The Anonymous Widower

Electrification Between Exeter And Plymouth

Eventually, there will be electric passenger trains between Exeter and Plymouth! Great Western Railway’s objective must be for passengers to board their Hitachi AT-300 train at Paddington and be powered all the way to Penzance by electricity, without using a drop of diesel. The added ingredient will be battery power.

In Sparking A Revolution, I gave Hitachi’s specification for a proposed battery-electric train.

  • Range – 55-65 miles
  • Performance – 90-100 mph
  • Recharge – 10 minutes when static
  • Routes – Suburban near electrified lines
  • Battery Life – 8-10 years

As the distance between Exeter and Plymouth is 52 miles, the Hitachi specification could have been designed around this route, which as these pictures show is in places, very close to the sea, where the line runs along the South Devon Railway Sea Wall.

Global warming will probably mean, we’ll see a repeat of the major sea wall breach  that happened at Dawlish in 2014.

I would suspect that the Network Rail’s solution to the problems of efficient low or zero-carbon traction between Exeter and Plymouth includes the following.

  • A very robust railway.
  • Extreme protection from almost everything the sea and the weather can produce.
  • Could we see some concrete tunnels, like the Swiss and others use in mountainous areas to protect from snow? Rail Magazine says yes! At Horse Cove.
  • No electrification as water and electricity are not a good mix, except in an electrolyser to produce hydrogen, oxygen and/or chlorine.
  • Battery or hydrogen-powered passenger trains or freight locomotives.
  • Digital in-cab signalling. Traditional signalling is even more expensive equipment to be swept away.

From media reports, this looks like the way Network Rail are thinking.

Charging The Trains

Battery-electric trains will need to be charged. There are three convenient stations; Exeter St. Davids, Newton Abbott and Plymouth.

As far as passenger services are concerned, it could be a very efficient zero-carbon railway.

Electrification At Exeter St. Davids

Exeter St. Davids is an important hub for services between Devon and Cornwall and the rest of Great Britain.

  • GWR services run to London Paddington via Newbury.
  • GWR services run to London Paddington via Bristol
  • GWR services run to Plymouth and Penzance via Newton Abbott.
  • GWR local services run to Barnstaple, Exmouth and Paignton.
  • CrossCountry services run to the Midlands, North and Scotland via Bristol.
  • South Western Railway services run to London Waterloo via Basingstoke.

In future, there could be services running to Plymouth on the reopened route via Okehampton and Tavistock.

All these services could be run by battery-electric trains for sixty miles from Exeter, if they could be fully-charged at the station.

Note.

  1. Trains to London Paddington and Bristol could easily reach Taunton, which is thirty miles away.
  2. Trains to London Waterloo could reach Yeovil Junction, which is fifty miles away.
  3. Trains to the West could reach Plymouth, which is fifty-two miles away.
  4. Barnstaple is forty miles away, so would probably need some help to get back.
  5. Exmouth is eleven miles away, so a return journey is probably possible.
  6. Paignton is twenty-eight miles away, so a return journey is probably possible, with a top-up at Newton Abbot if required.

Exeter is going to be very busy charging trains.

It should be noted, that trains to and from London Paddington and Bristol, all share the same route as far as Cogload Junction, where the London Paddington and Bristol routes divide.

  • Cogload Junction is thirty-six miles from Exeter.
  • Cogload Junction and Newbury, where the electrification to London Paddington starts are eighty-five miles apart.
  • Cogload Junction and Bristol Temple Meads, where the electrification to London Paddington starts are forty miles apart.

I wonder if it would be sensible to electrify between Exeter St. David station and Cogload Junction.

  • From my virtual helicopter, the line doesn’t look to be in the most difficult category to electrify.
  • There is only one tunnel and a few old bridges and a couple of level crossings.
  • Some of the route is alongside the M5.
  • Trains would arrive in Exeter with full batteries and could do a quick stop before continuing their journeys.
  • Trains would arrive at Cogload Junction and could reach Bristol Temple Meads without stopping for a recharge.
  • Bristol services that are extended to Taunton and Exeter could be run by battery-electric trains.

I also feel, that with upwards of twenty-five miles of extra electrification between Cogload Junction and Newbury, that battery-electric trains could run between London Paddington and Exeter via the Reading-Taunton Line.

Electrification At Plymouth

As with Exeter St. Davis, Plymouth is an important hub for services between Devon and Cornwall and the rest of Great Britain.

  • Most services run to Penzance in the West and Exeter in the East.
  • There is a local service to Gunnislake, which is fifteen miles away.

Lots of charging capacity, will enable battery-electric trains to reach their destinations, except for Penzance

Trains Between Plymouth And Penzance

Hitachi must have despaired, when it was pointed out that the distance between Penzance and Plymouth is eighty miles! This is fifteen miles longer than the range of their proposed battery-electric train.

The simplest solution would be to build a battery-electric train with an eighty mile range, that could travel between Plymouth and Penzance on a single charge. With charging at Penzance it could return to Plymouth.

The longer range, would also mean that, with perhaps ten extra miles of electrification, that battery-electric trains could bridge the electrification gap between Cogload Junction and Newbury.

Other solutions range from selective electrification, all the way up to full electrification of the Cornish Main Line.

It should be noted that there are the following branches on the Cornish Main Line.

If these branches are going to be served by battery-electric trains, arrangements will have to be made for their charging. This could either be on the main line, at the remote terminal or at both.

Would it be easier to run the branches using battery-electric trains, if the Cornish Main Line was fully electrified?

The Cornish Main Line also carries a number of heavy freight trains, most of which seem to be going to or from Burngullow, so I suspect they are in connection with the movement of china clay.

Currently, these heavy freight trains appear to be hauled by diesel locomotives, but if the Cornish Main Line were to be fully electrified, could they be run by electric locomotives?

Electrification Of A Reopened Northern Route

In the May 2020 Edition of Modern Railways, there is an article, which is entitled Beeching Reversal Fund Bids.

This is the introductory paragraph.

Bids have been submitted to Government for a share of the £500 million ‘Restoring your railway’ fund launched by the Department for Transport in January. The fund is to be used to support proposals to reinstate axed local services, to accelerate schemes already being considered for restoration and also to promote new and restored stations.

One of the bids is for the Tavistock-Okrhampton Reopening scheme (TORs), which would reopen the former Exeter to Plymouth railway of the LSWR, as a new route between Exeter and Taunton in the East and Plymouth in the West.

  • The original railway was double-track.
  • Most of the infrastructure is intact.
  • The route would totally avoid Dawlish.

This is also said in the Modern Railways article.

It proposes journey times could be as little as six minutes longer than via the existing route between Exeter and Plymouth and that there could be opportunities for freight trains to avoid the steep gradients over the Devon banks between Newton Abbott and Plymouth. Provision of electrification for TORs as part of a wider programme for main lines in the region is also advocated.

Could an electrified route via Tavistock and Okehampton be connected to an electrified Cornish Main Line, to create an electrified route across Devon and Cornwall?

Connecting At The Royal Albert Bridge

This Google Map shows the Royal Albert Bridge and the Tamar Bridge over the River Tamar.

Note.

  1. The Royal Albert Bridge to the South of the modern Tamar Bridge.
  2. The Great Western Main Line running East to Plymouth and West to Penzance.
  3. The Tamar Valley Line running up the Eastern bank of the River Tamar and under the Eastern approaches to both bridges.
  4. Going North on the Tamar Valley Line leads to the TORs and going South leads to Plymouth station.

I can see a difficult design problem at the Eastern end of the Royal Albert Bridge, as a very complicated junction will be needed to allow all trains go the way they need.

Trains wanting to call at Plymouth station and use TORs will need to reverse in the station.

Connecting At The East Of Exeter

This Google Map shows The Tarka Line and the Bristol-Exeter Line join at Cowley Bridge Junction.

Note.

  1. The Tarka Line to Barnstaple and TORs leaves the map in the North West corner.
  2. The Bristol-Exeter Line to Taunton, Bristol and London Paddington leaves the map in the North East corner.
  3. Cowley Bridge Junction is in the South West corner of the map.
  4. Cntinuing South West leads to Exeter St. David’s station.

It looks to me, that Cowley Bridge Junction will need to be made into a full triangular junction, so that trains can go directly between the Bristol-Exeter Line and the Tarka Line.

Trains wanting to call at Exeter St. David’s station and use TORs will need to reverse in the station.

The Reversal Problem

If you wanted to run a passenger service between Taunton and Penzance using TORs with stops at Exeter, Okehampton, Tavistock, Plymouth and Truro, the train would need to reverse twice at Exeter and Plymouth.

These days with modern fast bi-mode multiple units, it’s not a problem, but in the days of Beeching, when the Tavistock and Okehampton route was originally closed in 1968, there probably wasn’t a suitable train other than a slow two-car diesel multiple unit.

I think, that fast expresses to and from Penzance will still take the current route.

  • Battery-electric trains can handle the route at 100 mph.
  • No reversals will be needed.
  • There is a call at Newton Abbott for connections to Torquay and Paignton.
  • Passengers wanting Okehampton, Tavistock and other stations on the TORs route can change at Exeter or Plymouth.

The Modern Railways article says this about services on the TORs route.

The case suggests that services could operate as an extension of the SWR Waterloo to Exeter service, or potentially as an extension of CrossCountry services beyond Exeter. During periods when the coastal route is blocked, additional services could use the TORs route, potentially running non-stop.

Note.

  1. As the extension of the SWR service would run the other way through Exeter St. David’s station, there would be no need to reverse.
  2. But I suspect the CrossCountry service would need the reverse.
  3. I feel for efficiency, that diverted freight services would need the efficient junctions at each end of TORs.

It probably would have helped if the Great Western and the London and South Western Railways had had a better crystal ball.

Fast Electric Freight Services To And From Devon And Cornwall

If the following lines are electrified.

  • Cogload Junction and Exeter
  • TORs
  • Cornish Main Line

I feel that electric freight services will be able to run between Taunton and Penzance.

All it would need to complete the electrified route would be to electrify the following.

  • Cogload Junction and Bristol
  • Cogload Junction and Newbury

What would a high-speed freight route do for the economy of the two South Western counties?

 

 

April 25, 2020 Posted by | Transport | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

An Angry Sea At Dawlish

As I came back from Plymouth this morning, I came along the coast at Dawlish.

The sea was angry.

You could understand how the sea wall gets damaged by the sea.

November 20, 2019 Posted by | Transport | , , | Leave a comment

The Case For Okehampton Reopening

The title of this post in the same as that of an article by Jim Steer, in Issue 871 of Rail Magazine.

The article talks about the need to safeguard the rail route to the far South West of England and describes in detail, the problems of the current route, how it can be improved, so it is less likely to disruption and the problems of reopening the old London and South Western Railway route through Okehampton and Tavistock to Plymouth.

This is a quote, shown in bold in the article.

Politicians are coming round to the idea that more needs to be done to ensure the resilience of the South West’s rail services.

Reasons given for creating the Okehampton route include.

  • Creation of a second route between the Far South West and Exeter.
  • Housing in Okehampton and Tavistock.
  • Creation of a route for freight trains to the Far South West.
  • The route would serve one of the least accessible parts of England.
  • Create better access to Exeter and Plymouth for both educational and job opportunities.

But improving the rail links to the Far South West won’t come cheap and costs in the order of a billion pounds are mentioned.

The biggest problem if the Okehampton route is to be reopened, is probably the Meldon Viaduct, which is between Okehampton and Tavistock stations.

Conclusion

Costs may be high, but if climate change or the weather should make the Dawlish route unuseable, can we really cut Plymouth and Cornwall off from the rest of England?

Network Rail are stated to have developed a plan to improve the Dawlish route, but surely, as that could be destroyed as it was in 2014, now is the time to get some of our finest engineers to create a workable plan for the Okehampton route.

Perhaps Lord Foster or another architect or structural engineer, has an idea that could create a replacement Meldon Viaduct. This could be key to an affordable Okehampton route.

February 1, 2019 Posted by | Transport | , , , | Leave a comment

The Railway At Dawlish Is In Trouble Again

This report on the Guardian is entitled Waves Batter Railway Line At Dawlish Station As Storm Emma Hits UK. It has a video, which shows the ferocity of the storm.

But at least things seem to be happening to create an alternative route, when Emma and her friends are causing trouble!

This article in the Tavistock Times Gazette is entitled Okehampton Rail News Welcomed Across The Region.

This is the first paragraph.

The news that the Government is creating a plan to bring an all-week, all year train service to Okehampton has been welcomed by MPs — including those for Okehampton and Tavistock — and county councillors from across the area.

The article goes on to say that the Transport Secretary; Chris Grayling, has instructed Great Western Railway to produce a creditable plan for an all-week, all-year train service between Exeter and Okehampton.

It is not a complete railway line to Plymouth and Cornwall avoiding Dawlish, but surely, it will help get rail passengers round a blockage, perhaps by using coaches along the A38 between Bodmin Parkway and Okehampton stations.

I suspect that part of the GWR plan will be to be able to get a trusty short-formation InterCity 125 between Exeter and Okehampton in all but the worst weather.

I suspect too, that GWR and their drivers and other staff, know the limitations of InterCity 125s by now, when it comes to getting services through Dawlish in atrocious weather.

The BBC has this video of the last train going through before the line through Dawlish was closed in 2014.

March 4, 2018 Posted by | Transport | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Walking Between Dawlish And Dawlish Warren Stations

The article on the BBC is entitled Dawlish storm damage rail closure ‘to cost millions’.

It certainly shows why the Plymouth to Exeter Line through Dawlish is so important.

Network Rail threw literally every kitchen sink, they could find at the problem and when the Book Of Heroic Projects is written Dawlish will feature prominently. I wrote about the work in A Job Well Done.

So three years and a day after I wrote that post what does it look like now?

I walked between Dawlish and Dawlish Warren stations taking these pictures.

Some work at Dawlish Warren station is being completed, but it looks as if it could last for hopefully a few years.

April 6, 2017 Posted by | Transport | , , , | 1 Comment