The Anonymous Widower

Steventon Listed Railway Bridge Saved From Demolition

The title of this post, is the same as that of this article on the BBC.

On the face of it it looks like victory for the Nimbys, who have saved a rather ordinary and possibly decrepit bridge from demolition.

But I believe there is more to this story than meets the eye.

The Bridge

The bridge at the centre of the argument may be Grade 2 Listed, but there are lots of similar bridges on UK railways in better condition with similar heritage, that don’t have a listing.

Type “steventon bridge electrification” into a search engine and you’ll find lots of images of the bridge.

  • One picture shows, the bridge with the railway flooded, which puts an interesting slant on the debate. What are the foundations like?
  • Notice, that the bridge seemed to suffer a rather botched repair at the hands of British Rail’s finest engineers.
  • Having read a lot about this story, I suspect that the locals’ main reason for objecting, is that they don’t want the disruption, whilst it is rebuilt.
  • Incidentally, I suspect Great Western Railway don’t want the bridge rebuilt either, as closure will be a long disruption to all services.

I have been involved in the refurbishment of several buildings of around the same age or even older than the bridge. This is the sort of construction, that will have to be replaced at some time. If it’s not replaced, some of the novel techniques that are now available to Network Rail will have to be applied.

Network Rail

The article says this about Network Rail’s solution to the problem.

But following what the company described as ‘extensive and breakthrough testing’ using computer simulations it found a speed reduction to 110mph through the village meant wires could pass underneath the existing bridge.

I do think, that 110 mph is rather convenient. if you look at the maximum operating speeds of trains and locomotives that will pass through.

  • Class 801 train with digital signalling -140 mph
  • Class 801 with conventional signalling – 125 mph
  • Class 800/802 train on diesel power – 100 mph
  • Class 80x train on battery power – 100 mph
  • Class 387 train – 110 mph
  • Class 90 locomotive – 110 mph
  • Class 91 locomotive – 125 mph
  • Class 93 locomotive – 110 mph
  • High Speed Train – 125 mph

Very few trains will have to slow down.

Any train that used onboard power, like a High Speed Train or a Class 80x with batteries, could theoretically go through at the maximum speed, track, signalling and train taken together would allow.

Hitachi

In Issue 898 of Rail Magazine, there is an article, which is entitled Sparking A Revolution, which describes Hitachi’s work and plans on battery-powered trains. This is an extract.

Battery power can be used as part of electrification schemes, allowing trains to bridge the gaps in overhead wires where the costs of altering the infrastructure are high – in tunnels or bridges, for example. This would also have the immediate benefit of reducing noise and emissions in stations or built-up areas.

Elsewhere in the article, it is said that Hitachi trains will be able to do 100 mph on battery power for up to 60 miles.

But would they be able to do 125 mph on battery power for perhaps five miles? I can’t see why not!

The Google Map shows the track through Steventon.

Note.

  1. The bridge in question is at the East.
  2. There are also a couple of level crossings in this stretch of track, where the height of wires is also regulated.

Perhaps, the pantograph should be dropped before going through section and raised afterwards, with power in the section taken from a battery.

Avoiding obstacles like this, may be an economic alternative, but it does require that all electric trains using the section are able to use battery power.

I have a feeling, I’ve read somewhere that a Class 88 locomotive can do a similar trick using the onboard diesel engine.

As a Control Engineer, who trained in the 1960s, I would expect that all pantographs can now be raised or lowered with all the precision and repeatability  of an Olympic gold-medal gymnast!

I do wonder, if the Great Western Electrification Project had been designed around discontinuous electrification and battery-electric trains, the project would have gone better.

For instance, the Severn Tunnel is 7,000 metres long and trains take under four minutes to pass through. The Wikipedia entry for the tunnel has a section on Electrification, which details the complicated design and the trouble that there has been with corrosion.

Given that battery-electric trains have other advantages, design by hindsight, says that a tunnel without electrification and battery trains may have been a better solution.

Conclusion

Network Rail and Hitachi will get the speed of trains through Steventon up to 125 or even 140 mph, possibly by using battery power.

But whatever happens, I’m certain that the bridge will have to be rebuilt! It has the air of a derelict house, that will suck up all your money.

 

April 26, 2020 Posted by | Transport | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

How To Build A Station In Nine Months

This document on the Network Rail web site is entitled Highlights Of The Great North Rail Project.

