Changing Face of Amtrak’s North East Corridor – and a New Acela

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Beginnings

The North East Corridor of the Amtrak rail network has been, and remains, the most important rail route in the USA, connecting the major cities of the Eastern Seaboard with the federal capital of Washington D.C. It has been at the forefront of the deployment of high-speed trains for decades, way back to the days of the Pennsylvania Railroad’s grand electrification work, and the use of the world famous GG1 locomotives, with Raymond Loewy’s streamlining.

When Amtrak – more precisely the National Railroad Passenger Corporation in 1971, under the ‘Railpax Act’, passenger rail services were and had been run down to a very considerable extent, and the Federal Government decided it was important to rescue the most important routes. Of greatest importance were the lines in the North East States, and the infrastructure was just not fit to provide late 20th century passenger services, and so began the NECIP – North East Corridor Improvement Project.

Back in the 1980s, high-speed rail was dominating the headlines, and by 1986, the USA had experimented with, and was developing that membership of the high-speed club, and only the UK, despite the technology, research and the ill-fated APT, was being left behind. In the USA had had in mind high-speed rail transport since 1965, when it enacted the “High Speed Ground Transportation Act” in 1965, which was a direct response to the arrival of the ‘Shinkansen’ bullet trains in Japan the previous year. There followed trials of ingenious gas-turbine trains from the United Aircraft Corporation – the UAC Turbotrains – which were in revenue earning service on NEC services between 1968 and 1976. These overlapped the formation of Amtrak, and ran in Amtrak colours for a time.

A less than successful gas turbine powered train intended to provide high-speed passenger services was the UAC Turbotrain, seen here at Providence, Rhode Island in May 1974, in the early Amtrak colours. Photo: Hikki Nagasaki – TrainWeb https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=48607485
Just prior to the creation of Amtrak, Budd built these ‘Metroliner’ sets to try and improve passenger ridership on the NEC. These Penn Central liveried units were perhaps the start of a transition to high-speed rail. Photo (c) Charly’s Slides

To provide improved passenger services on the NEC, in the late 1960s, Penn Central ordered and operated the Budd built “Metroliner” trains for its electrified route out of New York. These trains were sponsored by the DOT (Department of Transportation) as a “Demo Service” for high-speed inter-city working along the corridor. They were a success and led, a few later to the appearance and styling of the first “Amfleet” cars.

But, next on the high-speed agenda were the ANF-RTG “Turbotrains”, which, once again, were powered by gas turbines, with the first two fixed formation sets built and imported from France from 1973. However, these were not set to work on the NEC initially, but sent out to Chicago, where they worked services to and from the mid-west. They were based on a very successful design running on SNCF metals in France, and whilst the first 4 were direct imports, Amtrak “Americanised” the design with another 7 of the 5-car sets, to be built by Rohr Industries, and powered by the same ANF-Frangeco gas turbine. These Turbo Trains were put to use on the “Water Level Route” out of New York, and were fitted with contact shoes for 3-rail working in and out of Grand Central Terminal. These were a success – if not super fast, they were very economical, and cut oil consumption compared to the earlier designs by about 1/3.

The first venture overseas to finmd a high-speed solution for non-electrified routes around and feeding into the NEC was the ANF-Frangeco gas tubine powered sets from France. They were much more reliable and economic operationally than the UAC Turbotrains, and resulted in a design involving this proven technology, but built and ‘Americanised’ by Rohr Industries. Photo: (c) Charly’s Slides

South of New York, the Pennsylvania Railroad had electrified its main line into and out of New York back in the 1930s – and of course bought the unique and classic GG1 electric locomotives. These hauled the most prestigious passenger trains on the Pennsylvania’s lines for many years, but the dramatic collapse in passenger operations in the 1950s and 60s was a major challenge. Railroads were going bust at a rate of knots, and there were mergers that perhaps shouldn’t have been, and with railroads focussing on freight, the track and infrastructure was not good enough for high-speed passenger trains. The Government decided that something needed to be done to protect and provide passenger services in the North East, and following the examples of other countries, provide high-speed services.

The end result was the North East Corridor Improvement Project, and of course the formation of Amtrak.

First Steps

Having taken on the PRR’s ‘Metroliner’ and GG1 for passenger duties under the wires, it was time to look for replacement and improvements. The first changes came by way of 6,000hp E60CP electric locomotives from General Electric, and to marry up with the ageing passenger cars, these Head End Power (HEP) units also had steam heating fitted. Mind you, so did some of the new ‘Amfleet’ cars that were converted to provide HEP in the early days.

On the electrified lines of the former PRR in the NEC, General Electric were commissioned to build these hge 6,000hp E60CP locomotives, which were planned to provide 120 mph running. Sadly, that objective was never achieved, and the power to weight ratio in the build of these locos was a factor. Photo: Amtrak

The E60s were not a success, and their planned operational speeds of up to 120 mph was never achieved, and in part due to the suspension and transmission arrangements, together with the less than satisfactory state of the infrastructure. The E60s had their speed limits capped at 85 mph, even after suspension design changes, and were later sold off to other railroads. High-speed passenger working was not something the American railroads and the NEC in particular had any great experience with at that time, and it was playing catch up with other countries. The next high-speed proposal out of the blocks was much more successful, as Amtrak turned to Sweden and a version of its 6,000hp Bo-Bo locomotive, which, built by General Motors in the USA was nicknamed ‘Mighty Mouse’.

An AEM7 “Mighty Mouse” built by General Motors – also offered 6,000hp but with a much greater power to weight ratio. The design was based on the Swedish ASEA Rc4, and was an outstanding success, and paved the way for further developments of high-speed rail on the NEC. Photo: (c) Rail Photos Unlimited

The imported trial locomotive was the ASEA built Rc4, and was half the weight of the General Electric E60, and more aerodynamic. It was an outstanding success on trial, and despite GE being the only US manufacture of electric locos at that time, its rival, General Motors, was licensed to built ASEA equipment, which of course made it so much simpler to introduce a modern, high-speed design to the corridor. After trials, Amtrak ordered 15 of the new AEM7 ‘Mighty Mouse’ locos from General Motors, and this was rapidly followed by another 32, bringing the class total to 47. It would be wrong to suggest they ‘revolutionised’ high-speed rail in the Northeast Corridor – but they certainly paved the way for future successes – after the $multi-million NEC Improvement Project got under way.

The fixed formation sets of the ‘Metroliner’ fleet in Amtrak service on the NEC as a high-speed option dates back to 1971, when the DOT reported its preference for IHSR-1 (Improved High-Speed Rail), with the ‘Metroliners’ as the minimum investment. These self-propelled electric trains were not a great success, and were plagued with reliability problems, and even after refurbishing in the early 1970s they proved no better than the electric locos hauling the new ‘Amfleet’ cars along the corridor.

