Chairman Pip's Railway Thoughts

International has many meanings

Posted in Customer service, Infrastructure, Ireland, Rolling stock by Chairman Pip on 10 February 2010

Some years ago, there was a quiz question that went “what is the only country in the European Union that doesn’t border any others?”. Often, people would jump in with the answer without thinking, and would say the United Kingdom. It seems obvious, given that the UK is an island. Of course, the answer was actually Greece, given that the UK is not one island, but two, and one of those islands is shared with another sovereign state, namely Ireland. And thus, as we know, rail travel is possible between the UK and Ireland, and sees the UK’s other international rail operator (the first being Eurostar). Enterprise is the island’s flagship rail service, connecting the two capitals and largest cities, Dublin and Belfast. While obviously the economy of the island of Ireland is that much smaller than the economy of Western Europe, these two cities are (or at least were, before the financial crisis) expanding centres of business, and so deserved to be connected by the best rail service they could have. It’s unfortunate therefore to look at what they do have. I’ve spoken about some of the difficulties, most notably the speed limit of 100mph in Ireland. But trains that run at 100mph can still be considered fast, especially given the distance between Dublin and Belfast. Enterprise has a significant number of problems, not the least of which comes from its rolling stock. In 1997, 28 brand new coaches were purchased by Iarnród Éireann and NI Railways for the Enterprise service, intended as four sets of seven, but finally formed into three sets of eight. These trains were designed as push-pull, with a locomotive at one end and a control car at the other. However, unlike Iarnród Éireann’s other push-pull trains, which featured control cars that had their own generators to power the train, leaving the locomotive to drive the train, the new Enterprise stock left all of the power generation to the 201 Class locomotive, a scenario called head end power. A similar system exists in Great Britain, where all of the power for the InterCity 225 comes from the Class 91 locomotive. The difference is, the Class 91 locomotive doesn’t have to generate its own energy; it merely collects electricity from the overhead lines. The 201 Class locomotive is diesel powered, and so has to generate the energy to move itself and its train, as well as the energy to provide light, heat and other needs. This puts a huge amount of strain on the locomotive to the extent that they can’t be used in this mode for too long without serious damage. Hence the reason the number of dedicated Enterprise locomotives has doubled from four to eight since 1997, for just the three trains. Only now have the two operators been able to do something about this, with dedicated generator cars from Iarnród Éireann’s Mark 3 coaches that have recently been withdrawn. But, both IE and NIR also have ambitions to run an hourly service (it is currently every two hours), for which they’ll need extra rolling stock. The minimum requirement is at least seven trains to run an hourly service, and Iarnród Éireann just happen to have five push-pull sets that they’ve just withdrawn among the 124 coaches they operated. Here then is another opportunity not to waste the resource of these coaches. The other difficulty is the capacity issue at Dublin Connolly, which at the moment is at bursting point. The major plan for the Interconnector tunnel will see a number of services that use Connolly diverted elsewhere, freeing up the capacity that could include more Enterprise services. But the Interconnector will not be open for at least five years. This is where a cross-country network could be utilised, by diverting commuter trains that use the main line between Dublin and Belfast via the existing freight only line from Drogheda to Navan, then down the new line between Navan and Clonsilla, which will then go into Dublin Docklands station. But of course, all of this would depend on lateral thinking by Iarnród Éireann in seeing the resources that they have at their disposal and making the best use of them. Recovery comes through investment, and the investment of refurbishing an already existing railway line and a handful of coaches is not likely to break even the empty Irish treasury. Then Enterprise could operate the kind of service that international business travellers need, and that they get from operators like Eurostar, meaning that they wouldn’t have to drive. Cars come off the road, less greenhouse gases are produced, and the world is saved. Hurrah. Why can’t they see that?


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