The Anonymous Widower

Transport for London Serves Up A Delicious Turkey

The local media is starting to pick up East London’s train revolution, if this article from This is Local London entitled Lower fares for overground stops that include Southbury and Turkey Street is anything to go by. I’m pleased to say that I spotted this one earlier.

It will be interesting to see if traffic goes up at stations like Southbury and Turkey Street.

I think the Overground takeover will define one of the battlefields for the next London Mayor in 2016. Who can prove they can offer most lines might come under TfL control, will gain an advantage at the ballot box.

May 25, 2015 Posted by | Travel | , , | Leave a comment

Whither HS2 And HS3?

This morning there is an article in The Independent, which is entitled SNP fury as HS2 finds ‘no business case’ for taking fast train service to Scotland. Here’s the first paragraph.

The £50bn High Speed Two rail link will not be extended to Scotland, as the team behind the project has found there is “no business case” for the undertaking.

There may not be a conventional business case, as some of the reasons for developing a high speed railway up and down the country are emotional or for a country, where none of us will still be alive.

When HS2 is talked about in the media, freight is rarely mentioned outside of specialist magazines and web sites.

Although, HS2 will be built for the biggest freight trains, there are no plans for using it for this purpose at present. But, if the high speed line moves passengers away from the conventional East Coast, West Coast and Midland Main Lines, this will reduce the number of passenger trains and open up more paths for much needed freight trains to drive the economy.

The Electric Spine will take pressure off existing routes to the North and Scotland, but it does nothing to increase capacity north of Warrington and York, where both the East and West Coast Main Lines do not have the capacity of their southern ends. Some extra tracks and easier routes may be possible in places on these two Main Lines, but upgrading them will be difficult and politically sensitive.

The only other way to create more capacity between the North of England and Central Scotland is to electrify the Settle to Carlisle Line and complete and electrify the Waverley Route to Edinburgh.

I also mistrust all forecasts of passenger ridership on the railways. Two examples illustrate how bad they can be.

The estimate for traffic through the Channel Tunnel were very much on the high side and only now are the number of train passengers rising substantially.

Locally, to me, the London Overground was started with three coach trains, which as just five years later they are now converting them all to five cars was an estimate to go with some of the most spectacularly bad Treasury and Department of Transport predictions.

Add to this the usual mistakes, where they get the number of trains wrong and lumber places with unsuitable, inadequate or poorly designed trains, that are often unique one-offs, so we can’t just rustle up some more standard trains.

If you want to see an inadequate set of trains look at the Class 185 trains built for Trans Pennine services. Wikipedia has a whole section devoted to Overcrowding and Passenger Feedback. I have this feeling that some of the other trains ordered lately might be disasters, as the dead hand of the Treasury was too much on decision.

So I can understand, why the SNP are angry that HS2 will not be extended to Scotland. More capacity is needed between England and Scotland for both freight and passengers, and if that is new capacity, it is likely that it would work well and in a reliable way, using standard trains that are just not UK-only specials, bought from the Treasury’s petty cash.

I do think though that our designs for HS2 are rather dated and don’t take things that are happening or have happened into account.

Crossrail in London has shown that putting a large twin rail tunnel under a major city, is not the problem it once was. Crossrail have also been very innovative in creating stations with the minimum disturbance to existing infrastructure. As an example, the new Whitechapel station for Crossrail has also used a technique called uphill excavation, where you create escalator and lift shafts upwards from the tunnels, rather than traditionally from the surface, which is much more disruptive.

These techniques can revolutionise the construction of HS2.

Take cities like Birmingham, Leeds, Manchester, Newcastle and Sheffield, which have developed and are continually developing extensive local networks. So why are we in Birmingham still talking about creating an HS2 station at Curzon Street. Surely, we just dig a very deep pair of HS2 tunnels under the city and then uphill excavate into not only New Street, but Moor Street and Snow Hill as well. The tunnels would be only made as long as necessary, although the underground station could be very large. But it probably wouldn’t be much bigger than the double-ended Liverpool Street/Moorgate station being created for Crossrail.

The great advantage of this method of construction is that you can continue to develop your network of local trains, trams and other transport links, untroubled by the construction of the new station deep below. Anybody, who thinks this is not possible, should spend half-an-hour walking around Whitechapel station, where the Hammersmith and CityDistrict and East London Lines are passing untroubled over the giant hole and through the building site for the new station.

I would have no idea as to the costs of this method of construction, but it surely must be more affordable, than creating a new station or modifying an old one, by traditional methods.

A station in Manchester could probably be created in a similar manner with a giant double-ended station linking into Manchester Piccadilly station at the Southern end and Manchester Victoria station at the Northern. This is a Google Earth image of Manchester city centre between the two main stations.

Manchester Piccadily And Victoria

Manchester Piccadily And Victoria

Victoria is at the top and Piccadilly is at the bottom. The distance between the two stations is probably a couple of hundred metres more than between Moorgate and Liverpool Street, so designing a station deep beneath the city centre should be possible with a bit of help from long escalators and perhaps a travalator. If nothing else, it would be a wonderful way to transfer between the two stations in the rain. It could also have entrances in places like Piccadilly Gardens

Leeds could be a number of platforms for the high-speed lines under the current station.

Since HS2 has been proposed and still-born, the Northern Powerhouse and HS3 has arrived.

In my view we should plan HS2 and HS3 together and construct them together, as needs determine and budgets allow.

HS2 would start in London, possibly in an underground station which would be under one of the three stations on the Euston Road; Kings Cross, St. Pancras and Euston. It would probably be under Euston, but wherever it was it would be closely integrated into the Crossrail 2 station, which would be under Euston Road at right angles to the other lines and will serve the three current and the new HS2 stations.

I wouldn’t totally rebuild Euston station for HS2, as the station is so complicated and second-rate in its relationship with the Underground, that creating a decent connection between the current station would be so difficult to do without gumming up London’s transport system for umpteen years, that it would be better to build Crossrail 2 first and connect it to the three current stations, then tunnel HS2 accurately into the knitting. The current Euston station would be kept fully operational throughout the construction of HS2 and only when that line is complete, would Euston station be given the sort of upgrade that has been so successfully done at Kings Cross, Waterloo and Paddington.

HS2 would go North to a station at Old Oak Common, probably mostly in tunnel and it would then pass stations at Birmingham Interchange (Airport), Birmingham, Crewe, Manchester Interchange (Airport), Manchester and Leeds. I would put the stations in tunnels underneath the current transport hubs.

A branch off the main HS2, north of Birmingham, would go under Nottingham, Sheffield, finally rejoining the main HS2 at Leeds.

And why not balance the network, by having a branch off HS2 south of Birmingham going towards Bristol and Cardiff.

If the alignments were developed correctly, then loops under cities like Stoke might be possible.

HS3 could actually be integrated into HS2. Perhaps it would start under Liverpool Lime Street and then pass under Manchester Interchange, Manchester and Leeds.

From Leeds the HS2 and HS3 would split again, with one branch going North to Newcastle via York and the other going to Hull via Sheffield and Doncaster.

Obviously, this is only a back-of-an-envelop design and properly thought through it could be much better.

But I do feel that HS2 and HS3 will both benefit if they share a route between Manchester Interchange and Leeds, via perhaps Manchester and Huddersfield.

One of the aims of this design is to create a high-speed railway network, with as little demolition and disruption to the workings of our cities as possible.

What happens in Scotland is tricky, as in my view a lot of improvements are mainly Scottish solutions. For instance, as I said, the Waverley Route needs to be rebuilt to a high standard with electrification, Glasgow Crossrail needs to be created and Edinburgh to Glasgow needs to be fully electrified.

But when Newcastle gets a high speed connection to the south, the final piece in the jigsaw of high-speed lines would be to extend HS2 to Edinburgh and Glasgow. Hopefully, by the time that happens, we’ll have learned how to do it in a quick, affordable and non-disruptive way.

The one thing we mustn’t do is build HS2 as it is currently designed, as we can do much better than is proposed.

 

May 24, 2015 Posted by | Travel | , , | Leave a comment

Death On The Line

This story on the BBC about a badly-handled death on the railway between Slough and Reading is tragic. These are the first few lines of the story.

A rail company has apologised after a staff member told passengers the train was delayed because someone “couldn’t be bothered to live any more”.

Passengers aboard a train to Plymouth were delayed after a fatality on the line.

But the staff on First Great Western could have handled it better.

On the other hand I sympathise very much with staff and passengers on this stretch of line out of Paddington, as this death was not a once in a decade happening.

Just after a previous incident, I was travelling back on an almost empty train to London from Oxford and I said something like “You must get a  bit fed up with all these incidents.” to the conductor. He replied something like “More than just a bit!”

It is getting to the point, where something drastic needs to be done to stop people getting on the line. I think we really won’t see any improvement until all of the stations between Paddington and Reading become part of Crossrail and there is barrier access and more staff about on the platforms, if they follow a typical Transport for London policy.

 

May 24, 2015 Posted by | Travel | , , , | Leave a comment

Five-Car Trains Are Running On The North London Line

I took these pictures of a five-car Class 378 trains on the North London Line today.

Although five-car trains seemed to be slow to appear, Bombardier seem to have got the cut and shut process working pretty fast now.

May 23, 2015 Posted by | Travel | , | Leave a comment

The Hackney Downs/Central Link Is Not Small

These pictures show the progress on the pedestrian link between Hackney Downs and Hackney Central stations.

It certainly isn’t small, but once complete it will be a weatherproof way of getting between the two stations.

It should also be remembered that Hackney Downs station is not very step-free and I suspect that this walkway will only be the start of integrating these two stations to create a Hackney or Hackney Junction station. The new Tube Map for the end of May, shows the two stations connected.

Hackney On The New Tube Map

Hackney On The New Tube Map

I hope the ingenious individual who drew the new map, didn’t suffer too much mental anguish. Or did they go to Finchley Central station for divine inspiration?

The new link between Hackney Downs and Hackney Central stations, illustrates how far steel design and construction has improved, if you compare the pictures in this post with one taken in 1928 of the original link, which was demolished in 1944, when Hackney Central station was closed.

DownsBridge

When I see terrible stations built in the last few years, like these in Kassel, with precipitous stairs and no lifts, I do wonder how architects and engineers manage to get it so bad. Perhaps they should fire the accountants and the politicians! After all, this bridge at Hackney from probably over a hundred years ago connects to both platforms at Hackney Central with a covered stairway and although it has no lifts, would probably have been considered state of the art in its time.

May 23, 2015 Posted by | Travel | , | 1 Comment

Thank You Transport for London

On the 31st May 2015, Transport for London take over the lines out of Liverpool Street to Enfield Town, Cheshunt, Chingford and Shenfield and two days ago they published this press release on their web site, which is entitled Passengers set to benefit as key commuter rail services transfer to TfL.

So what does that mean?

1. The services currently operate with National Rail pay as you go fares, which are generally higher than TfL fares. When services transfer, over 80 per cent of current rail journeys will reduce in price and TfL concessions will apply – giving customers substantial savings. The remaining 20 per cent of fares will remain unchanged.

2. All TfL concessions and discounts that currently apply to London Underground, the Docklands Light Railway, and London Overground will apply on the rail services transferring to TfL. I think that means I can travel free to Brentwood and Shenfield using my Freedom Pass.

3. There are a few other technical things that seem beneficial, like Brentwood being moved into Zone 9.

4. I suspect too, that the level of customer service will be better under TfL than Abellio Greater Anglia.

I can’t see any average passengers complaining about this package. Except perhaps those who commute on lines like c2c into London, where there are no fare reductions.

So it’s probably a big thank you to Transport for London.

May 23, 2015 Posted by | Travel | , , , | 1 Comment

Could Tram-Trains Be Used To Advantage North Of Manchester?

In A Plea For Help From Lancashire, I said this about creating a better service to Rossendale.

Perhaps one way to do create a service would be use Class 399 tram-trains to extend the Metrolink from Bury, if they are proven to work successfully between Sheffield and Rotherham in the next few years. After all, the first phase of the Manchester Metrolink to Bury was built by converting the old East Lancashire Railway,

I also said that I feel that the Germans and the French would use tram-trains in the area.

So how feasible would it be to extend the trams from Bury? This is a Google Earth image of the centre of Bury around the end of the Metrolink line from Manchester.

Bury Interchange

Note how the East Lancashire Railway from Bolton Street station passes under the A58 and turns east to continue to its next station at Heywood. The Metrolink stop is marked by the blue symbol labelled Bury Interchange and the tram line goes south passing under the A58 and the rail line.

I clipped this route diagram from the Wikipedia entry for the East Lancashire Line.

Bury Rail Lines

Bury Rail Lines

My untrained eye says that it wouldn’t be that difficult to have some tram-trains go via Bury South Junction and then up the East Lancashire Railway. A Buckley Wells Metrolink stop and Park and Ride has been proposed and the site is already owned by Transport for Greater Manchester. Although, I would suspect that the lines would run differently to those shown.

If  Class 399 tram-trains or similar going up the East Lancashire Railway were to be proposed, it would certainly result in at least two additional stops in Bury at Buckley Wells and Bolton Street. The biggest problem would be to decide how far the trams would go. Originally the electric trains on the Bury Line as it then was, went to Rawtenstall station. Wikipedia says this.

The Association of Train Operating Companies have identified that the community of Rawtenstall on the East Lancashire Railway Heritage Railway could benefit from services connecting the station to the National Network.

So perhaps this could be a possibility.

One of the advantages of using tram-trains to add a commuter service to the East Lancashire Railway, is that it would reduce the need to find heavy rail platforms at Manchester Victoria. There may be a problem though in the capacity of the current Bury Line, which has a double tram every six minutes. But then a second crossing of the city centre is being built and there are proposals to add all sorts of extensions to the Metrolink network.

Tram-trains are remarkably flexible vehicles in that provided the loading gauge, platform height and track is correct, there is a power supply and signalling system they can use, they can go a vast number of places on the rail and tram network. As an example, here’s one of Karlsruhe’s tram-trains in a platform in the main station alongside a TGV.

A Tram-Train With A TGV

So the only thing that limits their use is the correct certification for a route and the training of the staff. Tram-trains also have the advantage that they can run at slowish tram speeds in city centres and at much faster speeds on rail lines designed for such.

In my view all this means that to expand the Metrolink outside of its current network, you need to get a tram-train that can run on the central network in the city centre and then gradually equip and certify all of the branches out of the city for the chosen tram-train.

It would be nice to think in my view, that we could come up with one specification for a tram-train, that could be used everywhere in the country.

To show how tram-trains could be used, I’ll use the example of the new service around the Todmorden Curve from Manchester Victoria to Burnley and Blackburn.

The Caldervale Line through Blackburn, Accrington and Burnley is going to be electrified in the next few years, so it would only be necessary to additionally electrify the line from Rochdale to the Todmorden Curve.

Rochdale where the train and tram lines are close together as this Google Earth image shows, gives two possibilities.

Rochdale Interchange

Rochdale Interchange

The tram-train could either go on the current route into Manchester Victoria, provided of course it was electrified or it could run to the city centre on the tram lines.

You pays your money and takes your choice depending on what optimises the network best for the passengers.

May 23, 2015 Posted by | Travel | , , | Leave a comment

Peer-To-Peer Lending Is Different In The US

I like peer-to-peer lending and have quite a large sum invested. But after reading this article in the Financial Times, I’m pretty certain that if I lived in the United States, I wouldn’t touch peer-to-peer lending with a bargepole.

The reason is that in the United States, institutional investors get first pick of the borrowers and are developing software, so that the retail investors gets what’s left.

In the UK, the Peer-To-Peer Finance Association has moved to ban this practice and make all investors equal.

The day they give preference to institutions, my money will be withdrawn gradually as it becomes available.

I think we all have to remember that one of the causes of the Financial Crash of a few years ago was greedy bankers, who felt they were a class above the vast majority of people, who have made their money by sheer dint of hard work.

Whatever you do, read the article in the FT. It’s a cracker!

And also look at the Peer-To-Peer Finance Association web site!

May 23, 2015 Posted by | Finance, World | | Leave a comment

Burnley And Ebbw Vale

You may wonder why I’m writing a piece about two towns in the United Kingdom, which are hundreds of miles apart.

Both towns have not been in the best of health lately, although employment has risen in Burnley between 2009 and 2013 by 7.1%, as against 0.6% across the North-West and 2.0% nationally, according to this article.

They are also towns with similar geographic and transport problems being in the hills with not the best transport links.

But last Sunday, both towns got improved rail links to their nearest big city.

Ebbw Vale Town station opened and trains now run direct to Cardiff every hour.

At Burnley, five hundred metres of new single track called the Todmorden Curve has enabled trains to run direct to Manchester Victoria every hour.

I have been monitoring news stories about both new pieces of infrastructure and these reports from local media are noteworthy and generally positive.

Ebbw Vale

First train pulls into new Ebbw Vale Town Station

Burnley

TODMORDEN CURVE: 500 metres of track has opened up new world

TODMORDEN CURVE: £12m spin-off for Burnley’s economy

The only article with a negative tone is this piece entitled Rossendale Scribbler: Forget the bus station, we should look to rail to improve our transport links, which has a touch of jealousy that the Todmorden Curve doesn’t help his travels.

It will be interesting to go back to Burnley and Ebbw Vale in a few months to see if the early green shoots of optimism have grown or withered.

May 23, 2015 Posted by | Travel | , , | Leave a comment

A Must Read Article On The Tesla Powerwall

I have a Google Alert set for Tesla Powerwall and usually it just picks up pretty boring stuff, but this article from ecomento.com is better than most. It does state this.

The Tesla Powerwall won’t really make economic sense for most US customers until the price drops – considerably. The people who buy one now will help fund the research and development that needs to take place to drive battery prices down in the future.

So as with a lot of new technology, with my engineer’s hard hat on, I think it will be best to wait until the cost of solar panels, Powerwall-like devices and all the other electronics and control systems needed, have been proven to be reliable and have dropped in price.

My house here has a flat roof, which would be ideal for solar panels, so I’m watching the technology and will buy them, when the payback is less than five years.

Why five years? It’s the length of our fixed term parliament, so hopefully the financial conditions won’t be mucked up too much by a change of governmen.

May 23, 2015 Posted by | World | , | 2 Comments

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