Friday, 23 January 2015

Vivarail D-Train Diesels?

D Stock
There has been much publicity recently about a company called Vivarail that has been set up to buy redundant London Underground (LU) electric rolling stock and convert it to diesel-electric operation. The idea is to use the converted stock on various routes currently suffering from rolling stock shortages or where the outmoded and much-hated, bus-style "Pacers" are still used.

The LU trains are officially referred to as "D78 Stock"; the D being the District line where they are used and 78, the year of their order. Everyone calls them "D Stock". Your author is quite familiar with them, having written much of the original instruction material for the stock and then doing much of the original training of its maintenance staff.

Fleet Size
The Underground's D Stock fleet consists of 75 x 6-car trains, with each train made up of two 3-car units. The standard formation is arranged so that driving cabs are only provided at the ends of the train, so each of the units is "single-ended". The inner end of the unit couples to the inner end of another unit facing the other way round.  This means that you need an even number of units of each type to make up complete sets of trains. Some units are "double-ended", i.e they have a cab at each end so that, in the event of a shortage of either type of single-ended unit, a double-ended unit can be used to replace it.

There are 65 west facing single-ended 3-car units and 65 east facing 3-car units. There are 20 double-ended 3-car units. The publicity says that Vivarail have purchased enough cars to make up 75 units in 2-car or 3-car formation. Vivarail themselves suggest 4-car units are possible.

Vivarail are calling their converted trains "D-Train". The D-Train concept proposes using the original car body (suitably modified) and the existing bogies and their traction motors. Each driving car will be equipped with two 200 h.p. 3.2 litre diesel engines. Each engine will drive an alternator to provide electric power for the two traction motors on each bogie. Presumably, the auxiliary power will be derived in the same way. Of course, there aren't many details at this stage, but there are lots of unanswered questions. Here are some to whet your appetite.

Top Speed
This is set at 60mph. A Pacer can do 75mph and Class 170 will do 100mph. The modelling results published so far suggest a 4% increase in timings as a result. Not too bad but it could get worse for a heavily loaded train with long station stops. Only two of the existing doorways per car side will be used so the dwell times will be similar to the existing.

A D Stock car weighs 30t. A pair of diesel engines and their alternators will be heavier than the existing PCM traction equipment. I expect the weight of the motor car to go up by 5-7 tonnes. How a weight increase of over 20% will affect the bogie and ride performance is anyone's guess. Both suspension systems are solid rubber. Speaking of weight, I'm wondering where they will put the batteries. They are currently under the passenger seats but they will need a better spec for the D-Train.

This is a big concern. Two underfloor diesel engines, operating independently will generate a lot of vibration and noise and this will require serious research and substantial mitigation. There is also the question of the car body harmonics and how these will be affected.

Air Conditioning
There is no mention of air conditioning. It will be a passenger expectation that modern or upgraded trains will have it. Not to will be a significant omission. To fit this to the D Stock passenger saloon would require significant modification to the roof. The space along the ceiling would quickly get filled up with ducting and fan units.

The 3-car trains will have a trailer car between two motor cars and this is where the toilet will have to go. There is no room for the waste retention tank under the motor cars. Two-car units will not be able to have toilets. My own feeling is that all the trains should be 3-car sets. This offers flexibility and consistent performance. Also, these cars are 15% shorter than a Pacer, so they wouldn't have much capacity in 2-car format.

Cab Controls
The LU cab is completely different from what's seen on main line trains and it will be necessary to strip out the existing console and replace it with a new one. The LU driver's safety device (DSD) is in the controller handle, so there is no DSD pedal. That will have to be added. The desk displays and controls are completely different and there are no CCTV or computer screens in the cab so these will have to be added for Driver Only Operation (DOO).

Cab Doors
The cab has four doors. These are a nightmare for draughts. I would expect to see the front door (M Door) sealed closed and some serious draught proofing put in for the side doors. There are no drop-down windows. Fitting them might give problems for the door opening pocket. It will increase the draught proofing requirements.

I can't imagine these trains being accepted without DOO already fitted. For a modern train, you need bodyside cameras and in-cab CCTV. The LU system for DOO (they call it One Person Operation (OPO)) is based on platform-mounted equipment so the D-Trains will need the on-board systems added. This is not as simple as it sounds and it needs to be integrated with the cab console design.

