The Anonymous Widower

Consortium To Develop Low-Cost Operations To Revive France’s Local Lines

The title of this post, is the same as that of this article on Railway Gazette.

This was the first paragraph.

Thales has joined forces with a group of companies and the Nouvelle-Aquitaine Regional Council to develop innovative digital signalling and operations with a view to cutting the cost of running trains on lightly-used rural lines.

When I first read this article, I immediately thought, that the French problem is similar to problems we have in the UK, and I’ve also seen in other countries in Europe like Germany and The Netherlands.

The French consortium are looking at these technologies.

  • Platform-agnostic, autonomous train positioning and odometry without trackside infrastructure.
  • Cyber-secured data transmission via public telecommunications networks.
  • High-density digital terrain mapping.
  • Formal methods of generating safety data.
  • A tablet-based supervision and operations interface for drivers.
  • Integrated surveillance of level crossings.
  • Network surveillance using sensors mounted on rail vehicles.

Thales says that the technology ‘will be fully interoperable with the core network and promises to reduce investment and operating costs by more than 30%’. Apart from reviving rural railways, it will improve safety, ‘especially at level crossings’, the company said.

As someone, who was designing and installing automation on heavy machinery nearly sixty years ago, I feel the French are on the right track.

I have a few thoughts.

Could Drone And/Or Missile Guidance Technology Be Used?

It should be noted that Thales Air Defence are a company who manufacture several successful missiles including the NLAW. They are also a subsidiary pf Thales Group, who are leading the French rural rail consortium.

I wouldn’t be surprised to find, that Thales have access to loads of applicable technology.

Could Drivers Use A Tablet To Drive The Train?

I don’t see why not!

The Elizabeth Line has been designed to use auto-reverse to speed up operations at Paddington, which I wrote about in Crossrail Trains Will Have Auto-Reverse.

I suspect that the driver has a simple controller to monitor the reversing train and stop it in an emergency.

Integrated Surveillance Of Level Crossings

Whoever solves this tricky problem will do the railways of the world a big service.

Network Surveillance Using Sensors Mounted On Rail Vehicles

This is starting to happen all over the world.

Conclusion

I think that the results of this French study will be felt worldwide.

November 11, 2022 Posted by | Computing, Transport/Travel | , , , | Leave a comment

RWE Looking for Innovators To Boost UK’s Offshore Wind Supply Chain

The title of this post, is the same as that of this article on offshoreWIND.biz.

RWE appear to be looking for innovators in three areas.

  • Autonomous solutions and the best way to integrate them into wind farm site investigations, construction, and operations and maintenance (O&M) is the first challenge for which RWE is looking for responses.
  • The second challenge is about solutions to measure and reduce the environmental impacts of offshore wind farm construction and operations on birds.
  • The last challenge focuses on ideas and innovations in cable monitoring and protection, aiming to secure a reduction in offshore wind farm cable failures.

As sums of around £25,000 are talked about in the article, it could be worth applying, if you have a relevant idea.

Is it slightly flattering to the UK’s skills, that a German company is backing British innovation?

But then I was involved in a British invention, which was also backed by the Germans and made me a reasonable amount of money.

October 20, 2022 Posted by | Energy | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Royal Mail Rolling Back The Years To Put More Post On Trains

The title of this post, is the same as that of this article on The Daily Telegraph.

This is the sub-title.

Post transported by train will treble under plan to ditch planes and lorries.

These are some points from the article.

  • They are in discussion with Network Rail.
  • Roughly 4pc to 5pc of Britain’s mail is transported on the railways.
  • Keith Williams is executive Chairman of Royal Mail and also was the independent chair of the recent Government-supported Rail Review.
  • One of the aims of the strategy is to rescue the share price.
  • Royal Mail are building some fully-automated parcel-hubs, with the first two at Warrington and Northampton.

I have some further thoughts.

The Warrington Parcel Hub

This appears to be at the Omega Business Park on the closed RAF Burtonwood airfield.

This Google Map shows Warrington.

Note.

  1. The M62 running across the map in an East-West direction.
  2. The two junctions on the M62 are 8 and 9, with junction 8 to the West and junction 9 to the East.
  3. The Omega Business Park is on both sides of the M62 to the West of Junction 8.
  4. Royal Mail appear to have three sheds to the South of the motorway.
  5. Amazon, Asda, Hermes, The Hut Group and others have sheds in the Omega Business Park.
  6. The red arrow indicates the location of Royal Mail’s Warrington Rail Terminal, where mail services between London and Scotland call.

