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.