Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Help with Fault Finding

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

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Stop this Summer Madness - Time to see sense on HS2

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Principles of Railway Operation

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

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

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

Thursday, 10 January 2013

The Brown Report on Franchising

This is published today by the UK government's Department for Transport (DfT). It is worth reading. See for yourself here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/the-brown-review-of-the-rail-franchising-programme.

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

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

Friday, 4 January 2013

High Speed Rail Presentation

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

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

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

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