A report in the news today (Sunday 17th October) describes the failure of yet another Train Operating Company (TOC) as tie Government withdraws its franchise.
This system has never been a success in the UK, as the numerous and repeated TOC failures demonstrate. The fragmentation of a key national infrastructure in the manner it was sliced up in the 1990s was doomed to failure. Too much bureaucracy, red tape and subsidies to failing business models.
Is this latest failure of South Eastern the death knell for the “British model”? When will we see the whole infrastructure nationalised – or as some might suggest “owned in common”.
There is no future in the franchising model, the UK cannot keep sticking a plaster / band aid over this key transport mode. It is also perhaps behind the piecemeal – unsuccessful – approach to the inertia seen, or maybe not seen, fir the Northern Powerhouse Rail project.
Meanwhile public funding, technology, and innovation seem to be thrown at the HS2 line from London to Birmingham. No doubt that too will eventually be admitted into public ownership.
There was a report in “The Guardian” on 22nd September the Rail Delivery Group announced its plan to use the old British Rail double arrow logo in a new advertising campaign to encourage people to take the train. But it stirred some controversy – in a similar way to what happened in 1948, 56 and when the familiar double-arrow symbol appeared.
The Rail Delivery Group announced this on what was deemed “World Car Free Day”, in a perhaps laudable attempt to highlight the environmental benefits of rail transport.
As we know, the Rail Delivery Group was set up in 2011, and is effectively the equivalent of a trade body for the private train operating companies, together with state owned Network Rail, and it is a bit ironic that they are continuing to make use of the British Rail logo – a nationalised body. But, it is sad that the creator of the iconic logo thinks that its latest application is a step too far.
I have to agree, this change to 5 shades of green is far too complex, and largely misses the point of the logo – to provide a clearly recognisable brand for the railway. This is how the change was announced by the RDG:
A single train removes up to 500 cars off our roads
Every freight train removes on average 76 lorries from our roads
Leaving your car at home and taking the train cuts carbon emissions by two thirds
An interesting observation from their press release stated:
“In a report published earlier this month, the Rail Delivery Group estimated that a 20% shift from rail to road would lead to an extra one million tonnes of CO2 emissions and 300 million hours stuck in traffic jams per year.”
If we take that as a positive outlook, is the problem “Crossrail” and the “HS2” project, neither of which will help the UK achieve its Government stated aim of “Zero Carbon emissions” by 2050 unless the plans to accelerate projects are delivered. HS2 for instance – according to the Public Accounts Committee report (HS2 Summer 2021) this summer suggested the section from London to Birmingham would be completed by 2025, but services would only be started around 2033.
Then of course there have been enormous cost overruns for both of these – neither of which will support a significant move from road to rail for freight services. Perhaps it would be better to provide improvements to existing rail route – freight does not demand such high speeds – in order to connect major goods distribution hubs and make better use of intermodal trains.
It is interesting that the Rail Delivery Group chose such a complex arrangement of various shades of green to emphasise rail transport’s green credentials – I’m not sure it’s going to cut any ice without more actions. It must have been a little embarrassing when the creator – Gerry Barney – of the original British Rail double arrow symbol was reported as making this observation:
“I think that’s rubbish,” he said. “I could understand it if they had just swapped red for green. But why on earth have they got that many colours? It’s a load of old bollocks. It’s just a mess.”
Of course, some of the earlier logos used by British Railways, and the later double-arrow symobol came in for their fair share of criticism.
I’m not sure that the use of green in this current guise actually does the job – it’s a bit like those social media posts that the younger generation use, adding dog or rabbit ears to a friend’s face.
Preserved MR Compound No. 1000 piloting “Jubilee” “Leander” on a Cumbrian coast special to Sellafield, on the May Day Bank Holiday in 1980, passing Dalton Junction, to use the Barrow-in-Furness avoiding line. Photo: Rodger Bradley
In 1948, there were still 40 of the original Midland Railway 3-cylinder compound locomotive design in service, but only one in the Northwest No. 41005 at Lancaster, with the reminder on the London Midland Region’s Midland lines. Of the LMS built engines, there were 69 at Northwest depots in 1950, and out of the total of 223 compounds in B.R. service, 161, or 72% were in London Midland stock. 62 locos. were at work in the Scottish Region, mostly in and around Carstairs, Ayr and Corkerhill, along with Carlisle Kingmoor.
Compound locomotives have not had a particularly happy history on Britain’s railways, but the design based on the Johnson-Smith-Deeley system were more successful than most. the first five locomotives were outshopped with only Saturated boilers from Derby Works in 1902/3, and even following Richard Deeley’s appointment in 1903, as CMEM of the Midland Rly., the compounds continued to be built in unsuperheated form. The original Midland engines were numbered 1000 – 1044, and from 1924 – 1927, and in 1932 (with some modifications), a further 195 were built as the standard express passenger power for the LMS. These locos were numbered 900 – 939, and 1045 – 1199.
