Freight on Rail in the UK

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

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

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

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

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

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

Network Rail stats for freight moved

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

Longer distances, but lighter weights perhaps.

Tonnes Lifted

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-oOo-

 

 

 

 

 

Guards or Conductors?

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

Rule 138

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The announcement went further:

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

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

This was the report:

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

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

Other links:

 

 

-oOo-

 

Where Have All The Named Trains Gone?

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During the 1950s and into the 1960s, the romance of travelling by rail was still supported by the naming of many express trains, not just in Britain, but also around the world, from the USA, to India and Australia.

In Britain, the naming of principal express trains was reinstated after the end of the Second World War, and in the 1950s and 1960s some were added, and some withdrawn. In and around 1961 the London Midland Region listed these:

Main tableWhat happened to them – and do these services still exist in some form I wonder?

Notes:

(i) Started life as the “Thames Forth Express”, but when re-introduced in 1957, the name “Waverley” was deemed more appropriate.

(ii) Lasted only 4 years in BR days, but the service exists in a form today, under a private train operator: “East Midlands Trains”, operating on weekdays only.

Of the 24 named trains running in the 1950s and 1960s, 7 had been introduced by British Railways, whilst the two oldest – the Irish Mail and the Royal Scot eventually managed to clock up more than 75 years in operation. The shortest-lived service – the St Pancras to Nottingham Midland, the Robin Hood, still has the vestiges of the named train run in BR days, but only on weekdays. In addition it keeps the old HST / InterCity 125 sets in operation on the up run from London to Nottingham – some 45 years after their first introduction. The 7-car Class 222 multiple units operate the up service, whilst the 6-car sets with a pair of Class 43 HST power cars and Mark III coaches run in the down direction.

That said, on the London Midland Region of BR, this was definitely not the most well known, or popular express passenger service, and especially in the days of locomotive hauled trains, that honour went to the 10:00 from London Euston – known throughout its 70+ year working life as the “Royal Scot”. Although in later years, its northbound departure time was progressive put back, and by 1960, the train set off from Euston a 09:15, and scheduled to arrive in Glasgow at 16:15. Considering that 1960/61 was around the middle of the massive modernisation and re-equipment programme, a 7-hour timing was not bad – but, there were often delays.

This is what the timetable advertised:

Named Trains from 1961 2

Caledonian leaving Carlisle

View NW from London Road Bridge, towards Carlisle Citadel Station and Scotland. Citadel station is just visible in the right distance and the train is crossing the ‘Canal’ (Goods avoiding) line.  Photo Courtesy: Ben Booksbank under Creative Commons License 2.0

In fact, the West Coast Main Line, from LNWR and LMS days until the middle British Railways era was home to a number of famous trains. Of course it ran on Sundays too, but with extra stops.

No fewer than 10 of these named trains were introduced in 1927, as the LMS was competing with its East Coast rival, the LNER, for the Anglo-Scottish passenger traffic. The “Royal Scot” service was introduced in that year, and it was hoped that the new locomotives from the North British Loco Co would arrive in time for the new timetable. In late 1927, the new engines were available to work the long distance Anglo‑Scottish expresses, in particular, the London ‑ Glasgow “Royal Scot” service, and the “Mid-Day Scot”. The Mid-Day Scot was so named due to the departure of the southbound and arrival of northbound being within 30 minutes of 1 pm.

There were 6 named express services that provided links with the ports of Holyhead, Liverpool, Heysham and Stranraer for the cross Irish Sea ferry services. Of these, the “Irish Mail” was perhaps both the most well known, and the oldest named express passenger train. This was followed closely by the “Ulster Express”, which was originally launched as the Belfast Boat Train service by the Midland Railway, from St Pancras to Leeds, Lancaster, and on via Heysham. Before 1923 the LNWR operated a boat train service from Euston to Fleetwood, but following the amalgamations, the LMS moved its service to the more modern port facilities at Heysham, and from 1927 onwards it became the “Ulster Express”. The “Irish Mail” express operated out of Euston at 08:30, to reach Holyhead, where a connection was made with the LNWR steamer to Dublin, via Dun Laoghaire or Kingstown. A mid-day service from Euston at 13:20 connected with a Holyhead to Dublin (North Wall), whilst a dining car express from Euston left at 19:30 for Holyhead again, and connected with the LNWR’s steamer to Greenore. That was not the end of the story either, as the final service, the night “Irish Mail” left Euston at 20:45 for Holyhead, and connected with the ferry to Dublin via Kingstown, and was followed by another boat train service from Euston at 22:15, followed by a ferry to Dublin (North Wall).

So, the named expresses operated on the Irish Sea routes had a fairly long and varied history, with all still operational in BR days. It was added to in 1954, by the introduction of the “Emerald Isle Express”, also on the Euston to Holyhead route, which left Euston at 17:35, and allowed passengers to change to the cross-sea ferry at Holyhead well before midnight.

Interestingly at the peak of the years of the economic depression of the 1930s, the LMS introduced five new, named, express passenger trains. These were targeted at the passenger traffic to and from Manchester and Liverpool, alongside a more intriguing service from London Euston to Workington, by way of the old Cockermouth, Keswick and Penrith line – the “Lakes Express”. It was a curious mix of year round, and summer only daily workings. The year round service was from Euston to Windermere, whilst in summer, the extension to Penrith, Keswick and Workington was added.

Some 1961 timetable extracts:

1961 timetable cover

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Lakes Express

City of Hereford with a Lakes Express at Preston Station in 1963.     Photo Courtesy: Edwin Williams

The “Lakes Express” left Euston at 12 noon, and at Wigan a stop was made to allow a connection to Southport, and detach through coaches for Preston and Blackpool. At Lancaster, through coaches for Barrow-in-Furness and the Cumberland coast to Workington were detached. With a stop at Oxenholme, the final coaches for Penrith, Keswick and Workington were sent on their way, and the last portions of the “Lakes Express” reached Workington at 19:26. However, in the extract from the timetable shown, the arrival at Workington was 19:53 for weekdays, with an 11:35 departure from Euston – over ½ an hour longer than its official pre-war schedule. That said, like many others, timings on the West Coast Main Line were impacted and considerably slowed by electrification work at the time, although this ultimately led to much shorter journey times after the work was completed.

1964 timetable coverBy the time the September 1964 to June 1965 timetable appeared, the only named trains listed on the London Midland Region were:

1964 trains

In the 1960s a new service carrying the name “The Night Limited”, left Euston at 21:50, for Glasgow, arriving at Central Station at 06:30, but carried first class passengers in sleeping berths only, and boasted a “Night Cap Bar” coach. This train was derived from the pre-war “Night Scot” service, which was a heavily used train, with 1st and 3rd class sleepers, but lost its name after WW2, and ran from Euston at 23:40. By the 1960s and the completion of electrification, the train was named again, and acquired its new departure time.

But by the mid 1960s, the 24 named express trains running in the late 1950s had shrunk to less than half, with just 11 express passenger workings retained from the original, but the overnight sleeper from London to Glasgow was formerly named. By the end of the decade, 14 named express services had gone, and 4 had been added.

British Railways in the 1970s was gradually becoming British Rail, with its corporate image, and double arrow logo. But the London Midland Region still offered 7 weekday named trains in the 1972/73 timetable. Although the number of workings was reduced still to 4 on a Saturday and Sunday, these did include the “Thames-Clyde Express” from St Pancras to Glasgow Central. The “Royal Scot” left Euston at 10:05, with a timed arrival in Glasgow at 16:42, and in the up direction, from Glasgow to London, the journey started at 09:25, arriving at Euston at 16:00. Just 8 years earlier, the same train was timed at 10:00 from Glasgow, with a 17:10 arrival at Euston – just 35 minutes longer. Quicker – yes – but only by just over half an hour.

