29 Mar 2010

Double-deck trains

Double-deck trains are widespread in continental Europe. The best of them are in Finland, where the railways are to the Russian gauge and vehicles much larger than everywhere else. The upper deck lacks the usual uncomfortable curved windows found on double-deck trains and there is a proper luggage shelf above. (photograph)

The only real problem is that there is a shortage of space for large cases, which have to be dragged up the stairs. There are lockable luggage lockers but these will not hold a large case.

The benefits of double-deck trains are marginal, due to the space occupied by the staircases. Much time is taken loading and unloading at stations. These are also quite heavy vehicles with an axle-load of 12.5 tons, which is a lot for a trailer, compared with the 9 ton axle-load of a mark 3.

If we are expecting to have double-deck trains in the future, this must be planned for at the outset. The railway must be constructed to a larger loading gauge than the present continental standard, as we should not be constrained to having vehicles with low curved ceilings.

Thoughts on passenger vehicle design

This piece discusses general aspects of passenger vehicle design. There are several interacting parameters which need to be considered together.

The first of these is what is known as the static loading gauge. This can be thought of as the aperture through which all railway vehicles must be able to pass when running slowly on straight track. In practice, tracks are curved and railway vehicles cut across and project beyond the chord of a circle. Within the wheelbase, the distance cut across the curve is sometimes known as the overthrow and the projection beyond the wheelbase is referred to as the kick-out. A long vehicle cuts off more of a chord than a short one (diagram below) Taking curvature into consideration in this way leads to the concept of the dynamic loading gauge, which, however, also takes account of the suspension characteristics of the vehicle.

The diagram shows how gaps between the platform and the train will arise differently at concave and convex platform faces, and that these gaps can be minimised by keeping doorways as close as possible to bogie centres.

Chords colour

Following the nationalisation of Britain's railways in 1948, a survey of the infrastructure was made and an optimum loading gauge established for passenger vehicles. This was known as the C1 loading gauge and eventually it became possible for vehicles built to this gauge to operate over almost the entire system. The C1 loading gauge applied to vehicles of a nominal 20 metre width with bogies at 14.174 metre centres, of which the first were the Mark 1 fleet.

Mark 1 interior

These (above) were characterised by curved bodysides with the width reducing to cantrail level (where the roof joins the bodyside)

Vehicles to a similar length are still being built, but all of them have two pairs of bi-parting doors at the 1:3/2:3 position. (below)

First Capital Connect

This divides the vehicle into three saloons, one of four bays in the middle and two of two bays at each end. This is not a particularly satisfactory arrangement. If the vehicle is a monocoque construction, then the large door apertures break into the structure at the worst possible place from the point of view of integrity. Substantial reinforcement is then required around these openings.

The division into three saloons also imposes limitations on the alternative seat layouts that can be accommodated, because the small end compartments can only be used for four rows of seats (or three and a driver's cab) or some special purposes such as a wheelchair and toilet area. The third drawback is that having just two sets of doors per vehicle leads to passengers bunching round doors at stations, which extends station dwell times. The fourth drawback is that it would be inconvenient to fit internal vestibule doors, so that passengers sitting inside are exposed to cold air in the winter when the doors are open, and there is a heavy load on the heating and ventilation system during hot and cold weather.

What are the alternatives? 20 metre long vehicles are used for two types of service. One is for long distance commuting, for example, South Coast inter city. For such routes, an end-door configuration would be more suitable, provided that attention was paid to the detailed design of the doorway and the space immediately inside, with sufficient vestibule and circulation space for passengers to move down inside the car. Otherwise, station dwell times will be too long.

Train diagram

The diagram shows a ten bay vehicle, of which the two end bays are vestibules with wide doorways. It would have internal doors between vestibule and saloon, with the aim of improving passenger comfort and reducing the work required of the heating and ventilation system. Such a configuration would not be suitable for rush hour congestion. An alternative with four single doors would be. Having four doors instead of the standard 1:3/2:3 double-door configuration ought to reduce station dwell time. This is shown below. Each vestibule would occupy a full bay and be provided with space for luggage and perch-type seating. Such a train would be suitable for the inner sections of Thameslink and probably Crossrail also, provided that stations do not have sharply curved platforms.

Train diagram

If higher traffic densities are to be handled, then trains need to have either three or more sets of double doors or two sets of double doors and single doorways at each end, the standard on tube LUL stock.

Inter city vehicles
Finally, there is the matter of longer inter city vehicles. Due to the overthrow on curves, the width of a vehicle longer than 20 metres must be reduced by an amount proportional to the square of the distance between bogie centres. This is based on the formula x squared equals h*(d-h), where x is half the length of a chord and d is the diameter. h is the distance cut off by the chord. (diagram below)


A vehicle 20 metres long can be built to the full permitted width of 2.82 metres. Longer vehicles were introduced in the 1970s, with the mark 3 design. Based on a track curvature of 200 metres, a 23 metre vehicle must be 8 cm narrower (2.74), which is the same width as a mark 1 vehicle due to the projection of door handles etc on the 1940s-designed stock. However, a vehicle of intermediate length could be built to a width of 2.79 metres, losing just 3 cm from the maximum permitted width, whilst gaining an extra bay compared with a mark 1 coach.

The photographs at the bottom, which shows the Swedish X2000 tilting train with stainless corrugated bodyshell, and the Alstom Adelante, give an idea of what is envisaged. Such vehicles are an appropriate choice for locomotive hauled or electric multiple unit inter-city trains, such as we are likely to see now that the IEP project is abandoned.

