The Anonymous Widower

Would Automated Trains With The Ability To Run Backwards Improve Passenger Train Services?

At several stations on the UK rail network trains reverse direction, where the driver changes cabs before driving the train out of the station.

A classic example is at Bourne End station on the Marlow Branch Line.

  • There is one train per hour (tph)
  • The branch is seven miles long.
  • The journey takes around twenty-three minutes.
  • There are several level crossings.
  • Turnrounds take around ten minutes at Marlow and Maidenhead.
  • There are three intermediate stations; Furze Platt, Cookham and Bourne End.
  • Stops at the first two stations are timing for half-a-minute, whereas four-and-half minutes are allowed at Bourne End.

I wonder whether with a specially-designed train, that the service frequency could be doubled to two tph.

In the 1960s, Victoria Line trains had a sophisticated control system, which when the driver saw that everything was safe in a station and the signals were green, they just pushed a button and automation moved the train to the next station, where the doors opened automatically.

I am sure that sure a system would work on the Marlow Branch Line.

  • All station stops, including Bourne End would be half-a-minute and this would save four minutes.
  • The driver would stay in one cab making sure everything was working well.
  • The driver would monitor everything on CCTV.
  • The driver would probably be in the Bourne End end of the train for safety reasons.
  • There would only be one train on the line at any one time, which increases safety.

Could track improvements and faster running bring the Marlow and Maidenhead time back to under fifteen minutes?

This would give two tph with the only infrastructure work being probably realigned track for faster running and repeater signals, so the driver would be informed all the time.

This is just a simple example and I am sure there are many more.


Automation can improve service frequency to the benefit of both passengers and operators.

December 21, 2021 Posted by | Transport/Travel | , , | 1 Comment

An Automated Shuttle Train On The Marlow Branch Line

The Marlow Branch Line has the following features.

  • It is 7 miles long, between Maidenhead and Marlow stations.
  • It is single-track.
  • It is not electrified
  • Trains on the route are two-car diesel trains.
  • There is a single platform at Marlow station.
  • There is an electrified bay-platform at Maidenhead station.
  • There are three intermediate stations.
  • The service frequency is one tph.
  • Trains take six minutes to go between the two terminals.

A unique problem is that trains reverse at Bourne End station on each trip, which takes 4.5 minutes for the driver to change ends and restart the train.

Currently a round trip from Maidenhead to Marlow takes 49 minutes.

By using an automated shuttle train, could this round trip time be reduced to enable one train to operate at a frequency of two tph?

Automation would reduce the 4.5 minutes at Bourne End to perhaps thirty seconds, but that would only bring the round trip time down to 41 minutes.

The station stops on the round trip would be as follows.

  • Furze Plat – 30 seconds
  • Cookham – 30 seconds
  • Bourne End – 30 seconds
  • Marlow – 1 minute
  • Bourne End – 30 seconds
  • Cookham – 30 seconds
  • Furze Plat – 30 seconds
  • Maidenhead – 2 minutes

Adding the stops up, that leaves just twenty-four minutes to cover the fourteen miles of the round trip.

This is an average speed of 35 mph.

I think that an appropriate train would be able to run an automated shuttle, with a frequency of two tph.

The train (or tram-train) would have the following features.

  • It would be battery-powered
  • It would have an operating speed of perhaps sixty mph.
  • It would have fast acceleration and deceleration.
  • It would probably be a tram-train to negotiate the tight bend at Bourne End station.

The following infrastructure works would also be needed.

  • The track would be improved to allow higher speeds.
  • The points would be automated at Bourne End
  • A fast charging system would be added to the bay platforms at Maidenhead and possibly Marlow stations.

An automated shuttle may have possibilities on this most difficult of branch lines.

February 19, 2019 Posted by | Transport/Travel | , | 1 Comment