The Anonymous Widower

Will Southern Create A South Coast Express Using IPEMUs?

This post is pure speculation on my part,which I’ve written to illustrate the capabilities of an IPEMU.

What is an IPEMU?

Many rail passengers in the UK, have ridden in one of Bombardier’s fairly ubiquitous Electrostar trains. Here’s a short list of some of the types and the services they run.

A Class 379 was used to create the IPEMU or Independently Powered Electric Multiple Unit and a year ago, I rode this train in public service between Manningtree and Harwich.

A battery pack had been added to the four-car train, which was charged up, when the train is running on an electrified line; third rail or overhead and the energy can then be used to propel the train on a line without electrification.

I was told by the engineer sitting opposite me,monitoring train performance on a laptop, that this Class 379 IPEMU had the following characteristics.

  • A range of upwards of sixty miles on battery power.
  • Similar performance on battery or direct power.
  • Virtually identical driving experience.

I would also add that the passenger experience was virtually identical.

Network Rail and Bombardier have put a lot of time, effort and money into the IPEMU. They believe, that IPEMUs and their battery power will have the following applications.

  • Providing affordable electric services on branch lines or other lines that are difficult to electrify.
  • Moving trains around in depots and sidings that have not been electrified.
  • Train recovery and diversion, when the power fails.
  • Used in conjunction with regenerative braking, IPEMU technology saves electricity.

Obviously, Bombardier very much believe in the technology, as their new train; the Aventra has been designed to use energy storage.

IPEMU is an acronym, that will increasingly be used with trains.

The Class 387 Train

Southern, who operate a lot of services south of London are users of Class 387 trains.

The Class 387/1 trains will be replaced by Class 700 trains, as they arrive from Germany.

Unfortunately, due to the well-documented problems of Network Rail’s electrification, it looks like a lot of these twenty-nine trains could be put into storage.

I believe that some of these trains will be given an IPEMU capability to be used to provide electric train services on certain lines.

As they are closely related to the Class 379 train used for the prototype, I feel that most of the technical problems have been solved.

Along The South Coast From Southampton to Ashford

The South Coast from Southampton to Ashford is covered by two separate rail routes.

If you want to travel between say Hastings and Worthing, you will have to change trains at Brighton.

This usually means a wait of a few minutes and a change of platform.

Any sane person would believe that if a single train could run all the way from Southampton to Ashford, this would be better for many reasons.

  • The train company would probably need less trains.
  • Passengers wouldn’t have to change trains at Brighton.
  • There could probably be a simpler interchange between Coastway and Brighton Main Line services at Brighton station, which might release platform space.
  • Both Coastway routes are limited to speeds below 80 mph and are fairly straight, so perhaps with some improvements, faster services could be introduced.

Until recently, the only trains capable of going from Ashford to Southampton would have been diesel multiple units, but as the only part of the route that is not electrified is the Marshlink Line from Ore to Ashford, it would now be possible to run the service using an IPEMU variant of a Class 387 train.  The train would charge its on-board batteries between Southampton and Ore and at Ashford and then use battery power to bridge the gap of about thirty miles on the Marshlink Line.

As IPEMUs have a range of sixty miles, then it would seem that there should be few problems in running the trains between Ashford and Ore.

This approach has benefits.

  • The Class 387 train is an 110 mph electric train with regenerative braking, so services could be faster.
  • GTR has quite a few of the standard Class 387 trains in service, so the company and their drivers probably know them well.
  • GTR could say they have removed a number of diesel trains and they are a greener company.
  • Network Rail would only have to update the track and signalling of the Marshlink Line for four-car trains and wouldn’t need to electrify any of the route.

Currently, to go from Ashford to Southampton takes three hours forty-five minutes and it is quicker to go via St. Pancras and Waterloo. But with a 110 mph train and no changes, timings must be possible in the region of three hours.

I suspect that with some selected track improvements, a limited-stop service could be a real South Coast Express.

There certainly is some scope and I’ll detail each improvements on the main East and West Coastways separately,

The Marshlink Line

The Marshlink Line is not fully double-tracked, has several level crossings and a low speed limit, which if improved, would probably be welcomed.

The Marshlink Line Action Group web site has an extensive report about improving the line, of which this is an extract, from a report which discusses extending the Class 395 train service from Ashford to Hastings.