There is this section which is entitled We Build A Railway Station In Just Nine Months.

It’s about the building of Maghull North station.

This is said.

Network Rail undertook the scheme on behalf of Merseytravel, appointing contractor Buckingham Group.

How did we deliver the station so quickly and carry out most of the works while keeping the railway line open? A head start, line access and a tight summer deadline.

Robert Grey, a project manager of infrastructure projects at Network Rail, said: “Nine months is quite short for a station… The restricting factor is the access. We had quite a bit of flexibility there. We had access for long weekends and a 12-day possession of the line after Christmas… Without those we’d still be there now.”

I also put it down to the Liverpudlian attitude, which in my experience seems to accept disruption to their lives without complaining too much and then joke about it, when it’s all over.

I was in Liverpool during the bus strike of 1968. where Liverpudlians just walked.

Some of this attitude would be of great help in sorting the problem of the Steventon Bridge in Oxfordshire. I wrote about this bridge at the end of The Stone Arch Railway Bridges Of Scotland.

September 23, 2018 Posted by | Transport | , , , | Leave a comment

The Stone Arch Railway Bridges Of Scotland

There are a lot of stone arch railway bridges in the UK, but they do seem to more numerous in Scotland, than in England.

These pictures show a selection of bridges on the Borders Railway.

I counted to about fifteen between Edinburgh Waverley and Galashiels stations.

There were probably about an equal number of bridges where a stone arch bridge had been replaced by a modern concrete structure, like this one.

They’ll probably last a thousand years, but they lack the charm of the stone arch bridges.

These pictures show a selection of bridges on the Busby Railway between Glasgow Central and East Kilbride stations.

These pictures show a selection of the many bridges between Aberdeen and Montrose stations on the Edinburgh – Aberdeen Line.

I took pictures of at least twenty.

Freight Trains

Freight trains, especially those with the larger containers need a loading gauge, that is big enough to accept them.

The loading gauge in the UK, is summed up by these two sentences from Wikipedia.

Great Britain has (in general) the most restrictive loading gauge (relative to track gauge) in the world. This is a legacy of the British railway network being the world’s oldest, and having been built by a plethora of different private companies, each with different standards for the width and height of trains.

These are the commonest gauges.

  • W6a: Available over the majority of the British rail network.
    W8: Allows standard 2.6 m (8 ft 6 in) high shipping containers to be carried on standard wagons.
    W10: Allows 2.9 m (9 ft 6 in) high Hi-Cube shipping containers to be carried on standard wagons and also allows 2.5 m (8 ft 2 in) wide Euro shipping containers.
    W12: Slightly wider than W10 at 2.6 m (8 ft 6 in) to accommodate refrigerated containers.

W12 is recommended clearance for new structures, such as bridges and tunnels

The Borders Railway appears to have been built to at least W8, so it could handle standard freight containers.

But the line doesn’t carry freight!

On the other hand, I suspect the following were considered, when designing the Borders Railway.

  • Network Rail and rail maintenance companies, may need to bring some large rail-mounted equipment along the line for regular or emergency maintenance.
  • If the line is extended to Carlisle, the route could be used as a diversion for freight trains, if the West Coast Main Line is closed, due to weather or engineering works.
  • There may be a need to use the Borders Railway to extract timber from the forests of the Borders.

The need for freight on the Borders Railway, explains why there are so many new overbridges.

Electrification

Electrification with overhead wires needs extra clearance.

It looks to me, that the Borders Railway has been given enough clearance for future electrification.

Problems With EGIP

Electrification under the Edinburgh to Glasgow Improvement Program (EGIP), proved to be difficult.

It wasn’t helped by the standards changing half-way through the project and the numerous bridges and tunnels that had to be rebuilt.

An important route like Edinburgh to Glasgow probably needs to be fully-electrified, but the difficulties encountered and those in Lancashire have encouraged Network Rail and the engineering consultants to look at other methods of electrifying lines in the UK.

Electrification Between Edinburgh And Aberdeen

I doubt this will ever happen in a conventional manner.

  • Would electrification of the Forth Bridge and Tay Rail Bridge be allowed?
  • The disruption of rebuilding the stone bridges would be enormous.
  • The line only has a maximum speed of 100 mph.

Diesel and alternative power sources like hydrogen will be able to maintain the fastest speeds, that are possible on the line.

Money would probably give better value, if it were to be used to increase line speed.

Opposition To Rebuilding Bridges

This article on Rail Technology Magazine is entitled Network Rail Electrification Plans Stalled After Council Rejects Bridge Removal Bid.

This is first paragraph.

Campaigners are celebrating after plans from Network Rail to demolish a bridge as part of its electrification scheme were rejected by a local council.

The bridge in question is a Grade II listed overbridge at Steventon in Oxfordshire.

It is not unlike those in Scotland, that are shown in my pictures.

In the 1960s, British Rail would have just blown it up and replaced it with a concrete monstrosity.

I am not advocating a return to this policy, but Network Rail has a problem at Steventon, that they need to fully electrify the line, if electric trains are to use the route on electric power, rather than using environmentally-unfriendly diesel power.

Since the new Class 800 trains for the route were designed and ordered, the technology has moved on.

In South Wales, discontinuous electrification and trains with a battery capability will be used.

Conclusion

Scotland and other parts of the UK, like the Pennines and in the valleys of South Wales, have a serious problem with the way the Victorians built our railways.

\development of the UK rail network with electrification and an enhanced freight capability needs to be thought out carefully and with great ingenuity.

 

 

 

 

August 12, 2018 Posted by | Transport | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Steventon Bridge Problem On The Great Western Railway Electrification

Roger Ford in an article in the April 2016 Edition of Modern Railways, which is entitled GWEP Target Dates And Costs, discusses some of the problems of the electrification.

In one section he talks about the problems caused by the Grade II Listed Steventon Bridge.

This is a picture I took of the bridge from an InterCity 125

Steventon Bridge

Steventon Bridge

Not the best, but it shows the design of the bridge.

 

This Google Map shows the Great Western Main Line, as it passes just to the south of the village of Steventon in Oxfordshire.

GWML Through Steventon

GWML Through Steventon

The bridge is on the Easternmost crossing of the railway, with the other two crossings being level crossings.

Roger explains the problem, which is about putting the overhead electric wires under the bridge.

The overhead wires have to be at maximum height over the level crossings and this means to get the wires under the bridge, they have to dip sharply. This means that excessive wear is caused to the contact wire.

It would appear from the article, that Network Rail are still searching for an acceptable solution.

At least it would appear that one of the level crossings is going to be closed, which could ease matters a shade.

But will the locals put up a fight as Mark Whitby has at the Ordsall Curve?

This article in the Oxford Mail is entitled Demolition of Steventon rail bridge on hold after MP intervention.

Some of the comments are priceless!

My view has a touch of the Philistine about it!

We have thousands of bridges like this and we don’t need to keep them all!

So perhaps we should save the best, but some that would cost too much to keep, should be replaced with modern bridges.

In the case of the Steventon Bridge, if the level crossings didn’t exist, it would appear that the tracks could be lowered under the bridge to give the required headroom.

As level crossings are one of the major causes of death on the railways, we shouldn’t stop until all are eliminated.

It would appear from this document, that one of the level crossings is going to be closed and a height limit of five metres placed on the other.

I think that the ultimate solution for this sort of problem will be technical.

In one of their documents about the use of batteries on trains, Network Rail or Bombardier talk about batteries being used to assist trains over deliberate gaps in overhead wires or third rail.

Third rail generally is not a problem and in the UK, it regularly changes sides and allows the momentum of the train to bridge any gap.

What is needed is a pantograph system, that can be raised to and lowered from the overhead wire with the train at full speed. I don’t know whether this is possible, but I suspect that every other country in the world would just demolish the bridge. I did find some research on the subject on the RSSB web site, which states that SNCF raise pantographs at 225 mph, Deutsche Bahn at 185 mph and Eurostar at 170 mph.

So it is possible!

As a trained Control Engineer, who spent a lot of time in the 1960s simulating dynamic systems, I believe that a system could be designed to lower and raise the pantograph before and after the difficult section.

I suspect that one of the problems here, is that the Class 800 trains that will work this line, were designed in Japan. But this section in Wikipedia about level crossings in Japan, would seem to indicate that the Japanese have a serious problem with level crossings.

 

 

 

 

March 27, 2016 Posted by | Transport | , , , | 5 Comments