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

Note.

  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/Travel | , , , , | 5 Comments

Reinstatement Of The Abbey Line Between St Albans Abbey And Watford Junction

This is one of the successful bids in the First Round of the Restoring Your Railway Fund.

Over the years on this blog, I have written several times about the Abbey Line, which is one of those lines, that despite very few improvements or modernisation has continued to give good and faithful service.

Objectives Of The Upgrade

Any railway upgrade must meet a series of objectives.

I would suggest the following objectives for the Abbey Line.

  • A minimum of two trains per hour (tph)
  • High quality reliable trains.
  • Step-free stations.
  • Zero-carbon operation.
  • A solution that will last at least until 2050.

It should also have an acceptable benefit-cost ratio.

Last Year’s Consultants Report

Last year, consultants reported on the Abbey Line. In the June 2019 Edition of Modern Railways, there is an article, which is entitled Abbey Line Passing Loop Proposed, which discusses the proposed solution. This paragraph outlines the core idea in the proposal.

A study undertaken by The Railway Consultancy for ABFLY, the Abbey Line Users’ Group, suggests the platform at Bricket Wood be lengthened such that trains stop at different ends of a single platform, similar to the solution adopted at Penryn on the branch line between Truro and Falmouth, which would help to minimise costs. Infrastructure costs of a loop have been estimated at up to £10million, with the additional costs of running more services adding up to a further £1 million.

I did a detailed analysis of the proposals in Abbey Line Passing Loop Proposed.

This was my conclusion.

There are certainly, several affordable ways to improve the Abbey Line.

My preferred solution would be to go for the Penryn solution, using a fleet of Class 319 trains.

So how does this solution fit the objectives, I set down earlier?

A Minimum Of Two Trains Per Hour

This objective will be met.

High-Quality Reliable Trains

The current Class 319 trains on the route are in excellent condition, despite their age!

A fleet of three would probably do a good job, but a new electric train built specifically for the route could do better.

Class 710 trains, like those used by the London Overground, would offer advantages over the existing trains.

  • They have a higher capacity.
  • They have a faster acceleration, so this might help in increasing the frequency of the service.
  • There could be a battery version, which might mean that the loop would be without electrification.
  • They are walk-through trains, which might offer loading and unloading advantages in short platforms.

But they would cost more!

Step-Free Stations

All stations are fully-accessible and as no modifications are proposed to the stations, they will stay that way.

Zero-Carbon Operation

Provided the electricity for the route and the trains is produced by renewable electricity, the operation will be zero-carbon.

A Solution That Will Last Until 2050

The UK is committed  by law, to be carbon-neutral by 2050.

For that reason any solution must last until that date.

This solution should last, as trains, electrification and signalling should be replaceable with new, at any time.

Conclusion

This project could be shovel ready, if Network Rail have done their track and signalling design.

 

May 24, 2020 Posted by | Transport/Travel | , , , | 11 Comments

Abbey Line Passing Loop Proposed

The title of this post is the same as that of an article in the June 2019 Edition of Modern Railways.

Bricket Wood station used to be an important station on the Abbey Line, with grand buildings and a passing loop to allow trains to run a teo trains per hour (tph) service as opposed to the current inconvenient train every forty-five minutes.

Consultants have now said that a traditional passing loop, with a second platform and a bridge would cost up to £10million, which is probably not viable.

The Penryn Solution

The article says this about the consultants’ alternative solution.

The platform at Bricket Wood be lengthened such that trains stop at different ends of a single platform, similar to the solution adopted in Penryn on the branch line from Truro to Falmouth, which would help to minimise costs.

This Google Map shows Penryn station.

Note the long single platform in the station.

This section in the Wikipedia entry called Signalling, gives a full explanation of the method of operation at Penryn.

Truro-bound trains use the northern end of the station (Platform 2), arriving before the Falmouth-bound train, which will pass through the new loop and to the southern end of the platform (Platform 1), allowing the Truro-bound train to continue its journey north. This gives a rare situation in the United Kingdom where trains run on the right, instead of on the left as is usual in this country. Trains are scheduled to depart simultaneously for Truro and Falmouth.

Bricket Wood station already has a platform, that can take a comfortably take a four-car Class 319 train, as this Google Map shows.

Consider.

  • I estimate from Google Maps, that the single platform at Bricket Wood station is currently around 190 metres long.
  • Looking at the map, it might be possible to add another ten metres or so to the platform length.
  • The current Class 319 trains are 79.5 metres long or 159 metres for a pair.
  • It wouldn’t matter, if for reasons of safety, the front of the trains were allowed to extend for perhaps ten metres past the end of the platform.
  • There also appears to be space to put a second track alongside the current single track.

I also suspect, that Network Rail have track design software, that can precisely calculate the size and position of the points, so that the manoeuvre can be safely executed every time.

I very much feel, that a design can be produced, that will staff, passengers and regulators.

Can This Proposal Handle More Than Two tph?

If you look at the timings of the train, it takes eight minutes to run these legs.

  • Watford Junction and Bricket Wood
  • Bricket Wood and St. Albans Abbey

The times are identical, irrespective of direction.

If times are the same after installation of the novel loop. A train will take sixteen minutes plus however much time, it takes to turnback the train to get back to Bricket Wood.

As trains will be running every thirty minutes and both trains will leave Bricket Wood at the same time, the train must be able to run the out-and-back journey from Bricket Wood in thirty minutes or less.

  • The out and back legs both take eight minutes.
  • This means that the turnback time must be less than fourteen minutes.

Currently, turnback times are fourteen minutes or less.

  • If you look at four tph, there is a train every fifteen minutes. As each leg is eight minutes long, it would appear another method of operation will have to be used.
  • If you look at three tph, there is a train every twenty minutes. Would it be possible to turn back the trains in under four minutes? It might be possible, but it would be a tough call.

I would suspect, that for a reliable service, the proposed method of operation has a maximum frequency of two tph.

I suspect, that the only way to get more than two tph, would be to fully double track the route, with two platforms at all stations on the route.

Does The New Track Need To Be Fully-Electrified?

There would be around two hundred metres of new track and if electrification were to be installed, a pair of the current Class 319 trains could provide a two tph service.

Surely Network Rail can manage to put up this amount of new electrification without massive cost and time overruns?

Despite being over thirty years old, the Class 319 trains scrub-up well as these pictures show.

But what could be done if electrification was deemed to be outside the budget? Or it was decided that new zero-carbon trains should be used on the Abbey Line?

Battery trains are coming and there are several trains that can use both electric and battery power under development, in the UK, Europe, China and Japan.

Battery Power On The Abbey Line

Bricket Wood station is 3.5 miles from the Watford Junction end of the Abbey Line and perhaps three miles from the St. Albans end.

In an article in the October 2017 Edition of Modern Railways, which is entitled Celling England By The Pound, Ian Walmsley says this in relation to trains running on the Uckfield Branch, which is not very challenging, as is the Abbey Line.

A modern EMU needs between 3 and 5 kWh per vehicle mile for this sort of service.

So if a four-car electric-battery hybrid train was to handle the whole of the 6.5 mile route, it would need a battery of between 156-260 kWh to go between Watford Junction and St. Albans Abbey stations and back. It would also need charging at one or both ends of the route.

But supposing trains used the current electrification between Watford Junction and Bricket Wood stations to both power the train and charge their batteries.

  • The trains would only be doing six miles on batteries, so the battery would be between 72-120 kWh.
  • Trains would raise and lower their pantographs at Bricket Wood station.
  • No new electrification would be required.
  • If trains needed to top-up their batteries, they would do this using the electrification in the two terminal stations.

It might even be preferential to remove electrification between St. Albans Abbey and Bricket Wood stations to save maintenance costs and improve safety.

Could West Midlands Trains’ Class 730 Trains Be Used?

The current franchise holder; West Midlands Trains has ordered a large fleet of Class 730 trains for services between London and the West Midlands and for local electric services in the West Midlands.

Included are thirty-six three-car trains for working suburban services across Birmingham. These have twenty-four metre long cars, so are eight metres shorter than the four-car Class 319 trains, so they are another possibility, unless their longer car length would cause problems in the Bricket Wood manoeuvre.

Should The Abbey Line Be Transferred To Transport for London?

There have been suggestions in the past, that the route be transferred to Transport for London.

I’ll leave the politics aside, but electric-battery hybrid versions of London Overground’s Class 710 trains, which will soon be serving Watford Junction station would probably be ideal.

As they are dimensionally similar to the Class 319 trains, they may also be able to work the route under electric power.

Conclusion

There are certainly, several affordable ways to improve the Abbey Line.

My preferred solution would be go for the Penryn solution, using a fleet of Class 319 trains.

  • Penryn seems to be working well.
  • Track would need to be re-laid through Bricket Wood station, to add the passing loop.
  • About two hundred metres of extra electrification would need to be erected.
  • There would probably need to be some modification to the signalling, as there was at Penryn.
  • Three trains as a minimum, would be needed, two for the service and one as a spare or as maintenance cover.
  • West Midlands Trains already have fifteen Class 319 trains, so finding a viable fleet in top-class condition, shouldn’t be difficult.
  • If slightly shorter trains could be needed, the trains might be able to be shortened to three-car trains.
  • Staff training would be minimal.
  • The current trains are liked by drivers.
  • The trains would be zero-carbon.
  • The current trains are in very good condition.
  • The current trains even have toilets, which are probably not needed on a six-and-a-half mile journey
  • If say in ten years time, new trains are needed, I suspect there will be fleets of suitable electric multiple units, less than eighty metres long.

It is probably the most affordable solution.

 

 

May 24, 2019 Posted by | Transport/Travel | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A Very Smart Class 319 Train

On my trip to Bricket Wood station yesterday, I travelled from Watford Junction station in a very smart Class 319 train.

These pictures show the train.

It certainly shows how Mark 3-based stock has the ability to scrub up well!

West Midlands Trains have nine of these Class 319 trains, which are mainly used for peak hour services on the West Coast Main Line.

One gets used on the Abbey Line.

The current arrangement probably works reasonably well from the train operators point of view.

However, passengers probably need a regular half-hourly service, which would need two trains and a passing loop at Bricket Wood station.

These trains are going to be replaced with new five-car Class 730 trains in 2020-21.

Will these new trains be used on the Abbey Line?

If the passing loop is installed at Bricket Wood, then two trains might be able to provide a half-hourly service. Although, having seen Bricket Wood station yesterday, a passing loop with electrification and a second platform would be a more expensive .option.

I discuss the various options in Could Modern Technology And Developments Improve the Abbey Line?.

June 26, 2018 Posted by | Transport/Travel | , , | 3 Comments

Bricket Wood Station – 25th June 2018

These pictures show Bricket Wood station on the Abbey Line.

It was a tidy clean station served by a very smart Class 319 train.

Wikipedia says the following about the future of the station.

Installation of Oyster card readers on the stations along the branch is a possibility, although there are other ticketing options too.

Restoration of the crossing loop is being considered by the local authorities and Network Rail, which would facilitate trains running every 30 minutes.

Both actions would appear to be sensible. In Could Modern Technology And Developments Improve the Abbey Line?, I discuss how by using trains with batteries and a loop without electrification, may be an alternative way to install a passing loop.

I suspect that the station is long enough for a six-car train.

June 25, 2018 Posted by | Transport/Travel | , , , | 1 Comment

Could Modern Technology And Developments Improve the Abbey Line?

The Abbey Line runs between Watford Junction and St. Albans Abbey stations.

It has a few problems.

Frequency

The track layout means that trains generally run every forty-five minutes, which is not very passenger friendly.

The line needs at least a half-hourly service and it would appear from Wikipedia and other sources, that this could be achieved by re-instating the passing loop at Bricket Wood station.

Elderly Trains

West Midlands Trains have promised new trains for the line, to replace the current Class 319 train.

Although, these Class 319 trains are much better than their arge, as I said in A Very Smart Class 319 Train.

As West Midlands Trains, use these trains for services on the West Coast Main Line, it probably helps with staffing and maintenance.

But these trains are being replaced by five-car Class 730 trains. Will the shittle train be replaced by another Aventra?

Reliability

Search the Internet for “Abbey Line St. Albans” and you find news stories with headlines like these.

  • No Abbey Flyer Trains Between St. Albans And Watford
  • Abbey Line Breaks Down Again
  • St. Albans Abbey Flyer Users Fund Raising To Improve Train Line
  • No Trains On St Albans Abbey Flyer Line After Fault With Shut

It would appear that the Abbey Line has a reliability problem.

A Simple Solution

The simplest possible solution to improve the line with a half-hourly service would be as follows.

  • Reinstate the passing loop at Bricket Wood station.
  • Acquire a fleet of three Class 730 trains of an appropriate length.

This Google Map shows Bricket Wood station.

Note the single platform with a single track.

There would appear to be plenty of space for a passing loop on the opposite side to the platform..

The Class 730 trains are Bombardier Aventras and I believe strongly, that all Aventras have batteries. So surely this is just the place to be innovative, with the use of battery technology?

The loop would be built without electrification and the track layout would be such that two trains could easily pass using battery power. Pantographs would be raised and lowered as required.

Suppose the loop started in the middle of the platform and perhaps extended for two hundred metres in the Watford direction..

  • The two trains would arrive at the station, with one on each side of the entry to the loop.
  • The Watford-bound train, would switch to battery power in the station and use the loop to pass the other train to continue towards Watford.
  • The Watford-bound train could either switch back to overhead power as soon as it regained the electrified track or wait until it is safely in the next station.
  • When the line is clear, the St. Albans-bound train would continue on its way, using overhead power.

It might also be possible for trains to go towards St. Albans using the overhead power and towards Watford on battery power, with all changeovers of power source taking place at the terminal stations, where turn-round time will be several minutes.

These are some pictures of Bricket Wood station.

My only worry is that the platforms may only be big enough for six-car trains.

Perhaps, to avoid lengthening the platforms at Bricket Wood station, two three-car Class 730 trains could be used?

Use of the five-car trains would probably require electrification of the loop, a second platform and a footbridge, which would be a much more expensive solution.

A Class 769 Train Solution

The Class 769 train is a bi-mode version of the Class 319 train. So could these work the simple passing loop without electrification?

At four-cars, they may be short enough to work the route without building a second platform at Bricket Wood station.

But the solution would probably need the current platform to be extended to accommodate two trains.

They would use diesel power to go through the passing loop.

Passengers would effectively get a twice as frequent service, using similar trains to the current ones.

A Class 230 Train Solution

As West Midlands Trains are also using Class 230 trains on the Marston Vale Line, which can work on electric, diesel and battery power, I can’t see any reason, why these trains couldn’t be used on the Abbey Line.

They would use diesel or battery power to navigate the loop without electrification.

These trains are affordable, short in length and are designed for remote servicing, but is capacity  and speed sufficient?

A Tram-Train Solution

The same Stadler tram-trains with batteries, that are being used on the South Wales Metro could also be used on the Abbey Line.

They would operate as trains, in the same ways as the Aventras, using batteries to navigate a passing loop without electrification.

This solution would have the disadvantage of West Midlands Trains introducing another type of train, but the tram-trains could go walkabout in Watford and/or St. Albans at the two ends of the route.

Under Past Proposals in the Wikipedia entry for the Abbey Line, this is said about a possible conversion to light rail.

In October 2009 Secretary of State for Transport Lord Adonis announced a plan to increase frequency on the line by allowing Hertfordshire County Council to lease the line from Network Rail and converting it to light rail from 2011. It was hoped that this would be possible for the same amount of subsidy the line received, as the new infrastructure required, such as a passing loop would be cheaper for light rail than heavy rail. Longer-term proposals envisaged extensions into Watford town centre via Clarendon Road and High Street, and St Albans city centre, possibly as far as St Albans City railway station, and possible re-instatement of the line to Hatfield.

This Google Map shows Watford Junction station

Note.

  1. The Abbey Line leaves the map in the North East corner.
  2. Clarendon Road runs South from the middle of the map.

I think it would be possible to build a bridge to take the trams over the railway.

There could even be a high-level platform for the tram-trains above the station with connections to the current heavy rail platforms.

What I have outlined here, is a classic use of a tram-train to allow trains on a heavy rail route, to extend to a town or city centre, by operating as trams.

Could Thr Abbey Line Be Linked To The Troubled Croxley Rail Link?

This map from carto.metro.free.fr shows the lines at Watford Junction.

Note.

  1. The Abbey Line goes North from Platform 11.
  2. The lines shown in orange are the Watford DC Line of the London Overground, that go to London via Watford High Street station.
  3. The dotted purple line is the proposed route of the Croxley Rail Link.

I can’t find any references on the Internet to the possibility of a connection between the Abbey Line and the Croxley Rail Link.

I doubt that Metropolitan Line trains could go to St. Albans.

  • They are too long at 133 metres.
  • Extensive modifications to the track and platforms would be needed.
  • They lack the batteries to navigate the proposed passing loop.

But Stadler’s tram-trains might be able to go to Croxley station.

  • They are under forty metres long.
  • They weigh under seventy tonnes, which could help in the bridge design.
  • They could work the Abbey Line using the overhead power.
  • Batteries would enable using the proposed passing loop at Bricket Wood station.
  • I’m sure that Stadler’s innovative engineers could make their tram-trains run on third and London Underground rail electrification.
  • Battery power could be used on some of the route between Watford High Street and Croxley stations.

I’m sure that after sorting out Cardiff Bay, Stadler’s engineers will welcome the challenge of Watford Junction.

Developments At Watford Junction Station

Over the last few years, there have been various plans about improving train services through Watford Junction station.

  • It has been proposed that Crossrail is extended through the station.
  • The Bakerloo Line will be extended and it has been proposed that it terminate at Watford Junction.
  • West Midlands Trains will add extra services.
  • How will HS2 affect services on the West Coast Main Line?

In addition there are plans for more car parking and other developments at the station.

It strkes me that there is a possibility that an innovative architect will come up with a striking scheme, that could enable bridges for trams across the West Coast Main Line.

Conclusion

There are various possibilities to improve the Abbey Line, brought about by recent innovations in the use of batteries on trains and tram-trains.

In all cases, the line gets a half-hourly frequency from new trains.

On the other hand, as with the Croxley Rail Link, there seems to be a lot of ideas and plans in Watford, but no real leadership to get anything built at an affordable cost!

 

 

June 24, 2018 Posted by | Transport/Travel | , , , , | 2 Comments

A Round Trip To St. Albans

Today, it looked like it was going to be miserable and wet.

I’d also been wanting to go to St. Albans to see the Abbey Line, which is one of those short connecting lines like Upminster to Romford and the Greenford branch.

So after checking the weather, which showed it might brighten up at lunchtime, I decided to take a chance.

These pictures show my round trip using Overground to Watford Junction and then the Abbey Line to St. Albans Abbey station before coming home from St. Albans City.

The pictures show I was right about the weather.

St. Albans is a medium-sized city with several attractions for visitors, but unfortunately whichever station you use to get to the city, it’s a walk up the hill.

If the city wants to attract more visitors by train, then it should inform visitors which bus they use to get up the hill. In fact, although they have quite a few fingerposts, St. Albans could do with a few maps.

 

 

June 7, 2014 Posted by | Transport/Travel | , , | Leave a comment