Monday, 24 June 2019

Rail Live 2019: Highlights - IEPs, battery trains and induction welding

In my first RailLive 2019 post I wrote about the UK's first hydrogen powered train which caused quite a stir at this year's event. In this post I wanted to cover some of my highlights from the event. The site on which RailLive is held is enormous and there is a huge amount to see, so I chose before hand what I wanted to try to see in the limited time that I had

Mirage Rail induction welding

One of the first displays that I set time aside for was that of Mirage Rail who were demonstrating their mobile induction welding system. Using electromagnetic induction to weld sections of rail together is nothing new, however the mobile system developed by Mirage is unique.

The whole system which includes a generator, HIAB and induction welder can be mounted on a single rail trailer and towed by an RRV to wherever it may be required. The image below shows the entire system mounted on a rail trailer.

The induction welder which is manoeuvred over the rail using the HIAB, houses an induction coil which generates high-frequency electromagnetic fields to heat 2 sections of rail to 1300°C, the rails are then forced together using hydraulic rams which are clamped to the rails. As well as joining the rail, the system also has stressing capabilities built in. Some of the other benefits listed by Mirage rail include; “no operator exposure to molten metals, Reduced Operator risk, Automatic Shearing, No gas cylinders or hoses required for pre-heating and Low energy consumption (150KVa)

The video below shows the induction welder in action, from start to finish.

 LNER class 800 AZUMA

RailLive 2019 like previous years had a massive array of rail plant on display and I hope to cover more of that in a future blog.  The event isn't solely focused on rail engineering or rail plant however, it also provides train manufactures, ROSCOS and train operating companies (TOCs) the opportunity to show off the latest trains which are being delivered to the UK network.

This year LNER brought along one of their new class 800 AZUMAs and invited visitors to come on-board and take a look around. I didn't want to give this opportunity a miss as it's unlikely I'll be able to ride one any time soon. As someone who lives and works in the North West I don't often get the chance to head over to the east of England, or South West where class 800s are also in service.

Passengers who live along the west coast corridor had up until now benefited from  some of most modern intercity trains on the network. The class 390 Pendolinos which were introduced between 2001 and 2004 revolutionised intercity travel along the WCML and were in part responsible for the doubling of rail passenger numbers on the WCML. The sleek, modern and fast trains cut journey times and introduced passengers to a whole new world in terms of rail travel.

It is hoped that the class 800s will have a similar affect on ECML routes to London. The AZUMAs will provide more capacity, with an additional 100 seats per train and it is hoped that there will be journey time improvements with the new timetable in 2021. The journey time savings probably wont be as dramatic as those achieved on the WCML with the Pendolinos, however new more spacious trains with modern features is bound (hopefully) to persuade even more people living along the ECML corridor to take the train.

There is one subject that does keep cropping up, and that is the standard class seating. Having read and heard that the standard class seats are not particularly comfortable I had to try one out for myself. Straight away I understood what people have been saying, the seats are firm, very firm. On the plus side there is plenty of legroom, not something you get very much of in a Pendolino in standard class, believe me. So there are some pluses and minuses, and if you want to get the maximum number of seats in a train, all while providing good legroom, PRM toilets, luggage and bike storage and a cafe, then something does have to give (or not give, if you're talking about the seat padding) to make extra space. Reducing the thickens of each seat by a few centimetres soon adds up to a lot of space saved.

Innovation Hub


Over in the Innovation HUB there were seating solutions which did seem to save space but were actually comfortable to sit on. No I'm not talking about the ones pictured directly below, they are seating solutions for high capacity trains and are designed for short journeys. More of a perch than a seat, they offer maximum capacity whilst providing something which should be a lot more comfortable than just standing and the ones on the right had USB charging points. I'm not sure how popular they would be here in the UK, but I'm sure if people were given the choice between standing or perching on a metro or underground train, they would choose perching.


The picture below shows standard class (left) and first class (right) seating configurations fitted to the class 319 which was home to the Innovation Hub. I quipped we could do with some first class seating in Northern's class 319s, I don't think I was the first person to say that. More interesting though, keeping the AZUMA seating in mind, was the standard class seating arrangement. The seats appear to be light-weight and have minimal foam padding just like the AZUMAs, but these seats seemed so much more comfortable. So perhaps it is possible to design a space saving seat that isn't rock hard!


