Freight on Rail in the UK

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

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

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

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

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

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

Network Rail stats for freight moved

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

Longer distances, but lighter weights perhaps.

Tonnes Lifted

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Guards or Conductors?

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The role of the passenger guard on trains has been in the headlines over the past year, with the protracted dispute on Southern Rail, Northern Rail and changing the role of the driver, whilst the guard becomes a conductor with what appears to be less responsibility for the safety and security of the train. It is interesting to reflect what the old Southern Railway rulebook said about the role of both driver and guard in 1933:

Rule 138

“The Driver must afford such assistance with his engine as may be required for the formation, arrangement, and despatch of his train. Each train is under the control of the Guard, who must give the Driver any instructions that may be necessary as to the working of it.”

Fascinating – clear definitions of the role – but have the roles changed with changes in the technology of the train? The roles remained unchanged under early British Railways management, and in the BR Rule Book, the same Rule 138, has the same definition. Also in this book, an earlier rule has some additional information:

Rule 130 has 8 further sub-sections which clearly define the Guard’s responsibilities that cover making sure the doors are properly closed, and are responsible for securing the safety of passengers on the train, and if, or when an unusual situation arises.

Conductors are only referred to in the old Southern Railway rulebook when Drivers unfamiliar with a route were required to have a “Conductor” on the footplate/in the cab for guidance. This same rule (Rule 127) existed in the 1950s, in BR days too, so the only definition was for someone who knew the route to assist the train driver.

In the USA, ticket examination/inspection as well as the safety and security of the train was the role of the “Conductor” – the same role as the Guard in the UK.

Removing the Guard from his role on longer distance trains has always been controversial, but on short and very short operations, like the London Underground, it has been commonplace, and a degree of automated operation was introduced many years ago. In the late 1960s, as steam disappeared from the railway, the footplate staff reached a “Manning Agreement” which removed the need for 2 men on the footplate on certain types of train, and provided for amendments to grading, and reduced the impact on wages.

Later years, as ‘modernisation’ progressed, in the 1980s, the “Bedpan” line saw a protracted dispute between British Rail and the railway trades unions about DOO (Driver Only Operation). But this was tied in to a wider, earlier (1982) dispute with British Rail about “flexible rostering”, which resulted in a strike by ASLE&F. The “Bedpan” line trains were stored out of service for months, until agreement was reached with the train drivers.

The efforts to introduce DOO on the Southern in 2017 seem to have resulted in the usual mix of confrontation management and staff and the desire to protect revenue collection. The privatisation of the rail network in the UK has ensured that there is total focus on revenue collection – on-train Guard/Conductor inspecting and selling tickets – leaving the safe opening and closing of doors solely down to the Driver.

Whilst technology has moved on, and systems have been developed and implemented to reinforce, or provide operational support to train crews, is there an emerging conflict in the privatised railway between a focus on revenue collection and the safety and security of the travelling public? Events in the wider world, and incidents in the UK, whether in Manchester or London, have clearly demonstrated, with tragic effect, the need for more attention on the safety of passengers on a moving train, as well as at stations and access points.

But the disputes with the Train Operating Companies over the role of guards dates back to early 2016, and spread beyond Southern, to Greater Anglia, GTR, Northern and Merseyrail, amongst others. Towards the end of 2018 it shows no sign of being any closer to a resolution.

In early 2017, it was claimed that the Rail Safety & Standards Board had endorsed the view of operator “Southerm”, that DOO trains were safe, including this statement:

  • In a report published on Thursday, Ian Prosser, the HM Chief Inspector of Railways, confirmed that driver-only operation on trains on Southern are safe, with suitable equipment, proper procedures and competent staff in place.

The key phrase here seems to be “….with suitable equipment, proper procedures and competent staff in place.” That doesn’t sound like an absolute confirmation to go ahead – does it!

