You may be aware that I travel around the country a lot. As a consequence, I am on trains a significant amount, and don’t always have a book with me. So, I have a tendency to head for the closest WH Smith and purchase the latest issue of one of the railway periodicals. Between Christmas and New Year I was in Nottingham for a week – on my journey up I procured the latest issue of Rail Express, and was reading through it when I came upon an article about Thameslink that, off the top of my head, was reassurance that the rolling stock procurement contract would finally go through early in 2013. However, this article referred to “Class 700″, which intrigued me somewhat. Bear in mind that, in spite of the stuff I write about, my knowledge is still limited, but I was always under the impression that, in the TOPS classification system used to classify rolling stock on the British network, EMUs were given numbers between 300 and 599 – those that run off 25kV AC from overhead wires run from 300 to 399, while those that use direct current between 650 and 850V from a third rail have numbers from 400 to 499 (for the Southern Region), and 500 to 599 for elsewhere. Which is what confused me, as clearly the number 700 doesn’t come between 300 and 599. Something that confused me further was the fact that, even though the rolling stock procurement for Crossrail is only at the ITT stage, Crossrail has registered its planned rolling stock as Class 345. Naturally then, given I am an inquisitive sort of chap, I made mention of this on Twitter, while using my super duper new smartphone to conduct various web searches trying to find out more. Yesterday I got a reply from a chap called “Sparky” who works in the rail industry and who told me that yes, Class 700 does seem to be the official classification, which is used in internal discussions for the Desiro City units planned for Thameslink. So, I then did a little more digging and found Railway Group Standard GM/RT2453 “Registration, Identification and Data to be Displayed on Rail Vehicles”, published in September 2011, which sets out the information that has to be shown on all rail vehicles, and updates GM/RT2210 (June 1995) by expanding the number ranges for registering multiple unit sets. In this it seems AC multiple units will not only be in the 300 series (though there remain a significant amount of vacant numbers), but also in the 700 series, thus explaining the Thameslink scenario. However, on reading this, I took note of something else – the 800 series is reserved for “high speed multiple units”, which the document classes as operating at speeds above 190km/h (approx 118 mph). Presumably, under this then, Virgin’s Pendolinos and Super Voyagers, East Midlands Trains’ Meridians and Southeastern’s Javelins would all have been given 800 numbers had they entered service now rather than when they did. But, something else that came to mind was the classification of brand new high speed trains, by which of course I mean trains intended to operate on the UK’s high speed lines. While these lines will of course not be part of the National Rail network, and some rolling stock will not be interoperable, their movements would still need to be tracked around the high speed network. I have asked the DfT under Freedom of Information whether the new rolling stock intended for High Speed 1 would be required to have TOPS numbers, which they say is a matter for Network Rail (who are not bound by FOI, and do not seem to have a mechanism for the general public to make enquires such as this). As a consequence, it is still not clear whether Eurostar’s new trains, or indeed Deutsche Bahn’s Velaro D units, would be given TOPS numbers at all. The DB trains are classified as Class 407 in Germany, and, as there hasn’t been a Class 407 in Great Britain, it could for simplicity fit there (even though it isn’t a Southern Region, DC powered third rail type); however, the Eurostar trains have been called “e320″, but can’t become “Class 320″, as there already is one. It can be quite maddening when you have these questions rattling around in your head, and yet there is no obvious way to get an answer. Having said that, these are not as if they have the answer “42″ and, consequently, there is no problem if they aren’t answered right this second, as there will be an answer and it will come out. I guess one just has to be patient.
Glancing through the new issue of Modern Railways I happened across the story regarding the first of Eurostar’s new Velaro based e320 being rolled out from the Siemens plant at Krefeld. This is nothing more than has been reported quite widely recently, with the small addition of a comment that they are planned to be introduced from the December 2014 timetable change, giving two years for the necessary testing, checks and certifications to be done on the type ready for use. There was another little sentence in this little story (best described as a caption next to a picture of the first e320 under construction);
…DB has said the earliest it could introduce services from London to Amsterdam and Frankfurt is now December 2015
As I thought this was worth passing on, I sent that basic information onto the Twittersphere, as I am wont to do. But, as often seems to be the case, what is for me just passing on information is for other people an invitation to get into debate. I suppose it’s my own fault for replying to the reply that one tweeter sent to me regarding his view that the DB plan is a pipe dream that will never come off. It wasn’t so much that though that irked me, but his comment that Modern Railways was somehow guilty of “naive journalism” in simply passing on what DB had said. To be perfectly honest, we all knew that anyway, as the story that the planned Frankfurt/Amsterdam-London service had been pushed back as a result of delays to the delivery of the Class 407 units that it will use came out in December last year. Accusing what is one of the respected periodicals in the industry of “naive journalism” stuck in my craw, especially when he then decided that the opinions he was tweeting at me were “facts”. Hmm – or alternatively. Opinion formers use facts to form their opinions – I know this, because I do. The facts are that yes, Eurostar will have their Velaro units delivered before DB. Everything else in the (frankly unwanted) conversation is just opinion. Recognise it.
Oh, and my opinion is that, once DB get settled into their three trains per day to and from London (which will actually be six when taking the split to run one set to Amsterdam and one to Frankfurt into account), they will then look to increase the frequency. Just my opinion though.
“Give us bread and circuses” is the cry, or so it seems. In last week’s Sunday Express was a poll suggesting a large majority of the public now want to see the railways re-nationalised, something that must be music to the ears of Spud and his cronies. Not only this, but it also seems that the Labour Party is considering making this official policy for the next election. So this of course should be enough to warn people off it anyway. But there are lots of things that I do think people should consider when it comes to the idea of nationalisation that it feels like aren’t out there. Like first of all the fact that there are European regulations on the liberalisation of rail transport to consider. Were the railways jusr simply nationalised, how would that impact on open access operators? But that’s by the wayside.
One of the major moans that the unions have is the fact that the franchise system in the UK allows what they describe as the “nationalised railway companies” in other European companies to procure UK franchises, while rail operations are “closed” to British operators. First of all, I’m sure Deutsche Bahn would object to being called a nationalised railway company, as it isn’t. It is an Aktiengesellschaft, which in Germany is the general equivilent of a plc, a company whose shares can be publically traded on a stock market. So even though the German government owns 100% of the shares, it can at any time sell any amount of the company’s shares. But also is the claim that operators in other countries have monopolies over their networks, when again that isn’t true. It is certainly the case in some countries that operations across all sectors are run by nationalised organs, with the one that I most often think of now being Iarnród Éireann. IÉ is a subsidiary whose shares are 100% owned by a statutory corporation, and is thus a truly nationalised operator. And those of you that are regular readers will know how I feel about the way IÉ runs its operations. Having no competition means that they are essentially free to do what they want, and if it means they have no desire to run a route any longer, they can simply reduce the service level to a point where no one wants to use the train any more, and then claim that the service is unporfitable and withdraw it. Which is what British Rail did with any number of significant routes, not least of which was the eventual closure of the line into London Broad Street (which, I’m sure you have all noticed, has now reopened).
While the big and flashy main line operations, especially the high speed networks, tend to be run by those companies that were formed out of the old nationalised railways, the local operations, the ones that we would think of as commuter, or suburban, or rural, are controlled locally, by French départements or German länder, who tender out the operation of services commercially, in much the same way as TfL and Merseytravel do. And there is the interesting thing. Because both London Overground and Merseyrail are, to all intents and purposes, nationalised rail companies, as all the important decisions in regards to management and investment are taken by the PTEs, with the actual operation of services and revenue collection contracted out to private companies. As a consequence that the PTE takes the risk, the PTE keeps the bulk of the revenue. Similar to this are virtually all of the light rail operations around the country, with only Blackpool and Tramlink owned and operated by the municipal body. This method of doing things has been adopted by some of the newer commuter rail operators in the United States – both the Coaster and Sprinter operations of the North County Transit District in San Diego are run this way, with the actual operations contracted out. So, there is the possibility, as suggested in the newspaper article that accompanied the poll, that people might be prepared to accept this type of arrangement, in ensuring that a public body retains control, but contracts out its operations. Nationalisation? No. Concession? Maybe.
There is a body of opinion that believes the removal of Justine Greening from the DfT to the backwater of the Department for International Development is a means by the Prime Minister and the Conservative members of the government to smooth the road ahead of a u-turn on a particular policy, namely the construction fo a third runway at Heathrow. Justine Greening was a vocal opponent of this proposal, representing as she does the constituency of Putney, which lies under the flightpath. Her successor, the somewhat unknown (up to now) Patrick McLoughlin, does not appear to have such strong opinions on the issue. One might claim that this means he will be open to the body of evidence that should be accumulated. Conspiracy theorists may say it simply means he’ll be more amenable to the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer (who it seems is in favour of a third runway) changing the policy. Now, I have read in parts of the conservative press by various commentators that a third runway is the panacea, the silver bullet that will do away with all of our troubles, and that to oppose and suggest anything else it is “economic illiteracy”. Hence the ever present vocal opposition to High Speed 2 (although how many of these commentators live somewhere along the proposed route of HS2 I wonder?). Now, I claim to be no expert, but is it not the case that building a third runway is not the end of the matter? By increasing Heathrow’s capacity to accept more aeroplanes, you increase the number of people coming through, and that would likely mean you would need greater capacity once the aeroplane has come to a stop, and what this would mean is the construction of Terminal 6. The problem is that Heathrow is an old site, constrained on many sides by residential areas that make expansion difficult in the extreme, which is why Boris Johnson favours a brand new, purpose built airport in the Thames Estuary along similar lines to Chek Lap Kok in Hong Kong.
The government’s plan is to have an independent commission, chaired by Sir Howard Davies, investigate airport capacity and what can be done to expand and improve it. This is where the question of high speed rail should be taken into account, and where serious studies should be made looking at domestic and short haul flying in the UK. The argument about airport capacity is always made in terms of international travel – that Heathrow needs to retain its place as a world leading air hub to compete with both European rivals like Charles de Gaulle, Schiphol or Frankfurt, as well as those in Asia and the US. So why then is capacity at Heathrow (and other airports around London) taken up with domestic flights, and flights to destinations in Western Europe that are reachable by train? While in Edinburgh, I was asked whether, once the tram route to the airport is complete and running, whether I’d fly up from London, and my answer was a categoric “no”, for the simple reason that the United Kingdom is a country that is small enough, and well connected enough, to be able to get to most places by train in a reasonable amount of time. We already have 125mph running on most of the main routes. The electrification of the Great Western Main Line will potentially allow this to be increased to 140mph. And then there’s HS2 (which is not, as Frederick Forsyth continues to claim, simply a way to get from London to Birmingham 15 minutes faster), which will allow passengers to get to the major economic hubs in the north as fast by train as it would take to fly. Not to mention the extra capacity going begging on High Speed 1 to get to the likes of Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam and Frankfurt. The first thing for this independent review to do is see just have much of Heathrow’s existing traffic (and Gatwick’s come to that) is short or very short haul and say “where can we move this?”. Because in addition to the rail network, and the forthcoming improvements to it, there are also other locations where small, short haul flying could be transferred; Southend Airport has had a major passenger upgrade, and is directly connected to the rail network, while both Oxford and Lydd are looking to expand. Only once this evidence is gathered and studied should the question of third runways or Boris Islands be looked at.
I’ve spoken on occasion about a friend of mine, the one I tried helping with a trip to Manchester. Well, she is a regular visitor to Iceland (though not, to the best of my knowledge, Iceland. Of course, I could be wrong), and, as I say to everyone, I ask her to keep an eye out and take pictures of anything that might be in the least rail related that can then be added to my “With Grateful Thanks…” folder on Flickr. As it is, there is very little in terms of railway history or infrastructure in Iceland, with only three small industrial railways having existed, the most notable apparently being the Reykjavik Harbour Railway. The two 900mm gauge steam locomotives are both preserved, with one at the Árbæjarsafn museum, and the other on display in Reykjavik Harbour. However, there has never been any kind of passenger railway in Iceland, owing to the fact that Iceland has difficult terrain to build a railway on, as well as having an extremely small overall population, 2/3 of which is concentrated in one small part of the country (Greater Reykjavik). That being said however, there are proposals (rather than concrete plans) in the offing to change this situation.
