Friday, 28 August 2015

Northern stock - all change

Update December 2015

On the 24th August (2015) the BBC reported Commuter groups angry at train 'cuts' from North West. The shock headline felt like another blow for passengers in the North who have already seen trains move south.

In May (2015) First TPE lost 5 of it's class 170s which are owned by Porterbrook Leasing to Chiltern Railways. In total FTPE will lose 9 of it's 170s, however an agreement was reached which meant that FTPE could keep hold of 4 170s until February 2016.

First TPE 170 stand at Manchester Airport March 2014

In the meantime FTPE have subleased 6 class 156s from Northern rail in order to provide services between Manchester Airport and Blackpool North. Class 185s have in turn moved to services between Manchester and Hull via Leeds in order to make up for the loss of 170s.

Northern has benefited from the arrival of refurbished 319s which are operating on newly electrified lines between Liverpool Manchester and Preston, however Northern has been forced to hire loco hauled trains due to shortages.

Northern class 319 on the first day of electric services between Liverpool and Manchester

2, 4 coach Mk2 sets hauled by class 37s have been leased from DRS to provide services on the Cumbrian coastline. This in turn released a unit to provide an hourly service between Manchester and Burnley over the recently reopened Todmorden Curve.

Despite First TPE introducing 10 brand new class 350s on it's Manchester to Scotland service, the loss of 5 170s has meant a lot of timetable and unit reshuffling. The reshuffle is only a short term measure and it is uncertain what will happen after February 2016 when a further 4 170s move to Chiltern. 

So it it would seem understandable then that commuter groups should feel angry at the loss of 17 electric trains from Northern. The 323s are currently used on a number of services including Manchester Piccadilly to Crewe via Manchester Airport and Manchester Piccadilly to Hadfield.

What the BBC report does not say however is that the move is not due to take place until 2018/2019.

Porterbrook Commercial Director Olivier Andre told RAIL on August 25: “All the bidders for the Northern franchise have access to the Class 323 until 2018/2019. source Rail

London Midland 323 leaving Crewe

It's not all good news for London Midland either, as in December this year (2015) 7 of it's class 321s will be moving North to Scotrail to provide services between Glasgow Central and Lanark.  London Midland will make up for this loss by leasing class 319s which are being cascaded from Thameslink services. 

The reason for this shuffling of stock is due to the fact that both the First TPE and Northern franchises are due to come to an end in February 2016. In fact they were supposed to end in March this year (2015) but were awarded an extension to 2016. Therefore the companies that lease the trains face uncertainty about the future of the their rolling stock. 

It is for this reason that Porterbrook has chosen to lease it's trains to an operating company who can offer more long term certainty. Chiltern in Contrast to Northern and First TPE has a franchise agreement which extends to 2021.

The report does go on to say that "A spokesman from the Department of Transport said they would bring in "at least 120 brand new carriages".". This of course is good news for the North, however it will not solve the capacity problem in the short or medium term.  The 120 new diesel units which will not be available for several years are intended specifically to replace the unpopular Pacer units operated by Northern of which it has over 100. 

A quick tally of what we know so far about train movements and new trains promised by the government gives the North a potential overall loss of 3 carriages by 2020, assuming the north retains 319s and 15Xs which will be getting on for between 30 and 35 years old by then.

[Edit] Table adjusted to take into account number of carriages rather than simply the number of train units 

click to enlarge

It's taken a lot of investigation and this is an evolving situation. If you spot a mistake or have an update feel free to comment or e-mail

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Tuesday, 25 August 2015

A556 Knutsford to Bowdon (August update)

Work to improve a vital link between the M56 and M6 began in November 2014 and has been progressing well since. The £200m project involves constructing a new 7.5km 4 lane dual carriageway between the two motorways in order to relieve congestion on this busy corridor.

The A556 is a major trunk road which serves North Cheshire, South Manchester and provides a crucial link between the M6 junction 19 and M56 junction 7. The existing A556 alignment is currently used by 51,000 vehicles per day, 11% of which are heavy goods vehicles. 

For more information about the project click Here

A great deal has happened since our initial look at the project in March this year (2015), works are now underway across the majority of 7.5km site.  As the new A556 alignments is being constructed away from the existing road a lot of the main works are not visible from the current A556.

Away from the A556 ground works are well underway to construct several bridges which will take the new dual carriageway under a number of roads including the A50, Chapel Lane and Millington Lane. 

Towards Bowdon a large section of land has now been cleared and levelled so that work can commence on the construction of a new grade separated junction providing a free flow link to the M56 which will remove the at grade roundabout separating traffic travelling toward Altringham.

The current view of Bowdeo junction from Yarwood Heath Ln

Construction of the new dual carriageway will require the excavation of  1 million cubic metres of earth, all of which will be reused on site to level the terrain and for landscaping in order to mitigate the impact of the new road. 

A visible sign of this translocation process can be seen at the point where the new road will pass under the A50. Here articulated Moxy dump trucks currently have to cross the A50 to carry material from one section of the work site to the other. The trucks which can carry up to 40 tonnes of material each have to cross the road under traffic light control. 

An articulated Moxy crosses the A50 having been given a green light. 

Work to level terrain on the north side of the A50, facing in the direction of Bucklow Hill

Facing south in the direction that material is currently being transported in. 

Facing North toward Bowdon at Millington Lane

Facing South, Moxys parked waiting for work to commence at Millington Lane. 

So far disruption of the A556 has been kept to a minimum other than speed restrictions and some overnight closures. However some noticeable disruption will occur in September (2015) when the junction which provides access to the westbound M56 from the southbound A556 will close for 4 weeks.

As well as the closure of the slip-road there will be overnight closures of A556 southbound and northbound between Bowdon Roundabout and Bucklow Hill. The overnight closures will be between the 18th of September and 2nd of October, there will however be no night time closures on Saturdays or Sundays. The overnight closures will commence from 9pm until 6am each night.

The closure of junction 8 and overnight closure of the A556 will allow for work to be undertaken to refurbish the Chester Road bridge which carries the A556 and start of the slip road over the motorway.

For more information about the closure and a map of the diversion route visit the Highways Agency web page,

Map of the new A556 route

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Friday, 14 August 2015

Liverpool2: A new deep-water port

Liverpool2 is the name given to the £300m deep water extension to the Seaforth Dock container terminal which is currently under construction on the banks of the Mersey. The extension will allow for 2 380m long "Post-Panamax" vessels to birth and be simultaneously loaded and unloaded. The new facility will open up the Port of Liverpool to 95% of the worlds global shipping fleet.

In order to ensure that 2 13,500 TEU (twenty-foot equivalent unit) ships can be quickly loaded and unloaded at a time, the port will eventually have a total of 8 "megamax" ship to shore cranes and 22 rail-mounted cantilever gantry cranes. These cranes will work together to swiftly load and unload containers and then stack them within the port for distribution by road, rail, canal or sea.

The port extension will double the port's current container handling capacity from 750,000 TEU to 1.5 million. Many containers will be loaded onto other ships for transport elsewhere nationally and internationally, whilst the rest will be transported by road, rail and via the Manchester ship canal.

The A5036 which connects the port to the M57 and M58 has already been upgraded to provide improved road links and the port is served by rail links connecting it to the national rail network. What is lesser known however is the part that the Manchester ship canal plays in transporting goods.

The Canal which opened in 1894 was originally designed to bypass the port of Liverpool and the excessive dues being charged at the time, but as ships got bigger traffic began to decline after a peak of 18 millions tonnes in 1958 to 7 million in 2005.

However the canal is now becoming increasingly important as the transport industry looks to reduce the number of journeys made by road. To that end Peel Ports who owns and operate Seaforth Dock and the Manchester ship canal are making use the canal in order to transport goods by container. Small 200 TEU vessels make regular trips from Liverpool to ports along the canal, reducing the number of journeys made by road. 