Since electrification at the time was not being progressed further – although obscure ideas such as underground tubes, STOL/VTOL aircraft and magnetic levitation systems were discussed as high-speed options – on the rail, more gas-turbine powered trains were tried. This time, the options came from France and Canada – the old UAC ‘Turbotrains’ were very heavy on fuel, alongside their perhaps questionable performance on non-electrified section.

Following the success of the French built Turbotrains, Amtrak ordered and Rohr Industries built these ‘Americanised’ versions, incoporating the technology in a style and configuration more in tune with North American design. These 5-car sets were a success on non-electrified routes feeding into the corridor, and went ‘on tour’ across the country, operating out of the mid-west. Photo: Amtrak

The new gas-turbine trials featured a French multiple unit design from ANF-Frangeco, which was already in regular use on SNCF. The two on lease from ANF were followed by an order for 4 more, and they were highly successful on mid-west routes out of Chicago, with their turbines driving the axles through mechanical cardan shaft drives. An option for more was taken up by building an ‘Americanised’ version at Rohr Industries in California – these were 5-car sets, ordered in 1974 and put to work in the mid-west, whilst the UAC ‘Turbotrains’ saw out their days on the NEC between New York and Boston. The new Rohr turbotrains were also intended for the ‘Water Level Route’ north from New York, and modifications included fitting traction motors and third rail collector shoe gear for working in and out of Grand Central Station.

Amtrak turned to Canada and Bombardier for another variant for non-electrified operations – in this casze, the Bombardier built LRC (‘Light, Rapid, Comfortable’) train, which also saw the first use of body tilting technology to enable higher speeds around curves. Here, Amtrak’s “Beacon Hill” with locomotive #38, is seen in December 1980 carrying the then current red, white and blue livery. Photo: Tim Darnell Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15751992

The poor old UAC ‘Turbotrains’ were a failure on the New York to Boston section, and the decision to scrap the extension of electrification north from New Haven left Amtrak without suitable power to run high-speed passenger services. In 1980, a pair of 5-car LRC (Light, Rapid Comfortable) trains appeared on the corridor. These were an existing design from Canadian builders Bombardier/MLW, and already in service with Via Rail, and featured automatic body tilt mechanism that would prove a useful benefit for Amtrak. In fact, the Corporation had been considering this option for Vancouver-Seattle-Portland run, but first set them to work on the northern end of the NEC between New Haven and Boston. They were initially restricted to 90 mph, but on test demonstrated that a curve previously restricted to 50 mph could safely be taken at 70 mph – a major improvement in journey times was clearly possible.

Sadly the LRC sets were returned to Canada at the end of the trial period, as Amtrak once again came up against its perpetual enemy – budget and funding constraints.

Today

So where is the Corporation today? Well, it has genuinely embarked and delivered on a high-speed rail offering for the Northeast Corridor, with over 700 miles of track, serving the most densely populated part of the country, and now has genuine high-speed trains and technology. But it took almost 20 years to deliver the first of the fixed formation train sets.

Once again, Amtrak turned to European expertise to test and determine what was the most suitable offering, and following on from the experience gained with the successful ‘Mighty Mouse’ AEM7 paired with Amfleet cars, returned to Sweden and borrowed an X2000 tilting train set in 1992. With support from ABB, the X2000 not only worked on the NEC, but toured the USA – obviously in part to raise awareness and popularity for trains and railroads. Its regular – if not full time – working was between New Haven, New York and Washington, and during the X2000’s stay, Amtrak agreed with Siemens to test the German ICE train on the same route.

Swedeish State Railways X2000, built by ABB proved a game changer for Amtrak in its view of high-speed electric traction with tilt technology and was instrumental in paving the way for the current and future generations of NEC high-speed trains.

A year later, Amtrak went out to look for bidders to build a new high-speed train for the Corporation, and of course, both Siemens and ABB were in the running, but there was also the Bombardier/Alstom consortium. Bombardier of course had already had some exposure in the USA with the trials of its LRC tilting train. It looked in the 1990s as though Amtrak was heading towards membership of the high-speed club.

The end result was the Acela Express, with an order for 20 of the high-speed fixed formation trains to be designed, tested, built and delivered by the Alstom/Bombardier consortium. The train was operationally intended to be an ‘incremental improvement’ rather than a step change in rail technology as the Japanese “Bullet Trains” or France’s “TGV” had been. It was necessary to further improve the right of way in the northeast, with extensive replacement of existing track with continuous welded rail and concrete ties/sleepers, as well as provide three new maintenance facilities. Some of the right of way work had been carried out under the NEC improvement programme in the 1980s, but even more was needed before “Acela” could be fully operational. This included the rapid completion of electrification work from New Haven to Boston.

The most recent and successful high-speed trains on the NEC are the Alstom Acela design, and will be joined in 2021 and 2022 by the even more technically advanced Avelia series, and continue to expand hgh-speed rail transportation in the USA. Here, a northbound Amtrak Acela Express is captured passing through Old Saybrook, Connecticut in 2011 Photo: Shreder 9100 at English Wikipedia, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19261912

In November 2000, the Acela Express made its inaugural run. This was a train like no other seen in the USA before, with 12,000hp available from two power cars, and 6 trailers sandwiched between, to provide a smooth, quiet ride at speeds of up to 240 km/hr. No less than 20 of these trains were built between 1998 and 2001, and their popularity with the travelling public dramatically raised Amtrak’s share of the passenger market. Between New York and Washington DC, passenger share grew from 36% to 53%, and between New York and Boston it was even more marked, going up from 18% to 40%. At the same time, airline passenger share declined from 64% to 47% between the Big Apple and Washington.

America’s rapidly growing network of high-speed rail corridors that perhaps owe their inclusion following the achievements of successive Northeast Corridor Improvement Programs.

It has been a huge success, and in part at least has driven the demand for kickstarting investment in other high-speed rail corridors, from 1992 to 2009. The five corridors defined in 1992 were:

  1. Midwest high-speed rail corridor linking Chicago , IL with Detroit , MI , St. Louis MO and Milwaukee WI
  2. Florida high-speed rail corridor linking Miami with Orlando and Tampa.
  3. California high-speed rail corridor linking San Diego and Los Angeles with the Bay Area and Sacramento via the San Joaquin Valley.
  4. Southeast high-speed rail corridor connecting Charlotte, NC, Richmond, VA, and Washington, DC.
  5. Pacific Northwest high-speed rail corridor linking Eugene and Portland, OR with Seattle, WA and Vancouver, BC, Canada.

Six years later in 1998 the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century designated another group of high-speed rail corridors, and extensions to existing plans including:

  1. Gulf Coast high-speed rail corridor.
  2. The Keystone corridor
  3. Empire State corridor
  4. Extension of the Southeast corridor
  5. Extension of the Midwest High-Speed Rail Corridor (now called the Chicago Hub corridor)
  6. Improvements on the Minneapolis/St. Paul- Chicago segment of the Midwest High-Speed Rail Corridor.

