Metrolink adding 27 light rail vehicles to its fleet


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read more …

Kiepe Logo



The Pacers – Cheap and Not So Cheerful


Director of the Rail Delivery Group (RDG) Robert Nisbet told BBC 5 Live yesterday (30th July 2018) that the nation’s railways are:

“hugely successful in many ways,”

Adding that our European counterparts could only dream about having the British kind of performance and punctuality records.  He continued:

“A lot of us get on those gleaming fast trains that go from city to city in France, Spain and Italy, but a lot of their commuter lines are terribly inefficient. They have suffered for years with a lack of investment.”



Back in 1985 I wrote a shortish piece about what was the new self-propelled vehicles for “lightly loaded” and “suburban” services. Today, these Class 142 units are still in service, on quite extended routes, including around tourist hot spots like the Lake District, and some heavily used commuter routes around Manchester and other northern cities.

When they were introduced in the 1980s, they were not popular, and from the footplate crews’ perspective, decidedly unpopular. What was described as BR’s “build fast” policy with hindsight, looks more like desperation, and operationally, the marriage of a cheap and cheerful build of a bus body on a 4-wheel rail chassis was perhaps optimistic.

They were poor performers in their original builds, and the cheap and fast approach as an investment, was clearly a failure. Later attempts at refurbishment with Cummins engines replacing the origin al Leyland, and changes in transmission design did not entirely make up for their shortcomings.

Pacer Montage with USA

Coming at a time when rail transport was out of favour in the UK, the BREL designs were tested around the world, from the USA to Thailand, and BREL were unable to stave off their demise despite the innovative approach. Orders did not materialise beyond the UK, and the original builders here also disappeared from the engineering and manufacturing landscape.

That said, their longevity at the same time seems to disprove that idea – or have we just put up with them, because there has been no effective investment in rail across the country?

In BR parlance there were the Class 140, 141, 142, 143 and 144. The single example of the 1980 build prototype was No. 140001, a twin unit arrangement, is actually still in existence at the “Keith & Dufftown Railway”, and undergoing restoration.   The next generation, the 20 Class 141, or pre-production two-car sets also started out life in West Yorkshire, and one of these remains operational on the “Colne Valley Railway”.   Curiously perhaps, the majority of this first production series were sold to Iran, whilst the 142s and 143s are of course still with us.

142046 at Deansgate Station, Manchester

142046 at Deansgate Station, Manchester. Photo (c) Lee Worthington

This link is a PDF copy of my original item, looking at the most numerous and widely used class – “CLASS 142 – D.M.U. OR RAILBUS?”

Pacers Cover




Lost & Found in Wales



Class 158 at Ruabon   Photo: El Pollock Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

I read a small item in the “Independent” newspaper recently about the charges imposed by Arriva Trains Wales for returning a wallet lost by a passenger – this statement in particular:

A man who lost his wallet was left outraged after a train company charged him £2 and 10 per cent of the cash inside to retrieve it. 

I can understand an admin fee at the company’s lost property office – but 10% of the content?

It’s not as though ATW aren’t doing well – according to the ORR annual report in October 2017:

“Arriva Trains Wales (26.3p) received the largest subsidy per passenger km this year.”

The TOCs are all getting subsidies from Government – so maybe “privatisation” has been achieved in name only.  This is what last year’s summary showed:

TOC Subsidies 2016-17

Source: Office of Rail and Road  11 October 2017 2016-17 Annual Statistical Release – Rail Finance

So after over 26 years of “privately run trains” on the national rail network, all of these operators still need a subsidy.

But, it seems, according to the Independent’s investigation, “Arriva Trains Wales” are not alone in charging to return lost property:


Perhaps this is not so much the age of the train, and more the drain on your wallet if you leave anything behind.




Electro-Diesels are Back


No – I know this is not the same!  But any opportunity to highlight the centenary of the formation of the UK’s own English Electric Co. seems OK.

The new Hitachi built Bi-Mode trains for Trans Pennine Express are a lot more sophisticated than the English Electric built electro-diesels for BR’s Southern Region in the 1960s, but the principle is the same – isn’t it?  Taking power from an external electrified contact system and having on-board diesel engines when on non-electrified lines.

Here’s what we had in BR days:

In November 1964, an item appeared in the “Locomotive Journal” from ASLE&F, and in describing the Bournemouth Electrification project, this little snippet appeared:

ASLEF Journal Extract 1964

Preston’s English Electric Co. had received an order for 43 of these locomotives, which was in essence part of the plan to elimiate steam traction, as well as following the Bournemouth electrification scheme.

They were numbered E6007-49 by BR, and designated Type JB to distinguish them from the six prototype Type JA locomotives, Nos. E600l-6, which later became class 71.  The new English Electric/Vulcan Foundry built locos became classes 73/1 and 73/2.  English Electric had supplied the power equipment for the six Type JA, BR built locos, which were constructed at Eastleigh Works, and entered service between February and December 1962.

The next batch, Type JB, were built at English Electric Co’s works at Newton-Le-Willows – originally the Vulcan Foundry – and delivered between October 1965 and January 1967.  The diesel engines were also manufactured at Vulcan Foundry, with the electrical equipment produced at the Preston works.

Class 73:2 Electro-Diesel

EE Class 73:2 No 6021

Class 73/2 No. E6021, and one of the few that never carried a name, on a typical transfer freight duty.      Photo: RPB Collection

Here’s what Hitachi have delivered:

The first of the “Nova 1” (class 802) trains arrived at Southampton on the 11th June 2018, and was successfully tested between Darlington and Doncaster in a 5-car set this month (July).  Further testing is planned for the TPE route in the North of England and Scotland over the coming months.  Also appearing in July 2018 are the new Hitachi Class 385 trains for the Glasgow Queen Street-Edinburgh Waverley route via Falkirk High. More class 385 trains  will be phased in over the coming months, before being extended to other routes across the Central Belt.

The new Class 802s for TPE are essentially closely similar to the same type delivered by Hitachi to Great Western, and for TPE are fitted with MTU/Rolls-Royce Series 1600 MTU PowerPacks.  The core of the PowerPack is the MTU 12V 1600 R80L, a 12-cylinder diesel engine, with low consumption/emissions, and meets the EU Stage IIIB emission legislation.

The trains, ordered as 19 x 5-car sets will be able to run in either five or ten carriage formation, capable of speeds of up to 140mph in electric mode and 125 mph using diesel engines.

Hitachi Class 802 at Doncaster Depot

Hitachi Class 802 for Transpennine Express at Hitachi’s Doncaster depot.

Further reading:

Transpennine Express “Nova 1” Begins Tests

Hitachi Class 385 Electrics

One issue that has not been addressed for the UK so far as the bi-mode trains are concerned, is whether this is a stop-gap solution pending the restart of electrification projects across the Pennines.

Nevertheless the new rolling stock looks like a welcome improvement.   This is a long way from the designs and requirements for rail operations in the 1960s, with fixed formation train sets – multiple units – and certainly more aerodynamic styling.

Let’s hope they can also be used on Northern Rail territory and lines in North West England.


Tilting at Windmills


An account of rail travel in the 21st Century

Just for Fun!

Back in the 1950s and early 1960s, travelling by train was a real adventure – for adults and children alike – then the march of progress delivered us the excitement of motorway travel, speed, convenience and personal choice. Today we have anti-social trains, with connections between travellers limited to a few seats in each open carriage or coach, with vast majority of travellers – especially over medium and longer distances facing an immovable plastic wall, commonly known as the back of the seat in front. This wall, rarely more than a few centimetres in front of the face becomes your friend and companion for hours – yes there are windows – but there are also some of these aircraft style seats which are located next to a blank wall.

All of this high speed technology helps us get from A to B so much quicker – and we only occasionally have to speak to our fellow travellers.

We also have the added benefit of the ‘voice from hell’ announcing our welcome to this service, to… – well the gaps in the language and spoken word just remind me of the film 1984. But I was forgetting, we have passed that date and are now much more advanced!

Where does that leave us in our comparative rail tour – is it just nostalgia that demands that we look for more spacious accommodation, and conformable seats, a corridor that allows us to choose whether or not to join conversation with our fellow internees.

Seat reservations are the most joyous sight – or not if you travel by tilting train – where there is no accommodation for luggage – some of the backpacks or rucksacks as we used to call them are the size of mount Everest. Our poor unfortunates then look for somewhere to stow these monstrous items – alas no, they are left near the ends of the coach, or crammed into a feeble couple of shelves mid way down the coach. Amazing that there are not more injuries from people falling over, into or across this baggage.

On longer distance trains there is food and hot beverages available.   These are served from a counter in what we used to call a buffet, in those ‘Tommy Tippee’ cups with their little plastic lids and spout so preferred by the chain store drinking dens. To cap it all, there are a bewildering array of coffees, from the double mocha skinny latte, in regular – whatever size that may be! – to the just plain enormous. They are usually then carefully inserted in those brown paper bags – with handles – my daughter would have loved to play with these in her ‘toy shop’ as a child.

The correct etiquette for requesting this refreshment is to enquire… “Can I get?”. Woe betide you if you say “May I have”, or “Can I have” – clearly that requires a phrasebook and translation into modern awesome English.

Travelling by train in the 21st century is no longer an experience that may be enjoyed, with some knowledge that you may at least find a comfortable and spacious compartment with room to breathe, exchange thoughts and opinions with others, or simply rest. Now everyone has the mandatory headphones, laptop, or iPlayer, and connecting with their legions of followers on Facebook, or Twitter. The more the technology advances, the less the people communicate!

But I digress, we are almost at our destination. That hellish voice sounds again to advise us that we will “Shortly be arriving into….”

We leave our seat, struggle over the undulating terrain of rucksacks, trolleys and suitcases on wheels – after having apologised to a fellow traveller for a minor infringement of his/her space, and the necessity to relocate his/her laptop! – and finally make our way to the vestibule.

Please don’t be alarmed, I chose the word ‘vestibule’ out of ignorance – I didn’t read the safety instructions, or the on board magazine. (I do confess to having flipped through the odd page or two, whereupon the utter banality of it drove me to the refreshment area!).

So, our train arrives, finally at the train station on this train line – I understand the use of the word railway has now all but disappeared, and comprehending the distinction between the function of the railway and the train has gone the way of our good friend the Dodo.

The train stops – don’t forget you are not permitted to leave the train whilst it is still barely moving – the door’s locked anyway! We are enjoined by a shrill beeping noise and illuminated button, embossed with iconic hieroglyphics to open the door and alight from the train, which we do, stepping down to the platform and the free world once again.



A Postscript To Piggyback Freight


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


InterCity Rail in Britain – A Landmark Paper – 25 Years On


No, this is not about the integrated services across the UK today – since there is no InterCity Rail in 2018, but it is almost 25 years ago to the day, that Chris Green, Managing Director of BR’s InterCity sector gave a speech to the Royal Society on 23rd June 1993.

InterCity logoIn 1993 this was the sector of British Rail that received no subsidies from Government, but disappeared on the fragmentation of the rail industry that occurred following the implementation of the EU Directive for separation of operations from infrastructure. That the UK chose the worst possible way to achieve this, still causes repercussions today – and the apparent ‘infighting’ between Network Rail, Northern Rail, and Govia Thameslink, etc.

Chris green made an interesting statement in his early paragraphs in this speech:

“We should be clear from the beginning that it is now government policy to cease operating a national Intercity passenger network and to fragment the services into seven train companies from April 1994. A nationalised Railtrack organisation is being created to own and maintain railway infrastructure from 1994.”

That the plan was for 7 – yes, 7 – different train operators to run the services that were in the 1990 to 1994 period operated as a single entity seems in itself a rash policy.  Has it worked – either in terms of passenger receipts, economies driven through inter-company competition, providing new rolling stock and services?  Well the answer is mostly no, but it certainly added complexity to train travel on long distance services and connecting feeder/secondary lines.

Today there are actually 10, although some of these, such as West and East Midlands Trains, and Hull Trains operate more regional services, they do run over metals that were previously InterCity territory.  In 2018, 25 years after Chris Green’s Royal Society presentation, these are essentially where the services were divvied up between:

  1. Caledonian Sleeper
  2. Cross Country
  3. East Midlands Trains
  4. Great Western
  5. Hull Trains
  6. South Western Railway
  7. Transpennine Express
  8. Virgin Trains (East Coast)
  9. Virgin Trains (West Coast)
  10. West Midlands Trains

In that same paper, he (Chris Green) goes on to suggest that high-speed rail would have a good future, whoever the owner may be:

“This paper will argue that high speed rail services have a good future in the UK regardlessof ownership. This springs from the growing congestion in all other forms of transport and the benefits that rail offers for inter-urban journeys in the 150-300 mile zones.”

In 1993 when this speech and paper was delivered, the East Coast Main Line had only recently been completely electrified, the Channel Tunnel or HS1 was yet to appear, and the West Coast Main Line was scheduled for a major overhaul.  HSTs or InterCity 125s were running the principal services on the former GWR main line into South Wales and up to Birmingham, and locomotive hauled Mark III and IV stock was the order of the day.

gec076 copyAt the time, there was little by way of a concrete plan for future high-speed trains, but the paper presented highlighted some optimistic proposals for 250 km/hr running on major routes out of Kings Cross and Paddington.  This was alongside the belief that there would be through running between the Channel Tunnel and regional destinations like Manchester or Birmingham, whilst plans existed for an “InterCity 250” train.  This would operate on the straighter sections of existing main line out of Kings Cross and Paddington – alas it failed to materialise.

The recognition that it was possible to achieve performance improvements on existing tracks, brought back the tilting technoogy proposals from APT, which appeared almost a decade later in the shape of the “Pendolino”.   Was this just a watered down version of British Rail’s own “InterCity 225” train?

This idea of “faster on existing tracks” provided some interesting commentary too:

“It seems financially and environmentally unlikely that Britain will build a major new railway through its industrial heart. Were it to do so, it would undoubtedly connect Manchester, Birmingham, London and the Channel Tunnel with a 480km/h (300mph) high speed passenger link offering radical improvements in journey times such as Manchester-London in 1 1/2 hours. The London- Folkestone link is the only part which is likely to be built.”

Well that was an interesting prediction!  One of British Rail’s most senior personnel suggesting that a new railway through the industrial heart of England might not be built – 20+ years before the whole HS2 debates!  According to his understanding, it seems at that time at least, a new railway would need a minimum of 20 million passengers to justify its construction, using these examples of inter city journeys:


Elsewhere in the paper the number of cars and car journeys was addressed, alongside airport movements, with some interesting actual and estimated figures:

car ownership

From today’s figures from the ONS, cars on the road in 2000 was actually 24.4 million, and by 2010, had risen to 28.4 million, and last year 31.2 million.  So a couple of years to go, to achieve the estim,ates from 1991 – but not a bad effort.  As was recognised in this paper, the competition for passengers from road transport in particular was particularly strong.  The competition between the train operators in the 21st Century has made it much more difficult to achieve either economic, or environmentally sustainable transport.  Integration between the modes of land transport is unlikely to be achieved, whilst rail transport nationally, alongside regional bus services will continue to suffer without a much more radical approach in policy.

Chris Green’s conclusion in this paper/speech is published in full below.  It seems, especially considering the current rail chaos/crisis in the North, and recent franchising fiascos, let alone Heathrow, Britain is further from resolving these key rail transport issues than ever.


If you have access to this paper, it is well worth a read, if only to compare what might have been, with what we have today.