Thursday, 6 December 2018

Dieselgate, after the dust has settled

I have owned and driven diesel cars and vans since I passed my driving test, bar one petrol car when I first passed. I have always been a devotee of diesel cars and diesel engines in general, in my opinion for reliability and long distance fuel efficiency they cannot be beaten.

Even with the development of newer more efficient petrol engines, they are unable to compete with diesel engines for fuel efficiency, pure pulling power and reliability. That is why diesel engines still power the modern economy, diesel engines are used to power the machinery which produces the food we eat and drive the vehicles which transports the goods we buy.

So, it was with great surprise and disappointment that I learned (admittedly this was some years ago) that some car manufacturers were cheating the system and were allegedly building diesel powered vehicles that emitted more dangerous gasses than were allowed under US and EU law. This news has since gone on to have a huge knock-on effect to vehicle manufacturers, even those for which no allegations were leveled against them.

I believe however that news reports on the story at the time were confusing and didn't really explain what particular legislation the engines were falling foul of, nor in my opinion did the media fully explain which emissions were being released at levels above those allowed.

To be Frank I think the media and government's subsequent over-reaction lead to the collapse of the market in diesel engines, a fact which has has been particularly harmful to the UK vehicle manufacturing industry.

Jaguar Land Rover in particular has paid a heavy price for the fallout from diesel-gate, being that diesel powered vehicles make up a large proportion of those sold by the company. Diesel engines after all being most suited to large vehicles such as Land-Rover 4x4s and sports utility vehicles.

Environmentalists will probably be chomping at the bit to explain why it was the vehicle manufacturers fault that diesel-gate happened at all, but let me explain why I think the Governments' move to being anti-diesel was and is an overreaction.

I should start by saying that I am in no way defending those manufacturers who cheated the system, what they did was outrageous and unacceptable but I do think that the media and government has a lot to answer for in its response.

If I'm perfectly honest I don't know full details of how manufacturers cheated the system, but as I understand it the under certain circumstances on-board computers of cars fitted with certain diesel engines were programmed to know when the vehicle was under test conditions (or programmed prior to test), the engine management system would then use various means to reduce the amount of Nitrogen Oxides (NOx) the engine produced, therefore allowing the vehicle to pass US and EU emissions tests.

The result being that some diesel cars were emitting greater amounts of NOx than legally permitted. Therefore breaking US and EU law and deceiving consumers into believing that the vehicles were more environmentally friendly than in reality.

Now, it is important to understand the difference between NOx, CO2 and the impact each has on the environment. CO2 is an invisible and odorless greenhouse gas emitted by all internal combustion engines, for which there is overwhelming evidence to suggest it is one of the major factors in global warming. NOx on the other hand has a more localised effect on the environment and people, "The main effect of breathing in raised levels of nitrogen dioxide is the increased likelihood of respiratory problems. Nitrogen dioxide inflames the lining of the lungs, and it can reduce immunity to lung infections. This can cause problems such as wheezing, coughing, colds, flu and bronchitis." [1]

Therefore NOx emissions are a serious threat to people's health and the amount of NOx that vehicles can produce is tightly controlled, hence why US and EU emissions standards have been steadily tightened since 1991 when, in Europe the Euro I standards for passenger and light vehicles were first introduced. In 2014 Euro 6 stands came into force which limited the amount of NOx that was permitted to be released to 0.080g of NOx per km.

So when the diesel-gate story broke and the media began to refer to "emissions", the first thought the public had was that diesel are much worse for the environment than manufacturers and indeed governments had been claiming for decades. Whilst it is entirely true to say that some diesel vehicles were more efficient than their modern petrol equivalents. This means that diesel vehicles still produce less C02 per km when compared with similar petrol vehicles in certain circumstances.

Diesel-gate Paradox

Before I go on to the way in which manufactures can and do limit NOx, it is important to realise that there is there is some what of a paradox which played a part in the current situation. Manufactures have strived to make engines as efficient as possible since the invention of the diesel engines back in 1890 by Rudolf Diesel.

Technologies such as injection, later direct injection and turbo charging have lead to diesel engines which convert as much as 45% of the fuel into mechanical energy, compared with petrol engines which are broadly only 30% efficient.

