Chairman Pip's Railway Thoughts

The story, the whole story and nothing but the story

Posted in Other general stuff about railways by Chairman Pip on 28 May 2010

Chris Barrie, aside from being an actor, comedian and impressionist of some note, is also a fan of big, fast, powerful machines, and has presented programmes for both Discovery Channel and National Geographic on these subjects. I sat down to watch an episode of one of these a couple of days ago, while I was getting over a touch of diahorrea (sorry for being graphic there), in this case the episode of Chris Barrie’s Massive Speed, which naturally was the episode focusing on the railways. Of course, there’s only so much you can fit into half an hour, so he looked at City of Truro (a contender as the first locomotive recorded at over 100mph) but not Flying Scotsman (officially the first locomotive at 100mph) or Mallard (the world’s fastest steam locomotive). Then his attention was turned to what he referred to as “the competition between diesel and electric”, as if to make out that the High Speed Train and Advanced Passenger Train were somehow rivals for the same services, which we should all know wasn’t the case. HST was developed as a stop-gap measure in the event that the technology used in APT did not work. But, we also know that, due to both the twisty nature of the route and the fact it was electrified meant the diesel powered HST was never intended for use on the WCML, which was the reason APT was designed to tilt. I’ve said before that, in my view, it’s likely that the electric APT would have entered full service on the WCML had it been thoroughly tested and all of its problems ironed out. So, in this instance the whole story is not coming out.

Additionally, our genial host also spoke about maglev systems, and how they have the potential to take high speed to the next level on from conventional HSR. Again true, but again not the whole story was given, which is the lack of interoperability with conventional rail. The Shinkansen network, being already physically isolated from Japan’s conventional network owing to the gauge difference, can accomodate a maglev line(s) easily, as they would have to be built in totality in exactly the same way as the conventional wheeled lines. The TGV network however is directly connected to the conventional rail network, allowing trains to get directly to the centre of cities without the need to build the high speed line into them (as they have to in Japan). This means construction of a maglev line or lines would potentially be ten times more expensive and difficult to construct, as it would have to go direct into the city. So, you should always be a little wary when watching programmes like this not to trust verbatim what the host is telling you.

Massive Speed - massive fun, but be cautious about what you're told


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