to CMAL would have been for the pile of razor blades that was the Jupiter.

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        Plain Sailing November 23, 2012 4:58 pm Reply
        • Really? Where do you get that gem about the Saturn from? If that had been the case then Calmac’s accounts would show that. During the year under discussion, 2010-11, the last full finnacial year of the Dunoon car ferry service, the Jupiter only ran for half of it (she finished mid-October 2010). You would think that the two boats would have the same sort of leasing cost anyway, so that still leaves an absolute fortune being paid to hire the Ali Cat for only three runs a day Monday to Friday.

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          Jim Williamson November 23, 2012 6:03 pm Reply
  • Another item in the Cowal Ferries / Argyll Ferries accounts which I find puzzling: am I reading correctly that CF employed 21 full-time equivalent shore staff, over and above the £1.5M paid for (presumably sea-going) agency staff?

    It’s less clear how many AF employ directly or through the agency, and whether shore based or not.

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    Peter MacKenzie November 23, 2012 5:42 pm Reply
  • Pre- Western Ferries and The Streakers, it was common for vehicles to travel by road to Glasgow. It did not cost much more (if anything) and the journey time was Quicker. You had to pre-book your vehicle, book in (I think about half an hour prior to sailing time) wait on Dunoon Pier whilst the vehicles were unloaded from the incoming ferry by a combination of a ramp that held approx. 4 cars, that took the vehicles to various levels, and the crew then physically had to push your car round on a turntable to position you to allow you to drive off into the parking deck. The main parking deck was a U Shape, with a turntable at the top of the U, which turned you again to go down the other side. Whilst vehicles were coming off, another load went on, and went through the same procedure until all the vehicles were unloaded and loaded. All this allowed ample time to settle in the on board tea room, where waitresses served you at a table, with tea and cakes served in cups and saucers, with teapots. There was always the separate bar room which was always sited in the lowest part of the ship. On arrival at Gourock, you had to go through the same procedure to get off the ferry, unless you were fortunate enough to have been last on, and you were left on the outdoor ramp, and got off first. When Western and The Streakers arrived the change was dramatic, as you can imagine. Although the fares are higher to-day, and the fuel costs are much higher, and the road is better, people are used to travelling by the ferry, and will no doubt continue to do so. As previously stated, the last winter ferry from Gourock was 6.10 pm. and just before 7 pm from Dunoon. On a Sunday you could get a later sailing around 8 pm, to Wemyss Bay, but you had a 45 minute wait for a Glasgow train. So yes, when Western Ferries started their service, it could only be successful. It was common knowledge when they started, that they only needed 6 cars per crossing to break even. Changed days indeed.

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    DunoonLad November 23, 2012 8:38 pm Reply
    • To add to the potential for trouble, and general awkwardness, those ramps on the old boats were hoists as well. Whereas the incumbent experts dreamed up the ‘streakers’ – purpose built for the service, that looked like deep-sea boats but weren’t, and only berthed alongside or stern-first, with the consequent need for farting about by both boat and contents (particularly large trucks), the new kids on the Clyde ‘block’ – WF – acquired a couple of second hand no-nonsense double-ended boats from (I think) the Kalmar – Oland service, made redundant by a new bridge. These boats required a lot less farting about, and the rest is history, with only the foot passengers not properly catered for, even now.

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      Robert Wakeham November 23, 2012 10:06 pm Reply
  • Anyone seen ferry man. It seems as if the conversation has gone against him. Great posts guys.

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    Peter Wade November 23, 2012 11:46 pm Reply
    • I am surprised we have so many accountants in Dunoon. If you think the accounts were wrong why did you not have them corrected at the time?

      You think the vehicle service on Cowal Ferries was subsidised, I believe the accounts and don’t. At the end of the day our opinions don’t matter because a consultant has been appointed to determine if a vehicle service can or cannot be run on the town centre route without a subsidy.

      So why the fuss – wait for the results.

      If I set aside the old accounts and I look at Western running a reliable, profitable service with vehicle ferries with a crew 4 and I look at AFL running an unreliable costly service with passenger ferries with a crew of 4 I know what result I will put my money on.

      I have nothing against Western. I do though have a lot against monopolies and Western just became a monopoly.
      If you try to look at this objectively is Scotland’s busiest ferry crossing really going to stay an uncontrolled private monopoly for long? Either there has to be competition or there has to be oversight of the fares.

      Just as I have nothing against Western I am no strong supporter of CalMac. I don’t care who runs the town centre vehicle route as long as there is competition.

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      ferryman November 24, 2012 1:13 am Reply
  • The early experience of the old hoist loaders sort of proves one of the points that I keep harping on at: there is no real incentive for the management of the nationalised, monopolistic ferry operator to do any more than turn the handle and convince their paymaster that the subsidy grant for next year should be the same as today’s, index linked of course.

    Unwittingly, the Caley established a new market with the inauguration of their new hoist loading ferries in the early 1950s and, as it turns out, the demand was literally insatiable using the technology they had adopted. What did they do they do to develop this market further? For two decades, apart from tinkering with slightly bigger ferries (but with total traffic capacity limited to almost the same rate by the speed of the identical hoist loading system), absolutely nothing. Why didn’t they spot the (modest) inventive step which Western Ferries identified and exploited? See paragraph above.

    This may all be dim and distant history but I doubt whether the boardroom ethos of the same public sector monopolistic operator has changed for the better in the intervening 60 years.

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    Peter MacKenzie November 24, 2012 12:57 am Reply
    • So you don’t like public sector monopolies but you do like private sector monopolies?

      I just don’t like monopolies.

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      ferryman November 24, 2012 1:16 am Reply
    • They didn’t act quickly because they couldn’t; in common with BR, STG was starved of investment capital(and denied the opportunity to raise money commercially) and had to direct what money they had very carefully to maintain existing services, never mind spend large amounts on major refits of existing vessels or building new ones. No doubt there was a good deal of ‘not invented here’, but that is very far from the only reason.

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      db November 24, 2012 1:53 am Reply
  • The West of Scotland has a handful of ferry operators. The biggest has a turnover of £128M and is a subsidiary of a group having, until 2012, Scottish shipping business (mainly subsidy income) of £202M. The next biggest, Western Ferries, has a turnover of £6M.

    By the way, the same David and Goliath situation persists between the unsubsidised, profitable Pentland Ferries and the formerly MacBrayne’s, now Serco, £9M subsidised Northlink Pentland Firth services.

    The terms, monopoly and monopolistic, have explicit meanings. From my perspective, West Coast shipping is in the monopolistc hands of publicly subsidised, public sector Calmac. Northern Isles shipping is in the monopolistic hands of publicly subsidised, private sector Serco. Don’t expect radical innovation or enterprising initiatives from either. That’s the nature of monopolies, especially the type which don’t have to carry a single passenger in order to pick up the first 60% of their revenue.

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    Peter MacKenzie November 24, 2012 2:41 am Reply
  • STG starved of investment? I’ll bet Western Ferries’ entire initial outlay amounted to less than the predictably abortive (but very sexy and high profile) Caley hovercraft “experiments” around the same time.

    The real problem for the STG was that, whereas the Sound of Sanda had a crew of 3 or 4 with Western Ferries, in its previous life, with BR, it had a crew of about 20. That, presumably, would have been the crewing arrangement had Calmac opened a service with that type of vessel, thus making the investment impossible to justify.