Stainless steel bodyshells (below, lower) would be worth considering on account of their extreme long life and low maintenance requirements.

Adelante train interior

Swedish X2000 train

Wheelchair access and more...

Wheelchair access toilets have to date not been particularly well integrated into the vehicle interior layout. One issue is that the size of the module does not fit with a centre aisle seating layout. Another is that there is a need to provide access to toilets from the entrance vestibule rather than from the passenger saloon to prevent annoyance from bad odours. With this in mind, it is worth considering if wheelchair access toilets should not be associated with other facilities which require an off-centre gangway, such as catering areas, first class compartments and luggage/cycle areas. It would also be worth considering whether toilets should be provided in every vehicle. It might be advantageous to concentrate toilet facilities in fewer vehicles, to avoid the need for plumbing in every coach; this may create the opportunity to offer additional facilities such as showers for passengers' use.

27 Mar 2010

The Irish Mark 3 fleet

Experimental train 1986, originally uploaded by seadipper.

There is now discussion in the railway press about returning the redundant Irish mark 3 stock to Britain. This could add up to 130 vehicles to the fleet, including the magnificent large-windowed International set. (above)

The problems, apparently, are that they have a different electrical system and the bogies need to be modified or changed for the different gauge, but with new vehicles costing upwards of £2.5 million, they suddenly look like a bargain.

So what exactly is the economic benefit?

I have had a good look at Fast Forward (link on right) with this question in mind. It suggests that the economic benefit is about three times the construction costs. This is consistent with Transport for London's findings for the Jubilee Line Extension, which revealed an increase in land values alone of about three times the cost of building the line.

Businesses remote from the capital ought to benefit from the shorter journey times, as it becomes easier to attend meetings where people are coming from different parts of the country. There is, however, no reason to assume that the benefits will occur in the places remote from London rather than lead to increasing concentration in the capital; places such as Reading and Brighton have flourished with improved transport, but they have become essentially suburban nodes rather than centres in their own right. High speed rail could merely accentuate that trend.

Fast Forward says this about the benefits of a national HSR network

The direct benefits of the national high-speed rail network lead to enhanced productivity and greater economic efficiency. These effects are measured, following appraisal techniques that have been used for many years, in terms of:

  • Journey time savings for passengers who have transferred from other modes, in this case private car, air or classic rail services. This is the largest single category of benefit and highlights the economic value of speeding up travel times. The forecasts include an estimate of the benefit of greater punctuality as well as planned shortening of journey times;
  • Reductions in crowding on the rail network from the increased capacity provided – there are benefits to passengers using the HSR services and to those using classic rail services;
  • Benefits from capacity released with an expanded set of local and regional rail services on the existing network;
  • Benefits for railfreight also secured generally by freeing up capacity on routes that will otherwise be constrained and unable to accommodate growth in rail freight;
  • Less road congestion – 13 million car trips are removed from the road network in 2055;
  • Reductions in carbon emissions – estimated to total one million tonnes per annum, arising in part from the shift from air to rail, which is forecast to result in a reduction of 30 million air passenger trips by 2055. The shift from car to rail will also reduce carbon emissions.
In addition to these ‘conventional’ benefits incorporated in the cost benefit figures presented in this chapter, the wider economic impacts have been estimated – these take into account the effects of changes in accessibility which can have a further beneficial effect on the productivity of businesses through changes in employment patterns and agglomeration effects. These wider impacts are estimated to add 13% or £14 billion to the transport benefits estimated in the conventional cost-benefit analysis below.

These wider economic benefits are well distributed across the regions: 36% to the Midlands and the North of England, 35% to the wider South East including London, and 26% to Scotland.

There will also be a significant number of jobs created for the construction and operation of a HSR network, although we have not yet attempted to quantify this effect. The increased economic activity will also provide new tax revenues to HM Treasury.

The report talks about "Agglomeration Effects" due to improved transport. It says
The methodology for calculating these ‘agglomeration’ effects is relatively new. The estimates presented here follow current DfT guidance. But it may be that there are other wider effects that arise from what is, after all, a fundamental change to the national transport system – and one for which most of these appraisal tools are not designed to measure. In particular, if HSR leads to a substantial change in land use, and in the development pattern of the cities across the nation, then there could be very substantially greater wider economic impacts. There are just no agreed means to assess such effects at present."

This inability to quantify the benefits is worrying, because it makes it difficult to assess the relative advantages of alternative projects. Nevertheless, the document makes a reasonable case for some kind of entirely new railway construction. Unfortunately, it takes as a given the assumption that this new railway construction should be for high speed services.

Throughout the discussion on the subject, it appears that the relative costs of both construction and operation have been understated in favour of high speed rail. Existing alignments cannot be used for high speed operation because of the much higher minimum radius curves that are possible, which restricts the choice of route. And other things being equal, energy costs are always going to be much higher for a high speed railway, even if aerodynamic factors are optimised. Existing rolling stock cannot be used - an important consideration, since there a significant proportion of the fleet is halfway through a service life which, because it is in better condition than previously thought, is now recognised to be sixty years rather than than the thirty years that was previously assumed.

The journey time savings that might be achieved by high speed rail between say, London and Newcastle, are indeed worthwhile. But most long-distance journeys are shorter and the time savings are relatively less valuable. The real advantages that Fast Forward has identified have more to do with increased capacity than time savings. Before more resources are invested in this project, a study needs to be done of the costs and benefits of constructing an alternative supplementary 125 mph network.

