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.

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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?

Expand your vision

Posted in Great Britain, Other general stuff about railways, Politics by Chairman Pip on 17 June 2013

While the green shoots of recovery may be poking through, it is the case that we remain in the Age of Austerity, and that means cutting public spending ever more. At least, that is the case when it comes to the current Chancellor, which seems to have led to the current story regarding the financial state of the Science Museum Group. This is a conglomerate of four national museums dedicated to science, engineering and industry in various cities around the country, specifically:

Because these are national museums, they all have free entry and, as a consequence, the majority of the SMG’s money comes from the direct grant from central government. The upcoming spending review has led to the SMG’s parent department, Culture, Media and Sport, agreeing a 5% cut on its museum expenditure. However, the SMG has said that budget cuts may force it to close one of its northern museums, while charging entry fees could well lead to fewer punters through the door. This got me thinking though. While museums are certainly cultural centres, and thus appropriate expenditure for the DCMS, especially given that they have a large tourist market, a case can also be made that they are certainly educational establishments, and centres for business and trade investment, and thus could receive funding from both the Department for Education and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. But, as the educational centres that they are, they could also be ideal to form partnerships with universities, especially given that successive governments have long sought to increase the number of people entering science and engineering professions. Indeed, the Museum of Science and Industry had a close relationship with the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology for a long time. Would it not be possible to improve the funding for the SMG museums by increasing the number of bodies that provide funds? That would also mean that the SMG was less vulnerable to cuts in government expenditure than it is by having the bulk of its money coming from one source. Then we can ensure that free entry (which is no doubt a boon in attracting punters) can be maintained. Why not?

“Hopes rise that National Railway Museum in York and Locomotion in Shildon will be spared the axe”

Moving along

Posted in Customer service, Europe, Great Britain, High Speed, Infrastructure by Chairman Pip on 17 June 2013

We’ve had news come out over the weekend that, while seemingly on the cards for a long time, has always been a touch on the debateable side, in that we have never been entirely, 100% sure that it would actually come to pass. Well it has; the Intergovernmental Commission have finally given their approval for Deutsche Bahn to operate trains through the Channel Tunnel. This means that, subject to numerous other issues being rectified, DB’s Class 407 is now cleared to operate DB’s longed for services from London to Amsterdam and Frankfurt. Of course, another element to this is that, given the technical similarity, it should mean that Eurostar also have clearance for their new Class 374 units to operate in the Tunnel. Of course, there are still issues to be dealt with before we do actually see DB trains operating from the platforms at St Pancras; the Eisenbahn-Bundesamt still have to give their approval for the Class 407 to run in multiple, which is one of the requirements required for running through the Tunnel (and which has also delayed the delivery of Eurostar’s Class 374s), while the timetable and pathing through the Tunnel will also need amending to accomodate new high speed services. Nevertheless, this is a massive step forward in linking London with many other European centres by rail. Hopefully, now that distributed traction has been cleared for use in the Tunnel, it will encourage other operators to bring plans forward that will make use of the available capacity on High Speed 1, with the added benefit that it will also show to those protesting against High Speed 2 that they don’t have anything to worry about from a high speed railway line running at full capacity.

“IGC grants Deutsche Bahn access to Channel Tunnel”

Travels with Ben and Rosa

Posted in Great Britain, Infrastructure, Other general stuff about railways by Chairman Pip on 17 June 2013

I’ve spoken a lot about heritage railways and the roles that they can play, both in terms of their links to the past, in keeping our railway history alive for people to enjoy (rather than just static in a museum), and their potential as genuine transport links. However, it has been a very long time since I’ve actually been to one. Until last Saturday that is, when I took a trip down to the daddy of them all, the Bluebell Railway. You may recall that this came about when I discussed with two friends of mine that the Bluebell had finally completed its extension to East Grinstead, allowing direct interchange with Southern’s services to Victoria. Well, we arranged it, and on Saturday we all chuffed along down to go to the Bluebell for the day. And what a nice day it was. It didn’t rain, the locomotives and coaches were sparkling and, most importantly, the children were excited. And a little terrified, especially when the locomotives were coupling up at Sheffield Park and expelling steam. But they are both under 2. Nevertheless, the day went well, and the kiddies were as good as gold. There weren’t even an excessive number of terrible twos tantrums, with the worst being at lunchtime. And even then, that was a result of the food being eaten inside and out of sight of the platforms (and thus the trains). I will admit that I was badly behaved when I did that, as I soooo wanted to be outside :P. Seriously though, both of them were, for the most part, as good as gold. I’m not sure whether this will indoctrinate them as gricers; indeed, I had a brief coversation with a chap running a bookstall there (from whom I was able to pick up a copy of the complete Awdry) who said that he only had granddaughters who had all reached an age now when trains were not the most fun things, and that he longed for a grandson. So I do somehow see this as not being the beginning of a lifelong passion for little Rosa. However, it is entirely possible, with encouragement from his parents, that young Ben may well gain a genuine enthusiasm for the iarnród. Perhaps a trip to the Spa Valley is next on the agenda.

