Eurostar – From TMST to E320

Standard

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

 

-oOo-

 

BR Regional Magazines

Standard

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.

-oOo-

 

Rails from Cumbria To The World

Standard

Railpower June 1989 CoverExactly 30 years ago, British Steel Corporation received a £12 million order from India, to supply Grade A wear- resistant rails for the modernisation of a number of high-density urban and high speed inter-urban routes.  The rails would account for around 20% of BSC’s Workington Rolling Mill’s output in a year.  The contract was won against international competition, particularly from companies in Western Europe, Japan and Canada.  In 1989 Workington was one of the world’s leading producers of high quality, wear-resistant rail products.

As part of the United Steel Companies of Sheffield – and later British Steel – Workington ceased making new steel, but operated primarily as a rolling mill, taking in steel ingots from other United Steel sites, and rolling into various sections. BSC Track Products coverFrom 1974, the Moss Bay site began to specialise in permanent way products – such as rails and fish-plates. Continued investment, together with their acquired know-how, ensured that they became the largest British producer of these products.  Whilst further south, in Barrow-in-Furness, the plant that had been the world’s pioneering supplier of steel railway rails, by volume, the works concentrated on even more innovative steelmaking ideas.

In fact, the Workington plant had taken over rail production after the end of World War II, from nearby Barrow-in-Furness, where the world’s largest integrated steel and iron works once stood.  Barrow was the major supplier of railway rails to the world, and only lost that position following the post war economic challenges, and steel industry restructuring in the UK.  Workington took on the mantle and remained one of the world’s leading suppliers until its final closure only 13 or so years ago.

Barrow Steelworks Rail bank

Barrow steelworks rail bank around 1900

Like Barrow, Workington was an innovator in steelmaking technology, and despite the dramatic decline of the industry in the 1980s, was deploying technological innovation, with new techniques and processes until its final demise. In British Steel days, the business had been successful in the world market for wear-resistant high-grade steels, and consolidated this lead with a £7 million investment programme at Workington in 1987, just a couple of years before landing the Indian order.

The modernization at Workington included the world’s first mill-hardened rail production unit at a cost of nearly £4 million, alongside this another £1 million was invested in the second stage of a computerised automated inspection system, to provide ever closer control of dimensional tolerances on finished rail products.

Workington rail bank

Workington rail bank – 1980s

In addition, in 1987, Track Products won a multi-million pound, three-year contract to meet all British Rail’s requirements for rails until 1990. Under the contract, Workington was committed to supplying some 150,000 tonnes of rail to BR.  At the time this was stated to be about ¼ of the capacity of the Workington plant, and with British Rail as the site’s biggest single customer. The collaboration in research effort between British Rail and BSC Track Products on developing rail steel technology maintained the northwest’s reputation for innovation, and was an important factor in generating export sales, from Southend to Singapore.

Workington’s rolling mills had been producing some 1/4 million tonnes of rail, fishplates, baseplates and steel sleepers annually during the mid to late 1980s, and from that total, Workington was actually exporting 50 to 60% of total output.  The West Cumbria (Cumberland) site produced rails from feedstock of 330 x 254mm cross section blooms supplied from other BSC Works, mostly the Lackenby Works on Teeside.  Barrow had also supplied Workington with steel until it took on, developed, and perfected the now commonplace continuous casting process.

Homg Kong MRT

Workington supplied rails for the Hong Kong and numerous other metro systems.

The role of the BSC Track Products mill in the overall manufacturing process was just that – the supplier – and (at least in the 1980s) British Steel had little part in the design, and virtually none at all with the installation.  The greater part of the output was for replacement and/or maintenance purposes, they had been supplying small quantities of the specialist ‘conductor rails’ at home and for some overseas metro systems.

Other exports to – for example – African countries were rare, and even countries such as Nigeria, with sufficient wealth to promote rail expansion proved to be slow to implement projects, leaving British Steel Track Products in a difficult position.  So, the order from India in 1989 was certainly a great, if brief success for the UK steel industry as a whole.

RIA Journal extract June 1989

BSC Track Products map

 

Today, there is nothing left of the steelworks or rolling mills in England’s North West, where it had once led the world, in both the quality and quantity of global rail exports.

 

 

-oOo-

Further reading and useful links:

  1. Barrow Hematite Steel Co (Grace’s Guide)
  2. Barrow Hematite Steel Company (Wikipedia)
  3. Workington Steelworks 2003 shortly before closure – Showing Rail Rolling Process
  4. Steel Rail Rolling Line at Workington (Corus video)

 

 

Petrol Electric Railcars

Standard

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:

 

-oOo-

The Last British Diesel

Standard

It may be a controversial observation, but the Brush designed Class 60 heavy freight locomotive was the last genuinely British built diesel-electric type. The locomotive was considered initially as a replacement for English Electric’s ageing Class 37 design – but with British Rail sectorisation, and the changed Railfreight priorities, a different approach was needed.

60_015_Bow_Fell

60015 Bow Fell in Railfreight grey livery with Transrail branding hauling a freight train through Cardiff General in 1996.         Photo: Murgatroyd49 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=78385895 

In the late 1980s, a private company, contracted to haul mineral trains ordered and brought to the UK, the 2-stroke General Motors Class 59 – it was of course Foster Yeoman. The design and operation of this locomotive was a success, but it was for a niche market, although it brought some innovative ideas in its use of technology.

Before their arrival, BR had produced its main line locomotive renewal programme, within which it was stated that 750 new freight diesels would be needed of between 750 and 2,500hp, with delivery from 1990 onwards. BR also stated it would not place orders of less than 100 locos at a time, to ensure continuity of production, and rolling replacement of older designs.

Class_60_Beeston

Class 60 passing through Beeston station in April 2007.                                                                 Photo: Zverzia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3063590

Unlike the Class 58, BR’s last heavy haul locomotive design returned to the Brush monocoque, load bearing mechanical structure – this was the company’s ‘traditional’ approach – where the Class 58 was essentially a couple of longitudinal girders with a body and power equipment ‘on deck’.

Nottingham_-_DB_Cargo_60100_with_oil_tanks

A train of empty oil tanks heads through Nottingham in 2016 behind the last of the class No. 60100, in DB Schenker / DB Cargo colours. They are on the way from Kingsbury in the West Midlands to an oil refinery on Humberside.         Photo: Geof Sheppard – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=53982372

Consultants Jones Garrard, who had been involved with the styling of the class 442 “Wessex Electrics”, undertook the design of the class 60, and provided a couple of alternatives. Mock-ups were provided of both varieties, inspected by Railfreight personnel and the B.R. Design Panel, and after deliberation, the style with a positive rake to the front end was chosen. The end result was a locomotive who’s appearance bore more than a passing resemblance to the ubiquitous Brush Type 4 / BR Class 47.

This was Britain’s last truly home produced – designed and built – diesel locomotive design, and represents a fitting end to the British Rail freight chapter.

Useful Links & References:

  • Railway Industry Association (RIA)
  • DB Cargo UK
  • GB Railfreight
  • DC Rail
  • “True Brit – Class 60 in Close Up” by Roger Ford (Modern Railways – March 1989)
  • Rail Freight (House of Commons Library Briefing Paper) Number SN151, 12 December 2016; By Louise Butcher
  • Railways: privatisation, 1987-1996 (House of Commons Library Briefing Note) SN/BT/1157
18 March 2010
; By Louise Butcher

Class 60 Videos

Click on the image below for more …..

Class 60 Cover

-oOo-

Hong Kong MTR & Stockport

Standard

The UK business of Davies & Metcalfe was most famous for key components on locomotives and rolling stock, from steam injectors, to brake systems and latterly to automatic couplers for rapid transit and light rail systems.

D&M CouplersMost of the company’s business was carried out from the wortks in Romiley, Cheshire, south of Manchester.  It was a long established family business, begun in North Wales in Aberystwyth in 1878, and after a move to Romiley became a household name in manufacturing steam locomotive injectors in the 20th century.  Diversification into braking systems came by way of a partnership with the Swiss company Oerlikon, and sold braking technology under the brand “Metcalfe Oerlikon”.

These arrangements continued after the UK’s railways were nationalised in 1948, and Metcalfe-Oerlikon brake systems were fitted to many diesel and electric locomotive and rolling stock designs. By the 1970s, when the UK rail industry was awarded the contracts to design and build the Hong Kong MTR trains, Davies & Metcalfe,  supplied the braking technology and the essential, automatic, close-couplers for the new rolling stock.

