Friday, 30 December 2011

British Fares Triple Europe's

Research by the Campaign for Better Transport shows that train fares for commuters in Britain are three times what they are in most European countries. They conducted a survey showing the cost of an annual season ticket, including travel on each city's underground system, from a town approximately 23 miles from the capital. The results were:

Woking to London, £3,268
Ballancourt-sur-Essonne to Paris, £924.66
Strausberg to Berlin, £705.85
Collado-Villalba to Madrid, £653.74
Velletri to Rome, £336.17

Well, the trains here are still full at peak times, so the Train Operating Companies are getting it about right, aren't they?  Why do people decide to live miles from their place of work and then bleat about the cost of getting there? Some people complain that they have to stand! It's so uncomfortable they pay £000's to do it.

Of course, people choose to live away from cities because, the further you go, the cheaper the property. In effect, they are just replacing higher mortgage costs with train fares. It seems that the train fares are cheaper than the cost of a mortgage closer to town.

And cost by train? Just 32p a mile if you only use your season ticket on weekdays. Cost by car? 40p a mile and you have to do the driving so you haven't included the cost of your labour nor of stabling parking your car.

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Home and Away at High Speed

There's an article with this title in RAIL Magazine No. 686 December 29th issue. It actually mirrors some of my experiences with high speed rail travel in the UK and Europe written up in my last blog post.  It's a good read.  It also suggests that French high speed track is showing signs of its age. My experience too.

Monday, 5 December 2011

High Speed Across Europe

A few days ago, I took a trip (on business) by train from my home in the East Midlands of Britain to Frankfurt in Germany. I don't do this sort of trip by train very often so I took notes. This is an account of what happened. It made me think about how we, in the railway business, have progressed, or not.
23rd November 2011
14:00: Checked into Eurostar at St Pancras. Began with a nonsense where the barcode on my home-printed ticket would not work the entry gates so I had to be checked in manually. Then even more nonsense going through airline style security check. I thought the whole purpose of high speed rail was to compete with airlines, not to try to be the same as airlines. What would they want to blow up anyway?
Having paid a first class fare, I tried to find the business lounge. I thought there must be one. I went to information only to be told I had a “Standard Premier” ticket, even though the class on the ticket said “1”.  This means you don’t get the lounge. Now not a happy bunny.
14:15: Boarding started. The access is up to the platforms from the waiting area along a moving pavement sloped so steeply, it irritates the ankles. Another airline parallel, reminding me of the horrible moving walkways at Paris Roissy airport. I eventually found my coach and my seat after wondering how a coach with 24 seats can have them numbered in the 40s.
My immediate impression of the interior was that it is tired. I haven’t used Eurostar since it first started out of Waterloo in November 1994, so the trains are now 17 years old and they badly need a freshen up.
14:36: Train left 2 minutes late. I immediately noticed that the air pressure waves on the HS1 tunnels are unpleasant. This is taking parallelism with the airlines just too far.
On our way to Ebbsfleet, I also noticed the feeling of rising and falling over the vertical curves. It was quite distinct, a lot like being in a lift. Rather too steep in my view.
15:15: A snack is served. Having assumed I was getting a full lunch, it was rather disappointing but adequate if you’re not too hungry. My travelling partner had already had lunch but still managed to clear his plates.
The staff were generally better than I expected for a railway service. They were all French and seemed quite cheerful and willing. None of the British surliness here and worth the excessive price of the ticket on its own. 
16:45: Slowed down for the tunnel and then out the other side into thick fog. At the moment, I’m glad I took the train instead of flying, despite the airline style check-in. 
The ride on the French side was very rough. My feeling was that there were lots of wet patches. It seems that the UK HS1 team looks after their infrastructure better then the French do. Remarkable, given the supposed good reputation of the French railways.
17:33: Got to Brussels Midi on time. We decided to find out where the Frankfurt train left from and then look for a Belgian beer. Found a bar opposite the station but only had time for one before tramping back for the ICE train.
18:20:  The ICE train occupies a platform also occupied by a Thalys going to Paris.  They are stopped no more than 5 meters apart. Try doing that in the UK (sharp intake of breath from the representative of the safety taliban). 
18:25:  Departed Brussels Midi 2 minutes late.  I was unable to find a seat reservation on the train.  For some reason, my ticket didn’t show a reservation, although it did on the Eurostar section.  Then there was a slow crawl to Brussels Noord.  The train filled up there and it was now crowded.  I wasn’t sure if I’d get thrown out of my seat. I stayed put, prepared to tough it out if challenged.
The train sat at Noord a very long time.  Whether this was planned or not, I don’t know.  Left at 18:40.
18:45:  Train dot matrix display says we are doing 166km/h.  The train seems to rock gently from side to side as we progress – a sort of controlled hunting.
Train announcements were in English as well as German, Dutch and French and we were told that the seat reservation system was defective – very East Midlands Trains – I felt quite at home. 
We then found that the restaurant car was full so we couldn’t have dinner on the train. We were told we could have a snack at the seat but they didn’t have a menu.  We dispatched the attendant to find one.  When it arrived, it wasn’t much use as it was all in German. The attendant waited while we looked through it trying to find at least one word that made sense. There was an interesting debate when we asked for a translation of one of the dishes. Five passengers and two attendants joined in the discussions until someone realised that it was pea soup.  We declined. We decided to have a baguette.  When it arrived, it wasn’t too bad - warmed up and washed down with a cold beer but it was a long time coming.
19:00:  Not gone above 166km/h yet but still in Belgium.  Next stop is Liege. We were 12 minutes late into Liege but it has a very impressive station.  Money has been spent here on what is a relatively small town. I wonder why. Euromillions gone mad, I suppose.
20:17:  Doing 246km/h on approach to Cologne.  Riding very rough.  The train is bouncing on its bump stops with alarming bangs from underneath.  Train went into brake mode at 20:18, then running at progressively lower speed with brakes off and then on, off then on several times as it joined the original network.  Train finally stops in Cologne at 20:25.
20:29:  Departed Cologne.  Discovered the train toilets are no better than average UK ones.  No toilet paper, no hand towels, wet floor, and one complete toilet out of order.
20:47:  Noticed a lot of tunnels on the Cologne Frankfurt route with the same pressure wave problems that you get on HS1.  Some tunnels had the lights on and some not.
20:51:  Train now at 254km/h.  More tunnels and serious pressure discomfort.  Imagine a plane descending rather too fast.
21:00:  Now at 185 km/h and braking, I reckon, at about 0.4m/s^2.  
21:03:  Signal check down to about 50km/h.  Location unknown as its dark and foggy. 
21:20:  Arrived at Frankfurt Airport.  Braking from 200km/h took 3 minutes. 
21:23:  Depart Frankfurt Airport.  Another fine station where money has been spent.
21:33:  Arrived at Frankfurt-am-Main.  As the train was on time, I can only assume that there is a lot of slack in the timetable, since we’d made up 12 minutes since Liege.   Station stops were a minimum of 3 minutes, often longer.
The trip home
25th November
14:15: Depart Frankfurt on part full ICE to Brussels.  The train filled up at Frankfort Airport.  My travelling partner is a German expert in signalling I just met by chance. He is informative and entertaining.  
14:42:  The train came to a dead stand near Niederseelbach.  Another ICE passed us in the opposite direction and we then restarted and crossed over to the SB line.  We ran at normal speed “bang road” until the train stopped at Limburg Sud station.  This was not listed as one of the stopping points.  According to my travelling companion, they don’t list the stopping points between Cologne and Frankfurt except in the timetable.  We regained the NB road immediately after this station.

14:45:  There was no offer of food nor refreshment from the train staff.  I wasn't aware of a dining car, although there might have been one. I thought I would wait for the Eurostar trip and get an upgrade to get a full meal.
15:04:  Stopped at another small, unlisted station, Manbauer. The ICE is being used as a commuter train.  The ride is very good but what a waste of a high speed route, stopping at all the little villages between Frankfurt and Cologne.
15:14: Speed now 286km/h. 
15:16: Train slowing again for another stop at Sieburg/Bonn. 
15:22: Stop at Sieburg/Bonn.  I am advised that the train is about 5 minutes late. 
Announcements are at station stops only.  None of the backside covering, safety rubbish you get in the UK that nobody listens to, just the simple announcement that the train is approaching the next stop and then a welcome with a destination announcement after it’s restarted.
15:32:  We are now on the conventional network and approaching Cologne.  Signal checks all the way in until we stopped on a bridge just overlooking a huge yard full of commuter trains.
15:38: Restarted and passed a loco shed with a working turntable.  There was a pair of steam locomotive wheels mounted on one side as some sort of memorial to a bygone age. 
15:40 Passing Koln Messe/Deutz and a slower moving push pull commuter train on the adjacent track with a Class 111 pushing.
15:47: Departed with usual good acceleration and got clear of Cologne quickly.
16:00: Slowed to about 160km/h and we are on the conventional network again. I guess this will be like this to Brussels now.  The ride is significantly poorer now.
16:16: Arrived Aachen. I got the impression the train was shut down for a while. This might have been due to a crew change for the Belgian bit.
16:27: Departed Aachen after a long wait, but only got 100m before there was an emergency brake. Restarted immediately. Just outside Aachen, we crossed over to "left hand drive" for the Belgian run.
16:36: Came to a stand near a small village with the train straddling a level crossing but restarted almost immediately and resumed main line speed.
16:39: We seem to be on a high speed line now after passing through a junction. Perhaps the signal stop was because of the junction but there was no conflicting route nor passing trains.
16:41: Brake for approach to Liege.  Then a long run in at constant lower speed level.
16:45: More braking for Liege.  On-off approach again.
16:51: Stop at Liege.  I’m amazed again at the beautiful architecture of the place.
16:53: Start from Liege.
16:59: Train accelerated up to high speed so we must have left the national network.
17:24: Braking for Brussels Nord, another stop that isn’t displayed on the train until you get there. 
17:39: Arrived in Brussels 4 minutes late.  I went immediately to the Eurostar terminal to see if I could upgrade my ticket so I could get a meal on the train.  But, I was told, there’s no ticketing facility at Brussels Midi Station!  Eh? An attendant told me that to upgrade I had to see the train manager on Car 7 and he would sort it out.  I was told boarding would start at 18:00, so I had to cool my heels wandering about a crowded and busy Midi station dodging commuters, crazies and tramps.
At the appointed hour, I went to the terminal.  It was a scrum.  Too many people and not enough space.  When I got to the ticket gates, my ticket wouldn’t work the gate again and I was sent to the desk.  There I was told, “DB ticket – they don’t work” in a way that showed the attendant’s contempt for anything not Belgian. I found all the Belgian staff rude.
Then you have a passport control point followed by the ridiculous security system where you have to undress to shirt and trousers, load your clothes into a box and carry the box and your bags to the scanner.  At least at airports they help you with loading the scanner.
I just don’t get the security process. Why is it necessary? They don’t do it on other high speed trains so why this one?  “Oh, it’s because someone might try to blow up the channel tunnel” I was told.  What nonsense.  To have enough explosives to do that, you’d have to have a suitcase the size of a small house.
Once through the stripping aisles, I got dressed and then found another passport check.  Why?  I’d just had one.  The man at the desk told me this was UK passport control.  The other one, he said, was Belgian.  Again, why?  There isn’t anywhere else to go between the two? And why do we still have passport control between the UK and other European countries? None of them do amongst themselves and it doesn’t stop illegal immigration. I think we should let them in.  They’ll soon learn how bad it is in the UK – cold, crowded, bureaucratic, unfriendly, lousy food – why did I ever come back, ha-ha?
Eventually, we were allowed on the train.  When I got to Car 7 as told, I was re-directed to the train Manager who was by Car 10.  He then told me I should see the lady on Car 12.  Talk about pass the parcel.
Finally, I got to the lady in question. Her badge said she was the Purser.  She was polite and helpful and gave me a seat without question. She offered me a menu and generally made me feel welcome.
18:50:  Depart on Eurostar on time.  You immediately know you are getting into UK mode by the long announcements about luggage and tickets repeated three times in three languages.  You don’t get this repetition or length on DB.  The coach I’m on has flats, something I didn’t hear in Germany.
19:15: Crossed the border into France.  I know this only because my phone told me. 
19:22: Arrived at Lille.  The approach seemed to have less fuss than the approach to German and Belgian stations.
19:25: Departed Lille.  The ride to Calais was rough compared with anything I have felt on any other part of the trip.  I noticed that the train doesn’t have any indication of speed like the ICE.  I’m sure that on my last trip on Eurostar, there used to be a speed display over the end gangways.  What happened to it?
I’ve noticed that the vibration from the train is affecting the charger on my Apple Mac Book Pro laptop.  Every so often it loses connection and then restores it.  Odd that.
19:54:  Arrived at Calais.  The station looks like a New York Subway yard with barbed wire fences and thick netting on either side of each platform.  Is this what we do to keep people out of the UK?  Why? Have we created the myth that Britain is such a wonderful place that you have to climb fences and ride in the equipment cases of trains to get here?  Is our social security system so easy to get into? Perhaps some of our politicians should take this trip.
19:59: Departed Calais.  I noticed two military staff on the platform as we left.  Shortly afterwards, we passed the terminal where I did locomotive staff training.  My lasting memory of this is that sand got into everything, even me.
20:03:  Entered tunnel.  At slow speed (160km/h).
19: 24 (20:24): Left tunnel. The ride is now a lot better than France.
19:43: Arrived Ebbsfleet. Here we are told how to open the doors.  Why here and nowhere else?
20:03: Arrived at St Pancras on time.
20:19:  Got on EMT Meridian.  Can’t believe that the First Class is full at this time of night.  Packed full of people who don’t normally travel first class. You can always tell.  Is this a holiday weekend? No, it’s just a myth that fares are too expensive.  Trains are full of people not on business. Why would fares have to be any lower?
20:25:  Train left on time.  I soon discovered we are back in Britain.  The toilet is filthy and obviously wasn’t serviced at St Pancras. As an aside, I often wonder why paper hand towels in toilets are packed so tightly that, when you try to get one with wet hands, it just disintegrates in your fingers. Is there a designer for the train facilities?
Riding is rough, and I mean rough.  It makes the LGV in France look smooth. 
21:45: Train arrives at Loughborough on time. After months of chaos, the rebuilding of the station forecourt still hasn't been finished.  The recently-built new car park is now being dug up because the drains weren't installed properly.  The drop-off areas are on the wrong side of the road and the turning area is so small you have to do a 3-point turn to leave the station. Chaos for every train arrival, even at this time of night.  Design? What design? What a disgrace.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Underground Chaos

The persistent closing of large parts of the London Underground (Tube) system at weekends must stop.  The chaos, confusion and overcrowding it causes on routes that are open has to be experienced to see how bad it is.

I feel sorry for the tourists who will go home saying,  "Don't visit London, the Tube never works at weekends."  I feel sorry for the staff who have to answer repeated questions on alternative routes.  I feel sorry about the loss of income for shops and businesses.

Whatever happened to the "customer led railway" we hear so much about?  We seem to have reverted to the old "operator led railway".

There must be a better way of managing the railway's renewal programme.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

War on the Motorist?

Christian Wolmar, the extreme left wing writer on rail issues has declared himself as a centurion of the war on the motorist.  I imagine he thinks he will stir a frenzy amongst the socialist chattering classes and show how modern and eco friendly he is.  Big mistake.  92% of UK voters travel by road while less than 8% travel by rail.  It ain't helpful to annoy such a huge majority, even if a lot of them are Daily Mail readers.

