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?