D&M MontageThis comprehensive activity continued throughout the decades, and in 1989, Davies & Metcalfe appeared at ‘Light Rail ’89’ in Bristol, and were  collaborating with Bergische-Stahl-Industrie.  The Romiley company were then offering a ‘one-stop shop’ for  Brake Control Systems, Safety and Vigilance Equipment, Wheel Slip/Slide Control Systems, Multi-function Automatic Couplers, Disc and Track Brakes and, Transmission Drive Systems.

D&M Braking kitA number of changes took place in the industry in the last years of the 20th century, and the company continues to supply key components to this day, whether it is for Hong Kong, or even some of the legacy steam railways in Britain.

 

Useful Links:

  1. Hong Kong Metro – 40 Years On
  2. Davies and Metcalfe Limited

Screenshot 2020-02-08 at 12.18.55

  1. Davies & Metcalfe (Wikipedia)
  2. Davies & Metcalfe (Graces Guide)

-oOo-

HS2 – The Wait Goes On

Standard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Screenshot 2020-01-20 at 11.45.18

Screenshot 2020-01-20 at 19.12.52

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

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

Today, HS2’s own website claims:

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

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

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

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

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

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

-oOo-

60 Years of AC Electrics

Standard

60 years ago on the 27th Nov
ember 1959, Britain’s pioneer 25Kv A.C. electric locomotive was officially handed over to British Railways. Then numbered E3001, it 
was to be the first of a long series of successful 
locomotive designs for the West Coast Main
Line (WCML). Within this series there have
 come to be seven basic designs, and a number of sub-divisions of the classes ALl to AL7. Although the last of these was never actually
 introduced under the old title of AL7, but
 designated Class 87 with the new “TOPS”
 locomotive codes, the family likeness remains
 very strong despite the detail alterations to the appearance of the latest type.

AEI_4Under the Modernisation Plan proposals it was decided that two types of locomotive – ‘A’ and ‘B’ – would be required. These were for mixed traffic, and freight service, respectively, with an equal number of both types needed, with their different haulage characteristics. This was not how things turned out, with the slower progress in the adoption of continuous brakes on freight trains, only five of the first 100 locomotives were type ‘B’, freight types. Metropolitan Vickers and BTH (as AEI), and English Electric were the builders of this entirely new breed of motive power, with mechanical portions of some constructed at BR’s Doncaster Works, and the North British Loco Co., in Glasgow.

86433 and 87034 at Carlisle 1980sIn 30 years, the UK railway industry, together with British Rail’s workshops had provided innovation, specialist technical, design and manufacturing skills that delivered the high-speed rail network, with the East and West Coast Main Line routes as their backbone.

91005 passing Carstairs 1995“Electra” was in effect the final gestation of the first, second and third-generation a.c. locomotive designs to be operated by British Rail, and whilst the ultimate high-speed passenger train, the APT never materialised, it did give rise to the “Pendolino” tilting trains.

Click on the image below for a longer read ….

60 Year cover image

Useful Links

Wikipedia Pages:

Class 80 Class 81 Class 82
Class 83 Class 84 Class 85
Class 86 Class 87 Class 89
Class 90 Class 91

General Information

The AC Electric Locomotive Group English Electric Co. – Grace’s Guide
Class 90 Electric Loco Group Metro-Cammell Ltd
Associated Electrical Industries (AEI) – Grace’s Guide British Rail Engineering Ltd – Science Museum

-oOo-

 

 

Britannia Rules The Rails

Standard

Sometimes, it just has to be done.  Back in 1951, British Railways unveiled its brand new steam locomotive, at the same time as the Festival of Britain was showcasing the country’s capabilities, and the author also appeared!  This class of steam locomotive broke many of the traditional design and building rules of the old ‘Big Four’ companies, and these were especially noticeable in its appearance.

Light_engine_(3319833486)

The now preserved 70013 Oliver Cromwell heading light engine backwards to Cardiff to get coal and water.                       Photo: Ben Salter CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=22446886

Gone were the days of hiding the workings away from public gaze – and the dificulties faced by crew and maintenance fitters in day to day oiling and repairs.  These were intended to be the most efficient, modernising locomotives, and brught together the best aspects of railway engineering that the UK could muster.  At least that was the plan.

“The object of the designer has been to make these standard engines easy to build, easy to maintain, and easy to repair. Many of the parts and fittings are interchangeable between the six types being built in 1951 so that spares tall be kept to a minimum.”

As a classic design, the BR Standard Britannia pacific was the pinnacle of steam locomotive development in Britain. At least, that argument could be held true for the mixed traffic design. Clearly, in other more specialist categories – express passenger, freight, etc. – the argument may be much more tenuous. Quite apart from statements from the Railway Executive in 1951, the new standard range of locomotives for British Railways embodied many of the most up to date characteristics of 20th century British locomotive design. In truth, it also sought to include some rather more international features, especially some aspects that were derived from Continental European and North American practices.

Click on the image below to read on:

Booklet cover

Read on ….

Some useful & interesting links

BRSTD - web page

http://www.iconsofsteam.com/locos/britannia/story/

http://www.royalscot.org.uk – preserved locomotive 70000 “Britannia”

-oOo-

The Digital Railway – Still On Time?

Standard

Back in the 1990s, Railtrack, and subsequently Network Rail, was charged with implementing the Europe wide signalling and train control system – ERTMS. This included the emerging ETCS (Electronic Train Control System), which was intended to remove the use of optical, lineside signals completely, and use track to train communications through a system of track mounted transmitters/receivers.

But is there more to this digital railway business than simply providing a better train control, management and signalling system?

The UK is still years behind our European neighbours in implementing the ERTMS platforms – although to be fair Railtrack/Network Rail have rolled out the halfway house of Train Protection & Warning System (TPWS), and today the core routes are at the entry level for ETCS. Today’s push for the “Digital Railway” has a lot of chatter, and media speak around improving performance and capacity for economic and commercial growth, but on the technology front, there seems to be some way to go – still.

Back in the late 1990s, the TPWS platform was supposed to have a 15-year lifespan, so is now beyond its final years of scheduled life, alongside the upgraded conventional signalling systems. By 2001 we were implementing systems that conformed to ETCS Level 3, with the Alstom TCS (Train Control System), for the upgrade of the West Coast Main Line (WCML).

There were plans to fit ETCS cab equipment in new stock, but following revisions to Control Period 5 with the ‘Hendy Review’ funding was cut, and the delays in deploying the system could be said to be pushing the UK further behind.

In 2015, the Rail Delivery Group published its 3rd annual “Long Term Passenger Rolling Stock Strategy”, where it stated that:

“During CP5 and CP6, the European Train Control System (ETCS) will be fitted to many fleets
 in preparation for the operation of the European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS).”

2015 Rolling Stock StrategyScreenshot 2019-11-21 at 10.51.37

Originally, it was considered that the modular nature of ETCS would be attractive to introduce the technology at Level 1 on secondary routes, interfacing to the existing IECC (Integrated Electronic Control Centres providing automated route setting, amongst other functions), and SSI (Solid State Interlocking) technology. This ability to upgrade in a phased manner was and is important to the UK and other rail networks, with open communications interfaces allowing integrated working across Europe.

But has the signalling and train control system finally been implemented to the optimistic plans of 2001, when the WCML upgrade was completed?

Perhaps not, since back in 2010, the Department for Transport (DfT)was working with outside advisers to try and determine the risks and benefits of adopting – at a future date – possible adoption of the European Railway Traffic Management System (ERTMS/ETCS) Level 3. This report came to the obvious conclusion that it was necessary, desirable, cost effective and efficient – but that was almost a decade ago.

Towards the end of 2016, and although the Rail Delivery Group, and Network Rail’s initiative for a cross-industry Digital Railway programme was progressing, the Transport Committee in its 7th Report (Rail technology: signalling and traffic management) showed that there was still much discussion on the topic:

Their conclusion:

We conclude that improvements to signalling and traffic management technology are needed to deliver a world-class rail network in the UK. In principle we support the idea that the deployment of the European Train Control System (ETCS), Traffic Management software and Driver Advisory systems should be accelerated but this should be subject to careful consideration of the Digital Railway business case, clarity about funding, and a clear understanding of how this programme would affect existing plans for work on enhancements and renewals. In particular, Network Rail’s Digital Railway business case should include a full cost/benefit analysis of all potential systems for a particular route, and consult upon it, before finalising its Digital Railway strategy. 

So, the UK’s rail network, its technology and industry does still appear to have some way to go – despite the fitting of ETCS Level 3 technology to the latest rolling stock, and plans for trials on various routes.

That said, the limited trials using Class 155 multiple units and departmental Class 37 diesels in Wales, on the Cambrian line paved the way for the application of ETCS level 2 on the Thameslink route, with GTR Class 700 trains. The trains began operating in August 2016, with a train running from St Pancras to Blackfriars, and having the ATO software overlay installed to allow automated operations. According to some reports this meant the driver would be responsible for supervising operations via instructions and guidance from in-cab screens, as opposed to controlling the train in a more conventional manner.

