29 Dec 2011

Bombardier awarded Electrostar order

The good news for Derby is that Bombardier has been awarded an order for 130 new Electrostar carriages for Southern. But what a pity that the opportunity was not taken to give these trains the design changes that would have made them so much better.

It is not that they are bad trains but there is plenty of room for improvement. It is unfortunate that design deficiencies are perpetuated over and over again instead of being dealt with through a programme of progressive development. This seems to be a British failing. We let ourselves down by not being sufficiently critical. Indeed, criticism is seen as disloyal and those who do it are regarded as whingers. It does not help the country's industrial performance.

23 Dec 2011

Mind the gap

At long last the hazard of station platform gaps has been brought to attention. There is an article on the subject here.

Some of the comments are amazingly complacent.

8 Dec 2011

Advance train tickets cost more than you think

The hand of tickets I bought on Monday turned out to be money down the drain. Late on Monday evening I got a phone call from the people I was visiting to say their car had been run into and they could not see me because they would be spending the day trying to get it fixed and back on the road.

That is the trouble with advance tickets. Things can crop up to stop one making the journey. Which is why they are more expensive than they seem. People must realise this. So why do we have to put up with them?

Advance tickets are all about "Yield Management". Ideally, every train would have a full load of passengers for the whole length of its journey. Ideally, also, trains would run at regular intervals for 16 hours a day and every train would have the same number of carriages. But people prefer to travel when it suits them, and this gives rise to periods of peak demand. If the system is designed to carry peak traffic, then the trains will be more than half-empty for much of the time. Conversely, a system designed for off-peak traffic will be overcrowded at peak times.

Yield management is used to even out the traffic to match demand to supply. There is nothing new about the concept. From the earliest times, cheap excursion fares were offered, and at the weekends passengers travelled from the city to the seaside on commuter trains. On long-distance routes there were cheap mid-week tickets to tempt people to travel then rather than at the busy week-ends. At the busiest times of the year, seat reservations were compulsory for some trains. At the busiest times of the year, also, extra trains were run. If a particular train looked as if it was likely to be over-full, extra coaches could easily be added. Elderly trains were held in reserve for just this eventuality. At times, one was liable to travel in a train that belonged in a museum, but one could expect to get a seat, and sometimes a surprisingly comfortable though ancient one.

All this came to an end with the advent of fixed formation and multiple unit trains in the 1970s. These are so expensive that spare trains can not be held in reserve, and so complex, with so many cable connections between the vehicles, that extra carriages cannot easily be added. It can take several hours to remove a vehicle from some types of diesel multiple unit and and another half a day to put it back again and make sure everything is working properly.

Slower is faster
With the HS2 trains costing about twice as much as a conventional speed train, and the special trains for running on both HS2 and existing lines costing three times as much, the pressure on the operators to fill every seat at the maximum price will be even more acute. It is good economics but rotten service, and it adds to journey time because passengers have to turn up long before their train departs to be sure of not losing the journey they have paid for. From the passengers' point of view, a slower, regular interval walk-on service is faster!

In the long run, better technical solutions should be sought. The price of carriages needs to come down, and it should be made easier to add and remove vehicles, even if it means leaving off some of the frills we have become accustomed to such as computer points. Nevertheless, things could be improved. It is very expensive to keep all these booking systems up and running. It is not necessary to book every passenger into a particular seat on a particular train. The main need is to encourage people to travel off peak. It is not difficult to predict which trains are likely to be busy. Surely all that is needed is to have a relatively low standard fare and have all seats reservable on the busiest trains, with reservation fees set according to how popular the train was likely to be. And get rid of those bargain basement tickets which can turn out to be money down the drain.

5 Dec 2011

Hand of tickets

Hand of tickets, originally uploaded by Henry░Law.

It took me the best part of half an hour to buy a ticket from Brighton to Nuneaton on the internet. Even then it was not what I wanted, as I would have preferred to go on the slower train and avoid changing at Rugby but that was more expensive, goodness knows why.

I was not able to print out my own ticket but had to go to the station and fetch it from a machine. This involved typing in a code on the touch screen keyboard, which is always awkward.

In the end, the machine spewed out ticket after ticket, and I finished up with these nine pieces of card. I will leave it to the ticket inspector to sort that lot out.

Why HS2 is such extraordinarily bad value for money

Supporters of HS2 have never addressed the point that the line costs about four or five times that of a conventional speed railway to build, the trains will cost twice that of conventional speed trains and the special trains for running on both HS2 and existing routes will cost half as much again.

Energy and other operating costs will be about double.

Put plainly: for the price of HS2 we could have about four times as much new railway. There are projects all over the country that are crying out to be done and which should take precedence. How about this for a little list for starters.
  • Reinstatement Oxford to Cambridge, Brighton to Guildford.
  • Electrification Basingstoke to Salisbury and Reading, London to Birmingham via Banbury, Bristol to Birmingham, Cardiff to Swansea, Oxford to Birmingham, Crewe to Holyhead, Hastings to Ashford, Hurst Green to Uckfield, Newcastle to Carlisle as diversionary route.
  • Complete doubling Oxford to Worcester, Swindon to Stroud, Salisbury to Exeter, Plymouth to Penzance, Tonbridge Wells to Hastings.
  • Brighton main line - completion of 4-tracking of Three Bridges to Wivelsfield.
  • Weaver Junction to Crewe - 4-tracking
The extra capacity that is the argument for HS2 could be provided, again at a fraction of the cost, by reinstating the Great Central line and the missing piece of the Midland line to Manchester via Buxton.

There would still be something left over and the benefits would start to appear long before 2026.

30 Nov 2011

Important projects get go-ahead

An initial reading of the Chancellor's Autumn statement reveals that the go-ahead has been given to the TransPennine electrification and the strategic Oxford-Bedford line.

These are two of dozens of projects around the country that cumulatively represent excellent value for money. We need a rolling programme of such schemes.

18 Nov 2011

Trains too long

Chiltern Railways has extended a service to London by an extra carriage; great for easing overcrowding, but less helpful to the commuters stuck at Saunderton station because their platform is too short.

Is it beyond the ingenuity of the industry's engineers to devise a system with a detector and locking system so that a door can be opened only if there is a station platform alongside?

Article here

16 Nov 2011

The lost route into London

Before the electrification of the West Coast Main Line, there were two routes from London to Birmingham, with little to choose between them. The direct Great Western route, which ran through High Wycombe and Bicester, was then more or less abandoned as a through service, with the section from High Wycombe to Aynho Junction being reduced to single track.

Since privatisation, the route has been upgraded and converted back to double track. Earlier this year Chiltern Railways introduced a through service from Marylebone to Birmingham, and there is even a suggestion to electrify the route.

Unfortunately, further development is going to be limited by restrictions at Marylebone, which in the space of twenty years has been transformed from a sleepy backwater to a very busy station with a large volume of local traffic.

There is, however, another route into London which is scarcely used - the former main line into Paddington which branches off the Great Western route to the west at Old Oak Common and then run alongside the Central Line to Ruislip; the line from Marylebone joins this line at Northolt Junction.

At present it would not be possible to increase the amount of traffic on this route due to the volume of traffic using Paddington. If, on the other hand, the Heathrow Express were removed and given an underground terminus of its own, as part of the Crossrail project, this would reinstate the entire route and double the capacity between London and Birmingham.

14 Nov 2011

More Electrostars coming to Southern?

Brighton Station with different sorts of trainsWhitechapel StationVirtuous design - Electrostar train seating bay
Electrostars, the EMU originally developed by AdTranz before it was taken over by Bombardier, are a mixed bunch. The first entered service around 2000 and comprise classes 357, 375, 376, 377, 378 and 379. Originally they were quite unreliable but they are now in the same league as the EPB units which they replaced, dating from the 1960s.

Variations include alternative seating layouts, sliding or plug doors, full width cabs or half-cabs with gangways (top picture), and AC, DC or dual voltage types.

Probably the most successful version is the class 378 for London Overground (second picture), which has sliding doors and longitudinal seating, an ideal layout for the type of service for which they are used.

Some versions are very comfortable, for example the end cars in the units operating on the Southern main lines (third picture) have 2+2 seating with tables, all aligned to the windows.

