Hong Kong Metro – 40 Years On

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It was once described as the largest building project in Asia, and it carried its first fare paying passengers on 1 October 1979 when the 8.5km section of the Metro between Kwun Tong and Shek Kip Mei was opened to the public.

Mtrc79It is also 40 years ago this month that another order was placed with Metro-Cammell for the growing Hong Kong MRT, just three years after they were awarded a £35 million order for 140 trains in November 1976. GEC traction and Metro-Cammell’s combined success with the first orders, was followed in November 1979 by another £40 million order for a further 135 multiple unit vehicles for the Kowloon-Canton railway.   This came hard on the heels – just five weeks later – of the order for a further 150
 metro cars worth £50 million for the MTR routes.

Original MRT train - from Railpower 39

Almost straight out of the box. An original Metro-Cammell built MRT train for Hong Kong. Though much changed in appearance, passenger facilities and traction control systems, they are still at work today.

By that time, contracts worth over £100 million for electrical, mechanical and civil engineering work had already been placed with UK engineering firms. The initial multi-contract E11 awarded by the MRTC involved GEC Traction and Metro-Cammell, requiring close co-operation between the three organisations for the supply and installation of the electrical and mechanical equipment.

The first contracts on the Modified Initial System were placed almost ten years after a report on the problems of road traffic congestion was published by the Hong Kong Government. This was aimed at resolving the territory’s transport question further.

Hong Kong MTR MapThe mechanical and electrical contracts placed by the Hong Kong Government for the Modified Initial System (MIS), were awarded against an extremely tight schedule. The first train set was scheduled for delivery in 1979 and the whole 15.6 route km system was planned to open early in 1980.  The MIS for Hong Kong was swiftly followed by the Tsuen Wan extension, with the obvious demand for more rolling stock, and by 1982, GEC Traction had supplied more than 400 sets to the MRT Corporation.

Alongside this, the 34km route of the Kowloon to Lo Wu line was being doubled and electrified at 25kV a.c. using a simple, overhead catenary construction, similar to that used by British Rail in the UK.

In the export market, the Hong Kong MRT was considered the first major project success for GEC Transportation Projects, established as a subsidiary of GEC Traction and based in Manchester, to design and manage such turnkey projects. The Mass Transit system was entirely new, with two lines providing links between the Central District of Hong Kong Island and the business and residential areas of Kowloon. The mass transit railway used an overhead contact system, electrified at 1500Vd.c. It was intended at one time that this line would be
 electrified using a shrouded conductor
 rail, but it was decided that safety
 margins would be improved using 1500Vd.c. catenary. At the same time, two extensions to the MRT were planned 10.6km to Tuen Wan, and the 12.5km Island Line, with completion in 1986.

Kowloon to Canton (Lo Wu)

Work began on the modernisation of the 34km Kowloon-Canton Railway, in early 1980, with the design, installation, supply and commissioning of the overhead equipment awarded to Balfour Beatty Power Construction.

KCR Car as new

The original emu’s for the Kowloon-Canton Railway, built by Metro-Cammell, with GEC Traction power equipment. Initial tests were carried out on the Tyne & Wear Metro in the UK, before being shipped out to Hong Kong.                    Photo: RPB/GEC Traction Collection

Metro-Cammell
 had also signed a contract with the Hong Kong
 Government to supply 135 electric
 multiple unit vehicles, to operate 
inner and outer suburban services on the
 Kowloon Canton Railway, which was being
 modernised and electrified. The fleet of rail
cars, worth £40million, were designed to be operated as
 three-car sets with up to four sets running in 
multiple.

The electrical equipment and traction power infrastructure was again being supplied by GEC Traction, from Preston and Stafford, with the MRT and extension lines electrified at 1500V d.c overhead, and the Kowloon to Canton route at the standard 25kV a.c., overhead.

Rolling stock

The trains for both the
 Mass Transit and Kowloon-Canton 
Railways, were built by Metro-Cammell. The original mass transit cars
 had a very high capacity, with seats 
for 48 passengers, and standing room
 for more than 300, in a length of 22m
and overall width of 3m. At the time, the MRT cars were believed to have the highest capacity of any metro car in the world. With such high density, getting passengers on and off required the provision of five pairs of sliding doors on each side of the car.

GEC Traction Hong Kong BrochureThe cars for
 the Modified Initial System, and Tsuen
Wan Extension were arranged in six-car formations, and due to the demanding operating requirements, all axles were motored, to give a nominal acceleration of 1.3m/s 2. Though this was increased in practice, because many of the stations along the route were constructed on ‘humps’. The MRT cars, ultimately in eight-car formations were required to operate at 90 seconds headway between trains, and a two minute intervals with ATO (Automatic Train Operation) in use.

The body shell was common for the three types of car on the KCR, and similar to that for the Hong Kong Mass Transit cars. They differed largely only because the KCR sets had fewer side doors, and narrower gangways between cars than the MRT vehicles. Electrically the KCR propulsion equipment was almost entirely derived from that supplied to British Rail.

GEC Traction supplied the propulsion equipment, which included conventional, camshaft control systems,· although consideration had been given in the early stages to using more advanced, thyristor chopper control. An important advantage of using chopper control is the system’s ability to regenerate during braking, but the hump layout ofmany ofthe mass transit stations rendered its application less useful. By 1982, Metro-Cammell had received orders for 558 vehicles for the mass transit system, with the final contract covering 22 power and 106 trailer cars for the Island Line extension. A total of 18 powered cars were ordered with thyristor control equipment in later years, in orders worth some £l0m.

