The Anonymous Widower

An Idea From India

This article from Global Rail News is entitled India’s Minister for Railways launches glass-roof scenic rail cars.

Why not?

Scotrail’s plans for shortened HST train sets to go between the major cities will hopefully carried out with style and a great deal of respect for the scenery.

For a start, will the seats be arranged like these in Chiltern’s Mark 3 coaches.

Note that the picture was taken in Standard Class.

There can’t be more stylish, comfortable and practical rides in a train of this Class anywhere in the world.

What is not shown is the cheery staff with the snacks and drinks trolley.

All of this too comes from a subsidiary of Deitsche Bahn and it is far superior to anything I’ve ridden in Germany.

I wonder if windows can be put in the roof of a Mark 3?

Probably! Engineers  certainly have ways of making Mark 3 coaches do anything they want

But there’s always the option of connecting cameras to the train’s wi-fi.


April 21, 2017 Posted by | Travel | , , , , | 1 Comment

The Train Of The Future

This article in Rail |Engineer is entitled ScotRail’s ‘new’ HSTs, gives full details of the modifications ScotRail wukk make to their HSTs, before they enter service in Summer 2018. This is said.

The iconic HST is now over forty years old. It ensured the success of British Rail’s inter-city service and is still the world’s fastest diesel train, although the ScotRail HSTs will have a maximum speed of 100 mph. With around ten million miles on the clock these trains are approaching retirement for long-distance services as they are about to be replaced by IEPs. However, as ScotRail is about to demonstrate with its reincarnation of these trains, there is still much life left in them.

I wrote Edinburgh to Inverness in the Cab of an HST, after a trip to Inverness and it was the trip of a lifetime.

On the trip, you realise that Scotland has a big problem and an asset with railways and it’s called mountains. So a train is needed with bags of grunt and big windows.

An HST has both, coupled with an iconic style, unmatched since the days of steam.

Scotrail’s plan to run the trains between the seven Scottish cities would appear to be a good one.

I wonder, if we’ll ever see the trains going to Kyle of Lochalsh, Thurso and Tweedbank.

The article is worth reading, as it details everything that will be done to create a train worthy of the iconic routes.

If I’m still of this life next Summer, I shall be in Scotland.

I’ve never spent a night in Aberdeen, Dundee or Perth for a start!

March 23, 2017 Posted by | Travel | , , | Leave a comment

Can Mark 3 Coaches Come To The Rescue?

The Mark 3 coach is one of the mainstays of UK railways.

  • Chiltern Railways use thirty one coaches on Birmingham and Oxford services from Marylebone.
  • CrossCountry have thirty-eight coaches as part of InterCity 125s.
  • East Midlands Trains have over a hundred as part of InterCity 125s
  • Greater Anglia use one hundred and thirty coaches between Liverpool Street and Norwich.
  • Great Western Railway have over four-hundred and fifty coaches as past of InterCity 125s.
  • Virgin Trains East Coast have over a hundred coaches as part of InterCity 125s.

It should be said, that some are in better condition than others and very few meet the latest access regulations.

But even the table hides a few strength and problems.

Chiltern Trains

Chiltern Trains run their Mark 3 sets with a driving van trailer (DVT) and a Class 68 locomotive on some Birmingham and Oxford services.

  • Marylebone to Birmingham Moor Street is a two trains per hour (tph) service and the journey takes ten minutes under two hours.
  • Marylebone to Oxford is a two tph service and the journey takes a few minutes over an hour.

The Birmingham service needs eight trains for a 2 tph service.

The Oxford service would need six trains for a 2 tph service, but if the journey could be under the hour, there could be a reduction in the number of trains needed.

If Chiltern decided to run a 2 tph service between Oxford and Birmingham, as I suggested in Where Next For Chiltern?, this would need another four trains.

This leads me to say.

  • As Chiltern only have six sets of Mark 3 coaches, they will have to use Class 168 trains for some of the services.
  • Probably by clever timetabling, they would  need at least a dozen trains to run a quality two tph service on both routes.
  • They would probably like all their services to Birmingham and Oxford to share a common train type, for operational and marketing reasons.

So where do Chiltern find another probably ten trains?

  • The Class 68 locomotives would have to be hired.
  • There are up to a dozen DVTs in storage at Long Marston according to Wikipedia, so creating some for the trains, might be a reasonably predictable refurbishment.

But where do they find the sixty coaches needed?

This article from Rail Magazine in June 2012, is entitled Making the Mk 3s even better, describes Chiltern’s methods.

This is an extract.

Economics dictate that it is cheaper to rebuild the Mk 3s than to order brand new DMUs. Indeed, because of track access and fuel costs, if a LHCS formation is more than five coaches (as they are in Chiltern’s case), then the costs favour locomotive-hauled trains. 

The freedom to be able to do this is also a factor for Chiltern. The franchise is owned by Deutsche Bahn, which also owns the coaches. This means that vehicles can be tailored to exactly what the operator wants, rather than thinking about the re-sale value. No expensive engineering will be needed, again because this is what Chiltern wants.

Note the trains are in the same ownership as Chiltern; Deutsche Bahn.

As a passenger, the proof of the pudding is in the eating.

The product looks, feels and tastes good!

Greater Anglia

Greater Anglia could be a good source of quality Mark 3 coaches.

  • Greater Anglia have 130 of them, which are leased from Porterbrook.
  • The trainsare due to be replaced by new Flirt electric multiple units during 2019/2020.
  • The trains have recently been refurbished and have been fitted with wi-fi and retention toilets.

The problem is that they are still slam-door stock and don’t meet the latest access regulations.

But this is not a great problem, as Chiltern have form in updating Mark 3 coaches to meet the latest standards.

Greater Anglia are also replacing fifteen sets of carriages with just 10 electric multiple units, which will provide Norwich in ninety minutes at 3 tph, as opposed to the current service of Norwich in two hours at just 2 tph.

Incidentally, just eight trains are needed to provide the current service, so Greater Anglia could have a few spares.

So it looks to me, that immediately each Flirt is in service, there will be a Mark 3 set sitting in Crown Point ready to go on its next task.

But as just ten Flirts will be replacing fifteen Mark 3 sets, it looks to me, Chiltern might be able to raid Greater Anglia’s stock of spare trains earlier than has so far been thought.

Suppose three trains could be released, this would release twenty-four refurbished coaches and three DVTs.

If another DVT could be sources from Long Marston, then there would be another four rakes of coaches for refurbishment to Chiltern’s standards.

One of the great advantages of modifying the Greater Anglia coaches, is that they have all been refurbished to a high standard, so I suspect that all the mechanicals and structure of the coaches are in virtually in as-new condition.

This page on the Greater Anglia web site, gives full details of the refurbishment.

This is said.

The significant refresh will see all of the train operator’s MkIII fleet enhanced, with improvements throughout for both First Class and Standard carriages including, plug points; new LED lighting; new carpets; new tables; new seat covers; upgraded environmentally-friendly controlled emission toilets with new floors and new taps; re-painting of the carriage interior saloon and vestibule panels, walls and ceilings.

It also appears that Greater Anglia set up a special work-shop in Crown Point TMD to do the update.

Could Greater Anglia have stolen a copy of Chiltern’s rule-book? More likely, they used the same consultant.

After a recent trip in one of these coaches with a friend, I wrote The Power Of Three! To say she was impressed, could be an understatement!

Chiltern just need to fit the new doors and their own interiors.

The Various InterCity 125 Coaches.

There are several ideas as to what to do with the various High Speed Trains formed from two Class 43 locomotives and an appropriate number of Mark 3 coaches.

This according to Wikipedia is Abellio’s Scotrail’s plan.

Abellio ScotRail will also introduce 9 four-car (2+4) and 17 five-car (2+5) refurbished High Speed Trains by December 2018 on longer-distance services between Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen and Inverness. Scotrail will receive the first locomotives and carriages late 2017, with the refurbishment program taking place at Brush Loughborough (power cars) and Wabtec Doncaster (carriages) between late 2017 and May 2019.

There have been rumours that Great Western Railway will do something similar with a few more trains.

As the InterCity 125s will each be shortened by a few coaches this will release more coaches for use by other operators.

Lots Of Mark 3 Rakes Of Coaches

There are probably enough Mark 3 coaches in excellent condition and DVTs, that can be refurbished, to create perhaps another twenty-five rakes of between five-car and eight-car Mark 3 coaches, tailored to an individual customer’s need.

All of the design work has been done and proven by Chiltern or their contractors.

Obviously, you wouldn’t fit the doors and do the final parts of the refurbishment, until you actually had a customer, but it looks to me, that Porterbrook, who own the Greater Anglia Mark 3 coaches, seem to be doing a bit of speculation. Obviously, they have a plan in there to make money, as ROSCOs don’t do charity!

There is also this article from Rail Magazine, which is entitled Refurbished Mk 3s for Tornado.

It describes how, a rake of Greater Anglia’s Mark 3 coaches, will be acquired to be used with the new-build steam locomotive 60163 Tornado. One would even be fitted with a water tank to extend the range of the engine. Surely, a Mark 3 can handle that sort of weight.

Porterbrook have done well in the last few months out of a speculative order for Class 387 trains, that helped tide some train companies through rolling-stock shortages.

So have they seen a market niche to create an affordable train for longer routes based on Mark 3 coaches hauled by a Class 68 locomotive or perhaps a Class 88 electro-diesel locomotive.


  • It would meet all the access and environmental regulations.
  • It would probably be quieter than a shortened InterCity 125.
  • According to the Rail Magazine article, track access charges are affordable.
  • As Chiltern and Greater Anglia are showing, it would deliver a superb customer experience.
  • Chiltern like the package and could be a customer or do something similar themselves.
  • It would be ideal for some of CrossCountry’s long routes like Aberdeen to Plymouth.
  • It would be ideal for an open-access operator, developing a new route.
  • Virgin West Coast might like it for Euston to Holyhead.
  • With a faster version of the Class 88 locomotive, it might have a maximum speed in excess of 100 mph.

It would do anything a Class 800 train can do, at probably a more affordable purchase price, lower track access charges and  an earlier delivery date.


Their is something behind Porterbrook’s decision to refurbish Greater Anglia’s Mark 3 coaches, when  they knew there was a good chance they would be replaced by new trains, as the clapped Class 90 locomotives certainly couldn’t do London to Norwich in ninety minutes, as mandated in the new East Anglian franchise.

I suppose that Abellio could have been keen to upgrade the coaches, as the interiors were very much on the tatty side and the upgraded coaches would hold the fort until the Flirts arrived, without too much grief.

On the other hand, if the Great Western Electrification gets later and Abellio ScotRail lose their source of shortened InterCity 125s, locomotive-hauled Mark 3s to a high standard would be a very acceptable and affordable alternative.

I must also ask this question.

Could Greater Anglia’s Mark 3 coaches have been refurbished, so that to fulfil Scotrail’s requirements, all that needs to be done is the following?

  • Fit doors that are compliant with the access regulations.
  • Shuffle the coaches to the length and First and Standard Class capacities required.
  • Give the rake of coaches a Scotrail livery.
  • Couple a Class 68 or Class 88 locomotive on one requisite end.

I suspect the negotiation would be quite convivial, as both Greater Anglia and Scotrail are owned by Abellio.

The only problem would be that Scotrail need 9 four-car and 17 five-car trains and there may not be enough DVTs. However, some sets could be to the original plan of shortened InterCity 125s.

Scotrail certainly have a Plan B, if the Great Western Electrification gets even more pear-shaped.

Appendix – Posted on December 24th, 2016

In the January 2017 Edition of Modern Railways, under a heading of Pennine Pretendolino, there is a picture of a Class 68 locomotive hauling, the jokily named spare rake of Mark 3 coaches to Laira depot for attention, so that it can be used for driver training purposes by TransPennine Express, prior to the arrival pg the new Mark 5A coaches from CAF.

The Pretendolino is described under rolling stock on the Virgin Trains entry in Wikipedia. This is said.

Following the loss of a Class 390 Pendolino in the Grayrigg derailment, a Mark 3 set with a Driving Van Trailer was leased with a Class 90 hired from English Welsh & Scottish as required. In 2008 Virgin looked at leasing two Class 180[49] but decided to retain the Mark 3 set. Nicknamed the Pretendolino, this received re-upholstered seating, power points, wi-fi and a full external re-paint at Wabtec, Doncaster in 2009.[50] Virgin used this set with a Class 90 locomotive hired from Freightliner on a Euston to Crewe (via Birmingham) service on Fridays only until December 2012. From 9 December 2013 it was utilised to operate a London Euston -Birmingham New Street train on Thursdays and Fridays only, until its withdrawal in October 2014. The Mk.III set was also occasionally hired out as a private charter train. It was used in the filming of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and can be seen at King’s Cross station at the end of the film. It is currently in use as a ‘hot spare’ with Abellio Greater Anglia

Like most of its siblings, it is showing a very strong survival instinct and keeping well away from the scrapyard.

Over the last year or so, I’ve ridden to and from Ipswich in the train several times, as it has been filling in whilst, the operator was updating their own Msrk 3 coaches.




December 13, 2016 Posted by | Travel | , , , , | 2 Comments

Great Western Railway’s New Train

Great Western Railway have a new train.

Certainly, as they always do, this InterCity 125 has scrubbed up well!

May 4, 2016 Posted by | Travel | , | Leave a comment

Electrification Of The Midland Main Line Along The Derwent Valley

As I went to Sheffield yesterday, I took these pictures as the train ran along the Derwent Valley on the Midland Main Line between Derby and Chesterfield.

The river from Matlock in the North to Derby in the South, is the centre of the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site.

And Network Rail want to electrify this line, so that fast electric trains can run between Sheffield and London via Derby!

This map shows the Midland Main Line from Trent Junction, South of Derby and Nottingham to Chesterfield.

Note the following about the route of the Midland Main Line.

It’s certainly all happening around the Midland Main Line between Derby and Nottingham.

This is said in Wikipedia about the future of the Erewash Valley Line.

Network Rail as part of a £250 million investment in the regions railways has proposed improvements to the junctions at each end, resignalling throughout, and a new East Midlands Control Centre.

As well as renewing the signalling, three junctions at Trowell, Ironville and Codnor Park will be redesigned and rebuilt. Since the existing Midland Main Line from Derby through the Derwent Valley has a number of tunnels and cuttings which are listed buildings and it is a World Heritage Area, it seems that the Erewash line is ripe for expansion.

It would seem fairly logical to perhaps make the Erewash Valley Line an electrified one, with a maximum speed, as high as practically possible and just run self powered trains through the Derwent Valley.

There would be two real possibilities for running the services for the London Sheffield services, including those via Nottingham,  up the electrified Erewash Valley Line.

  • Class 801 electric trains
  • Bombardier’s 125 mph Aventra which was reported as possible by Ian Walmsley in the April 2015 Edition of Modern Railways.

Obviously, other manufacturers would offer suitable trains.

For the London to Sheffield route via Derby, the following trains could handle the twenty miles between Derby and Clay Cross, that could be without electrification.

  • Class 800 electro-diesel trains
  • Bombardier’s 125 mph Aventra which can probably be modified with an IPEMU-capability.
  • Voyagers modified as electro-diesel trains, as was proposed in Project Thor, could probably handle the gap.
  • A Class 88 locomotive and a rake of coaches with a driving van trailer.

If all else couldn’t handle it, InterCity 125s certainly could.

Surely though, it would help the train operator to have one fleet, so I think we’ll either see mixes of Class 800/801s or Aventras with and without an IPEMU-capability.

The Class 800/801s could certainly do it, but in his article about the Aventra, Ian Walmsley said this about an order  for Aventras.

But the interesting one to me is East Midlands Trains electrics. As a 125 mph unit it could cope well with Corby commuters  and the ‘Master Cutler’ crowd – It’s all about the interior.

So the same train could do all express routes and also act as the local stopping train.

The maze of lines shown in the map, would be an absolute dream for such a train!

I also think it would be pushing it to run the Hitachi trains through Derby and the Voyagers and the Class 88 solutions aren’t that elegant and would be very much stop-gap solutions. Loved as the InterCity 125s are, after a lifetime of very hard service, they are probably ready for retirement.

As the gap is only about twenty miles, I suspect that Network Rail’s and Bombardier’s engineers have got the engineering envelopes on the table in a local hostelry in Belper to solve the problem of getting 125 mph Aventra IPEMUs to jump the gap, so that services between London and Sheffield, can stop at Derby.

Why are they in Belper? Look at this Google Map of the railway through the town!

Midland Main Line Through Belper

Midland Main Line Through Belper

Note the following.

  • There must be half a dozen stone bridges north of Belper station, similar to ones shown in the gallery of this post.
  • The River Derwent seems to be crossed by the railway, periodically for fun.
  • Get that line right, probably without electrification and their uncluttered design will live for centuries.
  • Get it wrong and they’ll be lynched by the local Heritage Taliban!
  • If Aventra IPEMUs can’t be made to jump the gap, there’s always the reliable Derby-built InterCity 125.

Just as Great Western Railway use iconic photos of Intercity 125s running through Dawlish in their advertising, I think that East Midlands Trains will use video of 125 mph Aventra IPEMUs speeding with little noise and disturbance, through the towns, villages and countryside of the Derwent Valley.

If this could be made to happen, at an affordable cost, everybody concerned will see positive commercial effects.

April 17, 2016 Posted by | Travel | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Electrifying The Great Western Through Sydney Gardens In Bath

The Great Western Railway runs i through Sydney Gardens in Bath. This picture shows an InterCity 125 running through the gardens.

An InterCity 125 Passes Through Sydney Gardens

An InterCity 125 Passes Through Sydney Gardens


  • There is plenty of width, as the line was built for broad gauge trains.
  • Height might a bit tight, when you add in the pantograph.
  • I would think that the structure under the track is pretty sound, as it’s had masses of pounding for years from Castles, Kings, Warships and InterCity 125s.
  • I suspect that the bridges over the line have been fully surveyed and like most of Brunel’s structures are well designed.

So I suspect that the track could be arranged, so that it positioned the train in the right place, to allow a Class 800 train to pass through with absolute safety.


The tracks could be moved closer or further apart to match the geometry of the bridges.

The tracks could be lowered if required.

If necessary, as is often done in tunnels, a solid concrete slab track could be laid. But this can create more noise.


I wouldn’t be surprised to see an innovative rail system used in Sydney Gardens to make sure the trains run accurately, reduce noise and improve the look of the railway.

But then after Dawlish and some of the challenging situations, Network Rail has faced with tracks in the last few years, I suspect they’ll come up with a very acceptable solution.

The problem is the electrification.

Engineers will renew switches and crossings at Bathampton Junction, and will lower the track at Sydney Gardens, as well as at Hampton Mill and Meadow Farm bridges.

They will install specially designed electrification equipment in Sydney Gardens, which is classed as a World Heritage Site. Work on Box Tunnel will continue over the entire six-week period.

So as I thought height is tight.

This was a comment from the article.

When these plans were presented in the Guildhall last year, the Network Rail representative emphasised that the brackets hadn’t been finalised. The poor guy had the patient of a saint as he dealt with audience members insisting that trains be fitted with batteries to enable them to do without overhead lines in Bath as well as suggesting that they could coast through the city un-powered.

I don’t think it was a good meeting for Network Rail.

As an engineer, I agree with the comment about battery trains, but the Class 800 trains are not to my knowledge able to accept batteries at the present time. Although, judging by the way the industry is going, I suspect that within a few years, all electric trains will have provision for batteries, if the operator wants them.

In some ways, I feel that Brunel might be providing the solution.

To erect overhead wires for railway electrification, you need to support the wires every fifty metres or so.

This Google Map shows the gardens.

Sydney Gardens, Bath

Sydney Gardens, Bath

Note there is a solid road bridge over the railway at both ends of the gardens, with Beckford Road in the North and Sydney Road in the South.

I estimate that the distance between the two road bridges is two to three hundred metres.

In the middle is the footbridge from where I took the picture of the InterCity 125 and another wider bridge.

As the trains will not be going flat out at 200 kmh through here, as they’ll probably be stopping at Bath Spa station, I suspect that the four bridges could be used as support for the overhead electrification.

This Network Rail visualisation shows the footbridge with a Class 800 train going underneath.

Sydney Gardens Bridge And A Class 800 Train

Sydney Gardens Bridge And A Class 800 Train

It looks to me, that the wires are attached under Brunel’s bridges and that by clever design tNetwork Rail can get an solution acceptable to all.

One of the problems, is of course making sure, that pedestrians on the bridge are safe, with 25KVAC overhead electrification underneath.

By lowering the track, they are increasing the safety distance and also making it less likely that naughty dogs can get on the track.

I have a feeling that this problem, will be one that will haunt Network Rail.

This picture was taken from the Sydney Road bridge and shows the area of the visualisation.

The Footbridge In Sydney Gardens, Bath

The Footbridge In Sydney Gardens, Bath

As the train appears to be on the left track, the visualisation actually shows the back of a train.

This is a gallery of pictures that I took in Sydney Gardens.

It would be a shame to ruin the gardens, by some less than adequate design.




March 29, 2016 Posted by | Travel | , , , , | 1 Comment

Adonis Promises Milk And Honey In The Future, But The North Needs Unblocking Now!

I don’t have much time for Lord Adonis, as I always think that unelected politicians who change sides are a bit like the Vicar of Bray.

And lets face it, he was part of Tony Blair’s gang of idiots, who felt that licking Dubya’s arse and making war in Afghanistan and Iraq was more important than creating proper transport links across the north.

But they were only following the lead set by Harold Wilson, when he cancelled the Picc-Vic Tunnel. Wikipedia says this about how the need for the tunnel has been and is being fulfilled.

In 1992, the Metrolink system opened and linked both stations via tram, negating the requirement for a direct rail connection to an extent. In 2011, the Ordsall Chord was announced; it is an overground railway scheme designed to directly link Manchester Piccadilly and Manchester Victoria in a comparable fashion to Picc-Vic.

Wouldn’t it have been better to dig the tunnel in the first place?

I heard Lord Haskins and Chris Hyomes from Railfuture on Wake Up To Money this morning and they were aggressive in demanding that something happen sooner rather than later.

After my last trip to Huddersfield and writing Welcome To Huddersfield, I can say, that the Class 185 trains are a sick joke inflicted on the North by Tony Blair as Prime Minister and Gordon Brown as Chancellor. The trains are both too short and to few in number.

And then we have Lord Adonis saying on BBC Breakfast, that the line needs to be electrified as soon as possible.

So how long will the misery of the TransPennine routes continue before the line is electrified? 2022 is mentioned!

In my view there are four solutions for acceptable trains across the Pennines.

  1. Introduce the first bi-mode Class 800 trains on the route.
  2. Introduce the first bi-mode Class 800 trains on the East Coast to release InterCity 125s for the route.
  3. Introduce some locomotive-hauled stock.
  4. Create Class 387 trains with an IPEMU capability, so they could use energy storage to bridge the electrification gaps.

One of these must be implemented before the end of this year.

The first two options are impossible, as the Class 800 trains won’t be ready for passenger service until 2017.

I also think that Option 3 would be unacceptable to passengers, but is probably impossible, as there are no modern diesel locomotives available and probably very few coaches in good condition.

So we’re left with the Class 387 IPEMUs.

  • They are modern four car electric trains, with everything passengers expect. Only wi-fi is missing.
  • The IPEMU technology was successfully demonstrated in early 2015 using a Class 379 train.
  • I rode the demonstrator and was impressed for what that is worth!
  • Bombardier have won awards for the technology.
  • There are well upwards of twenty four-car trains available or being built, that could be modified.
  • There are rumours that IPEMUs could be used on the Great Western.
  • They can work in eight or twelve car trains, where platforms allow.
  • They can travel for over fifty miles on battery power, after charging on electrified track. So Leeds to Manchester is no problem!
  • Liverpool to Newcastle and Edinburgh via Leeds could be served by 110 mph electric trains.

Would a Northern Powerhouse built on battery trains be acceptable to politicians?

In my view, it will have to be, as Derby-built Bombardier Class 387 trains with an IPEMU capability are all we’ve got.

I shall be listening to George Osborne tomorrow!

March 15, 2016 Posted by | Travel | , , , , , | 3 Comments

Electrification Delays On The Great Western Railway Must Be Serious

This article in Rail Magazine is entitled GWR and DfT discuss ‘revised plan’ after electrification delays and it talks about what is to be done to get a decent passenger service running on the Great Western Railway, despite all of the delays to the electrification program.

If you want to know more of the problem this article on the BBC web site from July 2015 is an excellent summary.

  • The under-performance of the High Output Plant System, a factory train made up of 23 vehicles, has, according to rail observers, made a big contribution to Network Rail falling at least a year behind schedule.
  • The whole electrification project for the Great Western line was really based on the High Output train because of the amount of work it could do so much more quickly,
  • Engineering insiders told the BBC that a newly designed wiring system  did not match the specification of the holes the Hops train was designed to dig and that a new design of pile-tubes hammered into the ground to house the thousands of electrification masts – went in too deep after ground surveys were missed.
  • Even where the Hops train has managed to dig holes, it has damaged existing signalling cables.
  • Network Rail is short on experienced engineers and experienced operators – people who know how to run a railway.
  • It was decided by the Department for Transport that the new trains will be 26m long per vehicle and our railways are built for 23m long,

I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a badly-designed and executed project in my long years on the dark fringes of project management.

So now it is sucking engineers and resources out of every other electrification project in the UK!

For instance, on my local electrification of the Gospel Oak to Barking Line, nothing much seems to have happened for the last few weeks.

I had to have a quiet chuckle, when I read this last paragraph in the Rail Magazine article.

GWR has tested short-formation High Speed Trains, and these could potentially be used on longer-distance services currently operated by multiple units, such as Cardiff-Portsmouth and Exeter-Penzance. They could also be used on some of the longer branch lines in the South West, such as Par-Newquay and Exeter-Barnstaple, although neither GWR nor the DfT would confirm this. A potential additional order for bi-mode AT300 hybrid trains could also be under consideration.

Terry Miller’s wonderful stop-gap design of the 1970s; the High Speed Train, is coming to the rescue again.

But then very serious problems, need the most serious of solutions!

I’m not running Network Rail and I’m not the Transport Minister, but in my view, it is now time to think extremely radically.

We have been lucky with our train purchases and development.

  • Class 800 and Class 801 are identical except for the diesel engines.
  • Class 700 trains are being delivered to release Thameslink’s Class 387 and Class 319 trains.
  • There are fifty or so Class 387 trains, that could be converted into IPEMUs, which would have a sixty mile range on batteries.
  • Bombardier could probably build a few more Class 387 trains, alongside the Aventras.

I think that many places will get different and probably better and bigger trains, but not everyone will get the expected new electric trains.

February 29, 2016 Posted by | Travel | , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Return Of Red Star Parcels

In the 1970s, I used to use Red Star Parcels regularly. As there was no Internet, if I wanted to send a software update of Artemis to London, I’d go into Ipswich, pay a fee to register the parcel with Red Star and they’d put it on the next train to Liverpool Street. I’d phone the train time through and someone in London would pop over to Liverpool Street station and collect it.

C and other lawyers in her Chambers, also used the service to get briefs between London, Colchester, Ipswich and Norwich.

The service worked very well and there is nothing to match it today, except for paying for a courier with a high-speed bike or car.

Perhaps, the best story about Red Star was one that appeared in the Sunday Times.

Parents had bought one of the first Andrews Maclaren baby buggies for their child, but the frame had broken at the back, a day before they were going on holiday. A call to the firm in Derby, told them to Red Star the buggy to Derby station, which they duly did. A few hours later, they were phoned by the company to say that the buggy would arrive in London on the 19:00 train.

The story was true, but you wonder how much was spin on the part of Andrews Maclaren and British Rail.

