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.
- 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?
This article in Rail echnology Magazine is entitled Midland Metro tram shipped to Spain for battery fit-out ahead of OLE-free operation.
It describe how Tram 18 is on its way to Zaragoza to be fitted with lithium-ion batteries, so that the UK’s first battery tram can start running in 2019, after the track is laid to Victoria Square in Birmingham and the railway station in Wolverhampton.
The extensions at both ends of the Midland Metro in Birmingham and Wolverhampton City Centres will be a first for the UK, in that they will be catenary-free and the trams will run on battery power.
This Google Map shows the area, where the initial extension will go in Birmingham City Centre.
Places of interest are.
- The cathedral is in the North-East corner.
- New Street station is in the South-East corner.
- Victoria Square and the Town Hall are just to the East of the middle.
- Centenary Square is towards the West side.
This description comes from this page on the Metro Alliance web site.
840m of twin track from Birmingham Grand Central at Stephenson Street, up Pinfold Street through Victoria Square, Paradise St, past Paradise Circus into Centenary Square at Broad St.There will be an intermediate stop outside the Town Hall in Victoria Square, and we will interface with the Navigation Street link.
One of the problems at the moment, is that the development of Paradise Birmingham, seems to sit in the middle of the route.
These pictures show the area of Victoria Square and the route up from New Street station.
- The steep hill of Pinfold Street.
- The route seemed to have been prepared ready for the track to be fitted into the road surface.
- Utilities seemed to have been moved.
- When I took the pictures, the Midland Metro had parked a tram at the limit of the current track at the bottom of Pinfold Street.
Climbing The Hill
You can’t accuse Birmingham of lacking ambition, as Pinfold Street is a proper hill.
- It is the only steep hill on the route to Centenary Square.
- The tram will start the ascent with full batteries.
- There will be no problems coming down.
- This extension is only 840 metres in length.
- The MetroCentro in Seville has used similar technology on a 1.4 km. route since 2007.
- CAF have technology that charges batteries fast.
- Battery technology has moved on in the last ten years.
If in practice, it does prove a difficult climb, overhead wires could be put on sufficient of the lower part of the up-track on Pinfold Street.
These wires wouldn’t be visible from Victoria Square, so wouldn’t effect the architectural integrity pf the area.
Onward to Edgbaston
According to this article in Rail Technology Magazine, the further four kilometre extension to Egbaston, is also intended to be catenary-free.
As the trams could be charged at Edgbaston, I think this could be possible.
But I doubt CAF would propose the use of batteries, if they hadn’t already proven the range, which is not outrageous.
The Next Step
I looked at a lot of the route of the first section to Victoria Square today, and it would appear that the roadway has been prepared for fitting the track.
So could we see an accelerated development of the first part of the extension?
It would be a good test of the technology, with little risk to the Midland Metrolink!
If the trams can’t make the hill on baqtteries, it would need to be wired, but you could always blame Spanish engineering.
It is a very well-designed scheme.
I wonder, if we’ll see Edinburgh batteries on their CAF trams?
This article in Rail Technology Magazine is entitled Midland Metro tram shipped to Spain for battery fit-out ahead of OLE-free operation.
One Midland Metro tram has been sent back to the factory in Zaragoza to be fitted with two roof-mounted lithium-ion cells and after testing it will be returned to the West Midlands in the Autumn, where more testing will be performed, prior to starting running on the catenary-free streets of Birmingham and Wolverhampton.
After a successful completion of testing on the first tram, the other twenty trams will be converted.
This is said in the article about costs.
The total cost to the WMCA of fitting out the fleet will be £15.5m, but the authority says that it will save £9.24m on infrastructure costs on the first four extensions to the Metro network alone, with further infrastructure savings planned as future extensions take place.
So the savings can go a long way to help pay for the trams to run on the four extensions.
The cost of the modifications to each tram is £738,000, but if the infrastructure savings are factored in, the modifications cost just £298,000 per tram.
