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Archive for the ‘Railways’ Category

Better rail capacity utilisation through marketisation

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Apparently, it was only recently that Network Rail and freight train operators identified that 50 per cent of the slots reserved for freight on Britain’s railway were not being used, and “could potentially be given up for thousands of new passenger and [other] freight services”.

[‘Rail freight industry and Network Rail collaborate to increase railway capacity’, Network Rail, apparently undated]

Per week, 4,702 allocated ‘paths’ – the slots a freight train has on the railway and in the timetable – have been relinquished, freeing-up much needed capacity on the rail network. They could become available for all train operators to run additional services on a daily basis or re-time existing services to reduce congestion and improve reliability.

[…] This additional capacity has been created at zero cost and has not led to any reductions in the number of freight trains running on the network. It represents a huge opportunity for both freight and passenger operators to increase traffic on the network without the need for expensive infrastructure enhancement schemes.

Much-improved capacity utilisation and allocation could follow if GB rail access charging were reformed to better reflect path scarcity on different routes. For this to work properly, Network Rail would need to be extensively reorganised, but not in the way proposed in the Shaw report.

Because of dysfunctional pricing and planning mechanisms, north - south railfreight is routed over the West Coast Main Line, instead of more appropriate routes. Current policy would result in capacity misallocation continuing into the future

Written by beleben

April 19, 2017 at 10:26 am

Posted in HS2, Railways

The principles of banality

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'Trains need to be compatible with the platforms that they use and the method of operation at these platforms.'On 5 April the Office of Rail and Road published the ‘high level principles’ it expects train companies ‘to follow when rolling out and managing Driver Controlled Operation of trains’.

[‘Rail Regulator publishes principles for driver controlled operation’,
5 April 2017, ORR]

Six high level principles have been drawn up in consultation with industry and the trade unions. They are designed as a framework for train companies who are considering introducing, or who are operating, DCO.

The Principles set out that DCO schemes need to be well planned, with appropriate implementation timescales and developed against a shared understanding of how to handle any issues which need to be addressed.

The Principles are part of the rail regulator’s overall approach to railway safety which helps train companies and their staff understand what is needed to comply with health and safety requirements. This is part of our ongoing work with industry to continuously improve the approach to all types of train dispatch.
The six high level principles are:

Where driver controlled operation is used or planned to be used:

Trains need to be compatible with the platforms that they use and the method of operation at these platforms.

Station platforms need to be compatible with the trains using them and they must support the methods of operation.

The nature of the operation with the train and platform need to be assessed.

This includes consideration of passenger needs and behaviour.

Staff should be trained and competent

The implementation should be planned

The system should be managed through its whole life, with improvements adopted

“Staff should be trained and competent.”

“Trains need to be compatible with the platforms that they use and the method of operation at these platforms.”

How revelatory are these principles? They seem to be on much the same advice level as “Don’t drive a car with a blanket over your head.”

Written by beleben

April 12, 2017 at 9:38 am

Posted in Planning, Railways

A progressive take on nonsense

with 2 comments

Britain’s railway network is a national success story, and Labour’s policy of renationalisation is just an ideological comfort blanket, wrote Labour ‘Progressive’ James Wood.

[‘Labour’s nonexistent rail policy’, James Wood, Progress, 2017-02-13]

On 23 February this year (touch wood) we will celebrate 10 years since a passenger was killed on the rail network, a thankfully long way from the appalling regularity of high-fatality crashes of the eighties and nineties.

[…] In 2012 – 2013, GB train operating company profits were £250 m […against] TOC costs of £6.2 bn, ticket revenue of £7.7 bn and industry-wide costs of £13 bn. If the £250 million TOC profits were directly deducted from UK farebox income, that would only fund a one-off two per cent cut in ticket prices. Simply removing the private sector from the railways will not create a railway with high investment and low fares.

'Labour's non existent rail policy'

Sadly, the article is based on inaccurate and incomplete information, and muddled thinking. Unfortunately

  • it is not “10 years since a passenger was killed on the rail network”
  • the idea that ditching the current industry structure would only permit ‘a one-off two per cent cut in ticket prices’, is absurd.

The fragmentation imposed by John Major’s government substantially increased the whole-industry cost base, and the results can be seen to this day. The rolling stock leasing companies created by the Major government are certainly not operating on a ‘2 per cent margin’, for example.

The current industry structure is not really compatible with efficiency or value for money objectives, and there is no sign of transport secretary Chris Grayling knowing how to fix it, or any other country wanting to copy it.

Written by beleben

February 15, 2017 at 12:43 pm

Posted in Politics, Railways

The only way is upgrade

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According to Network Rail, ‘the major increase in rail capacity the UK needs can only come from making the infrastructure we already have more productive‘.

Capacity benefit of moving block signalling, according to Network Rail's Digital Railway initiative

In that case, how important is the £60+ billion new-build HS2 for meeting future demand?

  • According to Network Rail, “there will be 1 billion extra annual rail journeys” by 2030.
  • And according to HS2 Ltd, HS2 ‘will carry 300,000 passengers per day’ when complete
    (i.e., ~110 million per year).

However, HS2 is not scheduled to be complete until about 2033. But if it somehow were fully open by 2030, and carrying its target annual demand – two very big ‘ifs’ – that would still mean that 89% of the forecast ‘billion extra passengers‘ would have to be accommodated on the existing railway.

At present, flows like Birmingham to London, and Manchester to London, amount to fewer than 10 million trips per annum, combined. On a ‘two-and-a-half-billion-passenger’ railway, what would be the sense in building hundreds of kilometres of vanity infrastructure to accommodate, at best, 3 or 4 percent of the traffic?

'There will be 1 billion more rail journeys by 2030', say Network Rail

The capital cost of increasing the capacity of existing railways with digital technology is much lower than building new lines, according to a 2014 Arup corporate article.

Can railway capacity be doubled without building new track?

Can railway capacity be doubled without building new track?

In practice, the best capacity uplifts would likely arise from combining ‘Digital Railway’ technologies with ‘old-school’ infrastructure improvements (such as grade separated junctions).

Network Rail, 'Digital Railway' aspiration

Network Rail ‘Digital Railway’ aspiration

Written by beleben

February 10, 2017 at 11:39 am

Posted in Planning, Railways

Departure in oblivion

with one comment

There seem to be unmanaged safety issues with both driver-only operation and driver-guard operation on the GB rail network. On 7 November 2016, an ‘operating incident’ at Reedham station, involving the driver-only-operated 0554 GTR Southern service from Tattenham Corner to London Bridge, ‘allowed the train to roll downhill unpowered one coach length at low speed before the driver realised the doors were open’, City AM reported.

[‘A Southern train without a guard travelled with its doors open yesterday (but not very far)’, Rebecca Smith, City AM, 2016-11-08]

“There was nothing wrong with the train and early indications are this was driver error in releasing the brakes before the doors had shut.”

But there must be ‘something wrong’ somewhere, if trains can move off, with the doors still open.

And there must be something wrong somewhere, if trains can leave a station leaving the guard, or intending passengers, behind. On 31 January 2017, “shortly after 8.23am the 8.16am (Northern Rail driver-and-guard-operated) Ilkley to Leeds service was delayed after the train left Burley in Wharfedale station whilst the conductor was still on the platform”.

[‘Train guard left at Burley-in-Wharfedale station causes delay’, BBC, 2017-01-31]

A guard was accidentally stranded at a railway station when the train left without him.

Passengers had to get out through the driver’s cab door at the next stop and were delayed for an hour waiting for another train.

The safety of one person operated commuter trains remains a topic of dispute between train operators, the government, and the railway unions. On 5 January 2017 the Office of Rail and Road published a report from from HM Chief Inspector of Railways regarding the extension of Driver-Only Operation (DOO) on the TSGN ‘franchise’.

[‘GTR – Southern Railways – Driver Only Operation (DOO) – Report from the HM Chief Inspector of Railways’, 5 January 2017]

[…] We have set out in this report ORR’s findings about GTR Southern’s proposed form of Driver-Only Operation (DOO) for the safe dispatch of trains and its compliance with health and safety law following a review and inspections of GTR-Southern introducing DOO on new routes. In short, ORR’s view is that with suitable equipment, procedures and competent staff in place the proposed form of train dispatch intended by GTR-Southern meets legal requirements for safe operation.


How driver’s cab monitors turning off at 4 mph (6.5 km/h) can be considered a ‘suitable procedure for driver only operation’, is difficult to understand.

Written by beleben

February 1, 2017 at 1:07 pm

Posted in Politics, Railways

Renewal of the Merseyrail fleet, part two

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Stadler Merseyrail train design, showing arrangement of coupled unitsStadler’s proposed train design for Merseyrail includes an offset sliding door at each end of a trainset, to allow emergency egress from a two-unit train in single line tunnels.

From the illustration provided by Merseyrail, with a two unit train, it would appear that the emergency apertures would be on opposite sides. But perhaps there is some other explanation.

Written by beleben

January 31, 2017 at 1:05 pm

Posted in Railways

Help from the driver

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GTR Southern rail users with disabilities face delayed journeys or the prospect of no longer being able to board some trains after the company said there was no “cast-iron guarantee” that assistance would be available at all stations, The Guardian reported. The change has been linked to the extension of ‘driver controlled operation’, in which guards are replaced by ‘onboard supervisors’.

[No guarantee of help for disabled passengers, says Southern, Diane Taylor, The Guardian, 17 Jan 2017]

Southern has admitted it may have to book taxis for disabled travellers who cannot complete their journey because the only member of staff on the train is the driver.

Previously there were 33 stations across the Southern rail network where passengers in need of assistance to get on or off the train could turn up and be guaranteed help.

(Of course, because of GTR’s repeated failure to recruit sufficient staff, there are no ‘guarantees’ for anyone to be able to ‘complete their journey’.)

According to Wikipedia, Southern Railway ‘operates’ 156 stations. Like other train operators, it has never offered network-wide spontaneous travel for persons of reduced mobility. How could such a facility be provided?

It would appear that implementating turn up and go nationwide would, in many cases, require the train driver to assist with boarding and alighting. That would entail changes in equipment and operating procedure, to allow the driver to leave the cab as and when required.

Written by beleben

January 18, 2017 at 2:18 pm

Posted in Industry, Politics, Railways