1972 trains

BR LMR Passenger TT 1972:73

The “Night Caledonian” is included in the 1970s list above, but was a short lived sleeper service between London and Glasgow, and was discontinued in 1977, whilst the older “Night Limited” continued until 1987.

Preston 1980

This view of Preston Station in 1980, with an unknown Class 87, hauling one of the northbound ‘Electric Scots’ was typical of the last days of these expresses.                         Photo: Rodger Bradley

In 1966, electrification had reached both Manchester and Liverpool, and two locomotive hauled express trains – “The Manchester Pullman” and “The Liverpool Pullman” were running from Euston. Manchester’s old London Road station had been rebuilt, remodelled and renamed Piccadilly, and the down Pullman was timed to reach Manchester in 2 hours 33 minutes, with an 07:55 departure from London. The equivalent service to Liverpool actually set off 5 minutes earlier at 07:50, arriving at Lime Street station by 10:24 – timed for 2 hours 34 minutes. At this time, with the exception of the “Thames-Clyde” express, the Anglo-Scottish services were electrically hauled to Crewe, and replaced by diesels – typically the English Electric Class 50 – for the rest of the journey north. Until of course, the electrification from Crewe to Glasgow was completed in 1974.

Lancaster 1979 with 86245

The all-pervading “Rail Blue” colours of the ‘British Rail’ era is sported by one of the last BR built AC electric locomotives – No. 86245 pauses at Lancaster on its way north to Glasgow in 1979.     Photo: Rodger Bradley

The very next year, 1975, saw the St Pancras to Edinburgh “Thames-Clyde” express disappear, whilst the “Irish Mail” lasted another decade or so, but it too went in the 1980s, together with the “Royal Highlander”, the Euston to Inverness sleeper service. A little ironically perhaps, Virgin Trains applied the name “The Irish Mail” to one of the HST/IC125 power cars it operated in 1998. The HST sets never operated on the West Coast Main Line, and not on the Holyhead bound service, so perhaps this was a reference to the similar service operated by the Great Western from Paddington to Fishguard.

In fact, no fewer than 5 named trains were ‘lost’ in 1975, including:

  1. Devonian
  2. Thames Clyde Express
  3. Ulster Express
  4. Emerald Isle
  5. Liverpool Pullman

During the British Rail era, named trains on the London Midland were still regular turns, albeit much fewer in number, but all were then run under the “Inter-City” brand, as the railway’s sectorisation strategy was implemented. Inter-City services made substantial profits for BR during those years and into the 1980s, with the “Royal Scot” and “Irish Mail” still in operation, alongside the “Royal Highlander”.

By 1988, another 5 named expresses had gone, including:

  1. Irish Mail
  2. Manchester Pullman
  3. Night Limited
  4. Royal Scot
  5. Royal Highlander

But by the end of the 1980s, they had all gone, as fixed formation train sets, and ultimately, the “Pendolino” trains took over the express passenger workings on the Anglo Scottish, West Coast Main Line.

40 years ago, an item in the October issue of ‘Railway Magazine’ lamented the loss of named services, with this introductory remark:

“SEVENTY-NINE in 1958; thirty-four in 1968; twenty-two in 1978: thus the thinning of the ranks of named British passenger trains continues.”

Of course, that covered all of BR’s five regions, and in this short piece it is just a reflection of what had happened on the London Midland Region, from it’s high of 24 formally named, down to just 6 in 1978. Only 4 of these remained in the 1980s, with the “Irish Mail” service that started in 1905 under the LNWR, coming to an end after 80 years, in 1985, at the same time, the relatively new “Manchester Pullman” also disappeared.

The final two named trains on British Railways’ London Midland Region – under the British Rail InterCity brand – were the daytime “Royal Scot” and “Royal Highlander” sleeper service, both of which started life in 1927 as an LMS service.

Oxenholme 2013

A Pendolino stopping at Oxenholme in 2013 on its way back to London. The station was used by the long since gone “Lakes Express”, to allow passengers to reach the South Lakes, before heading north to Penrith for the North Lakes.    Photo: Rodger Bradley

Such a shame that the names have all gone now, but then the appearance of the 21st century trains themselves – though fast and efficient – does not have the same appeal or glamour of the steam, diesel and early electric locomotive hauled services of previous years.

-oOo-

 

Tilting at Windmills

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An account of rail travel in the 21st Century

Just for Fun!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

oOo-

The Northern Nightmare – An Insoluble Puzzle?

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Whatever you read in the media about railways in the north these days – whether it’s North West or North East, we see to have accepted that this was unforeseen, almost as if there was no plan.  Now it seems the timetable problems have created a political North West versus North East skirmish, between councillors in Newcastle and the Regional Director of Northern Rail.

6 months ago we heard very little about timetable problems, cancelled or massively delayed trains, nor did we hear too much about shortages of trained train crews, but at the same time Government was advertising the biggest investment since the 1800s.

Why?

Was it a lack of communication between train operating companies, the owners of the rolling stock, Network Rail’s project management of electrification schemes, and overly long contractor and supplier chains?

Mike Paterson, the regional director for Northern, admitted that some trains had been kept in the north-west to deal with the problems, which were worse in that region.

“Because of delays to the electrification of the Manchester to Preston (via Bolton) line, we had to re-plan those timetables at short notice and keep some diesel trains in the north-west to help deliver services to our customers on those lines affected by the delay,” he said.

Source: North West v. North East (Guardian)

In his statement above, Mr Paterson appears to suggest that the timetable re-plan was done at short notice – so was there no contingency plan to cope with a potential electrification delay?

Passengers in the North East have, like everyone else the right to complain when they are promised new trains in a great ‘modernisation plan’, and then get reconditioned trains instead.  A great many trains across the northern routes are more than 25 or 30 years old, with some – like the ‘Pacers’ – operating services for which they were never intended.  Are the reconditioned trains for the North East a ‘stop gap’ measure?  Still, they are ‘digitised’, as Northern Rail suggest:

“These will feature free wifi, plug sockets, automated customer information screens and new seating – and some will even have full climate control,” said a spokesperson. “Our refurbished trains will feel like new and customers will experience a level of comfort not seen before on Northern services in the region.”

It’ll be interesting to see what happens next.

I don’t believe – I guess like many others – that simply nationalising the services in the north will end the problem quickly.  Removing the franchise from Northern Rail and taking the routes and services into public ownership will still have those problems.  Let’s say there is a new Northwest Rail and Northeast Rail – they will still be hamstrung by the need to manage relationships with rolling stock operators, manufacturers and Network Rail.

The skills of timetable planning, arranging for assets to be in the right place at the right time to move people and goods, alongside upgrades to infrastructure, signalling and telecoms seem to be in short supply?  Or, is it a shortfall of project management skills, a lack of engineering skills and a reliance on short term contracts to do a job.

With so much of the franchised rail industry divided into so many different units, and in a small country like the UK, we have perhaps little hope of integrating land transport systems.  The idea that British Rail in the 1970s and 1980s was worse than this is laughable nowadays.

Ah well, HS2 will be here soon – or will it be cancelled or delayed!

-oOo-

 

Snow = Subsidy for TOCs ?

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As the so-called “Beast from the East” delivers its fall of snow across England’s southern and eastern counties, train services are delayed or cancelled.

According to a news report on the BBC, Network Rail is paying compensation to Train Operating Companies (TOCs) when services have to be cancelled.

This seems to be like paying Marks & Spencer compensation if bad weather prevents enough customers from buying clothes or food from their stores.

M&S take the risk of weather affecting sales of their products, why do the private train companies receive compensation from Network Rail for cancelling services because of bad weather?