Although all 235 locos. were classed as 4P, there were significant mechanical differences that might logically have provided two classes. The basic layout involved two 21″ diameter low pressure cylinders, outside the frames, and a single 19″ diameter high pressure cylinder between, operated by Stephenson valve gear. The boiler was pressed to 200lbs/sq in, and in later Fowler built engines, a Schmidt type superheater was fitted. The original MR locomotives had 7’0″ coupled wheels, whilst the majority, and later LMS standard engines, were only 6’9″ diameter. This in turn, caused an increase in tractive effort from 21,840 lbs to 22,630 lbs, calculated at 80% of boiler pressure in the low-pressure cylinders.
Amongst the characteristic detail features of the compounds, more especially the LMS built locos perhaps, and rebuilds of the first Midland engines, included the straight sided Belpaire topped firebox, and cylindrical smokebox, with door fastened by six clamping dogs. The steam brakes operating cylinders were placed between the coupled wheels, and acted directly on the inner shoes, with a mechanical linkage to the outer shoes, giving a clasp type application of braking force. This was feature of the original series retained in later builds, with the operating arrangement of clasp type rigging used on most modern diesel and electric types.
The most obvious feature was of course the outside cylinders, with a long piston tail rod passing through the front end cover, over the leading bogie wheels. A curious feature of the cylinder layout, perhaps, was the use of slide valves to admit steam from the low pressure receiver to the low pressure cylinders, with a piston valve controlling the admission of high pressure steam to the high pressure cylinder steam chest. A feature of the early locos. which was not continued, was the use of bogie brakes, and the rigging was removed from the engines it was originally attached to; an unnecessary complication tried on several loco. designs in the early years of the 20th Century.
Apart from the style of the chimney, dome and double buffer beam at the front end, typical Midland design was adopted in the construction of the cab, and straight sided six-wheeled tender. This was a Fowler design, based on Midland practice, carrying 3,500 gallons of water, 6 tons of coal, and provided with water pick-up gear.
A major difference between the LMS and Midland engines being that the original locos. were right hand drive GWR style! – the changeover to more conventional left hand drive was made on the 1924 series built by the LMS. With the exception of the coupled wheel diameter, all major external dimensions between the two versions were identical.
In British Railways days, the largest allocation of compounds in the Northwest was at Chester, where, in 1950, 13 were stabled, whilst Llandudno Jct. with 10 engines, was a close second. No less than 15 Northwest depots shared these 70 compounds, with the majority on the Manchester to Crewe, and Chester to Holyhead lines. The only representative of the original Midland Railway design was stabled at Lancaster, as B.R. No. 41005, and has some interesting points in its operational history. It was the first of the batch built by Richard Deeley, which covered locos. 41005 – 41044 and was rebuilt by Henry Fowler in 1932 with a superheated boiler, Ross ‘pop’ safety valves, and a typical Fowler steam dome which had a slightly flattened top.
By the mid 1950s, withdrawals had reduced the number of compounds in service to 56 (1954), out of a total on the London Midland Region of 131, just less than 43% of the total operating stock. However, by the end of the 50s, they had almost completely disappeared, with only 18 left at the beginning of 1959, and none of these was from the original Midland Railway build. Of course, by that time 41000 had been preserved at the Clapham Museum as No.1000, in fully lined LMS crimson lake livery.
Speaking of this, it remains a curious fact that although classified as a passenger type, they never appeared in British Railways lined green, which could have been an attractive scheme.
Instead, like some of the passenger tanks, and the ‘Black Fives’, they appeared in mixed traffic lined black colours, with the early British Railways lion and wheel emblem/totem in the middle of the tender sides. As far as I know, none of the compounds received the later style of crest, which appeared from 1956 onwards.
No allocations for 1964, since no compounds were then in service. Of the 75 remaining on the London Midland Region in 1954, almost one third were at work in the Birmingham area, with the remainder on the St Pancras to Manchester line, and a few in and around Leeds.
If there was such an animal as a typical Midland locomotive, then surely Henry Fowler’s class 4 passenger tanks were in that category. First built at Derby Works from1927, many of the class came to the northwest, in BR days particularly, although it was not until the early 1960s that there were ever more than half the total allocated to this area.
NB: The heading image shows Banks Station, with the 17.59 from Preston, headed by LMS Fowler 2-6-4T No. 42369. This is a classic Fowler working on this Preston – Southport train, looking eastwards, towards Preston. The line and station was closed on 7/9/64 – less than two weeks after this photograph.
They were intended for heavy suburban and intermediate passenger work, and classified 4P, with steam pipes inside the smokebox on the original 1927 build. Modifications introduced in 1930 included outside steam pipes, side windows in the cab, and an altered smokebox saddle, with a solid bottom to the cylindrical wrapper.