Well done Southern!

Last night the through Gatwick Express to Brighton was cancelled due to a fault in the class 442 unit that normally run the service.

A class 460 unit was drafted in, which terminated at Gatwick, where a 4-car unit for Brighton was waiting at the far end of the same platform. Passengers were told to transfer and the train left as soon as people were ready, arriving at Brighton only ten minutes late.

It was all painless and a model of good operating. That's the way to do it. But this is only possible if there is some slack in the system to enable the operators to respond when things go wrong.

24 Mar 2010

What is the value of higher speeds?

A previous posting was criticised on the grounds that a Network Rail study found that revenues increase much faster than costs as speed increases, and also that benefit/cost ratios rise with speed. Pages 27-30 of the Network Rail New Lines Study were referred to.

The difficulty is that the conclusions drawn in these documents tend to be quoted without a thorough study of them. The Network Rail New Lines Study would take several days of careful reading in order to make a proper critique. In fact, it would take nearly as much work as was needed to produce the original report. Who has done this? Who has the time and other resources to do this? The consultants who wrote the report, Steer Davies Gleave are amongst the leading advocates of High Speed Rail, being also the authors of the Greengauge21 report. It is natural that they are going to present it in the most favourable light possible.

Any such study involves making many assumptions about the future and about people's behaviour. These may be wrong and events may turn out differently. There are also questions to be raised about the general methodology, in particular over how external benefits are measured. This might look like hard science but it is not. There is also, it has to be said, plenty of valuable business to be obtained by consultants and construction companies if the project goes ahead, so this is not advice from disinterested parties. There are no disinterested parties when a matter like this is concerned, since all options produce losses and gains for someone.

One point that is clear, however, is that it is assumed that premium fares will be charged for travel on the high speed line, which puts a different complexion on the whole project, does it not?

23 Mar 2010

Will trams ever run here again?

Oxford - The High, originally uploaded by seadipper.

The High at Oxford rarely looks like this. Usually it is full of buses. But between 1881 and 1913 there was a horse tramway, part of a route between the station and Cowley Road. Eventually there were two other routes, from the city centre to Walton Street and from Abingdon Road to Banbury Road. By the early years of the twentieth century, Oxford was one of the few systems not to be run by electricity. Proposals for electrification were put forward, but the University was opposed to having overhead cables in the High and there were doubts over the safety of a suggested stud-contact system. The alternative conduit system adopted in London would have met the need but in the end Oxford's trams were replaced by buses.

These days, two companies are in competition with each other on the main bus routes, so there is far more clutter than there would ever have been if there were trams. Ideas for trams come up now and again but still founder on opposition to having overhead cables in the High. This is a problem of perceptions as many continental cities - Vienna, Prague, Helsinki, for instance - run their tramways through streets with historic architecture. The overhead cables and poles are carefully designed and just form part of the street furniture. There are, however, many ways of running trams without overhead cables, such as battery or flywheel drives, or inductive electricity supply systems.

Proposals for trams in Oxford also come up against problems due to the street layout of the city. The streets branch off in many different directions and there is no one obvious route for the trams. Or so it would seem. But in fact there appear to be certain routes which carry many more buses than the others, which suggests the following three potential routes which would pick up the bulk of the present bus traffic. In principle, these are
  • Summertown - Cornmarket - Abingdon Road
  • Botley Road - High Street - Headington
  • Station - High Street - Cowley
How might this be paid for? First, there will be savings compared with the cost of running buses, thought these take many years for the benefits to pay off. It all depends on the volume of traffic carried. Second, if the scheme is worth doing, it will give rise to big gains in land value all over the city. If a system of land value taxation is put in place, the improved infrastructure will enlarge the land value tax base. Revenue from the tax will automatically increase. If the project looks unlikely to boost land values sufficiently, then it is not worth doing. Experience of trams elsewhere suggests that it probably is. The project is at least worth a serious scoping study.

What is the optimum speed for a railway?

The response to the publication of the high speed rail proposals has been surprisingly cool. On one side, there is opposition from the NIMBYs, and on the other there seems to be a feeling that we need to do better with the railways we've got, and long before the projected completion date of the first stage of the new line.

Could it be that there is a growing understanding that the geography of Britain, and its pattern of settlement, are wrong for high speed rail?

France, Germany and Spain, which have the best-developed high-speed systems, are large countries with cities far apart, separated by sparsely-populated countryside. Britain has a completely different pattern of settlement, with 80% of the population living in less than one-third of the land area, but relatively spread-out within that area, in low-density suburbs that are difficult to serve economically by any form of public transport.

For these reason, most people's preferred mode of travel is the private car. Public transport is used primarily for travel within the denser areas of the larger cities and conurbations. Most rail journeys in Britain are made within London and the South East.

Diminishing returns
Rail remains important for inter-city travel but a typical inter-city journey in Britain is around 200km, perhaps even less. This is why high speed rail may not be a worthwhile investment. It comes up against accelerating costs and diminishing returns. At a start-to-stop speed of 100kph, a 200 km journey will take 2 hours from end to end. Increase the speed to 150 kph and the journey time goes down to 80 minutes, a saving of 40 minutes. A further increase in speed to 200 kph takes the journey down to 1 hour, a saving of another 20 minutes. The next 50 kph increase in speed reduces the journey time to 48 minutes, a saving of just 12 minutes. (see diagram) Each successive speed increment yields a smaller time saving.

At the same time, each successive speed increment costs more. Energy consumed is proportional to the square of the speed; a train running at 200 kph uses twice the energy of one at 140 kph. But things are much worse than that. There are critical speeds where the technology immediately becomes more expensive. At speeds of up to 40 kph, a railway can be run as a tramway or under what is known as a "Light Railway Order". Vehicles are lightweight and signalling is simple. Most of the preserved museum railways operate under this rule. Dispensations from the rules that apply to ordinary railways can also be given to railways operating at up to about 90 kph.

The next break-point is 160 kph, when the railway is classified as a high speed line and must comply with EU rules for such lines, which add an entire additional layer of costs.

In addition to these critical speeds where the lines become subject to different regulations, there are other break-points due to technical requirements. 120 kph is about the maximum speed at which the ventilation of trains by means of opening windows is acceptable. At speeds of above about 160 kph, more efficient braking systems are needed, the suspension system has to be very much more complex and the track must be constructed to different standards, using heavier rails and other components. The situation changes again above 160 kph, when some form of continuous in-cab signalling such as the European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS) becomes essential. It is also the case that at higher speeds, wear and tear on both trains and track become much heavier due to the higher forces involved, proportional to the square of the speeds.

What the diagram seems to indicate is that for the sort of inter-city journeys that are typically made in Britain, it is worth constructing new railways and increasing train speeds up to about 160 kph, just below the point at which the lines become subject to EU regulations, but no more than that.

22 Mar 2010

What exactly are "non-user benefits"?

Network Rail's Rail Utilisation Studies refer to "non-user benefits", though they do not appear to explain how these are measured. There doesn't seem to be a clear explanation on the internet either, so perhaps someone could shed light on this.

As an example: the Brighton main line is closed for about ten weekends a year for maintenance. This has an effect on the economy of the city - for instance, shops and restuarants do less business. In turn, this depresses rental values, and in theory , the effect could be estimated.

Another more significant example concerns the Jubilee Line extension, which, according to a survey conducted for Transport for London, resulted in a aggregate increase in land values of around three times the construction costs.

Is this the kind of thing that is being referred to under the heading of non-user benefits? These are critically important because they set the bar which determines which schemes are worth proceeding with and which are not.

Rail Utilisation Studies

I was looking at some of Network Rail's Rail Utilisation Studies. I was struck by how badly written they are. There are at least two foreign languages I can understand faster and easier. One wonders if the authors themselves are sure about what they are trying to say.

I picked a paragraph at random and edited it. When I had finished, it was easier to read and one-third shorter. That means a lot of paper is being wasted. It also means that the civil servants and other people who have to read them for their job are having to waste time, to say nothing of the general public who want to know about the plans.

The staff responsible for Network Rail's publications should go on a Plain English course.

19 Mar 2010

More on the Chiltern Line option

High Speed Rail Command Paper (the official DfT report which you can download from the link on the right hand side of the web page) repays close study. One of the interesting things to be found there is the list of other options have actually been considered, including development of the Chiltern Line. This consists of five "packages", which are described in Table 2.1 of the document, which is reproduced below.

Package 1 Extra long distance capacity delivered through the operation of longer trains on the West Coast Main Line (WCML) with platform lengthening and other infrastructure enhancements.

Package 2 Extra long distance capacity delivered through an increase in train service frequencies on the WCML with supporting infrastructure enhancements including extra platforms at Euston and Manchester Piccadilly stations, grade separation of junctions and 4-tracking sections of route.

Package 3 Building on package 2, the capacity and maximum speed of the Chiltern route between London and Birmingham is enhanced to allow fast WCML London – Birmingham trains to be diverted to the Chiltern Line, releasing capacity on the WCML for other services. Associated infrastructure enhancements include electrification, short new alignments, 4-tracking sections of route and additional platforms at Euston, Birmingham Moor St. and Manchester Piccadilly stations.

Package 4
Building on package 3, London – Birmingham journey times are reduced to a minimum through further infrastructure enhancements including a new alignment between the Chiltern Line and the WCML in the Kenilworth area.

Package 5
Building on package 4, additional capacity is provided between Birmingham and Stafford to enable WCML services between London and the North West to be diverted to the Chiltern route, releasing capacity on the WCML for other services. Associated infrastructure enhancements include 4-tracking the route between Birmingham and Stafford and further 4-tracking of the Chiltern route.

Projects worth supporting
These projects, taken together, would lead to very substantial increases in capacity. They are worth supporting. If the upgrades were carried out in conjunction with other projects to provide alternative routes, disruption to existing services could be minimised.

It is unfortunate that in the overwhelming desire to construct a 250mph railway, these low-risk developments have been passed over. They could commence sooner rather than later and would clearly provide excellent value for money in their own right since they follow the busy M40 corridor.

It is to be hoped that these options will be re-examined before long as part of the alternative to the high speed line.

18 Mar 2010

Brighton to Ashford service saved

Brighton Station, originally uploaded by seadipper.

Following pressure from the public, the Brighton to Ashford service, seen here at Brighton, is to continue. However, the potential of this useful route will not be realised until there are two trains an hour between Ashford and Hastings, the diversion into Eastbourne and out again is eliminated, Eurostar stops more trains at Ashford, and passengers getting on and off Eurostar trains at Ashford are not charged the same as if they had travelled all the way to London.

