23 Dec 2012

View on Harrow

View on Harrow, originally uploaded by Rienk Mebius.

I picked up this picture on Flickr. The far tracks are the lines out of Marylebone. They are not electrified and there are no plans for electrification on this route, which runs only as far as Aylesbury.

At one time it was part of the Great Central and trains ran to Rugby, Leicester, Nottingham, Sheffield and Manchester. The route beyond Aylesbury is largely intact and could be reinstated at relatively little cost as a conventional railway to provide the additional capacity that HS2 advocates insist can be provided only by constructing a high speed line. They assure everyone that it would cost just a teeny-weeny bit more. That sounds implausible.

21 Dec 2012

London Overground took another 40 years

Ticket dated 11 November 1972, issued for a special railtour to demonstrate the practicability of a train service around London. A service on what is substantially the same route eventually opened on 9 December 2012, forty years and one month later. The train used was a DMU from Cricklewood, normally used on the St Pancras - Bedford route until electrification in 1975.

The train ran from Broad Street to Richmond, where it reversed and ran to Clapham Junction and then to Woolwich. After that it ran back via Clapham Junction and Olympia to Willesden Junction, then via Gospel Oak and South Tottenham to North Woolwich, then via Stratford to Broad Street.  It must have reversed somewhere as the east curve at Dalston Junction had been closed by then and consisted of just the two platforms (lower photograph).

The train service which opened in phases from 2010 has transformed travel in London's inner suburbs.

28 Nov 2012

Slow comfortable travel

Blå Tåget

Blå Tåget, originally uploaded by Elmar Eye.

Travelled from Göteborg to Stockholm last Saturday on Blå Tåget. Swedish carriages from the 1960s - the high point of Scandinavian design - have been tastefully refurbished, and the train is complemented with a German dining car and a lounge car from the 1970s. The locomotive is modern and hired in. The train runs on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and was well filled, possibly because the fare undercuts the SJ ticket price and people do not mind the slightly longer journey time, an extra half an hour, making it four hours, which is perfectly acceptable. In fact, the slower speed makes for a pleasanter and more relaxing journey as one can watch the landscape go by.

Food is cooked on board in the traditional way, so if you have your meal about half-way through the trip, the journey is soon over.

After a tentative start earlier in the year, patronage seems to be building nicely. Keeping the speed down keeps the costs down and clearly there is a market for this kind of travel.

23 Nov 2012

Greengauge forecasts HS2 boost to regions

Pro-HS2 research group Greengauge 21 says it thinks the rest of the country will benefit more than London from the high-speed link. In its evidence to the Independent Transport Commission, the organisation cites better connectivity to the ‘gateways for global commerce’, the main international airports and also the Channel Tunnel for access to the European HSR network.

This prediction is a statement of faith more than anything else. What counts are door-to-door journey times. I am sceptical whether HS2 is the best way of achieving wothwhile improvements, as it is the local networks that are just as important. One reason for the appeal of the south-east is its proximity to Europe by road, which is the most frequent freight mode.

Improved rail services could help to relieve the motorway network by taking some traffic off. Improved intermodal freight would help the north somewhat. The simplest way of rebalancing the UK economy would be through the tax system, so that it favoured areas of disadvantage, with a bigger contribution coming from areas of geographical advantage.

These things tend to balance out anyway as rents and house prices reflect the advantage of location. If HS2 really does what its supporters claim, it will push up commercial rents and house prices away from the London area, thereby making it a giveaway to property owners at the expense of the taxpayer.

UK - Germany high speed service deferred again

The launch of London-Frankfurt high-speed services has been pushed back due to Siemens’ delay in supplying 16 ICE 3 trains to Deutsche Bahn, who ordered the trains in 2008 and were promised delivery last December.

DB originally wanted to run London-Frankfurt trains for the 2012 Olympics, but then pushed the start date back to 2013 – but further delays mean the service will not now be launched until at least 2016.

The delay is reported as being due to software problems discovered during testing.There was a time when the only things running through a train were a pipe for the braking system, and a pipe for the steam heat. Then they added electricity, with a dynamo-battery set under each vehicle and cables from vehicle to vehicle in case of failure. Ventilation systems were passive so didn't break down and door operation was manual with someone on the station platform to check that they were properly shut before the train moved off.

Trains like those are of extreme simplicity, inexpensive to construct and maintain, and are within the capacity of part-time amateurs to keep going. And from the passengers' point of view there has been little improvement - on the contrary, they got a comfortable seat, space, and somewhere for their luggage.

Later on, into the 1970s other features were added which required a cable with a hundred or so connections but that was manageable too. It brought in features such as retention toilets, power operated doors and air conditioning, which are genuinely useful if they work and a menace when they don't. The first is a matter of basic hygiene but the latter two could certainly be regarded as optional extras. But since then, the complexity has increased exponentially, and so has the cost.

