30 Dec 2010

What a difference fifty years makes

The end of the year, especially one ending in zero, is a time to look back. Here is London St Pancras in 1960. Who, when the picture was taken, would have imagined that fifty years later it would have been possible to catch a train from the same place, that would get them to Paris in three hours? Yet only few years ago, carriages of the same design as those in the train on the left were still in front line service.

Change happens in ways that we cannot expect, but long-lived pieces of capital equipment like trains, on the drawing board today, are likely to be still in use in 2070. What will the world be like in 2070? No-one can know. We can be certain that it will be very different. Energy will be relatively much more expensive. Fewer people will be able to afford cars and air travel, which means that the railways will not have to compete with the alternatives in the same way. Probably too, the train operators of fifty years' time will have to work hard just to offer a service that most people can afford.

In the next five decades, we can expect two or three cycles of boom-and-bust, major changes in technology, which stand as much chance of being lower-tech than higher-tech, demographic shifts, with associated changes in patterns of settlement and land use, and a high probability of significant natural or man-made events, the effects of which will could stretch countries and communities to the limit, and possibly beyond.

To this mix must be added in the chronic uncertainty over investment plans that can be cancelled, reinstated, amended, and cancelled again several times before any works actually start.

What kind of rolling stock is suitable for an environment so permeated by uncertainties? I hope someone is asking the question.

27 Dec 2010

It is about priorities

I fell into an argument yesterday with a friend from Derby who was brimming with enthusiasm for the high speed line. The conversation went like this.

"How often do you go to London?"
"About four times a year"
"What is your most common journey?"
"From Long Eaton into Derby"
"How often do you make it?"
"Several times a week"
"What is the service like?"
"So how would the high speed line help?"

It did not take him long to realise that this investment will do nothing to improve his daily travel.

I then went on to explain that the high speed line could not provide an affordable walk-on service and he would have arrange to arrive long in advance to be sure of not missing the journey he had paid for. He is then likely to spend the time drinking coffee or looking at the magazines in W H Smith. In other words, he would have been better served with a slower but affordable walk-on service.

GW electrification back-track

Twyford station, originally uploaded by seadipper.

The vacillations over the Great Western main line electrification are a good illustration of the confusion that reigns over rail policy in Britain. In 2009, electrification of the routes to Cardiff, Bristol, Oxford and Newbury was approved by a Labour minister. Now the project has been cut back to Oxford and Newbury, which are London commuter routes. One factor is the major rebuilding of Reading station and the adjacent junction, a scheme which will continue until 2016 and restrict the amount of traffic that can use the line whilst the work is in progress. Clearly, the electrification project needs to be integrated with the developments at Reading and for this reason it may be that other routes would be better placed in the front of the queue for electrification, of which the most obvious choice is the Midland main line, but another possibility is the Chiltern route to Oxford via a new junction at Bicester. But the aim should nevertheless be to complete the electrification to Bristol and Cardiff at the same time as the Reading reconstruction.

The cut-back of the Great Western electrification project opens up a whole series of questions about rolling stock policy, that have not been helped by transport minister Hammond's announcement that there should be no further life-extension of the HST fleet.

The intention is that the Great Western suburban routes should be operated by cascaded class 319 stock dating from the 1980s, which in turn will be replaced by a new fleet. It has been suggested that the existing DMUs used on the Great Western suburban services (above), which are actually newer than the class 319s, will be deployed elsewhere. However, this is not so easy. These units, of classes 165 and 166, are 23 metres long and 2.82 metres wide, were built specifically to take advantage of the generous clearances on the Great Western routes out of London. A study by the Rail Safety and Standards Board found that the route availability of these units is very restricted, with expensive work being needed to clear other routes.

One option that seems not to have got a mention would be to convert these diesel trains into electric multiple units, but a further question that arises concerns the life expectation of the vehicles. These were the first generation of trains having bodyshells constructed of wide aluminium extrusions with welded seams, and whilst they may have a future life of two or three decades, there is apparently no means of predicting at present, and the same applies to the class 158 DMUs of the same vintage. However, the cost risk of premature failure of the body structures could be minimised by by designing the electrical equipment for recovery and recycling. Alternatively, the units could be converted into push-pull sets powered by electric locomotives, which would be the most flexible and non-committal solution of all.

The subject is discussed in an article by Paul Clifton in the January 2010 issue of Rail Professional.

22 Dec 2010

A long wait for a fast train

The projected opening time for the high speed line to Birmingham is 2026. In the meantime about £25 billion will have been spent without a single passenger travelling on any of the route. The interest charges on this sunk investment are horrendous.

Compare this to, say, the alternative of upgrading and electrifying the Chiltern line to Birmingham, where the pay-back would begin as soon as the wires had reached High Wycombe, with further gains as the electrification included Bicester and Oxford, and more again when it got to Banbury. Add in a possible electrification from Basingstoke to Oxford and Banbury, and the approved electrification of the Great Western route from Paddington to Oxford, and the gains add up to a significant enhancement of the national network of electrified routes. And all of these generate returns on the investment as each stage of the project is completed.

Are methods for assessing transport schemes satisfactory?’

This memorandum to the House of Commons Select Committee on Transport is a concise useful critique of the decision-making process that underpins the policy to proceed with HS2.

20 Dec 2010

On not making the best use of space

As is well known, the British loading gauge is notoriously tight. But some designs of train do not make the best use of the room that is available. A common complaint is that passengers sitting next to the window cannot put both feet on the floor straight in front of them, due to the lower bodyside curve, and a skirting duct, which take away the space.

The obvious explanation is that the lower bodyside curvature is to fit inside the loading gauge, but this cannot be the case as the steps stick out beyond the bodyside itself. All that space could therefore be inside the train, to the benefit of the passengers.

As for the step itself, this could more usefully be made to extend when the doors opened, so that there would be no need to mind the gap. The lower bodyside curvature on this Swedish train is needed as some platforms are high, some are low, and this part of the vehicle is the low-floor section in the centre car of the 3-car X31 unit. The odd thing is that both trains come from the same manufacturer so one would have thought that people in the company would talk to each other to the point that it showed in the finished product.

18 Dec 2010

Running under the wires and away from the wires

As I discussed in a previous blog, the most practical way of running trains over routes which are only partly electrified is to do what was done on the Waterloo to Weymouth line when the electrification ended at Bournemouth.

A suitable fleet would be composed of electric locomotives or powered sets, and trailer sets. The powered sets would have a streamlined driving vehicle at the London end for 125 mph running (which might be an electric locomotive) and a gangwayed (possibly, but not necessarily) driving vehicle at the country end.

The trailer sets would have a streamlined driving vehicle at the country end, for 125 mph running, and the gangwayed driving vehicle at the London end, something like a class 375 Electrostar.

Down trains would be propelled from London to the end of the electrified route and would then split, with the trailer vehicles being hauled to their final destination by a diesel locomotive and the electrically powered portion remaining to form a return working to London.

Up trains would be pushed by the diesel locomotive (ie blunt end first) to the point where electrification began, where they would couple to the electrically powered portion of the train. The diesel locomotive would be detached and the train would continue to London under electric power.

Is this so difficult?

17 Dec 2010

Green Party on High Speed Rail

I received this from my MP, who is the only Green Party Member of Parliament.

"My position on high speed rail is that in principle I support it, provided there is clear evidence of greenhouse gas reductions. I also want to ensure that any rail investment is progressive and does not end up simply benefitting the most well off in society. I think it is critical that any projects are genuinely sustainable, by which I mean they must not cause any environmental degradation such as loss of habitats, for example, and the local communities affected must be properly consulted. I am opposed to the current plans to run a high speed track through an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty like the Chilterns. Insufficient consideration has been given to alternative routes and there is local opposition to the plans, which I fully understand. The Secretary of State will be making an announcement about High Speed 2 next week and please be assured that I will be doing what I can to instead press for investment in sustainable public transport."

