The Anonymous Widower

Will We See More Slab Track On UK Railways?

I ask this question, as I’ve just read this article on Rail Engineer, which is entitled Slab Track Austria: Now A Serious Contender?

 Slab track or ballastless track has a Wikipedia entry.

This is said under Characteristics.

In ballastless tracks, the rails are rigidly fastened to a special type of concrete ties/sleepers that are themselves set in concrete. Ballastless tracks therefore offer a high consistency in track geometry, the adjusting of which is not possible after the concreting of the superstructure. Therefore, ballastless tracks must be concreted within a tolerance of 0.5 millimetres. The elasticity of the ballast in the traditional railway superstructure is replaced by flexibility between either the rails and the concrete ties/sleepers or the ties/sleepers and the concrete or asphalt slab as well inherent elasticity within the conglomerate of the tie/sleeper, whereas the concrete or asphalt slab is usually inelastic.

Applications in the UK recently include.

This picture shows some of the slab track on the Gospel Oak to Barking Line.

I suspect, that slab track was used here mainly because of limited clearance. But low maintenance and long life, must have improved the financial case.

Returning to the Rail Engineer article, it would appear that the engineers behind the slab track, have rethought a lot of the process of building a railway.

Slab Track Austria, which used to be called PORR-STA, seems to offer the following.

  • Factory-build or one-site fabrication.
  • Ease of installation.
  • Accurate alignment
  • Switches and crossing can be fabricated.
  • Transition solutions to ballasted track.
  • Low noise and vibration.
  • Ease of maintenance
  • Sixty year life.

Slab Track Austria would also appear to have worked extensively with Austrian Railways, to get everything as right as possible.

It just shows how much improvement can be squeezed out of some traditional industrial and construction processes.

HS2

TheSlab Track Austria track has also been used extensively on the new Berlin to Munich high speed line, that I wrote about in From Berlin To Munich In Four Hours By Train. This is said about the use of the track on that line, in the Rail Engineer article.

PORR was contracted to design and build three major sections of the railway route. Its patented slab track, STA, was installed over a total length of 320km, in tunnels, on bridges and in open sections. Operations started successfully in December 2015 on the VDE 8.2 section, from Erfurt to Leipzig and Halle. Since December 2017, the sections VDE 8.1.2, from Coburg to Illmenau, and VDE 8.1.3, from Bad Staffelstein to Coburg, have been in operation. Trains have been running on the STA slab track layout at speeds of 300km/h. Prior to commissioning, this slab track was tested at 330 km/h.

So it would appear to be suitable for the 400 kph, that is quoted for HS2, with perhaps a bit of tweaking.

The article also says this about using the track on HS2.

Cost analysis research suggests that the savings made from the reduced maintenance required for STA track will equate to a payback of within 15 to 20 years when compared to ballasted track systems. The opportunity for significant savings, as well as increased network availability due to the reduced maintenance requirement, has to mean that this system is a serious contender for any new railway route, one of which, of course, is HS2.

A dedicated factory producing the slabs would surely increase quality.

But whatever happens, with its numerous, bridges, tunnels and viaducts, I suspect that HS2 will be built using slab track.

In the last quote, a payback time of fifteen to twenty years is suggested, if the track is used on a new railway.

So where else could slab track be used to advantage?

East-West Rail Link

I feel that the East West Rail Link, could be a possibility.

Consider.

  • It will not be initially electrified.
  • It is through terrain that is not very challenging
  • It is fairly close to HS2 and a possible slab track factory.

Building the line with slab track, could help make the East West Rail Link a low-energy and low-noise line for battery or hydrogen trains.

West Anglia Main Line Four-Tracking

Adding two extra tracks to the West Anglia Main Line between Coppermill Junction, which is just South of Tottenham Hale station, and Broxbourne station will be a difficult project.

The line is hemmed in on both sides by housing and slab track might give advantages.

  • Ease to squeeze the tracks in the limited space available.
  • Reduced noise.
  • Speedier construction.

If Crossrail 2 is built, this four-tracking will have to be done.

Calder Valley Line

The Calder Valley Line should be updated to create a quality roue across the Pennines from Preston to Leeds.

Parts of the line would be challenging to improve to say the least, with lots of heritage features around the track.

Using slab track in places, has has been done on the Gospel Oak to Barking Line, might help with the following.

  • The construction works needed.
  • Increasing line speed.
  • Lowering noise.
  • Reduced maintenance.

The Wikipedia entry for the Calder Valley Line has a section called Holme Tunnel Engineering Work. This is said.

Holme Tunnel, which lies between Hebden Bridge and Burnley Manchester Road, was closed for 20 weeks from November 2013 until March 2014. This was to allow for major engineering work to fix the distorted shape of the tunnel, caused by movement of the ground through which it passes. The project was budgeted to cost £16.3million. During the works, buses replaced train services. Trains can now pass through at 45 mph.