The people specifying railway vehicles need to take a good hard look at what is needed and what is not, and how much could be saved, and how reliability could be improved, by simplification, even if it means employing additional staff to do things which have been automated at vast expense. Or running the trains at lower speeds, because high speeds also give rise to hidden costs, as discussed elsewhere in this blog.

2 Nov 2012

The cost of speed

A train running at 125 mph consumes 90% more energy than one running at 90 mph. In addition, there are other costs, since the trains have to be specified for higher speeds, one-third of the front and rear vehicles cannot be used for passenger accommodation, there is additional wear and tear, signalling systems must be designed for the longer stopping distances, thereby reducing track capacity, and the railway becomes subject to EU regulations for high speed lines, with all the associated compliance costs.

Reams of careful calculations would need to be made before the proposal to reduce top speed on some 125mph routes to just under the 100 mph threshold could be dismissed as lunatic.

25 Oct 2012

IEP - Sir Humphrey's Fool's Gold

Locos are now around £3 million. IEP cars are around £2.8 million. Hauled vehicles are around £1 million if you need new ones, and around £300k for a thorough refurbishment of an old vehicle such as a mark 3, which will run for another 20 years at least. The differentials do not stop with the initial costs. Several power cars are inevitably going to cost more to maintain than one locomotive.

If the country end of a route is much less busy than the London end, then either the train is overcrowded at the London and or it is under-utilised at the country end. If the line is not electrified throughout, either there is diesel running under the wires - undesirable but not a catastrophe, or a change of traction. Either there is dead diesel traction on the electrified route, or dead electric traction on the non-electrified route.

The neat solution to the problem is to electrify out from London to the end of the busy section, split the train and push/pull enough of the vehicles to satisfy the need at the country end of the route. The undesirable alternative is to make people change trains, in which case an ordinary DMU can be used.

Fools' Gold
In the face of criticism, it was claimed that another great benefit of bi-mode is the ability to "self-rescue" if the power is down. This is fools' gold. There are indeed situations where this might be a benefit, but even then the train is not going to get further than the train at the front of the queue that does not have this "self-rescue" ability. And the best way to prevent loss of power is not to skimp on the specification of the overhead line and to maintain it, and the equipment on the trains, to a reliable standard.

IEP cleverly manages to get the worst of all worlds at maximum expense as a result of a civil service specification which asked for a train that could do everything. The same thing has been going on in defence procurement for decades. It is what happens when projects are left to Sir Humphfrey.

4 Oct 2012

WCML fiasco - and the IEP tendering procedure

I will not comment on the WCML fiasco except to say that it points up the need to look at the way the IEP contract was awarded.

The original specification for the IEP was not met by any of the submissions from the competing tenders. The final specification for the trains that have been ordered is significantly different from that in the original tender.

The train manufacturing companies could reasonably argue that they never had the opportunity to bid on the basis of the final specification. Whether they would be within their rights to ask for a judicial review is a matter for the lawyers, but given that IEP is extraordinarily bad money, as was point out by Foster, suggests that the taxpayers would have an interest in the outcome.

1 Oct 2012

IEP window seats are not

Proposed layouts for the IEP trains. It's sardine tins for the standard class but hey, who cares, they're just oiks.

What to do with Voyagers?

Oxford- Virgin Voyager, originally uploaded by Henry░Law.
Voyagers are a high speed diesel electric multiple unit train built by Bombardier and introduced in 2001 for Virgin Cross Country services. There are two varieties of Voyagers, class 220 and class 221, the latter having tilt capability. A further class of similar trains were built for the Midland main line and are called Meridians, designated class 222.

As originally built the class 220 units were four car and the class 221 made up into four and five car sets. The trains were originally intended for a high-intensity service centred around a hub at Birmingham New Street. This was known as Operation Princess but it proved unworkable, led to severe overcrowding on some sections, and was abandoned after a few months. After that, the Voyagers ran in pairs over the busier sections of route - an uneconomic arrangement as two sets of train crew are needed. It is also unlikely that this type of train would have been considered if the operation of eight car trains had been contemplated from the outset.

There have been many criticisms of Voyagers, mostly relating to passenger comfort. The seating capacity is low and the seating is cramped, luggage capacity is inadequate and engine vibration is intrusive. One reason for the low seating capacity is the space taken up by wheelchair access toilets, of which there are more than required by the regulations. They are also heavy; class 220 intermediate cars weigh 44 tons and class 221 52 tons, compared to 35 tons for a hauled mark 3 vehicle.

With the go-ahead having been given for additional electrification, it has been proposed that additional Voyager cars be built with pantographs, so that the trains can switch to electric power on electrified routes. This is in principle a similar concept to the Hitachi IEP train, with similar advantage of flexibility and the similar drawback that costly equipment is being carried around uselessly all the time.

