The Anonymous Widower

Thoughts On Trains Between Cardiff And Swansea

I decided to write this post, when, I read this article on Rail Magazine, which is entitled Cardiff-Swansea wires ‘not sensible’.

This is the first paragraph.

Electrifying the railway between Cardiff and Swansea was not a sensible thing to do, according to Secretary of State for Transport Chris Grayling.

Some would argue that Chris Grayling holds a controversial view!

The Current Route

Before, proposing anything, I’ll list what we have today.

The Tracks

I have flown my virtual helicopter along the route and nearly all the route is double track, with sections of triple and quadruple track in places.

This Google Map shows a typical section of the line.

Note.

  • There are two well-spaced tracks.
  • The tracks are not straight, but gently curve.
  • There appears to be a lot of green space on either side.

The line appears to be similar to this most of the way.

I may be wrong, but I don’t think much of the line would be that difficult to electrify, from an engineering point of view.

The signalling and operating speed are described under Infrastructure in the Wikipedia entry for the South Wales Main Line.

The signalling is modern and this is said about operating speed between Cardiff and Swansea.

90 mph (145 km/h) from Newport to east of Bridgend; 75 mph (120 km/h) from east of Bridgend to Swansea Loop North junction (with a small section of 100 mph (160 km/h) track through Pyle station); and 40 mph (65 km/h) from Swansea Loop North Junction to Swansea.

It is not a high speed line, although I suspect that things could be improved.

The Stations

These are the stations between Cardiff and Swansea.

  • Pontyclun – Two platforms – 300,000 passengers – Reopened in 1992
  • Llanharan – Two platforms – 200,000 passengers – Reopened in 2007
  • Pencoed – Two platforms – 200,000 passengers – Reopened in 1992
  • Bridgend – Two platforms – 1,500.00 passengers – Opened in 1850
  • Pyle – Two platforms – 100,000 passengers – Opened in 1850
  • Port Talbot Parkway – Two platforms – 500,000 passengers – Opened in 1850
  • Baglan – Two platforms – 24,000 passengers – Opened in 1996
  • Briton Ferry – Two platforms – 40,000 passengers – Reopened in 1994
  • Neath – Two platforms – 800,000 passengers – Opened in 1850
  • Skewen – Two platforms – 40,000 passengers – Reopened in 1994
  • Llansamlet – Two platforms – 40,000 passengers – Opened in 1994

Note that the passenger figure is the number of passengers given for the past year, rounded to a sensible value.

It should also be noted, that not one of the stations has a layout that allows a fast train to bypass a slow one stopped in the station.

The Trains

Current trains on the route include.

Some parts of the route are also used by freight trains.

As much of the route has a operating speed of less than 100 mph, the operating speed of the two 100 mph trains is determined by the track, not the train.

The Services

There appears to be a fast service between Cardiff and Swansea.

  • It runs with a frequency of three trains per hour (tph)
  • Trains stop at Bridgend, Port Talbot Parkway and Neath.
  • Two services are run by Great Western Railway and one by Arriva Trains Wales
  • Timings are not clock-face by any means.

In an ideal world the frequency of this fast service would be four or more tph.

There is also a slow train, which appears to be once every two hours at the other stations.

It surely should be at least one tph.

Why are the services so limited?

Improving The Route

A new franchise for Wales will be announced and I wouldn’t be surprised to see improvements promised for the route between Cardiff and Swansea.

How could the capacity of the line be increased?

Raising The Operating Speed

I quoted this extract from Wikipedia, about operating speed between Cardiff and Swansea, earlier

90 mph (145 km/h) from Newport to east of Bridgend; 75 mph (120 km/h) from east of Bridgend to Swansea Loop North junction (with a small section of 100 mph (160 km/h) track through Pyle station); and 40 mph (65 km/h) from Swansea Loop North Junction to Swansea.

So except for around Pyle station, the operating speed is below and sometimes well below 100 mph.

Improving the operating speed to as high as possible will reduce the timings between Cardiff and Swansea.

Elimination Of Slower Trains

There is no point in raising the operating speed, if trains that cannot cruise at the improved speed are still running on the line.

Modern Trains With A Fast Dwell Time

Modern trains like Class 800 trains, Desiros and Aventras are designed to be able to stop from line speed, load and unload passengers and regain line speed as fast as possible.

Off the current trains working on the line, only Class 800 trains are in this category.

Step-Free Access Between Platform And Train

All stations between Cardiff and Swansea should be made step-free between platform and train.

This will help the trains keep to the timetable.

Allow Faster Trains To Overtake Slower Ones

Timetabling is probably made difficult, in that there is nowhere where a fast train can overtake a slower one.

Often this is done in a station, where whilst the slow train sits in the station, the fast train goes straight through.

Rebuilding Some Stations

It might be prudent to rebuild some stations, for better step-free access and allow trains to pass.

Are there any plans for new ones?

Electrification

None of these improvements need or affect any future electrification of the route.

But these improvements don’t need it!

In fact, it might be quite the reverse in that some of the improvements like improving the track may need to be done before electrification!

The Next Generation Of Bi-Mode Trains

In Bombardier Bi-Mode Aventra To Feature Battery Power, I discussed Bombardier’s proposed 125 mph bi-mode Aventra.

The information came from this article in Rail Magazine.

A few points from the article.

  • Development has already started.
  • Battery power could be used for Last-Mile applications.
  • The bi-mode would have a maximum speed of 125 mph under both electric and diesel power.
  • The trains will be built at Derby.
  • Bombardier’s spokesman said that the ambience will be better, than other bi-modes.

If Bombardier are doing this, what are Alstom , CAF, Hitachi, Siemens and Stadler doing.

And I haven’t mentioned hydrogen power!

Conclusion

Put all this together and I’m sure this could be the reasoning behind  Chris Grayling’s statement that electrifying between Cardiff and Swansea is not sensible.

I am coming round to the belief that it might be better spending the electrification money on improving the line between Cardiff and Swansea, so that something like the following is possible.

  • Four fast tph between Cardiff and Swansea.
  • Two slow tph between Cardiff and Port Talbot Parkway stopping at all stations.
  • Two slow tph between Port Talbot Parkway and Swansea stopping at all stations.

Or whatever is needed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

April 24, 2018 Posted by | Travel | , , , | 1 Comment

Hitachi Battery Trains On The Great Western Railway

The slow pace of the electrification on the Great Western Main Line has become a big stick with which to beat Network Rail.

But are rolling stock engineers going to pull Network Rail out of their hole?

On page 79 of the January 2018 Edition of Modern Railways, Nick Hughes, who is the Sales Director of Hitachi Rail Europe outlines how the manufacturer is embracing the development of battery technology.

He is remarkably open.

I discuss what he says in detail in Hitachi’s Thoughts On Battery Trains.

But here’s an extract.

Nick Hughes follows his description of the DENCHA; a Japanese battery train, with this prediction.

I can picture a future when these sorts of trains are carrying out similar types of journeys in the UK, perhaps by installing battery technology in our Class 395s to connect to Hastings via the non-electrified Marshlink Line from Ashford for example.

This would massively slice the journey time and heklp overcome the issue of electrification and infrastructure cases not stacking up. There are a large number of similar routes like this all across the country.

It is a prediction, with which I could agree.

I conclude the post with this conclusion.

It is the most positive article about battery trains, that I have read so far!

As it comes direct from one of the train manufacturers in a respected journal, I would rate it high on quality reporting.

Hitachi Battery Train Technology And Their UK-Built Trains

The section without electrification on the Marshlink Line between Ashford International and Ore stations has the following characteristics.

  • It is under twenty-five miles long.
  • It is a mixture of double and single-track railway.
  • It has nine stations.
  • It has a sixty mph operating speed.

As the line is across the flat terrain of Romney Marsh, I don’t think that the power requirements would be excessive.

In the Modern Railway article, Nick Hughes suggests that battery technology could be installed in Class 395 trains.

The Class 395 train is part of a family of trains, Hitachi calls A-trains. The family includes.

In Japan, another member of the family is the BEC819, which is the DENCHA, that is mentioned in the Modern Railways article.

As a time-expired electrical engineer, I would think, that if Hitachi’s engineers have done their jobs to a reasonable standard, that it would not be impossible to fit batteries to all of the A-train family of trains, which would include all train types, built at Newton Aycliffe for the UK.

In Japan the DENCHAs run on the Chikuhō Main Line, which has three sections.

  • Wakamatsu Line – Wakamatsu–Orio, 10.8 km
  • Fukuhoku Yutaka Line – Orio–Keisen, 34.5 km
  • Haruda Line – Keisen–Haruda, 20.8 km

Only the middle section is electrified.

It looks to me, that the Japanese have chosen a very simple route, where they can run on electrification for a lot of the way and just use batteries at each end.

Bombardier used a similar low-risk test in their BEMU Trial with a Class 379 train in 2015.

So How Will Battery Trains Be used On the Great Western?

On the Great Western Main Line, all long distance trains and some shorter-distance ones will be Class 80x trains.

The size of battery in the DENCHA can be estimated using a rule, given by Ian Walmsley.

In an article in the October 2017 Edition of Modern Railways, which is entitled Celling England By The Pound, Ian Walmsley says this in relation to trains running on the Uckfield Branch.

A modern EMU needs between 3 and 5 kWh per vehicle mile for this sort of service.

So the energy needed to power the DENCHA, which is a two-car battery train on the just under twenty miles without electrification of  the Chikuhō Main Line in a one way trip would be between 112 and 187 kWh.

A Battery-Powered Class 801 Train

The Class 801 train is Hitachi’s all-electric train, of which Great Western Railway have ordered thirty-six of the closely-related five-car Class 800 train and twenty-one of the nine-car units.

The difference between the two classes of train, is only the number of generator units fitted.

  • Trains can be converted from Class 800 to Class 801 by removing generator units.
  • Bi-mode Class 800 trains have a generator unit for each powered car.
  • The all-electric Class 801 train has a single generator unit, in case of electrical power failure.
  • When trains couple and uncouple, the train’s computer system determines the formation of the new train and drives and manages the train accordingly.

If I was designing the train, I would design a battery module, that replaced a generator unit

This leads me to think, that a five-car Class 801 train, could have one generator unit and up to four battery modules.

  • The computer would decide what it’s got and control the train accordingly.
  • The generator unit and battery power could be used together to accelerate the train or at other times where high power is needed.
  • If the batteries failed, the generator unit would limp the train to a safe place.
  • The number of battery units would depend on the needs of the route.

It would be a true tri-mode train; electric, diesel and battery.

I will now look at some routes, that could see possible applications of a battery version of Class 80x trains.

Cardiff To Swansea

I’ll start with the most controversial and political of the cutbacks in electrification.

At present plans exist to take the electrification on the Great Western as far as Cardiff Central station, by the end of 2018.

The distance between Cardiff Central and Swansea stations is forty-six miles, so applying the Ian Walmsley formula and assuming the train is five-cars, we have an energy usage for a one-way trip between the two cities of between 690 and 1150 kWh.

As the Class 80x trains are a modern efficient design, I suspect that a figure towards the lower end of the range will apply.

