The Anonymous Widower

The New Fifth Platform At Stevenage Station – 11th October 2019

Stevenage station is getting a fifth platform for the termination of Great Northern services to and from Moorgate station.

  • This platform will be on the down side of the station.
  • A single platform should be able to turnback at least four trains per hour (tph) and possibly as many as six tph, that have used the Hertford Loop Line to come North.
  • Wikipedia says that this will increase the capacity and freqiency on the East Coast Main Line and the Hertford Loop Line.

These are a few pictures of the works.

This page on the Network Rail we site is entitled Stevenage Turnback and it gives more details.

  • improved resilience and reliability is claimed.
  • Two kilometres of new track and a set of points will be added.
  • The embankment on the West side of the track will be strengthened.
  • The signalling will be improved.
  • Two bridges will be modified.

Everything should be completed by Summer 2020, so that the four tph from Moorgate to Stevenage can be resumed.

These are my observations.

  • The work on the West side of the East Coast Main Line seems to be to a very high standard.
  • There seems to be enough space for a possible double-track or a passing loop between the new platform and the Hertford Loop Line in future.
  • The embankment on the West side of the track is being strengthened.
  • Will trains still be able to come from the Hertford Loop and continue North?

It certainly appears to me to be built to allow expansion in the future.

What Frequency Will The New Platform Be Able To Handle?

There are several platforms in the UK, where four tph are turned back.

It looks to me, that there is no reason, why this frequency couldn’t be handled in the new platform at Stevenage.

Especially, as there appears to be at least one crossover between Stevenage and Watton-at-Stone stations.

But could it handle more trains?

The Hertford Loop Line is scheduled to be updated with digital signalling. So in the future, this may be possible, if the need is there!

The Great Northern Metro

It should also be noted that in 2016, Govia Thameslink Railway published plans for a Great Northern Metro. They seemed to have dropped this idea, but I discussed the plan in The Great Northern Metro.

This is a brief summary of those proposals.

  • Fourteen tph in the High Peak.
  • In the Off Peak, there would be six tph to Hertford North, four tph to Welwyn Garden City and two tph to Stevenage.
  • Sunday services are four tph to both branches and two tph to Stevenage.

I do wonder what is the capacity of the Hertford Loop Line.

  • It has grade-separated junctions at both ends of the route.
  • It is double-track throughout.
  • It has 25 KVAC overhead electrification.
  • It has a 75 mph operating speed.
  • It has turnback platforms at Gordon Hill and Hertford North stations.
  • It is planned to equip the route with digital signalling.
  • It is planned to upgrade the power supply.
  • It probably handles a maximum of about eight tph, which can include a couple of freight trains.

I suspect that this route can be improved to handle more and longer trains., at a higher speed than now!

Could Thameslink Use The Hertford Loop Line?

Could some Thameslink services to Cambridge and Peterborough use the Hertford Loop Line, rather than the East Coast Main Line?

Consider.

  • The Hertford Loop Line will have an increased speed limit.
  • Digital signalling is to be introduced on the route.
  • Trains might only stop at Hertford North, Enfield Chase and Alexandra Palace.
  • Some current Thameslink services between London and Cambridge and Peterborough, run non-stop between Finsbury Park and Stevenage.

Diverting some services to the Hertford Loop Line would have the following advantages.

  • It would relrease capacity on the East Coast Main Line.
  • It would reduce the number of trains using the two-track section over the Digswell viaduct.
  • It could give Hertford a direct link to Cambridge and Peterborough.

The disadvantage would be that services would be a few minutes slower.

140 mph Running On The East Coast Main Line

Under Planned Or Proposed Developments the Wikipedia entry for the EastCoast Main Line says this.

Most of the length of the ECML is capable of 140 mph subject to certain infrastructure upgrades. Below is the foreword of the Greengauge 21 report:

“Upgrading the East Coast Main Line to 140 mph operation as a high priority alongside HS2 and to be delivered without delay. Newcastle London timings across a shorter route could closely match those achievable by HS2..

The section then goes on to describe a lot of improvements with the aim of running between London and Edinburgh in four hours.

The project has a code name of L2E4. There is more information at this page on the Network Rail web site.

South of Peterborough, there are infrastructure and rolling stock limitations, that will stop the Hitachi Class 800 trains running at 140 mph.

  • Extra tracks are needed between Huntington and Woodwalton.
  • There is a double-track section over the Digswell viaduct, through Welwyn North station and the Welwyn tunnels.
  • Thameslink’s Class 700 trains that run services to Cambridge and Peterborough are only capable of 100 mph.
  • Great Northern’s Class 387 trains, that run services to Cambridge and Kings Lynn are only capable of 110 mph.
  • Hull Trains and Grand Central run services with trains that are only capable of 125 mph.

I will deal with these in order.

Extra Tracks Between Huntingdon and Woodwalton

The Wikipedia entry for the East Coast Main Line says this about this project.

Re-quadrupling of the route between Huntingdon and Woodwalton (HW4T) which was rationalised in the 1980s during electrification (part of the ECML Connectivity programme). This also involves the closure and diversion of a level crossing at Abbots Ripton which was approved in November 2017.

This improvement, which will mean continuous quadruple tracks between Stevenage and Peterborough will mean.

  • A few minutes for all trains will be saved.
  • Slower stopping services between London and Peterborough, will be kept out of the way of the 140 mph expresses.

What sort of stink would there be, if a motorway closed in the 1980s was now being rebuilt, to provide what existed forty years ago?

But British Rail closed or simplified infrastructure, without properly looking at the consequences, mainly to please or under the direction of the Treasury.

Double-Track Over Digwell Viaduct And Through Welwyn North Station

This is one of the worst rail bottlenecks in the UK.

To make matters worse, a service between Kings Cross and Cambridge with a frequency of two tph stops at the station.

It means a fast train would have to do a pit stop at speeds nor far off those of a racing car.

I think we can say, that adding extra tracks through the area would be extremely difficult, if not impossible.

But consider the trains that pass Welwyn North every hour.

  • LNER – 5 trains
  • Thameslink – 3 trains
  • Cambridge and Ely expresses – 2 trains
  • Cambridge stopping trains – 2 trains.
  • Hull Trains – 7 trains per day.
  • Grand Central – 9 trains per day.

If it is assumed that the Hull Trains and Grand Central add up to one train per hour, it looks like about thirteen tph go through the double track section.

If another couple of trains are added for luck, this means that the double track section will be handling a train every four minutes.

The double-track section is less than five miles long, so a 140 mph train will run between the quadruple track sections at Welwyn Garden City and Knebworth stations  in jut over two minutes.

Currently, the trains that stop at Welwyn North station are timetabled to take nine minutes between stops at Welwyn Garden City and Knebworth stations.

Effectively, the stop at Welwyn North station blocks the double-track section for nine minutes..

This means that there are two twenty-one minute periods in an hour where the other trains can pass through.

So how can you maximise the use of these available periods?

  • The trains must arrive precisely at the right time – Digital signalling with automatic train control is probably the best way to ensure this.
  • All through trains must be running as near to 140 mph as possible.
  • Diverting of slower trains to alternative routes should be examined.
  • The stopping train should be able to execute a stop in the shortest possible time.

I believe that if the timetable is efficient, that as many as twenty tph could be handled.

Most would go through the double-track section at 140 mph!

I must add a point about safety.

Trains currently go through these platforms at Welwyn North station at a maximum speed of 125 mph.

Will more trains going through at a faster speed, necessitate the addition of a passenger protection system at the station?

Thameslink’s Class 700 Trains

I have heard East Midlands drivers moan about Class 700 trains on the Midland Main Line, as they are too slow at 100 mph to mix it with the 125 mph expresses.

It looks like the Treasury got the specification wrong again! Surprise! Surprise! Even a 110 mph capability, as is often specified for outer suburban trains would be better.

But these trains run non-stop between Finsbury Park and Stevenage stations, so at 100-110 mph, they will be a bit of a hindrance to the trains running at 140 mph. It would be like granny and grandpa in a Morris Minor in the fast lane of a motorway!

If there is the capacity, then perhaps the Thameslink trains should run on an upgraded Hertfprd Loop Line along with the 100 mph Class 717 trains.

Once they rejoined the East Coast Main Line, they would take to the upgraded slow lines to go Cambridge and Peterborough.

Great Northern’s Class 387 Trains

Cambridge is one of the UK’s world-class cities and it deserves a top quality service from London.

The current Class 387 trains are only 110 mph trains, so wouldn’t fit well with the herds of 140 mph trains running to and from London.

It would probably be best in the long term to replace these trains with 140 mph trains designed for the route.

After all if Oxford can have a commuter service to London using Class 802 trains, then surely these are good enough for Cambridge?

In Call For ETCS On King’s Lynn Route, I discuss the possibility of digital signalling on the London and Kings Lynn route via Cambridge, based on reports in Rail Magazine.

If the Cambridge Line from Hitchin were to be upgraded for faster running, then London and Cambridge times might be reduced significantly.

Hull Trains And Grand Central

Hull Trains and Grand Central will want to participate in the 140 mph action between London and Doncaster.

Hull Trains have already made their move and have leased a fleet of Class 802 trains, which will shortly enter service.

Another Open Access operator; East Coast Trains has already ordered five Hitachi 140 mph trains.

Will Grand Central replace their fleet of Class 180 trains?

They will either buy 140 mph trains, cease trading or give up!

The other operators won’t want slow trains on the fast lines.

How Many 140 mph Trains Will Be Able To Run Between London And Doncaster?

I finish this section with a question.

I answered this question and a few others in Thoughts On A 140 mph East Coast Main Line Between London And Doncaster.

This was my conclusion.

If something similar to what I have proposed is possible, it looks like as many as an extra seven tph can be accommodated between Kings Cross and the North.

That is certainly worth having.

Conclusion

The new platform at Stevenage station is a well-designed sub-project that enables  the Hertford Loop Line to be used to its full capability.

  • Up to four tph will be able to run between Moorgate and Stevenage stations.
  • The redesigned junction at Stevenage will allow services like Thameslink to use the Hertford Loop Line rather than run at 100 mph on the East Coast Main Line.

It is an important sub-project in turning the East Coast Main Line into a high speed line with a high proportion of 140 mph running.

 

 

 

 

 

October 11, 2019 - Posted by | Transport | , , , , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. […] The New Fifth Platform At Stevenage Station – 11th October 2019, I talked about the improvements at the Northern end of the Hertford Loop Line, which I believe […]

    Pingback by Thoughts On A 140 mph East Coast Main Line Between London And Doncaster « The Anonymous Widower | October 13, 2019 | Reply


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