Tuesday, 22 September 2020

Railway maps on Redbubble

A series of railway network maps are now available on Redbubble. The stylised maps have been designed to fit perfectly on mugs, but also work well on a variety of other media such as t-shirts and prints.

The collection so far includes the Merseyrail network, West Coast Main Line and Great Wester Railway, but I will be adding to the collection over the coming weeks and months. If you'd like to suggest a network map then let me know in the comments below.

Don't see anything that takes your fancy? Let me know in the comments or e-mail Info@EngineeringFocus.co.uk and I'll consider making one of your choosing. New designs will be added, so keep checking back to see if there's the one you want.

Great Western Railway

West Coast Mainline

Merseyrail Network

Friday, 11 September 2020

CP5 HLOS: "Not all doom and gloom"

This is article was originally published in Rail Magazine in 2019.

In 2012 the Department for Transport published its high-level output specification (HLOS) for control period 5 (CP5), covering the period from April 2014 to March 2019. The 5 year, £38bn plan promised to deliver 1,360 route km of electrification by 2019, and to transform rail travel across the length and breadth of the country. 4 months prior to the start of CP5 Rail magazine published a map created by Engineering Focus, which highlighted many of the schemes which were promised to be completed by 2019. Now that CP5 has come to an end and CP6 has begun, it is a good time to see what has been achieved, which schemes were postponed, which were cancelled and which schemes are behind schedule.

As work got underway at the start of 2014 passengers were reassured that any disruption between 2014 and 2019 would pay off, as new services, new trains and quicker journeys would be delivered once the work had been completed. Unfortunately only 1 year into CP5 it was clear that electrification of the GWML between London Paddington, Bristol, Cardiff and Swansea was not going to plan. By the summer of 2015 the original budget of £800m had more than tripled to £2.8bn, therefore in a bid to keep costs under control and to keep electrification of the GWML on track, the government announced that a number of electrification schemes would be "paused".

Initially, it was announced that Midland Main Line (MML) and Transpennine electrification would be paused, whilst electrification of a number of GWML routes would be deferred. The routes deferred included Didcot Parkway to Oxford, Bristol Parkway to Bristol Temple Meads, and lines to Henley and Windsor. The electric spine which promised to provide an electrified route for freight services from Southampton to the Midlands and across to the MML was also paused.

The pause was intended to allow the DfT and Network Rail to assess which schemes should receive priority and it was thought that some schemes would simply be pushed into CP6. However in 2017 the government made the announcement that the line between Cardiff and Swansea would not be electrified at all, and worst still electrification of the Valleys lines would also be cancelled altogether. Electrification of the Midland Main Line north of Kettering and Corby was also cancelled, as was the electrification of the line between the WCML and Windermere.

Funding for the electrification of the East-West route between Oxford and Bedford was withdrawn and electrification between Reading and Oxford was deferred. It is now unclear if any part of the proposed electric spine will be delivered. Conversion of the line between Basingstoke and Southampton from 3rd rail to overhead is also now off the table, so any hopes that freight operators had of an electrified link between Southampton and the North have been dashed.

It is now hoped that electrification between Bristol Parkway and Cardiff will be completed by January 2020, over a year behind schedule. Whilst passengers have benefited from the introduction of new class 800 bi-mode units which began to enter service in late 2017, those travelling from South Wales have yet to feel the full benefits of electrification, such as the promised reduction of the Cardiff to London journey time of 15 minutes. 

The original article was accompanied by a map which showed which projects were completed, delayed or cancelled. Correct as of spring/summer 2019. A full-size PDF can also be viewed here

The North West electrification programme (NWEP) also suffered a number of setbacks. Whilst Transpennine Express did begin to operate electric services between Manchester Airport and Scotland via Chat Moss/WCML from December 2013, electric services between Liverpool Lime St and Manchester Airport did not begin until March 2015, 3 months behind schedule. The 3 month delay although relatively modest, was a sign of further delays to come. As the NWEP progressed the timescale for the opening of subsequent phases began to slip. Poor ground conditions, known and unknown mine workings were blamed for the delays, which in August 2015 led to Balfour Beatty pulling out of the project after completing only 2 out of 7 phases. The route from Manchester to Preston via Bolton was originally scheduled to be complete by December 2016, however delays meant that class 319s did not begin to operate on the line until February 2019.

 319 362 stands at Liverpool Lime St before setting off for one of the first electric services between Liverpool and Manchester in March 2015.

A report by the Nation Audit Office published in November 2016 found that there were major failings by Network Rail which lead to the cost of electrification of the GWML between Maidenhead and Cardiff to rise to £2.8 billion. The NAO stated that Network Rail “was too optimistic about the productivity of new technology”, and that “It [NR] underestimated how many bridges it would need to rebuild or modify”. The report also highlighted the fact that NR failed to manage the challenges of using new electrification equipment, which had not been tried or tested previously anywhere in the world.

The NAO report acknowledged that electrification of the GWML was complex and the fact that the railway passed through heritage areas and areas of outstanding natural beauty, which provided additional challenges. The report also attributed some of the blame to the DfT, which it said: “did not produce a business case bringing together all the elements of what became the Great Western Route Modernisation industry programme until March 2015”. This was more than 2 years after placing the order for new trains and over a year after Network Rail began work to electrify the route.

So far, of the electrification schemes paused or deferred, announcements have only been made regarding Transpennine and MML electrification. Transpennine electrification will now take place during CP6, although NR is yet to release any concrete plans. As for the MML, it will now only be electrified as far north as Market Harborough, in order to provide a connection of the newly electrified sections between Kettering and Corbyn to the National Grid.

It wasn't only electrification schemes that faced cutbacks and delays, with the full Northern Hub programme yet to be realised and uncertainly remains over when or if key elements will be delivered. A crucial element of the Northern Hub project was to unblock the bottleneck between Manchester Piccadilly and Oxford Rd, this was to be achieved with the construction 2 new through platforms at Piccadilly and widening of the viaduct between Oxford Rd and Piccadilly, in addition, Oxford Rd station was to be substantially remodelled. Yet to date no work has taken place and there are questions over whether or not the proposal will ever commence.

The £85m Ordsall Chord which formed part of the Northern Hub project was complete in 2017, allowing trains to travel between Manchester Victoria and Manchester Piccadilly for the first time, and a number of smaller schemes have been completed or are underway across the Pennines, which seek to improve reliability and reduce East-West journey times.

It's impossible to talk about CP5 without mentioning Crossrail, although no strictly part of the CP5 HLOS, it was expected that trains would begin operating from Heathrow and Reading through central London to Shenfield and Abbey Wood by the end of 2018. However, just months before services were expected to begin it was announced that the opening date would be pushed back to autumn 2019. Now it is thought the section through central London will not be fully completed until 2020 or possibly 2021. The budget for the project has risen by £3bn, with the cost rising from £14.8bn to £17.6bn. 

(The central section of Crossrail is now not expected to open until 2020)

 The newly constructed Crossrail station at Canary Wharf pictured in 2015

It's not all doom and gloom however, the North West electrification programme was largely completed during CP5, with the exception of the line between the WCML and Windermere. Despite the delays, services across the North West have been transformed and now finally new trains are beginning to enter service.

In Scotland the Edinburgh Glasgow Improvement Programme (EGIP) saw the electrification of 150 route kilometres of railway between Cumbernauld and Newbridge Junction which allowed new class 385 EMUs to enter service between the 2 cities. Electric services between Edinburgh Waverley and Glasgow Queen Street via Falkirk High commenced in 2017, initially operated by class 365s and class 380s up until summer 2018, when class 385s built by Hitachi at Newton Aycliffe were finally signed off for passenger use.

Although improved East-West connections across London are delayed for now, North-South connectivity has been transformed, thanks to the £7bn Thameslink programme which had been underway since 2009 and was complete towards the end of CP5, allowing trains to operate from Bedford and Cambridge through the capital to Brighton and Gatwick Airport.