This means that the Ashford to Hastings section needs to be upgraded and probably electrified, the missing link at Polegate needs to be reinstated in some form or other, and the immigration authorities need to get their act together so that passengers could use Eurostar between Ashford and London, just as they can between Paris and Calais.

The necessary improvements, which would cost a relatively trivial amount, will not be happening. This is an example of the many such unglamorous projects all over Britain which are being squeezed out by the obsession with high speed.

17 Mar 2010

Where is the economic benefit?

What is the economic benefit of high speed rail? How is it measured? How can it be measured, let alone forecast? And who gains anyway?

The usual benefits of transport schemes are reduced costs or reduced travelling time. Although economists put a value on "time saved", this usually ends up in land values as the areas that benefit become more attractive. Reduced costs also ends up as a land value enhancement. This was seen dramatically in the Docklands area where a study commissioned by Transport for London revealed an aggregate land value uplift of £10 billion attributable to the Jubilee Line Extension.

It is known that high speed rail results in land value uplift around stations, by concentrating large numbers of people into a small area. It also depresses land values along the route through which it passes, due to disturbance and restriction of access. The winners and losers are those who own land.

What is less certain is the overall effect on land values in a region. What would happen to land values in Scotland if the journey time between London and Edinburgh were reduced to three hours?

If the aim of high speed rail is to promote the economies in regions remote from the capital, would it not be simpler to re-balance the tax system in favour of the more distance regions?

15 Mar 2010

The GWR main line to Birmingham

Until the West Coast Main Line was electrified in the mid-1960s, there was a second main line from London to Birmingham. This was the Great Western Route which was originally very indirect and ran via Oxford. In its last years, it diverged from the main Great Western line at Old Oak Common and ran parallel to the Central Line as far as Ruislip. The line from Marylebone joined it at Northolt Junction, and from there northwards through High Wycombe to beyond Princes Risborough it was a joint Great Western and Great Central (later LNER) route. The section from Old Oak Common to South Ruislip, which has been selected as part of the new High Speed 2 route, is not at present used for passenger services.

At Ashendon Junction north of Princes Risborough, there was a connection to the main Great Central main line at Grendon Underwood. The line crosses over the mothballed Oxford to Cambridge Line at Bicester, with a station at Bicester North, and rejoins the original Oxford to Birmingham line at Aynho Junction south of Banbury. From there it continues, at one time as a four-track main line, to Leamington, Warwick, Solihull and Birmingham Snow Hill. The latter station is still open, though much reduced in size. Much of the site is occupied by a car park. A single line route provides a connection between Leamington and Coventry.

The line has recently been upgraded, with double track from Northolt Junction to Aynho. A new service now runs from Marylebone to Wrexham. Plans are in hand to add a spur at Bicester to enable Chiltern Railways to run a service to Oxford. There is no firm´proposal to electrify this increasingly busy route.

13 Mar 2010

The proposed subterranean terminus at Euston

One of the most costly elements of the proposed high speed railway, and one that will take the longest time to construct, is the subterranean terminus at Euston and the 10km tunnel to the Crossrail interchange at Old Oak Common.

The long tunnels will mean that the trains will have to be built to the special stringent standards of fire resistance required for underground trains, adding considerably to the cost.

If an alternative surface route could be found, this requirement could be relaxed, with consequent savings.

The previous posting suggests that there is spare capacity at Euston, currently taken up by the lightly used London suburban services operated on lines with DC electrification. This may be the key to avoiding the great expense of a new terminal and all the tunneling.

The spare capacity at London Euston

It may come as a surprise, but there is spare capacity on the route into London Euston, all the way out to Queen's Park.

These are the so-called New Lines opened in 1912, which comprise a two-track suburban railway running from Euston to Watford, and now run by London Overground. At Queen's Park, trains from Euston are joined by Bakerloo Line trains which run northwards as far as Harrow and Wealdstone.

Between Euston and Queen's Park the service is lightly used, there being little traffic at the two stations, Kilburn High Road and the almost-deserted South Hampstead.

If the New Lines could be used by some of the outer suburban trains that run towards Milton Keynes and Northampton, this would release capacity on the four tracks of the main line. It would also be possible to extend the Bakerloo Line the 4km from Queen's Park to Willesden Junction.

How the route might be used
The details of such an arrangement would of course need working out. The lines follow a complex arrangement of burrowing junctions at Chalk Farm, which provide flexibility in routing, before entering the twin-bore tunnels at South Hampstead on the east side of the running lines. At Queen's Park, the northbound and southbound lines diverge, and the Bakerloo Line reaches the surface between them. Queen's Park station has island platforms between the Bakerloo and Overground tracks, and the remains of platforms on the four main line tracks.

The Bakerloo Line tracks continue parallel for a short distance, passing through car sheds before merging with the Overground tracks, which then continue on the east side of the main line until Willesden Junction, where there is a bay for terminating trains. The next stations northward are Harlesden and Stonebridge Park, and the line then dives under the main line tracks, continuing northwards on the west side of the main line tracks from Wembley Park to Carpenders Park. The New Lines then separate from the main line, calling at Watford High Street before reaching the terminus at Watford Junction.

The main difficulty that would need to be overcome is that the main lines are arranged (from west to east) down fast, up fast, down slow, up slow, which means that a grade-separated junction would be needed to enable trains on the slow lines to cross onto the Overground tracks without conflicting movements.

However, if only the stretch of line south of Willesden Junction, were taken over, which is adjacent to the slow lines, the difficulty of conflicting movements is much reduced. But that raises the question of what route a main line could follow from Willesden northwards.

12 Mar 2010

A railway is a conveyor belt - not an airline

The London to Brighton line has frequent trains. You go to the station, buy a ticket and get on the train. It is not particularly fast but you know exactly how long the journey will take and plan accordingly. Buying a ticket is slow because of the rotten machines, and you may need to get on the train five minutes before it leaves to be sure of a seat, but you just build the necessary extra ten minutes into the journey.

If you get delayed, it is not a problem because there is another train leaving soon.

This is exactly the opposite of the high speed rail concept. Because such trains are very costly to build and run, every seat has to be filled. So passengers end up being confronted with complex fares and find themselves booked into a particular seat on a particular train.

Of course, if they miss their train they have lost their booking and wasted their money. To be certain not to miss their booking, they must allow  an hour or more. 

High speed rail leads to the paradoxical situation that although the train is faster than an ordinary train, the journey time can be longer! And a frequent service is of little use to the passengers who cannot make use of the potential freedom of choice it gives.

When railways cannot offer an affordable walk-on service, they need to re-think their entire operation. A railway is not an airline and should not be run as if it was.

Willesden Junction

Willesden Junction, London, originally uploaded by looper23.

Willesden Junction is a major and strategic transport node in west London. It lies on the edge of the high density suburbs that developed up to the beginning of the First World War. London Overground lines converge from five directions, and there is also a tube. The routes are

  • Stratford to Richmond
  • London Euston to Watford
  • Clapham Junction to Willesden Junction
  • Bakerloo Line

Willesden Junction also enjoys direct access via the West London Line from routes to the South Coast and South West.

This means that a substantial proportion of the population of the Victorian suburbs of north London can reach Willesden Junction without having to go into central London, and within half an hour, without having to change trains. There is also potential to serve it directly from places such as Gatwick and Brighton.

If all West Coast Main Line trains called at this station, many passengers could avoid having to travel to Euston. They would also save useful amounts of time on their overall door-to-door journey, without the need for 250 mph railways.

The large areas of grass between the tracks in the picture are where the platforms used to be before Willesden Junction main line was closed in the 1960s. Reopening stations such as this is the way to improve connectivity and cut journey times.

11 Mar 2010

New high speed rail network announced.

The Secretary of State for Transport, Rt Hon Lord Andrew Adonis, announced the government's proposals for a new network of high speed railways in this statement. Further details are given in the 152 page DfT report which you can download from the link on the right.

Having long been against the concept of high speed rail in Britain, my first impressions are that the route is an ingenious and rational choice for an additional railway, which could provide additional capacity. Superficially, the case for the project looks overwhelming. But it is telling that the report admits that

Any new line, whether high speed or conventional, will transform capacity. This is because:
  • Firstly, any new line would in itself provide the opportunity to run very significant numbers of additional services.
  • Secondly, in contrast to upgrading an existing route, a new line can easily be constructed in such a way as to permit the operation of longer trains. Current European standards for new lines require them to allow trains of up to 400 metres (in comparison to the 207 metre Pendolinos in use on the West Coast Main Line).
  • Thirdly, a new line would enable faster long distance services to be segregated from slower regional and commuter services, which stop at more stations, as well as from freight. The capacity benefits from segregating service types in this way can be substantial, given that a single slower train can cut across the paths of up to seven high speed services, as the diagram below shows:
  • Fourthly, the use of a new line for long distance services from London to Birmingham and beyond would release significant capacity on the existing West Coast Main Line for other service types – including commuter and regional passenger trains and freight.
It is argued that the cost of building a high speed line is not significantly more than building a conventional one, which may well be true but is far from the whole story. Running costs of a high speed railway are much higher, due to the greater energy consumption (energy is proportional to speed-squared) and the need for specially designed and complex rolling stock, capable of running at the proposed speed of 250 mph - substantially faster than the French TGV which runs at 186 mph. This will be a particular problem in the British context because whilst it is proposed to build to the European standard loading gauge, a specially designed and constructed interim fleet of trains will be needed for running over both the high speed line and then continuing onto existing lines constructed to the smaller British standard.

The report argues that the benefits of higher speeds are substantial, pointing to big cuts in journey times between the main city centres. But how valuable are these time savings? The high speed rail line would reduce the time it takes to travel from Birmingham city centre to London by more than 40 per cent from the current 1 hour 24 minutes to as little as 40-49 minutes. However, adding in say, half an hour's travel at each end gives a door-to-door journey time saving of 45 minutes on a 2½ hour journey, which is less impressive.

They've got one so we must have one
This reveals the weak foundations on which the proposal is constructed. The principal argument the report presents is that other countries have built or are building high speed line so Britain needs one.

There is no reference anywhere to origin-and-destination travel surveys, which would undoubtedly show that most journeys start and/or finish within an area extending fifteen miles or so from the centre of a conurbation. Britain's population may be concentrated into a small fraction of the country's land area, but within that area it is diffused. It is to tap into this diffuse pattern of settlement that most trains on the Great Western main line now call at about half a dozen places between London and Bristol, whereas thirty years ago many trains made just a stop or two. Even when the high speed line is running, faced with a long journey to a city centre, most people who live outside the inner suburban ring will either pick up a train at a location such as Watford or Stevenage, on the classic network, or they will make the whole journey by car. Whilst it might take passengers off the airlines, the high speed line just does not provide an attractive alternative to the car for those in the outer suburbs, or, indeed, most people living south of the Thames.

Land value effects
One test of the value of infrastructure investment is the aggregate change in land value to which it gives rise. A railway creates land value only around the places where it stops. Elsewhere, its effects are negative, hence the NIMBYs in the Chilterns who have already announced their opposition to the project. Has anyone tried to calculate how the proposed line would affect land values in the aggregate, bearing in mind the possibilities it opens up for improved stopping services on the classic routes?

My first impression is that the report actually makes a good case for building a new railway to conventional standards, possibly on the route identified, which leaves London alongside the High Wycombe route to Birmingham, passes under the Chilterns in a tunnel and then continues through Aylesbury, mostly on the Great Central route.

It also makes the case for building the line to a larger loading gauge, though this should surely be to the Scandinavian standard which allows vehicles 3.2 metres wide rather than the standard that applies in the rest of mainland Europe? The Scandinavian standard provides sufficient width for reasonably acceptable 2+3 seating (below), which is worth having.

Train interior

Other important benefits of constructing the line to run at conventional speeds are that sharper curvature is possible, giving a greater choice of route alignment, and that existing 125 mph stock such as mark 3 can run on it. And the construction can be done in small stages, with each enhancement or addition being brought into use as soon as it was complete. For example, the new London terminal and link out towards the former GWR route to Birmingham via High Wycombe could be brought into use as soon as it was complete as an supplement to, and possible replacement for, Marylebone, there being no longer spare capacity at Paddington.

These comments are first reactions. The report gives a slight impression of disingenuousness, to the extent that it seems to be trying to make the case with minds having been made up already. And to say that a Pendolino train is only 270 metres conveniently ignores the fact that the Department of Tranport has blocked the purchase of additional carriages to make the Pendolinos up to 11 cars, and that in the 1950s trains on the West Coast Main Line were up to 360 metres long (17 mark 1 vehicles and a locomotive).

The proposal will obviously be examined in the minutest detail over the coming months and other issues will no doubt emerge in the process.

To discuss this article please contact me on 0044 7985 07438 or emaail henry.bn{at}gmail.com

Keywords objection high speed rail britain countryside chilterns economics land value hs2

9 Mar 2010

Kent and Sussex Route Utilisation Strategies

The Kent Route Utilisation Strategy January 2010 sets out Network Rail's strategic vision for the future of this vital part of the rail network serving Kent, parts of East Sussex and London.

The Sussex Rail Utilisation Stategy does the same for Sussex.

These run to 220 and 192 pages respectively so would need studying in detail. Given that funding is tight, the proposals are probably something like the best that can be achieved. But if a fraction of the sort of amounts that HS2 will cost could be made available for local schemes, all sorts of desirable projects could get the go-ahead.

Network or hub-and-spokes

High speed rail is predicated on a hub-and-spokes pattern of transport centred on London. However, most journeys are not city-centre to city-centre but begin and end somewhere in a conurbation. Many journeys do not naturally pass through the centre of a conurbation but are more conveniently made by travelling around it. It may be that the actual point-to-point journey starts and/or ends within easy reach of an airport. Forcing people to travel through city centres is unattractive to potential passengers and aggravates congestion.

80% of the population of Britain is dispersed into about one-third of the country's land area. A hub-and-spokes system is ill-suited to serve people's travel needs with such a pattern of settlement. What is needed here is a network of connecting routes to create a wide range of journey opportunities.

In South-East England, such a system might develop services such as a group fanning out from Ashford towards Brighton, Reading (and onwards to Oxford and Milton Keynes), and Stratford/Cambridge and Peterborough. The trains would run as regular-interval, limited-stop regional expresses connecting to the radial routes which they crossed; for instance, the Ashford to Redhill service would call at Tonbridge, Redhill (on a new flyover), Guildford and Aldershot, giving interchanges at each place to the routes out of London.

Capacity crisis

Capacity crisis looms for Britain's Railway runs the headline in an article in yesterday's Daily Telegraph.

This capacity crisis is largely a self-inflicted problem that has come about by filling the system up with short trains. And in refusing to give the go-ahead for an order for additional carriages to lengthen the Pendolino train fleet to 11 cars, the Department for Transport is aggravating the problem.

However, the underlying cause is the high cost of vehicles, now well over £2 million, and approaching that of a standard electric or diesel-electric locomotive such as the TRAXX, and more than double that of an equivalent new steam locomotive such as the product now being offered by Swiss company DLM.

Why the high cost? This is mostly due to the decision to run at speeds of 125 mph and more. At slightly lower speeds, relatively simple vehicles such as the mark 3 hauled stock will do perfectly well, with a service life of 60 years, and a cost, new, of not more than £600,000. At these prices there is no great difficulty in lengthening trains up to the maximum that will fit into the main terminal stations, about 15 cars.

It should also not be forgotten that there is an entire spare main line between London and Manchester, much of it with the potential for four-tracking, another between London and Birmingham, and other between Leeds and Carlisle, and that is apart from the former Great Central alignment.

A steady programme of upgrading and improvement, combined with an order for locomotives and rolling stock compatible with the mark 3 fleet, which it would augment and not replace, should avert this crisis for several decades at least.

6 Mar 2010

Is this serious?

