Chairman Pip's Railway Thoughts

“You’re far too trusting”

Posted in Ireland, Rolling stock by Chairman Pip on 28 February 2011

Now who’d have thought that would happen? A public body being “economical with the truth”. Of course, it’s entirely possible that NI Railways intend to maintain their “Gatwick set” rake of coaches as what they describe as a “strategic reserve”, just as they said they intended to in answer to my FOI request. Yet, by all accounts, they don’t seem to be taking a great deal of care of the rolling stock, with various vehicles stored around the network. According to what I’ve read on the Irish Railway News forum’s “Gatwicks Watch” (which I’ll admit should not be taken as perhaps the most reliable source), four of the eight coaches in the rake (described as “the most recent runners”), plus the Generator Van, are stored at Lisburn, while the remaining four (the “cripples”) are at FortWilliam Railcar Depot. Where the recently acquired and never used DBSO is I have no idea. A number of people on the Irish Railway News forum have suggested that there is a conspiracy to see that these vehicles are never used in passenger service again:

There is a firm determination that the gatwicks will never be used again, the view held is the DVT is a hangover of a previous management and more hassle than its worth, the coaches are 1970s relics that shouldnt be on the mainline and the 111 class are clapped out locos that should be in the scrap yard rather than york road.

This attitude would be a shame, if true, given that Mark 2 vehicles still operate successfully in Great Britain with no fuss to supplement the increasing numbers of Mark 3 vehicles that are being returned to regular service. I have no doubt that there would be a use for the “Gatwick” set, because of the fact that NIR’s Class 4000 is not due to enter full service for at least another 2-3 years. But, further to that, could a more long term use for them be found? It got me to thinking about long distance services in Northern Ireland. Aside from those run by Enterprise, the only genuine intercity service is the route to Derry. So my question is this, as it is. What kind of market would there be for services between Derry and points south of Belfast, such as Lisburn and Portadown, that bypassed Belfast entirely by using the currently disused Lisburn-Antrim line? This is the line, don’t forget, that runs right along the perimeter of Belfast International Airport. For years there have been calls for a rail link to serve the airport using the railway line that is already in situ. Given the small size of Northern Ireland as a geographical area, why not, in addition to the majority of services that would likely originate from somewhere like Belfast Great Victoria Street, have services that allow international air travellers from Portadown and from Derry to get to the airport without having to change trains in the capital? These would not have to be especially extensive – say two trains per day in each direction that were fairly limited stop (so the major centres such as Portadown, Lisburn, Antrim, Coleraine and Derry) that, rather than terminating at the airport, could continue onwards allowing passengers that have arrived to get on a train home either north or south. Given that the “Gatwick” set was originally used to operate the Gatwick Express, and are fitted for longer duration journeys, they would seem to be ideal. Even with only four vehicles in reasonable condition these, plus the DBSO (and the non passenger carrying GC), can be used to form a six coach train that would likely be ideal. With the right timetabling, such a train could also meet Enterprise’s trains to Dublin. While this of course may simply be blue sky thinking on my part, can it be said that this is at least a willingness to try and find a use for resources upon which a lot has been invested in the not to distant past. Perhaps there is indeed a conspiracy afoot, only it is between NI Railways and Iarnród Éireann to ensure that there is no rolling stock available for anyone else that wants to have a go running passenger trains in Ireland. Let’s see what happens when the time comes to withdraw the Class 450 trains that I have suggested would be ideal for SWIFfT and their proposed open access services on the Waterford-Rosslare line.

The Generator Car - part of NIR's "Gatwick" set. Is there any legitimate, operational reason why a use can't be found for the remaining servicable vehicles that have had a lot invested in them?


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