The Anonymous Widower

Govia Loses The West Midlands Rail Franchise

This article on the BBC is entitled London Midland loses West Midlands rail franchise.

The new lead partner in a company called West Midlands Trains is Abellio.

This page on the Government web site gives full details.

There is also this interactive map, which details changes by line.

The next few sections detail a few points.

Four Hundred New Carriages

West Midlands Trains are promising four hundred new carriages.

Currently, there are 476 carriages serving the routes they will be taking over. The trains that are modern include.

  • 77 x four-car Class 350 trains – 308 carriages – Built in 2004-2014
  • 17 x two-car Class 170 trains – 34 carriages – Built in 1999-2000
  • 6 x three-car Class 170 trains – 18 carriages – Built in 1999-2000

This is a total of 360 carriages.

This group probably lack wi-fi, which could be retrofitted.

It looks to me, that the West Midlands are going to be seeing a hell of a lot more trains.

Abellio should know what trains to buy, as they’ve just spent nearly a billion on new trains for Greater Anglia and are introducing a large fleet of Hitachi electric trains in Scotland.

Are we going to see a complete fleet change, as is happening with Greater Anglia and South Western Railway?

I think it will be very likely that the new train will be an Aventra or similar, with the following characteristics.

  • Based on four or five car units.
  • Ability to work in pairs.
  • Possibly some longer ones. of eight or ten cars for busy routes.
  • Walk-through design.
  • Large lobbies and wide doors.
  • Ability to stop at a station and get started quickly. Could save up to two minutes every stop.
  • 100 mph capability.
  • Some bi-mode or trains to work independently for perhaps thirty miles are needed.

They could be very similar to the Class 720 trains ordered by Greater Anglia or the Class 710 trains ordered by London Overground, if Aventras are chosen.

I will look at a simple example on the Cross-City Line  between Lichfield Trent Valley and Redditch stations.

This currently takes 83 minutes with twenty-two stops. This would probably give a three-hour round trip. So on a rough estimate, to provide this service on a two trains per hour (tph) basis, would require six trains or twelve, if each of the current Class 323 train is a pair of six-cars.

Running a five-car Aventra or similar, which would save over a minute a stop and would be faster, would probably bring the round trip time down to under two hours. So two tph, would need just four trains.

The capacity of the Aventra would be greater at over 800 passengers as opposed to 500 in the pair of Class 323 trains.

Birmingham To Rugeley Trent Valley

The electrification on the Chase Line is being extended to Rugeley Trent Valley and new electric services should start from May 2018.

Wolverhampton To Walsall Line

The Wolverhampton To Walsall Line is an oddity in that is electrified and doesn’t have a passenger service.

In the Wikipedia entry for the line under Future Plans, this is said.

The West Midlands Combined Authority have announced their intention to restore a passenger service to the line using either conventional trains or tram-trains. Along with new stations at Willenhall and Darlaston James Bridge.

So will these plans be implemented in the next few years?

Birmingham To Bromsgrove

The new electric trains would also be able to serve the newly electrified route to Bromsgrove station from May 2018.

Does The B In Birmingham Stand For Battery?

If Bombardier or Hitachi get their energy storage working, then the new trains would be able to continue to Worcester from Bromsgrove, as it’s only fourteen miles.

Birmingham is getting battery trams, so is it getting battery trains?

Battery trains would certainly be able to work the Camp Hill Line.

But it will be interesting to see if battery trains can sneak through on other routes in the centre of Birmingham.

The Snow Hill Lines

The Snow Hill Lines across Birmingham are the classic cross-city line that should be electrified, as you don’t want to have diesel trains in the centres of cities.

My thoughts.

  • In the current financial climate, large scale electrification is not going to happen.
  • Battery trains wouldn’t help, as there is no electrification with which to charge the batteries.
  • Traditional bi-modes aren’t much use either, as they’d run on diesel all the time.

The only alternative is probably more efficient diesel-electric hybrid trains that incorporate regenerative braking with batteries.

Could these trains be coupled with limited electrification in the centre around the Snow Hill Tunnel?

There’s a solution in there somewhere and I suspect that West Midlands Trains have used it.

Leamington To Nuneaton via Kenilworth And Coventry

This route via the new Kenilworth station will be getting an hourly service.

It’s only nineteen miles each way with scraps of electrification at Nuneaton and Coventry.

Could an Aventra or similar with batteries do this trip?

Conclusion

The West Midlands are getting a much better train service.

August 10, 2017 Posted by | Travel | , | Leave a comment

Your Class 345 Train Has Arrived

I took this picture at Stratford today.

Note the extra information on both screens.

August 10, 2017 Posted by | Travel | , , | 1 Comment

Class 345 Trains And Regenerative Braking

Bombardier don’t seem to talk much about regenerative braking on Class 345 trains.

In the Wikipedia entry for the train, there is a section called Background And Specifications. This is the first paragraph.

In 2008, the UK government’s rolling stock plan stated a requirement for around 600 carriages for Crossrail, expected to be similar in design to the Thameslink rolling stock, to meet the design improvement requirements of the 2007 ‘Rail Technical Strategy’ (RTS), including in-cab signalling/communication including satellite and ERTMS level 3 technologies, regenerative braking, low cost of operation and high reliability, with low weight and high acceleration.

