die belebende Bedenkung

Freight expectations

with 6 comments

Centro inaction in the early 1990s led to the South Staffordshire Line — which once connected Stourbridge, Brierley Hill, Wednesbury, Walsall, and Lichfield — falling into ruin. The cost of restoring the Bescot to Stourbridge section is apparently £100 million. Today (25 June 2012), the Birmingham Post reported on the latest (non-)development in the history of the line.

The West Midlands should take advantage of the UK’s booming rail freight market by re-opening the Walsall to Stourbridge railway line, according to the regional transport authority.

Geoff Inskip, chief executive of Centro, has called for the relaunch of the Black Country line after the latest figures revealed that the volume of UK rail freight has grown 10 per cent in 2011/12 – generating £6 billion of economic benefits per year.

The Walsall – Stourbridge freight line would form a key link in a strategic UK freight network and provide a realistic alternative to the M5 – M6 / M42 corridors, helping to reduce congestion on core roads through the region.

Centro is also working on plans to use stretches of the line for so-called Tram-Trains – specially designed passenger vehicles capable of running on both heavy and light rail tracks. This could link Stourbridge with Wednesbury with the option of Tram-Trains connecting with the existing Metro line.

A strategic railfreight network could certainly make use of the South Staffordshire railway, but Mr Inskip’s proposals do not make sense.

Centro have never detailed how their tram-train would work. Which is not at all surprising, because, like Centro’s freight strategy, it’s nonsense. To justify spending £100 million, the Walsall — Stourbridge line would need to be capable of handling substantial amounts of freight, but that could not happen with the tram-train (which would cost £300 million extra). The prospect of a collision between a 1,000 ton freight train and one of Centro’s trams is just one of the reasons why it is a non-starter.

If freight trains were restricted to night time, only a few could run — which kills the case for spending the £100 million. If goods trains were not restricted to nocturnal operation, the tram-train would need to be engineered accordingly, raising expensive, and non-trivial, problems. Centro originally intended that the trams replacing its Ansaldo T69 fleet would be capable of running on the South Staffordshire railway, but that idea appears to have been quietly abandoned. It’s very unfortunate that modernisation of Black Country public transport is being held up by unworkable madcap schemes.

Written by beleben

June 25, 2012 at 2:09 pm

6 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. I have to say, it’s rare to see something as technically illiterate as this, masquerading as serious comment. There is absolutely no reason why tram-trains cannot share tracks with either freight or other heavy rail services. They already do this in Europe and have done successfully for many years (one only has to look at the Karlsruhe and Kassel systems for examples). In fact, we have a very similar system already in place in the UK – the Tyneside metro. The service to Sunderland shares tracks with heavy oil trains to Jarrow (surely one of the most dangerous types of cargo) as well as Northern and Grand Central ‘heavy rail’ services.

    The criticisms here demonstrate a total ignorance of how the railways actually operate, or any technical knowledge and awareness of the safety systems (such as TPWS) which have meant that UK railways are acknowledged to be the safest they’ve ever been, with fewest accidents.

    Clearly, Geoff Inskip isn’t ignorant of these things – only the writer of this blog. Therefore I suggest that the person who has demonstrated that he knows what he’s talking about is, in fact, Mr Inskip.

    Paul Bigland

    June 26, 2012 at 4:45 pm

    • As I wrote on March 9, tram-trains are a well-established concept in continental Europe, but in Great Britain, the government has seem them as experimental technology that needs to be ‘trialled’.

      That does not mean that tram-trains are necessarily a good idea, or value for money. They are certainly not a good idea on the Sheffield — Penistone — Huddersfield line or the South Staffordshire Line. Centro have refused to provide **any** details as to how their Stourbridge tram-train/freight scheme would work. The last I heard was that they wanted South Staffs daytime operation to be tram-train only — presumably to avoid the safety issues that (you claim) don’t exist.


      June 26, 2012 at 5:28 pm

  2. Yet again you demonstrate your lack of knowledge of railway operation. You still try to claim that there are some mysterious safety issues when anyone with an understanding of railway operation appreciates that there’s none. Modern safety systems such as TPWS have made the railways safer then they’ve ever been, making the risk of any collision minimal. Attempting to continue scaremongering about safety simply exposes your ignorance. Tram-trains operating on heavy rail systems will simply be operating as another train.

    Paul Bigland

    June 26, 2012 at 7:53 pm

    • Well, people complain about crashworthiness of Class 142 railbuses, but they’re safer than a low floor tram design such as CAF‘s. I wouldn’t want to be in the driving seat of an Urbos tram, interrunning with 1,000-ton freight trains.

      According to the All Party Parliamentary Light Rail Group’s presentation tram-trains are viewed as a way to ‘reduce costs’ and ‘simplify operating procedures’.

      So, if the Stourbridge — Bescot line were re-opened for freight and passengers, where exactly are the opportunities to reduce costs or simplify operating procedures by using tram trains? Line-of-sight operation cannot be used. And track maintenance standards are set by the axle loads of the goods trains.


      June 26, 2012 at 8:51 pm

      • Costs are reduced because tram-train can use an existing railway corridor: this means there is no need to buy more land for the new tram service, no need to build new tracks designed for street-running, and no need for expensive utility relocation, which is a major expense in the UK. The freight railway is already there.

        The things you think are too difficult are already done abroad, and on the Tyne & Wear Metro, and will soon be implemented for the Sheffield – Rotherham project. The Rotherham project aims to asses costs under UK conditions, not see whether tram-train works – it clearly does work, as all the operational examples show.


        June 27, 2012 at 8:00 am

      • The freight railway is already there.

        The freight railway isn’t “already there”. The railway trackbed is there (which is not the same thing).

        The difference between the two is, apparently, £100 million (Bescot — Stourbridge only).

        Costs are reduced because tram-train can use an existing railway corridor: this means there is no need to buy more land for the new tram service, no need to build new tracks designed for street-running, and no need for expensive utility relocation, which is a major expense in the UK.

        The Wednesbury — Stourbridge tram-train does involve

        * buying more land,

        * utility relocation, and

        * building new tracks designed for street-running

        and the cost is £300 million (or was £300 million; that figure is two or three years old).

        So much for costs “being reduced”.


        June 27, 2012 at 9:45 am

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: