The Anonymous Widower

Exploring The Tyne And Wear Metro

The Tyne and Wear Metro is unique in the UK, in that it is a regional electric railway system, that is powered by 1500 VDC overhead electrification.

But what is not unique about the system is the affection shown by regular users. You get similar feelings on other local systems like these.

As they mature, other systems including the Manchester Metrolink, Midland Metro and the London Overground will be felt of by their passengers in a similar way.

My four examples and the Tyne and Wear Metro, have a lot more in common than just affection from their users.

  • All were created in their own unique ways in an era not noted for railway innovation.
  • Merseyrail has an unrivalled tunnel layout for a railway under a city.
  • The Docklands Light Railway is automated with a Train Captain on each train.
  • Glasgow’s Blue Trains were very-un-British at the time.
  • Local interests were very much involved in creating the systems.
  • The Tyne and Wear Metro was created for  Driver Only Operation.

All of these lines are seeking to add more branches and replace, update and augment the rolling stock, much of which is forty years old.

Does the age of te trains show Central Government contempt for important local railway systems, which are the lifeblood of communities?

Manchester’s Missing Tunnel

The tunnels under Liverpool and Newcastle, were part of a three pronged plan by to improve local transport in the North.

  • I remember from the 1960s, when I was at the University, the electric railway under the Mersey to Birkenhead and the Wirral. Modern it was not, but the innovative Loop and Link Project made it a lot better. Although, that project was never completed.
  • Newcastle had had Tyneside Electrics from the 1900s. In the 1970s the old system became the core of the Metro, with the addition of a central tunnel.

The third plan was to bore the Picc-Vic tunnel under Manchester to link Manchester Piccadilly and Victoria stations.

According to Wikipedia, it would have had the following characteristics.

  • Full-size twin-bore tunnels.
  • 25 KVAC overhead electrification.
  • Low-level stations at Piccadilly and Victoria.
  • Three intermediate stations at Market Street, Albert Square and Princess Street
  • Trains would have been similar to the Class 315 trains, which are still common in London.

It would have joined the suburban rail services together across the city.

How would Manchester have developed if this important tunnel had been built?

We will probably be able to partially answer this question, when the Ordsall Chord is fully operational, which will handle cross-Manchester long-distance and local trains.

It is my view that cancelling this tunnel was one of the great infrastructure mistakes of the period along with the cancellation of the Channel Tunnel and London’s Third Airport at Maplin. But then Harold Wilson believed everybody would have their own car and that railways were of the past and preferred to spend what little money the Government had on political projects, many of which were total failures.

We must protect ourselves from politicians, who have a political view that owes too much to the extreme left or right and be left to get on with our personal lives.

To my mind, it is no surprise that the cities in the UK with the best urban rail systems; London, Cardiff, Liverpool and Newcastle, have more local control. Now that Birmingham, Glasgow, Leeds and Manchester have greater local control, will we see improvement?

Exploring The Metro

There are several main assets and factors that make up a railway system.

  • Tracks
  • Tunnels and Bridges
  • Electrification
  • Stations
  • Accessibility
  • Trains
  • Signalling
  • Operating Method
  • Ticketing

I shall now give my thoughts on these in detail.

Tracks

The branches of the Metro were all built for heavy rail trains and the Sunderland Branch even shares the tracks with Class 142, Class 180 and heavy freight trains.

This principle of building tracks for full-size trains, has been used on Merseyrail’s Northern and WirralLines, London’s Trameslink, Crossrail and East London Line and innumerable railways across the world.

Build a system for small-size trains and you paint yourself into a dead end. I doubt for instance, London will ever build another new Tube-size line across London.

As I explored the Matro, the tracks also seemed to be in generally good condition.

This picture taken at South Hylton station shows typical track in apparently good condition.

Tunnels And Bridges

Wikipedia has a section on the tunnels of the Metro. This is said.

The tunnels were constructed in the late 1970s, using mining techniques, and were constructed as single-track tubes with a diameter of 4.75 metres. The tunnels under Newcastle were mechanically bored through boulder clay and lined with cast iron or concrete segments. The tunnel under Gateshead, was bored through sandstone and excavated coal seams. Old coal mine workings, some of which dated from the Middle Ages had to be filled in before the tunnelling began.