Much less satisfactory are the vehicles with 2+3 seating. The bodyshells are not wide enough for 2+3 seating, due to the way the bodysides are curved below the window, with the space being further cut into by ducts at skirting level. This reduces the width at floor level, so that passengers sitting by the window cannot put both feet on the ground straight in front of them, and the gangway is so narrow that special catering trolleys had to be obtained.

The reason for this curvature is not clear because the steps project beyond it, and platform levels are always well below the level of the bottom of the bodyside. It appears to be nothing more than a styling feature, and whilst it looks quite elegant, style should not be at the expense of space and comfort.

Electrostar train - mind the gap

Another fault is that at concave platforms there is a large gap between the platform and the train. This is due to the position of the doors. The closer the doors are to the bogie centres, the less the gap at curved platforms. Trains such as the end-door class 158 are particularly good from this point of view.

The argument for locating the doors more centrally is that it improves station dwell times, but getting on and off Electrostars at some platforms at stations like Clapham Junction can be a bit of an adventure as there is a chasm to be negotiated. This cannot be good for station dwell time. There is a need for more research on this topic.

One way and another, the Electrostars would benefit from design changes to address these issues before further examples are built.

9 Nov 2011

Transport Select Committee ifs and buts

In its report published yesterday, the Select Committee has succeeded in drawing opposite conclusions simultaneously. The headline can be taken as a go-ahead signal - but the qualifications are so many and so significant (see preceding post) that it must be read as a recommendation to stop and reconsider the project.

It seems to me that the real question that still needs to be asked is whether, given a decision to spend this amount on transport, high speed rail is the best investment.

To get at the cost of an alternative, a comparison is the reconstruction of the line between Edinburgh and Tweedbank, a 49km stretch, at a cost of around £250 million - £5 million per km. The cost of the 200km HS2 line between London and Birmingham is given as £16 billion - £80 million per km. However, HS2 includes some very expensive tunneling at the London end which would have to be constructed regardless if capacity is to be increased, whilst the Edinburgh to Tweedbank route will not of course, be electrified, and is partially single track. Taking account of these differences, a reasonable estimate for reinstating an existing alignment as a good quality main line would be around £10 million per km for a double track route, plus another £2 million for electrification - a total of around £12 million.

Thus, the same amount of money will buy many times more conventional railway - and there are worthwhile schemes all over the country waiting to be built, mostly involving reinstatement of Beeching closures in areas where the population has greatly increased, reinstatement of double-track routes which have been singled, works to remove bottlenecks and speed restrictions, and electrification. The route of HS2 itself could be one such reinstatement, and would provide the same capacity enhancement. The existing GC main line alignment, whilst suitable as a conventional railway, cannot, however, be made into a high speed line.

The poor value for money also applies to rolling stock. A standard high speed train costs £30 million - that is the price of two conventional trains with the same capacity, or six 4-car Electrostars. But the aim is that some trains would be able to run onto the existing rail network. These would need to be specially designed and cost around £52 million each. This extra cost reflects both the non­-standard design and the premium for a one-off order.

It is considerations such as these that the government must now take into account before proceeding further.

8 Nov 2011

Transport Select Committee publishes HS2 report

There is a good case for a high speed rail network, linking London and the major cities of the Midlands, the North and Scotland says the Commons Transport Committee.

Launching High Speed Rail – the report of the inquiry into high speed rail, including the Government’s proposal for HS2 – committee chair Louise Ellman said,

"A high speed rail network, beginning with a line between London and the West Midlands, would provide a step change in the capacity, quality, reliability and frequency of rail services between our major cities.
A high speed line offers potential economic and strategic benefits which a conventional line does not, including a dramatic improvement in connectivity between our major cities, Heathrow and other airports, and the rest of Europe.
High speed rail may be a catalyst for economic growth, helping to rebalance the economy and bridge the north-south divide. But the Government must do more to promote local and regional growth strategies to ensure we get maximum economic benefit from high speed rail.
High speed rail is affordable: HS2 will cost around £2 billion per annum over 17 years. Construction of a high speed rail network should start with the line between London and the West Midlands, as this is where capacity needs are greatest. But we are concerned that under current plans high speed rail lines won’t reach Manchester and Leeds for more than 20 years.
The Government should also look at options to build southwards from the north and link to other lines such as the Midland Main Line. We see no reason why the Scottish Government should not begin work on a Scottish high speed line, to connect with the English network in due course.
Investment in HS2 must not lead to reduced investment in the 'classic' rail network. We are concerned that the Government is developing separate strategies for rail and aviation, with HS2 separate from both. We call again for the publication of a comprehensive transport strategy.
Investment in high speed rail has potential to boost growth but may have a substantial negative impact on the countryside, communities and people along the route. This must be better reflected in the business case for HS2 and future phases of the project. We would encourage the Government to follow existing transport corridors wherever possible."
The Transport Committee sets out a series of recommendations on high speed rail:
  • The Government must firmly commit to the Y network before seeking parliamentary approval for HS2
  • If the Government decides to go ahead with HS2, it should publish a summary of the financial case showing how the project is affordable alongside sustained investment in the classic network as well as its priorities for expenditure in the next Network Rail control period (for 2014-19)
  • More information about the Y network (to Leeds and Manchester) such as the location of stations and environmental impacts should be published and strategically appraised before a final decision on HS2 is made
  • A full assessment of the case for building from north to south should be carried out as a priority
  • It is disappointing that a major strategic scheme is being designed and assessed to a large extent based upon the value of travel time savings, which are not universally accepted. This issue should be addressed in the updated economic case for HS2 with the implications for scheme design made explicit
  • The Government needs to make clear how HS2 fits into its wider aviation strategy, looking again at the case for a direct link to Heathrow in phase I on the assumption that the high speed rail network will extend to Manchester and Leeds. The costs and benefits of routing HS2 via Heathrow should be set out more clearly and there should be a clear statement about the status of possible complementary schemes such as those which would link Heathrow by rail to Gatwick or the Great Western Main Line
  • Better information should be provided to explain the Government's rationale for its proposals for London termini and linkages, which are the most expensive and complex elements of HS2
  • Operating 18 trains per hour at 225mph are risk factors for which more technical information should be published. It is questionable whether the system proposed is being designed with sufficient margin for expansion
  • Claims that HS2 would deliver substantial carbon-reduction benefits do not stand up to scrutiny. However, HS2 will produce less carbon than an expanded motorway network or greater domestic aviation in the event of increased demand for inter-urban travel
  • Government support to enable the full potential of high speed rail to be realised, - including funding, for the development of regional and local strategies for transport, housing, skills and employment - should be recognised as a priority
  • When announcing its decision on HS2, the Government should provide a more explicit and comprehensive statement about likely patterns of service on the classic network once HS2 is operational
  • The Government should engage with Network Rail to identify whether there are affordable options to enable more peak-time capacity to be provided for Milton Keynes and Northampton commuters before HS2 opens
  • The Government should desist from disparaging opponents of high speed rail as NIMBYs. Both sides in the debate should show respect for each other and focus on the facts

29 Sep 2011

New Electrostar order in the offing?

Train diagram
Reports are that a further build of Bombardier Electrostars could be ordered by Southern, for use on the Brighton main line. This would be good news for Derby.

It is possible to have a comfortable ride on the Southern Electrostars, but really they are an inner suburban design and the best implementation of the type is the class 378 for London Overground. For longer-distance services, they would be better with modifications to the original design, which has its origin in the British Rail Networker, an inner suburban design developed in the 1980s.

The most beneficial change would be to move the doorways to the ends. This would have four advantages.
  • The gap between platform and train would be constant, regardless of the curvature of the track. This would avoid the large gaps that passengers have to negotiate at stations with sharply curved concave platform faces and consequently reduce station dwell times.
  • With a single saloon 14.4 metres long, there would be more flexibility in arranging alternative seating layouts.
  • Internal doors at the entrance to saloons would be possible, thereby reducing the load on the heating and ventilation system when the train doors were open.
  • End doors give better structural integrity than can be achieved when it is necessary to provide large openings in the bodyshell one-third of the way from each end. This might lead to a reduction in weight.
The second, though more major change, would be a modification of the bodyshell cross section to provide extra width at floor level, and possibly also at cantrail level. The lower bodyside curvature appears to be unnecessary, since the external steps project into the space in any event.

