fredag 29 april 2011

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge

71001 and 46258 respectively. Good names for replica steam locomotives, eh?

Which just about sums the whole thing up - an atavistic display. And I am not against the monarchy, but this show could backfire in the end.

måndag 25 april 2011

Gods just a human construct?

There is something about Easter that brings out the atheists. They just cannot leave it alone.

To not believe in gods because they are just a human construct is irrational. Everything we know about the world is a human construct. It cannot be anything else, since all knowledge is mediated through the use of signs and symbol systems that are humanly constructed, above all through language. What one "knows" about the world as a French speaker or a German speaker, for instance, is a little different from what one "knows" as an English speaker, even though all three languages are closely related and arise out of a shared historical experience. An engineer "knows" the world differently from the way a chemist "knows" it.

If one thinks of religion as a descriptive system of signs and symbols, the question that then arises is how well they map to one's experience. Or not. From that point one must judge by results and one's own experience. They don't all look pretty and most seem to have persistent flaws, but do they or do they not reflect a reality?

lördag 23 april 2011

If we need capacity, then add capacity

Articles in the April issue of Modern Railways were a cogent presentation of the arguments for HS2, but they scarcely made the case for a 300 km/h railway rather than a 200 km/h one. The conclusion to be drawn is that the need is for capacity. It is seems to be taken as given, that the costs of building, equipping and operating a high speed railway, complete with a fleet of bespoke high speed trains for running on Britain’s classic routes, would be little more than those of a conventional railway. Where is the evidence?

In addition, there are interest costs that will build up during the ten-year construction period before the first revenue-earning train starts running.

The arguments actually presented point to a strategy of providing additional capacity through a rolling programme, mostly by reinstating what was lost in the 1960s, as 200 km/h and local railways, including much of the alignment chosen for HS2 itself.

Beyond this, before making firm commitments, the entire debate needs to be opened up. Radical alternatives should at least be considered. Would it be worth building a core network of freight lines capable of taking double-stack containers, or passenger routes where 3.5 metre wide trains with 25% higher capacity, such as Bombardier’s Gröna Tåget, could operate?

Whatever is decided will be be critical for Britain’s infrastructure far into the future. HS2 looks too much like a a pre-conceived solution.

Off to France on royal wedding day

I am no republican but am off to France for the day - the tickets have been booked. In my view the monarchy is not helped by letting itself become soap opera. Or perhaps that is part of its strength, since it fulfills a psychological need.

However, republicans need to appreciate that a monarch has an essential important qualification for the job - they never wanted it.

Horrible things can happen under democracies. They are vulnerable to take-overs by rabble rousers, as we are seeing at the moment with the rise of the far-right all over Europe. I can think of one important democratic country which is run for the benefit of a military-industrial complex and is on a permanent war footing.

It is a safe assumption that Hitler would never have happened if Germany had turned into a constitutional monarch after 1918.

torsdag 14 april 2011

Challenge to Hitachi challenge

There is a knotty question surrounding the IEP. The train that is now being offered by Hitachi is very different from the one on which it won the competitive tender. So much so that the other train manufacturers could argue that they never had the opportunity to bid for a train in its present form. This could lead to a legal challenge. We shall see.

Certainly the European train manufacturers have a lot to fear from Hitachi. The Japanese company has promised to build an assembly plant, and nothing more than an assembly at Newton Aycliffe, in the depressed north-east. If it does this, the other manufacturers could find themselves locked out of an important part of the UK train market for decades. This will be a serious threat not just to UK train manufacturing but also to the UK railway research and development industry that is associated with it.

I do not agree with economic jingoism but this looks as if the UK is about to find itself at the receiving end of a colonialist coup.

onsdag 13 april 2011

The bi-modes are coming - but who needs them?



Bi-mode vehicles are electrically driven, but have an auxiliary diesel generator so can run on routes that are not electrified. An example is this modern Skoda trolleybus running in Riga, Latvia. It has just lowered its collector poles and is now running on its diesel engine.

Given the reluctance in Britain to invest in railway electrification, civil servants at the Department for Transport have been keen to apply the same principle to trains. This sounds like an excellent idea, as there is no need to waste time changing locomotives. A bi-mode train could run under electric power from London to Edinburgh and then continue on diesel power to Aberdeen. The train would have many electric motors and their associated controllers, distributed along its length. These would get their electricity either from a vehicle fitted with a pantograph and transformer, or from on-board generators.

But when the idea is looked at in detail, the concept falls apart. For trains more than five cars long, it is very much less expensive to concentrate the driving parts into a single vehicle called a locomotive. It is wasteful to drag electric traction equipment over routes which are not electrified, and it is equally wasteful to drag diesel traction equipment over routes that have been wired. Worse still, the trains will be under-powered when running on non-electrified routes, and therefore slower than trains such as the Inter-City 125. Far from getting the best of both worlds, bi-mode gets the worst.

Nevertheless, the Department for Transport persisted in promoting the concept, known as the Inter City Express Project (IEP), though one of the major manufacturers, Alstom, dropped out of the running at an early stage and the Siemens-Bombardier consortium lost in the end to Hitachi.

But the cost was so high that at the start of 2010, the government ordered a review, carried out by Sir Andrew Foster.

On bi-mode, Foster states that

" It must be questioned however whether it is a sensible policy to be investing in IEP-specific diesel generator vehicles that will have a life of 30-40 years given the uncertainty over the future price of oil and the possibility that extended electrification might reduce the need for them after 10-20 years in service. It is technically feasible for electric trains to be hauled by a conventional diesel locomotive, specially adapted with the correct couplers, and this arrangementcould be cost effectively used for some of the services that need to run through onto non-electrified routes. Were this to be specified, the risk of the locomotives becoming obsolete after 10-20 years in service is mitigated as there is an active worldwide market for diesel locomotives."

Foster's conclusion is that

"There are many combinations of the alternatives to IEP that are credible and could be implemented. It seems apparent that a “pick and mix” approach, selecting the most affordable and best-fit solution for each group of passenger services, could deliver the best value solution to improve the services for the passenger and increase the number of seats to allow for growth in passenger numbers."

Despite this clear rejection of the concept, Secretary of State for Transport Philip Hammond announced earlier this year that an order for 533 vehicles will be placed with Hitachi, 60% bi-mode, this being associated with agreement to electrification of the Great Western main line to Bristol and Cardiff, but not to Swansea. But this was before the release of the previous blog, confirming a minimum future life expectancy for mark 3 stock. When the implication is that perfectly good rolling stock will be sent for scrap long before its time, the entire decision needs to be viewed in a different light, especially as nothing has been signed yet.

Link to Foster review here.

lördag 9 april 2011

Handicapped teenager hacks electronic aid

A friend of mine has a teenage son who is classified as handicapped. He apparently has trouble with remembering when to do things so was issued with an electronic reminder device. After a while he got fed up with it and was curious how it worked. So he booted into the operating system which turned out to be some cut-down version of Windows, deleted the programme (which had cost the authorities fifteen grand), and discovered that he had been actually been handed an HTC mobile phone.

He is now planning to install Android and once he has put a SIM in, he will have a useful little gadget. However, this should not impress anyone since his hobby is building and programming robots.

Mark 3 stock good to 2035

An IMechE seminar on February 21 considered recent work undertaken to establish the long-term mechanical and electrical integrity of the Mk III coaches used in the 200 km/h IC125 diesel high speed trains.

Read more in a Railway Gazette article here

tisdag 5 april 2011

Britain's first high speed line hasn't worked as planned say critics

Britain's first high speed line, to Kent, has actually led to worse services for most passengers. An area supposed to benefit from Britain's first high-speed rail link is failing to reap the predicted rewards - raising concerns over whether the second high speed link from London to Brimingham could also be a let-down.

See article in The Daily Telegraph

lördag 2 april 2011

Commuter services could gain from HS2

As opposition to the £32 billion project continues, Philip Hammond, the Transport Secretary, tried to pacify critics with figures showing that it could also trigger 160 extra trains a day into the capital from towns and cities to the north. This is because intercity services will be shifted to the high speed line, freeing up space on the existing track for commuter services.

This is of course true, and the case is made well in the April issue of Modern Railways. But it would be equally true if the new line was not to be built as a high speed railway, for example by simply reinstating the routes from Paddington to Ruislip and, former Great Central and the cross-linking connections north of Aylesbury.

The case for HS2 is the case for extra capacity. But the case for extra capacity does not add up to a case for a high speed railway but for a modern 160 to 200 kph railway, with freight capacity. The case for such a railway extends well beyond London, Birmingham and Manchester. It embraces such corridors as Southampton - Birmingham and Bristol - East Anglia. And such a railway could be created mostly by putting back the lines closed in the 1960s and enhancing and electrifying existing routes.

Read more in Daily Telegraph article here

Reply to consultation questionnaire chapter 4

Do you agree with the principles and specification used by HS2 Ltd to underpin its proposals for new high speed rail lines and the route selection process HS2 Ltd undertook?

