The Anonymous Widower

How Not To Plan A High Speed Railway

The farce that is Fyra might have got a bit better as there are now going to be some extra Thalys trains on the line soon, as is reported here.

But this will only partially compensate for the loss of the Fyra V250 trains and capacity will be nowhere near that needed.

It will also do nothing to get round one of the major design faults of the line; the lack of a branch to the Dutch capital, The Hague. A city incidentally, which doesn’t have an airport well-connected to the city centre, unless you count Schipol.

In some ways the design of the line, would be like the UK, creating a high speed line to Scotland, that bypassed Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds.

The Dutch also have a problem in that their tracks aren’t to the European standard of trains on the left, electrified to 25,000 volts AC, so it makes it difficult for high speed trains to run on secondary lines, as they do in most other European countries, The suburban Class 395 run in rural Kent and on HS1. Like the Thalys, they have a multi-voltage capability.

Another problem is that there aren’t enough Thalys trains and you can’t just rustle up some new ones quickly. In fact I suspect there is a large shortage of rolling stock across Europe and I suppose the real problem, is that because every country seems to work to different standards and local politics, manufacturers rely too much on living on the scraps politicians give them. So say if we need say some extra stock on the East Coast Main Line, we can’t generally borrow from the Germans. Saying that though, but for a few years Regional Eurostar trains did run to Leeds.  But then that train was designed to run in the UK, France and Belgium.

We also complain in this country about orders for trains going to foreign manufacturers, but this is a Europe wide problem.

What we need is standards for railways that apply across most of Europe. When you have travelled on trains as much as I have you realise what a disconnected design it all is.

July 23, 2013 Posted by | Travel | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Slow High Speed Rail

The Dutch and the Belgians have abandoned their new Fyra high-speed trains and are replacing them with coaches hauled by TRAXX locomotives as is reported here.

The Fyra was supposed to run at 250 kph, but they have proved to be very unreliable.  On the other hand the TRAXX-hauled coaches  are probably limited to about 200 kph. So they will have a high-speed line called HSL-Zuid, which has been designed for up to 300 kph, with trains on it running at well below that speed.

It’s a bit like putting the the Class 90s and the Mk 3 coaches you get between London and Norwich, on the East or West Coast Main Line. Some of course, used to work there twenty years ago, so they are a bit clapped, but they are generally more reliable than Fyra, which has been nicknamed the ALDI-trein

In fact here’s an idea!

I’m sure we’ve got some old Class 90s and a few rakes of coaches, we could lend to the Dutch and the Belgians. But there are various problems in that Continental trains are bigger than ours and I don’t think they’d fit the platforms.  They also wouldn’t be able to work all the high-speed line as some parts and the rest of the Netherlands doesn’t use 25kV like the UK and most of Europe.

It would appear the Dutch and the Belgians, with the help of a basket case of an Italian train maker, have dug themselves an enormous hole.  Now they are going to get themselves out of trouble, using an engine built in Germany by a Canadian company.

I wonder how many civil servants and politicians have been fired because of this fiasco?

We may have done a few things wrong with the trains in the last fifty or so years, but we’ve never created anything as bad as this!

July 7, 2013 Posted by | Travel | , , | Leave a comment

A Train Builder With Form

I have been following the farce of the Fyra trains between Brussels and Amsterdam with interest. Modern Railways this month, gives a very full account of the problems and the big row between the Dutch and the Belgians and the Italian company; AnsaldoBreda who built the V250 trains. These trains were incidentally called Albatross by the makers.

I’ve just been reading about AnsaldoBreda on Wikipedia. It says this about the problems the company has had with an order for IC4 trains for Denmark.

Delivery of 83 IC4 trainsets for the Danish State Railways DSB was originally planned for 2003-2006. As of March 2013, 22 trainsets have still not been delivered,[52] On 2 July 2012, the DSB announced that the Transportation Authority had approved Denmark’s railway operator to put back into operation the fleet of 37 IC4s which had been withdrawn from service in November 2011. In December 2011, it was reported that one of the missing IC4 trainsets planned for delivery in Denmark was found in Libya. Reportedly, AnsaldoBreda and then Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi gave Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi the trainset as a present on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of Gaddafi’s revolution in 2009.

I suppose now, it doesn’t work, as there is sand in the bogies!

No wonder the Dutch and the Belgians bought a load of dud trains, that go bunga bunga!

Incidentally, I  was led to look up AnsaldoBreda by looking at the progress of the Midland Metro extension to Birmingham New Street station.  I found that the same Italian company had sold a load of dodgy trams to the Brummies. The details are here.

June 28, 2013 Posted by | Travel | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Belgians Give Up On Fyra

The Belgian government has pulled out of the Fyra project to run high speed trains between Brussels and Amsterdam.  It’s reported here.

This sorry story has a lot of lessons for governments, who try to implement large projects.

Building railway lines and in particular high-speed lines is not difficult, except for the odd local political and environmental problems, as HS1 found in Kent and HS2 is now finding. But the actual line generally works well from an engineering perspective, with the possible exception of the Wenzhou crash in China, where signalling may have been at fault. None of the high speed train crashes in this country, were caused by engineering problems on new lines.

The main problems with Fyra are all about using new unproven trains. No sensible project manager would ever use unproven technology at the heart of a new project. You could argue, that Boeing used an unproven battery system on the Dreamliner.  But look what happened there!

The other major problem with Fyra  is that they discontinued the traditional services between towns like The Hague and Brussels, thus alienating a lot of their target market.

So when you do a large project, make sure that it fits the aspirations of your customers.

If we look at HS2 to Birmingham, the technology to be used to build the line will be very much proven, as hopefully will be the trains, which will probably be derived from something that is working well in the UK or Europe.

The line too, will be an addition to the current services between the two cities.  This in itself removes a lot of risk from this line, as say there is a problem that cuts capacity on HS2, you don’t have only one basket for your eggs. I also believe the competition from such as Chiltern and Virgin trains and their successors, will make sure that HS2 is competitive and reliable. Those two services, will also act as valuable feeder services to HS2, as say you live in Banbury and want to go to Leeds, you’d hop to Moor Street station in Birmingham and then take HS2 to Leeds, when that section of the line is completed.

June 1, 2013 Posted by | News, Travel | , , , , | Leave a comment

Fyra Explained

I have just found this detailed explanation of the Fyra fiasco on the International Railway Journal.

The title of the article is “Fyra problems could be more political than technical” and it starts and finishes with the simple phrase, “What a Mess!”

We may create the odd mess in the UK concerning the trains, but usually it blows over in a couple of days as all the underlying technology is sound and managers and politicians come up with a quick solution.

To cap it all, isn’t the Fyra train one of the most ugly ones, we’ve seen in a long time?

February 28, 2013 Posted by | Travel | , , , | Leave a comment

Building A Station Like A Caisson

I was at the new CrossRail station at Canary Wharf today and took these pictures.

They show the enormous concrete block of a station and the walkway, that will connect it to the area of Canada Square and its offices.

Note how the main building looks almost like one of the giant caissons used for Mulberry Harbours, that were used in the Second World War to invade Normandy.

These giant Phoenix caissons, were actually built in these docks, after they had been drained and filled with sand. They were then floated out for the invasion. I’ve actually been in several of these amazing concrete structures in The Netherlands, where they were used to fill the last gap in the dykes after the North Sea Flood of 1953. They are now a museum, dedicated to the floods and those who perished.

It’s rather strange how history is repeating itself in a similar manner.  I suppose though, that the engineers know that the ground is strong enough to take the weight of the station.

It does look from this web page on the Crossrail web site, that Canary Wharf Crossrail station is going to be worth the wait until 2018, although it will be substantially complete by the end of this summer.

The highlight of spring and summer will be the tunnelling machines passing through on their way to Farringdon station.

February 6, 2013 Posted by | Travel | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Fyra Replaced By Slow Train To The Hague

This article from the Europe by Rail web site is a lesson to all those politicians and civil servants, who think they understand the transport needs of the general public. This is the first paragraph.

The Belgian Railway authorities this afternoon announced the return of old-style InterCity services from Brussels to stations in the Netherlands. This is to provide some kind of replacement for the short-lived FYRA service, introduced in December 2012 and then withdrawn last month.

The service has actually lasted less than two months.

There is also a sting in the tail of the article.

Meanwhile, coach operators have spotted a gap in this busy cross-border market. One company starts a new express link from Rotterdam to Brussels early next month.

After all, the UK has a large network of long distance coach services that compete with rail, so why not between Brussels and big centres of population in The Netherlands/

February 2, 2013 Posted by | Travel | , , , , | 2 Comments

Booking A Train From London To The Hague

Just out of curiosity, I looked at how much it would cost me to go from St. Pancras to The Hague next Wednesday, the 30th of January.

So I looked up on the Belgian Rail web site called  They offer two routes.

You can go to Brussels Midi, where you take a train to Essen in Germany and then another one to Rosendaal in The Netherlands, from where you get a Dutch train to The Hague. For this Grand Tour of the Low Countries you will pay £114.42.

Alternatively, you can take the Thalys from Brussels to Rotterdam and then take the train to The Hague. It will be 17 minutes quicker, but you can’t book it in Second Class, so it’ll cost you £188.75 in First.

I have done the single leg in the past for under £100  and I can book it for about £60 by means of easyJet.

So who would use the train from London to The Hague?

Not this enthusiast for rail travel, for a start!

It’s all double-Dutch to me!



January 27, 2013 Posted by | Travel, World | , , | Leave a comment

The Warning That Was Ignored

On the BBC web site, there is this article about the sinking of the ferry Princess Victoria on the 31st January 1951.

The BBC article gives a full time-line of the sinking of the ferry until she sent her last radio message at 13:58. But it leaves out anything of what happened later.

As a child for a few years I lived in Felixstowe and I can still remember the dark marks on the walls of the houses in Langer Road, showing how high the North Sea Floods of 1953 rose later on that fateful day, killing some 38 people in that end of the town.

Many more died in The Netherlands and Flanders.

Sad that the sinking of the Princess Victoria was, it seems inconceivable today, that the warning wasn’t heeded and so many deaths and damage occurred.

I hope we have learned from what happened that night.

January 27, 2013 Posted by | World | , , , | Leave a comment

Dutch MPs Show Their Confidence In Fyra

This story about the Dutch Aunt Sally, just adds to the mess the of the high speed train.

But as Fyra doesn’t actually go to The Hague, where the Dutch parliament sits, they would have to change at Rotterdam or drive there anyway.

January 26, 2013 Posted by | Travel | , , | Leave a comment