Extensions has already been approved to the Southeast corridor in 1995, with further extensions to the Chicago Hu, and the Northern New England route and a new South Central Corridor in 2000, and to date further extensions and expansion of these key corridors are either in plan or approved. On top of this, for the original corridor – the NEC – new generation of Acela high-speed trains has been promised, and already under test, as the attached video shows.

Finally, after almost total dependence on the automobile for long distance as well as commuter travel, the age of the train in the USA is coming into its own. Environmental credentials are high, it is sustainable mass transportation, and popular.

A superb view of a new Avelia Liberty trainset passes Claymont, Delaware on a test between Race Street (Philadelphia) and Ivy City (Washington DC). These are set to enter service with Amtrak in 2021, with all sets in by 2022, replacing all current Acela Express trainsets. Photo: Simon Brugel – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=93569932

-oOo-

Useful Links & Further Reading

The Gauge War – It’s Over!

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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.

This is the automatic gauge changing train for international services unveiled on October 21, and manufactured by CRRC (Changchun Railway Vehicles).  Derived from the existing CHR400-BF trains of the ‘Fuxing Hao’ China Standard EMU family, this latest 212 metre long trainset is intended to operate between China dn Russia.  Automatically changing gauges along the way.
This is the automatic gauge changing train for international services unveiled on October 21, and manufactured by CRRC (Changchun Railway Vehicles).  Derived from the existing CHR400-BF trains of the ‘Fuxing Hao’ China Standard EMU family, this latest 212 metre long trainset is intended to operate between China dn Russia. 
Automatically changing gauges along the way.

Back in 1880s, Brunel’s ‘Broad Gauge’ advocates were at war with supporters of Stephenson’s ‘Narrow Gauge’, and although this did not necessarily result in literal pitched battles between teams of ‘navvies’, the contractors building the lines were occasionally at loggerheads.  One flashpoint was in Gloucestershire on a route from Stratford-upon-Avon to Chipping Campden, where, having been forced to build a 1-mile long tunnel near Mickleton, and just to the north-west of Campden.  The ‘battle’ involved some 3,000 men, and the Riot Act was read on two occasions, over two days, and Brunel and Marchant both agreed to arbitration.  However, the railway company who had appointed Brunel as engineer paid off Marchant and his contractors and completed the tunnel the work themselves.  Unsurprisingly the legacy of the disturbances caused concern from all the locals of Chipping Campden, and events even reached the pages of the ‘Illustrated London News’.

Replica of GWR Broad Gauge (7′) Gooch “Alma” or “Iron Duke” Class 4-2-2 “Iron Duke” with wood clad boiler and firebox at the Great Western Society’s Didcot Railway Centre.   Photo: By Hugh Llewelyn CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=74608818

The gauge war – waged on both the technology and economic front was partially settled in 1846, and followed from an Act of Parliament, with the exciting title “An Act for regulating the Gauge of Railways”.  The reason this was only partially settled, was of course because it made clear that it was illegal to build any new railway that was not to the standard gauge of 4ft 8 ½ins and 5ft 3ins in Ireland.  BUT, the exception was Brunel’s 7ft gauge Great Western Railway – oh and various acts of Parliament already passed or in progress relating to various extensions, branches and other lines in the South West, parts of Wales, etc. 

Nice, clear and straightforward!  The same act also included a clause that prevented any railway gauge to be altered after 1846, used for “the Conveyance of Passengers”.  Fascinating, but clearly problematic, and the system of two gauges in England led to the duplication of passenger and goods station facilities in some locations, and the Act also required the GWR to include a third rail where the standard and 7ft gauge lines met.

Gauge disparity around the world has always caused difficulty, and perhaps nowhere more evidently than in Australia, where the various states began railway projects, with different contractors, and engineers leading to long term operational problems.  The vast majority of railways are built and operate on the standard gauge – 1435mm – but there are still those differences, whether it is in Spain, India, Switzerland or Russia.  In fact, the railways in Russia are built to the Irish standard 5ft 3in gauge, and that’s where the latest techniques and technology to achieve more seamless international train operations with China are being deployed on high-speed services.

The Change of Gauge Made Simple

Back in 2003, an interesting story appeared in the Japanese journal “Railway Technology Avalanche” describing “Gauge-changeable EMUs”.  It was stated that these were developed for through-operation between 1,435-mm gauge and narrow-gauge 1,067-mm gauge lines, and the 3-car test train was fitted with two types of bogie, where the back to back distance could be changed on the move.  Amongst the attributes needed were the capability to change the gauge while running, the inclusion of traction motors, high-speed running stability, and the ability to operate on routes with sharp curves.

The two types of bogie tested included one where the traction motors were essentially fixed to the wheel centre, which could be moved laterally along the fixed, non-rotating axle.  This was achieved by track mounted rails that provided support to the axleboxes, which in turn supported the vehicle body – a locking pin through the axlebox allowed the wheelset to be released and slid along the axle.   The second design adopted a single piece wheel and axle arrangement, with a Cardan shaft drive from the body mounted traction motor. With this design, a stopper in a groove in the axlebox fixed the wheels at that gauge, and during gauge-changing operation the stopper was raised by an arm mounted at ground level, with the wheelset then free to slide laterally to the new track gauge.

Class S/121 EMU for Spain includes the CAF designed ‘BRAVA’ system on the bogies, which allows change of gauge without stopping – perfect for international services between Spain, France, Italy, and other European networks.  In operation since 2009.

Each of these approaches required significant changes to the vehicle running gear, and track mounted rails and arms to complete the transition between rail gauges, but none resulted in any production series build of these EMUs.  

But, this was not the first application of such novel technology – that honour fell to Spain, where in 1969, the ‘Talgo’ system first appeared.  In Spain, the principal track gauge selected was 5 ft 5 2132 in – commonly known as the Iberian Gauge.  However, in the 1980s, all new high-speed lines – and especially those on international routes were constructed to standard gauge, which made cross border services to France much more straightforward.  The Talgo principle was well established in Spain though, and using the ‘Vevey Axle’ provided these unique, articulated trains with the ability to change gauge without stopping, and of course to cross borders.  The system also provides for much higher speeds today, and tilting technology is embedded in the design, and Talgo technology has been developed in recent years and now operates in Finland, Russia, Kazakhstan, and even the USA.

This is what the CAF designed ‘BRAVA’ system looks like in action:

Very impressive.

Spain continues to operate an extensive fleet of gauge-changing trainsets between 1435 mm and 1668 mm gauges, but they are limited to a maximum of 250 km/h.  So, the development of ‘gauge changing’ trains has progressed quite a bit in recent years, but less so perhaps on really high-speed fixed formation sets, for standard gauge routes, except for the CAF built Class 120 and 121 for Spain. 

Another view of the latest derivative of the CHR400-BF trains of the ‘Fuxing Hao’ China Standard EMU family, showing the track mounted infrastructure and a wheelset used on these latest high-speed trains.

The most recent addition to the high-speed gauge changing without stopping club is China, where, in October 2020 the state-owned rolling stock manufacturer CRRC Changchun Railway Vehicles, displayed a prototype gauge-changing high-speed train intended for international operation.  At 212 m long, the new train is a development of the company’s CHR400-BF design, and intended for international operation between China, Mongolia, Kazakhstan and Russia, at speeds of up to 400km/hr.  On top of this, the train is planned to work from different voltages, and with operational temperatures varying from +50C to -50C.

Interestingly, one of the first proposals for a variable gauge wheelset was put forward for the GWR at the end of its ‘Broad Gauge’ era, in 1886, by one John Fowler.  Six years later, the ‘Battle of the Gauges’ in Britain was over, and standard gauge was king.  As we know, the rest of the world continued to follow a variety of gauges, but perhaps that problem at frontiers, or between different railway companies has finally been laid to rest with these latest gauge-changing trains.

-oOo-

Useful Links & Further Reading:

Hyperloop – Not A New Idea At All

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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.  This would later come back to us via Fiat in Italy, and the Virgin operated Pendolino trains – it is perhaps equally ironic that Italy would today, in 2020, also now be operating the UK’s West Coast Pendolino trains.

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HS2 – We’re Off – Officially

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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)

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An Italian Odyssey

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Since 1995, I have taken a number of photographs in Italy, at various locations where we have started, ended, or simply watched the trains go by, and I thought it would be an appropriate time to share some of those images on these pages.

Naturally, some of the steam locos were seen in the Science Museum in Milan, including the Ansaldo built 2-8-2 of Class 746, together with the 1,000th locomotive built by Breda – Class 685 No. 600.  Alongside these are examples of the P7 0-8-2T, and R301.2 0-6-0T.  The only other steam locomotive in this collection is that of SNFT 0-6-0T No.1 on the plinth outside Brescia Castle, where it has been since it was selected as the first monument to steam traction in Italy, by the local model railway organisation – the “Club Fermodellistico Bresciano”.

Milan’s cavernous Central Station provides a brilliant backdrop in 2009 to the power car E414-103, built in the late 1990s, and heading an ETR500 high-speed train, shown in the post 2006 livery of grey,white and red.  Another example – E414-128 is shown leaving Verona with a Milan bound service in 2008.

Out on the Milan-Verona-Venic main line, back in 1995, Desenzano-del-Garda was the stopping off point for a couple of the views in the bright sunshine of high summer.  These range from E444-064 a Fiat/Breda built 4,000kW Bo-Bo (These were Italy’s first high-speed locos)  on a Venice bound express, through a pair of E652 series B-B-B types, led by E652-052 on a freight working.  Also seen, is a D.445 diesel No. 1114 – the standard passenger design of the time, on a regional working from Verona.

North of Milan, at Como San Giovanni station, we see an E632 B-B-B from builders Ansaldo heading towards Chiasso and Bellinzona in Switzerland, whilst in the opposite direction, one E656.051 arrives.  Nicknamed “Alligators”, these were the articulated B-B-B design developing some 4,200kW.

Alongside Lake Maggiore, at Stresa, in 2007 we pick up a “Cisalpino” service running through the station these 9-car tilting trains, in this case designated ETR470 followed on from the preceeding ETR450, and 460 series, known as “Pendolino”.   A short time later a northbound service headed through, with E464.285 at the front, with the rear driving trailer – sporting a touch of graffiti.

Heading southbound again at Stresa, a weatherbeaten E652.062 trundles through with a southbound freight, these ABB/Ansaldo/Marelli built locos deliver some 4,950kW, and are now exclusively used on freight.  This was followed by a local/regional service with E633.110 at the head, covered in a liberal amount of graffiti.  This class dates from the 1980s, and was the forerunner of the E652 on its freight working.

Back out to the Milan-Verona-Venice main line in 2014 and 2017, a varied collection of stock is seen entering and leaving Verona Porta Nuova.  An E464 – No. E464.409 puts in an appearance on a Tren Nord working, in its shiny green livery, and an assortment of ETR high-speed trains on the Frecciabianca (ETR500), Frecciarossa (ETR500), and the Swiss liveried version of the ETR610 series.  In Switzerland, these are classed as RABe 503, but have also been known as the Cisalpino Due, since they are in effect the upgrade or replacement for the tilting Cisalpino trains seen at Stresa, back in 2007.

Hope you enjoy.

-oOo-

 

Eurostar – From TMST to E320

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Eurostar Nose at NRM_RPB pictureThe recent withdrawal and scrapping of the first generation of Eurostar trains comes 30 years since the contract for building them was awarded, and barely two years after the last refurbishing was completed. In fact, the international consortium’s tender was submitted in December 1988, with the contract awarded just a year later. The Channel Tunnel was a complicated project, and today, the UK has much less involvement in its operation and planning than ever before. Eurotunnel International Ltd., who run and manage the services and infrastructure, from London to Paris, on what we have termed HS1 is actually majority owned by France, Belgium and Canada. Though to be fair when HS1 was sold off, the UK Government retained freehold ownership of the land, and the infrastructure ownership was just a 30-year concession to a Canadian business and a pension fund.

The International Project Group (IPG) was set up by the three national railways of Britain, France and Belgium in 1988, and the year before, a grouping of some of the most famous names in the rail industry was set up to bid for the work of building the new trains. This joint venture was known as the Trans-Manche Super Train Group (TMSTG), and included:

Screenshot 2020-03-30 at 09.57.57However, in the late 1980s there was a lot of what we now describe as ‘churn’ in the rail industry, with numerous takeovers, and amalgamations, and British Rail Engineering Ltd left the consortium completely, as did Metro-Cammell. GEC merged with Alsthom and bought Metro-Cammell, and it was back in the consortium almost as soon as it left.

Building mapWhen the dust of all these changes had settled, the fixed formation trainsets were built at several locations in Belgium, Britain and France, between 1992 and 1993. Bombardier Eurorail, which had taken over the two Belgian companies built trailer cars, with Brush supplying traction motors, De Dietrich in France the powered trailer cars, and Faiveley Transport the pantographs and control systems. The newly merged GEC-Althom took on perhaps the lion’s share of the work in 13 different locations across France and England.

TMST No. 3002

The classic TMST, set number 3002 seen here in September 2013 on its way from London to Brussels, photographed at Enghien, Belgium.  Photo © Andy Engelen

They were perhaps the most complex machines introduced for what was seen as a challenging operation. They were essentially based on the TGV Atlantique series for SNCF, but with 18 coaches placed between two power cars – but they are a pair of 10-coach half-trains connected back to back. They were designed to operate on three different electrification systems, and the power systems included some of the most cutting edge technology at the time.   Design and manufacturing processes were also enhanced to take advantage of the then current ‘Lean Manufacturing’ techniques, in the UK, France and Belgium.

TMST in build_1

Attaching a TMST power car to its bogie at Alsthom’s factory in France, alongside its predecessor – the TGV Atlantique set on the adjacent track.

