The Anonymous Widower

Automated Shuttle Trains With A Train Captain

There are various short routes on the UK rail network, where shuttle trains work a frequency of perhaps two or three trains per hour (tph), that is generally felt by passengers and train operators to be inadequate.

Examples include the following.

Could the frequency on these lines be increased using automation?

The Automated Docklands Light Railway

The Docklands Light Railway is not a simple railway, but it is fully automated.

  • Trains are driverless
  • A Train Captain is responsible for patrolling the train, checking tickets, making announcements and controlling the doors.
  • The Train Captain can take control of the train if required.

It is a system that seems to have worked well for many years.

An Automated Shuttle With A Train Captain

Could a similar principle be applied to a shuttle train?

As an example, I’ll use the Bromley North Line.

Consider.

  • The line is two miles long and trains take five minutes each way.
  • The current frequency is three tph.
  • There are problems at Grove Park station with connections in the Peak.
  • The route is double-track.
  • The current service is operated by a single train, manned only by a driver.

It would appear if the Bromley North Line could be run at four tph, this would be a welcome improvement.

One of the problems of driver-operated shuttle services like this, is that at each end of the route, the driver must change ends, which takes a couple of valuable minutes.

To operate a frequency of four tph, the round-trip must be performed in fifteen minutes.

  • Each leg takes five minutes.
  • There are four stops in a round trip; one at Grove Park, one at Bromley North and two at Sundridge Park.

I believe that a single automated train, with a Train Captain on board to look after safety, open and close the doors and start the train after each stop, should be able to handle the much-needed four tph on the Bromley North Line.

How Would The Automation Work?

Many years ago, a Central Line driver explained to me how the original automation of the Victoria Line worked.

  • A train would arrive in the station and stop in the correct place automatically with high precision.
  • The doors would be opened.
  • After passengers had unloaded and loaded, the doors would be closed.

When the doors were closed and everything was safe, the driver would push a button to ask the automation to take the train to the next station.

Automation has moved on since the 1960s, and I believe that some form of on-train automation would be able to handle a simple shuttle.

  • Only one track would probably be need to used to remove the complication of points.
  • Only one train would be used for the shuttle, as this increases safety.
  • Sensors would determine the exact position of the train.
  • CCTV cameras, including ones looking forwards and backwards,  would be relayed to the Train Captain and their Control Station in the middle of the train.
  • The Train Captain would have an Emergency Stop Button.

If something goes wrong or the train is  being taken to and from the depot, the Train Captain would go to the forward cab, switch off the automation and drive the train in the normal manner.

I am sure, that it would not only be a very safe system, but if it made full use of the capabilities of modern trains, it would speed up services sufficiently, so that frequencies could be increased.

What Trains Would Be Suitable?

I think that the choice of trains would be wide, but I think they must have the following characteristics.

  • An ability to perform a station stop and restart quickly.
  • Fast acceleration and deceleration.
  • Level access between platform and train.
  • Walk-through interior, to help the Train Captain perform their duties.
  • Lots of wide double doors and large lobbies.

All these characteristics would enable the train to save time on the route.

Power would be anything that could be used on the route. For the Bromley North Line, that would be either third-rail electrification or battery power.

Battery power, though on this route, would have a problem.

If the train is running an intense shuttle service, with stops taking a minute or even less, the train never stops long enough to charge the batteries. As the route is electrified with 750 VDC using third-rail, this would need to be used on the Bromley North Line.

Although, I have used the word train in this section, I suspect trams, tram-trains or light rail vehicles could be used.

All vehicles would retain their driving cabs for the following reasons.

  • If there is a problem, the Train Captain can drive the train, as happens on the Docklands Light Railway.
  • If the train needs to be positioned to and from a depot, the train could be driven manually.

I also feel that for these reasons, the Train Captain would be a fully qualified driver.

Examples of vehicles that could be used, if appropriate automation were to be fitted include.

Class 399 Tram-Train

Class399 tram-trains are working successfully in Sheffield and they have been ordered for the South Wales Metro, where they will run under both overhead and battery power.

As an Electrical Engineer, I believe that it would not be the most difficult piece of engineering to fit these tram-trains with the ability to run under third-rail power.

The tram-trains would have similar capacities, cross-section and performance to the current Class 466 trains.

The only modifications that would be needed to the route, would be to adjust the platforms used by the tram-train to give level access between tram-train and platform.

