Train Of Thought

Entry by: Paul McDermott

17th July 2015
Train of Thought

The Arctic winter tightened its freezing deathgrip one final exquisitely painful degree around Merseyside's vulnerable throat. Those unfortunate enough to have business out of doors in the darkest hours of the longest nights of the year cowered instinctively at the malevolent, vindictive howl of savage laughter lashing through the vacant city streets, borne on the gale force winds. Above the town, perched immovably on the eyrie they had occupied for over a century and a half, the Liver Birds continued to hold a vigilant watch over their Home and its residents, impervious to the worst excesses Nature could bring to bear.
The entire City Council. together with the Chamber of Commerce, local businessmen and the best academic brains of all six Universities on Merseyside had been gathered to solve the city's energy crisis. Climate change had resulted in seven severe winters of Biblical proportion, each one worse than its predecessor. The Aurora Borealis flaunted itself mockingly over Liverpool every night. A faint glow on the horizon was the best one could hope to see of the sun in any twenty-four hour period throughout December.
What finally tipped the balance, swiftly converting inconvenience into crisis and escalating until it threatened to become potential catastrophe, was the first significant Trade Union dispute for over a decade. This resulted in a total walkout by everyone connected with the production and supply of energy. Coal, gas and electric supplies had been rationed, eked out for over a month. Merseyside had managed to survive longer than most regions of the UK, having invested for years in renewable energy sources such as the wind, and the strong tides which flowed in Liverpool Bay.
The strike entered its ninth week. Neither side appeared willing to seek any compromise or agreement, and power supplies throughout the region had been cut back to an irreducible level of three one-hour 'slots' each day.
"Ladies and Gentlemen. We've been in session, looking for a solution to our energy crisis for over six days."
"This sealed underground bunker was never intended to be used for such a prolonged period. We will therefore continue the meeting in an alternative location while the area is deep-cleansed and supplies of food and drink are replenished. Please take any notes and personal equipment with you and make your way to the private entrance to the Merseyrail system at the rear of this room. Refreshments will be provided on board ..."
"Now I understand why they call it a 'Think Tank!' " Rik Hines grumbled as he closed down his laptop and headed for the stairs. "I'm starting to feel like a bloody goldfish!"
His sideman, Jon Adams from the Chamber of Commerce, massaged his temples.
"I'm guessing we must be under a slightly pressurised atmosphere. I've had a vague headache I can't seem to shake: I swear started about an hour or two after the meeting began."
Rik nodded.
"Sounds highly likely. I haven't had any headache problems, but I've found it hard to breathe from time to time. I much prefer being out of doors!" Rik had made his first million promoting all-in holiday and flight packages, and had never looked back. He was very much a 'hands on' sort of boss who spent as little time as possible flying a desk.
Boarding the three carriage Merseyrail train waiting outside the double seal doors required care and diligence. There was no proper platform: the delegates had to step over the threshold of the air-lock directly into the carriage, which ran almost flush against the curved walls of the tunnel. After six full days of re-breathing chemically rinsed canned lungsoup, the slight zephyr of air circulating in the tunnel (at least ten or twelve degrees cooler than the centrally heated atmosphere inside the Conference Room) felt like the gentle caress of an angel's wing on the cheek.
The train moved off once the hundred or so Delegates had boarded. There was ample room for everyone, but compared with the cavernous open space of the underground bunker they'd occupied for almost a week it inevitably felt slightly claustrophobic. It soon warmed up: jackets and outer layers of clothing snatched almost as an afterthought on leaving the Conference Room were just as swiftly ditched. The air-conditioning soon kicked in, powered in part by the train's movement as it began a non-stop circulation of the four stations on the central Liverpool Loop Line.
Joe Saunders, Liverpool's popular (and democratically elected) Mayor wasn't one to mince his words. Tie removed, shirt collar wide open, he stood next to the buffet table, simultaneously raising a glass of Coke and his clear, authoritative voice.
