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Archive for the ‘Railways’ Category

Fantastic expectations, amazing revelations

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Industry bosses in the north of England and IPPR North are calling for more investment in the region’s railways, as it was ‘revealed’ it can take up to 10 hours for freight wagons to travel just 90 miles across the Pennines – costing the economy millions of pounds, reported.

[It takes ten hours to move freight 90 miles across Northern England by train, Dean Kirby,, 7 Aug 2017]

Gary Hodgson, strategic projects director at Peel Ports – one of the UK’s largest freight companies which operates in ports such as Liverpool, Heysham and Manchester – said trains are held up by a lack of capacity on the rail lines which means they have to let passenger trains pass. Old Victorian tunnels that were not designed for modern cargo containers.

[…] Network Rail timetables suggest it can take around seven hours and 50 minutes for a freight train to travel from Liverpool to the Drax Power Station at Selby in North Yorkshire – a journey of less than 100 miles – at an average speed of 16mph.

A 220-mile journey from the London Gateway deep-sea port in Essex to the Trafford Park rail freight terminal in Greater Manchester take around the same time, at an average speed of 36mph.

It takes nearly four hours for freight trains to travel from Immingham in Lincolnshire to Eggborough Power Station at Selby – a journey of around 50 miles at a speed of 17mph.

But actually, if the overall speed of a freight train to travel from Liverpool to Drax is 16 mph [25.7 km/h], that would make it an ‘express’ service, compared to many railfreight flows in continental Europe.

'Railfreight from Le Havre to Paris has a door to door speed of 6 km /h'

In 2007 Q4, the average speed of United States railfreight was just 22.5 mph (36 km/h), but that figure did not include “terminal dwell time, time for local pickup and delivery, and the time shipments spend in storage yards”.

Actually, the speed of railfreight is much less interesting than Peel Holdings’ tax avoidance (reducing the funds for infrastructure into Liverpool port), and the fact that Drax biomass looks like a government-backed environmental scam.


Written by beleben

August 9, 2017 at 7:39 am

Posted in Planning, Politics, Railways

The shame of six

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The 6.13pm service from Euston to Birmingham New Street has been named one of the most overcrowded trains in the country, the Birmingham Mail reported on 28 July. The Passengers in Excess of Capacity (PiXC) figures from the Department for Transport, relate to standard class passengers on weekday services in autumn last year.

'New Street trip makes into crowded league of shame', Birmingham Mail, 2017-07-28

At the time of writing, the 6.13pm EUS – BHM is shown as a short 8-carriage train on the London Midland website, which suggests that crowding arises from a continuing dearth of rolling stock. A ‘shortage of’ or ‘unwillingness to pay for’ more carriages, must lie behind much of the overcrowding in the Midlands and North of England.

South of the Thames, rail overcrowding looks like an altogether more difficult problem, requiring multiple interventions. But if the HS2 project continues, how are these interventions going to be developed and funded?

Unfortunately, analysis of crowding is hampered by the Department for Transport’s refusal to reveal the capacity of commuter trains (their ‘standing allowance’ is a secret).

DfT explanation of PiXC, July 2017

Another oddity is the DfT explanation of PiXC as the ‘overall percentage of passengers that exceed train capacity’. If a train has a capacity of 90 travellers but a load of 100, surely the percentage in excess of capacity would be 11.1%, not “10%”.

Written by beleben

August 1, 2017 at 9:29 am

Posted in Politics, Railways

People in orange

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The UK’s “full-to-capacity railway infrastructure” is a problem that “we cannot build our way out of – we have to innovate our way out of”, according to Network Rail Digital Railway group managing director David Waboso (quoted by

[‘Our systems are at capacity; we cannot build our way out – we must innovate’ – Digital Railway chief, Sam Trendall,, 20 July 2017]

[…] “A lot of our systems are at capacity. We cannot speed more trains through Manchester, London, or Leeds,” Waboso said. “We cannot build our way out of this – and HS2 or a Crossrail are once-in-a-generation projects.

“We need to innovate our way out of it.”
“We have an army of people in orange crawling over the infrastructure,” he added. “We have to really challenge ourselves – is that really necessary?”


On a visit to Manchester last week, transport secretary Chris Grayling said the railway between Leeds and Manchester is ‘unlikely to be fully electrified’, and he was ‘reviewing a plan to build two platforms at Manchester Piccadilly station to cope with extra trains‘.

[Leeds to Manchester railway unlikely to be fully electrified, says Chris Grayling, Andy Bounds, FT, 21 July 2017]

Rail improvements the government has previously deemed vital to its Northern Powerhouse plan to tackle the north-south divide may not go ahead, the transport secretary said on Friday.
He said that instead trains that could switch between electric and diesel power, called bi-mode locomotives, were likely to operate on the Leeds to Manchester route.
Mr Grayling said he had ordered Network Rail, owner of the rail infrastructure, to review plans to build two platforms as part of a £600m “Northern Hub” plan that includes connecting Victoria and Piccadilly stations in Manchester.
Mr Grayling said: “I want them [Network Rail] to see if it is question of additional platforms or whether they can do something with digital technology that actually increases capacity.”

Whether ‘Northern Hub Two Extra Platforms’ or ‘Digital Railway’ are a real solution to the conflicting movements and flat junctions in Manchester, is questionable. The definitive solution would probably entail a Leipzig-style underground connection between Victoria and Piccadilly (in other words, a 21st century version of the 1970s Picc-Vic scheme), but no Northern politicians seem to be interested.

Written by beleben

July 25, 2017 at 10:23 am

Posted in HS2, Politics, Railways

On diesel or electric

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According to a BBC story about the uncertainty of railway electrification between Swansea and Cardiff, Network Rail expects to accommodate a 110%+ increase in demand for rail travel between South Wales and London, on the existing line.

Network Rail, forecast growth in Wales to London passenger demand

So why does the government claim that the “£55.7 billion” HS2 railway is needed to meet increased demand from Manchester, Birmingham, and Leeds?

[Cardiff to Swansea rail electrification commitment urged, Brian Meechan, BBC, 18 July 2017]

Welsh Secretary Alun Cairns on Monday took a look inside the new hybrid trains which will start operating on the Great Western service this autumn.
Mr Cairns would not be drawn on further electrification west of Cardiff but said the new [IEP] trains would bring benefits to Swansea passengers sooner than envisaged.

“Passengers won’t know if they’re running on diesel or electric,” he said.

How won’t they know? The IEP trains have diesel engines underneath the carriages. Has MTU invented a noise- and vibration-free diesel engine?

Written by beleben

July 19, 2017 at 11:30 am

Posted in Politics, Railways

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

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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