The Future of Very Long Distance Trains in the UK
We may be a small island, but it is possible to do some of the longer train journeys in Europe in the UK, where you don’t have to change trains. The longest trip I did in Europe was Nice to Lille.
We have several major long distance routes starting or finishing in London. Some include.
London (Kings Cross) to Inverness via Edinburgh
London (Kings Cross) to Aberdeen via Edinburgh
London (Euston) to Holyhead
London (Paddington) to Fishguard
London (Paddington) to Penzance
I should note that the longest route is actually Penzance to Aberdeen.
At present all of the routes use IC125s or other diesel trains, but for a lot of the journey some will be under wires used by high speed electric trains. It is probably for this reason that when civil servants specified the replacement for the incomparable IC125, they came up with the idea of a bi-mode train, that was electric, but hauled a diesel around for where there was no power supply. Just as with people obesity is not to be tolerated as it wastes fuel, causes more carbon dioxide to be emitted and probably causes all sorts of track problems because of the weight. As an engineer, I just don’t like it! But that’s my prejudice and what do I know about trains?
However, Ian Walmsley, a man who does know about trains, has proposed in the August edition of Modern Railways, that the ageing Class 90 electric locomotives and Mark 3 coaches on the London to Norwich line be replaced with Bombasrdier TRAXX electric locomotives, refurbished and modern styled Mark 3 coaches and perhaps a new set of driving van trailers. The article showed some impressive interiors proposed by a company called Dg8.
Would this concept work on say London to Inverness? I’ve travelled the northermost part of this line in the driver’s cab and it is a truly spectacular line, but it is unlikely that it will ever be able to be electrified further than Stirling. But there are diesel versions of TRAXX, so could an engine change be performed before the electricity runs out. If Bombardier has the engineering correct, which I suspect they do, I doubt that an engine change would take more than a few minutes. It would certainly be less hassle for the passengers than a train change.
As you are running engine facing London as trains do on the northern routes out of Kings Cross, there would be no need for any special operating procedures in London, but you would need to provide for perhaps a small amount of track work at the engine changeover. This point would have to be chosen with respect to driver availability, so perhaps on services via Edinburgh, this might be the point. But of course it would be a simple matter for the train company to work out the best place for the changeover.
In his article, Ian proposed new driving van trailers. When I went to Inverness on the IC125, the driver had no access to train services, so he had to disembark to use the toilet. So should the DVTs be provided with various facilities for the driver?
It should also be noted that the current trains on the route have no room for heavy luggage, so could they be used for such items as bicycles, surfboards for Cornwall and large cases.
If these long routes have more than just distance in common; many passengers will want an at-seat meal and many will be leisure passengers who would want to admire the view.
So should in some ways a retrograde step be taken and make sure everyone has a full table and that seats align with windows, just like they originally did when the Mark 3 coaches were built. In some ways all of the routes are premium routes, where many will book well in advance for a holiday or an event, so the extra cost of the trains would probably be affordable.
An idea I thought of was an observation car, but although it might be possible, it might make train operation difficult. But surely someone like Dg8 could come up with a Cafe Bar Car with large windows that sat in the middle of the train.
As the journey length could be up to about nine hours, it would probably need innovative entertainment systems. How about a front and back camera to show views.
I may be talking out of my backside. But as John Lennon said. Imagine!