The Anonymous Widower

Flex… and flexibility

This is the title of an article in Rail Magazine, which is an interview with Helen Simpson and Mark Isbern of Porterbrook.

There is a lot of information about why Porterbrook went the hybrid route rather than batteries.

These are some of facts disclosed.

  • Manchester Piccadilly to Buxton was chosen as the test route as it uphill all the way with 12 stops.
  • They have simulated running on routes on Great Western, London Midland and in Wales.
  • The Flex technique could be applied to other EMUs such as Electrostars.
  • Top speed is 100 mph under the wires and 91-92 mph when running on diesel.
  • Conversion takes between four and six weeks.
  • Most of the changes are in the driving vehicles.
  • Porterbrook are converting an initial batch of eight trains and that they will be based on the Class 319/4 version of the train.

Above all the air of professionalism, that I felt from the advance brochure they sent me, has been maintained.

I am impressed.

These are my thoughts.

The Conversion Process

The conversion process appears to be designed for simplicity and a fair bit of throughput.

  • The starting point appears to be a  Class 319 train, updated with the required interior and paintjob by Knorr-Bremse at Wolverton.
  • Existing Northern trains could also be converted.
  • Engine rafts will be assembled and tested in advance.
  • Engine rafts and other equipment are fitted to the driving cars.

My project management knowledge, leads me to feel this is a well-designed production process.

As there are 86 Class 319 trains in total, if the orders roll in, production should run smoothly.

It’s also not as if, everybody’s working on a train they don’t know well.

The Initial Eight Trains

It would appear that four trains are to be delivered by the end of December 2017. After that, at 4-6 weeks a train, the other four should be delivered in time for the May 2018 timetable change.

When I wrote Why Not Buxton To Hellifield?, I calculated that to run an hourly service between Buxton and Clitheroe would need four trains and a half-hourly service would need eight trains.

It’s not that this Buxton to Clitheroe service will be run, but running intensive services on stiff routes needs a lot of trains.

Now, if the trains do what the specification says in practice, as they do on the computer, I can see a situation, where Northern and its drivers will be able to use these trains on more and more of Northern’s numerous partly-electrified routes.

So if it all works out, I can see more trains being converted!

But if the conversion process is well-planned, that won’t be a problem.

The 91-92 mph Speed On Diesel

This surprised me, but it is significant.

My trip from Huddersfield to Blackburn in the Peak on Friday wasn’t the best of trips.

  • The Class 156 train was severely asthmatic.
  • Half the four-car unit was unserviceable.
  • The train was full to bursting.

It gave me the impression that the train needed a major refurbishment.

The Class 156 train is a 75 mph train and if the Class 319 Flex can do over 90 mph on diesel, it would be an obvious train, with which to run services like Huddersfield to Blackburn.

Class 185 Replacement

Northern currently hire four Class 185 trains from TransPennine for the following routes.

  • Manchester Airport to Blackpool North
  • Manchester Airport to Barrow in Furness
  • Oxenholme to Windermere

The sub-lease runs out in December 2017.

If things work out as planned and the Blackpool Branch is electrified, then Manchester Airport to Blackpool North could be worked by an electric Class 319 train.

If the wires don’t get switched on, then like the other two routes, Class 319 Flex trains will be needed.

It will be interesting to see how a Class 319 Flex performs against a Class 185 on these routes, as they are both 100 mph trains, where there is electrification.




March 14, 2017 Posted by | Transport | , , | Leave a comment

From Tottenham Hale To Northumberland Park

I wanted to see if I could see any more of the works to create STAR, so I walked between Tottenham Hale and Northumberland Park stations.

I first crossed the railway on the road bridge and then used a footbridge to cross back again.

The Google Map show the area.


  • The footbridge crosses the road and the various railway lines at the top of the map. The blue dot at its Eastern End is a bus stop.
  • STAR will run on the Eastern side of the railway, in the space, which looks green on this map.
  • Northumberland Park is the next station to the North
  • Tottenham Hale is the next station to the South.

The map shows it is a tight space to thread a railway.


March 14, 2017 Posted by | Transport | , , | 1 Comment

A Neat Seat

These pictures show some seats  by Vauxhall Bridge, as part of a new development.

The idea is so brilliant and probably affordable, I’m surprised I haven’t seen something like it before.

March 14, 2017 Posted by | World | , | Leave a comment

My Meter Installation

This may seem an odd post, but I want to have the pictures easily available, as fitting a smart meter to my house seems to be an obstacle course.

Let’s hope it means, that I don’t take any more pictures!



March 14, 2017 Posted by | World | , , | Leave a comment

Why Not Buxton To Hellifield?

Hellifield station, which connects to the Settle and Carlisle Line, is the Northernmost station on the Ribble Valley Line from Manchester and Blackburn.

I’ve not been there, as you need to get there from Blackburn on a Sunday, but surely, as a conductor told me, Northern Rail should provide a service seven days a week.

The Track To Hellifield

This is an extract from an e-mail from Ribble Valley Rail.

The line north of Clitheroe to Hellifield is entirely double track (in use) with a double track junction on to the S&C line at Hellifield South Junction at the south end of the station.  Approximately 19 sets of points and a large amount of trackwork were renewed at Hellifield a few years ago.

