The Anonymous Widower

The Great Sheffield Tram-Train Mystery

An article on the BBC web site is entitled Sheffield to Rotherham tram-train pilot delayed further.

The article says that a full review is taking place and a new start date will be announced in the summer.

On my recent trip to Karlsruhe, I rode the German version of the Class 399 tram-train and wrote The Latest Citylink Tram-Trains In Karlsruhe. I said this.

Note that the trams I photographed are only some of the latest batch of twenty-five tram-trains of this type in Karlsruhe. So the basis of the Class 399 tram-train, must surely be well-proven on the streets of a city about the same size as Sheffield.

Incidentally, all of the new tram-trains that I saw, were running on tram routes, just as the first Class 399 tram-trains will in Sheffield, when they start running in a few months.

If the second paragraph is right and all the Sheffield-style trams in Karlsruhe are running as trams, could there be a problem with operating them as trains?

I have no idea and this is just pure speculation.

However this page on a German web-site has pictures of the tram-trains of Karlsruhe. There are twenty-five of the latest Sheffield-style tram-trains delivered from 2014-2016.

But according to this article in Global Rail News, Karlsruhe has just ordered twelve additional Flexity tram-trains from Bombardier.

Is this that some routes can’t be worked by the Citylink and need the other type? Or is it because of a problem with the Citylink?

I don’t know!

But somebody, somewhere must know the truth!

As an engineer, it all puzzles me.

Karlsruhe have been running tram-trains for some years now and surely, the track design rules are pretty well-established. They’ve also been running the Sheffield-style trams for at least several months.

Surely, Network Rail’s engineers must have been to Karlsruhe and just copied, what the Germans are doing.

So why haven’t they got it right first time?

  • Not Invented Here?
  • Someone in the Department for Transport giving a new twist to EU regulations?
  • Refusal to talk to the Germans?

It could of course be sheer incompetence!

Another related mystery, is why are there no reports of the lone Class 399 tram-train in Sheffield testing on the existing track as a tram?

At great expense, all track in Sheffield has been changed to accept the wheel profile of a tram-train, so surely this new tram could at least be testing in the middle of the night!

Could it be that the tram-spotters of Sheffield, are lazy and don’t like getting up in the middle of the night to photograph tram movements?  But then there were pictures of night-time tram testing in Birmingham and Nottingham, so I have to conclude testing is not happening.


May 21, 2016 Posted by | Transport/Travel | , , , | 2 Comments

Summing Up Karlsruhe’s Tram-Trains

Karlsruhe invented the tram-train and running them under the Karlsruhe model.

It’s a bit like having a vehicle that can go anywhere in your city carrying a couple of hundred people, where there is a railway or tram track.

The only other vehicle that offers a similar flexibility is a bus, but buses are less eco-friendly and they are difficult to make all electric.

Karlsruhe incidentally, only seems to have a few buses and you will notice in Building A Tram-Train Tunnel In Karlruhe, how few cars and taxis there are. So are all the people on foot or in the tram-trains?

Surely, the great thing about a tram-train network like Karlsruhe, is that once the main tracks are laid and electrified, as they will be in Karlsruhe, once the tunnel is open, your biggest improvements come by adding more and better vehicles to the routes.

I went to Karlsruhe to see The Latest Citylink Tram-Trains In Karlsruhe, as they are similar to those being introduced in Sheffield.

According to this article in the Internation Railway Journal, the city has just ordered another twenty five of these tram-trains.

On return from Dubrovnik I found this article on Global Rail News, which says that they’ve also ordered another twelve Flexity Swift tram-trains from Bombardier.

If you want to see what a low-floor Flexity-Swift looks like, go to Croydon. I don’t think that the London Tramlink could use tram-trains, as all the rail lines in South London are third-rail, but don’t underestimate engineers. You probably couldn’t have the automatic voltage changeover that you get with overhead wires.

Both these batches are low-floor, so expect one of the developments over the next few years in Karlsruhe is that more trams become low-floor. Obviously, some stations won’t be able to be modified, so the network probably won’t become 100% low-floor.

Are Karlsruhe playing this network expansion in a very canny way?

They now have a specification for a vehicle than can work all lines in its network.

  • Dual voltage of 750 VDC and 15 kVAC.
  • Low floor or adapted to railway and tram stations.
  • A defined loading gauge.
  • A preferred seating layout.

It strikes me that there will be several manufacturers, who would like to supply Karlsruhe, as they obviously know what works, as they invented the standard.

Karlsruhe also has the advantage in that the tram-trains they don’t want probably have a good residual value, as if say a city wants to built a tram-train network, provided that they obey Karlsruhe’s rules, then the tram-trains can be delivered and after testing, start a service.

The only problem is that Germany’s non-standard 15 kVAC may need to be changed to perhaps 25 KVAC. But that would probably be more affordable than buying a whole fleet of new tram-trains.

May 21, 2016 Posted by | Transport/Travel | , , , | 1 Comment

Are Thameslink Doing Their Publicity Right?

In A Trip To Tattenham Corner, I wrote about the station and how when Thameslink is expanded, that it will have a two trains per hour service to Cambridge. I said this.

I do wonder if the team that decided that Cambridge would be the other end of the Thameslink service from Tattenham Corner were racing enthusiasts, but it will certainly come in handy for racing, as driving from Newmarket to Epsom is not that easy.

So it surprised me yesterday, that a friend, who lives near Tattenham Corner station, and has a cottage near Kings Lynn station, didn’t know about the upgrading of Thameslink.

He was rather pleased to learn that he could go between Tattenham Corner and Kings Lynn stations with the single change at Cambridge.

I suspect that Thameslink haven’t started publicising their new routes yet!

May 21, 2016 Posted by | Transport/Travel | , , | Leave a comment

Would A Sleeper Train Work Between London And Cologne?

In Disappointing Cologne, I said that if there was a sleeper train between London and Cologne, I’d use it.

  • Many passengers like quality sleeper trains.
  • Those like me, who do long journeys across Europe, often break the trip in as hotel. A sleeper would be a good alternative.
  • More and more people are avoiding flying.

I have used sleeper trains down from Scotland a few times. The Caledonian Sleeper is a civilised way to travel, which leaves late evening to come south, where you can get a decent snack and a good night’s sleep.

I last used a sleeper during the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, as it meant I arrived in London early in the morning and I didn’t have to spend a night in Glasgow, where hotel rooms were in short supply.

In the end, the cost of the First Class sleeper ticket, was less than I would have paid for something like a Premium Inn in Edinburgh, which was all that was available.

Sleeper trains in those circumstances are good value for money and you don’t waste time travelling during the day.

The Caledonian Sleeper is being given new carriages and a lot of promotion and I suspect in a few years time, it will be a thriving service.

On the other hand, I once took a sleeper from Munich to Paris, which was run by Deutsche Bahn. I wrote about it in The Sleeper From Munich To Paris.

Deutsche Bahn have decided to discontinue their sleeper trains, as they are not profitable. But given their legendary customer service, passengers have probably chosen other methods of travel.

I believe that if a sleeper was setup between London and Cologne, that run on similar principles to the Caledonian Sleeper or the Night Riviera, that it could work.


  • Cologne is a city of a million people in a region of three million.
  • Passengers arriving in Cologne could be in Frankfurt around 1000, Munich around 1100 and Berlin around 1200.
  • Passengers arriving in London could be in Birmingham before 0900, Cardiff before 1000 and Liverpool/Manchester before 1000.
  • Leaving late at night, must give a greater time to work or play.
  • If the new rolling stock for the Caledonian Sleeper is a success, I’m sure CAF would be happy to build some more!

The original plan for sleeper trains through the Channel Tunnel was too ambitious and relied on getting the regional business. I think that what is needed is a core route like London-Cologne, where the sleeper trains run, that uses the excellent high-speed services from the two end cities to connect onwards.

Surely, providing Customs and Immigration for a sleeper train would be a lot easier.

It would probably be easiest if they were done in London.

  • Outward to Cologne, changing to an onward service would be very easy in that station, after perhaps a passport check.
  • Inward to London, how many undesirables would use a sleeper train as a means of smuggling themselves or illicit goods into the UK.
  • A decent passport check by the Germans at Cologne would probably sort out the more blatant abuses.
  • After the atrocities in Brussels and Paris, I can’t believe that International travel checks won’t be tightened.

If London-Cologne could be made to work, would other core routes be viable?

They would probably need.

  • A destination station with lots of connections.
  • A journey time that would enable arrival in the destination early enough to catch important onward connections.
  • The city/area away from London must be able to provide good core business.

If we assume that passengers would want to be on their way from the destination at seven, then this would probably mean an arrival at five, so probably a six or seven hour journey time would be the maximum before it isn’t a viable option for passengers.

This would probably mean that Amsterdam, Frankfurt and Paris could be possible as destinations, but Munich and Geneva probably wouldn’t. Brussels would probably be ruled out, as Cologne would serve the same onward destinations better.

I think it is going to be interesting to see if and how this market develops.




May 21, 2016 Posted by | Transport/Travel | , | 2 Comments