Timetables are Hard to Find

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Just today I vcame across an old story from the Department for Transport from 2014, when the Government announced – Plans for £38 billion investment in railways unveiled. This was 5 years ago, and clearly much has changed since, but just picking up on the heavy investment in rail infrastructure in, around, through and under London, I wondered how much of what was planned has been achieved.

These are just a few of the points made in that announcement:

  • the Northern Hub: transforming rail across the north of England with capacity for hundreds more trains and 44 million more passengers, with the potential to boosting the regional economy with thousands more jobs
  • the Thameslink programme: increasing to 24 trains per hour at peak times each way through the centre of London, freeing up capacity on the capital’s transport network
  • Over 850 miles of railway electrification: including the Great Western Main Line, Midland Main Line and across the north and north west of England, bringing greener, more frequent and more reliable journeys for millions of passengers
  • A new, electrified railway linking the Great Western, West Coast and Midland main lines, connecting Oxford with Bedford and Milton Keynes as part of the East-West Rail project
  • Transformed stations at Birmingham New Street, Manchester Victoria, Bristol Temple Meads and London Bridge

The second point seemed to be the easiest to prove had taken place – so off I went, looking for the Thameslink timetables for 2018 (not even this year’s), to see if progress had been made. It is suprisingly difficult to finmd details of the times of day that are a) defined as ‘peak’, and b) whether a journey from say Bedfor to St Pancras counts as one of those 24 per hour. That statement would suggest that there would be 24 trains arriving at St Pancras betwween 09:00 and 10:00, and another 24 leaving to head for Bedford.

To me, that sounds odd. However …

Looking at a PDF copy of the GTR timetable 9 December 2018 to 18 May 2019, here’s what I found: just 11 trains arrived at London St Pancras International – and that seems to be 13 short of what was planned. In the opposite direction, between 09:00 and 10:00 only 10 departed from St Pancras heading for Luton and Bedford.

Now, I appreciate that this is only one route – so I assume that the missing 13 or 14 services per hour will be found on other Thameslink routes. From the Thameslink Programme site, they provide some interesting information about what is going to happen, and how progress is being made. The same is true of Network Rail and their Thameslink Programme web page – although it does state that this is a 10-year programme, and will cost £7 billion. Clearly some costs from the £38 billion mentioned by the Government in 2014 will come from Network Rail in CP5, and other costs from CP6 allocations. The National Audit Office (NAO) have been keeping us all updated on this programme, from a review (Progress in delivering the Thameslink programme) before the £38 billion announcement to an update (Update on the Thameslink Programme) back at the end of 2017.

So maybe if we look at the route from Bedford through London to Brighton we would find additional trains? Well, yes, we now have 14 services going through St Pancras – the extra 3 coming from where – well it appears they originate at St Albans.

Still a few short of the Department’s statement of 24 trains in each direction.

Well, that went well.

Before anyone comments – yes I am being selective in my choice of data, but if someone tells me there will be 24 trains per hour in each direction at peak times, then I will look at the timetable peak times, and count trains. I did pick a major London station, at the heart of the Thameslink Programme too.

Thameslink can be considered a success, but the descriptions used by its proponents ought perhaps to be reconsidered. One classic statement made by Danny Alexander, at te time Chief Secretary to the Treasury is fascinating:

“This £38 billion programme starting this week will involve the largest modernisation of the railways since Victorian times, funding projects across the whole of the UK and building on the work that is already underway to give us the modern efficient transport infrastructure that we need to compete.”

Yet another one of those “largest investments since Victorian times” – which patently is absurd.

However, unless you choose to use one of those online ticketing apps/services, or the “National Rail Enquiries” website, and do a lot of digging, finding a timetable can be difficult. On top of which GTR/Thameslink has produced timetables in a route by route format, so you will need to download, or move to a cloud platform that PDF copy for reference. I don’t advocate printing a copy off, but maybe the train operating companies could come up with a version of their timetables for all of the routes they operate in one document.

Next stop – trying to find out where the £38 billion has been spent over the past 5 years – Network Rail’s elements seem fairly easy to uncover, but how do we apportion the TOC’s and ROSCO’s spends.

PS: I’ve not added up the mileage of electrification yet – 850 seems a lot – I’m speculating that that was track miles and not route miles!

-oOo-

Freight on Rail in the UK

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Back in October 2013, Network Rail published a report entitled “Long Term Planning Process: Freight Market Study”, and in the opening remarks of its summary stated:

“The Freight Network Study sets out the rail industry’s priorities for enhancing the rail freight network, so it is fit for the future. The dominant issue is the need to create capacity on the network. This will enable it to serve the future needs of the rail freight market, ensuring the sector remains competitive and expands.”

One of the objectives of this forward view seems to have been to “reduce road congestion” – great idea.  Given both the speed and weight (44 tonnes) of HGV lorries on Britain’s roads – especially trunk and ‘A’ class roads, that’s got to be included too – yes?

Some of the internal statistics from the DfT and ORR make interesting comparisons with figures produced by Eurostat too, and whilst in general, this is an optimistic view, strict comparisons are difficult.  More importantly perhaps it stated that the overriding need was to create more capacity in the network, to cope with the projected increased market share with the internal road network.  These priorities were defined as:

  • Increasing the future capacity of the network – to enable more trains to operate
  • Enhancing its capability – to make more efficient use of the rail freight network.

This interesting little graph shows the tonne-km of freight trains in the UK, showing the result after 30+ years, is that freight tonne-km, are slightly ahead of where they were in 1980:

Network Rail stats for freight moved

The second graph in comparison shows the volume of freight carried – no international through services, just internal workings.  However, compared to the previous chart, you could say this was less positive.

Longer distances, but lighter weights perhaps.

Tonnes Lifted

In 2015, the Government published its “Road Investment Strategy”, which included this interesting quote:

“It is, however, important that we continue to invest across the tranport system as a whole, with the aim of enabling more choice and smoother journeys for all.

Road and rail, for instance, can often offer different options for passengers and freight.”

In its introduction, the Executive Summary indicates that 70% of freight travels by road in the UK, on a handful of principal arterial routes and motorways, whilst at the same time indicating that road congestion is an enormous cost to hauliers.  Actually, the % share of net road freight tonne/kilometres is more than that, and taking the DfT/ORR/ONS statistics from https://www.gov.uk/government/statistical-data-sets/rai04-rail-freight#table-rai0401 and comparing road and rail with the total movements over the years from 1996 to 2016, it is 88%. The greatest share achieved by rail freight during that period occurred between 2013 and 2015, when the rail freight industry’s share reached the dizzy heights of 15%, or 22.7 billion net tonne/km.

At the same time, there has been little or no investment in rail freight, and intermodal services are essentially static, with little development beyond a comparison with the 1970s “Liner Train” concept and services. Of course, there will be isolated examples of improvements to intermodal services, such as that envisaged for the “Exeter Science Park”.  This extract from the Government strategy document makes an interesting observation:

“Improvements to the SRN are also designed to bring economic benefits to the local area and wider region. For instance, a new junction arrangement on the A30, near M5 Junction 29, substantially enlarged junction capacity and opened up access to the Exeter and East Devon Growth Point. This is a strategic development targeted at driving economic growth and prosperity in the area, which includes the Exeter Science Park and Skypark business developments. Taken together, these developments are expected to create more than 10,000 jobs and generate £450 million in private sector investment, as well as featuring an intermodal freight and distribution facility. The improvements to the A30 were delivered by Devon County council, in partnership with the Highways Agency.”

The “intermodal freight and distribution facility” mentioned is nowhere to be seen on the Exeter and East Devon Growth Point web site, and only referred to in a Devon Council briefing paper 8 years earlier.

But, a comparison, however rough, between freight carried by rail and the charts below – based on ORR/ONS data clearly show a wide disparity between rail and road, and an unsustainable future for road freight at these volumes.

On the basis of these two charts, it seems that freight lifted by road has increased at a greater rate than that lifted by rail, although the distance moved has perhaps not increased at the same rate. Are the roads just carrying heavier loads over the same distances?

Over the 10 years from 2006 to 2016, freight lifted by road peaked in 2007/8, as did the distance moved, and whilst it did pick up a little from 2009, it has never reached the previous levels. At the same time, rail freight has basically remained static, and even reduced significantly since 2014/15.

The suggestion contained in the Government’s “Road Investment Strategy”, that 70% of freight is transported in and across the UK by road is a significant underestimate. Back at the beginning of November 2018, Stephen Glaister, chair of the Office of Rail and Road, was keen to outline that reform of the ORR, Highways England and Transport Focus is achieving success, going so far as to state:

“Broadly, I would judge that the reform has been a success. Crucially, the budget for RIS1 has fended off raids in a way it probably would not have done under the old regime.”

 

Under its latest plans, the road network has adopted the railways’ own 5-year planning methodology, but it does appear on the evidence so far, that there is, and will be little or no change in improving rail freight services in the UK. 2019 may be a watershed year for many reasons, but if the lack of expansion of intermodal, or investment and support for the rail freight industry, the outlook appears grim

By 2017/18, the total goods lifted by rail was down to only 75 million tonnes annually, and according to ORR estimates, represented less than 5% of total freight moved. On that basis, with little or no investment in the likes of intermodal and road-rail interchange facilities, whether at ports, or other locations, it seems that rail represents little by way of a economic options for growth.

Just 3 days into 2019, PD Ports issued a press statement with this eyecatching headline:

“Short sighted vision for Northern Freight Rail threatens UK economic growth”

As the Northern Powerhouse continues to wither on the vine, and rail improvements fail to materialise, the Government is being taken to task over its complete failure to include any rail freight proposition to connect Leeds and Manchester. So, two of the biggest economic centres in the north have little or no rail freight improvement in the pipeline.

Just over 4 years ago, a £3million+ intermodal facility was opened at Teesport, and PD Ports has seen its customers choosing to use intermodal platforms, with a “significant modal shift” continuing. Perhaps the most telling comment made by this port operator is this:

“There is a significant demand from our customers to be able to move freight east to west through this Northern corridor allowing shorter distances to be covered by rail. Without a viable alternative route for rail freight with the necessary capacity and gauge, the growth we are experiencing will be limited and at risk of reducing due to transport restrictions.”

In addition then to the lack of investment in rail freight generally, there is a very considerable difference in any economic strategy to enable the oft-quoted “Northern Powerhouse” to actually fulfil its aspirations. What is needed is action.

-oOo-

 

 

 

 

 

Electrification 1970s v 21st Century

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Back in 1974, British Rail completed a major electrification between Crewe and Glasgow, and introduced a new timetable on 6th May that year.  This project was planned back in the mid 1950s, with the modernisation plan, which also included both the West and  East Coast routes.  Until 1966, when the London Euston to Manchester and Liverpool was completed, cash strapped BR was forced to delay the East Coast route, but in only 8 years the remaining length of the West Coast was completed.

BR Elec News 1974Today – or rather back in 2013 – work began on electrifying the railway between London Paddington and Cardiff, and planned for completion by 2018, a distance of just 145 miles, and now it has been put back to 2024.  The decision to electrify the line was taken in 2009 by the Dept for Transport, but it was beset with management/organisational problems almost from the word go, and the National Audit Office made some critical observations. Some of these were directed at Network Rail, but equally at the DfT, inckuding this little observation in its 2016 reportModernising the Great Western Railway“:

“The Department did not produce a business case bringing together all the elements of what became the Great Western Route Modernisation industry programme until March 2015. This was more than two years after ordering the trains and over a year after Network Rail began work to electrify the route.”

Comparing what was achieved in 1974, with the electrification work of major trunk routes like Glasgow to Preston and Crewe, to connect with the existing WCML wires, the time to complete this quite short route seems excessive.   The cost so far is over £5 billion, and whilst some of that is infrastructure, some includes of course the new ‘bi-mode’ trains.

Headspan Catenary Crewe to Carlisle 1973British Rail electrified 200 miles from Weaver Junction to Gretna, and Glasgow Central in just 8 years.  But it wasn’t just electrification back then, since there was considerable rebuilding and remodelling of trackwork, raising or replacing bridges, and resignalling throughout from London to Glasgow.  The overall cost was £74 million in 1970s prices, or approximately £1 billion today.

Another publication from BR at the time was “Electric All The Way”, which included these interesting comments relating to service improvements to and from Preston:

“The new pattern of services between London and Glasgow introduced on May 6 1974, provides passengers travelling to and from stations between Carlisle and Warrington on the newly electrified portion of the Anglo-Scottish route with more high-speed trains. Preston-Glasgow services have more than doubled, from seven to 15 daily, with an average reduction in journey time of almost one hour.  Preston-London trains have been increasedfrom 12 to 19.”

“Faster journey times and improved connections at Oxenholme for Windermere make the Lake District more easily accessible from all centres on the electrified route.”

So how many high-speed trains from Preston to Glasgow today, and how many southbound?

The introduction of the “Electric Scots” also saw the arrival of Britain’s most powerful AC electric locomotives – the Class 87.  Built by BREL workshops, and powered by GEC Traction equipment.

Class 87 at Preston copy

Class 87 at Preston in original 1970s livery

RPBRLY-8 copy

Out of use at Crewe, Class 87 in final BR livery

10 years later work began on electrifying the East Coast Main Line from Kings Cross to Edinburgh, which was completed in 1992, also completed in 8 years – clearly building on the experience and skills gained on the West Coast.  Some sections of the East Coast route were actually completed 12 months earlier than planned – London Kings Cross to Leeds for example.

Here again, the ECML saw the introduction of a nother new form of high-speed motive power, this time from the GEC Traction stable, and codenamed “Electra”, the Class 91 marked perhaps the zenith of British electric traction design.

gec076 copyWhy can’t we organise this as effectively today as happened in the 1970s and 1980s?  

Interesting Reads:

 

 

 

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

-oOo-

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.

-oOo-

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

-oOo-