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    Peter MacKenzie November 24, 2012 3:01 am Reply
    • The hovercraft was just that, an experiment, just like Western experimented with low crewing levels and simplified working practices. Elsewhere BR created Seaspeed from scratch to operate cross-channel and cross-Solent hover services, presumably someone at the DoT was ordered to make it so by a politician.

      STG’s manning levels were high for several reasons; the policy of having crew live aboard, legacy vessels with steam propulsion and closed-shop union agreements. It certainly drove up costs and needed change, but addressing that in a period of high industrial unrest would have been politically unpopular and likely to precipitate industrial action nationally, not just on the ferries.

      STG were far from blameless, but you can only piss with the equipment provided and it’s made a lot harder when one of the hands holding it belongs to a politician.

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      db November 24, 2012 12:52 pm Reply
      • – and when the ferry termini aren’t both under the direct control of the operator. But are you sure that WF ‘experimented with low crew levels and simplified working practices’? These had surely been proven elsewhere, and WF weren’t so much experimenting with them as simply establishing them. Was there any doubt that they would be effective?

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        Robert Wakeham November 24, 2012 2:05 pm Reply
        • Someone cleverer than me said certainty exists only in the minds of fools; the founders of Western had extensive personal experience of shipping in general and had personally witnessed similar operations in Norway. They knew it was a good bet that barring state machinations they would make money, but no more than that.

          The perceived risk level was low so they did it; whether the perceived risk was low because the at-risk capital was pocket change, or because they were confident in their judgement you’ll have to ask them. There might have been any number of brickbats thrown at them; union interference over manning or certification, class society or the BoT demanding expensive modifications, or even politicians calling for nationalisation.

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          db November 24, 2012 2:15 pm Reply
  • I read that our MSP is an author of no less than 7 books. So yes, he should know what he is putting his name to in print, and knew exactly what he was saying in his letter to The Herald. He has now had more than ample time to make any apologies etc, which he has not done, so it seems to be the case that Cal-Mac were indeed illegally subsidising the vehicles on the Dunoon to Gourock route. Western Ferries were correct all these years ago when they challenged Cal-Mac about this. This declaration only adds more to the reasons that a return to a vehicle town service ferry will now never happen.

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    DunoonLad November 24, 2012 5:27 am Reply
  • Of course if you move the goal posts after the game the result will be different.

    It doesen’t alter the fact that you need a reasonable size of ferry to provide a reliable passenger service between Gourock and Dunoon. This fact has been borne out by the lamentable service provided by the bathtubs. If you need this size of boat for the passengers then why not use spare space for a cheap to build flat deck for cars and bring in some extra income.

    It seems to me that the original model, upon which the “Profit” accounts were based was a legitimate exercise.

    There was little wrong with the design of the Streakers, the stern/side ramp sytem worked well in my experience and did not require massive investment in the pier infrastructure.

    The DGFAG apparently did a survey of passengers using WF and came to the conclusion that the major reason people changed their alleigance was frequency of sailings.

    I am sure that a myriad of lesser moans like shore ticketing, surly crews obsessed with a peculiar loading procedure including the inability to put the first two cars in the queue infront of the off ramp were part of the reason too. Tickets based on car reg numbers and a 6 month shelf life were also a deterrent to customers.

    Perhaps the real problem was that Calmac needed a better MD?

    This is all water under the bridge now but moving the goalposts after the game to bring about the result you want seems to me to be underhand Newsie.

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    JimB November 24, 2012 9:29 am Reply
  • The single biggest factor that limited car use on Cal Mac was the retriction to one sailing per hour put in place by Michael Forsyth.

    Like Newsie he too moved the goalposts to bring about the result he wanted.

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    Simon November 24, 2012 11:03 am Reply
  • JimB, I tend to agree with more or less with all your points. The streakers were brilliant pieces of design, specifically aimed at being able to berth at Dunoon in brisk southerlies. In terms of seakeeping and manoeuvarabilty, they were superior to the new Rothesay boats – watch those struggle (or not) to berth in any kind of breeze at all – and the new boats are so ill-specified that they are incapable of running to the ages old timetable for which they were constructed.

    And therein lies the rub: how, thirty-odd years after commissioning the streakers, with all the experience accumulated since, could Calmac put out an invitation to tender which resulted in the purchase of ships of inferior performance? Manoeuverabilty is a critical issue for short ferry crossings. Had Calmac management forgotten when drawing up the spec? Had the builder failed to meet the spec? Twice?

    One way or the other, the taxpayer has been landed with ownership of vessels with a crucial element of performance significantly inferior to that of the forty year old design they replaced. And whatever the reason, management is at the root of this, just as with the shore ticketing nonsense, six month ticket shelf life, etc., etc., etc.

    PS no responses to my question yesterday – did Cowal Ferries really employ (64% funded by subsidy) 21 full time shorebased staff as reported in their accounts in addition to crews? What for? What is Western Ferries’ equivalent?

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    Peter MacKenzie November 24, 2012 2:28 pm Reply
    • Curiously, I have read that the ‘Streakers’ were actually designed to be refitted for the purpose of being drive through; the hull girder was to be strong enough for the bow to be cut off and turned into a visor-style bow door and the superstructure raised to allow trucks to fit underneath. Having had a look round the hulk of Juno when she was being cut up at Rosneath, I believe this is true.

      CalMac were presumably denied the money to finish the job off and build a suitable breakwater and linkspan at Dunoon.

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      db November 24, 2012 2:32 pm Reply
  • db, you could well be correct. The hull girder was shallow and fairly simple, virtually a barge up to car deck level with a faired in pointy front (but only above the water!) and accommodation tacked on top. I think the modification would have been relatively straightforward by comprison with the surgery carried out on other Calmac ships at that time (e.g., Clansman cut into five and stuck together again forty feet longer with new, drive-through bow and stern units, and with the entire superstructure raised to enable HGV headroom bow to stern; all the same, it was genuinely a pity it was lacking in power even before the rebuild and consequently never entirely successful thereafter).

    The problem for Dunoon was that WF were already established, the streakers were a reaction to WF competition, and for Calmac to throw more investment at building an entirely new shore setup at Dunoon could well have led to a complaint to the Monopolies Commission. This is especially so when taken together with the ongoing shenanigans with WF on the Islay route.

    Also, although drive through may have been functionally desirable, it’s unlikely that the extra investment could have been justified, generating little or no operational savings or additional traffic revenue beyond what the unmodified streakers could. By the mid70s, Calmac had plenty of other routes urgently needing investment, expenditure which could show better returns immediately.

    Complacency on the part of Calmac left an opportunity for WF to move in when they did. By the time the streakers were built, the boat, literally, had sailed.

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    Peter MacKenzie November 24, 2012 3:35 pm Reply
    • The boat had only sailed because the streakers were forced to operate a restricted timetable.

      Speaking personally had CalMac operated the same timetable I would have travelled most with them because I (like I think most people) head towards Glasgow.

      CalMac of course compounded the problem by having stupid ticketing arrangements that further discouraged people to travel with them.

      Who says CalMac would opersate any new town centre route though? The European Commission wished the the route tendered. Had the SNP lived up to their promise of providing vehicle ferries I am sure several companies might have participated.

      There are wider implications for this because several Scottish routes need new ferries and the Scottish Government still has not said how they will be provided.