But various techniques can be used to stretch the range of the train on battery power.

  • From London to Cardiff, the line will be fully-electrified, so on arrival in the Welsh capital, the batteries could be fully charged.
  • The electrification can be continued for a few miles past Cardiff Central station, so that acceleration to line speed can be achieved using overhead wires.
  • Electrification could also be installed on the short stretch of track between Swansea station and the South Wales Main Line.
  • There are three stops between Cardiff and Swansea and regenerative braking can be used to charge the batteries.
  • The single generator unit could be used to help accelerate the train if necessary.
  • There are only two tph on the route, so efficient driving and signalling could probably smooth the path and save energy.
  • Less necessary equipment can be switched off, when running on batteries.

Note. that the power/weight and power/size ratios of batteries will also increase, as engineers find better ways to build batteries.

The trains would need to be charged at Swansea, but Hitachi are building a depot in the city, which is shown in these pictures.

It looks like they are electrifying the depot.

Surely, enough electrification can be put up at Swansea to charge the trains and help them back to the South Wales Main Line..

The mathematics show what is possible.

Suppose the following.

  • Hitachi can reduce the train’s average energy consumption to 2 kWh per carriage-mile, when running on battery power.
  • Electrification at Cardiff and Swansea reduces the length of battery use to forty miles.

This would reduce the battery size needed to 400 kWh, which could mean that on a five-car train with four battery modules, each battery module would be just 100 kWh. This compares well with the 75 kWh battery in a New Routemaster bus.

Will it happen?

We are probably not talking about any serious risk to passengers, as the worst that can happen to any train, is that it breaks down or runs out of power in the middle of nowhere. But then using the single generator unit, the train will limp to the nearest station.

But think of all the wonderful publicity for Hitachi and everybody involved, if the world’s first battery high speed train, runs twice an hour between Paddington and Swansea.

Surely, that is an example of the Can-Do attitude of Isambard Kingdom Brunel?

Paddington To Oxford

The route between Paddington and Oxford stations is electrified as far as Didcot Parkway station.

The distance between Didcot Parkway and Oxford stations is about ten miles, so applying the Ian Walmsley formula and assuming the train is five-cars, we have an energy usage for the return trip to Oxford from Didcot of between 300 and 500 kWh.

If the five-car train has one generator unit,four battery modules and has an energy usage to the low end, then each battery module would need to handle under 100 kWh.

There are plans to develop a  South-facing bay platform at Oxford station and to save wasting energy reversing the train by running up and down to sidings North of the station, I suspect that this platform must be built before battery trains can be introduced to Oxford.

If it’s not, the train could use the diesel generator to change platforms.

The platform could also be fitted with a system to charge the battery during turnround.

Paddington To Bedwyn

The route between Paddington and Bedwyn is electrified as far as Reading station, but there are plans to electrify as far as Newbury station.

The distance between Newbury and Bedwyn stations is about thirteen miles, so applying the Ian Walmsley formula and assuming the train is five-cars, we have an energy usage for the return trip to Bedwyn from Newbury of between 390 and 520 kWh.

As with Paddington to Oxford, the required battery size wouldn’t be excessive.

Paddington To Henley-on-Thames

The route between Paddington and Henley-on-Thames station is probably one of those routes, where electric trains must be run for political reasons.

The Henley Branch Line is only four miles long.

It would probably only require one battery module and would be a superb test route for the new train.

Paddington To Weston-super-Mare

Some Paddington to Bristol trains extend to Weston-super-Mare station.

Weston-super-Mare to the soon-to-be-electrified Bristol Temple Meads station is less than twenty miles, so if  Swansea can be reached on battery power, then I’m certain that Weston can be reached in a similar way.

Other Routes

Most of the other routes don’t have enough electrification to benefit from trains with a battery capability.

One possibility though is Paddington to Cheltenham and Gloucester along the Golden Valley Line. The length of the section without electrification is forty-two  miles, but unless a means to charge the train quickly at Cheltenham station is found, it is probably not feasible.

It could be possible though to create a real tri-mode train with a mix of diesel generator units and battery modules.

This train might have the following characteristics.

  • Five cars.
  • A mix of  generator units and battery modules.
  • Enough generator units to power the train on the stiffest lines without electrification.
  • Ability to collect power from 25 KVAC overhead electrification
  • Ability to collect power from 750 VDC third-rail electrification.

Note.

  1. The battery modules would be used for regenerative braking in all power modes.
  2. The ability to use third rail electrification would be useful when running to Brighton, Exeter, Portsmouth and Weymouth.

The train could also have a sophisticated computer system, that would choose power source according to route,timetable,  train loading, traffic conditions and battery energy level.

The objective would be to run routes like Paddington to Cheltenham, Gloucester to Weymouth and Cardiff to Portsmouth Harbour, as efficiently as possible.

Collateral Advantages

Several of the routes out of Paddington could easily be worked using bi-mode Class 800 trains.

  1. But using battery trains to places like Bedwyn, Henley, Oxford and Weston-super-Mare is obviously better for the environment and probably for ticket sales too!
  2. If places like Bedwyn, Henley and Oxford are served by Class 801 trains with a battery option, it could mean that they could just join the throng of 125 mph trains going in and out of London.
  3. Battery trains would save money on electrification.

I also suspect, that the running costs of a battery train are less than those of using a bi-mode or diesel trains.

Conclusion

Hitachi seem to have the technology, whereby their A-train family can be fitted with batteries, as they have done it in Japan and their Sales Director  in the UK, has said it can be done on a Class 395 train to use the Marshlink Line.

We may not see Hitachi trains using batteries for a couple of years, but it certainly isn’t fantasy.

Great Western Railway certainly need them!

 

 

 

December 25, 2017 Posted by | Travel, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

UK Ditches Electrification Plans In Wales, The Midlands And The North

The title of this post is the same as that of an article in Global Rail News. This is the first two paragraphs.

The UK government has abandoned plans to electrify the railway between Cardiff and Swansea, the Midland Main Line north of Kettering and the line between Windermere and Oxenholme in favour of bi-mode, or ‘alternative-fuel’, trains.

An announcement from the Department for Transport (DfT) this morning said electrification of the lines was no longer needed and that cancelling the work would result in less disruption for passengers.

So do I agree with the Government’s decision?

Before I answer that question, I will put a few facts into this post!

All Trains Should Be Powered By Electricity

Most trains in the UK are actually powered by electricity.

If you take the noisy and smelly Class 66 locomotive, the wheels are actually turned by electricity, although that electricity is generated by a 2,460 kW diesel engine and an alternator, which is then fed to the traction motors.

The great advantage of electricity is that when you need to deliver precise power to move the train, it is very easy to control.

As an example of precise electric control, think of a variable-speed drill or food mixer.

What makes some trains more efficient than others, is the way they handle the electricity and get it to the traction motors.

Electrification; Overhead Or Third Rail

Ptobably the most efficient way to get electrical power to a train is from an electrification system, which in the UK can be 25 KVAC overhead wire or 750 VDC third rail.

25 KVAC overhead electrification has the following problems.

  • Bridges and tunnels must be raised or enlarged to give sufficient clearance for the wires.
  • Stations must be designed so that passengers can’t get near the wires.
  • Overhead wires are liable to damage.
  • Overhead gantries can be unsightly and subject to objection by local interest groups.
  • Erecting overhead gantries on an existing railway seems subject to various problems.

I could add that in the UK, we seem to be particularly bad at overhead electrification, but then most other countries electrified their lines decades ago.

750 VDC third rail electrification has one main problem, which is one of Health and Safety.

What is the purpose of this palisade fence at Abbey Wood station?

It certainly doesn’t protect passengers on the North Kent Line platform from where I took the photo from the 750 VDC third rail electrification in front of the fence.

The Crossrail tracks behind the fence are electrified with 25 KVAC, which is several metres in the air.

So is the fence to protect passengers on the platform behind the fence from running across the electrified track?

I think it probably is!

Electrification of both types has problems in certain track layouts.

  • Switches and crossings sometimes need very complicated layout of the power system.
  • Level crossings can present difficult Health and Safety problems.
  • Depots can be dangerous places, even without live rails and overhead wires.

Engineers are constantly coming up with ideas to make electrification safer and more efficient.

Diesel Power

Putting an appropriate diesel engine on a train coupled to an alternator is a common way to generate electricity to power the train.

But.

  • There is the noise and the smell.
  • Diesel engines are very heavy.
  • Diesel fuel has to be carried.
  • Diesel trains have to be regularly refuelled.

To cap it all, diesel trains are not very green.

Gas Turbine Power

One version of he Advanced Passenger Train of the 1970s was intended to be powered by gas turbines and this shows how engineers tried all sorts of power for trains.

Gas turbine power, although very successful in aircraft is probably not suitable for trains.

Hydrogen Power

The Alstom Coradio iLint is a train powered by a hydrogen fuel cell. This is said in the Wikipedia entry.

Announced at InnoTrans 2016, the new model will be the world’s first production hydrogen-powered trainset. The Coradia iLint will be able to reach 140 kilometres per hour (87 mph) and travel 600–800 kilometres (370–500 mi) on a full tank of hydrogen. The first Coradia iLint is expected to enter service in December 2017 on the Buxtehude-Bremervörde-Bremerhaven-Cuxhaven line in Lower Saxony, Germany. It will be assembled at Alstom’s Salzgitter plant. It began rolling tests at 80km/h in March 2017.

As we have successful hydrogen-powered buses in London, I suspect we might see trains powered by hydrogen fuel cells.

Battery Power

Powering a heavy train for more than a couple of miles, by means of batteries seems very much of a fantasy.

I was sceptical until I rode inn Bombardier’s Class 379 train, that took part in the BEMU trial.

I believe strongly, that the place for a battery in a train is not normally as a primary power source, but as an intermediate electricity store in much the way the battery is used in a hybrid bus or car.

The battery would be charged, when running on electrified track or by using an onboard diesel engine or hydrogen fuel cell.

It could then power the train on a length of track without electrification.

Regenerative Braking

Regenerative braking can save as much of twenty percent of the electricity use of a train.

Every time the train brakes, the traction motors turn into generators and transform the train’s kinetic energy into electricity.

On some systems like the London Underground, the electricity is returned to the network and used to power nearby trains.

But on some trains, it is passed through resistors on the train roof and just turned into heat.

Hybrid vehicles have shown how it is possible to use batteries to store and reuse the energy and I believe that this technique is now starting to be used on trains.

In Thoughts On Batteries, I said this.

A typical four-car electric multiple unit like a new Class 710 train, weighs about 130 tonnes or 138 tonnes with passengers. Going at a line speed of 100 kph, it has a kinetic energy of 15 KwH. So this amount of kinetic energy would be well within the scope of a 75 KwH battery from a Routemaster bus.

I think that the typical four-car electric multiple unit can easily be fitted with a battery to handle the braking for the train.

The physics of steel-wheel-on-steel-rail are also very efficient, as Robert Stephenson, if not his father, would have known.

So it would appear that combining regenerative braking with batteries of a practical size can improve the efficiency of a train.

