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-

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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-

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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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Last British Steam for the Raj

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Over 70 years ago, the locomotive manufacturers in Britain began supplying its last main line steam locomotives for Indian Railways – steam traction was still in abundance at home and abroad, but diesel and electric traction was making rapid progress.  UK based manufacturers like English Electric and Metropolitan Vickers were early exploiters – mainly in what were then British colonies.  Prior to World War II, more than 95% of steam locomotives were built in Britain and exported to India, for use on the various railways – which were then a range of state/privately owned companies – and on top of this, with different gauges. 

During the steam era, both pre and post nationalisation, the North British Locomotive Co., in Glasgow, and Vulcan Foundry, in Newton-le-Willows, were heavily involved in the design, construction and export of steam locomotives to the Indian sub-continent. But the British builders had to contend with competition from other countries, including the USA, Canada and Europe before, during and after World War II.

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Wellington to Paekakariki

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The Wellington Suburban Electrification

Well, not strictly suburban, but the second major electrification on New Zealand’s railway lines that involved English Electric; this time on the main line linking the capital, Wellington, with Auckland, 400 miles away to the north. This was the first stage in electrifying the North Island Main Trunk (NIMT), across some of the world’s most spectacular, and challenging terrain.

ED102 nlnzimage copy

This is an image of the first of the class built in New Zealand – No. 102 is seen here in 1938 ex-works, without the skirt applied to the very first of the class, built in Preston.                               Photo Courtesy: Ref: APG-0320-1/2-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22545501

 

English Electric were pioneers of electric traction, and were especially successful around the world, notably of course in former British colonies, whether India, Australia, and of course, New Zealand.  In the 1930s, increasing traffic around Wellington, and the success of the Arthur’s Pass project almost a decade earlier, the North Island electrification work led to an order for tnew main line electric locomotives.  These were the first heavyweight (my italics) locos in service on the route from Wellington to Paekakariki, which later became the North Island Main Trunk (NIMT).

At the same time, the fortmer Dick, Kerr Works of English Electric received an order for multiple units to provide faster, more efficient suburban passenger services.

EE Railcar nlnzimage copy 2

One of the “DM” series of multiple units, supplied by English Electric, here seen at Khandallah Station, on the opening day of the service – 4th July 1938.                                   Photo Courtesy: Ref: APG-1483-1/4-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/23252719

The locomotives introduced a number of new, novel features, even by the emerging ‘new technology’ of the day, and yet oddly, their wheel arrangement was initially described as that of a steam loco – i.e. a 2-8-4 – but later a 1-Do-2.  It’s hard to know which sounds more compex.

The locos had a long life, and although only two survived to be preserved as static exhibits, they marked at least the start of electric traction progress in New Zealand.  The Preston company received further orders from ‘down under’ after the Second World War too, with a Bo-Bo-Bo design in the 1950s, as the “Ew” class, and as late as the 1980s English Electric – as GEC Traction – were still supplying electrical equipment.

Hopefully the overview of this design will whet your appetite further.

Please click on the image below:

Wellington Cover

 

The earlier project is described here: “Over The Southern Alps via Arthur’s Pass”

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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-

 

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.

hong_kong_metro

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.

58_1261-5_1 copy

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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