Construction of the extension started in 2014 when crews began to install the first of the 296 piles which will make up the 854m long quay. The final piles are now being installed from a large jack up rig which has been a feature of the Mersey skyline for the past year. 

The process of reclaiming 12 hectares of land behind the sea wall began earlier this year requiring 3 million cubic metres of material dredged from a site 20 miles away from the port. A specialist suction hopper dredger named Willem Van Oranje has been working on project collecting and depositing 21,000 tonnes of material at a time.

The next phase of the project which involves vibrocompaction of the infill to settle the new land and the installation of capping beams along the new quay. The construction of the sea wall which will be constructed from pre-case concrete segments will require 30,000 cubic metres of concrete. Meanwhile the backhoe dredge Goliath has been excavating a trench next to the new sea wall to create a 16.5 metre berthing pocket. 

A major milestone to come in September (2015) will be the arrival of the the first 5 ship-to-shore cranes, each bigger than the Royal Liver Building. The cranes will arrive by ship from Shanghai and are so big they will be visible from 100 miles away.

If all goes to plan the the first phase of the project will be complete and ready for ships by the end of December this year (2015). With it the new port extension will bring 5000 jobs and £5bn worth of economic benefits to the region.

Key facts
  • 5000 jobs created (400 direct jobs and 4,600 indirect)
  • £5bn of economic benefit
  • 854m long metre quay 
  • Costing £300m
  • Will be able to handle 2x 13,500 TEU Post-Panamax ships at a time
  • 12 hectares of land reclaimed
  • requiring 3 million cubic metres of dredged material

The large jack-up rig installing the remaining piles

View of the 854m long quay

Pre-cast concrete capping segments being installed to form the sea wall

Recently constructed biomass silos

Hoper dredge Willem Van Oranje unloading material via a pipe leading to the quay

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Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Northern Powerhouse announcement

Today the Government launched "A blueprint for connecting the Northern Powerhouse" which sets out how the Government intends to improve transport links throughout the North.

The DfT website which has been launched provides a full list and road and rail improvements which have been recently completed, currently under construction or are planned. 

Below is list of just a few of the projects which fall under the Northern Powerhouse banner that we have covered. We will be providing updates for those still under construction and we also hope to cover some of the other projects which are planned over the coming years. 

Northern class 319 working one of the first electric services between Liverpool and Manchester

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

North West electrification - Farnworth tunnel

On the 3rd of August (2015) one of the largest TBMs (tunnel boring machines) ever built in Britain began it's journey through the Manchester bound Farnworth tunnel. Over the next few months the TBM which has been named Fillie will re-bore the tunnel to increase its diameter.

The reconstructed tunnel will replace 2 single track tunnels with a single larger twin track tunnel, which will allow for the electrification of the line between Manchester and Preston via Bolton. The widening of the tunnel will also allow for faster line speeds, with the speed of the line being increased to 100mph. The project forms part of phase 4 of wider £300m North West Electrification Programme which will electrify the lines between Liverpool - Manchester - Preston and Blackpool. 

Before work could commence to widen the bore, it first had to be filled with 7500 cubic metres of foam concrete and a 20m long "launch pit" had to be constructed. The foam concrete will help to stabilise the existing tunnel lining and ground around the tunnel as the machine advances.

Due to the irregular material to be excavated, the team behind the project opted to use what is known as an 'open face' tunnel boring machine, which unlike the TMBs used for projects such as Crossrail, does not have a large single rotating cutter head. Instead the machine employs 2 independently controlled excavators each with a reach of over 4m, the excavators can be fitted with either a shovel like device or a rotating tungsten carbide cutter, depending on the material being excavated. The excavators are housed within the large 9m diameter shield to protect the workers and machinery.

Like a conventional TBM it uses hydraulic rams at the rear of the machine to inch itself forward as material is excavate. As the machine progresses forward workers will install concrete segments which will form the new tunnel lining, in all 1900 concrete sections will be installed to form the reconstructed tunnel.

Whilst work continues to widen the Manchester bound tunnel passenger services will continue to operate using the smaller Preston bound tunnel, with a reduced service operating Monday to Friday. The single track tunnel will be used for trains running in both directions with a speed limit of 15mph until the reconstructed tunnel opens.

As well as re-boring the tunnel, the project also involves the completed the demolition of Farnworth and Moses Gate train stations in order so that they can be rebuilt to the new track alignment. In addition 1600m of track will be lowered at Farnworth and Moses Gate in order to provide space for over head line equipment. 

Key facts,
  • 120 people working on the project 24/7
  • Weight of the TBM 293 tonnes
  • 1900 concrete segments to be installed
  • Length of the tunnel 270m
  • Diameter of the TMB 9m
  • 120 lorries will enter the site via the A666 every day
  • 1600m of track lowered

Close up of the back of TBM before it begins its 270 metre journey

 Northern Rail 156 about to enter the Preston bound tunnel. 

 Northern Rail 150 passes Farnworth station on route to Manchester Victoria

A new access road has been built off the A666 to remove 120 lorry movements a day from residential streets. Fillie will be working to re-bore the tunnel beneath.

Saturday, 1 August 2015

Mersey Gateway - Making connections

The Mersey Gateway project which is currently under construction will provide a second road crossing over the River Mersey, comprising of a 6 lane cable stayed bridge, providing 3 free flowing lanes in each direction.

A key element of the project which isn't quite as well known is the project to upgrade the existing expressway which will connect the new bridge with the M56. When the bridge opens traffic will switch from using the A557 which connects the existing bridge to the M56, to the A533 (Central expressway).

The project involves upgrading and realigning 5 junctions on the Runcorn side of the river and 2 on the Widnes side. 2 of the junctions in the Runcorn area require complete remodelling in order to improve traffic flow and 3 will be realigned and improved.

The A533/A558 interchange will be completely remodelled in order for traffic to be able to access the new bridge. The remodelling will involve constructing an overpass to connect the bridge approach road with the A533.

The A558 will pass under the the A533 and be intersected by a double roundabout which will provide access from the A558 to the southbound A533 and the bridge approach.

The junction which connects the A557 to the M56 will also be completely remodelled with the main connecting roundabout becoming a Hamburger roundabout or throughabout. The section that will cut through the centre of the runabout will connect with the roundabout which connects to the westbound M56 entry and exit slip roads.

Another key junction which will be realigned is the junction which connects the A557 to the Weston Link, which in turn connects to the A533 Central expressway. The new junction layout will provide improved links between the A557 and the A533, upgrading the section of expressway to become the core link road. 

In Widnes the Ditton junction will be completely remodelled so that the A533 Speke Rd/Queensway can be realigned to take traffic toward the new bridge approach road. The existing bridge access will connect with the new alignment at Ditton junction.

Untangling a number of busy junctions and interchanges to provide an upgraded link road is a massive and complex project in itself, one that is disruptive for local commuters and motorists from further afield who wish to use the existing bridge. However the works are essential for the current expressway network to be expected to provide an essential link for the region for decades to come. 

Once the works are complete local commuters and those accessing the new bridge will be able to appreciate the work that has been carried out in order to upgrade the road network. 

Admittedly it has not easy detailing such complex works, however a full list of junction improvements can be found here, the site contains further information and images showing what the new junction will look like once complete.

[update: additional labels have been added to the map]

Map of the route which will connect the M56 to the new bridge.

A557 to the Weston Link looking toward the M56. Vegetation has been cleared in preparation of work to improve the junction to commence.

Machinery and tipper trucks parked in the middle of the existing M56 junction roundabout. 

Looking north toward the M56 roundabout. 

Looking south toward the M56 roundabout.