Eurostar – From TMST to E320

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Eurostar Nose at NRM_RPB pictureThe recent withdrawal and scrapping of the first generation of Eurostar trains comes 30 years since the contract for building them was awarded, and barely two years after the last refurbishing was completed. In fact, the international consortium’s tender was submitted in December 1988, with the contract awarded just a year later. The Channel Tunnel was a complicated project, and today, the UK has much less involvement in its operation and planning than ever before. Eurotunnel International Ltd., who run and manage the services and infrastructure, from London to Paris, on what we have termed HS1 is actually majority owned by France, Belgium and Canada. Though to be fair when HS1 was sold off, the UK Government retained freehold ownership of the land, and the infrastructure ownership was just a 30-year concession to a Canadian business and a pension fund.

The International Project Group (IPG) was set up by the three national railways of Britain, France and Belgium in 1988, and the year before, a grouping of some of the most famous names in the rail industry was set up to bid for the work of building the new trains. This joint venture was known as the Trans-Manche Super Train Group (TMSTG), and included:

Screenshot 2020-03-30 at 09.57.57However, in the late 1980s there was a lot of what we now describe as ‘churn’ in the rail industry, with numerous takeovers, and amalgamations, and British Rail Engineering Ltd left the consortium completely, as did Metro-Cammell. GEC merged with Alsthom and bought Metro-Cammell, and it was back in the consortium almost as soon as it left.

Building mapWhen the dust of all these changes had settled, the fixed formation trainsets were built at several locations in Belgium, Britain and France, between 1992 and 1993. Bombardier Eurorail, which had taken over the two Belgian companies built trailer cars, with Brush supplying traction motors, De Dietrich in France the powered trailer cars, and Faiveley Transport the pantographs and control systems. The newly merged GEC-Althom took on perhaps the lion’s share of the work in 13 different locations across France and England.

TMST No. 3002

The classic TMST, set number 3002 seen here in September 2013 on its way from London to Brussels, photographed at Enghien, Belgium.  Photo © Andy Engelen

They were perhaps the most complex machines introduced for what was seen as a challenging operation. They were essentially based on the TGV Atlantique series for SNCF, but with 18 coaches placed between two power cars – but they are a pair of 10-coach half-trains connected back to back. They were designed to operate on three different electrification systems, and the power systems included some of the most cutting edge technology at the time.   Design and manufacturing processes were also enhanced to take advantage of the then current ‘Lean Manufacturing’ techniques, in the UK, France and Belgium.

TMST in build_1

Attaching a TMST power car to its bogie at Alsthom’s factory in France, alongside its predecessor – the TGV Atlantique set on the adjacent track.

The GEC-Alsthom built TMSTs have an installed power on 25kV AC of 12.2 MW, and a complete train weighs in at 750 tonnes, and an overall length of 294 metres, carrying 750 passengers, and noted as Class 373 in Britain.

The new 16-coach e320 trainsets are derived from the Siemens ICE3 trains for Germany, from which Siemens developed the “Velaro” range, which has been used in a number of other countries, including Russia and Spain. The new Eurotunnel trains – noted as Class 374 in Britain – require a less complex power equipment and contact system, compared to the TMSTs, although much of the power technology is a development of that used previously.  Although no longer needing to operate on 750v DC 3rd rail lines in Britain, they are still required to operate on 25kV AC and 1.5kV / 3kV DC voltage systems between London, Paris, Brussels and beyond. A key development in the power train has been the placing of the traction equipment beneath the vehicle floors, where on the original TMSTs the hardware was installed in the leading and trailing power cars, with the trains being essentially a ‘push-pull’ format.

Velaro-Hochgeschwindigkeitszüge: Eurostar e320 / Velaro Eurostar e320 high-speed trains

The new kid on the block – an e320 on test at the Siemens Mobility test site in Wegberg-Wildenrath – a classic in the making, and based on years of development from ICE to the Velaro platform.   Photo: “www.siemens.com/press”

These new cross channel trains are actually much more powerful than their predecessors, with a maximum rating of 16MW, delivered through 32 of the 64 axles, and carrying 900 passengers, with each car or coach being part of the power train and drive. The reason for the ability to increase passenger numbers is simply because the new trains have power converters carried below the vehicle floors, together with other changes in bogie and running gear design. Overall appearance is changed too, with styling – internal as well as the exterior – provided by the Italian design house ‘Pininfarina’, whilst the combination of aluminium and GRP mouldings are standard for coach bodies.

One of the main challenges faced by Eurostar occurred when the contract was placed with the builders. In 2009, Alstom launched a series of complaints and legal actions, claiming that the new Siemens design would breach Eurotunnel safety rules, but the courts rejected this. Alstom then lodged a complaint with the European Commission in 2010 over the tendering process, and in 2011, a last ditch claim was made through the UK High Court, where the company’s claim of “ineffective tendering process” was rejected. By 2012, Alstom called off all legal action against Eurostar, perhaps helped by SNCF taking up a contract option to buy another 40 of the high-speed double-deck trains. Then finally, the first of the new e320 series was unveiled in November 2014, and entered passenger service in 2015. On November 20th, one of the 16-car sets formed the 10.24 from London St Pancras to Paris Nord, and they have now been operational for almost 4 years.

Although these new Eurostar trains have had a difficult birth, with the parent operating company’s indication to extend its cross-channel services to Amsterdam and into Germany, their future looks promising. In fact, just over two years after the first e320 began operating, a new service from London to Amsterdam was started, with a further expansion of train numbers on the route in 2019.

Technical Comparisons

TMST Dimensions

e320 No 4016

New e320 train 4016 from London to Brussels, photographed at Enghien, Belgium in July 2017.        Photo © Andy Engelen

Power equipment – state of the art technology

A key component of both designs of train has been the power conversion equipment. The TMST adopted high-power GTO thyristors for this key component, which was at that time the ‘state of the art’ in traction power technology, all of which were included in the ‘Common Bloc’ sub-assemblies.   These were the heart of the TMST, and assembled at GEC-Alsthom’s Preston works, with the Trafford Park (Manchester) factory supplying the ‘plug-in’ semiconductor modules, with other components coming from GEC ALSTHOM factories at Belfort, Tarbes and Villeurbanne in France, and Charleroi in Belgium.