Network Rail are trying to make their assets sweat. I did see a report a couple of years ago, where Colas Rail and TNT were experimenting with bringing freight trains into Euston for deliveries to shops like Sainsburys and Ryman using electric and low carbon delivery trucks.

A company called InterCity RailFreight is now starting a service using high-speed passenger trains. This is said on their web-site.

We have proven that using passenger trains works – for everything from ultra-time-critical tissue samples delivered to testing laboratories, to fresh seafood carried from fishing boats into the kitchens of top London restaurants.

Not only is our service fast, frequent and reliable – it is cheaper and greener

It sounds very much like the reincarnation of Red Star Parcels.

They are helped by some of the rolling stock that work the services. The InterCity 125s have a generous amount of space in the power car for luggage and some of the driving van trailers used to Norwich can take a copious amount of goods, but what attracted me to the service was this article in Rail Magazine, which is entitled Plans submitted to modify Mk 3s as freight vehicles.

Mark 3 coaches don’t seem to know, when the time is right, to make a dignified exit to the scrapyard.

They would certainly make very good high-speed freight cars for high value goods. We might even see some complete InterCity 125s converted to freight to bring sea food from the far South West or England and the far North of Scotland to places, where they will be consumed.

Could we also see Royal Mail using them as long distance mail and parcel carriers?

February 1, 2016 Posted by | Travel | , , | 2 Comments

New Trains From Old

In my view, when they write the history of railways in perhaps two or three hundred years time, when they talk about long-dead diesel trains, one iconic train will still hold the speed record for a diesel train and that will be praised as the ultimate diesel train.

The train is the InterCity 125 or High Speed Train, whose one blot on its copybook is the marketing association with the odious Jimmy Saville in the 1970s.

I have a soft spot for these trains, as I’ve had so many good journeys in them to the North East, Scotland, Wales and the West Country, including one memorable trip from Edinburgh to Inverness in the cab and another whilst enjoying the best gluten-free meal on a train anywhere.

I suspect that removing the InterCity 125 from front-line service, will be almost impossible, as both passengers and train companies have a strong affection for the train. Even now, Abellio ScotRail has plans for High Speed Trains in its new franchise. Wikipedia says this.

It will also introduce 27 refurbished (Likely British Rail Class 43 leased from Angel trains)H igh Speed Trains by December 2018 on longer distance services between Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen and Inverness.

They are also committed to providing ‘Great Scottish Scenic Railway’ trains on the West Highland, Far North, Kyle, Borders Railway and Glasgow South Western lines, so could this need some more High Speed Trains? Perhaps the trains would be shortened, but with the seating returned to the 1970s original layout of four seats round a table at each window in the Mark 3 coaches.

Imagine services on the scenic Inverness to Kyle of Lochalsh Line being run by say two or three, five-car-plus-buffet High Speed Trains, that replaced the totally inadequate service I rode some years ago. Those big windows would come into their own and I think the only problem they would have would be the same as that of the London Overground, where demand keeps exceeding supply. Even the power cars, with their big luggage space would come into their own for bicycles and large cases. Terry Miller and all of the team that designed this iconic train must be laughing like drains wherever they are, at the success of their stop-gap creation.

Usually old trains, cars and buses have a maintenance problem, but it is generally believed that as the High Speed Trains are so well known by the engineers, they can be kept in front line services until 2035. I think that will be pessimistic, especially if instead of thundering up and down the East Coast Main Line with eight coaches at 125 mph, they are running at lower speeds in shortened form on less demanding lines at slower speed.

I doubt for instance, that we’ll ever see them eliminated from Devon and Cornwall, as just as in Scotland, they could become part of the experience for visitors.

But could we see them on other routes like Liverpool and Manchester to East Anglia and on scenic routes in Wales?

Remember that there are nearly a hundred of the trains, which means there could be enough for all worthwhile ideas.

The Mark 3 Coach

The Class 43 power cars of the High Speed Train get all of the attention, but in some ways the real stars of the train are the 1960s-designed Mark 3 coaches in the middle.

Today most of the Mark 3 coaches on the UK rail network have been fitted with high-density seating, but on Chiltern Railways Main Line service between London and Birmingham, the coaches have been refurbished with four seats to a table by the window and automatic sliding doors.

Will remaining High Speed Trains get a similar treatment?

If they did because of their ultra-smooth air-suspended ride, they would become an unrivalled passenger experience, that met all modern safety and accessibility standards.

The Mark 3 coach is no lightweight aluminium vehicle, but is built out of steel. There were worries about the structural integrity, so a prestigious university was asked to do a full finite-element analysis of a Mark 3 coach. The findings showed that despite being designed in the 1960s without any computer help, that the structure would last a few more decades with the correct maintenance.

A Class 455 train, which is based on Mark 3 coaches, was involved in a unique incident, that tested the structural integrity of the Mark 3 coach to the limit. In the Oxshott incident, a fully-loaded cement mixer lorry weighing 24 tonnes fell onto a Class 455. There was injuries but no-one was killed.