This latter, with outside steam pipes, was essentially adopted to eliminate a. corrosion problem, where the steam pipes had passed through the bottom of the smokebox and saddle.
In general, the modified locos. were the same as the earlier version and covered by diagram ED172C. The parallel boiler was retained, supplying two outside cylinders, operated by Walschaerts valve gear, with long travel inside admission piston valves. Other minor modifications included the provision of’ cast steel axleboxes, compared with the earlier, manganese bronze variety. The original cab and gangway door arrangement contributed to the draughty nature of the footplate, and the large gap behind was partially closed, and some locos. were fitted with folding doors. In early BR days, a number of engines we refitted with new, cast steel cylinders.
Operationally, the class was a success from the word go, and have been reported by some sources as “excellent performers”.They were more economic to run than the later Stanier designs, on faster, heavier and more demanding duties. On building they were allocated numbers previously carried by a variety of, pre-grouping types, including North Staffordshire and Midland Railway 0-6-0s. In the north west they were assigned to duties originally undertaken by the Hughes, ex L & Y, Baltic tanks, where they proved highly successful. There were though, some curious differences in mileages run between general repairs. The engines allocated to Scotland for instance, were able to work 240,774 miles between repairs, whilst in England the figure was only slightly more than half this.
In service with British Railways, the locos. were reclassified as mixed traffic, with just less than half allocated to northwest depots. Of these, the majority were stabled in South Lancashire, North Cheshire and Derbyshire. The engines sent to Oxenholme and Tebay were mainly for banking assistance on the climb to Shap, whilst the Furness line’s passenger duties were very largely powered by these class 4 tanks. By the mid 1950s, Buxton, Alsager and Tebay had lost their stock, though they could still be seen in some strength in the Potteries, North Cheshire and around Manchester. Macclesfield for example had maintained a stud of 11 Fowler class 4’s for many years, but by the early 1960s they had been withdrawn.
The class total too, was dramatically reduced at this time from 125 to a mere 16 in 1964, and were completely extinct soon after.
The livery carried in British Railways days was mixed traffic black, lined red, cream and grey, with at one time or another, both designs of lion and wheel symbol being applied to the side tanks. They were, in this guise, a very attractive engine – what a pity only the Stanier and Fairburn types are represented in preservation.
1950 = 125, with 62 or 49.6% at northwest depots.
1954 = 125, with 53 or 42.4%at northwest depots.
1964 = 16, with 12 or 75.0% at northwest depots.
Further reading & Useful Links
“LMS Locomotive Profiles No. 3: The Parallel Boiler 2-6-4 Tank Engines” – David Hunt, Bob Essery Fred James (2002) ISBN1-874103-72-0
“Engines of the LMS built 1923–51” – Rowledge, J.W.P. (1975). Oxford: Oxford Publishing Company. ISBN0–902888–59–5.
There was an advert on TV the other day, encouraging people to use the “National Railway Network”. Odd, I thought, especially since passenger and freight services are run by private train operators, and pay a fee to Network Rail to use the tracks and infrastructure. So, what is the purpose?
Well, blindingly obvious – it is to get people back on trains as their use has been drastically cut over the past 18 months by this awful Coronavirus Pandemic.
Great idea – but given that the advertisement is to underpin Network Rail – which does not operate trains – and uses the imagery of British Rail from the 1970s and 80s, and they also use the double arrow logo, that was so closely associated with British Rail.
Before anyone mentions it, yes I do know that Nationalrail.co.uk is an online national timetabling service, and it has been using the double arrow symbol for years:
Selling travelling by train with nostalgia seems to be the subliminal messaging going on here – well not that subliminal if I can spot it! This is what their ad campaign has been saying:
Anyway, I thought – indeed was told in no uncertain terms back when British Rail existed – that it was a failure, and privatising it was going to make everything so much better, and it would be profitable. Well that was a mistake, an error, and misleading wasn’t it. Since “privatisation” the public purse has been well and truly reduced by subsidising the loss making operators.
Still, the “Rail Delivery Group” – a bit like the old Railway Clearing House, or British Transport Commission of the 1940s and 1950s – appears to believe selling the idea on a “national” basis is the way forward, by going backwards with its message content.
Are they suggesting there is no other way forward than to relaunch British Rail? Their slogan: ‘Let‘s get back on track‘, was created for Network Rail, which, as we know, does not run trains. Or is it just that if the train operating companies were to come up with a marketing programme, it would need to involve 2 continents, 5 countries (excluding the UK), and 10 parent companies and more than 20 different operators! Then, in turn there are the companies that actually own the rolling stock – the ROSCOs – there are 9 of them, and they are owned in turn by groups of banks and financial institutions in Canada, China, Germany, France and Australia.
