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.