The Anonymous Widower

Wales Orders Some Golden Oldies

This article on Global Rail News is entitled Arriva Trains Wales Invests In Bi-mode Class 319s.

These four paragraphs define the deal and why.

The Welsh Government and Arriva Trains Wales are investing in five Class 319 Flex bi-mode trains.

Due to arrive next year, the four-car trains will be leased from Porterbrook thanks to £1.9 million from the Welsh Government and £1 million from Arriva Trains Wales.

Arriva Trains Wales said the trains would likely be deployed on commuter services into Cardiff.

Introducing the 319s will allow Arriva Trains Wales to carry out work needed on its Class 150 and 158 vehicles to ensure they meet new accessibility standards.

This looks to me to be a sensible way to provide cover and also increase the size of the fleet.

Consider.

  • The Class 769 train, to give the Class 319 Flex train it, its new official TOPS name, has been designed around the Manchester to Buxton route.
  • Manchester to Buxton is as stiff as any route in the Cardiff Valley Lines.
  • The trains can do 100 mph on 25 KVAC overhead electrification, so would be ideal for any partially-electrified routes.
  • According to this article on the BBC, electrification reaches Cardiff in December 2018.
  • The trains can do around 90 mph on diesel.
  • Range is ten Manchester-Buxton round trips on a full tankfull.
  • Modern Railways has reported the trains can change between diesel and electric modes on the move.
  • Drivers have told me, that the brakes on Class 319 trains are superb. Will that be needed on descents into Cardiff?

In Riding In A Clean Class 319/4 Train, I describe a recent ride in one of the better examples, that could be converted for Wales.

The trains may be thirty-years-old, but they are based on Mark 3 coaches, as are the InterCity 125, so like certain actors and singers, they seem to keep on performing.

How Would The Bi-Mode Trains Be Used?

Arriva Trains Wales has the following trains currently working the Cardiff Valley Lines or that need to be converted to meet the latest regulations..

The Pacers can in part be ignored, as I suspect they’ll be going to the scrapyard, when the next franchise starts. But Arriva Trains Wales will need fifteen four-car trains to replace them, if they hit the cut-off date in the regulations.

The Class 158 trains were given a full refurbishment in 2010-2, as described like this in Wikipedia.

A complete refurbishment programme to provide the Class 158s with full ‘as new’ interiors took place between December 2010 and October 2012. Funded by the Welsh Assembly Government at a cost of £7.5m, work completed includes interior and exterior repainting, along with replacement of seating, wall coverings, carpets, lighting, luggage racks and toilet fittings. A passenger information system has been fitted, while selected seats have gained at-seat power sockets for mobile phones and laptops. Until this refurbishment, the fleet had seen only minor attention to its interior since a refit by Wales & West in the late 1990s, as well as having been only partially repainted into Arriva colours externally

So will these Class 158 trains need much more than attention to detail and a very good clean? As most seem to be based away from Cardiff, I don’t think we’ll see many Class 769 trains standing in for Class 158 trains. Unless of course Arriva Trains Wales wanted to see how a Class 769 train performs on a longer route.

The Class 150 trains are a totally different matter. In What Train Is This?, I rode in a superbly refurbished Class 150 train, that if standing in for a Class 172 train wouldn’t bring many complaints.

Much of the time on the Cardiff Valleys Lines, the Pacers and the Class 150 trains seem to be running as pairs to make four-car trains.

So five Class 769 trains mean that ten Class 150 trains can be released for updating.

It is worth comparing a Class 769 train with two Class 150 trains working as a pair.

  • A Class 769 train, based on a Class 319/4 has a capacity of 50 First Class and 255 Standard Class seats.
  • A Class 150 train has a capacity of 147 seats or 294 for a pair.
  • The Class 769 train has a top speed of 100 mph on 25 KVAC overhead electrification.
  • The Class 769 train has a top speed of just over 90 mph on diesel.
  • The Class 150 train has a top speed of 75 mph.
  • The Class 769 train has a higher power/weight ratio than the Class 150 train.

It would appear that a pair of Class 150 trains and a Class 769 train can be considered equivalent and with the right number of trains, the two types of train could work the Cardiff Valley Lines.

But the bi-mode Class 769 train has the advantage that it is faster and can run on 25 KVAC overhead wires.

On some routes the Class 769 train may actually reduce the number of trains needed.

Cardiff Central To Ebbw Vale Town

This route between Cardiff Central and Ebbw Vale Town stations uses the South Wales Main Line and the Ebbw Valley Railway.

If you look at the timetable, the trains take up to a few minutes over the hour, which must be an inconvenient time to use trains efficiently.

But eighteen minutes of the route are between Cardiff Central and Pye Corner stations, has perhaps fifteen minutes or so on the South Wales Main Line, with four tracks and an operating speed of 90 mph.

Given the superior power and speed, I suspect that the Class 769 trains can do a round trip in under two hours, even if they had to run on diesel on the South Wales Main Line.

This would mean only two trains would be needed to work an hourly service. Class 769  trains would be four coaches, as one size fits all!

Penarth To Rhymney

This route between Penarth and Rhymney stations uses the Rhymney Line.

If you look at the timetable, journeys both ways take around an hour and 16-20 minutes.

I think that three trains would be needed to work an hourly service.

Two factors slow the trains.

  • There are eighteen stops along the route.
  • From Bargoed to Rhymney, the line is only single track.

This extract is from the Wikipedia entry for the Rhymney Line.

In March 2007 the latest in a series of infrastructure improvements on the Valley Lines was announced, included lengthening of platforms between Rhymney and Penarth to allow Class 150 units to operate in multiples of 3 (6 cars). However, this is postponed indefinitely due to the sub-lease by the Department for Transport, to First Great Western, of the units that would have allowed this extra capacity.

Would four-car Class 769 trains be an adequate substitute for the planned three Class 150 trains working in multiple as a six-car?

