Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Split-box return!

37057 provides power from the rear of 3M05 from Dollands Moor to Derby Railway Technical Centre as it passes South Kenton on 23rd January 2016 
Back in June 2012 I reported on the sad end of 'split-box' class 37's on the mainline with the final withdrawal of DRS' 37087. Little did I imagine then that some 3 1/2 years later I would be writing about the return of not just one, but two real 'split-box' class 37's!
In the second part of 2015 Colas Rail won the contract to provide motive power for Network Rail's fleet of test trains. Their chosen solution was the tried, tested and dependable class 37, and with many of their fleet having come from preservation there has been a sudden influx of variety in the fleet. The need to get locos out and into traffic as quickly as possible has even seen some heritage liveries in use on the network. The star of the new Colas fleet, returning to the mainline towards the end of 2015 has to be 37057 which has been restored to BR Green at Barrow Hill complete with headcode blinds and original style buffer beam cowling.
In an attempt perhaps to source an even more interesting loco Colas have also now taken on hire 37025 from the Scottish Railway Preservation Society- it has had an extensive re-build at Bo'ness and is now resplendent in BR Large-Logo blue, complete with a working steam-heat boiler (though this will be saved for landcruises around Scotland rather than it's work for Colas). Welcome back split-box 37's- who'd have though it in 2016!

Sunday, 24 January 2016

Comment: TFL Rail to take over London Suburban Services. Is this the answer?

Crowds of passengers wait to board London Overgrounds 378233 at
Kensington Olympia. New and more frequent trains have transformed the line.
It has been announced this week that following a long campaign by London Mayor Boris Johnson commuter rail services into London will be taken over by Transport for London. Starting from 2018 with SouthEastern's suburban routes, services will be re-branded as 'London Overground' and full control within the London area will pass to TfL. The change, it has been said, will 'increase capacity' and 'eventually bringing an end to cattle truck conditions' faced by commuters. By transforming services in the south east in the same way that London Overground has transformed it's existing services (increasing ridership on these six-fold) TfL believes they can increase capacity and run a truly metro-style service on these routes.
One thing is absolutely certain- the arrival of London Overground on the wider suburban network is not going to be a quick fix. Let's take a look firstly at how TfL has transformed one of it's existing routes- the West London Line from Clapham Junction to Willesden Junction. Just 10 years ago this route was something of a forgotten backwater of the capitals rail network. An outdated 3-coach Silverlink Metro train would run every 30 minutes calling at the four stations on the route, and it was rarely busy. Look back 10 or so years further and the route only had a peak time shuttle from Clapham Junction to Kensington Olympia! London Overground has undoubtedly transformed services here- today they provide modern 5 coach walk-through trains at least every 15 minutes seven days a week. Two new stations have opened on the line and all stops are fully staffed. The line has better connectivity with many trains running through to Stratford in East London, and the real result is in ridership- trains are busy, and at peak times already nearing capacity.
In July 2006 the new West London Line station at Shepphards Bush (and the Westfield Shopping Centre next door) is still under construction as Silverlink Metro's 313109 passes with a train to Clapham Junction.

TfL has successfully invested in under-utilised infrastructure and transformed a marginal route into one that is now popular, profitable and a core part of London's transport network.
Class 455's are the mainstay of commuter traffic through Wimbledon- a
service which London Overground would like to take over- but how will it
boost services from the 18 trains an hour which already run at peak times?
Let us now look at one of the routes which TfL aspire to control in the future, also passing through Clapham Junction is the busy commuter service from Wimbledon into London Waterloo- currently operated by South West Trains. Unlike the West London Line this route is already one of the busiest commuter routes into London. Eight coach trains make the journey from Wimbledon into Waterloo up to 18 times per hour, with a train almost every 3 minutes at peak times. With the current infrastructure capacity has been reached on the line- there is physically no room for more trains. At peak times trains are also already full. By the time that TfL may take over this route (2019 at the earliest) a 25% increase in capacity will have been delivered with 10 coaches running on most trains- this still will not solve the capacity crunch and crush loadings on the route. Unlike the take over of Silverlink Metro there will be no quick wins on a route such as this.
What could London Overground therefore bring to a route such as this?
Obviously if the change in management of the line were to bring more capital investment that would be a good thing. There are ways, at great expense, that capacity could still be increased on the route- it may be possible to lengthen platforms again to introduce 12 coach trains. Technology upgrades with the use of Train Management Systems (TMS), and in-cab signalling could improve the flow of trains allowing more to be squeezed onto the network. Finally new trains could be procured with more and larger doors, walk through gangways and a metro style seating layout- this however would not be a small investment- more new vehicles would be needed for this service than London Overground's entire current fleet! Of course the long term answer for this route is to build Crossrail 2- but that is another topic altogether!
Gone and not missed- class 313 121 pauses at Caledonian Road
& Barnesbury in 2006. This route now has new class 378 trains
under the London Overground brand.
Further considerations need to be taken in with TfL's proposal- unlike their current routes many of those they are proposing to operate are not simple 'enclosed' systems- from several terminals the current operators run out to many many different destinations. There are also long distance services to consider, which share tracks and infrastructure with the trains TfL will plan to run. Then there is the small issue of what happens outside of the London Boundary- Metro style trains already continue far outside of the reaches of the Mayors authority into Surrey, Kent and Sussex. What will the impact be for these outlying (but very much essential) services?
TfL certainly faces a challenge in taking on London's commuter network and those customers who think that a sudden change in management will bring about a rapid improvement in services may be saddened to find that this is not the case. Everyone in the transport industry would like to see capacity raised on these lines but there are no easy answers, and they certainly don't come cheap. Whether it is TfL or a franchised TOC which ultimately runs these services the fact remains that these are some of the busiest railways in the world and that will be a challenge for any operator to take on.

Saturday, 16 January 2016

Picture of the week- 16th January 2016

Living on the Southern Region I have seen most of the Class 73 Electro-Diesel fleet which have been operating over the last few years. There has however been one that always seems to escape me- Network Rail's 73138. While it should be one of the easiest of the ED's to capture with it's workings usually limited to the regular Network Rail test trains it just never seems to be on them when I go to see them. Like so much in life however 'good things come to those who wait' and 73138 turned up for me, quite unexpectedly, on a test train at Waterloo this week (14/01/2016). While the weather could have been better it was great to finally get the loco on camera- especially with the 'normal' end leading (the other cab of the loco has a rather peculiar track recording camera 'nose' attached to it!).

Thursday, 7 January 2016

Rumbling to Rhymney

One of the most famed of all the 37/4's, sadly now scrapped following an incident in this very location, 37408 'Loch Rannoch'
prepares to run around it's train at Rhymney on a sunny Saturday 19th March 2005. 37425 and 37411 were also in use this day.
A freshly painted 37417 'Richard Trevithick' stands at Cardiff
Central having arrived from Rhymney on 27th March 2004.
In final post and summary of 2015 I mentioned how good it is to see some regular class 37 hauled trains returning to the national network both in Cumbria and Anglia. For many of the younger (but not too young) generation the last days of the 37/4's are associated with the North Wales Coast route. I myself was 'too late' to enjoy the 'tractors' on this scenic railway but did not miss out sampling these fine machines in South Wales on the Rhymney Valley line where the class maintained some work until 2006.

For several years three class 37/4's were required each day from Cardiff Canton to operate peak weekday commuter services; 3 trains from Rhymney to Cardiff Central (and Radyr) in the morning and return in the evening. Saturdays were were the fun really started with class 37's booked to work all trains from Cardiff to Rymney with an hourly departure in each direction. The line up the valley is steep in places and the regular stops meant the locos often put on a good show.
37425 stands at Cardiff Central at the end of the 'Rhmyney Gala' day 04/12/05

Early in 2005 with the end of loco haulage on the line drawing nearer Arriva Trains Wales sponsored the re-painting of two class 37's to mark the event. 37411 was out-shopped from Toton in BR green as 'Caerphilly Castle/Castell Caerffily' while 37425 emerged in BR Large Logo blue as 'Pride of the Valleys/Balchder y Cymoedd'. Even more exceptionally when the curtain was finally coming down on the class 37's in South Wales a 'gala' event was organised on the Rhymney valley line on Sunday 4th December 2005 (the line not usually seeing a Sunday service) with additional locomotives drafted in enabling hourly trains to be top and tailed on the line. Locos in use represented the classes which had been used on the line over the years and were 33207, 37411, 37419, 37425, 47854, 50031 and 50049.

My final class 37 in the Welsh valleys- 37406 'The Saltire
Society' works the 17:01 Cardiff - Rymney on 21 October 2006.
This should have been the end for class 37's in the Welsh valleys, but early in 2006, due to cited overcrowding one return trip was re-introduced Monday to Friday between Rhymney and Cardiff. There would be no return to the Saturday bonanzas and with far less ceremony the final class 37 to reach Rhymney was 37410 with the 17:01 Cardiff- Rhymney on Friday 8th December 2006. The train returned to Cardiff the following Monday and, for the final time, that was the end of class 37 hauled passenger trains in the South Wales valleys.

Friday, 1 January 2016

Looking back on 2016

The semaphores at Barnetby East sadly did not see out 2014 as they fell victim to the North Lincolnshire resignalling project at the end of the year. Coal traffic also vastly reduced with the reduction in generation at coal power stations and the closure of further collieries. 66201 is seen at Barnetby in November 2015.
2015 has once again proven to be a fascinating year on the railways. Here in the UK we have seen the railways once again attracting more passengers than ever as well as maintaining a fantastic safety record. The year saw the full roll-out of class 68's to Chiltern Railways mainline services- a new locomotive class that has rightly already got a great following. While Chiltern have seen new locos take up squadron passenger service it has also been fantastic to see some old favorites return to use. When Arriva Trains Wales finally dispensed with class 37 haulage on the Rhymney Valley line in 2006 few could have imagined that in 2015 it would once again be possible to sample the fantastic class 37/4's on regular passenger trains. The 37 hauled operation on the Cumbrian Coast has to be one of the most interesting developments for enthusiasts in many years. 37's have also returned to East Anglia displacing class 47's (which have, for now, no booked passenger work) on the Angilan 'short set' which shuttles between Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft. Interesting traction times have also abounded for the new operator of the Caledonian Sleeper which due to unreliability of it's class 92's and a wait for delivery of new class 73/9's has led to a range of traction seeing use on it's trains including class 47's and even heritage electric class 86's and the sole UK registered class 87.
37411 and 37427 pass outside Cardiff Queen Street in 2005
on the Rhymney Valley line. While neither loco is extant ten
years later some of their classmates are once again in front
line passenger service.

Of course as well as positives there are also some losses during the year including the closure of the last deep coal mine in the UK and the vast reduction in the tonnage of coal being moved on our railways. The loss of the traditional semaphore signalling in North Lincolnshire will disappoint many photographers across the country- the freight hotspot of Barnetby will never quite be the same again and I was sad that I could not join the many other enthusiasts who headed up for one last time in the last days of semaphore operation.

On a personal note 2015 has been a great year for me. Joining the railway profession 12 months ago was a move that has most certainly paid off (and kept me busy!) and I look forward to many more years in this fantastic industry wherever it may take me. I have also had the chance to enjoy some great rail trips to some of the regular destinations in near Europe as well as some more exotic trains in the former USSR states of Latvia and Lithuania as well as something really quite different more recently in Sri Lanka. Regular readers will also have noticed that this blog is now updated almost every week. My readership is up once again in 2015 and the number of posts during the year has almost doubled.

I do enjoy the chance to see some more interesting locos abroad and my trip
to Latvia and Lithuania certainly achieved this. 2M62-0924 is pictured
between Krustpils and Daugavpils in Latvia with a heavy freight train
during October 2015.
Looking ahead to 2016 it is almost impossible to predict what surprises the railway may have in store. It looks as if we may seen further class 37's returning to the mainline from the Heritage sector and as the railway continues to grow further new trains will be delivered throughout the year to boost capacity. In Europe it has sadly already been announced that all sleeper trains run by DB in Germany are to cease, while elsewhere it is likely that the number of traditional loco hauled trains will continue to reduce.
Whatever 2016 brings I hope you find it enjoyable and, as usual, I am sure the railways will not fail to surprise!
- James