However in order to increase efficiency the temperature of the burn must be increased. With increasing temperatures and pressures comes an unwanted byproduct, NOx gases. So when the EU and US began to clamp down the amounts of NOx that can be emitted by motor vehicles manufactures began to look at ways in which to reduce the emissions.

Exhaust gas re-circulation 

Paradoxically one method was to reduce the temperate at which the diesel burnt. The method which the vast majority of manufactures eventually settled on was exhaust gas re-circulation (EGR). EGR is a method of reducing the temperature within the cylinder and therefore the amount of NOx emitted. An EGR valve works by letting a small amount of exhaust gases back into the cylinders, this has the effect of reducing the temperature of the burn within the cylinder, thus reducing the amount of NOx generated.

EGR is a relatively inexpensive way in which to reduce NOx, however it does have its drawbacks, mainly in that by reducing the combustion temperature the efficiency of the engine is reduced. Also EGR valves must open and close at very specific points, they should not for instance open when the engine is cold. However EGR valves can become clogged with soot from the exhaust gas mixture and therefore remain jammed open during periods when they are supposed to be closed.

Selective catalytic reduction

There is another way to reduce NOx however, and it is a method which is already widely used within heavy goods vehicles and agricultural machinery. The alternative is to inject what is know as diesel exhaust fluid DEF (32.5% urea and 67.5% deionized water) [3] into the exhaust stream, the subsequent chemical reaction converts the NOx gases into gaseous nitrogen and water. People will most likely know the fluid by one of its brand names, Adblue. This is sold at most petrol stations and it poured into a small tank which often has a blue cap.

The process known as selective catalytic reduction (SCR) can reduce NOx emission by up to 90% [4] whilst allowing the engine to burn the fuel at the optimal temperature, therefore it would seem to tick all the right boxes, it reduces NOx whilst allowing diesel engines to operate at high temperatures and therefore more efficiently.

However SCR systems are more complicated and therefore upfront costs are greater, also drivers are required to ensure that the system is topped up with DEF without which the system does not work. This isn't an issue so much with HGV drivers and farm machinery operators who are typically more accustomed to regular vehicle maintenance and checks, also the cost of larger engines is enough to negate the upfront cost of the SCR system. This may be why, whilst adblue has been on the market for a number of years, up to now only a small number of vehicle manufactures have been willing to fit SCR systems to personal vehicles and small commercial vehicles.

Conclusion 

After all that, in conclusion given that there are practical means of reducing NOx emissions to "safe" levels I believe that governments have been rash in their decisions to begin clamping down on diesel engines. Even if governments reconsider their decisions as SCR system become more common, the looming potential threat that all diesel vehicles could be banned from city centres or urban environments is enough in my opinion to have irrevocably damaged the market for diesel vehicles, even though there may still be many benefits of driving diesel powered vehicles for certain types of drivers. 

Final thought

I do think that diesel engines are most likely unsuitable for people who only drive around town and hardly every venture out onto the motorway, not least because the benefits of greater economy will not be felt, but also because as well as EGR and SCR, diesel vehicles also employ diesel particulate filters (DPF) which reduce heavy particulates (soot). 

The filters work in urban environments when the engine is under reduced loads to capture the particulate matter. Said filters are then designed to "regenerate" in a process which burns off the soot in order to clean the filter, however this process usually only occurs at high speeds or when the engine is under sustained heavy load, therefore in theory burning off accumulated soot away from urban environments. Hence why I believe that diesel powered vehicles are suitable for motorists who do a large number of miles and use motorways often.




[1] http://www.environment.gov.au/protection/publications/factsheet-nitrogen-dioxide-no2

[2] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/European_emission_standards

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diesel_exhaust#Remedies

[4] https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/clean-diesel-what-is-scr-selective-catalytic-reduction-how-does-it-work-----why-is-it-important-300158921.html

Thursday, 2 August 2018

Liverpool Lime Street transformation


Liverpool Lime Street station fully re-opened on the 30th of July after an 8-week closure to allow for the upgrade of track and alterations to platforms to be made. The closure was the second phase of a major upgrade, with the first having taken place during the Autumn last year.


The upgrade of Liverpool Lime St is part of a larger £340m upgrade plan which will vastly improve rail services within the Liverpool City Region. The work undertaken at the station is an essential element of the scheme which will allow an additional 3 services per hour to call at Liverpool Lime St. The work will facilitate the introduction of 2 new services both of which are due to begin operating from December 2018.

A new hourly service to be operated by KeolisAmey (Wales and Borders) will serve Liverpool South Parkway, Helsby and Frodsham. This service which is due to begin in December 2018 is being made possible with the upgrade of Lime St and work to bring the Halton Curve back into full use. 

The other service operated by Trans Pennine Express is due to begin operating from December 2018 and will provide a direct service between Liverpool and Glasgow. 

The new services are being made possible with the construction of a brand new platform and upgrades to the track approaching the station. Control over signalling is also being diverted to a new central control centre.

Virgin Pendolino departing Platform 9

The most noticeable change for passengers will be the remodeled platforms. Platform 0 has now been removed, platforms 1 and 2 are still in the process of being extended, whilst platforms 3 and 4 have been widened. Platform 6 has been realigned and new platforms for 7 and 8 have been constructed. Lastly, platforms 9 and 10 have been extended, with 11 car Virgin Trains services now using platform 9.

Old meets new. Deliberate clear definition between old brickwork, repairs, new brickwork 

Another noticeable change for passengers using Virgin Trains services is the relocation of the First Class lounge and customer information desk. Currently both are located within a new structure located on the main concourse. However The White Star pub which was located above M&S Simply Food has now gone to make way for a new First Class lounge. It is not clear if the current structure on the main concourse is temporary or will be altered once the new lounge opens.




Key Facts:

1 million hours worked.
2.9km of new track installed.
16,000 tonnes of ballast used.
11km new overhead line wiring installed.
26 new signals installed.


Final works will take place on the 2nd of September and 14th of October and will see platforms 1 and 2 come into full use. Once complete the works will allow for new and more reliable services, the new and reconfigured platforms will also allow an increasing number of passengers to use the station more safely.


More information is available on the Network Rail website.



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Friday, 22 June 2018

RailLive Special - Class 769 Flex by Porterbrook

This third in a series of "RailLive special" posts features yet more recycling or what could be more accurately described as upcycling, as Vivarail is not the only company to have seen the benefits of converting redundant electric trains to run on other forms of power.

Porterbrook has been developing its own bi-mode (or in fact tri-mode) units for a number of years and last year it was announced that Arriva Rail North (Northern) had ordered 8 of what were branded "Flex" trains, which now have a TOPS classification of 769

The Flex units are being converted from class 319s all which have been sent off lease from Thameslink and Southern. Some 319s  were sent north to operate on recently electrified lines between Manchester, Liverpool and Preston, with the first refurbished 319 entering service between Liverpool and Manchester in 2015. However the majority of the 319s are now surplus to requirements.

769 000 already painted in Northern colours 

The Flex units are being described as "Tri-mode" as they will be able to draw power from 750v DC third rail and 25kV overhead lines whilst also being able to operate under their own power on non-electrified lines.

Each 4 car train will have 2 6 cylinder diesel engines provided by MAN placed underneath each driving vehicle, the engines will be used to generate electricity to power traction motors. Each horizontal 6 cylinder engine will produce 390kw and will comply with the latest EU Stage IIIB emission standards.

The horizontal 6 cylinder 13 Litre engine provided by MAN

Since the initial order of 8 units for Northern was confirmed a further 24 units have been ordered, 19 for Great Western Railway and 5 for Arriva Trains Wales. The 5 units originally ordered by ATW were destined for South Wales and despite the announcement that KeolisAmey will take over the Wales and Borders franchise the current plans do not seem to have changed. 

It is understood that GWR will use 769s on Reading - Gatwick Airport and Reading - Oxford routes. This will allow GWR to re-deploy class 165/166s to the Bristol area.

5 years ago it was thought that demand for diesel multiple units (DMUs) would decrease rapidly and that the routes on which the class 796s will operate would be electrified. But with cancellations and delays to electrification schemes the rail industry found itself with a potential shortage of rolling stock and crucially DMUs.

Whilst it is true to say that train operating companies have suffered from a shortage of DMUs for a number of years, the problems facing the rail industry over the next 1 to 3 year could have been much worse. With public pressure to remove Pacers from service completely, electrification woes and new disability standards which mean many DMUs will have to be modified by 2020 to comply with PRM TSI standards all having an affect on the availability of units. 


