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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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.

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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

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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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