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A recent announcement in the press about high-speed trains that are fitted with bogies that can automatically adjust to a change of gauge seems a remarkable achievement.
Whilst there have always been different track gauges in many countries around the world, the challenge of running a train from A to B on one gauge, and B to C on a different gauge has usually involved people, or goods, changing from one coach or wagon to another – and sometimes different stations.
Automatically changing the space between the wheels as the train runs entirely from A through to C, when the tracks are different gauges – wow, that’s new – well, relatively.
Some 34 years ago, I wrote a feature for the PA Features entitled “High Speed Trains for the 21st Century”, which was essentially a look at some of the then ground breaking innovation, research and ideas in development for rail transport. In 1986, we were in the grip of an explosion of ideas, and that despite the axing by the UK government of the British Rail APT, with its tilting technology.
The Virgin Hyperloop, which successfully had its first run carrying a human passenger on the test track near Las Vegas is a great step forward, and has its most recent antecedents in the 1980s. Some of the innovative ideas back then – be it TGV, or Maglev have had some success, but will Virgin Hyperloop be able to deliver a commercial operation. Back in 1986 they were going to bury these vacuum tubes below ground level, but will the latest incarnation of the idea be anything more than a novelty?
Nowadays we seem to expect trains to be delayed or cancelled for bad weather, but back in the 1920s, even the monsoon rains could not stop India from running electric trains for Bombay’s suburban commuters. In 1925, the trains, built by English Electric in Preston provided some novel solutions for the Bombay Harbour Line, and later for the Great Indian Peninsula Railway.
The first electrification work for India was sanctioned by the government in August 1922, as the railway’s traffic continued to increase, and the escalating costs of coal for steam hauled services. Contracts were let to the Tata Hydro Electric company to provide the power supplies, and English Electric for the supply of substation equipment including rotary converters, circuit breakers and control panels.
The first electrified railway in India is 95 years old this year.
India’s rail network is vast, and its cities have extensive suburban and metro networks, with Delhi seeing one of the most recent projects to build a 122 km double-track Orbital Rail Corridor. The route will run around the west of Delhi from Palwal in the south to Harsana Kalan in the north, and provide some relief for the severe congestion on the capital’s inner routes.
But Mumbai – or Bombay – remains the first, and oldest electrified metro – and this short overiew outlines its beginnings……
First there was horse, and then steam followed by diesel and electric – and some of these concurrently – and now the future may be a hydrogen fuel cell powered train. In a tenuous link back to the atomic trains proposals of the mid 20th century perhaps, the University of St Andrews is looking to design and test a power plant for rail vehicles, using hydrogen fuel cells, and fit this to an existing rail vehicle platform.
In September, the university published a ‘Prior Information Notice’, to indicate the key boundaries of this home grown project, with a power source that further reduces the rail industry’s dependence on fossil fuels for traction. The idea itself has been around for some time – well since 2018 at least – and no doubt much earlier theoretically.
Back then Birmingham University’s Centre for Railway Research and Education (BCRRE) began development of a project to utilise hydrogen fuel-cell technology on a railway vehicle – their test bed being a former British Rail Class 319 multiple unit. British Rail Engineering Ltd. originally built these electric multiple units, from 1987 onwards, and after privatisation, they were rented by various train operating companies. A number of the class were modified, upgraded in various ways, including a number that were converted to bi-mode units in 2016.
Over 70 years ago, the locomotive manufacturers in Britain began supplying its last main line steam locomotives for Indian Railways – steam traction was still in abundance at home and abroad, but diesel and electric traction was making rapid progress. UK based manufacturers like English Electric and Metropolitan Vickers were early exploiters – mainly in what were then British colonies. Prior to World War II, more than 95% of steam locomotives were built in Britain and exported to India, for use on the various railways – which were then a range of state/privately owned companies – and on top of this, with different gauges.
During the steam era, both pre and post nationalisation, the North British Locomotive Co., in Glasgow, and Vulcan Foundry, in Newton-le-Willows, were heavily involved in the design, construction and export of steam locomotives to the Indian sub-continent. But the British builders had to contend with competition from other countries, including the USA, Canada and Europe before, during and after World War II.
This was the main transport story on the 4th September on numerous news outlets – well after the Covid-19 quarantine issues for travellers. What does it actually mean – work has been underway for some time in site clearances, groundworks in preparation to build a dedicated line for passengers from London to Birmingham.