The GEC-Alsthom built TMSTs have an installed power on 25kV AC of 12.2 MW, and a complete train weighs in at 750 tonnes, and an overall length of 294 metres, carrying 750 passengers, and noted as Class 373 in Britain.

The new 16-coach e320 trainsets are derived from the Siemens ICE3 trains for Germany, from which Siemens developed the “Velaro” range, which has been used in a number of other countries, including Russia and Spain. The new Eurotunnel trains – noted as Class 374 in Britain – require a less complex power equipment and contact system, compared to the TMSTs, although much of the power technology is a development of that used previously.  Although no longer needing to operate on 750v DC 3rd rail lines in Britain, they are still required to operate on 25kV AC and 1.5kV / 3kV DC voltage systems between London, Paris, Brussels and beyond. A key development in the power train has been the placing of the traction equipment beneath the vehicle floors, where on the original TMSTs the hardware was installed in the leading and trailing power cars, with the trains being essentially a ‘push-pull’ format.

Velaro-Hochgeschwindigkeitszüge: Eurostar e320 / Velaro Eurostar e320 high-speed trains

The new kid on the block – an e320 on test at the Siemens Mobility test site in Wegberg-Wildenrath – a classic in the making, and based on years of development from ICE to the Velaro platform.   Photo: “www.siemens.com/press”

These new cross channel trains are actually much more powerful than their predecessors, with a maximum rating of 16MW, delivered through 32 of the 64 axles, and carrying 900 passengers, with each car or coach being part of the power train and drive. The reason for the ability to increase passenger numbers is simply because the new trains have power converters carried below the vehicle floors, together with other changes in bogie and running gear design. Overall appearance is changed too, with styling – internal as well as the exterior – provided by the Italian design house ‘Pininfarina’, whilst the combination of aluminium and GRP mouldings are standard for coach bodies.

One of the main challenges faced by Eurostar occurred when the contract was placed with the builders. In 2009, Alstom launched a series of complaints and legal actions, claiming that the new Siemens design would breach Eurotunnel safety rules, but the courts rejected this. Alstom then lodged a complaint with the European Commission in 2010 over the tendering process, and in 2011, a last ditch claim was made through the UK High Court, where the company’s claim of “ineffective tendering process” was rejected. By 2012, Alstom called off all legal action against Eurostar, perhaps helped by SNCF taking up a contract option to buy another 40 of the high-speed double-deck trains. Then finally, the first of the new e320 series was unveiled in November 2014, and entered passenger service in 2015. On November 20th, one of the 16-car sets formed the 10.24 from London St Pancras to Paris Nord, and they have now been operational for almost 4 years.

Although these new Eurostar trains have had a difficult birth, with the parent operating company’s indication to extend its cross-channel services to Amsterdam and into Germany, their future looks promising. In fact, just over two years after the first e320 began operating, a new service from London to Amsterdam was started, with a further expansion of train numbers on the route in 2019.

Technical Comparisons

TMST Dimensions

e320 No 4016

New e320 train 4016 from London to Brussels, photographed at Enghien, Belgium in July 2017.        Photo © Andy Engelen

Power equipment – state of the art technology

A key component of both designs of train has been the power conversion equipment. The TMST adopted high-power GTO thyristors for this key component, which was at that time the ‘state of the art’ in traction power technology, all of which were included in the ‘Common Bloc’ sub-assemblies.   These were the heart of the TMST, and assembled at GEC-Alsthom’s Preston works, with the Trafford Park (Manchester) factory supplying the ‘plug-in’ semiconductor modules, with other components coming from GEC ALSTHOM factories at Belfort, Tarbes and Villeurbanne in France, and Charleroi in Belgium.

Eurostar Cab under construction

Eurostar Power Car under construction

TMST Power car under construction – the upper view is of the the steel and aluminium body after painting, and shows the steel framing of the bodysides. The lower view is the one-piece GRP moulding for the power car nose.        Photo RPBradley Collection / GEC-Alsthom

TMST Common Bloc Assembly

The heart of the TMST Powercar is the ‘Common Bloc’, here seen assembled at the Preston Works of GEC-Alsthom in 1992.         Photo RPBradley Collection / GEC-Alsthom

Naturally, the technology has moved on, and the new e320 trains use IGBT technology, together with the now commonplace asynchronous traction motors on multiple axles. The original TMST trains included the GEC-Alsthom designed units mounted – ‘Common Bloc’ and MPC’s – in the leading and trailing power cars. In contrast the new Siemens design has the equipment distributed under the floors of the 16 cars, allowing the extra passenger space. With a traction power of 16MW, Eurostar e320 can reach a maximum operating speed of 320km/h (200mph). It is provided with eight identical and independent traction converter units designed to operate on 25kV AC and 1.5kV / 3kV DC voltage systems, and delivering power to the 32 driven axles. On the roof, each train carries eight pantographs for the different power systems and contact line types in Netherlands, Belgium, France and the UK.

3rd rail contact shoe

The appendage that is no longer needed on the e320 Eurostar trains is the 3rd rail contact shoe seen in this view.

One item missing from the new Eurostar trains is of course the need to collect power from the old Southern Region third rail contact system – no more 750V dc contact equipment, and no embarrassing chugging along from the Channel Tunnel to London. In the original build this was of course the only way to get from Waterloo to the Tunnel, but after HS1 was completed, the need was no longer there. The e320s do still have to cope with different voltages – 1.5kV/3kV dc, in Belgium and the Netherlands – alongside the almost universal 25kV a.c., but all contact systems are overhead.

Control and signalling

Back when the GEC-Alsthom TMST trains were being built, the use of on-board computers was still in the early days – much was often made in the press of the novelty of microprocessor control of traction motors, wheelslip and slide, which are now commonplace. The control systems now all encompass software and computer control of every aspect of the train’s operating functions, alongside the essential interactions with legacy lineside signalling adding to the complexity of the latest designs. The drive towards implementing ERTMS/ETCS across the principal main line and high-speed routes has been happening in a piecemeal manner – obviously perhaps – but it’s not in place everywhere. Different national systems have evolved and implemented systems that meet their own operating criteria and specifications, and the new Eurostar trains still have to have and meet these different requirements.

The train’s signalling, control and train protection systems include a Transmission Voie-Machine (TVM) signalling system, Contrôle de Vitesse par Balises (KVB) train protection system, Transmission Beacon Locomotive (TBL) train protection system, Runback Protection System (RPS), European Train Control System (ETCS), Automatic train protection (ATP) system, Reactor Protection System (RPS) and Sibas 32 train control system.

TMST Drivers' desk

The driving position of the original TMST – still looks like an aircraft cockpit, and we’ve moved on again since this was built. Photo: RPBradley Collection

All of this technology is plugged into the control panels and displays at the driver’s desk, whilst concurrently assessing, evaluating and storing information about each aspect of the train’s performance. Real time information is passed back to both the train operating and control centres, whether in Paris, Brussels or London, and a log of any and all messages about the condition of moving, and some non-moving components is logged on-board and transmitted to the maintenance centres.

