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.