In the UK, during the 1970s, the Tyneside Metro was constructed, which proved beneficial for both Metro-Cammell and GEC Traction, since te first Hong Kong MRT cars were sent for trials on the Tyneside Metro’s test track, prior to dispatch to the Far East.

MTR-train

Still recognisable as a Metro-Cammell MTR train, despite the modifications to the front end, as the train enters one of the elevated stations on this hugely busy system.                 Photo: ThomasWu726 – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6005011

The orders for Metro-Cammell and GEC Traction continued to come in during the 1980s, with additional MTR trains for the Island Line extension, and more three-car trains for the KCR. The last order for what was later classed as M-Class trains, were delivered from Metro-Cammell in Birmingham in 1988/89. However, it was not the last order, as in 1992, and order was placed with GEC Althom (who had by then acquired Metro-Cammell), for another 64 cars, for the MRT.
The MIS trains built by Metro-Cammell were – indeed are – classified as “M-Stock” by the MRT in Hong Kong, and they have undergone various improvements and changes. The initial modifications included altering the front end, to “modernise” its appearance, and the fitting of passenger information systems. All of the original builds were fitted with GTO Chopper control between 1992 and 1995.

This final order included an option for 24 further vehicles, and all 88 were supplied to Hong Kong as a set of parts, which were assembled at the Kowloon Bay Depot. Some of these – by now classed as H-Stock – were refurbished for use on Hong Kong’s Disneyland Line.

The original Kowloon-Canton units were designed for longer journeys, and included slightly different layouts or inner and outer suburban trains, but the general construction is similar to the mass transit trains, with main structural profiles common to both designs. In three-car sets – up to four sets could be coupled in multiple to give a 12-car train), the outer suburban sets have a capacity for 884 passengers and 961 for the inner suburban sets. With full width driving cabs at each end, every three-car set is a self-contained unit.

We see climate as a 21st century issue, but of course in tropical, and sub-tropical climates, there has always been the ever present problem of torrential downpours, from storms – be they hurricanes or typhoons, along with dramatic temperature variations. The climate is such in Hong Kong, that the vehicles, and their passengers were expected to withstand extremes of temperature, from 0 to 40 degrees, up to 100% humidity, and even required to run through flood water in some sections, as a result of the impact of Typhoons.

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The original Metro-Cammell built KCR trains were refurbished in the late 1990s by Alstom. This view taken in the Hong Kong Kowloon Bay Depot workshops shows work being carried out.      Photo: Alstom/RPB Collection

These trains are still in service today, but have undergone a number of changes, and the original Hong Kong MTR and Kowloon-Canton Railways have seen considerable changes and modifications since the 1980s.  The original KCR trains were converted by Alstom to 12-car sets, and the original 3 sliding doors were increased by the adition of a further 2 doors per side, and an emergency door in each cab front. The cab fronts were also modified, and entirely new passenger information systems were installed – all of this work was carried out between 1996 and 1999, to extend the life of these trains. Further changes included the fitting of ATO/ATC control systems, and today, 20 years later, they are still in use – now classed as Mid-Life Refurbishment Train (MLR).

A196 葵芳南咽喉

A196 entering Kwai Fong Station – March 2019    Photo: N509FZ – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=76984682

So much has changed over the years in Hong Kong, what with the new airport at Chek Lap Kok, and the suspension bridge carrying the metro to the airport, along with further new lines, and a link to the Disney resort. On the railway, several refurbishments of the original M-Trains – which are still running, and the fitting of automatic train Control (ATC), the now almost universal Platform Screen Doors on metros around the world – but the trains from Washwood Heath are still running – for now.

MTR_first_Q-train_in_Qingdao_Sifang_factory_test_track

First of the latest Q-trains that will replace the old Metro-Cammell stock for Hong Kong’s MTR. Here seen at the Qingdao Sifang factory test rack. Photo: Zhongqi Qingdao Sifang Locomotive & Rolling Stock Co., Ltd. – http://www.crrcgc.cc/Portals/36/BatchImagesThumb/2018/0129/636528335151471991.jpg, CC BY-SA 4.0  https://commons.wikimedia.org /w/index.php?curid=81272688

According to reports announced in 2015, the MTR Corporation is to spend HK$6 billion on its largest- ever order of trains from a mainland manufacturer. 93 eight-car trains will replace all of the Metro-Cammell currently operating on the Kwun Tong, Tsuen Wan, Island and Tseung Kwan O lines.

Mainland maker CSR Qingdao Sifang is delivering the trains between 2018 and 2023.

Links:

 

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Coal Dust Powered Steam Engines

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In 1919, ‘The Engineer’ carried a short reference in its January 13th issue to experiments in using ‘coal dust’ in locomotive fireboxes, describing them as powdered fuel engines:

Of the Great Central powdered fuel engine we can at the moment say no mote than that we hope before long to place a complete description before our readers. We dealt in our issues of Aug. 23rd and 30th, with the device employed on American locomotives for coal-dust burning, and we may note now that, whilst the general principles followed by Mr. Robinson are naturally not very different, the arrangement of the parts has been worked out afresh. The Great Central experiments are being watched with interest, and in view of the present desire to economise fuel, and the now proved fact that coal-dust can be used satisfactorily in locomotive fire-box, we shall not be surprised to see other engineers following Mr Robinson’s lead.

Original entry:

GCR coal-dust extract

To be honest, I’d not considered the idea of pulverised fuel as a source for steam locomotives before, considering the availability of considerable quantities of black coal from mines in the UK. There were perhaps other countries where good steam coal was not so readily available – the USA, Italy, Germany, and Australia – at least in some areas can be considered in that category. Aside from the efficiency, the complexity or otherwise, of burning, handling and distributing pulverised fuel, the economic conditions might well have a part to play in its use.

