Thu, 05 Jun 2008

Derailment at Derby

What happened when the signaller tried to route one of Direct Rail Services' newly repainted class 66s into a disused bay:

The line in question is known as the West End Back Dock though another, possibly more offical, name is South Dock Siding. I have never seen a locomotive in there within the last 30 years. For many years the dock was home to a derelict van, with Buddleia growing over it and apparently out of it.

Sun, 27 Jan 2008

UK Passenger TOC Connections

Following the UK rail franchise re-lettings of 2006-2007, I wanted to see what a list of UK franchise operators and their corporate relationships would look like now. The map of their connections was created in a relaxed evening's work with Freemind.

How to use the Freemind mindmap viewer : click in mindmap window below to activate applet. Make your browser fullscreen to see as much as possible. Scroll around the map with cursor keys or click-and-drag on the white background. Press ESC to centre map again. Right-click on objects in map for context menus. Click anywhere outside mindmap window to return to normal browser keyboard control.

Download TOC Freemind Mindmap

Sat, 03 Nov 2007

Rail Privatisation: ten years on

DfT: sitting on the SoFA

In 2006-07 most of the first round of franchises came to the end of their terms and were put up for re-letting. In an unanticipated round of blood letting in search of “best value for the Department for Transport”, few of them were retained by the incumbents.

The early refranchising round was ushered in by the news that First Great Western (not a 1996 franchisee having bought out the original management team, but a TOC which did retain its franchise in the re-bidding) had gone back after a few weeks to renegotiate their terms and their DfT-approved rolling stock list, amidst widespread public protests from their passengers concerning short trains and withdrawn services. The DfT protested that fGW were free to restore services to any level they wished - but forgot to mention that fGW were under a tight agreement as to their bid for costs to run the services, or that their rolling stock had been allocated by the DfT to other forthcoming refranchises. The reason for DfT approving changes despite their own protestations of innocence in the cuts was that to restore the services altered, combined or withdrawn would cost more than the bid the DfT themselves had selected as "best value" for the tightly specified franchise.

One original 1996 franchisee to keep their franchise was Stagecoach with the TOC once known as South West Drains, thanks to a complete turn-around in their performance measures and passenger satisfaction from bottom to top. What probably also helped Stagecoach keep their franchise was getting the long-delayed "Juniper" units (an embarrassing bit of post-privatisation rolling stock ordering) into service on the Reading line, thus saving the DfT from even more embarrassing "trains that never turned a wheel in service" stories at a time when public focus turned to overcrowding and the need to restore post-privatisation cuts in train lengths.

Before a year was out came the collapse of GNER who had bid to retain their franchise on terms widely seen as ambitious, and were simultaneously hit by their parent withdrawing financial guarantees at the same time as business shrank following the July 2006 London bombings. They had no financial margin due to the tightness of their bid. After GNER, no further franchises went to the incumbent - I presume the DfT paniced and tried in this way to stop the increasing progression of optimistic bids from existing franchise holders.

Thus it became clear in 2007 that keeping the railway usable for its passengers and keeping the railway organised stably during temporary lean times were no longer political objectives - involving as they did "reducing value" for the DfT. Though at least since the IEP (Intercity Express replacement Programme) was mooted the DfT has now given up any pretence of not allocating the rolling stock to Train Operating Companies ...

Most recently, Virgin, another early first-generation franchisee, have lost their Cross Country franchise to Arriva. Virgin retained their West Coast franchise, whose length was previously extended to 2012 on favourable management terms in compensation for their losses under the Railtrack-inspired planning and management disaster known as West Coast Passenger Upgrade. PUG, like the APT project twenty-five years ago, was an object lesson in railway engineering evolution rather than airline inspired revolution — but one which cost many times more than the entire APT project, which delivered less than APT would have, and which inconvenienced passengers throughout years of topsy-turvey engineering closures and disruptions. Still the Pendolinos look nice, even though at 125 mph (200 km/h) they are scheduled slower than APT's 1981 speed of no less than 140 mph (225 km/h).

Also in 2007 Network Rail's first financial "Control Period" aka CP2 came to an end, and with it the generous funding they had been given to recover from the Railtrack mess. CP1 covered the disastrous tenure of John Major's and John Prescott's Railtrack, during which the reliability and safety of rail trackwork and signalling degenerated to appalling levels whilst the Directors sold off railway property they had inherited from BR in order to fund badly managed mega-projects and pay shareholder dividends.

For Network Rail 2007-2012 (CP3), a new set of funding rules are being tried. The DfT were asked by the independent Rail Regulator to come up with two documents: a Statement of Funds Available (the SoFA) and the High Level Output Statement (HLOS), a specification of what they wanted the railway to achieve. The hope is - and I write as these documents have just been published - that requiring the DfT to focus their minds in this manner will lead to a more stably funded railway, a more sustainable railway in the medium to long term, and one less subject to change of direction from Whitehall each time a new crisis or new flavour-of-the-month arises. The same goals as we originally hoped for from privatisation itself, in fact !

And so the money-go-round continues. Did you realise that the overcrowded privatised railway today is costing more than three times as much total from your and my pocket than BR did, at a corresponding time in the economic cycle and similar passenger levels ?

There was an "old BR" black joke that running a railway would be easy if it weren't for the passengers. If you thought party politicians meddled too much with British Rail, you've not kept track of the machinations of the transport Civil Servants "playing trains" during ten years of privatised railway ! Writing this in September 2007 the situation is not yet clear, but let us hope that the Mandarins of Transport have learnt their own corresponding lesson after once again getting their fingers - and our pockets - financially burnt.


BBC / UK / Politics / The great train sell-off: Who dunnit? (20th October 2000)

The Guardian: The £10bn rail crash (April 2004). “James Meek reveals the saga of incompetence, greed and delusion behind Britain's biggest public works project” - the Railtrack West Coast Passenger Upgrade (Archive copy)

Tue, 23 Jul 1996

The Advanced Passenger Train

APT nose logo

The Advanced Passenger Train is frequently quoted as one of the Great British Non-Starters of our time. But was it ?

This isn't the original text: we didn't have HTML in 1993. I've also corrected a few points and added extra details!

Someone wrote, long ago on Usenet:
>>Only one APT set has survived, and is "preserved" at Crewe in the Heritage Centre,
>I remember seeing one at the York railway museum about two years ago, is
>it still there? It was in a bit of a state.

APT front view That's a different train: the APT-E. "E" stands for "Experimental", and the APT-E was the technology proving train. It never ever ran in passenger service and was a completely different beast from the production train. APT-E was only four cars long: two gas turbine power cars, and two trailers chock full of instrumentation. It ran regular tests in several places, but particularly on the Midland Main Line and the Old Dalby Test Track. It achieved its maximum of 152.3 mph on the Great Western. You're probably familiar with the photograph of a prototype Concorde making a low pass over the GW main line near Filton as the APT-E passed underneath. What a fluke that must have been for the photographer — I just cannot imagine it being set up! And, too, there are photo's of the APT-E and the experimental HST (41 001 + 41 002, later numbered as a multiple unit 252 001) side by side at Swindon.

The train which did run in service was the APT-P, for "Prototype". There were three full trains, each composed of two identical half trains of driving trailer, six (I think) articulated cars and a non-driving electric Bo-Bo power car. The two power cars were formed in the middle of the train because, at the time they were designed, pantograph technology wasn't up to having two pans at opposite ends of the train both working at the 150mph envisaged for the train.

By the time they reached passenger service one half of each train had been reduced to just driving trailer plus power car because it wasn't economical to provide two full sets of staff — there was no access between the two halves except via a cramped, noisy walkway through the guts of the power cars.

APT article scan Launch was originally set and publically announced for May 1980, but technical problems meant several delays to the date. After it was again delayed from May 1981, to September and then OctoberAPT article scan , the date was eventually set by fiat, and testing and tuning continued right up until Monday 7th December 1981, when APT-P was introduced to a blaze of publicity.

Sir Peter Parker launches APT at Euston, 7.12.1981Special Notice at Euston
APT boardingAPT achieved, if I remember right, a maximum of 140mph southbound and about 138 northbound. As noted by another poster, journalists looking for a story exaggerated the nausea problem, nobody I spoke to found any problems with it. I even went to the extent of standing up round reverse curves. Later trials proved that some people did genuinely experience it; it was mainly due to the fact that the tilt mechanism compensated too perfectly for the sensations of cornering. But the train did suffer two or three stops due to minor tilt failures during the trial run, which didn't help its credibility either. Nor did an unauthorised stop at Carstairs on the return journey to set down the minor television personality Isla St. Clair. I think despite all the delays we were about 40 minutes late into Glasgow, which meant the trip took the same time as a normal train :-)

Snow covered HSTHowever the major problem was that the night of 7th-8th December brought some of the worst winter weather for several years to the whole of England. During the following three days British Rail tried to continue the APT service, but — as with most other stock on the network — moisture kept freezing, not in the high-speed hydraulic brakes, but in the air brake lines which were supposed to take over at lower speeds. On the Wednesday the southbound trip was cancelled at Crewe, amongst service problems all around, and the train withdrawn from passenger service.

APT at
Derby Open Day, 1982As far as the media were concerned that was the end of the APT. However the engineers kept working on tuning the tilt mechanism, or rather carefully de-tuning it to give the most sensitive passengers a sense of balance. And in summer 1982 the APT was very quietly reintroduced to service. At first it ran as a relief train shadowing a normal service; later, as confidence grew, it gained its own departure slot, about 10.30 from Glasgow and an early evening return from Euston if I remember. I travelled on it several times between 1982–1984 and the ride was quite superb and the reliability exemplary. I deeply regret though that, photographically speaking, it was a bit of a 'jinx train' for me. I have many feet of badly-exposed film of it due to undetected camera failures or wrong exposure settings.

But, though the train was technically a success, the political battle had been lost and the management will to build the APT-S ("Squadron") had evaporated. Eventually it was withdrawn from service; two trains were scrapped and one sent to Crewe Heritage Centre (now The Railway Age) where from time to time the newspapers rediscover "BR's Wonder Train Shunted Into History".
APT article scan