The Anonymous Widower

Why Can’t A Train Be More Like A Tram?

This is the title of a two-part article by Ian Walmsley in the May 2017 edition of Modern Railways.

Part 1 – How Hard Can It Be?

In the First Part, which is entitled How Hard Can It Be?, he contrasts tram operation with typical heavy rail operation.

He starts the First Part with this paragraph.

After a career in trains, I wish they could be more like trams, at least for the short-distance commuting market. Big windows, low-back seats, super-cool looking front ends, terrific acceleration and braking, all at half the price. Meanwhile commuter trains are bogged down with legislation, defensive driving and restrictive practice.

He also compares trams and heavy rail with the London Underground, which has the frequency and speed of a tram to get the needed capacity. This is another quote.

Heavy-rail’s answer to capacity is to take a few seats out or declassify a First Class compartment, going faster is too difficult.

These points are also made.

  • A turn-up-and-go frequency is made possible by a continuous stream of trams doing the same thing, uninterrupted by inter-city or freight intruders.
  • Frequent stops on a tram mean rapid acceleration is essential, so a high proportion of axles must be motored.
  • In many heavy rail services, the culture of caution has removed any urgency from the process.
  • Separation of light from heavy rail is essential for safety reasons.
  • Trams can take tight corners which helps system designers.
  • Trams save money by driving on sight.
  • Lots of safety regulations apply to heavy rail,but not trams.

He also uses a lot of pictures from the Bordeaux trams, which I wrote about in Bordeaux’s Trams. These trams run catenary-free in the City Centre.

High-Cacapity Cross-City Heavy Rail Lines

It is interesting to note that cross-city heavy rail lines are getting to the following ideals.

  • High frequency of upwards of sixteen trains per hour (tph).
  • High-capacity trains
  • Heavy-rail standards of train and safety.
  • Slightly lower levels of passenger comfort.
  • Step-free access.
  • Several stops in the City Centre.
  • Interchange with trams, metros and other heavy rail services.
  • Separation from freight services.
  • Separation from most inter-city services.

Have the best features of a tram line been added to heavy rail?

Worldwide, these lines include.

There are obviously others.

Crossrail with up to 30 tph, platform edge doors, fast stopping and accelerating Class 345 trains, and links to several main lines from London could become the world standard for this type of heavy rail link.

30 tph would be considered average for the London Underground and modern signalling improvements and faster stopping trains, will raise frequencies on these cross-city lines.

All of these lines have central tunnels, but this isn’t a prerequisite.

Manchester is achieving the same objective of a high-capacity cross-city rail link with the Ordsall Chord.

Part 2 – Tram-Train, Are You Sure You Really Wnt |To Do This?,

In the Second Part, which is entitled  Tram-Train, Are You Sure You Really Wnt |To Do This?,

Ian starts the Second Part with this paragraph.

Anyone with a professional interest in public transport must have been to Karlsruhe in Germany, or at least heard of it.

He then wittily describes an encounter with the diesel tram-train in Nordhausen, which I shall be visiting within a week or so.

He was not impressed!

I like the concept of a tram-train, where the same rail vehicle starts out in the suburbs or the next town as a train, goes through the City Centre as a tram and then goes to a destination on the other side of the city.

But you could also argue that Merseyrail’s Northern Line and London Underground’s Piccadilly and Central Lines achieve the same purpose, by running at all times as a rail line, with the centre section in a tunnel under the City.

The Sheffield Tram-Train Project

Ian then goes on to talk about the Sheffield Tram-Train Project. He says this about the route extension from Meadowhall to Rotherham.

This route extension runs just over three miles and after a series of delays, it will not open until 2018, 10 years, after the first proposal, six after the scheme approval. The cost is £58million. That’s 21 million Rotherham – Meadowhall single fares, for which the existing journey time is six minutes. Bargain.

He also says that because Nick Clegg was a Sheffield MP, the project should stay in Sheffield.

I will add some observations of my own on the Sheffield -Rotherham tram-train.

  • The Class 399 tram-train is a variant of the tram-trains used in Karlsruhe – Good
  • The route, doesn’t connect to Sheffield station – Bad
  • The frequency is only a miserly three tph – Bad
  • The route is too short – Bad

Hopefully, the bad points don’t result in a system that nobody wants.

The Expert View Of Rotherham’s Problems

There is an article in the Yorkshire Post, which is entitled Rotherham could get new rail station, which gives detail from a consutant’s report of how to improve services in the town.

  • Rotherham Parkgate station should be developed as an inter-regional station, at a cost of up to £53.2 million
  • Rotherham Central station would be be more about local services.
  • Rotherham should have one tph to Leeds and Manchester, three tph  to Doncaster and six tph to Sheffield.

The consultant’s estimate was that this investment could benefit the area by up to £100million.

Ian’s Conclusion

Ian says this and I am coming to agree with him.

I, like many others, have been a fan of tram-train, but a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

The more I think about it, the more I think trams and trains have their place and mixing them up is fraught with problems.

As I said earlier, I’m off to Karlsruhe ad I’ll see how they’re getting on with the enormous hole in their budget; the new tunnel on the Karleruhe Stadtbahn.

Imagine building a cut-and-cover down Oxford Street in London.

Train Like A Tram

Ian finishes with two further sections, the first of which is Train Like A Tram.

He says this.

Heavy rail needs to recaspture a sense of urgency and realise that more speed = more trains = more capacity. Risk analysis should allow the use of low-back seats and plastics; based on the lower average speeds. All axles need to be motored for tram-like acceleration and lots of regenerative braking.

I agree with what he says, but I’m surprised that he doesn’t mention Zwickau.

In that German town, an extension was built from the Hauptbahnhof to a new station in the town centre. I wrote about Zwickau’s unique system in Riding The Vogtlandbahn 

Standard two-car diesel multiple units, run alongside Zwickau’s trams on a dedicated route according to similar operational rules on the three kilometre route.

Surely, there is scope to do this in the UK, on existing and new branch lines or spurs.

  • The route must be short.
  • All stops would be built like tram stops.
  • Trains would be independently-powered by diesel, battery or fuel cell.
  • Signalling would be heavy-rail.

In my view this sort of system would be ideal for serving Glasgow, Leeds-Bradford and Liverpool Airports, where off main line running would be done across open country that could be appropriately fenced.

Tram Like A Train

Ian finishes his final section, where he talks about the likelihood of more tram-train systems following Sheffield, with this.

I suspect that the number of follow-on vehicles in the foreseeable future will be about the same as the number of battery EMUs based on the last research trial. 

Don’t feel too bad though; do we really want the national rail system full of 50 mph-limited trams?

I feel that Ian and myself would have different views about battery EMUs.

What Do You Do With A Problem Like Rotherham?

I mentioned a consultant’s report earlier and the easiest way to get their recommended frequency of trains through Rotherham would be to expand the electrification network, by wiring the following lines.

  • Sheffield to Doncaster
  • Leeds to Colton Junction
  • Leeds to Selby
  • Fitzwilliam to Sheffield

As some of these lines were built or rebuilt recently for the Selby Coalfield, I suspect electrification would be starting from decent documentatyion.

Until the electrification is complete Class 319 Flex trains could work the routes.

 

 

 

April 28, 2017 - Posted by | Travel | , , , , ,

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