fredag 11 juli 2008

Long-distance train scheme suffers setbacks

The starting blocks...
Originally uploaded by Thrash Merchant

The replacement programme for Britain's high speed trains runs from crisis to crisis. The project, to replace Britain's high speed electric trains (left) and its high speed diesel trains (right) is being managed by the Department of Transport, who have specified a light weight train capable of running at 140 mph, under electric power where the lines are electrified and under diesel power where they are not.

Alstom (builders of the TGV and Eurostar) has already pulled out of the bidding process. A consortium of the Canadian based giant, Bombardier, and German arch-competitor Siemens (builder of the German ICE train), has refused, in its bid, to comply with all the DfT conditions. Which leaves the Japanese firm Hitachi, which has just added new members to its consortium.

This has been a troubled project from its inception. The concept sounds plain wrong. It is untried, inherently complex and liable to run into prolonged teething troubles. The additional costs of 140 mph running are not worth the time savings in a country the size of Britain, especially when the competing modes are being hit by rising energy prices.

Once 125 mph or even 100 mph running is accepted as standard, the problem becomes so much more manageable. All that is then needed is a fleet of carriages, which might take the form of articulated sets, with driving trailers so that the locomotive does not need to be at the front of the train. These should be standardised so that they can operate freely with the existing fleet of mark 3 stock which is good for many more years. What is then required is a fleet of diesel locomotives and a fleet of electric locomotives. These would be based on a manufacturer's existing standard type. Where lines are electrified the trains can be hauled or pushed by electric locomotives and where they are not, diesel locomotives would be used. The cost of the necessary track alterations to enable quick changeovers are minute compared with the kind of costs that are entailed in the DfT's project.

That way, the chronic shortage of stock on Brtain's railways would be overcome and valuable flexibility gained. This is needed, on the one hand to respond to changing demands, and on the other, to enable the railways to adapt to technical changes, in particular the spread of electrification over the system. One has to ask what the civil servants were thinking of when they came up with this idea. £10 million has already been spent in consultancy fees on the project, and of course they were not going to say it was a bad idea even if they thought it.

Read FT article on subject

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