Travel & Transport Blog

Never forget whole purpose of railways is to transport people and good from A to B. This sub-blog covers things like railway history, transport politics and book reviews.

What Plandampf Should Be Next?

Arriva class 150 at Blaenau Ffestiniog
How about replacing this with a steam train for a day or three?

After the success of the plandampf on the Settle and Carlisle line using 60103 “Tornado”, what other routes would be good candidates for something similar?

For the uninitiated, plandampf is a German word describing steam locomotives taking over regular scheduled services for a few days or a weekend rather than the more usual one-off special that doesn’t appear in the public timetable. It’s been a popular thing in Germany for many years.

Here are a few suggestions; since steam locomotives are restricted to 75mph on the main lines it rules out inter-city routes, much as we’d love to see a King running from Paddington to Plymouth instead of a High Speed Train.

The Conwy Valley line

This spectacularly scenic line is one of Wales’ best-kept secrets, the one surviving standard-gauge line to run into the mountainous heart of Snowdonia, and also connects with the narrow-gauge Ffestiniog railway. As an operationally self-contained line, it’s ideal, and the current timetable allows a single train to operate the entire service, though a second locomotive might be needed to speed up the turn-round at Llandudno. The passing loop at Llanrwst North would also allow two-train operation for a more intensive service.

The Central Wales line

This is much longer scenic trip from Swansea to Shrewsbury over a meandering route through the hills of mid-Wales that allegedly only survived the Beeching cuts because it ran through so many marginal parliamentary constituencies. It has the advantage that there’s a triangle to turn the locomotive at both ends of the line, so no tender-first running over the most scenic part of the route The one potential problem is the reversal at Llanelli, though top-and-tail working with a diesel for the short section between Swansea and Llanelli might be one solution here.

Par to Newquay

This is another of those scenic Cinderella lines that, like the Conwy Valley, is crying out for some heritage traction. Lack of any run-round facilities at the Newquay end means top-and-tail working will be necessary, but it will likely need two locomotives to keep to time on those grades in any case; back in the steam days holiday trains needed banking on the 1 in 37 up the Luxulyan valley. A train with a Castle or Hall at the front and a 52XX 2-8-0T at the back would something to see slogging up that grade.

The Greenford Loop

For something completely different, how about this short and self-contained shuttle from West Ealing to Greenford in west London? Rather than a day out behind a big main-line locomotive this is ideal for a Great Western auto-train and the recently-restored steam railcar. The line is double track, so there’s the opportunity have two trains running at the same time.

Over to you. What lines would you love to see taken over by heritage traction for a day or three?

Posted in Travel & Transport | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Eurostar Refurbishment

Eurostar RefurbThere’s an interesting photo-article in Wired UK showing the refurbishment of one of the twenty year old original Eurostar sets at their depot in Lille.

What the article fails to mention is that only a handful of the original sets will be receiving this treatment; the rest are going for scrap, replaced by new Siemens e320s. I can understand the logic for fleet replacement at this stage when the old trains contain a lot of dated technology and replacements result in increased operating efficiency. But I can’t think of a precedent, in Britain at least, for major mid-life refurbishment of just a minority of a fleet.

There is presumably a perfectly good reason for this, but I haven’t seen it expressed anywhere.

Posted in Travel & Transport | Tagged | 1 Comment

First class 88 electro-diesel arrives in Britain

The first of Direct Rail Services class 88 electro-diesels has been delivered to the operator’s depot in Carlisle. The class 88 is the first 25kV AC electro-diesel to run in Britain, and like the DC class 73s from the 1960s is intended to be used as a electric locomotive with “last mile” capability enabling it to reach freight terminals off the electrified network. It’s now set to undergo an eight-week testing program.

As a tester I’d love to know more about the test programme. What’s involved in testing a new design of locomotive?

Posted in Travel & Transport | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Vivarail publish report on the Kenilworth fire

Vivarail have just published a full report on December’s fire at Kenilworth (pdf) during a test run of their class 230 DEMU. They identify the cause as a fuel leak, and note several design improvements that need to be made to avoid a repetition. The whole thing is an interesting read for anyone concerned with testing.

