Northern to be Nationalised

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Is this one of those about time too moments?

The investment is still needed, despite the projects that have been undertaken in the past couple of years.  There is still much to be done.

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I wonder where or indeed how it will be funded – the budget awaits.

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HS2 – Impossible & Too Complicated??

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OK, so now we have another report on the progress with HS2 – and its increasingly vast cost.  The NAO have said this today:

HS2 Report 1st para

Perhaps worse still is the timescale to achieve HS2 – which as we know is intended to connect the South with the North, by way of Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds.  But the costs for Phase 1 alone – just to get to Birmingham seems to be well over £30 billion. The programme is certainly optimistic about the benefits, but amongst the key facts in the NAO report is the date with which this high-speed passenger line will reach the major cities in the North of England – 2040 seems to be the prospective far end date.

NAO Key Facts

Phase 1 – getting to Birmingham shows some interesting spend to achieve the extra capacity that the new line will create – and as yet, no costs for the trains themselves.

Figure-4-High-Speed-Two-A-progress-update

The papers – naturally have their take on what is going on – especially on the funding front – and combined with the ever increasing strain on local and regional services, it is a wonder that by the time HS2 reaches Manchester it will remain relevant at all.

Links:

 

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HS2 – The Wait Goes On

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The leaking of the draft report to the Financial Times newspaper about the recommendation for a “pause” after HS2 reaches Birmingham, is cold comfort to the businesses and passengers who depend on rail services from Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds and Newcastle.  Of course it was bound to stir up controversy – but really, where is the demand for 1,000s of passengers from London to Bimingham to arrive 29 minutes earlier?

It is suggested that the trains will provide over 1,000 seats, and operate at 14 per hour in both Birmingham and London Bound directions.  Imagine that, and assume a 50% occupancy, then you have 7,000 passengers per hour across the peak to peak periods, in either direction.  Or – let’s be generous and say over a 6-hour day – that’s 42,000 passengers between London and Birmingham, who then either go home, or travel on, northwards.  Really??

What then?  A 2-hour wait for an onward service to Crewe, then change trains again, and wait another hour for a service to Liverpool or Leeds.

In Phase 2b, Leeds is set to be reached from Birmingham – is there more dmand for passenger services between Bimingham and Leeds than say Manchester and Leeds.

HS2 is, and always has been an idea with no economic or strategic objective.  Compared with the electrification of the 1960s and 1990s, when the West and East Coast Main lines were electrified, or even HS1 – completed long after the Channel Tunnel opened.

HS2 is the rail to nowhere.  The people of Birmingham deserve better, as do the travellers and businesses of the North of England – invest in improvements to the existing routes.

Has anyone involved in HS2 ever asked the question – “do you get from London to Glasgow by travelling through Birmingham?”.  Probably not.

Newspapers today are full of coverage on costs spiralling – as t hey should be – but has anyone looked at the logic, or strategy of the plan overall?

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If this is all about populations, in 2011, the population of the North West (Lancashire, Merseyside and Greater Manchester), added to that of West and North Yorkshire was over 8 million people.

In contrast, the West Midlands Region boasts a population of 5 3/4 million

Today, HS2’s own website claims:

“HS2 trains will serve over 25 stations connecting around 30 million people. That’s almost half the population.”

So if there is a need to meet the needs of millions of people – surely the North is the place to start – a) because of the massive rail network problems, and b) the sheer size of the regional population.  The North is where the investment in rail is needed as the highest priority – surely??!!

It seems then we either get a high-speed rail link from London Euston to Birmingham, or we may get later extensions to Crewe (Phase 2a), and Manchester (Plhase 2b), at some time in the future – or nothing.  The initial line into Birmingham is to a terminus, where the trains will ‘turn round’ to restart a journey northwards to Crewe and Manchester, and in each case will bypass centres of population.

Overall this project has successfully conflated the need for additional rail capacity, with the wish to have a high-speed line on the UK’s main rail network.   Whilst I have no argument at all about separation of traffic types (slow versus fast trains) on broadly the same route – ignoring alignment for the moment – since in a perfect world this would improve capacity.  These graphs show that really well.

But does that mean you just move the bottleneck further along, at an ever increasing price.

There is clearly no doubt that extra capacity is needed, but HS2, Phase 1 does nothing much to deliver that at these costs.

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Class 158 – New Lights for Old

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Upper Image:   A Class 158 twin unit entering Edinburgh Waverley station.

Photo courtesy: Ad Meskens – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=29600938

The BREL built “Express Sprinter” dmu’s of 1989-92, constructed at Derby’s Litchurch Lane Works are some 30 years old now, and have been dispersed around the UK through BR’s Regional Railways Sector, to the post-privatisation TOCs.  The 40 two-car sets allocated to Abellio/Scotrail may soon be receiving another minor refurb, with a proposal to fit LED lighting in the driving cabs and saloons – or perhaps not.

LED Procurement Tender Notice extract

Extract from the August 2019 procurement notice for Abellio Scotrail

The successful tenderer was to be retrofit the 40 2-car sets with the fitting – and the ongoing management of these installations, and the original tender was announced in December 2018, then cancelled, and re-posted in July 2019. Both the interior lighting question and these last BR built multiple units have had a bit of a chequered history, and their design has been unkindly referred to in some quarters as a “garden shed” approach. Yet still, after more than three decades of service, they are fulfilling some of the intermediate to long distance passenger train duties – at least in Scotland.

Class 158 in 1990 on Glasgow to EdinburghThe Class 158 “Express Sprinter” were the 3rd gestation of the British Rail “Sprinter” range of 2nd generation dmus. Unlike the earlier “Provincial Sector” designs, these were not designed from either older emu designs, like the ‘Sprinter’ series, but they were driven by the 1980s financial constraints on BR. At the time, between 1989 and 1991, the application of inter-city style seating and layout for these longer distance regional services were still dependent on the first generation dmu’s. These were by this time more than 30 years old, and increasingly unreliable, and the refurbishment programmes of the 1970s really did nothing other than a new paint job, or interiors. Then there was the ongoing cost of asbestos removal from the 1950s designs, which, coupled with the financial strictures and operations in the days of sectorisation in the 1980s, ultimately, led to the building of new multiple units.

The end result was the “Express Sprinter”, built at Derby, to the BREL design, and using the key features of the main line and inter-city rolling stock designs, to meet the increased needs and performance criteria for Provincial Sector. The BREL built 158s were first put to work on the Scotrail Sector, over the time when BREL was being privatised by the government, firstly as BREL Group Ltd under ABB Transportation, and later as Adtranz (ABB-Daimler Benz). Each of which is now consigned to the history books. BREL built 447 vehicles, most as 2-car sets, but with a small number as 3-car, and the last was handed over in 1991.

The idea of this latest modification for Abellio ScotRail Ltd was to gain the benefits from energy saving and an increased lighting lifespan on these trains. The most recent upgrade/refurb of the Scotrail units was carried out at the now closed Springburn Works, then operated by Knorr-Bremse, back in 2015.  The work carried out then included the current ‘Saltire’ livery and modernisation of the interiors with new carpets, surface finishes and toilets.  At the same time, the 137-seat trains were equipped with new CCTV systems and automatic passenger-counting systems.

The 2015 renovation and upgrade/update work was carried out at Springburn under the Railcare banner.

The 2015 renovation and upgrade/update work was carried out at Springburn under the Railcare banner.

So, new lights for old may be seen as another minor, but useful upgrade to this long-lived type of rolling stock.  The technology itself may not seem so new, but ranks up there with proposals some years ago that one single light source could supply – through the use of fibre-optic cable – individual lighting throughout a train.  Gone are the days of 60-watt incandescent bulbs in the centre of the passenger compartment – now departing are the harsh glare of fluorescent tubes, with or without luminaires on the coach ceiling.

Some 17 years ago, I wrote about the advances in lighting technology on stations and on trains, for passenger circulating areas, and for on-board functions.  It was back then when the use of laser-optics was being advanced as the way forward, like this:

The Future is Fibre-Optic

  • A great deal of advancement has been seen recently in the use of fibre-optics for lighting purposes. Unlike conventional lighting, with fibre-optic technology, only the light is transmitted. The principal areas where this technology can be used may be summarised as:

  • Difficult access (lack of height and space)

  • Reduced maintenance (multiple lighting points from one lamp)

  • Where objects may be sensitive to heat and ultra violet rays

  • Regulating light in specific places, with minimum visual intrusion

  • Use of fibre-optic cable in data communications, and indeed for entertainment or decorative purposes is not new, but it is state of the art as far as the specialist railway environment is concerned. In principle, its use is based on light from a single source – probably the most obvious departure from conventional practice – and transmission of light along a group of fibres, with the light emitted in a concentrated beam at the remote end of each fibre. This technology in railway use could lead to the elimination not only of the multiple lamps and luminaires, but also the costs of maintaining illumination at recommended and safe levels – especially on board trains.

  • Applications of this technology for the passenger are perhaps most obvious for such activities as reading. Other uses could benefit the train crews, on the driver’s control desk instrumentation – much like their use in cars today. A major advantage is the fact that no heat is generated at the point of illumination, so perhaps a beneficial application could see its use in areas where light but no heat is needed – fuel tank levels, or similar gauges and indicators in hazardous or hard to reach areas for instance. Alternatively perhaps, a way of providing a light source for CCTV and other monitoring systems regularly used today.

  • Ultimately, the future use of fibre-optics in railway lighting applications looks positive. As the production of second-generation metal halide and micro discharge lamps increases the efficiency of the technology, the future is indeed brighter.

This seemed to be the way forward back at the beginning of the 21st century, and now, approaching ¼ of the century, the use of LED (Light Emitting Diodes), has become the lighting source of choice. In fact, LED tube lighting is an ideal candidate for retrofitting to the good old standard fluorescent tube lighting on trains, with some designs being a simple replacement of the older tubes, using the same fittings. The technology itself is claimed to result in an energy saving of up to 75%, and has been in use with TfL in London for the past couple of years, reducing both energy and maintenance costs.

Shining a light on historical sites too, LED lighting has been installed at Rainhill on Merseyside – so even the location with one of he greatest claims to fame for Victorian ‘new technology’ is now an example in the 21st century – 190 years later. Of course, today everything has to have the adjective “smart” attached to it, and lighting on the railway is no exception, so now we also have ‘smart lighting’ – for which no doubt an ‘app’ will be available – soon?

I started off this little item just thinking about the Class 158 and its new lights, but there is much more to lighting on the rail network today, so we will revisit this story for a more detailed look at the technology shortly. So much for fibre-optic lighting!

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Class 158 721, awaiting departure from Inverness in “First Scotrail” colours.   Photo: Peter Broster – Class 158 No 158721, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=49576344

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HS2 Hits the Buffers

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So now we know – too costly, and at least another 5 to 7 years to go before Birmingham is reached.  Controversial from the beginning, and 10 years in the making – a bit like Crossrail – the cost has seemingly outweighed the benefits.  It was begun in 2009, and yet now seems to be at an end, due to the ever increasing budget overspends.  HS1 – the Channel Tunnel Rail Link (CTRL) was also very much delayed, and the connection to the Chunnel was initially at an embarrassingly low speed, until the train emerged on the French side of the Channel.  The UK it seems, is still waiting to catch up with the rest of Europe when it comes to high-speed, high-tech trains.

What surprises me, and perhaps many others, is that we have had the technology – be it, power control electronics, signalling systems, infrastructure technology – for over 30 years, and the last high-speed main line (excluding HS1) was completed in 1990.

In the 1950s and early 1960s, British Railways managed to electrify the West Coast Main Line (WCML) from London to Manchester and Liverpool, and then to Birmingham – completed by 1967.  This was at a time when the technology and techniques were new, novel, untried and untested on a UK main line, and complete in just 8 years – 2 years LESS than it has taken work on the single route from London to Birmingham for HS2 to even begin construction.  On top of that, the west coast route was electrified to Glasgow by 1974 – just 15 years after work began.

OK, maybe I am comparing apples and oranges in some areas, and the WCML was not an entirely new railway, but maybe that is offset by the fact that in the 1960s, the technology was brand new, and the railway was much more complex than it is today.

According to the latest report – before the latest delays were announced – the new high-speed railway would not reach Crewe (where no interchange station was planned) until 2031, and Manchester Piccadilly by 2035.  That’s a full 26 years after HS2 Ltd was set up, and 22 years after the Act of Parliament gave it the go-ahead, and now if the 5-year delay is included, that means Crewe by 2036 and Manchester by 2040.

It seems it’s not just money that is affected by inflation, but major infrastructure project time lines – what took 15 years in the 1960s/70s, takes around 40 years in the 21st Century!  Oh, yes, and there’s the cost spiral too from around £55 billion in 2015 to £88 billion in 204? – an increase of 60%.

Back in 2014 HS2 Ltd submitted its case for the new route as both an engine for growth and rebalancing Britain – the report was quite thorough, but with little by way of reference to the environment as a whole.  Of course, it was not possible 5 years ago to see the growth in importance of climate change – although it was possible to estimate a significant growth in the UK population by 2040.  Maybe HS2 Ltd was not aware of the connection between the two.

HS2 Key Principles 2014

But one of the key principles mentioned in the document, and an aspect of the project that is not being addressed is transport integration.  HS2 is about separation, and it is not a network of rail routes – it is just a number of new links between centres of population, with almost no attention paid to freight transport.

It goes on to suggest that the Crewe hub, with links to Liverpool, will be “transformative” for businesses.  What it does not say is how, or even take account of current information systems technology where business travel is being rendered unnecessary.

Transformative for business

Fascinating statement here, where it states that having the link to Manchester will make it easier to work in both London and Manchester, with a 60 minute reduction in journey time.  In 2014, the authors of this report were clearly unaware of the ability of people to work on trains, whether by using the on-board WiFi, or any of the various sophisticated ‘telepresence’ systems, that allow people to be present in meetings from different locations.

The element of the rail infrastructure that demands much more attention is the East-West routes to link Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield, Leeds and Newcastle – NOT a link from London to Birmingham.  This diagram in the 2014 HS2 document shows the right place to start:

East West & North South

Still, all that seems to be behind us now, with the Government review likely to be underway soon, progress of this project has now followed the pattern of most UK train journeys in the 21st Century – delayed or cancelled.

Useful Links:

Alstom Proposed HS2 Train Design

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Hybrid on Snowdon

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Snowdon, the highest mountain in Wales, and home of the only rack railway in Britain is about to get some new motive power.  Although steam is popular on many of the world’s rack railways, diesel power has gradually been adopted over the past few decades, and now as diesel’s reputation as a pollutant has soarded, hybrids are coming to the rescue.

In its 123+ year history, the 800mm gauge railway to the summit of Snowdon, this line has operated with 8 steam locomotives, all built by SLM in Switzerland, 5 diesel locomotives and 3 diesel railcars.  All of the railcars have been scrapped, along with the diesel-mechanical loco bought secondhand in 1949 have been scrapped.

Two of the steam locomotives – Nos. 7 & 8. built in 1922 and 1923 have been withdrawn and dismantled, with one of the remaining locos – No. 4 “Snowdon”, currently being overhauled.  The remaining steam locomotives remain operational, and all bar one are more than 100 years old.

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Built in Leeds by Hunslet in 1992, No12 is named after George Thomas, 1st Viscount Tonypandy. All four diesels are powered by a turbo-charged six-cylinder Rolls-Royce engine giving 319hp. Llanberis Station. Snowdon Mountain Railway. Wales. 26-5-2013                                                         By Alan Wilson – , CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=26899289 

Of the remaining 4 diesel-hydraulic locos, two (Nos 9 & 10) were delivered in 1986, with Nos. 11 and 12, delivered in 1991 and 1992.  These are the newest locomotives – now approaching 30 years of age – in service on the line.

The Snowdon Mountain Railway (SMR) began looking into replacement locomotives five years ago, and this year named Clayton Equipment Limited of Burton-upon-Trent has been chosen as the preferred supplier.

Clayton are a specialist supplier of locomotive for mining, tunnelling, shunting and many other specialist rail applications.  This specialism includes bespoke battery hybrid battery-diesel designs, and the SMR’s  two new locomotives will be commissioned and ready for service for the start of the railway’s 2020 season in spring next year.

Clayton have been involved as a manufacturer in the railway industry since the 1930s, and through various changes of structure and ownership, and now once again as an independent company.

The new locomotives will be driven by High Torque, maintenance free electric motors, powered by traction battery and diesel generator. The diesel generator will be switched off whilst the locomotive is descending, as service braking recharges the battery ready for the next ascent.  It is anticpated that this new design will save costs on both maintenance and fuel, and as lower powered units, complying fully with Euro Stage V emissions requirements, less environmental impact too.

The train configurations with the new locos will also allow an extra 12 passengers to be carried on each trip.

New technology for the 21st Century on the UK’s only Abt rack railway, and hopefully too, continued success for both the SMR and Clayton Equipment.  We look forward to 2020 with interest.

Useful Links:

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St Rollox – Gone But Not Forgotten

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This month saw the last of the once huge manufacturing railway workshops in Glasgow closed.  The facilities were established in the Springburn district of the city by the Caledonian Railway in 1854, brining to an end the 169 year history of building, repairing and maintaining railway locomotives and rolling stock on a 15 acre site.  The St Rollox site was just one of three major sites in the area – the others being the former North British Locomotive Co works, which closed in the 1960s, and of course the Cowlairs Works.

Screenshot 2019-07-31 at 17.22.23As a loco works for the Caledonian Railway, it produced many fine steam types, but the works’ status changed dramatically after the grouping of 1923, and under the ownership of the LMS, no new building was carried out there after 1927.  As a workshop responsible for maintenance and repair, this was the position of St Rollox for the next 40 years.

At the time of nationalisation the works employed 3,382 staff, whilst neighbouring Cowlairs employed a little over 1,200 in 1949, with work being transferred away to Horwich.  Interestingly, at the time the staffing of railway works came under scrutiny, in 1962, both Cowlairs and St Rollox employed just over 1,900 on each site.  Plans were laid to modernise and re-equip the works, and in order to do that, most of the work in St. Rollox was moved temporarily into Cowlairs.  Once re-equipped the plan was to transfer all work into St. Rollox, and close Cowlairs. The new St. Rollox was re-named the Glasgow Railway Works – at least on paper. In addition to repairs and maintenence of motive power and rolling stock, manufacture light alloy containers and the repair of all signal and telegraph equipment was to be set up. The total labour force by 1966 will be approximately 2,800 men.

St Rollox in Glasgow’s Springburn area was at the heart of railway and locomotive engineering in Glasgow, and Scotland, the work to modernise the works was expensive, costing more than £1 million, but the eventual outcome was closure of Cowlairs in 1968. All of the Scottish works of BR were discussed in great detail during the 1960s, and the social and economic consequences of decisions taken in London were not lost on local MPs.

The same seems to be happening again in 2019.

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Inside one of the workshops of BREL Glasgow St Rollox Works on an organised visit with the Railway Correspondence and Travel Society. Seen closest to the camera is 26028.           By Phil Richards from London, UK – 05.06.82 Glasgow St Rollox Works 26028, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=26695179 

St Rollox became part of BREL with the 1980s restructuring of BR workshops, and following the privatisation of BREL in 1988 was operated purely as a rail maintenance facility by British Rail Maintenance Limited (BRML).

In effect St Rollox was closed in 1988 with the loss of 1,200 jobs.  That said, in the seven years that followed, much of what was the St Rollox site was sold off to developers, and occupied by a Tesco supermarket, Costco, Lidl, and a new Springburn fire station.  The rump of what was left for rail maintenance was sold off after privatisation, in 1995, to a Babcock/Siemens consortium.  In 2007 it was sold on again to Alstom, and finally to Railcare Ltd., which went into administration in July 2013.  The following month, the remaining works was purchased by Knorr-Bremse, who created Knorr-Bremse RailServices (UK) Ltd as a new rolling stock maintenance and repair company.  Five years later it was sold on to Mutares, a German based group specialising in acquiring low income companies, with a view to turning them into growing, and profitable enterprises.

The Mutares acquisition, and operation under the Gemini Rail Group  took pl;ace in late 2018, and by December, the new owner announced it planned to close the Springburn works.

The annoucement was greeted with dismay, and in the early hours of 14th January 2019, the MP Paul Sweeney made this observation:

In 2018, it was sold to another German company, an industrial turnaround specialist called Mutares. In November 2018, just a few weeks after its acquisition, it was formed into a newco known ​as Gemini Rail, which was a wholly owned subsidiary company of Mutares but also associated with Knorr-Bremse—for instance, sharing the same company house number. It is clear this has been an exercise conveniently designed to quickly rationalise their operations in the UK.

As at December 2018, St Rollox continues to carry out component and rolling stock repairs and overhauls. Recent work has included overhauls of class 156s, class 158s and Class 320s for Abellio ScotRail. It is the largest rolling stock repair site in Scotland. Two smaller sites in Kilmarnock are operated by Brodie and Wabtec respectively, and are still operating at capacity.

In December last year, shortly after acquiring the site, the new owner announced very suddenly that it planned to close the works, stating that it was making losses of between £3 million and £4 million.

At the time, St Rollox had barely 200 staff, but they would be the last to work at this famous site, if the closure went ahead.  As a final point in the January 2019 debate, Paul Sweeney made the following point:

The Minister is making a number of pertinent points, but the fundamental crux of this issue is that while it is a private decision for a private company at this point, it is clear that the company, ScotRail and Network Rail could work collaboratively to restructure the site to put it on a sound commercial footing and allow it to win business competitively. This is not about bailing something out or state aid for a failing industry; this is a kernel of expertise and a centre of excellence that could thrive with a restructuring of ownership.

However, despite the perhaps good intentions, and warm words from the Government spokesperson, the closure has gone ahead, and St Rollox is no longer a railway works, be it construction, or maintenance.  The skillsets remain, but it seems the desire to maintain a rail industry has all but evaporated.

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Useful Links & Further Reading

  1. An Illustrated History of British Railways’ Workshops; Edgar Larkin; Pub Ian Allan 1998
  2. St Rollox Railway Works: Closure
  3. St Rollox Railway Works closure threatens hundreds of jobs
  4. Save the Caley in Springburn