I wouldn’t like to be in a modern aluminium train, when someone drops a similar weight on top of it.

Chiltern, Greater Anglia And Charter Operators

These days rakes of Mark 3 coaches are only used in three places on the UK rail network.

1. Chiltern Railways use them on their Main Line Service between London and Birmingham.

2. Greater Anglia use them on the Great Eastern Main Line between London, Ipswich and Norwich.

3. Some charter operators use them to provide services.

It is likely that within ten or twenty years, both Chiltern and Greater Anglia will convert to electrical multiple units to create faster services.

The Chiltern Line will need electrification and Greater Anglia will need to replace their Class 90 locomotives anyway.

But no plans have been made and no orders have been placed.

I think it is likely that in a few years, the only use for Mark 3 coaches will be in High Speed Trains and by charter operators.

Multiple Units Based On Mark 3 Coaches

Many of the successful classes of both diesel and electric multiple units are based on the Mark 3 coach design, as was the Class 319 that I rodeyesterday.

These will now be looked at in detail.

Class 150 Diesel Multiple Unit

The Class 150 train, is the only one of the Mark 3 coach-based diesel multiple units, that was produced in large numbers.

Their quality is a bit variable and I’ve ridden some immaculate ones like this one on the St. Ives branch and some terrible ones elsewhere.

The one yesterday in Liverpool, that I rode after a refurbished Class 319, could have benefited from the same sort of upgrading that the electric train had received.

I suspect that many of the hundred and thirty or so in this class could do with a good maintenance, a repaint, new seat covers and an uprated information display. They’d certainly be a lot better than Pacers.

Class 317 Electric Multiple Unit

There are seventy-two Class 317 trains working various lines around East London and some are in pretty good condition like this one I encountered between Romford and Upminster.

There is a plan to upgrade these trains described here in Wikipedia. The upgrade could cover a range of options from new efficient traction equipment and regenerative braking to new interiors.

Some may be available for cascade to other operators, as both London Overground and Thameslink could be buying replacement trains in the next few years.

Class 318 Electric Multiple Unit

The Class 318 trains are Glasgow’s version of London’s Class 317 trains.

These trains are undergoing an upgrade, which is described here in Wikipedia.

Class 319 Electric Multiple Unit

There are eighty-six Class 319 trains, that were originally built for Thameslink.

Twenty of these are being refurbished for use on the North West electrified lines and I rode one yesterday. The train had scrubbed up well!

Others may be moved to the Great Western Main Line to work electrified services to Oxford and Newbury.

Class 320 Electric Multiple Unit

There are twenty-two Class 320 trains, which are a Scottish version of the Class 321 trains.

All have had an upgrade, which is described here in Wikipedia.

Class 321 Electric Multiple Unit

There are a hundred and seventeen Class 321 trains, which are fairly numerous on the lines out of Liverpool Street.

Greater Anglia are developing a demonstrator, which is described like this in Wikipedia.

Abellio Greater Anglia in conjunction with Eversholt Rail Group has refitted a 321/4 as a demonstrator to show what Abellio planned to do with their Class 321 fleet. The unit number is 321448, which features a new paint job, completely re-fitted interior including two examples of sitting arrangements including 2+2 and 2+3 and a new First Class area. The demonstrator also features air conditioning, previously unseen on Class 321 trains, fixed panel windows to replace opening windows and an overhauled traction system. The ultimate plan is to introduce other Class 321 trains in a similar configuration rather than replace them, to save money on purchasing brand new trains.

This demonstrator illustrates that refurbished old trains could be a better and more cost-effective solution than new trains.

They would certainly be welcomed by me, as the current interiors are rather tired. Especially, when compared to the Class 319 yesterday.

Class 322 Electric Multiple Unit

The five Class 322 trains are another variant of the Class 321 trains, which were built for the Stansted Express and are now running in the Leeds area.

No plans for an upgrade are mentioned in Wikipedia.

Class 442 Electric Multiple Unit

There are twenty-four Class 442 trains, that currently work the Gatwick Express, although they are being replaced on this task.

They are probably a bit surplus to requirements and will need to be converted to overhead electrics to find any further use.

But at least as they are Mark 3 coach-derived, there is a lot of solutions available from other members of the family.

Class 455 Electric Multiple Unit

There are a hundred and thirty-seven Class 455 trains, which generally work the suburban lines into Waterloo.

They have all been given a high quality upgrade, which is detailed here.


We’ll be seeing Mark 3-derived trains on the UK rail network for some years and because there are so many techniques and tricks available to the train companies, builders and remanufacturers, they will all be of a high quality.

March 20, 2015 Posted by | Travel | , , | Leave a comment