That is if companies such as Porterbrook and Vivarail hadn't spotted the potential problems facing the industry and decided to take a risk and invest in developing solutions which could be deployed relatively quickly and were cost-effective in the short to medium term. 

The class 769s and 230s will allow class 15Xs to be sent off lease to be modified to comply with PRM TSI standards and will fill a gap left by the delays and cancellation of electrification schemes. Both trains will be able to operate on electrified and non-electrified lines so no services will have to terminate where electrification ends or mean that DMUs are running for long periods along sections of railway that have been electrified. 

It is hoped that passengers will see the benefits of these new units within the next 12 months and I'm fairly certain they will not notice that they will be riding on upcycled trains. 



There was a huge amount to see at year's RailLive organised by Rail magazine so I have a number of posts planned covering innovation and technology. This year in particular there seemed to be a lot of innovative products on display and brand new never before seen technology. So if you follow Engineering Focus on social media or click the "subscribe by e-mail" link you won't miss out on any of the latest content over the next week. 


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Thursday, 21 June 2018

RailLive special - A busy year for Vivarail (part 2)

Battery trains

In part one I wrote about the class 230 trains which have been ordered for the Wales and Borders franchise and for West Midlands Railway. But that's not all that has been happening at Vivarail over the past year. The engineering team has also been busy developing a battery-powered variant which has already carried its first passengers, all be it on a short run at Long Marston.

I was lucky enough to be amongst those to ride the train at RailLive 2018 along the 200 metres or so of track used to demonstrate the unit. The ride was smooth and quiet as you would expect from an all-electric vehicle, but with such a short section of track I wasn't able to get a feeling of performance. However what I could appreciate was how advanced the development was, this wasn't an unfinished prototype, it felt like a train that could already be working passenger services.


Vivarail engineers have developed a modular system which uses rafts to house the batteries similar to the system used for the diesel engines, they can be swapped relatively easily and a number of rafts can be installed under each carriage.  The 2 car test train has 4 rafts each providing 106kwh, but more rafts can be added.

It will be possible to charge the batteries through existing infrastructure such as overhead lines, 3rd rail or with static battery banks on non-electrified lines. In each case the train will be charged via a patented automatic charging point.


The image above shows one of the battery rafts which as well as providing power for the train can also be used to provide static charging points. Rather than relying on local services, a raft or number of rafts could be placed at railway stations to provide additional charging further increasing the range of the train. 

Vivarail hasn't released any figures on range yet, however it is thought that a 3 car battery unit could achieve a range of 80 miles and with new battery technology this will improve still further.


Hybrid trains 

The battery technology that has been developed isn't just being used to power all-electric units, the technology will also be used on the class 230 diesel-electric units destined for Wales and Borders. Hybrid technology will be used to further improve the environmental credentials and reduce operating cost of the diesel units by saving fuel.

Each class 230 will be fitted with 4 battery rafts, 2 underneath each of the driving cars, the diesel engines will be placed underneath the middle carriage and will be used to charge the batteries. This system will provide quicker acceleration whilst improving fuel economy through the use of regenerative braking and GPS controlled engine management. 

The engines will be controlled by a GPS system which will be able to switch the engines off when they are not required, or at stations where there may be environmental concerns. This system combined with regenerative breaking promises to deliver a 20% fuel saving compared to a unit powered by diesel engines alone. 

I have uploaded a short clip to Youtube of the battery train in action.

Apologies about the sound, it was a windy day in Warwickshire



I hope to provide further updates on the development of the battery train and deployment of the units that have been ordered in the not too distant future.





Wednesday, 20 June 2018

RailLive special - A busy year for Vivarail (part 1)

Wales and Borders

I have made no secret of my support for Vivarail and the D-train project and have followed its development closely since 2015 when I made the first brief reference to a Vivarail display at Railtex 2015. Since then I have had the pleasure of riding on the first test unit 230 001 at RailLive last year and have written extensively about the development.