They also said, that there is one small addition, they would make at Hellifield, but if services to Hellifield get a lot more numerous, I’m sure Network Rail would do what is necessary.

As the line is double-track from Blackburn to Hellifield, this would mean that running more trains on the line is determined by the number of passengers and the revenue and profit generated, rather than some quirky passing loop by a level crossing or some of British Rail’s pitiful attempts to save money.

Blackburn to Hellifield is a real railway.

Platform Lengths

The e-mail from Ribble Valley Rail, also said this about platform lengths.

All Ribble Valley intermediate stations were lengthened a few years ago and can now accommodate 4-car class 150s which now operate quite regularly, especially on Sundays.    4-car class 156 do overhang and involve locking some doors out-of-use until Blackburn or Clitheroe.

So how long is a four-car formation of the various trains?

I included the Class 172, as it’s a typical modern diesel multiple unit.

So Porterbrook’s new train has an advantage in that British Rail made the Bedpan Specials, a little bit shorter, to save steel and other materials.

I’ve just received another e-mail where this is said.

Despite the lengthening of the Ribble Valley line intermediate stations, because of various constraints with adjacent bridges they have finished up different lengths.  The shortest is the Down platform at Ramsgreave & Wilpshire which I am told is79 m.  However a 4-car class 150  does fit on with careful stopping, all doors on the platform and only a slight overhang of the train at each end.

Look at this picture of a Class 319 train.

The end passenger doors would appear to be several metres back, so the train fits a platform, that is a few metres shorter than the train. Was this British Rail’s solution to the non-invention of selective door opening?

Health and safety might want a little fence on the platform, but it looks like the Class 319 trains were designed so that British Rail could get away without lengthening platforms on Thameslink.

Current Timings On The Route

These are timings of the various sections of the whole route from Buxton to Hellifield.

  • Buxton to Hazel Grove (up) – 37 minutes
  • Hazel Grove to Buxton (down) – 33 minutes
  • Hazel Grove to Stockport – 9 minutes
  • Stockport to Bolton – 48 minutes
  • Stockport to Manchester Piccadilly – 22 minutes for a Hazel Grove to Blackpool North train via Bolton
  • Stockport to Manchester Piccadilly (fastest) – 9 minutes
  • Bolton to Manchester Piccadilly (fastest) – 22 minutes
  • Bolton to Blackburn (up) – 29 minutes
  • Blackburn to Bolton (down) – 26 minutes.
  • Blackburn to Clitheroe (up) – 26 minutes
  • Clitheroe to Blackburn (down) – 23 minutes
  • Clitheroe to Hellifield (up) – 25 minutes
  • Hellifield to Clitheroe (down) – 11 minutes

Note the differences between up and down times.

Based on these timings, I reckon that these timings are possible now with a Class 150 or Class 156 train.

  • Buxton to Blackburn – 102 minutes
  • Blackburn to Buxton – 103 minutes
  • Buxton to Clitheroe – 128 minutes
  • Clitheroe to Buxton – 126 minutes
  • Buxton to Hellifield – 153 minutes
  • Hellifield to Buxton – 137 minutes

This would give round trip times something like these.

  • Buxton to Hellifield – 290 minutes
  • Buxton to Clitheroe – 254 minutes
  • Buxton to Blackburn – 205 minutes

Obviously, the two turnround times would have to be added.

But various factors would reduce the times, if a Class 319 Flex were to be used from December 2017.

  • The route will be fully electrified between Bolton and Hazel Grove stations.
  • Two trains per hour will be possible between Bolton and Blackburn from December 2017.
  • The Class 319 Flex is a 100 mph train.
  • As the Class 319 Flex has been optimised to climb the hills, it must be faster on the uphill sections.
  • Drivers have told me, that the Class 319 train has excellent brakes, so they may be faster coming down.

The Bolton to Hazel Grove route is currently timetabled at 48 minutes. But surely a 100 mph electric train can knock quite a few minutes off that, when the route is fully electrified.

If this section could be done in thirty minutes, which I suspect is possible, this brings the round trip times down as follows.

  • Buxton to Hellifield – 254 minutes
  • Buxton to Clitheroe – 218 minutes
  • Buxton to Blackburn – 169 minutes

In some ways the interesting one is the round trip from Buxton to Clitheroe, which allowing ten minutes for each turnround at Clitheroe and Buxton means that the round trip is under four hours.

This means that an hourly Buxton to Clitheroe service would need four trains and two trains per hour would need eight trains.

The Blackburn Service From December 11th 2017

On this day Northern  introduced two trains per hour between Manchester Victoria and Blackburn along the Ribble Valley Line, with one train per hour exytending to Clitheroe.

If the service went to Buxton instead of Manchester Victoria, I think this service would require seven trains. If the Clitheroe service was extended to Hellifield, that would need another two trains.


I wonder when the real timings are obtained using Class 319 Flex trains, what cunning plan Northern Rail will come up with, to satisfy their passengers, staff and profits.

Marketing says that running between Hellifield and Buxton on a 24/7 basis, even at one train every two hours could be a very popular route.

March 14, 2017 Posted by | Transport | , , , | 3 Comments