Class 230 D Train fast charging

Porterbrook with their HydroFLEX unit aren't the only company providing solutions to the 2040 deadline for the banning of diesel-only trains. Vivarail have been working on number of solutions which includes diesel electric hybrids, which will hopefully enter service with TfW Rail this year. Last year they also showcased a battery version of the class 230 D Train, the 2 car unit had 4 battery rafts each providing 106kw. This year Vivarail had a single car battery vehicle on display. The unit was at the event to promote a fast charging system developed by Vivarail which can charge a battery powered train in as little as 7 minutes, providing enough charge for a range of 60 miles.

The system comes in 2 part, first the static section which can be located at a terminus, consisting of short sections of 3rd and 4th rail which provides the charge. The other part is the carbon ceramic shoe gear which has been designed specifically to be able handle the high currents involved.

As well as providing hybrid and full battery versions of their class 230 D Train, Vivarial also announced in May this year that they have teamed up with Arcola to develop a hydrogen fuel cell variant. The hydrogen powered unit is still in the development stage, but Vivarail say the first prototype should enter the testing phase in early 2020.

On a final note, I thought it was interesting being able to see inside the cabs of both the class 230, pictured below and the class 800, bottom image. The cabs are worlds apart, with the class 800 looking more like the controls of the Star Ship Enterprise. But the simple yet functional cab of the class 230 still gets the job done.



Thursday, 20 June 2019

RailLive 2019: UK's first passenger carrying hydrogen train

In 2018 the UK Government announced its intention to phase out “diesel-only” trains from the UK rail network by 2040. An ambitious target which would be nearly impossible to achieve through electrification of the rail network alone. According to the DfT in 2009 just over 5000km [1] or roughly 33% of the UK's rail network was electrified, since then, and despite a wide spread programme of electrification between 2014 and 2019, that figure has only increased by an estimated 1000km. Given that the length of the UK rail Network is 16,000km, Network Rail would have to electrify 500km of railway every year for the next 20 years to electrify the remaining network by 2040. Considering it has taken 5 years and cost in the region of £4-5bn to electrify just 1000km of railway you can see how this would be a challenge to say the least.

This means then, that the challenge to phase out diesel-only trains by 2040 has been passed to train manufacturers and rolling stock leasing companies (ROSCOs). I'm fairly certain there will be some diesel-only trains still in operation after 2040, as Northern's class 195s which are being delivered now and Transport for Wales' new units which wont be delivered until 2021 will be powered solely by diesel. It is inconceivable that the government would force ROSCOs to scrap or re-engineer rolling stock which will be 20 years old or less by 2040, that would be wasteful and expensive. However the challenge faced by ROSCOs and manufactures is to develop new ways to power trains between now and 2040.

Luckily it seems that companies and organisations in the UK are well on the way to developing new power technologies which will eventually put an end to diesel-only trains, whilst not requiring the electrification of the entire UK rail network. Vivarial displayed a battery version of their D-Train at RailLive last year and has since gone on to develop a fast charging solution, which can charge a set of batteries in 8 minutes, providing a range of 60 miles. I will be writing more about that in a future blog.

Porterbrook Leasing have also been developing their own upcycled, re-engineered rolling stock based on the class 319 of which 84 were built. Porterbrook already has orders for a tri-mode class 769 variant of what they call their “Flex” units, which are currently having diesel engines fitted, allowing them to switch between DC, overhead and no-electrified lines. Transport for Wales, Northern and Great Western Railway are expecting units, with a total of 38 units on order.

Not content with converting 319s to tri-modes, Porterbrook, working in collaboration with The University of Birmingham’s Centre for Railway Research and Education (BCRRE) have developed the UK's first hydrogen powered train. The first “HydroFLEX” unit was demonstrated at this year's RailLive event, taking passengers gingerly along a section of track at the Quinton Rail Technology Centre.

You can see a short video of the HydroFLEX in action below
The unit on display was powered by a singe 100kw hydrogen fuel cell combined with a 100kw battery and was carrying 20kg of hydrogen. The next step is to fit the unit with 2, 100kw fuel cells and 2, 100kw batteries, before beginning testing on the mainline. The unit will be able to hold 200kg of hydrogen in total, which it is estimated should be enough to power the unit for 1600km. The fuel cells and tanks, as well as the control systems are all housed in 1 of the 4 carriages.

Fuel delivery system

The first public outing for the HydroFLEX has caused quite a stir, with the BBC attending to film the train in action and to interview those involved. The team from Porterbrook, BCRRE and Fuel Cells Systems who supplied the hydrogen were busy ensuring that everything ran smoothly and were on hand to answer any questions.

Alex Burrows, Director at Birmingham Centre for Railway Research and Education, commented: “This is a great success story for the UK Rail Industry, which shows our capability and commitment to helping the government meet decarbonisation targets. Key to this success is the close partnership between academia and industry which has enabled us to pool the expertise needed to rapidly progress this technology from concept to full-scale working demonstrator.

The demonstration seems to have been a real boon for the UK rail industry, generating positive news for the industry which doesn't always get an easy ride from the mainstream media. The HydroFLEX demonstrates that the UK rail industry can deliver innovative solutions to looming challenges, and that the UK can be a world leader in the development of alternative power systems for rail vehicles.

The fuel cells and batteries themselves are based on tried and tested technology, and have been sourced from around the world. What makes the HydroFLEX innovative is the control system being developed by BCRRE. The complex control system must work seamlessly to balance fuel delivery and energy output, whilst monitoring the battery and energy recovery through regenerative breaking. The system is what brings everything together to make the HyrdoFLEX a unique and world leading train.

Although powering trains with hydrogen fuel cells may not be the only answer to removing diesel-only trains from the UK rail network, it is one solution that could help the government deliver its 2040 promise. Apart from the remaining class 195s and Civity based DMUs to be delivered to TfW, which should end their service some time around 2050. 


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Thursday, 13 June 2019

PLANTWORX 2019 – Safety innovation on display

PLANTWORX is an event held every 2 years which brings together major players in the field of plant machinery from around the world, as well as a wide variety of small and medium sized companies who wish to demonstrate what they have to offer. The huge outdoor space allows companies to demonstrate their equipment, with working machinery on display, which in many cases provides operators the opportunity to try the equipment out for themselves. In 2017 PLANTWORX attracted over 15,000 visitors, ranging from construction contractors in charge of entire fleets of machinery to individual owner operators.

It has been 4 years since I last attended as I was unable to make it to the event in 2017, having first visited in 2015. Since then it seems there have been some major changes with regards to operator safety, especially in relation to operators of site dumpers. It's easy to see why this has become such a big issue, according to The Construction Index “Between June 2016 and July 2017 eight people were killed on UK construction sites by dumpers”.

This year there was a wide variety of site dumpers on display which have features aimed at addressing the risks associated with roll overs and poor viability. JCB has been one of the more high profile companies to try and address this issue with their Hi-Viz dumpers, ranging from 6 to 7 tonnes. JCB offers dumpers from 6 to 9 tonnes with their SiTESAFE cab, which provides increased protection for the operator. JCB say that “the cab has been tested to withstand a front dump impact or a side slewing impact, from a 13-tonne excavator“. The Hi-Viz range provides additional safety and vastly improved forward visibility with an innovative dumper design which allows an operator to see a 1.2m high person or object from 1m. The dumper is also wider and has a lower centre of gravity, providing extra protection against roll overs.

[Click to enlarge

Thwaites who are synonymous with site dumpers have also sought to address safety concerns and now also provide their 9 tonne dumper with a fully integrated cab. The company also had a new product on display at PLANTWORX which aims to address visibility issues. Their “Super Seven” dumper, based on a 9 tonne platform with a 7 tonne capacity has improved visibility and 180° forward facing camera.

Wacker Neuson who are renowned for innovation and producing specialist equipment have taken site dumper safety a stage further with their Dual View platform. The company can provide 6 to 10 tonne dumpers which have a fully integrated cab, much like JCB and Thwaites, but their Dual View product has an extra trick up its sleeve. Within the cab the Dual View allows the operator to rotate the seat and controls through 180° and drive cab first. This system allows near-uninterrupted forward visibility and reduced risk when manoeuvring within tight work sites. You can see the Dual View in action here (11 minutes in).

Ausa have also developed a dumper with reversible controls and were showcased their new R1001AHG 10-tonne dumper at PLANTWORX. Their system called “2 Way Drive” works much in the same way as the Dual View, with a seat and controls able to turn 180° allowing the operator to drive cab first. Ausa say “Thanks to this, AUSA is positioning itself as a market segment leader in the area of safety”.

Contrast the modern dumpers with a couple of classics which were also on display this year.

Site dumpers aren't the only pieces of equipment being radically designed in order to improve operator safety, manufactures are now also starting provide solutions to the affect that vibrating tools have on operators. Wacker Neuson has gotten around this problem with their vibratory plate models by using an infrared remote control system, which they say “provides maximum safety: The operator is protected from vibrations, noise and dust”. The remote control system means that the operator need not touch the vibratory plate whilst it is in operation, cutting down the risks associated with vibrating tools.

Bobcat's solution to the risk associated with vibratory compaction tools is to offer compaction plates for their range of 3 to 8 tonne excavators. You can see one of the compaction plates in operation here (8 minutes in).

Although the risks associated with vibrating tools are not the same for ride on tandem rollers, BOMAG has sought to remove the operator from these too. Their “ROBOMAG” tandem roller is an autonomous version of their BW154, 7 tonne roller. The concept model was launched in bauma in April this year and was on display at PLATNWORX 2019. I didn't get to see it in operation but I did do a quick walk-around which you can see here (10 minutes 40 second in)

Although it is still in the early stage of development BOMAG say that “Based on geo-fencing and GPS data, it can autonomously compact a pre-planned area”. It may be a while until we see these machines on site however as the “ROBOMAG” which was developed in collaboration with Trimble is not available to buy yet. One of the main stumbling blocks at the moment seems to be more to do regulations rather than technological limitations. But rest assured autonomous equipment will be making their presence felt on worksites in the not too distant future.

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Wednesday, 5 June 2019

Chester to Leeds by Rail - A bumpy start.

Travelling from Chester to Leeds by rail isn't anything new, but prior to May 2019 passengers had to change trains at Newton Le Willows, having caught the Chester to Manchester Piccadilly service operated by Transport for Wales Rail, then changing to a TransPennine Express service to Leeds. However, being able to travel directly from Chester to Leeds and vice versa is novel.

The direct Chester to Leeds service operated by Northern has been operating for almost 3 weeks now, having started on the 20th of May this year. The service forms Part of what Northern are calling their 'Northern Connect' services, which are long distance services, operated supposedly by high quality rolling stock, namely refurbished class 158s and the new class 195s, when they finally begin to enter service.

142 051 pulling into Chester

The title of the article suggests that the service may not have got off to the best start, which is certainly true if my journey is anything to go by. I knew before booking the ticket that the service would not be operated by a class 195, they are still undergoing modifications and many of the train crews are yet to receive training in order to operate them. I was mildly disappointed that I'd have to wait to ride a 195, however I was under the impression that my journey would at least be made on a refurbished class 158. Well, you can appreciate my surprise and disappointment when I found out the service would be operated by a class 142 (Pacer). At first I thought it was a terminating Manchester to Chester service via the Mid Cheshire line, which is also operated by Northern. I thought maybe it will move off, or the Chester-Leeds train would pull in behind. But no, a Pacer was to be my ride all the way to Leeds. It wasn't just me who was disappointed, the train crew were not too thrilled either, I overheard a driver remark "they're just so slow". The line speed between Chester and Warrington is 90mph, yet the service is currently pathed at just 75mph, so perhaps Northern already knew when they launched the service that Pacers may have to operate on the route, 75mph being the top speed of a Pacer.

Below is a short video montage I put together with some clips of the highlights of the trip

Speaking to the guard he told me he has worked on a mix of 156s, 142s, single car 153s and 158s on the route so far. It would seem then, that the DMU shortage is still a big problem for Northern, despite cascades and the arrival of new trains. It seems Pacers may be in service right up to the January 2020 deadline when they must be withdrawn, as they will no longer meet new standards for persons with reduced mobility.

The service I was on wasn't that busy, but there was a good number of people on the train given the time, just after peak. The guard informed me that the peak services can get very busy and the 153s and Pacers can get crowded. I'm not sure if many of the passengers on the train that I was on continued all the way to Leeds, a number of people got on and off at Warrington Bank Quay and Manchester Victoria. A number of people also got on and off at the station stops along the Calder Valley line, with stops including Sowerby Bridge and Bradford Interchange.

View of the picturesque Calder Valley

Oddly some services are scheduled to call at Frodsham, others at Helsby. The guard seemed as perplexed as I was, as it was initially intended that the service would operate non stop between Chester and Warrington Bank Quay. There seemed to be no particular reason or logic to the stops at Helsby and Frodsham, as the timetabled stops at those stations were so infrequent that it didn't serve commuter traffic. Helsby and Frodsham did recently benefit from the doubling of services into Chester with the introduction of the Chester/Wrexham service to Liverpool Lime St via Liverpool South Parkway operated by TfW Rail.

I may have been disappointing by having to ride a Pacer for 2 and a half hours, however I certainly couldn't grumble at the price! I paid just £28 for an advanced return travelling off peak, compared with £51 return if had I travelled with TfW Rail and TP Express. There is one slight downside though, and that is the journey time. Currently the journey time from Chester to Leeds is between 2 hours 29 minutes and 2 hours 32 minutes. The service changing at Newton Le Willows on the other-hand takes just 2 hours. There is also now a third option, taking the Chester-Leeds service to Manchester Victoria and changing trains there for a TP Express service to Leeds, which will get you into Leeds 25 minutes faster than had you stayed on the Northern service. The service changing at Manchester Victoria also works out at about £50 return however.

If you're happy to enjoy the views across the Pennines for half an hour longer you can save yourself almost £25. It is important to stress, that in order to get the £26-28 fare you have to book the tickets in advance. I booked mine via Northern's app just an hour before booking my train and paid £28 for a return fare, but there are return tickets available costing just £26. 

The return back to Chester was made on the yet to be refurbished 158 848

I must also say that the Northern service isn't just cheap to Leeds. Currently Northern's advanced fares are considerably cheaper than TfW Rail's service to Manchester which is currently £18 one way. You can get to Manchester Piccadilly for £13 if you book in advance and go via the Mid Chester line which takes half an hour longer than TfW Rail service. Alternatively, if you don't mind getting off at Victoria rather than Oxford Rd or Piccadilly you can get to Manchester in just over an hour for £8.50 if you book in advance with Northern.

I should add that I'm not certain if these are just introductory fares which are place because it is a new service. So if you're reading this some time after I posted the article then the fares may have changed.

It's not clear if the 2 and a half hour journey is temporary or if it can be improved when they have a sufficient number of new trains and or class 158s, which can be guaranteed to operate the service. The class 158 has a top speed of 90mph whereas the 195s are capable of 100mph. Given that the Northern service, which skips Helsby or Frodsham currently takes roughly the same amount of time as the TfW Rail service which stops at Frodsham, Helsby and Runcorn East, I would think a few minutes could be saved between Chester and Warrington Bank Quay alone by pathing the service as 90mph instead of just 75mph. I'm not familiar enough with the Calder Valley line to make a guess if any improvements could be made to journey time between Manchester and Leeds, however 158s and 195s can accelerate more quickly and travel faster than Pacers so perhaps additional time savings can be made.

It is a shame that the required stock wasn't in place for the start of the new service. Passengers from Chester have been crying out for improved connections to the North East of England for years, but the use of Pacers on what is supposed to be a high quality service is not a good start. Hopefully the prices will persuade enough people to travel on the service despite it being slower than alternative routes and operated by a mix of antiquated stock and some refurbished units. Once the new class 195s begin to enter service journeys from Chester across the Pennines will be transformed and hopefully see even more passengers choosing to take the train.

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