"Time is of the essence, as we know! You were all invited because we face a serious situation, and it's going to take the best brains available to figure out a solution which will work. Help yourselves from the Buffet - it's 'Food for Thought' after all! - and put on your Thinking Caps! Seating has been arranged to set up small discussion groups, feel free to form 'ad hoc' committees or drift from one to another. Whatever works for each of you, personally!"
"I've no idea how long it's going to take to cleanse the Conference Room and re-stock it, but we cannot afford the luxury of sitting in silence. Doing nothing is not an option: a solution to our energy problems must be found!"
Varying groups of three or four of the best analytical minds Merseyside could call upon formed, dissolved and reformed as the train circulated in an approximate quadrangle beneath Liverpool's frozen streets. It rotated without stopping past each deserted and ghostly commuter station in the minimal lighting deemed absolutely necessary for safety reasons. Part of the train's motive power was generated directly from its own kinetic energy, harnessed from the revolving wheels and returned to the closed electrical circuits using an experimental prototype energy-saving device developed by a research team at Liverpool John Moores University.
Fed and watered, the Brains of Britain (a title none of them would have acknowledged)settled in comfortable armchairs. For the most part they were equipped with simple equipment, the humble notebook and pencil. It seemed appropriate that to solve the problems caused by an energy shortfall, modern technology which depended on a stable supply of electricity - laptops, computers, Tablets et al. had been weighed in the balance and found wanting. Sometimes the 'old-fashioned' ways turn out to be the best ...
The faint clickety-click as the wheels passed over each rail connection and the soothing rhythm and sway as they progressed unhurriedly around the circuit soothed everyone's mind. Conversation became desultory, eventually ceasing as each Thinker dug deeper into his or her own specialised field of knowledge, seeking inspiration.
Between stations, roughly equidistant, a tipping point could be felt as the train rounded a corner. Slight though this random movement was, it seemed to have the completely unintended effect of enhancing a rare, unlooked-for bonding between the passengers, the forging of a common mindset. A train of thought had been set in motion: against all logic or reason, a genuine sense of optimism began to develop.
"We can use some of the current weather conditions to our advantage. Our windfarms are working at full capacity. Lay extra cabling, hook all of them directly to local sub-stations instead of burning what reserves we have of fossil fuels."
"The cables are already available, mass produced locally at the BICC works."
"Good point: increased production can only benefit the local economy! And if the current unemployment figures are any guide, it should be possible to find the required workforce, it's mostly unskilled manual work. All we need to supplement the basic construction work is the expertise of a team of qualified electricians to apply the finishing touches!"
"I'm sure people will respond positively when they see it's going to benefit everyone. But is it enough?"
"Almost certainly not, but it's a start! Longer term solutions will have to wait ..."
"A Barrier to make use of the tidal Bore, like the ones they have in Canada and China: there's even one on the Severn in this country, too ..."
"Which has never been a commercial success, but I take your point: we can learn from their mistakes and do a better job of it. Merseyside, Merseypride!"
"Let's not get too political - or parochial! Something on that scale will take time, and that's a luxury we don't have. But it's a longer-term solution ..."
"Speaking of the 'longer term' ..."
John Midler, a Senior Lecturer at Liverpool University, paused and looked around the tablewhile he waited for the other members of the informal discussion group to give him their undivided attention. So far he'd contributed very little, but his reputation and his knowledge in his own forte of Environmental Sciences was unsurpassed.
"The 'longer term' solution has to be based upon improving the way we manage our finite natural resources. The current extreme weather conditions are a direct result the manner in which we have misused them for far too long, principally the burning of fossil fuels which took thousands of years to develop. The climate change this has brought about may already be irreversible: only time will tell."
"But if this Train of Thought produces just one workable idea, which can be shown to be effective - even in a relatively small part of one not-very-large country - we can say we've made a start ..."
The Train slowed to a smooth stop as Professor Midler finished speaking. The door hissed open, and the Delegates who would soon become the most important Leaders in the UK's recent history returned to the Committee Rooms which had last been used as a seat of Government in the darkest days of World War Two.