This description of the Crossrail tunnels is on this page of their web site.

A network of new rail tunnels have been built by eight giant tunnel boring machines, to carry Crossrail’s trains eastbound and westbound. Each tunnel is 21 kilometres/13 miles long, 6.2 metres in diameter and up to 40 metres below ground.

The Crossrail tunnels have a walkway on either side, but they are only 1.25 metres larger in diameter than those of the Metro. So it would appear that there is not much difference in size of the important section in the middle, where the trains run.

It is worthwhile looking at the widths of various trains.

The last three figures are from Wikipedia.

Look at these pictures of some of the tunnels and bridges on the Metro.

The weather could have been betterfor photography.

I rode on all the branches of the Metro and, I get the impression that all the bridges and tunnels seem to have been built with a generous clearance in both width and height.

I very much feel that when the Metro was built that unlike some other lines, it was well-built to a heavy rail standard.

I wouldn’t be surprised to be told, that a battery-powered train based on say an Electrostar like the Class 379 BEMU demonstrator, could pass through all of the Metro.

Electrification

The electrification is a unique 1500 VDC overhead system, which is the same as was used on the Woodhead Line, which closed to passenger trains in 1970 and to goods in 1981.

Could it be that the Metro got this voltage, rather than the 25 KVAC used on similar systems in London and Glasgow suburban routes, as British Rail and their contractors had 1500 VDC expertise available in the North and all their 25 KVAC expertise was employed elsewhere?

The bridges and tunnels seem to have been built with the ability to handle the higher and more common voltage.

1500 VDC may have also saved on the cost of the installation, as they had a lot of gantries and brackets from the Woodhead Line.

These pictures show the simplistic nature of some of the electrification.

However, on the South Hylton Branch, which was built in the 2000s, it appears that better methods were used, as these pictures show.

The gantries and supports are certainly better than many you see on the Lea Valley Lines.

This picture shows 25 KVAC electrification at Walthamstow Central station.

Note the extra insulators to deal with the higher voltage.

Would it be possible and worthwhile to convert all of the Metro lines to 25 KVAC?

In theory this must be possible, but I think it is probably more important to first beef up the electrification gantries to the higher standard of the South Hylton Branch.

Consider.

  • A driver told me, that electrification failures are not unknown.
  • Trains running on 25 KVAC are more energy-efficient.
  • Trains could be built that would be able to run on both 1500 VDC and 25 KVAC, that use the same pantograph for current collection and automatically adjust to the voltage received.
  • Trains with batteries can be used on sections without electrification.
  • Mixed voltage systems are possible, that would have 25 KVAC electrification on some sections of track and 1500 VDC on others.
  • The passenger Health and Safety case would need to be established for the higher voltage.

The electrification could be designed holistically with any future trains to maximise reliability, electrical efficiency and operational flexibility, and minimise costs.

Obviously, during the changeover to new trains, all lines would need to be at 1500 VDC, so that the current rolling stock could be used as required.

Stations

These pictures show a selection of Metro stations.

The stations appear to be in generally good condition and vary from the the basic to well-preserved Victorian stations like Tynemouth and Whitley Bay.

The platforms are generally of an adequate length, which except for some stations in tunnels seem to have been built to accept three of the current trains working together, which would be a formation 83.4 metres long.

This would be long enough to accept one of any number of four-car trains running on the UK rail network, which are usually eighty metres long. London Overground’s, new Class 710 trains will be this length.

Sunderland Station

Sunderland station, is an important station on the Metro.

I describe the station and its operation in The Rather Ordinary Sunderland Station.

 

 

Accessibility

Stations are step-free, but this is often by the use of ramps and a few more lifts woulds be welcome.

Access from platform to train is generally good, as these pictures show.

Note the picture of the access to a Grand Central Class 180 train.

I suspect that when Northern replace their Class 142 trains, with brand new Class 195 trains on the services between Middlesbrough and Newcastle, that the step-free access will be good.

I think a lot of credit is due to the original designers of the Metro, who thought about what they were doing and seem to have created a system that fitted heavy rail trains, Metro trains and users requiring step-free access.

Trains

There are several sets of electric trains in the country, that continue to defy their age and are a tribute to their builders, refurbishers and operating companies, by providing a quality service to passengers and other stakeholders

  • Merseyrail’s Class 507 and Class 508 trains.
  • The Class 315 trains of TfL Rail and the London Overground.
  • The Piccadilly Line’s 1973 Stock trains.
  • South Western Railway’s Class 455 trains.
  • The trains of the Tyne and Wear Metro.

|These pictures show the trains for the Metro.

Note.

  1. The quality is not bad for nearly forty years of service.
  2. The lady in the last picture, sitting in the front of the train, watching the world go by.
  3. Standing is not difficult in the rush hour for this seventy-year-old stroke survivor.
  4. Information could be better.
  5. The Metro needs a new train wash.

Wikipedia says this about the Proposed New Fleet.

The proposed new fleet would consist of 84 trains to replace the existing 90 train fleet, as Nexus believe that the improved reliability of the newer trains would allow them to operate the same service levels with fewer trains. These are proposed to have longitudinal seating instead of the 2+2 bench seating arrangement of the present fleet, and a full width drivers cab instead of the small driving booth of the existing trains. The proposed new fleet is planned to have dual voltage capability, able to operate on the Metro’s existing 1.5 kV DC electrification system and also the 25 kV AC used on the national rail network, to allow greater flexibility. Battery technology is also being considered.

I’ll put my ideas at the end of this note.

Signalling

The Metro is unique in the UK, in that it uses the Karlsruhe model to mix Metro trains with heavy rail trains on the Southern branch to Sunderland and South Hylton.

If in the future modern signalling and trains are used on the Metro, an increasingly intricate set of routes could be designed.

Add in dual-voltage trains able to run on both the Metro’s 1500 VDC and the National network’s 25 KVAC and the possibilities will be even greater.

Operating Method

The trains are run in the same way as London Underground, with only a driver on the train, who does the driving and controls the doors.

Ticketing

As I always find outside London, ticketing is still in the Victorian era.

Will the Tyne and Wear Metro embrace a contactless card based on bank and credit cards?

Possible Future Expansion

Wikipedia gives a list of possible extensions under Proposed Extensions And Suggested Improvements.

These include.

Tyne Dock To East Boldon

Wikipedia says this.

Tyne Dock to East Boldon along a dismantled railway alignment through Whiteleas could easily be added, because two Metro lines are separated by only a short distance (1.61 miles). This would provide a service from South Shields to Sunderland via the Whiteleas area of South Shields.

If ever there was a route for a battery-powered train, this must be it.

Consider.

  • The route is less than two miles.
  • The route connects two electrified lines.
  • You can see the disused track-bed on a Google Map.
  • No electrification would be required.
  • The battery would be charged between South Shields and Tyne Dock and East Boldon and Sunderland.
  • Modern signalling would allow the route to be built as a single track if required, handling up to ten tph in both directions.
  • Single platform stations could be built as required.

I can certainly understand, why Wikipedia mentioned battery trains.

Washington

Wikipedia says this.

Washington either via the disused Leamside line or a new route. Present planning may lead to the Leamside line being opened at least as far as Washington as a conventional rail line for passengers as well as freight, although this could be shared with Metro trains in the same way as the line from Pelaw Junction to Sunderland.

Washington station would only be a short run of less than ten miles along a reopened Leamside Line.

  • If somebody else paid for 25 KVAC electrification of the Leamside Line, then dual-voltage trains could run the service.
  • If not, they could use battery-power.

Either way, Washington would get a Metro service.

If as I believe, the new trains on the Metro will be main line trains, then what is the point of running heavy rail services to the town, as the Metro would be able to serve more places and with a change at Newcastle station, you could get a train virtually anywhere.

The possibility must also exist if the Leamside Line is developed as a diversion of the East Coast Main Line, then the Metro could go as far South as Durham.

Blyth And Ashington

Wikipedia says this.

Blyth and Ashington, running on existing little-used freight lines. Northumberland Park station has been built to provide a link to a potential new rail service to these communities; if opened, it will not be a part of the Metro system.

Ashington is around fourteen miles from Northumberland Park station, which means that an return journey might be possible on battery-power.

In an article in the October 2017 Edition of Modern Railways, which is entitled Celling England By The Pound, Ian Walmsley says this in relation to trains running on the Uckfield Branch, which probably has a terrain not much different to the lines to Blyth and Ashington.

A modern EMU needs between 3 and 5 kWh per vehicle mile for this sort of service.

If the Metro trains could have a high energy efficiency, I think it would be reasonable to assume that 4 kWh per vehicle mile is attainable.

So a three car train, would need a battery of 14 x 2 x 3 x 4 = 336 kWh. That is not an unattainable figure for battery size.

Killingworth And Cramlington

Wikipedia says this.

A northward extension to Killingworth and Cramlington has been planned since the Metro was on the drawing board, but would require widening of the busy East Coast Main Line to four tracks, which would be expensive, and a new alignment involving street running.

Suppose the new Metro trains were modern trains, such as the latest offerings from Bombardier, CAF, Hitachi, Siemens, Stadler and others, that were able to do the following in addition to running on the Metro.

  • Use 25 KVAC electrification.
  • Operate at around or even over 100 mph.
  • Execute fast stops at a station.

Would they be able to perhaps run a four tph Metro service along the East Coast Main Line to Cramlington station?

I suspect with modern signalling and a couple of passing loops on the East Coast Main Line, the answer is yes!

This may eliminate the need for street-running.

West End Of Newcastle

Wikipedia says this.

Extending the Metro to the West End of Newcastle would require new track, involving tunnelling and bridging in rough terrain; this would be very costly and is perhaps least likely to receive funding, though would probably have the highest potential ridership.

In this article in the Newcastle Chronicle, which is entitled What Could Happen To The Metro, this is said.

A rail extension out of Central Station along the original Newcastle to Carlisle line could head along Scotswood Road to serve Newcastle’s west, while a bridge could then connect the city to the Metrocentre. This would be integrated with the Metro system. Building developments in Gallowgate have greatly reduced any chance of extending the Metro west from St James’ Park.

The railway alignment still seems to be there in places.

It would be another extension that would use battery-powered trains on sections, that don’t have electrification.

Ryhope And Seaham

Wikipedia says this.

Ryhope and Seaham, a proposal drawn up by Tyne and Wear Passenger Authority to use the existing Durham coast line south of Sunderland.

Sunderland to Seaham is about six miles, so is definitely in range of battery trains.

But that is being timid!

Sunderland to Middlesbrough is probably about thirty miles and I believe it will be possible to do those sort of distances on battery power alone, in a few years. Provided that the train could be recharged at Middlesbrough.

What would a four or six tph service between Middlesbrough and Newcastle Airport via Hartlepool, Seaham, Sunderland, Gateshead and Newcastle, do for the area?

Conclusion About Possible Future Expansion

In this section on expanding the Metro network, it has surprised me how many of the extensions could be done with dual-voltage or battery-powered trains.

  • Tyne Dock To East Boldon – Battery
  • Washington – Battery
  • Blyth And Ashington – Battery
  • Killingworth And Cramlington – Dual-Voltage
  • West End Of Newcastle – Battery
  • Ryhope And Seaham – Battery
  • Middlesbrough – Battery and Dual-Voltage

I think it shows how we must be careful not to underestimate tyhe power of battery trains. But then I’m one of the few people in the UK, outside of the residents of Harwich, who’s ridden a battery-powered four-car heavy rail train in normal service! Mickey Mouse, they are not!

New Trains

I’ll repeat what Wikipedia says this about the Proposed New Fleet.

The proposed new fleet would consist of 84 trains to replace the existing 90 train fleet, as Nexus believe that the improved reliability of the newer trains would allow them to operate the same service levels with fewer trains. These are proposed to have longitudinal seating instead of the 2+2 bench seating arrangement of the present fleet, and a full width drivers cab instead of the small driving booth of the existing trains. The proposed new fleet is planned to have dual voltage capability, able to operate on the Metro’s existing 1.5 kV DC electrification system and also the 25 kV AC used on the national rail network, to allow greater flexibility. Battery technology is also being considered.

I’ll now give my views on various topics.

Heavy Rail Train Or Lightweight Metro?

Will the trains be lightweight metro trains or variants of heavy rail trains like Aventras, Desiro Cities or A-trains to name just three of several?

The advantages of the heavy rail train are.

  • It could run at 90 or even 100 mph on an electrified main line.
  • It will meet crashworthiness standards for a main line.
  • It would likely be a design with a lot in common with other UK train fleets.
  • It could run into most railway stations.
  • If it was shorter than about sixty metres it could use all current Metro stations without station rebuilding.

On the other hand the lightweight metro train would be lighter in weight and possibly more energy-efficient.

Walk-Through Design

Wikipedia says this about the seating layout.

These are proposed to have longitudinal seating instead of the 2+2 bench seating arrangement of the present fleet.

Longitudinal seating has been successfully used on London Overground’s Class 378 trains.

  • This layout increases capacity at busy times.
  • It allows passengers to distribute themselves along the train and get to the right position for a quick exit.

But the biggest advantage, is that when linked to selective door opening, it enables a longer train to be used successfully in stations with short platforms.

London Overground use this facility on their Class 378 trains to overcome platform length problems at a few stations on the East London Line.

But train design is evolving.

Bombardier have shown with the Class 345 train, that you can have both in the same train. So in a three-car train, you might have two identical driver cars with longitudinal seating and a middle car with 2+2 bench seating.

Bombardier are able to get away with this, as they are maximising the space inside the train. I wrote about it in Big On The Inside And The Same Size On The Outside.

These pictures show the inside of one of Crossrail’s Class 345 trains.

Whoever builds the new Metro trains, they’ll probably have similar interiors.

Train Length

A trend seems to be emerging, where new fleets of trains are the same length as the ones they replace, although they may have more carriages.

This has happened on Greater Anglia, Merseyrail and West Midlands Trains.

It probably makes sense, as it avoids expensive and disrupting platform lengthening.

Currently, the Metro trains work in pairs, which means a train length of 55.6 metres. As the standard UK train carriage size for suburban multiple units is often twenty metres, then if the platforms can accept them, three-car trains would be possible for the new trains.

Longer trains would be possible in most stations, except for some in the central tunnel, which appear to have platforms around sixty to seventy metres long.

So perhaps four-car trains would be possible for the new trains, that would use selective door opening at the short platforms of the stations in the central tunnels.

Because the trains are walk-through, passengers can position themselves accordingly, for the station, where they will leave the train.

London Overground have also shown that selective door opening and walk-through trains can be used to advantage, when trains are lengthened to increase capacity.

Dual-Voltage

Obviously, the trains will have the capability of running on both 1500 VDC and 25 KVAC overhead wires, as the extension to Killingworth And Cramlington would need the latter, for a start.

The interchange between the two different voltages can be very simple, due to some technology developed for the
German cousins of the Class 399 tram-train. A ceramic rod separates the two voltages and the pantograph just rides over. The train or tram-train, then determines the voltage and configures the electrical systems accordingly.

Batteries

These would appear to be key to several of the proposed extensions.

Batteries also enable other features.

  • Movement in depots and sidings without electrification.
  • Emergency power, when the main power fails.
  • Handling regenerative braking.
  • Remote train warm-up.

In a few years time, all trains with electric drive will have batteries, that are probably around 75-100 kWh.

Operating Speed

To work efficiently on the East Coast Main Line, 90 mph or even a  100 mph operating speed will be needed.

Note that Crossrail’s Class 345 trains, which will generally work routes very similar to the Metro, have a 90 mph operating speed.

These faster trains will result in an increased service.

Currently, trains between Newcastle Airport and South Hylton take 65 minutes with sixteen stops.

Modern trains have the following features.

  • Minimised dwell times at stations.
  • Smooth regenerative braking and fast acceleration.
  • Driver Advisory Systems to improve train efficiency.
  • Higher safe speeds in selected sections.
  • Trains are designed for quick turnrounds at each end of the route.

In addition, train operators are organising station staff to minimise train delays.

Put it all together and I’m pretty certain, that this route could be done comfortably in under an hour.

So the same number of trains are able to do more trips in every hour.

Handling Tight Curves

Under Electrics, Wikipedia says this about the ability of the trains to handle tight curves.

Metro has a maximum speed of 80 km/h (50 mph), which it attains on rural stretches of line. The vehicles have a minimum curve radius of 50 m (55 yd), although there are no curves this tight except for the non-passenger chord between Manors and West Jesmond.

Could this chord be avoided by different operating procedures?

Serving Newcastle Station

Northern’s services from Newcastle station are.

  • 1 tph – Northbound on the East Coast Main Line to Cramlington and Morpeth with services extended to Chathill at peak hours.
  • 1 tph – Southbound along the Durham Coast Line to Middlesbrough calling at Heworth, Sunderland, Seaham, Hartlepool, Seaton Carew, Billingham, Stockton andThornaby, with an extension to James Cook University Hospital and Nunthorpe.
  • 1 tph – Westbound on the Tyne Valley Line to Carlisle calling at MetroCentre, Prudhoe, Hexham, Haydon Bridge, Haltwhistle, Brampton and others at alternate hours.
  • Westbound slow service on the Tyne Valley Line to Hexham calling at Dunston, MetroCentre, Blaydon, Wylam, Prudhoe, Stocksfield, Riding Mill, Corbridge and terminating at Hexham, with an extension to Carlisle at peak hours.
  • 1 tph – Newcastle to Metro Centre calling at Dunston only during the day.

Pathetic is probably a suitable word.

When Greater Anglia have their new trains, services between Ipswich, Norwich, Colchester, Bury St. Edmunds, Lowestoft and Yarmouth, will be at least two tph and sometimes three and four on most routes.

Newcastle To Sunderland Via Sunderland

Newcastle, Sunderland and Middlesbrough surely need a four tph rail connection along the Durham Coast Line.

I believe that dual-voltage Metro trains with a battery capability could run between Middlesbrough and Newcastle at a frequency of four tph.

If they can’t, I’m certain that a suitable train could be procured.

If the new Metro trains are correctly-configured heavy-rail trains, then surely a go-anywhere express version can be built.

  • Identical train bodies, cabs and traction systems to new Metro trains
  • An interior geared to the needs of passengers.
  • Four or five cars with selective door opening.
  • Ability to run on Metro tracks using 1500 VDC overhead wires.
  • Ability to run on 25 KVAC overhead wires.
  • Batteries for regenerative braking, emergency power and distances up to two miles.
  • Diesel or preferably hydrogen power pack.
  • Sufficient range to keep going all day.
  • 90-100 mph capability.

As the trains would have an identical cross-section to the new Metro trains, they could do any of the following at Newcastle.

  • Terminate at Newcastle station.
  • Go through Newcastle station to Metrocentre, Hexham, Carlisle, Morpeth or some other destination.
  • Go through the tunnel of the Metro to Newcsastle Airport.
  • Go through the tunnel of the Northumberland Park station to link to the North-East.

I believe that such a train could run as an express to link the whole conurbation from Middlesbrough to Morpeth together.

Newcastle To Carlisle Via Metrocentre and Hexham

The train that i just proposed would be ideal for this route.

I also believe that Metrocentre needs at least six tph connecting it to the centre of Newcastle and the Metro.

The proposed West End of Newcastle branch of the Metro looks to be a necessity, to provide some of this frequency.

What Is The Point Of Northern?

With the right trains, all of the local services in the Tyne-Wear-Tees area can be satisfied by a Metro running modern trains making the maximum use of modern technology.

This model already works in Merseyside, so why not in the North-East? And Manchester, Leeds and South Yorkshire!

A Tees Valley Metro

I have always been keen on the creation of a Tees Valley Metro. I wrote about it in The Creation Of The Tees Valley Metro.

Get the design of the trains on the Tyne and Wear Metro right and they could work any proposed Tees Valley Metro.

Conclusion

I think that Nexus will get some very interesting proposals for their new trains, which will open up a lot of possibilities to extend the network.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

February 5, 2018 - Posted by | Travel | , , , , ,

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