Blackpool Lights Up – Finally

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The 19 week programme to electrify the line from Preston to Blackpool North has – it seems – finally been completed, and on 16th April, the new service is now planned to start.  The programme was extended by a 3 weeks – and according to Network Rail, the major cause of the delay was the extreme bad weather in March.

PROJECT UPDATE: Blackpool North line to reopen on Monday 16 April

So, the project has overrun by 16% – but at least it is now finished.  Services to Blackpool stopped on 11th November and were due to restart on the 26th March – in good time for the start of the Easter holidays and the tourist season.

When the delay was announced the MP for Blackpool South was incensed and took the matter up with Norther Rail (the franchisee), and of course in Parliament.  The local paper carried a story about the delay:

‘Damaging’ rail delay will impact on tourism, says MP

However, Network Rail has completed:

  • Rebuilding 11 bridges
  • Remodelling 11 station platforms
  • Replacing 11km of track
  • Upgrading drainage
  • Installing a completely new signalling system, operated entirely from the Manchester ROC

Alongside the changes at Blackpool North and Kirkham & Wesham stations, Blackpool train care depot to support the roll out of new Class 331 trains later in 2018.

In the meantime Class 319 units will be relocated from Southern England – good to recycle.  But at least one observer has noted that whilst Transpennine run electrified services into Manchester Airport, currently it seems Northern Rail are not planning for this.

Whilst Network Rail are to be congratulated on completing the job – it’s still ‘wait and see’ to find out how the ‘Great Northern Rail Project’ fulfils its declared intentions.

 

Underfunding & Cancelled Electrification

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On Thursday 29th March, the UK’s “National Audit Office” released the results of its investigation into why the UK Government, and Transport Secretary Chris Grayling chose to cancel electrification projects.  Back at the start of CP5, Network Rail stated that electrification was a strategic top priority, with £3 billion in schemes to be carried out between 2014 and 2019.

In 2017 the Government then decided that three of those schemes were to be cancelled, because:

“… the Secretary of State explained that the projects were cancelled on the basis that it was were no longer necessary to electrify every line to deliver passenger benefits.”

Perhaps the most telling statement in the NAO Press Release is this one:

“The NAO investigation identifies that that it is too early to determine whether the Department will still be able to deliver the benefits of electrification without these electrification projects in place.”

NAO Press Release

The lines that the Transport Secretary decided to cancel were:

  • The Great Western Main Line between Cardiff and Swansea
  • The Midland Main line between 
  • The Oxenholme to Windermere

For the latter – a short stretch of line – it’s ironic in 2018, since the Lake District is now a UN World Heritage Site, and the growth in tourists is predicted to experience significant growth.  The section of the main line between Wales two largest cities not now being electrified is very much a mystery, whilst the former main line to Nottingham and Sheffield also links major population centres.

The Midland route was a particularly bad example of decision making, since at the time the decision was made to cancel, the bi-mode trains with the required criteria to deliver the timetable of the route did not exist.

Cancelled ElectrificationsAnyway, having taken the decision the National Audit Office has identified some interesting, and perhaps key points that suggest this was and has been a poor decision, with a lack of foresight.

  1. It was no longer necessary to electrify every line to deliver passenger benefits.
  2. Bi-mode trains with the required speed and acceleration to deliver the timetable of the route did not exist.
  3. Network Rail projects had to be cancelled because the ‘investment programme’ could not be delivered within the available funding.

Plans to raise and retain £1.8 billion to reduce the funding shortfall, through asset sales, were unachievable, so these projects were cancelled to help reduce that shortfall, and according to the NAO Report:

“The Department estimated that cancelling these three projects would save a maximum of £105 million in 2014-19 rail investment period, but would avert £1,385 million of spending in the following 2019-24 period.”

So now we have to wait until 2024 to find out if these savings have been made, and if the wait was worth it – wonder what the impact on passengers will be, or business, or tourists…..

Newbury station sunrise

National Audit Office (NAO) – Investigation into the Department for Transport’s decision to cancel three rail electrification projects

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Network Rail’s Upgrade Plan

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According to their latest Tweets and New Releases, Network Rail’s “Railway Upgrade Plan” is the biggest investment and engineering project/programme of projects since Victorian times.  Now I know that’s a bit of a stretch, but…

https://fast.wistia.com/embed/iframe/bzvre7n5h8

The video is imaginative and entertaining.

According to Network Rail:

In the last 20 years the number of people travelling on the rail network has doubled, and the rail network, our stations and our platforms are dealing with more passengers than they were ever designed for.

But our investment plan is now entering its final phases and better, more frequent, faster journeys for hundreds of thousands of people are now months away for some, as the benefits start to come to fruition.

Millions of passenger journeys will be transformed in the months ahead and through to 2021 as more and more new services come on-stream

There are 4 “Mega projects”, the Edinburgh to Glasgow Improvement Programme, Crossrail, Derby Resignalling and the Great North Rail Project.  On top of this there are the “National Projects” – East-West Rail, Midland Mainline and Trans Pennine.

Scotland-EGIP-Queen-Street-tunnel-1035x545I get the £742 million for Edinburgh to Glasgow (outstanding since about 1981), and £200 million for Derby resignalling, and the massive Crossrail project is a given.  But, the Great North Rail Project is really just putting in place work that should have been done years ago, especially in view of the growth in passenger numbers, and the need to replace outdated and life expired technology.

Should the “Railway Upgrade Plan” for CP6 and beyond perhaps, be considered alongside the 1950s “Modernisation and Re-Equipment Programme”?

The latest news has some really interesting drill down options too, and worth a read, but I’m still unsure about the comparisons with 100 years and more ago.

Our Railway Upgrade Plan

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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

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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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Old Oak Common – an HS2 Station!

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Fascinating.  It has been announced that bidders for the design and construction of this new station – along with Euston – were announced on 6th February.

Many of us remember this site as the motive power depot on the old Great Western Railway, and Western Region of BR.  Never considered it as a station, but now included in the HS2 list of stations between London and Birmingham – or Phase 1 – and as well as allowing passengers to transfer from the new line to Birmingham to local services, it will provide a connection to HS1.   Hmm – wonder if the new e320 Eurotunnel trains will be able to provide services through to other parts of the UK.

Legends_of_the_Great_Western_-_93,_6023,_7903,_D821,_D1015,_50035,_43002,_180102_and_800003

Old Oak Common Depot’s open day in 2017 featured a ‘Legends of the Great Western’ line up to show the changes in motive power over the depot’s 111 years.  Photo (c) Geof Sheppard

The location is an interesting one for many reasons, and is the closest that the existing west of England main line, and west coast main lines come together, but will it just become another Crewe, or Clapham Junction I wonder.  Back in 2014, connectivity between HS1 and the West Coast Main Line (WCML) was the subject of a study to develop that connection as part of the EU TEN-T core network programme.

Developing TEN-TIt was cancelled in 2015.

So the latest connectivity plans seem to be dependent on HS2 construction – and as this timescale seems to be ever increasing, will an improved international rail freight and passenger connection to GWR, Crossrail, Heathrow Express and HS1 be achieved?

Old Oak Common on HS2-HS1

At the top of the picture is the WCML, so it would not perhaps be unreasonable to have provided that link without HS2.   A question does remain from this map of the proposals for Old Oak Common – what happens to freight traffic coming off HS1?  Where does it connect to the rest of the UK?

It will of course arrive onto WCML metals via the ‘Y’ junction at Camden Road Station, then on through Primrose Hill tunnels.

Amazingly, the new HS2 route to Old Oak Common and connection to HS1, is almost exactly what was proposed 4 years ago, and then cancelled.  Whilst the HS2 development may prove useful in 20 years time, perhaps the connection to the WCML for freight traffic will be needed sooner.

We await the next West Coast upgrade with interest.

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Cranes from Carlisle No More

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The city of Carlisle was once home to the world’s most well known crane maker – Cowans Sheldon, with their works built on the former leper hospital of St Nicholas, they began building cranes, and turntables – most notably for railways at home and all over the world. Those skills, knowledge and experience passed into history in 1987 – some 30 years ago.

In 1986, just a year before the St Nicholas works closed with the loss of 400 jobs, the company had been awarded a £4 million contract to design and build a 140tonne capacity railway breakdown crane for the Indian Government Railways.

Indian Crane

Indian Railways – World’s Heaviest Breakdown Crane in 1986

In 1969, the company was bought by a North East engineering firm – Clarke Chapman, who, in turn, merged with John Boyd Ltd., and the Carlisle works was renamed as Cowans-Boyd, but still turning out cranes for home and export. In 1977 Clarke Chapman merged with another Newcastle company – Reyroll-Parsons to form NEI (Northern Engineering Industries). The Cowans Sheldon, or Cowans Boyd works remained part of NEI until its closure in 1987.

Eight years earlier in 1979, the company had received not only £1/2 million order from Tanzania, but had designed and was building three types of rail mounted cranes as part of British Rail’s programme to replace and refurbish its crane fleet that were, in some cases, more than 40 years old.

BR Heavy Duty Crane

BR Heavy Lift Breakdown Crane – 1979

 

On top of this, in 1982 in a joint venture with Portec Inc. of the USA the Cowans Sheldon Unit of NEI Cranes Ltd was designing and building new standard cranes for US railroads, with the possibility of orders from Amtrak.

USA Crane 1982Just a few short years later, it seems nobody wanted to buy cranes for railway use from the UK any more, with neither home or export orders.

So what happened to the St Nicholas site – well, it was turned into one of those shopping parks now known as “St Nicholas Gate”, and houses Asda, Halford, B&M Bargains, Iceland, amongst others.

How times have changed!

Further reading:

Acknowledgements:

All illustrations are by courtesy of ‘Railpower’ published by the Railway Industry Association

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