The Anonymous Widower

Who Needs Wires?

I went to Birmingham today to look at the recently-opened  extension of the West Midlands Metro, which runs from outside Birmingham New Street station to Birmingham Library on battery power.


  1. Pavements, tram stop furniture and other details need to be finished.
  2. There no wires between near to New Street station and the Birmingham Library tram stop.
  3. The route is double-track.
  4. The stops all have two platforms.
  5. The route will be extended past Birmingham Library and on to new stops at Brinfleyplace, Five Ways and Edgbaston,
  6. The last three pictures show the pantograph being lowered outside New Street station.

These are my thoughts on other areas.

Battery Installation

The batteries appear to be on the roof of the two end sections of the trams.

They don’t appear to be very large, so it looks to me that CAF have taken great trouble with the design.

After all, the batteries were fitted to the trams by maintenance staff at West Midlands Metro, after one tram was converted in Spain.

Battery Operation

I observed the following.

  • Birmingham Library tram stop doesn’t appear to have a charging station.
  • Trams running towards Birmingham Library tram stop, drop the pantopgraph at New Street station.
  • Although I didn’t see it, trams going in the other direction, probably raise the pantograh at New Street station.
  • I would assume that trams leave New Street station for Birmingham Library,  with full batteries, that have been charged on the way from Wolverhampton.
  • Trams appear to have no problem climbing from New Street station to the Town Hall tram stop.
  • If required trams could coast down the hill to New Street station.

The operation on battery power appears to be very simple.

Note that there are three other tram systems, that use these CAF Urbos 3 trams, that use batteries; Granada, Luxembourg and Seville.

There will surely be others, judging by the quality I saw in Birmingham.

Noise On Battery Power

Like other battery-powered vehicles, that I’ve ridden, they seem to be very quiet, when running on batteries. I suspect, that with the pantograph safely down in its hole, a lot of clanking and screeching doesn’t happen.

The Location Of The Temporary Terminus

The Birmingham Library tram stop makes an excellent temporary terminus.

  • It is at the top of the hill, so will surely attract passengers, not wanting to walk all the way up.
  • It is not far from the library, conference hall, conference centre and the restaurants on Brindleyplace.
  • The tracks can be easily extended to Edgbaston.
  • There is a crossover to allow trams to be turned back in either platform.
  • There are also no need for wires at the tram stop.

I also think, that if there are no wires on the extension from Birmingham Library tram stop, that the building of the extension could be much simpler.

The New Extension Opened Early

I’m fairly certain, that the newly-opened section of track is completely without wires.

  • Did this simplify testing and allow the extension to open a few days early, once staff training had been completed?
  • It certainly allows revenue to be collected earlier.
  • Have the battery modifications to the trams been designed so that the full extension can be handled on battery power?
  • Does this mean that the route can be built and tested in sections, by just laying the track and testing it?

If this is the plan, it is rather elegant and could save construction costs and testing time.

Extending The Edinburgh Tram

Is a similar construction plan to be used on the Edinburgh trams for their extension?

The trams are all built by CAF, which must help..


Birmingham must now have one of the best City Centre tram in the world.

  • The batteries are charged on the long run between Birmingham and Wolverhampton.
  • The changeover between battery and overhead power happens at a busy stop, so doesn’t delay the tram.
  • There is sufficient power to climb the hill from New Street station to Birmingham Library.

It’s a much better system than the MetroCentro in Seville, which was also built by CAF. But that is now twelve years old and is only about as long as Birmingham’s current section without wires.

These pictures show the charging system in Seville from my post called Seville’s Elegant Trams.

Seville’s trams have to charge the battery at every stop and I suspect the technology could be used in the West Midlands if needed.

Are we also seeing an innovative construction method for a tram system?

  • An electrified core is built first.
  • Battery trains can be tested on an electrified line with the pantograph down.
  • The initial line is then extended, as required at the ends using plain track and battery operation.
  • The extension is done gradually in sections to allow full testing.

It should be possible to save construction time and project cost.

