Chairman Pip's Railway Thoughts

A lightweight issue

Posted in Rolling stock by Chairman Pip on 7 July 2010

The Stadler GTW railcar is continually proving itself apparently as the lightweight rail vehicle of choice for many operators around the world for regional rail services and tram-train type operation. It is modular in design, and articulated for use both as a tram vehicle and a conventional train, while at the same time being of a low floor design. It can be fitted to operate as as EMU or as a DMU, and has been chosen by several operators in Europe, while at the same time being selected for new commuter operations in the United States. Brilliant. Except that the Stadler cars aren’t exactly lightweight, especially when compared to the vehicles espoused by Parry People Movers Limited. This is the company responsible for the two Class 139 units used on the Stourbridge line. Of course, there are swings and roundabouts to everything – the Parry vehicles are extremely lightweight, which would be an issue in the event of a crash with a conventional train, whereas the Stadler vehicles have that level of crashworthiness needed. In addition, the Parry products are powered using a flywheel, which gathers braking energy and converts it to momentum energy to move the driving wheels. This can use either an on-board engine or electricity as a generator/flywheel top-up, but the principle is that the vehicle’s main energy for its movement comes from the flywheel, which thus should be able to store enough energy to get it from stop to stop. Therefore, it would be easier for a Parry vehicle to run on lines where stops are fairly frequent and close together. Nevertheless, PPML are marketing their vehicles as ideal solutions to the branch line issue in the United Kingdom, where communities are looking to re-open short lines that will connect to the national network. Using this kind of lightweight vehicle would be cheap, and for the expected passenger usage, a good size. The success of the Stourbridge fleet have shown that they are capable of performing as required. It is disheartening therefore that the new government, in its current deficit cutting mood, has put the development of such vehicles (using public money at least) at risk.

THE ’COLD TURKEY’ approach of the new coalition Government to curing the UK’s addiction to public expenditure will have many casualties. In 2009, after years repeatedly refusing to help Parry People Movers Ltd from its R&D funding budget, Advantage West Midlands finally agreed to offer support. A long paper-chase of business planning activity followed, including negotiations with supply-chain partners. By May 2010, PPML’s project managers were waiting patiently for the final signature authorising £148,750 of grant support to help design and build a prototype bigger, faster railcar. Then, in a ‘bomb-shell’ announcement, new Chancellor George Osborne put the future of English Regional Development Agencies, including AWM, in doubt. This has prompted an urgent review by PPML’s chairman John Parry of what has been achieved and the next steps needed.
Parry News No 57

This is unfortunate, given that the same government has made a commitment to a low carbon economy, and PPML have also marketed their products as extremely low emission vehicles. So, PPML are left with trying to make a decent sized lightweight rail vehicle prototype on their own, with little prospect of assistance (it would seem). Fortunately, the company has come up with the kind of improvisation that the UK seems to be famous for, by proposing to convert two of its existing single car vehicles into a two car unit. While this is a good display of willingness on the part of PPML and its partners to get on with the job, it is unfortunate that, for the want of (in the grand scheme of things) a measely £150,000, the opportunity for British built, genuine lightweight, low emission rail travel could be lost. Because if all of the local projects and schemes, like GO! Cooperative, find it next to impossible to buy the kind of vehicles they need from a company like PPML because of the development needed, then the danger is they’ll look at products like the Stadler GTW instead.

Lightweight railcars

The Stadler GTW 2/6 and the proposed Parry People Mover PPM220

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  1. […] in Great Britain, Infrastructure, Lord Adonis, Rolling stock by Chairman Pip on August 5, 2010 I spoke about the danger of neglecting investment in the kind of lightweight rail that doesn’t damage […]


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