The Anonymous Widower

Thoughts And Facts About Class 319 Flex Trains From Manchester And Blackburn Into The Hills

On Thursday and Friday last week, I spent two days in the Premier Inn at Blackburn and explored the rail lines around the town with journeys all over the area that should by now have been fully electrified.

Class 319 Flex Trains

The main reasons to go was to see some Friends In The North and to see Ipswich play at Barnsley, but I also wanted to explore some of the hilly routes in Lancashire.

Porterbrook in their brochure for the Class 319 Flex trains says that the objective for the train is that it can run from Manchester Piccadilly to Buxton on the Buxton Line, under the power that is available, which is electrification only as far as Hazel Grove station.

The Routes With Hills

There are three routes from Manchester and Blackburn that climb into the hills.

The lines are not for low-powered trains and the  current Class 150 or Class 156 trains struggled on the three climbs I did.

  • Hazel Grove to Buxton in the afternoon.
  • Blackburn to Clitheroe early in the morning.
  • Bolton to Blackburn, crush-loaded in the rush hour.

Someone told me, that leaf fall can be a problem in the Autumn.

In no particular, these are my thoughts and some facts from other sources and my observations.

Blackburn Depot

A conductor told me that Northern Rail will be creating a depot and basing train crew at Blackburn.

This article in the Lancashire Telegraph is entitled Multi-million pound train depot set for Blackburn.

This is said.

Blackburn is to get a new multi-million pound train depot as the latest stage of East Lancashire’s rail revolution.

The stabling, maintenance and cleaning centre will include an office block and new connection to the existing Bolton junction where the tracks to Preston and Darwen divide.

If as I believe the Class 319 Flex trains could serve Clitheroe/Hellifield and Colne, then it could be an ideal location. Especially, if the Clitheroe/Hellifield and Buxton services were run back-to-back across Manchester.

Double Track Most Of The Way

The three lines have the following track layouts.

  • The Ribble Valley Line has a large proportion of double track, which stretches to Hellifield.
  • The Buxton Line is double-track.
  • The East Lancashire Line is single-track from Rose Grove station to Colne station.

So hopefully, if two trains per hour (tph) were to be run on these three branches, passing would be possible.

Hellifield

Hellifield station is where the Ribble Valley Line connects to the Settle-Carlisle Line.

A conductor told me that he’d heard that Northern would like to serve Hellifield more regularly.

Since I first wrote this, I’ve heard that the tracki at Hellifield has been recently replaced and is in good condition.

Housing And Other Property Development

As I travelled along the lines to Clitheroe and Buxton, there was a lot of housing development along the line, at places like Clitheroe, Hazel Grove, Whalley to name just three.

The crowded trains I used in the Peak to Blackburn are going to carry even more passengers and the need for capacity with power on these lines will increase.

Tourism Issues

Buxton, Clitheroe Colne and Hellifield all have reasons for tourists and especially those that enjoy visiting the hills.

I have no figures to back it up, but I suspect leisure passengers often go loaded with children in buggies, bicycles and heavy rucksacks and cases. They certainly do in the Summer on the trains of East Anglia and that is flat.

Add in the weather forecast and the effects of new trains and at times, there could be a large increase in leisure and tourism-related travel.

If the trains connected the Settle and Carlisle Line at Hellifield to Blackburn, Manchester and perhaps Buxton, this would surely open up a tourist train route, that Doctor Beeching wouldn’t have thought was the least bit feasible.

Future Train Frequencies

Train frequencies to Manchester could possibly grow to the following.

  • Blackburn – 2 tph to Manchester Piccadilly
  • Blackburn – 2 tph to Manchester Victoria
  • Buxton – 2 tph
  • Clitheroe – 2 tph
  • Hazel Grove – 4 tph

In addition, the intersecting route from Blackpool South to Colne via Preston and Blackburn, could be running 2 tph.

I do suspect though, that 1 tph to and from Hellifield will be enough. But who knows? I could just be as wrong as Beeching.

The lines probably have a Peak problem, that is fairly unusual in the UK, but probably is common in countries with real mountains like Austria, Japan and Switzerland. One direction of Peak travel is downhill, but the other is up a very steep railway.

On train frequencies, this is said in the Wikipedia entry for the Ribble Valley Line.

A six-week engineering blockade saw the existing passing loop there extended by 1 mile (1.6 km) at each end and signalling improvements made to add capacity on the line and allow for service frequencies between Bolton & Blackburn to be doubled to two trains per hour each way throughout the day from December 2017.

Could this be why, Porterbrook are planning to deliver four refurbished Class 319 Flex trains by the end of 2017, according to their brochure?

Some powerful extra trains will probably be needed to achieve the objective of 2 tph to Blackburn and four Class 319 Flex will help.

Future Train Capacity

I did two journeys in the Peak to Blackburn; in the first I took the slower service via Todmorden and Burnley in a two-car train and in the second, I took the direct route via Bromley Cross, in a four-car formation.

The second was the most crowded, but it was Friday. It also struggled up the hill from Bolton to Blackburn.

Northern’s decision to go for a four-car Class 319 Flex train which could be used on some of these routes, is understandable.

Blackburn To Huddersfield

I travelled to Huddersfield station from Manchester Victoria and didn’t see any signs of electrification on this important route.

Returning to Blackburn from Huddersfield, my train was a direct service which travelled via Manchester Victoria, Bolton and Bromley Cross.

This would be an ideal service to run using a Class 319 Flex train, until Network Rail get their act together and electrify Manchester Victoria to Huddersfield. Even if they only get the wires as far as Stalybridge, the Class 319 Flex would be an enormous improvement compared to the asthmatic Class 156, that struggled with its full load of passengers to Blackburn.

The Calder Valley Line

The Calder Valley Line goes through very picturesque countryside between Preston and Leeds.

I think that full electrification of this line could never happen.

  • The line has large numbers of stone and brick viaducts and bridges, which would be very expensive to modify for electrification.
  • The station at Hebden Bridge is Grade II Listed.
  • There is electrification between Leeds and Bradford, which could probably be extended as far as Halifax.
  • Preston is fully electrified and affordable electrification to Blackburn or perhaps Rose Grove or Burnley Manchester Road stations should be possible.
  • Electrification to Rose Grove would mean that the service between Blackpool South and Colne could be run using electricity between Rose Grove and Kirkham and Wesham stations.

But the biggest problem would be the opposition to overhead gantries in the hills.

The distances are revealing.

  • Burnley to Halifax is just over twenty miles
  • Blackburn to Halifax is just over thirty miles.

If Halifax to Bradford wasn’t electrified then that adds another ten miles.

All distances would be within range of a modern bi-mode train, including a Class 319 Flex.

Other Destinations

From Hazel Grove, it is possible for diesel trains to access the Hope Valley Line towards Sheffield.

There must be stations on this line that are possible destinations for a Class 319 Flex train.

Chester and Windermere have also been mentioned as future destinations for the train.

Electrification

Electrification has been painfully slow in the North-West, as it has in most places in the UK.

It looks like that by the end of 2017, Manchester to Preston via Bolton and the Blackpool Branch to Blackpool North station will be electrified.

The advantage of the Class 319 Flex is that it can use this electrified set of lines to run services to stations like Barrow, Blackburn, Blackpool South, Burnley, Chester, Hebden Bridge, Sellafield and Windermere, that are off the electrified network in conjunction with the Class 319 trains.

The Need For A Train To Climb The Hills

From this brief analysis and my observations, it would seem that Northern need a few four-car trains with adequate power to get up the hills at a speed, that enables an efficient timetable. As some of the routes from Manchester Piccadilly and Victoria are electrified, the ideal train would need the capability to use the wires.

If ever, there was a series of routes that need a bi-mode train, then it is these routes.

The Class 319 Flex And The CAF Civity

The Class 319 Flex has according to the brochure I’ve seen been designed to run from Manchester to Buxton with a full load of passengers in the Peak or perhaps after a City-United Derby.

But Northern have ordered new CAF Civity trains in the following versions.

This is said in the Wikipedia entry for the Class 331 trains.

In early 2016 it was confirmed that Spanish rolling stock manufacturer CAF would construct the new electric powered trains which are planned to operate in West Yorkshire to replace Class 321 and Class 322 trains and work alongside the current fleet of Class 333 units. The four-car Class 331 units will be deployed on electrified services from Manchester Piccadilly to replace the Class 323 units which are due to return to Porterbrook at the end of their current lease in 2018.

So it would appear that the Class 319 trains will continue to operate for a few years yet! Hopefully with better seats, wi-fi and a few other smaller improvements.

I think that Northern have decided that until the Class 195 trains arrive that the Class 319 Flex trains are the best short-term solution. But given the overcrowding on the routes will the future three-car trains have enough capacity?

So I suspect, if Northern go the CAF Civity route, I feel that Northern will acquire some longer diesel trains or even some dual-power Civitys.

But at least running Class 319 Flex trains on the route will effectively produce the specification for these hilly routes.

 

 

March 13, 2017 - Posted by | Travel | , , , , , ,

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