The Anonymous Widower

A Trip Around The West Midlands

Today, I did a trip around the West Midlands, using five different trains.

Tain 1 – 19:10 – Chiltern – London Marylebone To Leamington Spa

This was one of Chiltern’s rakes of Mark 3 coaches hauled by a Class 68 locomotive.

I like these trains.

  • They are comfortable.
  • Everybody gets a table and half sit by a big window.
  • There is more space than Virgin Train’s Class 390 trains.
  • They may be slower, but they are fast enough for most journeys I make.

The train arrived seven minutes late at Leamington Spa at 11:32.

Train 2 – 12:02 – West Midlands Trains – Leamington Spa To Nuneaton

This is a new West Midlands Trains service, via the new station at Kenilworth and Coventry.

The trains are Class 172 trains, that used to run on the Gospel Oak to Barking Line.

Note.

  1. The have been repainted and refreshed.
  2. The seat cover on the driver’s seat is a relic of the London Overground.
  3. The train now has a toilet.

The train was about half-full and I got the impression, that the new service had been well-received.

The train arrived on time at Nuneaton at 12:38.

Train 3 – 12:54 – West Midlands Trains – Nuneaton to Rugeley Trent Valley

The train was a Class 350 train and it arrived eight minutes late at 13:29.

These pictures show Rugeley Trent Valley station.

It is very minimal with just a shelter, a basic footbridge and no information on how or where to buy a ticket.

Passengers deserve better than this!

Train 4 – 13:43 – West Midlands Trains – Rugeley Trent Valley to Birmingham New Street

This is a new West Midlands Trains electric service.

Compared to the Leamington Spa to Nuneaton service, passengers were spread rather thinly in the train.

The train was a Class 350 train and it arrived five minutes late at 14:44.

Train 5 – 15:55 – Chiltern – Birmingham Moor Street to London Marylebone

Another comfortable Chiltern Railways train back to London, which arrived four minutes late at 17:47.

Customer Service

Customer service and especially that from West Midlands Trains was rather patchy.

  • Leamington Spa station was rebuilding the entrance, but staff were around.
  • Nuneaton station was very quiet.
  • Rugeley Trent Valley station needs a lot of improvement.
  • The two Birmingham City Centre stations were much better.

I actually had to travel ticketless from Rugeley Trent Valley to Birmingham New Street, as the Conductor on the train didn’t check the tickets.

But Virgin Trains were very professional at Birmingham New Street.

Service Pattern

I have some observations on the service patterns.

  • For comfort reasons, I would prefer that Chiltern ran Mark 3 coaches and Class 68 locomotives on all Birmingham services.
  • In the future, it looks like Leamington Spa and Nuneaton needs at least a half-hourly service.
  • There definitely needs to be more services on the Chase Line.

There also is a serious need for staff and better facilities at Rugeley Trent Valley station.

No-one even a hardened member of the SAS would want to spend thirty minutes changing trains there on a blustery and cold winter’s day.

Conclusion

I tried two new services today, that started on the May 2019 timetable change.

  • A diesel service between Leamington Spa and Nuneaton via Kenilworth and Coventry.
  • An electrified service between Rugeley Trent Valley and Birmingham New Street.

The first would appear to be what passengers want, but the second needs a bit of promoting.

 

May 24, 2019 Posted by | Transport | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Breeze Hydrogen Multiple-Unit Order Expected Soon

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

This is the first paragraph.

Alstom Transport is hopeful of confirming an order before the end of this year for its Breeze hydrogen multiple-unit trains being developed in partnership with leasing company Eversholt Rail, suggesting that the first trains could enter service ‘as early as 2022’.

It then goes out to fill out some of the thinking behind the Alstom Breeze hydrogen-powered train.

The Breeze Is A Stop-Gap

Alstom are quoted as indicating the Breeze is an interim solution, until the next generation of train is available.

But after a ride to Southend recently in a Class 321 Renatus, I’m sure that the ride and passenger acceptance will be of a high standard.

And that’s what counts. Hydrogen is only the train’s personal power supply.

Alstom Are Not Building A Suburban Trundler

The Alstom Coradia iLint is not an exciting train.

  • It has a cruising speed of 87 mph.
  • It has a range of 370-500 miles.
  • It has a noisy mechanical transmission.
  • It always runs on hydrogen-power.
  • The prototypes have covered 100,000 km.

In my view, it is very much a first generation compromise design.

The article says more about the Alstom Breeze.

  • It has a slightly faster cruising speed of 90 mph
  • The Breeze will have 50% more power than the iLint. Does this mean better acceleration and/or a longer and heavier train?
  • It will have a 1,000 km range.
  • It will have regenerative breaking.
  • It will have a new AC traction package, as does a Class 321 Renatus. So will the two systems be the same?

I am also fairly sure, the train will be able to use electrification of both 25 KVAC overhead and 750 VDC third-rail, as Class 321 trains can now!

Train Capacity

This is said about train capacity.

Despite the loss of some seating space, each set of three 20 m vehicles would provide slightly more capacity than a two-car DMU with 23 m cars which it would typically replace.

The Class 172/0 trains, that are two-car 23 metre diesel multiple units, have 124 seats.

In Hydrogen Trains Ready To Steam Ahead, I estimated that a three-car Alstom Breeze would have a seating capacity of around 140 seats, with the ability to perhaps take an additional 160 standees.

So was my seat estimate fairly good? I also think, that as the Breeze has been designed with bags of grunt, I suspect that the basic train could be increased in size by adding extra trailer cars.

After all, the legendary Class 442 train is a five-car train, with a power-car in the middle. South Western Railway, think they are worth pulling out of the scrapyard and refurbishing to run expresses between Waterloo and Portsmouth.

I am fairly certain, that Alstom can create a five-car Class 321 Breeze with the following characteristics.

A capacity of about three hundred seats.

  • A near-100 mph top speed.
  • A 1000 km range on hydrogen.
  • The ability to use 25 KVAC overhead and/or 750 VDC third rail electrification.
  • The ability to run two trains as a ten-car train.

It would be ideal for the following routes.

  • Liverpool and North Wales via Chester
  • Norwich and Derby
  • Newcastle and Carlisle
  • Preston and Carlisle via Barrow
  • Cardiff and the South Coast of England
  • Borders Railway
  • Southampton and Ashford
  • Waterloo and Exeter

All of these routes have partial electrification, which would reduce the amount of hydrogen needed to be carried around.

Now that is an interesting multi-variable calculation!

Hydrogen Infrastructure

Alstom seem to be developing infrastructure solutions to supply hydrogen for fleets of ten or more trains, which could be shared with other applications. The obvious one could be where a train depot and a fleet of buses share a facility in say a large city like Exeter, which has an extensive diesel train network.

The article also says this about the source of hydrogen.

Ideally, the trains would use ‘green’ hydrogen manufactured by electrolysis using surplus renewable energy rather than ‘brown’ hydrogen from steam methane reforming.

I agree wholeheartedly with that!

Delivery In 2022?

Consider what has already been achieved in other projects.

  • Alstom have proved they can generate enough electricity to power a practical train.
  • Eversholt have proved that you can turn Class 321 trains into comfortable and efficient 100 mph Class 321 Renatus trains for routes up to a hundred miles.
  • Several classes of Mark 3-based electrical multiple units have been re-engined with AC traction, including the Class 321 Renatus.
  • Engineers all over the UK have modified Mark 3-based coaches and multiple units to create better and more-efficient trains.

Helping delivery of the project, is a legacy of drawings and philosophy from British Rail Engineering.

If Alstom say 2022, I believe that that could be a feasible date.

Conclusion

The ghost of British Rail Engineering is certainly a benign one allowing all sorts of worthwhile development paths.

May 16, 2019 Posted by | Transport | , , , | Leave a comment

Irish Rail And Porterbrook Order MTU Hybrid PowerPacks

The title of this post is the same as that of this this article on the International Rail Jotnal..

This is the first paragraph.

Irish Rail (IE) and British rolling stock leasing company Porterbrook have signed contracts with Rolls-Royce for the supply of 13 MTU Hybrid PowerPacks, the first firm orders for the hybrid rail drives.

Other points are made in the article.

  • IE has ordered nine PowerPacks for Class 22000 trains. If the technology works they intend to convert all 63 trainsets, which will need 234 PowerPacks, as each car has a diesel engine.
  • Porterbrook has ordered four for Class 168 and Class 170 trains.
  • The PowerPacks will be delivered between mid-2020 and 2021.
  • The MTU engines are built to EU Stage 5 emission regulations.
  • The PowerPacks can switch to battery power in stations and sensitive areas.
  • Under battery power, noise is reduced by 75 % and CO2 emissions by up to 25 %
  • Operating costs are significantly reduced.
  • The PowerPacks have regenerative braking, thus they reduce brake pad wear.
  • Due to electric power, the trains have been acceleration, which may reduce journey times.

It seems that passengers, train operating companies, train leasing companies and those that live by the railway are all winners.

If the concept works reliably and meets its objectives, I can see MTU selling a lot of Hybrid PowerPacks.

Which Operators Will Be Used For Trials?

This is a valid question to ask and I’ll put my thoughts together.

Irish Rail Class 22000 Train

These trains only run in Ireland with one operator;Irish Rail, so they will be used for trials.

As each car has one MTU diesel engine and Irish rail are stated in Wikipedia as wanting to run three-car and six-car sets, could they be converting one train of each length?

British Rail Class 168 Train

All the nineteen Class 168 trains of various lengths are in Chiltern Railway’s fleet, they will be the trial operator.

Chiltern also have nine two-car trains, which could be ideal for trial purposes as they will need two Hybrid PowerPacks.

British Rail Class 170 Train

Porterbrook own upwards of thirty two-Car Class 170 trains with CrossCountry, Greater Anglia and West Midlands Trains.

As Greater Anglia and West Midlands Trains are replacing their Class 170 trains, this means that CrossCountry will soon be the only user of two-car units.

The four two-car trains from Greater Anglia, will be going to Trains for Wales (TfW).

TfW currently has thirty two-car Pacers in its fleet, which must be replaced by the end of 2019.

TfW is bringing in the following trains.

  • Nine four-car Class 769 trains from Porterbrook.
  • Eight three-car Class 17 trains from Greater Anglia
  • Four two-car Class 17 trains from Greater Anglia

This is a total of sixty-eight cars.

So TfW are replacing a load of scrapyard specials with quality, more powerful trains, with approximately 13 % more capacity.

TfW are proposing to use the Class 170 trains on the following routes.

  • Heart of Wales line (from 2022)
  • Regional services between South and West Wales
  • South Wales metro lines – Ebbw Vale/Maesteg (until 2022)
  • Crewe-Shrewsbury local services (from 2022)

There is a mixture of routes here and it would be a good trial,

Other Trains

If the MTU PowerPack proves successful and leads to widespread conversion of the Class 168 and Class 170 fleets, will we see the twenty Class 171 trains and thirty-nine Class 172 trains converted to hybrid power?

Conclusion

It looks like a good solid project to me!

April 20, 2019 Posted by | Transport | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Monday Madness On The Gospel Oak To Barking Line

There has been an electrical failure on the Gospel Oak To Barking Line this morning.

So the service has been run by three Class 172 trains, working alone!

After all the fuss about losing the Class 172 trains in a couple of weeks, the worst happens in another way!

If it’s the electrification, Network Rail must get it better!

February 25, 2019 Posted by | Transport | , , | 1 Comment

Will The Gospel Oak To Barking Line Have Long Term Capacity Problems?

There are certainly, short term capacity problems on the Gospel Oak to Barking Line, (GOBlin) due to the non-delivery of the new Class 710 trains.

Comparison With The North London Line

There are a lot of similarities between the Gospel Oak to Barking Line and the North London Line (NLL).

  • Both run roughly East-West across North London.
  • Both have interchanges with the Underground, Crossrail and National Rail.
  • Both run electric trains.
  • Both have several freight trains per day.

In addition, the Eastern end of the NLL and the GOBlin, run through areas of East London, where a lot of regeneration and housing development is ongoing.

This picture was taken at Blackhorse Road station. The station is being surrounded, by a large amount of housing.

Capacity On The North London Line

When I moved to Dalston in 2010, the frequency of trains between Stratford and Willesden Junction stations was around six trains per hour (tph). The trains were three-car Class 378 trains, giving a capacity of 18 carriages per hour (cph).

Now in early 2019, the frequency on the same section of the NLL is eight tph and the trains are five-cars, giving a capacity of 40 cph.

This large increase of 120 percent, has not been enough to prevent trains on the NLL from being very full at times. But then there have been large housing and commercial developments at Stratford, Hackney Wick, Hackney Central, Dalston Junction and West Hampstead stations.

Future Capacity On The Gospel Oak to Barking Line

Until a few months ago, the GOBlin had a frequency of four tph. The trains were two-car Class 172 trains, giving a capacity of 8 cph.

The service from today is two four-car Class 378 and two two-car Class 172 trains per hour, giving a capacity of 12 cph.

Hopefully, when the Class 710 trains are working, we’ll be seeing four four-car Class 710 trains per hour, giving a capacity of 16 cph.

It is not the 120 percent increase that the NLL has already seen, but surely a 100 percent increase is better than nothing.

My Observations On The Gospel Oak To Goblin Line

For the last three of four years, Highbury & Islington station has been a station to avoid.

  • There have been continuous roadworks in the area of the station.
  • There have also been several water-main bursts.
  • The bus service between the station and my house has been halved in frequency.

Consequently, if I’m coming East to my home, I find it a lot easier, but slightly slower to change to the GOBlin at Gospel Oak station and then get a bus home from Harringay Green Lanes station.

So if a GOBlin train is waiting at Gospel Oak station, I take that route.

Helpfully, Transport for London have improved the cross-platform interchange.

They’ve also added more stairs to the right of these.

I actually, think, that passengers wanting to go to areas between the two lines are starting to use the GOBlin, as often by Harringay Green Lanes station, a lot of passengers have left the train.

Londoners are just practising their ducking and diving!

I’ve also left Barking a couple of times in a very full train in the Off Peak.

  • Passengers for whatever reason, seem to be using the GOBlin more!
  • Do clean electric trains attract passengers more than less friendly diesels?
  • Does the occasional four-car journey impress passengers with more space?
  • Is it since the Class 378 trains took over some duties, that the service is more reliable?

Or perversely could it be, that all the bad publicity about the GOBlin has reminded people that it is still there and might be worth a second chance?

Will The Proposed Gospel Oak To Barking Line Be Enough In The Long Term?

I am rapidly coming to the conclusion, that although capacity on the GOBlin is going to be doubled, when the new Class 710 trains arrive, this may not be a large enough increase for the long-term.

What Measures Can Be Taken To Increase Capacity?

There are some simple measures that can be taken.

Higher Frequencies

Transport for London are planning to run five tph in the Peak this year.

If it happens, this will increase capacity by a small amount, where it is needed.

But it probably can’t be a general increase, as that would probably restrict the number of freight trains.

Trains With A Higher Performance

The electric Class 710 trains probably have a higher performance than the diesel Class 172 trains.

This will help with running higher frequencies and faster services, but on its own, it won’t increase capacity.

Longer Trains

The Class 710 trains are Aventras, and these trains have been ordered up to ten cars by other operators.

So five- or six-car trains would certainly be possible.

But the problem is that some platforms would need to be lengthened.

  • Barking already handles longer trains.
  • Upper Holloway, Crouch Hill, Harrigay Green Lanes, Walthamstow Queens Road, Leyton Midland Road, Leytonstone High Road, Wanstead Park and Woodgrange Park used to have longer platforms, which might be possible to reinstate.
  • Blackhorse Road, South Tottenham and Gospel Oak would be major undertakings.

Five-car trains might be possible, if selective door opening was used at the last three stations.

Five-car trains would increase the capacity to 50 cph or an increase of twenty-five percent on the capacity after the Class 710 trains are successfully introduced.

Conclusion

I am very sure, that the only way to increase the capacity of the Gospel Oak to Barking Line, would be to run longer trains.

But they would need to use selective door opening at Blackhorse Road, South Tottenham and Gospel Oak stations.

After the problems of platform lengthening on the East and North London Lines, why weren’t platforms at least prepared for five- or even six-car trains, when the GOBlin was rebuilt and electrified?

February 18, 2019 Posted by | Transport | , , , , | Leave a comment

And Now There Are Two!

The second Class 378 train; 378206 is now in service on the Gospel Oak to Barking Line.

I have had a thought about these trains and also the Class 710 trains, which will have a similar interior.

At two in the afternoon on the short trip between Gospel Oak and Harringay Green Lanes stations about three-quarters of the seats were occupied.

I would estimate that there were perhaps 160 passengers on board.

As the Class 172 trains have only 124 seats, I feel that the electric trains and all the publicity are attracting passengers.

February 14, 2019 Posted by | Transport | , , , | Leave a comment

The Gospel Oak To Barking Line Is Soldiering On

It would appear that this week, the Gospel Oak to Barking Line’s hybrid fleet of five two-car Class 172 trains and one four-car Class 378 train have performed reasonably well.

But there is no good news about the Class 710 trains.

February 8, 2019 Posted by | Transport | , , , | 1 Comment

Train Failures On The Gospel Oak To Barking Line

It does appear from the RidingTheGoblin Twitter Feed,  that there have been some train failures on the Gospel Oak to Barking Line.

As the type of train has not been specified, I would assume that the sole Class 378 train has been yomping between Gospel Oak and Barking stations, with all the reliability of an SAS soldier.

If the Class 378 train had failed, I’m sure that various news sites would have used the fact, to give Transport for London, the Mayor or Bombardier a good kicking.

Currently, the full fleet is one four-car Class 378 train and five two-car Class 172 trains.

  • If one Class 172 train goes AWOL, this means there will be a 17 % reduction in services, but only a 14 % reduction in capacity.
  • If two Class 172 trains go AWOL, this means there will be a 20 % reduction in services , but a 29 % reduction in capacity.

On the other hand, if the fleet was thwo four-car Class 378 trains and four two-car Class 172 trains, this would result in no reduction in services and a 14 % increase in capacity.

\swap another train from a 172 to a 378 and the capacity rises by 29% above what is in service now!

The only problem, I can see, is that the mixed fleet with its higher capacity, may attract more passengers, which could cause overcroding, if the Class 710 trains fail to arrive in the projected mid-March.

February 4, 2019 Posted by | Transport | , , , | 1 Comment

So Far So Good On The Gospel Oak To Barking Lne

Since Monday, I have taken four trips on the Gospel Oak to Barking Line, with two in the Class 172 trains and two in the four-car Class 378 train.

  • The only problem I’ve seen was at about two on Tuesday afternoon, where the platform at Blackhorse Road station was jam-packed and the next train was a 172!
  • There has been no reports in the media; good, bad or indifferent.
  • RidingTheGoblin on Twitter has been reporting no problems.

It looks to me, that the passenger experience will only get better for the next few weeks as two other four-car Class 378 trains replace two Class 172 trains.

That should take everything to mid-March.

So that gives Transport for London and/or Bombardier six weeks to rustle up some more trains.

Options could include.

Class 710 Trains

If Class 710 trains are delivered in time, drivers will have to be trained, so this would put at least a week or so in the critical path.

Borrow Some Class 378 Trains

Services could be reduced elsewhere on the Overground and more Class 378 trains introduced.

Conclusion

There is only one four-car train and judging from the effects I’ve seen with this single train, an all four-car fleet will mean that the capacity on the line will be very lsrge. Will it encourage more to use the line?

As to the future, it’s going to be a close-run thing.

My money is on Bombardier delivering the Class 710 trains. They have most to lose and it’s their fault!

January 31, 2019 Posted by | Transport | , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Shape Of Things To Come On The Gospel Oark To Barking Line

Since modernisation in 2010, the service on the Gospel Oak To Barking Line has been run using six two-car diesel Class 172 trains.

Today was the first weekday, when one of the diesel trains had been replaced by a four-car electric Class 378 train.

I was able to ride on a Class 378 train between Harringay Green Lanes and Gospel Oak stations. I then doubled back and travelled all the way East to Barking station.

These are a few observations.

Electric Trains

Riding the electric Class 378 trains is a very different experience to riding the diesel Class 172 trains.

  • There is a lot less noise and vibration.
  • You sit longitudinally in London Undergound fashion, as opposed to transversely.
  • There was more capacity in the four cars of the electric train, as opposed to the two-car diesel trains.

I also got the impression that the Class 378 trains accelerated faster and cruised at a higher speed, than the Class 172 trains. I will check this out.

Train Capacity

I said in the previous section, that physical capacity is doubled from two to four cars.

  • I actually went from Harringay Green Lanes to Gospel Oak twice in the morning Peak; once in a Class 172 and once in a Class 378.
  • The former was jam-packed and the second was very comfortable, with only a few stansdees.
  • The Class 172 train has 120 seats in a 47 metre train, which works out as 2.6 seats per metre.
  • The Class 378 train has 136 seats in a 80 metre train, which works out at 1.7 seats per metre.

The lower seat density and the wide central isle, probably explains, why the electric train was more comfortable.

Note that in a few months, the Class 378 trains will be replaced with Class 710 trains, which will likely have a similar passenger capacity to the Class 378 trains.

So the capacity and passenger ambience of the Class 378 trains can probably be read across to the internally-similar Class 710 trains.

Platform Length Issues

I did my usual trick of riding in the last car and looking at where the end of the train came on the platform.

The line has been built, so that all platforms fit the standard British Rail four-car length of eighty metres, which applies to both four-car Class 378 and Class 710 trains.

The Possibilities Of Five-Car Trains

London Overground run five-car trains through four-car stations at Shadwell, Wapping, Rotherhithe and Canada Water on the East London Line, by allowing the last car to overhang the platform.

They get away with it without any trouble because.

  • The Class 378 trains have selective door opening and a walk-through interior, with large lobbies.
  • The announcements on the train are high-quality and advise passengers in the last car to move forward at short platforms.
  • East Enders quickly learn how to get in and out of the train with little fuss

So could five-car trains be run the Gospel Oak to Barking Line?

  • Barking station has a long platform.
  • Some stations like Woodgrange Park, Wanstead Park, Leytonstone High Road, Leyton Midland Road and Upper Holloway originally had longer platforms and these could probably be extended.
  • Other stations like Gospel Oak, South Tottenham and Blackhorse Road are probably at maximum length and would use selective door opening.

I suspect that if the demand needed the extra capacity, that the new trains could be lengthened from four to five cars, which would give a twenty-five percent increase in capacity.

Typical Passengers

I have a feeling that the Gospel Oak to Barking Line doesn’t have well-defined typical passengers, like a lot of routes do.

Using the train in the Peak, you notice that many passengers just hopped a couple of stops on the line.

One guy was going from Harringay Green Lanes to Shoreditch High Street, with changes at Gospel Oak and Canonbury.

This journey is probably a reflection on the badly-designed bus routes in the area it serves.

Gospel Oak To Barking Line Connectivity

The line is well-connected to the Underground, especially if you are up for a ten-minute walk.

  • District and Hammersmith & City Lines at Barking
  • Crossrail at Wanstead Park
  • Victoria Line at Blackhorse Road
  • Piccadilly Line at Harringay Green Lanes
  • Northern Line at Upper Holloway
  • North London Line at Gospel Oak

There are also good connections to North-South buses at several stations.

Will Electric Trains Attract More Passengers?

I suspect London Overground will be looking at the passenger statistics on the route with considerable interest, during the period, when some trains are two-car diesels and the others are four-car electrics.

This may well give the answer to my question.

I have a feeling that the reduced crowding on the route will mean that more passengers are attracted.

The new Class 710 trains will have wi-fi and USB charging points, so I wonder how many passengers this will attract.

But as I said earlier, a twenty-five percent increase in capacity may be possible by adding another car to the trains.

Conclusion

I have a very strong feeling that the upgrade to the Gospel Oak to Barking Line and the new electric trains, will change North-East London for the better.

As the London Overground lines to Cheshunt, Chingford and Enfield Town are also getting new trains, I would suspect that the effects will be bigger and more widespread than anybody has predicted.

  • Trains will get crowded.
  • New stations will be added to the network.
  • Existing stations will be upgraded with step-free access

We could even see a serious outbreak of London Overground Syndrome.

Future Additions

These are projects that will or could happen along the Gospel Oak to Barking Line.

At present only the first two will happen.

 

 

 

January 28, 2019 Posted by | Transport | , , , , , | 2 Comments