Integrated Plan for Rail & Freight Capacity

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Much has been made in recent days over the cancellation of HS2, and the abandonment of Northern Powerhouse Rail, and the new Integrated Rail Plan has been greeted with considerable scepticism – in the north of England in particular. The CILT (Chartered Institute of Logistics) made some interesting observations about the impact, or affect it will have on the network’s freight capacity, and how that may change.

One intriguing observation about the ad-hoc upgrades outlined in this new plan drove me to look at some of the details. The CILT made this comment in their press release:

“CILT welcomes the creation of a new line from Warrington through Manchester to Marsden, with capacity for freight provided in the Trans-Pennine Route Upgrade (TRU), but is seeking urgent confirmation that the freight element of TRU will include gauge clearance to the full ‘W12’ standard, not merely the much smaller ‘W8a’ gauge that has been proposed thus far.” 

This route follows the line on the Manchester side out from Piccadilly to Ardwick, then turns North-East towards Greenfield, Saddleworth and Diggle, and the Standedge Tunnels under the Pennines, before entering West Yorkshire and the once prosperous mill town of Marsden. According to the latest plan for improvements in the northern rail network this will replace the now cancelled eastern leg of a high-speed rail line. No mention of any extension from Marsden to Huddersfield, the nearby centre of this part of West Yorkshire.

Back in 2000, the plans now being outlined also appeared in the Railtrack Network Management Statement, so it seems this is not a new idea, and the plan was then to include the W10 loading gauge clearance across the route.

The upgrades proposed in the latest plan for a high-speed, increased capacity link across the Pennines on this route would run from Warrington to approximately where the B is on the top right of this extract from the route map in 2000.

Again, according to the CILT, the Trans Pennine Upgrade is vital from an environmental perspective:

“This is critical to reducing congestion on the M62 and M60 – for passenger traffic as well as freight – since up to 1000 HGV loads per day could be shifted onto rail, saving approximately 300,000 tonnes of C02 a year and freeing up the UK’s vital HGV driver resource for other journeys (the M62 is the third busiest road freight corridor in GB, with more than 7 million truck movements pa).”

Again – extracted from the 2000 Network Management Statement, and with planned completion target dates.

The map of routes on the rail network that were either being upgraded to meet the essential W10/12 gauge shows some interesting plans, but it seems that today’s “Integrated Plan for Rail” has a lot of work to be done on the details.

The routes in green had been completed, whilst the routes in blue were expected to be completed soon after 2014. The missing connections between east and west, from Manchester to Leeds and Sheffield are so obvious here.

One of the most telling comments made by the CILT is this:

Building a high-speed line to the East Midlands, upgrading of the East Coast Main Line (ECML) and electrification of the Midland Main Line (MML) is welcome, but CILT believes inadequate provision for freight and logistics is made in the IRP and says urgent delivery of the following is needed:

    • Electrification of the key freight route from Peterborough to Doncaster via Lincoln, as this route provides the link from Felixstowe and London Gateway to businesses in Yorkshire and the North East, and there will very limited capacity for freight on the electrified 140mph ECML

    • Upgrading and electrification of the route from Northallerton to Teesside and Ferryhill (the Stillington route) to provide adequate capacity for freight to the North East and Scotland via the ECML

    • Electrification north from Corby to Doncaster and through the Hope Valley to complement electrification of the Midland Main Line from Kettering to Sheffield, which will enhance passenger services but do little or nothing for freight.

From the Government’s Integrated Rail Plan for the North and Midlands, and for this particular route across the Pennines, this is what the Government say they will do:

“On Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR), we will build a new high speed line between Warrington, Manchester and Yorkshire finishing east of the Standedge tunnels. In 2019, the Prime Minister promised to fund the Leeds-Manchester route of NPR. Of the three options for this section put forward by Transport for the North (TfN) at that time, we have chosen the first, a mix of newbuild line and upgrade via Huddersfield, and extended our commitment to Liverpool (giving 40 miles of new high speed line), and York. NPR trains will use fully electrified, expanded and upgraded conventional lines between Liverpool and Warrington, and from the east of Standedge tunnels to Leeds. Trains will run from Manchester to Leeds in 33 minutes, 22 minutes faster than now. We will also upgrade and electrify the line between Leeds and Bradford giving a non-stop journey time which could be as low as 12 minutes. We carefully examined the other options put forward by TfN, for full newbuild lines from Liverpool to Leeds via Manchester and Bradford. They would have made Manchester- Leeds journeys only four minutes faster than the option we have chosen, and cost an extra £18 billion.”

On freight, as part of the TRU (Transpennine Route Upgrade), they are proposing upgrades to the section from Marsden into Huddersfield, after having built a new high-speed line from Warrington through the Standedge Tunnels to Marsden. So to suggest this is a major new proposal for this route is a misnomer, and only partially implements what was proposed 21 years ago. This is specifically what is written in the Integrated Rail Plan for the North and Midlands:

    • 40 miles of new build high speed line between Warrington, Manchester and Yorkshire (to the east of Standedge tunnels);

    • upgraded and electrified conventional line for the rest of the route;

    • significant improvements to the previous Transpennine Route Upgrade (TRU) plans between Manchester and Leeds, including electrification of the whole route, digital signalling throughout, significantly longer sections of three and four-tracking, and gauge upgrades to allow intermodal container freight services. This will now form the first phase of NPR;

Last but not least, the map below is worth comparing with the 2001 map and proposals, and shows that there are still gaps in the major freight artery across the Pennines. And, no amount of increased pathways, or digital jiggery pokery will resolve the problem if a freight service moves from high speed to conventional lines after leaving the Standedge Tunnels.

The rest of the detail in the Government’s plans is in the attached file – short on detail perhaps – just click on the image below:

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The UK’s Stations with the Most and Least Train Delays

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Back in the days of British Rail, train performance figures were routinely published by the central and regional transport committees, which included a range of voices on the panel, and was independent of the railway operator. The details provided in annual reports covered passenger operations, disabled passengers’ facilities, bus-rail interchanges, design of rolling stock, and major projects including electrification. Funding was also covered, and the gradual reduction in PSO grants to local authorities, which led to a further run down of services, was a key feature of the 1980s in particular.

From a press release provided by The Compensation Experts earlier this month (November), an interesting set of statistics was provided to illustrate which stations had the most delayed services – missed their arrival time, or beyond the 1 to 15 minute threshold, but not cancelled. In that release, they make this observation:

“Unsurprisingly, the worst UK station for delays and cancellations is in London. If you want a quick commute, you should aim to avoid using City Thameslink at all costs. On average, an absolutely staggering 67% of all trains that pass through City Thameslink are delayed between 4pm and 6pm, with 66% being delayed between 7am and 9am.”

To illustrate the point they include this table:

As I referred to in an earlier post, access to detailed information is difficult to come by, through “official” channels, and obvious sources such as Transport Focus, and the ORR web sites are long on rhetoric, but short on readily available data. On the Transport Focus home screen, you have to scroll to the very bottom of the page to find a link to the “Data Hub”, which then takes you to another page, strewn with icons and images of various transport modes – then you click on the “National Rail Passenger Survey” – which gets you this image:

Not much by way of useful information about train performance, and none about puncutality. Previously, reports would include charts about the percentage (%) of trains arriving on time, or within 5 minutes, and so on – but with this source you have to delve a further 3 or 4 pages into “Advanced Analysis”. Then you can generate a spreadsheet to provide details of punctuality.

BUT – it does not calculate that data, it simply describes whether passengers were satisfied or dissatisfied with their journey.

Not a very useful source then if you are looking for details about train arrivals on or behind time, as happened in British Rail days. So maybe I misunderstand what the purpose of “Transport Focus” is then? Seems to be measuring whether a passenger was happy or unhappy.

So, where to go next?

The Office of Road and Rail (ORR) perhaps.

This can be a useful source, and they publish a PDF file online at 3 monthly intervals, but an important point has to be how punctuality is defined and recorded. The ORR use a definition of on time as either arriving ahead of the booked time or less than one minute late, but there is another measure described as te Public Performance Measure (PPM), which is defined as trains arriving early or up to 10 minutes after the scheduled arrival time. This is also classed as a punctuality measure.

So, if you aggregate train services from all operating companies, and you measure their arrival as punctual, you could say that 98% of all trains were punctual if your definition was early or on time, and up to 15 minutes after timetabled arrival.

All the results aggregated by the ORR for on time, or 1 minute late arrivals are published as a chart, and the example below shows these punctuality figures for the past 8 years. If option (c) is selected – trains arriving up to 15 minutes late – unsurprisingly trains can be said to be 99% punctual.

Train punctuality was also measured as % of arriving right time, or up to 5 minutes late. These were also grouped as either express trains or other trains, and further subdivided by region (equivalent to train operator today. It is interesting to note that in 1981 BR Eastern, Scottish and Western Region express train punctuality was 81%, 82% and 74% respectively. For other trains (this would include commuter services), these same three regions recorded punctuality figures of 91%, 93%, and 92% arriving on time, or no more than 5 minutes late.

