The Anonymous Widower

Merseyrail To Skelmersdale – How To Plan A New Rail-Link

Skelmersdale is the second largest town in the North West of |England without a railway station.

But it does appear that things are progressing towards the town having what is probably a much-needed station.

This article in the Southport Visiter is entitled Funding boost for new rail link to Skelmersdale.

Reading the article, you get the impression that all the stakeholders have got together and come up with a sensible plan.

The Route

The article says this about the route.

The plan would see Merseyrail services extended on from the current terminus at Kirkby station to serve Headbolt Lane, Rainford and Skelmersdale. Skelmersdale would become the new interchange for Merseyrail, and Northern Services on to Wigan and Manchester.

This would seem to be a well-thought out plan to use Skelmersdale as an interchange.

This Google Map shows the Southern part of Skelmersdale and the railway that runs through Rainford and Upholland stations.

Note.

  1. The town centre of Skelmersdale is the Concourse, which is marked by the town’s name in the top-centre of the map.
  2. The Kirkby Branch Line runs across the map.
  3. Rainford station is in the South-West corner of the map.
  4. Upholland station is on the left-centre of the map.
  5. Kirkby station and the new Headbolt Lane station would be West of Rainford station on the existing line which is single track.
  6. The track from Rainford through Upholland and to the East is double-track.

It looks like a triangular junction would be created East of Rainford, that would allow trains from both the East (Upholland, Wigan and Manchester) and trains from the West (Kirkby and Liverpool) to turn to the North to a station in Skelmersdale.

Looking at the area in more detail from my virtual helicopter, I’m certain that  a station could be placed close to the town centre with the capability of handling four trains per hour from both Liverpool and Manchester.

The station would probably need two platforms; one for Liverpool and one for Manchester.

There would be various possibilities for the track layout between the station and the existing Kirkby Branch Line.

In the simplest form, each platform would have an independent single track, which would allow trains from both Liverpool and Manchester to arrive and depart from Skelmersdale simultaneously.

I would also arrange the two platforms as opposite faces of a shared island platform.

This would mean the following.

  • Trains from Liverpool and Manchester would arrive at the same time.
  • Trains to Liverpool and Manchester would depart a few minutes later at the same time.
  • Passengers needing to change at the station would only have to walk across the platform and wait for the other train to leave.
  • A coffee kiosk and a shop could be positioned on the shared platform.

The Northern end of the platform could be open and passengers could walk straight into the Shopping Centre or to the parking.

It would not only be passenger-friendly, but totally step-free and very affordable.

The only restriction would be that trains must be able to do the following in under fifteen minutes.

  1. Travel from the Kirkby Branch Line to Skelmersdale station.
  2. Turnback the train at Skelmersdale.
  3. Travel from Skelmersdale station to the Kirkby Branch Line.

I have said fifteen minutes, as that would be needed for four trains per hour.

This might not be possible with the current Class 508 and Class 142 trains, unless they were extremely well driven, but Merseyrail’s new Stadler trains and Northern’s 100 mph Class 319 trains, would probably be able to handle the service.

It would be a unique way to serve a town like Skelmersdale, which is a few miles from a double-track line.

The only complicated track-work needed would be where the branch joined the Kirkby Branch Line.

Electrification

Merseyrail’s network is electrified using 750 VDC third-rail, whereas if the line to Manchester were to be electrified it would probably use 25 KVAC overhead wires, as has been used all over North-West England.

Keeping the two lines independent would enable each to have its own system. This layout has been used between Dalston Junction and Highbury and Islington stations on the London Overground and it has worked successfully for over seven years.

The article in the Southport Visiter also says this.

Merseyrail’s new trains will be running on the existing network from 2020, and trials to run them beyond the existing electrified ‘third rail’ track could help inform the scope of the Skelmersdale scheme, potentially meaning that major changes to install electrified track wouldn’t be needed. Developments in Northern trains over the next few years could also remove the requirement for lineside infrastructure and power connections as part of the project.