I think to say that CP5 didn't go to plan is somewhat of an understatement, however, whilst the updated version of the map does highlight those schemes which have been delayed or cancelled, it should also serve to highlight some of the great achievements accomplished during the 5 years between 2014 and 2019. And many passengers are starting to see the benefits, now that a large number of new trains are finally beginning to enter service.


Monday, 31 August 2020

Work begins on Chester's Northgate development

In 2016 it appeared as if the redevelopment of Chester's Northgate quarter was finally going to get underway, after years in the planning, false starts, and a number of major re-designs. The redevelopment of the area was originally supposed to begin in 2010, but the financial crisis saw funding withdrawn, which lead the company behind the plans to revise the proposal in order to reduce the scale and therefore the cost of the development.

However Cheshire West and Chester Council and the developer were unable to agree on a way forward, therefore the authority took the decision to develop it's own plans and to seek ways in which it could fund any future development itself. 

In 2015 work got underway to transform the old Odean Cinema into a cultural centre, which now includes a theatre,  cinema, restaurant and library. Then in 2016 work got underway to construct a new bus station on George Street, which, once complete would allow for the construction of the Northgate development on the site of the old bus station.

The image above is probably what most people imagine when picturing Chester, black and white mock Tudor rows, complete with Roman Centurion.

Cheshire West and Chester Council continued to develop and redraw plans over a number of years as shopping habits changed and high streets across the country continued to struggle. The original plans put forward included a large department store and were much large in scale. However, the final plans look much smaller in scale and will not include any new shops. The emphasis has instead been on providing a new indoor market space, new 6 screen cinema and a new multi-story car park. The new car park will not however lead to a net increase in city centre parking, as Trinity St and Market St car parks will eventually be closed and demolished in the future to make way for the next phase of the development.

The reduced scale of the development is highlighted by the expected cost for phase 1, which is estimated to be just £72m. Compared to the cost of the original 2010 redevelopment which had a budget of £460m. Unlike the original proposals which were drawn up by a private developer, the cost for the new proposal will be borne by the local authority. The development website states the development will be funded on a "traditional public sector ‘payback’ basis which will ensure that the capital expenditure is written down over a period of 25 years and is factored into the Council’s annual budget"

Part of the development site, with the modern extension to the Storyhouse pictured to the left in the background.

The original proposals which were much larger in scope would have encompassed the old bus station, market building, Forum shopping centre and Crowne Plaza hotel. Whereas the proposals for phase 1 only include the site of the old bus station. A decision is yet to be made on the future of the existing market building and Forum shopping centre, but CWaC says that plans will be drawn up in late 2020 and that work cannot begin on the existing market hall until the new one is complete.

The proposals for phase 1 may be modest in comparison to the original plans, but they still have the potential to transform the area, which for a long time has been neglected. This despite the site sitting within the heart of the city, close to Chester Cathedral and behind the striking Town hall which was built in the Gothic Revival style in 1869. The site is also next to the grade II listed building which now houses the Storyhouse, which is an art deco brick building, built in 1930s, albeit with a modern, but complementary extension. The terracotta façade which formed the entrance to the former library is also grade II listed.

The Grade II listed facade of the former library, which will act as the entrance to the new inclosed market

Thankfully the face of the former library will be retained and will in fact form a key part of the development. The main structure of the building will be largely removed, it had no architectural merit and was a relatively recent development. The faced itself however will serve as a striking entrance to the new indoor market and cinema leading people through into a new modern development. One which the authority hopes will sit well within its surroundings, unlike the concrete and brick building which currently sits at the rear of the town hall and houses the existing market.

The image above shows work taking place to clear the site, in the distance is the clock tower of the Town hall and to the far right, part of the building which houses the existing market.

Work on the Northgate development officially got underway in June 2020, when a modest socially distanced sod-cutting ceremony was held. The main contractor Vinci Construction has now taken possession of the site which is currently in the process of being cleared. The steel and glass bus shelters have already been removed so there was little in the way of demolition required. But that still left the not unsubstantial job of clearing the huge brick paved area which formed the old bus station. A small amount of careful deconstruction is also taking place to remove the building which housed the former library, whilst keeping the facade intact. 

As well as site clearance, work is also underway to redirect utilities and to construct a new drainage tunnel. In addition, archaeological work is also taking place, with several Roman artifacts already discovered.

The image above shows the remaining structure of the former library as of Augst 2020

Work is also taking place on the A5628 St Martin's way to remodel the junction, with Hunters St now closed to traffic. Eventually, a new junction will be constructed to replace the existing Sens Cl junction which will connect to the new Hunters St alignment, leading to Northgate St.

The dual carriageway has temporarily been reduced from 4 lanes to just 2, which is causing congestion, this despite the overall reduction in traffic volume brought about by Covid-19. With work expected to take until Summer 2021 to complete, and schools set to re-open in September it is possible that congestion could start to become more of an issue over the next few months. It's probably advisable to avoid that section of the A5628 all together if possible. 

Whilst the upheaval will undoubtedly be frustrating for motorists and local residents, it will only be temporary, it is hoped, transform a large part of the city centre, helping the city to attract more visitors and secure the future for the city's independent market traders.

There is a video on Youtube which shows the scale and the development and progress on site clearance as of August 2020. [see below]



Tuesday, 18 August 2020

End of the line nearing for Merseyrail's 508s and 507s

On Sunday 16th of August, a pair of Merseyrail class 508s left Birkenhead North depot for the last time. The units were hauled by a class 57 operated by Rail Operations Group over the Wrexham-Bidston line, then on to Craven Arms, there they would remain overnight before being taken to Newport docks, where they are to be scrapped.

The scrapping of Merseyrail's fleet of class 508 and 507 units has been on the cards for some time, as they are to be replaced by new class 777 units built by Stadler. However, 110 and 134 have been retired much earlier than their classmates and months before the expected introduction of the first class 777.

It appears 110 and 134 had reached their mileage limit and were in need of an overhaul, therefore with new units on the way it wasn't deemed cost-effective to keep them in service. Space at Metseyrail's Birkenhead North and Kirkdale depots will also start to become limited as more class 777s arrive. 6 have arrived so far and are being stabled at the recently rebuilt Kirkdale depot. There is space for overnight stabling at some stations for 508/7s, but it is likely that depot space will still start to become constrained soon.

508 115 at Liverpool Lime Street

It is however unlikely that we will see more 508 or 507s being sent off-lease just yet, at least not until the first class 777s begin to enter service later this year. Before Covid-19, 52 class 508/7s were required to be in service each day. With 110 and 134 now sent for scrap, that leaves a total of 57 class 508s and 507s remaining in service. With the fleet approaching 40 years old it can be assumed that a number of the units will be out of service for maintenance or repair at any given time. 134 hadn't been used since January 2020, however 110 was in service as recently as Wednesday the 12th of August. 

507 003 at Chester Station

Merseyrail has ordered just 52 class 777s, with only 50 being required each day. This reduction in the requirement will be achieved through the speeding up of the timetable, which will reduce the number of diagrams. The new units should also be much more reliable and therefore fewer will be out of service each day for maintenance or repairs. Merseyrail does have the option to purchase a further 60 units, but this is on the basis that services are extended in future to places such as Helsby, Skelmersdale or Wrexham. With extension dependant on the success of a battery trial and or further electrification. One class 777 is to be fitted with batteries and tested on the Merseyrail network, this will be to test the feasibility of future extensions without the need for costly electrification. 

 507 001 alongside a Network Rail measurement train at Hooton Station

I posted a video to Youtube of the move on Sunday night and was surprised by the number of people who were saying that they will be sad to see the 508/7s go. I assumed that people would be glad to see the old making way for the new, but thinking about it, it is easy to see why people may think fondly of the old class 508s and 507s. They have served the Merseyrail network well for almost 40 years, with Merseyrail as an operator regularly sitting at or near the top of National Rail Passenger Survey. The refurbishment carried out between 2002 to 2004 also means that the units still look fairly modern to this day, both inside and out.

However, their days are numbered, so if you want to experience a Merseyrail class 508 or 507 you probably have about 18 months left in which to do so, before they're all sent off for scrap.

In 2019 I wrote about how Merseyrail are adapting station platforms to provide step-free access once the new 777s enter services, find out more: Paving the way for new trains


Tuesday, 4 August 2020

HS2 connecting the Northern Powerhouse to the Midlands Engine

Many proponents of HS2, myself included have over the years tried to ensure that the benefits of building HS2 are focused mainly on capacity, which is the most important reason for building the new railway. The journey time improvements that will be brought about by the introduction of HS2 services are welcome, and are indeed also important, but in terms of absolute need for the project, cutting journey times is secondary.

This is undeniably true for phase 1 between London and the West Midlands, which serves to alleviate the chronic capacity shortage on the existing southern section of the West Coast Mainline. Even heading further North, between the West Midlands and Crewe there is limited to no remaining capacity available on the WCML, this despite upgrades to the existing infrastructure, such at the £250m Stafford AreaImprovement Programme, which involved grade separation of Norton Bridge junction.

The East Coast Main Line is also nearing capacity and will benefit from construction of the eastern arm of HS2. The eastern section will benefit both the ECML and MML by releasing capacity on those lines for more local and regional services. With express services from Edinburgh, Newcastle, Leeds, Sheffield and others transferred onto HS2.

It seems however that the debate about whether or not to build the eastern section has resurfaced once again. There are those who ague; that the section from the West Midlands to Leeds and the ECML should not be built at all. They argue that it isn't required and capacity could be increased more cost effectively on the existing Midland and East Coast Main Lines.

I for one think this argument is nonsense and that the capacity argument which is true for the WCML is equally true for the ECML and MML. However I also think that a massive benefit of HS2 from the West Midlands to Leeds and Manchester is often overlooked.

That benefit being; the slashing of journey times from Leeds to Birmingham and from Manchester to Birmingham. A phrase which I often use (which is yet catch on) is "HS2 connects the Northern Powerhouse to the Midlands Engine". It's corny I know, but it does say simply what the northern section of HS2 is capable of delivering. Connecting regions covered by the Northern Powerhouse partnership with regions covered by the Midlands Engine partnership.
HS2 Ltd map showing phases 2a and 2b

Currently to get from Manchester to Birmingham takes 1 hour 30 minutes. To get from Leeds to Birmingham takes up to 2 hours! In this day and age it seems crazy that it takes so long. But it does highlight the fact that there simply isn't space on the existing infrastructure to improve services which connect 3 of the UK's largest cities.

If HS2 is delivered in full these journey times will be dramatically reduced. Manchester to Birmingham slashed to just 40 minutes, with Leeds to Manchester cut by over a half, to just 49 minutes. Journey time reductions such as these simply would not be possible without the construction of HS2.

HS2 Manchester to Birmingham - 40 minutes

HS2 Leeds to Birmingham - 49 minutes

Currently the fastest services from Leeds and Manchester to Birmingham are also some of the most crowded. The problem being that the Cross Country services which currently connect Leeds and Manchester to Birmingham also serve other routes, continuing south from Birmingham to Plymouth and Bournemouth. In effect Cross Country services serve two different markets, long distance to the south coast and regional to Birmingham. As vital as these sorts of long distance routes are, it does mean that passengers end up with busy, suboptimal regional links.

So whilst I agree it is absolutely critical that proponents of HS2 continue to push the message that HS2 is needed for capacity, I also think not enough emphasis is given to Leeds - Manchester - Birmingham connectivity. The connection of which with fast and frequent rail services could boost the economies of the Midlands and the North and shift the balance the UK economy north of Watford Gap.

I must point out however, that I do not subscribe to the argument that we should be building the northern sections first. Building the section between London and the West Midlands is needed to unlock capacity on the southern section of WCML. Providing extra capacity into London still remains vital and in addition unlocks the potential for even greater connectivity with other parts of the south via Old Oak Common.

I would like to discus Old Oak Common in more detail in a future blog.....

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Wednesday, 22 July 2020

UK first, class 230 hybrid train arrives at Wrexham

It was 3years ago when I first took a ride on the first prototype class 230, since then things have certainly moved on. The diesel powered 3 car unit which shuttled people between Honeybourne and Rail Live in 2017 has been developed into a diesel electric hybrid with advanced power systems and has also had a striking facelift.

The new hybrid units, which are a first for the UK, are very much like self charging hybrid cars. The 4 diesel engines housed underneath the centre vehicle charge 4 battery rafts, 2 under each driving vehicle. Power to drive the traction motors is taken directly from the batteries, with the motors able to return power back to the batteries using a regenerative braking system.

[update] I was made aware that the traction motors can take power directly from the engines, this is something didn't know before. But thought it is an important piece of information to share. I wasn't informed when the traction motors would likely need to take power directly from the engines, but the ability is there if needed, perhaps if the unit was full and making its way up the steep incline from Shotton towards Hawarden, or in the event one class 230 is required to rescue another.

 Class 230 006 at Wrexham General

The class 230s which have been built for Transport for Wales Rail are fitted with a 2 stage wheel slip protection system, with 1 stage able to precisely control the power being delivered to the wheels in order to prevent the wheels from slipping. This system will prove useful on the Wrexham Bidston line for which the units are intended. The line has many station stops, some spaced closely together along the 30 miles route, with a steep incline from Shotton up to Buckley which provides a challenge for train and the driver in wet conditions and during the autumn leaf fall season.

So far only 230 006 has made the journey north from Long Marston (where it was constructed and tested) to Wrexham. 006 is due to commence line specific testing once a second class 230 becomes available. Having 2 units stabled locally will mean that should a unit fail whilst out on the line for whatever reason, either one could recover the other.

007 is currently undergoing mileage accumulation on the Cotswolds line, as is 008, with 009 nearing completion. In total Transport for Wales Rail has ordered 5 units from Vivarail which, once delivered and sufficient drivers have been trained, will enable TfW to increase the service frequency on the Wrexham Bidston line from hourly to half hourly, starting from December 2021.

Having supported the D Train project from the very beginning and being part of the campaign for them to operate on the Wrexham Bidston (Borderlands) line, I must admit to being more than a little excited to hear 006 was making the journey to Wrexham on Monday (20th July). Having only seen pictures of the unit on the Cotswolds line it was good to finally get a chance to see the unit up close. It really does look fantastic, almost completely unrecognisable from the D 78 stock on which it is based.

The best bits of the stock such as aluminium body shells and recently replaced bogies have been kept, but almost all of the rest of the unit is brand new. The insides have been completely striped back to metal and new fixtures and fittings installed. Heavy structural work has taken place to reinforce the drivers cab and the gangways between carriages have been widened.

 Class 230 006 along side a class 150 which are set to be replaced on the Borderlands Line.

A small minority bemoan the use of the word "new" to describe the 230s, but given the work that has been carried out I think it's fair to call them new. The D78 stock on which the class 230 is based may
technically be older than the class 150s they're set to replace, but the difference in look and passenger facilities between the 2 units is night and day. Hopefully passengers will be able to judge for themselves soon, but I'm certain when the the 230s do enter service, the average passenger will have no idea that the train they are traveling on has its basis on a train dating from 1978.

[update] Since this blog was published, 230 006 has completed a number of test runs from Wrexham to Bidston and back again. During each run the unit has stopped briefly at each station along the line. Below is a video which compares the class 230 to the class 150 from a standing start, departing Neston station.

Update: side by side class 230 vs class 150 from a standing start.

More videos of 230 006 available here.

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