The Anonymous Widower

What A Fine Mess Thameslink And The Midland Main Line Is In

This article is prompted by an article in the May 2017 Edition of Modern Railways, which is entitled Crunch Time Nearing For MML Thameslink Timetable.

The author of the report; the respected Roger Ford, explains the problems of getting a timetable that is acceptable to a number of parties.

Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) want to do the following.

  • Run 20 trains per hour (tph) through the central core of Thameslink by May 2018.
  • Run 24 trains per hour (tph) through the central core of Thameslink by December 2018.
  • Run eight, four and four tph respectively to Bedford, Luton and St. Albans.

East Midlands Trains (EMT) and/or their successor, want to do the following.

  • Run their current diesel services.
  • EMT want to run new new electric services to Kettering and Corby.
  • EMT want to run 6 tph at 125 mph into St. Pancras.

And both companies will have to satisfy the politicians.

Network Rail’s original plan is described under Political Developments in the Thameslink entry in Wikipedia. This is said.

Network Rail had planned to terminate Sutton Loop Thameslink trains at Blackfriars station, rather than have them continue through central London as at present. This would increase the capacity of the central core as the Sutton Loop could only accommodate shorter trains. This upset many residents in South London and their local politicians, who saw it as a reduction in services rather than an improvement. In response to pressure, government has ordered Network Rail to reverse the decision.

It is an awful lot of trains to squeeze into the Midland Main Line.

Some improvements were planned to help with the capacity North of Bedford.

  • A fourth track between Bedford and Kettering/Corby.
  • !25 mph electrification.

Both these should happen, but the electrification South of Bedford will only be 100 mph capable and there is no date for its upgrade.

So it looks like we have the classic pint pot and everybody is trying to put a quart in it.

Roger points out that the knock-on delays for a late train, could be horrendous and felt all over the North, with several minute increases in journey times to Sheffield and Nottingham.

Roger does highlight a couple of solutions.

Turning Thameslink Services At Kentish Town

The first Roger Ford outlines is to turn some services from the South at Kentish Town.

  • ,There is stabling capacity.
  • EMT might take over some of the fast outer-suburban commuter services.
  • There is a good connection to the Northern Line, which will have an increased capacity in a couple of years.

Perhaps too, a connection could be made with the Gospel Oak to Barking Line at West Hampstead Thameslink and Tufnell Park to improve connectivity.

But would the politicians accept a solution like this?

Has Thameslink Got The Wrong Length Of Trains?

If you look at some recent train orders, they seem to suggest a train and a half-train philosophy.

  • GWR’s order for Class 80x trains.
  • VTEC’s order for Class 80x trains.
  • Greater Anglia’s order for Aventras.
  • SWT’s order for Class 707 trains.

In all these orders, it would appear that two half-trains are used to create a full train, when needed. This coupling and uncoupling is done throughout the day and often on an automatic basis.

But Thameslink’s Class 700 trains only come in lengths of eight and twelve cars.

The eight-car train is needed for short platforms on the Sutton Loop Line.

But eight-car trains have disadvantages compared to say a six-car train.

  • two trains can’t be joined together to make a long train.
  • An eight-car train uses one of the valuable twenty-four hourly paths through the central core of Thameslink, just as a twelve-car train does.

The train length is patently inefficient.

The Sutton Loop Line could be run by using six-car trains that split and join at Streatham station.

Splitting Regional Services With A Change Of Train

This diagram from the Wikipedia entry for East Midlands Trains shows the company’s routes.

I can’t see that expecting passengers to change trains on a journey say between London and Sheffield  would be welcomed by everyone.

Electrification To Leicester, Derby And Nottingham

This section is an aside, but I think that it could be the key to solving the capacity problem.

Electrification to these three cities, shouldn’t be a problem other than the usual one of Network Rail’s competence and it could be completed by 2023, which would include Sheffield.

However, there is a serious problem with electrification between Derby and Sheffield, in that the line goes through the World Heritage Site of the Derwent Valley Mills.

But there is an alternative plan, which is to electrify the Erewash Valley Line, which avoids the World Heritage Site and provides a more direct and possibly faster  route between London and Sheffield.

Under Future in the Wikipedia entry for the Erewash Valley Line, this is said.

Network Rail as part of a £250 million investment in the regions railways has proposed improvements to the junctions at each end, resignalling throughout, and a new East Midlands Control Centre.[1]

As well as renewing the signalling, three junctions at Trowell, Ironville and Codnor Park will be redesigned and rebuilt. Since the existing Midland Main Line from Derby through the Derwent Valley has a number of tunnels and cuttings which are listed buildings and it is a World Heritage Area, it seems that the Erewash line is ripe for expansion. As the new signalling is rolled out, train detection is moving away from the traditional Track circuit detection of trains to Axle counting.

I hope all of the work done on the Erewash Valley Line has made sure that whenh they do electrify the line, the bridges are high enough and the signalling cables are well out of the way.

As the East Midlands Hub station for HS2 will be close to Toton TMD on the Erewash Valley Line and would open in 2032/3, it strikes me that it would be sensible to plan electrification of the Midland Main Line and HS2 together.

Bring On The Bi-Modes

Roger Ford dismisses the bi-modes in strong words.

A bi-mode doesn’t really work on the high-speed main line.

Under the wires it is a very heavy EMU, while under diesel power it is an underpowered DEMU. Just consider the roles on the MML. From London to Bedford it would need to run as a 125 mph diesel. From Bedford to Kettering the pantograph would go up for some 125 mph running. And after that it would go back to diesel. So why bother with the electric traction?

I would agree with that, but the Class 80x bi-modes may have other characteristics, that could get the timetable out of trouble.

The current hourly timetable out of St. Pancras  is as follows.

  • XX:00 – Corby, stopping at Luton, Bedford, Wellingborough and Kettering.
  • XX:15 – Nottingham, stopping at Market Harborough, Leicester and East Midlands Parkway
  • XX:26 – Sheffield, stopping at Leicester, Loughborough, East Midlands Parkway, Long Eaton, Derby, Chesterfield
  • XX:29 – Nottingham, stopping at Luton Airport Parkway, Bedford, Wellingborough, Kettering, Market Harborough, Leicester, Loughborough, Beeston
  • XX:58 – Sheffield, stopping at Leicester, Derby, Chesterfield

When Bedford to Corby is electrified, there will be another path.

Note that all the paths except those to Corby go through Leicester.

Currently the services are run by a mixture of 27 x Class 222 trains of 4, 5 and 7 cars and 12 x InterCity 125s of a 2×8 formation.

I said that the Class 80x trains may have other characteristics, that could get the timetable out of trouble.

One is that, two closely-related Class 395 trains can automatically couple and uncouple in under a minute, so I suspect that the Class 80x trains will have the same capability.

So supposing a pair of Class 80x trains ran from St. Pancras to either Bedford, Kettering or Leicester, where they would divide, with each train going to a separate destination.

This would mean that six paths would give twelve services to each of three destinations, Corby, Nottingham and Sheffield via Derby and Chesterfield.

EMT could balance the number of trains with their passenger statistics and could extend services from Corby, Nottingham and Sheffield, as they felt appropriate.

Modern trains would also be able to execute stops quicker than the current Class 222 trains and Inter\City125s.

So could extra stops be introduced South of Bedford to enable Thameslink services to be simplified and thinned out?


These may be consequences.

  • Four tph might be able to call at Luton Airport Parkway and East Midlands Parkway.
  • Sheffield and Nottingham might get marginally slower services, but they could get four tph.
  • All EMT might stop at Bedford, to enable Thameslink services to Bedford to be reduced from 8 tph to 4 tph.
  • Two tph between Sheffield and London might use the Erewash Valley Line and stop at Alfreton and Ilkeston.

There’s an optimal solution in there somewhere.


May 14, 2017 - Posted by | Transport | , , , ,

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