Which sounds as if Caroline Lucas is against HS2, certainly in its present form. From her perspective, the objections to the line must outweigh any conceivable benefits. This kind of investment must be assessed in comparison with other ways of investing the same amount in public transport infrastructure. Experience in other countries, notably France, has been that high speed railways have been developed at the expense of the local railway network, with the result that lines have been severely curtailed, thereby forcing people to travel by road, which generally means that they will drive. Whilst this might tempt people to travel by train instead of by air for longer journeys, the much more numerous short journeys the people make are now by road rather than by rail, which cannot be good for carbon emissions.

There is a more general issue here as well. Running trains at 200 mph costs more than twice as much as running at 125 mph. The only way to make this economically viable is to use sophisticated yield management, which can only offer affordable fares at limited times on a book-ahead basis. It is anything but a walk-on service. Thus those who want to travel at short notice are more likely to travel by road than if the train service was slower and with affordable walk-on fares. Worse still, the need for passengers to book onto particular trains means that they have to arrive at the point of departure long beforehand, thereby losing most or all of the benefit of the higher speed trains.

This project really needs to be exposed for the folly it is, and the Greens should be in the forefront of the campaign for public transport that addresses people's daily travel needs.

16 Dec 2010

Replacing the HST fleet

4REP unit 3014 leaving Waterloo, originally uploaded by 74009.

What to replace the fleet of Inter City 125 trains with continues to be a headache. The Hitachi dual-electric/diesel concept is dead partly because of the cost and complexity of the concept, and partly because its performance would not have been up to the task. One wonders why the Japanese wasted their time on the project.

But the underlying problem has not gone away. There are many routes in Britain that are electrified for only part of their length. The alternatives are either to run diesel-powered trains on electrified lines or to change the motive power where the electrification comes to an end.

Locomotive changes are awkward and undesirable as they involve shunting in congested locations. There is, however, a long-established technique that gets rid of most of the inconvenience. It was employed on the line between London and Weymouth, which was electrified as far as Bournemouth. The four cars at the London end of the trains comprised a 3000 hp unit (4-REP, photograph above) capable of powering a 12-car train. The eight cars at the country end of the trains comprised two 4-car trailer control units (4-TC) each with a driving cab at both ends. In the Weymouth direction, the trains were driven from the leading cab in the trailer unit, with the REP power unit pushing the train. At Bournemouth, the REP was detached and the front TC units hauled to Weymouth with a diesel locomotive. In the other direction, the diesel locomotive pushed the train back to Bournemouth, where it coupled to a REP unit which hauled it to Waterloo. In this way, locomotive movements at the changeover point were minimised.

A similar situation will develop on the Great Western main lines, where electrification is likely to extend only as far as Oxford, Newbury, Bristol and Cardiff. A similar solution suggests itself, with the electric power being provided either by locomotives or with special high powered EMU sets. The trailer sets will need to have vehicles with driving cabs, probably in two varieties: one with a streamlined front for 125 mph speeds, and another with a blunter end and gangway connection. The latter type would be placed at the London end of trains from, say, Cornwall, from where they would be pushed to, say, Bristol and then couple to the electrically powered portion of the train. The streamlined driving cars would be at the country end of trains, which would split and be hauled over non-electrified tracks to their destination.

London to Bristol could of course be operated by conventional EMU trains similar to the class 444 used on the longer distance services out of Waterloo. Given the number of stops on the GW main line, there is little benefit in 125 mph operation and little opportunity these days for sustained fast running, a further build of class 444 units or their successors would be adequate. And it would not be disastrous if services between London and Devon/Cornwall were diesel powered all the way, with under-the-wires running between London and Newbury.

Whatever the case, the operator will need a uniform and flexible fleet of passenger vehicles which can be deployed in alternative configurations to suit the line and its traffic conditions. It may be that the best solution would be a standard fleet of hauled stock made up into fixed formations with between five and seven vehicles, with diesel and electric locomotives as traction.

7 Dec 2010

What capacity problem?

I picked up this comment from "Thomas the Tank" in the Guardian's Comment is Free...

"If there is a capacity problem on the West Coast line we should let Deutsche Bahn know quickly as they're proposing to bankroll new Scottish services utilising some of this non-capacity. But keep the capacity options between Rugby and Birmingham quiet or they'll want that too. And if you want even more capacity just spend a bit of time standing in the quiet on Banbury station to see where that might come from as well.

"Still more? Then we'll electrify and upgrade this line through Banbury too. And after all that, if we still aren't satisfied then connect the West Coast to the old Great Central at Rugby and reopen that for freight and as a diversionary route. (amazingly, HS2 would destroy this valuable future option).

"Still not content - then let's reopen the Peak line north of Matlock (perfectly feasible and relatively short) which would restore the old Midland route between Manchester and London.

"This will give the East Midlands a better service to the north west too - but that's not to London so not fashionable I guess). As a trainspotter, I shouldn't really be encouraging all the many obvious and sensible alternatives to HS2, as I'll be doing myself out of the opportunity of photographing all these lovely spanking new super powered trains, roaring through pristine, virgin countryside. Lovely in the snow!

"As long as they don't build a new motorway alongside it. 'Well, there's already a high speed railway there so what's the harm in ...'

6 Dec 2010

Third-rail deficiencies

The recent bad weather led to widespread cancellations of trains on routes south of London, electrified on the third-rail system. As a result, it has come under criticism, with calls for it to be replaced by overhead electrification.

That is not, of course, going to happen and would be a waste of money even if the cash was available. The third-rail electrification system is fundamentally robust and needs little attention most of the time, by contrast with overhead systems which need regular adjustment and can be brought down be a faulty pantograph.

During a similar spell of cold weather in the 1980s, a railwayman told me that the CIGs were nowhere near as good as the older stock when the weather was icy. The difference was that on older trains, the pick-up shoes were attached to massive timber beams like those in the trains in the picture. This enabled them to smash through the ice on the conductor rail.

I don't know if there is any truth in this but it looks as if a bit of research in this area could lead to improvements which would not cost any great amount.

1 Dec 2010

A very different style of railway

A reminder that railways are about more than whisking businessmen from city centre to city centre at 300 kph or more. It has to be said that these Soviet era TE-10 diesels always seem to be throwing out clouds of black smoke, which means that they must be wasting fuel.

30 Nov 2010

What rolling stock?

One of the great unanswered questions concerning HS2 is what kind of rolling stock will run on it? British rolling stock is lower and narrower than standard continental stock. And standard continental stock is too tall and wide to run on existing railways in Britain. Will there be a small fleet of continental-sized stock that will be confined to the new lines? And will it be necessary to build a special, and therefore expensive, fleet of British-sized high speed trains that can run on existing routes?

This raises yet another question. Continental stock actually varies in size from one country to another. Scandinavian trains are wider than those anywhere else, which makes for added comfort, or alternatively, more seats can be fitted into the carriages. And would also be possible to build the line large enough to accommodate double-deck trains that did not have low curved ceilings like those in most of Europe apart from Finland, where the gauge is slightly wider. (1525 mm instead of 1435 mm). I cannot find any discussion of this issue.

Project gathers momentum

As the project gathers momentum, it will become increasingly unstoppable. That a good case has been made to show that the economics of the project are based on dubious assumptions seems to cut no ice with the politicians.

The HS2 Action Alliance

The principal focus for opposition to HS2 is the HS2 Action Alliance (see link on right). Naturally, the opposition has arisen amongst those who stand to be worst affected, which is people in the areas of the Chilterns through which the line passes. However, having a vested interest in something does not invalidate an argument. The more the economic case is considered, the worse it seems. One wonders why HS2 has survived the cuts.

Selective door operation

An effective standard system of Selective Door Operation (SDO) must be one of the keys to increasing capacity on the railways. The lengthening of station platforms to accommodate longer trains can be prohibitively expensive at some locations and is unnecessary at others.

The solution is to fit every door on every train with a detector linked in to the door-actuating circuit, to prevent it from being opened unless there is a station platform alongside. It might take the form of a light and photocell on the train, with the face of the platform being fitted with a strip of reflective material like that on car number plates. Or it could use some kind of sonic or infra-red device - the principle is the same. In the long run this would be a good investment as all trains could stop at all stations. It would be fail-safe, automatic and do away with the complexities of GPS location finding, which requires the train to "know" where it is.

Alternatives to HS2 - official

Last year, the Department for Transport commissioned consultants W S Atkins to consider alternatives to HS2. Referred to as the High Speed 2 Strategic Alternatives Study, it comprises four separate reports. It looks at a range of road and rail interventions between London and the West Midlands, which could effectively increase passenger capacity in line with forecast demand. The documents are available for downloading here.

The Rail Interventions Report concentrates on upgrades to the West Coast Main Line and the Chilterns route to Birmingham and in case of the latter, an interesting list of interventions are postulated. Amongst the options discussed is the possibility of running much longer trains on the WCML. But this is dismissed in the following sentence:

"However, operating a fleet of 400 metre would require platforms at every station served by WCML “fast” services to be lengthened. Selective Door Opening (“SDO”) is unlikely to prove acceptable or workable."

This curt dismissal of a major policy option is strange because what is called for is better SDO systm. Probably this would incorporate a detector system linked into the door opening mechanism. Such a device could be fitted to every door on the train, to ensure that the door could not be opened unless there was a platform alongside. Obviously it would take quite a lot of development work but calls for nothing that existing technology could not solve.

The report dealing with rail interventions mentions in passing that "HS2 Ltd have been tasked by DfT to test the cost and capacity of an entirely new conventional route between London – West Midlands ." I would like to get a look at that report.

29 Nov 2010

External costs of road use

I came across this in the Guardian's Comments is Free

The annual external costs of road use in the UK have been estimated as follows...
  • Air pollution £19.7 bn
  • Congestion £17.5 bn
  • Accidents £9.4 bn
  • Noise £2.6 bn
  • Road damage £1.5 bn
  • Climate change 0.1 bn
  • (Road building not included)
  • Total £50.8 bn.
This contrasts with the revenues obtained by the exchequer from motorists via fuel taxes and duty (Fuel tax: £12.5 bn, Excise duty: £3.6 bn; Total: £16.1 bn)

Thus motorists are being subsidised by an amount three times larger than the taxes and duty they pay.


The fate of the BREL International train

Experimental train 1986, originally uploaded by seadipper.

This experimental train built in 1986 was one of the more attractive products of British Rail Engineering Ltd. It was eventually sold to the Irish railways and re-gauged.

Most of the vehicles were scrapped in 2009. A couple were brought back to the UK and used for bombing practice. Nice to know that a proper value was put on these assets.

22 Nov 2010

The BT10 bogie

An unsung design classic
The BT10 bogie is fitted to mark 3 Inter City stock, including the HST trailer cars. Introduced in the mid-1970s, some units have now been in service for 35 years. These were amongst the first to be fitted with disc brakes and for several years there were complaints about the smell. But once this had been cured, they proved to be exceptional, giving a smooth and steady ride at high speed on indifferent track. Recent tests have shown them to be superior to more recent designs, as well as being significantly easier on the track.

I was discussing this with a colleague recently who has been involved recently in the maintenance of vehicles fitted with these bogies. Apart from a few minor details, he told me that there are no fundamental weaknesses in the design - such as areas prone to fatigue - and after three decades in service they would have shown up by now.

The elegant simplicity of the concept is revealed in the diagram.

17 Nov 2010

Pendolino Britannica


I have to admit that Pendolinos look really good from this angle, pretty, even. Pity about the insides and the tiny windows which have made them Britain's most unpopular train. I see that the new generation of continental Pendolinos have better windows.

New Pendolino SBB CFF FFS

10 Nov 2010

What a horrible design

F SNCF 72571 Manosque 31-07-2009 , originally uploaded by peters452002.
This really looks a mess. The trouble is that there are two different aesthetics in conflict with each other. Or has the cover fallen off the gubbins? If it hasn't, then it is pointless giving the train a sexy front end.

These trains below, with simple, functional front ends, have exactly the same coupling so there is no necessity for the thing to look so awful.

St Leonards Warrior Square station

SJ train at Ängelholm

9 Nov 2010

Rail operators must pay for new carriages - report

Rail operators will have to rely less on subsidies to increase train capacity and the transport department should require new operators to provide enough carriages for passengers, a report by the British Public Accounts Committee said on yesterday.

The problem is a combination of a shortage of carriages, poor seating capacity in the carriages themselves, and short platforms in some stations, which prevents the running of longer trains.

The troubles go back a long way. One of them is that the rolling stock itself is too expensive. A mark 1 coach cost about £5000 in the 1950s. That is about £200,000 in present-day money. But a new hauled vehicle cannot now be purchased for less than £600,000, and self-powered electric or diesel multiple unit (EMU/DMU) vehicles cost at least twice that amount. And in the 1950s - and right up to the late 1980s, EMUs were usually powered with recycled the electrical equipment which was very robust and was often decades old already. Such recycling is unheard-of today.

Of course in the 1950s, train speeds were much lower and modern equipment is more energy-efficient, and there are safety issues as well, all of which have driven up the cost. Air conditioning has come to be expected as a standard fitment, and toilets that discharge onto the track are considered unacceptable.

Nevertheless, there has been waste on a gigantic scale. For example, the electrical equipment and many other components in the 1300 or so mark 1 EMU fleet could have been recycled into new vehicles, as the same equipment continues to give good service on a substantial proportion of the fleet and is likely to remain in use for another 20 years or so. Indeed, the mark 1 fleet itself, despite its age, was perfectly acceptable for use on secondary routes and superior to the slightly newer stock now running on those lines.

The spread of fixed-formation trains also contributes to the shortage, as it is not possible to add extra vehicles kept on standby.

Where do we go from here? There is a need
  • to shift to locomotive-haulage, which is more economic when trains are five cars long or more and allows vehicles to be added or removed in response to demand.
  • for vehicles which can have a variety of seating layouts without compromising comfort unduly - which rules out the customary 1:3/2:3 door configuration.
  • an effective platform-detection system which can be fitted to all stock, so that long trains can stop as stations with short platforms without the risk that passengers will step off into oblivion.
  • to evaluate the systems fitted to vehicles on a value-for-money basis. This applies to features such as air-conditioning, fault-detection systems, at-seat power supplies, and all the other expensive things that fall into the category of nice-to-have.
  • to establish what are the optimum trains speeds on a value-for-money basis.
Once the specifications are cut down to prioritise capacity and basic comfort, there will be a better chance of curing the present troubles.

8 Nov 2010

Missed tram - missed opportunity

Mini-Tram Brighton, originally uploaded by david.sewell46.

This mini-tram was on trial in Brighton in 1994. An example of the Parry Peoplemover, it came to nothing and the streets are still choked with cars.

3 Oct 2010

Ex London buses being shipped to Ceylon in the 1950s

After the war London Transport ordered a new fleet of buses, mostly with AEC engines but some with Leyland also. The latter being non-standard, even though there were more than 1600 of them, they were quickly disposed of. They were apparently not popular with the drivers but one would have thought that a programme of modifications would have sorted out the problems.

What a waste though, when there was a surplus and then the trolleybuses were to be replaced which was another waste and a mistake as well. And for that matter the previous tram replacement programme was also a great mistake but that happened all over Britain.

Why the British tramway operators never bought new standard fleets from the continental manufacturers is an interesting question, the answer to which would probably not reflect well on those responsible for this failure in policy.

19 Sep 2010

Southern Railway to axe toilets from new train fleet

This headline from the BBC web site is not quite right, as the trains in question are not new but in fact some of the oldest in Britain, dating from 1976. Originally used for local services in London, they are being transferred for South Coast routes, including Brighton to Portsmouth, a ninety minute trip. The trains have no toilets, which is unacceptable but people will just have to accept it.

This is another one of the indications that Britain is turning into a third world country. At one time there were toilets on the stations, but these got vandalised and were closed. There were few complaints as there were toilets on the trains at that time. Putting toiletless trains on a ninety minute run is probably going to cause the train company more trouble than they bargained for as desperate passengers are going to use the gangways between the carriages to satisfy the call of nature.

These use of stock is stupid, because there are trains used on short journeys in the London area, with toilets which are locked permanently out of use. These are the class 456 sets, operated by Southern itself. A bit of judicious shuffling of the fleet would largely solve the problem. If it was not that the railways were so fragmented and new stock is of so many incompatible types, it would also have been possible to shuffle to units around so that trains with toilets, presently used on South West Trains services could be used on the Brighton to Portsmouth run. An alternative would be to transfer the Brighton to Portsmouth service from Southern to South-West trains, as they have more suitable stock.
Story on BBC web site

18 Sep 2010

Solar flare threat to transport system

A conference next week will discuss the threat from electromagnetic storms from the sun, which could paralyse high-tech infrastructure. The last such storm was in 1859, and blocked telegraph communication, then in its infancy. But the low-technology systems then in use were little affected.

Electromagnetic storms are caused by solar flares but similar damage can be caused by electromagnetic pulses from nuclear explosions. Most affected will be - it is only a matter of time before this happens - extended power lines such as the electricity grid, and satellites and the systems that depend on them, including GPS. But the disruption could potentially be far more widespread, as heavy current surges in the grid would damage switchgear and transformers, and it could take years to get everything back into service.

The most vulnerable services are the pumps that keep the water supply and sewage systems running. Failure would quickly lead to flooding, contamination and outbreaks of disease. Electrical transport systems would come to a standstill, with the failure of both traction supplies and signalling.

The question that must be asked is whether we have made ourselves too dependent on high technology and what can be done to reduce our vulnerability?

15 Sep 2010

Swedish train accident on Sunday evening

This accident, with one fatality, appears to have involved a train and a heavy construction vehicle. The exact cause remains to be discovered. According to one report, the train was going too fast past a site where repairs were in progress. However, a union commentator has been critical of the practice whereby work is successively sub-contracted to the point that those actually doing the work are unaware of the correct safe working practices. Does that sound familiar?

In the UK, track maintenance these days is usually done with a complete line possession, the trains being diverted or replaced by buses. Despite all the complaints this leads to, perhaps there is more to be said for the practice.

Trams are good value for money? Or are they?

"Trams are very expensive to install, especially on UK streets. Where ever the track goes, the road has to be dug up and all the services (water, gas, elec, phone) have to be moved 50ft to one one side. For miles."

You are talking about on-street trams. Outside the city centres, most of the mileage of tramways in many European cities is off-street anyway, the same goes for Manchester and Croydon.

The expense of renewing services for on-street tramways must be compared with the alternative of underground railways. Buses can only carry a limited volume of traffic before they become inefficient and cause environmental problems of their own. Cities need tracked electric transport if they are go grow beyond a certain point and still flourish. Stockholm, with a metro, has also supplemented it with a new tramway, the first section of which opened last month.

Many British cities have had, or will soon have, their underground services renewed anyway. If a decision is made to relocate them on the assumption that there might be trams in the future, the additional cost is minimal. Had this decision been made ten years ago in Brighton, for instance, the streets would now have been tram-ready. It is a matter of planning ahead.

It is also the case that many British cities had extensive tramway systems until the 1950s and the services may still be mostly in the right place. Until the information is obtained and collated, nothing can be said with certainty.

In the Edinburgh case, it has been remarked that the utility companies have taken everyone for a ride and got their old pipes and cables renewed at the taxpayers' expense. I don't know how true this is, but it does not sound entirely slanderous.

13 Sep 2010

Station dwell times

Slam door train at night

Station dwell time is the time a train stands at a station while the passengers get on and off. In the days of slam door trains (above), with ten doors on each side of the carriage, this could be less than 20 seconds. This was possible because passengers were well disciplined and closed the doors after them. Circumstances change and some time in the 1960s, the decision was made to replace slam door trains by trains with power-operated doors, a changeover that was finally completed about five years ago. One effect is that station dwell times have become a matter of concern, due to, amongst other things, the operating time of safety devices; for instance, plug doors do not open until 15 seconds after a train has come to a stand. When there are many stops on the route, the extra time builds up.

Commuter trains normally have doors at the 1:3/2:3 positions, which is intended to give better access than the alternative end-door location, but this layout has disadvantages. When bodyshells are designed on the monocoque principle, substantial reinforcement must be provided around door openings part-way along the vehicles. The vehicle itself is divided into three compartments, which restricts the options for seating layouts. It is difficult to provide intermediate doors between the entrance lobbies and the seating areas, which makes extra work for the heating and ventilation system; in the winter, seated passengers are blasted with cold air every time the doors open. Unless station platforms are fairly straight, there can be large gaps between the platform and the train. In some of the earlier designs of train such as the class 313 and 455, loading and unloading was glacially slow until the vehicle layouts were redesigned a few years ago.

Is there scope for improvement? There is a need to study precisely what happens at stations when the trains are in actual service. First, the passengers alight, and then the waiting passengers get on. The delaying factor for alighting passengers seems to be the need to take care stepping down off the train. For boarding passengers, the delay seems to be the time for those already on the train to move down inside the car, so that the queue backs-up on the platform.

If this is the case, the most useful improvements that could be made would appear to be the provision of a larger step-board to close the gap between the platform and the train, and the elimination of pinch-points inside the vehicle. These changes could mean that there are many routes where end-door vehicles could be used instead of the present 1:3/2:3 stock. There are many commuter routes where the original sliding-door fleet is approaching the end of its service life, and could therefore be replaced by newer cascaded stock presently running on longer-distance commuter services where end-door vehicles would be more suitable, provided that attention was paid to the detailed design of the doorways and the space around the entrance areas.

12 Sep 2010

Short life expectancy of X2000 trains

An article in Göteborgs Posten recently referred to the growing list of defects occurring on the Swedish X2000 tilting trains (picture in blog title) and predicted that they would be replaced after a relatively short service life.

New trains such as the Regina have better acceleration and bogies which are easier on the track, giving similar journey times without the need for the same top speed and the associated complications of tilting.

There is probably a more effective alternative to premature scrapping. The X2000 trains could be provided with new bogies and the power cars rebuilt or converted to driving trailers. An off-the-peg type of locomotive such as the Bombardier TRAXX would provide the traction. This ought to offer very much better value for money.

21 Aug 2010

Seat comfort and design

Despite decades of collecting ergonomic data, seat design on public transport is as erratic as ever. The most comfortable train seat I have ever sat in was in a second class compartment in a carriage built for the North London Railway in the mid-1860s. This was a bizarre shape - the back of the seat had a cross section like half a pear. Which meant that it provided good lumbar support. I have sat in uncomfortable seats in first class inter-city trains, and comfortable seats, like the one illustrated, on commuter trains.

The key things to get right are lumbar support ie of the lower back, and the angle of the cushion, which should slope slightly from front to rear. If lumbar support is absent, a rolled-up sweater will provide it. Once these two things are correct, the spine will adopt the correct position.

Seats in British Railways mark 1 stock were mostly on the sloppy side, exept for the last of the type, introduced in the 1970s. Much research went into the seats on mark 2 stock, and these felt odd at first but one noticed the benefit at the end of a long journey. Unfortunately, the designers went and spoilt the things with headrest wings which were hideously uncomfortable for people with long torsos.

More recently, seats are something of a lottery. Southern's class 377 stock has excellent seats in some of the vehicles whilst others in the same 4-car unit are exactly wrong, with a horizontal cushion.

Most train seats these days are curved in both directions, like car seats, to provide lateral support when cornering, but this makes them difficult to upholster. Trains do not go round corners so fast that lateral support is needed, and bench seats with a correct cross section are all that is required.

The need to provide lumbar support coincides conveniently with the need to provide room for luggage between seat backs, as the curvature needed for the former creates space for the latter. An excellent example is the class 180 Adelante (below).

The fashion for unidirectional (airline style) seating in trains ought to be questioned. A few more seats can be fitted in, but at the cost of luggage space. A further drawback is that the upper edge of the seat back is unsupported, which means that the seats need a much heavier frame than if they were designed to be back-to-back or fixed to a bulkhead, and even then are liable to uncomfortable resonant vibration. With seventy or eighty seats in the average rail vehicle, this must add a substantial weight penalty.

The subject needs to be looked into.

17 Aug 2010

Never mind the gap

Never mind the gap, originally uploaded by seadipper.

Retractable steps are standard on modern Swedish trains. This one slides out from under the floor. This probably pays for itself because people get on and off quicker and it presumably prevents accidents.

3 Aug 2010

Important Inter City Express documents

Although the Inter City Express programme has been cancelled, these two documents contain much useful information relevant to future rolling stock design in general. They address, amongst other things, many of the shortcomings of trains such as the Pendolino, generally considered to be Britain's most unpopular train.

On the other hand, they reveal the extent of the mission creep which seems to be a feature of so many UK government projects. There seems to be a failure to appreciate the difference between what is important and what is merely nice to have. Is it really necessary to have passenger counters, or power points at every seat. There has also been a tendency to specify in details matters that might be better left to the designers resolve. Is it necessary to have a toilet in every vehicle, provided that there are enough of them overall and that they are reliable? Modern train toilets are complicated and have ancillary equipment which is needed regardless of the number in a vehicle. It might be more cost-effective to provide some vehicles with two or more toilets, whilst others have none.

These specifications need to be gone through carefully to ensure that design solutions are not unduly constrained, possibly leading to better alternatives being blocked.

Technical Specification for Inter City Express programme
Inter City Express Programme - invitation to tender

30 Jul 2010

Inter City Express report published

Expressed in the politest possible terms, the report by Sir Andrew Foster is a damning indictment of the Department for Transport and its working methods.

"The real issue here, I believe, is that there has been insufficient communication between the Department and the industry, including communication about IEP, and this has opened the way for significant negativity to develop. This is a key area for attention and further improvement. This problem, particularly with IEP, appears to have been amplified by DfT’s procurement approach, which has placed heavy emphasis on commercial confidentiality and thus relied on independent advisers and consultants rather than industry expertise. This has engendered a sense of disengagement and disenchantment which I believe could and should largely have been avoided. I also ask a number of questions about arrangements for managing the costs and coherence of independent advice within the Department".

"At the end of the earlier section on value for money I asked why a programme which has passed its technical VfM tests is regarded so negatively. I have suggested that there are three types of reason for this: first there are unresolved technical questions, secondly it is not clear that all the potentially viable alternatives to IEP have been adequately assessed, and thirdly there are some issues around DfT’s management approach and its engagement and communication with the railway industry.

"In short, there is a good deal about the programme as it stands that is unresolved, unproven, uncertain and carries risk."

Review of the Intercity Express Programme by Sir Andrew Foster and Appendix

26 Jun 2010

The trouble with cars

The trouble with cars is,
  1. They take up too much space and are therefore literally toxic to civilised urban life.
  2. One is moving the best part of 1000kg of which less than 20% consists of actual payload.
  3. Rubber-on-tarmac is inefficient compared to steel-on-steel.
  4. Car-based transport requires the individual to invest in and operate a very expensive and fast-depreciating item of complex and sophisticated capital equipment.
  5. Cars are a huge waste of time as it is impossible to spend time travelling in them in a productive way.
Off course we all use cars because when patterns of travel are very diverse, there is no other option. But we should not be using cars for journeys in densely built-up areas, and we should also be thinking whether land-use planning is forcing people into the unnecessary use of cars.

No technological breakthrough is going to resolve all of the drawbacks of cars as we know them today. We need a better mix of modes, including walking, cycling, buses, trams, heavy rail as well as cars. Which needs the right mix of infrastructure to make it possible to travel by different modes as appropriate.

Somehow, though, I don't think we are going to get it in Britain.

New surface line stock for London underground

S Stock On 52N, originally uploaded by oiyou.

London's entire fleet of surface line stock is being renewed with a single fleet. Some of it dates from 1960, most of it from around 1970 or 1978/79. All has been refurbished in the past ten years and looks perfectly presentable.

Of course there are advantages in having new trains and a single uniform fleet, or ought to be. They can use less less electricity through regenerative braking, and they should also cause less wear and tear on the track and need less maintenance.

But will they? And how long will it take to realise the savings and recover the cost of the investment? It's just a question.

Professor says "invest in roads not rail"

"Cutting the roads budget marginalises the masses and ignores the fact taxpayers already subsidise niche rail and bus sectors." So says Stephen Glaister, professor of Transport and Infrastructure at Imperial College, London, in an article in today's Guardian. Glaister is also a spokesmen for the Royal Automobile Foundation and so not a neutral party to the debate.

Not very professorial

Glaister begins by stating that "For most people, most of the time, the car is public transport. Ninety-two per cent of passenger travel takes place on the roads." That is not a very professorial statement. Is that 92% of trips, or mileage, or what?

Anyhow it is not sustainable, not because of carbon dioxide emissions but because of resource depletion, sheer lack of space and the fact that such widespread use of cars is not possible in a small urbanised country with a concentrated population. Nor does further investment to encourage the use of cars deal with the problem of their impact on cities, which have became a nightmare of noise, air pollution and congestion.

And why is the figure high anyway? Bad land-use planning which has resulted in car-dependency for so many. Failure to invest in public transport, which within Europe is a peculiarly British phenomenon.

The idea that railways do not pay their way arises from the use of different criteria for road and rail. A road does "not pay its way" and nobody expects it to because, unless it is a toll road, there are no direct receipts from those who use it. A road creates land value all the way along the route. But so does all infrastructure, so long as it is needed and used. To claim that railways do not pay their way is to ignore this external value. Property values in places like Oxford and Brighton are largely supported on the strength of their train services.

This is not to say that the railways are being run efficiently, or that that investment is necessarily needed in new high speed railways. There has been huge waste, for example in withdrawing fleets of rolling stock prematurely when they had a couple of decades of useful life left. But that is not support for Glaister's argument. To follow his line of thinking will lead us to more of what can be seen in the picture at the top of the page.

That said, there are serious questions that need to be asked. Public transport in Britain is poor compared to similar countries in Western Europe. Partly this is due to lack of investment, partly due to poor investment. There are some absurdly extravagant projects at the planning stage, like Crossrail in its present form. The inter-city express programme, now on the verge of cancellation. And resources are being used extravagantly. One has to ask, for example, why all the surface line stock in London is being changed just because some of it dates back to the 1960s. What is the real gain? What is the payback time?

I fear that these questions will not be asked and that Britain is being softened up by the Roads Party for another round of road building. Ultimately, it is a decision about what kind of a country we want to live in.

20 Jun 2010

East of England agency calls for faster trains

Presumably as a parting shot before being shut down, the East of England Development Agency put out a wish-list for improvements to the Great Eastern main line to Ipswich and Norwich, including new trains.

The worrying thing about this was the number of things that were stirred into the pot. Necessary infrastructure improvements are one thing. New trains are another, especially since it is now accepted that the mark 3 fleet presently in use has an economic service life of at least sixty years and new trains offer the passenger little if anything more.

This is a good example of the wasteful and profligate attitudes that characterised the Labour administration and the bureaucrats and consultants who were living off the system. We are now all about to pay the price.

Locomotive stored out of use

I noticed in Rail magazine that 14 class 66 locomotives are stored out of use. This is not many out of a class of several hundred but it illustrates a more general point. Rolling stock has such a long life, several decades, and in that period changes in economic circumstances mean that it may spend extended periods under-used or out of use altogether.

There is a good case for procuring units of lower initial cost even if the running costs may be higher. This is also why it may be desirable to retain old stock in storage rather than rushing to send it for scrap.

On the passenger side, it is a good argument for using locomotive-hauled vehicles rather than multiple-unit trains, which gives the operator the flexibility of using a variety of different power units depending on what is available. This is why locomotive-hauled passenger trains persist despite all attempts to get rid of them. However, it is of course desirable to run in push-pull mode where possible to avoid the need for locomotives to run round trains at terminals, although it would be no bad thing if facilities were more widely available to allow for this. It is unfortunate that these run-round loops were taken out where they were already present - it shows a lack of forward thinking.

19 Jun 2010

What happened to the 1300 new carriages?

For several years the Labour government promised that 1300 new carriages were going to be delivered. They probably will never be because of the cuts. So the trains are getting more and more overcrowded and uncomfortable, which makes passengers opt to go by car or bus instead.

Uncosted safety costs lives
Now 1300 vehicles is, by coincidence, roughly the number of mark 1 vehicles that were scrapped in 2005, despite the fact that they were good for another 15 years in service. These spacious and comfortable trains (above) were hurriedly withdrawn due to their supposed lack of crashworthiness. Following the serious accident at Clapham Junction in 1989, it was realised that they were well below current safety standards. From that time on, there was an ill-considered and uninformed campaign to get them replaced. But they were still at least an order of magnitude safer than the alternative of travelling by bus or car. And they could have been confined to routes such as branch lines where speeds were slow and there was next to no possibility of a collision, let alone a high-speed accident.

This is a good example of the hazards of applying safety measures without regard to the cost. Uncosted safety costs lives.

18 Jun 2010

Complaints piled on complaints

A few months ago I complained about a whole string of problems I had in the course of a weekend's journeys. Eventually I received £20 in vouchers(4 x £5). Yesterday, my last day in Britain, I used them to pay for my trip from Brighton to Harwich. It took nearly ten minutes to buy my ticket as the man in the booking office had to fill in the details of the journey on each of the four vouchers. I nearly missed my train, which for some reason was parked at the far end of a platform. It was not funny to be asked by a man with a whistle to hurry up, whilst dragging a heavy case behind me.

Surely there is a better way of dealing with compensation for complaints? What a waste of time. The train companies all have big call centres to deal with all the complaints, which of course is just the tip of an iceberg of dissatisfaction. What does it cost to deal with them? How much would they save by getting the service right in the first place?

15 Jun 2010

Sunday evening travel

Last Sunday - train left Salisbury 19.28, arrived Brighton 22.48. It was perfectly pleasant, but who would do it if they had the option of a car?

7 Jun 2010

Class 66 for passenger trains?

Rated at 3,300 hp, these diesel locomotives intended for freight services are about as powerful as a Deltic or a four-car Voyager set. Although top speed is only 75mph, they would still give excellent performance on stopping trains with up to ten cars, running on services with stations about 15 miles apart, where there is little opportunity for high speed running anyway.

As the locomotives are not normally used for passenger trains they can not provide electric train heating. They would either have to be adapted or the train heating/air conditioning power would have to come from a generator van.

Class 66 on passenger train

Steam but not as we know it

The cab of a steam locomotive strike me as an unsuitable environment for a laptop computer but obviously this technology has finally cleaned up its act.

4 Jun 2010

Hotel power

8911 at Connolly, originally uploaded by rowanC82.

"Hotel power" is the name given to the electrical power used to run things like heating and air-conditioning systems on trains. Each type of vehicle has what is known as an electric train heating (ETH) index. Typically, the power consumption of a modern air-conditioned vehicle is about 20kW per vehicle. The power consumption of each type of stock is expressed as a figure known as the ETH index. Mark 3 stock has an ETH index of 6, stock without air conditioning has an ETH index of about 3.

The power to run the heating and ventilation system is normally drawn from the locomotive and with electric traction, the power comes from the overhead line. With diesel traction, it is taken from the traction current generator on the locomotive.

In the case of mark 3 hauled stock, the power supply is run down the train via a 1000V DC line. In the case of HST trailer cars the power supply is 415V 3-phase. The locomotive must, of course, be able to deliver sufficient power to run the services in all the vehicles in the train. Freight locomotive types such as class 66 do not normally have the ability to provide ETH power.

An alternative is to use a generator van, which is the practice in Ireland (above). There were, at one time, an number of generator vans in mainland Britain, which could be used to enable HST sets to be hauled by locomotives. If generator vans are used, modern air-conditioned stock can be hauled by any type of locomotive, including all types of freight locomotive and even steam locomotives.

Electric train heating is not particularly efficient due to thermodynamic losses. With steam traction, the heating was direct from the boiler and in some cases by waste steam, which avoided these losses.

One way of avoiding thermodyamic losses would be to provide the hotel services on each vehicle with a mini-CHP (combined heat and power system). If my calculations are correct, it is about three times the power of a large portable generator and a de-rated motorcycle engine of about 200 cc would deliver what is needed. An engine and generator of the necessary power would weigh about 200kg. Whether the efficiency savings would be worth the trouble of having to carry the units around, maintain them, and keep the fuel tanks filled is another question. Vehicles fitted with such equipment would certainly have the advantage of flexibility. It is an idea that could be worth looking into.

28 May 2010

Bus, tram or train?

This table is from a report produced by the Commission for Integrated Transport in 2005. The figures give maximum system capacity (passengers per hour per direction). It suggests that when there are more than about 3,000 passengers per hour - say around 40 buses - it is time to start thinking about replacing them with trams.

Standard bus2,500-4,000
Guided bus4,000-6,000
Tram/Light rail12,000-18,000
Heavy rail10,000-30,000

Link to full report

27 May 2010

What the Campaign to Protect Rural England says

The Campaign to Protect Rural England has commented on the HS2 proposal here

Whilst being neither for or against it, much the same points are made as have been given on this site, only more cogently, plus a few more into the bargain. On the positive side, it notes that construction of the line could create opportunities for environmental improvement.

25 May 2010

Rail journey abandoned

This morning I tried to take a train from Brighton to Seaford but gave up the attempt.

When I arrived at the station there were long queues at all the ticket machines and in the booking office. It was touch and go whether I would catch my train. Whilst waiting, I noticed that the train was one of the class 313 stock which have just been introduced - these are the cast-offs from London Overground. They have no toilets, and as I needed to use one, I gave up, went home and then took the bus. As I have a bus pass, I saved £2.65. Surprisingly, I arrived at my destination only five minutes later than if I had gone on the train.

If one is going to travel in discomfort, there is no point in paying if one can go free of charge. And since one now has to allow 20 minutes to purchase a ticket, the train doesn't even save time.

The interesting thing is why Southern has done nothing to resolve the ticket machine problem in the five years it has had them. I have complained endlessly to Southern and even put forward suggestions for improvements. I cannot imagine I am the only one.