If they were, this would mean that three trains would certainly work an hourly service with a substantial increase in capacity.

I wonder what times, well-driven Class 769 trains, with their hill-climbing abilities could do for the service on this line.

Bridgend/Barry Island/Cardiff Central To Merthyr Tydfil/Aberdate

These services are run in what appears to be an intricate diagram.

But as the Class 769 trains are faster and more capable than anything else running the routes, they should be able to deputise.

Could This Interim Pattern Emerge?

These routes could be run by Class 769 trains.

  • Cardiff Central to Ebbw Vale Town
  • Penarth to Rhymney

Conveniently, the two routes would need five trains.

By the end of 2018, it is predicted that the South Wales Main Line will be electrified, which would mean they could use electric power for some of the routes.

There might be small amounts of add-on electrification to ease changeover of mode.

  • South Wales Main Line to Pye Corner
  • Cardiff Central to Penarth

It might even be sensible to electrify the Vale of Glamorgan Line to give a second electrified route from Cardiff Central to Bridgend and serve Cardiff Airport.

Electrification of the lines in Cardiff would probably be much simpler than on some of the steep valley lines, but it would allow more Class 769 trains or similar to work the Cardiff Valley Lines efficiently.

But I did say this would only be an interim plan until perhaps 2020.

So Where Do CAF Come In?

CAF bring several things to this party.

  • By 2020, CAF will have a fully functioning factory a few miles down the line at Llanwern, just to the East of Newport.
  • CAF build trams, trains and tram-trains of all sizes and speeds.
  • CAF are one of the world leaders in the application of energy storage to rail vehicles.
  • CAF are not afraid to experiment or do Research and Development.
  • CAF have a modular train concept called Civity, which in their data sheet claim is all things to everybody.

I believe that CAF can come up with a train with the following characteristics.

  • Electric or diesel power.
  • On-board energy storage.
  • Regenerative braking.
  • Lots of powered-axles.
  • Four-cars
  • 100 mph on electric power
  • 90 mph on diesel power.

It looks very much like a modern Class 769 train with added battery power.

In fact the Class 769 trains will do all the specification development and route proving for CAF’s engineers.

So Where Do Porterbrook Come In?

Someone will have to finance the new trains for South Wales and they must be in prime position.

Similar systems can also be developed in other UK cities using Class 769 trains.

Conclusion

I have a feeling, that Network Rail have looked at electrifying the Cardiff Valley Lines and decided that it will be very difficult. Various commentators have suggested using trams.

What I have proposed is using bi-mode trains designed specifically for the Cardiff Valley Lines, that use electric power on and around the South Wales Main Line, diesel power to climb the hills and gravity and a bit of storage or diesel to come down.

I think that the purchase of five Class 769 trains will lead to an innovative solution from CAF to creating a world-class rail system in South Wales.

 

 

July 18, 2017 Posted by | Travel | , , , | 3 Comments

CAF Rarely Do The Obvious, But It’s Generally Sound

This article on the BBC is entitled 300 Train Building jobs Created At £30m Newport Centre.

This is the first two paragraphs.

Three hundred “highly-skilled and well paid” engineering jobs will be created when a Spanish train manufacturer opens a production factory in Newport.
Construcciones y Auxiliar de Ferrocarriles (CAF) is expected to open its £30m centre where Llanwern Steelworks once stood in autumn 2018.

Currently CAF are supplying the following trains and trams for the UK.

The trains alone add up to nearly five hundred vehicles.

If you look at the geography of the sea routes between the Basque Country and the United Kingdom, taking a cargo ship with a few trains to South Wales  is probably not the most difficult or indirect of voyages.

Newport too, is on the South Wales Main Line, which is well connected all over England, by lines that should be electrified and will hopefully be by 2019.

This Google Map shows the Celtic Business Park in relation to Newport and its docks.

The Celtic Business Park is part of the massive rectangular site to the North East of Newport, that is the Llanwern steelworks, which is being downsized. The South Wales Main Line passes along the North side of the site and the map clearly shows access to Newport Docks.

It raises the question that CAF may bring the trains in on their wheels in a specialist train ferry.

I know nothing about how much preparation needs to be performed on a foreign-built train, before it can run on the UK rail network, but it would be expected that just checking the five hundred vehicles must keep quite a few employees busy. I suppose too, that if certain parts of the train were sourced from the UK, that instead of sending them to Spain, they could be fitted in Newport.

It should also be remembered, that Hitachi build their body-shells in Japan and then ship them to Newton Aycliffe for fitting out.

Although, the Welsh and the Basques are two nations with strong cultural ties; rugby included, I think that Newport was chosen with another very practical reason in mind.

In the May 2016 Edition of Modern Railways, Ian Walmsley, wrote an article called Metroland Of My Fathers, which included these  paragraphs.

Back in the November 2013 issue of Modern Railways I raised the possibility of converting the Cardiff network to light rail. I was still working for Porterbrook at the time, which, like other rolling stock companies (ROSCOs), saw the Valleys as a retirement home for its old London commuter trains, so when the proposal met with the response it’s heavy rail and that’s that, I was quite happy.

The local press and BBC Wales showed more interest and now I am delighted to say that Network Rail has the Valley Lines electrification ‘on hold’ pending re-evaluation.

Consider the following.

  • Urbos trams come in a variety of shapes and sizes.
  • Trams are getting better every year at climbing hills.
  • The Urbos family includes the Urbos TT, which is a tram-train.
  • Midland Metro’s trams are being fitted with energy storage using supercapacitors
  • How much marketing advantage for other places, is gained from having Edinburgh and Cardiff on the customer list?
  • Conversion could probably be done on a line-by-line basis.
  • Provision must be made for freight trains on some lines.
  • Cardiff and the Valley Lines were resignalled in the last few years and everything is controlled from Cardiff ROC

But remember that CAF are a very research and design-oriented company.

So what is the likelihood that the Cardiff Valley Lines will be converted to light rail using a CAF product?

I would say pretty high, especially after reading this article in Global Rail News, which is entitled Engineering Firm BWB Consulting Bought By Spanish Giant CAF.

I could see a design of rail vehicle with these features.

  • The ability to work on standard rail track.
  • The ability to give level step-free access to standard height rail station platforms.
  • The ability to use modern railway signalling.
  • The ability to climb steep gradients.
  • The ability to work on both 25 KVAC and 750 VDC overhead.
  • Automatic pantograph raising and lowering.
  • Supercapacitor energy storage.
  • Regenerative braking.

I could see an energy-saving vehicle being designed, that made clever use of the gradients.

Would it be a train or a tram-train?

Increasingly, the difference is getting blurred!

 

 

 

July 13, 2017 Posted by | Travel | , , , | Leave a comment

The Class 319 Flex Train And A Railbaar

When I wrote Could There Be A Battery-Powered Class 319 Flex Train?, not much information had been published on the Railbaar, but a Railbaar could be another tool to use with a Class 319 Flex train.

This is a paragraph from the advance copy I have of Porterbrook’s brochure for the Class 319 Flex train.

By way of an example, Porterbrook determined that the most arduous route would be Manchester Piccadilly to Buxton, which has a steep gradient and multiple stops along its 25 mile route (8 miles of which is electrified). This analysis was included to give confidence that the Class 319 Flex would be comparable to existing Diesel Multiple Unit (DMU) technology across a range of different routes, stopping patterns and gradients.

Elsewhere in the brochure, they say this.

A large battery option was shown to be heavy, would require a lot of space and have long recharge times.

On the other hand, they have stated that batteries could be used to augment diesel power.

Challenging Rail Lines Up Steep Gradients in the UK

Lines like the Buxton Line are not unusual in the UK. The following challenging.

  1. Bromsgrove to Barnt Green up the infamous Lickey Incline – non-stop
  2. Bolton to Blackburn up the Ribble Valley Line – 4 intermediate stops
  3. Blackburn to Clitheroe up the Ribble Valley Line – 3 intermediate stops
  4. Rose Grove to Colne up the East Lancashire Line – 5 intermediate stops
  5. Exeter St. Davids to Barnstaple up the Tarka Line – 10 intermediate stops
  6. Plymouth to Gunnislake up the Tamar Valley Line – 7 intermediate stops
  7. Cardiff Central to Aberdate up the Aberdare Branch of the Methyr Line – 13 intermediate stops
  8. Cardiff Central to Ebbw Vale Town up the Ebbw Valley Railway – 5 intermediate stops
  9. Cardiff Central to Merthyr Tydfil up the Merthyr Line – 13 intermediate stops
  10. Cardiff Central to Rhymney up the Rhymney Line – 16 intermediate stops
  11. Cardiff Central to Treherbert up the Rhondda Line – 16 intermediate stops

Our Victorian engineers never let a steep gradient get in the way of where they wanted to build a railway.

Could These Lines Be Electrified?

Only the Lickey Incline (1) is currently being electrified. This is a description of the incline from Wikipedia.

The Lickey Incline, south of Birmingham, is the steepest sustained main-line railway incline in Great Britain. The climb is a gradient of 1 in 37.7 (2.65% or 26.5‰ or 1.52°) for a continuous distance of two miles (3.2 km)

Youtube has a great deal of modern and historic video of the Lickey Incline. Some recent footage shows freight trains climbing the incline with the assistance of a banking engine at the rear.

I doubt if the two lines in Devon (5 and 6) will ever be electrified, The Campaign for the Protection of Rural England will never allow overhead wiring gantries to despoil the landscape along the routes, some of which is in a National Park.

If the Class 319 Flex train does a good job with the three Lancashire Lines around Blackburn (2,3 and 4), the decision to electrify will be pushed a decade or more into the future. I could certainly see, Bombardier, Stadler and perhaps a couple of other companies building a train based on the experience with a Class 319 Flex train, as a replacement.

Politicians will decide whether the Cardiff Valley Lines (7 to 11) are electrified, but I have a feeling that someone somewhere will have a better alternative to full traditional electrification.

The Cardiff Valley Lines

Consider these facts about the rail service on the Cardiff Valley Lines

  • The lines are a vital lifeline to those that live in the South Wales Valleys.
  • The area is not without its attraction, for those who like to be in the hills.
  • Traffic on the lines varies throughout the day.
  • Traffic up the Valleys is highest in the evening commuting Peak and after a big sporting event in Cardiff.
  • Four-car trains are needed on the route.
  • The current diesel trains are elderly and unreliable.
  • There are plans to open new lines and stations and extend some of the existing lines further to the North.

But above all jobs and business and housing developments are needed in the Valleys.

An improved rail service could benefit a large number of people and interests.

The Class 319 Flex Train

The Class 319 Flex train started operational service  thirty years ago as a 100 mph express commuter train running on the Thameslink route from Bedford to Brighton.

It may be a comparatively old train, but it has the following characteristics.

  • It is based on the legendary Mark 3 coach, as used on the InterCity 125.
  • It is four-cars.
  • It is a dual-voltage train.
  • Two rail-proven MAN diesels and an ABB alternator provide electric power away from electrification.
  • It is a 100 mph train on an electrified main line.
  • It has a speed of around 90 mph on diesel power.
  • Drivers have told me, that the brakes are superb.
  • It has a good reputation for reliability.
  • It meets all the current disabled regulations.

But about all, like all Mark 3-based stock, it scrubs up well to any desired standard. In What Train Is This?, I showed the interior of a refurburbished thirty-year-old Class 150 train. Unrefurbished examples are typical of the stock that work the challenging lines.

Use Of A Railbaar With A Class 319 Flex Train

Porterbrook have said that the train’s electrical layout with a DC busbar connecting all xars, lends itself to adding a battery, which could be charged using the diesel power.

A typical layout of the Class 319 Flex train could be as follows.

  • DTOC – A driving car with a diesel engine/alternator set underneath.
  • PMOS – A motor car with a pantograph.
  • TOSL – A trailer car with a toilet.
  • DTOS – A driving car with a diesel engine/alternator set underneath.

I suspect that the battery would go under the TOSL.

The connection points for a Railbaar would be on the uncluttered roof of this car.

Railbaar would be a good add-on for a Class 319 Flex train, working an extension or branch line from an electrified line.

Possible Class 319 Flex Train Problems

The Class 319 train has two possible problems; the body is made of steel and the braking is not regenerative.

Despite being steel, their weight at 140 tonnes is lighter than many aluminium bodied trains, but they don’t have all the equipment like air-conditioning.

On the other hand, a similar train to a Class 319, survived the Oxshott Incident, where a 24-tonne cement mixer truck fell off a bridge onto the roof of the train.

Some Class 321 trains, which are similar to the Class 319 train, have been rebuilt with regenerative braking, so if that becomes a necessity for the Class 319 Flex train, I suspect an engineering solution is possible. Especially, as there is over a hundred Class 321 trains, which will be coming off-lease soon.

The Class 319 Flex Train And The Cardiff Valley Lines

There are eighty-six Class 319 trains, so there would be no problems finding a donor train to convert into a trial train for the Cardiff Valley Lines, if the Class 319 Flex train performs successfully on the Buxton Line.

  • On the Buxton Line, trains climb 150 metres in 15 kilometres from the electrified station at Hazel Grove to Buxton.
  • On the Merthyr Line, trains climb 168 metres in about 30 kilometres from Cardiff to Merthyr Tydfil.

So it looks like Buxton is steeper, but the Merthyr Line is longer.

I suspect that a Class 319 Flex train will go into service on a trial basis in South Wales, to test performance and customer reaction.

If nothing, it will help define the specification for the trains that can work the Cardiff Valley Lines.

Energy Needed To Raise A Train To Merthyr Tydfil

I will make these assumptions.

  • Merthyr Tydfil has an altitude of 179 metres.
  • Cardiff Central station has an altitude of 11 metres.
  • The train must be raised 168 metres
  • A Class 319 train has a weight of 140 tonnes.
  • A Class 319 train has a seated capacity of 319.
  • A suitable battery would weigh about 2 tonnes.

Raising an empty  four-car train similar to a Class 319 train, from Cardiff Central to Merthyr Tydfil will require 23,856,000 Kg-m or 65  KwH of energy.

Assuming a full load of 319 passengers at 80 Kg a time and that adds another 4,287,360 Kg-m or 12 KwH of energy.

My calculations are very rough.

The passengers get out at the top, so they are not energy that will be regenerated on the way down.

An Electrification Scheme For The Cardiff Valley Lines

The Cardiff Valley Lines were built with the main purpose of bringing coal from the valleys to the port of Cardiff for distribution and export by ship.

Now passengers are much more important, with commuting , leisure and tourism prominent.

Coming down is never a problem and a battery electric train with good brakes could handle a full load of passengers with few problems.

Going up is the problem, as the evening peak or a big rugby match in Cardiff can result in a full train having to be hauled up the valleys.

Similar problems are encountered on all the lines in my list to a certain extent, but without seeing the figures, I suspect the Cardiff Valley Lines are some of the most challenging.

Porterbrook have said, that they are not against using batteries on a Class 319 Flex train as a boost on difficult climbs.

So I think that a Class 319 Flex train fitted with an appropriate-sized battery could be a starting point.

But there is one big problem with a Class 319 Flex train. The Class 319 trains do not have regenerative braking, which could be used to charge the batteries on the way down from the valleys.

However, the very similar Class 321 train is being fitted with regenerative braking, so a possible Class 321 Flex train could charge the batteries on the way down.

When the train arrived in Cardiff, it could attach to a Railbaar to make sure that when it left to climb up into the valleys, the batteries were fully charged.

I think that in all these ramblings, there will be a solution, where all the various technologies come together in a bespoke solution.

  • Four-car train.
  • Electric drive.
  • 25 KVAC overhead to work electrified routes on the South Wales Main Line, at 100 mph.
  • Onboard rail-proven diesel engines and alternators, which would be used accordingly and probably automatically!
  • Two diesel power units would be used, so that one failure wouldn’t leave a stranded train.
  • Batteries with a capacity of around 100 KwH
  • Powerful regenerative braking
  • Railbaars in Cardiff and other low-altitude terminal stations, could be used if diesel charging can’t be used.
  • Well-driven trains to an energy efficient timetable.

Obviously, any electrification of the Cardiff ends of the routes would be welcome and less diesel-power would be needed.

Conclusions

Railbaar would be a good add-on for a Class 319 Flex train, working an extension or branch line from an electrified line.

A Class 319 Flex train with a battery and regenerative braking could be very useful on challenging routes like the Cardiff Valley Lines.

With these applications,  strategically placed Railbaars could add to the resilience and efficiency of the system.

The bespoke solution, that I have outlined, is very close to the specification of a Class 319 Flex train with a battery and regenerative braking.

I can’t wait to ride a Class 319 Flex train on a proving run to Merthyr Tydfil.

 

 

 

 

 

April 12, 2017 Posted by | Travel | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The South Wales Mountain Railway

South Wales might not have the reputation of beautiful mountains, of say Snowdonian, the Cairngorms or Switzerland, but some of the Valley Lines that go up to places like Merthyr Tydfil and Ebbw Vale Town stations have spectacular views.

I was looking for a possible station at a village called Nelson and found a single-track railway passing to the North of the village.

I followed the track with my helicopter up the mountain and this is a Google Map of what I found.

Merthyr Tydfil And The Ffos-y-fran Land Reclamation Scheme

Merthyr Tydfil And The Ffos-y-fran Land Reclamation Scheme

The station on the left is Merthyr Tydfil and on the right is the massive Ffos-y-fran Land Reclamation Scheme. This is opening paragraph in the Wikipedia entry.

The Ffos-y-fran Land Reclamation Scheme is a major opencast coaling operation to the north-east of Merthyr Tydfil in South Wales. Miller Argent is owned by Gwent Investments Limited, which is based in South Wales and is a privately owned family business. The scheme development is the last part of the East Merthyr Reclamation scheme, and will extract 10 million tonnes of coal over 15 years, the revenues from which will redevelop the current former industrial workings into residential and recreational use.

It is a controversial scheme and I am usually against using coal for combustion purposes, but some of these Welsh landscapes are dotted with dangerous mine workings and slag heaps, so they certainly need cleaning up.

There is a Transport section in the Wikipedia entry for the scheme. This is said.

Under agreed planning rules, the site is not allowed to transport coal from the site via road. All extract is therefore moved to the rear (East) of the site where the coal is separated and washed at the Cwmbargoed Washery. Built in 1959 on land to the north and east of the railway connection to Fochriw Colliery, the coal washery was refurbished by Celtic Energy in 1992. DB Schenker trains then move the washed coal from site to Aberthaw Power Station, along the former route of the Rhymney Railway. Joining the modern Rhymney Line just south of Ystrad Mynach railway station, the trains then travel onwards via Cardiff and the Vale of Glamorgan Line to Aberthaw, enabling Ffos-y-fran to supply 40% of the coal to Aberthaw power station.

It must be challenging driving a Class 66 locomotive with a train of full coal wagons down the mountain.

It was this railway I had followed up the mountain.

Before I leave Merthyr Tydfil, look at this Google Map of the town.

Merthyr Tydfil And Rhymney

Merthyr Tydfil And Rhymney

The East Merthyr Reclamation Scheme is in the middle, flanked by Merthyr Tydfil in the West and Rhymney in the East.

So if the Authorities in South Wales are thinking of building a station on this line at Nelson, are they thinking of reopening this line after the scheme has finished extracting coal, as a second rail route to Merthyr Tydfil?

Coming back down the mountain from Merthyr, the first possible station from my list of possible stations is Bedlinog.

This Google Map shows the rail line going through the village.

Bedlinog And The Railway

Bedlinog And The Railway

Note that Bedlinog already has a Railway Inn.

After Bedlinog, the next one on the list is Trelewis. This is the Google Map

Trelewis And The Railway

Trelewis And The Railway

The railway goes between the Primary School and the Kigdom Hall.

And then it’s back to where I started this quest at Nelson, of which this is the Google Map.

Nelson And The Railway

Nelson And The Railway

The railway then goes South-East to join the Rymney Line at Ystrad Mynach station.

Trains For The Route

The task of hauling empty wagons up the mountain is not to much for a Class 66 locomotive, so I suspect that a multiple unit could be designed to handle a route like this, of which there are several in the Cardiff Valley Lines.

Either electric or diesel multiple units could probably manage the climbs, if they were designed for it, but would electreifying these routes be a feasible undertaking, given the difficulties of working on these busy lines.

But train technology is moving on and with the Class 319 Flex, we are getting close to having a true tri-mode train, with diesel, electric and battery power.

The Welsh Government have said they want new trains for these routes and I suspect engineers are working on a product tailored to run these routes efficiently.

So could we see a quad-mode train for the Valleys?

  • Four-car electrical multiple unit.
  • Onboard energy storage.
  • Perhaps even a small diesel generator for the difficult bits.
  • Gravity power, which the lines have in abundance, to use with regenerative braking to charge the batteries on the descent.
  • As modern trains can deploy pantographs automatically, some selective electrification could be added as the project develops.

I would also commit the ultimate heresy and use third-rail electrification on the steep parts at the heads of the valleys.

Consider.

  • Bombardier, Siemens and others make reliable dual-voltage trains.
  • Both electrification systems have their good and bad points.
  • It must be less intrusive and disruptive to install third-rail electrification.
  • Is overhead electrification more prone to weather damage?
  • Network Rail seem to be terribly accident-prone when it comes to overhead electrification.

In the end costs and overall reliability will decide.

But I do think sometimes, that Network Rail always chooses overhead electrification, even if third rail will be more reliable, less intrusive and more affordable.

But I’m sure that all the technology has now been proven to create a very efficient modern electric train to work the Valley Lines, which have been electrified using a great deal of innovation and common sense.

February 19, 2017 Posted by | Travel | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Death Of Traditional Steel Making

If we’re being serious about making steel using the traditional methods of blast furnaces, converters and lots of energy, it’s not a very green process and it contributes to pollution and global warning.

We have a serious oversupply of steel in the world and this page lists production by countries.

In 2014, the world produced 1670 million tonnes of steel, of which we produced just twelve.

Looking at the production levels, there are quite a few countries that produce produce small numbers of million tonnes of steel like we do.

As China produced 822 million tonnes of steel in 2014, how many of these countries will be forced out of steel making in the next few years?

What will save steel making in a lot of countries is improvements in technology.

The parts of the steel industry, that seem to be the most profitable are the downstream uses of the metal, like making rails for railways. In this country, we have a reputation for using steel in innovative ways, but few of these uses need steel made in Britain, although they may need a quality steel to start with.

But that quality steel can come from anywhere with the knowledge to produce it.

China will acquire that knowledge, just as the Japanese did in the 1950s and 1960s.

It is interesting to look at iron ore by country in 2014. Out of a world product total of 3.22 million tonnes, we see.

  • China – 1.5 million
  • Australia – 0.66 million
  • Brazil – 0.32 million
  • India – 0.15 million
  • Russia – 0.1 million

So does this partly explain China’s massive production of steel?

I think Australia and Brazil are the two most important countries on this list. Both have large amounts of energy and because they are ambitious intelligent countries, as the steel-making technology develops, will we see them increasingly becoming makers of quality steel?

I don’t know, but it says to me, that even producing quality steel in a niche market won’t be profitable for long.

The money and employment is in using quality steel, not in making it.

It may be a hard unpopular view, but we should let the rest of the world fight over supplying us with quality steel. If we want security of supply, I’m sure the Aussies would provide it.

As to the steel-making areas like Teesside and South Wales, we have to move on.

The Future On Teesside

In fact Teesside seems to be doing that, if a BBC report this week wasn’t truly negative.

What puzzles me about Teesside, is that there is little mention in the media about York Potash. This is from Wikipedia.

The project intends to mine the world’s largest deposit of polyhalite – a naturally occurring mineral – located on the Yorkshire coast.

The mine site is located outside the village of Sneatonthorpe, between Whitby and Scarborough in North Yorkshire. The project plans to construct two 1,500 m (4,900 ft) shafts to reach the mineral seam which includes a mineable area of around 25,200 hectares (62,000 acres).

To minimise the amount of visible infrastructure within the North York Moors National Park, a protected area, the polyhalite will then be transported 37 kilometres (23.0 miles) in an underground tunnel to the company’s processing plant at Teesside. After granulation and drying, the finished product – marketed by Sirius Minerals as POLY4 – will be exported from the nearby harbour facilities.

Could it be that, this project appears to not be very green and in the minds of many is creating a giant hole in the North York Moors National Park?

My view is that the UK needs more big projects like York Potash, that earn billions of pounds from exports, create thousands of jobs and don’t despoil the environment.

The Future In South Wales

So what have we got for South Wales and Port Talbot in particular?

Nothing as big as York Potash, but there are plans for the world’s first tidal lagoon power station in Swansea Bay Wikipedia says this about the Tidal Lagoon Swansea Bay.

It is planned to be the first of six tidal lagoon power plants to be constructed in the United Kingdom, and one of four planned to be built in Wales. The tidal lagoon would have a capacity of 320 MW.

The project was named as part of the UK government’s 2014 National Infrastructure Plan and was granted planning permission by theDepartment for Energy and Climate Change in June 2015. Power production is expected to begin in 2019. The operational life time of the artificial lagoon is 120 years, effects of global warming have been included in the planning. It is also to be constructed to withstand 500-year-storms and to function as a coastline protection against storms and floods.

So what are we waiting for?

The economics depend very much on the strike price for electricity generated and the Government seems reluctant to set one. I do wonder if they have got themselves tied in knots with trying to build a white elephant at Hinckley Point, that they can’t think of anything else.

Consider.

  • I’m not against nuclear power, but Hinckley Point C is so expensive and its strike price is so high, that it will be a millstone around the necks of energy users for decades.
  • If we want to go nuclear, there are smaller and proven reactor systems available.
  • Electricity generation is going more distributed with the growth of solar panels, local heat and power systems and other technology.
  • Large energy users are changing technology to cut use.
  • The tidal lagoon technology gives protection against storms and floods.
  • Tidal lagoons could be the twenty-first century equivalent of the nineteenth-century seaside pier.
  • If the technology and economics of the tidal lagoon work, it will produce carbon-free electricity for at least 120 years.
  • There are other places, where tidal lagoons could be built.

You could bet your life on the Dutch building a tidal lagoon, but they don’t have the tides.

Rather than back a doomed steelworks, the Government should back the unique energy project of the Tidal Lagoon Swansea Bay.

If the energy economics don’t work out, you still get the coastal protection and leisure facilities.

A Metro For Teesside

The Tees Valley Metro has been in planning mode for some years and I can’t understand why it hasn’t happened yet.

All that seems to have happened is the opening in 2014 of James Cook University Hospital station, which I wrote about in James Cook Station – The Reinvention Of The Halt. The station certainly seems to be attracting a level of use, typical of a station of its type.

I also wrote about the metro in The Creation Of The Tees Valley Metro.

A Metro For South Wales

The Welsh are also keen to create a South Wales Metro for some time. I wrote about my observations on the trains in the area in The Welsh Could Be Having A Lot Of Fun Playing Trains In The Cardiff Valleys.

This project should be beaten into action as soon as possible.

It is interesting to take a look at a Google Map of the coast between Swansea and Port Talbot.

Swansea To Port Talbot

Swansea To Port Talbot

I don’t know the area well, but I know many people, who have enjoyed leisure time spent all along the South Wales Coast.

Perhaps, if the steelworks were to be closed, it could be treated to a Barcelona solution, where their steelworks was closed and the area turned into beaches and parks, which formed part of the Olympics in 1992.

The Tidal Lagoon Swansea Bay would be generally sitting in the western part of the bay.

I believe that a comprehensive South Wales Metro, could go a long way to creating more jobs, than will be inevitably lost at Port Talbot.

Conclusions

Steel production is virtually dead in the UK and we must move on.

If we can find an innovative project to replace steel making, we should back it and as with York Potash, it doesn’t necessarily mean billions of public money.

But decent infrastructure and local rail, tram and bus systems can go a long way to creating the jobs needed everywhere.

In both the examples of Teesside and South Wales, surely if nothin else, a decent metro would give a boost to tourism.

April 1, 2016 Posted by | Travel, World | , , , , , , | 3 Comments

The Welsh Could Be Having A Lot Of Fun Playing Trains In The Cardiff Valleys

After my trip to Ebbw Vale Town yesterday, I started searching the Internet to see what projects might be in the pipeline for rail lines in the Valleys up from Cardiff.

There are a lot of routes spreading out from Cardiff, to places all over South Wales.

Currently, all lines are operated by a mixture of various types of diesel multiple unit, but David Cameron announced that the lines will be electrified in this report on the Government web site, published in November 2014. He said this.

I am delighted to announce today that we are going to press ahead with the electrification of the Valley Lines. After years of neglect, this part of Wales will finally get the infrastructure it needs with faster, more modern, more efficient trains and the impact will be huge.

Spreading the employment opportunities from Cardiff and out to the Valleys and helping hardworking people from all parts of this great nation to get on. This has only been possible because of the UK government and shows our long-term economic plan in action and working for the people of Wales.

It would be assumed that this will go ahead and it will be overhead electrification. The trains could be refurbished Class 315 electric multiple units, if this statement on their future on Wikipedia proves to be true.

On 31 May 2015, the fleet will again be divided with 44 (315818-315861) moving to TfL Rail (MTR Crossrail) with the Shenfield Metro services and the other 17 (315801-315817) to London Overground with the Lea Valley services. As most duties of the 315s will be taken over by new Class 345 Aventra trains once Crossrail is built, it has been suggested that the 315s could be cascaded to the Wales and Borders passenger franchise to be used on Valley Lines services in the Cardiff area following electrification

They may be nearly forty years old, but they aren’t bad trains and perhaps more importantly sixty-one trains will start to come available from London local services as the electrification is completed. In January, In January, I posted an article entitled Transport for London Get The Cleaners, Painters And Engineers Ready For The Shenfield Metro, so I would envisage that they will be cascaded in the best condition London could manage.

These trains are also all four carriages, so there would be more seats on the lines, if the electrics worked a similar timetable to the current diesels.

It is interesting to read this article on Wales On Line entitled Could electrification herald an expansion of the Valleys Lines trains? This is said for a start.

John Rogers, chairman of Railfuture’s South Wales branch, said: “The Welsh Government has a statutory duty to be an ecological government. Electrification brings lower maintenance costs and faster acceleration of trains. There’s historical evidence that electric trains are very popular and lead to increased patronage.

“It doesn’t make sense to electrify to a certain point and then say later, ‘We’re going to add another two or three miles. Can you come back and electrify it?’”

Don’t I just know it that when electric trains prove popular as here in East London, it is a non-stop struggle to increase the capacity to keep up with demand, by continually lengthening the Class 378 Trains on the London Overground.

So for a start, the Cardiff Valley Lines will probably eventually need all of those sixty-one trains, which can work in eight-carriage units on the busier lines if necessary.

They’ll also probably need to increase the car parking and bus frequencies at the outlying stations.

The Class 315s biggest advantage over the current diesels other than ecological and passenger comfort and space ones are that they possess better acceleration and Braking performance, although they have nominally the same top speed.

In the same article on Wales On Line this is said about the proposed extension to Hirwaun.

In February 2011, Network Rail delivered a report which the WG had commissioned into extending the Aberdare service to Hirwaun along a track now used only for occasional freight trains. The report estimated the infrastructure cost at £17m, which would include a loop line at Aberdare.

There is only one track for trains in both directions between Abercynon and Aberdare, with trains using a loop line at Mountain Ash to pass each other.

The loop is positioned to allow trains to leave each station along the line at the same minutes past each half hour.

A diesel train could not run from Mountain Ash to Hirwaun and back in time for the next service to follow 30 minutes later. Therefore an extra train would be needed for the Hirwaun extension, along with a new loop and extra signalling equipment for trains to pass each other at Aberdare.

The only scenario explored in Network Rail’s report was a service operated by today’s Sprinter and Pacer diesel trains, which date from the 1980s. However, modern electric trains would accelerate and brake faster for each station call, and promise to cut many minutes from journey times in the Valleys.

So electrification could deliver other benefits.

The article also suggests that the line I used to Ebbw Vale Town could be simpler if it were electrified.

A study by consultants for Network Rail in 2010 said the planned extension northwards from Ebbw Vale Parkway might involve constructing two tracks at the future Ebbw Vale Town station. This would incur the costs of building two station platforms and installing signalling equipment. Diesel trains would then be able to depart from the new station every 30 minutes, alternately to Cardiff and Newport.

In June 2011 Network Rail delivered a report on the Ebbw Vale line to the WG, again based ,on the service being provided by Sprinters, which said two platforms might be needed at Ebbw Vale Town. It seems likely, however, that only one track and one platform would be needed for electric trains.

I think they’ve started to create some of the new infrastructure, so the doubling of platform and stations might happen anyway.

The article finishes by listing several places, where lines could be extended.

1. Maesteg to Caerau

2. Penarth to Lower Penarth

3. Treherbert to Blaenrhondda or Blaencwm

Other sources talk about.

1. Reinstating a service to Abertillery.

2. Llantrissant to Beddau

3. St Fagans to Creigau

4. Routes out of Brigend via Tondu.

There’s certainly a lot of disused railway lines for the Welsh to speculate on. But then there were an awful lot of collieries.

So it looks like the Welsh are going to have fun in the Valleys.

In some ways it reminds me of the buzz that was felt where I grew up in Enfield in North London, when they electrified and extended the Lea Valley Lines in the 1960s.

It does all illustrate how electrification of rail lines isn’t as simple as you think, as it seems to give opportunities for more services and generate addition passenger traffic, that have other consequences.

I think the only thing we can say with any certainty, is that if the electrification goes ahead and the Class 315 trains are cascaded, then transport in and around the Welsh capital will be vastly improved.

May 22, 2015 Posted by | Travel | , | 1 Comment

By Train To Ebbw Vale

I don’t think I’d ever been to Ebbw Vale before. But I certainly hadn’t been by train.

So when I said that I was going to Cardiff today after getting in contact with an old acquaintance, who now lives in South Wales, he suggested that we meet up, when I was in the Welsh capital.

As a new station has just opened at Ebbw Vale Town, which was perhaps a dozen miles from his farm, he suggested that we meet there and find a convenient pub.

So I got on a Class 158 train direct from Cardiff Central and we quietly trundled up the hills to Ebbw Vale. These pictures detail the journey.

I didn’t really know what to expect, although the scenery on the way up was typical ofthe South Wales Valleys on a fine day. At the top, you arrive at a simple one-platform station in a landscaped bowl beneath the town, with various civic buildings and a funicular to the town centre.

Sadly, the funicular hadn’t started running yet!

Obviously, the project is not finished yet.

The first thing that must be done is get the funicular working reliably, so that visitors and regular travellers can get to the town centre.

Obviously, there is little information at present, about perhaps some walks or other things you might like to do. As I didn’t have much time, I didn’t have a real explore, but I would think that it might be a nice walk down the valley to Ebbw Vale Parkway station.

The other thing the station needs is a nice cafe and shop.

This Google Earth image shows the area round the station.

Ebbw Vale Town

Ebbw Vale Town

It would appear that the town centre does have an elusive cafe.

Incidentally, the hospital isn’t far away down the hill. So that isn’t a difficult journey away!

Wikipedia says this in the article about Ebbw Vale Parkway.

Demand for travel to and from the station was seriously under-estimated by the promoters of the line’s reopening, even though the service provided was to Cardiff only and not to Newport as well, as originally assumed. For example, in 2008/09, usage at the station was forecast to be 50,000, for journeys on the lines to Cardiff and to Newport, but was actually about 250,000, for journeys on the line to Cardiff only. Part of the reason for the demand underforecast was the requirement that no demand from regeneration of the former steelworks area should be assumed.

If they’ve got the site for Ebbw Vale Town right, there could be another serious underestimate.

At least plans are in place for a second platform and I saw evidence of a second track being built, which will all allow a half-hourly service and a possible service to Newport.

Long term, the line like many of the lines in the South Wales Valleys, could be electrified, for which funding was announced in 2014 in this article in South Wales  Online.

So in a few years time or so, when I travel between Cardiff and Ebbw Vale Town, will I use a much more frequent and faster service in something like a refurbished Class 315 electric train? In some ways it would be very fitting to do the journey in a steel-bodied train, even though they will be around forty years old. But then they are based on Mark 3 coaches and have the capacity to live more lives than the average cat.

As by 2022 or so, Newport and Cardiff will be on an electrified Great Western to London, if the connections are arranged correctly, places like Ebbw Vale will have a frequent electric service to London, Heathrow and all points East, which can only be good for the employment, leisure and other prospects for the South Wales Valleys.

May 21, 2015 Posted by | Travel | , , , | 1 Comment

A Visit To Risca

Risca is one of those places that I remember from my childhood. But in an unusual way.

My father was a letterpress printer and one of the type founders he used were called Riscatype and based in Risca in Wales.

It was one of my jobs from about the age of seven or so, to unpack the new type and put it away in the appropriate cases.

So as I wandered up and down the Valleys I just had to stop at Risca and Pontymister station.

This was my first visit to the area.

The visit sums up the problems with some of the Valley Lines. I took a train to Risca, expecting to get the next one back to Cardiff. But due to the nature of the service of one train per hour and the single track north of the station, the two trains cross at the station. So the outcome was that I had an hour to wait for the next train. Luckily, the pub called the Mason’s Arms was welcoming and I spent forty minutes or so, drinking a glass of well-cared-for proper cider.

 

December 3, 2014 Posted by | Travel | , | Leave a comment

Wandering On The Valley Lines

I took some of the Valley Line trains from Cardiff.

The weather was good, as you could see. I first went up to Risca and then after returning to Cardiff, I took a train up to Bargoed.

On this trip and my previous one some weeks ago, I encountered typical Welsh scenery with lots of clean and tidy stations, many of which were being upgraded with lifts and decent access.

But although the train to Risca was a decent Class 158, the other journeys were done in Pacers with more rattles than a large nursery.

The lines are crying out for electrification and a fleet of much better trains.

December 3, 2014 Posted by | Travel | , , | Leave a comment

Comings And Goings At Cardiff Central Station

Cardiff Central station is a busy station, that is on the main line from London to Swansea and is also a hub for all the local services serving the valleys and other parts of South Wales.

A Platform 0 has been added, which I used to catch my train to Risca, but it is rather tacked on to the station.

A new Platform 8 is also being added, on the other side of the station.

There are plans to upgrade the station and the South Wales Main Line and the Cardiff Valley Lines will be electrified. I hope that when both projects are completed it becomes easy to change from say a train coming in from Ebbw Vale to a fast train for London.

It’s all a bit chaotic at present and I know it’s not politically correct to say so, but showing destination boards in two languages means that travellers like me, who are unfamiliar with the lines and the station find it difficult.

Some things must be done in my view.

1. Have a better Valley Line schedule, where perhaps all trains going one direction use Platform 0 and those going the other use Platform 8. One example of many, is that the Ebbw Vale line has only one train an hour. So supposing you are going to an important event on the line and you’re coming from London, it could be an hour waiting at Cardiff Central. As Network Rail said about East Anglia, all branch lines need at least two trains an hour.

2. Create a much better information system, that doesn’t confuse travellers. Incidentally, I wouldn’t mind if station names were only given in Welsh, as that would simplify things a lot. I would think that most Welsh would understand a visitor, who pronounced a Welsh town like Treorchy or Maesteg in an English manner. After all, Welsh uses just the Roman alphabet like say Italian or Dutch, and is not like Hungarian, Turkish or Greek.

3. Make the access from Platform 0 to the main platforms a lot better.

I think that it’ll all be better when work is completed, judging by the way station rebuilds in the UK have turned out.

December 3, 2014 Posted by | Travel | , , | Leave a comment