A Three-Car Aventra Or Similar

Three-car Class 730 Aventra trains,  have been ordered by West Midlands Railway and Aventras have also been ordered to run using third-rail power.

As with the Class 399 tram-train, these trains could probably work the route successfully, subject to suitable platform modification.

How Fast Could Stops Be Performed?

I have timed stops on the London Overground and the London Tramlink rarely do you find a time from brakes on to brakes off in excess of a minute, without a red signal being involved.

I have measured some London Overground stops are at  thirty seconds some  London Tramlink stops at twenty seconds.

If a shuttle had the track to itself and the train was a modern design, I could see maximum timings on the Bromley North Line as follows.

  • Bromley North – One minute
  • Sundridge Park – Thirty seconds
  • Grove Park – One minute

Surely, with station stop times like these and perhaps faster running than the current 30 mph, the goal of four tph could be comfortably achieved.

What Happens With Delays?

Suppose, an incident occurs, and the train is delayed.

After the incident is successfully sorted, the train could just carry on or wait until it was on schedule for the next train.

Within a few minutes, the train would be running to time.

Some Other Selected Routes

Over the next few days, I will be adding calculations for other routes.

Brentford Branch Line

Greenford Branch Line

Marlow Branch Line

Romford And Upminster

Slough And Windsor & Eton Central

Extra routes will be added here.

Conclusion

On the Bromley North Line, selective automation should be able to enable a four tph service using one train or tramtrain.

February 19, 2019 Posted by | Transport | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Will London Overground Procure Some Class 230 Trains?

Transport for London has a cash flow problem caused by various factors.

  • The reduction in grant from Central Government.
  • A fall in bus revenue caused by traffic congestion.
  • The freeze of fares by the Mayor.
  • The need to add services to stimulate much-needed housing.

This article in Rail Magazine is entitled Vivarail’s D-Trains Confirmed For Bedford-Bletchley.

As West Midlands Trains have now confirmed the order for the Class 230 trains, does this mean that buying Vivarail’s innovative refurbished London Underground D78 Stock, is now a less-risky train purchase?

Battery Or Diesel Class 230 Trains?

Would Transport for London buy a diesel or battery version of the Class 230 train?

Transport for London will have an exclusively electric fleet in a few months, when they have passed the Class 172 trains to West Midlands Trains.

I can’t believe they’d want to buy a small number of diesel trains, so I suspect they’ll go for battery versions.

Advantages Of Class 230 Trains For Transport for London

The trains must have advantages for Transport for London.

  • They are simple trains, built for remote servicing.
  • In some applications, their short length of just two cars must help, in that expensive platform extensions will not be needed.
  • I would suspect that one two-car train is designed to rescue another.
  • Capacity can be increased by adding a third-car.
  • Transport for London must also have a lot of expertise on how to get the most out of these trains.

Possible Routes

There are a handful of possible routes.

Greenford Branch Line

The Greenford Branch Line must be a prime candidate for running with two-car battery version of a Class 230 train.

Consider.

  • Using a four-car train, like a Class 710 train would require the platform at Greenford to be lengthened.
  • A Class 230 train would only need some form of simple electrification at Greenford and/or West Ealing stations.
  • Class 230 trains, would probably fit all platforms easily and give level access for wheelchairs and buggies.
  • Could London Overground’s third-rail engineers add suitable electrification to charge the batteries at Greenford station?
  • The branch is only four kilometres long.
  • The branch only has the two tph passenger service and the occasional freight train.
  • All trains use the new bay platform at West Ealing station.

One train could obviously work the current two trains per hour (tph) timetable, but could two trains and a possible spare run a four tph service on the branch?

The advantages of using Class 230 trains over a more conventional approach using perhaps Class 710 trains would include.

  • No electrification of the branch.
  • No platform lengthening and possibly little platform modification.
  • Only a short length of third-rail electrification would be needed to charge the batteries.
  • A four tph service might be possible.

The big advantage would be that it would be a low-cost project.

Romford To Upminster Line

The Romford To Upminster Line is currently run by a single four-car Class 315 train, which was to be replaced by a new Class 710 train.

In the March 2018 Edition of Modern Railways, whilst discussing nine more Class 71 trains for the London Overground, it is said, that a Class 315 train will be retained for the Romford To Upminster Line.

Why not procure another Class 230 train and use that to shuttle along the branch?

Consider.

  • The electrification can be removed from the line, to save maintenance costs.
  • A short length of third-rail electrification can be used to charge the batteries at Upminster station.
  • The trains could be stabled at Upminster Depot.

The line used to have a short passing loop between Romford and Emerson Park station, that could be long enough for a two-car Class 230 train. If this loop were to be reinstated without electrification, if might allow a four tph service.

It would be another low-cost project.

Bromley North Line

The Bromley North Line is currently served by Southeastern.

Reading Wikipedia for the line, I get the impression, that the line isn’t a major problem, but there are little annoyances.

  • Services are not frequent enough at some times of the day and week.
  • Connection to services to and from London aren’t always convenient.
  • It is not the easiest branch to provide with trains and drivers.

In addition, Southeastern would appear to be amenable to pass the line to Transport for London.

The track layout for the line has the following characteristics.

  • Double-track throughout.
  • There is a single platform at Grove Park station.
  • There are two platforms at Bromley North station.
  • The intermediate station; Sundridge Park has two platforms.

It looks like the line was designed so that two trains can operate simultaneously.

  • Two Class 230 trains could run a four tph service.
  • Stabling and servicing could be in Bromley North station.
  • Trains could be third-rail or battery.
  • A spare train could be held ready if it was felt needed.

It would be a self-contained low-cost solution.

Epping To Ongar

The Epping to Ongar service on the Central Line is no more, but would it be viable now with a Class 230 train?

Brentford Branch Line

The Brentford Branch Line has been proposed for reopening.

Class 230 trains powered by batteries would be ideal rolling stock.

The trains would be charged in Southall station.

West London Orbital

This article on Global Rail News is entitled Commitment To West London Orbital rail line.

This is said.

A press release distributed by the office of London Mayor Sadiq Khan said: “This new line, delivered through TfL, the West London Alliance, boroughs and Network Rail, could potentially support the delivery of an additional 20,000 homes, as well as employment growth in west London.”

In this article on Ian Visits, this is said about the service on the proposed West London Orbital line.

Phase 1: 4 trains per hour from West Hampstead to Hounslow, calling at West Hampstead, Cricklewood, Neasden, Harlesden, OOC, Acton Central, South Acton, Brentford, Syon Lane, Isleworth, Hounslow.

Phase 2: additional 4 trains per hour from Hendon to Kew Bridge, calling at Hendon, Brent Cross/Staples Corner, Neasden, Harlesden, OOC, Acton Central, South Acton, Kew Bridge.

The track is all in place and with a new bay platform at Hounslow, Class 230 trains could work Phase 1 on batteries with ease.

The key to the intermediate stations is property development. At Neasden, Harlesden and Old Oak Common, there is a lot of spare land around the Dudding Hill Line, where the trains will run. Developers will be told to build an appropriate amount of housing with a new station underneath.

The West London Orbital could be built to the following specification.

  • No full electrification.
  • Battery trains.
  • Platforms long enough for four-car Class 710 trains.
  • Bay platforms with possible charging at West Hampstead, Hendon, Hounslow and Key Bridge stations.
  • Four tph on both routes.

It lends itself to a very efficient way of building the railway.

  1. Build a platform on the freight line through West Hampstead Thameslink station.
  2. Build a bay platform that will accept a four-car train at Hounslow station.
  3. Establish a four tph shuttle service between West Hampstead  Thameslink and Hounslow stations calling at Acton Central, South Acton, Brentford, Syon Lane and Isleworth.
  4. Stations could be built at Neasden, Harlesden and Old Oak Common, where there is a generous amount of brownfield land, with lots of space for housing above the tracks and platforms.

Note.

  1. Batteries would be charged between Acton Central and Hounslow using the existing third-rail electrification.
  2. About five miles of the route would not be electrified.
  3. Housing developments on top of a station are a property developers dream.

The service could be started using Class 230 trains, with the option to switch to four-car Class 710 trains, powered by batteries, when more capacity is needed and Bombardier have fully developed the battery Aventra.

Phase two of the project would need development of platforms at Hendon and Kew Bridge stations.

The beauty of the West London Orbital, is that the only costs for Transport for London are four new platforms, some track-work and a fleet of new trains.

Hopefully, the development of the intermediate stations would be down to property developers, as they will make a fortune out of the housing!

Conclusion

I think the answer to my original question posed in the title of this post is Yes!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

March 3, 2018 Posted by | Transport | , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments