Light Rail – 20 Year Look Back

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Back in 2001 I was compiling a status report of the Light Rail Projects and existing networks in operation, or under active construction around the UK. We had a busy programme, with 6 networks open and operational, and plans to build 3 more around Portsmouth, Leeds and Bristol being put forward, and the Nottingham Express Transit (NET) was being built. Of the existing systems, Croydon – or the London Tramlink as it is now called – and the Birmingham network had only been open a couple of years.

Nottingham Express Transit tram negotiating the esses past Shipstone Street playground, on its way to Shipstone Street tram stop Photo: Alan Murray-Rust, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=67500108

There were other proposed systems being put forward, including Edinburgh, which did finally get completed, and a “revamped trolleybus scheme” for Liverpool and Merseyside – the “Mersey Tram” – another pie in the sky scheme. The new generation of light rail and tramway schemes were being scattered around the UK a bit like confetti 20 years ago, and included Hull, Bath and East Lancashire – at least that was what the Transport Secretary was reported as saying in Parliament in 2001.

The major projects actively operating or under construction, with a couple of exceptions, including those that were cancelled by the Department of Transport, included these:

Back in 2001 there were plans for expansion of the existing systems, with Manchester (3 new lines) and Birmingham (2 new lines) at the head of the list. It was clearly essential for the expanding connurbations of the West Midlands and Greater Manchester, and they had already proved their value in passengers carried, and the associated revenue – the Midland Metro had seen a 25% increase in passengers carried in its first fully operational year.

Greater Manchester’s Metrolink tram number 3009A, in Salford Quays Photo: Tom Page – Flickr: IMG_0876.jpg, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16246122

Before looking back at where we were in 2001, it is worth noting that all of these networks were essentially built around a new concept of street running trams, and the UK was following the lead set in other European cities. With the exception perhaps of the Tyne & Wear Metro, the technology being used was new, and whilst the UK’s first new light rail system in Manchester was not exactly the low floor design seen elsewhere, it was a pioneer. The Tyne & Wear had been up and running since the late 1970s, and piggy backed on the readily available ‘heavy rail’ technology, including a 1500V d.c. overhead contact system, and conventional railway station platforms.

The other ‘metro systems’ that could be included would be the underground networks of London and Glasgow, and Blackpool’s century old tramway system. But, Light Rail was evolving down a different path, and in 1989, the industry was first fully showcased in the UK at Bristol, at the “Light Rail 89” exhibition and conference, opened by Mchael Portillo, who was then Transport Secretary. The industry was ambitious, and the outlook was poistive, and by the turn of the century, those 6 new systems were up and running – including the highly successful and automatic Docklands Light Railway.

Where are we today? These are the current Light Rail (LRT) systems in operation in the UK:

Only two new systems have been built and opened in the past 20 years – Edinburgh and Nottingham – so now we have 8 light rail systems, with the older networks continuing to expand.

Edinburgh Princes Street, with a backdrop of the Scott Monument and a glipmse of the outline of Edinburgh Castle in the background. Photo: Smiley.toerist – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=47606320

Click on the image below to read about the systems and technology that was in place back in 2001.

Further reading …

Hong Kong MTR & Stockport

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The UK business of Davies & Metcalfe was most famous for key components on locomotives and rolling stock, from steam injectors, to brake systems and latterly to automatic couplers for rapid transit and light rail systems.

D&M CouplersMost of the company’s business was carried out from the wortks in Romiley, Cheshire, south of Manchester.  It was a long established family business, begun in North Wales in Aberystwyth in 1878, and after a move to Romiley became a household name in manufacturing steam locomotive injectors in the 20th century.  Diversification into braking systems came by way of a partnership with the Swiss company Oerlikon, and sold braking technology under the brand “Metcalfe Oerlikon”.

These arrangements continued after the UK’s railways were nationalised in 1948, and Metcalfe-Oerlikon brake systems were fitted to many diesel and electric locomotive and rolling stock designs. By the 1970s, when the UK rail industry was awarded the contracts to design and build the Hong Kong MTR trains, Davies & Metcalfe,  supplied the braking technology and the essential, automatic, close-couplers for the new rolling stock.

D&M MontageThis comprehensive activity continued throughout the decades, and in 1989, Davies & Metcalfe appeared at ‘Light Rail ’89’ in Bristol, and were  collaborating with Bergische-Stahl-Industrie.  The Romiley company were then offering a ‘one-stop shop’ for  Brake Control Systems, Safety and Vigilance Equipment, Wheel Slip/Slide Control Systems, Multi-function Automatic Couplers, Disc and Track Brakes and, Transmission Drive Systems.

D&M Braking kitA number of changes took place in the industry in the last years of the 20th century, and the company continues to supply key components to this day, whether it is for Hong Kong, or even some of the legacy steam railways in Britain.

 

Useful Links:

  1. Hong Kong Metro – 40 Years On
  2. Davies and Metcalfe Limited

Screenshot 2020-02-08 at 12.18.55

  1. Davies & Metcalfe (Wikipedia)
  2. Davies & Metcalfe (Graces Guide)

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Hybrid on Snowdon

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Snowdon, the highest mountain in Wales, and home of the only rack railway in Britain is about to get some new motive power.  Although steam is popular on many of the world’s rack railways, diesel power has gradually been adopted over the past few decades, and now as diesel’s reputation as a pollutant has soarded, hybrids are coming to the rescue.

In its 123+ year history, the 800mm gauge railway to the summit of Snowdon, this line has operated with 8 steam locomotives, all built by SLM in Switzerland, 5 diesel locomotives and 3 diesel railcars.  All of the railcars have been scrapped, along with the diesel-mechanical loco bought secondhand in 1949 have been scrapped.

Two of the steam locomotives – Nos. 7 & 8. built in 1922 and 1923 have been withdrawn and dismantled, with one of the remaining locos – No. 4 “Snowdon”, currently being overhauled.  The remaining steam locomotives remain operational, and all bar one are more than 100 years old.

Snowdon_Mountain_Railways_No12_George_(8985026430)

Built in Leeds by Hunslet in 1992, No12 is named after George Thomas, 1st Viscount Tonypandy. All four diesels are powered by a turbo-charged six-cylinder Rolls-Royce engine giving 319hp. Llanberis Station. Snowdon Mountain Railway. Wales. 26-5-2013                                                         By Alan Wilson – , CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=26899289 

Of the remaining 4 diesel-hydraulic locos, two (Nos 9 & 10) were delivered in 1986, with Nos. 11 and 12, delivered in 1991 and 1992.  These are the newest locomotives – now approaching 30 years of age – in service on the line.

The Snowdon Mountain Railway (SMR) began looking into replacement locomotives five years ago, and this year named Clayton Equipment Limited of Burton-upon-Trent has been chosen as the preferred supplier.

Clayton are a specialist supplier of locomotive for mining, tunnelling, shunting and many other specialist rail applications.  This specialism includes bespoke battery hybrid battery-diesel designs, and the SMR’s  two new locomotives will be commissioned and ready for service for the start of the railway’s 2020 season in spring next year.

Clayton have been involved as a manufacturer in the railway industry since the 1930s, and through various changes of structure and ownership, and now once again as an independent company.

The new locomotives will be driven by High Torque, maintenance free electric motors, powered by traction battery and diesel generator. The diesel generator will be switched off whilst the locomotive is descending, as service braking recharges the battery ready for the next ascent.  It is anticpated that this new design will save costs on both maintenance and fuel, and as lower powered units, complying fully with Euro Stage V emissions requirements, less environmental impact too.

The train configurations with the new locos will also allow an extra 12 passengers to be carried on each trip.

New technology for the 21st Century on the UK’s only Abt rack railway, and hopefully too, continued success for both the SMR and Clayton Equipment.  We look forward to 2020 with interest.

Useful Links:

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Metrolink adding 27 light rail vehicles to its fleet

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Metrolink – the UK’s first light rail network of the modern era was designed and built by the GMA Group (a consortium of AMEC, GM Buses, John Mowlem & Company, and GEC) at a cost of £145 million.  So, at least one local business (GEC) was heavily involved. This was a time though when light rail, and rapid transit was in its infancy in the UK, and the first units were built by Ansaldo-Breda, with Bombardier Transportation and Vossloh Kiepe.

Kiepe are still with us today, in this latest expansion.

As the original UK metro, it did not adopt the now universal low-floor vehicle design, but required elevated platforms at the various stops.

Metrolink’s first services began operating on 6th April 1992, when the Bury line opened to Victoria Station, following the line of the former BR rail link, with the first street-level trams began running 3 weeks later on 27 April. The Altrincham line opened on 15 June, and the branch to Piccadilly station on 20 July, with Metrolink officially opened by The Queen on 17 July 1992.

But it has been a great success, and today, “Kiepe Electric”, have been awarded an order to supply another 27 Metrolink vehicles – now described as “high-floor” – in partnership with Bomardier Transportation UK.  Kiepe Electric is a subsidiary of Knorr-Bremse, renowned around the world for braking technology and solutions in particular.

Here’s what they had to say about the latest order:

“We’re fully focused on the mobility of the future,” says Dr. Jürgen Wilder, Member of the Executive Board of Knorr-Bremse AG responsible for the Rail Vehicle Systems division.

“Through our solutions for buses and rail vehicles we are driving forward the almost full electrification of the mass transit sector: This latest order from Manchester provides further evidence of the technological class and economic efficiency of our products and systems.”

Kiepe Electric is to build the high-floor vehicles in conjunction with consortium partner Bombardier Transportation UK. The systems specialist from the Knorr-Bremse Group is to supply the entire drivetrain and control technology. The Knorr-Bremse contribution will also include the on-board power converters, HVAC system, air-conditioned driver’s cab, CCTV system and outside cameras, as well as the diagnostics system. Bombardier will be responsible for building the vehicles.

“The new vehicles will be equipped with an even more powerful and reliable on- board and drivetrain converter concept,” explains Dr. Peter Radina, Member of the Manage- ment Board of Knorr-Bremse Rail Vehicle Systems and responsible for Kiepe Electric.

“In this respect, this project documents our successful approach to the subject of obsolescence within a series of vehicles: Our systems are downward compatible, which means that the new trams can be coupled to existing vehicles with no problems.”

Today, Metrolink is the largest light rail network in the UK, carrying some 42 million passengers a year, and this will bring the fleet total up to 147 trams on the TfGM (Transport for Greater Manchester) owned network.

The new vehicles, scheduled for delivery between spring 2020 and summer 2021, can each carry 206 passengers, and the latest order provides a substantial expansion of what is already a large fleet. This additional capacity will enable the network to increase the number of double units on the busiest routes.

Good to see this latest expansion of the pioneering light rail/rapid transit going from strength to strength.

Read more …

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