The Anonymous Widower

Improving The UK Rail Network

The BBC is moaning today about the time it takes to get by train across the North.

Somebody has already texted in about the South-West and I suspect that other areas will complain as well.

In Faster Trains For Slower In Scotland, I examined the effects of introducing new Class 385 trains in Scotland, where a lot will replace older electric trains.

These new trains will have the following characteristics.

  • 100 mph maximum speed with faster braking and acceleration.
  • The ability to execute a station stop with the minimum possible dwell time.
  • On-board wi-fi and possibly 4G signal boosters.
  • Regenerative braking, which is possibly handled by onboard energy storage.

I came to the following overall conclusion.

Modern 100 mph trains with the ability to execute fast stops at stations are good for operators and passengers alike.

I will illustrate the importance of new trains like these with a few simple examples.

Waterloo To Chessington South

The current Class 455 trains between Waterloo to Chessington South stations take around 36-38 minutes with nine stops on the journey.

So a typical return journey takes the following times.

  • Waterloo to Chessington South – 36 minutes
  • Turning train at Chessington South – 15 minutes
  • Chessington South to Waterloo  38 minutes

Giving a total time of 89 minutes.

This means that three trains are needed to provide a two train per hour (tph) service on the route.

The new franchise holder; South Western Railway, is going to replace the Class 455 trains with new Class 701 trains

Wikipedia says this about the trains.

The Class 701 will feature regenerative braking, wide gangways between coaches, wide doors for ease and efficiency of boarding and alighting, 2+2 seating arrangement, Wi-Fi and at-seat USB charging points, as well as real-time passenger information screens, air conditioning and accessible toilets for disabled passengers.

Comparing the new and current trains shows.

  • The Class 701 trains are 100 mph trains, whereas the Class 455 trains are only capable of 75 mph.
  • The Class 701 trains will be capable of running under ERTMS, which will allow higher frequencies between Wimbledon and Waterloo.

But most importantly, the Class 701 trains could be able to save between one and three minutes at each station stop.

Also on this route.

  • The outer four stations are on the double-track Chessington Branch Line, so there is probably time to be saved by good driving.
  • Surely, the turnround time at Chessington South can be reduced.

On this example route, I think it is highly likely that the return journey can be reduced to a few minutes under the hour.

This would mean that two trains would be needed for the two tph service and it also opens up the possibility of providing a four tph service on the route with just four trains.

Would four five-car trains per hour, be better than two ten-car trains for both the operators and passengers?

Ipswich To Cambridge

The current Class 170 trains between Ipswich and Cambridge stations take around 80 minutes with seven stops on the journey.

So a typical return journey takes the following times.

  • Ipswich to Cambridge – 80 minutes
  • Turning train at Cambridge – 5 minutes
  • Cambridge to Ipswich 80 minutes

Giving a total time of 165 minutes, which is bulked up to three hours with a generous turn round at Ipswich.

This means that three trains are needed for 1 tph and six trains would be needed to provide a 2 tph service.

Greater Anglia have said they will do the following.

  • Run a train between Peterborough and Colchester at a frequency of 1 tph.
  • This extra service will overlap with the Ipswich to Cambridge service and provide a much-needed 2 tph service between Ipswich and Bury St. Edmunds.
  • Replace the Class 170 trains with Class 755 trains.

But a 2 tph service is needed on the whole route.

So how will the new Class 755 trains help achieve this aim?

  • Although the Class 170 trains are relatively modern having been built around the Millenium, the new Class 755 trains will quite likely have an improved dwell time. So expect to see a small saving at each stop.
  • Both trains are 100 mph trains, but the route is probably timetabled for a Class 153 train, which is only a 75 mph train.
  • Greater Anglia have said, they will use electrical power in every place possible.
  • The Ipswich to Cambridge route, shares the track between Ipswich and Haughley Junction with the electrified Great Eastern Main Line, so the trains may well save more minutes on this section with its two stops at Needham Market and Stowmarket.
  • Network Rail can also do their bit, by removing some of the many level crossings and improving the speed limit on the sections of the route without electrification. The Class 755 trains will take advantage.
  • Stadler have been experimenting with onboard energy storage and have committed to supply trains with batteries to Merseyrail. Handling regenerative braking under diesel mode using energy storage would give a fuel saving and improved accelerastion.

I suspect that Greater Anglia’s have to a plan to eventually reduce the journey time between Ipswich and Cambridge to an hour.

This would mean that only two trains would be needed for a 1 tph service or four trains for a 2 tph service.

Having lived along that line for over thirty years, I know that passengers will flock to an enhanced service.

As Greater Anglia have ordered 14 x three-car and 24 x four-car trains to replace about thirty assorted diesel trains, they certainly have ambitious plans.

Manchester Victoria To Huddersfield

The current slow services between Manchester Victoria and Huddersfield stations take around 45 minutes with six stops on the journey.

Northern is replacing the current 75 mph Class 156 trains with new 100 mph Class 195 trains, which have a much shorter dwell time.

So could we see the forty-five minute timing improved to a thirty minutes service, which is achievable by TransPennine Express with their current Class 185 trains?

I think we could, and it could even be fast enough to achieve a two tph stopping service with the same number of new trains.

Summing Up

In these examples, I have applied the following improvements to the current routes.

  • Trains with a 100 mph operating speed.
  • Trains with an improved station dwell time.
  • Trains with regenerative braking using onboard energy storage, where possible.
  • Rewritten timetables assuming faster modern trains are always available.
  • Selective Network Rail improvements like removal of level crossings and improved signalling.

In most cases, this results in the following.

  • Improved journey times.
  • Higher frequencies.

Generally, this can be achieved with the addition of a couple of trains.

In addition there are all the benefits of new or refurbished trains.

  • Better passenger facilities.
  • Wi-fi and increasing 4G connectivity.
  • Reduced fuel and/or electricity consumption.
  • Increased reliability and better timekeeping.
  • New trains generally are longer or have a higher capacity.

I can’t see a loser, if new or refurbished trains are introduced on a route.

Unless of course, the trains introduced are real dogs!

Extensive Fleet Renewal

These are some of the franchises, that have been renewed in the last few years.

All have embarked on extensive fleet renewals.

The reasons are as follows.

  • The current fleet contains a lot of scrapyard specials.
  • The passengers want better facilities.
  • New trains allow faster and more frequent services, as I outlined earlier.
  • Money is freely available at realistic prices, from competitive train leasing companies.
  • Saying you will buy new trains, helps you succeed in your bid for the franchise.

The only problem, is if a franchise promises too much and gets the sums wrong.

Improving The Infrastructure

To get the most of the new and refurbished trains, the infrastructure will need to be improved, in various ways.

  • Improved track layouts, with perhaps new chords and passing loops.
  • Removal of level crossings .
  • Improved signalling.
  • New stations.

There might even have been some elective new electrification.


The trains in this country can be improved significantly, by just getting rid of all the slow trains and improving the infrastructue to cope in small ways.

The train operating companies have realised this and are adjusting their franchise bids accordingly.


August 30, 2017 - Posted by | Transport |

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.