So it was with some excitement that I read that Vivarail had been chosen by KeolisAmey to supply 5 class 230s for the Wales and Borders franchise. In particular they will operate on the line which serves the town in which I live. I can't claim to have played any part in this, however I have supported and lobbied for the introduction of the class 230 on the Wrexham to Bidston line for a number of years.

image courtesy of Vivarail



Some background:

I and others had thought that the Wrexham to Bidston line would be a perfect line on which to deploy class 230s units. The service is in desperate need of improvement; the line is somewhat isolated and there are no servicing facilities close by. This is where the class 230's unique design comes into its own.

The units will be upcycled from now redundant D78 stock from the London Underground, this means that they will be less expensive to introduce than new trains and will perhaps, be cheaper to operate than the class 150s that currently operate on the line. This is important as current passenger numbers on the Wrexham to Bidston line are comparatively low. This fact combined with the zero growth basis on which the outgoing Arriva Trains Wales franchise was based, has meant that there was no incentive to invest in improving the service beyond trying to improve reliability.

What is really needed on the Wrexham to Bidston line is a half hourly service which would provide good connectivity with services to Liverpool, Chester, North Wales, Manchester and further afield. This connectivity can only be achieved with the introduction of a reliable half hourly service connecting at Bidston for Merseyrail services to Liverpool and at Shotton for services to Chester, Manchester and North Wales.

A new half-hourly service will require an increase from 2 units which currently serve on the line, to 4 with 1 unit available at short notice on standby should one fail. This increase will require additional investment by Transport for Wales, so the lower cost of the class 230 will help improve the business case.

Another fact which favors the class 230 is the modular design of the power packs. Each engine sits within a raft which is slung underneath the carriage, this means each powerpack can be removed and replaced relatively easily without the need for specialist equipment or train lift. This should mean that the units would not need to travel to Cardiff for repairs and that they can be stabled locally.

The 60mph top speed of the units should provide no issue in the case of the Wrexham to Bidston line as the frequent stops and low track speed means that trains rarely if at all ever reach 60mph. However the class 230 could potentially outperform the current class 150s. This is due to the increased power (whilst complying with strict environmental regulations), the lightweight aluminium body shells and the fact that the units have a greater number powered axles, 2 per powered car for a class 150, versus 4 per driving car for the class 230.

Unit service and design:

The first of 5 class 230s to enter service should do so in the summer of 2019 and will be used on the Wrexham to Bidston, Conwy Valley and Chester to Crewe services. This will allow class 150s to be taken south to enable the withdrawal of Pacers. Once new CAF built trains begin to arrive entire fleet of class 230s will be released in time for the introduction of a half hourly service on the Wrexham Bidston line in December 2021.

The design for the 3-car trains which will feature universal access toilet, WiFi, air conditioning, USB ports and 3-pin sockets is well underway and it is expected that the units will move to Wales for final testing and commissioning in early 2019. The class 230s will be fitted with a range of seating layouts and there will be plenty of space for bikes and luggage.

CGI image of the proposed layout for the new W&B units
image courtesy of Vivarail


Marston Vale line

At the start of the year I reported on the announcement that Vivarail was chosen to supply 3 class 230s for West Midlands Trains to operate on the Marston Vale line. Work to build the trains is well underway and they are expected to enter sercice in December this year (2018)


Image captured in May 2018 shows of one of the units featuring MWT livery ready to be fitted out 
image courtesy of Vivarail

The units will enter service between Bedford and Bletchley and be the first trains to be introduced within the new West Midlands Trains franchise.

The first 2 confirmed orders are exciting news, but that is not all that has been happening at Vivarail this year. In part 2 I will be taking a closer look at the battery unit that has been in development for the last year, which I had the chance to ride on this morning at RailLive.


Thursday, 14 June 2018

Manchester Airport Expansion


A £1bn project officially known as the 'Manchester Airport Transformation Programme' (MAN-TP for short) began in July 2017 and since then significant progress has been made. The project will increase passenger capacity by doubling the size of the existing Terminal 2 and vastly improve airport facilities. 3 new piers will be constructed in total with prevision for an additional 4th if required in the future. Airside capacity will also be improved with major changes to the apron and taxiways.

In under 12 months a large area for new structures has been cleared and large sections of the terminal extension and new carpark have been constructed. 6 tower cranes (pictured below) have dominated the Manchester Airport skyline since early 2018. The tightly clustered cranes have been used to lift sections of steel and concrete into place to construct a new carpark which looks to be almost 80% complete.


