A Postscript To Piggyback Freight

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The Piggyback Consortium proposal was tied to the ‘modernisation’ of the West Coast Main Line, and detailed in Railtrack’s proposal “A Railway for the Twenty First Century”, published in March 1995.

WCML Modernisation - cover

At the same time, the Government was busy preparing Railtrack for privatisation, and the Thrall Car Company were established in the old BR works at York – this is what they said in their brochure at the time:

Sadly, the BR works at York closed in 1996, but was re-opened in 1997, with Thrall Car Manufacturing Co.  The company had received an order from EWS for around £200 million to build 2,500 wagons, including steel coil carriers, coal hoppers, box and container flat wagons. Sadly, this was the only major order received at York, and Thrall’s successor – Trinity Industries – closed the plant in 2002, with the loss of 260 jobs.

Europspine 1?

In original guise, Thrall’s spine wagons were publicised like this.

Thrall and Babcock Rail’s lack of success with the spine wagon idea, was largely as a result of the lack of take up commercially of the piggyback innovation, for domestic and international services, along with unresolved national problems around transport policy, never fully resolved.

Babcock Rail Wagons

Built by Babcock Rail Rosyth, this image shows a standard road tanker mounted on one of the Babcock piggyback wagons. The lack of a national strategy for bulk transport of liquids, including foodstuffs dealt a mortal blow to this type of piggyback operation.

There was potential for this and other proposals, such as the pocket wagons, with successful trials run between Penrith and Cricklewood using the road tanker on a piggy back trailer, but the customer demand needed buy-in from more than one or two national organisations, and some “public monopolies” such as “Milk Marque” were fragmented, taking away those potentials.  Later still, other commercial interests died away, and despite the success of these ideas, from an engineering and operational trial perspective, it has simply melted away.

By 2017, a lot of changes had taken place, although investment in the routes has occurred in some places, it is by no means as comprehensive – or indeed integrated – as it was almost 20 years ago.   Network Rail published a “Freight Network Study”, in April 2017, though in short, for rail freight, we appear to be little further forward:

Freight Network Study Cover

The Thrall / Babcock Eurospine wagons were simply mothballed after 2002, and stored out of use at Carlisle, near the old Upperby Maintenance Depot, which itself was pulled down only a few years ago.

Eurospine - Phil Taylor Facebook Carlisle

The last days of Carlisle Upperby TMD shows the Eurospine wagons still hanging around – still a potential if only a commercial use could be found.                        Photo ©: Phil Taylor

 

 

Thrall Piggyback Wagon

Weeds growing over the bogie of a Thrall Eurospine wagon at what remained of Carlisle Upperby TMD back in 2012. Photo ©: Gordon Edgar

 

A Postscript to Piggyback_cover

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Digital rail revolution will reduce overcrowding and cut delays

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Today, the current Transport Minister Chris Grayling said that as a result of the “digital rail revolution”:
Trains will become faster, more frequent, more punctual and safer through the introduction of new digital technology on the rail network.
Really?
And he went on to say:
“Transport Secretary Chris Grayling and Network Rail Chief Executive Mark Carne will today (10 May 2018) launch Network Rail’s Digital Railway Strategy and commit to ensuring all new trains and signalling are digital or digital ready from 2019. They will also set out that they want to see digital rail technology benefiting passengers across the network over the next decade.”
There is an interesting phrase in the statement above:  “… digital or digital ready from 2019….”  That sounds a bit like a supermarket sale … you know the one:  “… prices start from ??? …”  And you can rarely find the lowest price item.
The DfT’s statement went on to say:

New digital rail technology will:

  • safely allow more trains to run per hour by running trains closer together
  • allow more frequent services and more seats
  • cut delays by allowing trains to get moving more rapidly after disruption
  • enable vastly improved mobile and wi-fi connectivity, so that passengers can make the most of their travel time and
  • communities close to the railway can connect more easily
So when will we start introducing ETCS Level 2 on trains – passenger and freight – maybe using the Siemens’ Trainguard Level 2, Baseline 3 system.
In a rail network where passenger and freight services use the same tracks much, if not most of the time, then they will all need to be fitted from new, and retrofitted to older stock and locomotives.
Here’s one but at least.  On a previous occasion, it was announced that: “Freight trains in Britain to be upgraded with delay-busting digital technology in multi-million pound deal”  This according to Network Rail has already started, although retrofitting the fleet will not start for another 3 years:
“The design, testing and approvals stage for each class of vehicle starts now and work to retrofit the entire freight fleet will begin in 2022 and continue through to Control Period 7 (CP7, 2024-2029).”
All of this is true, and was being planned and partially implemented more than 20 years ago, so why the delays.  Maybe it’s just down to education, since as the “Digital Railway” website advertises:
“The European Rail Traffic Management System – ERTMS Education Day is open to rail operators and aims to deliver an overview of ERTMS and its place as part of the wider Digital Railway programme. It includes the rationale behind ERTMS, how the system operates and changes to on-train and lineside infrastructure.”
ERTMS Education Days are operated jointly by the Rail Delivery Group (RDG) and Network Rail.  I get the involvement of Network Rail, but why the RDG?  Is that just a collective name for various passenger and freight operating companies?  Or is it to fill a gap that was once provided by the Railway Clearing House (RCH) – back in steam days.
Ah well, at least some progress with modern signalling technology seems to be coming along – what a pity that it has taken so long to begin to catch up with other European countries.

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Blackpool Lights Up – Finally

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The 19 week programme to electrify the line from Preston to Blackpool North has – it seems – finally been completed, and on 16th April, the new service is now planned to start.  The programme was extended by a 3 weeks – and according to Network Rail, the major cause of the delay was the extreme bad weather in March.

PROJECT UPDATE: Blackpool North line to reopen on Monday 16 April

So, the project has overrun by 16% – but at least it is now finished.  Services to Blackpool stopped on 11th November and were due to restart on the 26th March – in good time for the start of the Easter holidays and the tourist season.

When the delay was announced the MP for Blackpool South was incensed and took the matter up with Norther Rail (the franchisee), and of course in Parliament.  The local paper carried a story about the delay:

‘Damaging’ rail delay will impact on tourism, says MP

However, Network Rail has completed:

  • Rebuilding 11 bridges
  • Remodelling 11 station platforms
  • Replacing 11km of track
  • Upgrading drainage
  • Installing a completely new signalling system, operated entirely from the Manchester ROC

Alongside the changes at Blackpool North and Kirkham & Wesham stations, Blackpool train care depot to support the roll out of new Class 331 trains later in 2018.

In the meantime Class 319 units will be relocated from Southern England – good to recycle.  But at least one observer has noted that whilst Transpennine run electrified services into Manchester Airport, currently it seems Northern Rail are not planning for this.

Whilst Network Rail are to be congratulated on completing the job – it’s still ‘wait and see’ to find out how the ‘Great Northern Rail Project’ fulfils its declared intentions.

 

Network Rail’s Upgrade Plan

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According to their latest Tweets and New Releases, Network Rail’s “Railway Upgrade Plan” is the biggest investment and engineering project/programme of projects since Victorian times.  Now I know that’s a bit of a stretch, but…

https://fast.wistia.com/embed/iframe/bzvre7n5h8

The video is imaginative and entertaining.

According to Network Rail:

In the last 20 years the number of people travelling on the rail network has doubled, and the rail network, our stations and our platforms are dealing with more passengers than they were ever designed for.

But our investment plan is now entering its final phases and better, more frequent, faster journeys for hundreds of thousands of people are now months away for some, as the benefits start to come to fruition.

Millions of passenger journeys will be transformed in the months ahead and through to 2021 as more and more new services come on-stream

There are 4 “Mega projects”, the Edinburgh to Glasgow Improvement Programme, Crossrail, Derby Resignalling and the Great North Rail Project.  On top of this there are the “National Projects” – East-West Rail, Midland Mainline and Trans Pennine.

Scotland-EGIP-Queen-Street-tunnel-1035x545I get the £742 million for Edinburgh to Glasgow (outstanding since about 1981), and £200 million for Derby resignalling, and the massive Crossrail project is a given.  But, the Great North Rail Project is really just putting in place work that should have been done years ago, especially in view of the growth in passenger numbers, and the need to replace outdated and life expired technology.

Should the “Railway Upgrade Plan” for CP6 and beyond perhaps, be considered alongside the 1950s “Modernisation and Re-Equipment Programme”?

The latest news has some really interesting drill down options too, and worth a read, but I’m still unsure about the comparisons with 100 years and more ago.

Our Railway Upgrade Plan

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Network Rail – Lots of Alliances

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A Prior Information Notice (PIN) was published by Network Rail yesterday in the Official Journal of the European Union (OJEU), for a tender exercise covering design and construction of track works on plain line track and switches and crossings. Alongside this the scope of work will include surveying, drainage, investigations and installation works for foundations, traction power, signalling systems, station and lineside works.

Well, everything associated with the infrastructure really.

The wording of the OJEU notice makes it clear that Network Rail is seeking suppliers and consortia to “pre-form partnerships” for this work. To this end the notice defines three “Lots”, which Network Rail’s press release describes as ‘alliances’, as below:

  • Alliance 1: North (Scotland Route)
  • Alliance 2: Central (London North West, and London North East & East Midland Routes)
  • Alliance 3: South (Anglia, Southeast, Wessex, Western, and Wales Routes)

This is a 10-year deal, worth some £5 billion, and represents a major portion of the recently announced Railway Upgrade Plan, and a significant chunk of the next five-year funding period – Control Period 6 (CP6) – between 2019 and 2024. It is obviously essential that suppliers and prospective bidders demonstrate “relevant expertise”. But given what has happened to ‘Carillion’, it is clearly even more important that whichever ‘economic operators’ are selected, that they provide economic stability and deliver value for money.

Crossrail milestones completed
The changes provided through Network Rail’s route devolution may bring some interesting challenges as well as opportunities to deliver the infrastructure improvements over the next 5 to 10 years. It is good to see this latest OJEU notice underpinning the UK’s commitment to improving the railway network – we’ve not seen too many such notices in recent years. Steve Featherstone, Network Rail’s director for Track made an interesting comment following this announcement:

“This tender represents a major milestone in the development of our strategy for our track infrastructure investment programme. It also represents a significant commitment by Network Rail to the rail industry and we are expecting high levels of interest in these contracts from the supply chain. In return, we will be looking for clear and firm commitments from the supply chain to deliver value for Network Rail.”

Network Rail’s published Railway Upgrade Plan and CP6 procurement strategy are well worth a read.

The original Network Rail Press Release can be found here .

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The Great North Rail Project

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As part of Network Rail’s £1 billion, 25-year “Railway Upgrade Plan” there are 7 projects that form the  “Great North Rail Project” sub-project which is intended to be complete by 2022 – only 4 years from now.  They include:

  • Liverpool City Region upgrade
  • Manchester to Preston improvements
  • Preston to Blackpool North
  • Transpennine Route upgrade
  • West Yorkshire signalling upgrade
  • Ordsall Chord
  • Calder Valley improvements

These seven projects are highlighted as the infrastructure improvements in the north of England.  Fair enough, Network Rail doing infrastructure work – but these projects seem to suggest Network Rail may be providing new trains – in particular there is a reference to those trains as part of the “Railway Upgrade Plan”.

The key benefits include longer, faster, more frequent trains; a better, more reliable infrastructure; and better facilities for passengers, especially at stations.

To be fair, and maybe I am being picky but isn’t it the job of the rolling stock leasing companies to buy and offer the new trains to the train operating companies – Transpennine, Northern Rail, etc. – not Network Rail.  Or perhaps since the physical infrastructure is being upgraded, is this going to be a first step towards re-nationalisation?

However, amongst the key projects of this grand plan, electrification is being progressed – yet not in the North.  The new “Azuma” trains have already encountered a problem, since the East Coast Main Line franchise is soon to be terminated, so they may not enter service at all, or be delayed, or under a publicly owned railway.  Similarly, Network Rail indicate that HS2 is one of their key projects – but I thought this was another privately funded scheme.

So where are we today?  There is still a lot of infrastructure work to be completed before Blackpool can be reached by a new electric train service, and Liverpool Lime Street is being closed in the summer for a couple of months, and the Chorley “Flying Arches” appear to be uplifted.

Here are a few snaps of work in progress in the North West: