The Anonymous Widower

Is Electrification Of The Windermere Branch Line Really Necessary?

In the June 2017 Edition of Modern Railways, there is an article, which is entitled Windermere Could Pioneer Bridge Lifts.

This is the first paragraph.

An innovative method for increasing clearances for the installation of overhead electric lines could be used for the first time on the Windermere line.

On the Windermere Branch Line, four masonry bridges will need to be raised.

I wrote about the technique in Levitation Magic.

Improving the service to Windermere station on the Windermere Branch is a complex problem.

Currently,  the service to Oxenholme station is roughly hourly and seems to take between 17-22 minutes each way. So a round trip to Oxenholme must take about forty minutes.

The service is not clock-face and I believe that in an ideal world, it should be two trains per hour (tph) What would services every thirty minutes do for tourism to the area?

The extract from the Wikipedia entry for the Windermere Branch explains the operation of the branch.

There are no passing loops or sidings anywhere on the route (all the stations bar Oxenholme have just one operational platform) and it is operated under “One Train Working with Train Staff” regulations with only one train allowed on the line at any time. Entry to and exit from the branch is controlled by the signalling centre at Carlisle and before a service can proceed beyond the branch platform at Oxenholme, the driver must collect the train staff from a cabinet on the platform, which is electrically released by the Carlisle signaller. Once the train has made its journey to the terminus and back again, the staff must be returned to the cabinet before the train can either leave for the south or make another return trip along the single line.

As only one train is allowed on the line at any one time, it means that a train needs to be able to go from Oxenholme and back in under thirty minutes for a two tph service.

  • The branch line is ten miles long.
  • There are two intermediate stops on the line.
  • There are three level crossings on the line.
  • Currently, there is a time allowance of 5-6 minutes to turn the train at Windermere.
  • Passengers on this type of line don’t travel light and stops will be slow.

In the title of this post, I asked if electrification was really necessary.

Reasons for electrifying a line are many and varied.

  • Increased line speed.
  • Reducing carbon emissions – Compared to other lines, this is probably less important if the trains meet the latest emission standards.
  • Overall efficiency of the railway.
  • Difficult terrain.
  • Political reasons – The line is in Tim Farron’s constituency.
  • Heavy freight use – There is little.
  • Express trains – There are none.

On the other hand, there are various lobbies against the visual intrusion of electrification in parts of the country.

  • Electrification might help on the Winderemere Branch, but the scheduled train times from Oxenholme to Windermere are very slow, when you compare the branch to others of a similar length.
  • The average speed on the generally flat Felixstowe Branch Line is 45 mph including stops, whereas the average on the Windermere Branch is just 30 mph.
  • Is this just the terrain, where Oxenholme is sixty metres higher than Windermere?
  • And how do the level crossings affect train speeds and times?

So perhaps the alternative solution to electrification, for a better service, is a train with more grunt, that’s designed for climbing gradients with a full passenger load.

Incidentally, the downhill journey seems to be a minute or two slower, so the train had better have good brakes.

The Windermere Branch And The Class 319 Flex Train

The Class 319 Flex train has been designed around the very stiff Manchester to Buxton Line.

So it certainly has bags of grunt and drivers tell me, that the brakes on a Class 319 train are superb.

It is an electro-diesel train and it will be interesting to see, how these trains perform on the Windermere Branch Line.

I can’t believe that Northern won’t try their new toys out on the route, especially as they can mix it with the fast boys on the West Coast Main Line.

But there are other things that can be done to decrease the journey times on this line.

  • Make the train-platform interface as step-free as possible.
  • Increase the number of staff on station platforms to speed loading and unloading.
  • Make sure passengers in wheelchairs can get on and off easily.
  • Remove the level crossings.
  • Install a modern signalling system.
  • Install the best information systems on both trains and stations.

I also wonder if a train with a driver in each cab can save a couple of minutes in the reverse at Windermere.

In the arguments over Driver Only Operation, this method of operating a shuttle train seems to have been forgotten.

If you look at the power and weight of trains that might work the Windermere Branch, some are pretty asthmatic, but as the Class 319 Flex train was designed for this type of line, it has more installed power than most.

The Class 319 Flex train may be a 100 mph train using electricity, but it is also capable of over 90 mph on diesel power, so it is no slowcoach.

Oxenholme Station

In the end it might still be necessary to install a passing loop, which with a modern signalling system, would allow trains to pass.

There would appear to be problems with platform length at Oxenholme station, so why not do the following?

  • Squeeze a Platform 4 into the station, so there are separate platforms for trains going to and from Windermere.
  • Lengthen Platforms 3 and 4, so eight-car trains can access the branch.
  • Eight-car platforms would make it easier for one four-car Class 319 Flex train to rescue another train that had failed.
  • Improve the subway with lifts to all platforms.
  • Install a safe signalling system, that handles the trains efficiently.

This picture shows Platform 3 at Oxenholme station with a train for Windermere.

Another track and platform would be built to the right of the train.

Conclusion

I think that updating Oxenholme station with a fourth platform and using more powerful trains, would allow the frequency of trains on the Windermere Branch to be increased  to one train every thirty minutes.

No electrification of the branch wuld be needed.

We will know the answer, when Northern run a Class 319 Flex train in trials to Windermere.

May 28, 2017 - Posted by | Travel | ,

1 Comment »

  1. […] I have been doing some analysis in Is Electrification Of The Windermere Branch Line Really Necessary? […]

    Pingback by Metro Development With Flex Trains « The Anonymous Widower | May 29, 2017 | Reply


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