Electrification 1970s v 21st Century

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Back in 1974, British Rail completed a major electrification between Crewe and Glasgow, and introduced a new timetable on 6th May that year.  This project was planned back in the mid 1950s, with the modernisation plan, which also included both the West and  East Coast routes.  Until 1966, when the London Euston to Manchester and Liverpool was completed, cash strapped BR was forced to delay the East Coast route, but in only 8 years the remaining length of the West Coast was completed.

BR Elec News 1974Today – or rather back in 2013 – work began on electrifying the railway between London Paddington and Cardiff, and planned for completion by 2018, a distance of just 145 miles, and now it has been put back to 2024.  The decision to electrify the line was taken in 2009 by the Dept for Transport, but it was beset with management/organisational problems almost from the word go, and the National Audit Office made some critical observations. Some of these were directed at Network Rail, but equally at the DfT, inckuding this little observation in its 2016 reportModernising the Great Western Railway“:

“The Department did not produce a business case bringing together all the elements of what became the Great Western Route Modernisation industry programme until March 2015. This was more than two years after ordering the trains and over a year after Network Rail began work to electrify the route.”

Comparing what was achieved in 1974, with the electrification work of major trunk routes like Glasgow to Preston and Crewe, to connect with the existing WCML wires, the time to complete this quite short route seems excessive.   The cost so far is over £5 billion, and whilst some of that is infrastructure, some includes of course the new ‘bi-mode’ trains.

Headspan Catenary Crewe to Carlisle 1973British Rail electrified 200 miles from Weaver Junction to Gretna, and Glasgow Central in just 8 years.  But it wasn’t just electrification back then, since there was considerable rebuilding and remodelling of trackwork, raising or replacing bridges, and resignalling throughout from London to Glasgow.  The overall cost was £74 million in 1970s prices, or approximately £1 billion today.

Another publication from BR at the time was “Electric All The Way”, which included these interesting comments relating to service improvements to and from Preston:

“The new pattern of services between London and Glasgow introduced on May 6 1974, provides passengers travelling to and from stations between Carlisle and Warrington on the newly electrified portion of the Anglo-Scottish route with more high-speed trains. Preston-Glasgow services have more than doubled, from seven to 15 daily, with an average reduction in journey time of almost one hour.  Preston-London trains have been increasedfrom 12 to 19.”

“Faster journey times and improved connections at Oxenholme for Windermere make the Lake District more easily accessible from all centres on the electrified route.”

So how many high-speed trains from Preston to Glasgow today, and how many southbound?

The introduction of the “Electric Scots” also saw the arrival of Britain’s most powerful AC electric locomotives – the Class 87.  Built by BREL workshops, and powered by GEC Traction equipment.

Class 87 at Preston copy

Class 87 at Preston in original 1970s livery

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Out of use at Crewe, Class 87 in final BR livery

10 years later work began on electrifying the East Coast Main Line from Kings Cross to Edinburgh, which was completed in 1992, also completed in 8 years – clearly building on the experience and skills gained on the West Coast.  Some sections of the East Coast route were actually completed 12 months earlier than planned – London Kings Cross to Leeds for example.

Here again, the ECML saw the introduction of a nother new form of high-speed motive power, this time from the GEC Traction stable, and codenamed “Electra”, the Class 91 marked perhaps the zenith of British electric traction design.

gec076 copyWhy can’t we organise this as effectively today as happened in the 1970s and 1980s?  

Interesting Reads:

 

 

 

Over The Southern Alps via Arthur’s Pass

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By the early 1920s, both English Electric and Metropolitan Vickers were very successful in wining contracts around the world, mostly in the British Colonies.  In the far east, English Electric had won major orders in Japan and New Zealand, whilst Metropolitan-Vickers had been awarded contracts to supply locomotives for the first main line electrification project in South Africa.

 

Furthest away from home, the New Zealand electrification scheme was a “comprehensive contract”, awarded to English Electric, for the conversion to electric traction of the line from Arthur’s Pass to Otira on the South Island.

The contract involved the installation of catenary through what was at the time, the longest railway tunnel in the British Empire. The tunnel, 5.5 miles long, on a ruling gradient of 1 in 33, was hewn out of the solid rock, beneath Arthur’s Pass in the Southern Alps. The route itself was very important, linking two of the South Island’s provinces, Canterbury and Westland, and the towns of Christchurch and Greymouth.

Work was begun on the Trans-Alpine route by the New Zealand Midland Railway Company in 1887, with private finance, but was taken over by the Government in 1895, after the railway company’s plans came to grief. The plan for this Midland Main Line was for steam operation, but the Arthur’s Pass section was the major challenge in the final connection.

Construction work was difficult and slow in parts, with men, horses, picks, shovels and very little machinery, and the most difficult section was over Arthur’s Pass

The route would carry heavy traffic, and the ascent over Arthur’s Pass was to have adopted the Abt Rack system, but this was clearly not a suitable option for this main line.

By 1900, the line from the West Coast to Otira had been completed, with contractors John McLean & Son were awarded a contract in 1907, to create the Otira Tunnel under the Southern Alps, and were allocated 5 years to complete the work. The project was dogged by labour troubles, and the government was petitioned for help, following strikes, disputes and difficulties during construction work. The Public Works Department took over the work, and despite the First World War, work continued, with the tunnel breakthrough taking place in 1918.

English Electric’s contract for the electrification of the “Arthur’s Pass” section of the route was one of the company’s earliest “comprehensive contract” projects, and in addition to the overhead catenary, and locomotives included a power station at Otira. This impressive project to complete this Trans-Alpine route was finally opened throughout on 4th August 1923, some 37 years after it was first proposed.

Track & Overhead

A view of the electrified section, showing the different types of contact wire support.

Overall, equipment provided by English Electric included;

  • 5 complete, 720hp, 50-ton Bo-Bo electric locomotives.
  • 1 complete, 400hp, Bo-Bo battery locomotive.
  • 1 steam generating station, with two 1,200kW, 1,650V d.c. turbo-generator sets.

The overhead line equipment also provided by English Electric, with the conductors energised at 1500V d.c. This was, at the time a common standard for the early main line schemes – and according to the company’s publicity “ …no other system than electric haulage was seriously considered”.  The fixed structures of the project included ‘double catenary’ in the open, and ‘single catenary’ through the Otira Tunnel. The conductors were supported in the open on wooden poles, with insulators attached to angle iron brackets, with more complex girder structures in stations and yards.

Steam traction was the order of the day on either side of “Arthur’s Pass”, with electric traction over and through the Otira Tunnel. The company also supplied five electric locomotives, which came to be the “E0” Class Bo-Bo design for passenger and freight duties, together with a battery locomotive for inspection and maintenance work.

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This photo taken in 1952, shows the 720hp E0 class locomotives still hard at work on mixed traffic duties on what was one of the first “composite contracts” for the 3ft 6ins gauge.               Photo: Author’s Collection

Locomotives were Bo-Bo double-ended types, rated at 720hp for those in use on the main line, and a single 400hp battery locomotive. The latter had 50hp traction motors, driving the wheels through single reduction gearing, using a ratio of 15.83 to The more powerful 720hp types, had four 179hp motors, with force ventilation, and connected permanently in series, as two pairs of motors. The tractive effort produced was 14,200 lbs at the one hour rating of the traction motors.

NZ Locos - dimensions table

These ‘box cab’ locomotives, with their twin, roof mounted pantographs used the Westinghouse air brake, and a rheostatic brake, where the electrical energy of the motors was dissipated as heat through banks of resistances. The reason why regenerative braking systems were not employed – although it was considered – was due to the fact that the power station was there purely to supply power to the railway, there being no other load to share any regenerated energy that might otherwise be fed back into the line.

The English Electric locos were still in use on this line until 1969, and one of the class has been preserved by the Canterbury Railway Society., and restored to working order in 1977, and carries its original running number E3.

NZR_EO_3_at_Ferrymead

The preserved English Electric loco No.3 at Ferrymead.
Photo courtesy Yak52fan – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6938570

The success of this first scheme also resulted in the electrification of the seven miles long, suburban section of the same route, between Christchurch and the port of Lyttelton, which again involved a ‘comprehensive contract’. English Electric was awarded another ‘ comprehensive contract’ in 1929 for this work, including the tunnel section of the line to Lyttelton, the chief port of the province of Canterbury.

 

Here again, English Electric supplied rotary convertors for the substations, but this time the principal source of power was the hydro-electric station at Lake Coleridge. Six 1,200hp Bo-Bo locomotives were supplied, with power equipment similar to that installed on the Arthur’s Pass locomotives, with the English Electric Co.’s camshaft control system. The introduction of suburban services over the line from Christchurch to Lyttelton was completed in February 1929.

Further Reading:

EE No.54

Useful Links:

Otira Tunnel – Midland Railway

Rail Tunnel Pierces the Southern Alps

Tranz Alpine

RH Trust New Zealand logo

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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