This is what HS2 stated on its website at what was deemed the official launch day:
“HS2 Ltd has today (4 September 2020) announced the formal start of construction on the project, highlighting the large number of jobs the project will be recruiting for in the coming months and years.“
So, this controversial project continues to progress, and the objections and protests continue, but will HS2 achieve its objective? Again, according to the company’s own website, this what they are seeking to achieve:
Yes, I know it is only Phase 1, and the remaining sections will take the high speed links to Manchester, Leeds, etc. But – that’s still a long way off, as indeed is the completion of the 140 miles from London, near Euston & Paddington, to Birmingham Curzon Street. Yesterday too, Solihull gave consent to the building of the Birmingham Interchange Station, with its ‘peoplemover’ link to the NEC. Wonder if that’ll be “Maglev Revisited”? (See: Worlds First Commercial Maglev System)
Following nationalisation, new and repainted locomotives continued to appear in traffic bearing the initials of their former owners, though replaced very quickly by a complete absence of any titling. This early period saw also a number of new engines built to the designs of their former owners, outshopped with their original works/builders’ plates fitted, but with the tell tale signs of having had the initials LNER, LMS, &c., removed before the locomotive went into traffic. The appearance of evidence of former ownership was very long lasting in some cases, with ‘sightings’ of a faded ‘GWR’, or ‘LMS’ being noted in the contemporary railway press of the late 1950s.
The full title BRITISH RAILWAYS was carried by many locomotives and numerous classes, lasting, at least officially, until the arrival in 1949 of the lion and wheel emblem, or totem as it was known. The style of lettering adopted officially in 1949 was Gill-Sans, and had been widely used on the London Midland, Eastern, North Eastern, Scottish, and Southern Regions of BR, from 1948, although the Western Region perpetuated for a time the style of the old GWR, and some examples of former SR style on the newly formed Southern Region could also be found.
These have been the sorts of headlines that have greeted rail travellers from the mid-Autumn to early Spring, every year on Britain’s railways, and back in the days when it was just British Rail, the target for complaints and abuse was just one organisation. Today, and coming in the next 8 weeks perhaps, the same problems will doubtless occur, and delays, cancellations and complaints, along with tempers no doubt, will rise.
But, are we any further forward? The answer is yes and no – obviously!
Recently, a research paper was published identifying the tannin in leaves that mixed with the damp conditions at the railhead, and in Network Rail’s words – are “the black ice of the railway”. This in certainty will reduce friction between rail and wheel, and loss of traction. The problem, is how to remove it, and increase the adhesion levels.
This was how the media ‘broke’ the story at the end of July.
Fascinating and sad story – the new Merseyrail electrics have not even entered service, but stored at Tonbridge in Kent, they’ve already received a repaint, courtesy of local vandals. The trains from Stadler’s Wildenrath test track in Germany had been sent to Tonbridge on their way to Merseyside, and are now having the graffiti removed at the Merseyrail Kirkdale depot.
These are the new Class 777 units, and 52 of the 4-car articulated sets were ordered back in 2017 from the Swiss manufacturer, with an option to buy another 60. The present Class 507 and 508 will all of course ultimately disappear. The first of the new trains was delivered in January, but this latest arrival has resulted in the need to spend a significant amount of money making the new trains look new.
This video shows some shots, courtesy of the Railmen of Kent Twitter feed – https://twitter.com/RailinKent
In Ireland, the new CIE Class 22000 now features a hybrid drive, from a Rolls Royce-MTU diesel engine and Li-ion battery pack. The principle is not new, and the Class 22000 have been around for the best part of a decade, but this latest development further enhances the railway’s green credentials.
CIE have a 10-year strategy for investment in ever more sustainable rail transport, and back in October 2019, the Government approved an order worth €150 million for 41 new “22000 Class” railcars/multiple units, on top of the current 234 car fleet. The new rolling stock will enter service in late 2021 in the Greater Dublin area, and according to CIE, will provide a 34% increase in capacity on peak commuter services.
The Wellington Suburban Electrification
Well, not strictly suburban, but the second major electrification on New Zealand’s railway lines that involved English Electric; this time on the main line linking the capital, Wellington, with Auckland, 400 miles away to the north. This was the first stage in electrifying the North Island Main Trunk (NIMT), across some of the world’s most spectacular, and challenging terrain.
English Electric were pioneers of electric traction, and were especially successful around the world, notably of course in former British colonies, whether India, Australia, and of course, New Zealand. In the 1930s, increasing traffic around Wellington, and the success of the Arthur’s Pass project almost a decade earlier, the North Island electrification work led to an order for tnew main line electric locomotives. These were the first heavyweight (my italics) locos in service on the route from Wellington to Paekakariki, which later became the North Island Main Trunk (NIMT).