Although Reykjavik is the capital and largest city, as with all significant urban areas its major international airport is located some distance from the city itself. Keflavik International Airport is located near the town of Keflavik, around 50km from the capital. The only ground transport connection is by road (obviously), with Flybus operating regular services between Keflavik and BSI Bus Terminal. However, the idea of a rail link between the airport and the centre of Reykjavik have been around for a while, seemingly first floated in 2001. Although that initial proposal was superseded by an upgrade to Route 41, the idea of a rail link has not gone away; in 2008, twelve members of Alþingi submitted a proposal for a rail network for the entire Greater Reykjavik area, with the Keflavik link one part, and a new light rail network the other. The idea of this is to get cars off the congested road route by allowing people to come into the centre of Reykjavik on “commuter” type trains, before changing for the airport train. The idea has struck a chord with Reykjavik City Council - in 2008 they proposed part funding a feasibility study into the airport link, while in 2012 the council suggested that it be included in the general land use planning for the metropolitan region (essentially making sure local authorities ensure that land is kept free for any potential railway).
Obviously I’m all for trains. And obviously there is very little point in constructing a massive nationwide railway network in Iceland when 60% of the country’s population live in 1% of its area. But that’s precisely why it could well be a good idea to build a railway. Iceland is well connected in terms of airports, with a significant amount of domestic travel done by flying. The problem is that, while Keflavik is the main international hub, all domestic flights to and from the capital are from Reykjavik Airport in the city. Giving these people, as well as all those heading to the capital, direct access from one airport to another, without getting stuck in the increasing road traffic, is phenomenally important, as any good airport operator will tell you.
As the sound of Gary Neville’s “goalgasm” fades, and Chelsea look forward to their date with destiny following their heroics in the Nou Camp, the thoughts of thousands of Blues fans have no doubt turned to the prospect of getting to Munich - how to get there, and how much it will cost. It was with interest therefore that I noted a story in yesterday’s Evening Standard. Doubtless there will be some who will have the idea of clubbing together with a load of mates and hiring a minibus. Well, that’s fine, but it’ll take a shitload of time. The obvious answer is to fly, as Munich is a big city, and has relatively good connections to the UK, with both British Airways and Lufthansa, as well as Easyjet, flying directly to Munich Airport. However, never let it be said that airlines don’t take advantage of an opportunity to fleece a load of people that have somewhere they desperately want/need to be at a very specific time. British Airways have announced prices for flights around the time of the Champions League final of around £700, while apparently Easyjet are offering £800. Even Ryanair, whose hub for Munich isn’t Munich Airport, but Memmingen Airport (which is 110km from the centre of Munich) are offering flights for £470 – the weekend before they’re offering the same flights for £32. People will doubtless pay, but there is an alternative. Fly somewhere else, and then get on the ICE, which, at least as far as I’ve been able to ascertain, is a shedload cheaper than the £700 BA will take from you. Of course, it will take longer (the train from Hamburg-Altona to Munich takes around 6 hours), but as I’ve often said, you pay for time, and if you’re unconcerned about the time you actually get there, as I would assume most people will make their way the day before and home the days after the game, then it could well be a winner.
Speaking of high speed trains, there was something else I noticed in yesterday’s paper, this time (as is often the case) on the letters page. Or, more specifically, the “text your ranting in and we’ll print it” section. As it’s short, I’ll quote verbatim:
Once again, Joe Public (or in this case John Benjamin) misses the point. Birmingham was not, is not and never will be the ultimate destination of HS2. It’s intention is to allow faster travel to London from various points in the north. But, perhaps even more importantly, it is intended to increase capacity so that more interurban (as opposed to intercity) trains can run. This will start off allowing more capacity on the southern section of the WCML by removing express trains. This idea will be extended further northwards when Phase 2 is built. The idea is being able to put more trains onto the existing network, as well as letting express trains get to their destinations faster. Surely this is something that the government should be putting right at the top of its publicity. It isn’t that hard a concept to get one’s head around after all.
The “Lille Loophole” has made the news again. Well, I say again, but it looks like in reality it’s just the right-wing tabloid press that is bringing it up, if the headlines from this week are anything to go by:
It would seem, according to the stories published herein, that the French and Belgian governments have completely refused to do anything about the “interesting little problem” of passengers being able to board trains in Brussels with tickets for Lille, who then simply stay on the train until it reaches London. According to these stories, Britain has formally asked both SNCF and SNCB/NMBS to cease selling tickets for travel on Eurostar services between Brussels-Midi and Lille Europe, to which the Belgians have issued a categorical refusal:
Why the Belgian Prime Minister should be so adamant about that, I’m not entirely certain. However, that is neither here nor there. The question, which is valid, is what does the government propose doing about it? I suggested that, while the French and Belgian governments might oppose passport checks due to their both being in the Schengen Area, surely they could have no objection to Eurostar, which after all is now a private company in its own right, and not a brand run by SNCF and SNCB/NMBS any more, having vigourous on train ticket checks, and equally vigourous ticket checks at the barriers at London St Pancras. However, there was something that was in one of the articles that caught my eye and made me think:
If the French and Belgian governments continue to refuse to close the loophole the UK Border Agency should place border staff on every train to identify those seeking to enter the UK illegally.
Keith Vaz, Home Affairs Select Committee Chairman
While the Belgians might protest against this idea between Brussels and Lille, what precisely is to stop this being the case between Lille and London? After all, in most cases trains do not stop between leaving Lille and exiting the tunnel (a handful stop at Calais-Fréthun), so there is no reason, if it is decided people shouldn’t be delayed once they get to London, that they shouldn’t have their passports checked on the train and, if they don’t have passports with them, because they’re “Lille Loopholers”, then they can be brought aside and deported on the next train. Problem solved.
Eurotunnel announced posted results this week showing that its revenue had increased by 16% to €845m, or £707m, with a 6% growth in traffic on its passenger shuttles, while freight traffic went up by 16%. Meanwhile, the number of people booking tickets for travel on Eurostar last year rose by 2% to 9.7m, while the average cost of air fares has risen by 41% due to inflation. Is this a trend away from flying towards using the train? If it is, then it can be one more piece of evidence in favour of High Speed 2. We all know it’s easier to transport a lot of stuff by train than it is by aeroplane, even if the stuff is on a lorry on a train (as it is on Eurotunnel’s trains), and that there is ever greater encouragement to transport freight in this way, esepcially intermodal. We’ve also all seen a trend towards greater use of high speed trains for long range inter-city passenger travel, and not just in mainland Europe, as the figures for the share of passenger traffic between London and Manchester show (85% of people used the railway in June 2010). Indeed, Eurostar’s share of the market to its mainland termini is on the up; Air France no longer both flying between Paris and Brussels, instead putting its passengers on Thalys services; and more and more passenger operators are looking to start up services to ever more destinations, even if Deutsche Bahn have had to put back their planned London-Frankfurt/Amsterdam services by two years. This doesn’t explain why more people are choosing to take their cars on the train however, unless the cross-channel ferries have also seen an upsurge in traffic, which suggests more people have chosen to take driving holidays. Whatever. The fact is this is all good – it looks like more people are coming around to the idea that using a train to get to where they want to go need not be a chore, given that trains are much nicer places to be than aeroplanes. For one thing, there’s no nasty recycled air giving me a headache. But the really good thing about more people using the train rather than flying is that we get ever closer to wiping the grin off the face of that of that profiteering leprechaun Michael O’Leary. And if that isn’t a noble cause, then I’m not sure what is.
It seems that Deutsche Bahn’s ambitions for London will have to be put on hold, if the story that I first learned of through Twitter last night, and has since appeared in the Financial Times is anything to go by, because when 2013 comes around they won’t have any trains capable of running the service. Siemens is a year behind schedule with the delivery of DB’s Class 407 EMUs, the intention of which was to fit them for use through the Channel Tunnel. As a consequence, DB has announced that it will be another four years until it is ready to start services from London to its planned destinations of Amsterdam, Cologne and Frankfurt. What is surprising though is that there seems to be a war of words developing between DB and Siemens over this – DB have said that Siemens’ are suffering major delays in the work, and it is this that has caused the postponement of its services through the Tunnel, while Siemens have countered by acknowledging the delay in fulfilling the order, but also saying that DB has yet to confirm it wants the units fitted for use in the Tunnel. All of which plays into the hands of Eurostar, whose own order for 10 brand new trains from Siemens, which will be broadly similar to the Class 407s, will (according to the manufacturer) be unaffected, and will allow Eurostar to implement its own plans for new services to Amsterdam and Cologne at least a year before DB (assuming of course that the Siemens product is finally passed for use in the Tunnel), further cementing its monopoly on passenger services. This makes one wonder exactly where any genuine competition for Eurostar will acutally come from.