Significant changes have been made to the passenger drop off and pick-up facilities at terminal 2 in order for work to commence. This includes moving the drop off zone to the ground level and closing off part of the ground level pick-up car park in order to provide parking for staff members. In April 2018 photos were released showing the view from one of the new piers looking through huge glass windows which look out over the airfield.

The terminal is set for completion in 2020 and it is hoped that major "noticeable" changes will take place in 2019. Once the extension is complete, terminal 2 will become the principal terminal with terminal 1 being phased out around 2022 and then later demolished. The entire project including construction of new roads, access ramps and demolition of T1 should be complete by 2023.


The principal contractor for the project Laing O’Rourke is delivering a £570m package of works, including the design and construction of the new T2 extension and the construction of the new 3,800 space multi-story car park. Laing O’Rourke will also undertake significant upgrades to the airport’s landscape and road infrastructure and will construct the initial two new piers for arrivals and departures.


Galliford Try was awarded to contracts totaling £92m, the first £38m phase is to extend the airfield’s west apron which includes construction of new taxiways and aircraft stands. The second £54m phase will increase aircraft stand capacity and aircraft parking. A new ‘Dual E’ taxiway will allow two aircraft such as the Boeing 777 and a Boeing 747 safely to pass each other.

Galliford Try will install more than 79,000m3 of concrete for new taxiways and aircraft stands, they will also reallocating the existing airfield and upgrade a mile-long section of taxiway so that aircraft can be maneuvered more efficiently.


Facts and figures
  • £1bn - Total investment
  • 900,000 sq ft of additional space to be added to Terminal 2
  • 19th busiest airport in Europe 
  • 50 food, beverage and retail outlets to be introduced
  • 3 new piers to be constructed with space and services available to construct a 4th if needed
  • 2023 - Project expected completion date
  • 1962 - The date the original terminal 1 building was constructed
  • 28m - The number of passengers currently using the airport annually

For more information click here

I hope to be able to provide updates as the project progresses


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Thursday, 1 March 2018

D Trains for Marston Vale Line

Vivarail has today (01 March 2018) announced that it has entered into an agreement with West Midlands Trains to build three new class 230 D-Trains for use on the Marston Vale line between Bedford and Bletchley. The D Trains which will enter service in 2018 will be the first trains to be introduced within the new West Midlands Trains franchise.

Vivarail’s CEO, Adrian Shooter, said “This is a big day for Vivarail. We have invested considerable time and money to bring our innovative D-Train to this point and we are delighted to be working with West Midlands Trains to introduce them into passenger service. As a West Midlands based company it will be extremely gratifying to see our trains running on local lines and we look forward to passenger feedback."

West Midlands Trains’ customer service director, Andrew Conroy, said “We are investing in almost £700 million of new trains for our passengers. The class 230s will be the first of over 400 extra carriages we are adding to our network. These trains are ideal for Bedford to Bletchley route. I am sure our passengers will welcome the new look and feel of the carriages and the extra space. When the new trains come on stream in December we will also be adding extra early morning and late-night services on the Marston Vale line Monday to Saturday.

230 001 at Long Marston back in summer 2017

This welcome news comes less than 2 weeks after Vivarail announced that a battery-powered version of the D Train number 230 002 has entered the production phase. It is hoped that the unit which will have a range of 50 miles after just a 10-minute charge will be ready to go out on the network fully approved for passenger service by the summer (2018)

It is assumed however that the 3 units for the Marston Vale line will be powered by convention diesel-electric traction. Diesel-electric units are fitted with 4 Ford Duratorq engines producing 200hp each, giving a total power output of 800bhp per set which will come in either 2 or 3 car formations.

No specific details were given about the interiors but Each D Train is treated as an empty shell with train operating companies able to specify interiors which suits the particular needs of the route. A pre-production unit which was used for testing and demonstration had a variety of seating options fitted in order to show what is possible. Each train will be fitted with modern amenities such as USB charging points, wifi and will be fully PRM TSI compliant

 Interior layouts, regional on the left high capacity commuter on the right

The order for 3 trains may be relatively small but it proves that Vivarail is able to provide tailored solutions for routes which have specific requirements within a short space of time. There are many more rural lines across the country which require only a small number of units but are desperate for additional capacity and modern rolling stock.

