Chairman Pip's Railway Thoughts

Make it Evergreen

Posted in Commuter, Infrastructure, London by Chairman Pip on 30 July 2013

Following on from my recent trip out to Chesham I got to thinking. Earlier this month came confirmation from the Government that the Croxley Rail Link, intended to extend the Metropolitan Line to Watford Junction, is to go ahead. Not only does this extend the Watford branch of the route into the centre of the town itself, but it also allows the potential for direct Watford to Amersham services, utilising the at present rarely used chord that runs between Rickmansworth and the Watford branch. Take this one stage further and it would allow direct services between Watford and Aylesbury, which is on the same route past Amersham, giving Chiltern Railways a foothold in Watford. I mentioned that the Chiltern and Metropolitan services share the route between Amersham and Harrow-on-the-Hill, meaning that Chiltern’s diesel units are running along an electrified line, which in many circles is frowned upon (even more so now given the Government’s massive electrification programme).

Chiltern are currently 9 years from the end of their current franchise, which was awarded in 2002 for a total of twenty years. As part of that, they have instituted a rolling series of infrastructure works entitled “Project Evergreen”, which have seen speed improvements along a significant portion of the Chiltern Main Line, redoubling at various points, a brand new depot, expansion of several stations, including London Marylebone and Birmingham Moor Street, and the introduction of a new route to Oxford. All of this takes us to the end of Evergreen 3, which begs the question “what about Evergreen 4?”, given that there will be several years between the completition of the current programme of work and the end of the franchise. The thought that occured to me involved a measure of collaboration with London Underground. With the approval of the Croxley link potentially adding another route accessible to Chiltern, and not a huge distance between Amersham and Aylesbury, would there not be a benefit therefore of electrifying the route to Aylesbury using the LU system? There would then be the opportunity for Chiltern to purchase a fleet of new electric trains similar to the Metropolitan’s S8 Stock (more of which will be required for the new Watford Junction services anyway), while at the same time being able to cascade the units currently used on Aylesbury trains to their other services. Hell, why not go the whole hog and electrify all the way into Marylebone, which would then offer the potential of a nice Central London diversion for the Metropolitan Line in the event of what I experienced last weekend? While I know that new electrification not using OHLE is frowned upon, the fact is LU ain’t going to go over to overhead lines, and so it makes more sense to do this this way, if electrification is the way to go. Which it should be.

A Chiltern Class 165 runs alongside a Metropolitan S8 Stock at Northwood. Electrifying this route beyond Amersham would allow Chiltern to cascade its diesel trains to other services, and potentially integrate more fully with the upcoming Croxley Rail Link

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On the branch line…from Chalfont & Latimer to Chesham

Posted in Commuter, London, Metro, On the branch line by Chairman Pip on 20 July 2013

It’s been a while since I’ve done one of my little branch line trips, owing to this and that. As it was a quiet Saturday I thought, having got the old barnet trimmed, I’d take a mosey outward and find one to take a trip along. Not one of my greatest decisions, but more of that later. The Chesham branch of the Metropolitan Line is pretty much as far as you can go on the London Underground without having to get out and walk, and is something of a surreal experience. While I’ve been on plenty of Tube trains, and I’ve been on quite a few rail journeys through green fields, but I don’t believe I’ve ever combined the two. The branch, as most of you will probably know, used to operate as a shuttle service between Chalfont & Latimer and Chesham for most of the day (much like the Mill Hill East branch); this would run using a four-car A60/62 Stock train during off-peak hours, with a direct service to and from Central London in peak time. The introduction of the S8 Stock required a change to this operation, as the new trains were built as fixed eight-car formations (the A60/62 Stock ran on the main Metropolitan Line as pairs of four-car units), which are too long for the bay platform at Chalfont & Latimer, and so the service was amended to Chesham having two trains per hour all day through to Central London (to Aldgate in peak hours and Baker Street off-peak).

Today though was interesting, as (given that it’s the weekend) there was engineering work on the Metropolitan Line, with nothing running south of Northwood except occasional fast trains between Moor Park and Harrow-on-the-Hill. This wasn’t so much of a problem, as Chiltern Railways was still running its regular services to Aylesbury, which stop at Chalfont & Latimer. However, it seems that the Metropolitan have had one of their less stellar days when it comes to problems. A tree on the line at Northwood, and the whole thing seemingly goes to bollocks, as I stood on the platform at Chalfont for almost an hour having gotten off the train from Marylebone, watching train after train (both Metropolitan Line ones to Amersham and Chiltern ones to Aylesbury) waiting for a train to Chesham. By the time I reached the furthest station from Central London, on the incredibly scenic line through the Buckinghamshire countryside, it was after 5.00pm. But then there was getting back – I thought it might be a lark to go to Watford (as trains were running there en route to Northwood), except that now was the time of the tree on the line, which buggered everything up. Thus it ended up taking me two hours to get from Chesham back to Marylebone. Which didn’t impress me much.

Something that I noticed while on the platforms at both Chalfont and Rickmansworth, and as I watched out the windows, is that none of the stations along this route seems to have next train indicators. This would be particularly useful on the main line, as northbound trains from Chalfont & Latimer have four individual destinations (Chesham, Amersham, Aylesbury and Aylesbury Vale Parkway), while southbound they terminate at Marylebone, Baker Street and Aldgate. This would make things an awful lot simpler for passengers in the event of a situation like today than crowding around the entrance of the station bombarding questions at the poor harassed platform staff.

Something else that I thought of while working my way around the outer reaches of the Tube network was the idea that ending the Chesham shuttle was a bad one. Having to run some of their trains to Chesham off the main line meant that there was always the potential for disruption, which wouldn’t have been there had they shuttled trains backward and forward using the separate platform at Chalfont & Latimer, leaving the main line clear for both fast and slow services from Amersham. Of course, with the eight-car S8 Stock, this is now impossible. So, what of the potential, in situations like this, of hiring in some replacement that could be accommodated in the bay platform. Oh well.

Rolling fields on a tube train

Rolling fields on a tube train

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