I don’t think slab track was used in the work in this tunnel, but do we need 45 mph speed limits on Trans Pennine routes? After reading this article on Rail Engineer, it would appear that 75 mph will be possible in the future.

But this project does show some of the major problems on Trans Pennine routes!

It will be interesting to see what happens on this line.

Other Trans Pennine Routes

The other two Trans Pennine routes, the Huddersfield Line and the Hope Valley Line both have similar characteristics.

  • Twisting routes.
  • Several tunnels.
  • Lots of bridges.

They are also busy with passenger and freight traffic.

When the plans for the updating of these lines is published, I suspect that slab track will feature, especially in some of the tunnels.

Across Chat Moss

George Stephenson had difficulty building the Liverpool to Manchester Railway across Chat Moss in 1829. Wikipedia says this about his solution.

 Chat Moss threatened the completion of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, until George Stephenson, with advice from East Anglian marshland specialist Robert Stannard, succeeded in constructing a railway line through it in 1829; his solution was to “float” the line on a bed of bound heather and branches topped with tar and covered with rubble stone. The M62 motorway, completed in 1976, also crosses the bog, to the north of Irlam.

I have talked to drivers, who drive Class 319 trains along the now-electrified line across Chat Moss. They told me, that the soft suspension gives an interesting ride.

Under Timings And Line Speeds in the Wikipedia entry for the Liverpool-Manchester Lines, this is said.

The fastest recorded run was from Manchester Exchange to Liverpool Lime St in 30 minutes 46 seconds by a 1936 built Jubilee 5707 with 7 coaches. An 1882-built compound steam locomotive was timed on the same route in 38 minutes 18 seconds. Until 1968 trains from Liverpool to Manchester by all 3 routes were scheduled to take 40 minutes and often took less. The southern route via Warrington is now restricted to 85 mph and the northern route via Earlestown to 90 mph, with 75 mph over Chat Moss.

It would appear that something needs to be done  to get timings between Liverpool and Manchester, back to those of the 1930s.

Would slab track across Chat Moss be part of the solution?

Tunnels

Various tunnel upgrades have shown how using slab track in tunnels is a very helpful technique.

Many tunnels will need to be updated to increase clearance for freight trains and overhead wires and also to solve structural problems caused by anno domini.

I believe we’ll see a lot more slab track in tunnels on the UK rail network.

Noise Reduction

The Rail Engineer article, says this about Slab Track Austria’s slab track.

The elastomeric layer also helps to reduce vibration and structure-borne noise, thus offering protection to supporting structures and reducing the noise created by passing trains – an important feature in built-up areas and tunnels.

So will we see increasing use of slab track in areas, where noise asnd vibration is a problem?

Other Lines

I see the Gospel Oak to Barking Line, as an example use of slab track that will be very much copied.

Slab track has been used successfully in sections, where clearance is limited and noise is a problem.

The use of slab track, might have meant that several bridges didn’t need to be rebuilt.

How many places in the UK have similar needs.

Conclusion

The rethinking of how we build railways by Slab Track Austria, will benefit our rail network and all those who use it.

We’ll be seeing a lot more slab track!

 

 

March 21, 2018 Posted by | Transport | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Will Heathrow Southern Railway Make Heathrow’s Cargo More Efficient?

This page on the Heathrow web site talks about the future for cargo at the Airport.

It starts with this paragraph.

Heathrow is the largest UK port by value and our ambition is to become one of Europe’s best airports for cargo. We have listened to our customers and developed a cargo strategy that will take us there.

The airport sums up its plan for cargo with these bullet points.

  • Halve current throughput times to be more efficient
  • Make cargo throughput times predictable to reduce costs
  • Grow cargo capacity at the airport to generate additional cargo volumes for our airline partners
  • Work with the cargo community, including through engagement and discussion
  • Be 100% e-freight compliant to reduce waste, costs and delays
  • Be a great airport of choice for cargo
  • Provide a safe working environment.

Nothing is said about being more energy efficient and emitting less carbon dioxide.

This document on Heathrow’s web site is entitled Heathrow’s Blueprint For Reducing Emissions.

They list ten things they are doing.

  • Bring in the newest and cleanest aircraft.
  • Continue to drive down emissions from aircraft at the gate.
  • Improve taxying efficiency.
  • Charge forward with electric cars and buses.
  • Heathrow cycles.
  • Drive sustainable freight operations.
  • Plug in more electric airside vehicles.
  • Provide a pool of low emission vehicles.
  • Efficient driver training and education.
  • Host an air quality conference.

This list was from a couple of years ago and there is a certain amount of PR, but there is some thinking in the right way.

To return to cargo, which is on Heathrow’s list of ten things they are improving, the following can be said.

  • Heathrow handles a lot of cargo by value.
  • Most air cargo from Heathrow goes in the holds of passenger aircraft.
  • Very little if any comes into the airport by rail.

This Google Map shows the central part of Heathrow Airport.

Note Heathrow Cargo Handling towards the South West corner of the Airport.

This map from carto.metro.free.fr shows the rail lines under Heathrow.

Consider.

  • I actually think, that some lines go under the cargo area.
  • There must be scope for consolidating cargo outside the airport and bringing in the containers in special trains.
  • There would be plenty of capacity on the link into Terminal 5 station.
  • Replacing trucks with electric trains would reduce the airport’s carbon footprint.

I am led to the conclusion, that there may be possibilities to bring cargo into and out of Heathrow Airport by train, using the link created by the Heathrow Southern Railway.

 

 

March 21, 2018 Posted by | Transport | , , | Leave a comment

MTR Vying To Join Heathrow Southern Rail Bid

The title of this post, is the same as that of this article in New Civil Engineer.

The title gives you all you need, but consider these facts about MTR.

  • MTR is a Hong Kong company with a revene of about £4 billion per year, which is about the same size as the Stagecoach Group.
  • MTR will be running Crossrail for Transport for London.
  • MTR in partnership with First Group, are running South Western Railway.

In addition, FirstGroup are running Great Western Railway.

So it could seem logical for MTR to be included in the consortium behind Heathrow Southern Railway, as they could have a lot of influence on the consortium’s policies.

In an argument about train paths or stations, MTR or their partner; First Group, will be involved on both sides.

The problem is Heathrow Airport and their ownership of Heathrow Express, especially if it is extended deep into South Western Railway territory at Basingstoke, Guildford or Working.

This is said on the Heathrow Southern Railway web site.

Whether or not a third runway is built, many more passengers and airport workers need to be accessing Heathrow by train. The Government’s recent M25 South West Quadrant Study ruled out widening the motorway. HSR provides the alternative, switching traffic from the roads and contributing to improving local air quality. We estimate that HSR will reduce use of this section of the M25 by over three million car trips a year.

Heathrow might be a greedy bully, but they probably need a superb rail service more, than they need to own Heathrow Express.

MTR and AECOM, who is a large partner in Heathrow Southern Railway partner, are big enough to stand up to anybody.

 

March 21, 2018 Posted by | Transport | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Traffic Between Windsor And Staines After The Building Of Heathrow Southern Railway

Currently, Windsor and Eton Riverside station has a two train per hour (tph) service to Waterloo, which calls at Staines.

These are also the only trains on the Staines-Windsor Line.

So if, there are four tph on a Crossrail service from Heathrow to Staines, as  I talked about in Heathrow Southern Railway’s Plans For Staines, then that only raises the frequency of the  trains on the Southern part of the Staines-Windsor Line to six tph.

In his article about the Heathrow Southern Railway in the December 2016 Edition of Modern Railways, Chris Stokes says this.

With the addition of a chord at Staines, it would also be potentially possible to operate a half-hourly Weybridge – Virginia Water – Egham – Terminal 5 service, providing a further attractive local link to Heathrow.

If this service were to be added, that only raises the frequency to eight tph.

I suspect that if modern signalling techniques were applied, that the capacity of this route would be above this frequency.

Heathrow Terminal 5 Station

I doubt there will be any problems of capacity at Heathrow Terminal 5 station.

The station has been built with two Piccadilly Line and four heavy rail platforms.

This map from carto.metro.free.fr, shows the platform layout.

Note.

  1. It would appear there are only two heavy rail platforms in use.
  2. Through trains would use these currently in use platforms.
  3. The two spare platforms could be arranged, so that they could handle a terminating train from either direction.
  4. The terminating platforms can probably handle four tph or even six tph.
  5. The through platforms can handle well over ten tph, with the right signalling.

Someone seems to have got the design right.

The Future Of Heathrow Express

In his Modern Railways article, Chris Stokes says this about services from Woking to Heathrow.

We have assumed half-hourly services from Basingstoke and Guildford to Heathrow and Paddington, providing a 15-minute frequency from Woking, with stops at Farnborough Main (Basingstoke services), Working, Terminal 5, Terminal 2 and 3 and Old Oak Common.

He also says that this service could take over the Heathrow Express paths and it would use the through platforms at Heathrow Terminal 5 station.

This arrangement has several advantages.

  • Heathrow Express doesn’t terminate in the tunnels under Terminal 5.
  • No new train paths between Heathrow and Paddington are required
  • Heathrow Express gets  new destinations without any expensive new infrastructure.

But it would appear that Heathrow Express may have a future.

 

March 21, 2018 Posted by | Transport | , , , , | Leave a comment