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      ferryman November 24, 2012 5:39 pm Reply
      • Wasn’t it a good rumour that the Scottish Government were actively proposing to re-instate some type of publically-run vehicle service between the two linkspans and searching for an appropriate vessel before the six year contract was up after local Dunoon MSP , Mike Russell , came under severe pressure from ferry users AND to keep his seat in parliament? I heard this from a Calmac employee.

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        Dave Forbes November 25, 2012 3:40 pm Reply
  • @ferryman – the first tender did in fact have several companies interested, including if I recall correctly, Western Ferries. They all pulled out one by one, including Cal-Mac, because I think it appeared to them that the tender had too many restrictions in it. If that tender process had been successfull, we would no doubt have had a town centre vehicle service. Maybe Newsroom can find more detail from their archives, that would confirm my post with more detail. If that tender had been organised better, we wouldn’t be having these discussions now.

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    DunoonLad November 25, 2012 12:45 am Reply
    • An FOI request to Transport Scotland and CalMac should provide the necessary information.

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      db November 25, 2012 9:49 pm Reply
  • If the Calmac vehicle service between Gourock and Dunoon (centre-to-centre) was deemed illegally subsidised by preceding governments , why did it last for some 54 years with the ABC’s and the Steakers? Isn’t this SNP Govermnent just hiding behind some EU dictat. If they were all that interested in ‘speaking for the people of Scotland’ , as their leader always seems to quote , surely they could have stayed strong and argued the point instead of capitulating like a fearty cat. The private concern Western get all the financial benefits of carrying vehicles whilst the publically run Argyll Ferries Ltd can now only afford to run two passenger-only boats…I still smell-a-rat!

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    Dave Forbes November 25, 2012 12:57 am Reply
  • I’ve had another look at the CF and CMAL accounts. PlainSailing may have picked up on something: was the charter fee for a streaker only £34k for the last full year of Cowal Ferries? If so, then the charter of the Ali Cat must have been £475k.

    A further point on Calmac’s costs. Call it whatever you like, the shorfall in running Cowal Ferries was £3.2 million. How many streaker crossings a day each way? About 24? Say 360 days per year? And to keep this simple, let’s say that each vehicle plus driver is worth a fare of about £10. Then to break even, every single streaker crossing would have had to carry and ADDITIONAL 37 cars over and above those carried in 2010/11. Every sailing.

    Apart from anything else, given that their capacity was only about 35, this was plainly not feasible. And be clear, that break-even requirement to carry an extra 37 cars would be on top of the loadings they actually carried.

    So there you have it. Even running a fully loaded, fully depreciated streaker (possibly at a vanishingly small leasing charge) 12 hours per day, 360 days per year, Calmac’s operating costs would have made the service a loser to the tune of about £1 million. That has to be preposterous.

    “Agency” crew costs of £1.5 million would be the first items I’d like to see explained.

    And yet, Western Ferries can make substantial profits.

    One operator can makes profits which some describe as excessive; the other couldn’t come near to breaking even, even if their boat was filled to capacity every crossing, every day of the year. Makes me wonder about Calmac’s costs elsewhere.

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    Peter MacKenzie November 25, 2012 11:12 am Reply
  • “And yet, Western Ferries can make substantial profits.”

    So how can Western make a profit?
    They run with smaller crews ( about the same as the passenger only service ) and they use vessels that are more fuel efficient than the elderly streakers. They also attracted most of the traffic by having longer operating hours, sailing more frequently and not having stupid ticketing arrangements.

    So turn that on its head. Run a town centre vehicle service with the same or longer operating hours than Western, with the same or a more frequent service and with sensible ticketing using vessels that are fuel efficient and have small crew levels.

    Would it make a profit?
    Why wouldn’t it?

    For most people either in vehicles or on foot the town centre route would be better because most head to and from Glasgow.

    I would like to see Cowal served by two competing services, both profitable, and I see no reason why that should not happen. A monopoly is unacceptable.

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    ferryman November 25, 2012 5:17 pm Reply
  • Given that Western’s 2 new ships are due to arrive next August, they will then be able to move at least 90 cars from each side at least every 20 minutes, plus another 45 with each of the other 2 ferries. It was reported that the new ships had the speed to enable a shuttle service every 10 minutes? From both sides. So where are all these additional vehicles coming from that will support 2 services, that so many keep telling us. Yes, there are commercial vehicles, and coaches to add, but that is a lot of vehicles being able to be moved with only 4 ships. Yes, it is still a private monopoly, but where else can you catch a ferry every 15 minutes or so, never mind catch a bus or train. It’s not perfect, but a lot more of a service that most of the country would love to be able to get.

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    DunoonLad November 25, 2012 6:02 pm Reply
    • Part of the country gets multi-billion pound bridges free to use, with annual maintenance cost that probably dwarf the one off cost of supplying the vehicle ferries that were promised for Dunoon.

      Private monopolies of part of the transport system are just not acceptable.

      Why not make the A83 a toll road run by a private company charging what they like?

      Why not make let a private company run the Erskine bridge as a toll bridge and let them charge what they like?

      Western are a good company but they are not a charity.
      It is users of Western ferries who pay for their profits and for the ferries they are getting, i.e. largely local people.

      When the Government invests in infrastructure the costs are spread over the whole population. WE are paying for the Forth Road Bridge, why should we not benefit from some investment in the promised ferries.

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      ferryman November 25, 2012 6:42 pm Reply
  • @ferryman-I would like to see Cowal served by two competing services, both profitable, and I see no reason why that should not happen. A monopoly is unacceptable.-
    That is the ultimate end most would like to see happening here. The bottom line is that a private company is providing ships at no cost to the government or anyone else, thus saving them having to fork out tens of millions of pounds. And we had two competing services, and we didn’t use one of them enough (for known legitimate reasons) and on the whole there wasn’t really enough traffic for two services (unless they were restricted to two ships) The secret meetings with Western and the Government/Council (one meeting only in the last few months) will probably explain a lot, but nobody is telling what was discussed/agreed at them. I wonder why that is?

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    DunoonLad November 26, 2012 6:41 am Reply
    • I don’t think Western saved the Government money. On the contrary the Government has been paying more subsidy to CalMac than it needed to for many years to permit Western to grow. Likewise the current passenger only service requires more subsidy than if vehicles were carried.

      Had the old streaker service been allowed to run an unrestricted timetable it would have carried much more traffic and required much less subsidy. In fact did CalMac not get its wrists slapped once for putting on extra sailings and showing they made more money?

      Whilst the streakers were running there was a choice of service and at least the illusion of competition. Now it is plain black and white monopoly. I really don’t see how that situation can persist for any length of time.

      In the ferry review the Government invisaged that ferry users would be protected from private companies because the companies would operate under contracts. No such contract exists with Western and, in any case, we have seen how inept Transport Scotland are at drawing up contracts e.g. Argyll Ferries cancelling hundreds of sailings but being able to claim 100% contractual reliability.

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      ferryman November 26, 2012 9:19 am Reply
      • Ferryman the subsidy cost of the new service is lower than the previous combined subsidy.

        As to the past another reason why western were successful was that their fares were cheaper.

        However lets focus on the future not the past. What do you see as the outcome of this feasibility study?

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        Peter Wade November 26, 2012 9:32 am Reply
        • When were Western’s fares cheaper? As far as I recall they were always higher by a few pence per trip compared to Calmac.

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          JimB November 26, 2012 5:38 pm Reply
  • “What do you see as the outcome of this feasibility study?”

    I honestly expect that it will show that a vehicle and passenger service can be run within the EC requirement that the vehicle portion is not subsidised.

    If it does then I would hope a vehicle service will be reinstated but using efficient vessels and having an unrestricted timetable.

    If it does not then providing the study has been thorough, properly conducted and in particular not nobbled by Transport Scotland then I would accept result – no point in flogging a dead horse.

    In that situation there would be two problems to be resolved though;

    1. The passenger only service would still need reliable vessels, that is going to cost more than at present.

    2. The issue of a long term private monopoly on vehicles would need to be dealt with e.g. somehow a fair price for private and commercial vehicles would need to be set.

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    ferryman November 26, 2012 10:44 am Reply
  • ferryman repeatedly speaks of gains to be made by introducing “efficient vessels” as if there have been major breakthroughs in marine diesels technology, propulsion systems and/or hull forms since the streakers were built. There have not. There is no magic wand.

    Installed power, streakers 2000hp
    Installed power, Sound of Scarba 1200hp
    Installed Power, Ali Cat 1100hp
    Installed power, Argyll Flyer 2100 hp

    The fuel consumption of every one of these will be 1 gallon per hour for every 20 hp used. All would be running at less than full power, streakers running Gourock Dunoon much slower than 15 knot design/trials speed, about 60% of full power, Scarba I’d say 80% , Ali Cat 80%, Flyer 60% (it’s been optimised to run up on the plane at 22 knots, meaning its hullform is probably very inefficient at the slow timetabled speeds). On that basis, the fuel bill for the Saturn was probably £300k in the last year of operation. With two boats running, the combined fuel bill for Argyll Ferries is probably substantially higher; it’s not itemised in the accounts.

    So … even if the Saturn ran on fresh air, Calmac/Cowal Ferries incurred other much more dominant costs. Principally, I can identify three different elements ascribing well over £2 million in staffing costs of which £1.5M went to an agency, presumably Calmac (Guernesey) Ltd. These are the costs which have overwhelmed the economic viability of the streaker service. I keep coming back to the same point: why are Calmac’s costs so cripplingly high?

    In fact, the streaker design is extemely efficient for the job it was designed to do and anything offering major improvement in seaworthiness over the AF boats will cost the same in fuel and, if certified to carry large numbers of passengers, will need something approaching the same crew complement.

    PS It takes energy (i.e., diesel oli) to make waves. Regarding efficiency of design, compare the wake of the Argyll Flyer, whose hullform depends on sheer brute force to attain even moderated speed, with the, for their size, negligible wake the streakers produced.

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    Peter MacKenzie November 26, 2012 1:27 pm Reply
    • By efficient I did not mean there had been great advances in technology, just that the streakers were at their end of life, and so would have mechanical issues and higher maintenance costs, and also had high crew levels around 10 as you have also identified.

      The tonnage of a vessel like the Coruisk is much higher yet I think she only has a crew of 4-5. She is certified for 250 passengers which is probably adequate except at Cowal Games.

      I absolutely agree about the Argyll Flyer, she is not ideal for the route. Surely though that just reinforces the point that its difficult to get suitable vessels off-the-peg particularly with short timescales.

      If you are suggesting that CalMac is not the best company to run the route I don’t have a preference as long as there is competition.

      Turning back to technology. I am amazed at the increases in mpg being claimed for diesel engines in cars in the last few years. This probably is confined to the mass produced car market but maybe there has been some lesser improvement in marine engines as well.

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      ferryman November 26, 2012 7:52 pm Reply
      • Not ‘confined to the mass produced car market’ – the fuel economy of diesel truck engines seems to have steadily improved over the years, and the latest Westcoast buses on the routes between Glasgow and Campbeltown / Oban are larger but use less fuel than their predecessors. So haven’t marine diesels also become steadily more fuel-efficient, thus more economical to run?

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        Robert Wakeham November 26, 2012 8:54 pm Reply
        • They have, but you have to fit shiny new diesels(mostly but not always in shiny new vessels) to get the benefit of this gain. The nature of the marine diesel duty cycle installed in a ferry means there is less time spent on part load, which is where modern diesels make the biggest efficiency gain over the old, although it would seem from other posters that this is less true in the case of the newer WF vessels(i.e. they spend a significant period of the crossing at part throttle). Road vehicles such as coaches, spend a lot of time at steady speed with part throttle, which is where the best economy savings are.

          Traditionally you would not order a vessel with significantly more power than is required to drive it at service speed, because it would force the use of the engines at speeds below optimum, burning fuel less efficiently and possibly causing greater maintenance overhead. Electronic control of fuel injection means these issues are much less significant and engines can be operated over much wider ranges of speed and power output without a negative impact on maintenance or economy.

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          db November 26, 2012 10:29 pm Reply
    • The amount of fuel used by Argyll Ferries is detailed in the published Contract on the Transport Scotland website.

      My my calculations it works out at around a combined 150 litres per hour for both ships, or 2000 litres a day.

      Saturn would have burned something like 3000 litres a day,on her 14 hour day – so AF is twice the frequency, 2/3 the fuel cost. Simples.

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      Plain Sailing November 28, 2012 12:40 pm Reply
      • Yes but if you pay for something surely you expect it to work?

        The AFL service does not allow people to get reliably to and from work, hospital, college. So yes it uses less fuel but it is no damn use.

        Scale the AFL bathtubs up to something that can actually do the job, and cut the Saturn crew from 10 to 4. Then even the elderly Saturn would give the passenger only AFL a run for its money.

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        ferryman November 28, 2012 12:52 pm Reply
  • I see you have the Sound of Scarba listed as 80% of power. I doubt if it is as high as this as all WF Boats leave the ramps and get up to full power until they reach their economical cruising speed. The engines are then throttled back and the remainder of the trip made on little more than tickover.

    (Except for the last trip of the day when the crossing is made in about 10 minutes rather than the regular 20.) The availability of this extra speed also helps to clear the car parks on very busy days.

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    JimB November 26, 2012 5:45 pm Reply
  • The Jupiter’s main engines, Voith propulsion units and diesel generators are advertised on the internet for reuse. And from what I could see of sister Juno’s steelwork in DRB Marine’s step-by-step photos of her demolition, the hull looked to be in exceptionally good condition.

    CMAL’s policy, direct quote, “One of CMAL’s goals for the future is to ensure that all of our ferries are less than 30 years old.” WF’s Sound of Scalpay is 50, Sound of Sanda is 48, and, albeit re-engined, they still perform their function perfectly adequately. Anyone wonder why, with glib, blanket objectives like these, lacking real justification, Calmac/CMAL fall over in the face of competition or when held up to real scrutiny?

    Incidentally, over the last few days, I discovered to my suprise that all harbour facilities established out of the public purse must be open to all-comers to use. Helpfully, CMAL provide a list of berthing charges and pier dues. Also, from the accounts of Cowal Ferries, it appears, though I may be wrong on this one (it seems like too good a bargain) the CMAL bare boat charter fee for Saturn was £34k for a year. Could they refuse a private operator the same deal? So… anyone fancy joining my consortium to run a cut-price, no-frills summer only service from Ardrossan to Brodick next year? Charter, crewing, fuel and berthing: I estimate £300k for 90 days. Revenue at 50% vehicle loadings, three returns a day, and 20% discount on Calmac fares, about £500k. Minimal outlay required, working capital only. Vessel already proven on route, fast buck to be made. Or how about Oban-Mull – that’s always busy, or….

