Railways Blog

A blog about trains, covering photography, railway history, transport politics and modelling, in no particular order.

The Bari Train Crash and Railway Safety.

It was overshadowed by the much greater tragedy in France just a few days later, and doesn’t give us any stock villains for three-minute-hates. But the tragic train crash in Italy, following so quickly from the very similar crash in Germany raises a lot of questions about rail safety.

On the RMWeb forum, which has a lot of knowledgeable people including many who work in the rail industry, the resulting discussion on signalling systems for single-track lines and how they might be improved includes positive words for the software testing profession.

The system itself would be cheap, but the testing needed to demonstrate that it’s safe (and idiot proof) to the appropriate regulatory authorities is going to be quite expensive. Proper software testers(*) aren’t cheap.

From what I can tell, the Italian system appears to be a variation on the Telegraph and Train Order system without the use of either a physical single-line token or a virtual equivalent, a practice long since superceded in Britain. There is a far higher risk of human error leading to a fatal accident.

Though there have been quite a few head-on collisions in Britain resulting from conflicting movements across junctions, including the Ladbrooke Grove disaster, I can only think of two single-line collisions in the past century, at Abermule in 1921 and Cowden in 1994. That’s some safety record.

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N Gauge Society announce a Carflat

At the AGM yesterday, the N Gauge Society announced their next ready-to-run model will be the BR Carflat.

These vehicles were built from the mid-1960s using the underframes of redundant coaching stock. They were used both for freight services carrying newly-built vehicles, and for the distinctive “Motorail” trains carrying holidaymakers to Scotland and Cornwall.

Though the Motorail trains ceased in the 1980s with the growth of the motorway network, the Carflats continues in use in freight traffic until replaced by more modern wagons around the turn of the century.

The model will be made by Bachmann, and will be available in six versions. representing both Motorail and freight versions. Like all N Gauge Society models they’re exclusive to members, and the N Gauge Society is now taking pre-orders for delivery next year.

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EC91 “Vauban”

To some people, this picture captures the appeal of the railways of continental Europe. It’s Euro-City Train 91, carrying the name “Vauban”, which at the time ran from Brussels to Milan, and seen here at Kandersteg in in the heart of the Swiss Alps. Like a lot of international trains at the time, it’s a heterogeneous mix of coaching stock from different national systems, the leading coaches from the Belgian state railway SNCB, the rear ones from the Swiss federal railways. And the train is running on the metals of the private Bern Lötchberg Simplon.

Over the years I’ve managed to accumulate a fair few N-gauge SNCB coaches from Arnold and Roco in assorted liveries with a view to modelling this train, most recently some unboxed Arnold factory clearance stock for a fiver each! I can’t recreate the exact formation of this train because no manufacturer has ever made the newer I11 coaches (second, fourth and fifth in the formation). But a few Google image searches have brought up pictures from a few years earlier showing formations I can represent with the coaches I’ve got.

To the uninitiated it looks like a random jumble of coaches. But every coach is there for a reason, and once you get your head round the carriage workings it starts to make sense. Like many long-distance trains passing through Switzerland it’s made up of an international portion plus a Swiss portion for local passengers within the country. I don’t know the exact reason the Belgian through coaches are a mix of types, but the more modern I11 coaches were used predominately on internal Belgian services rather than longer-distance workings. Perhaps there weren’t enough left over for international use for a complete train? Likewise the Swiss portion has one first class EWIV coach, and three much older EWIs for second class.

Researching train formations for a prototype-based layout can be as interesting as building and operating the actual model. Any parallels with software testing or analysis is left as an exercise for the reader.

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Nigel Gresley’s Birthday

To celebrate the 147th birthday of Sir Nigel Gresley, here’s Big Big Train performing the song East Coast Racer.

When asked where they stand on the great Gresley Duck argument, they responded that they’d made a careful assessment of the situation, then wrote a song about a pigeon.

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What is an Automated Derailment?

Paddington Station is in chaos because of a derailed train. An empty three-car DMU has ended up with all three coaches on the ballast, and managed to hit a catenery gantry. Photos that appeared online make it look as though Thomas the Thames Turbo didn’t want to carry the commuters home and decided to sit and sulk instead.

Network Rail have described it as the train going through a red signal and causing an “Automated Derailment”, which to the uninitated does sound like an odd turn of phrase.

It actually derailed on a trap point, which is designed to protect the exit from a siding when the main line isn’t clear for a train to leave the siding. A low speed derailment such as happened outside Paddington would be far less dangerous than a collision with another train.

The above film is from The Great Central Railway back in 2013, and shows a trap point doing what it’s supposed to so. It’s on a heritage railway using traditional mechanical signalling, but the principle is just the same.

Notice that the signal is at danger, and stays at danger. According to the comments the derailment you see happen was the result of a signaller error; the signaller gave the driver an instruction to proceed past the signal even though it was at danger, but hadn’t set the points correctly.

Red faces all around. Fortunately nobody was hurt, and the damage was repairable.

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Haltwhistle to Alston

A short film of last days of the Haltwhistle to Alston branch, one of a handful of lines that managed to survve the 60s Beeching axe only to succumb to closure in the mid-1970s.

I visited Haltwhisle a couple of years ago. Though it’s no longer a junction, the station is still open on the cross-country line from Newcastle to Carlisle. The distinctive North Eastern Railway footbridge and the magnificent elevated signalbox shown at the beginning are still in use. I walked along the Alston branch trackbed as far as the viaduct across the Tyne shown early in the film, which is still standing.

The BR blue four-car DMUs that were always associated with the North-East of England are long gone now, like the Alston branch itself.

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Vivarail in Action

A short video clip of Vivarail’s “D-Train”, now designated the Class 230, in action.

It’s rebuild of redundant London Underground D78 stock, replaced by new trains on the District Line. Their aluminium bodies and relatively new running gear and traction equipment give them quite a few more years of useful life, and the D-Train concept aims to make use of it.

It’s a diesel-electric, using new underfloor engine and generator sets to power the existing traction motors. The trains are intended for regional and commuter use, perhaps as a replacement for the unloved Pacers. Their only weakness is their top speed of only 60mph, which will render them unsuitable for some routes; even the Pacers can allegedly do 75.

It’s an interesting concept, which provides additional DMUs at far less cost than brand-new stock, and seems like an ideal short-term option for routes scheduled for electrification in the longer term.

But does anyone else read Vivarail, and think Vivarais, which is a preserved metre-gauge line in southern France? Or is it just me?

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Gerry Anderson tech moves from Russia to China

There ought to be a prize for rediculously “out there” engineering ideas. This one’s described as as a ‘straddling bus’ design to beat traffic jams though since it runs on rails it’s technically a tram rather than a bus.

All it needs is for International Rescue to save the day when something goes horribly wrong.

Click in the link to watch the video on the Guardian site.

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More new trains for TransPennine Express

First Trans-Pennine have announced more new trains for the North and Scotland. In keeping with their new image as an inter-city operator, the new rolling stock will be inter-city style rather than the regional type trains in use on their routes at the moment.

Half of the new trains will be 125mph EMUs for their Anglo-Scottish services from Liverpool and Manchester that run up the west coast main line. More interesting is that the other half, for the Manchester-Newcastle route, will be locomotive-hauled stock using class 68 locomovives. Some of these locomotives are already in use with Chiltern Trains hauling extensively refurbished  Mk3 stock, but Trans-Pennine’s order represents the first new loco-hauled daytime stock since the ECML Mk4 fleet in the 1980s.

It may well be that the decision to go for loco-hauled trains is a consequence of the postponed electrification of the route. Separating the traction from the coaching stock means that when the wires finally go up over Standedge, it will be a matter of swapping electric locomotives for the diesels, with the same coaches.

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Farewell to Banbury’s Semaphores

A few photos of Banbury, which despite being on a very busy main line still retains semaphore signalling controlled from two magnificent Great Western signalboxes. All this is due to be swept away in August when the whole area is resignalled. Here’s the North box, photographed from the end of the platform under the road bridge.

Banbury has unusual signalling in that the two main lines are fully signalled with modern multiple aspect colour light signalling, but the bay platforms and goods loops retain WR lower-quadrant semphores.

South Box is the smaller of the two, and it’s location makes it harder to get close-up photos. Passing it is freightliner’s 66552 on a lengthy engineers’s train, and some of the “Orange Army” engaged in preparatory work for the resignalling.

68010 at Banbury

One of Chiltern Trains’ locomotive-hauled push-pull trains, with 68010 propelling the train towards London Marylebone. Chiltern’s loco-hauled services began with EWS class 67s and refurbished former west coast main line Mk3 coaches. More recently brand new class 68s have replaced the 67s. These locomotives are the first mixed-traffic diesel locomotives to be delivered in Britain since the class 50s in 1967.

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