Hydrogen Power for a Shunter

Standard

In the 1930s, the English Electric Co. were busy designing and building diesel engines for railways – mostly around the former British colonies, but the impact of the economic depression had Britain’s railways looking for efficiency – especially for use on shunting operations.  But English Electric had for some years been at the heart of technology innovation and development and had been trying to persuade the more conservative railway operators to look to the future.

The company developed a diesel-electric version of the classic 0-6-0 steam shunting locomotive, powered by a 6-cylinder diesel – or as the press referred to it an ‘oil-engine’ – to sell the idea to either the LMS, GWR, LNER or Southern railways.  The LMS was first out of the blocks and with English Electric as the engine supplier, with Derby constructing the mechanical parts, they embarked on an ambitious project to tap into the benefits of diesel power for shunting work.  They were followed by the GWR and Southern Railway, and the latter followed the English Electric power plant path, whilst the GWR had opted for a variety, including Davey Paxman engines.

20 years after the first LMS shunters began to appear in the early 1930s, in 1953, British Railways placed orders for what became the standard shunting locomotive – the 350hp, or Class 08 type.  Hundreds of these were built, mainly at Derby, Crewe, Darlington, Doncaster and Horwich Works with a pair of d.c. traction motors driving the wheels, which were linked by coupling rods, exactly as a steam loco would have been.  Ultimately, 996 of these 0-6-0 shunters were constructed at the railway works – some were built at English Electric’s works in Preston, and Vulcan Foundry at Newton-Le-Willows (mainly for Netherlands Railways).

A classic shot of sister loco to the Harrier Project shunter – D3615 was built the year before 08635, at Darlington Works in 1958. Here seen with its original number, but with the curiously small letter ‘D’ prefix. Photo: RPB/GEC Traction Collection

At nationalisation in 1948, British Railways inherited a motley collection of 60 of the 0-6-0 diesel shunters – 46 from the LMS, 7 from the GWR, 4 from the LNER and 3 from the Southern. Of these all, bar one had an English Electric 6KT diesel engine and traction motors, and that exception was the 1934 Armstrong Whitworth built loco, with a Paxman engine and a mechanical drive through jackshafts from its single traction motor.

Hydrogen Transformation

The Harrier HydroShunter project to convert locomotive from diesel to hydrogen traction will take ex BR Class 08 shunter No. 08635 and remove the English Electric engine and generators, to be replaced by a hydrogen fuel cell stack and battery, as a hybrid installation.  The project is unique and involves the University of Birmingham, Vanguard Sustainable Transport Solutions, and the Severn Valley Railway.

08635 inside the shed at Kidderminster being prepared for its new power unit.

It’s a brilliant idea, and if successful could pave the way for similar replacements at home and abroad, and whilst passenger trains for commuter services have seen similar projects highlighted, such as the conversion of Class 314 for the “Hydroflex” train, this has perhaps just as wide ranging potential.  Following the earlier projects, the traction system being designed by Vanguard at the University of Birmingham, this hybrid system will consist of a hydrogen cylinders, a fuel stack where the electricity is generated and a battery.

The loco was formerly D3802, built at Derby in December 1959, and renumbered in January 1974 and withdrawn from BR service in December 1981.  It is currently at the SVR’s Kidderminster diesel depot, and the team of volunteers have removed the diesel engine and generator, and have been busy renovating and overhauling other key components.  The SVR had to hire a 100-tonne crane to lift the diesel engine out of the shunter, and the work is now well underway to achieve trials later in 2021. 

The new power unit includes pressurised hydrogen stored in cylinders for supplying to the fuel cell stack via a regulating device, oxygen from the atmosphere will then be mixed, and electricity generated and delivered to the loco’s traction motors.  The battery will also be charged by the fuel cell stack, to provide energy reserves as and when needed.  The existing traction motors, controls and final drive is being retained, with the new equipment fitted to a new sub-frame, which in turn is mounted to the existing engine-generator mounting points.

Lifting the English Electric 6KT engine and generator unit out of the housing of 08635, outside the workshop at Kidderminster on the Severn Valley Railway. Photo: Phil Seymour

Of course, with the hydrogen fuel-cell power, emissions are zero compared to the old diesel engine, and it has been suggested that there will be a reduction in maintenance costs of possibly 50%, which if it is successful could see many more similar retrofit projects.  Although, whilst we may be at the start of a new era in terms of non-electrified traction, as the fuel cell technology evolves, it may be that larger locomotives could see similar replacements.  This might not see huge numbers in countries where expenditure on electrification has been significant, but in other countries, where funds are lower, it could provide opportunities – providing the capital costs are also low.

There are of course some disadvantages to hydrogen as a fuel, mostly in terms of the way it is produced, and its storage – according to one source (https://www.theengineer.co.uk/comment-hydrogen-trains-uk/ ).  “Firstly, hydrogen storage is bulky. Even at 350bar, the volume of fuel needed is eight times that of Diesel.”  The author goes on to state that that could be a problem for long haul freight services, and would be unsuitable for high-speed rail, on account of the amount of electrical energy required, and the losses developed in the power unit.  But, it is being considered for some types of rail passenger service, in order to remove the dependence in rural area on diesel multiple units.

It will be fascinating to see this project completed, and what might develop over the next few years, and whether the technology does play a part in maintaining the railway’s place as a sustainable mode of transport.

Useful Links:

HYDROGEN POWER FOR SCOTTISH RAIL IN 2021?

UK’s first hydrogen train makes mainline debut

Vanguard Projects

Severn Valley Railway   

Heritage railway joins forces to build a locomotive for the future

Birmingham Centre for Railway Research

Hybrid Battery Trains for Amtrak

Standard

Siemens Mobility have just been awarded a $3.4 billion contract for 73 of the new Venture 4-car trains for the Northeast Corridor, with the first deliveries due in 2024, and included in that order are 15 diesel-battery hybrids, 50 are electro-diesels, with the remainder EPA4 compliant diesels. But this contract also includes technical support along with design and construction.

Sometimes from our position in Europe we simply see the USA as the home of the automobile, and gas guzzling muscle cars, and so depndent on road transport. But, it is true to say that these days, sustainability in rail transport is driving the modernisation programmes there, and this latest project clearly indicates the commitment to carbon emissions reduction for the long term. This is Siemens largest ever North American contract, includes maintenance and monitoring services, together with the potential for another 140 of these trains, and additional maintenance contracts.

What are they? Well, Amtrak is following a brief to operate the most sustainable and efficient trains on the market, which include dual powered and hybrid battery vehicles. Amtrak has without doubt transformed passenger rail travel in the USA over its 50 year history, and has had its share of ups and downs along the way, but these trains will include ‘American made equipment’.

The video below shows the Amtrak Siemens Venture test train at Hammon, Indiana 0n the 25th January 2021, where the difference when compared to a Heritage Fleet car in the consist can be clearly seen.

They are based on the well known Siemens Viaggio series of passenger coaches, operated in Austria, Switzerland, Czech Republic, Israel, Russia, and Florida. In the USA they were purchased by the first privately owned and operated main line railway since Amtrak was formed in the 1970s – AAF (“All Aboard Florida”). This subsequently became Virgin Trains USA, and most recently as Brightline Trains.

The new trains will operate along the Northeast Corridor and across various state-supported routes, including operations in Maine, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington. With expanded capacity and the ability to shorten trip time, Amtrak expects the new trains will add over 1.5 million riders annually.

Amtrak’s CEO Bill Flynn was full of praise for the new trains, and commented:

“These new trains will reshape the future of rail travel by replacing our aging 40-to- 50-year old fleet with state-of-the-art, American-made equipment.”

“This investment is essential to preserving Northeast Regional and state- supported services for the future and will allow our customers to travel comfortably and safely, while reducing carbon emissions.”

It is expected that the first of the new trains will enter service in 2024, followed in 2025 by testing of the first Venture Hybrid battery train, and overall, the current contract should see trains delivered to the NEC and the other state supported routes on track between 2024 and 2030. The trains will be manufactured at Siemens Mobility’s manufacturing facility in Sacramento, California and will comply with the Federal Railroad Administration Buy America Standards.

Of course, it’s also Amtrak’s 50th Birthday this year – Happy Birthday Amtrak!

Amtrak Downeaster – Rollingsford, NH – Amtrak 681 AMTK 46 90220

Further reading:

Or, maybe read the story of the first decade or two here:

-oOo-

Almost Re-Nationalisation?

Standard

Well, well, the media have had a spectacular day today, observing and commenting on this radical reform of the railways – a new public body to oversee the running of the track, signalling, train control, stations, timetables, and ticketing, etc., etc.   Then they will be managing the awarding of contracts to train operating companies, to provide train services to those schedules – not to mention the exciting new multi-faceted tickets that (a) can be bought on the day of travel, and (b) offer greater flexibility to meet the UK’s new working arrangements.

Hmm – I guess at some point the ORR (Office of Rail & Road) will be involved in oversight too, and then up to the Transport Secretary – well done Grant Schapps.  Just a pity it took so long to start getting the rail house in order.  But who owns the trains?  Will the TOCs still lease the trains – new and old – from the ROSCo’s through the banks and investment houses?

It will be interesting to see how this develops…

Even The Guardian (to be fair they published their story on the 16th May) gets in on the act:

Huffington Post …

The broadcasters have been covering it too, even the BBC.  But this is probably going to be interesting, with the private sector’s track record and heavy subsidies, the Government’s planned budget cut may not get this new ‘arms length body’ off to a good start.  This is all part of the Williams Review – due out as a ‘White Paper’ today (Thursday) – will, like the much re-written and reviewed report, also be delayed?

The essence of this latest upheaval on the railways, which – implied if not admitted – is a failure of the whole episode of privatisation begun under John Major’s stewardship.  This is though only part nationalisation – which industry people have been calling for over many years – and the most recent impacts of the timetabling fiasco, and Northern Rail’s nightmare years have led to equally strident calls from the travelling public.

Manchester and Transport for the North have each clearly welcomed the proposal

The mainstream media have been obsessed with the introduction of Carnet style ticketing systems, which in this case amounts to a digital ticket for 8 trips in 28 days, with no pre-booking of days that you will travel.  At least one UK TOC has been offering these already, but as a physical book of single trip tickets – a sort of voucher arrangement – this latest idea is of course paperless.  Since the details of the operation of Great British Railways (GBR) have yet to be fully finalised, there is scope for a ticketing App disaster perhaps too.

That said, I believe it’s a step in the right direction, as so very clearly is brining the whole of the infrastructure and scheduling of train services under one management system. Except obviously for train operation, maintenance and maybe on-train catering, and the ownership and provision of rolling stock.

The official view:

Watch this space.

-oOo-

From Barrow-in-Furness to Alice Springs

Standard

There is a famous rail route that runs over 1,800 miles from Adelaide / Port Augusta in South Australia to Darwin in the Northern Territory by way of the equally world-renowned town of Alice Springs.  The history of railway development in Australia might be described as a patchwork of different shapes, sizes, lengths and ownership, and this route is also home to the “The Ghan Express”, or more commonly “The Ghan”, which has an equally chequered history.

The line was built in various stages between 1879 and 1929 – by which date it had reached Alice Springs – was opened between Port Augusta and Alice Springs as the Central Australian Railway and built to the narrow gauge of 3ft 6ins – thus adding to the country’s complement of rail gauges.  In fact, even before the full route had been opened, the Central had been taken over as a section of the Commonwealth Railways, which was already operating the standard gauge route from Port Augusta to Kalgoorlie.

The story of the line from South to North in Australia is fascinating one, and the line where ‘The Ghan’ operated – and indeed operates to this day as a private company is even more interesting.  But, as I’m sure many of us will remember from school geography, the continent of Australia is very dry, and posed many problems for steam train operations – especially on this route – so it was something of a blessing when diesel traction arrived.

In this example, which is one of international co-operation, no less than three separate companies were involved in the design and construction of 13 diesel locomotives for freight and mixed traffic duties.  The power units were supplied from Barrow-in-Furness, on the south-western extremity of the English Lake District, from Vickers Armstrong’s engineering works, and electrical equipment from AEI in the midlands, with the whole package put together by Tulloch in Australia.

General Design & Ordering

The basic design of these locomotives was a joint effort between Sulzer in the UK and SLM in Switzerland, with the overall operational needs laid down by Australia’s Commonwealth Railways to run on the 3ft 6ins gauge line from Port Augusta to Alice Springs.  The locos needed to operate in a harsh environment, with a hot dry climate and temperatures that exceeded 100 deg F for days on end, and frequent sand and dust storms.  On top of this they needed to run on lightweight track – 60lbs/yard – with demanding curves in places.


The effect of the weight of the locomotive and train speeds demanded particular consideration with the bogie design to minimise rail stress, and the effect of bogie movement and axle loads.  Compared with the ‘Zambesi’ design delivered around the same time, the NT Class was some 12tons lighter.

The order for three locomotives was placed in 1964, and many aspects of the design, including the power unit were based on an design that Sulzer-AEI had already supplied to Africa for the Nyasaland and Trans-Zambesia Railway in 1962/3.  In March 1964, Nigeria placed an order for 29 of the same ‘Zambesi’ design, again using the same Sulzer 6LDA power unit, which was the heart of the NT Class design ordered from Sulzer in the same year.

Leading Dimensions

Structural Details

The bodies of these locomotives had a very different design and construction than many of the more conventional designs of the day – as a rectangular full width box, the bodysides were created as stressed skin forms, or semi-monocoque.  Fabrication of the assembly used rolled steel sections, covered with sheet steel panels, and to provide the rigidity against deformation, a series of closely spaced vertical pillars and horizontal rails was used.


This provided a fully integral structure, with the bodysides connected by headstocks, bolsters, crossbars, deck plates, and bulkheads separating the cab at one end from the radiator compartment and engine room.  The coupler height was a particular issue with the NT Class and to handle buffing loads of up to 150 tons, a triangular fabrication was installed at each end behind the drawgear.

Immediately behind the cab was a full width 3ins thick bulkhead, heavily insulated, and the door into the engine room was double glazed, to provide protection for the crew from excess noise and heat. The radiators were positioned on either side, with part bulkheads to provide extra stiffness in the body, and similar, part bulkheads were provided at the other end of the engine room, separating the control equipment from the engine and generator.  Beyond these bulkheads was the ‘free’ end of the engine.

In its final form, the cab was placed at the No.2 end of the loco, although there had been some consideration of the design having a cab at each end.  The reason given for the cab at the No.2 end was again to do with the nature of the track it would run on, and having the cab at the No.2 end would make for better weight distribution.  Another interesting departure from the original design in the NT class was that after the first order was delivered, the following two orders and 10 locomotives were built with a body some nine inches wider.

Power Unit

The engine, an uprated version of the 960hp 6LDA28 series fitted into Class NSU locos, was exhaust pressure charged and intercooled, delivering 1,400hp, and running at 800 rpm.  At the time of their construction 4-stroke medium speed engines were commonly used in the UK and many countries, and the Sulzer engines were all built in the Engineering Works of Vickers-Armstrongs in Barrow-in-Furness.  By the time these engines were built in Barrow, the works had already constructed around 1,000 of 6, 8 and 12 cylinder types for British Railways, and of course many for other countries, including the ‘Zambesi’ design for Africa.

For the NT Class though, fitting the engine and generator assembly in the body of the loco really drove the design, since to meet the height requirement specified by the design it was necessary to mount the engine below the deck plating.  This meant that a conventional underframe could not be used, and the loco’s bodysides would be the main load bearing elements, taking both traction forces and equipment loading through cross stretchers.  Hence the stressed skin technique.

The engine itself required major changes to the workplace at the Vickers site in Barrow, and a large proportion of the engineering output there was focussed on building diesel engines, including marine types, along with cement plant, boilers, armaments and equipment for nuclear submarines.  In fact Vickers, Barrow first Sulzer engine order was received in 1947, but in 1955 orders began to be received in large numbers from British Railways, which led to the company creating a separate Traction Division to manage the design, build, testing and inspection of the Sulzer engines.  According to a commemorative brochure to mark the 1,000th engine:

“The manufacture of Sulzer engines can generally be undertaken on general purpose machine tools but specialised techniques have been developed to assist the large scale productions and inspection of these engines. Extensive use is made of jigs and tools to ensure the interchangeability of all finished parts.”

In the 1960s, Vickers, Barrow was a very busy works, and by the time the Australian order for 6LDA Sulzer diesels arrived, they had already built 1,000 of the Sulzer LDA design.  The power unit was used in the earlier A1A-A1A locos built for Commonwealth Railways over a decade earlier. 

Cross section of Sulzer 6LDA24 engine
Photo: RPB Collection

As a 4-stroke design, Sulzer engines were already easy on fuel, but for the Australian order, the ‘Zambesi’ variant provided lower fuel consumption, and showed good consumption over the full working range.  The cylinder block was described as being “… of the wet liner type …” with a single camshaft on the outside operating the valve gear and fuel injection pumps. Fibre glass inspection panels and a full length steel cover on each side of the engine provided access to fuel pumps and crankcase.  The latter was built from a number of transverse cast steel members welded to mild steel fabricated longitudinal elements.

The engine was completed by being mounted on side girders, fabricated in a box section, and extended at one end to provide a mounting for the generator.  The design and manufacture of the engine provided a significant contribution to reducing the overall weight, and the subsequent impact loading on the lightweight rail used on the narrow gauge networks.   In addition, by comparison with the NSU Class, the new locomotive’s power unit provided some 50% more power, and had been tested to achieve a 1,540hp over 1 hour on test at the Test House in Barrow.

The electrical equipment – generator and 6 traction motors were supplied by AEI.  The generator, an AEI TG 5302W was mounted at the far end of the loco from the cab and connected to the engine with a solid coupling.  The generator armature shaft connected to an auxiliary drive gearbox mounted on the main generator’s end frame of the main generator in a clover leaf format and provided three separate auxiliary drives.  One of these was located vertically above the main generator shaft, the other two below to the left and right respectively.  The auxiliary generator provided power for lighting, control systems and battery charging.

Immediately behind the cab/engine room bulkhead the cooling radiators were sited on either side of the loco, together with the combined fuel, lubricating oil and water pump set.  For cooling the engine only one circuit was used for cooling the engine, lubricating oil and charging air. The advantage claimed by the builders for this simple system was that under all conditions of load the temperature of the engine water, lubricating oil and charging air would be kept at the correct value.  This equipment was supplied by Serck and claimed to provide ample margin for operation under the extreme climate conditions of the line. 

With so few partitions and bulkheads, ventilation of the engine room was an important aspect of keeping operating and maintenance costs low, as well as combating the harsh environment.  The outside air was drawn from the top of the roof at the rear end of the locomotive through an axial flow fan and passed through filters into the engine compartment, effectively providing a positive pressure environment, to exclude fine dust and sand.  Additional air flow was provided via the traction motor blowers.

Running Gear and Transmission

Below decks so to speak, the locomotive body and power unit was carried on a pair of 3 axle bogies.  The bogie proper was a mixture of cast and fabricated components in a design intended to provide a good ride quality, with the metal-to-metal contact elements replaced by in rubber, and other non-metallic materials.   The basic assembly followed the same pattern as the ‘Zambesi’ class for Africa, where rolled mild steel sections and plates were welded into sub-assemblies to form a box-section frame.

Primary springing used helical coil springs between the equalising beams and the bogie frame, with four sandwich rubber units widely spaced providing secondary springing, and hydraulic dampers fitted at each primary spring location.  The secondary springing also reduced the weight transfer during periods when the loco was working hard or exerting higher tractive effort.

A view from the cab of NT76 in December 2019 at Quorn on the Pichi Richi Railway heritage line.         Photo: © Chris Carpenter

The bogies of course carried the clasp type brake gear, and this was operated by Australian Westinghouse air-brake system, and followed standard Commonwealth Railways practices.  Another weight saving aspect of the design was the aluminium fuel tank, which was “U” shaped in order to allow space to fit the inter-bogie control mechanism.  This latter’s purpose was designed to reduce the wear on tyre flanges when running through tight curves, by ensuring the wheels were at the best angle to the rail.  This assembly consisted of a pair of yoke arms, running on rollers supported by a body mounted bracket, with the yoke arms on each bogie were connected by a coupling.  The braking system on the new NT Class was pretty standard for the 1960s, with clasp type tread brakes and rigging, operated by Australian Westinghouse supplied air-brakes.

Each bogie carried three AEI Type 253AZ 149hp traction motors driving each axle, in the conventional nose suspended, axle hung arrangement.  Again, these were the same as fitted to the ‘Zambesi’ design – 4-pole, series wound, and with 3 pairs permanent connected in series, with three stages of field weakening.  The final drive to the wheels was achieved using a pinion on the motor shaft driving the axle mounted solid spur gear wheel with a ratio of 92/19, and the whole assembly was enclosed in a sheet steel casing.

Overall control is electro-pneumatic, with the relays/switches located in the control cubicle at the ‘B’ end of the locomotive providing the operation of the different stages of traction motor field weakening.  The cubicle was effectively sealed from the rest of the engine/generator compartment and supplied with air taken from the traction motor blowers, at a slightly higher pressure. 

In the cab of an NT – the AEI ‘standard’ pedestal controller, air-brake and various gauges seen in this view.           Photo: © Chris Carpenter

The output from the engine to the main generator used a hydraulic load regulator, linked to the engine governor, and an 18 notch master controller, mounted in a pedestal style in the cab regulated the engine speed and power.  The train crew were provided with a range of visual and audible alarms for earth faults, wheel slip, high water temperature and low oil pressures, amongst other alarms.

The NT Class were equipped to operate in multiple, and up to three locos could be coupled together and driven from one cab, whilst it was also possible to operate in multiple with the earlier NSU Class A1A-A1A design.  It was claimed at the time of their introduction that, at 1400hp, they were the most powerful diesel locos for their weight anywhere in the world.


Numbering & Operations


NT Class No. 73, together with the predecessor design, the NSU, No. 59 – also Sulzer powered – photographed here at Maree, north of The Flinders Range on 30th September 1980.  Maree was the end point of the standard gauge line, completed in 1957.  Eight years after this photo was taken, NT73 was scrapped at Port Lincoln.       Photo Courtesy: Jeremy Browne / Pichi Richie Railway

The first order for the three new NT Class locos was driven by increased passenger and freight traffic, and as a result Commonwealth Railways placed its order for a locomotive type with Tulloch Ltd of Rhodes, Sydney.  The design needed to be innovative because of the quite badly laid 3ft 6ins gauge tracks of the Central Australia Railway.  The first three were set to work on the section of line between Maree and Alice Springs.   

Overall, at first glance, the orders for the NT Class appear quite haphazard – the first 3 in 1964, then an order for 3 more in 1966, and a final order for 7 in 1968, bringing the total to 13.  The second order was placed to meet an expected increase in iron ore traffic from the Frances Creek mine on the Northern Australia Railway, and as the tonnage taken out of the Frances Creek mine continued to increase the third order was placed.

The first of the new 1400hp diesels was delivered to the Central Railway for service on the demanding route through the Flinders Range mountains between Port Augusta, Maree, Oodnadatta and Alice Springs.  When NT65 was delivered in April 1965, it was decided to name the first of the class after the then Transport Minister- Gordon Freeth – and it remained the only named example of diesels on this route.

NT65 to NT67 were delivered from the Tulloch Works on standard gauge transfer bogies to Broken Hill, where the 3ft 6ins gauge bogies were fitted, and working initially from Quorn, through the Pichi Richie Pass to Port Augusta.  In addition to passenger traffic, the coalfields to the northwest of the Flinders Range provide significant freight traffic, and where before a pair of the older NSU diesels would be used, the same working would need only a single NT.

The same process was followed for delivery of the remaining locomotives between 1966 and 1968, and, given that the standard gauge route to Alice Springs was by then in operation, the NTs destined for the Northern Railway were shipped overland from Alice.  This involved removing the NTs bogies, and carrying the three new locos on low loaders across country along the Stuart Highway.

The second order for three more NT class locos were sent to the Northern Railway, which were joined by another five from the third order.  The remaining two NTs were retained for duties on the Central Railway.  The final seven were all intended for the Northern, as the output of iron ore continued to grow rapidly, and which led to the transfer of one of the  class on the Central – NT67 – as a temporary measure. 

In 1971 the Central was again seeing some new motive power – the Clyde built NJ Class locos, which allowed for the remaining NTs to be sent to the Northern, where they saw out their final years.

The Northern Railway was just over 300 miles long from Darwin to Birdum, but no connection to Alice Springs.  In the south, services operated over the Central Railway consisted of passenger and freight, running from Port Augusta to Maree, on to Oodnadaata and finally Alice Springs, a distance of over 770 miles.  

Iron ore from the Frances Creek was at the heart of a very serious accident, with no fewer than four NT Class engines involved on 4th November 1972, and which led to the loss of three complete locomotives, and damage to the fourth.

The Darwin Accident

This was the Northern Territory’s worst rail accident and involved four NT Class locos, and this recorded quote provides an interesting description:

“Just after 5am on a November morning in 1972, a train fully loaded with iron ore crashed into a stationary train at Darwin’s Frances Bay rail yards. One railway official said, “I never saw anything like it. I ran down there expecting to be pulling bodies out of the wreckage.” But incredibly, there were no casualties, even among the crew of the runaway train, who had realised it was out of control and jumped out in time. However the accident destroyed over $1 million worth track and rolling stock.”

Source: https://www.caddiebrain.com/post/rail-accident

The locos involved were NT68, 70, 71 and 75.  NT70, 71 and 75 were written off after the accident, and although NT68 survived, it survived only another 6 years in service, and was scrapped in 1978.

In 1911 the Northern and Central Railways were owned by the Commonwealth Railways, and operated as Commonwealth Railways since 1926, and 50 years later – a decade after NT65’s arrival – four were operating on the Central and the remaining nine on the Northern, all subsequently became assets of Australian National.

This was the scene in the aftermath of the runaway train at Darwin on 4th November 1972 – three of the Class NTs were written off straight away, and a fourth having sustained ‘minor damage’ just a few years later.  Thankfully and amazingly nobody was injured in what was the Northern Australia Railways’ worst accident.  Photo: Library & Archives NT https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

For the NT Class locos it could be argued, their time was almost up before they were put to work, since with the closure of Central Railway in sections from 1957 to 1972, the majority of ‘narrow gauge’ workings took place in the Northern Territory.   All of the NT Class were transferred north in the 1970s, but not for more than a few years, until 1976.

By 1976 the Northern Railway was closed, leaving NT’s redundant, and with the closure of the vestiges of the 3ft 6ins route from Alice Springs to Maree in 1981, there was nowhere for them to go.  Except, there were still trains to haul on the Eyre Peninsula Railway, in what became South Australia’s Port Lincoln Division.  The remaining NT’s were joined there by the six newer NJ Class that were delivered to the Central Australia line from 1971.

Preservation

The preserved NT Class No. NT76 on the Pichie Richie Railway, still fully operational and in excellent condition – not bad for a 53 years old loco!     
 Photo Courtesy: Jeremy Browne / Pichi Richi Railway

One of the NT Class locomotives has been rescued and preserved on the Pichi Richi Railway.  NT76 was officially withdrawn in 1989, and is now operational on this heritage railway, along with an older sibling from the NSU Class.  The Pichi Richi Railway has its headquarters at Quorn and operates through the Pichi Richi pass in the Flinders Range down to Port Augusta.

So we know of at least one Barrow-in-Furness built Sulzer diesel engine that is still operational – some 12,000 miles away – and approaching its 60th birthday on the picturesque and dramatic line that was home to the original “Ghan Express”.

Useful & Essential Links

Acknowledgement

I am indebted to the Pichi Richi Railway, Jeremy Browne, Julian Sharp and Chris Carpenter for additional information, and some excellent images whilst researching this small offering on what you could say was a tenuous connection between Barrow-in-Furness and Alice Springs.  The vastness of the Australian interior, and the amazing work of the people who designed, built and completed the railway across the continent was matched by the diesel engines, train crew and everyone involved in operating a railway in such a hostile environment.  Thankyou.

Brush Traction No More?

Standard

According to the media today, Wabtec has announced it is to close its Brush Traction plant at Loughborough. So now the UK has lost just about all of its links with the industry that it began over 150 years ago.

Click on the image above to read about the Brush Type 4 (Class 47)

We have seen North British, Vulcan Foundry, English Electric AEI Traction, Metropolitan-Vickers, Hunslet, Andrew Barclay, Metro-Cammell, and many, many more companies disappear. Yes, I know about Hitachi and Siemens – and the irony that English Electric, and later GEC Traction traced their ancestry back to William Siemens, but really, is the name Brush Traction now about to disappear for good?

Wabtec bought Brush Traction just 10 years ago, and a press release at the time included this statement:

“With its focus on the locomotive aftermarket, Brush Traction is a strategic complement to our Wabtec Rail unit in Doncaster, England, which offers mainly transit car refurbishment. The company has expertise in high-speed rail, strong engineering capabilities, a highly skilled work force and a long-standing reputation for quality.”

Brush Electrical Engineering, and Brush Traction traces its ancestry back to 1889, when the Anglo American Brush Electric Light Corporation acquired the assets of the Falcon Engine and Car Works and merged their activities at Loughborough, England. The Falcon Works had been set up as a new business in 1882, which replaced the Hughes’s Locomotive and Tramway Engine Works Ltd, which started building vehicles from a seven acre site, including coaches, wagons and horse-drawn tramcars from around 1865.

One of the early BR diesels were the Brush Type 2 series, as seen here in its original colours at Blackpool Shed. Photo (c) Frank Dean

So, the Falcon Works in Loughborough had a long and distinctive history, and as Brush Electrical Machines the company designed and manufactured some of the most well known locomotives for main line passenger, freight, transfer and shunting duties and also supplied power and control equipment for all types of traction applications. In recent times these include a “who’s who” list of equipment for British Railways and British Rail, alongside the Euroshuttle locomotives used on the Channel Tunnel.

As a business, they survived from 1889 to 2011, with a brief period under the Hawker Siddeley Group – which has also now disappeared. This is a sad day in the life of the UK’s railway and manufacturing industry, as the site is being closed down. What remains of today’s activities, and the 80 staff will continue, just not at the old Falcon Works.

The original Euroshuttle locomotives were kitted out with Brush electrical equipment. Photo: RPBradley Collection

So what next for the Loughborough site? Or will this be the end of manufacturing for the railway industry in the area.

Well, actually, not according to the latest reports, the staff are moving out of town, to Ashby, a few miles away in north west Leicestershire, and there will be no redundancies. The Falcon Works site will close, and Brush Transformers will still continue in business at the Nottingham Road development, close to Loughborough’s mainland railway station.

Useful Links:

The iconic gable end of the Brush Falcon Works – a clearly visible landmark – but for how long? CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=762269

Will Eurostar Survive?

Standard

35 years ago in February 1986, UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher signed the Canterbury Treaty with French President Francois Miterrand, and this began the joint construction and operation of the Channel Tunnel. Equally important was the Concession Agreement, signed a month later in March 1986, which provided France Manche and the Channel Tunnel Group with the responsibility for construction and operation of the Channel Tunnel. This agreement ends in 2086.

Back in the 1990s the UK was still planning the route into London from the tunnel, to connect into the much larger European high-speed rail network as shown in this map from a BRB Report in 1993:

Today, ironically perhaps, Eurostar the passenger train operating company, are in the headlines again, with a plea to the UK Government for support, and potential collapse unless funding is made available, since passenger numbers have fallen by 95% due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Quite why Eurostar should seek government funding support in the UK is a mystery, since under PM David Cameron, the UK involvement was sold off to a financial investment group including Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec, and Federated Hermes from Pittsburgh, USA. French national railways, SNCF retain 55% ownership, and Belgian Railways, SNCB 5%.

This was the headline in yesterday’s Guardian:

Click on the above image to read the story.

In the UK, the Eurostar services only operate to London, as previous options and recommendations to run to UK regional city hubs like Manchester and Leeds were ruled out by previous UK governments. Whilst the present health crisis remains the greatest challenge for passenger traffic, almost all rail traffic in the UK is heavily subsidised, and it is unlikely now that the UK has sold its interest in Eurostar, there will be any support forthcoming.

In Paris too, the French Government appear reluctant to provide further support, and despite its limited extent in the UK, Eurostar carried 11 million passengers in 2019, with, as is noted in the press, plans to expand cross-channel and international services further. That is obviously on hold at the moment – but could it become permanent.

Freight traffic is impacted both by the Covid-19 crisis and Brexit “teething troubles”, although it may become a greater benefit to the UK economy as a whole over time, for export and import of goods, as the changes to regulations and restrictions are implemented. Maybe we could see a return of greater volumes of freight traffic to compensate for reduced passenger traffic between Britain and Mainland Europe, but the present crisis has certainly highlighted more than one transport challenge.

-oOo-

Further reading:

Update!

France says Eurostar will get French and UK aid to ensure its future

Changing Face of Amtrak’s North East Corridor – and a New Acela

Standard

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-

Useful Links & Further Reading

A New Blue Pullman?

Standard

How do you turn an HST into a Blue Pullman?  Well, it seems you repaint power cars 43055 and 43046, together with 7 coaches and a kitchen car (41176, 41108, 41162, 41059, 40801, 41182, 41169 and 44078) in the original ‘Nanking Blue’ livery, and send it off on a number of journeys to mark the 60th anniversary of the arrival of the original ‘Blue Pullman’ in 1960.

The first run was due to take place on Saturday 12th December from St Pancras to Crewe, with fare paying passengers on the restored HST set.

This image immediately below shows the restored set passing Eastleigh Arlington on the 9th December passing Eastleigh working the 5Z44 Eastleigh Arlington to Crewe. 

LSL_Blue_Pullman_43055_&_43046_(50699274803) copy

Photo: CA850 CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=97770261

I have to say, it does look pretty good in its new colours, which enhance the original HST/IC 125 design – but you decide, the image below is of one of the earliest HSTs as they were known.

HST set at speed in Sonning Cutting heading west from Paddington in 1974. Photo: BRB/RPBradley Collection

This is the original ‘Blue Pullman’ set, clean out of Metro-Cammell’s works in Birmingham, albeit minus the Pullman logo on the nose.

Click on the image below to read more about the original ‘Blue Pullman’ sets:

More details about the repainted and restored HST set can be found here:

There are now 13 scheduled trips with the ‘New Midland Pullman’ scheduled for 2021, and 11 of these have already sold out, but detaiuls of the remaining trips for next year can be found here:

Useful Links:

-oOo-

The Gauge War – It’s Over!

Standard

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-

Useful Links & Further Reading:

Hyperloop – Not A New Idea At All

Standard

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.

Continue reading