Perhaps Bombardier aren’t letting on how they achieve efficient braking of the trains.

One thing I proved today, was that the trains have no give away electric fires on the roof, where braking energy is traditionally dissipated.

This bad picture was taken through safety netting at Forest Gate station.

The roof is mainly-smooth with just grills for the air-conditioning and ventilation.

There certainly wasn’t any electric fires on the roof!

So does the braking energy get stored on the train for reuse?

August 10, 2017 Posted by | Travel | , , | Leave a comment

An Exciting New Aventra

The title of this post is the title of an article in Rail Engineer.

It is actually dated the 31st of January 2014, so you might think it is out of date.

But surely, with the first Aventras appearing in service, now is the time to revisit.

I found the article this morning by accident and it is a fascinating read, Especially when you consider the article was written before the train had received any orders. Bombardier had actually just missed out on the Thameslink order, which resulted in the Class 700 trains.

A Blank Sheet Of Paper

The loss of the Thameslink order allowed Bombardier to start from scratch.

This paragraph indicates one of their start points.

And then we looked at it and thought we’ve also got depot engineers from Strathclyde to Surrey, all over the place, all looking after these trains in the field. How are they performing? Is there something we can do better there?

As the article says Aventra was reborn after Thameslink!

They also talked extensively to possible customers.

Suppliers

Suppliers were invited on board and given space with the design team in a new Design Office in Derby.

This paragraph described how everyone worked together.

We basically started from scratch, and in a completely different way. It isn’t engineering-led any more. It’s a joint collaboration of our depot people, our manufacturing guys, procurement and engineering.

I would describe it as a project-led structure similar to one that ICI used to use in the 1960s.

I wrote my first scheduling program to allocate the office space needed.

A Modular Approach For The Future

Each Electrostar had been different to the previous, but this sums up the Aventra philosophy.

Aventra will be a single modular product, capable of being easily modified for different applications but in each case referring back to the core design. So whether the actual class will be a 90mph metro train or a 125mph main-line express, it will have the same systems and components as its basis. In fact, Jon thinks that the distinctions are becoming blurred anyway.

They had looked forward ten years.

Away From The Wires

Aventra will be an electric train, but what happens, when the wires run out?

This was their solution.

So plans were made for an Aventra that could run away from the wires, using batteries or other forms of energy storage. “We call it an independently powered EMU, but it’s effectively an EMU that you could put the pantograph down and it will run on the energy storage to a point say 50 miles away. There it can recharge by putting the pantograph back up briefly in a terminus before it comes back.

I rode the prototype in public service in January 2015!

I was totally convinced that Bombardier’s battery trains have not even the smallest touch of Mickey Mouse!

Although the experience was magical!

Bombardier’s Iron Bird

Bombardier have borrowed the Iron Bird concept from the plane-makers.

This is an extract.

A leaf has been taken out of the aircraft designers’ handbook. They use something termed an Iron Bird – basically an aeroplane without wings – to test new systems.

Bombardier’s Iron Bird is a train without bogies. However, it does contain control systems, wiring looms and other bits of kit and it is being assembled at Derby.

I think that this shows, that they are not against borrowing other concepts from other industries.

The Most Affordable Train

The article describes how the train was designed to give the best whole life cost.

This sentence sums up the philosophy.

It’s actually about a 50/50 split between the whole life cost and the first capital cost. That makes it a bit more difficult because we’ve got be competitive on the first practical cost, but additionally we have to offer a really high availability, strong reliability, combined with much better energy consumption and less track damage.

As someone, who used to own a finance company, that leased trucks and other expensive equipment, the product described is the sort of product that leasing companies love. If the train is economical to run, if the first train operating company goes bust, you’ll still have an asset that other train operating companies will fight over.

Trains are also a predictable long-term investment, as well-built efficient trains have a thirty or forty year lifetime.

In my view the big winner of a train like this is the manufacturer, as they’ll get happy owners, train operating companies and passengers, which must lead to repeat orders.

Conclusion

I’ve never ridden a more well-designed, comfortable, smooth and quiet suburban electric train, than the Class 345 train in trial service on the Shenfield Metro, anywhere in the UK or Europe.

August 10, 2017 Posted by | Travel | , , , , | 1 Comment

What Is Happening To The Greenford Branch?

It appears to me, that the Greenford Branch Line has been quietly shunted into a siding, as it has been some months since any statements of any worth have come from the Department of Transport, Transport for London, Great Western Raiiway or Network Rail.

The line now gets a two trains per hour  shuttle service between Greenford and West Ealing stations. Trains that use the branch line to don’t go to Paddington any more.

West Ealing station is being rebuilt and looks like it won’t be complete for a couple of years.

This article on City AM is entitled Ealing Council seeks ‘urgent clarity’ over five delayed Crossrail stations as Network Rail retenders contracts to save money, which says a lot and may even explain, why nothing has been decided about the future of this branch line.

Current Speculation And Rumours

Various reports and forums outline solutions that suggest or include the following.

  • It is probably not the easiest line operationally, as the train has to be stabled some distance away.
  • Four trains per hour.
  • Transfer of the line to the Overground.
  • Run a shuttle from High Wycombe to West Ealing.
  • Use London Overground’s Class 172 trains, when the Gospel Oak to Barking Line is electrified.

But there are a few problems.

  • The incomplete West Ealing station.
  • The platform at Greenford is rather short.
  • Electrification would be difficult.

I hope all the silence is because the DfT, TfL, GWR, Network Rail and perhaps a train manufacturer are working hard to create an innovative solution for short branch lines like the Greenford Branch.

London’s Other Branches

London has two other short branch lines, that currently carry passengers.

Both are electrified and are run by a four-car shuttle using a bog-standard electric multiple unit.

But I doubt, they are some of most profitable routes in London.

In one forum, it was suggested that London Overground might use the Romford to Upminster Line for driving training on the new Class 710 trains.

In addition, there is the Brentford Branch Line, which has been proposed for reopening.

The Marlow Branch Line

I’m including the Marlow Branch Line, as according to the August 2017 Edition of Modern Railways, Network Rail have devised an innovative track layout for Bourne End station, that will allow trains to pass in the station and thus allow at least a two trains per hour service all day.

Modern Railways says  this about financing the new track layout at Bourne End.

The LEP has allocated £1.5million to the infrastructure change needed to accommodate this proposal and GWR is seeking to close the funding gap on it.

There is also an informative diagram.

This Google Map shows Bourne End station.

 

Note how a two-car Class 165 train is parked in the station with lots of space. These trains have two 23 metre long cars, so it would appear that a three-car train with possibly shorter length cars could be accommodated.

I wonder what is the maximum length train that the design team are working with.

Two three-car trains per hour would be a tripling of capacity over the current single two-car train per hour at present.

This innovative proposal certainly looks like one, that has a high chance of realisation.

Other Branch Lines

The UK probably has several short branch lines, with a similar profile to the Bromley North, Greenford and Marlow Lines, where often the service is inadequate or expensive and difficult to provide.

A Train For Branch Lines

Would it be possible to create a train using existing stock, that was ideal for these lines?

Vivarail with their Class 230 train have attempted to do this.

  • Two or three cars.
  • Diesel-electric or battery power.
  • Designed to be serviced remotely.

It may turn out to be a high-class and reliable train, but there may be operational and marketing disadvantages, due to the train’s London Underground history.

But it is certainly a possibility.

Otherwise it is probably necessary to carry on as before with a two-car diesel multiple unit.

But at least, London Overground will be releasing eight Class 172 trains in Spring 2018.

The Unconventional Solution

Although two or three-car diesel multiple units will serve these branches well, I just wonder whether applying the same thinking that led to the Class 319 Flex train could produce a much better solution.

In their brochure for the train, Porterbrook state that they are thinking of adding a battery option to the train. The electrical layout of the Class 319 train leads me to believe it is certainly possible.

These branch lines are not arduous, so why not do the following.

  • Replace one diesel power-pack of the Class 319 Flex train with a battery pack.
  • Remove the trailer car to create a three-car train.
  • Give the trains a good refurbished interior.

Note.

  1. A three-car train would probably not be a 100 mph train.
  2. A three-car Class 319 Flex train would only be fourteen metres longer than a two-car Class 165 train.
  3. Several similar four-car Class 321 trains have been converted to three-car Class 320 trains.
  4. Being able to run on electrified lines would ease operation, open up new services and charge the batteries.

I feel that having both diesel and battery power for working away from electrified lines would give the trains a high degree of reliability.

These trains could certainly work the Brentford, Greenford, Marlow and Windsor Branches.

The Bombardier Solution

In Will London Overground Fit On-board Energy Storage To Class 378 Trains?, I mused about this statement, after reading this article in Rail Technology Magazine entitled Bombardier enters key analysis phase of IPEMU. Marc Phillips of Bombardier is quoted as saying this in the article.

All Electrostars to some degree can be retrofitted with batteries. We are talking the newer generation EMU as well as the older generation. So, the 387s and 378s are the ones where we have re-gen braking where we can top-up the batteries and use the braking energy to charge the batteries. That gives us the best cost-benefit over operational life.

So it would seem that the Class 378 trains of the London Overground are candidates for fitting with batteries.

These trains started out with just three cars and have grown twice, by adding another motor car and a trailer car. So they are now five-car trains.

London Overground have said that they might lengthen the trains again to six cars.

I would suspect that Bombardier can play musical carriages and create, some six-car trains and a few three-car trains.

Fit batteries to the three-car trains and you have a battery-powered train for a short branch line, that starts in an electrified station.

Services on the Brentford, Greenford and Marlow branches could probably be run by these three-car battery-electric trains.

If the Class 378 train is too spartan, then there is always other Electrostars.

Just remember, that 4 + 4 = 5 + 3!

Conclusion

Don’t be surprised to see an innovative solution at Greenford.

August 10, 2017 Posted by | Travel | , , , , | 1 Comment