The table below is just the passenger train operating companies – I think it’s relatively accurate, but I’ve excluded the Channel Tunnel, and Eurostar – neither of which are involved with this exercise – well, so far!
Abellio ScotRail (SR), East Midlands Railway (EM), Greater Anglia (GA) (60%), Merseyrail (ME) (50%), West Midlands Trains (WM) (70%)
Arriva Rail London (LO), Chiltern Railways (CH), CrossCountry (XC), Grand Central (GC)
East Japan Railway Company
West Midlands Trains (WM) (15%)
Department for Transport
London North Eastern Railway (GR), Northern Trains (NR)
Avanti West Coast (VT) (70%), Great Western Railway (GW), Hull Trains (HT), South Western Railway (SW) (70%), TransPennine Express (TP)
Greater Anglia (GA) (40%), West Midlands Trains (WM) (15%)
South Western Railway (SW) (30%), TfL Rail (XR)
Caledonian Sleeper (CS), Merseyrail (ME) (50%)
Transport for Wales (Welsh Government)
Transport for Wales Rail (AW)
c2c (CC), Avanti West Coast (VT) (30%)
In the 1980s, British Rail were promoting a range of operational, financial and technology improvements and innovations, and included some quite sophisticated marketing too – but it seems that the benefits of rail are only seen clearly during a time of crisis. Now, it seems transport is on a crisis of economic, financial and environmental proportions, and encouraging people to return to the train is highlighting the crises we are seeing today.
Back in the 1980s, it was “crowned” by the infamous “Serpell Report”, amongst whose chief proposals was the reduction of the national route mileage from 10,500 miles to an incredible 1,630 miles. Thankfully this ludicrous report was consigned to the dustbin, despite the political climate encouraging the tarmac lobby with wild and weird ideas about converting rail routes into new roads, with one supporter claiming that railways had been anachronism since the pneumatic tyre was born.
But, whilst that absurd plan did not go ahead, British Rail was left to “wither on the vine” in the 1980s, and a prophetic paragraph in the 1980 Rail Policy document indicated the options for the railway at the crossroads:
“A crucial decision has to be taken soon about the future of British Rail. BR must prepare to take either the path of progress by re-equipment and modernisation, or that of decline through a gradual but deliberate run-down of the system. We cannot continue as we have done in the past. We are reaching the dividing of the ways.”
It is easy to look back and say it couldn’t have been implemented, since the early 1980s – at the heart of BR’s “Corporate Plan 1981-85”, because of the dramatic effects of the economic recession. As we discovered it was a deliberate run down of the system, and the 1990s privatisation was a straw clutching exercise, which, at the same time, saw the national economy clinging on to old fashioned notions of growth and development.
BR was being marketed on a number of fronts: new technology in train control and signalling, fibre-optic communications, computerised systems, greater electrification, expansion of freight services such as “Speedlink”. For passengers there was the new High Speed Trains – InterCity 125 – and the prospect of the tilting Advanced Passenger Train (APT) – the latter ironically arriving 20 years later via Fiat in Italy, and Bombardier in Birmingham.
Plans for the Channel Tunnel were in hand in the Corporate Plan, and cost savings by replacing diesel traction with electrification were clearly identified, both for long distance and commuter services. Dedicated high-speed lines to airports like Gatwick and Stansted, where air traffic was rapidly growing were factored into the mix, and whilst the options for less densely populated rural areas were less successful, efforts were being made to change.
Sadly, none of this was achieving much positive media coverage – the focus, whether broadcast or newsprint relied heavily on promoting expansion of HGVs, and private cars for long and short journeys – oh yes, and the apocryphal on-board catering of the curly sandwich and pork pie. No thought whatsoever appeared to be given to the environmental impact – and yet less than a decade earlier, the oil crisis of 1974 – suggested there could be challenges ahead.
And yet, these ads seem to provide the same feel as the “Let’s Get Back on the Train” ideas:
The latest marketing idea to get people back onto the train is likely to fail – not because people don’t want to – it’s because the pandemic and climate emergency has changed the focus, and perhaps those hoardes of parcel delivery vans are not so sustainable for future generations.
Back in May 2019 the need to scrap those railbus units – the “Pacers” – resulted in the suggestions that they could be used to build garden sheds, or even as part of the garden / patio makeover. Some of us, might have thought that a bit of an extreme idea – but here’s the thing – an absolutely brilliant way of utilising a “Pacer” has been adopted by the Dales School at Blyth, Northumberland.
To be fair, I had suggested they had been unpopular and dangerously overcrowded for years, and could not be considered a success for the railway, but the government minister was perhaps more positive:
The arrival at the Dales School, Blyth, Northumberland of a Class 144 twin unit is an inspirational use for these redundant units. The intention is to use it as a learning centre and library, with a a special focus on railway safety and to inspire career aspirations, using a train driving simulator to make learning engaging and fun.
The unit was previously owned by Porterbrook and leased to Northern Rail, and following its donation by Porterbrook, work on re-purposing this Class 144 was undertaken by Railway Support Services (RSS), which included the removal of the engine and transmission.
RSS provided road transport for the Northern Rail-liveried unit at a discounted rate and the vehicles were delivered from Worksop on 19th July, where it was placed on a short section of track, donated and installed by Network Rail.
Based on two sites at Blyth and Ashington, The Dales is a specialist primary school providing education for children with a variety of additional needs that may not otherwise be met in a mainstream school setting. Dr Sue Fisher, headteacher at The Dales commented:
“This is a dream come true for our children. The train will provide children with engaging learning opportunities and offer those with additional needs a chance to learn new travel skills, develop career aspirations and a lifelong love of reading.”
Andrew Goodman, managing director of RSS said:
“Transport of the two-car Pacer unit was straightforward for us as we have delivered many railway vehicles and locomotives by road transport over recent years. However because of site constraints, the coaches were unloaded onto a temporary length of track and then slewed into their present position.
“We were thrilled to be involved with this imaginative project which sees redundant rail vehicles given a new lease of life, to help and inspire youngsters.
RSS have carried out similar work to enable these “much maligned” multiple units to be put to use elsewhere, including providing services on heritage railways.
So, it seems that the idea of re-using, or is it recycling, these “Pacers” has actually proved beneficial, and who knows maybe they could be adopted and adapted to provide accommodation to relieve the UK’s homeless crisis in some areas. Why not adapt them for use as accommodation for markets in rural areas, or workshops for small businesses and startups, or even holiday accommodation??
Memories of British Railways’ “Camping Coaches” spring to mind – but why not – better to re-use than simply throw them away.
In the 1930s, the English Electric Co. were busy designing and building diesel engines for railways – mostly around the former British colonies, but the impact of the economic depression had Britain’s railways looking for efficiency – especially for use on shunting operations. But English Electric had for some years been at the heart of technology innovation and development and had been trying to persuade the more conservative railway operators to look to the future.
The company developed a diesel-electric version of the classic 0-6-0 steam shunting locomotive, powered by a 6-cylinder diesel – or as the press referred to it an ‘oil-engine’ – to sell the idea to either the LMS, GWR, LNER or Southern railways. The LMS was first out of the blocks and with English Electric as the engine supplier, with Derby constructing the mechanical parts, they embarked on an ambitious project to tap into the benefits of diesel power for shunting work. They were followed by the GWR and Southern Railway, and the latter followed the English Electric power plant path, whilst the GWR had opted for a variety, including Davey Paxman engines.
20 years after the first LMS shunters began to appear in the early 1930s, in 1953, British Railways placed orders for what became the standard shunting locomotive – the 350hp, or Class 08 type. Hundreds of these were built, mainly at Derby, Crewe, Darlington, Doncaster and Horwich Works with a pair of d.c. traction motors driving the wheels, which were linked by coupling rods, exactly as a steam loco would have been. Ultimately, 996 of these 0-6-0 shunters were constructed at the railway works – some were built at English Electric’s works in Preston, and Vulcan Foundry at Newton-Le-Willows (mainly for Netherlands Railways).
At nationalisation in 1948, British Railways inherited a motley collection of 60 of the 0-6-0 diesel shunters – 46 from the LMS, 7 from the GWR, 4 from the LNER and 3 from the Southern. Of these all, bar one had an English Electric 6KT diesel engine and traction motors, and that exception was the 1934 Armstrong Whitworth built loco, with a Paxman engine and a mechanical drive through jackshafts from its single traction motor.
The Harrier HydroShunter project to convert locomotive from diesel to hydrogen traction will take ex BR Class 08 shunter No. 08635 and remove the English Electric engine and generators, to be replaced by a hydrogen fuel cell stack and battery, as a hybrid installation. The project is unique and involves the University of Birmingham, Vanguard Sustainable Transport Solutions, and the Severn Valley Railway.
It’s a brilliant idea, and if successful could pave the way for similar replacements at home and abroad, and whilst passenger trains for commuter services have seen similar projects highlighted, such as the conversion of Class 314 for the “Hydroflex” train, this has perhaps just as wide ranging potential. Following the earlier projects, the traction system being designed by Vanguard at the University of Birmingham, this hybrid system will consist of a hydrogen cylinders, a fuel stack where the electricity is generated and a battery.
The loco was formerly D3802, built at Derby in December 1959, and renumbered in January 1974 and withdrawn from BR service in December 1981. It is currently at the SVR’s Kidderminster diesel depot, and the team of volunteers have removed the diesel engine and generator, and have been busy renovating and overhauling other key components. The SVR had to hire a 100-tonne crane to lift the diesel engine out of the shunter, and the work is now well underway to achieve trials later in 2021.
The new power unit includes pressurised hydrogen stored in cylinders for supplying to the fuel cell stack via a regulating device, oxygen from the atmosphere will then be mixed, and electricity generated and delivered to the loco’s traction motors. The battery will also be charged by the fuel cell stack, to provide energy reserves as and when needed. The existing traction motors, controls and final drive is being retained, with the new equipment fitted to a new sub-frame, which in turn is mounted to the existing engine-generator mounting points.
Of course, with the hydrogen fuel-cell power, emissions are zero compared to the old diesel engine, and it has been suggested that there will be a reduction in maintenance costs of possibly 50%, which if it is successful could see many more similar retrofit projects. Although, whilst we may be at the start of a new era in terms of non-electrified traction, as the fuel cell technology evolves, it may be that larger locomotives could see similar replacements. This might not see huge numbers in countries where expenditure on electrification has been significant, but in other countries, where funds are lower, it could provide opportunities – providing the capital costs are also low.
There are of course some disadvantages to hydrogen as a fuel, mostly in terms of the way it is produced, and its storage – according to one source (https://www.theengineer.co.uk/comment-hydrogen-trains-uk/ ). “Firstly, hydrogen storage is bulky. Even at 350bar, the volume of fuel needed is eight times that of Diesel.” The author goes on to state that that could be a problem for long haul freight services, and would be unsuitable for high-speed rail, on account of the amount of electrical energy required, and the losses developed in the power unit. But, it is being considered for some types of rail passenger service, in order to remove the dependence in rural area on diesel multiple units.
It will be fascinating to see this project completed, and what might develop over the next few years, and whether the technology does play a part in maintaining the railway’s place as a sustainable mode of transport.
Siemens Mobility have just been awarded a $3.4 billion contract for 73 of the new Venture 4-car trains for the Northeast Corridor, with the first deliveries due in 2024, and included in that order are 15 diesel-battery hybrids, 50 are electro-diesels, with the remainder EPA4 compliant diesels. But this contract also includes technical support along with design and construction.
Sometimes from our position in Europe we simply see the USA as the home of the automobile, and gas guzzling muscle cars, and so depndent on road transport. But, it is true to say that these days, sustainability in rail transport is driving the modernisation programmes there, and this latest project clearly indicates the commitment to carbon emissions reduction for the long term. This is Siemens largest ever North American contract, includes maintenance and monitoring services, together with the potential for another 140 of these trains, and additional maintenance contracts.
What are they? Well, Amtrak is following a brief to operate the most sustainable and efficient trains on the market, which include dual powered and hybrid battery vehicles. Amtrak has without doubt transformed passenger rail travel in the USA over its 50 year history, and has had its share of ups and downs along the way, but these trains will include ‘American made equipment’.
The video below shows the Amtrak Siemens Venture test train at Hammon, Indiana 0n the 25th January 2021, where the difference when compared to a Heritage Fleet car in the consist can be clearly seen.
They are based on the well known Siemens Viaggio series of passenger coaches, operated in Austria, Switzerland, Czech Republic, Israel, Russia, and Florida. In the USA they were purchased by the first privately owned and operated main line railway since Amtrak was formed in the 1970s – AAF (“All Aboard Florida”). This subsequently became Virgin Trains USA, and most recently as Brightline Trains.
The new trains will operate along the Northeast Corridor and across various state-supported routes, including operations in Maine, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington. With expanded capacity and the ability to shorten trip time, Amtrak expects the new trains will add over 1.5 million riders annually.
Amtrak’s CEO Bill Flynn was full of praise for the new trains, and commented:
“These new trains will reshape the future of rail travel by replacing our aging 40-to- 50-year old fleet with state-of-the-art, American-made equipment.”
“This investment is essential to preserving Northeast Regional and state- supported services for the future and will allow our customers to travel comfortably and safely, while reducing carbon emissions.”
It is expected that the first of the new trains will enter service in 2024, followed in 2025 by testing of the first Venture Hybrid battery train, and overall, the current contract should see trains delivered to the NEC and the other state supported routes on track between 2024 and 2030. The trains will be manufactured at Siemens Mobility’s manufacturing facility in Sacramento, California and will comply with the Federal Railroad Administration Buy America Standards.
Of course, it’s also Amtrak’s 50th Birthday this year – Happy Birthday Amtrak!
Or, maybe read the story of the first decade or two here:
How old are container trains in the UK? Well, it’s not simple answer, although we are all familiar in 2021 with Freightliner trains, and the Eddie Stobart and Tesco container carrying trains. Of course these are intermodal services nowadays – but there have always been intermodal freight operations on the railway – transferring goods from horses and carts onto goods wagons. Railway freight traffic was never always about bulk loads of minerals, coal and oil, and it was the wagon load and part load consignments that kick started some interesting developments in British Railways days.
There were numerous methods of providing specialised containers for wagon or van load consignments of goods, whether for household furniture, or bulk transport of engineering components in a lengthy supply chain for manufacturers.
Before Liner Trains
In 1964, BR London Midland Region issued a small glossy booklet, entitled “Freight Handbook”, which, apart from the usual details of goods depot and regional telephone numbers contained brief descriptions of some of the innovations in wagonload and container traffic facilities. The services include what BR described as “demountable containers” carried on a rail wagon, and transferred to and from road vehicles at the terminals at each end of the journey. Described as a “door-to-door service” that was being constantly improved and extended, the fact that road transport by the early 1960s was entirely privately owned meant that BR had fewer road vehicles to provide the last lap of the journey.
One of the most blindingly obvious commercial errors to us, looking back from 2021 is that no charge was made for the use of containers “owned by the railway”, but just the contents. Nobody would make that mistake today – would they?!
BR London Midland offered 12 different types of covered container, and three described as ‘open’. The covered versions were of either ventilated, refrigerated, and insulated, or just simply a wooden box with doors on, and able to carry 4 to 5 tons. Some had two compartments and bottom doors, whilst others – for meat traffic – had roof bars and hooks for hanging carcasses. The handbook actually shows images of what BR called the ‘SW’ type – which was essentially a container on wheels that could hold about 1 ton, and could be loaded onto a rail wagon/van by two men.
Manual handling of some of these containers would clearly have been very hard work, but it was not uncommon activity in the 1960s workplace, and mechanical handling appeared over time to both reduce the physical strain and increase efficient load handling.
A couple of interesting examples are illustrated too of the handling of ‘palletised traffic’, where boxes of baked beans on pallets are then loaded into one of the then new ‘pallet vans’. Judging by the examples in both BR’s own ‘handbook’ and other publications – “Transport Age” – the railway was responding to changes in traffic types by designing and building bespoke vehicles, from pallet vans to specialist ferry vans. The latter take us away from container trains a little, but perhaps serves to highlight the challenge the industry faced in competition with road hauliers, and standardisation of containers carried at sea on international journeys.
But the most important development to precede the Liner Train project was the “Condor” service, which carried the existing designs of container – essentially a cut down covered van – on a train of specially designed four-wheeled wagons: “Conflats”. The train began service in 1959, running from Hendon in North London, to Gushetfaulds in Glasgow, and hauled by a pair of the new Metro-Vick 2-stroke, 1,200hp diesel locos. From Glasgow to London, the load included manufactured goods from Scotland, and in the reverse direction, imported raw materials were shipped from London’s docks to the factories around Glasgow. The service was door to door, using British Road Services lorries at either end, and with customers paying £16 or £18 to hire a container to carry their products.
The Condor service was a success, and a second route between Birmingham (Aston) and Glasgow in 1963 – the year of the Beeching Report – but it succumbed in the end to Beeching, although it was also the route operated by the first Liner Train / Freightliner service in 1965.
The Liner Train project
Ironically too, the BMC and BR operated ‘Charter Trains’ between Cowley, Oxford and Bathgate – on specially designed flat wagons – to transport Morris Minor cars to Scotland, and vans and commercial vehicles from Scotland to England. A few years later, cars were being transported by road, on transporter lorries in ever greater numbers, and liberalisation of commercial road traffic dealt a bit of a blow to the door-to-door service of the ‘Condor’.
The famous “Liner Trains” proposed by Beeching was really a development of existing modular, palletised, and containerised goods services, which ultimately led to the intermodal and company train services of today. Amongst many other – some would say disastrous – changes proposed under Beeching some radical proposals around “open goods depots” were put forward.
In Appendix 4 of the Beeching Report, the concept is described specifically as:
“…. A conception of transport based upon joint use of road and rail for door-to-door transport of containerised merchandise, with special purpose, through running, scheduled trains providing the trunk haul.”
So there we have it – what we now call inter-modal services, albeit introduced, or at least considered mainly to reduce the financial burdens of non-train-load goods traffic. In its original concept, the Liner Train was described as a series of permanently coupled flat wagons, for carrying containers, and running to a schedule that would demand high utilisation of the stock. Each train would have a gross load of 680 tons, with a 360-ton payload, and running at between 50 and 75 mph.
The traffic itself – given that the early 1960s were the years of huge investment in motorways, and roadbuilding – was optimistically described as goods which would be suitable for rail if the right conditions were met – heavy and full loads, on specific routes at reasonable rates. Having said that this idea was optimistic, it also has to be said that the report considered that the potential tonnage identified for this service was ‘conservative’ at 93 million tons. Traffic studies had shown that 16 million tons of freight carried annually on the roads, could transfer to rail on this service.
Between this first mention of “Liner Trains” and their appearance in traffic, the political landscape changed, not to mention the review of the “Beeching Proposals”, which were in full swing by late 1964. In October that year, the General Election resulted in yet another change, and railway policy was about to change again, but the “Liner Train” / Intermodal concept was still a popular option, although none were at that time in operation. In December 1964, and in answer to a question raised in Parliament about the delay, the new Transport Minister made this statement:
“The Railways Board hopes to introduce the first experimental liner trains next summer, if early agreement is reached with the unions on the principle of “open” depots. My predecessor approved investment of £6 million for liner trains; of this about £700,000 will be spent in 1964. Investment for 1965 will depend on the date of introduction of the services.”
At the time, the “open” depots referred to were the subject of negotiations on working arrangements with the railway trades unions. The “Liner Train” proposal was given a boost in this early period, with British Railways and the Post Office’s plans to concentrate the handling of parcels and what they described as “sundries” at a small number of larger centres. Exactly as the road based parcels delivery companies operate today with their distribution hubs and centres – history repeating itself?
An interesting paragraph in the report about the loss of the traffic in small manufactured components to road hauliers, it states that such traffic would not pay the railway to carry it, yet it is just that type of traffic that is “expected to grow”. In the next paragraph it states too that there is likely to be a growth in the shipment of containers overseas – classic intermodal from rail to seaport – with containers built to “international standards”. Each of which has proven an accurate prediction.
By 1967, work had progressed, and was even the subject of a Pathe Newsreel report, as the extract shown in the link describes: https://www.britishpathe.com/video/freight-liner-trains . That said, the clip only shows the early “Freightliner” liveried stock being loaded onto a ferry for the Dover to Dunkirk service. Two years earlier, the trials and testing of the liner trains with their new ‘flat cars’ was under way, as the Government had approved the funding, and in a parliamentary debate, this was what one MP commented:
“It seems to me that all those who have studied this matter are satisfied that the liner trains will succeed in attracting a very considerable volume of traffic which is now carried on the roads. They will do so only if new specialised railway vehicles are constructed for the purpose. These vehicles are now being constructed in the railway workshop at Derby, and I do not think this would be a proper time for me to have a review of the whole principle underlying the substitution of the existing stock of vehicles by these new ones.”
The discussion had centred around the obsolescence or otherwise of existing wagon designs, and some people seemed to think that the new liner train vehicles would not be interchangeable with existing types – which was of course the point in many ways. Other goods traffic was declining, and most of the professional railwaymen, including the NUR, were very supportive of the project were anxious to press ahead.
In 1965, British Railways published a further report on the “Development of Trunk Routes”, looking ahead to the 1980s, and based on existing and forecast rail and road traffic flows. It was also based on the location of industry – from mining to manufacturing – with the principal traffic centres of London, the West Midlands, Merseyside – Manchester – Hull, and Glasgow and around Newcastle. But the prospects outlined could not take account of the exploitation of North Sea oil and gas reserves, or the ‘offshoring’ of most of the UK’s manufacturing, and dramatic social and economic changes that began in 1979.
Huge investments in road transport were ongoing, with enormous expansion of the motorway network, and little if any thought of integration or collaboration. So, the “Liner Train” concept was largely on the back burner for many years, with limited – if any innovation – in multi or intermodal services, and certainly no consideration of environmental impact.
That argument about “could transfer from road to rail” has featured prominently about rail freight services for over 50 years now, as roadrailer, pocket wagon and piggyback concepts have all come and gone. But, maybe the intermodal services need to be looked at again now, and mimic some of the networks used by the parcel delivery companies, who themselves seem to follow the old railway marshalling yard (hubs), to regional (distribution centres) and local goods (local depot) depots mechanisms.
Currently there are 11 Freightliner depots – Cardiff, Southampton, London, Felixstowe, Birmingham, Cannock, Doncaster, Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds and Glasgow. The services are now owned and operated by a company from the USA– Genesee & Wyoming Inc. – with its headquarters in Connecticut, and in 2015 the company purchased the UK’s Freightliner Group Ltd. This separate business is a mix of the traditional bulk mineral haulage that are traditional railway fodder, and the container traffic that, at least on the surface, shows interaction between carrying goods on a flatbed lorry, and its equivalent on rail.
The concept of intermodal – from the dockside to a depot has changed – but it appears that the majority of seaborne containers that arrive at ports are still ultimately carried on the roads, to an importer/supplier’s regional hubs and distribution centres. The lorry’s engines may be more efficient and less polluting than before, but multiple engines are needed to carry 20 or 30 containers on a 100 mile journey from port to inland depot. The likes of the UK’s major supermarket chain and ‘traditional’ road hauliers do run specialised long-haul trains carrying those seaborne containers, but it may be true to say there is still some way to go before a truly intermodal containerised goods traffic is operated in Britain.
There have been many useful ideas in the past, but none have really got to grips with the obsession of road transport for long distance traffic – and is it really that convenient for business?
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.