Currently, under the Control Period (CP) plans for the East Coast and ex-GWR main lines, ETCS will be introduced in phases – but it will take between 2024 and 2049 to complete the work. This is what is on the current plans:

  • CP6 (by 2024) – KX to Crews Hill and Hatfield
  • CP7 (by 2029) – Sandy to Peterborough; Grantham to Retford and Plymouth to Totnes
  • CP8 (by 2034) – Peterborough to Grantham; York (North) to Northallerton; Ferryhill to Alnmouth, and Paddington to Slough and Heathrow; Totnes to Exeter
  • CP9 (by 2039) – Retford to York (North); Northallerton to Ferryhill; Alnmouth to Berwick, along with Wootton Bassett to Exeter via Bristol, and Pewsey to Cogload Junction
  • CP10 (by 2044) – Didcot area (Cholsey to Wantage Road); Didcot to Oxford and Honeybourne
  • CP11 (by 2049) – Reading area (Slough to Cholsey); Wantage Road to Wootton Bassett; Reading to Pewsey

But no work will be undertaken on the ECML for Control Periods 10 and 11 – well at least that’s the current position, I think.

Thameslink trains now operate with ETCS Level2, with ATO in the central section, which puts that route at the forefront of implementing ATO with ERTMS, operating the new Class 700 Siemens “Desiro City” multiple units. These were procured under a PFI arrangement from 2013, from a consortium of Cross London Trains Ltd, which included Siemens Project Ventures GmbH, Innisfree Ltd., and 3i Infrastructure Ltd., and the trains began operating in 2016.  They were either 8 or 12-car units, and were later supplemented with an order for another 25 6-car trains – the Class 717 units, that would be used on the Great Northern line. In the end these new trains replaced no fewer than 6 older designs, from the Class 319 to Class 466.

Currently the only other ETCS Level 2 equipped and – well almost operational – trains are the Class 345 9-car trains for the Crossrail line. These actually began running in June 2017, and used at the outer ends, on the Great Eastern and Great Western main lines, as ETCS implementation is completed. In the Crossrail case, the trains are based on Bombardier’s “Aventra” design, but, unlike Thameslink, they are equipped for 25kV a.c. operation only, with no 3rd rail contact shoe. The Crossrail trains also carry equipment that allow them to use the TPWS warning system devised as a ‘halfway house’ towards ETCS in the 1990s.

Back in 2018, the DfT produced an 8-page implementation plan/technical spec for interoperability – the Control, Command System (CCS), under the slogan “Moving Britain Ahead”. On Page 4 of that document it states that the “Class B System”, which is the old “Halfway House” platform of TPWS from the late 1990s is supported by an industry wide spec. It also states that migration to ETCS will be on a “business led” basis, and implies that the “Class B System” will continue to be used in the UK.

“This specification defines all the required functionality and performance in a way which does not constrain the market to any particular supplier.” 


When ETCS was being promoted in the late 1990s/early 2000s, and when it was to be rolled out on the West Coast Main Line, in a phased manner, there were still multiple suppliers of ETCS equipment – whether for Level 1, 2 or 3. Not sure that still holds, but certainly the technology has progressed – perhaps the primary objection to speeding up its rollout is the rolling stock problem, and retrofitting to the large fleet of older vehicles. It’s great that it has been implemented for Thameslink, and there are still plans to implement – but TPWS was only intended to have a 15 year lifespan in 1999.

Following a review in 1999 of Railtrack’s West Coast upgrade, the approach to implementing train control through an ETCS platform was not progressed in the original manner, and it was recommended a more piecemeal approach, as an overlay to existing systems was taken. That is one of the ways in which ETCS can be implemented, with no need for a ‘big bang’ approach, and all that that would involve both technically, operationally, and S&T and driver training.

So, you might say, the UK’s “Digital Railway” is getting there, to misquote an old British Rail advertising slogan – but it will be sometime yet, before that objective is realised. In truth, some of us may not even be here to see that…… ah well.

-oOo-

TPWS

TPWS Feature coverClick on the image opposite, which will take you to a short feature written in 2001 about the implementation of TPWS – the UK’s initial step towards a full ERTMS/ATP train control system.

 

 

More Useful Links: