The Anonymous Widower

Crossrail Trains Cleared To Use The Heathrow Tunnel

This title of this post, is the same as that of this article on Ian Visits.

These are the first four paragraphs.

Last month, a significant achievement took place on the Crossrail project, which is far more important than the headlines make it seem to be.

At a basic level, the Office of Rail Regulation approved the use of the new Class 345 trains that will be used on the Elizabeth line to carry passengers into the Heathrow tunnels.

The practical implication being that TfL Rail will in the next few weeks be able to run from Paddington to Heathrow direct, as they were supposed to start doing back in May 2018.

The delay has been caused by the bane and saviour of modern railways, the signalling system.

Ian then goes on to give a full and understandable explanation of the complex nature of modern rail signalling.

Ian finishes by giving a detailed description of the Class 345 trainsAuto-Reverse feature.

Around half of westbound trains will terminate at Paddington, but to head back eastwards, once all the passengers are off, they carry on westwards to Westbourne Park, then return back to Paddington on the eastbound line.

Normally that means the train driver would drive to Westbourne Park, stop, walk through the train to the other end, then drive back. But with “auto-reverse”, as soon as the train leaves Paddington, the driver switches to automatic and starts walking through the train to the other end. By the time the train arrives at Westbourne Park sidings, the driver will be sitting in the drivers cab at the other end of the train ready to head back into Central London.

I feel we need more automation on trains.

Possible Uses Of Automation

These are some possibilities.

Reversing In Services

Several services, require the driver to change ends and then drive the train from the other end, when calling at a station.

  • Some Nottingham and Skegness services, reverse in Grantham station.
  • Maidenhead and Marlow services, reverse in Bourne End station.
  • Norwich and Sheringham services, reverse in Cromer station.

I could envisage an automatic system, that took the train from A to B to C etc. under the control of the driver.

  • They might just touch a screen or button to move to the next station, as drivers have done on the Victoria Line.
  • Both cabs would have a remote video screen showing the view from the other end of the train.
  • The driver could drive the train from either cab.
  • Arriving at a station, the automation would stop the train in the correct position.
  • As on a Victoria Line train, the driver would monitor the system at all times and take control and drive manually, if required.
  • The driver might also have a sophisticated remote control, so that if he needed to walk through the train to change cabs, he would still be in full control.

The guard might also have a remote control, for use in the very rare case of driver incapacitation, where he would need to halt the train.

Shuttle Services

There are services in the UK, where a single train shuttles between two stations.

  • Brockenhurst and Limington Pier – 11 minutes
  • Grove Park and Bromley North stations –  5 mins
  • St. Erth and St. Ives stations – 10 mins
  • Slough and Windsor & Eton Central – 6 mins
  • Sudbury and Marks Tey – 19 mins
  • Twyford and Henley stations – 12 mins
  • Watford Junction and St. Albans Abbey – 16 minutes


  1. The time shown is the time for a single journey.
  2. All these services use a single train, where the driver changes ends before each journey.
  3. The  services use a dedicated platform at both terminals.
  4. There is a dedicated track between the terminals.
  5. Some of these services may need a more frequent service.

If the driver doesn’t change ends, would the time saved allow more trains per hour (tph)?

I think the following improvements are possible.

  • Grove Park and Bromley North – three tph to four
  • Slough and Windsor & Eton Central – three tph to four
  • Watford Junction and St. Albans Abbey – If the journey time could be reduced to fourteen minutes or less, there is a chance that the service could be doubled to two tph.

It looks that if the driver change ends, then it appears the following frequencies are possible, with these journey times.

  • Less than six-and-a-half minutes – four tph
  • Less than nine minutes – three tph
  • Less than fourteen minutes – two tph

I do wonder if an automated shuttle on the Abbey Line could run at the required two tph, with only minimal infrastructure works.



June 2, 2020 - Posted by | Transport | , , , ,


  1. that’s interesting. I wasn’t aware of the reversing into Paddington. Presumably, that’s so the train can come back on a different platform?

    I think this sort of automatic procedure when no passengers are on the train is a rather different thing from when the train is full of passengers.

    There’s no doubt that more automation is on its way. Alstom announced last week that they’re participating in a test in Brunswick starting next year. This PR specifically distinguishes between GoA3 in regular passenger operation and GoA4 in shunting operations (which is essentially what the Paddington manoeuvre is). See for more details of the different levels, which are similar to those for automated cars.

    Comment by Peter Robins | June 2, 2020 | Reply

    • When you consider Dear Old Vicky has been running automatically since the 1960s and the original system was all valves and relays, that sort of driver-monitored system is very safe. The driver just waits until everybody has loaded and then pushed a button, which closes the doors and moves the train to the next station. The driver would be in a location on the train, where he can see both ends of the train either directly or by CCTV.

      Comment by AnonW | June 2, 2020 | Reply

  2. A couple of problems with this article.
    The change at Bourne End takes less than 2 minutes, as with the Slough – Windsor services. These are usually operated by 2 car trains. However, when the Class 789’s takeover these services in the next year or so then these trains will become 3-4 car.
    For the Abbey Line, this line operates with an awful timetable and that is due to the ridiculous speed limits in place on this line (20mph for much of it). I understand that the current proposal is to add a passing loop to operate 2 trains, when in reality if the speed restrictions were removed, a half hourly service could operate with ease with 1 train!

    Comment by Andrew Bruton | June 2, 2020 | Reply

    • That’s what my calculations show about the Abbey Line. A modern train like an Aventra built for fast stops and run automatically on a line with higher speed, would go metronomically up and down the route.

      Comment by AnonW | June 3, 2020 | Reply

  3. I’m not convinced that some of the lines listed are, or would be, busy enough (pathing) to make the time savings of partial automation to support driver end changes worthwhile (in terms of cost of change including line specific certification testing).

    I also wonder whether some of the shuttle service lines mentioned (certainly Abbey, maybe Sudbury) would be better served by redevelopment into peoplemover automation of the sort proposed for Nottingham (which feels a lot like the Morgantown system). Creating off peak turn up and go and peak scheduled services including non stopping terminal to terminal express where relevant

    Comment by MilesT | June 3, 2020 | Reply

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