It would appear that Network Rail have stirred up a hornet’s nest in Suffolk over the tricky subject of level crossings.
Over the last couple of days, three letters have appeared in The Times either supporting or opposing the closures.
I’ve also had talks with old friends in the County and some are not happy.
This web page on Network Rail’s web site, which is entitled Anglia level crossings proposals, gives more details. This is said.
We have been working to reduce the risk that level crossings pose and have developed proposals to manage the possible closure or change of use of around 130 level crossings in Anglia across Cambridgeshire, Essex and Suffolk.
We believe it’s possible to close level crossings:
- with private rights only
- by diverting people to where a nearby alternative exists
- by providing a new public route to a nearby alternative
We will also look to downgrade level crossings to non-motorised users. None of the crossings in this proposal involve closing public A or B roads.
We recognise the importance of public rights of way and where possible we will maintain easy access to the countryside.
Having read the full document, I would say that Network Rail are trying to do there best to eliminate these hazards of a bygone age.
But try telling that to some of the locals.
What should bring it home to the locals is the Roudham train crash on April 10th, 2016, when a Class 170 train hit a tractor on a level crossing.
The train hasn’t been returned to service, so as I wrote in An Illustration Of East Anglia’s Rail Problems, the operator is scratching sround for trains.
So one place’s level crossing accident, is another area’s lack of trains.
There are rumours, that the Roudham crash was caused by human error, but the main cause of the crash, was the fact the level crossing existed.
All level crossings should be removed.
The Crouch Valley Line runs from Wickford station on the Liverpool Street to Southend Victoria Line and Southminster in deepest Essex via the sailing town of Burnham-on-Crouch.
This Google Map shows the route of the line.
Stations on the line are at Wickford, Battlesbridge, South Woodham Ferrers, North Fambridge, Althorne, Burnham-on-Crouch and Southminster.
I took these pictures as I went from Wickford station to Southminster station on the Crouch Valley Line. On the way back, I stopped off at Burnham-on-Crouch station and found an excellent snack lunch at Cafe-Dairy in the town.
It certainly isn’t your average rural railway line.
- The six stations on the line are in pretty good condition.
- All except North Fambridge station are single platform stations, so are effectively step-free.
- The line goes through marshes and country with a lot of birds. Very Snow Goose!
- Most of the stations, seem to have adequate car parking.
- The electrification doesn’t appear to be in the best of health, but then that could be said for much of East Anglia’s railways.
If it has one major problem, it is that trains seem to run every forty minutes.
Growth In Passenger Numbers
Two factors will see the number of passengers using this line grow in the future.
Someone in Burnham told me, that they were building a lot of new housing along the line, which surely will generate traffic.
Also, the RSPB’s flagship reserve at Wallasea, that has been built with tunnel spoil from Crossrail, is just across the river at Burnham-on-Crouch.
This Google Map shows the area.
The Crouch Valley Railway goes across the top of the map and stops at Burnham-on-Crouch station.
I walked down to the River, going past the cinema.
Will a proper route from the station to Wallasea Island on the other side of the River Crouch be created using a bus and a ferry?
There is also a very low possibility of a new nuclear power station at Bradwell, which could increase traffic to Southminster.
A Two Trains Per Hour Service
The current schedule meant I had a forty minute wait for a train after my lunch. I made a mistake calculating when the train would leave and I arrived back at the station a few minutes after the train had left.
Forty minutes is a long time to wait for a train in a station with few facilities on a sunny day.
If traffic does grow on the line, as I indicated in the previous section, two trains an hour will be a necessity.
The reason for the current weird interval is that if you look at the time-table, trains take thirty-one minutes to do the Journey.
If you add in the turn-round time, when train staff do what they have to do and that to run the service, the two trains must pass at the only passing loop at North Fambridge station, it becomes obvious, that the fastest sensible time for the journey adding in all the extras is forty minutes.
So it would seem that in order to get two trains per hour, you would need to get the time for the journey down to thirty minutes.
It would seem that it might be possible by using four trains to get a three trains per hour service, but this would probably need extra passing loops or full redoubling of the track with extra platforms in places.
So because of cost this will probably not be an option.
In other words, the only way to get two trains per hour on the branch, would be to speed up the time each journey takes.
New Trains On The Line
New trains on the line could be the key to achieving a thirty minute total journey time.
If something like a new Aventra train replaced the current Class 321 train, there would be certain features that would save time.
- The higher speed and better performance of the modern train would save some time.
- Modern trains are designed to stop, unload and pick up passengers and get back to line speed in a shorter time.
- Level access to platforms could be arranged to cut out loading delays of buggies, wheelchairs and bicycles.
- Helpful automation for the driver in the turn-round at each end of the line could save a few precious minutes.
- The precision driving needed would be easier in a modern train.
It might even be possible to do a faster speed in a Class 360 train.
Improving The track
I do wonder, if Network Rail have ideas to improve the line speed, which would mean more minutes saved.
I suspect Network Rail engineers wish that the conversion of this line to single-track in the 1960s shouldn’t have been carried out.
I think that within a couple of years, we’ll see new trains on this line providing a two trains per hour service.
I took these pictures at Wickford station.
- There is a disused Platform 4 at the London End.
- The Crouch Valley Line service to Southminster station uses Platform 1 at the Southend End.
- The service between London and Southend is generally three trains per hour.
- The service on the Crouch Valley Line is for a lot of the time, one train evrry forty minutes.
- The station is not step-free.
As one of the station staff says, the station needs a drastic makeover.
But as the station handles over two million passengers a year, I think that it must be a fair way up the list of stations to be improved.
London To Southend Services
Wickford station is on the line route between London Liverpool Street and Southend Victoria station, which is run by Abellio Greater Anglia (AGA).
There is also a line between London Fenchurch Street and Southend Central station, which is run by c2c.
Comparing the two services gives the following.
- The c2c service has six trains per hour, whereas the AGA service has three.
- The c2c service is a few minutes faster.
- The trains on the c2c service are Class 357 trains, a couple of decades younger than AGA’s Class 321 trains.
- c2c are intending to bring in new trains in a few years.
- c2c’s stations seem to be in better state than AGA’s.
To add to the problems of the AGA service, in a couple of years time, Crossrail will be running new trains between Liverpool Street and Shenfield.
I also believe that slower trains like the Class 321 trains, are an operational problem to increase capacity and speed on the Great Eastern Main Line South of Shenfield.
Because of the competition from c2c and the problems with running alongside Crossrail into London, I suspect that the new East Anglia Franchise will have to invest in new trains on the Liverpool Street to Southend Victoria route.
But these will not be designed with a Metro interior, but probably with an interior like a Class 387 train, with lots of space and tables.
Southend will certainly have a much improved train service to London.
If the service on the AGA route through Wickford were to be four or six trains per hour, then this would interchange much better with a two trains per hour service on the Crouch Valley Line.
I travel up and down the Great Eastern Main Line regularly and recently, there seems yo have been a greater incidence of freight trains with two locomotives on the front.
But today from a train at Shenfield I took this rather poor picture.
It would appear to show a Class 90 and a Class 66 working a freight train together.
Does this happen regularly? I can’t find any other pictures on the web.
I should get my camera out faster in future!
My family has had a typical relationship with Frinton, where it has been the butt of several jokes. But then C did get the odd nasty letter after the story of The First Off Licence In Frinton.
I dread to think what would happen to a lawyer doing something like that case these days.
- You can clearly see, where the second track used to be.
- Trains always use the Southern platform.
- Frinton has rather a retro taste in artwork.
- The catenary seemed to be not of the best quality.
- The station has a proper booking office.
- Like Walton-on-the-Naze station, the platform seems to be able to accommodate eight-car trains.
- I didn’t see anywhere to park a bike. According tom this station facilities page, there are spaces for six.
According to Wikipedia, it would appear that both Walton-on-the-Naze and Frinton-on-Sea stations get about a hundred thousand passengers a year. Kirby Cross station, the only other station on the branch gets roughly four times as much.
This Google Map shows the station and its location.
A One-Sided Station
Note how one-sided the station is, with little except the unused platform and the road on the North side of the track. The station buildings with their traditional barber and the car park are all on the South side of the track.
I assume that anybody coming rom the North side and wanting to get a train on foot or on a bicycle has to go across the level crossing and round into the station.
In When Is A Train Not A Train?, I proposed running lines like this under tram rules.
This station would be ideal, as obviously most passengers arrive on the side with a plattform.
It could even have a light-controlled walk-across the track by the level crossing to allow passengers to cross to and from the north.
I’m no electrification expert, but as an Electrical Engineer by training, I do feel that the wires, I saw at both Frinton-on-Sea and Walton-on-the Naze stations have seen better days and are probably up for replacement in the next few years.
If as I expect that the next East Anglia Franchise orders trains with the possibility of on-board storage, then I believe that instead of renewing the wires to Walton, the shuttle trains to Thorpe-le-Soken and the the direct Liverpool Street trains, could use stored energy on the Walton Branch.
They would charge their batteries, when running between Thorpe-le-Soken and Colchester.
Replacement of the electrification on the five mile long branch would conservatively cost several million pounds and need ongoing specialist maintenance. The money saved would surely pay for the onboard energy storage on the trains needed for the branch.
Removal of the electrification would give the following benefits.
- The branch would be free of high-voltage electricity.
- Stations could be of a simpler design.
- Trains would be quieter with no pantograph noise.
- Regenerative braking with all its electricity saving would be enabled.
- The track would be simpler, with less to go wrong.
- The line would be without unsightly wires.
But the biggest benefit would be that overall the line could be much safer.
But removal of the electrification would give other advantages, as any new track would not need to be electrified. New track might include.
- Provision of a siding at Walton-on-the Naze, where the second track used to be.
- Provision of a proper passing loop at Kirby Cross station.
- Reopening of Platform 3 at Thorpe-le-Soken station.
- Installation of a chord to allow trains to go from Walton-on-the-Naze to Clacton-on-Sea directly.
Whatever is done with respect to track, will greatly improve the service on the branch.
I believe that in a few years time, a visitor to Frinton-on-Sea station, will find it very different.
But probably very much better.
However, if the line is run by silent electric trains, will their curiosity bring too many visitors to |Frinton, for the residents’ liking?
This Google Map shows its location with respect to the town and Walton Pier.
- The long curving platform in the station, which can certainly accommodate an eight-car train and might manage twelve-cars with a bit of stretching.
- The rather small station building with a neat and compact booking office inside.
- There would appear to be a very rudimentary level of facilities with no coffee stall or shop.
- The location isn’t too bad, but doing anything spectacular would probably be difficult.
- The Off Peak frequency of one train per hour, is probably half what is needed.
Services to London Liverpool Street station usually rely on changing at Thorpe-le-Soken station for a train from Clacton and take around one hour forty minutes.
There are also two direct trains in the morning.
- The 07:38 is a stop-everywhere on the Sunshine Coast Line and to Shenfield, which takes two hours and fifteen minutes.
- The 08:00 is a fast limited-stopper to Shenfield that takes one hour and thirty-six minutes.
Is this all they want to run?
All other trains require that change at Thorpe-le-Soken.
If the operator wants to increase the number of trains to London in the morning peak, they also have the problem, that it would appear, that the only place to stable trains overnight is at Clacton and Colchester, although I suppose one train can be stabled in Walton station.
Looking at the timetable, it appears that the shuttle train works hard in the Peak partly because of the limitations of the line’s layout.
- Only one terminal platform at Walton.
- No sidings to store trains.
- An extra platform at Colchester Town station would help.
- Do limitations in the layout at Thorpe-le-Soken station contribute?
In addition capacity problems on the Great Eastern Main Line make everything a lot worse!
But other things help.
- At least Kirby Cross station may or could have a passing loop.
- Trains only take twelves minutes to go between Walkton-on-the Naze and Thorpe-le-Soken. So two round trips an hour could be possible.
- The signalling was only installed in 2009 and I would jope it was future-proofed for possible developments.
I suspect Network Rail have a few ideas to increase frequencies on the branch.
Look at this Google Map of Thorpe-le-Soken station, with the lines running to the East and splitting into the two coastal destinations..
I know this is only speculation on my part, but Wikipedia says this about Thorpe-le-Soken station.
It has two platforms forming an island platform that is accessible via a footbridge. There is a clearly visible platform and trackbed on what would be platform 3; this is continuous with the other stations on the Walton branch. One of the double tracks that were originally on the line to Walton has been completely taken up.
This Google Map shows a close-up of the station.
So it would appear that the station could be modified to provide a second platform for handling trains on the Walton branch. I suspect Network Rail have investigated this, as it must help towards increasing the frequency on the Walton Branch.
There must also be the possibility of building a single-track chord between the two branches to the East of Thorpe-le-S0ken station.
Such a chord would enable direct services if required, but it would probably be more useful for moving empty stock between Walton station and the sidings at Clsacton.
My conclusion, is that in a few years time, the service to Walton-on-the-Naze and Clacton-on-Sea will be very much better than it is today.
Both terminii will get at least two trains per hour to and from Colchester, with all trains being either to and from London or with a cross-platform change with a London train.
This Google Map shows the two stations and the sea.
Walton-on-the-Naze station is in the North-East corner of the map by Walton Pier and Frinton-on-Sea station is in the South-West corner.
I walked along the promenade, which goes all the way to Clacton-on-Sea, between the beach-huts on the shore and the wide sandy beach and the sea.
I took these pictures as I walked.
- The number of Thames Sailing Barges in the sea. I saw five, but others saw six.
- The beach welcomes dogs.
- The memorial to PC Brian Bishop.
- I got lost walking from the beach to Frinton-on-Sea station. There were no signs or maps.
The walk took me about ninety minutes. Unlike at Clacton, I didn’t pass a decent cafe. I should have had lunch before I left Walton.
The size and weight of these are very similar to that of one of Sheffield’s trams.
Many, if not all, trams in the UK run to a set of rules, which allow the following.
- Running at up to 50 mph on a dedicated track, which can be either single or double track.
- Running at slower speeds through City Centres and amongst pedestrians, as they do through Birmingham, Blackpool, Croydon, Edinburgh, Manchester, Nottingham and Sheffield
- Trams are driven, by a trained driver, who takes notice of everything and everybody around the tram.
- Passengers can cross the track in designated places provided they keep a good look-out.
- Passengers can only board a tram at a designated stop.
- All rail vehicles run to the same rules.
The rules must work, as you don’t often hear of trams having accidents with pedestrians. In fact fourteen people have died in accidents with modern trams in the UK since 2000. The rate seems to have dropped in recent years, so are drivers getting better and pedestrians learning how to live with the trams?
I believe that in Zwickau in Germany, local trains, run on the tram tracks in the City Centre. There’s more on it under Vogtlandbahn in Wikipedia.
So could some branch lines be run according to tram rules, but using standard modern trains, like Class 172 or Class 710 trains?
In A First Visit To Clacton, I said this about the Walton-on-the-Naze branch of the Sunshine Coast Line.
I do wonder whether some branches like the short one to Walton-on-the Naze could be run to tram rules using on-board energy storage. It might enable stations to be built step-free without electrification, lifts and bridges, provided trains kept to a safe slow speed.
In an ideal system, the rules could be.
- No electrification. Zwickau uses diesel vehicles, but ones using on-board energy storage would be ideal.
- Trains do not exceed an appropriate slow speed. Zwickau uses 80 kph.
- Step free access from platform to train.
- All trains on the line run to the same rules.
- No freight trains.
The advantages would be.
- There is no electrification.
- Signalling is standard railway signals and rules. Often routes would run under One Train Working, which is very safe and well proven.
- Many routes could be built as single-track without points and like the Sudbury branch trains would go out and back.
- DMUs would be exactly, the same as others of their type.
- EMUs would be too, but would have on-board energy storage.
- Extra stations could be added to the line, by just building platforms.
- The line could perhaps be extended past its current terminus.
I must get to Zwickau and see how the Germans do it.
A few examples of lines that could run to these rules include.
- Sudbury Branch
- St. Ives Branch
- Walton-on-the-Naze Branch of the Sunshine Coast Line
- Windermere Branch
Whether some of these would need it, is doubtful. Some though, like Sudbury and St.Ives, terminate as a single platform in a car park.
The Felixstowe Branch certainly couldn’t as it has lots of freight trains, although the final section, from where it branches off the line to Felixstowe Port could.
I said that no freight trains could run on the routes, but those devilish Germans have designed a freight tram that runs in Dresden to supply the Volswagen factory in the city. It’s called a Cargo Tram.
Could this be a way of bringing freight into a City Centre? as I said in The LaMiLo Project, this type of thinking is in the minds of planners.
Despite living quite close to Clacton for perhaps about thirty years of my life, I’d never been to the town before today.
I needed some sun and felt that a visit and a walk along the front was in order.
Since the Shenfield Metro train service through East London to henfield has been run by TfL Rail, getting to places like Clacton and Sudbury, as I did, a couple of weeks ago, has become a lot cheaper.
Sudbury cost me £11.70 return, and Clacton today was £14.25! As Clacton is seventy miles from London, surely that is good value!
These are of some pictures I took of the trip from the time I joined the Sunshine Coast Line at Colchester.
- The stations on the branch look reasonable, although Thorpe-le-Soken station could do with improvements.
- According to a local, the front at Clacton has had a recent makeover.
- There is a maintenance depot for the trains at Clacton.
- The line is an electrified double-track, although the branch to Walton-on-the-Naze and Frinton-on-Sea is only a single-track.
- I must admit to being surprised at the size of Clacton station with four platforms capable of taking twelve-car trains.
This Google Map shows the route where I walked.
I walked down from the station to the sea front, along the promenade to the Pier and then back up to the station. It was virtually flat all the way.
One of the reasons, I went to Clacton was to look at the train service and see if it is likely, than the new franchise will improve it.
- As I said earlier, most of the stations I saw are in reasonable condition, although some may need step-free access.
- Thorpe-le-Soken station would appear to need improvement.
- According to Wikipedia Abellio has plans to improve stations at at Alresford, Kirby Cross and Weeley
- It is still possible to see the remains of the second track to Walton at Thorpe-le-Soken station.
- Generally, the Off Peak service to Clacton and Walton is one train per hour.
- Going to Clacton, I rode in an acceptable Class 360 train, but going back I was in a Class 321 train.
- Signalling on the Sunshine Coast Line was modernised a few years ago, but what is the state of the electrification?
- Colchester Town station is served by a spur from the Sunshine Coast Line, which has a low speed limit because of sharp curves.
There is certainly scope for improvement.
These are a few notes on what can be done.
Colchester Town Station
Wikipedia says this about the station.
As of 2013 there is only one platform, but there is space for a second which would make possible a more intensive service on the Sunshine Coast Line. To the east of the station, Colne Junction is the western extremity of a triangle which gives access towards Colchester station to the west and Hythe station to the east. The curve to the north from Colne Junction to East Gates Junction is sharp, with a continuous check rail which necessitates slow passage.
This Google Map shows Colchester Town station and Colne Junction.
Colchester Town station is at the Western side of the map and the lines lead out of the station to the triangular Colne Junction.
As the map shows, it is a much sharper curve to turn North than go to the Sunshine Coast.
The other station shown at the |Eastern side of the map is Hythe station, which is on the route to Clacton and Walton.
I suspect that there have been many sensible ideas to improve services through Colchester Town station, but that as train services in East Anglia have always had a low priority, nothing has been done.
These pictures show Colne Junction from a train between Clacton-on-Sea and Colchester.
I was surprised to see that all sides of the junction are double-track.But not surprised to see a collection of second-rate industrial and Royal Mail development in the middle of the junction.
An absolute minimum of improvements would be.
- Improving the curve to the North at Colne Junction, so that there is a speed increase for trains going to and from Colchester and towards London, that serve Colchester Town and the Sunshine Coast Line.
- A second platform at Colchester Town station.
- Opening Colchester Town station on Sundays.
I will be interested to see if improvements are proposed in the new East Anglia Franchise.
In Could Class 387 Trains Do Norwich In Ninety And Ipswich In Sixty?, I wrote that to obtain these timings, North of Chelmsford, all trains must be capable of holding a 100 mph line speed or perhaps even 110 mph.
The Class 360 trains might be fast enough, but there are rumours in the Derby Telegraph, that a new fleet of Bombardier trains will be ordered, to fulfil a requirement in the new franchise agreement.
If a version of something like a Class 710 train is ordered, it could have the following characteristics.
- Four-car trains, able to run in four, eight and twelve car formations.
- 100 mph or 110 mph line speed.
- Regenerative braking.
- Provision for on-board energy storage.
On the Sunshine Coast Line, the trains would not use the onboard energy storage for primary traction, but to save energy, as I don’t suspect the line has been updated for regenerative braking.
These trains will certainly provide a better passenger experience. They could also be faster between Liverpool Street and Colchester.
The electrification looked to be in good condition, but judging by the design, some of it, is fairly elderly.
I also have my doubts as to whether the overhead wires can handle regenerative braking. Use of regenerative braking in the UK have shown energy saving around 15%, but it does need a more expensive infrastructure.
So will we see, a project to renew the wires, transformers and other electrical equipment, as has been seen on parts of the Great Eastern Main Line?
I think we will, but the operator could use on-board electrical storage in new trains to simplify the electrification.Instead of returning braking energy through the overhead wires, it would be stored on the train for using the train to get started again.
One idea that could happen, is that to appease the sensitive souls in Frinton, that the Walton-on-the-Naze branch could be run using onboard energy storage to eliminate any pantograph noise. After all the branch is only five miles long. But that would be five miles less of overheasd wire to maintain.
I do wonder whether some branch lines like the short one to Walton-on-the Naze could be run to tram rules using on-board energy storage. It might enable stations to be built step-free without electrification, lifts and bridges. I wrote about Thurston station, where they have a walk across with lights in Two Solutions To Make Crossing A Railway Safe.
As with Colne Junction, I suspect that there are some long-standing ideas to increase the line speed from the current 40-90 mph on the Sunshine Coast Line.
This article in the underland Echo is entitled Metro bosses unveil plans to extend network, including direct link between Sunderland and South Tyneside.
This is the opening couple of paragraphs.
Ambitious plans to extend and expand the region’s rail and Metro networks have been drawn up by public transport bosses.
The scheme – to be presented to the North East Combined Authority (NECA) – could see a direct link between Sunderland and South Tyneside and the network extended as far as Washington and Peterlee.
It is a comprehensive plan, that takes note and advantage of the best practice and technology from around the world.
The Proposed New Routes
Plans for the Tyne and Wear Metro include.
- Sunderland City Centre to Doxford Park using the route of the former Hetton Colliery Railway.
- New Routes From South Tyneside by linking the South Shields and Sunderland routes, using an existing single-track railway in the region of Tyne Dock.
- A Wearside Loop can be created to serve Washington using existing rail routes.
- The Leamside Line could be used as a new Metro route.
- Re-electrification of Sunderland to 25 KVAC would give advantages to Network Rail and allow Metro services to go South.
- Dualling of the track through South Tyneside.
Every plan seems to have serious element of using former and existing routes in a creative manner.
This map shows how the network could look in a few years.
The Metro Has A Touch Of The Karlsruhes
What many forget about the Metro, is that it some of its operation on the Sunderland route is based on a modified form of the Karlsruhe model, where heavy rail passenger and freight trains, share tracks with the Metro.
I was surprised once on a station on the Metro to see a Grand Central High Speed Train come through.
The last two improvements listed above; 5 and 6, use this capability.
The Durham Coast Line runs from Newcastle to Middlesborough and the East Coast Main Line, via Sunderland and Hartlepool. The only electrified section of this line is that which is used by Metro trains.
If new Metro trains could run on their current 1500 VDC and 25 KVAC, then if the line was fully electrified, the following benefits, would be realised.
- Metro trains could go as far South as Middlesbrough.
- Grand Central could run electric trains to Middlesbrough, Hartlepool and Sunderland.
- There would be a second electrified route South from Newcastle, for use as a diversion.
- Network Rail would get maintenance advantages, as the electrification is network standard.
So we would see Metro trains sharing the route with high speed passenger trains like Class 800s and electrified freight.
The South Tyneside Dualling would incorporate the freight line to the Jarrow Oil Terminal into the Metro. I think that the line would be arranged, so that if freight ever needed to use the line, the Karlsruhe model would apply.
It looks to me that this dualling and the upgraded electrification through Sunderland would be done together.
New trains are also mentioned and in this article on Global Rail News. This is said.
Nexus, the Tyne and Wear region’s Passenger Transport Executive (PTE), said it would look to procure a new fleet of multi-system trains capable of operating on the Metro’s 1.5 kV DC electrification system and the 25 kV AC used on the national rail network. Battery technology is also being considered for short sections of non-electrified line.
Looking at the map, there are a couple of short new lines, that might be ideal for IPEMUs.
Taken as a whole, it is good well-thought out plan.