Before the pandemic, the same services, allowing for arrivals up to 3 minutes late, were roughly the same in 2018/19 as they were in 1981 – fascinating.

Train Performance – No Data Available

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Light Rail – 20 Year Look Back

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Back in 2001 I was compiling a status report of the Light Rail Projects and existing networks in operation, or under active construction around the UK. We had a busy programme, with 6 networks open and operational, and plans to build 3 more around Portsmouth, Leeds and Bristol being put forward, and the Nottingham Express Transit (NET) was being built. Of the existing systems, Croydon – or the London Tramlink as it is now called – and the Birmingham network had only been open a couple of years.

Nottingham Express Transit tram negotiating the esses past Shipstone Street playground, on its way to Shipstone Street tram stop Photo: Alan Murray-Rust, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=67500108

There were other proposed systems being put forward, including Edinburgh, which did finally get completed, and a “revamped trolleybus scheme” for Liverpool and Merseyside – the “Mersey Tram” – another pie in the sky scheme. The new generation of light rail and tramway schemes were being scattered around the UK a bit like confetti 20 years ago, and included Hull, Bath and East Lancashire – at least that was what the Transport Secretary was reported as saying in Parliament in 2001.

The major projects actively operating or under construction, with a couple of exceptions, including those that were cancelled by the Department of Transport, included these:

Back in 2001 there were plans for expansion of the existing systems, with Manchester (3 new lines) and Birmingham (2 new lines) at the head of the list. It was clearly essential for the expanding connurbations of the West Midlands and Greater Manchester, and they had already proved their value in passengers carried, and the associated revenue – the Midland Metro had seen a 25% increase in passengers carried in its first fully operational year.

Greater Manchester’s Metrolink tram number 3009A, in Salford Quays Photo: Tom Page – Flickr: IMG_0876.jpg, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16246122

Before looking back at where we were in 2001, it is worth noting that all of these networks were essentially built around a new concept of street running trams, and the UK was following the lead set in other European cities. With the exception perhaps of the Tyne & Wear Metro, the technology being used was new, and whilst the UK’s first new light rail system in Manchester was not exactly the low floor design seen elsewhere, it was a pioneer. The Tyne & Wear had been up and running since the late 1970s, and piggy backed on the readily available ‘heavy rail’ technology, including a 1500V d.c. overhead contact system, and conventional railway station platforms.

The other ‘metro systems’ that could be included would be the underground networks of London and Glasgow, and Blackpool’s century old tramway system. But, Light Rail was evolving down a different path, and in 1989, the industry was first fully showcased in the UK at Bristol, at the “Light Rail 89” exhibition and conference, opened by Mchael Portillo, who was then Transport Secretary. The industry was ambitious, and the outlook was poistive, and by the turn of the century, those 6 new systems were up and running – including the highly successful and automatic Docklands Light Railway.

Where are we today? These are the current Light Rail (LRT) systems in operation in the UK:

Only two new systems have been built and opened in the past 20 years – Edinburgh and Nottingham – so now we have 8 light rail systems, with the older networks continuing to expand.

Edinburgh Princes Street, with a backdrop of the Scott Monument and a glipmse of the outline of Edinburgh Castle in the background. Photo: Smiley.toerist – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=47606320

Click on the image below to read about the systems and technology that was in place back in 2001.

Further reading …

South Eastern Nationalised

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NB: Heading image is class 375 at Ashford International in South Eastern livery on an empty stock working.  Photo: Joshua Brown https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18682620 

A report in the news today (Sunday 17th October) describes the failure of yet another Train Operating Company (TOC) as tie Government withdraws its franchise.

This system has never been a success in the UK, as the numerous and repeated TOC failures demonstrate. The fragmentation of a key national infrastructure in the manner it was sliced up in the 1990s was doomed to failure. Too much bureaucracy, red tape and subsidies to failing business models.

Is this latest failure of South Eastern the death knell for the “British model”? When will we see the whole infrastructure nationalised – or as some might suggest “owned in common”.

There is no future in the franchising model, the UK cannot keep sticking a plaster / band aid over this key transport mode. It is also perhaps behind the piecemeal – unsuccessful – approach to the inertia seen, or maybe not seen, fir the Northern Powerhouse Rail project.

Meanwhile public funding, technology, and innovation seem to be thrown at the HS2 line from London to Birmingham. No doubt that too will eventually be admitted into public ownership.

Related Posts:

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Logo Wars

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There was a report in “The Guardian” on 22nd September the Rail Delivery Group announced its plan to use the old British Rail double arrow logo in a new advertising campaign to encourage people to take the train. But it stirred some controversy – in a similar way to what happened in 1948, 56 and when the familiar double-arrow symbol appeared.

The Rail Delivery Group announced this on what was deemed “World Car Free Day”, in a perhaps laudable attempt to highlight the environmental benefits of rail transport.

As we know, the Rail Delivery Group was set up in 2011, and is effectively the equivalent of a trade body for the private train operating companies, together with state owned Network Rail, and it is a bit ironic that they are continuing to make use of the British Rail logo – a nationalised body. But, it is sad that the creator of the iconic logo thinks that its latest application is a step too far.

I have to agree, this change to 5 shades of green is far too complex, and largely misses the point of the logo – to provide a clearly recognisable brand for the railway. This is how the change was announced by the RDG:

National Rail ‘double arrow’ logo goes green in new campaign ahead of COP26

  • A single train removes up to 500 cars off our roads 
  • Every freight train removes on average 76 lorries from our roads 
  • Leaving your car at home and taking the train cuts carbon emissions by two thirds

An interesting observation from their press release stated:

“In a report published earlier this month, the Rail Delivery Group estimated that a 20% shift from rail to road would lead to an extra one million tonnes of CO2 emissions and 300 million hours stuck in traffic jams per year.”

If we take that as a positive outlook, is the problem “Crossrail” and the “HS2” project, neither of which will help the UK achieve its Government stated aim of “Zero Carbon emissions” by 2050 unless the plans to accelerate projects are delivered. HS2 for instance – according to the Public Accounts Committee report (HS2 Summer 2021) this summer suggested the section from London to Birmingham would be completed by 2025, but services would only be started around 2033.

Then of course there have been enormous cost overruns for both of these – neither of which will support a significant move from road to rail for freight services. Perhaps it would be better to provide improvements to existing rail route – freight does not demand such high speeds – in order to connect major goods distribution hubs and make better use of intermodal trains.

It is interesting that the Rail Delivery Group chose such a complex arrangement of various shades of green to emphasise rail transport’s green credentials – I’m not sure it’s going to cut any ice without more actions. It must have been a little embarrassing when the creator – Gerry Barney – of the original British Rail double arrow symbol was reported as making this observation:

“I think that’s rubbish,” he said. “I could understand it if they had just swapped red for green. But why on earth have they got that many colours? It’s a load of old bollocks. It’s just a mess.”

Of course, some of the earlier logos used by British Railways, and the later double-arrow symobol came in for their fair share of criticism.

The original British Rail logo created by Gerry Barney

I’m not sure that the use of green in this current guise actually does the job – it’s a bit like those social media posts that the younger generation use, adding dog or rabbit ears to a friend’s face.

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Travelling by Rail is Now Fashionable

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There was an advert on TV the other day, encouraging people to use the “National Railway Network”.  Odd, I thought, especially since passenger and freight services are run by private train operators, and pay a fee to Network Rail to use the tracks and infrastructure.  So, what is the purpose?

Well, blindingly obvious – it is to get people back on trains as their use has been drastically cut over the past 18 months by this awful Coronavirus Pandemic. 

National Rail enquiries have always used the old British Rail logo

Great idea – but given that the advertisement is to underpin Network Rail – which does not operate trains – and uses the imagery of British Rail from the 1970s and 80s, and they also use the double arrow logo, that was so closely associated with British Rail.

Before anyone mentions it, yes I do know that Nationalrail.co.uk is an online national timetabling service, and it has been using the double arrow symbol for years:

Selling travelling by train with nostalgia seems to be the subliminal messaging going on here – well not that subliminal if I can spot it!  This is what their ad campaign has been saying:

The latest marketing video aiming to convince people to get back on the trains also includes the old British Rail logo – it bears a remarkable similarity to the approach taken in the 1980s.

Anyway, I thought – indeed was told in no uncertain terms back when British Rail existed – that it was a failure, and privatising it was going to make everything so much better, and it would be profitable.   Well that was a mistake, an error, and misleading wasn’t it.  Since “privatisation” the public purse has been well and truly reduced by subsidising the loss making operators.

Still, the “Rail Delivery Group” – a bit like the old Railway Clearing House, or British Transport Commission of the 1940s and 1950s – appears to believe selling the idea on a “national” basis is the way forward, by going backwards with its message content.

