Friday, 30 January 2015

Introducing the refurbished class 456

456003 leads 456024 and an unidentified class 455 on the 15:24 Waterloo-Dorking service on 27th January 2014.

Built at BREL York works from 1990-1991 the class 456's have spent almost their entire lives up until now working on the central division of the former Southern region suburban network. In 2013 the class finished working with Southern following their replacement by further new class 377 'Electrostar' trains. This allowed a cascade to South West Trains where the class will be used to boost trains to 10 coaches by running in multiple with two class 455 sets.

Like the refurbished class 455's the 456's feature longitudinal
 seating close to some door areas.
Toilets were removed from the class 456's while working for
Southern. The small toilet window is still evedident in this.
Unfortunatly it's replacement with a full size window was
beyond the scope of works carried out on the 456's at
Wolverton where they were have been refurbished

Upon reallocation to South West Trains the opportunity has been taken to give the sets a thorough refurbishment to bring them up to the same standard as the very popular class 455's. This is the third time the class 456's have been refurbished- initially delivered to Network South East the trains received new high back seats and a Southern 'green' interior during their time with Southern. The transformation for South West Trains is huge with some passengers once again commenting that they look like new trains. The 456's currently look the best they have done for many years and almost certainly provide the best level of passenger comfort that they ever have.

The South West Trains refurbished class 456's first entered service on 10th November 2014 on selected workings. In the interim before 10 car running begins the sets are operating in pairs in place of class 455 units which are away for works attention.
With the exception of the additional window behind the cab, there is little to distinguish the interior of the class 456 from the 455's which are also in service with South West Trains. The refurbishment has been completed to a very high standard at Wolverton by Knorr-Bremse Rail Systems.

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Comment: When does high speed rail work?

History was made this week as ground was broken on the initial section of California's long awaited high speed rail project. By 2029 line will connect Los Angels to San Francisco in just three hours in comparison to today's fastest journey by Amtrak of around 11 hours. 

Artists impression of Californian high-speed rail
(image believed to be copyright free)
High speed rail can revolutionise transport, and indeed has in many parts of Europe and Asia. However the US has been very slow to embrace the technology which was pioneered Japanese and French in the 1960's and 70's. Conditions in California are perfect for high-speed rail. The area has a high population density with several large conurbations and an ever-expanding population. Right now long distance travel is catered for almost entirely by road or by air. The roads are already congested and air travel requires getting to out of town airports and through ever more stringent security checks, not to mention the much criticised environmental credentials of short haul flights. The potential to attract passengers from these other means is a great opportunity for the Californian project and despite much debate pro-rail parties are confident that the project will pay- indeed that it will cost the area more NOT to build the project. 

Over the last decade no country has invested more in high speed rail than China. Many large cities are now connected by dedicated high speed tracks in what is now the largest network in the world. China's network continues to expand and is reaching ever further into more remote districts over huge districts and with correspondingly longer journey times. Is the length distance over which high speed rail can be viable now being stretched? 
High-speed rail has revolutionised the way people travel in China. A CRH3
train departs from Wuxi Station on the high-speed line from Shanghai to Nanjing
China is currently proposing to construct and finance an 8,000 mile high-speed linking it's own extensive system all the way to the high speed rails of Europe. While rail supporters will surely welcome this amazing investment and opportunity it has to be wondered who would actually use such a route. To cover a journey of this length by high-speed train will still take several days- a very long time compared to a long-haul flight from London to Beijing which takes just under 11 hours. It is unlikely that passengers would see the train as a viable alternative, except for the small number who are afraid of flying or are undertaking the journey for the adventure. Unless the high-speed line is to become a means of transporting freight on mass (which would require a step change in freight transportation to use streamlined high-speed freight trains) I can see a very low patronage as it embarks on its epic journey across the vast birch covered grounds of Russia.
A parcels train on the traditional Trans-Siberian route across Russia.
Realistically there is a limit to the viable distance that regular passengers will chose to take the train. Over a short journey of a couple of hours there are major benefits in traveling from city center locations, and the train is far more environmentally friendly compared with flying. For journeys longer than this the benefits begin to disappear both in terms of the time saved and the environmental credentials. 
High speed rail has been successful in Europe and could be in the
USA- The TGV reduces travel times in France.

I applaud the construction of high-speed rail in California and hope it will inspire similar projects to begin across the US- a country which has largely ignored the train since the widespread adoption of the car. However I do call into question whether some of the vast transcontinental projects can ever realistically be viable.