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.

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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Happy St.Pancras Day, celebrated with either a Eurostar, a Peak or a Midland compound, depending on your preferred era.

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Swiss Cheese at Plymouth

On the third of April there was a low-speed collision between two passenger trains at Plymouth station. A local train from Cornwall ran into the back of a stationary London-bound express. Though nobody was killed, thirty-five people were injured, a couple of them seriously.

The preliminary report makes it sound like an archetypal “Swiss cheese” incident.

If you imagine safety represented by several layered slices of Emmental cheese; each hole in the cheese represent an opportunity for human error to creep in, but an accident can only get through when all the holes line up. The more layers of safety the better.

This was what seems to have happened at Plymouth.

The normal pattern of operation was disrupted due to scheduled maintenance on the lifts, causing trains to be diverted away from their regular platforms. The signaller wrongly estimated the amount of space in the platform behind the express, and thought the local train would fit in behind it. The driver of the local train wasn’t expecting the platform to be part-occupied by another train. And because the approach at the western end of the station is on a very sharp curve, the driver didn’t realise the express was on the same track until it was too late to stop.

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Douglas horse trams to run for 2016 season

Reported in Isle of Man Today.

The Isle of Man’s horse trams will be back in action this summer after being given a temporary reprieve from closure.

The Department of Infrastructure will operate the historic attraction for the 2016 season, maintaining a reduced service using existing staff.

After approval from from the Council of Ministers and a deal with Douglas Borough Council to use the trams and horses at no cost, the trams will run between May and October.

Infrastructure Minister Phil Gawne MHK told iomtoday: ‘I’m delighted that we’ve been able to offer the horse trams a temporary reprieve, but beyond the summer we will have to have a major rethink about their future.’

At the moment it’s only a temporary reprieve, but it’s a step in the right direction. Let’s hope it’s more than a brief stay of execution.

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Twilight of the Pacers

Twilight of the PacersThere’s an informative and well-researched article on the BBC website telling the story of Pacers: The train that the UK has struggled to get rid of,

These trains were unloved even when they were new; I still remember seeing people’s reactions at Plymouth in 1987 when the forward connection into Cornwall wasn’t the expected class 50 and a rake of Mk1s but a pair of chocolate and crean liveried 142s.

But the article explains why they were a pragmatic solution for a cash-strapped railway under the rule of a government of the day that gave every impression that it hated trains and worshipped the private car.

But rail experts broadly agree that, in their early days at least, they were a pragmatic solution to a shortage of rolling stock. “Originally they were a good idea,” says Christian Wolmar, author of The Iron Road: The Illustrated History of the Railway.

Budgets were tight and British Rail was under great pressure to cut branch lines, says Wolmar. Meanwhile, at its factory in Workington, Cumbria, motor manufacturer British Leyland had produced a single-decker bus, the National, which needed to sell in high volumes to be viable.

“We had one practical chap suggested maybe you could take the body bit of the Leyland National and put it on a rail track,” says Eric Woodcock, who was a bus designer at the state-run conglomerate at the time and now campaigns on public transport issues.

Simultaneously, British Rail had been working on freight wagon technology, and engineers from both nationalised companies began collaborating on a way to fuse the National’s body with a bogie-less chassis to create a cut-price diesel multiple unit (DMU) train.

Their days are numbered now. They will not be compliant with disability legislation and cannot run in their present state after 2020. It’s not practical to convert the Leyland-built class 142s to make them compliant, and even for the superior 143s and 144s it would still cost more than would be worthwhile given their remaining economic life. Their original design life was only 20 years, and they’ve already done far more than that.

As an aside, it’s remarkable how well the Sprinter family of trains have aged. The oldest of these, the 150, are roughly the same age as the Pacers, and it’s likely to be 150s displaced by newer trains elsewhere that end up replacing most of the Pacers. They’re in far better condition now than the 20-25 year old first-generation DMUs that the Pacers and Sprinters were built to replace,  a tribute to the standards of engineering in the BR workshops that built them.

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