December 13, 2019 Posted by | Transport/Travel | , , , | Leave a comment

More Innovation From CAF

CAF are noted for innovation in the design of their trains and particularly trams. I have read somewhere, that they spend a lot of money on Research and Development and it seems to show in their products.

  • In Seville’s Elegant Trams, I wrote about the MetroCentro in Seville, which is catenary-free and charges the batteries of the trams at stops, through an overhead rail.
  • Zaragoza trams use a similar system.
  • The Midland Metro is fitting batteries to its CAF Urbos 3 trams, to extend the system in Birmingham and Wolverhampton.
  • A second line for the Midland Metro could use tram-trains, so it can share the South Staffordshire Line with freight trains.
  • My engineering instinct tells me that the Midland Metro system is more advanced, than that installed in Spain.

This article on Global Rail News is entitled CAF Secures New Orders In Luxembourg, Germany and Sweden.

This is an extract from the article.

Luxtram has selected CAF to supply 12 trams for the second phase of Luxembourg City’s tram network, a catenary-free line which is currently under construction.

These Urbos 3 trams will cost €40 million and be powered through a ground-level charging system at stops.

So it looks like CAF have now added a new way of charging battery trams.

Will we be seeing this technology in the extension to the Edinburgh Tram and later extensions to the Midland Metro?



June 14, 2018 Posted by | Transport/Travel | , , , | Leave a comment

Seville’s Elegant Trams

Seville’s tramway; the MetroCentro, by the cathedral is powered without using traditional overhead catenary.

Each double-sided stop has a high electrified rail on each side.

When the tram stops, it puts up a pantograph and then for a minute or so, it charges the batteries.

Seville’s Urbos trams are the same as in Birmingham, so will the Midland Metro be using the same elegant system to charge the batteries, that are now been fitted, so trams can run to Centenary Square in Birmingham and the railway station in Wolverhampton?

|Edinburgh also has another version of Urbos trams, so if Birmingham battery trams are successful, will we be seeing them North of the Border?

There’s only one thing wrong with Seville’s trams. Every one is wrapped in advertising, which makes it difficult to see out and look at the outstanding buildings.

How Does The Battery System Work?

CAF , who built the Urbos trams, have this page on their web site, which is entitled Greentech Tram.

The system uses two methods of storing electricity.

Supercapacitor Modules

A supercapacitor has the advantage that it can be quickly charged and discharged.

So as a tram only takes perhaps fifteen seconds to stop from full speed, the fast charging allows the regenerative braking energy to be stored.

On starting again, this energy can be discharged quickly from the supercapacitor to accelerate the tram.

This charging/discharging cycle does degrade the supercapacitor  and they would have to be replaced periodically.

Lithium-Ion Batteries

Lithium-ion batteries can hold greater amounts of electricity, but their charge and discharge rate is slower.

They can provide smaller amounts of power to keep the tram going at a constant speed after it has been accelerated.

A Sophisticated Control System

The page talks about a sophisticated control system that optimised the driving of the tram and the minimisation of energy.

The System Can Be Licenced From CAF

It should be noted that CAF will licence the system to other manufacturers.


By using two different storage systems with different characteristics, CAF are able to drive the tram along its 1.4 km route, charging at each stop.




June 24, 2017 Posted by | Energy Storage, Transport/Travel | , , , , | 4 Comments

Edinburgh Tram’s Elaborate Catenary

When I’m in Edinburgh, I always think that the overhead wires for the trams are over-elaborate and intrusive.


The picture was taken as I arrived. Compare that picture, with this one in the centre of Birmingham.

The Viaduct Alongside Snow Hill Station

The Birmingham design is a lot simpler and as the trams are both from the same builder, you can’t say that the Midland Metro is designed to easier rules. This system could surely have been used on Princes Street, where I took this picture.

Tram Wires On Princes Street

There is no excuse for bad design.

The Midland Metro is also showing the way for its extension, by using battery power through the historic centre.

June 22, 2016 Posted by | Transport/Travel | , , , | 2 Comments

Edinburgh Haymarket Station Gets It Right

Edinburgh Haymarket station is another example of Network Rail’s stations with a wide bridge over the tracks, like Leeds, Derby and most spectacularly Reading. London Bridge will join the club in the next couple of years.

As most trains stop at both Waverley and Haymarket stations in Edinburgh, I think passengers will ask themselves, why they would ever use the truly dreadful Waverley station?

  • Access to the trams at Waverley means using endless steps and escalators to get to Princes Street and then an uncovered walk to the tram.
  • Trams at Haymarket are just a short level walk outside.
  • Taxi drop at Waverley is difficult with more steps. It’s on the level at Haymarket.
  • Tickets to Edinburgh allow you to go to either station.
  • Coming from the West and needing the tram, will passengers increasingly change at Edinburgh Park station?

Don’t fall into the trap of getting off at Edinburgh Waverley, which now always seems to be called just Edinburgh.

My only reservation about Haymarket is the station’s size.

Is it big enough for an important rugby match at Murrayfield, where the savvy will arrive at Haymarket and take a tram?

And will it be big enough, when the trams are extended, as they surely will be?

June 22, 2016 Posted by | Transport/Travel | , , , | Leave a comment

Is More Tram Fun On The Way In Edinburgh?

This article on the BBC web site is entitled Edinburgh trams: Plans to extend the line to Newhaven.

This is said.

Edinburgh’s tram network should be extended to Newhaven, a report to councillors has recommended.

It is estimated the three mile extension would cost £144.7m to build. The line currently stops at York Place in the city centre.

Edinburgh city council is looking into extending the tram network to Newhaven, Ocean Terminal or the foot of Leith Walk.

Councillors will vote next week.

As there are elections in Scotland in May, this could restart the saga of the building of the current Edinburgh trams, which kept Glaswegians and Sassenachs so amused.

I doubt they’ll start the extension of the tram system before the end of this decade!

November 13, 2015 Posted by | Transport/Travel | , | Leave a comment

Is Waverley Station Good Enough For Edinburgh?

If you arrive in London Kings Cross station, the experience has been transformed over the last few years. Instead of entering a dark concourse crowded with tired retail outlets in a wood and asbestos shed designed in the 1960s, you now have two choices. You can walk to the front of the train, through the barriers and doors and into a large square with seats, buses and entrances to the Underground. Or if the weather isn’t good, you can take an escalator or a lift to the footbridge that spans all of the platforms and enter the covered Western concourse to make your way to onward transport or to one of many cafes, most of which are upmarket.

Other stations that I know well, like Birmingham New Street, Liverpool Lime Street, Manchester Victoria, Newcastle Central and Nottingham have also been transformed into impressive gateways for their cities. Next in line for substantial upgrading are London Euston and Waterloo, Glasgow Queen Street and Cardiff.

Edinburgh Waverley station has had a bit of a tidy up and it now has a set of escalators to get you up to Princes Street, but it is still a dark, cramped station, with no quality cafes in the station.

If I was to give Kings Cross five stars, Newcastle and Nottingham would get four and Waverley scarcely deserves one.

So to answer my original question. The answer is a definite No!

Waverley And The New Borders Railway

In some ways the new Borders Railway is going to make matters worse, as if it is successful, there will be pressure for more services on the line and there may not be enough terminating platforms at the East end of the station. But at least according to the Layout section in the station’s Wikipedia entry, things are being reorganised. This is said.

Former Platforms 8 and 9, which were substantially shortened for use as a Motorail terminus, the infilled area becoming a car park; since the demise of Motorail services these platforms are used only for locomotive stabling, although the numbers 5/6 were reserved for them in the 2006 renumbering. These are to be extended as full length platforms to accommodate terminating CrossCountry and Virgin Trains East Coast services with the taxi rank closed in June 2014 to make way for these works.

On the other hand, the Borders Railway has removed the need to use one of the worst train/bus connections in the UK.

Currently, if you arrive on a train from London and want to get an express bus to the South or the Borders, this necessitates a climb up flights of steps onto the North Bridge, which with heavy bags is impossible, unless you’re stronger and fitter than most.

Now you walk to the bay platform at the East end of the station and get one of the half-hourly trains to Galahiels, where there is a short walk to the bus station to get a convenient bus to all over the Borders and even to Carlisle.

But it is still a long walk from the bay platforms at the East (3 to 6) to the platforms that go West (12 to 18). And the tram is even further to walk.

Buses And Trams At Waverley

Like many main stations in the UK, no thought has been given at Edinburgh to how to efficiently organise the interface between trains and the buses.

I would have thought that when Edinburgh trams were built that they would have reorganised public transport in the city, so that the trams served the station properly. After all in Manchester, Croydon, Sheffield, Nottingham, Liverpool and Newcastle, local light rail, underground or trams serve the main train stations. Only in Blackpool is a walk needed, but that is being remedied.

In my view there are three places for tram stops at Waverley station.

  1. At the top of the escalators that take you between the station and Princes Street. But would this get in the way of the posh cars taking people to and from the Balmoral Hotel?
  2. On Waverley Bridge in front of the station. But where would the tourist buses go to clog up next?
  3. There also could be a Nottingham-style solution, where the trams cross over the station on a bridge at right angles to the train lines. But this would probably be an impossibly difficult project to design and implement.

The trams do serve Haymarket station and I wonder how many visitors to Edinburgh, use that station instead.

Waverley And Princes Street Gardens

After my trip to the Borders Railway, my friend and I went for lunch in a restaurant by the Royal Scottish Academy facing out onto Princes Street Gardens.

It was not an easy walk from the station as once we’d climbed up the escalators, it took several minutes to get across the busy Waverley Bridge in front of the station to get into the civility of the Gardens. This Google Map shows where we walked.

Waverley Station And Princes Street Gardens

Waverley Station And Princes Street Gardens

Over lunch, I asked my friend, who’d lived in Edinburgh nearly all her life, , why there wasn’t a subway between the gardens and the station. She didn’t know and said there never had been! So as I walked back to the station, I took some pictures.

They show no evidence of a subway that might have been closed.

But they do show that if a subway could be built, then Edinburgh could have a World Class meeting place for when the weather was good.

Sorting The Trams

Seeing the map of Waverley station and the Princes Street Gardens, I have a feeling that if they were designing the Edinburgh trams now, they would be very different.

The difference is that in the last few years, tram-trains have come into general use in Germany. The Germans are getting enthusiastic about their use and large systems are being developed in cities like Karlsruhe, Kassel and Chemnitz.

In the UK, a test line is being added to the Sheffield Supertram, but how could tram-trains help solve the problems of Waverley station?

Trams coming from Edinburgh Airport and the West stop at Murrayfield Stadium tram stop and then move onto the street to call at Haymarket  before going down Princes Street. New Class 399 tram-trains, as will be used in Sheffield, would follow the same route as the trams until Murrayfield. Passengers would find the only real difference would be that they had somewhere else on the destination board.

But at Murrayfield they would join the main railway lines and running as trains, they would call at Haymarket and Waverley stations.

The tram-trains could end their journey at Waverley or they could pass through the station and perhaps go on to further destinations like Dunbar or North Berwick. There would be no infrastructure modifications needed East of Waverley station, as the tram-trains would just appear to everything to be just another type of electric train.

If you look at the map in the Proposals for the Edinburgh tram network in Wikipedia, you’ll see this map.

Edinburgh Tram Map

Edinburgh Tram Map

Note there is another Western destinations in addition to the airport and a loop to Newhaven and the Port of Leith. All come together at Haymarket. So services from the West could be run by trams or tram-trains as appropriate and those on the loop would probably be run by trams.

It should also be said, that the tram-trains could go anywhere to the East or West of the City, where there are electrified lines. Even Glasgow!

Edinburgh could have a lot of fun, without digging up the streets too much. Although, they’d probably need to do this, if they were going to extend the tram to Newhaven and the Port of Leith.





September 9, 2015 Posted by | Transport/Travel | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Could Tram-Trains Be Used To Advantage In Edinburgh?

This might be design by hindsight but after viewing the tram-trains of Kassel, Karlsruhe and Mulhouse, I do wonder if tram-trains could be used to advantage in Edinburgh, alongside the new tram system.

To the west of Haymarket station, the trams and rail lines share a corridor, with the tram tracks to the north. So as the Edinburgh trams run on standard gauge tracks, any tram-trains coming or going to the west could just cross over between the two sets of tracks. This Google Earth image shows the tram stop and the train station at Haymarket.

Trams And Trains At Haymarket

Trams And Trains At Haymarket

Unfortunately, I think the image pre-dates the operation of the trams, but compared to some of the complicated layouts and tunnels in Germany, it should be very simple. As was shown in Paris, tram-trains can be built that run on both the 750 V DC used by Edinburgh trams and the 25 kV AC used on the electrified main line to both Glasgow and London from Edinburgh.

The Edinburgh trams run every 8-10 minutes during the week, so there should be capacity to run some train-trains through the city centre section, without much modification.

But where would they go at the eastern end?

The obvious place would be to go straight on past Waverley station and the Balmoral Hotel and then return to the rail lines to the east of the station, if that was possible. This is a Google Earth image of the area.

Edinburgh Waverley

Edinburgh Waverley

If they ever extend the tram to Leith and Newhaven, that may or may not be a possibility. The Edinburgh trams are built to a very tight specification, which is designed to go round sharp corners and not make too much noise. Running straight between Haymarket and Waverley may be an easier task, than turning sharply on and off Princes Street.

As with Crossrail and Thameslink in London, where tunnels link two railways lines together, thus saving terminal platforms in the city centre, an east-west tram-train across Edinburgh, would reduce the needed platform capacity in both Waverley and Haymarket stations.

I have been looking at Google Earth images of Edinburgh and there are more railways than those that run passenger trains. I would assume they take freight from up the East Coast Main Line through the city. So could some of these lines be used by tram-trains to create much needed public transport routes in the city?

There is one interesting possibility. The Edinburgh Suburban and Southside Junction Railway, runs across the south of the city and is used by freight trains, but no passenger services. According to Wikipedia there is a campaign to reopen the line to Passenger services and also a proposal by Network Rail to electrify the line. Tram-trains could be a possibility for providing the service, as the line links to the main railway across Edinburgh at both ends.

It would probably be more affordable to provide the passenger services using tram-train technology, as the stops would be simpler and you could use an off-the-shelf Class 399 tram-train, if they have been proven to work in Sheffield.

In the Wikipedia for Edinburgh trams, they also talk about a new stop called Edinburgh Gateway, which would link to trains on the Fife Circle Line.

It has been proposed that the Fife Circle Line be extended to Leven by creating the Levenmouth Rail Link.

I’m pretty certain that in Karlsruhe or Kassel, the Germans, would run tram-trains on the Fife Circle and the extension to Leven, probably using 750 DC electrification all the way.

1. The station at Edinburgh Gateway could be a simpler affair, which would only need to accommodate compatible tram-trains and trams which could share platforms. Obviously, if longer distance trains to Glasgow or Aberdeen were stopping at the station, these would probably need their own platforms.

2. Creating a 750 DC tram line between Thornton and Leven, even if parts of the line carried freight trains, must be more affordable, than heavy rail.

3. Edinburgh would have the iconic images of tram-trains going over the Forth Rail bridge, which could be electrified to either system, as the tram-trains won’t care.

4. Operation of the tram-train would be a bit like the proposed tram-train test in Sheffield, where both ends of the line operate as trams, with a section of heavy rail in the middle.

5. Battery technology could also be used between Edinburgh Gateway and Thornton.

I’ve seen everything, I’m proposing here, in the last few weeks.

This musing of a Saasenach, does illustrate the importance of the tram-train trial between Sheffield and Rotherham.

February 26, 2015 Posted by | Transport/Travel | , , | Leave a comment

The Edinburgh Trams Finally Arrive

One of the reasons to go to Edinburgh was to see the new trams.

The trams themselves are impressive and are the first I’ve seen with leather seats. Incidentally according to this Wikipedia article, the Edinburgh tram is a special design and unlike any others.

The trams, like many Lothian buses are being fitted with wi-fi, which is something I’d like to see on all public transport.

But I think that the design of the system shows a few shortcomings.

Edinburgh is a World Heritage Site, so why didn’t they use battery or catenary-free technology, through the historic centre, as is done in Bordeaux, Nice and Seville. Incidentally the Seville trams were built by the same manufacturer as those in Edinburgh; CAF. It therefore seems even more surprising that Edinburgh doesn’t use the same technology in the city centre, especially as in addition to not using intrusive and ugly catenary, according to some technical articles, I’ve read they are cheaper to install in heritage areas, as no posts or attachments on buildings are needed.

Even the most patriotic of Scots, will admit that it rains in their country. The ticket machines, like they are in many places I’ve been, are out in the open and buying a ticket without an umbrella wasn’t an easy process. All it needed was to make the shelters a little bit longer, as one of the pictures shows.

The ticketing is something that doesn’t take advantage of modern technology. These days, you shouldn’t need to buy a ticket, as you don’t on London’s buses, where if you haven’t got a ticket or an Oyster, you can use a contactless bank or credit card. I hope Edinburgh has plans to allow these cards, as visitors will demand this, as it gets implimemted in more places across the world.

I also felt the ticketing zones weren’t visitor friendly. You can buy one day tickets, but why don’t they do what I found in one European city and offer twenty-four hour tickets. This helps people who might fly into Edinburgh for business or a concert and then fly back out the next day. Charging people for two separate tickets will just upset visitors.

The tram also failed my map and information standards by a long way. Edinburgh has virtually no maps and surely there should be one on every tram stop.

June 3, 2014 Posted by | Transport/Travel | , , , | 1 Comment

Buses In Edinburgh

Whilst in Edinburgh, I travelled several times on Edinburgh’s buses. They may be understandable to those, who live in the city, but they don’t have the bus maps everywhere, that Londoners and most tourists like in London.  So if you’re not with a guide, it can be difficult to find the bus and the appropriate stop for where you want to go.

I was staying with a friend, just outside the city centre, and she can take buses from two companies to get home.  So, although you can buy a 24-hour ticket for each company, you can’t buy one for all of the buses that use Edinburgh.  And of course, I can’t use my English bus pass in Scotland. I have wondered how many English, who fancy a weekend away, don’t go to Scotland, as their bus passes are not valid.  Surely, every UK bus pass, should be valid all over the UK, to encourage tourism.

But the fact that there is no 24-hour pass for the whole of Edinburgh, was a total surprise to me. Many cities in England and of course London, have systems to give 24-hour travel to everybody, who wants it. Surely, this problem will be solved, when every city in the world follows London and allows a bank or credit card to be used as a ticket. There’s a lot here on contactless ticketing with bank cards.

Talking of tickets, will you need a third 24-hour ticket, for the trams in Edinburgh?

Edinburgh has the silly single door buses, that don’t announce their stops, that still persist outside London.  Was this why on my several trips on Edinburgh’s buses, I never saw a mother with a baby in a buggy or anybody carrying anything heavy?

What summed up the badly planned nature of Edinburgh’s buses, was this timetable on a stop.

How Not To Do Bus Information

How Not To Do Bus Information

Note how to text to find the next bus, you have to type in an eight-digit number and then use a full mobile number.  In London, which appears to be a much bigger city than Edinburgh, all stops are covered by codes that are just five digits and you text the same short number of 87287 at every stop.

I also think that as you can get the buses of two companies from the stop I was using, you actually have to use a different system to get the times for the other company. London,which has several bus companies, merges all the routes and companies together.

October 24, 2013 Posted by | Transport/Travel | , , , , | Leave a comment