Bogies and drives

Back in the 1990s, the original TMST sets were equipped with Jacobs bogies shared between adjacent carriages, as was the practice on the TGV sets from which they were derived. The coaches next to the power cars and the two central coaches (coaches 9 and 10 in a full-length set) were not articulated.

Trailer Bogie

TMST trailer car bogie – 4 brake discs per axle.                Photo: RPBradley Collection/GEC-Alsthom

The e320 (Class 374) bogies are essentially the SF 500 design, used on DB’s ICE3 trains, and adapted for either driven or non driven (trailer) bogie operation, with two bogies per coach. The bogie frame itself is an ‘H’ frame design with traction motors mounted laterally on motor bogies, driving the motored axles through a spiral toothed coupling. The now well-proven air suspension system has been adopted for secondary suspension.

Motor Bogie

TMST motor bogie.                Photo: RPBradley Collection/GEC-Alsthom

The axles, suspension and bearings are fitted with a range of sensors, all needing to be cabled up to the vehicle body. The cables on the bogie are initially routed to a form of terminal box in the centre of the bogie, and from there are routed up to the vehicle, suitably contained and protected from any environmental damage. Modern systems such as those used on these trains are able to provide diagnostic information, and to some degree early detection of impending operational problems.

Much more than a hi-tech equivalent of the old wheeltapper, using the back of his hand to detect a hot running axle bearing. For instance, the sensors on the e320 bogies are an integrated system to monitor wheelsets, bearings, suspension and damper performance, and the overall condition of the bogie. Both powered and trailing SF 500 bogies include mainly identical components, which makes for ease of replacement, maintenance and repair. All of the bogie design and successful operation is attributable to the ICE train project, and development through ICE1, ICE2, and the most recent ICE3 trains.

Velaro_E_bogie

An SF500 bogie fitted to the same Siemens ‘Velaro’ platform as the e320 Eurostar trains. Photo: Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=57593082 

The bogies also carry the rail level braking equipment, and the Eurostar e320 is equipped with three separate technologies – a regenerative braking system, a rheostatic brake system, and a pneumatic brake system.  In the original TMST sets (Class 373), the traction motors on the powered axles provide the rheostatic braking with conventional clasp brakes operating on the wheel tread.
 The non-powered axles have four ventilated disc brakes per axle.

There has been significant progress in the development of braking systems through a wide range of options, including the use of different materials in the brake discs, and magnetic track brakes, which were used on the DB ICE3 trains. But high-speed stopping demands a sophisticated, multi-layered braking system to ensure that passenger safety is maintained, and the technology used is another story.

Bodyshells, passenger facilities, and information systems

GEC’s TMST original trainsets were built in two forms: long and short. 31 trainsets were long, with 18 trailers between two power units, whilst the remaining 7 were short, with only 14 trailers. The short trainsets were intended for services north of London, to destinations such as Manchester and Glasgow, where platform lengths are insufficient to accommodate longer trains.

Eurostar Trailer Car under construction

TMST Class 373 trailer car under construction.                   Photo: RPBradley Collection/GEC-Alsthom

TMST coach bodies were made from a combination of traditional steel, aluminium, GRP and composite materials. The vehicle dynamics have changed dramatically, with higher speeds demanding changes in structure, greater strength, but lighter weight, to take the stresses demanded by modern train operations.   This was the case with the original TMST trains, and as can be seen from the images, the nose sections were particularly suitable for the use of GRP and composite materials. In terms of material, little has changed in the structures, although the e320 series makes much more use of aluminium, and the aerodynamics have changed significantly, as a result of the advances in technology.

TMST Power Car under construction

TMST Class 373 Power Car under construction.                   Photo: RPBradley Collection/GEC-Alsthom

Construction of the original TMST trains was carried out at GEC-Alsthom’s Washwood Heath plant in Britain, La Rochelle and Belfort in France, and at the Bruges works of Brugeoise et Nivelles BN (now Bombardier).

The new “Velaro” based e320 trains were built from 2011 at Siemens’ works at Krefeld, near Dusseldorf, followed by testing at the company’s Wildenrath location. Whilst the new trains were due to enter service in 2014, due to delays in gaining full TSI approval, the ‘rollout’ to operational service did not take place until 2015.

Overall, seating has increased from 794 to 902, with facilities at the seats that allow tarvellers to plug in to charge mobile phones, make use of USB ports, and of course on-board Wi-Fi systems. We tend to demand a little more these days than a newspaper (in 1st class) and a cup of earl grey, as we stay connected to business, family and friends, wherever we are, on the move or not. Passenger information systems have evolved to meet the changing needs of the travelling public too – less on-board passenger information displays perhaps, more “download the app” and check for yourself. That said, getting information to and from the moving train is a vastly different world of track to train communications compared to the original setup.

Operations

TMST Numbers

As noted previously, the original TMST trainsets came in two kinds: long and short. 31 trainsets are long, with 18 trailers between two power units. The remaining 7 are short, with only 14 trailers. The short trainsets intended for services north of London, other than a brief spell to help the newly privatised GNER train company out, were never fully used, and were later transferred to France for other duties. It had been suggested that a reason for not running the services beyond London was down to the ‘crude design’ of British Rail overhead contact lines, and routes across London. Another reason advanced was the growing numbers of budget airlines. The idea that the overhead contact system was less sophisticated is unlikely – especially in view of the operation of high-speed “Pendolino”, tilting trains on the main lines. The complexity of finding a route across or around London, along with the lack of investment was probably the most obvious reason.

The TMST’s primary operation was of course to run through the Channel Tunnel between London, Paris and Brussels. However, whilst in France and Belgium, high-speed electrified routes were well used, in Britain, between the Channel Tunnel and London, only the existing 3rd rail electrification was actually on the ground. A high-speed (HS1) was being planned, but as a temporary measure, the powerful new TMST sets simply trundled across the 60 or so miles to a temporary “International Station” at London’s Waterloo.

In contrast to the TMSTs, the new e320 series trains were planned to develop the core services from London St Pancras, to Paris Gare du Nord, and Brussels Midi. To meet anticipated competition from DB in particular, Eurostar’s new trains were also pencilled in to provide services to Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Cologne, and other destinations in France. The original TMST sets were not capable of running under the wires into the Netherlands, and the new trains certainly give Eurostar that option, and even more flexibility.

Modifications and upgrades

In 2004/5, only 22 of the original TMST sets were in daily use, and the interiors were looking jaded, and so Eurostar decided to provide these ageing speed demons with a new interior look and colour scheme, but that was not the last change. As the original TMST sets were nearing the end of their working life, around the time that Eurostar was picking the supplier for its new generation trains, another refurbishment was planned.   This was a slightly more extensive update, beyond new colours and styling changes, upgrades to traction systems were proposed, to get the trains to work operate beyond 2020. These final upgrades were delayed, instead of 2012, the first revamped TMST did not appear until 2015.