This secondary route in Switzerland is threatened with closure, so the suggestion has been to run it with steam traction. Out came the rebuilt Kriegslok, rebuilt by DLM but originally constructed to run for just six months during the war, and duly ran the service on a trial basis last autumn. The embarrassing thing is that it is an excellent performer, probably the equivalent of a class 66, with an axle load of 15 tons, even less than an HST power car. It runs on light oil and has a very clean exhaust, with no black smoke, easily meeting current emission standards. Experience with the Brietz-Rothorn locomotives has been that modern steam engines consume less fuel and are cleaner than the diesels.

Whether this results in an order remains to be seen, but it could set a precedent. We shall see. You can't electrify everything and there are obvious niche applications everywhere for a small fleet of such locomotives for intermittent duties as infrastructure trains, rolling stock transfer, rescue and charter services. If that worked, it might be a way of dealing with the problem that the Inter City Express do-everything train was meant to solve, but at a fraction of a cost, as well as being an inexpensive fix for keeping in service British Rail's second generation class 15X DMU fleet dating from the 1980s.

Elsewhere, there are many railways that will never be busy enough to be worth electrifying, and others which were electrified long ago, where the overhead wires will not be worth replacing when they wear out. External combustion locomotives also make it possible to burn any fuel that happens to be available, including waste biomass, which would make them better than carbon-neutral.

The idea of using kettles sounds bizarre but worth keeping an open mind about.

3 Mar 2010

Long trains and short platforms

Short platforms are a cause of lack of capacity. Lengthening can be easy, or very costly, depending on the precise situation. In the days of slam door trains, passengers were often told to travel in certain carriages if they were going to station with short platforms; for example, to sit in the front two coaches for Much Wittering. The guard would check to make sure that passengers for Much Wittering were in the right part of the train.

Whilst this sounds hazardous, in practice it worked well. People were expected to look out for themselves and check if there was a platform to step onto before opening the door of the train. Then came power-operated doors under the control of the train staff, and they became responsible for making sure that a door cannot be opened unless it was safe to step off. Some new trains now have a system of selective door operation (SDO), which should make it impossible to open the wrong doors. Unfortunately, this can be inflexible. The selection options on some types of stock are limited - for example, the open/close over-ride sometimes applies to entire four-car units.

SDO systems work to a database of stations, using GPS to ascertain where the train is. This is a quick-and-dirty fix. It is vulnerable to, amongst other things, failure of GPS navigation and can only be fitted easily to modern stock with a train management system.

Simpler system
How about a simpler system? Each door could be fitted with a detector, wired into the door operation circuit so as to prevent opening of that particular door unless there was a platform alongside. This might, for example, be achieved by fitting reflector strip (like car number.plate material) on the platform face, and a light and photocell at each doorway of the train. The advantage is that the train would not need to "know" where it was.

I once discussed this with an engineer who came up with three possible alternative solutions over a cup of coffee, so it is not difficult.

2 Mar 2010

IRA explosives stolen on train

A few years ago, a case was stolen from a train at Reading. This was easily done, as the luggage shelves are by the doors. Imagine the thief’s shock when he opened it and found it was full of explosives, belonging to the IRA. He reported the incident to the police, which must have been embarrassing.

I can understand the IRA man’s problem. I travel quite extensively in Europe, usually with a medium sized rucksack and a case with enough stuff to last a couple of months.

Except in Britain, the rucksack will go on the overhead luggage rack so it is not a problem. The case is another matter. Again, except in Britain, the aisle is wide enough to wheel a case through. But except on some trains in Sweden and Denmark, it is usually difficult to find anywhere to put the case. This should not be a problem, because when seats are back-to-back, there is ample space in-between for a case.

The trouble arises because of the recent fashion for arranging seats airline-style, face-to-back. On this Danish inter-city train, there is space for cases between the seat backs. In theory, more passengers can be fitted into face-to-back seating, but it does not really work like that except on commuter trains. The minimum space between seats face-to-back is 900mm, although in Britain the train companies pack passengers in, sometimes as close as 750mm. Facing seats take up slightly more space, with a bay dimension of 1.9 metres, preferably 1.95 metres, though Electrostars are acceptable for commuter trains with a bay spacing of 1.8 meters.

The difficulty is this. Airline passengers can put large items in secure storage in the hold of the aircraft. But this is not possible on trains, and so luggage shelves have to be provided. These occupy most of the space that is saved by arranging seats airline-style, making the whole exercise pointless.

Pay attention to Captain Deltic

Prototype Deltic., originally uploaded by steven.barker57.
Captain Deltic, otherwise known as Roger Ford or Uncle Roger, has a long running series in Modern Railways, under the heading "Informed Sources."

And informed they are. He does his homework uniquely well, bringing together the physics, the engineering and the economics of railways. Anyone involved in making decisions about railways should study his writings assiduously.

Correspondence I have received through my MP shows that the DfT civil servants are not paying attention as they should. That is one reason why £20 million came to be wasted on consultancy work in connection with the aborted Inter City 125 replacement, which, as Captain Deltic pointed out, was going to have to be constructed of a new metal he called "Unobtainium".

His latest piece is an analysis of the refurbishment opportunities presented by the fleet of trains inherited from British Rail. It is just as well, as he points out, that vehicles such as the mark 3 have an economic life of at least sixty years. This is the thinking that is going to be needed to keep the wheels turning over the next decades.

My only criticism of him is that he has a bit of a blind spot about kettles. This technology has had a boost in recent years. As potentially green off-the-wires traction, able to run on any fuel, and with a low construction cost, he may be missing something that needs to be kept an eye on.