The third modification would be to raise the floor level to the former standard of 1.300 mm above track level. This would provide additional width at floor level and allow space for a proper step instead of the present awkward and hazardous half-step.

The fourth modification, would be the fitting of proper retractable steps such as this one from Knorr-Bremse, as well as wheelchair access ramps.

Again, in addition to safety benefits, this would cut station dwell times especially at busy stations with curved platforms such as East Croydon and Clapham Junction.

25 Sep 2011

Regional services

I just arrived in Brighton after a journey from Oxford that took four hours. The outward journey took 2 hours 25 minutes due to catching an earlier train than the advertised connection at Reading. In both directions the journey was uncomfortable, with the trains very overcrowed on the return.

These are the kind of journeys where most people's would automatically opt to go by car, and no wonder.

11 Sep 2011

East West Rail can help economic development

The proposed East-West Rail Link connecting Oxford and Aylesbury with Milton Keynes and Bedford could generate more than £38 million a year for the UK economy, says a leading economic forecaster.

Oxford Economics, which has just published a report on the economic case for investment, says there is a strong business case for reinstating track and upgrading the line to enable an East-West rail service to carry passengers from Reading to Bedford via Oxford and Milton Keynes and from Milton Keynes into London Marylebone via Aylesbury and High Wycombe.

The report – East West Rail: The Economic Case for Investment – comes at a time when there are concerns about the low economic growth outlook for the UK, and has been welcomed by a Consortium of councils and Local Enterprise Partnerships supporting an east-west rail link.

The case for this is so blatantly obvious that it is astonishing that the government is not driving it forward with the utmost urgency. In any other country in Europe with similar traffic densities, the entire group of routes from Marylebone to Birmingham, Paddington to Oxford and Banbury, and the east-west link would be in a rolling programme for upgrading and electrification.

6 Sep 2011

High speed to nowhere

Three critical pieces on high speed rail from the Economist
Railroad to nowhere

Meanwhile, Rail magazine continues to enthuse about the HS2 project, even though the latest issue contains a piece extolling the benefits of the East-West route, a modestly priced scheme which is still far from being given the go-ahead.

Good design is still possible if the will is there

SNCB/NMBS I11 carriage interior, originally uploaded by EE507.

Interior of Belgian I11stock.

5 Sep 2011

Inter City Express - not wanted and not needed

A firm order for the Hitachi Inter City Express (IEP) has still not been placed. The trains will, if ordered, run initially on Great Western routes out of Paddington, which on current plans will be electrified to Bristol, probably to Swansea, and to Oxford and Newbury. This will still leave a substantial mileage without electrification, including most of the main route from London to Cornwall, the line to Worcester and Hereford, and the West Wales area. In theory, a train like the IEP, which can run under electric power on electrified routes but is equipped with diesel engines to enable it to run on non-electrified lines as well, could be just the ticket.

Pictures released by Hitachi, however, show the usual cavalier disregard for alignment of seats and windows, so unless the actual trains are very different from the illustration, these are unlikely to be pleasant to travel in. Part of the trouble is the sheer cost of the trains, which means that seats will have to be crammed in to make the investment pay its way. And with diesel engines under three out of the five coaches in the "electric" version of the train, running costs will be higher than for a normal train, not least, due to the need to drag the heavy engines around under electrified routes. When running in diesel mode, passengers will be subjected to the throbbing and vibration of big underfloor engines, which we have learned to love and enjoy since the coming of the Virgin Voyagers.

These trains have ended up like this largely because of the way the civil servants at the Department specified them - as a dual-mode train, with no need for a change of locomotive where the electrification came to an end. Claimed figures for energy consumption have been disputed as they do not seem consistent with what is usual for trains of the same weight running at the same speeds.

The real objection to these trains is that they are bad value for money, since their introduction involves writing-off trains which are able to continue in service for any forseeable time horizon. These include not only the HST units, but also the locomotive-hauled mark 3 vehicles for which there remains a healthy demand from the train operators, and now, the fleet of over 80 mark 3 coaches which has just been put up for sale by Irish Railways. Studies have shown that mark 3 stock is good for at least another 20 years. Both Vossloh and Bombardier have now come up with new designs for locomotives for hauling passenger trains, which could operate in push-pull mode with this existing stock.

If there was a need for additional stock on the fully electrified services on GW, existing designs like the class 444 Siemens Desiro, as running on South West Trains routes, would do nicely.

Under a strategy of retaining mark 3 stock indefinitely, there would, however, still be a need for additional vehicles, to comply with modern accessibility requirements provide passenger-carrying driving trailers. The drawback, which is largely imaginary, is the need for locomotive changes, probably at places like Bristol and Oxford. For the rest, it is one of those instances where a better product is available at a fraction of the cost. And the IEP is not a cheap train. Because the contract is to supply and operate the trains for their full lifetime, it is difficult to discover the actual cost of the trains, but it is thought to be in the region of £2.0 milllion to £2.5 million per vehicle, which is roughly the same as a locomotive capable of hauling existing stock or new vehicles intended for locomotive haulage, the latter typically costing about£700,000 each.

31 Aug 2011

Crossrail stock decision deferred

London Overground - Canonbury

Following the row over the award of the Thameslink rolling stock contract to Siemens, the Secretary of State for Transport has put the decision about rolling stock for Crossrail on hold.

This project needs a thorough rethink, especially at the western end of the route. It should not run over the GW main line beyond Heathrow Junction. One possible option would be to run the trains onto the Hammersmith branch of the Metropolitan, thereby releasing capacity on the busiest stretch of the Circle Line.

The whole service could then form part of the London Overground system. That answers the fleet procurement question, as a further build of the Bombardier class 378 would do the job nicely.

5 Aug 2011

Siemens ugly duckling

How has the Siemens train for Thameslink come to end up looking like this? Of more concern for the passengers is that it looks like a rehash of the wretched class 319 units that have plagued the route since it opened in the late 1980s, with windows and doors in precisely the same positions, and complete with unglazed sliding door pockets.

This practically guarantees either that loading and unloading will be slow or that there will be insufficient, and/or cramped seating - and on a route where passengers may be on the train for an hour or more.

And what is the reason for the sharp curvature of the bodyside at floor level? This cannot be necessary in order to clear the loading gauge, because there are projecting steps at each doorway. The main effect of this curvature is to reduce further the limited width available at floor level, an inconvenience that will probably be compounded by fitting ducts at skirting level.

This train appears to perpetuate the general trend in British rolling stock design - that each generation of trains is worse than the one before.

31 Jul 2011

Opposition bandwagon rolling nicely

The opposition to HS2 is now gathering momentum, as articles such is this, one of no less than six on the subject, published the Daily and Sunday Telegraph in the past few days.

Part of the case is made by those speaking up in support for local transport. But argument for HS2 on the grounds that we need increased capacity is not still not being countered effectively.

The argument is simple. The cost of building, equipping and operating a high speed railway is proportional to at least the square of the running speeds. That is a consequence of the laws of physics, as applied in an engineering context.

At a conservative estimate the cost of a 200 mph railway be double that of a 100 mph one. Advocates of HS2 would have us believe that as we need extra capacity which can only be provided by building a new railway (true), it might as well be a high speed one as it will only cost a teeny-weeny bit more (false).

The optimum speed for inter-city trains in Britain is between 100 mph and 130 mph. Faster than that leads to diminishing returns.

29 Jul 2011

Personal space

An experiment by KLM, though it is not clear why it only applies to business passengers.

28 Jul 2011

High speed rail is not dangerous

Whatever conclusions can be drawn from the high speed rail accident in China, doubts over safety are not one of them. The Japanese and French safety records are outstandingly good. A German ICE trains were involved in a single incident in 1998 which was due to the use of a type of wheel technology developed for use in tramways. However, that accident would not have happened had the conductor applied the emergency brake when a passenger reported what was obviously a serious problem.

What the Chinese accident does demonstrate, however, is that corners cannot be cut and that everyone involved needs to know exactly what they are doing.

High speed rail cannot be done on the cheap,

21 Jul 2011

Radical rail signal plan faces union battle

Network Rail faces a battle with its staff over proposals to close nearly all Britain’s 800 signal boxes and replace them with air traffic control style computerised centres.

