The Anonymous Widower

Along The Felixstowe Branch

In the December Edition of Modern Railways magazine there is an article entitled Loop Planned For Felixstowe Branch.

The Proposal

To allow an increase in the numbers of freight trains on the line from 33 to 47 every day, Network Rail propose to do the following.

  • Create a 1.4 km loop at Trimley. Note that 775 metres is the maximum train length in the UK.
  • Close six level crossings
  • Create a bridge for a bridleway.

Network Rail hope that this will be sufficient for a few years, but in the future the aspiration is for double-tracking and electrification all the way between Felixstowe and Nuneaton.

I have flown my helicopter along the route and it is single track all the way between Westerfield and Trimley stations, with the exception of a passing loop East of the Spring Road Viaduct, which is centred on Derby Road station.

This Google Map shows the Branch Line East of Trimley station.

The Eastern End Of The Felixstowe Branch Line

The Eastern End Of The Felixstowe Branch Line

Trimley station is in the North West corner of the map, whilst Felixstowe station is in the South East corner.

Just before the level crossing at Trimley, the line splits into two and the two tracks run together for a time, before the Southern track branches off to the North Terminal at the Port of Felixstowe.

The other track then continues East  and splits with one branch going straight into Felixstowe station and the other going to the South Terminal at the Port.

All tracks are single track, except between Trimley station and the first junction.

The Intermediate Stations

I think it is probably true to say, that Westerfield, Derby Road and Trimley stations are one the worst run of three stations in the country.

In James Cook Station – The Reinvention Of The Halt, I talked about the new James Cook station, that serves Middlesborough Hospital. This station had 23,000 passengers in 2014/15, as against the 30,000 average for these three Suffolk stations in the same year.

I’m sure if they were of the same standard as James Cook station, they would see an increase in passengers.

This Google Map shows Westerfield station.

Westerfield Station

Westerfield Station

Note how the single-track Felixstowe Branch leaves the double-track East Suffolk Line to the East of the station.

A large housing development called Henley Gate, which is part of the Ipswich Garden Suburb could be built to the West of the station. This might be an opportunity to improve the station and the level crossing. This web page on the Ipswich Borough Council web site, shows a map and a few details.

If the thousand houses promised for the site are built, I’m sure Westerfield station could be one that attracted a few more passengers, who cycled to the station.

According to Wikpedia, this Derby Road station used to be a lot busier. This is said.

People living on the eastern side of the town generally preferred to use Derby Road when travelling to Felixstowe and the station could be very busy on sunny weekends with day trippers to Felixstowe Beach and Felixstowe Pier stations. They could reach the station on the Ipswich Tramway which terminated outside the station entrance.

But this Google Map, of the area round the station show that it surrounded by housing.

Around Derby Road Station

Around Derby Road Station

The station is at the South West corner of the map, with The Ipswich Hospital is at the North East corner of this map. I ask these questions.

  • Is there a shuttle bus between the station and the hospital?
  • Is there secure bicycle parking at Derby Road station?
  • Could it be that if a decent train with greater capacity and perhaps better provision for bicycles and buggies ran through the station, that there could be an increase in passengers?

From what I’ve seen of the station, it’s suffering from Abellio’s Managed-from-Norwich Syndrome, which a lot of stations in East London did, until placed under the control of Transport for London.

The next station after Derby Road used to be Orwell station, which served the villages of Orwell and Nacton.

At some point in the future, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a station between Derby Road and Trimley, either inside or outside of the A14.

Trimley station is virtually derelict, but there are plans to convert it for community use.

I believe, all the intermediate stations on this line could have a future. Factors involved could be.

  • Nearby housing and/or commercial development.
  • Cycle-and-Ride passengers.
  • A decent train to Ipswich and Felixstowe, with plenty of space for bicycles and buggies.
  • A reliable clock-face hourly service.
  • Easy connection to Long distance trains at Ipswich station.
  • A cafe or coffee kiosk

Passengers, who are going to work, need a service that is totally reliable, and this service has suffered in the past few years.

Dualling The Line

If my virtual helicopter ride, showed one thing, it was that there are wide margins around the current single track from Derby Road to Trimley, which hopefully would make installation of a second track reasonably straghtforward.

However, I did count six level crossings with barriers and what looked like five crossing points without. All will have to be upgraded for the second track or removed.

It is interesting to see, that Network Rail are proposing to close six crossings in their current plan, so is this to get rid of one of the major problems of the dualling early?

Perhaps, they have decided that removing six level crossings and dualling the line at the same time, would raise too many simultaneous problems for their legal department. But doing the level crossings first with a less ambitious dualling is less likely to be challenged.

The other big problem could be widening the bridge over the A14 dual-carriageway.

This Google Map shows the bridge.

The Felixstowe Branch Line Crosses The A14

The Felixstowe Branch Line Crosses The A14

But it looks to me, that everything is there to just slip in a second span.

So that could be at least future-proofed!

Where Is The Proposed Dualling?

According to the article in Modern Railways, the loop at Trimley is 1.4 km. long.

My estimate is that the distance between the two junctions, where the two branches go off to the Port of Felixstowe, is about this distance.

So could it be, that the loop is not for freight trains, but to allow the passenger trains to access Felixstowe station?

  • The Northern track would be bi-directional and connect Trimley and Felixstowe stations and would be for exclusive use of passenger trains.
  • The Southern track would be bi-directional and connect Trimley station to both the lines to the Port of Felixstowe and would be for exclusive use of trains to and from the Port.
  • At night, the track could be configured, so that two bi-directional tracks, that joined just to the West of Trimley station, went to each freight terminal The Northern track would serve the South Terminal and the Southern Track would serve the North Terminal.

The Port of Felixstowe has argued at times, that the Felixstowe Branch Line should be freight-only. Is this Network Rail’s proposal to create two separate freight and passenger lines using the same track?

From my observations at Ipswich that I wrote about in Curious Rail Construction At Ipswich Station, I am convinced that they have simplified track layout around Ipswich Freight Yard, so that freight and passenger trains, don’t conflict with each other at Ipswich.

So does this proposal remove conflicts at Felixstowe?

I think it does.

After the proposed loop is built, the line will be effectively in three sections.

  • A core line between Westerfield and Trimley stations with the existing passing loop at Derby Road.
  • At the Felixstowe end, there will effectively be separate lines into Felixstowe station, and the North and South Freight Terninals.
  • At the Ipswich end, there will be separate lines into Platforms 0 and 1 at Ipswich station, Ipswich Freight Yard and to both directions on the Great Eastern Main Line.
  • All of the connecting end lines would work with the simple rule of only allowing one train on the line at any one time.

At Felixstowe, freight trains might even be paired with one going into the North Terminal at the same time as one came out of the South Terminal. And vice-versa!

The train coming out, would wait at a signal before the junction for its branch and then when the other train had cleared the other junction going into the Port, it would be allowed to proceed through Trimley.

At night, trains could also be assembled as flights, so that several trains came in and out of the port in a stream. The reorganised Ipswich Yard must help in this.

As the new passenger trains will be somewhat faster than the current Class 153 trains and will be able to get away from stations quicker, I wonder if the timings will be such that two trains per hour might be possible.

These are current timings between Westerfield and Trimley in the core section.

  • Passenger train – 14 minutes
  • Freight train – 16 minutes

As trains don’t conflict on the double-track outer sections and have their own separate routes, it should be possible to have one 14 minute passenger and one 16 minute freight cycle in every half-hour, provided the trains pass at Derby Road.

With faster trains, fitting in two passenger trains and two freight trains in both directions in every hour might well be possible.

But you also have to content with other services on the East Suffolk Line  and other constraints, so I suspect that by being extremely thorough and downright devious, that the published figure of 47 trains a day is very feasible. And feasible when running two tph between Ipswich and Felixstowe!

Two passenger trains would be needed for the service.

Higher Speed Between Westerfield And Trimley

Once all the improvements at the two ends of the line are complete, the major constraint on capacity on the line is the time a train takes between Westerfield and Trimley.

The line is configured for 75 mph, but I wonder what sort of speed could be reached could be attained safely on the line between Westerfield and Trimley, with the following.

  • Removal of level crossings
  • Improved signalling.
  • Some minor track improvements.

It should be born in mind that there are no junctions from where the Felixstowe Branch leaves the East Suffolk Line at Westerfield and Trimley.

The speed limit would then probably be set by the maximum speed over the Spring Road Viaduct.

The distance between Westerfield and Trimley is almost exactly 10.5 miles.

This means that the freight train averages about 40 mph and the passenger train a miserly 45 mph.

So what sort of speeds can the various trains achieve.

  • Class 153 – 75 mph
  • Class 170 – 100 mph
  • Class 66 – 65/75 mph
  • Class 67 – 125 mph
  • Class 68 – 100 mph
  • Class 70 – 75 mph
  • Class 88 – 100 mph

It could be that the slow speed of the Class 66 locomotives are one of the constraints on the line, as timings must assume that locomotives could be the 65 mph variant.

If it were possible to raise the line speed to 90 mph, it could reduce timings on the line between Westerfield and Trimley.

These figures certainly show, why Network Rail are so keen to remove the level crossings on the line.

I suspect that suitable trains and locomotives could reduce times as follows if the line had a 90 mph limit.

  • Freight – 13 from 16 minutes.
  • Passenger – 12 from 14 minutes.

It might only save a couple of minutes with my crude estimate, but it certainly shows there are savings to be made by upgrading the line and using modern trains and locomotives.

Class 66 Locomotives

I don’t like Class 66 Locomotives and have believed for some time, that they have little place on the electrified lines in built-up areas. I wrote The Noisy Class 66 Locomotive on the subject a couple of years ago.

My crude analysis in the previous section shows that their slow speed actually cuts capacity.

Freightliner are one of the big operators of |Class 66 locomotives to and from the Port of Felixstowe. Wikipedia has a section on Class 66 Locomotives operated by Freightliner.

This is said.

Freightliner followed EWS by initially ordering five new Class 66/5 locomotives, and have continued to order in small batches. As of summer 2010, the 66/5 fleet had reached 98 examples; 66521 was withdrawn after the 2001 crash at Great Heck and later scrapped.

In 2000 a new Class 66/6 sub-class was built, with a lower gear ratio, enabling heavier trains to be hauled, albeit at slower speed. There are presently 25 examples of this class, numbered 66601-625. Some of these locomotives have since been exported for use with Freightliner Poland.

As freight trains are getting longer, it would appear that the slow 66/6 locomotives should be removed from this route as their 65 mph maximum speed is a constraint on maximising traffic between Westerfield and Trimley.


Electrification is often talked about with respect to the Felixstowe Branch.

Reasons in favour include.

  • Freight trains going to and from London could be electric hauled.
  • Engine changes at Ipswich Yard would be minimised.
  • Electric haulage is more environmentally friendly.

But there are powerful reasons not in favour.

  • Cranes in a Port and 25kV overhead wires are bad bedfellows.
  • If the Class 88 Locomotive and other electro-diesel types are a success, they are probably more affordable than electrification.
  • Passenger services in the near future will be run by trains with an on-board power source; diesel, bi-mode or battery.
  • The main route to the Midlands via Peterborough and Nuneaton is not electrified.

But above all we seem so bad at electrification, the risk in wiring the line is too great.

I don’t think it is likely that the Felixstowe Branch will be electrified until the whole route to the Midlands is wired.


November 27, 2016 - Posted by | Travel | , ,

1 Comment »

  1. […] In Along The Felixstowe Branch, I said that the number of trains on the Felixstowe Branch could rise to 47. Not all will come through Ely station, but there could be a couple of long container trains in both direction every hour. […]

    Pingback by Are The Trains In Ely Finally To Be Sorted? « The Anonymous Widower | January 28, 2017 | Reply

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