    Or am I encouraging CMAL and the politicians to hammer the final nails into Saturn’s coffin?

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    Peter MacKenzie November 27, 2012 11:14 am Reply
    • Oban – Mull, PM? Would that be the Mull served by a council-owned terminal at Craignure, the one where the passenger gangway was left to go to hell?
      Anyone thinking to emulate WF should surely ponder on how much their direct control over both their termini has contributed to their success. And reliability.

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      Robert Wakeham November 27, 2012 11:55 am Reply
    • The Saturn would have been the obvious choice to replace the Ali Cat over the winter. As a result you can sure several large nails will already have been hammered into her coffin to prevent any possibility of that embarrasing outcome.

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      ferryman November 27, 2012 12:28 pm Reply
      • A passenger service from Oban to Tobermory might be an earner; your biggest problem is Saturn needs her certificate renewing, so at a minimum a dry docking for hull and LSA survey. That’s a big chunk of cash. What are we going to call the company? How about Planetary Ferries? 😉 What’s the minimum investment?

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        db November 27, 2012 5:12 pm Reply
  • Cowal courier are running a story about the mis-information For Argyll have published regarding this story. Any comment Newsroom?

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    DunoonLad November 27, 2012 1:03 pm Reply
    • Some people who post here have an affection for Western and a dislike of CalMac. For the most part they express their opinions in a sensible way and have knowledge about the subject.

      Newsie though seems to have an irrational love of the passenger only service (which very few who have to use it would consider anything but a disaster) and to be almost hysterical in opposition to any effort to have a vehicle service restored on the town centre route. This hysteria extends to being offensive about people and misrepresenting the situation.

      Why is forArgyll used as a vehicle for such a vehement, prolonged, and agressive campaign against the people of Dunoon who seeking what they have always clearly said they wanted (and were promised) – a good town centre vehicle service?

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      ferryman November 27, 2012 4:03 pm Reply
  • Dont hold your breath Dunoon Lad, editor will never admit giving wrong info on this, as that would only annoy the paymasters Western Ferries

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    john November 27, 2012 1:56 pm Reply
    • I don’t think there is anything to admit. All that was done was a copy and paste of Mike’s letter.

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      donald mcdonald November 27, 2012 4:01 pm Reply
  • According to the Cowal Courier Cal Mac deny the previous service was subsidised. Mikey(jaiket-on-shaky-nail) Russell declined to comment further.

    http://www.cowalcourier.com/for-argyll-sinks-to-new-lows-of-misinformation/

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    Simon November 27, 2012 3:42 pm Reply
  • I think a full accounting of the various costs and subsidy levels for the route since the Streakers started is needed to get a full picture here; anyone fancy lobbing that FOI grenade into CalMac’s mailbox?

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    db November 27, 2012 5:15 pm Reply
  • Were Cal-Mac not found out for subsidising commercial vehicles from the passenger subsidy several years ago? Hopefully the investigation into the feasibility of a vehicle service, will confirm that it is a goer. Then someone will convince a shipping company to run the service.

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    DunoonLad November 27, 2012 5:52 pm Reply
    • The accounts showed the vehicle service was profitable.
      Any way you look at the more vehicles they carried on the vessels the more money they would make, how could they have been subsidising commercial traffic?

      Do you have any references for this?

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      ferryman November 27, 2012 10:32 pm Reply
      • I think Dunoon Lad may be referring to the time Calmac offerred a freight customer a discount to use their ferry in an attempt to increase vehicular traffic. The company was never named as far as I remember but the man on the street was left with the impression that it might have been Safeway as they stopped using the ferries at that time.

        WF ( always presented by Newsie as the knights in shining armour ) objected on the basis of unfair competition and the then SG (Labour?) caved in and instructed Calmac to withdraw their offer. To the said man in the street this was a commercial decision to increase vehicular traffic and lessen the subsudy on the route and seemed fair enough.

        Why does every political party in the UK stand by the mantra that it is not the function of government to run profitable companies? The French and Irish governments run profiitable energy companies and everybody seems quite happy about them.

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        JimB November 28, 2012 8:09 am Reply
        • It wasn’t Safeway. It was a local haulier and Western would not give a discount even though he would use the ferry every day. He now goes round by road.
          I think we can safely assume that the McGill’s bus service to Glasgow is not paying the full rate. There is no way that route could be economical if they were.

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          Andy November 28, 2012 9:40 am Reply
          • These are the problems of having an uncontrolled private monopoly.

            If there is no competition special rates don’t need to be offered. We the local people though, whether we use the ferries or not, end up paying a higher price for goods and services. If it is cheaper to drive the long way round then the commercial rates must be very high.

            Commercial users have to go cap in hand to get whatever rates they are given. If they fall out with the monopoly company what is to stop their fees being bumped up. That is probably why there is so little information about what the rates actually are.

            Finally the monoply company can grant other organisations favourable rates when it suits it’s own aims whatever those may be.

            None of this is good and it should not be allowed on part of the transport network.

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            ferryman November 28, 2012 1:19 pm
  • The sort of detailed information which might reveal the full story behind the accounts is routinely censored in the public version of the MacBrayne board minutes. I would anticipate that “prejudicial to effective conduct of public affairs”, and/or “commercial interests and the economy” would be the reasons given for refusing a FOI request. I note that no D McB minutes have been published online for 2012.

    Here’s another snippet. The nine directors of MacBrayne group, turnover £200 million, including three executive directors, received payments totalling £500k, that’s about 0.25% of revenue. Not something I would quibble about. By contrast, one director of David MacBrayne HR (UK) Ltd, turnover only £1.6 million, and only 24 employees, received benefits totalling £138k, that is, nearly 10% of the company’s revenue. That’s a bit of an eye opener. The other 23 employees received, on average, wages or salaries of £34k. I’d never have thought of Calmac in any of its forms to be a particularly high payer but £34k as an average for, I presume, shore based office workers?

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    Peter MacKenzie November 27, 2012 7:28 pm Reply
    • So the directors in CalMac as a whole got £638k. I presume your argument is something along the lines of we (all the tax-payers in Scotland) are paying for this?

      Don’t Western’s five or so shareholders take about £500k in dividends each year and are we (the much smaller number of, mainly local, users) not paying that to a private monopoly and is that figure not a much greater percentage of turnover?

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      ferryman November 27, 2012 10:46 pm Reply
  • No, my point is that ONE director of DMcB HR UK Ltd, received, as pay and benefits, a whopping 10% of that company’s takings. Why that company even exists as a separate entity is beyond me. It seems to be there simply to sell some admin functions to (some?) other parts of the McB panjandrum. And in order to “direct” a total of 23 DMcB HR UK Ltd staff, we need to pay a director a salary approaching that of the First Minister? The mere existence of DMcB HR UK Ltd says it all about the ridiculous, complex, fractured, nature of what was once a unitary shipping company.

    Western Ferries pay dividends out of profits, not public funds, to their owners, that’s the whole point of risking your own capital.

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    Peter MacKenzie November 28, 2012 12:19 am Reply
    • I think I’d need £140k to persuade me to work in such a depressing building! It’s like a bunker.

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      db November 28, 2012 1:48 am Reply
  • Never seen so much rubbish written before about David MacBrayne (HR). Have your correspondents never heard of the way groups organise themselves. For the year quoted , the figures seem reasonable for an HR function covering Calmac Ferries Ltd , Northlink Ltd and Calmac Crewing (Guernsey) Ltd. Informed comment would base their comments on the group accounts.

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    Nigel Macleod November 28, 2012 1:04 pm Reply
  • The only figure I can find in the contract is for Ali Cat, quoted at 28 gallons per hour. Frankly, this defeats the laws of physics if the engines are being run at anything remotely approaching the total installed of 920hp given on the same page. More like 28 gallons per hour per engine.

    Be that as as it may, at the questionable 28 gallons per hour, with 40 minutes of operation per hour and 18 hours per day, the total consumption is 333 gallons or 1500 litres per day.

    Argyll Flyer’s consumption will be very substantially more (I note this item is not revealed in the contract document). An educated guess would be at least 50% more than Ali Cat, maybe even twice as much.

    So I make it 3000 litres per day for 2 Ali Cats with fuel consumption figures which defeat the laws of physiscs. In reality, the figures will be at least 50% more than that, 4500 litres per day.

    I calculate that on an 18 hour day, sailing 40 minutes per hour at 12 knots, Saturn would burn 3200 litres.

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    Peter MacKenzie November 28, 2012 1:25 pm Reply
    • I’d be surprised if Saturn’s fuel burn was as low as that; I would expect her to go through about 500l per hour.

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      db November 28, 2012 1:59 pm Reply
      • A parliamentary question asked a while back at Holywood brought out an answer giving the fuel consumption for all CalMac boats. The Saturn was quoted at 258 litres an hour.

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        Jim Williamson November 28, 2012 8:04 pm Reply
        • That must be inclusive of the 20 minutes alongside; there’s no way of running 2000bhp for an hour on 250 litres.

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          db November 29, 2012 5:38 pm Reply
    • Refer to claues 5.5.1 (h) of the contract which says that Argyll Ferries are paid for 700 tonnes of fuel a year……

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      Plain Sailing November 30, 2012 8:03 am Reply
  • Rule of thumb is 1 gallon/20hp/hr for diesel at a reasonable fraction of full load. Saturn 2000hp full.power would equal 450 litres per hour. But the streakers at full power did about 15 knots (Saturn struggled by comparison with older pair), not the 12 knots supposedly timetabled latterly which will lead to a significant reduction in power requirement. And the service required power for only 40 minutes in each hour.

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    Peter MacKenzie November 28, 2012 3:07 pm Reply
    • What are we going to call ourselves then? Cowal and Inverclyde Steam Packet Company?

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      db November 28, 2012 4:47 pm Reply
  • If the feasibility study reports back that a service is feasible, what would this actually achieve? Yes, it may show that if a service started AND they carried say 50% of thei capacity, and they charged £xxxxx per vehicle, they could break even. This does not mean that they could actually get enough vehicles to use the service. Is this correct, or am I missing out something here?

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    DunoonLad November 28, 2012 5:43 pm Reply
    • They would be showing that they would get enough vehicles that having it covered the cost of carrying. Once again that should not be too hard to prove since the published accounts and EC decision both agreed the old streaker service was doing this.

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      ferryman November 29, 2012 9:05 pm Reply
  • The accounting devices used to claim that a Dunoon-Gourock vehicle ferry could pay its way are far too complex for me to understand. I do grasp the essentials of ferry operation, though, and these are that trip costs are a a function of route length, and the number of trip cycles per day ( i.e. the vessel’s earning capacity ) is in inverse proportion. That whether it’s a red-painted boat or a black-painted one, and irrespective of ownership.
    A vessel on a short-crossing operation will thus have half the costs per trip and twice the daily income of one on a route double the length. And it also has been well established that for short routes ( i.e. less than about 10 miles ) a bi-directional vessel will have a shorter trip-cycle time than one which requires to turn at every reversal, even one which is smart at swinging and has slightly higher passage speed.
    Calmac has been perfectly free to put these principles into practice, but has consistently
    turned its face away from them, hence many of its current sorrows, and doubtless more to come.

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    Arthur Blue November 28, 2012 6:53 pm Reply
    • Your point on the greater frequency capability of bi-directional ferries like Western’s is very interesting and seems obvious now that you’ve said it. We’d not thought of that before and it’s a useful contribution to our collective grasp of the scenario. Thank you.

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      newsroom November 29, 2012 10:26 am Reply
    • A ferry on a shorter crossing incurs less cost of course.
      However if it charges high fares and has a less desirable route then a ferry on a longer crossing can still make a comfortable profit.

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      ferryman November 29, 2012 9:08 pm Reply
  • Which is only 10 litres per hour adrift of my engineer’s rule of thumb estimate for diesel engines and confirms my earlier prediction for consumption for an 18 hour day at 40 minutes use per hour.

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    Peter MacKenzie November 28, 2012 9:53 pm Reply
  • So, how is any competing company going to manage to get enough vehicles to use their service, to at least break even, when Western have all the traffic, and presumably the town centre route will use considerably more fuel on a daily basis?

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    DunoonLad November 28, 2012 10:31 pm Reply
  • At the risk (once more) of incurring the ire of the Dunoon ferry lobby, I’d just like to point out that a tunnel – once built – would consume far less diesel or any other fuel, and would perform 24 hours a day, regardless of weather, with little or no risk of being affected by industrial action or human error.

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    Robert Wakeham November 28, 2012 11:04 pm Reply
    • A bored tunnel or a floating tube ?

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      Arthur Blue November 29, 2012 7:31 am Reply
      • I imagine this would depend on the seabed profile and underlying geology.

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        Robert Wakeham November 29, 2012 9:40 am Reply
        • The Bjorøy tunnel looks to be a fair match for length of crossing and likely depth needed; the Norgies dug that for £7m in 1996. Allowing for inflation and doubling it on account of the ‘UK is rubbish at infrastructure’ tax gives us a nice round £22m. If CalMac can build 2 new ferries, never mind matching piers, for £22m I’ll eat my hat.

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          db November 29, 2012 9:16 pm Reply
  • Why oh why is so much chatter being wasted on this subject.

    We DO NOT need a vehicle service between the town centres (though goodness knows why the terminal at Gourock qualifies for such a moniker. As a town centre, it fails totally). We do need boats capable of providing a comfortable, safe and reliable passenger crossing.

    I take my car due to the toy boats being rather random due to weather conditions. I’d greatly prefer a comfortable and safe passenger ferry but – for me – the costs are almost identical. (Taxi to Inverclyde Hospital is between £4.50 and £6.00 each way. When added to the passenger ticket cost, I’m as well driving)
    However, I do need the occasional journey by train to Glasgow and it’s completely uneconomical if the toy boats are off.

    It strikes me the real argument is we only need bigger passenger ferries and run into a Catch 22 situation where the tonnage required for safety and comfort would also imply a vehicle carrying capacity. In which case, why not give Western access to Gourock and quietly sink the two toy boats.

    Our incompetent local politicians neatly kicked this into touch by suggesting the Ferry Action Group be formed. Of course, this ensured a year later, we’ve still two stupid little boats scaring customers witless and we’re now reduced to discussing theoretical litres per theoretical hour usage of vessels?
    Politicians 1, Locals 0. And the toy boats remain.

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    Grant MacDonald November 29, 2012 3:32 am Reply
    • Strange that no-one has yet suggested an updated version of the Maids.
      Twin hulls in aluminium { larger passenger deck area ) seem to be the trend but
      who in the UK has a successful design ?

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      Arthur Blue November 29, 2012 7:39 am Reply
      • The Maids stopped being used because it was more economical to carry cars as well as passengers.

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        ferryman November 29, 2012 9:17 pm Reply
    • The action group was initiated at the large public meeting in the Queens Hall called by the Community Council, they are not normally branded as politicians.

      You are correct that you could have a reliable passenger service using larger vessels. However that would increase the cost and the argument is that by having larger vessels that carry vehicles it actually costs less for a reliable service.

      I disagree we don’t need a town centre vehicle route, we need competition. CalMac/Cowal Ferries did not offer much but at least there was a choice.

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      ferryman November 29, 2012 9:14 pm Reply
  • Grant MacDonald should complain ! He ought to try getting to Paisley Alexandra from
    Mid-Argyll.

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    Arthur Blue November 29, 2012 7:46 am Reply
  • Proper vehicle/passenger ferries would have to be much larger than the current Western ships to accommodate the higher number of passengers. This would put up the costs of these. Does anyone know how much Western are paying for the 2 new builds?

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    DunoonLad November 29, 2012 8:47 am Reply
    • Western has recently completed a £4m investment in terminal improvements – which is hardly a throwaway sum were it to be asked to move its service to the Dunoon-Gourock route. Who would – who could – compensate Western for this?
      [We think we may have mentioned the Western investment in the two new boats in an earlier article but cannot track that down quickly. We will comb the archives though, when we can, and will add that information here if we can locate it.]
      Another issue in any request to Western to move its route is that the actual route they run is of real convenience to much vehicle traffic – coming down through Cowal and headed southwards on the mainland side – and vice versa for mainland traffic northbound to access Kintyre, Oban, Fort William and Inverness.
      For such traffic to have to go right into Dunoon in order to end up in Gourock and not McInroy;s Point would have both time and cost implications.
      Those not involved in the haulage business might dismiss this as insignificant but any successful business is so because it manages marginal gains and losses with strategic care.

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      newsroom November 29, 2012 9:08 am Reply
      • My experience of arriving at McInroy’s Point by WF is that the vast majority of the traffic turns left towards Gourock, Newsie. How do you conclude that the opposite is true?

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        Jim B November 30, 2012 8:58 am Reply
    • Western vessels have roughly the same number of crew and carry the same number of passengers as the bathtubs. They have greater tonnage to cope with the weather and of course make money from carrying vehicles.

      This shows exactly why a vehicle service on the town centre route makes sense.

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      ferryman November 29, 2012 9:20 pm Reply
  • 1. GM is correct re Catch 22.

    2. WF, and anyone else for that matter, can access Gourock if they wish. See CMAL’s website for conditions and charges. Whether they would wish to from an operational standpoint is another matter.

    3. The “chatter” re fuel costs is not irrelevant. Let no-one be under any illusion that the present AF setup is fuel efficient. The figures that we, on this thread, have derived show categorically that it is not, by comparison with what went before.

    4. Calmac/CF/AF seem to incur overhead costs which cripple them whenever exposed to competition.

    My final comment on this thread is that CMAL (for Calmac) are currently paying £22 million for construction of two 23-vehicle ferries with experimental diesel/electric/battery propulsion and, yes, I too would be interested to know what the new WF boats will cost by comparison. I suspect the comparison will say it all.

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    Peter MacKenzie November 29, 2012 8:56 am Reply
    • The initiative for the hybrid ferries came from CMAL and not from CalMac who will simply be given them to operate and will have to bear the increased costs involved.
      We understand that the actuality of these boats is requiring retraining of CalMac staff to a different level – itself an additional and unanticipated cost – and we hear rumours that the fuel usage is heavier than anticipated.
      Logic suggests that the Western boats will cost nothing like these hybrids. New technologies are inevitably expensive.
      It is hard to dismiss an element of indulgent green gesture politics in the commissioning of the hybrids since neither public nor private sector budgets could support an entire fleet of such boats.

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      newsroom November 29, 2012 9:37 am Reply
      • Oh do cheer up Newsroom! The hybrid ferries are non-military ships being built on the Clyde. Surely something to cheer about?

        Re. your concerns about staff training – I think you will find that staff require retraining whenever a new vessel is brought into service . . . each boat is different.

        And please do stop all this ‘we hear rumours’ rubbish. No-one believes you. Come up with facts and their sources like a real journalist or stop smearing doom and gloom. Less fuel is less fuel. And the new ferries are also designed to have lower maintenance costs.

        Now, here’s some more potential good news on the ship technology front for Scotland . . . CMAL has been commissioned to carry out a feasibility study for Scottish Enterprise to evaluate the technical and commercial possibilities of using hydrogen fuel cells to power zero emission ferries. If this goes ahead it could put Scotland at the forefront of another new technology, with the consequent design, development and manufacturing of hybrid engines being located here. Great news – though I expect ForArgyll will want to talk it down.

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        Scots Renewables November 29, 2012 10:27 am Reply
        • For the record, the additional training involved in this instance was not an anticipated requirement but arose from unanticipated outcomes with the boat.
          And as all journalists know, ‘we understand’ and ‘we hear’ are standard ways of conveying good information where sources cannot be identified or hinted at.
          Our track record is to take flak ourselves, at whatever cost, rather than defend what we have written by betraying a source.
          I had been a subscriber to The Guardian all my adult life until Peter Preston, then editor, lost his nerve in an onslaught from Margaret Thatcher in pursuing the identity of a conscientious whistleblower on activities being carried out at GCHQ in Cheltenham.
          Preston, afraid of a jail sentence himself for defiance, named his source and the 21 year old idealist whose material he had been glad to use, Sarah Tisdall, went to jail.
          In our book that is the ultimate journalistic betrayal. We will continue to take whatever is thrown at us, from shrilly abusive comments like your own to whatever, to protect our sources.
          If they did not talk to us we would not be able to bring the spectrum of insights to our audience that we are able to do.
          Be assured we do not peddle rumours. There are occasions when we cannot clarify or defend a challenged item, because, to do so would inevitably point to a probable source whom we know would be pursued vindictively. We are aware of some who have suffered abuse and threats on accusations of having fed material to us when, in fact, they had not done so. Our concerns are not groundless.
          But do feel free to continue your regular threnody. We’d miss it.

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          newsroom November 29, 2012 11:11 am Reply
          • …”But do feel free to continue your regular threnody.”
            Brilliant Newsie, PMSL

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            quasijock November 29, 2012 12:03 pm
          • A threnody is a song, hymn or poem of mourning composed or performed as a memorial to a dead person.

            Quite appropriate. The promise that was the original ForArgyll is indeed quite dead.

            I think I will stick to the Cowal Courier from now on. That’s a proper news site that seems to have your measure.

            Toodle pip!

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            Scots Renewables November 29, 2012 12:51 pm
        • I’ve had it (probably from a completely different source to newsroom) that these boats will cost significantly more than a equivilant conventional vessels, carry fewer vehicles and run much more slowly. Not only that, they run on heavy oil most of the time, and require specialist skills to maintain the complex and new charging and propulsion systems, skills that are not to be found routintely on the West Coast of Scotland. Whereas any competent marine engineer can fix and repair a diesel engine subject to parts, the complex and ‘innovative’ systems for the hybrid means that within a fairly short period of time, you will find these two ships breaking down with no immediate resource to fix them. They will not be cheaper to run than a tried, tested and modern diesel engine.

          So quick to be dismissive SR, I wonder what equips you to be so critical of what is common knowledge in Scottish /marine circles? That these ferries cost too much, will deliver nothing new for the Scottish people, likely to be inherently unreliable and only serve the ideals of the SNP and their ironic ‘green’ economy, powered by oil?

          ‘Less fuel is less fuel’ – interesting. Electricity is effectively a fuel, do you not count this?

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          Jamie Black November 29, 2012 3:57 pm Reply
          • Not to mention the additional fuel that will be wasted just pushing the 10 tonnes of battery.

            These boats are simply bonkers.

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            Peter Wade November 29, 2012 5:06 pm
          • Regardless of whether the batteries, vapourware power cells or conventional diesel generators are used, the new ferries will use more energy to go from A to B; all the batteries are doing is moving the point at which the power is generated from the ferry’s engine room to a power station. The extra losses inherent in electrical transmission means it’s less efficient.

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            db November 29, 2012 6:15 pm
          • The electric ferries are a brave move because there are bound to be lots of initial problems. Don’t be too dismissive of this technology though and the potential benefits of being leaders in it.

            Potentially these ferries would be using off-peak generation when supply outstrips demand. At the moment we do things like pump water up hills with this power – how inefficient is that!

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            ferryman November 29, 2012 9:33 pm
  • I assume then that the Corruisk is also inefficient as she has electric propulsion.

    One obvious advantage of diesel (or whatever) electric power is that the engines can be anywhere in the boat. Unlike a direct powered boat which requires a straight prop shaft cables can be routed any way.

    This should make them cheaper to build and more passenger friendly.

    Are the new boats not to be charged with overnight power from wind turbines?

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    JimB November 29, 2012 6:39 pm Reply
    • The Coruisk doesn’t have electric drive. She’s got the same type of propulsion as the two Rothesay boats do – MAK engines and Shottel propellers, driven directly through clutches.

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      Jim Williamson November 29, 2012 7:23 pm Reply
    • It would make them more expensive; the capital cost of diesel-electric propulsion is at least twice the cost of direct diesel propulsion, depending on arrangement and machinery it can cost more than that.

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      db November 29, 2012 7:29 pm Reply
    • Yes they could be charged overnight with off-peak power. They are also being built here in Scotland. It is a brave step, they may fail but don’t knock people for trying.

      Look at Concorde, never a financial success in itself but what a machine. Without Concorde would people in the UK have the knowledge or the guts to try Skylon now?

      Look at wind turbines, love them or hate them the technology has come on by leaps and bounds, moving from kW sized to almost 10MW now and there are tens of thousands being installed. In Scotland of course we buy them all from abroad, Howdens Wind turbines which was leading the way in the 1980s now being defunct.

      It would not surprise me if in 10 years time we are buying electric ferries from Germany or Japan and wondering why we did not pursue those ferries built for CMAL a bit further.

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      ferryman November 29, 2012 9:51 pm Reply
      • I wouldn’t dream of knocking it; I’m just pointing out that it isn’t an economy measure, it’s a technology demonstrator and no-one should expect it to produce cost savings now, but it might well result in work coming to Scotland in the form of ferry orders or research funding. Where diesel-electric or hybrid-electric can offer advantages is reliability, rapidity and economy of construction, refinement and emissions control.

        Howdens got their fingers burnt because their turbine blades fell apart in service; it does happen when new technologies are exploited, unfortunately Howdens were badly hit with warranty costs as a result. As you note, Reaction Engines’ SABRE has taken one more step toward reality; that really is a great British success story, developing new technology to take transport onto a new level.

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        db November 30, 2012 12:06 am Reply
        • But is it within CMAL’s remit to conduct full-scale marine engineering R&D?

          Research activities, by definition, involve high risk of failure, both technically and economically. Who pays? Who decides the extent to which CMAL’s function is to be an engineering R&D organisation? Does the CMAL staff profile and work loading equip them to be an R&D operation? What are CMAL NOT now able to do because of the subvention of funds towards this project?

          Why are CMAL not required to obtain the funding for the R&D subvention through the competitive bidding process for public research funding (DTI, EPSRC, etc) by which every other public research organisation in the country is funded? (And in which, due to the competitive nature of the business, the probability of a proposal being funded is around 10%.)

          What makes this project so special that its justification need not be compared against competing proposals for national R&D funds? What makes it so special that we are to forego a third? fourth? new ferry, which might well have been affordable had diesel/mechanical propulsion been adopted.

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          PMcK November 30, 2012 10:24 am Reply
          • It’s presumably been decided by civil servants, that given a statutory/corporate requirement to become ‘green’ and a strong message from Holyrood that ‘green’ is the future, CMAL should be part of that. Presumably there is some financial contribution from the various ‘green’ quangos with money to disburse.

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            db December 1, 2012 6:11 pm
          • “But is it within CMAL’s remit to conduct full-scale marine engineering R&D?”

            I understand exactly where you are coming from. If these ferries were proposed to replace the Dunoon bathtubs I would be worried about being a guinea pig.

            CMAL though were not doing the R&D, this seems to be submarine technology being tuned to civil use. If the requirement was for conventional technology then presumably the tender would have been EU wide and probably the work would have been lost to Scotland.

            Possibly this battery technology has wider non maritime applications. For example hospitals have backup generators, if you add these batteries then the hospital could use off-peak electricity reducing costs.

            I am a bit surprised about comments that Scottish engineers cannot handle the technology. It seems to consist of a diesel generator and electric motor and a battery.

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            ferryman December 2, 2012 11:29 pm
  • For db, clarification re streaker fuel consumption. 2000 hp was installed power, 16 knots the trials speed (presumably at or near 2000 hp) and originally designed for 15 knots in service (although Saturn turned out to be bit of a crock in that respect compared to the older pair). General marine engineering practice would be that continuous service speed would be at 80% of full power or less.

    At 12 knots, quoted as speed latterly on Dunoon service, I estimate about 60% of full power would be required, that’s 1200hp. Divide by 20 to get gallons per hour, 60 gall/hr or 270 litres/hr. According to another poster, Calmac informed the Scottish Parliament that the figure was 258 litres per hour which seems perfectly plausible.

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    Peter MacKenzie November 29, 2012 10:55 pm Reply
    • I’d be interested in why Saturn performed worse, she seems to have the same lines.

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      db November 30, 2012 12:10 am Reply
      • IIRC, the reports at the time were that something to do with a change in the shafting arrangements and/or propulsion units had unfortunate consequences leading to poor reliability during first few years. This seemed to settle down but it seems more than a coincidence that this came with a reduction in service speed to a stated 12 knots, not the 14 or 15 knots which used to be claimed for the other pair.

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        PMcK November 30, 2012 10:43 am Reply
        • I doubt it would be the propulsors, so that leaves the very long shaft arrangement; my experience of similar shafts is that setting them up is an art not a science, and getting it wrong means a short unreliable working life filled with self-destructing bearings, vibration and flailing lengths of shafting thrashing lumps out of steelwork.

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          db December 1, 2012 6:06 pm Reply

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