NR held talks on the plans this week with unions representing its 5,000 signallers. The company refused to confirm claims by the Rail, Maritime and Transport Union that the changes would reduce the number of signal staff, which the union puts at 6,000, to 2,000. The changes are intended to boost punctuality and save £250m annually. Full article in FT

It is not clear from the article whether this refers to the introduction of the European Train Management System (ERTMS), which still has a long way to be developed before it can be said to be beyond the experimental stage. Whilst I have nothing against the introduction of new technology, I would question whether it is sufficiently robust to withstand the kind of things that can happen in the long run, such as extreme weather, solar flares and other unusual and potentially damaging events.

About thirty years ago a snowstorm brought down ancient signalling equipment on the Exeter line west of Basingstoke. The service was kept going using a makeshift arrangement using the public telephone system. Present day GPS systems seem unable to cope with things like train announcements when reception is bad - in tunnels and cuttings, for instance - and in some places they are consistently given out incorrectly. So there not only is there a lot more testing and refinement to be done before such a system is up and running - there is the potential here for pouring a few billion pounds into a black hole.

The union response is predictable - that just shows the persistent influence of job creationist theory. There is plenty of work to be done. The reasons why it is not done and that the unions' members face the prospect of unemployment and will not share directly in the benefits are questions that those who work in the trade unions' policy departments would do well to start asking.

Changes signal death of old technology

15 Jul 2011

Thameslink and the Derby job losses


I am not an advocate of Buying British in principle, but Derby would almost certainly have got the Thameslink train order if there had been some rational thinking about Thameslink itself. There is no conceivable train that can operate the route satisfactorily as it comprises two inter-urban routes, two airport links and an inner city metro all in one.

Thameslink should have been cut back to operate within the area of the Greater London Authority. Anyone who has used the service regularly and thought about it must realise this. A problem at, say, Brighton will result, a couple of hours later, in disruption at Bedford, and vice versa. This is not unusual as both the Brighton and Midland main lines carry dense traffic. It would have been better to cut back the route and transfer it to London Overground which is a similar type of service. The trains could then have been a further build of Bombardier class 379 Electrostars.

For the long distance routes a further build of class 377 Electrostars would have done the job perfectly well. A small additional fleet of Electrostars has already been running on Thameslink for the past couple of years. These are fully compatible with Southern's existing fleet so the operators can help each other out when things go wrong. This results in a bit of mixing and borrowing as required.

The introduction of Siemens stock will preclude this as it will almost certainly not be operationally compatible with the Electrostar fleet with which it will share the tracks.

Had the DfT made this a requirement as it most obviously should have been, it is most improbable that the order would gone anywhere else than to Derby. However good the Siemens bid may have been, it has not resulted in a best buy.

I blame the civil servants at the DfT.

5 Jul 2011

Bombardier announces job losses

Bombardier announced today the loss of over 1,400 jobs at its Litchurch Lane factory in Derby. This follows the award of the £3 billion train order to the German company Siemens. Diana Holland, assistant general secretary of the trade union Unite, has written to Philip Hammond and Vince Cable, demanding an urgent meeting.

Of course, without detailed inside knowledge one cannot possibly comment on the particular situation inside the Derby plant, but the tendency within the UK, in contrast to industry in countries like Germany, and Japan, is for management to keep a certain distance from the people on the factory floor, issuing orders from on high and failing to put sufficient value on the knowledge held by those in the front line. It is largely a consequence of the British class system. I wonder if the Bombardier factory is a shining exception?

3 Jul 2011

An era ends

1967 Tube Stock at Pimlico, originally uploaded by bowroaduk.

After 43 years, the end of an era: the 17.10 train from Seven Sisters to Brixton, the last 1967 Tube stock in passenger service, 30th June 2011. The design was the product of Design Research Unit, the company headed by Mischa Black, professor of industrial design at the Royal College of Art.

Sadly, these days, design has been degraded to become very largely, and little more than, an adjunct of marketing, though the old tradition lives on in Scandinavia. So this example of honest functional design deserves to be celebrated.

Boris derails Cameron's 'perverse' £34billion high-speed link

According to an article in the Daily Telegraph, 'The future of the planned High Speed 2 rail link has been thrown into fresh doubt after Boris Johnson dubbed the project "perverse" and "inadequate" and said he "cannot support" it.'

I don't think anything Boris Johnson says is going to be decisive in this but he is a big and influential gun. The trouble with the Anti-HS2 lobby, however, is that too much of it consists of Nimbys and elements from the roads lobby such as the RAC.

The pro-rail lobby needs to speak up for a sound alternative strategy of investment in rail. The country could end up with nothing at all.

25 Jun 2011

Station dwell times

Station dwell times can have a big effect on the overall performance of a railway, especially a busy commuter routes. The old slam door trains had doors spaced two metres apart, which made for fast boarding and alighting, and passengers used the open doors to provide support over the gap between the platform and the train.

Much of Britain's railway system was built when railway carriages were under ten metres long, which meant that there was never much of a gap even at sharply curved platforms. In combination with the high platforms that were standard in Britain, getting on and off trains was easy. But nowadays, carriages are twenty metres long or more, which means there can be a significant gap. Worse still, the tracks are now more sharply tilted on curves to allow for higher speeds.

This leads to the situation here at Clapham Junction, where there is a huge gap between the platform and the train. Apart from being a danger, passengers take extra care and extra time to get on and off the train, which extends the station dwell time.

Attempts have been made to help the situation. Modern trains have lower floors, and the doors are as close to the bogie centres as possible, given the 1:3/2:3 layout, as in the Electrostar train above, which is also supposed to improve station dwell time. Matters are no better with the mark 3 stock with end doors, but in that case the problem occurs at convex platform faces rather than concave ones as in the picture.

Never mind the gap
We really are at the point where new stock should be fitted with retractable steps, so that there is no gap to mind. It would also be possible to provide retractable handrails at the doorways to facilitate boarding and alighting. Retractable steps are a standard feature in new trains on the continent

These items would of course come at a cost, but the benefits of safety and reduced station dwell time would surely be worth it. With an ageing population, will soon be a necessity if the railway is to be accessible to as many people as reasonably practicable.

21 Jun 2011

HS2 Inquiry reponses published

The responses to the Inquiry by the Select Committee of the House of Commons can be viewed here.

17 Jun 2011

Siemens win Thameslink order

M_378201_MSO_DMSO_Interior, originally uploaded by peter_skuce

It was announced yesterday that Siemens has won the contract to supply a new fleet of trains for Thameslink. Now the ideal vehicles for a route like Thameslink which passes through central London and can become very busy are something like the one on the picture, with seats along the sides and plenty of circulation space. This is in fact one of the Bombardier class 378 Electrostar units which have just been delivered to London Overground.

The only thing is that such vehicles would be most unsuitable to travel on between, say, Brighton and London, which is also part of the Thameslink service. On the longer distance routes, the most suitale trains are probably something like the class 442 "Plastic Pigs"

Now the obvious and traditional solution to this problem is to separate the route into long-distance and short-distance services and have different types of stock for each. Logically, that part of Thameslink that lies within the area of the Greater London Authority would become part of the London Overground network.

In fifty years' time...

16 Jun 2011

New locomotive designs for UK railways

Impression of Bombardier Transportation Traxx P200 AC UK locomotive.
Impression of Bombardier Transportation Traxx P200 AC UK locomotive.

UK: Bombardier is targetting Greater Anglia and InterCity East Coast as possible customers for a UK version of its successful Traxx electric locomotive family. According to Alberto Lacchini, Director, Sales, in Bombardier’s Locomotives Business Unit, ‘we are well advanced in the design and are ready to launch the product’.

Bombardier believes that the Traxx P200 AC UK Bo-Bo electric locomotive fitted with a ‘last mile’ diesel engine would offer ‘a lot of value for money’ for UK operators such as Greater Anglia. Whereas the MkIII coaches used on London – Norwich inter-city services are ‘excellent’ vehicles that may last for another 20 years, the Class 90 locomotives will need to be replaced before that.

Lacchini emphasises that a 25 kV 50 Hz version of the Traxx family suitable for the UK with its small loading gauge will not require a special design to be developed. About 60% of components are common to all versions of the Traxx, one feature being the location of the main traction package in the centre of the locomotive rather than on either side of a central aisle. This makes it relatively easy to build a smaller and narrower version that would fit the UK loading gauge, Lacchini indicated.

Earlier this month, Bombardier announced two new versions of the Traxx - an electric locomotive with a low-powered diesel generator for use over short distances of non-electrified line, and a Multi-Engine locomotives, which will have four small diesel engines in place of one large prime mover. The four 540 kW engines will be of a proven and efficient industrial mass-produced type produced in very large series.

The use of multiple engines should to reduce fuel consumption and exhaust emissions as it will be possible to shut down engines altogether when idling and at times of low power demand.

The engines will be installed in exchangeable modules to cut the cost of maintenance, overhaul and upgrading, whilst the use of a mass-produced unit will mean that spare parts are readily available.

Another German manufacturer, Vossloh, is also making a pitch for the UK market with a version of the EURO 4000 passenger locomotive (below). Built in Valencia, Spain, this is clearly a derivative of the General Motors Class 67 which, after a faltering start, is performing well in the UK. The locomotive, which, at 4250 hp, is claimed by the manufacturer to be the Europe's most powerful diesel, is driven by an EMD two-stroke engine satisfying the latest emission standards.

In a rational world, these developments would point to the obvious idea of converting the HSTs into train sets for electric or diesel haulage in push-pull mode using locomotives such as these, available virtually off-the-peg. To cater for additional growth and to satisfy accessibility requirements, additional vehicles will eventually be needed. Now that suitable locomotives are at last available, it is the time to develop the design for a new generation of passenger coaches, incorporating all the knowledge and experience that has been gained since the mark 3 stock was on the drawing board forty years ago.

Article in Railway Gazette International

Railway Gazette's Web Discussion

The Railway Gazette has hosted this discussion on the HS2, including principal proponent James Steer and a leader of the opponents.

Steer puts up a good case but it is the case for building a new railway if demand is not to outstrip capacity. The opponents' argument is that there is plenty of slack that can be taken up by better management of the capacity that already exists, with judicious improvements to the infrastructure at key locations such as Ledburn Junction.

Steer suggests convincingly that this will be insufficient to cater for the projected growth. However, that argument is the case for building a new conventional speed railway, not that the new railway should be a high speed line. But a conventional speed railway could provide the same additional capacity, without disrupting existing services, through a rolling programme of reinstatement of the Great Central and its connecting links, substantially on its original trackbed. The proposed high speed railway follows the same general alignment but the need to avoid curvature means that it could not use the original trackbed, and additional costs will be incurred. Then there is the cost of the special dedicated fleet of UK gauge stock to run on the high speed line, and the energy costs which increase by a factor of 2 for every 40% increase in speed.

It is inconceivable that the cost of building and operating a new line as a high speed railway will be just a little bit more than the cost of building a conventional speed one.

8 Jun 2011

Second thoughts on the Javelins

Hitachi's new Javelin trains give an impression of quality. But the first thing most people do when they step onto a train is to look for a seat by a window, and if they having any luggage with them, somewhere to put it, close to where they are sitting.

This is where the Hitachi trains are a big let-down. Few of the seats are well aligned with windows to give an unobstructed view out of the train. Most of the seats are unidirectional, leaving no space for luggage between the backs of the seats. Luggage shelves have been provided near the doorways, which is not secure. Unidirectional seating also means that people travelling an a group cannot sit together so they congregate in the gangway like the teenagers in the photograph.

A few of the seats are in facing pairs but most of these are at the ends of the vehicles. If one chooses to sit in one, another problem becomes surprisingly evident - the ride quality. On ordinary track at around 55 mph between Ashford and Canterbury, the ride at the end of the vehicle was bumpy - nowhere near as smooth and steady even as a Mark One with a B5 bogie. Sitting in the middle of the vehicle, however, the ride between Dover and Ashford was very much better, but something clearly needs attention.

Bicycle space, if provided, does not appear to be sufficiently well labelled - these two cycles were parked in the gangway.


The key mistake with the Javelin design is the window spacing, which appears to be around 1.4 metres. With this dimension, unless the seating is arranged unidirectionally and very generously spaced, it is inevitable that many seats will be misaligned in relation to the windows.

The mistake was compounded by moving the doors from the end-vestibule location, as in the standard Japanese version of this train, to a position about 4 metres in from the ends. This was a requirement imposed by the Department for Transport, which oversaw the procurement of the trains. Supposedly, it reduces station dwell times.

The result is to divide the carriages into two small compartments with room for 16 seats, and a large saloon seating 34, two seats being lost to the luggage shelves. This loss of seats is itself something of a mystery since the equivalent, slightly shorter Mark One vehicle had 72 seats, quite generously spaced.

From which it can be concluded that the way to design a railway passenger vehicle is to take between 1.2 and 2 metres from each end for the entrances, another 1.2 metres from one end for the toilet, and divide the remaining space into equal sized bays of between 1.8 and 2.0 metres, depending on the standard of comfort to be provided. As long as the bay dimension is in this range, most of the seats will align. Not difficult, but neither Hitachi nor the DfT mandarins who commissioned the trains seem to have grasped the point.

And DfT mandarins bring us to the Inter City Express Project, which is one of their brainchilds. The winning bid, from Hitachi is presumably based one of the company's standard products. As a commuter train, the Javelin does the job reasonably well, though it is less appealing to the occasional travellers who use it for their leisure journeys. But illustrations released for the Hitachi IEP train show what appears to be the same bay spacing, which is definitely not good for an inter-city train. If the order goes ahead for the train in its present form, this will not enhance the experience of rail travel in British. Passengers will have to live with this mistake for the next few decades. And it is not as if these trains are cheap.

6 Jun 2011

Hitachi Javelin trains exude quality

Very clean design, well thought-out detailing and high quality finishes mean that the new Hitachi Javelin trains (class 395) exude a sense of quality. The trains run on the high speed line from Ashford to London St Pancras, but they also provide many of the local services in East Kent, in the area around Margate, Dover and Canterbury.

The seats look a little on the spartan side and are thinly upholstered, but a good profile with careful attention to providing lumbar support means that they are very comfortable, and there is plenty of leg room. Although it is difficult to pass judgement on such things unless one uses them daily for a long period, as trains for commuting in, first impressions are that they cannot be faulted. I have reservations about them nevertheless, but that will have to be the subject of another piece.

4 Jun 2011


I just discovered that £30 had been paid into my bank account by my local train company. This was a refund for overpayments that I had made due to buying the wrong tickets from their ticket machines, which are much too complicated.

It has taken about three months and an exchange of correspondence to get these refunds, which must have cost the train company two or three times more in overheads.

The shocking thing is that the train companies have to maintain big departments to deal with the complaints. This would be a good thing if they then acted on the information that the complaints departments collect. The services would then go on getting better and better. Sadly it seems that they do not.

2 Jun 2011

What is the point of fining the railways?

Network Rail has been given a fine for negligence, following an inquiry into the Potters Bar accident. Chiltern has got one for delays to its upgrade programme. What is the point? It might make sense of sorts if those responsible were personally liable, but all this does is to take away funds that could be used to improve the service. What is the point?

25 May 2011

How's this for residual value?

This appears to be a Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway vehicle dating from around 1890. Now a mobile bar to promote a brand of gin under the name Hendrick's Horseless Carriage of Curiosities, seen here at the Brighton Festival.

22 May 2011

Fares and rolling stock - the missed connection

The McNulty committee has produced a 350 page report on whether Britain's railways give value for money and how things might be improved. Proposed changes to fares have naturally received the most attention and comment, but there is an important chapter on rolling stock. The report refers to the lack of standardisation in rolling stock, with the result that some types of train are route-specific and cannot easily be redeployed.

This is noticeable south of London, where each of the three train operating companies now has a fleet which is incompatible with those used by the others. South Eastern and Southern both run Bombardier Electrostars but they have different couplings. South West Trains run Siemens and Alstom fleets which are mutually incompatible, as well as being incompatible with the Bombardier units. And all three train operating companies have trains inherited from British Rail which are incompatible with all the post-privatisation fleets.

This incompatibility should never have been allowed to develop but it seems that the rail franchising authorities were asleep when the critical decisions were being made.