One of the great advantages of handling the regenerative braking on the train with batteries, is that expensive transformers to handle the return currents are not needed at trackside.

Putting It All Together

I very much feel that the ultimate train should have the following characteristics.

  • The ability to work on 25 KVAC overhead and/or 750 VDC third rail electrification.
  • A suitable independent power source, which today would probably be diesel.
  • Regenerative braking.
  • A battery of sufficient size.
  • The ability to switch modes automatically.

As a Control Engineer, I feel sure that some form of Automatic Power Management would be welcomed by the driver.

The Class 800 Train

The Class 800 trains, have the following maximum speeds.

  • 125 mph on 25 KVAC overhead wires
  • 140 mph on 25 KVAC overhead wires with ETCS in-cab signalling.
  • 100 mph on diesel.

I think it is true to say, that on 125 mph lines, they may be capable of going faster.

But whatever they can do is probably well known now as Hitachi have over two years of experience of running the trains on British tracks.

In Do Class 800/801/802 Trains Use Batteries For Regenerative Braking?, I analyse the posed question.

After spending several hours searching the Internet, I found this very helpful document on the Hitachi web site.

Reading every word several times, I came to the conclusion, that it is more likely than not, that all variants of Class 80x trains have batteries, that are used for the following.

  • Handling regenerative braking
  • Providing hotel power for the train in case of complete power failure.
  • Providing emergency train recovery in case of complete power failure.

I also discovered the following.

  • The all-electric Class 801 train, has at least one onboard diesel engine for emergency situations.
  • All Class 80x trains could be modified to use third rail electrification.
  • All Class 80x trains can couple and uncouple in under two minutes.
  • Class 80x trains can rescue another.
  • Class 80x trains can be locomotive-hauled.

Hitachi have worked hard to produce a seriously comprehensive train.

This specification will lead to some interesting operational strategies.

More Destinations

Great Western Railway currently has services between London Paddington and the following destinations in South Wales

  • Bridgend
  • Carmarthen
  • Cardiff
  • Llanelli
  • Neath
  • Newport
  • Pembroke Dock
  • Port Talbot
  • Swansea

But how many other stations in South Wales could benefit from a direct service?

The intriguing thing is that a Class 800 train is narrower at 2.7 metres, than the following trains.

A five-car Class 800 train is also considerably shorter and a lot quieter than an InterCity 125.

So it raises the possibility of direct services between London and the following stations.

  • Smaller stations in West Wales like Fishguard Harbour and Milford Haven
  • Important stations in the Cardiff Valley Lines.

Could a five-car Class 800 train reach Aberdare, Ebbw Vale and Merthyr Tydfil, with some platform and track modifications?

Or if not a five-car, what about a four- or three-car train, which due to the flexible nature of the trains, I feel is very much possible!

Joining And Splitting Of Trains

In Wales, smaller separate trains could join into a train of up to twelve-cars at say Cardiff or Newport stations and then run to London as a single train.

Similar processes could apply in West Wales, with trains joining at perhaps Port Talbot Parkway station.

Returning from London, the trains would split at an appropriate station.

The big advantage of this approach, is that two or even three services share one path and driver between the join/split station and London, which means an increased number of separate services and total seats between Wales and London.

Similar processes will be possible on the following sets of routes, which will or could be run by Class 80x trains.

  • London Paddington to Cheltenham, Gloucester, Hereford, Oxford and Worcester.
  • London Paddington to Devon and Cornwall.
  • Midland Main Line services.
  • East Coast Main Line services.

How many stations on these lines will receive a new direct service to and from London?

Network Rail’s Secret Weapon

I have been suspicious for some time, that Network Rail have a very sophisticated simulation of the UK rail network. In fact, I’d be very surprised if they didn’t have one.

But that’s because I’ve done extensive dynamic simulation and scheduling in my working life and know the power and capabilities of such a system.

It’s just that some of the new franchises have developed some quite radical train patterns.

So I would suspect, a lot of the thinking behind the dropping of electrification has been thoroughly tested on the computer.

So how will the three lines quoted in the article be handled?

Oxenholme To Windermere

The Windermere Branch Line is just ten miles long with four stations.

This article in the Railway Gazette, says this.

‘We have listened to concerns about electrification gantries spoiling protected landscapes’, Grayling said when confirming the cancellation of plans to electrify the Windermere branch in the Lake District, adding that Northern would begin work to trial an ‘alternative-fuelled’ train on the route by 2021. Grayling mentioned the ongoing development of battery and hydrogen power in his statement, but Northern said it had only just begun to explore possible options following the cancellation of the electrification, and so any decision on the technology to be used was still some way off.

From May 2018 Northern plans to operate services to Windermere using Class 769 Flex electro-diesel units to be formed by fitting diesel powerpacks to Class 319 EMUs. New CAF DMUs would then be introduced to the route from December 2019.

It is both a short-term and a long-term solution, that is probably to the benefit of all stakeholders.

Given that the Class 769 train has been designed to serve Manchester to Buxton, you can’t accuse Porterbrook and Northern of hiding their creation under a bushel.

Cardiff To Swansea

The South Wales Main Line between Cardiff Central and Swansea stations is a forty-five mile double-track with the following operating speeds.

  • 90 mph from Cardiff Central to East of Bridgend station
  • 75 mph from Bridgend to   Swansea Loop North Junction
  • 40 mph from  Swansea Loop North Junction to Swansea

But there is a short section at 100 mph through Pyle station.

This is said in the article in Global Rail News.

Referring to the Cardiff-Swansea route, the statement said, “Rapid delivery of passenger benefits, minimising disruption and engineering work should always be our priority and as technology changes we must reconsider our approach to modernising the railways.”

The argument is based on the planned introduction of bi-mode Class 800 trains later this year.

I have flown my virtual helicopter along the tracks and it doesn’t seem a badly designed route.

  • It appears to be fairly straight with flowing curves.
  • There are only eleven stations to pass through.
  • Looking at the current timetables, it would appear that the fastest trains take about 51-53 minutes to go between Cardiff and Swansea.
  • Wikipedia says this about the South Wales Main Line, “resignalling and line speed improvements in South Wales, most of which would be delivered in 2010–2014”.

So have Network Rail found a way to increase the operating speed nearer to the 100 mph of the Class 800 trains, when running on diesel?

I obviously don’t know for sure, but given the improvements to the South Wales Main Line and the performance of the new trains, I wonder if Network Rail’s simulations have shown that there is very little to be gained by full electrification.

As I indicated earlier, by joining and splitting services, the number of trains and the total number of seats can be increased to West Wales without needing more train paths between London and Cardiff.

Midland Main Line

There has been discussions in Modern Railways recently about the problems of devising a timetable for the Midland Main Line.

The article in the Railway Gazette says this.

Hitachi is supplying bi-mode trainsets for Great Western services under the Department for Transport’s Intercity Express Programme, while the operator of the next East Midlands franchise will be required to introduce bi-mode trainsets from 2022. DfT said the use of electro-diesel trainsets instead of electrification would mean passengers would ‘benefit sooner’, because ‘disruptive’ work to install ‘intrusive wires and masts’ would ‘no longer be needed’.

It looks to me that simulation has shown, as in South Wales, there is little to be gained from full electrification.

But there could be a lot to gain from the following.

  • Creative joining and splitting of trains.
  • Improved track layouts.
  • Improving the electrification South of Bedford.
  • Adding new stations.

With these intelligent bi-mode trains, electrification can be added selectively, if it is shown to be worthwhile.Control systems linked to GPS,  can raise and lower the pantograph appropruiately.

Conclusion

I think that someone asked the heretical question.

What would happen if instead of electrification, we used bi-mode trains?

Both the South Wales Main Line and the Midland Main Line have similar characteristics.

  • Operating speed upwards of 90 mph.
  • Sections where the operating speed could be raised.
  • Partial electrification at the London end.
  • All London suburban trains sharing the routes are 100 mph trains.
  • Modern signalling

Couple this with the Class 800 trains and a very good simulation, and I suspect that Network Rail have found ways to improve the service.

I very much feel that similar techniques are being used to increase the capacity of the electrified Great Eastern Main Line to achieve Norwich-in-Ninety.

I can’t of course prove my feelings, but then I started writing computer simulations in the mid-1960s and like to think,  I know when I see others have done some good numerical analysis.

Where Else Could Bi-Mode Trains Be Used In This Way?

This is very much speculation on my part.

Basingstoke To Exeter Via Salisbury

Consider.

  • There have been ambitions to electrify this route for decades.
  • The new operator of the route; South Western Railway and Great Western Railway, who will operate Class 800 trains, are partially in the same ownership.
  • Third rail or dual voltage Class 800 trains are possible.
  • The trains are 100 mph units on diesel against the current 90 mph Class 158 trains.
  • The trains would save four minutes between London Waterloo and Basingstoke.
  • The trains could take advantage of speed improvement South of Basingstoke.
  • If Basingstoke to Exeter was a 100 mph line, then up to fifteen minutes could be saved.
  • The trains could join and split to serve multiple destinations.

But perhaps the biggest advantage would be that all trains between London Waterloo and Basingstoke would be 100 mph trains, which must mean that more trains could use the line.

Cardiff to Brighton via Southampton, Portsmouth Harbour and Bristol

Consider.

  • This route has significant overcrowding according to Wikipedia.
  • Cardiff to Bristol should eventually be electrified with 25 KVAC overhead wires.
  • Brighton to Southampton is electrified with 750 VDC third rail.
  • Great Western Railway run this route and have Class 800 trains.
  • Dual voltage Class 800 trains are possible.

To run this route efficiently, Great Western Railway would need an appropriate number of five-car dual voltage Class 800 trains.

Norwich To Stansted Airport via Ely and Cambridge

The Breckland Line between Norwich and Cambridge has the following characteristics.

  • Double-track throughout its just over fofty miles.
  • Sections of electrification at Norwich and South of Ely.
  • A variable operating speed of up to 90 mph.

The line has recently been upgraded with improved track, removal of level crossings and modern signalling.

As part of their new franchise proposal, Greater Anglia decided to run services from Norwich to Stansred Airport using new Stadler Class 755 trains, with the following characteristics.

  • Three- or four-car
  • Bi-mode power.
  • 100 mph capability.
  • Running on 25 KVAC, where available.

I think this is a good plan and is an example of the sort of use of bi-mode trains that will be seen increasingly.

Consider.

  • Norwich gets a much better connection to Cambriodge and Stansted Airport.
  • Some services on the route are still run by 90 mph Class 158 trains.
  • Speed improvements will come because of the nearly fifty miles of electrification between Ely and Stansted Airoport.
  • There may be further track improvements possible.

There is also the big possibility of being able to run a direct service between Norwich and London via Cambridge. I estimate that this could be done in about two and a half hours.

This is obviously not as fast as the route via Ipswich, where the current timing is around one hour fifty minutes and plans are in progress to reduce it by twenty minutes, but as an engineering work diversion, it is faster than a bus replacement service.

Peterborough To Colchester via Bury. St. Edmunds and Ipswich

This is an extension of the current Peterborough to Ipswich service that will be run by a bi-mode Class 755 train, under the new franchise agreement.

Consider.

  • The route is not electrified, except for Peterborough to Stowmarket.
  • Colchester gets a new hourly direct link to Peterborough, which has many services to the North.
  • A two train per hour service across Suffolk between Ipswich and Bury St. Edmunds is created.
  • Colchester to Peterborough may be reduced by twenty minutes or more.
  • Ipswich to Peterborough may be reduced by a few minutes.

If it was decided to electrify from Stowmarket to Peterborough, timings would benefit substantially.

Ipswich To Cambridge via Bury. St. Edmunds and Newmarket

This is an existing service that will be run by a bi-mode Class 755 train, under the new franchise agreement.

Leeds To Glasgow Via Settle

Why not?

If you look at timings for Leeds to Glasgow, they are typically as follows.

  • 3 hours 58 minutes with an 11 minute change at Haymarket.
  • 4 hours 12 minutes with a 30 minute change at Carlisle
  • 4 hours 4 minutes on a direct train via Edinburgh.

The Settle-Carlisle Line has been stoutly repaired after the 2015-2016 Temporary Closures and is probably in its best state for years, if not ever.

  • Leeds to Skipton is electrified.
  • Carlisle to Glasgow is electrified.
  • Virgin Trains East Coast run to Skipton, using InterCity 225s.

I estimate that a Class 800 train could reduce the journey time to around three-and-a-half hours.

Would that be a successful service considering  driving between Leeds and Glasgow probably takes almost four hours?

July 20, 2017 Posted by | Travel | , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Station For Morriston Hospital

Morriston Hospital is in Swansea or to be more precise it appears to be up the hill and a fair way from Swansea station. I could probably just walk it.

It would appear that there are plans to reopen Cockett station, which would only be ten minutes by train from the main station and close enough  to Morriston Hospital for a shuttle bus.

It would also mean that to get between the Hospital and East Wales, you wouldn’t have to go into Swansea and change trains.

It looks like the Welsh are finally getting access to the hospital acceptable, but so many hospitals don’t have a decent transport connection.

At too many places in the UK, the only reliable way to get from the main station to the local hospital is by hiring a taxi.

Is that acceptable?

February 18, 2017 Posted by | Travel | , , | 1 Comment

The New Depot For Class 800 Trains At Swansea

The electrification to Swansea station may not be ready until 2024, but it looks like they have a depot for thew new Class 800 trains.

This illustrates how badly Network Rail got their planning for electrifying the Great Western Main Line.

October 8, 2016 Posted by | Travel | , | Leave a comment

From Swansea To Ludlow

There is a direct train, but I preferred to take the scenic route via the Heart of Wales Line with a change at Craven Arms station.

It certainly is a good alternative, even if like I did, you have an extra change of trains at Llandrindod.

October 7, 2016 Posted by | Travel | , , , | Leave a comment

The Death Of Traditional Steel Making

If we’re being serious about making steel using the traditional methods of blast furnaces, converters and lots of energy, it’s not a very green process and it contributes to pollution and global warning.

We have a serious oversupply of steel in the world and this page lists production by countries.

In 2014, the world produced 1670 million tonnes of steel, of which we produced just twelve.

Looking at the production levels, there are quite a few countries that produce produce small numbers of million tonnes of steel like we do.

As China produced 822 million tonnes of steel in 2014, how many of these countries will be forced out of steel making in the next few years?

What will save steel making in a lot of countries is improvements in technology.

The parts of the steel industry, that seem to be the most profitable are the downstream uses of the metal, like making rails for railways. In this country, we have a reputation for using steel in innovative ways, but few of these uses need steel made in Britain, although they may need a quality steel to start with.

But that quality steel can come from anywhere with the knowledge to produce it.

China will acquire that knowledge, just as the Japanese did in the 1950s and 1960s.

It is interesting to look at iron ore by country in 2014. Out of a world product total of 3.22 million tonnes, we see.

  • China – 1.5 million
  • Australia – 0.66 million
  • Brazil – 0.32 million
  • India – 0.15 million
  • Russia – 0.1 million

So does this partly explain China’s massive production of steel?

I think Australia and Brazil are the two most important countries on this list. Both have large amounts of energy and because they are ambitious intelligent countries, as the steel-making technology develops, will we see them increasingly becoming makers of quality steel?

I don’t know, but it says to me, that even producing quality steel in a niche market won’t be profitable for long.

The money and employment is in using quality steel, not in making it.

It may be a hard unpopular view, but we should let the rest of the world fight over supplying us with quality steel. If we want security of supply, I’m sure the Aussies would provide it.

As to the steel-making areas like Teesside and South Wales, we have to move on.

The Future On Teesside

In fact Teesside seems to be doing that, if a BBC report this week wasn’t truly negative.

What puzzles me about Teesside, is that there is little mention in the media about York Potash. This is from Wikipedia.

The project intends to mine the world’s largest deposit of polyhalite – a naturally occurring mineral – located on the Yorkshire coast.

The mine site is located outside the village of Sneatonthorpe, between Whitby and Scarborough in North Yorkshire. The project plans to construct two 1,500 m (4,900 ft) shafts to reach the mineral seam which includes a mineable area of around 25,200 hectares (62,000 acres).

To minimise the amount of visible infrastructure within the North York Moors National Park, a protected area, the polyhalite will then be transported 37 kilometres (23.0 miles) in an underground tunnel to the company’s processing plant at Teesside. After granulation and drying, the finished product – marketed by Sirius Minerals as POLY4 – will be exported from the nearby harbour facilities.

Could it be that, this project appears to not be very green and in the minds of many is creating a giant hole in the North York Moors National Park?

My view is that the UK needs more big projects like York Potash, that earn billions of pounds from exports, create thousands of jobs and don’t despoil the environment.

The Future In South Wales

So what have we got for South Wales and Port Talbot in particular?

Nothing as big as York Potash, but there are plans for the world’s first tidal lagoon power station in Swansea Bay Wikipedia says this about the Tidal Lagoon Swansea Bay.

It is planned to be the first of six tidal lagoon power plants to be constructed in the United Kingdom, and one of four planned to be built in Wales. The tidal lagoon would have a capacity of 320 MW.

The project was named as part of the UK government’s 2014 National Infrastructure Plan and was granted planning permission by theDepartment for Energy and Climate Change in June 2015. Power production is expected to begin in 2019. The operational life time of the artificial lagoon is 120 years, effects of global warming have been included in the planning. It is also to be constructed to withstand 500-year-storms and to function as a coastline protection against storms and floods.

So what are we waiting for?

The economics depend very much on the strike price for electricity generated and the Government seems reluctant to set one. I do wonder if they have got themselves tied in knots with trying to build a white elephant at Hinckley Point, that they can’t think of anything else.

Consider.

  • I’m not against nuclear power, but Hinckley Point C is so expensive and its strike price is so high, that it will be a millstone around the necks of energy users for decades.
  • If we want to go nuclear, there are smaller and proven reactor systems available.
  • Electricity generation is going more distributed with the growth of solar panels, local heat and power systems and other technology.
  • Large energy users are changing technology to cut use.
  • The tidal lagoon technology gives protection against storms and floods.
  • Tidal lagoons could be the twenty-first century equivalent of the nineteenth-century seaside pier.
  • If the technology and economics of the tidal lagoon work, it will produce carbon-free electricity for at least 120 years.
  • There are other places, where tidal lagoons could be built.

You could bet your life on the Dutch building a tidal lagoon, but they don’t have the tides.

Rather than back a doomed steelworks, the Government should back the unique energy project of the Tidal Lagoon Swansea Bay.

If the energy economics don’t work out, you still get the coastal protection and leisure facilities.

A Metro For Teesside

The Tees Valley Metro has been in planning mode for some years and I can’t understand why it hasn’t happened yet.

All that seems to have happened is the opening in 2014 of James Cook University Hospital station, which I wrote about in James Cook Station – The Reinvention Of The Halt. The station certainly seems to be attracting a level of use, typical of a station of its type.

I also wrote about the metro in The Creation Of The Tees Valley Metro.

A Metro For South Wales

The Welsh are also keen to create a South Wales Metro for some time. I wrote about my observations on the trains in the area in The Welsh Could Be Having A Lot Of Fun Playing Trains In The Cardiff Valleys.

This project should be beaten into action as soon as possible.

It is interesting to take a look at a Google Map of the coast between Swansea and Port Talbot.

Swansea To Port Talbot

Swansea To Port Talbot

I don’t know the area well, but I know many people, who have enjoyed leisure time spent all along the South Wales Coast.

Perhaps, if the steelworks were to be closed, it could be treated to a Barcelona solution, where their steelworks was closed and the area turned into beaches and parks, which formed part of the Olympics in 1992.

The Tidal Lagoon Swansea Bay would be generally sitting in the western part of the bay.

I believe that a comprehensive South Wales Metro, could go a long way to creating more jobs, than will be inevitably lost at Port Talbot.

Conclusions

Steel production is virtually dead in the UK and we must move on.

If we can find an innovative project to replace steel making, we should back it and as with York Potash, it doesn’t necessarily mean billions of public money.

But decent infrastructure and local rail, tram and bus systems can go a long way to creating the jobs needed everywhere.

In both the examples of Teesside and South Wales, surely if nothin else, a decent metro would give a boost to tourism.

April 1, 2016 Posted by | Travel, World | , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Will We Get A Tidal Power Station At Swansea?

I ask the question after reading about the proposed Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon in the Sunday Times.

I like it, as it doesn’t have the problems of one of my favourite energy developments; the Severn Barrage.

It would appear to be fairly simple, have a sound economic case, the backing of the locals and doesn’t seem to annoy those that love birds more than energy.

It also has some other advantages.

If it works, it can serve as a prototype for other schemes around the UK and the world.

They don’t say whether the sea wall could be used to support wind turbines and whether the generators could be reversed to create some pumped storage facility, but on a quick perusal of the project, it could be an ideal platform on which to mount other zero carbon technologies.

December 22, 2013 Posted by | World | , , | 2 Comments

Lost In Translation

This story from the BBC illustrates the perils of translating.

Two years ago I saw a really  mixed up sign in Swansea.

Mixed Up Signage in Swansea

Mixed Up Signage in Swansea

I think road signs should be in one language only and understandable to everybody who drives past them. Obviously in this one, it should only be in metric units.

August 29, 2013 Posted by | Travel | , , | Leave a comment

Measles On The Way Back

There are reports like this one, that show measles is on the way back, with a large outbreak in Swansea.

I was never vaccinated against it as a child and never caught it, despite the fact that my sister did.

I eventually caught it in about 1973, when my children all had it.  To complicate matters, I also had chicken-pox at the same time.

It didn’t leave me with any lasting effects, but for two weeks, I never got off the sofa, as I felt so wretched.

It was probably, the worst illness I’ve had in my life, from a point of feeling ill.

I would not wish it on my worst enemy.

So get those children immunised.  Those that don’t are stupid!

April 5, 2013 Posted by | Health, News | | 2 Comments