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 | Travel | , ,

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