The Anonymous Widower

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

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