I think we will be hearing more good news from Vivarail this year. 

Written by Chris Howe



Monday, 19 February 2018

The end of Diesel trains?

By Chris Howe


On the 12th of February 2018 the Minister for transport Jo Johnson MP announced that he "would like to see us take all diesel-only trains off the track by 2040". This being the same deadline set by the government to ban the sale of all petrol and diesel cars. The announcement got little press attention considering the Minster had set such an ambitious target, which if it was to be achieved would require a huge investment by the government.

The devil though is in the detail, two little words which water down the announcement from one which could have involved large-scale electrification being put back on the table, to one which simply pays lip service to the environmental debate. The two words being "Diesel-only", very carefully chosen as not to undermine the £5bn investment that is being made in a fleet of new trains to replace the aging HST fleet. Why? Because the new trains which are only now coming into service and are expected to be in service for 30 or 40 years have diesel engines fitted to provide power on non-electrified routes.


A soon to be replaced HST passes Honeybourne station. This route does not fall within the GWML electrification programme, therefore any new trains serving on this route will require diesel power for the foreseeable future. 


If the 2040 deadline had been for all diesel-powered trains it would mean removing the engines from a fleet of trains which by that time will be little over 20 years old, no big deal however because they were designed with this in mind, as/when electrification was extended. BUT, this would mean the government would only have 22 years to fund, plan and complete the electrification of many hundreds of miles more of railway than already planned.

22 years does seem a long time, however Just to remove the engines from the new class 800s and 802s which will be operated by Great Western Railways would mean extending the wires from Cardiff to Swansea, Oxford to Worcester and Bath to Penzance. This alone may be achievable, but it is hard to see how any other routes such as Midland Mainline and TransPennine could be electrified with the time allowed, given that the GWML electrification programme, is billions of pounds over budget, behind schedule and has been de-scoped with electrification between Cardiff and Swansea now cancelled

9 years since GWML electrification was announced and still there's a year to go before trains will be running on electricity only between London and Cardiff, whilst other routes such as Oxford to Didcot Parkway will have to wait a further 2 years. So in all, it will have taken 11 years from go-ahead to completion to electrify 235 miles of railway. Such is the scale of the challenge just to electrify the GWML other schemes have had to be deferred or cancelled altogether.

So we are left with a ban on "diesel-only" trains, this gives a reprieve to bi-mode trains such as the class 800s and others currently on order. But what of the class 195s, yet to enter service are hailed as the much-anticipated replacement for Northern Rail's fleet of loathed Pacers? These new trains will be "diesel-only" and will operate in some cases on lines with no wires for most of their length and for which there are no current plans for wires. By the time we get to 2040 the trains will be little over middle aged and given the cost of rolling stock the owners would surely hope to get 30-35 years out of their investment.


One of the soon to be replaced Pacers sits at Chester station, these trains will be replaced by modern diesel-only DMUs



The 2040 announcement whilst ostensibly sounds like great news for environmentalists and passengers, it could seriously jeopardise investment in new rolling stock in the near future. Who would want to invest in a new fleet of diesel-only trains which may only be in service 20 years or less? The Wales and Border franchise which is soon to be taken over by a new company still has a fleet of 30 Pacers and across the country there are 1000 aging diesel Sprinter units which will have to be replaced within the next 10 years.

Hydrogen fuel cell power is one option being investigated but plans are only now being put in place to test such trains in the UK, so hydrogen-powered trains won't be carrying passengers in the UK for at least 5 to 10 years. This leaves a gap in which time rolling stock owners may choose not to invest in new trains and try to keep trains running which are already well past their best, heck it could mean a few Pacers still being in service well into the late 2020s.

Class 230 "D-Train" being developed could be one answer for the short/medium term, using second-hand aluminium bodies these trains could be pressed into services quickly and provide a return on any investment in well under 20 years. 

I hate to be cynical about the railway but I think setting such a deadline could have a negative impact in the short to medium term, it relies too much on the assumption that unproven technology (at least in the railway sense) such as batteries and/or hydrogen fuel cells will be a viable solution in just a few years time. 


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