The Anonymous Widower

Grayling Confirms Electrification Will Form Part Of £3bn TransPennine Upgrade

The title of this post is the same as that of this article on Rail Technology Magazine.

his is a key section of the article.

But now, in a letter to the Railway Industry Association (RIA), Grayling has finally confirmed that the TransPennine upgrade will be a “rolling programme of enhancements,” including both major civil engineering projects and electrification.

He wrote: “The key to delivering improved journey times on what is a very circuitous route through the Pennines involves rebuilding and relaying most of the track bed from Manchester to York.

“We are awaiting Network Rail’s final project plan, but we have instructed them to prioritise those elements which bring the quickest passenger benefits. This will include things like straightening lengths of track to improve line speed.”

If nothing else Chris Grayling’s comments appear to have been measured ones and not a quick response to ht out to shout down the various groups for whom nothing short of full electrification is an acceptable  solution.

The Routes Across The Pennines

There are three main routes across the Southern section of the Pennines. From North to South they are.

The Calder Valley Line from Manchester Victoria and Preston in the West to Leeds, Selby and York in the East via Hebden Bridge, Halifax and Bradford.

The Huddersfield Line from Manchester Airport, Piccadilly and Victoria in the West to Leeds, Hull and York in the East via Stalybridge, Huddersfield and Dewsbury.

The Hope Valley Line from Manchester Piccadilly in the West to Sheffield in the East.

Note.

  1. The three routes are much of a muchness with operating speeds in the region of 70-90 mph.
  2. There are good connections in the West with Blackpool, Chester, Liverpool and the West Coast Main Line.
  3. There are good connections in the East with Hull, Newcastle, York and the East Coast Main Line.
  4. Some connecting routes like the East and West Coast Main Lines are electrified 125 mph routes, but others like the connections to Chester, Hull and Scarborough are slower diesel routes.
  5. Some electrified routes like Liverpool to Manchester via Chat Moss, although they are electrified need speed improvements.
  6. The four major cities served by the three cross-Pennine routes; Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester and Sheffield all Have sizeable local tram or rail services.

If all these routes could be improved, they would create a core network of cross-Pennine routes.

There is also two other secondary routes that could be improved or created as diversion routes, whilst work is carried out on the main routes.

  • A conductor pointed out to me, that passenger trains can go between Blackburn and Leeds via the Ribble Valley Line and Skipton with a reverse at Hellifield station.
  • And then there’s the reopening of the route between Sklipton and Colne, which appears to be top of a lot of politicians and train companies lists.

Surely, these could be used to provide extra capacity if one of the Calder Valley or Huddersfield Lines was closed for improvement.

Some suggestions, I’ve seen about the Skipton to Colne Line, even say it could be used for freight.

I believe that with some measure of careful planning, the number of train paths across the Pennines can be increased, to an extend that would ease the improvement of the three main routes.

The Project Has A High Degree Of Difficulty and Complexity

The biggest upgrades of a UK railway in my time has been the electrification of these three main lines from London.

So how did Network Rail mess up on the Great Western, when British Rail completed the other lines without massive amounts of trouble?

Various reasons have been put forward, but I believe it has a lot ot do with the change of attitudes on the public’s behalf and new regulations in the intervening forty years.

As an example consider the electrification of the Grade II* Listed Digswell Viaduct in the 1970s. British Rail just did it and I don’t even know, if there were any objections.

Today, the Heritage lobby and various other pressure groups, would have had a field day. In the 1970s, most people accepted that the Government and Bitish Rail knew best.

Forty years ago, passengers accepted the disruption caused by works on the railways. Now they don’t and there are millions more regular travellers to complain.

Upgrading the main routes across the North have a lot of problems that will rear their ugly heads as the routes are upgraded.

  • Many of the routes are double-track lines hemmed in by cuttings, villages and towns.
  • There are large numbers of bridges, viaducts and level crossings on the routes.
  • Many of the routes have speed limits around 80 mph.
  • How good is the documentation of the routes?
  • Sitting in the middle of the routes is the Grade I Listed Huddersfield station and the Grade II Listed Hebden Bridge station.

To see the problem of these lines take the following trains.

  • Blackburn to Hebden Bridge
  • Hebden Bridge to Leeds
  • Leeds to Huddersfield
  • Huddersfield to Manchester Airport.

Take a break at the three intermediate stations.

  • Hebden Bridge station  is a gem of a Victorian station.
  • Leeds is a modern station overflowing with passengers.
  • Huddersfield station is one of the North’s great buildings.

In addition, note the number of arched stone bridges, that are probably not high enough for electrification.

To upgrade and electrify these lines is not the simpler project of say electrifying the Midland Main Line, where much of the route is in flat open country.

Throw Every Possible Proven Technique At The TransPennine Improvement

If ever there was a project, where one method doesn’t fit all, then this is that project.

Every sub-project of the work must be done in the best way for that sub-project.

Decisions must also be taken early, about factors that will influence the overall project.

I believe that Crossrail and the new South Wales Metro were designed using an holistic approach.

  • New trains have been designed in conjunction with the route.
  • Electrification has been simplified by innovations, like batteries on the trains.
  • Trains and platforms will fit each other.
  • Station design has evolved for efficient train operation.
  • Signalling will be digital to allow higher frequencies.

Because of the complexity and importance of the overall TransPennine project, only the best solutions will do!

Some will definitely not be invented here!

A few of my thoughts follow!

