Chairman Pip's Railway Thoughts

Juniper Javelin

Posted in Great Britain, Rolling stock by Chairman Pip on 14 December 2010

As time passes, so the time draws ever closer that the sleek Class 460 fleet will be wholly replaced by the somewhat less sexy looking Class 442. The eight Class 460 units have been steadily withdrawn, with the last expected to go into store by next spring. And then what? These are after all units that are barely ten years old, and so have a lot of life left in them. The problem is that there are only eight of them, and that is a small number for a dedicated fleet. The one apparently concrete proposal was that raised by Porterbrook, the ROSCO that owns them, which would have seen the eight car units broken up to strengthen the similar Class 458 fleet to five cars. However, after the initial announcement of this plan back in February (which was one of the options to strengthen the overall South West Trains fleet), there seems to have been little that anyone has to say on the matter. So, what else could they be used for? Some suggestions have floated around the world of the railway message boards that certainly give pause for thought:

  • There has been talk for some time now to remove the Manchester-Scotland services currently operated by First TransPennine Express and incorporate them into a small franchise in its own. I have been on a FTPE train from Manchester Piccadilly to Edinburgh Waverley (a three car Class 185) and I can tell you that there are certainly more comformatable ways of spending a few hours. To have three-car trains on a route that long is genuine madness. I’d even welcome back a Voyager (and am prepared for the verbal schelacking that statement might provoke). So having a genuine, eight car express multiple unit on the route would be a quantum leap ahead in terms of operation.
  • Another idea is to use them to supplement the Class 395 units on the “Olympic Javelin” service between St Pancras and Ebbsfleet. This could certainly be an idea worth looking at, as strengthening these services would reduce the level of potential disruption on ordinary services, given the frequency of the planned “Javelin” runs and the number of units likely to be needed (with the consequent wear and tear). Once the Olympics were over they could then be transferred to another operator to strengthen their fleet.

Of course, given that the Class 460 units are third rail DC only, there would need to be some significant investment to convert them for OHLE AC operation. If they were to be used on the “Olympic Javelin”, they would also need to have the relevant safety equipment for use on High Speed 1 installed. There is also the question of just how fast can they actually go? Their listed maximum speed is 100mph, but this is due to the limitations of collecting electricity from the third-rail.

The end ramps of conductor rails (where they are interrupted, or change sides) present a practical limitation on speed due to the mechanical impact of the shoe, and 160 km/h (100 mph) is considered the upper limit of practical third-rail operation, however no testing over 100 mph has been attempted. The world speed record for a third rail train is 174 km/h (108 mph) attained on 11 April 1988 by a British Class 442 EMU.
Third rail; Wikipedia (accessed 14/12/10)

If they were converted to OHLE operation, would they be capable of going faster? And here I’m not talking about whether being freed from the third-rail would allow it, because obviously it would, given that both the InterCity 225 formation and the Class 390 Pendolino can run up to 140mph. What I’m talking about is whether the physical structure of the vehicles is capable of more than 100mph. If they can, then potentially they could be ideal for an operator that wants to run genuine express trains, but is not generally regarded as an inter-city operator,  London Midland or First Capital Connect being the examples that most readily spring to my mind. Of course, this is just pie in the sky. The most obvious, not to mention inexpensive, use would be to keep them on the Southern Region where they could operate without modification. Anyone fancy London Waterloo to Gatwick Airport and Brighton via Herne Hill?

“Darth Vader Javelins”

The Class 460 - so what now?

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