I also wonder if the layout of the Midland Metro, with a fairly long wired central section and a catenary-free section at either end is ideal for battery operation, as the trams will have a long section to fully charge the batteries.
But it looks like trams will reach Victoria Square and Wolverhampton station in 2019, Edgbaston in 2021 and the Eastside extension to Curzon Street will be completed in 2023.
Perhaps, the most interesting section in the article is this paragraph.
The WMCA is also evaluating a proposed Wednesbury to Brierley Hill extension to identify the viability of catenary-free sections.
Could this mean that the South Staffordshire Line, which will be used for the extension will be without catenary? As the tram does small detours into Dudley and at the Merry Hill Shopping Centre, then these sections could be wired to charge the batteries, leaving the South Staffordshire Line without any wires. I estimate that the distance the tram would travel would be about seven miles each way.
As Network Rail want to run both trams and freight trains on the South Staffordshire Line, this might allow both to share an unelectrified line, if they have the right wheel and track profiles.
There certainly seems to be some very innovative ideas around, when it comes to using trains and trams in City Centres.
This article on the BBC is entitled Green group wins air pollution court battle.
This is the start of the article.
Campaigners have won the latest battle in legal action against the UK Government over levels of air pollution.
A judge at the High Court in London ruled in favour of environmental lawyers ClientEarth.
The group called air pollution a “public health crisis” and said the government has failed to tackle it.
The ruling in the judicial review called the government’s plan “woefully inadequate”.
As my mate Brian would have said, the \government has been screwed, glued and tattooed, by the Judge.
Does Pollution Affect Me?
I feel very strongly about this, as in the 1940s and 1950s, I suffered badly from the pollution of the time.
Now pollution levels are cutting out the vitamin D producing UVB rays of the sun. Could this be the rason for my low vitamin D levels?
No Magic Bullet
So what can the Government do to meet the European Emission Standards?
There is no magic bullet, but I believe that a raft of measures can gradually bring the levels of pollution down.
Reduction Of All Road Transport
One of London’s problems is that the amount of traffic in the city, means that a lot of the vehicles are stationery and just causing pollution.
I suspect this is a problem in many other cities.
So measures must be taken to reduce the level of all traffic.
- London needs more Park-and-Ride sites. Do other cities?
- Differential congestion charging and residents parking, so the polluter pays.
- More cycling superhighways to encourage cycling.
- City centre parking must be taxed, with the money funding public transport.
- Aggressive illegal parking control.
- Automatic box junction enforcement.
- 20 mph speed limit to make walking easier.
- Area average speed control.
- Reduction of the number of taxis and mini-cabs.
I particularly like the concept of having a grid of linked speed cameras in a city and then issuing a ticket automatically, if the limit is exceeded between two cameras.
Reduction Of Diesel-Powered Transport
As nitrogen dioxide from diesels is the main source of the pollution, we should aim to eliminate as many diesel-powered vehicles, as is practical.
- Reduction of diesel vehicles will need legislation, probably backed up with government money.
- Buses, taxis and local delivery vehicles will need to be hybrid or electric.
- There must be progressive bans for diesel vehicles not meeting the latest standards.
- Diesel scrapping schemes have been introduced in certain places.
I particularly like the idea, where in an experiment involving Sainsburys, supplies for the supermarkets were delivered by train into Euston at three in the morning and then delivered around Central London by low-emission vehicles.
Increase In Electrically-Powered Transport
This is the key to reducing a lot of pollution in cities.
- Electric and hybrid vehicles.
- Trams to replace buses.
- Development of electric rail lines.
- More cross-city rail lines like Crossrail 2 and the Camp Hill Line.
I also think we’ll see some innovative solutions, like the PRT system, I wrote about in A Visit To Heathrow Terminal 5.
The problem of improving transport systems is well-illustrated in Chelsea, where some selfish locals don’t want Crossrail 2, as it might hinder them driving their tractors.
I shall now expand a few of those topics and add a few more ideas.
They are in alphabetical order.
Battery trains are an alternative to full electrification, where one or both ends of the line to be electrified, already have electrification.
The Greenford Branch is an obvious possibility.
- The line is only 4.3 km. long.
- The bay platform at West Ealing station could be easily electrified to charge the trains.
- Either a new train or a refurbished one with batteries could work the line.
- Two trains would be needed to run the promised four trains per hour service.
- Little new infrastructure would be needed.
I believe that battery trains are an affordable alternative to full electrification.
Battery trams are being introduced into Birmingham to extend the Midland Metro. This article in the Railway Gazette, which is entitled Midland Metro trams to be converted for catenary-free operation, gives full details.
- The only construction required is to lay the rails, build the stops and install the signalling.
- Putting up overhead wires in a historic or sensitive city centre can be a legal and logistical nightmare and very expensive.
- Battery trams work in Seville and Nanjing.
- Trams charge the battery at either a charging station or when running under wires outside of the centre.
I can see a time, when in city centres, most trams will be battery-powered.
It will be interesting to see how Brummies take to their battery trams.
Compare arriving in Birmingham New Street and Euston stations, needing to go a few miles to say Centenary or Trafalgar Squares respectively.
At Euston, you go to the nearest bus stop, look up the spider map with all the destinations from Euston and it tells you how to get to about a hundred locations. Job done!
But in Birmingham, the brand new station doesn’t have that information on display in an easy-to-understand form.
Birmingham isn’t too bad and is certainly better than Manchester, but why can’t cities copy the London system.
You may get to these places easily, but the connecting and ticketing arrangements, tell you to bring your car next time.
Contactless Bank Card Ticketing
London now allows anybody to use their contactless bank card, as a ticket on all modes of public transport.
I don’t have the figures, but I believe that every time a new feature is added, like the new Bus Hopper, there is an increase in public transport usage.
After London’s experiences, I have no doubt, that contactless bank card ticketing increases the use of public transport and removes traffic from the roads.
Introducing contactless bank card ticketing, should be a condition of Central Government finance for public transport projects.
But every city in the world will introduce this form of ticketing!
Not doing it, will make sure visitors don’t come back and tell their friends what a crap place they’ve visited.
Cross-City Railways And Trams
A lot of cities and conurbations have a lot more traffic and the resulting pollution, as getting from one side of the city to the other is not easy, without driving through the city centre.
As an example, Crossrail will improve access to Heathrow from East and South-East London, where the alternative is a drive round the M25 or through the city centre, on congested roads. But Crossrail is only one of many successful cross-city routes in the UK.
- The Central, District, Jubilee, Metropolitan, Northern, Piccadilly and Victoria Lines of the London Underground.
- The East, North and West London Lines and the Gospel Oak to Barking Line of the London Overground.
- Thameslink in London
- The Northern Line in Liverpool.
- The Cross-City Line and Snow Hill Lines in Birmingham
- The East and West Coastway Lines in Brighton.
- The Metro in Newcastle.
- The Nottingham Express Transit in Nottingham.
- The Valley Lines in Cardiff
All of these lines are well-used and there are plans to upgrade those, not to the standard of the London Overground.
If I have my window open, I can sometimes hear several delivery trucks call at my various neighbours in a short period of time.
This is not efficient and surely something better can be done.
I was once offered delivery of a small parcel to my Local Sainsburys, which is about a hundred metres away.
Organised properly with enough drop points, that must be more efficient and convenient.
This is one we don’t need to worry about, as the big shopping groups will make it happen as they go for greater sales and more profits.
Park-and-Ride is a good way of keeping, passenger cars away from City Centres.
Nottingham may be a lot smaller than London, but it is a city that has designed the Nottingham Express Transit with several Park-and-Ride sites, at the edges of the city.
Compare that with the non-existent Park-and-Ride provision on Crossrail, which I wrote about in Crossrail’s Park-And-Ride Facilities.
Electrification of rail routes across cities and replacing diesel trains with electric ones, is always an option to cut pollution.
- London is currently electrifying the Gospel Oak to Barking Line and this will also allow noisy and polluting Class 66 diesel locomotives to replaced with electric ones on freight trains on this route.
- Lines in Liverpool and Birmingham are also being electrified.
- Electric trains also seem to be passenger magnets as the Class 378 trains of the London Overground have shown.
But remember, that every passenger on an electric train, can’t be using their car and is rteducing their pollution footprint.
Rewards For Going Car-Free
I have met several people recently, who have given up owning a car in Central London.
So could those, who don’t bring their car into the congested area, receive some form of reward.
Cambridge station used to be an easy station to use, in that, when you arrived, you either got a taxi from outside the station or walked across the road to get a bus to the centre.
Since the dreaded busway has been built, the buses are about as well-organised as the Labour Party, with information designed to confuse visitors.
Yesterday, it was particularly bad, when I decided to pop in to the City to have a coffee with a friend, on my way to football at Ipswich. There wasn’t a bus in sight and the queue for the taxis was totally blocking pedestrians wanting to get out of the station.
In fact, I took about five minutes to actually get off the platform as it was so busy.
In the end, I walked into the City Centre.
Getting back, I was running late, so I decided to take a bus. But could I find one? No!
So in the end, I took a taxi, which had to take a very roundabout route. Getting into the station was just as bad as getting out had been, but I caught my train with a couple of minutes to spare.
The train is the big improvement on the line between Cambridge and Ipswich.
In 2010, this was a typical train on the route.
At least that day, it was two Class 153 trains, when often it was just one crowded carriage.
Yesterday, the train was a comfortable three-car Class 170 train.
This is a lot better and with the new franchise in October, I think it could be signalled, as getting better again.
But all of this increase in capacity, is straining Cambridge station even further.
At present, the problems at Cambridge seem to be caused by too many people going in different directions, whose routes seem to conflict with each other. Many of these are first time visitors and foreign topurists, who just wander aimlessly around, causing even more conflict.
Cambridge North station, when it eventually opens, might help, as many will cycle and drive to the new station. It will also make it a lot easy to get to the North of the City.
I think, that if most Cambridge trains serve both stations in the future, I’ll go to Cambridge North and get a bus into the City Centre to avoid the scrum at Cambridge station, which I’m sure will get worse, as more and more trains are scheduled between London and Cambridge. At least Thameslink have decided to go to Cambridge North.
One of the problems is that Cambridge station is on a cramped site, which is not an easy walk to the City Centre for the average visitor.
The walking route to the centre is along Station Road and then Hills Road, where the payments are crowded and not very wide.
It is my view that something radical needs to be done.
But Cambridge’s problem is not unique and getting from the station to the town or city centre is a problem in many places like Bristol, Leicester, Norwich and Oxford to name just four. Nottinghamd Sheffield have used trams to solve the problem, but I don’t think that woiuld work for everyone, as the disruption of building would be just too much.
So what would I do at Cambridge?
It must be a nightmare living on the South-East side of the station opposite to the main station buildings. An entrance on the other side of the station would surely help.
If you take Euston, Kings Cross, Liverpool Lime Street, Sheffield and a few other stations, the area in front of the station has been turned into a public space, so that people can gather their thoughts and plan their next move. It would appear from the amount of building at Cambridge station, that this is now impossible.
I decent walking and cycling route to the centre must be created.
In the future, I feel that Cambridge probably needs an innovative Street Tram, as do many other places.
It would have the following characteristics.
- It would be battery-powered and charged at each end of the route.
- It would be double-ended, so it would just reverse at the end of the route.
- It could be on rails or rubber tyres on a single-line segregated track.
- The vehicle would have three or four segments to give a high capacity.
- It doesn’t have to be single-deck vehicles.
- Why not double-deck vehicles with panoramic windows for tourists?
- It would be free.
If a passing loop could be built at half-way then the route could be run by two vehicles. Or in Cambridge’s case perhaps a different route could be used in each direction.
The nearest thing to what I have described is the 1.4 km long MetroCentro in Seville.
I would feel that a track-less solution based on bus-technology might be better, as in a congested City Centre ;like Cambridge the route could be flexible.
The size and weight of these are very similar to that of one of Sheffield’s trams.
Many, if not all, trams in the UK run to a set of rules, which allow the following.
- Running at up to 50 mph on a dedicated track, which can be either single or double track.
- Running at slower speeds through City Centres and amongst pedestrians, as they do through Birmingham, Blackpool, Croydon, Edinburgh, Manchester, Nottingham and Sheffield
- Trams are driven, by a trained driver, who takes notice of everything and everybody around the tram.
- Passengers can cross the track in designated places provided they keep a good look-out.
- Passengers can only board a tram at a designated stop.
- All rail vehicles run to the same rules.
The rules must work, as you don’t often hear of trams having accidents with pedestrians. In fact fourteen people have died in accidents with modern trams in the UK since 2000. The rate seems to have dropped in recent years, so are drivers getting better and pedestrians learning how to live with the trams?
I believe that in Zwickau in Germany, local trains, run on the tram tracks in the City Centre. There’s more on it under Vogtlandbahn in Wikipedia.
So could some branch lines be run according to tram rules, but using standard modern trains, like Class 172 or Class 710 trains?
In A First Visit To Clacton, I said this about the Walton-on-the-Naze branch of the Sunshine Coast Line.
I do wonder whether some branches like the short one to Walton-on-the Naze could be run to tram rules using on-board energy storage. It might enable stations to be built step-free without electrification, lifts and bridges, provided trains kept to a safe slow speed.
In an ideal system, the rules could be.
- No electrification. Zwickau uses diesel vehicles, but ones using on-board energy storage would be ideal.
- Trains do not exceed an appropriate slow speed. Zwickau uses 80 kph.
- Step free access from platform to train.
- All trains on the line run to the same rules.
- No freight trains.
The advantages would be.
- There is no electrification.
- Signalling is standard railway signals and rules. Often routes would run under One Train Working, which is very safe and well proven.
- Many routes could be built as single-track without points and like the Sudbury branch trains would go out and back.
- DMUs would be exactly, the same as others of their type.
- EMUs would be too, but would have on-board energy storage.
- Extra stations could be added to the line, by just building platforms.
- The line could perhaps be extended past its current terminus.
I must get to Zwickau and see how the Germans do it.
A few examples of lines that could run to these rules include.
- Sudbury Branch
- St. Ives Branch
- Walton-on-the-Naze Branch of the Sunshine Coast Line
- Windermere Branch
Whether some of these would need it, is doubtful. Some though, like Sudbury and St.Ives, terminate as a single platform in a car park.
The Felixstowe Branch certainly couldn’t as it has lots of freight trains, although the final section, from where it branches off the line to Felixstowe Port could.
I said that no freight trains could run on the routes, but those devilish Germans have designed a freight tram that runs in Dresden to supply the Volswagen factory in the city. It’s called a Cargo Tram.
Could this be a way of bringing freight into a City Centre? as I said in The LaMiLo Project, this type of thinking is in the minds of planners.
When I’m in Edinburgh, I always think that the overhead wires for the trams are over-elaborate and intrusive.
The picture was taken as I arrived. Compare that picture, with this one in the centre of Birmingham.
The Birmingham design is a lot simpler and as the trams are both from the same builder, you can’t say that the Midland Metro is designed to easier rules. This system could surely have been used on Princes Street, where I took this picture.
There is no excuse for bad design.
The Midland Metro is also showing the way for its extension, by using battery power through the historic centre.