It is in striking contrast to the situation on the same routes in the 1960s, when most of the fleet was standardised to the extent that all the EP types (such as the CIG class above) - everything built between about 1954 and 1974 - were operationally compatible. A train could be composed of stock belonging to any of the different EP classes. In addition, to provide even more flexibility, the class 33 diesel locomotives, the class 73 electro-diesel locomotives, and the REP high powered units could be used with any of the electric EP units, including the TC trailer sets which were specifically designed for push-pull operation.

This is over particular relevance to McNulty's analysis. It seems to have missed the connection between fares and rolling stock design. Recent decades have seen the near-universal replacement of locomotive-hauled stock with unit trains such as Voyagers and Pendolinos. Of fixed length, extra vehicles cannot be added to cater for extra traffic at peak periods. This must be a major reason for the complicated structure of fares which are meant to tailor a variable demand to a fixed supply in an attempt to get round the lack of flexibility.

Until about 1970, the railways had traditionally kept a pool of older vehicles in reserve, which would be brought out at peak periods, but modern methods of railway operation, and modern types of rolling stock rule out this option. It is a pity that McNulty failed to notice this.

20 May 2011

A brief thought

Discussion of railway matters is bedevilled on the one hand by lack of technical knowledge and on the other by a failure to understand that infrastructure gives rise to external value which turns up eventually in land values.

19 May 2011

Inter City 125 trains and the disability issue

In the article giving details of the IEP project, in the June issue of Today's Railway, one of the points made is that the Inter City 125 trains would have to be extensively reconstructed to make them compliant with the disability access regulations, and this is one reason why they need to be replaced soon.

This sounds like nonsense. A small build of DDR-compliant compatible vehicles would do the job perfectly well. With a life expectancy of 25 more years for the HSTs, the new DDR-compliant vehicles should outlast them, and by 2035 they will still have another 30 years or so to run, but it should not be difficult to find a use for this stock when the time comes.

IEP - A flawed concept

Details of the IEP project have been published in the June issue of Today's Railways. It does not look like a clever design.

The first point of criticism is that most of the units are hybrids and will be fitted with diesel engines, adding 16 tons to the weight of a 5-car unit, whilst being unused for most of the time, when they will be operating under the wires.

The second point of criticism is the length of the vehicles - 26 metres. Whilst this is a standard length on the Continent, it it too long for the UK, as the width then has to be reduced significantly to prevent excessive overhang on curves. Some work is being done on the infrastructure to reduce this overhang, but there must be better ways of spending the money. Passenger vehicles designed to run in the UK should not be more than 22 metres long so that they can be constructed to the full width of the available loading gauge.

With such long vehicles, to prevent having large gaps at stations with sharply curved platforms, the doorways have been moved well in from the vehicle ends, creating odd spaces which will be occupied by toilets, which is fine, and luggage space. That is not fine, because passengers cannot keep an eye on their property if it is far from where they are sitting, a situation which gives rise to anxiety every time the train stops at a station.

It is claimed that the stepping distance will be no worse than a mark 3 vehicle, but the stepping distances are one of the features of mark 3 stock where improvements are needed. In addition to being a hazard, awkward steps onto the train add to station dwell time as people have to be more careful when getting on and off.

Seating layouts are of course a matter for the operators to decide, but with rolling stock as expensive as the IEP, there is no alternative but to cram in as many seats as possible, which means that most of the seats are in an airline configuration. Although about one-third of passengers prefer this, and another third are indifferent, the problem with airline style seating is that it leads to a loss in the most desirable luggage space, between the seat backs where the owners can keep an eye on their things. Luggage space then has to be provided in special shelving, which also consumes seating space.

That the design has turned out like this it is no criticism of the engineers and designers involved. It is implicit in the concept of a hybrid train that can go everywhere without the need to change locomotives when it gets to the end of an electrified route. IEP is a good example of how a flawed concept has knock-on effects leading to a flawed design.

16 May 2011

14 May 2011

Great Western franchise to be handed back early

FirstGroup is handing back its £1.1bn Great Western rail contract three years ahead of schedule after admitting that the deal, one of several £1bn-plus franchises struck at the height of the credit boom, had become unsustainable.

The company is exercising an option to terminate the franchise in March 2013 and avoid £826.6m in payments to the government due by 2016. It will join a new round of bidders over the next 18 months for a longer franchise to run trains from London Paddington to the west country, Wales and Oxford.

Read full article in Guardian here

The article refers to changed economic circumstances, but what seems to have been missed is that the Great Western route is going to be a headache for whoever runs it over the next few years, what with electrification, works associated with Crossrail, continuing disruption at Reading with the construction of a grade-separated junction in a built-up area with a high water table, and the introduction of fleets of new rolling stock to new designs - always a difficult time for operators having to maintain services whilst dealing with teething troubles.

Taking advantage of the provisions of the franchise, the decision to cut and run sounds like prudence. It could also pose a knotty problem for the future since FGW owns the fleet of HSTs (photograph) that operate on the route at present. If FGW is not awarded the franchise, where will the new incumbent get its trains from? So who else is going to bid for the franchise? Could First Group end up leasing and maintaining rolling stock for another train operating company? Or will no-one else even be interested?

23 Apr 2011

If we need capacity, then add capacity

Articles in the April issue of Modern Railways were a cogent presentation of the arguments for HS2, but they scarcely made the case for a 300 km/h railway rather than a 200 km/h one. The conclusion to be drawn is that the need is for capacity. It is seems to be taken as given, that the costs of building, equipping and operating a high speed railway, complete with a fleet of bespoke high speed trains for running on Britain’s classic routes, would be little more than those of a conventional railway. Where is the evidence?

In addition, there are interest costs that will build up during the ten-year construction period before the first revenue-earning train starts running.

The arguments actually presented point to a strategy of providing additional capacity through a rolling programme, mostly by reinstating what was lost in the 1960s, as 200 km/h and local railways, including much of the alignment chosen for HS2 itself.

Beyond this, before making firm commitments, the entire debate needs to be opened up. Radical alternatives should at least be considered. Would it be worth building a core network of freight lines capable of taking double-stack containers, or passenger routes where 3.5 metre wide trains with 25% higher capacity, such as Bombardier’s Gröna Tåget, could operate?

Whatever is decided will be be critical for Britain’s infrastructure far into the future. HS2 looks too much like a a pre-conceived solution.

14 Apr 2011

Challenge to Hitachi challenge

There is a knotty question surrounding the IEP. The train that is now being offered by Hitachi is very different from the one on which it won the competitive tender. So much so that the other train manufacturers could argue that they never had the opportunity to bid for a train in its present form. This could lead to a legal challenge. We shall see.

Certainly the European train manufacturers have a lot to fear from Hitachi. The Japanese company has promised to build an assembly plant, and nothing more than an assembly at Newton Aycliffe, in the depressed north-east. If it does this, the other manufacturers could find themselves locked out of an important part of the UK train market for decades. This will be a serious threat not just to UK train manufacturing but also to the UK railway research and development industry that is associated with it.

I do not agree with economic jingoism but this looks as if the UK is about to find itself at the receiving end of a colonialist coup.

13 Apr 2011

The bi-modes are coming - but who needs them?

Bi-mode vehicles are electrically driven, but have an auxiliary diesel generator so can run on routes that are not electrified. An example is this modern Skoda trolleybus running in Riga, Latvia. It has just lowered its collector poles and is now running on its diesel engine.

Given the reluctance in Britain to invest in railway electrification, civil servants at the Department for Transport have been keen to apply the same principle to trains. This sounds like an excellent idea, as there is no need to waste time changing locomotives. A bi-mode train could run under electric power from London to Edinburgh and then continue on diesel power to Aberdeen. The train would have many electric motors and their associated controllers, distributed along its length. These would get their electricity either from a vehicle fitted with a pantograph and transformer, or from on-board generators.

But when the idea is looked at in detail, the concept falls apart. For trains more than five cars long, it is very much less expensive to concentrate the driving parts into a single vehicle called a locomotive. It is wasteful to drag electric traction equipment over routes which are not electrified, and it is equally wasteful to drag diesel traction equipment over routes that have been wired. Worse still, the trains will be under-powered when running on non-electrified routes, and therefore slower than trains such as the Inter-City 125. Far from getting the best of both worlds, bi-mode gets the worst.

Nevertheless, the Department for Transport persisted in promoting the concept, known as the Inter City Express Project (IEP), though one of the major manufacturers, Alstom, dropped out of the running at an early stage and the Siemens-Bombardier consortium lost in the end to Hitachi.

But the cost was so high that at the start of 2010, the government ordered a review, carried out by Sir Andrew Foster.

On bi-mode, Foster states that

" It must be questioned however whether it is a sensible policy to be investing in IEP-specific diesel generator vehicles that will have a life of 30-40 years given the uncertainty over the future price of oil and the possibility that extended electrification might reduce the need for them after 10-20 years in service. It is technically feasible for electric trains to be hauled by a conventional diesel locomotive, specially adapted with the correct couplers, and this arrangementcould be cost effectively used for some of the services that need to run through onto non-electrified routes. Were this to be specified, the risk of the locomotives becoming obsolete after 10-20 years in service is mitigated as there is an active worldwide market for diesel locomotives."

Foster's conclusion is that

"There are many combinations of the alternatives to IEP that are credible and could be implemented. It seems apparent that a “pick and mix” approach, selecting the most affordable and best-fit solution for each group of passenger services, could deliver the best value solution to improve the services for the passenger and increase the number of seats to allow for growth in passenger numbers."

Despite this clear rejection of the concept, Secretary of State for Transport Philip Hammond announced earlier this year that an order for 533 vehicles will be placed with Hitachi, 60% bi-mode, this being associated with agreement to electrification of the Great Western main line to Bristol and Cardiff, but not to Swansea. But this was before the release of the previous blog, confirming a minimum future life expectancy for mark 3 stock. When the implication is that perfectly good rolling stock will be sent for scrap long before its time, the entire decision needs to be viewed in a different light, especially as nothing has been signed yet.

Link to Foster review here.

9 Apr 2011

Mark 3 stock good to 2035

An IMechE seminar on February 21 considered recent work undertaken to establish the long-term mechanical and electrical integrity of the Mk III coaches used in the 200 km/h IC125 diesel high speed trains.

Read more in a Railway Gazette article here

5 Apr 2011

Britain's first high speed line hasn't worked as planned say critics

Britain's first high speed line, to Kent, has actually led to worse services for most passengers. An area supposed to benefit from Britain's first high-speed rail link is failing to reap the predicted rewards - raising concerns over whether the second high speed link from London to Brimingham could also be a let-down.

See article in The Daily Telegraph

2 Apr 2011

Commuter services could gain from HS2

As opposition to the £32 billion project continues, Philip Hammond, the Transport Secretary, tried to pacify critics with figures showing that it could also trigger 160 extra trains a day into the capital from towns and cities to the north. This is because intercity services will be shifted to the high speed line, freeing up space on the existing track for commuter services.

This is of course true, and the case is made well in the April issue of Modern Railways. But it would be equally true if the new line was not to be built as a high speed railway, for example by simply reinstating the routes from Paddington to Ruislip and, former Great Central and the cross-linking connections north of Aylesbury.

The case for HS2 is the case for extra capacity. But the case for extra capacity does not add up to a case for a high speed railway but for a modern 160 to 200 kph railway, with freight capacity. The case for such a railway extends well beyond London, Birmingham and Manchester. It embraces such corridors as Southampton - Birmingham and Bristol - East Anglia. And such a railway could be created mostly by putting back the lines closed in the 1960s and enhancing and electrifying existing routes.

Read more in Daily Telegraph article here

Reply to consultation questionnaire chapter 4

Do you agree with the principles and specification used by HS2 Ltd to underpin its proposals for new high speed rail lines and the route selection process HS2 Ltd undertook?

250 mph is not optimal for rail transport in the UK. Costs are proportional to speed to the power of X, where X is greater than 2. Thus, the costs of travel at 140 mph are more than double those at 100 mph. These extra costs comprise amongst other elements, energy costs, initial costs of equipment specified for the higher speed of operation, wear and tear, and maintenance.

Time savings, on the other hand, are less for each increment of speed increase. Thus a journey of 120 miles takes 2 hours at 60 mph, 90 minutes at 80 mph, 72 minutes at 100 mph and 60 minutes at 120 mph, giving successive time savings of 30 minutes, 18 minutes and 12 minutes respectively. For typical UK distances, speeds much higher than 100 mph achieve diminishing returns.

Minimising environmental impact by the measures proposed gives rise to one set of additional costs that would not be incurred if the railway operates at conventional speeds.

Operating fixed formation trains as proposed is wasteful. It gives rise to a constant supply which cannot be adapted to demand. Thus demand has to be managed using yield management techniques, resulting in complex fares structure which force people to make their travel plans far in advance and tie their journeys to particular times. This in turn adds to journey time since passengers must allow the best part of an hour for delays on the way to their point of departure. Which completely negates most of the time savings achieved by high speed running. From this point of view, a conventional speed walk-on service will give shorter journey times than a high speed railway with an airline-style booking system!

Trains should be specified so that their length can be easily varied to suit demand.

Most journeys are not city-centre to city-centre. The onward links are critical. Without them, the high speed rail is nothing but a vanity project. Providing good onward links will absorb most of the funds available for transport in the next 20 years.

Reply to consultation questionnaire chapter 4

Do you agree with the principles and specification used by HS2 Ltd to underpin its proposals for new high speed rail lines and the route selection process HS2 Ltd undertook?

250 mph is not optimal for rail transport in the UK. Costs are proportional to speed to the power of X, where X is greater than 2. Thus, the costs of travel at 140 mph are more than double those at 100 mph. These extra costs comprise amongst other elements, energy costs, initial costs of equipment specified for the higher speed of operation, wear and tear, and maintenance.

Time savings, on the other hand, are less for each increment of speed increase. Thus a journey of 120 miles takes 2 hours at 60 mph, 90 minutes at 80 mph, 72 minutes at 100 mph and 60 minutes at 120 mph, giving successive time savings of 30 minutes, 18 minutes and 12 minutes respectively. For typical UK distances, speeds much higher than 100 mph achieve diminishing returns.

Minimising environmental impact by the measures proposed gives rise to one set of additional costs that would not be incurred if the railway operates at conventional speeds.

Operating fixed formation trains as proposed is wasteful. It gives rise to a constant supply which cannot be adapted to demand. Thus demand has to be managed using yield management techniques, resulting in complex fares structure which force people to make their travel plans far in advance and tie their journeys to particular times. This in turn adds to journey time since passengers must allow the best part of an hour for delays on the way to their point of departure. Which completely negates most of the time savings achieved by high speed running. From this point of view, a conventional speed walk-on service will give shorter journey times than a high speed railway with an airline-style booking system!

Trains should be specified so that their length can be easily varied to suit demand.

Most journeys are not city-centre to city-centre. The onward links are critical. Without them, the high speed rail is nothing but a vanity project. Providing good onward links will absorb most of the funds available for transport in the next 20 years.

Reply to consultation questionnaire chapter 3

Do you agree with the Government’s proposals for the phased roll-out of a national high speed rail network, and for links to Heathrow Airport and the High Speed 1 line to the Channel Tunnel?

Yes but the nature of the scheme means that it is not a phased roll out. Upwards of £20 billion will have been spent before a single revenue-earning train runs on the high speed route. This is one of the objections.

Incremental improvements to existing routes generate a return as soon as they are complete.

It will also be necessary to introduce a fleet of special high-speed trains built to the UK loading gauge, to run over both the new and the classic railway. Being non-standard, these will be inordinately expensive. Estimates suggest these could be 50% more expensive than off-the-shelf high speed trains.

A phased investment would consist of a rolling programme for the reinstatement of capacity lost in the 1960s through the Beeching closures. These would include main lines such as the Great Central, the proposed route for HS2, together with other local routes in areas throughout the country that were rural and sparsely populated when the lines were shut, but have now been developed.

23 Mar 2011

NIMBY is beside the point

The main case for HS2 is that more capacity is needed. The arguments against are mostly being presented by NIMBYs with a very personal interest. Ultimately, whether or not this scheme or any other is value for money must depend on the external value it generates. Land value uplift is probably the best measure of the broader benefits of any infrastructure, although the shortage of data makes it difficult to make reliable forecasts; it came as a surprise when a study commissioned for Transport for London discovered that the Jubilee Line Extension had generated an aggregate increase in land value amounting to three times the construction cost.

Nevertheless, enough is known about the influence of railway infrastructure on land value to help decide whether HS2 is a worthwhile project. The high speed line needs to be evaluated on this basis against other possible schemes. The most obvious would be a conventional 125 mph railway on a similar Great Western/Great Central alignment, but another alternative would be a 125mph railway designed to take double-stack high-cube container trains and 3.5 metre wide passenger trains such as Bombardier’s Gröna Tåget, which has 25% more capacity in a given length of train.


There is also a need to decide whether HS2 is value-for-money in comparison to an alternative bundle of schemes, which would include the East-West route, together with a select package of small to medium sized projects and electrification infilling, spread across the country.

We still need a genuine and informed debate. "We need to keep up" is a poor response to "not in my back yard".

20 Mar 2011

A transformation

This new railway, known as the East London line extension, has been stitched together by joining up of old routes, many of them long shut, with a few brand new connecting pieces. The project, initiated by Transport for London, has cost about £1 billion and is expected to generate ten times that value in economic regeneration. Its effects have already been noted in areas like Croydon, where it has given a boost to land values.

The operation involved the transfer of some routes from the national network to London Transport, which runs it under the title "London Overground". The route is badged with the standard London Transport roundel with an orange circle.

The top picture shows Canonbury, now a busy four-track station which since the end of World War two was almost derelict, with buddlea bushes growing on the platforms. The lower picture shows a train approaching Haggerston, with city skyscrapers in the background. The station had been closed since the start of World War 2.

10 Mar 2011

Businessmen say scrap HS2

The £32 billion high speed rail network scheme should be scrapped according to 21 high profile businessmen, senior Tories and economists in a letter to The Daily Telegraph today.

Signatories to the letter, dismissing the project as an “expensive white elephant”, include Lord Wolfson, the chief executive of Next and Tory competitiveness adviser as well as Nigel Lawson, the former Chancellor of the Exchequer. They have dismissed the scheme as a “vanity project” which will cost every family in Britain at least £1,000.

Unfortunately, whilst this opposition is not coming from NIMBYs, the argument against is argued with little more coherence than the case for, which can be summed up in the words of the Secretary of State for Transport: Countries across Europe and Asia are already pressing ahead with ambitious plans for high speed rail. Britain cannot afford to be left behind.

8 Mar 2011

Fur coat and no knickers

Jim Steer, leading proponent of the high speed rail project and founder of Greengauge21 has written this article in the Guardian, the second on the subject within just a few days.

The comments are more interesting than the article itself. There are a few in support, from hardened HS2 advocates, but the majority are opposed. Most make the obvious and reasonable point that the rest of the system needs to get the investment and that high speed rail is of little value unless it is well connected to the rest of the system. There is little benefit in high speed rail if passengers then find themselves in a taxi stuck in a traffic jam, where the time saved is quickly squandered. It seems that there is growing appreciation of this simple and obvious point.

How quickly it will take Britain's lords and masters to grasp this is another question, especially given the weight of vested interests that is now gathering behind the HS2 bandwagon.

6 Mar 2011

High speed train is coming off the rails

As Secretary of State for Transport Philip Hammond declares his commitment to the high speed line, support is shrivelling.

Article in the Daily Telegraph

4 Mar 2011

The need for loading gauge enhancement

Train interior, originally uploaded by seadipper.

Why is the HS2 proposal for the standard European gauge? If built to an enhanced loading gauge, it ould accommodate 3.5 metre wide passenger trains such as Bombardier's Gröna Tåget. This is a development of the Regina (above) and provides comfortable 2+3 seating - 25% more capacity than a conventional width train.

And then there are double-stack high-cube containers to be fitted in. All of which would add relatively little extra to the cost, and would in any case be much less expensive if built as a conventional speed railway.

2 Mar 2011

Inter City Express and Great Western Electrification

Philip Hammond, Secretary of State for Transport, said this yesterday in Parliament

"Over the last few months we have worked together on these issues and I can now announce that I am resuming the IEP procurement and proceeding with the proposal that Agility Trains have put forward as preferred bidder.

"We will now work with Agility Trains with a view to reaching financial close by the end of this year. This is, of course, subject to the Government continuing to be satisfied that the proposal offers value for money as the commercial negotiations are concluded and that the final arrangements are compliant with the United Kingdom’s EU obligations.

"This deal will allow us to provide better, faster, more comfortable services and to continue providing through-journeys between London and parts of the rail network which are not electrified.

"In total, there will be over 11,000 more peak time seats each day on the Great Western Main Line and East Coast Main Line post IEP, compared to today.

"Hitachi is today confirming its plans to locate its European train manufacturing and assembly centre at Newton Aycliffe in County Durham. This investment is expected to create at least five hundred direct permanent jobs as well as hundreds of temporary construction jobs. Thousands more job opportunities will be created in the UK manufacturing and service supply chains.

"Coming just days after the news of the re-opening of the Redcar Steel Works, this is a massive – and very welcome – shot in the arm for the skilled work forces of the North East’s industrial heartland.

"I turn now to the related issue of electrification of the Great Western Main Line. I announced to the House on 25 November that, over the next six years, Network Rail will electrify the commuter services on the Great Western Main Line from London to Didcot, Oxford and Newbury. I recognise that this announcement, although welcomed in the Thames Valley, left unanswered the clear aspirations of rail users further west for the extension of electrification to Bristol and into Wales. I and my Rt Hon Friend the Secretary of State for Wales have subsequently considered the options for extending electrification, alongside the Government’s consideration of the proposals for replacement of the current diesel Intercity trains, and in close consultation with the Welsh Assembly Government.

"We have concluded that there is a case for extending electrification westwards to Bristol and Cardiff and I am today asking Network Rail to add this major extension to their electrification programme immediately.

"This is good news for Wales and the South West – against a backdrop of public spending constraint as we deal with the legacy of debt we have inherited. Bringing electrification to Cardiff will mean that we are linking, for the first time, the capital cities of England, Scotland and Wales by electrified rail.

"These measures will deliver a London to Cardiff journey time of an hour and 42 minutes and will shave 22 minutes off the London to Bristol journey.

"I have received representations calling for electrification of the Great Western Main Line to be extended as far west as Swansea and we have looked carefully at the arguments. The business case for electrification is heavily dependant on the frequency of service. Services between London and Swansea currently operate at a frequency of only one train an hour off-peak. There is no evidence of a pattern of demand that would be likely to lead imminently to an increase in this frequency. Consequently, I regret to say that there is not, at present a viable business case for electrification of the mainline between Cardiff and Swansea.

"But, because of the decision to proceed with Agility’s proposal for a bi-mode train, journey times from London to Swansea will be shortened to two hours and 39 minutes – 20 minutes faster than today - with trains switching automatically to diesel power as they leave Cardiff. Because the constraining factor on the South Wales Main Line is speed limitations dictated by the geometry of the line, there would be no time saving benefits from electrifying the line from Cardiff to Swansea.

"However, the policy of the Government is to support a progressive electrification of the rail network in England and Wales, for environmental, among other reasons. My Rt Hon Friend, the Secretary of State for Wales, and I will therefore keep under active review the business case for future electrification of the Great Western Main Line between Cardiff and Swansea in the light of developing future service patterns."

It is good news that the investment will be happening. But the other manufacturers cannot be pleased. This has all the appearance of having been handed to Hitachi, if not exactly on a plate, then under conditions favourable to the Japanese company. Bombardier will, however, probably be happy to get an order for Crossrail, or Thameslink or both. Alstom had dropped out of the IEP competition long before Hitachi won against the Bombardier-Siemens consortium. But since then, the specification has been re-negotiated to the point that it could be argued that the contract should have been re-tendered.

What is less good news is that this brings us no nearer to providing the travelling public with a generation of more spacious and comfortable trains than those that have been inflicted on them for the past few decades. Again, these are fixed-formation trains that will bring with them the need for elaborate yield management systems to make the best use of the resources, and hence a complex fares structure with astronomical charges for open tickets.

With vehicles even longer than the 23 metre mark 3 stock, there is no possibility of building out to anything like the optimum width available in the restricted British loading gauge. For the next few decades, therefore, British train passengers will be condemned to travelling in cattle truck conditions. For a reminder of how comfortable rail travel once was, and might again have been, they will have to visit a heritage railway. Or go abroad.