What else could be done with these trains? There are 34 class 220s and 44 of class 221. That gives 156 driving cars and about 200 intermediate vehicles. What if the engines were removed and the cars used as hauled stock, the end vehicles becoming control trailers? They would then augment the fleet of hauled mark 3 stock and the trailer cars presently running within HST sets, all of which are now known to have a live expectancy of at least 60 years from their date of construction.

One of the benefits of this scheme is that the Voyager cars are compliant with accessibility requirements, which mark 3 stock is not, and combining vehicles of the two types would avoid the need for an expensive small build of accessible vehicles compatible with mark 3 stock. Such a scheme could provide Britain's railways with the ability to react flexibly to traffic requirements, something that is painfully lacking at the moment.

29 Sep 2012

No room for two

No room for two, originally uploaded by Henry░Law.

The occupant of the aisle seat was rather large and so nobody could have sat in the window seat on this class 159 train.

British trains are the narrowest standard gauge trains in Europe. This is probably because greedy nineteenth century landowners would only sell a strip of land of minimum width to build the railways on. After much cost and effort, it became possible to run vehicles 2.82 metres wide over the entire network, provided that they were no more than 20 metres long. This became the standard for the mark 1 stock. In the late 1960s it was considered desirable to run longer vehicles and it was realised that with a bit of tapering of ends and recessing of things like door handles, a 23 metre vehicle was possible, with an actual width of 2.74 metres, the same as the actual width of the mark 1 bodyshell. Some vehicles were, however, built to the full width of 2.82 metres, including all the 20 metre long suburban stock (classes 317, 455, 465 etc), and a few full-width vehicles were built to a 23 metre length for service on the former GW routes out of London (classes 165/166). These latter have a very limited route availability.

Since the mark 3 stock was introduced, gauge clearance work has been carried out which allow the vehicles to operate over much of the system. However, more recent 23 metre stock has generally been narrower, typically 2.7 or 2.6 metres.

Given the epidemic of obesity, one might have thought that those concerned with the specifying of rolling stock, now the Department for Transport, would have realised that optimising the width of new passenger trains would be a priority. Instead, they have specified even longer vehicles for the new IEP trains, 26 metres long, which will mean a further reduction in width and some very expensive infrastructure work on top. In a rational world, where people were considered important, the DfT would have specified a minimum width of around 2.8 metres, which would probably have resulted in a vehicle slightly longer than 20 metres but less than 23 metres. As it is, a couple of generations of rail passengers will be forced to travel in sardine-tin conditions. One also has to wonder what would happen if one had reserved a seat, only to find it impossible to use owing to the size of the passenger in the adjacent seat? When there are enough complaints and the situation becomes untenable the train companies will end up having to remove a file of seats and adopt a 2+1 configuration, which will play havoc with the economics.

4 Sep 2012

Now broom at Transport

With a new Transport Minster, Patrick McLoughlin, announced today, comes the opportunity for a re-think not only of HS2 but also of the Hitachi IEP. The penalties for cancellation of the first tranche will probably be horrendous, but this is not the train the railways need. If the fleet order can be confined to the current 370 vehicles, it would be worth taking a loss to avoid saddling the country's railways with hundreds of trains that are unsuitable for the services on which they will be operating and are an overpriced and over-elaborate solution to a relatively simple problem.

31 Aug 2012

Fury over rail fare rises

I have little sympathy over the fury about rail fare rises. A major cost here is rolling stock. Had it not been for the mad panic over safety in the period after the Clapham rail accident, the mark 1 slam door stock would still be in service. This would have considerably reduced the costs of the whole operation. It was good for about 45 years from 1975 ie in the normal way of things the last of it would have been withdrawn in 2020. As it was, the last of the stock was taken out of service in 2005, which means that 15 years of service life was lost - nearly one-third of the total.

There were a variety of enhancements that could have been made to this stock at minimum cost to bring them up to modern standards, plus the option of re-bodying but retaining the most expensive and valuable components ie bogies and other running gear and the electrical equipment which was simple and robust and could have been made to last indefinitely. The new stock, being heavier, also consumes more electricity which has to be paid for.

One of the reasons why the less expensive option was not chosen was because the oligolopoly of train manufacturers was anxious to sell their very expensive new products and convinced the politicians who make these decisions that trains are like cars and have a fifteen year replacement cycle.

Things are going to get much worse. As has been pointed out before, the real cost of railway rolling stock went up by a factor of about 6 between 1955 and 1995 and has risen again with the advent of trains like the Pendolino, the Crossrail replacement and the Hitachi Inter City Express which has just been ordered. The latter costs about £2.9 million per vehicle compared with £6000 per vehicle in 1955. Allowing for a factor of 40 for inflation, that makes the new trains ten times as expensive in real terms. They are not ten times more comfortable, or ten times faster or ten times safer. Passengers travelling in 1950s trains normally remark how spacious and comfortable they are in comparison with the new ones.

21 Aug 2012

How much does the IEP really cost?

According to RailStaff analysts at the DfT argue that the Hitachi IEP offers better value for money than an equivalent fleet of Pendolino trains. They claim that an electric IEP carriage costs £2,431,389, compared to an estimated £2.7 million for the Pendolino equivalent, and a bi-mode IEP costs £2,829,187.

This is disingenuous. A fleet of Pendolinos was not the only option. These trains will replace mark 3 stock known to have a residual life of 20 to 30 years, as well as mark 4 stock which is only 20 years old. Existing stock currently running in HST sets could be converted for haulage by new electric or diesel locomotives. New trailer cars with a similar specification to mark 3 stock, seating around 76 with a decent amount of luggage space and legroom, should cost not more than a million pounds apiece.
Standard locomotives such as the TRAXX are available for under £3 million, which could provide traction for newly electrified routes as well as replace the class 91 fleet if these cannot be economically overhauled and brought up to date.
26 metre length is also a bad choice. The Hitachi trains will be restricted to routes which have been cleared for this length, at considerable additional expense. The additional length means that the width will be less than a shorter vehicle, probably around 10 cm less, which is a real drawback at a time when more and more people are becoming obese.

17 Aug 2012

140mph running - is it worth it?

I cannot find the reference just now but I seem to recall that proposals for upgrading the GW main line include provision for 140 mph running. This strikes me as strange. Although the GW main line was laid out for high speed, such has been the development of the London-Bristol corridor in the past 30 years that the character of the route has completely changed. There is little opportunity or need for high speed running because the trains have to keep stopping every 15 or 20 miles to pick up or set down passengers. The trains will hardly have had a chance to wind up to 140 mph before the brakes have to go on for the next stop. Slough, Reading, Didcot, Swindon, Chippenham and Bath are all busy and popular local transport hubs serving areas which have become suburbanised, to the point that then entire belt between London and Bristol is turning into an arm of the south-east conurbation.

Bearing in mind that costs are proportional to more than the square of the operating speed of a railway, somebody ought to be asking whether the normal top speed on the route should be more than 100 mph.

4 Aug 2012

Front ends are getting uglier again

Class 70 001 PowerHaul on Felixstowe-Lawley St working bemuses commuters on platform 10 of Stratford station. 15/4/10


What has gone wrong with locomotive front-end design? The class 70 Darth Vader look and the Vossloh Eurolight diesel seem to be part of a trend. It is styling rather than design. Why? What is this about? The Vossloh is a development of the class 67, a simple angular shape with no pretensions - this one seems to have got into British Rail's mid-1960s livery and is none the worse for that. So why was there a desire to fuss around with a perfectly sound design?

Class 67 Diesel Loco No. 67001 In Arriva Trains Blue Livery On Thunderbird Stand by - Newcastle 25thOctober 2011

In the early days of diesel locomotives, there were some hideous monstrosities. The first diesels in Britain were not the most elegant things on rails but eventually, a design panel was set up and some top class industrial designers were engaged, such as Mischa Black who was responsible for, amongst other designs, the Western class 52 diesel hydraulic.

Class 52 Western Champion

In more recent times there have been some tidy designs such as the British version of the Pendolino,   by, I believe, Jones Garrard of Leicester.


But now design seems to be going bad again. What is happening?

30 Jul 2012

IEP <> HS2 - how joined up is the thinking?

Nothing much has been said about the interaction between HS2 and IEP. The latter provides for 27 years from 2015 - which brings us up to 2042. If HS2 goes ahead at all, a substantial amount of it will be built by then, and there will also be significant running of trains on both HS2, at around 300 kph and the classic network at 200 kph. HS2 will be constructed to a wider European envelope to accept trains such as the French TGV and the German ICE.

How does IEP fit into this scheme of things?

IEP discrepancy in figures?

According to Agility Trains, the £4.5 billion package covers the supply of 596 carriages. The Railway Gazette report refers to an "overall package", with "financial close" covering the supply of 369 vehicles, and "commercial close" for a further 227 vehicles for the ECML. So presumably the £4.5 billion is for 596 vehicles, but this is not exactly clear.

29 Jul 2012

IEP value for money?

I have done a bit of research of my own on whether the IEP is not such bad value for money as it appears at first sight. The initial figure appears to £7.5 million per vehicle, but of course it is substantially less, since it is a supply-and-maintain contract and also includes a lot of infrastructure work to accommodate the 26 metre long vehicles. Presumably, also, it includes a major half-life overhaul and two other refurbishments in between, over the 27.5 year contract period.

Nevertheless, the figure is probably on the high side, though not outrageous. On the other hand, if a decision had been taken to hold to the present 23 metre standard vehicle length or even slightly shorter, much of the infrastructure work would not have been needed. If a further decision had been taken to retain locomotive haulage, existing depots would, with some upgrading, have largely sufficed.

According to a report by Arup as part of the McNulty Value for Money Review, published in 2011, "capital costs account for 31% of the whole life costs for an illustrative fleet on an undiscounted basis. However, translating that figure into lease costs whereby the capital costs are financed over (typically) the life of the asset, can take that figure up to around 60% - depending on how the costs are discounted." That the first costs are critical is important therefore, especially taking into account the cost of finance. But getting at comparative figures is not an easy task in view of all the things that have been included in the package deal.

The alternative would have been a locomotive hauled fleet of about 600 vehicles and 100 locomotives, which would have amounted to about £900 million, ie £1.5 million a piece. This is slightly lower than the cost of an EMU fleet, because these have traction equipment in most vehicles and control equipment in at least half of them. ETMS boxes, for instance, are expensive items which have to go into each unit. In reality, however, 600 hauled vehicles would not have been needed now because the fleet of mark 3 vehicles could have been retained for the residue of their 60-year life, to between 2035 and 2045. And it looks as if the IC225 stock, which entered service in 1992, will also pay an early visit to the scrapyard.

So the Foster review of the IEP project was right after all. The disgraceful thing is that it was shelved and the project pushed through regardless. One of the difficulties is that MPs and ministers seem to have little understanding of the issues involved. But put plainly, it looks as if the same amount of money could have paid for a larger fleet and enabled existing stock to continue in use to the end of its service life. One has to ask what is the use of appointing expensive consultancies to produce reports and then ignoring what they state with perfect clarity?

27 Jul 2012

High Court grants HS2 opponents hearing

Opponents to HS2 have been granted a hearing by the High Court, and the right to seek a judicial review against the scheme. Unfortunately, the grounds for the appeal relate to compensation and environmental issues rather than the economics of the project itself. The latter, however, has already been brought into question by the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee in a report published earlier in the month.

25 Jul 2012

IEP contract now awarded

Blå Tåget

The IEP contract has now been awarded to Hitachi. No surprise there. It just shows the power of civil servants to push through a project even when, as in this case, it was conclusively shown to be poor value for money. The alternative to the IEP might have been this - a fleet of conventional hauled vehicles and up-to-date Euro-locomotives such as the TRAXX, seen above in on-hire service. This would have bought the flexibility which the IEP investment does not.

Details of the contract for the first tranche of the Hitachi fleet are given here on the website of Railway Gazette International. The initial deployment of 369 vehicles on the Great Western, from 2017, will be as follows:
  • London - Swansea
  • London - Oxford - Hereford
  • London - Gloucester - Cheltenham
  • London - Bristol
A further deployment of 227 cars will be delivered for East Coast by 2018:
  • London - Leeds
  • London - Edinburgh - Aberdeen/Inverness
The contract has options for further sets, which could operate on the following routes:

Great Western:
  • London - Penzance
East Coast:
  • Replacement of IC225 sets
  • London - Cambridge - King's Lynn
West Coast:
  • London - Northampton
The contract, worth some £4.5bn, comprises trains, maintenance depots, and route upgrades, with Network Rail undertaking the infrastructure upgrades to allow the new trains to operate on the network. Agility Trains is the contract partner for the DfT for the delivery of trains, maintenance and daily service delivery, with Hitachi Rail Europe as sub-contractor in charge of supplying the trains and ensuring that they reliably perform day in and day out. The contract guarantees 27.5 years of usage of the trains.

As part of the contract, Hitachi will provide 596 carriages of electric and bi-mode trains for the Great Western Main Line (Phase 1) and the East Coast Main Line (Phase 2). The fleet of 595 vehicles, made up into 92 trains, will be maintained in newly built and upgraded facilities, including new depots in Swansea, Bristol, west London and Doncaster.

Because the contract is to supply and maintain the trains and also includes a lot of infrastructure work, it is difficult to compare with supply-only costs, which are typically between one half and one third of lifetime costs. No doubt someone like Roger Ford will be putting the numbers through his crunching machine and will come up with an assessment which will give some indication of where this is value for money.

But whilst it is not directly comparable, it is worth pointing out that a fleet of 600 hauled go-anywhere vehicles and 100 locomotives would have had a first cost of, say, £600 million for the vehicles and another £300 million for the locomotives - that is a total of around £900 million. It would also have avoided the need for spending to adapt the infrastructure to accommodate longer 26 metre vehicles, and existing depots could have been upgraded. It is also what many in the industry actually wanted.

In principle, therefore, the decision seems unfortunate. It looks like bad value for money. It would also have been a good thing if the new generation of trains could have broken away from the practice of fixed formation trains and recovered the flexibility provided by locomotives and carriages, enabling the continued use of older vehicles to provide peak capacity. As it is, with a "tight-fit" solution, this order commits the railway to retaining its bizarrely complex fares structure because yield management becomes so critical to the economics of the operation.

Worse still, the length of the vehicles means that in due course the opportunities for cascading the stock onto other routes will be almost non-existent. A fleet of shorter hauled vehicles, around 22 metres in length, could have been wider, at 2.78 metres, and operated over pretty much the whole system.

Some of the proposed later deployments, such as London to Oxford, Northampton and Cambridge , are strange since these are essentially commuter routes, and the Oxford line forms part of the recently upgraded route to Worcester and Hereford. The 26 metre end-door vehicles are going to be highly unsuitable for commuter services, whilst the Cotswold line is not a high speed route anyway and would be best served by detaching part of the train at Oxford and running in push-pull mode to Hereford.

The replacement of the IC225 sets from 2018 is premature. They came into service in the early 1990s. The mark 4 fleet of just over 200 vehicles ought to have a 40 year life which would see them running at least until around 2030. But this order also implies the premature withdrawal of the mark 3 fleet of well over 1000 vehicles built between 1975 and 1985 and now known to have a 60-year life. That is throwing away a lot of resources. At a time when funds for the railways are supposedly scarce and there is a long list of projects crying out to be done, this looks as if the authorities have, yet again, got their priorities badly mixed up.

Don't miss the video simulation, by the way, nicely done.

17 Jul 2012

Another £4 billion to be invested

The proposals announced yesterday add another £4.2 billion to the already committed £5.2 billion of rail investment for 2014 to 2019.

The new schemes envisage the electrification of the Midland Main Line as part of a high-capacity 'electric spine' passenger and freight route from Yorkshire and the West Midlands to Southampton. Routes to be electrified at 25 kV 50 Hz as part of the electric spine are:
  • Southampton port - Basingstoke;
  • Basingstoke - Reading;
  • Oxford - Leamington - Coventry;
  • Coventry - Nuneaton;
  • Oxford - Bletchley - Bedford;
  • Bedford - Nottingham/Derby;
  • Derby - Sheffield; Kettering - Corby

This makes a great deal of sense, since it consolidates the electrified network. The reopening of Oxford to Bletchley as an electrified line from the outset is a welcome surprise. In addition to these are the extension of the GW proposals to take in Swansea, the Welsh Valleys, the Windsor, Henley, and Marlow branches, and the connecting link between Acton and Willesden.

Inevitably, however, these schemes point to fresh possibilities. Why not electrify from Leamington to Birmingham, and the routes out of Marylebone, including those to Aylesbury and Banbury? This would re-create a second electrified route between London and Birmingham. Adding in the short stretch of former Great Western main line from Old Oak Common to Northolt Junction would then make it possible to reinstate the old GW main line service from Paddington to Birmingham, taking the pressure off overcrowded Marylebone.

There are other possibilities as well. Bristol-Birmingham-Derby makes sense as an electrified route. And why not reinstate and electrify the Peak Forest line from Ambergate to Buxton, thereby re-creating a second main line from London to Manchester.

With two main lines between London and Manchester and London and Birmingham, what need would there be for HS2?

The projects also casts further doubt on the Inter-City Express project. With London to Swansea fully electrified, what need is there of bi-mode trains when conventional EMUS will do the job perfectly well? And with proposals for converting the class 220/221 to dual mode or straight electric traction, there would appear to be little requirement for more.

Uncertainties of this kind suggest also that a more prudent rolling stock option would be to purchase more locomotives and hauled vehicles. This gives both flexibility and spare capacity at relatively lower cost, since older vehicles such as the mark 3 fleet can be used to provide back up at peak periods.

The proposal for 25kv overhead electrification between Basingstoke and Southampton has probably raised a few eyebrows because the line is already electrified on the third rail system. Conversion of the Basingstoke - Southampton route from 750 V DC third rail to overhead electrification will 'test the business case for the wider conversion of the third rail network south of the Thames'.

The third rail system is of course an anomalous legacy. It is inefficient and special measures are needed to keep it running in ice and snow. On the other hand, maintenance costs are low, and it is not prone to the widespread dislocation that occurs when overhead wiring is damaged, which is not so very uncommon. With the need to provide additional clearances, the cost of conversion could be high. The figures are worth establishing but this proposal sounds like whim rather than well-considered policy. The changeover costs on the system as a whole would be astronomical.

Even re-electrification between Basingstoke and Southampton would be problematical. Unless both systems of electrification are to remain in place for the foreseeable future, dual voltage trains would have to run out of Waterloo on services to Southampton and Weymouth, which sounds expensive and inefficient. Even with the most carefully planned and phased changeover, the Southern would be plagued with two systems of electrification for a decade or two. It is hard to see how this could ever be justified. Whilst less than ideal, the class 92 locomotives could be used in third-rail mode south of Basingstoke, and it might be possible to boost the power supply with additional feeder stations along the route.

Looking at the overall picture, this is welcome news. But it damages still further the business case for HS2. As suggested above, it would be a better investment to consolidate the electrified network so as to eliminate diesel traction south of Manchester and east of Bristol, which is where the vast majority of the population live and work.

7 Jul 2012

Breakdown, Swedish style

Swedish X2000 train breakdown, originally uploaded by Henry░Law.

Five hours in a forest in a broken down train. Both pantographs had been wrecked by a fault in the overhead wire. It took over three hours to get a rescue locomotive from Hallsberg, and another hour and a half to couple it (a freight shunter) to the train, after which it was dragged to Hallsberg, by then about five hours late.

The good thing was that SJ staff handled the incident well. The adjacent track was secured and passengers were allowed off, everyone was kept informed, arrangements were made to ensure that every single passenger reached their destination, and food was laid on free of charge at Hallsberg. You could not have asked for more.

However, it shows yet again that overhead electrification is less robust than third rail except in icy weather, and that there is also a need to standardise coupling and braking systems, so that breakdowns can be dealt with efficiently, when they happen. Whether this supports the case for bi-mode trains is another matter. Perhaps there is a need for more stand-by locomotives but in a big, sparsely populated country like Sweden they are always likely to be a fair distance from the average breakdown.

Damage to overhead electrification equipment is not unusual and when they happen they cause widespread disruption. One has to wonder why anyone has suggested, as they did earlier this year, that Britain's extensive third rail system need re-electrified with overhead wire.

3 Jun 2012

Mark 3 refurbishment

Chiltern Railways puts refurbished Mk III coaches into service

That is more like it. And now there is a need for a further fleet of compatible vehicles and the electric and diesel locomotives to haul them. The Irish mark 3 fleet should help a little and then there is a need for a new build.

What should they be like? The 23 metre length of the mark 3 stock was based on the assumption that the 2.74 external width of the mark 1 stock was acceptable. This was achieved by tapering the vehicle ends and recessing the door handles. It was not built to the full width of the loading gauge, unlike the sliding-door derivatives of the mark 3 stock such as the class 150 DMU which are 20 metres long and a nominal 2.82 metres wide, the absolute maximum permissible. These latter vehicles are regarded as the only go-anywhere type on the system. So perhaps a slightly shorter and wider vehicle would be possible, enabling it to go anywhere whilst at the same time helping to accommodate the present obesity epidemic.

Probably the best feature of the mark 3 is the constructional system, which means that the bodyshell is light and strong, and that the sides are thin, thereby maximising the internal space. Other features of the mark 3 stock which could have been better are the size, position and spacing of the windows, which obstruct the visibility from so many seats, and the detailed design of the entrance step, which can be hazardous at convex platform faces.

So what is needed is an improved vehicle developed from and compatible with the mark 3. Although primarily conceived for locomotive haulage, such a vehicle might also be used in a DMU, an EMU or even in the new stock for running on both HS2 and classic routes. It could also have export potential, thereby improving the economics of production.

6 Mar 2012

Would be even better as a tram

London's new bus would be even better as a tram, would it not?

1 Mar 2012

Class 73 Jubilee

It is hard to believe that it is fifty years ago since these locomotives entered service. They are 1500 hp electric locomotives running on the third-rail system and have an auxiliary diesel engine of 500hp. This makes them extremely versatile. Not only are the majority still intact and working, but there are plans to refurbish some to keep them going.

Whilst not the most elegant things on rails - apparently they are known as "shoe boxes", they embody the excellent principle that everything should be compatible with everything else on the system. Thus they could haul anything and could be controlled from the cab of all of the other multiple unit diesel or electric trains that were coming into service on the Southern Region at the time.

This strategy of compatibility continued until the early 1990s when new types of stock were brought into use which used entirely different control system. Nowadays, nobody cares about compatibility and many combinations of rolling stock cannot even be coupled to each other without the use of special connections.

The lesson should not need to be spelled out.

17 Feb 2012

Camden Council seeking judical review

Camden Council has joined campaigners in seeking a judicial review of HS2 because of its effects on homes and businesses, hundreds of which will be demolished to make way for the project.

One of the arguments for HS2 has been that the upgrading of the West Coast Main Line was so disruptive that a brand new railway was a better option. It now turns out that the rebuilding of Euston Station is a much bigger project than the public has been led to believe, and it too will be severely disrupt services on the WCML for several years.

Full article in Rail Technology Magazine here.

Have the supporters of HS2 been pulling the wool over everyone's eyes?

16 Feb 2012

HS2 - exactly what is not required

Google maps
80% of Britain's population lives within an area south of Leeds-Manchester and east of the Welsh border. Most of the rest is concentrated into two outliers, the Newcastle-Sunderland and Edinburgh-Glasgow conurbations.

The largest conurbation in Britain is Greater London, which can be defined in various ways, such as the area inside the M25. However, as an economic area, it can be considered to take in Reading, Oxford, Luton, Cambridge, Southend and Brighton. The second conurbation is that centred on Birmingham, whilst the third takes in Liverpool, Manchester, and arguably, Leeds. In between the conurbations are numerous towns with populations of between 100,000 and 250,000, roughly 30 miles apart. Since 1960, the tendency has been for these places to spread and join up, so that, for example, it could be argued that London and Birmingham are on the way to becoming a single conurbation. Also since 1960, the predominant forms of residential and commercial development have been on the assumption that they will have access by private car. Thus, in order to get to work and maintain their job opportunties, as well as to perform regular household tasks like shopping, people have been obliged to run one, and often more, cars per household, leading to very high levels of car ownership and use.

Such a pattern of development gives rise to a particular pattern of travel, with a myriad of different journeys being made, many of which would be very difficult to serve by public transport in any form. Nevertheless, people are continuing to live and work in towns and their travel habits could be catered for by public transport if the services were available. What is needed here is a system that provides the maximum journey opportunities. A high speed line between major centres, not stopping en route, is exactly what is not required. The right configuration is not a trunk but a net. Much of this could be achieved by reinstating lines closed under Beeching, with good connections where the routes cross.

If there is a case for high speed rail at all, it is to serve the outlying centres of Tyne and Wear, and the Scottish lowland belt. To maximise the benefit, construction should start from Scotland, where the obstacles are fewest, the potential benefits greatest, and where the routes could be brought into revenue-earning use long before 2026.

One has to wonder what kind of planning methodology was used to generate this proposal?

Judicial review threat

Opponents of HS2 are now going down the route of judicial review. It will be interesting to see how the case is presented.

In my view, has come about for a host of wrong reasons, which in turn points to fundamental flaws in the whole way that the decision was made. Whether this is grounds for judicial review is another matter. I shall discuss the underlying issue in my next post.

4 Feb 2012

British train ticket

British train ticket, originally uploaded by Henry░Law.

This credit-card size ticket format is convenient but the information on it could be presented more clearly. The important things such as the destination, ticket type and the dates of validity should be in bigger type.

11 Jan 2012

What are the real costs of HS2 and the alternatives?

According to the statement in Parliament the "high speed" cost of the new line will be £1.2bn. This sounds like a case of massaging statistics and implausible.

First, the HST needs an entirely new route to accommodate the higher speeds. A conventional speed railway can be laid on unused route from Calvert to Rugby and from Old Oak Common to Northolt Junction. The railway remains operational all the way from Calvert to Marylebone, forming part of the Chiltern line commuter route to Aylesbury. Going towards London there is a connection to the GW main line south of Calvert, and another to the Oxford to Bletchley.

Second, the rolling stock costs for high speed are about double, and three times as much in the case of the special UK gauge rolling stock that will have to be used for running on both old and new lines.

Third, the energy costs are double, and they can only rise as time goes on.

Fourth, there is all that tunneling.

We could get all the extra capacity you wanted by building the GC back to Rugby, putting in a connection to the WCML, reinstating the Ashendon Junction to Grendon Underwood Junction link, restoring Northolt Junction to Paddington, electrifying Marylebone/Paddington/Oxford to Birmingham and putting all the Heathrow Express trains underground as part of the Crossrail scheme.

That would cost less than half of HS2.

10 Jan 2012

All fur coat and no knickers

The government is expected to give the go-ahead to HS2 today. It is a shocking demonstration of the inability of Britain's decision makers to join up their thinking.

Having decided to invest £32 billion in public transport, it can not possibly be the best use of resources to devote it to this one project.

"Fur coat and no knickers" is the phrase that comes to mind. It is unlikely that the opposition will succeed in overturning the project at this stage. When there are so many more worthwhile rail improvements urgently needed all over the country, I find it sad that prestige trumps utility yet again.

9 Jan 2012

Decision imminent

A decision on HS2 is expected this week. Comments in the newspapers are almost entirely hostile. Some it comes from NIMBYs. Some comes from people who do not want to see public money spent on anything at all, if possible. But the serious arguments come from those who argue that if this amount of money is going to be spent on the railways, it a mistake to blow it all on this scheme.