Digital rail revolution will reduce overcrowding and cut delays

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Today, the current Transport Minister Chris Grayling said that as a result of the “digital rail revolution”:
Trains will become faster, more frequent, more punctual and safer through the introduction of new digital technology on the rail network.
Really?
And he went on to say:
“Transport Secretary Chris Grayling and Network Rail Chief Executive Mark Carne will today (10 May 2018) launch Network Rail’s Digital Railway Strategy and commit to ensuring all new trains and signalling are digital or digital ready from 2019. They will also set out that they want to see digital rail technology benefiting passengers across the network over the next decade.”
There is an interesting phrase in the statement above:  “… digital or digital ready from 2019….”  That sounds a bit like a supermarket sale … you know the one:  “… prices start from ??? …”  And you can rarely find the lowest price item.
The DfT’s statement went on to say:

New digital rail technology will:

  • safely allow more trains to run per hour by running trains closer together
  • allow more frequent services and more seats
  • cut delays by allowing trains to get moving more rapidly after disruption
  • enable vastly improved mobile and wi-fi connectivity, so that passengers can make the most of their travel time and
  • communities close to the railway can connect more easily
So when will we start introducing ETCS Level 2 on trains – passenger and freight – maybe using the Siemens’ Trainguard Level 2, Baseline 3 system.
In a rail network where passenger and freight services use the same tracks much, if not most of the time, then they will all need to be fitted from new, and retrofitted to older stock and locomotives.
Here’s one but at least.  On a previous occasion, it was announced that: “Freight trains in Britain to be upgraded with delay-busting digital technology in multi-million pound deal”  This according to Network Rail has already started, although retrofitting the fleet will not start for another 3 years:
“The design, testing and approvals stage for each class of vehicle starts now and work to retrofit the entire freight fleet will begin in 2022 and continue through to Control Period 7 (CP7, 2024-2029).”
All of this is true, and was being planned and partially implemented more than 20 years ago, so why the delays.  Maybe it’s just down to education, since as the “Digital Railway” website advertises:
“The European Rail Traffic Management System – ERTMS Education Day is open to rail operators and aims to deliver an overview of ERTMS and its place as part of the wider Digital Railway programme. It includes the rationale behind ERTMS, how the system operates and changes to on-train and lineside infrastructure.”
ERTMS Education Days are operated jointly by the Rail Delivery Group (RDG) and Network Rail.  I get the involvement of Network Rail, but why the RDG?  Is that just a collective name for various passenger and freight operating companies?  Or is it to fill a gap that was once provided by the Railway Clearing House (RCH) – back in steam days.
Ah well, at least some progress with modern signalling technology seems to be coming along – what a pity that it has taken so long to begin to catch up with other European countries.

-oOo-

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.

 

Now That’s What I Call A Digital Railway

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This video on signalling has just been published by the UIC:

And, as they say:

Signalling is an essential cornerstone of the railway system

Bit different to this:

RPBRLY-1

Or even this:

RPBRLY-2

And even in the UK there is ‘new kid on the block’ (pardon the pun!), it is the “digital railway” – on the official website, this is what they say that this new technology for train control and signalling will provide:

 

“Digital Railway aims to deliver the benefits of digital signalling and train control more quickly than current plans, deploying proven technology in a way that maximises economic benefit to the UK.”

-oOo-

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

-oOo-

 

 

 

 

 

The Great North Rail Project

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As part of Network Rail’s £1 billion, 25-year “Railway Upgrade Plan” there are 7 projects that form the  “Great North Rail Project” sub-project which is intended to be complete by 2022 – only 4 years from now.  They include:

  • Liverpool City Region upgrade
  • Manchester to Preston improvements
  • Preston to Blackpool North
  • Transpennine Route upgrade
  • West Yorkshire signalling upgrade
  • Ordsall Chord
  • Calder Valley improvements

These seven projects are highlighted as the infrastructure improvements in the north of England.  Fair enough, Network Rail doing infrastructure work – but these projects seem to suggest Network Rail may be providing new trains – in particular there is a reference to those trains as part of the “Railway Upgrade Plan”.

The key benefits include longer, faster, more frequent trains; a better, more reliable infrastructure; and better facilities for passengers, especially at stations.

To be fair, and maybe I am being picky but isn’t it the job of the rolling stock leasing companies to buy and offer the new trains to the train operating companies – Transpennine, Northern Rail, etc. – not Network Rail.  Or perhaps since the physical infrastructure is being upgraded, is this going to be a first step towards re-nationalisation?

However, amongst the key projects of this grand plan, electrification is being progressed – yet not in the North.  The new “Azuma” trains have already encountered a problem, since the East Coast Main Line franchise is soon to be terminated, so they may not enter service at all, or be delayed, or under a publicly owned railway.  Similarly, Network Rail indicate that HS2 is one of their key projects – but I thought this was another privately funded scheme.

So where are we today?  There is still a lot of infrastructure work to be completed before Blackpool can be reached by a new electric train service, and Liverpool Lime Street is being closed in the summer for a couple of months, and the Chorley “Flying Arches” appear to be uplifted.