In a National Audit Office (NAO) report from 2008, this statement is noted in the report’s summary:

“Under the delay attribution system, Network Rail is held responsible for delays caused by infrastructure faults and those caused by external factors, such as bad weather.”

Why would you hold a man-made business responsible for a natural event?

The 2008 report can be found here: Reducing Passenger Delays by Better Management of Incidents

 

In 2012, major newspaper reports noted that TOCs were “cashing in” on delayed services.  This was what the Daily Telegraph reported:

“The companies have profited out of industry rules which obliges Network Rail to pay train operators compensation if commuter services are more than five minutes late or long distance journeys are held up by more than 10 minutes.”

The report continued: Train-operators-cash-in-on-delays

Another newspaper – The Independent – carried a similar story, highlighting how private companies can claim compensation for late running and cancellations in 2012.

According to this report:

“Under Britain’s complicated rail franchise system, private train operators are able to claim compensation from the state-owned track operator Network Rail for problems on the line which cause disruption to services.”

the-great-train-robbery-how-rail-firms-make-millions-from-running-late 

Whilst it would be obvious to say that compensation was perfectly reasonable;le if over-running track or other infrastructure work was the cause of a delayed or cancelled train – bad weather affecting the track – really!!

Does it still happen today – 6 years later?  If it does, it seems to me that Britain is still, in a practical sense, still operating a nationalised railway.

Well, according to another NAO report from 2015, explains how Network Rail operates, then Network Rail is still responsible for weather delays:

“Network Operations is held responsible for any delays attributed to
the infrastructure, including some outside of its direct control like the
weather, trespass, vandalism or fatalities. Around 60% of passenger
delays were attributed to Network Rail in the year to May 2015. The rest
were attributed to the train operators.”

The rest of this NAO report can be found here: A Short Guide to Network Rail

Fascinating – but why?

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Flying By Rail

Standard

Exactly 20 years ago, in the Spring of 1998, the German Government approved the project to build the world’s first high-speed maglev railway line.  The plan was to link Berlin and Hamburg with what was effectively a development of British Railways Research Dept., and Professor Eric Laithwaite’s “Linear Rotating Machine”.  The invention by Eric Laithwaite took place in the 1960s, and a little over 30 years later, in 1997, the world record speed for this form of traction achieved a speed of 450 km/hr.  In effect, rendering the Japanese ‘bullet’ trains to what might be described as ‘semi-fast’!!

Transrapid 08 for DBaGTransrapid 08 for DBaG_Close ViewThere has of course since then been a lot of development of high-speed rail on conventional tracks, but the UK has still not caught up with what it had essentially begun over 50 years ago.  There have been claims, notably referred to in “Wikipedia” that the idea was first put forward in or around 1904, and under a US patent, followed by a similar series of “patented inventions” in Germany during the 1930s, and yet another attempt in the late 1960s in the US.  All of which proved to be simple experiments along the way, with the greatest rail based advances taking place in the UK and Germany between 1978/79 and 1984/85.

The “Transrapid” project in Hamburg in 1979, and the simple Birmingham ‘maglev’ people mover built on the linear induction motor concept devised by Professor Laithwaite some years earlier.  The Japanese also embarked on the development of magnetically levitating high-speed trains, but the technology they adopted required super-conducting electro magnets, which was perhaps a limitation on its prospects for mass transportation.

Shanghai TransrapidToday there is only one implementation of the original Transrapid design, the one linking Shanghai to Pudong International Airport – a distance of 30.5km.  There had been plans to expand within China, but costs proved excessive, and existing high-speed rail provides the solution across China’s rail network.  In Germany, the original plan to build a line across to Denmark and Holland was also ruled out on the grounds of costs.

It seems unlikely that – given the improvement in conventional steel wheel on steel rail technology – that the maglev idea will be anything other than a might have been.

It was all looking so much different back in the 1990s, when I wrote this article for Electrical Review:

Electrical Review Nov 1998 Maglev Feature

Maglev1

Some further reading:

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