Both of these upgrades could be construed as papering over the cracks, especially looking around at how traction drive technology, and indeed the whole technology of the train had developed since they were built, it was perhaps their last hurrah. The new e320 series are state of the art, both in technology, aerodynamics, construction and operation, and were quickly going to replace the pioneers on these international services.

End of the Line

In 2010, the replacement trains ordered by Eurostar of course led to the withdrawal of the original TMST sets. They have had almost 27 years of international service, since first taking to the rails in 1993, and 21 years before the new e320 series started operations in 2014.

In 2016, Eurostar sent the first of the TMST (Class 373) trains for scrap at Kingsbury, by European Metal Recycling (EMR), but by early 2017 the exact number of sets to be scrapped had not been confirmed. The working theory then was that between 17 and 22 of the TMST, Class 373 trains would be scrapped. That said, a small number of the original trains were set to be refurbished, complete with Eurostar’s new livery, and reclassified as e300. Amongst the reasons for this, one source noted that because the new e320 series trains are not fitted with the UK’s AWS magnets, they can’t work into Ashford, or apparently, Avignon in France. Ah, well, off to the scrapyard for the others.

In December 2016 the 3rd Class 373 had arrived at Kingsbury, to be scrapped by European Metal Recycling, and re-use was now out of the question, but at least some of the materials were being recovered and recycled. In fact 50 of the original 77 Class 373 TMST still operate Eurostar services, with 27 withdrawn between December 2014 and January 2018. Of these, 16 were scrapped by EMR, one had been sent to the National Railway Museum in York, and two retained in France at the Romilly Technical Centre, with two others being sent to the National College for High-Speed Rail at Doncaster and Birmingham in England. At least one of their number are still awaiting their fate in a siding as the vegetation starts to make inroads into the structure – along with a liberal amount of graffiti. A sad end for a ground breaking high-speed train design, though not as sad as at least one set, one of the refurbished sets, which was – and still is crumbling to dust at Valenciennes.

Abandoned Eurostar 3017:3018 near Valenciennes

One of the dying breed – a TMST Class 373 set awaiting its fate at Valenciennes in the Nord Region of North East France, close to the border with Belgium in 2016.             Photo © Andy Engelen

Here’s the next generation:

Velaro-Hochgeschwindigkeitszüge: Eurostar e320 / Velaro Eurostar e320 high-speed trains

The new generation does have a solid reputation to live up to – and it certainly looks the part.           Photo: “www.siemens.com/press”

Passiondutrain.com

A Eurostar Velaro E320 set 4023/24 on the 9031 Paris/London St Pancras service at Longueau , near Amiens    Photo:   By BB 22385 / Rame 4023-24 E320 détourné par la gare de Longueau / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=57593082

Useful Links

 

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HS2 – Off We Go – Better Late than Never?

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Well, now it’s official, HS2 gets the go ahead by the Government – well, as far as Birmingham at least, since that’s the only bit that has been sanctioned by Act of Parliament.  The arguments will continue to rage about its benefits and certainly its costs, but those who are using the environment to plead against the project have already lost, and hedgerows and woodlands, as well as houses will disappear.

The main argument in favour of the London to Birmingham link now being advanced is that of increased rail capacity, which it must be assumed is that removing passengers travelling on the existing London to Birmingham link will move to HS2.  That it is said will free up the paths on the WCML for freight, and other, regional and semi-fast connections.  The questions that this now raises is how will that freed up capacity be allocated, how will it be regulated – unless of course the rail network is nationalised, there will be further negotiations around passenger train franchising.

 

Of course it will not ‘rebalance the economy’ as one commentator offered on the TV news today, but it could be seen as starting in the wrong place and going in the wrong direction, as another commentator implied.  It should, as is widely acknowledged now, have started as HS3, linking the northern towns and cities, between Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, etc., and then driven south towards the midlands.  One politician on the TV commented that, as a midlands MP it would help him get to Westminster quicker, and would provide a jobs boost for commuters to London.

Then, there is the technology question, and interoperation and compatibility with existing high speed train services – unless these just stop at interchange stations, and passengers change platforms from one train to another.  Of course, the other infrastructure element that needs investment is the power supply.

Back in 2000, there was a great deal of concern about the supply of electricity from the national grid to key areas and sections of the WCML, but I imagine that this will not trouble HS2 for a while yet – nor when it runs alongside the existing routes?

This is a vital piece of work, not only from the UK’s railway industry, but it MUST be only the start of projects that “rebalance the economy“, and it is ESSENTIAL that HS3, or Northern Powerhouse Rail follows.   The Railway Industry Association CEO, Darren Caplan made the following comments:

“The Railway Industry Association and our members support the Government’s decision today to get HS2 done, a decision that could unlock a new ‘golden age of rail’.

“HS2 will not just boost the UK’s economy and connectivity, but will also enable other major rail infrastructure projects to be delivered too, such as Northern Powerhouse Rail, Midlands Rail Hub, East West Rail, Crossrail 2, and a range of other schemes.”

Overall, the announcement made today has also drawn positive comments from a range of sources.

Dr Jenifer Baxter, Chief Engineer at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers said:

“The Institution of Mechanical Engineers is delighted that the Government has retained confidence in the benefits of the HS2 project.  The resulting improvements to both north-south and east-west flows in the North of England will lead to economic growth, modal shift from road and air to rail for both passengers and freight. This will provide significant benefits for reduced greenhouse gas emissions and reduce pollutants that contribute to poor air quality.

The routes minimise the impact of construction on the operation of today’s railway with opportunities to investigate how the high-speed rail link can be delivered with minimal environmental impacts. For example, more refined modelling using information from High Speed 1 might indicate where some expensive tunnelling may be avoided.”

I would like to agree with Dr Baxter, especially with regard to modal shift for freight, but the trend so far in the rail capability does not support that idea – there is an increased demand yes, but connecting up existing facilities in the north has not happened.

In 2015, a £3million+ intermodal facility was opened at Teesport, and PD Ports saw its customers choosing to use intermodal platforms, with a “significant modal shift” continuing.

Perhaps the most telling comment made by this port operator is this:

“There is a significant demand from our customers to be able to move freight east to west through this Northern corridor allowing shorter distances to be covered by rail. Without a viable alternative route for rail freight with the necessary capacity and gauge, the growth we are experiencing will be limited and at risk of reducing due to transport restrictions.”

In addition then to the lack of investment in rail freight generally, there is a very considerable difference in any economic strategy to enable the oft-quoted “Northern Powerhouse” to actually fulfil its aspirations.  The approval for HS2 does not, improve that situation at all, and the extension of the initial HS2 project as far as Crewe, could likely create a bottleneck as freight and passenger services converge.

By 2017/18, the total goods lifted by rail in the UK was down to only 75 million tonnes annually, and according to ORR estimates, represented less than 5% of total freight moved.  The non-bulk services offered by British Rail under Speedlink, and other services have long since been replaced by 1,000s of “white vans” from DPD, UPS DHL, etc., etc. – many travelling hundreds of miles a day.  How can they be integrated and improve connectivity on the back of HS2?

The impact on freight and modal shift?

Babcock Rail Wagons 4For passengers HS2 might well assist in faster commuting to London from the West Midlands, but it has little or no prospect of improving rail transport in the North, and perhaps only marginal in the Midlands.  Couple that with the failure to build and investment in the northern rail infrastructure – indeed the cancellation of electrfication projects – it is difficult not to say that the project is starting from the wrong place!

Useful links:

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HS2 – Impossible & Too Complicated??

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OK, so now we have another report on the progress with HS2 – and its increasingly vast cost.  The NAO have said this today:

HS2 Report 1st para

Perhaps worse still is the timescale to achieve HS2 – which as we know is intended to connect the South with the North, by way of Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds.  But the costs for Phase 1 alone – just to get to Birmingham seems to be well over £30 billion. The programme is certainly optimistic about the benefits, but amongst the key facts in the NAO report is the date with which this high-speed passenger line will reach the major cities in the North of England – 2040 seems to be the prospective far end date.

NAO Key Facts

Phase 1 – getting to Birmingham shows some interesting spend to achieve the extra capacity that the new line will create – and as yet, no costs for the trains themselves.

Figure-4-High-Speed-Two-A-progress-update

The papers – naturally have their take on what is going on – especially on the funding front – and combined with the ever increasing strain on local and regional services, it is a wonder that by the time HS2 reaches Manchester it will remain relevant at all.

Links:

 

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HS2 – The Wait Goes On

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The leaking of the draft report to the Financial Times newspaper about the recommendation for a “pause” after HS2 reaches Birmingham, is cold comfort to the businesses and passengers who depend on rail services from Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds and Newcastle.  Of course it was bound to stir up controversy – but really, where is the demand for 1,000s of passengers from London to Bimingham to arrive 29 minutes earlier?

It is suggested that the trains will provide over 1,000 seats, and operate at 14 per hour in both Birmingham and London Bound directions.  Imagine that, and assume a 50% occupancy, then you have 7,000 passengers per hour across the peak to peak periods, in either direction.  Or – let’s be generous and say over a 6-hour day – that’s 42,000 passengers between London and Birmingham, who then either go home, or travel on, northwards.  Really??

What then?  A 2-hour wait for an onward service to Crewe, then change trains again, and wait another hour for a service to Liverpool or Leeds.

In Phase 2b, Leeds is set to be reached from Birmingham – is there more dmand for passenger services between Bimingham and Leeds than say Manchester and Leeds.

HS2 is, and always has been an idea with no economic or strategic objective.  Compared with the electrification of the 1960s and 1990s, when the West and East Coast Main lines were electrified, or even HS1 – completed long after the Channel Tunnel opened.

HS2 is the rail to nowhere.  The people of Birmingham deserve better, as do the travellers and businesses of the North of England – invest in improvements to the existing routes.

Has anyone involved in HS2 ever asked the question – “do you get from London to Glasgow by travelling through Birmingham?”.  Probably not.

Newspapers today are full of coverage on costs spiralling – as t hey should be – but has anyone looked at the logic, or strategy of the plan overall?

Screenshot 2020-01-20 at 11.45.18

Screenshot 2020-01-20 at 19.12.52

If this is all about populations, in 2011, the population of the North West (Lancashire, Merseyside and Greater Manchester), added to that of West and North Yorkshire was over 8 million people.

In contrast, the West Midlands Region boasts a population of 5 3/4 million

Today, HS2’s own website claims:

“HS2 trains will serve over 25 stations connecting around 30 million people. That’s almost half the population.”

So if there is a need to meet the needs of millions of people – surely the North is the place to start – a) because of the massive rail network problems, and b) the sheer size of the regional population.  The North is where the investment in rail is needed as the highest priority – surely??!!

It seems then we either get a high-speed rail link from London Euston to Birmingham, or we may get later extensions to Crewe (Phase 2a), and Manchester (Plhase 2b), at some time in the future – or nothing.  The initial line into Birmingham is to a terminus, where the trains will ‘turn round’ to restart a journey northwards to Crewe and Manchester, and in each case will bypass centres of population.

Overall this project has successfully conflated the need for additional rail capacity, with the wish to have a high-speed line on the UK’s main rail network.   Whilst I have no argument at all about separation of traffic types (slow versus fast trains) on broadly the same route – ignoring alignment for the moment – since in a perfect world this would improve capacity.  These graphs show that really well.

But does that mean you just move the bottleneck further along, at an ever increasing price.

There is clearly no doubt that extra capacity is needed, but HS2, Phase 1 does nothing much to deliver that at these costs.

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60 Years of AC Electrics

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60 years ago on the 27th Nov
ember 1959, Britain’s pioneer 25Kv A.C. electric locomotive was officially handed over to British Railways. Then numbered E3001, it 
was to be the first of a long series of successful 
locomotive designs for the West Coast Main
Line (WCML). Within this series there have
 come to be seven basic designs, and a number of sub-divisions of the classes ALl to AL7. Although the last of these was never actually
 introduced under the old title of AL7, but
 designated Class 87 with the new “TOPS”
 locomotive codes, the family likeness remains
 very strong despite the detail alterations to the appearance of the latest type.

AEI_4Under the Modernisation Plan proposals it was decided that two types of locomotive – ‘A’ and ‘B’ – would be required. These were for mixed traffic, and freight service, respectively, with an equal number of both types needed, with their different haulage characteristics. This was not how things turned out, with the slower progress in the adoption of continuous brakes on freight trains, only five of the first 100 locomotives were type ‘B’, freight types. Metropolitan Vickers and BTH (as AEI), and English Electric were the builders of this entirely new breed of motive power, with mechanical portions of some constructed at BR’s Doncaster Works, and the North British Loco Co., in Glasgow.

86433 and 87034 at Carlisle 1980sIn 30 years, the UK railway industry, together with British Rail’s workshops had provided innovation, specialist technical, design and manufacturing skills that delivered the high-speed rail network, with the East and West Coast Main Line routes as their backbone.

91005 passing Carstairs 1995“Electra” was in effect the final gestation of the first, second and third-generation a.c. locomotive designs to be operated by British Rail, and whilst the ultimate high-speed passenger train, the APT never materialised, it did give rise to the “Pendolino” tilting trains.

Click on the image below for a longer read ….

60 Year cover image

Useful Links

Wikipedia Pages:

Class 80 Class 81 Class 82
Class 83 Class 84 Class 85
Class 86 Class 87 Class 89
Class 90 Class 91

General Information

The AC Electric Locomotive Group English Electric Co. – Grace’s Guide
Class 90 Electric Loco Group Metro-Cammell Ltd
Associated Electrical Industries (AEI) – Grace’s Guide British Rail Engineering Ltd – Science Museum

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