Chairman Pip's Railway Thoughts

Stop arseing about!!

Posted in Business, Customer service, Europe, High Speed, Politics, Rolling stock by Chairman Pip on 19 July 2013

Now that the initial fall-out from what might be termed the “Fyra fuck-up” has begun to move onwards, we now move into the realm of “what the bloody hell do we do now?”. Fyra has started using what it started up with, loco-hauled stock behind a Bombardier TRAXX locomotive running its services between Amsterdam and Brussels along conventional lines. NS has also made requests of other high speed operators (notably Thalys and Eurostar) that it implement plans to run additional services to Amsterdam as soon as possible. But it still leaves them in a pickle, in that part of the service agreement for HSL Zuid is the running of domestic high-speed services, for which the V250 sets were procured. The Dutch government has given NS three months to come up with an alternative to the planned Fyra service before it begins to talk to private operators about taking on the concession to use HSL Zuid. Of course, NS must come up with its solution in the knowledge that it has no high speed rolling stock available for its own use. NS Hispeed, the arm of the company responsible for high speed services, directly owns two of Thalys’ Series 43000 units and four of the Class 406 sets used by Deutsche Bahn, but these are pooled with the other units in each respective fleet for specific services. So, NS would need to source rolling stock from elsewhere, with the primary requirement being that it be able to operate over three electrical systems – 25kV (on the high speed lines), 3kV (Belgian classic lines) and 1.5kV (Dutch classic lines).

In February 2013, TGV Lyria, the name given to the TGV services between France and Switzerland, began replacing the rolling stock it originally used. Its original fleet encompassed nine Series 33000 TGV sets, which are tri-voltage variants of the original PSE sets used by SNCF. Presumably these are now going spare (unless of course SNCF has already re-allocated them), and presumably these would fit the loading gauge to run between Brussels and Amsterdam (although that’s something I have no idea of), so would it not be possible, at least as an interim measure, to obtain these for a period until NS can put in place plans to purchase some new, purpose built stock for Fyra? Given that they are still in service around the TGV network, there’s no reason to assume that these sets are on their last legs, and seem to me to be ideal for the kind of services NS (through Fyra) are contracted to provide.

Geoff Marshall – helping Britain’s economy

Posted in Business, Canada, Commuter, London by Chairman Pip on 2 July 2013

This week, Mark Carney, former Governor of the Bank of Canada, started work as the new Governor of the Bank of England. Unlike his predecessor, Sir Mervyn King, Mr Carney has eschewed the use of a car and driver in favour of using the Tube, and so, on Monday morning, ran the gauntlet of Bank station, arriving as he did at 7.00am. Unfortunately, it seems that, while he has responsibility for overseeing one of the world’s major industrial economies, mastering the layout of Bank station may take a little longer. So, he may want to invest in Geoff Marshall’s new phone app, Station Master, which has detailed station layouts, locations of stairs in relation to car doors, and the best and fastest  routes from the train to the barriers. If Mr Carney can get to Threadneedle Street in as calm a mood as possible, having run the gauntlet of the exodus into The City, then so much the better, and if Geoff Marshall’s app can help do this, then get it on his phone!

“Tube-travelling BoE Governor Mark Carney to spend £250,000 housing allowance in West Hampstead”

Follow the yellow brick road

Posted in Business, Customer service, Great Britain, Infrastructure by Chairman Pip on 2 July 2013

I came across a story yesterday concerning East Midlands Parkway, the station that was built to provide a link to East Midlands Airport. It seems that the projected numbers of passengers that was used to justify the station’s construction all the way back under Midland Mainline was wildly overestimated – the reckoning was in the region of 740,000 per year going through its precincts, while the reality is that for the year 2012 the total number was a little over 260,000. I found out about the story thanks to a tweet from Wolmar:

Failure of East Midlands Parkway suggests HS2 station at Toton is in wrong place…  Ppl do not want out of town stns

I personally feel that that is a bit of a simplification. While an out of town station might well prove unhelpful if it is only on one route, if it is a genuine interchange with spokes going in different directions, then it can serve its purpose well. East Midlands Parkway is let down by the fact that its primary purpose, the airport, is 4 miles away, with no shuttle service, and that only trains travelling on the Midland Main Line use it. However, there are a number of small to medium sized towns in the area around the station that have no rail connection. Additionally, right next to the airport is Donington Park. Further, the suburb of Clifton is not too far either, and that is set to be the terminus of one of the new Nottingham Express Transit routes. With the go-ahead of the planned Sheffield tram-train, a similar system connecting the NET network with East Midlands Airport, Donington Park and perhaps somewhere like Ashby-de-la-Zouch, through East Midlands Parkway, would seem to be a reasonably good use of resources. Hell, it wouldn’t even have to connect directly, with Clifton used as an interchange for the NET and Nottingham, and East Midlands Parkway for those journeys to and from points north and south (Leicester, Derby). Were something along those lines to happen, how much footfall would East Midlands Parkway get then?

“East Midlands Parkway railway station fails to meet target”

East Midlands Parkway is currently underused. How much more traffic would it get with better connections to other destinations?

Trains, and boats and…

Posted in Business, Europe, Great Britain, Infrastructure by Chairman Pip on 6 June 2013

It was announced today that the Competition Commission in the UK have ruled that Eurotunnel must stop their ferry service between Dover and Calais because of the fact that their already sizeable market share of traffic on the route (thanks to their rail operation) combined with a ferry service makes it likely that prices would start to go up. To explain, Eurotunnel procured three boats from the fleet of SeaFrance in June of last year when that company was liquidated. These boats are now leased by Eurotunnel to a new operator, MyFerryLink, to continue the service. The ruling of the Competition Commission stated that, in its opinion, Eurotunnel bought the boats in order to prevent rival operator DFDS obtaining them, which would have enabled them to offer more competitive prices. Eurotunnel’s current market share based on its rail business is estimated at 40%, so the addition of the MyFerryLink service to its portfolio would put this over half, while at the same time (again, according to the Commission) driving DFDS away from the Dover-Calais route. While the Commission has not explicitly stated that it must sell the three boats, owing to a ruling in France’s Commercial Court that blocks any sale until 2017. But, the Commission’s ban on them being permitted to use Dover, which comes into force in six months, means that Eurotunnel will be left with potentially unuseable assets on their hands.

I’ve often said that Eurotunnel are potentially missing a trick by not offering pure foot passenger shuttles through the Tunnel, as this would essentially allow them to match the product provided by ferry companies, which provide access for foot passengers as well as vehicles. The ruling by the Commission therefore could be an opportunity for them to begin this kind of provision, through the return of boat trains. Is there any reason why it would not be possible for passenger trains to be run from London to a Channel port (not Dover obviously) that would then connect with Eurotunnel’s boats? Of course, timetables would need to be dealt with, but timetables, even the one on one of the most intensively used parts of the British network, can be re-shaped. And, there is even an extant area that could be used – the Folkestone Harbour branch, which leads to Folkestone Harbour station is located on a jetty that used to connect with boats running from Folkestone. There are plans to redevelop the area around the harbour with new accomodation, but that this will not generate sufficient traffic to justify reopening the branch line. A heritage group called The Remembrance Line are attempting to prevent the removal of the route permanently, with one of their ideas being the operation of boats from the harbour station and boat trains to connect with them. Hey presto. Eurotunnel wouldn’t even need to go to Calais, as they could use one of the other ports, such as Boulogne or Zeebrugge further along the Channel coast of Europe. Rather than complain about the ruling (which naturally they’re doing), Eurotunnel could take this as an opportunity to develop their business into new markets, which frankly is the best way of making even more money.

“Eurotunnel blocked from Dover ferry service”

Folkestone Harbour once played host to regular boat trains. Is there any reason why Eurotunnel couldn’t get round their Dover difficulties by reintroducing them?

See? Told you

Posted in Business, Europe, High Speed, Rolling stock by Chairman Pip on 4 June 2013

I had a feeling something would eventually give in the saga of the Albatross. The V250 high speed EMUs that were intended to run the Fyra service along HSL Zuid, and which were to be procured by both Nederlandse Spoorwegen and NMBS/SNCB, have finally worn the patience of the Belgians to breaking point. SNCB have cancelled the contract they had to procure three V250 sets of their own, and are looking to recoup bank guarantees to the tune of €37m from AnsaldoBreda, the manfacturer. While the sets that had been delivered finally entered service in December 2012, they were withdrawn in January 2013 as a result of safety concerns due to the cold weather. At that time both NS and SNCB commissioned studies into the design, which found numerous issues with the braking system, the battery system, and a lack of protection for the underfloor cabling, and have led to the decision by SNCB. It also transpires that NS are of a similar mindset, and also want to pull out of the project. I hate to say “I told you so”, but back in 2010 I commented on the difficulties Fyra were having with the V250 as compared with the relative ease that Southeastern had introducing the Class 395. Of course, if NS also pulls out, it leaves the question of what to do about the planned Fyra services. SNCB have said that they will look to Thalys to run up to 12 trains per day between Brussels-Midi and Amsterdam Centraal, while at the same time asking Eurostar to introduce a London-Amsterdam via Brussels service from the December 2016 timetable change. Of course, that is dependent on getting the new Class 374 accepted for service. That would still leave NS in something of a hole, as they would not have the trains required for their planned high speed domestic services that they have so trumpeted over the last few years. They would certainly need to procure something else, if they were to still intend going ahead with the plan, perhaps along the lines of the Class 407. Whatever it is they do, I would certainly advise them to pay a little more attention to quality control, rather than simply looking at the bottom line of the cheapest option. Because invariably that ends up costing you the most.

“SNCB pulls out of Fyra V250 deal”
“Dutch railways to dump Italian train”
“Alternatives investigated as NS drops Fyra V250s too”

Both SNCB and Nederlandse Spoorwegen appear to have accepted that their shiny new high speed train is a lemon

You pay for time

Posted in Business, Customer service, London, Politics by Chairman Pip on 6 April 2013

Once again, I paid note of an interesting story in the Evening Standard yesterday (all of the interesting stuff I have seen recently seems to come from there). Hounslow Council have written to Boris Johnson asking the Mayor to try and persuade Heathrow Express to integrate its fares into TfL’s fare structure, and to allow passengers to use Travelcards and Oyster on the service. The rationale for this is that it would improve traffic congestion and pollution by getting more people to travel to the airport by train. As it stands, the cheapest standard fare for the Heathrow Express is £20.00, while bringing it under TfL’s prices would reduce this to a mere £5.50. Heathrow Airport’s argument is that it is a non-stop, fast (15 minutes end to end), premium service intended primarily for air passengers, and that there are already two other rail services from London for local residents and people that work at the airport (Heathrow Connect and the Piccadilly Line), while the Mayor states that he has no control over Heathrow Express’s pricing as it falls outside his purview, being as it is an open access operator outside the framework of the National Rail network.

The argument put forward by Heathrow is entirely valid – the intention of Heathrow Express is to allow air passengers primarily to get to the airport with a minimum of fuss, as passengers can actually check-in at Paddington before they get on the train. While people that work at Heathrow can get a discount to use the service, Heathrow Connect was originally set up to offer workers and local residents a cheaper alternative to get to the airport, even if it is now being actively marketed as a cheaper alternative for passengers as well. However, Heathrow Connect is planned to be absorbed into Crossrail once it starts running its full service, which got me thinking along one thread. Although the full Crossrail through route is not due to start for another six years, the Crossrail operation will actually begin in 2015, when TfL takes over the operation of stopping services between Liverpool Street and Shenfield. In 2016, it is then planned to transfer services to Maidenhead and Heathrow from Paddington. However, given the “difficulties” with the establishment of new franchises, with the Greater Western one of those due for renewal, would not an idea be for TfL to step in now and take on Heathrow Connect directly. As it stands, there remain significantly more expensive fares on this service for the journey between Hayes & Harlington and Heathrow Central than for the rest of the route. Allowing Oyster to be used, and pulling it into the TfL price banding by immediately making it part of the Crossrail concession (like the “Shenfield Metro”) would seem to me to be a logical way of improving the rail connection straight away. Then of course there is Wandsworth Council’s proposal to resurrect in part the aborted Heathrow Airtrack scheme, to provide a connection into the nascent but currently unused west facing platforms at Heathrow Terminal 5, intended to provide an alternative connection into the airport from the south, which would likely reduce numbers of passengers using the services out of Paddington, making it easier for the local residents Hounslow wants to put on the train to actually use the train.

My philosophy when it comes to rail travel is “you pay for time”. If I need to get to Birmingham in a hurry, then I’ll fork out the exhorbitant prices that Virgin Trains charge and go from Euston. If I can take my time, then I’ll get a much cheaper ticket from Chiltern Railways and get the train from Marylebone. Similarly, there will always be people who want to go fast, and who are happy to pay a premium price, and people who aren’t quite so fussed about getting there quickly. For me, I’ll happily take the tube if I need to get to Heathrow, but I’m not going to begrudge people that want both the speed and the level of service you get on the Heathrow Express. In any case, there is a difference between Heathrow Express and Gatwick Express, which does operate through trains for commuters now in addition to its fast, non-stop service between Gatwick Airport and Victoria – Gatwick is a major stop on the Brighton Main Line, while Heathrow is a stub branch to a terminus; the only commuters to and from Heathrow are the people that actually work there. In any case, are there many local people that will want to go non-stop between Heathrow and Paddington?

“Boris Johnson asked to help cut Heathrow Express fare”

It’s the way I tell ’em

Posted in Business, Infrastructure, London by Chairman Pip on 22 March 2013

There was a story in yesterday’s Evening Standard that made me chuckle on the way home. The Primrose Hill Business Centre is a complex that offers accomodation and service provision for businesses, located in Camden. In fact, the two buildings that it occupies are located right next to Camden Carriage Sidings, off the West Coast Main Line, a location that is used by London Midland for stabling purposes during off-peak hours. Frank Carson, the owner of the centre (yes, seriously, Frank Carson, but not that one) has complained that the presence of trains so close to his building means his tenants are denied natural light, as some of the offices in the centre are a mere ten feet from the line side. The manager of one of the businesses that use the centre, Companions of London, also believes the presence of trains so close to his office affects the phones and internet connection. It seems that London Midland, while sympathetic, can’t do anything, given that the sidings, which were originally used for cleaning trains, received a major DfT funded upgrade in 2010 so that they could serve as a stabling point for peak time services. Now, I would have thought that, given that the upgrade would have involved some significant work, local stakeholders would have had a chance to make their objections clear at the time. And perhaps Mr Carson and his tenants did. The fact that the work went ahead perhaps shows the importance of the project in the wider scheme of things. Mr Carson is seemingly considering legal action against London Midland; why didn’t he take legal action in the first place to try and stop the work? I’d venture a supposition that he had no objection when the work was done, and is only raising a stink now because he’s had to lower the rent he can charge his tenants due to the natural light issue. As to affecting the phones and internet, rather than speculating as to that, would it not be better to actually investigate whether there is a problem with the connections due to the presence of so many Desiros parked outside? All in all, as the late Hugh Francis Carson might have said, “it’s a cracker”.

“Ideal for train spotting – Chalk farm businessman plans to sue over parked trains which block sunlight”

Would you want to work there?

Missing a trick?

Posted in Business, Customer service, Great Britain, Infrastructure by Chairman Pip on 15 March 2013

I had a trip to the theatre this week with a couple of friends of mine (the one whose honeymoon was disrupted by the volcano and the one who took my dream holiday) to see a new touring production of Boeing Boeing. While there I happened to point out that the Bluebell Railway extension was due to open next week, as they both seem to take a degree of enjoyment travelling by train, particularly if it is stress free (as travelling on a heritage railway would be), which they seemed quite excited about, suggesting the idea of taking their respective kiddies down their for the day (to explain, they are both relatively new mothers, each having a little one less than 2 years old); they even kindly invited me along. Which was nice of them, especially as I had planned to go on the Bluebell anyway once the restriction of having to get there in a car was gone. However, it did get me thinking to a degree. When the Bluebell extension opens, it will be the fourth heritage railway in the south-east to have a direct connection with National Rail (the others being the Spa Valley Railway, the Mid-Hants Railway and the Swanage Railway), all of which are routes with direct links to London. So it occured to me “are the train operators missing a trick here?” by not entering into some kind of partnership with the heritage railways to access their routes. Obviously, it would be difficult simply to run their trains over onto the heritage lines – the two operators concerned (Southern and South West Trains) have 57 diesel units between them, but all of these are dedicated to existing services on unelectrified routes, so if they were to run services themselves with the approval of the heritage line, they’d need new rolling stock. This is where a partnership would come in. You may recall the plan to run a trial service on the Mid-Hants by GO! Cooperative using the Class 139 prototype previously used on the Stourbridge Line. While this came to naught owing to technical issues with the vehicle, the concept is still valid. If the TOC and the heritage line enter into an agreement that services will be run, commercially, at peak times on the heritage line that are timetabled to meet the TOCs services to employment centres, on a single fare, then it opens up potentially larger markets for the train operator, and provides the heritage railway with additional income sources to undertake its main work, which is the preservation in working order of classic railway vehicles and infrastructure.

Jen demando

Posted in Business, Customer service, Great Britain by Chairman Pip on 22 January 2013

Vi eble memoras ke, antaŭ unu jaro, Rekta Rail Servoj kuris provo pasaĝero servo inter Carlisle kaj Sellafield por laboristoj en la Sellafield nuklea reprocesamiento facilecon. La ideo estis por plibonigi la kalendaron laŭ la Cumbrian Marbordo Linio, kiu ne estis aparte oportuna por tiuj personoj kiuj laboras la frua movo ĉe Sellafield – DRS kurus lia propra trajno, kun lia propra trejnistoj, kun nombro de ili rezervita por Sellafield laboristoj el Carlisle en la frua mateno, kaj Carlisle posttagmeze. La proceso daŭris ses semajnoj, kaj intencis havi konsulto poste determini ĉu ĝi estis farebla por subteni la servon. Dum la uzo de lokomotivo kaj vagonoj, anstataŭ multnombra unueco, estis vidita kiel fari la servon iomete sur la multekostan flanko, la patroneco (ĉirkaŭ 100 pasaĝeroj tage en ĉiu direkto) estis vidita kiel bona komenco, farante ĝin inda daŭrigi. Kaj tamen, por la pli bona el mia memoro, estis nenio diris pri ĝi tiam. Ni scias ke DRS estas perante 15 tutnova Klaso 68 lokomotivoj, miksita trafiko veturiloj kiuj povas feliĉe tiri ĉu pasaĝeroj aŭ de ŝarĝo trajnoj, kiujn ili diris estas provi kaj akiri plej grandan tranĉaĵon de la pasaĝero merkato. Tiuj, pli DRS la ekzistantaj Klaso 37s kaj 47s sugestus difinitan movado en la planita pasaĝero merkato, anstataŭ simple en ĉartoj. Do mi petas al la demando, “kiam ni aŭdas se DRS kuros sia pasaĝero trajnoj?” Kompreneble, iuj homoj povas ne demandi “kiam”, sed ili pli ĝuste estus demandi “volo”, kiu estas egale pravaj. Ho, vi povas demandi kial mi skribis afiŝo en Esperanto. Mia respondo al tio estas “kial ne?”

“Nuklea pura-supren korpo aspektas kuri trajnoj”

Post in English

DRS kuris provo pasaĝero servo en januaro 2012 por la laboristoj ĉe Sellafield kun la intenco por provi kaj daŭrigi ĝin.

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Joined up thinking

Posted in America, Business, Rolling stock by Chairman Pip on 18 January 2013

I saw a story come through yesterday on the Railway Gazette feed in regards to the procurement of new high speed trains that Amtrak announced back in December. You may recall that Amtrak plan to replace the existing Acela Express fleet with new, purpose built units that will go together with the planned infrastructure improvements intended to increase speeds on the Northeast Corridor. Well, Amtrak have made further announcements in regards to this that make a little more sense – first of all is that the procurement wil be in two parts, with the first tranche of twelve trains intended to be used alongside the existing fleet, thus increasing the capacity available for the service; a second order “in the early 2020s” would then replace the current Acela fleet. But it is the second element of the announcement that is more interesting. Amtrak has joined together with CHSR to develop a “US standard” specification for high speed trains in the United States, which makes sense in cost terms as it means each organisation (and any subsequent one, such as XpressWest) won’t have to spend a fortune developing their own spec for their trains. Additionally, by banding together it provides an impetus to potentially allow international companies to introduce domestic supply chains in the US to allow these products to be built and assembled domestically. There was though something of additional interest that I made note of – one of Amtrak’s requirements is for their trains to be able to operate successfully both at 350km/h on any potential new build line, and 240km/h on existing upgraded infrastructure. The current Acela fleet can operate at these speeds due to the fact that they can tilt, which suggests that this would be included in any new specification, given that, no matter what upgrades may be done to the existing route, it will still follow pretty much the same path, and if they need tilting trains now, they’ll still need them in ten years time. This got me thinking that HS2 Ltd should perhaps keep an eye on this process and, if successful, think about taking elements of whatever the US spec is and adapting them for use here when the time comes to procure the fleet of trains intended for use on both High Speed 2 and the existing network, which, given that it will operate on the northern half of the West Coast Main Line, will need to tilt if it is to retain the current available speeds and make the most of the new infrastructure in bringing down journey times to those destinations that won’t be served by the initial route.

“Amtrak and California join forces on high speed fleet procurement”
“Amtrak to partner California in high-speed train procurement plan”

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