A pair of future gricers?

I foresee at least one of these little cherubs (or rugrats) will be a future gricer

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

On the road to…Everton

Posted in Great Britain, On the road..., Other general stuff about railways by Chairman Pip on 13 May 2013

When there is more than one team from the same city in the same division, you get to know the routes to and from where you are to where they are. I’ve no doubt that, given there are six London clubs in this season’s Premier League, and that many fans will have been to all six by train, that people have come to know the various London termini quite well by now. However, this is as nothing when it comes to people travelling to see the two teams in the city at the end of the M62, because it isn’t just a case of travelling to the same city terminus…the proximity of the two of them means that they even share the same local station. Which is a bugger then that, because of a certain horserace putting the kibosh on my trip to the red half, I can’t simply copy the same post twice, and can only report back on my trip to Everton.

Date: 12th May 2013
Stadium: Goodison Park
Capacity: 40,157
Attendance: 39.475
Away Section: Bullens Road Stand
Score: Everton 2-0 West Ham United
Nearest station: Kirkdale
Local rozzers: Merseyside Police
Total Travel Cost: £78.00 (2 x Advance Singles, 1 x Weekend First, 1 x Soccerbus Train Return)

Rail journeys:
09:11 – New Cross to London Charing Cross (Southeastern Class 465/466 Networker)
Northern LineCharing Cross to Euston (1995 Stock)
10:15 – London Euston to Liverpool Lime Street (Virgin Trains Class 390 Pendolino)
13:55 – Liverpool Central to Sandhills (Merseyrail Class 507)
17:14 – Sandhills to Moorfields (Merseyrail Class 508)
18:48 – Liverpool Lime Street to London Euston (Virgin Trains Class 390 Pendolino)
Northern Line – Euston to London Bridge (1995 Stock)
21:43 – London Bridge to New Cross (Southeastern Class 465 Networker)

Station to Stadium: Goodison Park, much like its near neighbour on the other side of Stanley Park, is something of a trek for those favouring “shank’s pony”; the nearest railway station is Kirkdale, which is around a mile away through myriad side streets. This is why it’s a lot easier to take advantage of the shuttle bus service that operates from outside Sandhills station and drops you on Walton Lane at the Park End of the ground. Then it’s merely a case of a short wander (which is nice if it’s sunny, and rubbish if it’s raining) along the road to Bullens Street, and hey presto, the away turnstiles.

Anything else?: The “Soccerbus” scheme operated by Merseytravel is in place for both Everton’s and Liverpool’s home games, and run from the same railway station, Sandhills. Similarly, Kirkdale is the closest railway station for both Goodison Park and Anfield.

Sandhills station

Sandhills railway station

On the road to…Manchester City

Posted in Great Britain, On the road..., Other general stuff about railways by Chairman Pip on 1 May 2013

Eventually, we all have to make that journey; the journey that all teams that win promotion to the top flight have to make at least once a season, and that is the one to the home of the reigning league champions. And, most years, that will involve a trip to what is arguably England’s second city…although the people that live there can fight out that claim with the other one that is arguably England’s second city. However, just for once, it isn’t to the home of the ones that bear the name of one city but reside in another that this accolade belongs, but instead to their “noisy neighbours”, Manchester City

Date: 27th April 2013
Stadium: City of Manchester Stadium
Capacity: 47,805
Attendance: 47,189
Away Section: South Stand
Score: Manchester City 2-1 West Ham United
Nearest station: Etihad Campus
Local rozzers: Greater Manchester Police
Total Travel Cost: £32.20p (1 x Off-Peak Day Return; 1 x Tram Only Dayrider; 1 x Matchday Return)

Rail journeys:
Line 1Nottingham Trent University to Nottingham Station Street (AT6/5 Incentro)
09:45 – Nottingham to Manchester Piccadilly (East Midlands Trains Class 158 Express Sprinter)
East Manchester LinePiccadilly to Etihad Campus (M5000 Flexity Swift)
East Manchester Line – Etihad Campus to Piccadilly (M5000 Flexity Swift)
15:43 – Manchester Piccadilly to Nottingham (East Midlands Trains Class 158 Express Sprinter)
Line 1 – Nottingham Station Street to Nottingham Trent University (AT6/5 Incentro)

Station to Stadium: Initially, on construction of the City of Manchester Stadium, Ashburys was the closest railway station. The construction of the new Metrolink line to Droylsden has since seen a new transport link adjacent to the stadium, with a station serving it directly. The station is located at the north end of the ground, which is also where the club have built a “plaza” for pre-match entertainments; to reach the away end entails simply walking around the exterior of the ground. However, this can prove inconvenient as the police helpfully cordon off the away section at the end of the game – as a consequence, it may be more convenient for away fans to use Velopark, one stop further on, which is also closer to the away end, just five minutes down the Ashton New Road.

Anything else?: Etihad Campus was the third name assigned to the station before it opened, having initially been known as Sportcity-Stadium and then Eastlands City Stadium, before gaining its present name with the advent of the Etihad Campus development.

Etihad Campus station

Etihad Campus Metrolink station

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