A Rolling Programme Of Improvements

This would be a good idea, as improvements can be done in what is the best order for all the stakeholders.

For instance there might be a bridge that will need to be replaced because it is too low and/or structurally, it is approaching the end of its life.

  • But it will cause massive disruption to replace.
  • On the other hand once replaced it might cut perhaps ten minutes from journeys passing through, as the track can be straightened.

Perhaps it will be better to bite the bullet and get this project done early? In the past, I feel Network Rail has often delayed tackling difficult projects. But if they did a good on-time job, it might help to convince people, that they mean what they say in future.

Improving The Tracks

I said earlier, that Chris Grayling wrote this.

The key to delivering improved journey times on what is a very circuitous route through the Pennines involves rebuilding and relaying most of the track bed from Manchester to York.

No building, no matter how humble or grand can be built without sound foundations.

What Chris Grayling said would be a good way to start the project.

It would give the following benefits.

  • Operating speeds might be raised in places.
  • Important loops and crossovers, that have been needed for decades could be added.
  • Structures like bridges, past their useful life could be replaced.
  • Some level crossings could be removed.

If it were done thoroughly, passengers would see reduced journey times.

The new rolling stock that is already on order for the route would be able to work the various TransPennine routes when they are delivered.

At the end of the work, Network Rail would also have a fully-surveyed railway in tip-top condition.

Electrification

It is my belief that to electrify a new or well-surveyed rebuilt existing railway, is much easier than electrifying an existing route.

If parts of the improved route are to be electrified, it would be like electrifying a new railway.

These points should be noted.

  • Old mine workings and other Victorian horrors were found, when trying to electrify through Bolton.
  • On the Gospel Oak to Barking Line in North London, they found an undocumented sewer.
  • To sort out the electrification between Preston and Blackpool, Network Rail shut the route and rebuilt the railway before electrifying it.

A similar approach to Preston and Blackpool might help on sections of the main TransPennine routes.

It may be a more expensive process with all the surveying and rebuilding, but it would appear to a more safety-first approach.

The Stone Bridges And Discontinuous Electrification

I’d be very interested to know how many of those bridges could be handled using discontinuous electrification.

The wires go through the bridge in the normal way, but the section under the bridge that possibly could be a safety hazard, is earthed so that there is a dead section of wire.

The section is insulated from the 25 KVAC wires on either side by something like a ceramic rod, so that the trains’ pantographs can ride through easily under the bridge.

The disadvantage is the trains need batteries for power, where there is none coming from the overhead wire.

The technique has already been earmarked for the electrification of the South Wales Metro.

Tunnel Electrification

Crossrail and the Severn Tunnel do not use conventional electrification. A rail is fixed in the roof and the pantograph runs on the rail.

The TransPennine routes have numerous tunnels and I believe that many could be electrified in this way.

It might even be possible to automate the process, as it was in the Crossrail tunnels. But they were modern concrete tunnels, not Victorian ones with uneven surfaces.

On the other hand there are a lot of old tunnels in the UK, that need to be electrified.

Viaduct Electrification

This picture shows Bank Top Viaduct in Burnley

I can’t understand why, viaducts like these aren’t electrified using a third-rail.

  • Third rail electrification works for most applications as well as overhead.
  • Working on overhead electrification on a viaduct, is not a job for some.
  • There is no visual intrusion with third rail.
  • The power could only be switched on, when a train is connected.

On the other hand dual-voltage trains, that could switch quickly between systems at line speed would be needed.

Station Electrification

I also think that third-rail electrification can be used in stations where overhead electrification would be difficult or intrusive.

Battery,Bi-Mode And Hydrogen Trains

Train manufacturers are not stupid and want to increase their profits.

  • Alstom are developing fleets of hydrogen trains.
  • Bombardier are developing 125 mph bi-mode trains with batteries.
  • CAF are developing battery and bi-mode trains.
  • Stadler are developing trains with batteries and/or diesel power.

I suspect all these companies and others, see more trains can be sold, if innovative trains can run without the necessity of full electrification.

I also suspect many rail operators would prefer to spend money on shiny new trains, than on disruptive and ugly electrification.

Remember too, that batteries will improve.

Conclusion

I can see several techniques that could be applied to make electrification of some parts of the TransPennine routes.

 

July 25, 2018 - Posted by | Travel | , , ,

3 Comments »

  1. I cannot figure out why they don’t consider re-instating the Woodhead route. Like the Skipton/Colne route, there is a relatively short gap to rebuild.

    Comment by mauricegreed | July 25, 2018 | Reply

    • There have been groups calling for the route to be reopened for decades. I feel that if one of the proposals was financially viable it would have been implemented.

      Could it be that between Glossop and Penistone, the line doesn’t serve any sizeable towns, so the route would rely heavily on long-distance traffic between Doncaster/Sheffield and Manchester?

      According to Wikipedia, the line was electrified because of the coal traffic and one of the reasons for closing it was the end of this traffic.

      I also feel that upgrades to the other routes can handle the predicted capacity for perhaps twenty years.
      I do feel though, that more road and rail capacity will be needed in the future and perhaps the best solution will be a selection of tunnels.

      I also feel that reopening the Peak Main Line between Manchester and Matlock would be better value and would take pressure off the Hope Valley Line.

      https://anonw.com/2017/05/30/connecting-the-powerhouses/

      Comment by AnonW | July 25, 2018 | Reply

      • Admittedly there might not be a high passenger load on this route but it would be good for freight.

        Comment by mauricegreed | July 25, 2018


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