Almost Re-Nationalisation?

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Well, well, the media have had a spectacular day today, observing and commenting on this radical reform of the railways – a new public body to oversee the running of the track, signalling, train control, stations, timetables, and ticketing, etc., etc.   Then they will be managing the awarding of contracts to train operating companies, to provide train services to those schedules – not to mention the exciting new multi-faceted tickets that (a) can be bought on the day of travel, and (b) offer greater flexibility to meet the UK’s new working arrangements.

Hmm – I guess at some point the ORR (Office of Rail & Road) will be involved in oversight too, and then up to the Transport Secretary – well done Grant Schapps.  Just a pity it took so long to start getting the rail house in order.  But who owns the trains?  Will the TOCs still lease the trains – new and old – from the ROSCo’s through the banks and investment houses?

It will be interesting to see how this develops…

Even The Guardian (to be fair they published their story on the 16th May) gets in on the act:

Huffington Post …

The broadcasters have been covering it too, even the BBC.  But this is probably going to be interesting, with the private sector’s track record and heavy subsidies, the Government’s planned budget cut may not get this new ‘arms length body’ off to a good start.  This is all part of the Williams Review – due out as a ‘White Paper’ today (Thursday) – will, like the much re-written and reviewed report, also be delayed?

The essence of this latest upheaval on the railways, which – implied if not admitted – is a failure of the whole episode of privatisation begun under John Major’s stewardship.  This is though only part nationalisation – which industry people have been calling for over many years – and the most recent impacts of the timetabling fiasco, and Northern Rail’s nightmare years have led to equally strident calls from the travelling public.

Manchester and Transport for the North have each clearly welcomed the proposal

The mainstream media have been obsessed with the introduction of Carnet style ticketing systems, which in this case amounts to a digital ticket for 8 trips in 28 days, with no pre-booking of days that you will travel.  At least one UK TOC has been offering these already, but as a physical book of single trip tickets – a sort of voucher arrangement – this latest idea is of course paperless.  Since the details of the operation of Great British Railways (GBR) have yet to be fully finalised, there is scope for a ticketing App disaster perhaps too.

That said, I believe it’s a step in the right direction, as so very clearly is brining the whole of the infrastructure and scheduling of train services under one management system. Except obviously for train operation, maintenance and maybe on-train catering, and the ownership and provision of rolling stock.

The official view:

Watch this space.

-oOo-

From Signalboxes to ROCs

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There is a new word in town – it’s “digital” – and you can use it for anything to make it sound big, clever, or a technological marvel.  Take the “digital railway” for instance, what is it?  This is what they said on their website in 2019:

“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.”

In 2021, this was changed slightly and now reads:

“What’s the Digital Railway programme?”

The rail industry’s plan to transform the rail network for passengers, business and freight operators by deploying modern signalling and train control technology to increase capacity, reduce delays, enhance safety and drive down costs.”

Now, a couple of short videos are posted on the opening page:

That said, hundreds of signalboxes are now on their way into history, and the UK has come a long way from mechanical, through electro-mechanical and electronic systems, and is changing at an even faster pace today.

Chris Grayling, the then Transport Secretary, stated in 2017 he was taking £5 million from the £450 million pot for the UK’s “Digital Railway”, to enable Network Rail to investigate options for making the Manchester to Leeds route “digital”.  But why Network Rail – implementing ETCS at even Level 1 will require work from the train operating companies and rolling stock owners to retrofit their locomotives and trains.  On top of which, some have already been fitted with what will become non-standard TPWS, and cab signalling/driver advisory systems, which would add to the cost, although today ETCS has been used on lines in mid-Wales, and under test on the Hertford loop.

Clearly Mr Grayling – and maybe even the “Digital Railway” web pages are highlighting what they might like to see, and there is still much work to be done.

York IECC Control Room – 20th Century signalling technology

Yes – I know about the WCML upgrade work – but, although it was included in the EU “TENS” programme – I can’t help but wonder if it will be fully complete without more private investment, or ideally perhaps state investment.  ETCS together with GSM-R telecoms was and remains an integral part of the ERTMS platform, which perhaps not surprisingly has progressed in fits and starts over the years.

I remember first writing about this over 20 years ago, and whilst yes, historians will say that automatic train control systems have been around on London Underground, the Great Western Railway (in steam days), and even British Railways in the 1950s, this is really about ETCS.  Back in the 1990s, as Solid State Interlocking and IECCs (Integrated Electronic Control Centres) began to arrive on BR, the old fixed block systems were gradually being phased out and replaced by the new technology, which today we are obliged to call the “digital railway”. 

Inside Three Bridges (London) ROC

Ironically perhaps the video on the Digital Railway website states that the UK needs a new signalling system designed for the 21st century – what a pity the UK didn’t invest sooner in the 20th century system that this Digital Railway will use.  Perhaps the one thing I would take issue with in their promotional video is that this nirvana will provide “better connections” – well only if you provide more stations and more trains on new or re-opened lines perhaps! 

A current version of the same video, and the “better connections” feature seen previously seems to be missing, and more attention focussed on the improved capacity, and CDAS (Connected Driver Advisory System) included.  

Automatic Train Operation (ATO) still features, the ‘autopilot’ for trains, along with real time train performance information gathering – oh yes – and being able to update passengers in real time about delays.  This latter presumes that stations have information displays on the platform – many still do not have this, and it seems to depend on the train operating company (TOC) to put these facilities in place.  But it is progress – albeit slow.

Still we do have the experience of the Cambrian Line ETCS at Level 2 to gather data from, analyses and provide that next step.  However, despite Mr Grayling’s proposition, Thameslink is next in line, along with Crossrail – and presumably Crossrail 2, which has replaced the planned work on the Transpennine electrification.  The Thameslink core will be receiving in addition, a system from Hitachi that allows automated route setting, and claims to minimise signaller involvement, but does not control the interlocking directly, but responds to status information, with sophisticated software used to set or amend the route.

In 2018, details were published of the ETCS rollout projects for the remainder of Control Period 5 (CP5), which took us up to the end of 2019, and these included:

From that list – intriguingly – the ETCS deployment on Crossrail has been described as a “Metro based” signalling system, which is apparently not compatible with mainline deployment.  So, here we have a “digital strategy” to deploy ETCS Level 2, but which is not being deployed in a strategic way.  This is what the strategy document actually said:

“The Crossrail core section utilises Metro based signalling that is not scalable from either a technology or procurement perspective for widespread mainline applications.”

Given that Crossrail is supposed to provide a cross London route for main line trains, why would you deploy such a system?  Does it provide full ETCS/ERTMS compatibility, and does calling is a “Metro based” system just mean that its name is the only thing that has changed?

More recently, the rollout of ETCS has been proposed to the East Coast Main Line, and in 2018, the “Digital Railway Strategy” indicated that this would be done in a ‘discrete’ manner, as and when signalling was due for renewal and/or replacement.   Is this just a piecemeal approach?  This is what was stated as the 2018 strategic approach to signalling:

So, further deployments were planned in line with funding through CP6 and CP7, and in late 2020 it was announced that £350 million was to be used to deploy “digital signalling” on the southern section of the East Coast Main Line.   This is the section from King’s Cross to just north of Peterborough, and will be migrated to ETCS level 2 with no lineside signals in a phased approach.  At the same time existing passenger and freight trains will be fitted with the new technology.   The major changes to the infrastructure and signalling systems, including the provision and deployment of ETCS, was set to be carried out by a partnership of Network Rail, WS Atkins and Siemens in a framework contract. 

With a new Transport Secretary in place – Grant Shapps replaced Chris Grayling in July 2019 – the development and rollout of the “digital railway” is still not a strategic plan, but based on business cases for the routes, and often only sections of the main routes.  Much of the national rail network’s main routes will not see ETCS in either Level 1 or Level 2 form until the next two control periods have passed – sometime in the next 10 years.  In fact, according to the Long Term Deployment Plan, most work on the infrastructure – based on a business case for the specific renewals, and retrofitting trains – will happen between 2028 and 2039.  Presumably that depends on funding being available, and whether or not the private train operating companies – passenger and freight – buy into this evolving strategy.

Goodbye to the Signalbox

With the reliance on in-cab signalling and in formation, lineside signals will gradually reduce in importance to the operation of the train, and as innovation and technical developments take place, the control of train movements will become ever more centralised.  That said, controlling traffic flow will still need to have multiple – if fewer – points of control, and changes to movements and/or direction can be implemented more rapidly with 21st century communications.  This will have perhaps its greatest impact on the lineside feature that is the signalbox.

The traditional signalbox – IECCs and SSI as well? – is being replaced by the ROC (Railway Operating Centre) – which although essentially a Network Rail facility, will be a shared facility with the private train operators’ staff working alongside Network Rail at 12 locations. 

So close to nationalisation surely?

Of the ROCs being rolled out by Network Rail, Manchester was first, and kitted out with the latest software and systems for train control, planning, and automated route setting, opened in July 2014 by Sir Richard Leese.  In the UK this is the Hitachi platform for train management, known as “Tranista”, which was developed initially for GE Transportation Systems, but works with both Alstom MCS and Siemens Westcad

Manchester ROC Entrance

Nice, but functional, and behind the walls lies the heart of the operation, computer systems and traffic management software.

I’m guessing they’re not necessarily using Windows!

This has been a long time coming. Back in 2002 I wrote this item for ‘Engineering‘ summarising some of the platforms available, and what was being used and proposed on the UK rail network – much has changed and developed with technology, but it makes an interesting review.

-oOo-

Useful Links:

Network Rail Links

The Digital Railway – Still On Time?

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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:

 

 

 

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:

 

 

 

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:

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Or even this:

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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-