Chairman Pip's Railway Thoughts

Import, export. Mostly import

Posted in Customer service, Great Britain, Ireland, Rolling stock by Chairman Pip on 21 March 2012

For six weeks from the beginning of January, Direct Rail Services, one of the country’s freight operators, has been running a trial passenger service for workers at the Sellafield nuclear site. This is due to the fact that both DRS and Sellafield are owned by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, who naturally have an interest in getting their workers to and from the facility swiftly and with style. While workers on later shifts are able to use the regular services provided by Northern Rail that run between Barrow and Carlisle, those on the early shift were unable to utilise the train due to the service level on the Cumbrian Coast Line. So, DRS applied to operate one train per day in each direction, leaving Carlisle at 06:15 and arriving at Sellafield at 07:55, with the return leaving Sellafield at 16:48 and getting to Carlisle at 18:32. Utilising their own rolling stock, DRS were able to provide a four coach train, with three reserved for Sellafield workers until after Sellafield, hauled by one of their own locomotives. This trial seems to have had a degree of success, with patronage numbers around 100 per day. However, the fact that a locomotive and coaches has been used has been a source of debate. Of course, rail enthusiasts have enjoyed the fact of seeing passenger trains hauled by a locomotive, a sight that is rare in this country nowadays. And, using this has been an expedient way of getting the trial off the ground, seeing as multiple units are virtually impossible to source for outsiders like DRS. Indeed, when Wrexham & Shropshire ran its timetable trial to Wrexham it used the EWS Company Train, because it was available. It never intended to run its services using loco hauled stock. But, if DRS is given permission to run a Sellafield service on a more permanent basis, it will likely need to source multiple units from somewhere. This is certainly the view of Today’s Railways – in the editorial of issue 124, features writer Robert Pritchard makes the point that:

…average loadings of between 70 and 90 on each train (even with Class 37 enthusiasts) are simply not enough to pay the high costs associated with loco haulage. Use of a DMU would reduce costs to an acceptable level but there are none available!

That opinion is of course based on only looking at the rolling stock available in Great Britain. But as we know, both NI Railways and Iarnród Éireann are in the process of withdrawing rolling stock, with NIR replacing its Class 450 units with the brand new Class 4000s, while IÉ are simply storing their 2700 and 2750 Class units. Now of course there are issues I hear you cry. First of all, both of these types have been built to different specifications than trains that operate on the British network. The wider track gauge in Ireland means that trains can be built to a bigger loading gauge – Irish trains will have slightly wider bodyshells. True, but the Class 450 is a British design, built as part of the Mark 3 family. As a consequence, it is likely that converting it for the loading gauge on the Cumbrian Coast line for not be overly expensive. Then of course there is the reliability issue, what with the Class 450 units having 25 year old bodyshells but 45 year old power units. But what is to stop power units from being salvaged and refurbished from the myriad English Electric powered stock that is being sent to be cut up? If Island Line can keep its ancient rolling stock running, then why couldn’t DRS. Of course, it would be better if the more modern 2700 Class could simply be re-gauged. Unfortunately, because it seems to be a state secret, I can’t find out the dimensions of the 2700 Class, and therefore I can’t tell you whether they would fit the loading gauge! What would of course be ideal is if the traction and power equipment from the 2700 Class could be fitted to the 450 Class. But there I think we’re delving into the realms of fantasy. Nevertheless, if DRS is serious about running a service or services like this, it perhaps could do worse than think along these lines. Indeed, it might even be worth thinking about taking over the operation of the whole line between Carlisle and Barrow with its own dedicated fleet. The less intensive service provided on a route like the Cumbrian Coast could suit the elderly Irish trains, and also allow Northern to reallocate the stock it uses elsewhere, easing overcrowding on other, more intensively used routes. It’s certainly a thought.

“Direct Rail Services launch trial for Sellafield Special”
“The Sellafield Express”

A Class 450 DMU - how hard would it actually be to convert these for use on a route like the Cumbrian Coast?

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