250 mph is not optimal for rail transport in the UK. Costs are proportional to speed to the power of X, where X is greater than 2. Thus, the costs of travel at 140 mph are more than double those at 100 mph. These extra costs comprise amongst other elements, energy costs, initial costs of equipment specified for the higher speed of operation, wear and tear, and maintenance.

Time savings, on the other hand, are less for each increment of speed increase. Thus a journey of 120 miles takes 2 hours at 60 mph, 90 minutes at 80 mph, 72 minutes at 100 mph and 60 minutes at 120 mph, giving successive time savings of 30 minutes, 18 minutes and 12 minutes respectively. For typical UK distances, speeds much higher than 100 mph achieve diminishing returns.

Minimising environmental impact by the measures proposed gives rise to one set of additional costs that would not be incurred if the railway operates at conventional speeds.

Operating fixed formation trains as proposed is wasteful. It gives rise to a constant supply which cannot be adapted to demand. Thus demand has to be managed using yield management techniques, resulting in complex fares structure which force people to make their travel plans far in advance and tie their journeys to particular times. This in turn adds to journey time since passengers must allow the best part of an hour for delays on the way to their point of departure. Which completely negates most of the time savings achieved by high speed running. From this point of view, a conventional speed walk-on service will give shorter journey times than a high speed railway with an airline-style booking system!

Trains should be specified so that their length can be easily varied to suit demand.

Most journeys are not city-centre to city-centre. The onward links are critical. Without them, the high speed rail is nothing but a vanity project. Providing good onward links will absorb most of the funds available for transport in the next 20 years.

Reply to consultation questionnaire chapter 4

Do you agree with the principles and specification used by HS2 Ltd to underpin its proposals for new high speed rail lines and the route selection process HS2 Ltd undertook?

250 mph is not optimal for rail transport in the UK. Costs are proportional to speed to the power of X, where X is greater than 2. Thus, the costs of travel at 140 mph are more than double those at 100 mph. These extra costs comprise amongst other elements, energy costs, initial costs of equipment specified for the higher speed of operation, wear and tear, and maintenance.

Time savings, on the other hand, are less for each increment of speed increase. Thus a journey of 120 miles takes 2 hours at 60 mph, 90 minutes at 80 mph, 72 minutes at 100 mph and 60 minutes at 120 mph, giving successive time savings of 30 minutes, 18 minutes and 12 minutes respectively. For typical UK distances, speeds much higher than 100 mph achieve diminishing returns.

Minimising environmental impact by the measures proposed gives rise to one set of additional costs that would not be incurred if the railway operates at conventional speeds.

Operating fixed formation trains as proposed is wasteful. It gives rise to a constant supply which cannot be adapted to demand. Thus demand has to be managed using yield management techniques, resulting in complex fares structure which force people to make their travel plans far in advance and tie their journeys to particular times. This in turn adds to journey time since passengers must allow the best part of an hour for delays on the way to their point of departure. Which completely negates most of the time savings achieved by high speed running. From this point of view, a conventional speed walk-on service will give shorter journey times than a high speed railway with an airline-style booking system!

Trains should be specified so that their length can be easily varied to suit demand.

Most journeys are not city-centre to city-centre. The onward links are critical. Without them, the high speed rail is nothing but a vanity project. Providing good onward links will absorb most of the funds available for transport in the next 20 years.

Reply to consultation questionnaire chapter 3

Do you agree with the Government’s proposals for the phased roll-out of a national high speed rail network, and for links to Heathrow Airport and the High Speed 1 line to the Channel Tunnel?

Yes but the nature of the scheme means that it is not a phased roll out. Upwards of £20 billion will have been spent before a single revenue-earning train runs on the high speed route. This is one of the objections.

Incremental improvements to existing routes generate a return as soon as they are complete.

It will also be necessary to introduce a fleet of special high-speed trains built to the UK loading gauge, to run over both the new and the classic railway. Being non-standard, these will be inordinately expensive. Estimates suggest these could be 50% more expensive than off-the-shelf high speed trains.

A phased investment would consist of a rolling programme for the reinstatement of capacity lost in the 1960s through the Beeching closures. These would include main lines such as the Great Central, the proposed route for HS2, together with other local routes in areas throughout the country that were rural and sparsely populated when the lines were shut, but have now been developed.

Västlänken - the chaos begins

Next week come the first major disruptions due to Västlänken. Major alterations to Gothenburg’s tram services are always a feature of the su...