The Anonymous Widower

Crossrail 2: City Mayors Criticise Government Backing

This is the headline on an article on the BBC.

This is the first three paragraphs.

Two city mayors have criticised the government’s decision to back Crossrail 2, days after it scrapped rail electrification plans in Wales, the Midlands and the north of England.
Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham said there would be “widespread anger” at the decision to back the railway line, which will run through London.
Liverpool City Region’s mayor said there needed to be “balanced spending”.

I can understand the anger, especially in Manchester, where the electrification is running a couple of years late.

The Picc-Vic Tunnel

Manchester was unlucky, in that of the three Northern tunnel projects of the seventies; Liverpool, Manchester and Newcastle, the Picc-Vic tunnel was the one that was cancelled by Harold Wilson. Birmingham and London both got cross-city rail tunnels with the same name; Snow Hill.

Perhaps, Manchester should have renamed Piccadilly Gardens!

Liverpool’s tunnel of the same period has recently been rebuilt and Merseyrail have just ordered a new fleet of Stadler trains to improve and expand their commuter network.

Newcastle’s tunnel helped to create the Tyne and Wear Metro, which is in the process of ordering new trains and expanding.

What would have happened to Manchester, if British Rail’s plans had been allowed to proceed?

All Manchester got was the Metrolink, which compared to tram systems in Birmingham, Blackpool, Croydon, Edinburgh and Nottingham is rather second-rate, despite being the largest.

The Ordsall Chord

Let’s hope that the Ordsall Chord works as it says on the tin. Wikipedia says this about the chord’s operation.

The Ordsall Chord will provide a direct link between Piccadilly and Victoria stations, allowing trains from Manchester Victoria and the east to continue to Piccadilly. Following completion of the chord, four trains per hour will travel between Manchester Airport/Manchester Piccadilly and Manchester Victoria in each direction, and associated reorganisation of train paths and retimetabling will provide eight trains per hour from Manchester Victoria towards the west via Chat Moss, and six trains per hour from Manchester Piccadilly towards either Chat Moss or Bolton and Preston (trains from both Victoria and Piccadilly stations to the west and north west (Chat Moss, Liverpool, Bolton, Preston, etc.) do not actually pass over the Ordsall Chord, both ends of which lead eastwards, but travel over pre-existing track).

But as British Rail said in the 1970s, surely a properly designed tunnel under Manchester with up to three stations in the City Centre  would have been better, than the Ordsall Chord.

But what’s done is done and anyway, if the Picc-Vic tunnel had been started in 2016, as was the Ordsall Chord, it probably wouldn’t have been finished until 2026.

Where Are The Trains?

Northern and TransPennine Express are renewing their train fleets, but Manchester’s new electrified lines will need new trains from the end of this year.

The elderly Class 319 trains have stepped up to the plate, like the troopers they have always been. They would have arrived earlier, had the new Class 700 trains arrived on time.

Where Is The Electrification?

The UK and not just the North, has a particular problem and that is, that a lot of our railway lines run through quality countryside, some of which is spectacular.

So imagine trying to electrify the following lines with overhead wires.

  • Manchester to Buxton
  • Ipswich to Lowestoft
  • Ashford to Hastings
  • Settle to Carlisle
  • Preston to Leeds via Hebden Bridge

The Heritage lobby and their lawyers would tie nNetwork Rail in knots for decades.

On a practical level, from the stories I’ve heard about the electrification of the Gospel Oak to Barking Line near where I live, there are myriad problems with installing electrification in this country.

A lot seems to be down to the fact that British Rail and their predecessors weren’t good at keeping records.

The Class 319 Flex Train

I was once told by an engineer who worked on the InterCity 125, of a mythical pub in Derby, where Rolls-Royce and British Rail engineers met to talk about their problems. Could it be that Derby-based Porterbrook and Northern have tapped this network and came up with the bi-mode Class 769 train, which is a modification to a Class 319 train and must surely be the ultimate manifestation of British Rail’s legendary Mark 3 coach.

But the Class 769 train has been well received, as other orders have been forthcoming.

Surely, the planners could see the demand for this one coming, so where is the four-car suburban bi-mode?

Northern have ordered eight of these bi-mode and it will be interesting to see how they are used.

If nothing else, the Class 769 train has already proved that there is a need for a quality four-car bi-mode train.

Bi-Mode Trains And Bottlenecks

I would assume that the Ordsall Chord has a modern signalling system and that the number of trains that could use the chord could be as high as sixteen trains per hour, which is the current capacity of the Thames Tunnel on the East London Line.

The chord may be able to handle all the trains, which would allow services on both sides of Manchester to be run Crossrail-style as back-to-back services.

As a simple example perhaps Manchester to Buxton and Manchester to Clitheroe could be combined into a Buxton to Clitheroe service run by Class 319 Flex trains, which uses electricity from Hazel Grove to Bolton and diesel engines to climb to the two end stations.

Routes like this will surely release much-needed platform space in Manchester Piccadilly station.

But the two island platforms at Manchester Piccadilly will be a bottleneck.

I can see this happening across the Pennines at other stations.

Bi-mode trains will provide the train capacity, but are the stations up to it?

The Long Term Solution

Class 769 trains are not a long term solution. In my view they are a superb development solution.

If we assume that electrification is ruled out for the near future, this will inevitably lead to more bi-mode trains.

Purists will say no, as they will want electrification and nothing less.

But then we have no experience of a modern bi-mode train.

The first bi-mode to come into service will probably be a Class 800 train built by Hitachi.

In Do Class 800/801/802 Trains Use Batteries For Regenerative Braking?, I answered the question I posed and I now believe that these trains can store energy.

So will the bi-mode of the future not be an electric train with an onboard diesel engine, but a sophisticated design, that can obtain its motive power from multiple sources, thus reducing noise, vibration and carbon footprint?

There are at least two other companies who will join this fight.

  • CAF have lots of orders with both Northern and TransPennine Express and they will not want to lose them. So I think it is reasonable to expect something radical from the Spanish company with a proven record in innovation.
  • Bombardier have designed the Aventra to have onboard energy storage and I would be very surprised if they haven’t thought about how to squeeze in a small diesel generator.

Will Alstom, Stadler and Siemens sit idly by, whilst other companies carve up the UK market? I doubt it.

The new bi-mode trains will provide the capacity, but other things must be done.

  • Stations must be improved to cater for the extra passengers.
  • Track and signalling must be improved to allow higher speeds.
  • As electrification was done on the cheap in the past, there are some lengths of electrification, that must be done.
  • HS2 must go on at full speed.
  • Ticketing must be made as easy as London and the South East.
  • Planning of a High Speed line across the North should be seriously started.

It will be interesting to see what develops.

Conclusion

I would spend the money on new trains, better stations and improving the passenger experience.

Electrification would come later, when there is a proven need.

But I wouldn’t rule out the train-makers creating a wholly different game.

 

July 25, 2017 - Posted by | Travel | , , ,

4 Comments »

  1. Manchester’s trams system may break down occasionally, most recently this Saturday http://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/news/greater-manchester-news/metrolink-stop-breaking-down-13379378, however it is not the vast money pit that Edinburgh’s slow, infrequent and short running trams are, nor limited to 16 trams and a few antiques like Blackpool’s heritage line.

    Where lines track passengers trams
    Manchester 7 92km 38M 120
    Blackpool 1 18km 5M 16
    Edinburgh 1 14km 5M 27 (9 mothballed)

    Comment by Mark Clayton | July 25, 2017 | Reply

  2. Manchester’s trams like Sheffield’s don’t use the trams that most systems in the world use. Hence, expanding is not just a matter of laying new track and buying a few more standard trams.

    I actually feel, if it had been built a few years later, it would be more standard.

    Have you ever used the London Tramlink, which opened eight years later.

    Comment by AnonW | July 25, 2017 | Reply

    • That’s because Metrolink is more like light rail than street trams and quite a lot of existing and disused rail infrastructure was reused – the Altrincham, Bury, Didsbury and Oldham / Rochdale lines reuse former rail lines. Off street running speed is higher at 80kmph, although I don’t see why 100kmph (as on the Metropolitan Line – formerly 110kmph) shouldn’t be possible. It also allows tram trains and some were being considered for Marple, although after the fiasco in South York’s, this might be on a back burner now.

      It is probably true that had they been built later low boarding trams might have been used and stop profiles changed, but at the time (1992) there were no standard trams in the UK apart from the mostly pre-war Blackpool ones.

      Comment by Mark Clayton | July 25, 2017 | Reply

      • Croydon was built on quite a few old railway alignments and they dropped the platforms.

        Both Manchester and Croydon have 80 kph trams based on Bombrdier Flexity Swifts. But Croydon also has some new Stadler ones.

        As they nearly took some of the \Edinburgh trams, they could fit too!

        Comment by AnonW | July 25, 2017


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