My personal explanation is that since Britain is run for the benefit of the handful of people who own most of it, nobody with the power to solve the problem really cares if everyone is put to trouble and incovenience whenver they travel by train.

24 May 2010

New building methods for new tramway

Stockholm tram at Ryssvikken, originally uploaded by seadipper.

The museum tramway in Stockholm (above) is being extended into the city centre and is due to open in August. This 700 metre extension is the first stage in the creation of a trunk route across the city. At a costing 230 million kronor, around £20 million, it seems remarkably inexpensive by British standards.

A feature of the construction system is the use of large pre-cast concrete panels to lay the track on, which is quicker, cheaper and less disruptive. This is shown in the film

20 May 2010

What's not to like about high-speed rail?

Article in Guardian by George Monbiot: What's not to like about high-speed rail? The case simply hasn't been made. The comments, both for and against, are also worth reading. My own postings are under the name of Physiocrat.

19 May 2010

More on advanced kettle technology

One of the biggest problems with kettles of all sizes is damage done by scale (top picture) and corrosion (lower picture). These pictures show the inside of a locomotive boiler after a period in service. This can eventually stop the boiler from working properly and it could even lead to failure and loss of life. Consequently, boilers have to be inspected and often completely rebuilt - in Britain the period is every seven years. This is one of the things that makes steam locomotive hopelessly uneconomic.

But with the Porta system of water treatment, the inside of the boiler develops a protective coating of oxide and the scale remains in suspension instead of building up as a layer of lime (below). The result, it is claimed, is a reduction in maintenance costs of 90%

18 May 2010

Advanced steam technology

Waiting for a Signal, originally uploaded by Wavellite.

This modern locomotive is little bigger than a toy but embodies very advanced technology. It runs on a tourist railway in Ushuaia in Patagonia. The conical funnel is optimised according to the principles established by Argentinian engineer L D Porta. Not visible is the special water treatment system which, by protecting the boiler, completely eliminates the need for frequent and expensive maintenance.

The main principle of the system is to add sufficient alkali to the water that to raise the pH of the contents of the boiler to a very high level, greater than 10. This is combined with anti-foaming agents to prevent carry-over of harmful substances and damaging material into the cylinders. Any water supply is suitable. When the system is working properly, the water has a brown colouration due to the materials in suspension. This can be observed in the gauge glasses. After a while the interior of the boiler becomes coated with a uniform protective layer that prevents corrosion.There is a complete absence of scale build-up; the solid material remains in suspension and can be cleared by draining the boiler from time to time.

How long does it have to take for prejudices to be overcome and good technology adopted?

Read the technical description here.

A haircut for the Great Western?

Twyford station

Another project that might benefit from a haircut is the package of schemes planned for the Great Western main line. These include Crossrail and its extension to Reading, reconstruction of the station and junction at Reading with a grade-separation of the Newbury and Bristol lines, and electrification to Newbury, Oxford, Bristol and Swansea.

The projects themselves are obviously worthwhile, but having them all going on at once will be disruptive. It all sounds too much. How will reliable services be maintained?

There are alternative routes, up to a point. There is the South-Western main line through Salisbury and Exeter, though capacity is limited. The Chiltern Railways proposal will eventually provide a good connection from Oxford to London via Bicester and High Wycombe.

This is a case where there many be a need for better phasing, which would also have the advantage of spreading out the cost over a longer period.

A new main line for Brighton?

Proposals for a new main line from London to Brighton, the BML2 Project, have been put forward by Brian Hart, who has extensive knowledge and enormous enthusiasm of the national railways in the South East corner of the UK. He was also instrumental in starting the Wealden Line Campaign many years ago, in an endeavour to get the railway line rebuilt from Lewes to Uckfield.

It is claimed that BML2 is in the unique position of being capable of solving many of the serious problems facing the most over-crowded routes between London, Sussex, Surrey and Kent. It also offers other opportunities to enhance the network further and strengthen the capital’s position in Europe. The focus of growth in London is gravitating eastwards, whilst the city and its environs seem set to continue their key role in the financial, commercial and tourist sector.

An important benefit of BML2 would be to reconnect the swathe of people living in the Wealden/Mid Sussex/Kent areas directly by rail to the South Coast. With the new football stadium now under construction at Falmer for Brighton & Hove Albion, large numbers of football supporters will need to travel to the east of Brighton. The BML2, when built, would provide ideal public transport for those coming from the Oxted/Tunbridge Wells/Crowborough and Uckfield areas. It would also make life easier for students to get to the two Universities from these areas, and avoid possible late arrival, caused by being compelled to use buses that can often get delayed by heavy road traffic. And it ought to reduce, if marginally, the number of people driving into Brighton.

The route would leave Brighton on the east Coastway route, and then by-pass Lewes to the north in a tunnel, to join the currently-abandoned line to Uckfield. It would then run direct towards London via Edenbridge, Hurst Green and Sanderstead. From there, it would continue via Woodside, Elmers End and the mid-Kent line through Catford Bridge to Lewisham, and then to London Bridge.

The southern end of the scheme obviously works well. As the route approaches London, there are difficulties, as the promoters admit. Part of the route was taken for use by Croydon Tramlink, and there is already severe congestion between Lewisham and London Bridge. Nevertheless, the project is obviously worth further investigation.

Public investment, private gain
One of the difficulties is that it would create development pressure in the area it passes through. It would also increase land values in those areas, a value which would end up in private landowners' pockets rather than returning to taxpayers and investors who paid for the scheme.

You can read about the proposal in detail here.

17 May 2010

A haircut for Thameslink?

Like Crossrail, Thameslink could benefit from a haircut. It would be advantageous if the route was cut back and possibly transferred to London Overground. North of London, it should not run much north of, say, St Alban's or Welwyn Garden City. Suitable destinations south of London would be Wimbledon, Bromley South, Caterham and Tattenham Corner.

Procurement of new trains for Thameslink has been problematic due to the number of conflicting requirements that must be satisfied for a route that is a long-distance service that also carries crush-loaded traffic through the centre of London. Instead of procuring a fleet of trains to an entirely new design, a further build of the Bombardier class 378 would do very nicely for such a cut-back service. If the cash is really running out, a refreshment of the class 313 fleet would suffice.

A haircut for Crossrail?

With cuts in the offing, many schemes are likely to get the chop. Crossrail, in its present incarnation, must surely be a prime candidate. It began as a much-needed east-west relief route to the Central and Metropolitan Lines and has ended up as a regional express line through London, an east-west counterpart to Thameslink.

Now Thameslink is not a good model to follow. First, it transfers delays across networks that are otherwise independent. Disruption at, say, Luton, will eventually cause problems at Haywards Heath, and vice versa. Second, it means that passengers are forced to travel in discomfort for long distances in trains that are designed for short journeys in crush-loading conditions. Third, the trains must be dual voltage, with heavy transformer equipment that is inefficient on the city-centre stretches of route with closely-spaced stops.

Precisely the same objections will apply to Crossrail. In addition, because so much of the route is in tunnel, there will be substantial extra costs due to the extra clearances that will be needed, and which could have been avoided if the line had been constructed for third-rail electrification or even to the tube gauge.

What could be cut?
What can be cut depends on how far the scheme has progressed. Substantial savings could be realised if the line from Paddington to Stratford and Woolwich could be built as a tube. At the western end of the route, trains might run to Hammersmith via Ladbroke Grove, which would be a useful enhancement to the service. At the eastern end of the route, given a suitable realignment with an end-on connection to the Jubilee Line, trains might run on to Stanmore, avoiding the need for reversing.

Another alternative might be to build the underground section as a DC route with third-rail electrification, again running to Hammersmith.

DC electrification would also enable the line to operate with DC-only stock, which might be the class 378/1 type or the new S-type, but could be existing LUL stock refurbished. There is a very substantial fleet that will be going for scrap when the S-type is introduced; if times are as hard as we are being told they are, there scope for a saving here.

There are of course, further savings to be had from this strategy because existing class 315 stock on Great Eastern suburban routes will be kept in service for another couple of decades. It isn't wonderful but it does the job and there are improvements that can be made that disguise its age from all but the train-spotting fraternity.

14 May 2010

Class 313 trains transferred to Coastway services

The class 313 suburban trains introduced in the mid 1970s were never the most wonderful of trains. They have been running around in the London area for far too long, but have finally been replaced as London Overground has taken over the routes and introduced new trains.

Now these badly designed trains have been sent to plague passengers on routes along the south coast. To be fair, Southern has got a problem as there is little else available that is suitable, and it has done them up as best it can. New seats are being fitted, one hopes not in the original configuration which is very cramped and gives nobody an unobstructed view out of the train - this is not necessary.

They have no air conditioning, but nor do they have the anti-draught sliding ventilators fitted to the mark 1 stock, and so the windows cannot be opened without causing a draught down the whole length of the carriage. The trains have no toilets and neither do most of the stations any more. This is not good enough, especially when it is apparently intended to use them on the Brighton to Portsmouth run, which takes about 90 minutes. The last time trains without toilets were used on this route was about 1950 and in those days there were toilets on all the stations.

There is also going to be a problem at one of the sharply curved platforms at Lewes. The doors one these trains are closer to the centre of the vehicle than they are on the present Electrostars and there will be an even wider gap between between the platform and the train.

Anticipating an unfavourable reception, Southern has printed leaflets and staged "meet the manager" events locally. Passengers are going to vote with their feet, especially when one must allow 15 minutes at Brighton to get a ticket from the badly designed machines. Over-60s will decide that if they are going to travel in discomfort without access to a toilet, they might as sell go by bus for nothing.

A lot of people will be wishing the slam door stock hadn't been scrapped.

Here is what Southern have to say...
I am sorry that you are not looking forward to the introduction of the Class 313 trains.

We are spending six million pounds refreshing the trains so that they are an improvement on what they were. This refresh will include redesigning the seats so that they are more comfortable and facing each other, meaning that window views will not be obstructed. This will create more room in the aisles.

With regards to the lack of toilets of the 313s, they were not designed to have toilets on board and, in order to provide more space for passengers, they will not be installed. Whilst we are aware that toilet facilities are important, our research shows that the majority of passengers will be making short journeys. We are also working on ensuring that all stations along the line have toilets so that passengers can disembark if necessary.

If you have any further queries about the 313 trains, please feel free to ask a member of staff at our stations or contact us again.

Frankly I think Southern is one of the better train companies and you can't really fault them. Their difficulty is that Britain has a legacy of poorly designed old rolling stock, new rolling stock which can be temperamental, and regulatory requirements which appear to be why they don't seem to be able to solve the ticket machine problem.

5 May 2010

Ticket Machines

Brighton Station ticket queue, originally uploaded by seadipper.

I have complained endlessly about Southern's so-called Fasticket machines since they were introduced in a hasty system-wide rollout in 2005. Nothing fundamental has been done to address the problems. They are cumbersome with a poor and non-intuitive program flow, a poor interface and a lack of reliability, especially the on-screen keyboard which passengers must use if they are not going to the most popular dozen or so destinations. The touch screens are either over-sensitive or unresponsive, and sometimes both, depending which part of the screen has to be touched.

Most people seem to take about two minutes to buy a ticket, with the result that queues can build up, and so one needs to allow ten minutes to get a ticket. When one considers that the government is willing to spend billions on a high speed, just to save a few minutes on a long journey, it makes no sense to force passengers to waste their time queuing to buy tickets.

Without making major changes to the software, an immediate improvement could be made if the station names could be typed from the keyboard used to enter the credit card PIN number, as on a mobile phone.

But frankly the machines are dreadful. I can buy a ticket from Uppsala to Stockholm in 15 seconds. The procedure there is

  1. swipe debit card
  2. select ticket type from one of a few buttons
  3. key in the two-digit destination code (choice of up to 100)
  4. wait 5 secs for ticket to be printed.

Of course it would be even quicker if the ticket machines were on the trains.

I gather from other sources that the problem is partly due to the regulatory authorities who set the standards. We should not have to put up with this bad technology. And why are complaints simply ignored?

More land value the taxpayer will not get back

East London Line - May 2010, originally uploaded by Danny McL.

The East London Line extension has now opened with this fleet of new trains. It is an excellent scheme created mostly on alignments where the trains stopped running long ago. With further extensions it will eventually link Highbury with various destinations in south and south-east London. There are many journeys that people will now be able to make faster and more easily.

Of course this will have a significant effect on rents and property prices, and so yet again we shall see public investment creating land value which will end up in private pockets. No wonder the Treasury is tight-fisted about spending money on railway improvements.

28 Apr 2010

After Tornado - yet nother new steam locomotive?

More East Coast Magic.60163 Tornado, originally uploaded by FlyingScotsman4472.

The Tornado Trust has done, and does, a great job, and today I received a letter from the Chairman to the covenanters about a proposal to build a replica P2 locomotive.

The thinking behind this is that the expertise developed by the Trust should be directed towards further construction. This sounds like a good strategy. However, there are many possible options and in my view, at this stage a feasibility study should consider at least a few of the alternatives. In addition to a straight replica of the 1930s design, some of the obvious ones include
  • a small production run of tank locomotives, suitable for use for the actual traffic on preserved railways round the country. This struck me recently when travelling on Gloucestershire and Warwickshire Railway, where a 9F was used for to haul five mark one coaches at a top speed of 25 mph. Whilst it is nice to see a 9F in action, this is extravagant and does not present the impression of a steam locomotive working hard. A small tank locomotive would have been appropriate for the task.
  • one or more examples of David Wardale’s updating of the British Railways class 5, the so-called 5AT, which, due to its greater efficiency, should be the equal of a class 8.
  • one or more examples of the locomotive designed by Roger Waller of DLM for the Hauenstein line between Sissach and Olten. This is a 4-8-4 tank locomotive but could equally well be a 4-8-0 tender locomotive. This can be adapted for the British loading gauge and can be finished off in any desired style, such as a Gresley streamlined casing.
  • an updating of the P2 based on Porta principles of improved combustion and draughting, with other efficiency and labour-saving devices
  • A “carbon neutral” steam locomotive using fuel from a renewable source or waste material
We are fortunate in having a number of the largest express passenger locomotives with a popular following, including the GWR Kings and Castles, a few Merchant Navy Pacifics, several LMS Pacifics, two Britannia Pacifics and of course the Duke of Gloucester, plus Tornado itself. There are also projects to construct a Patriot and a Clan class Pacific. I think there is a risk of spreading resources too thinly, and it is a growing one as the number of people who remember steam is dwindling as the years pass. There is a real possibility that as this generation passes, all the valuable work done will be lost as these machines are cast aside.

Also, looking a decade ahead, the main lines are likely to be increasingly congested and it may be difficult to provide the opportunities for these locomotives to do what they were designed to do.

On the other hand, steam technology is far from dead. Roger Waller has demonstrated that conventional steam locomotives can operate competitively within the modern railway environment. The rebuilt Kriegslok has been used both for steam specials, commuter trains and on hire to the Swiss Railways (SBB) for infrastructure duties, a task for which it proved popular, especially in residential areas! This shows that an appropriate steam locomotive can not only cater for the enthusiast and leisure market, but also earn its keep in mainstream use on the regular railway.

In conclusion, it seems to me that
  • there are about half-a-dozen obvious and possible options that need to be considered, and
  • it would also be a good thing to see the Trust promoting steam by applying some of the many technical improvements that have been made with the technology over the past forty years.