The announcement went further:

  • The ORR made some recommendations for further improvements, including ensuring that CCTV image quality is consistently high, which GTR-Southern has accepted and is in the process of implementing. The report also suggested some further minor improvements that are required before DOO is introduced at a small number of stations, for example improvements to station lighting.

I imagine that until the work is completed, operation of DOO services would not therefore be safe, and compliant with HM Chief Inspector of Railways requirements.

This was the report:

Even the next generation of high-speed trains – the Hitachi Inter-City Express trains have been ordered as DOO – so at least it will not be able to stop at unstaffed stations. So what is the role of the on-board Conductor – Customer Experience Person – just as on the Docklands Light Railway? On the DLR the Customer Experience Person is charged with responsibility for stopping the train if suspicious activity or an urgent/emergency incident is encountered.

But, are the Train Operating Companies using advances in technology for the benefit of the passenger – or just another way of treating their staff as commodities, or avoidable costs – human resources?

Other links:

 

 

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The Race for a Free Seat

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According to a report in the “I” newspaper at the beginning of November, and several others, the London North Eastern Railway has fitted free seat sensors in its entire rolling stock fleet. The entry in the paper stated:

“Sensors which detect whether a seat is free have been rolled out ….”

Back in August, the Daily Telegraph carried this exciting headline:

“Seat sensors on trains will end scramble for spare places, railway firm announces”

Hmmm – the August announcement was for a trial -this trial was apparently a success, so all the stock has now been kitted out.

Why, and how will that help if there is still 50% of the seating free because it’s in first class, and few people choose to pay the extra for a first class seat?

With the system passengers – or intending passengers – will of course need access to a smartphone or tablet, to connect to the on-board Wi-Fi network to see where the seats are located. This will show as a location map on their devices.

But of course seats that have been reserved, have always been shown on Virgin Pendolinos – the LNER system differs only in that you have to have a smart device, and then wait 5 minutes on board, before interrogating the system to see if there is a seat available. It’s even more useful than that, seats shown in amber (aka a traffic light system), have only been reserved for part of the journey. This means that you will be able to sit for some of the time, and then stand for the rest …. unless of course someone else on the train has nabbed the seat before you.

It’s the genuinely ‘free’ seats I think are a potential launchpad for conflict. Let’s say two passengers – neither having a seat reservation – find the same free seat, would it then be a foot race to see who gets there first. Then, once at the seat, how do you decide who should then occupy this seat, so that the on-board system can update itself, as it scans the physical space to see if someone has sat down, and updates its database before the next station stop.

Picture if you will the scene on a station platform as the train rolls in – the passengers with reservations are OK – but then there are the last minute passengers, who just buy a ticket to travel. People now have their phones at the ready waiting to board, and impatient to access the on-board Wi-Fi to access the ‘free seats’ map, and the scramble for best position begins near the door. The complex mess of passengers trying to get off, with others trying to board, and access the Wi-Fi, or just clogging up the vestibules at the coach ends, along with copious amounts of luggage.

It was announced back in August 2018 as a trial, but I’m sure it will all go swimmingly, now that they’ve rolled it out fully, and the need for passenger angst, or guards on trains will be diminished still further. Falling back on technology just because you can develop an app may not be the best way, but still, at least nobody will actually need to speak to a fellow traveller at all.

Here are a couple of interesting links.

 

 

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Metrolink adding 27 light rail vehicles to its fleet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read more …

Kiepe Logo

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The Pacers – Cheap and Not So Cheerful

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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.”

Source: http://www.railtechnologymagazine.com/rail-news/rail-delivery-group-boss-british-railways-the-envy-of-europe

Really??

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

 

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Lost & Found in Wales

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800px-Arriva_Trains_Wales_Class_158,_158818,_Ruabon_railway_station_(geograph_4024571)

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:

UK TRAIN COMPANIES CHARGE PASSENGERS UP TO £25 TO RETRIEVE 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.

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Electro-Diesels are Back

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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.

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