Are they suggesting there is no other way forward than to relaunch British Rail?  Their slogan: ‘Let‘s get back on track‘, was created for Network Rail, which, as we know, does not run trains.  Or is it just that if the train operating companies were to come up with a marketing programme, it would need to involve 2 continents, 5 countries (excluding the UK), and 10 parent companies and more than 20 different operators!  Then, in turn there are the companies that actually own the rolling stock – the ROSCOs – there are 9 of them, and they are owned in turn by groups of banks and financial institutions in Canada, China, Germany, France and Australia.

The table below is just the passenger train operating companies – I think it’s relatively accurate, but I’ve excluded the Channel Tunnel, and Eurostar – neither of which are involved with this exercise – well, so far!

Parent CompanyTrain Operator
AbellioAbellio ScotRail (SR),  East Midlands Railway (EM),  Greater Anglia (GA) (60%),  Merseyrail (ME) (50%),  West Midlands Trains (WM) (70%)
ArrivaArriva Rail London (LO),  Chiltern Railways (CH),  CrossCountry (XC),  Grand Central (GC)
East Japan Railway CompanyWest Midlands Trains (WM) (15%)
Department for TransportLondon North Eastern Railway (GR),  Northern Trains (NR)
FirstGroupAvanti West Coast (VT) (70%),  Great Western Railway (GW),  Hull Trains (HT),  South Western Railway (SW) (70%),  TransPennine Express (TP)
Go-Ahead GroupGovia Thameslink Railway (GN, SN, TL),  Southeastern (SE) (65%)
KeolisGovia Thameslink Railway (GN, SN, TL),  Southeastern (SE) (35%)
MitsuiGreater Anglia (GA) (40%),  West Midlands Trains (WM) (15%)
MTR CorporationSouth Western Railway (SW) (30%),  TfL Rail (XR)
SercoCaledonian Sleeper (CS),  Merseyrail (ME) (50%)
Transport for Wales (Welsh Government)Transport for Wales Rail (AW)
Trenitaliac2c (CC),  Avanti West Coast (VT) (30%)

In the 1980s, British Rail were promoting a range of operational, financial and technology improvements and innovations, and included some quite sophisticated marketing too – but it seems that the benefits of rail are only seen clearly during a time of crisis.  Now, it seems transport is on a crisis of economic, financial and environmental proportions, and encouraging people to return to the train is highlighting the crises we are seeing today.

Back in the 1980s, it was “crowned” by the infamous “Serpell Report”, amongst whose chief proposals was the reduction of the national route mileage from 10,500 miles to an incredible 1,630 miles.  Thankfully this ludicrous report was consigned to the dustbin, despite the political climate encouraging the tarmac lobby with wild and weird ideas about converting rail routes into new roads, with one supporter claiming that railways had been anachronism since the pneumatic tyre was born.

The train that never was – well not until the arrival of the “Pendolino” in 2001, which adopted the same technology.
In the 1980s British Rail had a strategy, but it was undermined and overlooked by the transport politics of the day.

But, whilst that absurd plan did not go ahead, British Rail was left to “wither on the vine” in the 1980s, and a prophetic paragraph in the 1980 Rail Policy document indicated the options for the railway at the crossroads:

“A crucial decision has to be taken soon about the future of British Rail. BR must prepare to take either the path of progress by re-equipment and modernisation, or that of decline through a gradual but deliberate run-down of the system. We cannot continue as we have done in the past. We are reaching the dividing of the ways.”

It is easy to look back and say it couldn’t have been implemented, since the early 1980s – at the heart of BR’s “Corporate Plan 1981-85”, because of the dramatic effects of the economic recession.   As we discovered it was a deliberate run down of the system, and the 1990s privatisation was a straw clutching exercise, which, at the same time, saw the national economy clinging on to old fashioned notions of growth and development.

BR Engineering was at the forefront of adopting computer aided design technology, before it too fell victim of the retrograde steps that privatisation forced on the railway industry.

BR was being marketed on a number of fronts: new technology in train control and signalling, fibre-optic communications, computerised systems, greater electrification, expansion of freight services such as “Speedlink”.  For passengers there was the new High Speed Trains – InterCity 125 – and the prospect of the tilting Advanced Passenger Train (APT) – the latter ironically arriving 20 years later via Fiat in Italy, and Bombardier in Birmingham.

Plans for the Channel Tunnel were in hand in the Corporate Plan, and cost savings by replacing diesel traction with electrification were clearly identified, both for long distance and commuter services.  Dedicated high-speed lines to airports like Gatwick and Stansted, where air traffic was rapidly growing were factored into the mix, and whilst the options for less densely populated rural areas were less successful, efforts were being made to change.

Parcels and newspapers were carried by train over the longer distacnces 30 years ago, whilst now, 1,000s of small vans and lorries hurtling up and down the motorways carry that traffic in an unsustaianble way. Anothjer casualty of the backward steps that were implemented after privatisation.

Sadly, none of this was achieving much positive media coverage – the focus, whether broadcast or newsprint relied heavily on promoting expansion of HGVs, and private cars for long and short journeys – oh yes, and the apocryphal on-board catering of the curly sandwich and pork pie.  No thought whatsoever appeared to be given to the environmental impact – and yet less than a decade earlier, the oil crisis of 1974 – suggested there could be challenges ahead.

And yet, these ads seem to provide the same feel as the “Let’s Get Back on the Train” ideas:

Classic 1980s advert – still reaching to encourage us all to use the profitable InterCity services over those long distances. BR’s long distance services’ profitability helped to reduce the cost to the national budget of a national rail service.
I know not many people would recognise Jackie Stewart and Hattoe Jacques, but replace these two with Lewis Hamilton and Dawn French, and with today’s road traffic congestion, I think Dawn French would complete the journey hours before Lewis Hamilton got as far as paying the London congestion charge.

The latest marketing idea to get people back onto the train is likely to fail – not because people don’t want to – it’s because the pandemic and climate emergency has changed the focus, and perhaps those hoardes of parcel delivery vans are not so sustainable for future generations.

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Education at Pace

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Back in May 2019 the need to scrap those railbus units – the “Pacers” – resulted in the suggestions that they could be used to build garden sheds, or even as part of the garden / patio makeover. Some of us, might have thought that a bit of an extreme idea – but here’s the thing – an absolutely brilliant way of utilising a “Pacer” has been adopted by the Dales School at Blyth, Northumberland.

I actually wrote at the time: “You Couldn’t Make It Up”. But, this definitely proves me wrong, I think.

To be fair, I had suggested they had been unpopular and dangerously overcrowded for years, and could not be considered a success for the railway, but the government minister was perhaps more positive:

The arrival at the Dales School, Blyth, Northumberland of a Class 144 twin unit is an inspirational use for these redundant units. The intention is to use it as a learning centre and library, with a a special focus on railway safety and to inspire career aspirations, using a train driving simulator to make learning engaging and fun. 

The unit was previously owned by Porterbrook and leased to Northern Rail, and following its donation by Porterbrook, work on re-purposing this Class 144 was undertaken by Railway Support Services (RSS), which included the removal of the engine and transmission.

RSS provided road transport for the Northern Rail-liveried unit at a discounted rate and the vehicles were delivered from Worksop on 19th July, where it was placed on a short section of track, donated and installed by Network Rail.

Based on two sites at Blyth and Ashington, The Dales is a specialist primary school providing education for children with a variety of additional needs that may not otherwise be met in a mainstream school setting.  Dr Sue Fisher, headteacher at The Dales commented:

  • “This is a dream come true for our children.  The train will provide children with engaging learning opportunities and offer those with additional needs a chance to learn new travel skills, develop career aspirations and a lifelong love of reading.”

Andrew Goodman, managing director of RSS said:

  • “Transport of the two-car Pacer unit was straightforward for us as we have delivered many railway vehicles and locomotives by road transport over recent years.  However because of site constraints, the coaches were unloaded onto a temporary length of track and then slewed into their present position.
  • “We were thrilled to be involved with this imaginative project which sees redundant rail vehicles given a new lease of life, to help and inspire youngsters.

RSS have carried out similar work to enable these “much maligned” multiple units to be put to use elsewhere, including providing services on heritage railways.

So, it seems that the idea of re-using, or is it recycling, these “Pacers” has actually proved beneficial, and who knows maybe they could be adopted and adapted to provide accommodation to relieve the UK’s homeless crisis in some areas. Why not adapt them for use as accommodation for markets in rural areas, or workshops for small businesses and startups, or even holiday accommodation??

Memories of British Railways’ “Camping Coaches” spring to mind – but why not – better to re-use than simply throw them away.

Further reading & Useful Links:

NB: Photos Courtesy Ian Crowder MCIPR – Public Relations for RSS

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Hydrogen Power for a Shunter

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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

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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:

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Almost Re-Nationalisation?

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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.

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