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.