Eurostar Cab under construction

Eurostar Power Car under construction

TMST Power car under construction – the upper view is of the the steel and aluminium body after painting, and shows the steel framing of the bodysides. The lower view is the one-piece GRP moulding for the power car nose.        Photo RPBradley Collection / GEC-Alsthom

TMST Common Bloc Assembly

The heart of the TMST Powercar is the ‘Common Bloc’, here seen assembled at the Preston Works of GEC-Alsthom in 1992.         Photo RPBradley Collection / GEC-Alsthom

Naturally, the technology has moved on, and the new e320 trains use IGBT technology, together with the now commonplace asynchronous traction motors on multiple axles. The original TMST trains included the GEC-Alsthom designed units mounted – ‘Common Bloc’ and MPC’s – in the leading and trailing power cars. In contrast the new Siemens design has the equipment distributed under the floors of the 16 cars, allowing the extra passenger space. With a traction power of 16MW, Eurostar e320 can reach a maximum operating speed of 320km/h (200mph). It is provided with eight identical and independent traction converter units designed to operate on 25kV AC and 1.5kV / 3kV DC voltage systems, and delivering power to the 32 driven axles. On the roof, each train carries eight pantographs for the different power systems and contact line types in Netherlands, Belgium, France and the UK.

3rd rail contact shoe

The appendage that is no longer needed on the e320 Eurostar trains is the 3rd rail contact shoe seen in this view.

One item missing from the new Eurostar trains is of course the need to collect power from the old Southern Region third rail contact system – no more 750V dc contact equipment, and no embarrassing chugging along from the Channel Tunnel to London. In the original build this was of course the only way to get from Waterloo to the Tunnel, but after HS1 was completed, the need was no longer there. The e320s do still have to cope with different voltages – 1.5kV/3kV dc, in Belgium and the Netherlands – alongside the almost universal 25kV a.c., but all contact systems are overhead.

Control and signalling

Back when the GEC-Alsthom TMST trains were being built, the use of on-board computers was still in the early days – much was often made in the press of the novelty of microprocessor control of traction motors, wheelslip and slide, which are now commonplace. The control systems now all encompass software and computer control of every aspect of the train’s operating functions, alongside the essential interactions with legacy lineside signalling adding to the complexity of the latest designs. The drive towards implementing ERTMS/ETCS across the principal main line and high-speed routes has been happening in a piecemeal manner – obviously perhaps – but it’s not in place everywhere. Different national systems have evolved and implemented systems that meet their own operating criteria and specifications, and the new Eurostar trains still have to have and meet these different requirements.

The train’s signalling, control and train protection systems include a Transmission Voie-Machine (TVM) signalling system, Contrôle de Vitesse par Balises (KVB) train protection system, Transmission Beacon Locomotive (TBL) train protection system, Runback Protection System (RPS), European Train Control System (ETCS), Automatic train protection (ATP) system, Reactor Protection System (RPS) and Sibas 32 train control system.

TMST Drivers' desk

The driving position of the original TMST – still looks like an aircraft cockpit, and we’ve moved on again since this was built. Photo: RPBradley Collection

All of this technology is plugged into the control panels and displays at the driver’s desk, whilst concurrently assessing, evaluating and storing information about each aspect of the train’s performance. Real time information is passed back to both the train operating and control centres, whether in Paris, Brussels or London, and a log of any and all messages about the condition of moving, and some non-moving components is logged on-board and transmitted to the maintenance centres.

Bogies and drives

Back in the 1990s, the original TMST sets were equipped with Jacobs bogies shared between adjacent carriages, as was the practice on the TGV sets from which they were derived. The coaches next to the power cars and the two central coaches (coaches 9 and 10 in a full-length set) were not articulated.

Trailer Bogie

TMST trailer car bogie – 4 brake discs per axle.                Photo: RPBradley Collection/GEC-Alsthom

The e320 (Class 374) bogies are essentially the SF 500 design, used on DB’s ICE3 trains, and adapted for either driven or non driven (trailer) bogie operation, with two bogies per coach. The bogie frame itself is an ‘H’ frame design with traction motors mounted laterally on motor bogies, driving the motored axles through a spiral toothed coupling. The now well-proven air suspension system has been adopted for secondary suspension.

Motor Bogie

TMST motor bogie.                Photo: RPBradley Collection/GEC-Alsthom

The axles, suspension and bearings are fitted with a range of sensors, all needing to be cabled up to the vehicle body. The cables on the bogie are initially routed to a form of terminal box in the centre of the bogie, and from there are routed up to the vehicle, suitably contained and protected from any environmental damage. Modern systems such as those used on these trains are able to provide diagnostic information, and to some degree early detection of impending operational problems.

Much more than a hi-tech equivalent of the old wheeltapper, using the back of his hand to detect a hot running axle bearing. For instance, the sensors on the e320 bogies are an integrated system to monitor wheelsets, bearings, suspension and damper performance, and the overall condition of the bogie. Both powered and trailing SF 500 bogies include mainly identical components, which makes for ease of replacement, maintenance and repair. All of the bogie design and successful operation is attributable to the ICE train project, and development through ICE1, ICE2, and the most recent ICE3 trains.

Velaro_E_bogie

An SF500 bogie fitted to the same Siemens ‘Velaro’ platform as the e320 Eurostar trains. Photo: Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=57593082 

The bogies also carry the rail level braking equipment, and the Eurostar e320 is equipped with three separate technologies – a regenerative braking system, a rheostatic brake system, and a pneumatic brake system.  In the original TMST sets (Class 373), the traction motors on the powered axles provide the rheostatic braking with conventional clasp brakes operating on the wheel tread.
 The non-powered axles have four ventilated disc brakes per axle.

There has been significant progress in the development of braking systems through a wide range of options, including the use of different materials in the brake discs, and magnetic track brakes, which were used on the DB ICE3 trains. But high-speed stopping demands a sophisticated, multi-layered braking system to ensure that passenger safety is maintained, and the technology used is another story.

Bodyshells, passenger facilities, and information systems

GEC’s TMST original trainsets were built in two forms: long and short. 31 trainsets were long, with 18 trailers between two power units, whilst the remaining 7 were short, with only 14 trailers. The short trainsets were intended for services north of London, to destinations such as Manchester and Glasgow, where platform lengths are insufficient to accommodate longer trains.

Eurostar Trailer Car under construction

TMST Class 373 trailer car under construction.                   Photo: RPBradley Collection/GEC-Alsthom

TMST coach bodies were made from a combination of traditional steel, aluminium, GRP and composite materials. The vehicle dynamics have changed dramatically, with higher speeds demanding changes in structure, greater strength, but lighter weight, to take the stresses demanded by modern train operations.   This was the case with the original TMST trains, and as can be seen from the images, the nose sections were particularly suitable for the use of GRP and composite materials. In terms of material, little has changed in the structures, although the e320 series makes much more use of aluminium, and the aerodynamics have changed significantly, as a result of the advances in technology.

TMST Power Car under construction

TMST Class 373 Power Car under construction.                   Photo: RPBradley Collection/GEC-Alsthom

Construction of the original TMST trains was carried out at GEC-Alsthom’s Washwood Heath plant in Britain, La Rochelle and Belfort in France, and at the Bruges works of Brugeoise et Nivelles BN (now Bombardier).

The new “Velaro” based e320 trains were built from 2011 at Siemens’ works at Krefeld, near Dusseldorf, followed by testing at the company’s Wildenrath location. Whilst the new trains were due to enter service in 2014, due to delays in gaining full TSI approval, the ‘rollout’ to operational service did not take place until 2015.

Overall, seating has increased from 794 to 902, with facilities at the seats that allow tarvellers to plug in to charge mobile phones, make use of USB ports, and of course on-board Wi-Fi systems. We tend to demand a little more these days than a newspaper (in 1st class) and a cup of earl grey, as we stay connected to business, family and friends, wherever we are, on the move or not. Passenger information systems have evolved to meet the changing needs of the travelling public too – less on-board passenger information displays perhaps, more “download the app” and check for yourself. That said, getting information to and from the moving train is a vastly different world of track to train communications compared to the original setup.

Operations

TMST Numbers

As noted previously, the original TMST trainsets came in two kinds: long and short. 31 trainsets are long, with 18 trailers between two power units. The remaining 7 are short, with only 14 trailers. The short trainsets intended for services north of London, other than a brief spell to help the newly privatised GNER train company out, were never fully used, and were later transferred to France for other duties. It had been suggested that a reason for not running the services beyond London was down to the ‘crude design’ of British Rail overhead contact lines, and routes across London. Another reason advanced was the growing numbers of budget airlines. The idea that the overhead contact system was less sophisticated is unlikely – especially in view of the operation of high-speed “Pendolino”, tilting trains on the main lines. The complexity of finding a route across or around London, along with the lack of investment was probably the most obvious reason.

The TMST’s primary operation was of course to run through the Channel Tunnel between London, Paris and Brussels. However, whilst in France and Belgium, high-speed electrified routes were well used, in Britain, between the Channel Tunnel and London, only the existing 3rd rail electrification was actually on the ground. A high-speed (HS1) was being planned, but as a temporary measure, the powerful new TMST sets simply trundled across the 60 or so miles to a temporary “International Station” at London’s Waterloo.

In contrast to the TMSTs, the new e320 series trains were planned to develop the core services from London St Pancras, to Paris Gare du Nord, and Brussels Midi. To meet anticipated competition from DB in particular, Eurostar’s new trains were also pencilled in to provide services to Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Cologne, and other destinations in France. The original TMST sets were not capable of running under the wires into the Netherlands, and the new trains certainly give Eurostar that option, and even more flexibility.

Modifications and upgrades

In 2004/5, only 22 of the original TMST sets were in daily use, and the interiors were looking jaded, and so Eurostar decided to provide these ageing speed demons with a new interior look and colour scheme, but that was not the last change. As the original TMST sets were nearing the end of their working life, around the time that Eurostar was picking the supplier for its new generation trains, another refurbishment was planned.   This was a slightly more extensive update, beyond new colours and styling changes, upgrades to traction systems were proposed, to get the trains to work operate beyond 2020. These final upgrades were delayed, instead of 2012, the first revamped TMST did not appear until 2015.

Both of these upgrades could be construed as papering over the cracks, especially looking around at how traction drive technology, and indeed the whole technology of the train had developed since they were built, it was perhaps their last hurrah. The new e320 series are state of the art, both in technology, aerodynamics, construction and operation, and were quickly going to replace the pioneers on these international services.

End of the Line

In 2010, the replacement trains ordered by Eurostar of course led to the withdrawal of the original TMST sets. They have had almost 27 years of international service, since first taking to the rails in 1993, and 21 years before the new e320 series started operations in 2014.

In 2016, Eurostar sent the first of the TMST (Class 373) trains for scrap at Kingsbury, by European Metal Recycling (EMR), but by early 2017 the exact number of sets to be scrapped had not been confirmed. The working theory then was that between 17 and 22 of the TMST, Class 373 trains would be scrapped. That said, a small number of the original trains were set to be refurbished, complete with Eurostar’s new livery, and reclassified as e300. Amongst the reasons for this, one source noted that because the new e320 series trains are not fitted with the UK’s AWS magnets, they can’t work into Ashford, or apparently, Avignon in France. Ah, well, off to the scrapyard for the others.

In December 2016 the 3rd Class 373 had arrived at Kingsbury, to be scrapped by European Metal Recycling, and re-use was now out of the question, but at least some of the materials were being recovered and recycled. In fact 50 of the original 77 Class 373 TMST still operate Eurostar services, with 27 withdrawn between December 2014 and January 2018. Of these, 16 were scrapped by EMR, one had been sent to the National Railway Museum in York, and two retained in France at the Romilly Technical Centre, with two others being sent to the National College for High-Speed Rail at Doncaster and Birmingham in England. At least one of their number are still awaiting their fate in a siding as the vegetation starts to make inroads into the structure – along with a liberal amount of graffiti. A sad end for a ground breaking high-speed train design, though not as sad as at least one set, one of the refurbished sets, which was – and still is crumbling to dust at Valenciennes.

Abandoned Eurostar 3017:3018 near Valenciennes

One of the dying breed – a TMST Class 373 set awaiting its fate at Valenciennes in the Nord Region of North East France, close to the border with Belgium in 2016.             Photo © Andy Engelen

Here’s the next generation:

Velaro-Hochgeschwindigkeitszüge: Eurostar e320 / Velaro Eurostar e320 high-speed trains

The new generation does have a solid reputation to live up to – and it certainly looks the part.           Photo: “www.siemens.com/press”

Passiondutrain.com

A Eurostar Velaro E320 set 4023/24 on the 9031 Paris/London St Pancras service at Longueau , near Amiens    Photo:   By BB 22385 / Rame 4023-24 E320 détourné par la gare de Longueau / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=57593082

Useful Links

 

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BR Regional Magazines

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I was fortunate to have a Grandfather who drove steam engines, right through from pre-Grouping to British Railways days, and was the beneficiary of numerous copies of the BR London Midland Region magazine – avidly read when I was on holiday.  Obviously, many of the stories related to people, locations, and some new technology developments – locomotives, new stations, new lines, and a gardening section.

Each area, and region of course had their own sports teams, first aid teams, amateur dramatics sections, and individuals who had built models from matchsticks, or replicas of main line steam locomotives in miniature.  There were the retirements, and trbutes to the people who built and ran the railways in the past, and those who worked on the permanent way, maintaining its safety, and keeping the trains running.  The extent and variety of activities and events reported were enormous, with reflections on the past in equal measure to the changes then taking place.

One interesting series of items that appeared in the 1950s was John Drayton’s  “Illustrated Rules”, which took specific rules, and with the aid of a cartoon illustration provided a simplified explanation of how they were applied.  Sometimes they were very serious, and sometimes the cartoon might show some of those railwaymen who knew it was OK to hang off the footsteps on a moving loco – like this one:

Drayton0015

Rule 118 in the 1950 rule book does indeed state:

“Staff riding on engines or vehicles, or when on the ground alongside vehicles, at converging points in sidings, must take special care that there is sufficient clearance for their safety”

Or this one about the emission of smoke and steam from engines – Rule 126 (v):

“arrange the fire so as to avoid any unnecessary emission of smoke particularly whilst standing at or passing stations, and prevent blowing off steam at safety valves as far as possible”

Drayton0018

 

But not everything John Drayton sketched was about the rule book, he offered some interesting drawings about new technology too:

Drayton0035Drayton0036Drayton0037

Of course, the LM Region Magazine covered new loco builds – like this one – the Crosti boilered 9F 2-10-0s, which were very much a non-standard design of British Railways Standard steam locomotive designs.  This was the story the magazine carried in July 1955 of the Crewe built locomotives.

Franco-Crosti

I’ll post some more of John Drayton’s sketches, and others in future posts.

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Britain’s Train Hell

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Fascinating story emerging over the past 24 hours or so – about the storage of unused emu’s in places like Crewe, Worksop, Ely and Long Marston, all being covered by the national press, and Channel 4 are broadcasting  a “Dispatches” documentary on the TV today – 16th March.

The “Guardian”‘s take is here:

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2020/mar/16/investigation-reveals-number-of-ghost-trains-lying-idle-in-britain 

I love the idea they are described as “Ghost Trains” – I’ve seen the Arnold Ridley classic film “The Ghost Train” with Arthur Askey.

No – I know if what the media are reporting isn’t funny, but whilst the idea that these old Class 319 units, and former London Undergound cars are being held in storage, and maybe could be used on ‘commuter routes’, these reports need context.  So, if we only have 40% of the network electrified, and major electrification projects have been cancelled, would refurbishing this stock be an important option towards solving the UK’s capacity problem.

Probably not – and in the current Coronavirus crisis this is perhaps less of an issue, but it should further identify problems that underfunding on rail infrastructure has created, and the disastrous approach to rail privatisation the UK has taken.

The storage of these trains and the waste created has been an inevitable outcome of the lack of a co-ordinated transport strategy – or “joined up thinking” as you might say, and the train operating ‘short termism’ of the industry’s approach.

Still looking forward to the Channel 4 documentary to see what Marcus Mayers from Manchester Metropolitan University has uncovered in his investigation.

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Petrol Electric Railcars

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When researching material for my book on the history of GEC Traction, I came across a description of the “British Westinghouse” petrol-electric railcars, which were of course the design developed for the Great Central Railway, and which took to the rails in 1912. The British Westinghouse Co. became Metropolitan-Vickers, and ultimately part of the GEC Traction empire.

Britisah Westinghouse - cover imageThe development of an effective internal combustion engine had been going on for centuries, but the true petrol engine was ‘invented’ in the later 19th Century, developed from gas engines then in use, but the most successful was of course the engine designed by Nikolaus Otto. This ‘free piston’ design arrived in an 1864 patent, in England, and 12 years later, in 1876, in partnership with Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach, the 4-stroke, compressed charge engine. The 4-stroke arrangement has also been described as the “Otto Cycle”.

Leaving aside the patenting in England of the first 2-stroke internal combustion engine in 1881, the earliest recorded use of the word ‘petrol’ appeared in 1884, when Edward Butler designed and built the first engine to use spark plugs, magneto/ignition coil, and spray jet carburettor. Butler had invented these last essential components of the 4-stroke petrol engine.

Still waiting in the wings was Rudolf Diesel and the compression-ignition engine, but for the years between 1884 and the First World War, petrol-electric transmission was attracting the attention of the transport industry, and especially some railways.

Why petrol-electric, and why railcars?

In essence, the railcar idea had been around since before the turn of the 19th to 20th Century – commonly known as steam railmotors, and were set to work on the railway companies’ lightly loaded, and rural branch lines. The economics of self-propelled rolling stock was all well and good for urban and intra/inter-urban operations had been long proven before the start of the First World War, but of course, these were electrically powered, both overhead and by conductor rails. On top of this, urban and suburban tramways had seen considerable expansion, with the electrical technology and vehicles manufactured by the likes of Dick, Kerr & Co., another GEC Traction business as English Electric in later years.

Acsev14

Railcar n°. 14 of ACsEV (United Arad and Csanád Railway Comapny) in Hungary (since 1919 in Romania). One of the first petrol-electric railcars, which were built since 1903, serially since 1905/6, by Johann Weitzer Company (Arad). The internal combustion engine came from De Dion-Bouton, the electric equipment from Siemens-Schuckert        Photo: Original author unknown – http://villamosok.hu/bhev/jarmuvek/mavatvett/acsev14.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=23108680  

 

Benzin-elektr_Weitzer(DeDion-Bouton)1906

Petrol-electric railcar of ACsEV (Arad & Csanád United Railways), built 1903/1906 ff. by Johann Weitzer AG in Arad with an internaml combustion engine from De Dion-Bouton and electric equipment from Siemens-Schuckert

Overseas railways were more enthusiastic to the development of non-steam motive power, and the British Westinghouse railcar design had been supplied to Hungary, where 16 such vehicles were in service on the Arad to Caanad Railway Co. On top of this another 18 were running on the Ooster Stoomtram Mattschappij in Holland, and smaller numbers of similar types at work in France, Germany and Sweden.

The North East Railway Autocar

Autocar_at_Filey_Station

NER 1903 Autocar at Filey Station Photo: Ken Hoole Study Centre – http://www.electricautocar.co.uk, FAL, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15891980

Back in the UK, the Great Central Railway railcar was not the first – although it was, at that time the biggest – in service in Britain. The honour of being the first non-steam railcar goes to the old North Eastern Railway company, when in 1903 it introduced a pair of what the company described as “autocars”. The idea to look at this form of traction for the NER was said to have been attributed to Vincent Raven, then the railway’s Assistant Chief
 Mechanical Engineer, who was drawn to the technology, and its advantages by expanding use on tramcars and tramways in the early 1900s.

The magazine “Automotor” (now “Commercial Motor”) published an article in 1909 that included this comment on those “autocars”:

“The North-Eastern Railway Company—one of the most progressive in this country—attempted such a solution a few years ago, and, largely owing to the persistence and the considerable genius of the district mechanical engineer, Mr. W. Murray, who had charge of the experiments, a couple of self-contained petrol-electric 50-ton coaches were successfully evolved and were running until quite recently in regular service with every satisfaction. That, however, was a fight against long odds. It was a mistake to attempt to convert heavy bogie passenger coaches of standard design.”

Whilst this was certainly the first such example in regular commercial service, other countries were making much more rapid progress, and by the time this story appeared in the press, Hungarian State Railways had no fewer than 150 petrol-electric railcars in operation. They were, like the NER design, lightweight vehicles, typically weighing a mere 19 tons, with 100hp deDion power technology.

The NER railcar (https://www.lner.info/locos/IC/ner_petrolelectric.php )was initially fitted with an 85hp Napier engine, but this was replaced in 1904 with engines from Wolseley Motors Ltd, initially of 100hp, in a flat four layout. In turn, the petrol engine was connected directly to the main generator from British Westinghouse, which supplied the electrical power to a pair of 64hp d.c. traction motors carried on the bogie under the ‘engine room’.

1904WolseleyFlat4Engine

The Wolseley Motors Flat 4 Engine for NER railcar

The fact that Westinghouse was involved is interesting, and demonstrates perhaps the enthusiasm that some engineers were pressing in the rail industry for non-steam traction, built on the considerable success that Westinghouse, Dick, Kerr and others had gained with tramways. However, it was the lack of enthusiasm and speed of the take-up of electric, or non-steam traction, by the railway companies, and equally in the slow progress of tramway growth in Britain that ultimately led to Westinghouse leaving the market before 1920.

The NER railcars survived in service in North East England, in particular on services to and from Scarborough, Harrogate and Selby until they were withdrawn in 1931. The body of No. 3170 was used as a holiday home at Kirbymoorside until it was rescued by an enthusiast in 2003, and is now fully restored and operational at the Embsay and Bolton Abbey Railway.

Whilst the NER can justly claim to have built the first petrol-electric railcar, with support from British Westinghouse, it wasn’t long before others became interested in the technology. Working with the Great Central Railway, the British Westinghouse Electric & Manufacturing Co., designed and built the company’s first petrol-electric railcar, which took to the rails in 1912. According to the makers, this was a straightforward attempt to overcome some of the drawbacks of steam rail motors in urban and branch line workings.

In their publication of 1912, the company made this florid assertion about the benefits of their new railcar for the Great Central:

“The solution of this problem, offered by the British Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Co., Ltd., is the petrol-electric car. All of the disadvantages peculiar to the steam auto-car are done away with, and, at the same time, a great number of the advantages, which result when suburban railway systems are electrified, are also secured. The principal among these advantages are smooth and rapid acceleration and the absence of smoke and dirt.”

It has been stated that Sam Fay, General Manager of the Great Central Railway (GCR), had been impressed by the performance of petrol-electric railcars in Hungary and the rest of Europe, which opened the door to another example of this emerging technology. In this new example, the vehicle was ordered from British Westinghouse, as prime contractor, with the car body built by the United Electric Car Co., in Preston.   The United Electric company’s workshops were just across the road from Dick, Kerr & Co., which later formed the core of English Electric, and the competition for rail traction equipment orders between the Preston and Manchester based companies continued until long after their absorption into GEC Traction.

The GCR – Westinghouse Railcar

This could have been described as the first petrol-electric railcar designed and built by a private company, and sold to a British railway – clearly both the Great Central and British Westinghouse wanted this to be a success that would generate sales. In general layout, this was a saloon coach, fitted with two bogies, one of which carried a pair of dc traction motors.

1912-great-central-railway-petrol-electric-railcarPlan and elevation of railcar

Main Dimensions

Main Dimensions Table

Westinghouse engineThe power unit itself was a six-cylinder 90hp unit, and included 140mm bore x 156mm stroke cylinders, cast as three pairs, and running at 1,150 rpm. The engine was, like any conventional petrol engine, water cooled, and directly coupled to a d.c. generator rated at 60 kW, through a flexible coupling. The whole assembly was then mounted on a ‘bent channel iron bedplate’, making it as compact and rigid as possible. Given that steel was also available, it is a wonder that, given this new technology, a new, stronger material was not used.

Exhaust and engine cooling made use of the car’s roof, where the engine silencer and radiator were mounted.

Westinghouse generator in GCR carThe engine and generator unit was fitted at the leading end of the coach, and as the manufacturer stated: “ … all parts are in easy view and readily accessible for inspection and adjustment.”.   The generator supplied power to a pair of 64hp axle-hung d.c. traction motors carried on the bogie in what became the classic arrangement for diesel electric traction for the following decades. The Westinghouse traction motors were totally to provide protection from dirt and moisture.

Control, unsurprisingly, made use of the company’s standard series-parallel controller, as used on tramcars, and light rail vehicles already in service. The single driver’s handle managed both the excitation of the generator field coils, and the petrol engine speed – and two control positions at either end of the vehicle were provided.   In an early adoption of the “dead man’s device”, if a driver released his hold on the handle, power to the traction motors was automatically cut.

Interior of Westinghouse GCR coachThe coach body was of course built in wood on a metal underframe, with the outside finish being “teak painted, lined with gold”, and the interior in a mixture of polished oak and American ash, all it was stated in accordance with GCR practice.

Operations

On completion, trials took place in and around Manchester, near the British Westinghouse (Metropolitan-Vickers) factory where the railcar was built, and followed by a press trip on 28th March 1912 between Marylebone and South Harrow.   A practice continued to this day, when new trains are delivered, or new technology is deployed.

Much the same as happens today, with new trains, over a century later.

The GCR-Westinghouse railcar has received little attention in the press, and in the first couple of years was likely operating some rush hour services out of Marylebone, as London’s suburban empoire grew. By the outbreak of the First World War it was based at Dinting and operated the Glossop branch. By all accounts it was unreliable too, and during severe winter weather, and periods of hard frosts, meant that the radiator had to be drained and emptied each night.

Following the end of the hostilities, the company introduced a new service from Macclesfield Central to Bollington, which later became known as the “Bollington Shuttle”.   This service was begun in August 1921, and the railcar earned the affectionate (?) nickname, the “Bollington Bug”. An interesting photo was published in ‘Cheshire Live” in May 2019, showing the “Bollington Bug” at Macclesfield Station in 1925 (see link below). The railcar continued to operate this service until its final withdrawal on 6th July 1935.

Westinghouse_Petrol-Electric_Railcar_1914_(10467965833) copy

The Westinghouse petrol-electric railcar as supplied to New Zealand in 1914, just a couple of years after the GCR prototype in England.       Photo: Archives New Zealand from New Zealand – Westinghouse Petrol-Electric Railcar 1914, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=51251174

Undeterred, Westinghouse made what it described as ‘tropical versions’ of this design, some of which ended up operating in Australia and New Zealand. In appearance they were the same as the Great Central Railway versions, but with a number of detail differences, as shown in the image below.

Ironically perhaps, the ex-GCR railcar on that service was replaced by a Sentinel steam railcar. Steam and coal were still king in the 1930s, 40s and 50s in the UK, but the inter-war years also saw one or two other diesel powered railcar developments, including on the GWR, and the LMS, where “Bluebird” appeared. But no other petrol-electric railcars appeared in passenger carrying service after these isolated examples.

Useful Links & Further Reading:

 

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Coniston Branch – Gateway to the Lakes

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Foxfield – Junction for Coniston and the Lakes

Although in existence for 100 years, it has not acquired the fame of its near neighbour, the shorter Lakeside Branch. Yet, it is, or rather was, equally picturesque. Running for nearly ten miles on continuously rising gradients – well almost, there were a couple of sections of level or falling grades – the terminus at Coniston was set against the dramatic backdrop of “Coniston Old Man”, towering to some 2000ft. above village and
railway.

Foxfield Jct_1

Foxfield as it was in 1919, with the ‘old railway’ connection to Broughton noted at the very top of the map.              “Reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland”

The Coniston Branch of the former Furness Railway Co. was actually formed as a separate company by a group or Furness directors, and incorporated on 10th August 1857. Opened on18th June 1859, and closed only seven months short of its centenary, in October1958, the track was very soon lifted, and the impressive station building at the Coniston end of the line demolished.

Peter Millar photo from FB

The terminus of the Furness Railway’s branch at Coniston with its impressive, mountainous backdrop, where, from nearby quarries, both slate and copper had been extracted for many years. Coniston was also the birthplace of the famous water colour artist, w. Heaton-Cooper. Photo: Peter Millar

Strictly speaking the line to Coniston, as the Coniston Railway, was built from Broughton, the one time Junction of the Furness Railway with the Whitehaven & Furness Junction (W&FJ) main line from Millom. The inverted “Y” connection proved troublesome in operation, with main line trains between Barrow and Millom having to reverse at Broughton. The Furness absorbed the W&FJ Co. in July 1866, in order to remove the threat posed by that company’s plan to build a viaduct across the Duddon into F.R. territory. This direct threat to Furness traffic was thus effectively removed, although the plans to carry the main line across the estuary by a viaduct were retained for a time, unti1 the costs of construction forced the company to use the present roundabout route
to Millom and West Cumberland.

Broughton Station copy

First station on the branch to Coniston was Broughton, seen here in a view taken in later years.

However, their was a penalty to be paid for this., and as a consequence of abandoning the Duddon Crossing Scheme – Bills for which were laid before Parliament – the Furness was required for many years, to carry passengers around the coastal route for the same fare as would have been paid over a shorter, more direct line, using the viaduct. From 1870 onwards then, the main line was taken over the Duddon Just north of Foxfield, on a much smaller bridge. The short cut-off line from Foxfield to the Duddon Bridge forming the third side of a triangular Junction, replacing the previous end on connection with the W&FJ line, and putting Broughton firmly on the Foxfield to Coniston branch line.

Broughton_1

The original end point for traffic from Coniston, before the link to Foxfield was built, was Broughton, but shown here in an 1892 map, and connecting to the Furness Railway.    “Reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland”

 

Woodland Station

Woodland Station – the second along the branch – seen here in a postcard view – also shows the passing loop alongside the platform on the south side of the line.

Remaining stations on the Coniston line included Torver, a moderately sized village, two miles from Coniston, and the single platform at Woodland, the midpoint of the line. Construction ran into difficulty almost straight away, 
as the main contractor, Mr Charles Pickles of Bradford was, as they say, financially embarrassed, and declared bankrupt in August 1858. That is not to say that the work involved the Coniston line had proved complicated, rather the opposite in fact, and was easily completed by local sub-contractors under direct Furness Railway supervision.

RPB Photo 1156

The sad remains of the derelict goods shed at Torver, captured in the 1980s.  Photo (c) Rodger Bradley

The ·main purpose behind the building of the line was to provide transport for the copper and slate mined and quarried in and around Coniston, to the existing railhead at Broughton, and finally exported over Furness metals to Barrow and beyond.

Bearing this in mind, it is curious to note that it was in fact opened for passenger traffic first, on 18/6/1859, with the Board of Trade Inspector passing it fit for the carriage of goods traffic the following year. In 1862 the line was absorbed into the Furness Railway proper, and from the later Victorian era, some effort was made to establish tourist traffic, which continued until the 1950s as part of numerous road/rail/steamer tours in Lakeland.

Torver Station copy

Torver Station was the last stop before Coniston, and at the summit of the branch, from where the last 2 miles into Coniston were on gently falling gradients.

Geographically – always good to bear in mind for scenery and the like! – the approach to Foxfield from the south, is over Angerton Marsh, following the shores of the Duddon Estuary, across which the massive bulk of ‘Black Combe’ can be clearly seen. On the southern shore, the railway enters Foxfield by way of a short cutting through the limestone ridge of Foxfield Bank. The double track main line is separated by the station’s island platform, which houses, or rather housed, the station building, signal box, partial overall roof, and a small goods shed on a parallel road, outside the down main line. The main lines come together again immediately north of the station, curving away to the north west, whilst the Coniston Branch Junction made off to the right, or north easterly, heading for 
Broughton.

Coniston Station_1

The impressive location of Coniston Station, shadowed by the Furness Fells, and with stunning views of Coniston Water. As goods traffic declined, tourist traffic grew, but sadly no longer extant – what might have been?        “Reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland”

The main lines were carried past the site of the former Junction
at Foxfield Farm, on an embankment built out from Foxfield Point, to carry the railway over the Duddon River on a short viaduct, and on into Cumberland. Back at Foxfield, the station and Junction is a mere 25ft above sea level, whilst almost from the ends of the points set for Coniston, the line began its upward climb. For almost 1·mile, the Coniston line curved away northward on a quite gentle gradient of no more than 1 in 3970, but steepened rapidly through 1 in 400 to 1 in 229, and entered Broughton only 1-¼ miles from the junction, on a rising grade of 1 in 59. Passing the rocky outcrops of Eccle Riggs and The Knott, through Broughton Station the gradient steepened further to 1 in 49 as the line turned north eastwards towards Woodland Station.

Sandwiched between Broughton Moor to the north west, and Woodland Fell to the south east, the route followed the break in the high ground along the course of two rivers – Kirkby Pool and Steers Pool. Even along these two ‘valleys’, the track pursued its upward climb on gradients of between 1 in 179 and 1 in 81 to reach the small station at Woodland. Entry over a level crossing – one of five on this route – the single platform supported buildings constructed from local stone and slate, including a telegraph office and signal box. The smallest station on the line was just 4 miles 110 yards from the junction.

Coniston copy

Coniston Station seen here in LMS days, had a suitably imposing overall roof that reflected the imposing backdrop of the Lake District fells, and with Coniston Water only a few hundred yards away, clearly visible, provided an important destination for many tourists.

Leaving Woodland behind, again on rising grades, the summit of the line was reached just before Torver, at around 7 miles from Foxfield. At 34ft above sea level, this summit was in fact the highest point reached by the whole of the old Furness Railway network. At this point, with some of the quarries responsible for the line’s existence nestling in the lower slopes of Walna Scar (2,000ft), on its northwestern flank, the railway was almost within sight of Coniston Water. The village of Torver, almost 7 ¾ miles from Foxfield, and just over 2 from Coniston, the track was again sandwiched between two fells, almost encroaching on the settlement, and obscuring a clear view of the lake from Torver Station. Just before the station, the last but one level crossing on the route – “Dalton Road Crossing” – was negotiated, with the small goods yard and shed on the south side of the line. The points here were controlled by the single line tablet carried on the engine, which could not be removed from its position on the ground frame until the points were reset for trains to pass on the main line.

Coniston with FR Railmotor

The Coniston Branch was home in Furness Railway days to the company’s own designed and built railmotor – which must have looked colourful in its blue and white livery. In the background in this view, the lower slopes of the fell “Coniston Old Man” can be made out – walking distance from the station!!

The remaining two miles of the branch found the line turning more directly northwards, and for the most part on gently falling grades, following the shoreline of the lake before turning through almost 90 degrees to reach the terminus at Coniston. The final level crossing on the line was situated almost mid way between Torver and Coniston at “Park Gate”. The end of the line was of course provided with the ‘greatest’ facilities for passengers, its station sporting an impressive all over roof, large goods shed, a 42ft diameter turntable, and small, single road engine shed. The backdrop to the Coniston Branch terminus was to say the very least – impressive – towering over both village and railway was the 2,635ft high fell, “The Old Man of Coniston”.

The Furness Railway’s milepost here was 43 miles from Carnforth, but in a dramatically different location.

Operations

Ulverston Mirror 1862 Extract1

Extract from the Ulverston Mirror 1862

Three years after the opening of the branch, and in the same year as the absorption of the W&FJ, the Furness company’s passenger train timetables, published in the Ulverston Mirror (Sept. 13th 1862), listed 4 down and 4 up trains daily.1st, 2nd and 3rd class being provided on all but two services; 3rd class passengers were not permitted on the 11-15 am express from Whitehaven (The Coniston connection left Coniston at 12 noon), or the 5-15pm down service from Barrow.

Locomotives were by many standards, small in the early days, at first using 2-2-2 well tank engines hauling 4 or 6-wheel coaches on passenger turns, and the old Bury 0-4-0 types on freight duties. These latter have left their most famous example in the care of the National Railway Museum today – engine No.3 “Coppernob”. As traffic increased on the much larger parent system, bigger, heavier locomotives came into service, and the older 6-wheelers gave way to non-corridor and corridor bogie coaches, this was eventually reflected in the type of rolling stock seen in regular service on the Coniston Branch. Naturally, on branch lines, changes took longer to occur, since the traffic was proportionately less, and in later years, until the early 1930s, ex-Furness Railway 4-4-2 tank and 0-6-0 tender classes were regular performers. The 4-4-2T class was specifically designed for branch line service by the FR’s CME, W.F.Pettigrew. This innovative engineer was also responsible for the introduction of the steam railmotors used on the Coniston line around the turn of the 20th Century. The railmotor was unique in the sense it was the only motive power both designed and built at the company’s railway works in Barrow.

 

Later, under LMS and BR (London Midland Region) management, the archetypal British 0-6-0 held sway on al, freight traffic, including former Furness Railway and Midland (Johnson) designs, whilst Fowler and Ivatt tank engines were allocated to Coniston to work the passenger trains, based at Barrow’s only sub-shed.   On the main line, local passenger duties were worked by Fowler 2P 4-4-0 types, along with Stanier, Fowler and Fairburn 2-6-4 tank engines, and of course the inevitable Stanier ‘Black Five’ 4-6-0. Visiting motive power on the London turns rarely ventured north of Barrow, where rebuilt and unrebuilt “patriot” and “Jubilee” class 4-6-0s were frequently seen. Mainline freights however often included the ubiquitous Stanier 8F 2-8-0s, amongst the ‘Black Fives’ and Fowler 4F’s, and at least one surviving “Super D” 0-8-0 of LNWR origin was allocated to Carnforth. This latter could be found working the odd mineral train around the coast – even in BR days.

 

FR tour No8_1

Most of the rolling stock transferred to this area for regular service had seen better days elsewhere, a practice still common today – “Pacers” being the obvious example. In the early 1960s, the ill-fated 2-stroke Metro-Vick Co-Bo’s were pensioned off to work passenger services into and around the Furness and West Cumberland areas. Of course they were put to work on longer runs down to Preston, or up as far as Carlisle. The Metro-Vicks had proved troublesome on the prestigious “Condor” fitted freight service over the Midland main line from Hendon To Gushetfaulds Depot in Glasgow, and were no better on the less demanding duties on West Cumberland lines, being stopped frequently for repairs. Some of the first Derby built dmu’s of the mid 1950s were put to work in this area from new, and were still at work out of Barrow MPD in 1964 – though nowadays of course, these have long since disappeared. They were replaced in later years by a variety of the first generation dmu’s, and later by British Rail’s “Sprinter” designs.   Most recently the area has seen a mix of new and 40 years old designs, with questionable operational efficiency.

This reflection of the changing face of passenger traffic, or perhaps its ongoing decline, was equally apparent on the freight side, with the run down and closure of mining operations, quarrying and the once enormous iron and steel industry. Today, there is little or no freight traffic, beyond the transport of spent nuclear fuel to the West Cumberland reprocessing site.

RPB Photo 1155

Looking back down the line towards Barrow-in-Furness, long after the Coniston Branch was closed, and Foxfield no longer a junction station.              Photo (c) Rodger Bradley

RPB Photo 1292

Taken from the level crossing, with the water tower on the left, and station buildings and signablox on the platform to the right, these are typical former Furness Railways structures. Still in place in the 1960s.          Photo: Lens of Sutton

Previously, mineral and steel products traffic to and from the works at Millom in particular had to pass through Foxfield, and although the closure of the Coniston Branch in 1958 meant lost traffic, it did not, initially affect the facilities at Foxfield. Nowadays, the impressive stone built station buildings, goods shed and other structures have long since been demolished, and replaced by the less costly ‘bus shelter’. To add to this ignominy, many stations on the Furness and West Cumberland lines, including Foxfield, were demoted to “request stops” – the train being stopped by intending passengers, jus as you would attract the attentions of a bus driver!

The following tables showing freight and passenger working through Foxfield in 1940 and 1948 respectively, represents an interesting period, when there was intensive main line traffic, and the Coniston Branch was still open.   That said, the emphasis and benefits of Lakeland tourism – so ably developed by Alfred Aslett, and deployed by the Furness Railway – has also long since disappeared.   Access to the area by and for tourists simply means today driving, towing a caravan, or riding in on a bus or coach – a situation delivered by the short sighted planning from the late 1950s and 1960s.

 

Table 2a

Table 2b

 

 

Table 3

Table 1

The following tables list the level crossing and signalboxes included in the Furness Railway’s 1918 Appendix to the working timetable:

Signalboxes Etc

Level crossings

A final view of one of the Furness 0-6-2 tank engines, taken by the late Frank Dean.  The second photo looks out across the station throat, beyond the engine shed to Coniston Water in the background.

L2 Class 0-6-2T at Coniston

L3 Class 0-6-2T at Coniston

Further Reading & Useful Links:

  • “The Coniston Railway”; Michael Andrews, Pub. Cumbrian Railways Association, 1985

Coniston Railway book cover

Northern Rail Nadir

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So finally, Northern Rail has been de-privatised – I’m not sure simply cancelling the franchise contract, and appointing a quango to oversee the operation counts as nationalisation.

No changes will take place operationally for some time, and in so far as the infrastructure upgrades and developments are concerned, the existing projects are still ongoing.  New work is still needed to cope with the existing increase in passenger numbers, and not just to Manchester Piccadilly’s platforms 13 and 14.

Northern Rail passenger milesOver the past 10 years, Northern Rail – in both Arriva and Serco formats – has seen passenger miles increase by 31%, from 1,209 million to 1,606 million miles, between 2009/10 to 2018/19.  Using the published ORR figures – although the most recent figures have changed to kilometres from miles.

This table is based on those published figures, Northern have received over £3 billion in direct subsidy – ironically perhaps that is also a 31% increase over 10 years, but obviously that is not the whole story, and it is more complex.  There is clearly much to be done, and in some cases, work that was cancelled needs restarting.

Northern Rail Subsidies

In the same period, it appears that Northern were able to pay a little over £39 million back, as part of the revenie share.

Is that good value for money?

I would not suggest that simply transferring it into a quasi publicly owned and operated rail service will suddenly make it a profitable operation, as even in BR days, whilst InterCity and Freight were profitable, Provincial, regional services were not.  Maybe we are heading back to the era where, for social, and community reasons, as well as sound environmental and sustainable reasons, we need the rail network.

Too many train operating companies, leasing stock from rolling stock companies (mainly owned by banks and financial institutions), seems to make for a complex, and bureaucratic  management of train services.  Quite apart from running trains, there is contract management and negotiation with Network Rail (yes I know that is governed within the franchise arrangements), inter-operation with other train operators – freight and passenger, together with day to day asset management.  It seems the UK style of privatisation has added a number of layers to the running of a railway, and Northern Rail has been the most serious symptom of failure.

It will be interesting to see how this develops, and how changes to funding and management models are implemented to deliver the improvements and, hopefully success, that the private train operator was unable to achieve.

The Northern website on 1st March had this updated front page:

Northern front page

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Further reading:

Northern franchise enters new future

Northern press release cover

Rail Delivery Group response to Northern franchise announcement

Northern rail franchise to be renationalised

Northern franchise termination was the only option, says Transport for the North

 

HS2 – Off We Go – Better Late than Never?

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Well, now it’s official, HS2 gets the go ahead by the Government – well, as far as Birmingham at least, since that’s the only bit that has been sanctioned by Act of Parliament.  The arguments will continue to rage about its benefits and certainly its costs, but those who are using the environment to plead against the project have already lost, and hedgerows and woodlands, as well as houses will disappear.

The main argument in favour of the London to Birmingham link now being advanced is that of increased rail capacity, which it must be assumed is that removing passengers travelling on the existing London to Birmingham link will move to HS2.  That it is said will free up the paths on the WCML for freight, and other, regional and semi-fast connections.  The questions that this now raises is how will that freed up capacity be allocated, how will it be regulated – unless of course the rail network is nationalised, there will be further negotiations around passenger train franchising.

 

Of course it will not ‘rebalance the economy’ as one commentator offered on the TV news today, but it could be seen as starting in the wrong place and going in the wrong direction, as another commentator implied.  It should, as is widely acknowledged now, have started as HS3, linking the northern towns and cities, between Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, etc., and then driven south towards the midlands.  One politician on the TV commented that, as a midlands MP it would help him get to Westminster quicker, and would provide a jobs boost for commuters to London.

Then, there is the technology question, and interoperation and compatibility with existing high speed train services – unless these just stop at interchange stations, and passengers change platforms from one train to another.  Of course, the other infrastructure element that needs investment is the power supply.

Back in 2000, there was a great deal of concern about the supply of electricity from the national grid to key areas and sections of the WCML, but I imagine that this will not trouble HS2 for a while yet – nor when it runs alongside the existing routes?

This is a vital piece of work, not only from the UK’s railway industry, but it MUST be only the start of projects that “rebalance the economy“, and it is ESSENTIAL that HS3, or Northern Powerhouse Rail follows.   The Railway Industry Association CEO, Darren Caplan made the following comments:

“The Railway Industry Association and our members support the Government’s decision today to get HS2 done, a decision that could unlock a new ‘golden age of rail’.

“HS2 will not just boost the UK’s economy and connectivity, but will also enable other major rail infrastructure projects to be delivered too, such as Northern Powerhouse Rail, Midlands Rail Hub, East West Rail, Crossrail 2, and a range of other schemes.”

Overall, the announcement made today has also drawn positive comments from a range of sources.

Dr Jenifer Baxter, Chief Engineer at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers said:

“The Institution of Mechanical Engineers is delighted that the Government has retained confidence in the benefits of the HS2 project.  The resulting improvements to both north-south and east-west flows in the North of England will lead to economic growth, modal shift from road and air to rail for both passengers and freight. This will provide significant benefits for reduced greenhouse gas emissions and reduce pollutants that contribute to poor air quality.

The routes minimise the impact of construction on the operation of today’s railway with opportunities to investigate how the high-speed rail link can be delivered with minimal environmental impacts. For example, more refined modelling using information from High Speed 1 might indicate where some expensive tunnelling may be avoided.”

I would like to agree with Dr Baxter, especially with regard to modal shift for freight, but the trend so far in the rail capability does not support that idea – there is an increased demand yes, but connecting up existing facilities in the north has not happened.

In 2015, a £3million+ intermodal facility was opened at Teesport, and PD Ports saw 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.  The approval for HS2 does not, improve that situation at all, and the extension of the initial HS2 project as far as Crewe, could likely create a bottleneck as freight and passenger services converge.

By 2017/18, the total goods lifted by rail in the UK was down to only 75 million tonnes annually, and according to ORR estimates, represented less than 5% of total freight moved.  The non-bulk services offered by British Rail under Speedlink, and other services have long since been replaced by 1,000s of “white vans” from DPD, UPS DHL, etc., etc. – many travelling hundreds of miles a day.  How can they be integrated and improve connectivity on the back of HS2?

The impact on freight and modal shift?

Babcock Rail Wagons 4For passengers HS2 might well assist in faster commuting to London from the West Midlands, but it has little or no prospect of improving rail transport in the North, and perhaps only marginal in the Midlands.  Couple that with the failure to build and investment in the northern rail infrastructure – indeed the cancellation of electrfication projects – it is difficult not to say that the project is starting from the wrong place!

Useful links:

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