I am a 50-year veteran of the railway industry and yet I drive every day.  I use rail when it's more efficient than the car, indeed I prefer the train but I usually use the car because I am one of the 40 million people who don't live in London or other very large cities and who therefore don't have an effective rail service for the daily journeys I make.  Come on Christian, get real. Don't make enemies of people we might get to travel by train if the service was available.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Rail Factoids - 8: Light Rail Construction Costs

In a useful and interesting article this week, RAIL Magazine contained a table listing the costs of building various tramway and light rail lines in Britain.  Here are the figures, adjusted for 2010/11 prices:

Project Date Cost/mile
            Tyne & Wear            1980  £19.8m
            Docklands            1987  £20.0m
            DLR to Becton            1994  £77.4m
            Manchester            1992  £11.7m
            Manchester            2000  £41.6m
            Sheffield            1994  £19.9m
            Midland Metro            1999  £14.6m
            T&W to Sunderland            2002  £10.4m
            Nottingham            2004  £23.6m
            Average            £25.4m

There are some interesting details in this list. The two most expensive projects were the DLR extension to Beckton at £77.4 million a mile and the Manchester Phase 2 project of 2000 at £41.6m a mile. These were both only 5 miles long, the shortest of all the projects. Costs tend to rise swiftly for short routes.

In comparison, the Edinburgh project is expected to cost £100million a mile. RAIL Magazine describes some of the background to the fiasco.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Rail Factoids - 7: CSX

I often wondered about the name "CSX".  I wondered what this American railroad did and how it got its name.  A recent trawl of sources provided some useful information.

CSX Transportation is the name of one of the USA's largest railroads.  It is an entirely freight operation covering a large area of the eastern US with over 20,000 miles of routes within the boundary formed by Chicago, New York and Florida.
Map showing the area of the US covered by the CSX system.  Source: Wikipedia.
The company has its headquarters in Jacksonville, Florida.  It is one of the four largest class 1 railroads in the US.  It has:
  • just under 30,000 employees;
  • 4,072 locomotives;
  • just over 80,000 freight cars;
  • a route network of 21,000 miles including 3,800 miles of track rights;
  • a yearly traffic of 3.9 million car loads
  • 25% of its volume and a third of its revenue from coal.
CSX was formed in 1980 combining the Chessie System and the Seaboard System RR. In 1987 the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway, which included the former Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, was absorbed by CSX. 

There's an excellent article about CSX and its recent developments in Trains Magazine for October 2011 and the CSX has a website here.

Friday, 16 September 2011

3rd Rail to Overhead Line Conversion?

After the heavy snowfalls, arctic temperatures and widespread disruption caused on the southern region rail network in Britain last winter, there have been calls for the conversion of the 3rd rail power supply system to an overhead system that isn't so vulnerable to freezing weather.  So, why would we (the country, I mean) do this in a recession when money is tight and:
  • we've just spent £130million upgrading the 3rd rail power system;
  • it would cost about £2.5billion to convert it;
  • it would cost about £200k to convert each 4-car unit using the system and there are hundreds of those;
  • the conversion would transfer the weather problems from ice and snow to high winds;
  • we only get, on average, a few days of ice disruption each year.
Thinking about it, why would we ever do it, regardless of a recession?

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Railways a toy for the rich?

Yesterday, Phillip Hammond, Britain's Transport Minister, told a parliamentary committee reviewing questions on High Speed 2 (HS2) - the planned new high speed line between London and Birmingham, that "Uncomfortable fact number one is that the railway is already relatively a rich man's toy", this amazing statement adding to the common perception that rail fares are expensive, even unaffordable for the "common man".

Despite the media frenzy this statement caused, rail travel is so popular that it has increased 60% since privatisation in 1994, even though fares have increased above the level of inflation by almost 10% since then.

So, why do people bitch about poor value for money on the railways while they still flock to the trains every day? Basically it's because they don't know what value they are getting. Here are some thoughts:
  • Train travel is cheaper than motoring;
  • Trains on many routes are so popular that they are overcrowded;
  • Rail traffic has shot up over the last 12 months despite the recession;
  • Only 88% of people with free travel were satisfied they were getting value for money!
So why are fares increasing?  Because, in a free-market economy, they must. If trains are overcrowded, you put the fares up to reduce it so you don't have to buy more carriages and you can retain or increase your profits. And this has been going on for the last 15 years and it still works.  Come on, wake up at the back, it's a no-brainer.  

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

New Infopaper On Metro Planning

Today, RTWP publishes a new Infopaper, "Metro Operations Planning".

Most thinking urban planners have long recognised that the use of high capacity, electrically powered, rail systems is the optimum solution for long-term, sustainable mass transportation in the urban environment.  This recognition has been around a long time. As far back as the 1880s, when the first electric powered tramway systems began to appear, the efficacy of frequent, clean and reliable rail operation was recognised as the best transport option for urban development and the safe movement of large numbers of people around cities.

In this paper, I describe the major operating criteria for an urban railway and show how they are applied in some examples around the world.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Rail Factoids - 6: Community Railways

In Britain, we have a group of local railways that are nominated as "Community Railways" by the Department for Transport (DfT). Support for a route is usually provided through a Community Rail Partnership (CRP) made up of the railway operator, local councils and other community organisations. There are 27 routes currently so named.

Research done for the DfT shows that there are around 4,000 volunteers working in community rail. They contribute over 1.2 million hours of work, bringing around £27 million of extra value to the rail industry.  This work has produced some amazing improvements in traffic levels over the last few years.  The top six percentages for growth since 2007 are:
Truro - Falmouth 90.6%
Bristol Temple Meads - Severn Beach    90.3%
Derby - Matlock86.2%
Three Bridges - Ford (Arun Valley) 53.1%
Par - Newquay52.6%
In the case of the Truro - Falmouth branch, a passing loop was reinstated at Penryn to allow the service to be doubled in frequency.  Just doing that has almost doubled the number of passengers.  More information is available at the DfT, ACoRP (the Association of Community Rail Partnerships) and ATOC (the Association of Train Operating Companies).

Friday, 9 September 2011

The Trip back from Blackpool

My second day of travelling yesterday.  I'm going home from Blackpool to Loughborough.  I began with the 14:44 First TransPennine Express from Blackpool North to Manchester Piccadilly.

14:56:  Train departed on time and I immediately noticed the better ride of the Class 185.  Even having a diesel engine under your seat doesn't produce as much noise or vibration as on other types.  No WiFi though.

I noticed there's an awful lot of unused infrastructure on the route between Blackpool and Preston.  The station at Kirkham and Wensham has 5 tracks and miles of sidings, all empty.

15:10.  At Preston.  Miserably wet as yesterday, with the poor folk waiting for trains hiding around the kiosks to try to stay dry.  I wonder if the sun ever shines in Preston.  My printed journey details as supplied by a kindly and informative clerk at Blackpool says there is a trolley service on this train but it is more in the breach than the observance.

Again, I'm having problems with the satnav.  On the road it works perfectly but, on a train it's hopeless.  I wonder why this is.  I suppose it's the steel cage I'm sitting in.

15:19 arrival at Chorley.  Now we've left Preston, it's stopped raining.  

15:50 Left Salford Crescent.  Train is standing room only.  Of course, there is no incentive for the train operator to add coaches since the passengers are happy to stand, otherwise they wouldn't travel and they pay the fare.

16:02.  Arrived Piccadilly 6 late after being stuck behind a slow moving Arriva Trains Wales Class 175.  Piccadilly station frenetic as usual.  

16:13.  TPE Class 185 arrives for reversal to Cleethorpes.  Sheffield is only two stops.  I find myself chatting to a young university researcher whose father I know in the railway industry.  We admire the beautiful scenery as we cross the pennines (we are on TPE after all) on our way to Sheffield.

17:08.  On time at Sheffield.  Girding my loins for the rattle and shake down to Loughborough on the EMT Class 222.

18:05.  On 17:35 ex Sheffield.  Very chatty and helpful attendant (Wayne) on EMT service.  Small compensation for the bumpy and vibrating ride I'm getting on the Meridian 222.  How can it be so much worse than a TPE Class 185?  Still, it got me home on time and to a dry and sunny Loughborough.

