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.