Chairman Pip's Railway Thoughts

It’s light, not might…

Posted in Business, Customer service, Great Britain, Infrastructure, Rolling stock by Chairman Pip on 22 November 2010

I have already spoken about the potential that could be realised by using various heritage lines as a means of extending the reach of the railway network. I’ve also spoken of the idea of using lightweight vehicles similar to the Class 139 currently used on the Stourbridge Branch as rolling stock, as these are modern, relatively affordable, and do not cause the level of track wear that heavy rail rolling stock would. Now, certain people have suggested that Parry People Movers, in putting out this release, live up to levels of low expectations in regards to the technology they have used for their rail vehicles. But, is it fair to mock a service that has achieved 99% reliability? Of course, the press release may be a little pretentious, but PPM are after new business, and the success of the Class 139 fleet is a way of showing that the technology does work. This is why Lightweight Community Transport have entered negotiations with three different heritage railways with a view to piloting lightweight services using PPM’s existing PPM50 vehicle that originally piloted the Stourbridge service. Indeed, the PPM50 is in the process of being prepared for use on the Mid-Hants Railway for a trial scheduled for early 2011 between Alton and Medstead & Four Marks, an idea that has been put forward by Hampshire County Council in conjunction with LCT and Goco. Two further proposals are also in the pipeline:

  • Cambrian Heritage Railways and Shropshire County Council have proposed creating a new heritage line from Gobowen to Oswestry, with an intention to provide a regular rail service connecting with the main line at Gobowen (which would allow direct travel to London, Shrewsbury and Chester and, with changes, to Birmingham, Liverpool and Manchester).
  • The Worth Valley Joint Transport Committee and the Keighley & Worth Valley Railway, which already operates a “commuter” service using one of the surviving first generation Railbus units that runs at weekends, has had a report from Arup that suggests using the infrastructure of the KWVR for a genuine daily commuter service between Oxenhope and Keighley, connecting directly with trains to London and Leeds.

There has been some level of scorn at the PPM idea, but it is seen that vehicles of this type are well suited to these kind of short range, branch line type operations as they are (relatively) cheap to obtain (the two Class 139s cost approximately £700,000 for the pair) and cheap to operate, at the same time reducing maintainance costs. By offering themselves as a ROSCO, LCT can see that heritage operations that do see themselves as operating a genuine commuter service can obtain modern rolling stock at a cost within their budget, rather than trying to purchase brand new heavy rail stock, or soldiering on with their own heritage fleets to operate an intensive service. LCT have said that they would be willing to talk to any manufacturer but, at the moment, PPM are the only ones in the UK that fulfil the requirements. Rather than scorning the proactiveness that PPM have shown in trying to attract business for themselves, would it not be better to encourage both them and their potential customer base, who want to see railway restoration to places that need it?

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