In Battery EMUs For Merseyrail, I talked about how Stadler were going to fit batteries to two of the new Merseyyrail trains.

I’m sure that if the third-rail electrification was extended from Kirkby to Rainford, that one of the new Stadler trains will be able to reach Skelmersdale and return.

The Stadler trains might even be able to travel from the existing electrification at Kirkby to Skelmersdale and back.

Northern could run the service between Skelmersdale and Manchester, using their new Class 769 trains, which can operate on lines with or without electrification.

This could mean that the link to Skelmersdale station could be built without electrification.

Kirkby Station

Kirkby station would only need minor rebuilding as it is effectively a single long platform, where Liverpool and Manchester trains meet head-on.

The barrier in the middle of the single-track under the bridge would need removing and there would be some moving of signals, but nothing very expensive would be needed.

Headbolt Lane Station

Headbolt Lane station would be another single platform station, which would serve trains going between Liverpool and Skelmersdale.

Rainford Station

Rainford station wouldn’t need any modification, but it might be reduced to a single step-free platform.

A Co-Operative Project

The article in the Southport Visiter says this.

The Skelmersdale Project is led by Lancashire County Council, involving Merseytravel, West Lancashire Borough Council, Merseyrail, Northern Rail and Network Rail.

This must be the key to the success of the project.

The Cost Of The Project

The article in the Southport Visiter says that the current estimate of the project cost is £300 million.

These actions will need to be done.

  • Create the track to connect Skelmersdale station to the Kirkby Branch Line.
  • Build a shared double-platform station at Skelmersdale.
  • Build a single-platform station at Headbolt Lane.
  • Upgrade the signalling.
  • Deliver the new Stadler trains and ascertain their range on batteries.
  • Northern must acquire some trains for Skelmersdale to Manchester.

It looks to me, that a budget of £300 million would be adequate.

Building The Project

The major work would be creating the junction East of Rainford station and the route to Skelmerrsdale and its new station.

If it could be built without any major electrification, it shouldn’t be the most difficult of construction projects.

Headbolt Lane station could be built as a single platform alongside the existing line.

It looks to me, that this is a classic project that fits into Network Rail’s new philosophy as outlined in this article in Rail echnology Magazine, which is entitled Carne: I’m determined for private sector to directly invest in railway.

Conclusion

It is an excellent plan!

 

September 19, 2017 Posted by | Travel | , , , , , | 6 Comments

Slow Trains Outside The South-East

This article on the Times and Star website is entitled Mind the snores! Snail’s-pace trains four times slower outside South East.

This is said.

Trains connecting Britain’s major towns and cities are up to four times slower outside the South East, according to new research.

Press Association analysis of the quickest possible trains on 19 routes found that services from London travel at average speeds of 65-93mph, compared with just 20-60mph elsewhere.

The slowest route featured in the study was Liverpool Central to Chester, which takes 41 minutes to make the 14-mile journey (as the crow flies) at 20mph.

The example that they give between Liverpool Central and Chester stations, is one that I can use to illustrate the problem.

  • Currently, services on this route are run by nearly forty-year-old Class 508 trains, that are only capable of 75 mph.
  • The speed limit on the Wirral Line is just 70 mph, so the well-maintained elderly trains can’t even stretch their legs properly.
  • The route has thirteen stops.

The timing is dreadful, if you consider that Merseyrail has exclusive use of the line.

The new Stadler Flirt trains are promised to save nine minutes between Southport and Hunts Cross stations, because they are better designed for passenger entrance and exit with faster speed and better braking and acceleration.

Applying this saving to the Liverpool Central to Chester route would reduce the time from 41 minutes to 35 minutes.

If these Swiss trains can get a roll on, I do wonder if they could do the round trip in under an hour, which would mean Merseyrail could run a four trains per hour (tph) service with just four trains. The slower Class 508 trains need six trains.

This logic can apply to a lot of rail lines in the UK.

Conclusion

The reasons for slow trains can be summed up as follows.

  • Trains are timetabled for the slowest trains that work the route.
  • A lot of routes, including quite a few in the South-East are timetabled for elderly scrapyard specials.
  • Line speeds can often be improved by five or ten mph.
  • Modern trains like Merseyrail’s new Flirts are designed to minimise the time it takes to stop at a station. This is referred to as the dwell time.
  • Platforms and trains don’t always match up well.
  • Level crossings can be a nuisance on some lines like the York to Scarborough Line, which has 89 of the little darlings in forty-two miles.

Trains can be speeded up by doing the following.

  • Improving platforms, track and signalling to the highest possible standard and safe line speed.
  • Choose trains that can make use of the good infrastructure.
  • Consign scrapyard specials like Pacers and Class 508 trains to a well-deserved but long-overdue retirement.
  • Make sure that train entry and exit for wheelchair users, persons of reduced mobility, buggy pushers and wheeled-case draggers is level.
  • Have well-trained staff and excellent information on the platform.

This is the London Overground’s philosophy and it looks like Merseyrail are applying it.

August 28, 2017 Posted by | Travel | , , , | Leave a comment

Battery EMUs For Merseyrail

The title of this post is the same as an article in the August 2017 Edition of Modern Railways.

This is the first paragraph.

Two of the new EMUs Stadler will build for the Merseyrail network will be fitted with batteries.

This is also said.

The initial benefits of the trial will be the energy recycling properties of the batteries, but with a larger battery the option could be to run the units away from the electrified Merseyrail network using battery power.

Other reports suggest that battery power could move the trains in depots.

Another report in the same edition of Modern Railways is entitled Class 769s For Wales.

It discusses the use of Class 769 trains on the Borderlands Line.

This is said.

Would safety regulations permit Class 769s, or other third-rail EMUs retrofitted with diesel engines, to operate the Wrexhm-Bidston Line and continue in the Mersey tunnels to Liverpool? No definite answer was available as Modern Railways went to press. Each bi-mode unit would displace pnly one two-car Class 150/2 unit from the line, but studies have predicted large growth in passenger numbers if the change of trains at Bidston were eliminated.

It is an interesting concept.

  • Porterbrook have already talked about converting Class 455 trains into bi-modes.
  • These third-rail units don’t have pantographs to snag in the tunnels.
  • They have been refurbished to a high standard in recent years.
  • The fuel safety problem in the tunnel, is something for which Formula One engineers may have a ready-made solution.

I’m sure if it does happen, Scouse humour will go into overdrive, about London cast-offs and old trains. But Class 455 bi-mode trains would have the last laugh.

Conclusion

It is encouraging to see in these two articles signs of radical but in my view totally sound thinking.

July 27, 2017 Posted by | Travel | , , , , , | 5 Comments

New Merseyrail Fleet A Platform For Future Innovations

The title of this post, is the title of this article on the Rail Technology Magazine web site.

The article mainly consists an interview with David Powell, who is programme director of rolling stock at Merseytravel.

It is very much an article worth reading, as it describes the process of choosing trains and how Merseyrail and Stadler will develop the trains during their relationship.

This is a direct quote from the article.

We will be exploring, with Stadler, what the options are for having the trains becoming self-powered. This isn’t the bi-modes that lots of other people are talking about in the industry; this is on-board electrical storage.

I am a great believer in on-board energy storage and I believe its deployment in the UK, is closer than most people think.
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May 26, 2017 Posted by | Travel | , | Leave a comment

Stadler To Build Another Special

Stadlet seem to be getting a reputation for building trains for niche markets.

This article on Global Rail News is entitled Stadler to build narrow-gauge EMUs for Stockholm’s Roslagsbanan.

Wikipedia has an entry for the Roslagsbanan.

After trains for the Glasgow Subway and Merseyrail, the Class 88 locomotives and Class 399 tram-trains, they must be one of the companies in prime position for the new Docklands Light Railway trains.

April 26, 2017 Posted by | Travel | , , , , , | Leave a comment

An Energy Analysis Of Merseyrail’s New Trains

Various factors come into this anaysis and I’ll detail them first.

Merseyrail’s New Trains

Merseyrail‘s new trains from Stadler have the following known characteristics, according to various sources I quote in Thoughts On Merseyrail’s New Trains

  • The trains will have regenerative braking.
  • The trains will weight in at 99 tonnes.
  • The trains will have a capacity of 486 passengers.
  • The trains are four cars and 64 metres long.

It should also be noted that the current trains have a maximum speed of 121 kph, although the Northern Line has a maximum speed of 97 kph and the Wirral Line one of 110 kph.

I also suspect that the trains will be pretty good aerodynamically, as most modern trains are. My linked article quotes an energy saving of twenty per cent.

Merseyrail’s Tunnels

Merseyrail’s tunnels date from the Loop and Link Project of the 1970s, where the three electrified lines coming into Liverpool, were connected together.

  • The Loop Line allows trains from the other side of the Mersey to access four stations in Central Liverpool and gave a substantial capacity increase.
  • The Link Line joined the Northern suburban  lines to Kirkby, Ormskirk and Southport to the Southern suburban line to Hunts Cross.

Currently, the Loop Line is having a major upgrade with slab track and other goodies and if it is not to the same standard, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Link Line improved as well.

I suspect that when the work is finished, Merseyrail’s tunnels will not offer much resistance to the trains passing through.

If the new trains use regenerative braking with batteries, there is one big advantage in the tunnels.

Some braking energy is stored on the train and used to accelerate the train when needed. So hopefully, the flow of electricity between track and train is reduced, which means less heat generation in the tunnel as the currents flow through to and from the train.

Let’s assume that a train running at line speed in a tunnel has X KwH of kinetic energy. For a stop, this energy must be absorbed by the regenerative brakes and turned into electrical energy. It won’t be 100 % of the energy but I suspect that with modern systems it could be as high as 80%. Batteries are an efficient way to store this energy and I suspect, with the best systems, virtually every KwH you put in the battery can be retrieved later, if the battery is large enough.

Merseyrail’s Branches

Unlike Manchester, Liverpool is not surrounded by hills, so I would expect that most of the lines have fairly gentle gradients.

These are a few altitudes.

  • Aintree – 13 m.
  • Chester – 32 m.
  • Garston – 23 m.
  • Hunts Cross – 40 m.
  • John Lennon Airport – 24 m.
  • Kirkby – 26 m.
  • New Brighton – 43 m.
  • Ormskirk – 52 m.
  • Southport – 6 m.
  • West Kirby – 9 m.

These examples, show that the network is not an arduous one. I suspect that the lowest part of the network is in the tunnels under Liverpool. Judging by the escalator lengths, I suspect it could be around thirty metres below ground.

Kinetic Energy Of A Full Train

The mass of a train is 99 tonnes plus say 70 kg for each of 486 passengers.

This gives a mass of 133 tonnes for the fully-loaded train.

Suppose it is travelling at 100 kph.

This gives a kinetic energy of 51.3 MJ.

Or converting that to everyday units we get 14.25 KwH.

As a typical transport battery for somethig like a hybrid bus  is around 75 KwH, I would think that such a battery could handle regenerative braking on the trains with ease.

How Far Could A Train Run On Batteries Away From Electrification?

This is a bit like asking the old question about how long is a piece of string.

Merseyrail’s lines are generally fairly flat and if the trains have regenerative braking with batteries, I suspect the range could be longer than expected.

Other factors will also affect the range.

  • Driving aids.
  • Wheel-slip protection.
  • Good driving.
  • The weather.
  • Accurately-positin slab track.

I also think the range on batteries will be deliberately restricted to a conservative distance, as running out of energy, would not be tolerated.

I would also expect the achievable range to get longer, as the operator and its drivers, learn how to conserve energy.

 

 

April 19, 2017 Posted by | Travel, Uncategorized | | 2 Comments

An Overview Of Headbolt Lane Station

Headbolt Lane station is Merseyrail’s solution to connecting the single-track Kirkby Branch of the Northern Line to the double-track Kirkby Branch Line from Wigan  Wallgate station in an efficient manner.