This second Google Map shows Royal Mail’s Warrington Rail Terminal in more detail.

Note.

  1. The West Coast Main Line runs North-South to the West of the terminal.
  2. It looks to be a cramped site.
  3. I doubt that Royal Mail would want to transfer parcels between the rail terminal and the parcel hub, because of the number of trucks involved and the carbon they will generate.
  4. They could use Hydrogen or battery trucks, but that would be a considerable expense.

Perhaps the best thing to do, would be to bore a tunnel.

  • It’s about six kilometres.
  • Electric shuttles would be zero-carbon.
  • Everything could be highly-automated.
  • No drivers would be needed.

It would probably cost less to run.

Royal Mail At Northampton

Where the Northampton Loop Line meets the West Coast Main Line between Rugby and Northampton, there is a massive logistics park, which is shown in this Google Map.

Note.

  1. There are at least three Royal Mail sites here.
  2. One at the top of the map is labelled Royal Mail NDC NEW SITE.
  3. One at the bottom of the map is labelled Royal Mail National Distribution Centre.
  4. There is a rail connection.

This must be a very large investment for Royal Mail.

Further Parcel Hubs

No further hubs are mentioned in the article. But I’m sure, that the systems at Warrington and Northampton could be replicated.

The East Coast, Great Western And Midland Main Lines

I suspect, when these lines are fully electrified, they could be brought into the system.

A Hub At Calais

Why not?

Conclusion

It looks a good plan and one that can be realised.

May 6, 2022 Posted by | Transport/Travel | , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Battery Train And Fast Charger To Be Tested In London

The title of this post is the same as that of this article on Railway Gazette.

This is the first paragraph.

Great Western Railway has signed an agreement to test Vivarail’s Class 230 battery multiple-unit and fast charging technology under real-world conditions on the 4 km non-electrified branch between West Ealing and Greenford in West London.

As an engineer, who started designing control systems for rolling mills in the mid-1960s and went on to get a Degree in Control and Electrical Engineering from Liverpool University, before working for ICI applying computers to a variety of problems, I can’t look at a railway line like the Greenford Branch without wanting to automate it.

I had one amateurish attempt in An Automated Shuttle Train On The Greenford Branch Line. I was trying to get four trains per hour (tph) on the branch and I don’t think that is possible, with the Class 230 trains.

Now we know the train we are dealing with, I could plan an automated system, that would drive the train.

  • Each journey on the branch takes around 11-12 minutes.
  • Two tph would take between 44 and 48 minutes shuttling between the two stations in an hour.
  • The article states that recharging takes ten minutes.
  • If the train charged the batteries once per hour, that would leave between two and six minutes for the other three stops.
  • Any freight train using the branch seems to take about six minutes, so they could sneak through, when the shuttle is having a fast charge.
  • I would also use a similar system to that originally used on the Victoria Line. After the driver has closed the doors and ascertained that there were no problems, they would press a button to move the train to the next station and then automatically open the doors.

From this rough calculation to run a two tph service, I suspect that the train needs to be able to go between West Ealing and Greenford stations in ten minutes. Assuming one ten minute Fast Charge per hour, this would give three minutes and twenty seconds to turn the train, at the three terminal station stops.

I certainly feel, that an automatic shuttle would be possible.

February 16, 2022 Posted by | Transport/Travel | , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Would Automated Trains With The Ability To Run Backwards Improve Passenger Train Services?

At several stations on the UK rail network trains reverse direction, where the driver changes cabs before driving the train out of the station.

A classic example is at Bourne End station on the Marlow Branch Line.

  • There is one train per hour (tph)
  • The branch is seven miles long.
  • The journey takes around twenty-three minutes.
  • There are several level crossings.
  • Turnrounds take around ten minutes at Marlow and Maidenhead.
  • There are three intermediate stations; Furze Platt, Cookham and Bourne End.
  • Stops at the first two stations are timing for half-a-minute, whereas four-and-half minutes are allowed at Bourne End.

I wonder whether with a specially-designed train, that the service frequency could be doubled to two tph.

In the 1960s, Victoria Line trains had a sophisticated control system, which when the driver saw that everything was safe in a station and the signals were green, they just pushed a button and automation moved the train to the next station, where the doors opened automatically.

I am sure that sure a system would work on the Marlow Branch Line.

  • All station stops, including Bourne End would be half-a-minute and this would save four minutes.
  • The driver would stay in one cab making sure everything was working well.
  • The driver would monitor everything on CCTV.
  • The driver would probably be in the Bourne End end of the train for safety reasons.
  • There would only be one train on the line at any one time, which increases safety.

Could track improvements and faster running bring the Marlow and Maidenhead time back to under fifteen minutes?

This would give two tph with the only infrastructure work being probably realigned track for faster running and repeater signals, so the driver would be informed all the time.

This is just a simple example and I am sure there are many more.

Conclusion

Automation can improve service frequency to the benefit of both passengers and operators.

December 21, 2021 Posted by | Transport/Travel | , , | 1 Comment

Cargo Sous Terrain

This is a Swiss idea to move small parcels around the country.

This is the project’s web site.

There will be a network of tunnels under Switzerland serving all the major centres.

This article on LeNews is entitled Switzerland’s Underground Tunnel Project Gets Green Light From Upper House, describes the project.

This is the first paragraph.

On 1 June 2021, a project to build an underground freight tunnel network stretching from Geneva to St Gallen, gained almost unanimous support in the Council of States, Switzerland upper house.

These are a few points from the article.

  • It appears to be privately funded.
  • There will be a three-lane tunnel network across the country.
  • It will use driverless electric vehicles.
  • Speed will be 30 kph.
  • It will run twenty-four hours per day.
  • There will be a track in the roof of the tunnel for smaller parcels.
  • There will be a total of 500 km of tunnels.
  • Completion date is set for 2045.
  • It will cost around £24 billion.

It’s as though all of Switzerland were to be turned into a giant Amazon or Ocado warehouse.

Will It Work?

I don’t see why not, although it would be an immense project!

This paragraph indicates they will start small.

The first 70 km section of the tunnel network, which will connect a hub in Härkingen-Niederbipp with Zurich, is scheduled for completion in 2031.

But even that will cost around £2.5 billion!

It certainly, is a bold idea, that has possibilities.

June 15, 2021 Posted by | Design, Transport/Travel | , , , , | Leave a comment

On Track – Network Rail Reaches Key Milestone On Dartmoor Line

The title of this post, is the same as that of this news release on the Network Rail web site.

These are the first two paragraphs.

The reopening of the railway line between Okehampton and Exeter is one step closer after Network Rail finished relaying the new track and sleepers this week.

Following the confirmation of government funding in March, engineers started immediately and have worked tirelessly upgrading this 14 mile stretch of track between Okehampton and Coleford Junction, where the Dartmoor Line joins the existing railway line to Exeter.

Perhaps the most significant fact about this project, is the speed with which work has progressed since it started.

So far it appears the following has been done.

  • 11 miles of track has been laid.
  • 24.000 new concrete sleepers have been installed.
  • 29,000 tonnes of ballast has been installed.

Much of the work was done by a clever machine which is shown in a video.

I do wonder if this machine, when it finishes in Devon will be sent all the way to Newcastle to relay the Northumberland Line in the same manner.

May 16, 2021 Posted by | Transport/Travel | , , , , | Leave a comment

Freshly Vacuumed Strawberries

I have been eating a few more boxes of Dyson’s strawberries.

They certainly seem clean and could have had a good vacuum before packing.

Unlike some Moroccan ones, which tasted like they’d been sprinkled with some sand from the Sahara.

Plump And Red

Dyson Farming’s strawberries do seem to be very plump and very red.

Is this because they have been grown, so that they will be easy for picking robots to identify in the future?

April 23, 2021 Posted by | Food | , , | Leave a comment

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

Will Innovative Engineering Solve The PPE Gown Problem?

In the early 1970s, I worked as a programmer for various consultancies, who were doing innovative engineering. In one, which could have been Cambridge Consultants, where I worked for perhaps three months. One guy told me about a project he was working on, that was the automatic assembly of clothing.

I know more than a bit about making clothes, as my mother taught me how to knit, crochet, sew and use a sewing machine. In the early years of our marriage, I used to make dresses for C and in one instance, I made her a long heavy-weight winter coat.

So I am surprised, that innovative engineering has not come together to make hospital gowns automatically!

Let’s hope that some engineers have seen the gap in the market, and as I write, are putting together a machine, where you put material in one end and get gowns out the other. Neatly folded of course!

April 19, 2020 Posted by | Health | , , , , | 4 Comments