It would be silly not to equip the outer ends of units with automatic couplers but I suspect the LU type would not be suitable. It will be desirable to have longer trains on some routes and flexibility should be maximised. However, auto-couplers are not cheap and there maybe some difficult engineering to do to the ends of units to enable them to be fitted.

Always a difficult issue. In 2013, Angel Trains re-engineered a 4-car Class 317 EMU with a new traction system and quoted a cost of £7million; that's £1.75million per car but it's a prototype, so there's lots of development costs in there too. Let's say Vivarail can get orders for 70 x 3-car units. This is 210 cars, a reasonable production run so, allowing for development and financing costs, there is probably a good business case if the cost per vehicle can be kept below £1million for a 20-year life. As always, the big risks are the technical unknown unknowns.

There's lots of other detailed stuff but this article gives a flavour for what's involved. I am sure that the Vivarail team, led by the very experienced railway manager Adrian Shooter, are familiar with all the pitfalls of train refurbishment but for those readers who aren't, I wrote about it a couple of years ago:
It is based on real life experience.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Help with Fault Finding

A recent enquiry from a railway operating manager, regarding a fault on his locomotives, reminded me of how easy it is to lose focus when looking for technical problems on trains. It is easy to get bogged down in the minutiae of the equipment without looking at the simple things first:
  • Is it switched on (Yeah, I know, it's obvious but it can be missed)?
  • Is there power? If not, is the fuse or circuit breaker good? (If in doubt, trip & reset)
  • Is the control circuit operating correctly?
  • Are the jumpers between vehicles fitted properly?
Simple things like these can often cause a lot of unnecessary delay. They should always be checked first. On the other hand, there might be a series of unexplained failures on one piece of equipment or one type of train. Although the route to solving the problem is different, the approach to finding it should be the same:
  • Is the problem only on one type of equipment?
  • Is it only on one type of train or unit or different types?
  • Is it on one type of formation (freight or passenger)?
  • Does it occur on every route or just one?
  • Does it occur only in one type of weather or season, e.g. very cold or very hot?
  • Has something changed recently - maintenance procedures, operating procedures, type of traffic carried?
  • Has the maintenance been done as and when it should?
  • Has the staffing changed recently - often an issue when someone new comes in.
  • What else is different?
This approach will give valuable pointers to finding the cause and probably the cure and it may save you a lot of money.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Stop this Summer Madness - Time to see sense on HS2

Ok folks, the holidays are nearly over. It'll soon be time to get the kids back to school and get ourselves back to work, so it's time to stop all this summer madness and end the hysteria and lies about HS2. It is time to talk seriously about HS2, the planned new high speed rail route between London, Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, and to offer some facts, based on real information and real experience.

In reality, there are only two issues - how much will it cost and is the cost worth it? Well, how much it will cost is simple. There is a lot of experience around the world of building new railway routes and we have been building railways for almost 200 years, so there is a lot of experience and knowledge available and we can get realistic numbers.

Looking at past projects, one thing becomes obvious. The cost of new, double track railways built in the UK, works out at about £77million per kilometre. HS1 between London and the Channel Tunnel cost this much and, perhaps, counter intuitively, we can look back to see that this figure has remained remarkably constant since mid-victorian times, when calculated in today's money.

If we apply this to the 170kms between London and Birmingham, simple arithmetic gives us a cost of £13billion. Even if we apply the 66% "optimism factor" so beloved of the treasury, we still only get £22billion. Then, even if we add another 15% for contingency, we still only get £25billion. I'm trying hard to get up to the £33billion originally earmarked for the London to Birmingham section and I'm assuming that much of this extra cost is down to the additional tunnels forced on the project by various groups of "NIMBYs".

And the second issue - is it worth it? Of course it is. Mounting fuel prices, daily road delays and congestion, the high price of car insurance, particularly for young people, rising fuel taxes and the increasing numbers of students travelling to and from university are all forcing up levels of train travel across the country. Many trains are now permanently overcrowded, even outside rush hours. We need the additional capacity HS2 will offer and we really need it now. We have to stop this hysterical, fanciful, anti-HS2 nonsense, see the facts as they are and get on with building HS2 now.

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Principles of Railway Operation

I took delivery of a new book yesterday, "Principles of Railway Operation" by John Glover, published by Ian Allan. It surprised me (an old cynic) in that it was really rather good, especially for those who want to expand their understanding of the industry and how it works (or not).

It is written in an easily readable style, with humour and understanding, by someone who knows the industry well and who has written many books about it. It also has a series of case studies throughout the book that show how the railway works in real life and the sorts of things we are up against when we try to get the job done. It shows too, what can be achieved when the will to make it work is shared by all and support from the stakeholders is available.

It has lots of photos and graphics with captions that add explanations and inform but, being critical, I should say that some of the graphics are not as sharp as they should be and that a map would be appropriate in some places. Also, the price is a hefty £25 but, if you are an enthusiast, an outsider, or someone within the industry who wants to be better informed about the railway business through a book, written by an expert, that reads well and offers intelligent insight, it's worth it.

Thursday, 10 January 2013

The Brown Report on Franchising

This is published today by the UK government's Department for Transport (DfT). It is worth reading. See for yourself here:

It has good bits and some not so good bits and there are some areas that I don't think are clear for the reader but overall, pragmatic if unimaginative. He comes down on the side of franchising (well he would wouldn't he?) and tells the DfT to get on with it. He also suggests that the franchising process should be properly mapped out and individual franchises renewed in a considered programme to avoid peaks and troughs in workload. Blindingly obvious really. Why didn't they do it before?  See Laidlaw.

What they really need in the DfT are people who understand the railway business both commercially and technically. They need to understand the railway system and its interfaces at all levels. Then perhaps we can avoid some of the really daft ideas that have come out of the organisation over the last few years - IEP for example.

Friday, 4 January 2013

High Speed Rail Presentation

A lecture will be given by Professor Felix Schmid on Thursday 10th January 2013 at 13:00 at the University of Birmingham, Gisbert Kapp Building and will be entitled

‘Managing the Complexity of High-Speed Rail through Simplicity’

Felix will report on the lessons that he drew from his study visit to Central Japan Railway in late October-early November 2012. He will suggest that the Shinkansen system must be viewed as a successful example of railway systems engineering. He will argue that the  choice of a different starting point for the design has led to a more economical and sustainable solution even though it may be viewed as rather old fashioned when compared to French / German / Spanish high speed lines.

A buffet lunch will be available beforehand. If you are interested in attending, please contact Mrs Joy Grey at: Dept of Civil Engineering, Gisbert Kapp Building Tel: +44 (0)121 414 4342 Fax: +44 (0)121 414 4291 Email:

Monday, 10 December 2012

Questionable Justice

In what I believe was a miscarriage of British justice, a train guard with 20 years service, Christopher McGee, aged 45 years, was jailed for 5 years on 14th November 2012 for manslaughter as a result of the death of a drunken teenager under the train he was in charge of. Apparently, he signalled to the driver to start the train while the teenager, 16-year-old Georgia Varley, leant drunkenly against a carriage at James Street, Liverpool station. He said he thought she was moving away.
She was killed when she fell between the train and the platform as it moved off. The teenager was described in court as ‘legless’ and she had also been using drugs. Quite why she had been allowed to get so many drinks that she could get drunk when below the legal drinking age does not seem to have been explained. Neither does the law against being in a drunken state when travelling on the railway.
The teenager's mother claimed that her daughter had been portrayed as a ‘drunken liability’ when all she did was what many teenagers do at a weekend. What an irresponsible attitude from the mother of an underage drinker!
Mr McGee was convicted by a jury who were obviously ignorant of the realities of railway operation and the judge's closing remarks, reported in The Daily Telegraph, showed a complete lack of understanding of how the railway works and of how railway employees are unreasonably expected to take care of passengers' illegal, anti-social and stupid behaviour. 
Well, Your Honour, when did you last travel on a late night train full of drunks? Did you ever travel on a train? You may not know this, but we do our best and it's not always our fault when things go wrong.
This case is just another example of the "blame someone else for your stupid behaviour" attitude too common today. 
I hope the guard appeals against his conviction and sentence.