Here are a few snaps of work in progress in the North West:

 

 


Not so High Speed Northern Rail

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Last month (November), the Government published its vision paper on rail, entitled Connecting people: a strategic vision for rail”, extolling the virtues of the latest UK plans for ‘modernising” the rail infrastructure and services. It sets great store by the increased investment already made, against the backdrop of ever increasing passenger numbers, much of which is accurate.

At the same time it makes some bizarre statements about cuts in journey times of 15 minutes between Liverpool and Manchester that are simply not borne out by facts. Here’s what it says on page 21 of the published document:

  • “2.18  This investment in rail networks in the North of England has already delivered improvements, with the fastest journey between Liverpool and Manchester cut by 15 minutes, new direct services between Manchester Airport and Glasgow, and Manchester Victoria station upgraded. 
”

It carefully avoids any comparison with a figure for earlier years, so we are left to wonder if they mean the journey is 15 minutes quiker compared with 1947, 1957, or 1977.

However, comparing this claim between the timings for 2017 with those of the 1972 timetable – 45 years ago! – the fastest journey time is only 6 minutes quicker, and in 1972, there was still a lot of steam age legacy infrastructure and systems in place.

This is 2017

Liverpool to Manchester 2017

Fastest Journey Liverpool Lime Street to Manchester (Piccadilly / Victoria)

 

1972 - 2017 TimingsThe fastest services in 1972 were operated as ‘Inter-City’, with this example of a weekday service leaving Lime Street at 08:35, and arriving at Piccadilly 51 minutes later. Today’s service has only 1 more stop, at Wavertree Technology Park, a new station, and yet only manages a 6 minute reduction in journey time.

Still it is quicker, and yes, I am being picky!

This is 1972

Overall, the ideas suggested include work that has already been done, and work that might get completed. With the cancellation of electrification in the north earlier this year, in favour of Crossrail 2, I’m not holding my breath.

Investment in new trains as well as new technology is and has been long overdue, but to keep referencing HS2 in this ‘vision’ paper does not cut the mustard if the DfT want to demonstrate a commitment to rail services. Changes to franchising are perhaps just adding ever more complexity and ‘red tape’ to a privatisation scheme that has not offered a major performance – both operationally and economically – improvement to the UK’s network. The UK is still, after 25+ years of a ‘privatised railway’, still subsidising train operating companies.

Ah well, let’s see what happens next.

-oOo-

 

Closing the Blackpool Line

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Today, 10th November 2017, it has been announced that the line from Preston to Blackpool is to be closed for 19 weeks, to carryout ‘electrification works’, and a replacement bus service will operate instead.  But not all of the line is to be electrified, since only the ‘northern’ route via Poulton will receive the overall benefit, whilst the coastal line through Lytham, St Annes and Blackpool South will remain non-electrified – wonder how that will affect the choice of multiple units to be used.

I imagine this must be because either Network Rail don’t have the necessary technical and management skills, or sufficient resources and experience to electrify the line whilst maintaining a train service.  However did we manage to electrify the West and East Coast main lines in the 1960s and 1980s/90s and still run a train service.

Between 11th November 2017 and 28th January 2018, no trains will run to Blackpool, Lytham, and all points in between at all.  The route to Blackpool South will re-open at the end of January, but the line from Kirkham to Blackpool North will stay closed until 25th March.

The line to Blackpool North from Preston remains a double track route, whilst the ‘coastal route’ between Kirkham, Lytham, St Annes and Blackpool South was reduced to single track many years ago.

However, I have a question – why would Network Rail and the DfT consider that it must close the whole of the double track line to Blackpool??

The work is being carried out as part of the “Great North Rail Project” which, according to Network Rail will “..deliver modern, faster, more frequent and more comfortable train services across one of the largest rail networks in the country.”  On top of this, services will be more reliable, greener and have more seats, on new trains.

Surely, the reliability and comfort/efficiency of train operations will be down to the capability of the train operating companies, and not just the infrastructure manager alone.  I appreciate that resignalling will create, along with electrification a much improved rail line, but it’s not just NetworkRail’s job to see that it really happens.

For the moment – and until the end of March 2018, passengers will have to manage their journeys differently – has the economic risk and impact of closing the line for almost 5 months been considered?  The single line section from Kirkham around the coast to Blackpool South also includes Squires Gate Station – handy for access to Blackpool Airport – would there be a risk to air passengers?

Interestingly, Blackpool North was earmarked for closure under the 1963 Beeching proposals, whilst the line to Fleetwood was closed, was closed to passenger traffic, but retained in part.  The Fylde Coast lines were still generating considerable passenger traffic – albeit seasonal – 50 years ago, and between 2009 and 2012, the remaining stations in Blackpool saw year on year increases, and now at around 2 million passengers annually.

The electrification is clearly both welcome and needed – just a pity the line is to close for 5 months.

Further reading:

https://www.northernrailway.co.uk/news/improvements/1435-preston-to-blackpool-11-november-2017-25-march-2018

http://www.lancashire.gov.uk/lancashire-insight/transport/railway-stations-usage.aspx

https://www.networkrail.co.uk/running-the-railway/our-routes/lnw/north-west-electrification/preston-blackpool-north/

-oOo-