EPSON scanner image

The GCR’s experiment with coal-dust firing started with this heavy freight design, seen here in later years in LNER days.  This Sunday line-up of heavy freight locomotives is seen at Whitemoor Depot, March cc-by-sa/2.0 – © Ben Brooksbank – geograph.org.uk/p/2333255

Take the Great Central example above, that was in the immediate post First World War era, so along with compounding, it was seen as a way of improving the efficiency of motive power through the use of a wider range of fuels. Primarily though, a combination of increased fuel cost and poorer quality coal led to J.G. Robinson’s experiments in using coal-dust, or pulverised fuel. In addition to economics, there was a belief that this would increase the level of combustion, and hence operating performance and efficiency.

The first trials took place with four 8K Class 2-8-0 freight locomotives (later Class O5 in LNER days), between 1917 and 1924. The 2-8-0s were fitted with a bogie tender, housing a container holding the coal-dust, which was then fed to the locomotive’s grate, through pipes. The conventional fire grate and ash pan had been replaced by firebricks, and the fuel blown into the front of the firebox, using a system of fans, driven initially by a petrol engine, and later by a small steam turbine. The coal-dust used in these trials was recovered from colliery screens, and then dried before use on the locomotive, where it was mixed with air for combustion. Amongst the downsides to the use of this arrangement was getting the air to coal-dust mixture right, and the design and layout of the firebox, and even mixing the coal dust with oil (colloidal fuel) proved equally problematic.

The following is an extract from a book entitled “Brown Coal”, published by Australia’s Victoria State Electricity Commission in 1952 gives some insight into Robinson’s experiments on the Great Central.

“The Great Central Railway Company had fitted two locomotives for burning, respectively, pulverised black coal and colloidal fuel, the latter a mixture of about 60 parts of pulverised coal and 40 parts of oil. The pulverised fuel locomotive was in regular service on one of the heaviest runs in England, between Gorton near Manchester and Dunford, a distance of nearly 18 miles; it had to take, its place with a 500-ton load among similar trains; half a dozen of these were following trains, all of which were likely to be held up if the pulverised fuel locomotive failed. All this indicated the confidence of the Railways officials in the reliability of the pulverised fuel locomotive under everyday working conditions. During August 1921 the author had a run on the footplate of the pulverised fuel locomotive on a day when the general traffic conditions were as described above. Running, tests had bees made previously with the two converted locomotives and with another using lump coal; for maintenance of steam pressure and rate of travel on the heaviest portions of the run, colloidal fuel showed best and pulverised coal next best. Two separate engines on the tender, which was specially built for this service, drove the feed screw for the coal and the blower fan. Technically these experiments appear to have been quite successful, but the official view of the company was that there would be no commercial gain in pulverising its high-grade black coal.”

These experiments with alternative fuels were not uncommon on a number of railways in the early years of the 20th Century, as William Holden’s oil-fired examples on the Great Eastern Railway testify. However, in the UK at least, the likelihood of more ‘coal-dust fired’ locomotives was unlikely to grow, and indeed it did not, and remains a curiosity.

It wasn’t just the Great Central that was experimenting with pulverised, the Southern Railway carried out some work in the 1920s, based on those developments in the USA. In 1916, The New York Central converted a 4-6-2 to burn pulverised coal, and although not leading to great numbers of similarly fuelled steam types, these experiments were important in looking in detail at the performance, and efficiency of a steam locomotive over a wider range of fuel types. Brown coal and lignites were relatively common in European countries, such as Italy and Germany, where perhaps they were more fully developed.

In Germany, six of the Prussian “G12” Class 2-10-0swere converted to ‘coal-dust burning’ in 1930, but because of the considerable deposits of lignite/brown coal, a much softer coal with a high water content, new ‘coal-dust burning’ locomotives were being built in the 1950s. In the former East Germany, the state railway Deutches Reichsbahn (DR), constructed a pair of 2-8-0s in 1954/5 – the DR Class 25.10. The second of these was designed and fitted for coal-dust firing, and intended for both heavy passenger and goods workings.

Dampflokomotive 58 1894, BR 58

The first coal dust locomotive for Deutsche Reichsbahn (DRG), the former East Germany, with fuel from lignite. The performance was claimed to be significantly higher than a conventionally fired locomotive. The image shows the machine with tender and bunker. Bild 102-11602 / CC-BY-SA 3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0 de, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5415387

The initiative started in the early 1920s in Germany, when the state railway organisation brought together the loco builders and the coal industry, and established a business to conduct research on the use of pulverised fuel for firing steam locomotives. This organisation – SLUG (Studiengesellschaft) – introduced the ‘Stug’ system, working with Henschel & Sohn, and at the same time a parallel development was being trialled by AEG. In both cases, the initial work was for stationary boilers. In later years, the system used in East Germany, was ascribed to the GDR’s Hans Wendler, and unsurprisingly known as the Wendler coal-dust firing system, which is the system used on the later DRG 2-10-0s.

Kohlenstaublok 25 1001 (BR 25)

One of the 20 Class 44 2-10-0 locomotives converted to coaldust firing in the 1950s, for work on lines in the Thuringian Forest region. Several of the class have been preserved, but sadly perhaps none of this particular variant.

During the 1950s, coal-dust fired steam locomotives continued to work in Germany, and in East Germany, the DRG converted 20 of the Class 44 2-10-0 heavy freight locomotives, of which almost 2,000 had been built since the 1920s. The system was ultimately replaced – largely due to the complexity of the fuelling system needed – by oil-fired locomotives, which were still in use in Germany in the mid to late 1970s, up until the end of steam traction.

The Southern Railway had built a new class of 2-6-0 locomotives, under its then CME, Richard Maunsell, for passenger duties, with two outside cylinders, weighing in at 110 tons, and developing some 23,000lbs of tractive effort. These new “U” Class moguls included number A629, built in 1928, and fitted with the German design of pulverized fuel system, supplied by AEG. The idea, unsurprisingly, given this was taking place during the great depression of the 1920s and 1930s, was to improve the operating efficiency of the steam engine. The trials took place on the London to Brighton line, and were used as a means of deciding whether it was more economical to convert to the poorer grade of fuels for steam traction, or implement widespread electrification. It was a short lived experiment, and brought to an end following a minor explosion that occurred when the coal dust came into contact with the hot sparks being ejected through the chimney. It was subsequently found that the blast of the steam engine in normal operation was drawing more coal dust/pulverised fuel through the boiler, without being burned.

31629

The experimental “U Class” 2-6-0 in later BR days as No. 31269

The locomotive itself was returned to normal coal burning in 1935, and renumbered 1629, and survived to BR days, and finally withdrawn from service in 1964, as BR No. 31629, and of course the Southern Railway embarked on major electrification schemes.

Another intriguing attempt at using ‘cheaper’ fuel, was to mix the coal dust/pulverised fuel with oil, and described as “colloidal fuel” in some quarters. In fact this too wasn’t a new idea, and had been used in ships during the First World War, when fuel supplies were becoming low. The idea seems to have been useful only where the mixture of oil and pulverised coal could be injected into boiler furnaces through an atomising burner, and the complexities of using such an arrangement on a steam locomotive footplate can only be imagined. Well on Britain’s railways in the 1920s and 1930s perhaps, since normal bituminous coal was readily available.

Curiously, the idea was raised again towards the end of the Second World War, in the UK’s parliament, when this observation was made in Hansard:

Locomotive Fuel - Pulverised Coal

But, in the end, even the UK’s experiments with oil-firing steam traction was not a success, and the increased march and takeover by diesel and electric traction was the death knell for this idea. But, elsewhere, trials and developments continued, including ‘down under’.

Australia – too little too late? As mentioned earlier, a study carried out on behalf of the State Electricity Authority of Victoria looked in great depths at the use of brown coal/lignites for boilers, and including steam locomotives. The work began in the immediate Post Second World War period, and was driven by industrial action on the New South Wales coalfields, and dwindling supplies of hard, black coal, and the coalfields in Victoria were exhausted. To combat this, for the railways, a large number of locomotives were converted to oil-firing, and the experiments with pulverised brown coal began by fitting the 2-8-2 freight locomotive X32 with the necessary ‘Stug’ equipment from Germany.

X32_dynamometer_car

X32, after conversion to PBC firing, on a test train with the VR and South Australian Railways joint stock Dynamometer car. Note plume of steam from the turbine motor on the tender, which drove a conveyor screw and blower to force coal dust into the firebox.          By Victorian Railways photograph – State Library of Victoria, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=23956450

This experiment was a success, and in 1951, the remaining 28 members of the class were converted to coal-dust, or pulverised fuel firing, and even one of the prestigious ‘R Class’ 4-6-4 passenger types – No. R707 was converted. The “R Class” was built by the North British Locomotive Co. in Glasgow, and worked some of Victoria’s prestige, express passenger services.

Whilst the experiments – and indeed operational running with the “X Class” and R707 was a success, time was not on the side of this technology, since dieselisation of Victoria’s rail system was rapidly gaining ground, and in 1957, the decision to abandon ‘coal-dust fired’ steam locomotives was taken. R707 was returned to normal lump coal as fuel, and was rescued and fully restored to operations as a preserved example of a fine class of steam locomotive.

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The last of a pair of the ex-Prussian Railways design of 2-10-0 that were rescued for preservation. 25.281 is seen here at Potsdam in 1993.         By MPW57 – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3726331

 

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Passenger Growth – An Inconvenient Number?

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Today in the UK, the number of rail passengers – we are repeatedly told – is at the highest its ever been, and there has been rapid expansion over recent years. As an arch-sceptic on statistics, I wonder what ‘truth’ lies behind these reports.   In the area where I live, the volume of cars on the local roads is much more today than say 30 years ago – and yet the local economy has declined, with fewer industries. Many of the cars on the roads have only a single occupant, where do they go where do they work – has the ‘school run’ replaced the trip to work at the factories that have either closed, or been reduced in size.

Passenger numbers have indeed increased – in some examples quite dramatically. The statistics record passenger kilometres travelled, and comparing both the rates of increase over the past 10 to 15 years with our European neighbours shows some interesting contrasts. It may be that the number of passenger kilometres would increase because there are many more commuter – short distance journeys – not that passengers are travelling further.
The UK still has a long way to go before it catches up with France and Germany – each of which have commuter journeys in and around major cities – but since around 2010/11, it has grown at an increased rate. Comparing the numbers from 2017, the UK has seen passenger-kilometres rise by 13% over 2012, and by 37% since 2007.   For France these same figures are 6% and 18%, whilst in Germany these numbers are 2% since 2012 and 21% since 2007.

Passenger km ChartThat said, the annual rate of increase in the UK has declined in recent years, between 2014 and 2017 the rate has fallen from 4% to 1%. Is it because of the slower infrastructure and rolling stock investment rates, or higher ticket prices per kilometre than in two of our neighbours?

Annual % Increase
It is a complex picture in the UK, but it is clearly true that passenger numbers and certainly the distances travelled have increased significantly – which does perhaps underpin a lot of the reports and experiences of overcrowding on many services. There is though marked regional variations across Network Rail’s infrastructure, and the development of a strategy to improve transport in the North of England especially is clearly essential. Currently, the only movement in that direction in the past couple of years has been the Northern Powerhouse and Transport for the North – but in 2019, this connects across the M62 road corridor, and North East cities such as Leeds, York and Newcastle.   HS2 and HS3 are still essentially at the drawing board stage, and for rail passengers, the lack of progress there may be a reason for the fall off in passenger growth since 2014.

Yes, I know, statistics can be used to explain a variety of pros and cons in advancing the cause of rail transport and investment, but I had wondered for some time why, in an area I am familiar with, there seems to be more cars, lorries and vans on the road and industry and population has fallen.

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Useful Links:

Northern-powerhouse-rail

Eurostat Passenger Km

ORR UK Rail Statistics

2-Stroke Diesel Engines on BR

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Back in the 1950s, when British Railways was beginning work on the “Modernisation & Re-Equipment Programme” – effectively the changeover from steam to diesel and electric traction – the focus in the diesel world was mainly between high and medium speed engines.

On top of which, there was a practical argument to support hydraulic versus electric transmission technology – for main line use, mechanical transmission was never a serious contender.

Lens of Sutton - LMS 10000The first main line diesels had appeared in the very last days before nationalisation, and the choice of prime mover was shaped to a great extent by the experience of private industry, and English Electric in particular. The railway workshops had little or no experience in the field, and the better known steam locomotive builders had had some less than successful attempts to offer examples of the new diesel locomotives.

In Britain, the changeover from steam to electric traction became a very hit and miss affair during the 1950s and 1960s.  Orders for the rail industry, and especially the locomotive industries, was subordinate to the railway workshops – which in the ‘experimental’ years received the lion’s share of the work.  That said, the supply chain included companies like English Electric and Metropolitan Vickers, who had had considerable experience in non-steam traction, especially in export orders.

GEC TRaction Photo SP 8671Examples operated in British Railways experimental period between 1948 and 1956 was powered by ‘heavy oil engines’ – the use of the word ‘diesel’ seemed to be frowned on by the professional press in some quarters.  The few main line types that had been built were based around medium speed, 4-stroke power units, with complex valve gear, and perhaps over-engineered mechanical components.  Power to weight ratios were poor.

In the USA in particular, where fuel oil and lubricating oil costs were much less of a challenge for the railroads, 2-stroke diesel engines were common, with much higher power to weight ratios, but equally higher fuel costs.  Indeed, the Fairbaks-Morse company had designed and built opposed piston engines, long before English Electric’s ‘Deltic’ prototype appeared.

Napier_deltic_animation_large

A fascinating glimpse into the workings of the 2-stroke ‘Deltic’ engines. In this animation, the source of the power unit’s name as an inverted Greek letter ‘Delta’ is perhaps more obvious.

Eventually, BR produced its modernisation plan, and included numerous diesel types, for operation and haulage of the very different services in all regions of the UK – they were dominated by medium speed 4-strokes, and only two examples of the 2-stroke design.  The two examples were at opposite ends of the league – both in terms of operational success – and perhaps in the application of the 2-stroke to rail traction.

Intermodel locoThey remained the only two examples in main line use until the 1980s/1990s, when as a result of privatisation of rail services, many more 2-stroke powered examples were ordered and delivered from the major manufacturers in the USA.  It may be though, that this technology will see only a brief life, as further electrification, and other technology changes take place.

This is just a brief overview of some aspects; please click on the image below for a few more thoughts:

2-Stroke Diesels Cover

Useful links:

M-V Article cover page

 

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Standard Wagon and the SDT

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Heywood is a small town within the Greater Manchester region, and according to most recorded sources was home to railway wagon building since 1863, which is curious, since Companies House only have a record of the company’s formation in 1933. It may be that this was due to a simple change in the company’s status to become a ‘limited’ company, but if anyone out there can offer some additional advice I would be grateful.

Heading picBack in 1988 – yes, 30 years ago, the then Standard Railway Wagon Co., built and delivered an innovative Self Discharging Train (SDT), for transporting and delivering aggregates from quarries to lineside locations.  The company remained successful in the 1980s, and the following year, it’s share capital had been increased and stood at £1,402 million, so despite the lack of investment in rail, for these wagon builders their approach looked confident.

The driver for this particular wagon design, and maybe the company’s confidence, was the Department of Transport’s identified need to build 650 new by-passes under its road building programme, which of course attracted the attention of aggregate suppliers.

Side tipping wagonCarrying bulk aggregates over long distance by road to a target site would obviously be expensive, both financially and environmentally, so why not bulk haulage to a nearby railhead? At the time, aggregates would typically be discharged from conventional hopper wagons into stockpiles, like a merry-go-round coal train – by way of undertrack structures, from which the aggregate would then be loaded onto lorries. Clearly, with the government’s road building plans going ahead, construction of several hundred temporary discharge points for stockpiles at the railheads was out of the question.

SDT Train showing discharge wagonThe answer, so far as Standard Wagon was concerned, and in partnership with Redland Aggregates, was of course the self-discharge train. The idea was a train of hopper wagons, using a built-in conveyor built to discharge the stone. Simple enough you might think. The wagons were grouped in sets of 5 or 10, with the conveyor belt running underneath and between all wagons, and at the end of each group, the system allowed the transfer of stone to another group of wagons, or onto a transfer / unloading wagon. The fixed section of wagons were connected to one another using British Rail’s standard Freightliner coupling gear, whilst the hopper wagons, designated type PHA were mounted on GFA pedestal axles, built by Gloucester Carriage & Wagon. The unloading wagon was fitted with a boom, mounted on a turntable, which could be rotated to discharge the stone to either side of the wagon, either onto a lineside stockpile, or even into a lorry.

SDT SpecStandard Wagon received an initial order for four 10-wagon sets, each having 8 wagons sandwiched between the two boom transfer wagons, one of which carried a 65hp diesel engine, and the other a belt tensioning device. The boom transfer cars were fitted with an adjustable swinging arm boom and conveyor, and stated to be capable of delivering 1,500 tonnes of aggregate from Redland’s quarry at Mountsorrel. When travelling to or from a site – quarry or lineside location – this rotating boom was supported on a steel frame on the outer wagons, and locked in position.

Initially they were formed into trains of 20 hoppers, and first entered service in April 1988. In the same year, a second order for five SDT trains, but connected as 8 wagon sets, and these went into service in 1989. Standard Wagon claimed that trains of almost any length could be formed with this system, given the modular nature of the design and build.

The idea had been developed in the USA, but on shorter trains than normally used in the UK. An early prototype was built at Heywood in 1982, to develop the concept using a standard ‘PGA’ hopper wagon, with a conveyor belt fitted beneath its twin hoppers, and discharge its contents over and above the solebars to either side of the vehicle. Sadly it was not a great success, but further work was carried out, and the SDT train was born six years later using and developing this principle.

First SDT at Heywood

SDT load transferAt the time of its introduction, the SDT was claimed to be achieving all it was designed for, after loading at conventional batch loading points, the 1,500 tonnes payload could be deposited at the trackside. The company also suggested the load could be delivered over a hedge into a field – certainly avoiding the need for costly offload site preparation or planning permission. The booms at either end allowed material to be offloaded, according to the manufacturer at a rate of 1,000 tonnes per hour, but it was this ‘rotating boom’ that was at the centre of one of the most serious accidents in which the SDT was involved.

In February 2016, an accident occurred at Barrow-upon-Soar, when an East Midlands Train – the 10:20 Leicester to York service – a Class 222 set, number 222005 collided with the discharge boom of the SDT, which was stationary in a siding next to the main line. A fault caused the boom to be rotated out over the main line, and it struck two cars of the train, which was travelling 102 mph (163 km/h), but thankfully it was not derailed. Sadly a fitter who had been working on the boom wagon was badly injured, although no one on the passing train was injured.

The RAIB (Rail Accident Investigation Board) made a number of recommendations, including for improvements needed to the SDT’s owners, operators and maintainers methods of assessing risks and hazards. The maintenance company, Wabtec, were required to improve their management processes, and the then owners, Tarmac, were required to improve processes for determining when to instigate interim safety measures, as wagon conditions deteriorated.

An SDT had suffered another accident some 9 years before, in June 2007, when the type PHA hopper wagons used in the SDT were involved in a serious derailment at Ely, in Cambridgeshire. This train was en route from Mountsorrel to Chelmsford, and consisted of three ten-wagon sets and one five-wagon set 
but derailed causing substantial damage to a bridge over the River Ouse. Thankfully no injuries resulted from the derailment, but both the section of line and part of the River Ouse were closed for 6 months.

Standard Wagon of Heywood was registered in November 1933, and 70 years later, following acquisition and integration with Cardiff based Powell Duffryn in 1989, the company had effectively ceased trading. Powell Duffryn itself, a general engineering business and ports operator, was sold to a venture capitalist in 2000. Currently, it is listed as a non-trading company, based in Bracknell, Berkshire, but classed as a builder of locomotives and rail vehicles.

Standard Wagon logo

Standard Wagon WorksOnce acquired by Powell Duffryn, they continued in the manufacture and repair of goods wagons, and bogies, but barely 2 years later in 1991/92, things had started to deteriorate, with orders drying up, and as Standard Wagon, the company made a loss of almost £1 ¼ million in 1992. The company still had its innovative wagon design, and was clearly hoping to sell the product to a wider customer base, than just Redland Aggregates, but the losses continued and all wagon-building operations ceased in 1993/94.

Today, as part of French construction materials company Lafarge, three SDT trains are still in use in the UK, each of course based at the Mountsorrel Quarry. A fascinating experiment with innovative ideas for the loading and unloading of aggregates in bulk, but one which, despite massive investment in road building in the UK has not been an outstanding success. At least the engineers, designers and wagon builders at Standard Wagon in Heywood can take some comfort for the fact that their innovation is still in operation today.

Further reading:

 

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Compound Steam on The Pampas

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In 1948 the railways of Britain were nationalised – and so were the railways in Argentina.  Ours under Clement Atlee, theirs under Juan Peron, but the similarity and connections don’t end there, because many of Argentina’s railways were constructed, operated and owned by British businessmen.  The early railway engineers included men like Robert Stephenson, whilst Argentina was also home to numerous civil engineers, and 78% of the country’s rail network was effectively British owned by 1900.

According to a publication by the Institute of Civil Engineers:

“Large scale railway development in Argentina was marked by the commencement of the construction of the Central Argentine Railway initially from Rosario to Cordova.”

“While the American Wheelwright was the key to the negotiations it was the experience and capital of the contractors, Thomas Brassey, Alexander Ogilvie and George Wythes that gave the project credibility.”

Of course, Britain’s steam loco builders were always going to provide the lion’s share of motive power, and other equipment, with such extensive business investment in Latin America.

North British Order L182

North British Loco Co. built 12 of these 2-cylinder compound 4-6-0s, designated “Class 12A”, they were built at the company’s Atlas Works in Glasgow. They were built to order L182 in 1906, and carried works numbers 17436-47.    Photo Courtesy: ©CSG CIC Glasgow Museums and Libraries Collection: The Mitchell Library, Special Collections

There were in fact a total of eight British owned railways that became vested in the Argentine State Railways by 1948. Four of these were broad, 5ft 6ins gauge, two standard gauge, and two metre gauge.  The largest of the former British owned railways was the Buenos Aires Great Southern, and most of its locomotives were supplied by Beyer Peacock, Vulcan Foundry, North British, Robert Stephenson & Co., Nasmyth Wilson, Hawthorrn Leslie, and Kitson. There was some ‘foreign’ success too in winning order from the BAGS, including, J. A. Maffei, and even Baldwin.

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Buenos Aires Great Southern Railway – BAGS Class 12 4-6-0 2-cylinder compound locomotive, built by Beyer Peacock in Manchester Gorton, the type was used extensively on passenger and mixed traffic duties.     Photo Courtesy: Historical Railway Images

However, it was Beyer Peacock, Vulcan Foundry, and North British Loco Co that supplied the many hundreds of steam types for Argentina, and these covered each of the different gauges, from the 5ft 6ins, broad gauge, to 4ft 8 1/2ins standard gauge, metre and even narrow gauge types.  They included both simple and compiund expansion types, rigid frame and articulated designs.

The compound locomotive was extensively employed on these railways, and the ‘fashion’ for lasted longer in the southern hemisphere than the north, with many variations in design and operation.

The offering below covers this period, with a focus on the broad gauge Buenos Aires Great Southern Railway lines, where both two and four cylinder compounds were put to work.  Some details too of other railways, and the considerable numbers of locomotives supplied by the North British Co. from its works in Glasgow is outlined.

Compound Steam

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Buenos Aires Great Southern Railway  Class 12k 4-6-2 steam locomotive Nr. 3941 – taken at Vulcan Foundry in 1926    Photo Courtesy: Graeme Pilkington

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EU Rail Privatisation & Prospects – Episode 1

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It is over 25 years since the EU determined that separating train operations from the management of the tracks and infrastructure would be a good idea. 15 years ago, I covered the topic in detail, and at that time there was a clear distinction between what was happening in the UK compared with the rest of Western Europe in particular.

Britain had charged headlong into a massive restructuring of the rail industry, creating bodies that would own and lease rolling stock to businesses who would simply run trains under a franchising scheme, not dissimilar to that used by parcel delivery firms today. The track, signalling and communications were the province of a single business unit we called Railtrack plc.

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But, we went a step further still, breaking down the assets of the infrastructure company, and allowing a variety of smaller maintenance and other businesses to repair, update and manage the track and trackside systems. And, we did this over a 2 or 3-year window. Railtrack plc proved to be a disaster, and following various court processes in 2001, the private business of Railtrack was transferred to Government ownership as a not for profit business – Network Rail in 2002.

In Europe, by contrast, the separation of operation from infrastructure was more protracted. The former national railways of France, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands separated their train operation functions from the teams that looked after the track and established separate business units. They were accounted for separately, but still reporting under the group umbrella.

The 1991 EU Directive required member states to separate operations from infrastructure, and by the turn of the century, success was partially achieved, with most Western European states adopting a structure with a single company running the trains, and another supporting and maintaining the track and routes.   In 2000, just under 10 years after it was agreed, this liberalization had been progressed by 21 countries, since when, several further reforms of the directive have been carried out, and significant changes in rail operations has taken place across Europe as a whole.

EU DirectivesBack in 2000, in conclusion, I wrote:

  • “All member states of the EU are required to commit to the liberalisation and separation policies defined by EC Directive 91/440. An overall view of “privatisation”, “railway reform” or “liberalisation” of the rail business across Europe, ranges from a two company approach, to multiple businesses, covering operations and infrastructure.”

This liberalisation has certainly moved on a great deal since then, although it has not – in general – achieved one of the major aims; reducing state subsidy and improving efficiency in operation.

The Directive itself has been repealed, and was replaced in 2012 by Directive 2012/34/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 21 November 2012 establishing a single European railway area. As before though, this directive does not mandate the setting up of separate train operating companies, as per the UK style, nor does it mandate that both infrastructure and operator be separate companies.  They could simply be separate divisions within the same company.

But in essence, all that happened in 2012, was the merging of the various amndments in the table above, into a single Directive/Act.

Of course, it must be said that much of the progress has been ‘hampered’, or at least challenged by the interoperability question across Europe, and the directive’s amendments has tried to introduce commonalities across operational and management. On top of this, the EU has expanded by more than 9 new member states, and suffered the consequences of the financial/banking crisis and economic recession.

Bruges 2000 - RPBNorwegian Suburban emu_ABB photo 1993

Nonetheless, the opening up of the rail markets to new operators – be it train operator, or infrastructure manager – has continued apace. It could be argued today, that the British approach ‘pioneered’ in the 1990s, has dominated the liberalisation, or privatisation process.

One striking feature in the past decade or so, has been the number of new agencies and representative bodies that have been established, whilst others have had name changes, and national governments have re-organised functions. A classic example is in Sweden, where Trafikverket, which now has responsibility for rail, road and maritime services, replaced Banverket in 2004. This is mirrored in the UK by the ORR, which has morphed from the old SRA into ORR – originally Office for Rail Regulation, into the Office for Road & Rail.

Screenshot 2019-10-24 at 13.41.01Examples of some of the new organisations demanded by the increasing fragmentation of the individual state rail networks includes “RailNetEurope (RNE)” an association for ‘infrastructure managers’, which cover such tasks as co-ordinating timetabling across Europe, coordinating access charging, train pathing, operation monitoring, the One-Stop Shop (OSS) system, etc.

There are now 28 EU member states, but not all have fully implemented Directive 91/440, or its subsequent amendments, which since 2001 have been described as “Railway Packages”, whether or how the “Brexit” negotiations and the UK’s position will affect this is as yet unknown.  Although quite clearly, if the UK does cease to be a member of the EU there will be changes to the relationship with a variety of bodies, although membership of key technology and management institutions will continue.

Passiondutrain.com

A Velaro E320 (UK Class 374) train 4023/24 on the Eurostar 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

The practical impacts on train operations through the Channel Tunnel, via Eurostar, and maybe on the technology and accreditation used to drive those trains, including Euroshuttle will likely be adjusted.

ICE3 Train on 09_07_1999 at Wildenrath_Adtranz Photo

Out of the original 19 countries reviewed in 2000, 9 had stated they would definitely complete the separation – although in some cases, this took longer than planned. Germany, Greece and the Netherlands were “in progress”, whilst only one country – Ireland – had said a definite no. At the same time, both Austria and Switzerland had said no, but were progressing reforms, and in Spain, partial separation was claimed at the start of the new millennium.

Here, in Britain, we set up a new train operating company grouping, with the catchy title the Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC). We’re good at setting up committees, and this one seemed to be an umbrella organisation for a number of businesses running train services on the Railtrack infrastructure. Mostly, these were regional operators, in some ways mimicking the outline of the old pre-grouping railway companies!

The initial approach to running trains was for a business, or consortium of business partners to bid for a ‘franchise’ to run train services over a particular route, or number of routes.  These contractual arrangments were time limited, and within which there was a fair amount of variety in the duration, from a handful of years, to more than a decade.  In part this semi-stable approach would not be conducive to increased investment in new technology or services, especially as the investment in any new rolling stock would come through another authority – the rolling stock leasing companies.

But, the UK’s method of leasing rolling stock and bidding for franchises, over the old British Rail network – albeit under a different name – would come in for much criticism and failures in later years.  The introduction of ‘open access train operators’ further down the track added further complexity.

Separation

By 2000, our next-door neighbours in Belgium, Netherlands, Denmark and France had taken the separation approach in what was perceived as the orthodox manner, establishing Maatschappij der Belgische Spoorwegen, NS Railinfratrust BV, Banedanmark, and Réseau Ferré de France (RFF) respectively. By 2015, Maatschappij had been replaced by Infrabel , RFF by SNCF Réseau in France, and ProRail B.V. became the trading name of NS Railinfratrust BV in the Netherlands, whilst Denmark opted for keeping the same name – essentially.

The regulations did not specify how the train operations or the infrastructure companies were to be created; it simply stated that there should be separation between the two elements of a railway system. The same technique was used in Norway, Sweden, Finland, Germany, Italy, Spain and Portugal.

EU Separation

As you can see from the table, there have been quite a number of changes in the past decade, some connected with technological development, but equally as many with business process changes, especially in regard to managing and charging for access to the infrastructure. A key theme running through the changes that have been made is “multi-modal” operation, where either the operating company, or infrastructure manager runs bus, ferry or road and freight logistics services.

Also noted in the table – ironically – is the difference between the separation plans from Ireland and Norway. Ireland an EU member state indicated it was not progressing separation, whilst Norway, NOT a member state had made a commitment to follow the EU Directive!

Train Operators

The train operators are perhaps the ones who have changed most – not least because we tend to see them at work! A characteristic of the separation that has undergone the most reform is the way access rights and charges are granted, and the financing schemes to underpin one of the original objectives – to reduce indebtedness and secure a more financial, and commercially stable railway system. This vision was to apply across Europe, and develop interoperability through designated corridors and high priority projects, whilst at the same time opening up the markets to competition and innovation from new entrants.

Has it achieved this aim so far? In part perhaps, but the introduction of this ‘openness’ across national boundaries has also led to more collaboration, and partnerships developing between existing operators. Take Britain as an example – which UK train operators run services in other countries? These are not so easy to determine, since they are usually within the scope of multi-business partnerships, such as Arriva, or Abellio. Their business includes operations in Germany and the Netherlands, mostly offering regional, or corridor specific services.

McNulty Report - Summary - Cover

Perhaps the most significant change in Britain was setting up the Rail Delivery Group (RDG) in 2014, following the recommendations of the “McNulty Report” in 2011. The fact that the RDG was established perhaps reinforced the notion that fragmenting through franchising privately run train operations in the UK, on an essentially state owned infrastructure business, was a poor choice of implementing the 1991 EU Directive. In short it seems to have said – train operators and the infrastructure maintainers were not talking to one another, and co-ordination is necessary. It remains to be seen if “decentralisation and devolution” within Network Rail, as Railtrack’s succssor will be any more effective, and it seems to indicate that fragmentation practices applied in the early 1990s are still in favour.

The UK still has some 24 TOC’s, including 2 ‘Open Access’ providers, and following the failure of yet another franchise for the East Coast Main Line, the London to Edinbuirgh route has been nationalised again.  Or, in the jargon of the day, it is now run by the “Operator of Last Resort”.

The UK’s approach remains fairly unique amongst European countries in the way that it approach, and continues to implement the aims and objectives of the 1991 Directive, and is focussed more intensely on finances than the prospects for rail services.  Yes, and I can see that HS2, and other rail proposals remain in that future pipeline … we remain interested to see what happens next.

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