Having your train catch fire during what amounts to a full system test is a pretty serious failure by anyone’s standards, and it’s forced the abandonment of plans for a passenger trial this May. But despite the naysayers who seemed all too keen to dance on Vivarail’s grave, it’s a long way from terminating the project.

The concept of converting surplus trains from London Underground’s District Line into diesel trains by installing underfloor diesel generator sets to power the existing traction motors is a sound one. With running gear and motors dating from 2005 the trains have twenty years’ life left in them, and the conversions are far cheaper than new-build DMUs. There is some political resistance to “London’s hand-me-downs”, but something has got to replace the Pacers.

Posted in Travel & Transport | Tagged | 1 Comment

Blue and Grey in the late 1960s

British Rail, Rail Blue Part 1 the 1960s (New Version). from Lewisham Bill on Vimeo.

One for anyone interested in some late 1960s nostalgia, whether it’s the trains or the music that forms the soundtrack.

There’s a lot of great footage of the southern end of the electrified West Coast main line, the West of England main line and the Southern Region out of Waterloo, as well as a bit of the Eastern Region, and a very brief glimpse of Scotland. There are Westerns and Warships, Blue Pullmans, 4-CORs and Deltics.

But this is not just about the locomotives, but the coaches. What makes this one interesting from a railway modelling standpoint is that is that much of the time it shows the whole train. Because film was expensive, much 60s cine film focused on the locomotive and tended to stop after the first couple of coaches, which is frustrating if you’ve modelling the era and want to know something of the train formations. This one is different.

It’s from a time when blue and grey was beginning to dominate, many Mk1s still wore maroon, and the Mk2a was the newest carriage on the railway. There are some interesting oddities; look out for the remarkably clean Stanier BG at St. Pancras in the long-obsolete crimson livery, and the maroon Gresley buffet at Teignmouth.

Posted in Travel & Transport | Tagged | Comments Off

The Silk Railway

Silk Road LocoSome textbook transport-illiterate sub-editing from The Guardian here on the return of the silk road.

No, that Chinese hood-style diesel locomotive will certainly not be rolling into Barking. As the text says further on, the train will be hauled by several different locomotives over the course of its seven and a half thousand mile journey. The final leg is almost certainly either going to be hauled by a British class 92 or 66.

When the East Wind train rumbles into east London this week, it will be full of socks, bags and wallets for London’s tourist souvenir shops, as well as the dust and grime accumulated through eight countries and 7,456 miles.

The train – made up of 34 wagons – will be the first to make the 16-day journey from Yiwu in east China to Britain, reviving the ancient trading Silk Road route and shunting in a new era of UK-China relations.

Due to arrive on Wednesday, the train will have passed through China, Kazakhstan, Russia, Belarus, Poland, Germany, Belgium and France before crossing under the Channel and arriving in the east end of London at Barking rail freight terminal.

There is something depressing about the first train along a historic and legendary route to be laden with cheap tat for the tourist market.

Update: It enters the Channel Tunnel behind a pair of DB Cargo UK class 92s.

Posted in Travel & Transport | Tagged | 1 Comment

Bi-mode Class 319s for Northern

Train leasing company Porterbrook have announced that some class 319 dual-voltage EMUs are to be converted into bi-mode trains for use on Northern.

It’s an interestng development. These trains were built for Thameslink in the late 1980s, operating on 25kV AC overhead along the Midland main line to Bedford, and on 750V DC third rail on the Southern Region, switching between the two at Farringdon.

It’s that dual-voltage capability that makes them suitable for conversion, since there’s already a DC power bus running the length of the train carrying traction current from the 3rd rail shoes on the driving trailers to the motor coach in the middle. The plan is to add underfloor diesel generator sets to the driving trailers, enabling the train to run on diesel power away from electrified routes while retaining AC overhead capability while running under the wires.

Rebuilding thirty-year old trains in this manner seems a bit “make do and mend” compared with shiny new trains. But it does say something about the build quality of rolling stock from the later years of British Rail that such a thing is being considered.

Posted in Travel & Transport | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

The Old Street Tunnel Incident

This just beggars belief. A property developer was completely unaware there was a working railway tunnel running directly beneath their construction site, and drilled right through the tunnel roof as part of the preliminary piling work. It was only a quick-thinking train driver that averted what could have been a very serious accident.

During the morning of 8 March 2013, a train driver reported that flood water was flowing from the roof of a railway tunnel north of Old Street station near central London. The driver of an out-of-service passenger train was asked to examine the tunnel at low speed and check for damage. The driver stopped short of the water flow and reported that two large drills (augers) had come through the tunnel wall and were fouling the line ahead of his train.

The augers were being used for boring piles from a construction site about 13 metres above the top of the tunnel. The operators of the piling rig involved were unaware that they were working above an operational railway tunnel. Its position was not shown on the site plan, or on any map available to either the developer or the local planning authority. As a consequence, Network Rail was not consulted during the planning application stage and was unaware of the construction activity.

There is a maze of tunnels under London; not just the tube network, but a whole host of utilities, communications, and wartime and cold war bunkers. That there is no one map showing them all is problem, given the amount of construction work going on in central London.

And it shows why documentation matters.

Posted in Travel & Transport | Tagged | 3 Comments

No Wires to Hull

Plans to electrify the railway from Selby to Hull have been dropped in favour of a new fleet of bi-mode trains.

Some people are not impressed.

Labour MP for Hull North, Diana Johnson, said she was “very angry” at the decision.

“If they are really sincere about the ‘Northern Powerhouse’ then Hull has to be included in infrastructure investment,” she said.

Grandstanding MPs aside, the decision to invest in bi-mode trains which can take advantage of electrified sections of the route while being able to run on diesel power to serve destinations off the wires is probably with wise one now that the concept has proved viable.

Back in the old days of the 1960s and 70s, when long-distance trains were locomotive-hauled, they simply changed engines where the wires ended. So an Inter-City from London to North Wales would be electrically-hauled as far as Crewe, then a diesel would take the train forward.

All that ended when everything went over to fixed-formation unit trains. Now services from London to places like Chester or Hull must be formed of diesel sets running under the wires for almost the entire journey because they need diesel power for those last few miles. At the moment Virgin Trains even uses part of the class 221 “Voyager” fleet on services that are completely under the wires just so they have diesel-powered trains available for weekend diversions.

Now that technology has reached the level where it’s possible to equip a high-speed multiple unit with both diesel engines and transformers without carrying around too much dead weight, bi-mode trains change that equation. Great Western’s  new inter-city fleet is entirely bi-mode, which means they can enter service before the long-delayed electrification is completed,  as well as reaching “off the wires” destinations like Camarthen or Weston Super-Mare which aren’t proposed for electrification. They’re also looking like an optimum solutuon for places like Hull which are close to but not on the electrified network.

Posted in Travel & Transport | Tagged , | 3 Comments

Croydon Tram Disaster

Photo from RAIB report

Photo from RAIB report

While everyone was still in a state of shock over the news from across the Atlantic, news reports filtered through back home that a tram had overturned in Croydon and people were trapped.

By mid-morning it was clear it was quite a serious incident. Then came the news that there were multiple fatalities as well as more that fifty injured, and the tram driver had been arrested on suspicion of manslaughter. It had gone from a serious incident to a major disaster.

The Rail Accident Investigation Board (RAIB) has put out a preliminary report, possibly to quell media speculation. It stated that the curve on which the tram derailed had a speed limit of 12 mph, and, as ought to have been evident from the aerial photographs in the media, the tram had been travelling well in excess of that.

It’s the first multiple-fatality rail accident in Britain since the Ufton Nervet crash way back in 2004.

You don’t associate trams with accidents on this scale. Since the opening of the Manchester Metrolink in 1992, trams have returned to the streets of several of Britain’s cities, with a good safety record. While there have been a few fatal incidents involving pedestrians or other road users, I don’t recall a single fatality to a tram passenger before.

Posted in Travel & Transport | Tagged | Comments Off