At present at Kirkby station, the following happens.

  • The two lines meet head-on at Kirkby station, which is less than satisfactory, with a walk along a shared platform to change trains.
  • The service between Liverpool and Kirkby is a Turn-Up-And-Go four tph.
  • The service between Kirkby and Wigan Wallgate and Manchester is just one tph.
  • Also, I’m also not sure of the quality of the facilities at Kirkby station.

, So hopefully a new station at Headbolt Lane would offer advantages.

  • It would be a better-equipped station.
  • Interchange would be cross-platform.
  • The trains would be timed to be in the station at the same time.
  • The trains can double as waiting rooms, whilst waiting for passengers.
  • Ideally the frequencies on both branches would be the same at four tph.

I reckon that the current trains would take about the same four minutes to go from Kirkby to Headbolt Lane as they do between Fazakerley and Kirkby, as the distances are similar. So as the current trains seem to stop quickly at stations according to the timetable, perhaps a time of ten minutes between Fazakerley and Headbolt Lane is on the cards..

So given the need for the driver to change ends at Headbolt Lane station, it looks like the timings available with the current trains are not fast enough to allow the line to be extended to Headbolt Lane station and maintain the current four tph.

Four tph could probably be achieved if the line was made double-track or if a second turn-back platform were to be provided at Headbolt Lane station.

But all that would cost money.

But help would be at hand, in that the faster new Stadler trains,with  their ability to stop and get going again very quickly, would probably be designed to execute the turnback fast enough to keep the four tph service.

So it might appear that the consequence of this, is that Headbolt Lane station can’t be served by Merseyrail at four tph, until the new Stadler trains are delivered, unless the Class 507 trains are faster than they appear and the drivers know how to squeeze out their maximum performance.

One complication could be that services to Skelmersdale will pass through the station.

But this would probably ease the provision of four tph to and from Liverpool, as Skelmersdale would offer another station, where trains could be turned back, if say two tph turned at Headbolt Lane and two tph at Skelmersdale.

It might be that extension to Skelmersdale and making Headbolt Lane the turnback station for Kirkby need to be done together to get four tph from Kirkby to Liverpool with the current trains.

Before I leave the subject of Headbolt station, the question has to be asked, if trains can run directly between Liverpool and Wigan Wallgate.

Some would argue, that if you were doing that route, you’d go from Liverpool Lime Street to Wigan North Western, but what if you live at Kirkdale and your mother lives in Wigan?

As I believe that lines like these need a Turn-up-And-Go four tph, and I believe Merseyrail think the same way, then the best solution is to provide four tph both ways from Headbolt Lane station and make sure that passengers can just walk across to continue their journey.

Conclusion

I have come to the conclusion, that four tph from Kirkdale to Manchester is possible with a cross-platform change at Headbolt Lane station.

March 26, 2017 Posted by | Travel | , , , , | 2 Comments

Southport Station

Southport station is surprisingly large with six platforms, as these pictures show.

It would certainly have sufficient capacity, if Merseyrail decided to extend their Ormskirk services to Southport.

March 25, 2017 Posted by | Travel | , , | Leave a comment

Another Sensible Large Map

This map was at Southport station and shows the two lines that meet there.

Like several Merseyrail stations, Southport has a combined ticket office and shop.

Several other train operators could do worse than copy some of Merseyrail’s ideas.

I sdhould say that Southport station is particularly well appointed, as it has an entrance into the nearby large Marks and Spencer.

 

 

March 24, 2017 Posted by | Travel | , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Sensible Large-Scale Local Train Map

I like this map from Merseyrail’s Northern Line.

The London Underground has something similar, with a schematic with times to get there, but London’s are much smaller than this large-scale version.

But that doesn’t put the minutes in a station circle and this is the only map I’ve seen that does!

Incidentally a Scouse version of Irene’s Law would not be far out, if you allowed three minutes for each stop.

March 24, 2017 Posted by | Travel | , , | Leave a comment