The basics of the project are substantially as presented last year with line speeds generally expected to be 60-90 mph from Ashford to Doleham and 40-60 mph onwards to Hastings. But the ongoing big question for NR (and of concern to MLAG from an environmental point of view and compatibility with rolling stock in the surrounding lines) is whether the power source would be third rail (as MLAG would prefer) or overhead. NR acknowledges the difficulty of overhead power along the Marsh with gantries having to be built on (obviously) marsh land and with the strong winds. Whichever, some 30 miles of track would need to be laid but, apparently, only about half a mile of dualled track to the west of Rye.

Incidentally, there has been talk about running Class 395 trains from St. Pancras to Eastbourne via HS1 to Ashford and the Marshlink Line. It would undoubtedly be a fast service, but it has some inherent disadvatages.

  • The Marshlink Line would need to be electrified, probably with 25KVAC overhead wires.
  • Some people might object to the wires across the marshes?
  • Would it need some extra Class 395 trains to be purchased?
  • Would it mean that one franchise was encroaching on the territory of another?

On the other hand, using IPEMU trains would simplify the job and mean no electrification would be needed.

However, it would probably be a good idea to make sure that as much dualled track was created, to maintain an efficient service on the line in the future.

The Willingdon Chord And Eastbourne

There has been talk about reinstating the Willingdon Chord, which could shorten the line by making it possible for trains to by-pass Eastbourne, But the locals fear, that Eastbourne would lose services.

However, surely some fast long-distance services along the South Coast could by-pass the town.

A skilled compiler of timetables could probable devise one for Eastbourne, that gave the town, faster and better services to Brighton, Southampton and London.

Lewes And The Wealden Line

It is an aspiration of many to reinstate the Wealden Line, as a new route to London to take pressure off the Brighton Main Line.

In Musical Trains In Sussex, I gave my reasons for believing that the Uckfield Branch could be run using Class 387 IPEMUs.

I also believe that if the Wealden Line is reinsatated that it will use the same type of train.

Obviously, Network Rail and Southern, will make sure that the Wealden Line project doesn’t conflict with a desire to run fast trains along the South Coast.

Hove Station

Hove station is a busy one with up to eight services an hour passing through in both directions, to and from Victoria and Gatwick Airport as well as Brighton.

There were aspirations that in the future to add the London Bridge to Littlehampton via Hove service to Thameslink. The service would use the Cliftonville Curve to access the Brighton Main Line, as it does now.

This would give all stations on the West Coastway Line between Hove and Littlehampton, two trains per hour through to London Bridge and beyond

Except for the Future Developments section in the Wikipedia entry for Hove station, I can’t find any more about this proposal.

The Arundel Chord

One piece of infrastructural that gets mentioned is a chord at Arundel that would connect the West Coastway Line to the Arun Valley Line between Angmering and Ford stations.

If it were to be built, it would create another route between Brighton and Three Bridges using the eastern part of the West Coastway and the Arun Valley Line.

Westward From Littlehampton

My only experience of the western end of the West Coastway line, was missing a train and having to wait an hour on a freezing and deserted Bosham station for the next train.

The service could probably benefit from a rethink.

Brighton

Brighton is the major interchange between the two Coastway services and the Brighton Main Line with its Gatwick Express, Victoria and Thameslink services.

Brighton station certainly needs improvement to cope with the large increase in capacity to the city, that Thameslink and its new Class 700 trains will bring.

Each twelve-car Class 700 train, will have a capacity approaching 1,800 passengers and there will be four of these trains to and from Central London and beyond every hour.

Obviously, the trains won’t be full at Brightpon and not all passengers will be walking to and from the station, so there needs to be better connections to buses and the two Coastway Lines.

At present, it takes a few minutes and a platform change to pass through Brighton if you’re going between services at the station.

  • Brighton Main Line, Gatwick Express and Thameslink services.
  • East Coastway services
  • West Coastway services.
  • Great Western Railway services to the West.

The platform layout at Brighton doesn’t look as if it was designed to make train services for passengers and train companies efficient.

So surely, if Coastway services could be linked, so that they came into the station, set down and picked up passengers before going out in the other direction, this would be a more efficient way to organise trains at the station.

It would also make the interchange between Coastway and Brighton Main Line services easier and hopefully, just a walk across a platform.

A reorganised Brighton could probably contribute several minutes to the savings in journey times along the Coastway.

This Google Map shows Brighton station and the two Coastway Lines coming into the station.

Brighton Station And The Coastways

Brighton Station And The Coastways

I don’t think it would be an affordable or even a sensible solution, to combine the two Coastways together north of Brighton station.

The Wivelsfield Alternative

But Network Rail have come up with an alternative solution, so that the two Coastways can be connected together.

Just sixteen kilometres north of Brighton is Wivelsfield station. It is possible to access the East Coastway Line just south of the station at Keymer Junction, which unfortunately is not grade-separated and probably needs to be to improve Eastbourne services from Victoria.

Wikipedia has a section on the future of Wivelsfield station, which says this.

In Autumn 2015 Network Rail released the Sussex Area Route Study, where two options for the proposed grade separation of Keymer Junction are detailed, both of which would transform the station dramatically. Option 1 is the minimal option and creates a new platform 0 on the west side of the station served by a 3rd track from the new flyover line from Lewes. Option 2 is much more ambitious and builds on option 1 by adding an additional 4th platform on the east side of the station as well, served by a 4th track on the line to Lewes. Whilst this would enable each line to the south to have a dedicated platform the primary benefit would be that the existing platforms could be used to turn back trains in either direction as needed without blocking the main lines.

As services can access the West Coastway Line through the Cliftonville Tunnel to Hove, which is a couple of miles north of Brighton station, it would appear that the two Coastways could be connected, with a reverse at Wivelsfield.

The route would be.

This is not a complete solution, as there would have to be a way to get to Brighton station, by probably changing at Lewes, Wivelsfield or Hove.

A Brighton Metro

In a trip to Brighton, I travelled to Seaford using the East Coastway and the Seaford Branch. Even on a Sunday morning in February, the three-car Class 313 train was pretty full, especially around the University of Sussex at Falmer station.

So could the half-hourly Brighton-Seaford service be extended to the west of the City to perhaps Hove, Littlehampton or even Bognor Regis?

It would surely generate its own traffic across the city, which could help to reduce Brighton’s bad traffic jams. Stations could be.

I think if you can sort out Brighton station or create the Wivelsfield alternative, you could run a four trains per hour stopping service across the city for as far as you want.

Perhaps the slower stopping trains would go via Brighton and the semi-fast services would go via Wivelsfield.

It’s a problem, that I suspect Network Rail have thought through fully!

Train Movements At Brighton

The only problem would be that the combined Coastway Line would need to cross the throat of the station, probably in a flat junction.

Say the Joint Coastway Line had the following services at Brighton.

  • 2-4 trains per hour between Seaford and Littlehampton/Bognor, that would stop at all stations including Brighton.
  • 2-4 trains per hour between Ashford International and Portsmouth Harbour and/or Southampton Central, that would stop at major stations only.

These would come into a platform or platforms on the Eastern side of the station, which would mean any train going to or coming from the West Coastway, would have to cross the Brighton Main Line to London.

The services to and from London after Thameslink is fully opened could be.

  • 3 trains per hour to Victoria.
  • 4 trains per hour on Thameslink

I’m no signalling expert, but I do feel that much more onerous train movements are coped with in stations like Manchester Piccadilly, Paddington and Waterloo.

Note the four trains per hour frequency on Thameslink (two from Cambridge and two from Bedford) Surely, if Coastway services are four trains per hour, then all services should have a pattern, so journeys like Seaford to Cambridge, involved just a walk across a platform at Brighton.

I’m sure some clever train scheduler can come up with an optimal pattern of changing trains at Brighton, especially if some trains used the alternative route via Wivelsfield.

But my feeling is that as Brighton is such an important station, that all Coastway services must either terminate or stop in the station.

At least there does not appear to be significant freight running on the Coastways.

Capacity At Brighton Station

The Thameslink Program and its Class 700 trains, will probably increase passengers through Brighton station.

Knowing the quality of Network Rail’s passenger transport modelling, I would not bet against Thameslink being so successful between London and Brighton, that additional services have to be added.

As the Thameslink trains will be new and they serve lots of destinations in London and beyond, I think it is a given, that passengers from places like Eastbourne and Worthing, might use Thameslink instead of their local direct route, changing at either Brighton or Gatwick Airport.

Conclusions

Improvement of the Coastways, is just one part of an evolving plan for rail and air services in Kent, Surrey and Sussex.

As there are important lines in the area that are not electrified, I’m certain that IPEMUs will play a part in this development.

After all, the technology works and we will soon have lots of Class 387 trains sitting in sidings.

 

February 6, 2016 - Posted by | Travel | , , , , , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. […] I did say the following in Will Southern Create A South Coast Express Using IPEMUs?, about an electrified service on the Marshlink […]

    Pingback by Will We See IPEMUs In Hastings? « The Anonymous Widower | March 19, 2016 | Reply


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