The Anonymous Widower

Could A Class 172 Train Run As A Tram?

I am using a Class 172 train as an example, but it could equally well be any two or three-car train capable of running on the UK network.

This Class 172 train on the Gospel Oak to Barking Line is probably only a tiny bit bigger than your bog-standard modern tram, that you’re starting to see all over the UK. This train is.

  • Modern
  • Diesel-powered.
  • Two cars.
  • Good passenger access.
  • The driver has good visibility.

But it could be better, if a train like this was to be built today.

Consider what an ideal rail line for a train of this type, perhaps to run between Saxmundham and Aldeburgh would look like.

  • Only one train would be allowed on the line at any one time.
  • Freight trans to Sizewell would be allowed under very strict rules.
  • Slow speed limit.
  • Single or double track.
  • Clear colour light signalling, that every passenger understands.
  • Platform-train access would be step-free.
  • Step-free ramp access to the platforms.
  • Passengers can walk across the tracks.

Imagine how Ipswich to Aldeburgh service would work.

  • The train would run to Saxmundham under normal rail rules.
  • From Saxmundham to Aldeburgh and back, the train would proceed at a slow tram-like speed, with the driver keeping an extra vigilant look out
  • Once back at Saxmundham, the train would return to Ipswich.

I can’t see why, it wouldn’t work on lots of branch lines.

It would of course be better with an electric train, so could we see a dual-voltage 25 KVAC/1500 VDC three car train, that could use tram style electrification on the tram-style section?

But it is effectively a small train, that can just run slowly like a tram.

The Class 172 train would do the job, but it would be better if it was a modern version

Something like Stadler’s train with the engine in the middle might do it.

Looks like a tram! Goes like a tram! o it must be a tram! Wrong! It’s a train!

Our small and sometimes annoying loading gauge has its advantages.

Who needs a specialist tram-train?


March 9, 2017 Posted by | Travel | , , , | Leave a comment

The Natives Are Getting Restless

It would appear that Network Rail have stirred up a hornet’s nest in Suffolk over the tricky subject of level crossings.

Over the last couple of days, three letters have appeared in The Times either supporting or opposing the closures.

I’ve also had talks with old friends in the County and some are not happy.

This web page on Network Rail’s web site, which is entitled Anglia level crossings proposals, gives more details. This is said.

We have been working to reduce the risk that level crossings pose and have developed proposals to manage the possible closure or change of use of around 130 level crossings in Anglia across Cambridgeshire, Essex and Suffolk.

We believe it’s possible to close level crossings:

  • with private rights only
  • by diverting people to where a nearby alternative exists
  • by providing a new public route to a nearby alternative

We will also look to downgrade level crossings to non-motorised users. None of the crossings in this proposal involve closing public A or B roads.

We recognise the importance of public rights of way and where possible we will maintain easy access to the countryside.

Having read the full document, I would say that Network Rail are trying to do there best to eliminate these hazards of a bygone age.

But try telling that to some of the locals.

What should bring it home to the locals is the Roudham train crash on April 10th, 2016, when a Class 170 train hit a tractor on a level crossing.

The train hasn’t been returned to service, so as I wrote in An Illustration Of East Anglia’s Rail Problems, the operator is scratching sround for trains.

So one place’s level crossing accident, is another area’s lack of trains.

There are rumours, that the Roudham crash was caused by human error, but the main cause of the crash, was the fact the level crossing existed.

All level crossings should be removed.

July 19, 2016 Posted by | Travel | , , , | 6 Comments

How To Cook Gluten-Free Fish

As a coeliac, I get fed up with restaurants, who can’t cook fish in a simple gluten-free way.

On my trip to Sufbury, which I wrote about in Marks Tey Station And The Sudbury Branch, I needed to eat something.

I did find my usual stand-by of a Pizza Express, but felt that I might be better to wait until I got back to London and buy a gluten-free wrap or sandwich in Liverpool Street station.

I then came across the Codfather, which had a sign saying they did gluten-free fish and chips on Sunday.

The waitress said they could do me a plain grilled fish with new potatoes and vegetables, which I had.

It was excellent and I can heartily recommend the Codfather in Sudbury.

I can’t understand, why more restaurants, don’t use this simple method to satisfy, those like me, who need gluten-free food.

On BBC Breakfast this morning, there is a story about problems in our seaside resorts.

How many of them have a restaurant that sells gluten-free fish lunches and inners  to the standard of the Codfather or Kubicki in Gdansk?

A quick search has found decent places in Brighton, Hastings and Blackpool, but others places don’t seem so well served.




July 11, 2016 Posted by | Food | , , | Leave a comment

Marks Tey Station And The Sudbury Branch

The Sudbury Branch or the Gainsborough Line, is one of those lines that abound all over the UK, to serve a major town stranded from the main line.

These pictures show my visit.


Incidentally, I was able to get to Sudbury from London for just £11.70, using my Freedom Pass to Shenfield and a ticket from there to Sudbury with my Senior Railcard.

The Future Of The Sudbury Branch

With the new franchise being awarded within a few weeks, I wonder what the plans are for Marks Tey station and the Sudbury Branch.

  • I can’t find anything about the building works at Marks Tey station.
  • The station certainly needs a proper bridge with lifts.
  • Marks Tey only has two trains per hour in each direction. Is that enough?
  • Trains are hourly between Marks Tey and Sudbury and for a weekday were fairly busy.
  • In an ideal world, trains would be twice an hour on the Sudbury Branch and would synchronise with trains on the Great Eastern Main Line.
  • The journey takes nineteen minutes between Sudbury and Marks Tey, which probably means that two trains are needed for a doubled frequency.

There is certainly a lot of potential for an improved service.

Two Trains Per Hour To Sudbury

The obvious way to achieve a two trains per hour service on the Sudbury Branch would be to use two trains. Although, this could be expensive as the line probably works currently under rules called One Train Working.

It would also need a passing loop on the single-track branch, two trains and two crews, so I think it could be discounted.

The line has a speed limit of 50 mph and it is not electrified. If the line was upgraded to increase this speed limit, it might be possible for a single train to shuttle twice between Marks Tey and Sudbury in an hour. Time could be saved, by using two drivers and changing them at Marks Tey. But the current time of nineteen minutes for the journey makes four trips in an hour impossible. It probably needs a time in the order of ten to thirteen minutes, which might be possible with a faster train after the track was upgraded to say 75 mph.

Electric trains accelerate faster and generally have shorter station dwell times, than the current Class 156 diesel trains.

So perhaps to electrify the line is an option, that would allow the desired service. But electrification of the line will be expensive and there will be a lot of opposition to having overhead gantries marching through the Suffolk countryside and on top of the Grade II Listed Chappel Viaduct.

An Aventra IPEMU To Sudbury

One solution that would work is to use something like a four-car Class 710 train, that are being built for the London Overground.

It would need to be an IPEMU, fitted with energy storage and there would probably need to be a short length of electrification in Platform 3 at Marks Tey station to charge the train after each trip to Sudbury.

A Suffolk Metro From Sudbury To Felixstowe

An alternative strategy may also be possible, which would require no new track, platforms or electrification.

The Felixstowe branch also needs new trains and could be run using a similar Aventra IPEMU from Ipswich.

So why not link the two services back-to-back to create a half-hourly service from Sudbury to Felixstowe, which called at the following stations?

  • Bures
  • Chappel and Wakes Colne
  • Marks Tey
  • Colchester
  • Manningtree
  • Ipswich
  • Westerfield
  • Derby Road
  • Trimley

The trains would charge their energy storage on the main line and the Felixstowe branch would not need a bay platform at Ipswich station.

The Sudbury and Felixstowe Branches are eleven and twelve miles long respectively, which means that if the trains charged their energy storage on the main line between Ipswich and Marks Tey, they would need to be able to do about twenty-five miles on their on-board energy storage, which is well within all estimates of the train’s range.

Currently, using three trains that would take 72 minutes of train time, but I suspect that time saved on the branches by an Aventra could make the trip in around an hour.

In Could Class 387 Trains Do Norwich In Ninety And Ipswich In Sixty?, I postulated that to achieve the Norwich in Ninety and Ipswich in Sixty targets, all trains North of Colchester, must be capable of running at 110 mph, so they don’t slow the crack East Anglian Expresses down.

This rule would probably have to apply to the Felixstowe to Sudbury trains.

This would be one of those train services where most are winners.

  • Passengers on the two branch lines get a two trains per hour direct service to Ipswich, Manningtree and Colchester, run using modern four-car electric trains.
  • Passengers using stations between Marks Tey and Ipswich would have extra trains to Ipswich and Colchester.
  • The train operator replaces two ageing diesel multiple units, with two brand-new electric multiple units with an IPEMU-capability.
  • Network Rail would have no electrification to install and only minimal changes to make to infrastructure, such as some general track improvement and platform lengthening.
  • It would probably help time-keeping, if the long-promised dualling of part of the Felixstowe Branch were to be done.
  • There might even be a case for reopening disused stations at Bentley, Ardleigh and Orwell and perhaps creating a couple of new ones.

What I have proposed is pure speculation, but it could be the first line of the Suffolk Metro.

Incidentally, I wouldn’t be surprised to see four-car Aventra IPEMUs working the following routes for the new East Anglian Franchise.

  • Cambridge to Norwich.
  • Ipswich to Bury St. Edmunds, Cambridge, Ely and Peterborough
  • March to Wisbech
  • Norwich to Cromer, Lowestoft, Sheringham and Yarmouth.

The only line, which would be outside their capability would be Ipswich to Lowestoft, which is just a bit long. But the Aventras would release Class 170 trains to provide a high quality service on this line.

There are several reasons, why I think that IPEMUs might be used in East Anglia.

  • The tests of the IPEMU technology were carried out by Abellio Greater Anglia on the Harwich branch. The drivers must know how good the IPEMU technology really is.
  • East Anglia has several branch lines for which using IPEMU technology, is an affordable way of introducing electric trains.
  • Network Rail have an appalling record, when it comes to electrification.
  • What is the state of the electrification  on the Braintree, Southminster and Harwich branches? It might be more affordable instead of replacing dodgy wiring to use a train with IPEMU technology.
  • Quite a few of these branches have capacity problems, which a four-car electric train would solve.
  • The invitation to tender for the franchise included the following – “extra points will be awarded to bidders who include plans to trial new technologies in rolling stock”
  • Providing free wi-fi across the franchise is mandated. Does anybody fancy doing this in a Class 153 or Class 156 train?

The new franchise is supposed to be awarded before the 21st of July, this year.

It will be interesting to hear the winner’s plans.

Onward To Cambridge

It is just a pity, that the Stour Valley Railway from Sudbury to Cambridge via Haverhill was closed in the 1960s.

In Sudbury To Cambridge – D-Train, IPEMU Or Tram-Train?, I looked at the various options for reopening the whole line to create a new route from Ipswich and Colchester to Cambridge via Marks Tey, Sudbury and Haverhill.

As trains from Sudbury to Felixstowe will probably be Aventra IPEMUs with a main line capability, these trains would be used through to Cambridge, which is about fifty miles from Marks Tey.

I think this line will eventually be rebuilt.

  • This is the sort of project a devolved East Anglian Authority would back.
  • It creates alternative routes to London and Cambridge.
  • It joins up well with the East West Rail Link and the prtoposed station at Addenbrookes Hospital.
  • It provides another commuting route for Cambridge.
  • It puts Haverhill back on the rail map.
  • It would complete rail links from Suffolk’s County Town of Ipswich to all parts of the county

Who knows what routes will be unlocked by the reopening of the Stour Valley Railway?



July 10, 2016 Posted by | Travel | , , | 3 Comments

The Platform For The Future

The June 2016 Edition of Modern Railways has a section about The Railway Industry Innovation Awards 2016.

One is labelled the Platform for the Future.

That probably sounds rather boring, but I’m a great believer in disruptive technology and using new and innovative methods to replace something that is rather dull, with something that is better, quicker to be installed and get working and more affordable.

This is said.

Abellio Greater Anglia and Dura have pioneered the use of a composite platform at Needham Market station in Suffolk, which was installed in just 36 hours.

This installation might be considered surprising as Needham Market station is a Grade II Listed building. So  it can’t look like.

A monstrous carbuncle on the face of a much-loved and elegant friend.

But the product comes with these advantages.

  • The design life is sixty years.
  • A financial saving of 25% is reported.
  • As the platforms are built in a factory, the quality should be tip-top.
  • Other features like Harrington Humps could be built-in.

Hopefully, this would dissuade even the most determined member of the Heritage Taliban from objecting.

There’s more here on the Dura website. There’s also this video, of the platform being installed at Needham Market station.

This is a picture I took from a p[passing train.

The New Platform At Needham Market

It looks good and  who would think it was long-life hard-wearing plastic.

Only members of the Taliban tendency of the Green and Heritage lobbies would probably object!

I think that this product could find lots of applications, in traditional heavy rail, light rail and tramways. Certainly, it could be used to create some of the needed extensions to platforms on the Gospel Oak to Barking Line.

Look at these pictures taken at Harringay Green Lanes station.

Would composite platforms make extending these platforms an easier process?

The company might also have the solution to the dual-height platforms, that some people feel are needed for tram-trains. The Germans certainly use stepped platforms so that different types of tram-trains have step-free access.

In fact, why restrict it to rail applications?

It could be used to provide a disabled viewing platform at somewhere like a horse racecourse or other sporting venue.

Or how about helping to create step-free bus stops, that I wrote about in One Of London’s Step-Free Bus Stops?

One Of London's Step-Free Bus Stops

One Of London’s Step-Free Bus Stops

It’s certainly a very good innovation.


June 13, 2016 Posted by | Travel | , , , | 1 Comment

Electrification Of The Felixstowe Branch And Other Lines In East Anglia

I’m using the Felixstowe branch as an example, as I used to live near Felixstowe station and I know the area well. I’ll make these assumptions.

  • In this rail forum, the cost of electrification was given in 2010 as £100,000 per single track kilometre.
  • The passenger line from Ipswich to Felixstowe is about 16 miles with only 6 miles being double-track. So that is effectively 22 miles or 35.4 kilometres of track.
  • The Port of Felixstowe is exclusively served by diesel locomotives of various noisy and environmentally-non-friendly types, although sometimes these are changed for an electric Class 90 locomotive at Ipswich. So we can probably leave the Port out of the calculations, especially as they don’t seem to keen on electrification.
  • Of the four stations on the line a couple would need to have lengthened platforms for a four-car train.
  • The passenger service is roughly hourly and can be run by a single train.
  • As the line has a W10 loading gauge, all of the bridges would probably be big enough to accept overhead electrification.

So we get a very rough electrification cost that will be £3.5million at 2010 prices to enable electric trains to go to Felixstowe station. You would have to add any platform costs.

At present the service is run by one inadequate single car Class 153 train.

This train pulls into a bay platform without electrification at Ipswich, which is certainly long enough to take one four car Class 387 train and could probably be lengthened to take an eight-car or two separate trains.

It would probably be necessary to electrify enough of the platform and the route to the branch , so that an IPEMU could be fully charged before it left Ipswich station for Felixstowe. As all of this electrification would be linked to the current electrification on the Great Eastern Main Line, it wouldn’t be an unaffordable cost.

I don’t know the cost of leasing a four-car Class 387 train, but I have read here that forty-five Class 710 Aventra trains, will cost £260million or about six million each. This cost is probably inclusive of servicing, financing and other costs.

This calculation is obviously only very rough, but it does show the advantages of electrifying a branch line using IPEMUs rather than traditional electrification.

  • If the line has sufficient gauge clearance for the IPEMU, there are no bridge reconstruction or track lowering costs.
  • Only sufficient electrification to charge the train is needed.
  • Where the branch is linked to an electrified main line, connection costs of the minimal electrification are minimised.
  • Platforms will need to be lengthened as necessary.

From this rudimentary analysis, it would appear that the cost of electrifying a branch line is roughly the same as the capital cost of a new IPEMU.

Looking at the two approaches for the Felixstowe branch for passenger trains only, we get something like.

  • Traditional electrification would cost about £3.5million plus the cost of the train, which would probably be an old EMU ready for the scrapyard at a million or so.
  • A new IPEMU would cost £6million and there would probably be a cost of under a million to upgrade the line.

But the IPEMU approach would give you other advantages.

  • The train company would be running a modern train only a few years old at most.
  • New trains attract passengers.
  • The train could also run on main lines to create new routes and services.

The only losers in the IPEMU approach are the construction companies, putting up the wires and rebuilding bridges.

Passengers, train companies, local residents and the environment would all gain.

I’ll also look at some of the other branch lines in East Anglia.

The Gainsborough Line

The Gainsborough Line from Marks Tey to Sudbury is just over nineteen kilometres long, so it could easily be within the capability of an IPEMU, which charged on the main line at Marks Tey station.

This line shows the advantages of the IPEMU approach.

  • The line goes over the Chappel Viaduct, which is Grade II Listed and one of the largest brick structures in England. Overhead wires could be a problem with both the engineers installing them and the heritage lobby.
  • This branch could be extended towards Cambridge and surely to extend a branch without electrification would be easier.
  • Passenger numbers might show that some trains should perhaps go to or from Colchester and/or Ipswich. IPEMUs are fast enough to mix it on the main line, with its 100 mph speed.
  • The stations on this line are very basic and an IPEMU wouldn’t require any lectrification works.

But the reason, I’d use IPEMUs on this branch, is that a higher capacity line with trains to Marks Tey and perhaps Colchester, would probably take traffic off the congested roads to Sudbury.

The East Suffolk Line

It is my belief that the East Suffolk Line from Ipswich to Lowestoft ,will be electrified using IPEMUs.

  • The new franchise has stated that the operator will run direct services between Liverpool Street and Lowestoft. Will the operator want to run this using diesel trains?
  • A chord is possibly to be built at Reedham to allow direct Lowestoft to Yarmouth trains.

IPEMUs are not necessary as diesel trains could be used, but four car trains would create much needed capacity between Yarmouth, Lowestoft and Ipswich.

The line is fifty miles or just under eighty kilometres long, so charging would be needed at Lowestoft and/or Yarmouth.

I think the Reedham Chord is integral to Network Rail’s plans for the line and the related Whery Lines, as it is only mentioned in this document on their web site, which is entitled Improving Connectivity.

An Ipswich-Manningtree-Colchester Metro

I think that due to the flexibility of the IPEMU and its ability to run on the main line, could lead to something like an Ipswich-Manningtree-Colchester Metro.

There would certainly be advantages in terms of train and platform utilisation, if branch lines were able to run services in a back-to-back manner passing along the main line.

There could be a core route on the main line perhaps serving.

Services would start and finish on the various branch lines.

Obviously, if such a system were to be created, the design would depend on how passengers used the system and where new developments happen.

The Wherry Lines

The Wherry Lines reach east from Norwich to Lowestoft and Yarmouth. None of the lines are very long, but they suffer from a shortage of suitable rolling stock and especially trains that could go between London and Yarmouth in the summer.

IPEMUs would solve the rolling stock problem and could serve these routes.

  • Liverpool Street to Yarmouth via Ipswich and Norwich
  • Liverpool Street to Yarmouth via Cambridge, Cambridge North, Ely and Norwich
  • Norwich to Yarmouth and back to Norwich
  • Norwich to Lowestoft and back to Norwich
  • Norwich to Lowestoft via Yarmouth and Reedham and back to Norwich.

Services could also link to the East Suffolk Line for Ipswich to give a second route between Ipswich and Norwich.

The Bittern Line

The Bittern Line reaches North from Norwich to Cromer and Sheringham and like the other Norfolk branch lines at thirty miles it is well within the range of an IPEMU.

Rackheath Eco-Town lies close to Salhouse station and plans for the town envisage a new station and a frequent service to Norwich.

There has been talk of tram-trains, but IPEMUs could also be used.

I think the biggest problem at the moment is getting the town built.

The Main Lines Without Electrification

The following lines are not electrified.

All of these lines could have electrified services provided by IPEMUs.

The Network Rail document; Improving Connectivity, also mentions changes at Newmarket.

Currently, there are two services between Ipswich and the West.

  • Cambridge to Ipswich
  • Ipswich to Ely and Peterborough

They provide a rather uneven hourly service across Suffolk.

Network Rail are proposing an island platform at Newmarket. The Cambridge to Ipswich service will be as now, but it will have cross-platform interchange  with a new Newmarket to Peterborough via Ely service at the updated station.

This will mean that there will be an increased frequency on the line and passengers from Ipswich wanting to go West will be able to get any train and change if necessary at Newmarket.

Could the platform used by the Newmarket to Peterborough service at Newmarket have facilities to charge IPEMUs?

I wrote about an update Newmarket station and other topics in  Better East-West Train Services Across Suffolk.

New Stations

In this analysis Cambridge North station, which serves the Cambridge Science Park, keeps cropping up. According to Wikipedia, this is the proposed service pattern.

5tph to Cambridge, with 2tph continuing to London King’s Cross; 1tph continuing to London Liverpool Street and 1tph continuing to Stansted Airport. 4tph to Ely, with 1tph continuing to King’s Lynn, 1tph continuing to Birmingham New Street and 1tph continuing to Norwich.

It may be all right if you’re going to Cambridge, London or Norwich, but what about those who want to go to Bury St. Edmunds or Ipswich.

Is this just another manifestation of the prejudice, that Suffolk is full of yokels and idiots?

Look at the rail maps of East Anglia and there are disused stations and places that appear to need one all over the four eastern counties.

I think just as Yorkshire and Devon have developed a penchant for building new stations, I think we’ll see a few built in the area.

Remember that IPEMUs with their regenerative braking and large doors are stop-start specials, that can call at a station, discharge and load passengers, and be on their way, much quicker than the current diesel multiple units.

Long Distance Services

There are still two services starting and finishing in East Anglia, that travel across the country.

  • Norwich to Liverpool
  • Birmingham to Stansted Airport

Both could be run using IPEMUs.

I do wonder if it would be better to improve services between Cambridge, Cambridge North, Ely, Ipswich, Norwich, Peterborough and Stansted Airport and link up with these cross-country services at Cambridge, Ely and Peterborough.

When the new franchise is  awarded in June 2016, thins will probably be clearer.


Remember that Abellio Greater Anglia were very much part of the testing and demonstration of the IPEMU technology last year, so I suspect that they would like to rid the franchise of diesel trains, as most in East Anglia aren’t the best.

The requirements for the new franchise include.

Improve the quality of trains running on East Anglia’s network, providing a modern service with state of the art trains – extra points will be awarded to bidders who include plans to trial new technologies in rolling stock.

Abellio’s and other studies have probably shown, that electrification of passenger trains in East Anglia can be completed using IPEMUs.

So be prepared to see a new franchise awarded, that promises to eliminate diesel trains from East Anglia.

I think this analysis also shows how when in an area, there is a fair amount of electrification, IPEMUs can successfully fill in all the missing links.

Other areas where IPEMUs could do the same thing now or after the current electrification programs are completed include.

  • Birmingham
  • Bristol
  • Glasgow
  • Merseyside and the North West
  • Newcastle and Middlesborough
  • South Wales
  • Sussex

I already feel, that one new line; the  Barking Riverside Extension of the Gospel Oak to Barking Line has been designed without electrification.

March 19, 2016 Posted by | Travel | , , , , | Leave a comment

A Sleigh Ride

We went for a ride on a sleigh pulled by two horses.

The more I look at the horses, the more I think that they have a lot of Suffolk Horse in them.

I also took a video.

I’d like the opinion on the horses, of someone, who knows their Suffolks.

The railway bridge is one of many in the area and was probably built by the Germans as part of the Prussian Eastern Railway, that used to connect Koningsberg and East Prussia to Poland and Greater Germany.

January 20, 2016 Posted by | World | , , | Leave a comment

They’re Not So Silly In Suffolk

I once had a letter published in The Times after C died, in which I praised the joined up thinking, between the Registrars and the Council, which got me a virtually automatic Council Tax reduction.

Have you ever wondered what happened to all those businesses, that were displaced by the Olympics in Stratford?

Quite a few ended up in Haverhill, as St. Edmundsbury Council thought that would be a good place to relocate and they had the sites available. So the Council achieved the highest rate of inward investment of any Council in England in 2012, by some intelligent marketing of the businesses to be displaced. One unlikely story, I heard, was that someone from the Council walked around and knocked on doors!

BBC Breakfast was joking this morning that Bury St. Edmunds-based brewer, Greene King have an export boom to China after David Cameron took the Chinese leader to the local pub and gave him a pint of Greene King IPA.

It’s all reported in this article in the Guardian, entitled Greene King strikes gold as Chinese demand soars after Xi Jinping pint.

November 10, 2015 Posted by | Business, World | | Leave a comment

Sudbury To Cambridge – D-Train, IPEMU OR Tram-Train?

In D-Trains For East Anglia? I reported on how possible Anglia franchisees, were looking at using Vivarail D-Trains between Marks Tey and Sudbury on the Gainsborough Line.

So as someone, who lived by the disused line from Sudbury to Cambridge Line via Haverhill  for nearly twenty years, I have views on whether this route should be opened.

The Case For Reopening

After my stroke, for a year, I lived just North of Haverhill, in the middle of nowhere. The only way to get to say Cambridge, Ipswich or London, was to get a taxi to either Newmarket and get a train or Haverhill and get a bus.

As with many people, a station in Haverhill would have given me an alternative route, using a cheaper taxi!

But for many who live along the Stour Valley getting to Cambridge and its employment opportunities means the car or a bus.

Haverhill is now a town of 30,000 souls and when the line closed, the population was under a quarter of that figure.

So although the case for closure of the Stour Valley Railway in 1967, was strong, there is probably just as strong a case to provide a high-quality public transport system between Sudbury and Cambridge via Cavendish, Clare and Haverhill.

The Route Today

Much of the route is still there, although in places it has been built upon.

But I believe, as do others, that a single-track railway with passing places could be built between the West Anglia Main Line, just South of Shelford station to Sudbury station on the Gainsborough Line thst connects to the Great Eastern Main Line at Marks Tey station.

If the line is built mainly single-track, this would be more appropriate for an area of outstanding natural beauty and it would make it easier to squeeze the line into difficult places like the station at Sudbury, which is shown in this Google Map.

Sudbury Station

Sudbury Station

The route of the overgrown disused rail line, goes out towards the South-West.

The route of the line is still visible in the other major town on the line; Haverhill. It is shown on this Google Map.

The Railway Through Haverhill

The Railway Through Haverhill

The railway goes across the town from North-West to South-East. It does split with one branch going South over a massive brick viaduct and the other going East towards Clare, Cavendish and Long Melford.

Much of the line now is a footpath through the town, which I suspect could share the route with a single-track railway or tramway. Tesco’s probably wouldn’t mind if the station was just to the North of their massive car-park.

I suspect that all stations would be designed to be as simple as possible.

Several of those on the new Borders Railway like EskbankGalashiels,  Gorebridge and Newtongrange are well-designed single platforms and some have no means to cross the railway.

Stations like these would be practical and unobtrusive.

Possible Rolling Stock

Because of the limited nature of the track, which as I pointed out could possibly be mainly single track, I think that some types of rolling stock can be ruled out.

If say, the line was to be run using something like two or three-car Class 168 trains, there could be capacity, vibration and noise problems.

So I think we’re left with the following.

  • D-train or Class 230 trains
  • IPEMUs
  • Class 399 tram-trains

I shall now look at each in detail.

Class 230 Trains

Class 230 trains or D-trains have been talked about as possibilities for the Gainsborough Line and these conversions from London Underground D78 Stock could certainly travel easily between Marks Tey and Shelford, before going on to Cambridge.

Other than possible hostility to their origin and second-hand provenance, I can see other problems with these trains.

  • When running between Shelford and Cambridge, would they get in the way of faster trains to and from London and Stansted.
  • Would they have a noise and vibration problem, as they trundled through quiet villages?
  • Extending the service at either end to perhaps Colchester and Cambridge North might be difficult.
  • They would have a shorter life-span than the other options.

But we haven’t seen a Class 230 train in service yet.


IPEMUs or battery-powered trains have only been seen briefly on UK railways and that was at Manningtree, where Bombardier and Network Rail ran the prototype in a successful trial in public service.

They are full size four-car electric trains and could run from Marks Tey to Shelford on batteries, charging up on the electrified main lines.

In addition they would have the following other advantages.

  • They have a high-capacity, with all the facilities that all types of passengers could want or need.
  • There could be no need to put up any overhead wires between Marks Tey and Shelford.
  • They would probably have a very low intrusion factor into the environment.
  • When they are on the main lines, they become normal trains, so there would be no disruption to other traffic.
  • They could also extend the service to between say Colchester and Cambridge North.

Perhaps the only disadvantage of IPEMUs, is that being full-sized trains, the railway might have to be fully-protected with fences.

Class 399 Tram-Trains

Class 399 tram-trains are the unusual one of the three. But in some ways they are the most versatile.

They are a three-car high-capacity 100% low-floor tram, very similar to those you see in Blackpool, Birmingham, Croydon or Nottingham. But in addition to being able to run using a tram 750 VDC overhead supply, they can also run as a train using the standard 25kVAC supply of the main line railway.

They combine the best characteristics of both means of transport.

In the next couple of years they will be trialled in Sheffield on an extension of the Sheffield Supertram to Rotherham.

For those that worry about the technology, several German cities have large systems of mixed trams, trains and tram-trains, so it is not by any means untried. Especially, as a Class 399 tram-train is a German standard tram-train, modified for our overhead voltage, which incidentally is much more standard, than the German’s 15kVAC.

The tram-train would start at Cambridge or Cambridge North stations and run as a tram to Shelford station, where it would become a tram running on the route of the Stour Valley Railway all the way to Sudbury, where it would continue along the Gainsborough Line to Marks Tey, where it could use the overhead wiring to go to Colchester if required.

A Class 399 tram-train would have advantages and disadvantages compared to say the IPEMU.

I’ll deal with the disadvantages first.

  • It is a three-car tram of slightly smaller capacity than the four-car IPEMU.
  • It would need to have a track electrified to 750 VDC using a simple overhead catenary.
  • They have tram interiors and no toilets.
  • They are slightly slower on train sections, than the IPEMU.

But it does have advantages too.

  • They are 100% low-floor vehicles, so have comprehensive step-free access.
  • Stops can be a very simple design without any expensive foot-bridges, lifts or long disabled ramps. Just like Croydon for example!
  • They are good sight-seeing vehicles for a beautiful part of the country
  • When the line allows it, they can get up to speeds of nearly 70 mph on a main line railway.
  • Tram-trains have all the flexibility and manoeuvrability of trams, so they can go off for a meander rather than a direct route, if necessary.
  • If used between Cambridge and Marks Tey,instead of going direct from Cambridge to Shelford, they could take a loop around the Addenbrooke’s site.
  • Or perhaps if they turned at Cambridge North, they could perhaps do a tour of the Science Park rather than a simple reverse.

It is a terrible pity that the Cambridge Guided Busway was designed before tram-trains became a viable alternative.


It is very much a case of who pays the money makes the choice.

  • The Class 230 train is a remanufactured train that doesn’t need any expensive electrification, but may have noise, vibration and performance issues.
  • The IPEMU is a brand-new train that doesn’t need any expensive electrification and has all the performance, comfort and facilities of any modern full-size electric train.
  • The Class 399 tram-train is also brand new, needs only simple electrification and infrastructure and has all the performance and flexibility of a tram coupled with many features of a full-size electric train.

If the choice was down to me, I would discount the Class 230 train, but only because the other two solutions are new and not remanufactured old ones, which will have to be replaced at some time.

So why not have the new IPEMUs or Class 399 tram-trains, both of which would probably give first-class service for a large number of years?

Both the new trains are types of trains, that will be common on the UK rail network, so as the knowledge base increases we’ll probably find ways of using them both to create very high-class public transport systems.

Choosing between the two new solutions is extremely difficult.

As neither has run in extended service on the UK rail network, I feel that for the moment I’ll duck that difficult choice.

As an aside, this analysis has proved to me, that the Cambridge Guided Busway may have been a good decision at the time based on the knowledge available, but with the arrival of IPEMUs and tram-trains, it is very much a technology that few will choose in the future.


October 26, 2015 Posted by | Travel | , , , , | 1 Comment

Better East-West Train Services Across Suffolk

The east-west train service across Suffolk is better than it was, but I’ve just read in a Network Rail study entitled Improving Connectivity, about a radical proposal to greatly improve services.

At present at Ipswich station, in addition to the main line services, there are hourly services to Cambridge, Felixstowe and Lowestoft, with a two-hourly service to Peterborough.

From a passenger point of view it is not good at times. In the past I have been irked by.

  • Trying to get between Newmarket and Felixstowe, which often means a not very short wait on Ipswich station.
  • The lack of a late night train back to Newmarket from Ipswich.
  • Bad connectivity between London services and the various branches.

It may be better now and some of the proposals in the latest franchise documents will certainly help.

One document I’ve read, talked about direct services between London and Lowestoft. When I moved to Suffolk in the 1970s, this route was served a couple of times a day.

But one proposal in the Network Rail study must be taken seriously.

The study proposes creating an island platform at an updated Newmarket station and running a direct service between Newmarket and Peterborough via Ely. The study describes the proposal like this.

To solve this dilemma,  The direct Ipswich to Peterborough service is replaced by a Newmarket to Peterborough service, running via a reinstated Warren Hill Junction – Snailwell Junction chord, as shown in Figure 3.2. A semi-fast Ipswich to Cambridge train connects into this service with a cross-platform connection at a reconstructed Newmarket station.

No services are duplicated and connections at Ipswich are simplified: the East Suffolk line arrival need only connect with the Cambridge train. This method of operation combines two markets on one train, achieving a 35 per cent reduction in train miles and halving the number of passenger train paths required on this busy freight corridor. In addition, Newmarket gains a direct service to Peterborough.

So one new short chord and a reconstructed Newmarket station, dramatically improve the passenger train services across Suffolk, whilst giving more much-needed space in the schedules for freight trains.

This map shows the area between Newmarket station and Warren Hill – Snailwell.

Newmarket's Railways, Racecourses and Training Grounds

Newmarket’s Railways, Racecourses and Training Grounds

Note that the line through Newmarket station goes in a tunnel under the training grounds of Warren Hill before turning to the East to connect to Bury St. Edmunds and Ipswich. The new chord would connect between the Newmarket to Bury Line and the Ely to Bury Line.

Hopefully, Network Rail has safeguarded the route and hasn’t sold the land to some, who would oppose the plan.

If I read Network Rail’s proposal correctly, there would be an hourly Newmarket to Peterborough service, which would provide a cross-platform interchange with an hourly semi-fast Ipswich to Cambridge service.

Given that Abellio Greater Anglia were part of the IPEMU tests between Manningtree and Harwich, I suspect that both the Peterborough to Newmarket and Ipswich to Cambridge services would be run with four-car IPEMUs.

In my view it is a very good starting plan, but it does raise a few questions and interesting possibilities.

  • IPEMUs would be faster than the current diesel trains and would also offer an increase in capacity.
  • Would IPEMUs take over the Cambridge to Norwich, Ipswich to Lowestoft and Ipswich to Felixstowe services?
  • Newmarket racecourse is an incredibly popular venue and the current Newmarket station has inadequate capacity for racegoers. More four-car IPEMU trains from Cambridge, Ipswich, Ely and Peterborough calling at the station can only increase total capacity.
  • As now, I suspect a shuttle bus will be provided, between station and racecourse.
  • A simple one-platform Newmarket Racecourse station could even be built on land owned by the Jockey Club on the single-line section of line to the West of the town, which would be about a kilometre walk from both racecourses.
  • Cambridgeshire County Council have had plans for a long time to reopen Soham station. This would be on the hourly Newmarket to Peterborough service, which would men that with one change you could be in Cambridge or Ipswich.
  • If Soham is worth reopening, why not reopen Fordham station.
  • How would the new station at Cambridge North fit in and affect services in the area?

I think that when and if the full proposals arrive, they will have some extra features.

An uprated service from Cambridge to Ipswich will require some reorganisation at Ipswich.

Over the last few years, freight traffic through Ipswich station has eased due to ther opening of the Bacon Factory Chord which allows diesel-hauled freight trains to go directly between the Felixstowe branch and the Midlands and North via Stowmarket.

The Newmarket reorganisation will also release extra paths through Ely and Peterborough and there could be scope for improving the efficiency of Ipswich station.

Given that services will arrive from and leave to Cambridge, Lowestoft and Felixstowe, every hour. Surely, a platform layout could be found, so that they all used the same part of the station and passengers just walked across.

Imagine the benefits to passengers if say you were going between Beccles and Peterborough and you just walked across between trains at Ipswich and Newmarket.

I suspect that Network Rail and Abellio have an excellent idea for Ipswich station, filed under Cunning Plans.

Would it also be worth improving patterns at Ely?

This Google Map is from Railways in Ely in Wikpedia.

Ely Lines

Ely Lines

It is complicated. These are my thoughts.

  • The layout would appear to work quite well now,but will it cope with Cambridge North station?
  • Cambridge North station will probably generate a lot of traffic and with some reorganisation, passengers might even be able to walk across or just wait for the next train at Cambridge or Ely, to be on their way.
  • But in some cases, changing will mean climbing over the bridge at Cambridge or using the subway at Ely.
  • Ely station should cope with any extra services on the lines to Ely and Norwich.
  • There is also the issue of a possible Wisbech branch at March.

So will we see changes to the track layout at Ely?

I think the answer is yes!

But upgrading Ely does throw up one important question.

When the Cambridge Guided Busway was built, I didn’t think it was the best solution, but I had no real idea what would have been best.

I now wonder, if the ideal transport system for the route of the Cambridge Busway has arrived in the form of the tram-train!

If you look at the route from Huntingdon through Cambridge to Addenbrookes, it’s very much linked to the railway lines through the city. Most of the extensions proposed for the busway could be performed by tram-trains in tram mode. One proposal from Huntingdon to Peterborough, is typical of many systems, I’ve seen in Germany.

But it is too late now to change that decision.

One thing though that surprises me, is the amount of undeveloped land there is on either side of the railway line, where the Cambridge North station is being built. It could be possible to create a a tram line to connect Cambridge North station to the Cambridge to Ipswich Line. Thus tram-trains could go from both Cambridge North and Cambridge stations to Newmarket and then on past Fordham and Soham to Ely, where with a short chord they could turn south to the Cambridge stations.

Obviously, a real route would be based on the proposed developments and passenger traffic, but there are a lot of possibilities to use tram-trains to serve the towns and villages around Cambridge from the existing heavy rail lines.

At the Southern end, how about Shelford to Haverhill and onto Sudbury to then take the Gainsborough Line to Marks Tey?

I suspect that a single-track tram with passing places could handle tram-trains on a route not far removed from the route of the old Stour Valley Railway.

A lot of serious thinking can be done!

October 25, 2015 Posted by | Travel | , , , , | 4 Comments