söndag 1 april 2007

Railways to get 1,000 carriages


Britain's rail passengers have been promised an extra 1,000 train carriages by 2014 in a bid to tackle overcrowding. And soon afterwards we shall see the replacement for the HST taking shape. This ought to be good news but...

The past ten years has seen the replacement of a substantial proportion of Britain's train fleet, with the oldest now dating from the mid-1970s. The trouble is that a lot of it is badly designed. Often the trains have fewer seats, the trains and the seating is cramped and uncomfortable, there is insufficient space for luggage and cycles, the ride quality is poor, there aren't enough toilets, and the ride quality is poor, with severe vibration on some of the diesel-powered trains. The latest generation of British trains are in many ways the worst in the whole of Europe. Will the tradition of bad design continue or will someone get a grip of the problem? Why can't British train passengers enjoy the same standards of amenity as the standard class passengers in the Danish IC3 train above?

A further question is posed. First Great Western is currently refurbishing its fleet of HST trains dating from the late 1970s. This involves completely stripping out the interiors, and it turns out that they are in excellent condition with little corrosion. But most of the similar vehicles surplus from Virgin trains modernisation remain unused and apparently unwanted. The same goes for the 120 electric multiple unit vehicles comprising class 442 constructed for the Bournemouth line in 1988. And a further 70 vehicles of the class 180 Coradia type will also soon be take out of service, with no prospective user. This is a scandalous waste of scarce resources, especially when the Virgin Voyager trains used on the Cross-Country services, and the West Coast Main Line Pendolinos, are chronically overcrowded.

One might ask why the spare vehicles cannot be added to the overcrowded trains, or the spare trains be drafted onto the route? This is not possible as the trains are in fixed formations and incompatible with each other; in the case of the electric trains, they are also tied to particular lines.

All of which ought to have a bearing on the procurement strategy for new rolling stock. Above all, flexibility is needed. All rolling stock should be compatible with all other rolling stock. It should not be tied to a particular form of traction, or a particular route. Which takes us back to the design principle which ruled until the 1950s.

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