Overall the trip was interesting and I got a lot of work done that I couldn't have done by road or air.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

A day trip to Blackpool - Part 2

Here I go again - meeting in Edinburgh finished so I've go to get to Blackpool.  I've got my ticket so, here I go.

14.51.  After what seems to be the usual scrum at Waverley, I've boarded the Virgin Trains' Pendolino to Euston.  I'm going as far as Preston where I change trains.  All seats seem to be reserved so I'm just going to plonk myself into one and hope I don't get chucked out somewhere along the way.

15.25.  Going through Carstairs Junction.  Very sharp 10mph curve for trains coming onto the WCML from Edinburgh.  Must lose a lot of time doing this.  More beautiful scenery as we head south.  Pendolino ride a little better than EC's Mk VIs but still getting the typical hardness of rubber underneath.

15:45.  I notice long stretches of track south of Carstairs are quite rough.  Lots of vibration through the coach body.  The tilt system is quite abrupt too.  You can feel it switch into tilt mode and then out of it with a little bump each time.  

15:50.  Ran into another rain storm at Lockerbie.  The storms are quite strong but short as we fly through them at 100+mph.  As an ex-driver, I wonder if the cabs are properly waterproof and if the window wipers work under such conditions.  Think motorway in a storm at 60mph and double it.  

I've found that my satnav doesn't work even if I switch off the iPhone WiFi.  I seem to be getting a spurious signal from the on-train system and this doesn't like the iPhone satnav.

16:05 arrival at Carlisle.  Not a pretty train shed here.  Very dour.  Starter cleared at 16:07 and the doors closed immediately so the train could get away promptly.  That's how it should be done everywhere.

16:20 arrived Penrith.  I noticed the power went off right in the middle of the braking on the approach to the station and then came back on again.  I wonder if this was a section gap and, if so, why they put it right where the trains are braking so that the regeneration capability is lost.  Bad system design.  The change from regen to rheo seemed seamless, if indeed that is what happened.

16:48.  Ride much better south of Penrith.  Must be a better track maintenance gang.

17:15.  Arrived at a miserable Preston.  The foul weather was blowing the rain in under the roof and everyone was getting wet.  Changed to the 17:21 Northern Class 158 for Blackpool North.  Ride was better than Pendolino.  There seem to be a lot of trains going to Blackpool.  Three in just 20 minutes.  Our train seemed to be having a problem starting and there were some rough rev changes but it didn't lose any time and we arrived at Blackpool on the dot.  The conductor did announce the stations but his delivery was so fast and clipped that I had no idea what he was saying.  Thank goodness I had the satnav (now working after I got off the Pendolino) to tell me where I was.  

Another long day travelling over.  Tomorrow afternoon I have to go back to Loughborough.

A day trip to Blackpool - Part 1

06: 40. An early morning trip today, starting at 06:36 from Loughborough to Peterborough for a connection to Edinburgh.  I've never done this route before.  After a meeting in Edinburgh, I have to go to Blackpool for the Flexity2 launch tomorrow.  This is the blog of the trip, covering four different train companies, demonstrating some differing standards.

The train this morning is a Class 158/8 in EMT "Ice Cream" livery and it seems reasonably clean.  As we accelerated out of the station, we ran parallel with the 06:25 HST to London.  The driver was sitting in the cab, a foot up, sipping a cup of tea.  Brought back memories of my days driving.  I always liked early turns, watching the dawn as the sun rose and knowing you'd be finished by lunch time.

Just saw a woman in a field near Syston E Jc. walking nine dogs.  I had time to count them as we were accelerating away from the 10mph curve at the junction.  I wonder if that's worse than herding cats.

06:43.  Now stopped in the middle of nowhere.  The next stop is Melton Mowbray (of pork pie fame) but the satnav on my iPhone shows we are at Frisby on the Wreake (Yes there is a place called that).  The young, cheery conductor tells me that we are trapped behind a stone train but "They'll loop it beyond Melton".  On the move within five minutes but now my connection at Peterborough is reduced to 7 minutes unless there's a lot of slack in the timetable.

06:52.  There is.  We left Melton 1 minute late and we've passed the freight.  Passed another freight going west too.  Our train is quite nippy and the vibration from the underfloor engine is marginally less annoying than a Meridian.  Those Meridians really are horrible trains.

07:18.  Now at Stamford and on time.  The station is built of the same beautiful stone as the rest of the town, even the cutting walls.  We should be glad Victorian railway engineers had some feeling for keeping the visual continuity of communities.

07:30.  Now going south on the GN main line.  Seems odd to go south to go north.  Seamless, same platform change at Peterborough onto East Coast train to Edinburgh.  It's been a long time since I was on the GN main line.

07:54.  My first impression is of slick service.  Coffee served as soon as I sat down and my breakfast order taken quickly and efficiently.  Ride is hard.  Must be the high frequency being generated by the rubber suspension elements.

08:25.  Had excellent breakfast.  Served hot and tasty.  Waiting for more coffee now.  I'm noticing the weather getting more northern as we progress north.  It's dull, grey, drizzling and gloomy.  My reasons for infrequent visits this far north are being justified.  With the train braking for the curve at Bawtry, I can feel the wheels picking up somewhere.

08:50.  Weather has cleared for our arrival at York.  Still not got any more coffee.  

09:06.  Coffee eventually arrived after the York stop.  Now we are on the "racing stretch" of straight track between York and Northallerton.  It's odd to think that the first Underground car built for the Central London Railway in 1900 was brought over from Ashbury's in Manchester to be tested along this line.  I wonder how fast they took it up to.

09:18.  I can hardly write this.  We are approaching Darlington and the ride has got worse.  There's a lot of high frequency vibration and the coach body is rattling with it.

09:25.  Leaving Darlington 4 minutes late.  I like the NER curved train shed roofs like those at York, Darlington and Newcastle. 

09:40.  The approach to Durham is through cuttings and over viaducts and it must have been very expensive to build.  The view of the city from the viaduct south of the station is worth making the whole trip.

09:54.  Arrived at Newcastle in the sunshine.  I'd forgotten how wide the Tyne river is.  It occurs to me how "state owned" the ugly grey colour of the East Coast stock looks.  Departed 5 late.

10:06.  Currently at a stand just by the A19 bridge at Annitsford.  Two minutes before we moved.  Slow crawl forward as if carrying out the rule then realised it was a level crossing failure at Dan Dykes.  A Police car was parked across the road.  Losing more time as we crawl through the block approaching Cramlington.

10:30.  Just passing Alnmouth.  There is a wonderful view of the town as you approach from the south.  It sits on the coast amongst the little hills and cliffs at the estuary. Very pretty.

10:43.  Passing Holy Island; another beautiful view in the sunshine.  So much better then flying or driving, and I've managed to get some work done.

10:48.  Another stunning view as we approach Berwick and the Royal Border Bridge.  Depart Berwick 13 late.

11:05.  I noticed a warbling sound generated from speakers mounted on the catenary masts around Grantshouse.  I wonder what these are for.  Are they some sort of track worker warning system?

11:25.  Passing Wallyford, about 8 miles out of Edinburgh.  We should actually be there by now. 

11:33. Wheel stop at Waverley.  The place is a building site and very congested.  Traffic constantly held up by a pedestrian crossing needed by passengers to get from one side of the station to the other.  Not well thought out.

Well, that's the end of my 5-hour train trip this morning.   Another 3hrs 11 minutes this afternoon.  Hey ho.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Darwin moves out of the jungle

Real-time train information for passengers has long been a problem and it still is, even in these days of information technology and instant communications.  The railways in Britain have been developing a system called "Darwin", which is trying to improve real-time information to passengers, particularly at times of disruption.  An interesting article about Darwin, "Real time rail passenger information – Jungle or Minefield?" has just been written by Clive Kessel of  It's an interesting summary of the current state of development.

Back to work

The blog's been a bit quiet over the last week as I've been away on holiday.  Had a wonderful time at Burghley Horse Trials.  Came back yesterday to usual post holiday paper/email blizzard and started today with trip to Chippenham to see Invensys - Westinghouse Signals to you and me.

The train trip has been rather tiresome.  See my twitter account @railwaytechnic.

Next jobs are to analyse a dissertation, write about a new tram and see a man in Edinburgh about a railway course module.  I will also write a new infopaper on train capacity to complement the one on Line Capacity.

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Infopaper No 3 launched today

A third Infopaper has been added to the RTWP website today.  It is called High Speed Line Capacity and it offers 10 rules for getting a sensible answer.  It's a realistic assessment of high speed rail system capacity and it debunks some of the more outrageous claims about how many trains can run on a high speed line.  It isn't as many as the 18 per hour claimed by some, that's for sure.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Rail Factoids - 5 - GWML Electrification

The UK's Great Western main line (GWML) is to be electrified, at least the section between London and Cardiff anyway.  The head of electrification for Network Rail, Peter Dearman, gave some statistics in an interview with Rail Technology Magazine (June/July 2011) as follows:
  • 137 bridges need modifications to allow overhead wires;
  • 30% of bridges need a complete rebuild;
  • Civil works will cost about the same as the electrical works;
  • 23.000 steel masts will be required;
  • 800kms of wiring and registration assemblies;
  • Each wiring train will have a mile each of contact and catenary wire on it;
  • Wiring will be done at night, six nights a week, 36 weeks a year;
  • Network Rail are 50% short of the skills they need for the project.
Looking at the £5billion published budget, we can break this down as bit.  We can take out the cost of new trains at £750million (300 vehicles at £2.75million each) and the Reading area modernisation at £850million which gives us £3.4billion.  If half this is civil works, the actual electrification works out at £7.3million per kilometre.  That's more expensive than I'd expect but it does include signal immunisation work too, so it might come down to £6.5million per km.  Well...still expensive.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Do railway staff need better training?

Long Delays

In recent weeks, some routes in Britain have suffered spectacularly long delays.  A signal failure at Woking on 10th June caused trains to be stalled for four hours during the evening. Things got so bad that people abandoned the trains and started walking.  The third rail current had to be turned off and passengers were then forced to go back to the train and wait another hour.

Another incident at  Kentish Town on 26th May caused another long delay.  A train defect left people stuck on trains for over five hours.  Passengers were left trapped with insufficient cool air, no water and no communication after a power failure left their train stuck in a tunnel. Conditions got so bad that some passengers decided to force open the doors and walk along the track. Then the Rail Accident Investigation Board got involved when the train was moved with the doors left open.

Get the trains moving!

In the Woking case, it should have been possible to get the trains moving to the nearest stations without signals.  There are procedures for doing this and they've been around for years but, in today's segregated railway, responsibility for moving trains is split between train operators (TOCs) and Network Rail. TOCs are quite happy for their trains to sit safely, not moving while the delay minutes pile up, because they get paid compensation for it.  The compensation they pay to passengers is much less.

In any case, not many staff are trained these days to move trains by handsignal.  It's no longer possible for the signaller to phone the stationmaster and organise getting trains on the move.  The modern stationmaster is a "duty manager", largely a bureaucrat with little or no operating training.  He or she wouldn't be capable of organising handsignalling or getting routes clipped and scotched.

As for the Kentish Town train failure, the train in question had two separate units, both capable of independent operation.  One could have been used to move the other, if that was defective. They're designed to do this.  Why didn't it happen? Again it looks like a lack of suitably trained people.

Get Training!

Long delays in train operations are now commonplace and, with more fare increases in the pipeline, passengers (I refuse to call them "customers") are going to get more vocal about delays, particularly when they're trapped for hours in trains without power and information. It's time train operators and Network Rail had their staff trained to move trains under failure conditions. Controllers, train drivers and station staff need to be able to talk together and arrange emergency operations.

I think a logical place to start would be the Institution of Railway Operators, the IRO.  They have a cadre of trainers working on certificate, diploma and degree courses in concert with Glasgow Caledonian University and they are well placed to set up training in practical railway operations under failure conditions. It's desperately needed.

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Time for Lean Thinking on the Railway

The long-awaited and then much-derided McNulty review on value for money for rail, finally published in June 2011, showed that Network Rail is 30 to 50% less efficient in terms of maintenance and renewals expenditure than comparable European railways.  It quoted the recent HS2 study that found that civil engineering costs in the UK were typically up to double those in Europe.  It also said that franchising of trains in countries like Germany and Sweden was reported to have given cost reductions of between 20 to 40%, while train operating costs in Great Britain are still above their levels of 1996-7.

McNulty does not paint a pretty picture but neither does he offer any realistic solutions.  His ideas ideas for "improvement" involve more bureaucracy and more committees, mostly without any central direction. This just amounts to "more of the same" for the beleaguered railway industry when more of anything is hardly what we want. So, now it's time to look for new and effective solutions.  One such could lie in the approach offered by lean thinking.

Lean Thinking

Lean thinking is a new way of approaching how work is done throughout an organisation's project delivery process, with the principal aim of maximising value and minimising waste. It crosses traditional boundaries in the client-contractor relationship by eliminating wasteful practices like confrontational, zero-sum contracts, loading prices at every level with contingency and traditional "fastest is best" programme management.  Instead, gain-share contracting is adopted, flow control of feasibility, design, construction and commissioning is applied, whole project programming is enabled, business objectives are agreed and shared by all the stakeholders and client-contractors' relationships are positively engaged at all levels of the project to get to the jointly agreed targets.

To develop these processes in industry, a new organisation, the Centre for Lean Projects (CLP), has been set up at Nottingham Trent University (NTU) to develop the lean approach across the engineering and construction industry. "CLP@NTU" - which aims to provide firms with a range of personal, team and organisational learning to help develop new ways of thinking and working - is being spearheaded by Christine Pasquire, Professor of Lean Project Management in Nottingham Trent University's School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment.

The centre will run events, workshops and seminars for networking and dissemination of research; continuing professional development and short courses; and industry-based action learning projects. It is developing an international team of doctoral researchers working on industry level research around lean project production. The Centre will also carry out blue sky and exploratory research including research into commercial arrangements supporting lean project production, integrated project design and production processes, the management of complex or multiple projects, or making the cultural shift to 'lean' in project-based organisations.

Professor Pasquire said: "The Centre for Lean Projects enables the exchange of learning from practice to research and back again, promoting a continuous improvement spiral. Lean is about continually improving what we do by engaging with people to take charge of their own work and make it more efficient. This is crucially important at a time when the government is calling for efficiency savings."

Professor Pasquire added: "The close involvement of a wide variety of organisations provides the opportunity to learn on the job and means that students and researchers are continually exposed to the realities of the workface and the demands of teams, projects and organisations. This enables us to find answers to real world problems and issues and helps our customers to become learning organisations. We can develop the capability to deal with problems within the organisation, to be creative in the way they work and the way they behave." As well as representatives from academic Schools across Nottingham Trent University, the CLP is made up of researchers and partners from both industry and academia.

Friday, 19 August 2011

Rail Factoid - 4

London Underground carried more people last year than the whole of the national railway network.  Would you believe it?  Well, I suppose if you've standing on a Northern Line train between Bank and London Bridge recently, you would.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Jerusalem Light Rail to open tomorrow

The city of Jerusalem is to open its new light rail system tomorrow (Friday 19th August) after a long drawn out, 10-year construction period marred by delays, failures and political in-fighting.  An article in The Guardian newspaper describes the tensions and problems that have caused the project to stall and restart several times over the last decade.  On a visit to the city last year, I noticed the half-finished overhead line installation and no work going on. There was also a yard full of brand new but very dusty trams.  I suspect this will give them trouble in the forthcoming months.  Rolling stock does not like to be stored for long periods.

As for viability and costs, the city exceeds, by a long way, the minimum population density requirement of 30 per hectare for a viable metro system (see blog on Wednesday 10 August 2011) at 60 per hectare and the cost of building the system at US$12.5million a kilometre is well within international prices.

I wondered if the new system might help the peace process.  Is this a hopeless hope?

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

High Speed Rail - Yes or No

With all the debates about high speed rail and whether it should be provided or not in various countries around the world, it's difficult to decide the rights and wrongs of the issue.  Let's consider a few.

In countries like Australia and the US, the population density is low and cities are widely spaced.  High speed will be largely competing with airlines and it will be a question of time and convenience.  The range of distances where high speed rail will make the difference is 200-800kms.  Most trips above this will be faster by air.

Then there's the density of traffic.  Given that newly-built passenger rail systems will never pay for themselves, you have to assume that government will buy the infrastructure so, if operators are to be persuaded to invest in trains and run them, there must be a business case.  This is where the density comes in.  There must be enough traffic potential to make the system worthwhile.  This may be a difficult question for less populated countries like the US and Australia but, in the UK, the population density is such that new travel infrastructure between major population centres will soon be fully utilised.

The other big issue is the taxpayer contribution.  Why should taxpayers contribute towards a project that only benefits a minority of them?  Well, it does add more than just a set of railway tracks across the landscape.  It will provide increase travel opportunities, it will reduce road congestion, it will minimise environmental damage, it will create jobs, it will take pressure off congested air space and it will provide competition and choice for the traveller.

There is also the argument about using the money to improve the existing railway system. I'm on the fence on this one.  I'm not sure that the benefits can be balanced in favour of upgrading the existing system unless detailed studies are done of each location looking for an upgrade.  I suspect that building new will give more benefits and give them more quickly.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

More on UK Rail Fare Increases

Lots of media coverage today - August is always a poor month for news - and all the usual vox pop of the "Why should we pay more for a service that's no good?" variety.  The Transport Ministeress is dragged in front of the cameras to explain that it's part of the government's plan to ensure more money is available for improvements.  Of course, it's all spin.  Really they re just trying to price people off the trains to reduce overcrowding.

While all this was going on, I was emailed by a gentleman who had read my page on railway finance, and he made some good points as follows:

Him: If one takes the UK example where railway infrastructure is nationalised.  Then the operating companies do seem to get government subsidies Plus fares. 

Me: Correct

Him: So under the above approach the operating firms seem to make money and continue to charge above inflation RPI every year. 

Me: Yes, but the government reduces their subsidy by the "over RPI" amount in order to reduce the taxpayers' contribution.

Him:  So that doesn't feel on the face of it that these private operating firms are finding any efficiencies that they return to the customers in lower prices at least. Maybe just their shareholders in dividends and stock market value?

Me:  They will have a business plan that trades off their returns to encourage passengers to buy tickets and those to shareholder dividends.

Him:  How could you compare one Uk operating firm to another to know which are being run better or worse?

Me:  Depends what you mean by "better or worse".  A financially good performer may only do so by providing a poor service to passengers.

Him:  Certainly it would seem ticket fares should reflect distance travelled more than they currently do.

Me:  They price tickets by yield management, just like the airlines.  For railways it's largely based on time of day and advance or walk-up purchase.  

Him:  I would say some sort of outcome measure is best...Better for me would be best defined as an average cost to travel per mile across there relevant piece of the network. Maybe spilt by peak and off peak. That combined with the existing punctuality measures should cover it.

Me (to everyone): For a reality check, remember that only 8% of land journeys in the UK are by rail.  If you turn that into votes, the loss of votes to the government is in "the noise".  It doesn't matter to them.

New UK Rail Fare Increases

The BBC reports that rail passengers will find out how much fares will rise next year when the latest inflation figures are revealed. "RPI inflation for July is expected to be around 5%, meaning the average season ticket will go up by around 8%" the report says.  Up to now, the formula for fare increases has usually been RPI inflation plus 1%, but for the next three years it is to be RPI plus 3%. It is said that the government's agenda is to reduce the cost of running the rail network for the taxpayer.  

In reality, it is a crude and poorly disguised way of trying to price people off the railways so that the government doesn't have to buy new trains or spend so much money upgrading the system.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Australian High Speed Rail

A study on a new high speed rail network of up to 1600kms recently published in Australia suggests a cost range between A$61bn to A$108bn.  The upper end of this range is the more realistic at USD70million per kilometre.  I doubt it could be done for less.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Rail Factoid - 3

A contract to build a new monorail system in Sao Paulo, Brazil has been awarded to a Malaysian company, Scomi Engineering BHD, with a value of USD44million per kilometre.  It includes trains and equipment.  Source: The Edge, Malaysia, 5 August 2011.

The new contract awarded to Siemens to resignal the Copenhagen S-Bane network of 170kms of double-track routes with their "Trainguard" radio-based ATC system, suggests a cost of €1.48million per route kilometre. The contract includes maintenance for 25 years but this can't be included in this figure, can it?

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

So you want to build a metro?

How can you decide? Well, it's worth looking at if a city has an average density of residents and jobs of 30 per hectare or greater, because it is most likely to benefit from investment in public transport infrastructure ("Order Without Design", Alain Bertaud, 2002).  Examples of cities with metros are London with 32 per Ha, Paris with 88 and Hong Kong with a staggering 367.  Just to disprove the rule, Atlanta, GA, USA has only 6 but it has a metro system.

If you are looking at suitable station spacing, for a metro it will be around 1000-1600m in a city centre.  Stops on an LRT system will be around 600-800m apart.

Broad budget project costs: >USD15million per km for a street level LRT system; >USD70million/km for an elevated system; >USD200million/km for an underground system. These "ball park" figures exclude land acquisition costs and will vary widely by country.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Rail Factoids - 2

New Train Prices:
Recent orders in Russia for various batches of 5-car "Desiro Rus" electric multiple unit trains shows the following prices per car:
€2.15million for each of the first 190 cars;
€2.125million each for the next 90 and
€1.67million for each of the final 1200 vehicles.

None of the published articles refers to any associated maintenance requirements from the contractor, Siemens. RGI and IRJ, 2010 and 2011.

Spanish Signalling:
A contract for the signalling and communications systems for the new high speed line between Albacte and Alicante is being bid for by five groups against a budgeted price of €446million. This equates to €2.6million per km. This is a very competitive budget. Although maintenance is mentioned, it's not clear if this is included in the price, not does it say for how long. Even without it, I wonder if anyone will get there. IRJ, July 2011

Go by Plane says National Rail

Is there something odd here?  The UK's National Rail Enquiries website is advertising plane travel for the budget airline Easyjet. On their "News & Events" page, the banner across the top advertises cheap flights on Easyjet. Is that weird or what? I mean, is the scrabbling around for revenue so desperate that the national rail system has to advertise its competitors.

Monday, 8 August 2011

Rail Factoids

Today, we start a new service, "Rail Factoids"¹, offering readers facts (with sources) published about railways around the world.  It's a trial for the time being but it is hoped it will grow into a recognised database that can be used by the industry to help their businesses. Here's the first list:
  • DB Schenker reports that it has moved 15% more cars by rail in Q1 2011 than it did for the same period in 2010.  Source: DBS, Doncaster, UK, 15 July 2011.
  • Union Pacific of the USA reported a 10% increase in income from its rail freight operations in Q2 of 2011.  Source: UP, Omaha, NE, USA, 21 July 2011.
  • China has built 20,000km of new railways in the last five years, bringing the country's network up to 70,000km. Source: IRJ, August 2011.
  • The Indonesian island of Sumatra has 1,348km of 1,067mm gauge rail lines, while Java has 3,425km. Source: IRJ, August 2011.
  • The world's longest high speed line opened in China between Beijing and Shanghai on 30th June 2011. The line is 1,318km long and offers an end to end journey time of under 5 hours.  Source: RGI, August 2011.
  • The new Chinese high speed line is reported as costing US$25million per kilometre. This is less than 50% of what it would cost to build in the UK.  BBC, 24 July 2011.
  • The maximum axle load for a rail vehicle in Europe is 22 tonnes.  In the UK it is 25 tonnes but in Australia some heavy haul freight line operate with 40 tonne axle loads. Source: RGI August 2011.
  • Network Rail in Britain is switching its civil engineering standards from British Standards to Eurocodes. Source:, 2 August 2011.
  • The Bombardier contract for 300 new metro cars for the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) works out at a price of US$1.1million per car.  Source RGI, August 2011.
  • An order for 108 metro cars for Santiago, Chile is priced at US$1.33million per car. RGI, August 2011.
RGI = Railway Gazette International; IRJ = International Railway Journal.

Footnote 1:  With thanks to Steve Wright of BBC Radio 2.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Some Definitions

There are many names used to describe railways in their various forms.  Just to clarify any confusion, here I offer some definitions, including a few variations used in different English speaking countries.

Railway (Railroad in the USA):
A system with a fixed steel rail guideway (called "track") using flanged steel wheels.

US freight train approaching the Cajon Pass.  Photo by atsfherb.
Main Line Railway:
A railway between two separate centres of population or industry (e.g. London and Brighton or New York City and Albany). Can operate freight and/or passenger trains.  Some routes are purpose-built for freight.

Swiss SZU Commuter train passes Giesshuebel. Photo by John Weismann
Suburban or Commuter line:
A route or service operating passenger trains between a city centre and residential suburbs over main line tracks.  Many of the larger suburban systems use electric traction.

Train at Park Kultury on the Moscow Metro.  Photo studentsoftheworld

Urban or Metro line (Subway in the US):
A high capacity passenger railway route, normally segregated from main line railways, operating between and through a city centre and suburbs around it.  Central sections of such routes are often under ground or elevated.  A metro can share tracks with main line railways if capacity allows it.  Usually uses electric traction.

A train on the "Metro Transit" light rail line in Minneapolis. Photo by Jeff Terry

Light Rail System (LRT - Light Rail Transit):
A medium capacity passenger railway using streets for some or all of its routes.  Some ambitious cities refer to such systems as "metros" but they are rarely underground (e.g. Brussels offering an exception to the rule).


Some anomalies exist in these definitions, like the rubber-tyred metro systems seen in cities in Paris, Mexico City and Montreal, which have a steel rail back-up system, and "People Movers" like those short low capacity systems seen in airports.

More Definitions
You can get a whole range of railway definitions from the railway-technical Glossary pages .

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Letters To First Great Western

Now the punter bites back.  A commuter on the British route between Oxford and London, whose trains are run by the First Great Western franchise, has started corresponding with the Managing Director of the railway every time he is delayed going to and from work.  He is also putting all the letters and the responses from the MD, Mark Hopwood, on a new blog called Letters To First Great Western.

The result is both hilarious and alarming, and it's an object lesson in both how a railway operator deals with a wide range of delays and how the passenger sees them.  The huge gulf between them is glaringly evident.  While the railway company struggles with its daily problems, most of them completely outside its control, trying to keep the train service functioning one way or the other, the commuter expects spare trains to be available at every station, and all lost time to be recovered regardless of the circumstances.

The commuter correspondent is Dominic Utton, a professional journalist lucky enough to still have a job with Rupert Murdoch's much maligned News International Group, even though he formerly wrote for the now defunct News of the World.  Mr Utton has designed each letter so that the time it takes to read it is equal to the length of the delay he suffered.  The letters themselves are hopeless, time wasting nonsense, but the replies from FGW are rather soulless, comprising of depressingly bland explanations of the causes of the troubles and of hopes for future improvement.  What is most instructive about them is the wide range of problems suffered by the railway and how long it takes to recover from them.

The delay suffered in reading this post is 2 minutes.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Station Design Issues: A Primer

Hot on the heels of this week's release by Network Rail of their station design guidelines, there's a new article in the latest edition of Rail Technology Magazine, "Station Design Issues: A Primer", where Piers Connor and Felix Schmid give their thoughts on the issues that arise from the need for stations to satisfy a multitude of requirements for passenger transport.  See pp 78-81 of the web-based magazine.

The paper was developed by the authors from a presentation made to delegates at the Intelligent City Forum, sponsored by Rail Champions, held at the University of Birmingham on 26th May 2011.  The presentations given on the day can be found here.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

New Station Design Guidelines

In Britain, the national railway infrastructure organisation, Network Rail, has published new station design guidelines. Although they are light on specifics, they do provide a good checklist for a station planner, designer, architect or engineer engaged on new or upgrading work involving stations.

There are also links in the guidelines to:

There are other links but some of them don't work.  Overall, the new document is well produced and attractive and offers useful pointers and the current NR thinking for station planner.  Have a look.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

New technical papers uploaded to RTWP

We are starting a new series of "Infopapers" that will cover a wide variety of railway subjects. The papers will be published from time to time on the RTWP website. The first one is "Platform Protection Systems". From the very earliest years of railway operation, a problematic relationship has existed between the moving train and the fixed structure or the railway station. The need for a safe and reliable means of loading and unloading passengers has vexed the minds of railway managers for the last 150 years and this paper reviews some of the modern solutions.

Another is "Railway Passenger Vehicle Capacity". For passenger vehicle design, there is always a compromise between what is acceptable to the passenger in terms of accessibility and comfort and what is acceptable to the operator in terms of efficiency and cost. The results are not necessarily ideal for either. This paper examines some of the issues.

Monday, 1 August 2011

Why Up and Down?

Why do railways in Britain always refer to the direction of travel as "up" or "down"?  Why do you hear phrases like, "the 10:25 up train to London" or "the down loop"?  In the US, they use the train's direction to describe the track, e.g. "eastbound" or "westbound" but many other railways like Australia, India, China and Japan use "up" and down", after the British system. But why?

It's simply a remnant of history.  Railways were first introduced in the 18th century to help get coal from mines.  Wagons, with their wheels running on specially laid tracks, were pulled by men or horses from the mine to the shipping point.  The bulk of coal was sent by sea because roads were so bad.

Tracks were laid from mines to docks.  Normally, the mines were inland and higher than sea level, so the coal was transported down to sea level where the docks were.  Thus, the direction away from the mine became known as "down" and the return trip as "up".  Now, "down" is the track leading away from the main terminus (usually London), while the "up" track is towards London.

There are anomalies.  The District Railway, now London Underground's District Line, had its original terminus at Mansion House.  Its services ran west from there, so the line to Ealing, Richmond or Wimbledon was the "down" line and the eastward track became the "up" line. When the route was extended east to Whitechapel and Barking, the track running east from Mansion House became the "down" line, and the return track the "up" line.  Thus the name of the track changed as the train passed through Mansion House.  When the system was electrified in 1905, using American money and technology, they adopted the American "eastbound" and "westbound" and these remain with us to this day.

Sunday, 31 July 2011

Thameslink ATO - I'm struggling

I'm struggling with the announcement, published in the latest issue of RAIL Magazine (No. 675 July 27th 2011), that Thameslink is intending to introduce Automatic Train Operation (ATO) on their core section, using the European Train Control System (ETCS), and to get up to 30 trains per hour per direction with it.   I'm wondering how they will do it.  RAIL reports that they will have station "dwell" times of 45 seconds and they are allowing 30s to arrive and depart, to give what we call a "platform re-occupation time" of 75s. This is, to be kind, very ambitious. In reality, it's a bit of a spin and, if they are think they will ever get 30 trains per hour, they are not being realistic.  Let's look at why.

First, we must make some assumptions.  We know the trains will be 12-cars long - that's 240m; and I doubt they will approach any of the inner area stations on the route at more than 35 mph, although some approaches might be less.

In considering the train's braking, we have to allow for rail conditions.  On metros that use ATO in tunnels, where the rails are dry, they can get a brake rate of 1m/s² but we have to allow for wet rails, so lets say 0.65m/s², to be safe.

Now, when calculating train throughput, you have to assume that all trains will run under clear signals.  If they don't, the service will slow down.  This means that the train approaching the station must not be shown a red or yellow signal, or the equivalent speed reduction command on the ATO system.  To ensure this, the rear of the train in front must be completely clear of the platform and of the starting signal, plus a safety distance, which in ATO circles is usually 50m.

In looking at how we do the calculations, a diagram might help.  It looks like this:

Here we see that Train 1 has left the station and, when its rear clears the 50m safety margin beyond the starting signal, the home signal behind it will clear and allow the following train (2) to run in unchecked.  Note that my diagram shows the front of Train 2 at 188m on the approach side of the Home signal as the point where the signal must clear.  This is because this is the closest Train 2 can get to the signal and stop at it.  If we left it later, the train would be automatically slowed down by the ETCS.

Now, the maths.  Our basic parameters are as follows:
Maximum train speed = 35 mph or 15.6m/s;
Train and platform length = 240m;
Signal safety margin 50m;
ATO brake deceleration rate = 0.65m/s²;
ATO brake distance (35mph to 0mph) = 188m;
Train acceleration rate = 0.9m/s² (generous but we can assume Thameslink will buy a powerful train);
ATO response time = 3s.

The calculation for the distance the train travels for platform re-occupation is:
188m (the home signal approach distance) + 50m safety margin at 35 mph; then the platform: 52m at 35 mph plus 188m braking to the stop.  Then, looking at the rear of the train, it starts and accelerates up to 35 mph.  This takes 136m.  The rear has to clear the rest of the platform (104m) and the Starting signal margin (50m) to clear the way for the following train which must be 188m on the approach to the home signal.

The time it takes to cover all this is (188m + 50m margin + 52m platform entrance @ 35mph = 18.6s) + (188m braking into station = 12s) + (136m acceleration to 35mph = 17.4s) + (the 104m remaining of the platform + 50m margin = 9.8s) to give a total of 57.8s.  Then we have to add in the standing time in the platform (the dwell) of 45s as suggested by Thameslink. This gives a total of 102.8 seconds between trains.  I've added 3s as an allowance for the ATO kit to respond to the signals and this gives 105.8 seconds.  I cannot decipher where Thameslink got 75s from.

Wonderful, you say.  This is equivalent to 34 trains per hour!  Plenty of room for more trains then. Well, no.  It's not as simple as that.  It never is, is it?  We have assumed that every train will arrive at the first home signal braking point at exactly at the moment the previous train has cleared the starting signal margin, but it never happens like that, as any commuter will tell you.  With trains coming into the central section of Thameslink from all over South East England, the chances of geting that sort of punctuality are zero.  A sensible, experienced operator will tell you that you should allow a large margin - at least 30% has been suggested by the UIC (the European-based Union of Railways).  This allows for time to change routes, variations in station stop time, higher speeds on outer sections of line, small variations in performance and minor delays.

The 30% operating margin will reduce our throughput to roundly 23 trains per hour.  Much more sensible and much more like what we will get.  Operators could do that, if they are on their toes and there aren't too many PIOTs (Passengers Ill On Train) incidents during the morning rush hour.

To go back to the Thameslink spin and their 75 seconds (I'm not sure where this figure came from but it must have been a rather grubby envelope), the problem is that it attempts to describe what's called the "signalled headway", not the "operating headway".  The signalled headway is the technical stuff we have calculated here but the operating headway includes the 30% margin and shows how frequently trains could actually operate.  They are quite different, as we can see.

Saturday, 30 July 2011

Diesel Page Update

I've updated the diesel locomotive page of Railway Technical Web Pages today. It has diagrams and descriptions of basic diesel locomotive technology.

This is the diagram showing diesel locomotive parts.  Each part is described in the text.

It's worth a look, even if you've seen it before.

Friday, 29 July 2011

Idling Diesels

People often complain about idling diesel locomotives in stations and railway yards.  They don't like the noise and they think that the emissions and fuel wasted should be reduced.  Like many things in the railway, there's lots of different issues so, in response to a recent question from Phillip, here's an overview of the problem.

Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority commuter train showing diesel-electric locomotive hauling passenger coaches.  The locomotive provides all the power for lighting, heating and air conditioning on the train.  The photo is by Michael Taylor.
The standard diesel locomotive is actually a diesel-electric machine as shown here and in the photo above.  The diesel engine inside the locomotive runs in order to drive alternators that generate electrical power for the train.  There are usually two alternators - one to provide power to drive the locomotive using electric motors on the axles, and a second to provide the locomotive and coaches in the train with "hotel power", like lighting, battery charging, heating and air conditioning.

A common reason for keeping a diesel locomotive idling is cold weather.  If the air temperature falls below 40 deg F, the engine will begin to freeze.  Diesel engines don't have anti-freeze so they have to be kept running to keep them warm.  Some locomotives are now being fitted with small diesel engines specially equipped with heating systems to keep them warm.

If the locomotive is providing "hotel power" for passenger cars, and the train is required to stand in a terminus or yard between trips, it will be necessary to keep the train warm to prevent it freezing (or keep it cool in the summer), so you have to keep the locomotive running to provide the power.  A way to overcome this is to provide a "shore supply".  A heavy duty cable has to be connected to the train to supply enough power to keep the heating/air con/lighting going.  However, not many yards and terminals have these and they are expensive to install and run.

As for fuel and pollutant savings in a modern locomotive, the Environmental Protection website describes the following example.  A reduction in commuter locomotive idling by even one hour per day per locomotive, together with modern ultra-low sulphur fuel fuel and a modern low-emission engine, could result in yearly carbon dioxide emission reductions of an estimated 800 tons, nitrogen oxides reductions of nearly 170 tons, carbon monoxide reductions of about 80 tons, particulate reductions of 23 tons, and sulphur dioxide reductions of 1-2 tons.

There's more information from MJ Bradley here.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Teach Your Children Railway Safety

Now the school holidays are here (again!), it's time to make sure your children are safe when they're out playing.  Network Rail has launched a campaign to show the terrible risks of playing on or near railway tracks.  A shocking, 2-minute video shows horrific injuries suffered by children who trespassed on railway tracks or tried to interfere with electrical equipment like overhead power lines or electric rails.

RAIL magazine has a copy of the video.  Every parent should see it and should teach their children about the dangers of messing with the railway.  It can be more dangerous than playing in the street.  Have you told your children?

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

High Speed Work

The report in the Journal of Commerce that the Norfolk & Southern Railroad in the US managed to upgrade a 100-mile section of track in an 8-day blockade, demonstrates just what can be done if there's a will and a way.  The journal reports that "They laid 29 miles of new track, resurfaced 69 miles’ worth, replaced three bridge decks and improved track signaling". Apparently, they needed 400 people working on the project.  I sometimes wonder if we have that many railway engineers available in Britain.

We don't know the exact circumstances of the project but, even if we could work at a quarter of that rate in Britain, we'd be doing better than we are now.  Network Rail, please note.

Monday, 25 July 2011

High Speed Rail in Brazil

I'm not surprised that the bidding for a new high speed rail line between Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo has been suspended due to lack of interest.  Anyone who thinks that you can build a new, electric passenger railway between two major urban areas across rugged and mountainous terrain for less than $80million a kilometre is dreaming¹.  In fact, it may cost even more if there are lots of tunnels.  The state bank BNDES (the state-owned development bank) suggested a price of about $60million per km.

The Latin American Herald Tribune, reporting the decision to suspend bidding, quotes the President of Brazil as saying, "I don’t believe the staff of the BNDES could have been so mistaken”.  Why not, Dear Sir? They were probably acting in good faith, but I suspect they ignored project, political or security risks and didn't count financing costs in the commercial money market.  What you might think the actual construction and equipment will cost and what a bidder, in the form of an international consortium, will charge in his price is quite different. In this case, 30% different.

This proposal for a Rio to Sao Paulo high speed rail link has been around for 10 years to my knowledge and it's always been regarded as a high risk project, with the stop-go politics of the region, local and international recessions and the construction and security problems of the area all worrying possible bidders.

If there is a consistent approach, political will at all levels and a commitment from the government to support the project, come what may, then you might get more interest from potential investors and bidders. Without it - no chance.

Footnote 1:  The Chinese quote a cost of $25million/km for their Beijing-Shanghai high speed line but they wouldn't include finance and risk.  The line was also very long, at 1302 kms, providing substantial economies of scale.