Thursday, 25 November 2021

Latest Youtube video: Northern Class 195

Taking a look at the Northern Class 195 which was built by CAF (Construcciones y Auxiliar de Ferrocarriles), features technical specs and thoughts about the units.



Friday, 19 November 2021

IRP, Rail Revolution or Rail Betrayal? Northern Powerhouse Rail

On the 18th of November 2021 the Government published its long-awaited Integrated Rail Plan (IRP) that sets out how the Government will attempt to improve rail links across the North and Midlands. In this blog I hope to set out the main points from and unpick some of the claims made within the report.

This part, in a two part blog looks into the detail of the Northern Powerhouse Rail proposal. Part one looks at the HS2 East announcement and the possible implications of cancelling the eastern leg of HS2

Northern Powerhouse Rail (HS3)

Northern Powerhouse Rail is where things start to get a little more complicated, as far as I can tell the Government has rejected all 3 proposals put forward by Transport for the North, which were:

"Option 1 was a mixture of new-build high-speed line, covering roughly half the route from Liverpool to Leeds, and upgrades to the existing lines into Leeds (via Huddersfield) and Liverpool (via Warrington Bank Quay) for the rest of the route.

Option 2 was for an entirely new-build high-speed line between Leeds and Manchester, including a new station on the outskirts of Bradford; a new line from Warrington to Liverpool (with a parkway station at Warrington); and an underground Piccadilly station with a connection allowing it to be used for Sheffield services. •

Option 3 was the same as Option 2, but with a new central station underground at Warrington (still offering less convenient interchange to Bank Quay); and an underground station in the vicinity of the existing Bradford Interchange station.
"

Instead, the Government suggests a patchwork of upgrades, electrification and new sections of track from Liverpool to York.

Liverpool

Starting in Liverpool, it is suggested that there will be further works carried out to enhance Liverpool Lime Street station, presumably on top of the £500m that was spent in 2018 to improve the station's platform layout. However, it is difficult to see what the enhancement will achieve. Even after the £500m re-build the station will have no room for additional services beyond 2035.

HS2 phase 2a will introduce 2 additional trains per hour to London and Transport for Wales intend to introduce a new hourly service between Liverpool and Llandudno and an hourly service to Shrewsbury from Liverpool (with a service every 2 hours extended to Cardiff), that's on top of the hourly Chester to Liverpool via Runcorn service that was introduced in 2019. Beyond that, there is no scope to get any more trains into Liverpool Lime Street owing to the restrictions imposed by the 4 track approach into the station. Anyone who has taken the train to Liverpool Lime St will be aware of the deep cutting that the approach sits in, there is nothing in the IRP that suggests the Government will invest in new tracks into the station, which would be incredibly costly.

Liverpool to Manchester

Travelling out from Liverpool Lime St, HS2/NPR trains will use existing lines to Warrington Bank Quay, where new platforms would be constructed. The only way this could be achieved would be by using the Skelton Junction to Ditton Junction line which is currently used for freight. The line was primarily used by freight trains bringing coal to Fiddler's Ferry power station, but those flows ceased in 2020 when the power station closed. This line would have to be electrified and new low-level platforms constructed below the existing Warrington Bank Quay station. 

As you can see from the approximate map below, the line is curvaceous to say the least, meaning the approach into Warrington Bank Qual LL will be slow. The existing track alignment under Bank Quay is also curvaceous and would have to be re-aligned to allow for platforms to be built. 

Approximate possible route through Warrington using an existing line

 
Using this approach would mean that HS2 services bound for London that would otherwise have connected to HS2 at Crewe via Runcorn, would be diverted away from and therefore no longer serve from Runcorn. 

From Warrington Bank Quay there would be a new section of track connecting to HS2 phase 2b into Manchester. It had already been proposed that passive provision for new NPR/HS2 junctions be added to the bill for HS2 phase 2b. The junctions would be located West of Manchester Airport and would allow HS2 trains from Liverpool to head south to Crewe and then on to London, and NPR trains to head to Manchester using the tunnel that will be constructed as part of HS2 from Manchester Aiport to a new station to be constructed adjacent to Manchester Piccadilly. As The new HS2 station at Piccadilly will be a terminus this will mean NPR trains from Liverpool that would be travelling east would have to reverse, which is far from idea, as this will impact overall capacity and has the potential to impact service reliabilty.

Manchester to Leeds 

Heading east from Manchester the Government has suggested building a section of new railway from Piccadilly/HS2 to just east of Standedge tunnel, located approximately 10 miles from Huddersfield. From there NRP trains would continue over the existing line to Huddersfield and then on to Leeds. The Government suggests building 40 miles of new railway in total, from Warrington to Standedge tunnel, which would include the section of HS2 from just west of Manchester Airport to Manchester Piccadilly.

Northern Powerhouse Rail as set out in the IRP


Instead of building a new dedicated line that would have served a new through station at Bradford, the Government's watered-down plan is to invest in "significant improvements to the previous Transpennine Route Upgrade (TRU) plans", parts of which are already either underway or in the planning phase. Network Rail has already submitted plans to double the number of tracks and electrify the line from Huddersfield to Dewsbury.
 

The Government says it now plans to electrify the whole route, instal digital signalling throughout, provide significantly longer sections of three and four-tracking, and gauge upgrades to allow intermodal container freight services. 

Full electrification of the Transpennine route from Manchester to Leeds via Huddersfield was another promise the Government made in 2012 and was another promise the Government broke when it "paused" plans for electrification. The "pause" turned into cancellation of full electrification, with the Government instead instructing Network Rail to draw up plans for discontinuous electrification with scaled back upgrades of the Pennine route. 

The Government also says it will also electrify the route from Leeds to York with some new sections of four-tracking and it will upgrade and electrify the Leeds to Bradford section of the Calder Valley Line.

The IRP briefly mentions Hull, but any proposals fall under the banner of "Future possibilities". The IRP states "The Government has identified a core pipeline of schemes and any further schemes (such as Hull upgrades) will be subject to affordability, delivering commitments on time and to budget, and complementary investments being made. Given the scale of the IRP core portfolio, the Government considers that this – alongside the development work at Leeds and on the Midlands Rail Hub – needs to be the immediate focus for the supply chain and delivery bodies.". 

The IRP is littered with and phrases such as "core pipeline", "subject to affordability", "focussing on delivering", "undertake a study" and "optimal solution" which make it sound like the Government is doing something, whilst in reality it commits the Government to nothing. There's nothing in the IRP to suggest that it forms the basis of a single unified plan which will be looked at as a whole, it's more like an ad-hoc wish list of projects the Government would like to possibly see complete. An ad-hoc approach risks abstraction, whereby the business case for the whole cannot be considered, instead, each proposal must be judged by its own merits, which risks deliverability.  

Put simply the Government has worded the IRP in such a way that it doesn't have to commit to anything and certainly doesn't make any promises which can be broken later.

As far as "Northern Powerhouse Rail" goes, that's it, 40 miles of new track (including HS2 into Manchester) and a patchwork of upgrades which may or may not go ahead, subject to there being a positive business case.


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Thursday, 18 November 2021

IRP, Rail Revolution or Rail Betrayal? HS2 East

On the 18th of November 2021 the Government published its long-awaited Integrated Rail Plan (IRP) that sets out how it will attempt to improve rail links across the North and Midlands. In this blog I hope to set out the main points from and unpick some of the claims made within the report.

This first part looks at the HS2 East announcement and the possible implications of cancelling the eastern branch of HS2. Part two looks into the detail of the Northern Powerhouse Rail proposal.

A link to the full report can be found here.

 
IRP map

HS2 East


First of all, HS2 East is being cancelled, this hasn't come as much of a surprise to many within the rail industry, but it is still incredibly disappointing nether the less. The Government says instead it will upgrade the Midland Main Line and East Coast Main Line, which it claims will provide the same level of benefits as HS2 East.

The Govermnet says it intends to upgrade junctions, signalling and power systems on the ECML to enable trains to travel at 140mph on certain sections, as opposed to the 125mph maximum today. This increase in speed the Government claims will reduce the journey time from York to London by 15 minutes. It should be pointed out that with HS2 East the journey time from York to London would have been reduced by 26 minutes!

Journey times with HS2 East are shown below, I thought it was worth documenting before the journey time checker is removed from the HS2 Ltd website.

Interestingly the IRP shows a Newcastle to London non-stop journey with a time of 145 minutes, this is still a lot slower than would have been achieved with HS2 East, the journey on HS2 would have taken 137 minutes. But crucially not only would the journey time be slower, but introducing more non-stop trains on to the ECML will reduced capacity and connectivity further down the line, this is the exact thing that HS2 was designed to eliminate! 

The whole point of HS2 is to remove fast services to the south which make few stops from the WCML, MML and ECML, freeing up existing lines for improved local and regional services. This simply will not be possible with the IRP proposal.

HS2 East hasn't been cancelled in its entirety however, a short section of new high-speed track will go from Birmingham via the junction that was originally intended to serve HS2 East, to East Midlands Parkway. The IRP states that HS2 Ltd will be working on a new proposal that uses the original safeguarded route, so it is likely that the alignment from Birmingham to just south of East Midlands Parkway will change very little from the original proposal. However, the line will be cut off south of East Midlands Parkway and will instead join the existing MML.

Instead of building HS2 all the way to Leeds with a new East Midlands Hub station at Toton, that would have served Nottingham and Derby, the Government instead says it will finally electrify the Midlands Mainline, something which the DfT promised in 2012 when they released details of the CP5 HLOS, but was later cancelled by the Government when the upgrade plans for 2014 to 2019 began to collapse.

With electrification to Sheffield and the short section of HS2 East, the Government claims the journey time from Sheffield to London under the new proposal will be exactly the same as would have been achieved with HS2 East.

The fact is the East Midlands needed HS2 East and electrification of the MML, not either-or. There was certainly a strategic case for both. 

With HS2 East in effect cancelled there doesn't seem much hope of the transformational capacity and regional connectivity enhancements that would have been achieved with the completion HS2 East. The very short section of HS2 to East Midlands Parkway will do nothing to improve capacity and connectivity around the East Midlands as the fast trains which currently travel to London via the MML will still be using the MML, albeit only to East Midland Parkway. The cancellation of HS2 East also means that East Midlands Hub will no longer be constructed and as such the planned improvements to local rail services to allow passengers from Nottingham and Debry to access HS2 services will no longer go ahead, or at least will not be as ambitious as those planned to support the East Midlands Hub proposal.

The Cancellation of HS2 East will not only have an impact on the Midland Main Line, but it will also impact East Coast Main Line services. The Government claim that "an upgraded ECML will deliver journey times from London to York and North East England similar to the proposed HS2 scheme", but this to me just seems like a lie. Their very own figures published within the report and shown above, show that journey times from Leeds, York, Newcastle, Darlington and others will be in some cases significantly worse than would have achieved with HS2 East.

There will also be no new Leeds station, therefore there will be no additional capacity, so, many of the fast intercity trains to London will continue to start/terminate in the main station taking up valuable platform space which could have otherwise been used for improved local and regional links. The Government states that it will instead upgrade the existing station, however, it's difficult to see quite how this will be achieved without disruption to existing services for years.

The Government does state that "we will look at the most effective way to run HS2 trains to Leeds", but again doesn't go into any specifics and it's difficult to see how Leeds to Birmingham services could be timetabled without eating into capacity on the MML. Also, the IRP journey time of 89 minutes is woeful compared to the 49 minute journey that could have been achieved had HS2 East been built in full. The 49 minute Leeds to Birmingham journey with HS2 would not have used any capacity on the MML, unlike the IPR proposal, which will have to use part of the MML to get from Leeds to East Midlands Parkway.

The only faint glimmer of hope is that the Government is to retain safeguards on the original route, the IRP document states "the Government does not intend to lift safeguarding on the previously proposed HS2 route at this time".

As far as relieving congestion on the ECML goes, the IRP seems to do very little. Increasing speeds will not increase capacity, you just end up with same current mix of stopping and non-stopping services, which means there will be no scope for improved rail links along the ECML for places such a Newark and Retford. 

I thought that I would have been able to go into more detail about specifics, but they're sadly lacking from this document. It reads more like a shopping list rather than an actual plan. Any proposals for upgrades will have to be looked at on an individual basis. So for example each junction that will need to be grade-separated on the ECML will require its own business case, which will have to be drawn up by Network Rail or by the time the Government gets around to implementing the IRP, I assume it will be the responsibility of Great British Railways?

It's possible that Network Rail or GBR could draw up a plan to upgrade a junction, only for the Treasury to turn around and say it the Government can't afford it at this time or the business case isn't strong enough. So there's the potential for each and every proposal to be slowly but surely rejected, thereby slowly eroding the proposals set out in the IRP.

 

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Monday, 15 November 2021

Building HS2 - Curzon Street and Interchange progress.

Update 15/11/21


It would seem that the title of the blog should have been "the time for discussion should be over" as it appears the leg from Birmingham to Leeds is going to be heavily curtailed. I'll wait and see what detail emerge this week, but it seems almost certain that the government is going to be making a huge mistake. Not only will de-scoping HS2 East reduce the journey time benefits from Leeds to London and Birmingham, and mean there will be little to no increase in capacity,  but it will also mean that there will be no hope of improved regional journeys that would have been made possible by the construction of the eastern leg of HS2.


In 2009 when I first began actively campaigning in support of HS2 I never imagined I'd one day be photographing and writing about the construction of the project. At the time I was in my mid-20s and full of youthful optimism and felt that someone ought to be challenging the many myths about the project which were being disseminated by opponents of the project. At the time HS2 Ltd had no social media presence and no one working for the DfT felt it was the job of HS2 Ltd or indeed Government to promote the project. HS2 Ltd's job was solely seen as designing the line and ensuring the required bills made their way through parliament. 


In the end HS2 took 10 years to get from the initial planning phase to construction, but finally in June this year (2021) I captured my first images of the progress so far. Admittedly I'm a little late to the party, as construction has been underway for quite some time, in fact, the first TBMs christened Florence and Cecilia launched to dig the two 10 mile long tunnels underneath the Chiltern hills have already excavated 2 miles of tunnels between them. However the pandemic and living up North made it difficult to justify a trip south just to see what's been going on. So, during my visit to the Midlands for Rail Live 2021 I thought I'd have an extended stay so I could see for myself some of the progress that has been made so far on the construction of HS2. 


The first stop was the site of what will eventually be the HS2 Interchange station located close to Birmingham Airport. This station will be connected to Birmingham International railway station and Birmingham Airport using an automated people mover, which will be able to transport people from the station to the airport in just 6 minutes. Birmingham Interchange will also allow people from Solihull and the surrounding area to access HS2 services to London, Birmingham city centre and the North. The station itself will be comprised of 2 platforms, with 4 platform faces and a pair of through tracks for non-stopping services from the North to London. 


A significant amount of work has already taken place around what will be the new station, with a key road bridge over the M42 having already been constructed. The 65-metre bridge which now spans the M42 was moved into place by SPMTs (Self-Propelled Modular Transporters) over the space of just 2 days. A new road bridge has also been installed over A446/A452 which will link the A452 to a new link road and roundabout to Birmingham Interchange and NEC, a video of which can be seen here

 

Preparatory works taking place on the site of new link roads and roundabout connecting the A452 and A446 to the new station and the NEC

The new link road bridge over M42. 

 

New roundabout layout, which will connect the A452 to the B4438 and NEC

 

Groundworks appeared to have started on the site of the new 400m long station, however, the tender to build the station itself isn't due to be awarded until next year, so it's unlikely that any significant progress towards construction will begin before the end of 2022.


First signs of groundworks taking place for Birmingham Interchange


The next day I took a trip into Birmingham to check out the site of another new station, this time located in the heart of the city. Curzon Street station is being constructed alongside the WCML and will have an entrance next to Moor Street station, and despite claims to the contrary made by opponents of HS2 will be only a few minutes by foot from Birmingham New Street station.

A video taken onboard a WMR service into Birmingham New Street station showing progress as of June 2021 can be found here


Curzon Street station will be a 400m long station with 7 platforms, the main entrance of which will open out onto Moor Street Queensway providing access to Birmingham Moor St station, with a short walk through St Martin's Queensway to New Street station. There will also be a second entrance roughly in the middle of the station which will utilise the original building which formed the entrance to the former station which was the terminus of the London and Birmingham Railway and the Grand Junction Railway. The original station opened in 1838, but was closed to passengers in 1893, the station itself was later demolished but the Roman-inspired Grade I listed building survived. It is this building that has been incorporated into the design of Curzon Street station. The building which will form an entrance leading out onto Curzon Street is currently undergoing refurbishment. Once completed the building will include "a new steel structural frame to strengthen the building, a new lift giving access to all four levels, new glass balustrade for the historic staircase, internal fit-out, roof repairs, structural repairs to the external façade, and a full clean of the external building masonry." source HS2 Ltd


The original building which formed the terminus of the London and Birmingham Railway



There will be 3 departures from Curzon St to London each hour, taking just 45 minutes to reach the capital, stopping at Interchange and Old Oak Common. There will also be services to Manchester once HS2 phase 2b is complete, with the journey taking just 41 minutes, slashing the Birmingham to Manchester journey time in half. There are currently plans to operate services to Leeds once phase 2 East is completely, but there are currently questions over whether this phase will be built in full or not. If the section of HS2 to Leeds is built in full then the journey time from Birmingham to Leeds would be 49 minutes, cutting the journey time in half, down from 2 hours currently.


Komatsu excavator loading a Wacker Neuson Dual View dumper on the site of what will be Curzon Street station


Although there wasn't a great deal of construction to see during my visit to the West Midlands it was certainly good to see that some progress is finally being made after 10 years of discussion. Looking back at my 5 years of campaigning activity from 2009 I'm not sure what, if any impact I made, but I felt strongly at the time that someone should be challenging the myths from HS2 opponents. It's frustrating to see that although over 10 years have passed, some of the old tropes such it only saving 15 minutes are still being circulated, but despite the best efforts of a well funded and vociferous anti-HS2 campaign the line is being built and there's very little the current cohort of opponents can do but add to the cost, through the need for extra security and legal fees to force the removal of protesters.


For me, my brief foray into campaigning inspired a love of the railways which has stayed with me and has inspired me to continue campaigning, but now on more of a local level, which has seen me campaigning for improved rail links on the Wrexham-Bidston line.


I hope to be able to make it down the West Midlands and further south again to see how construction progresses on this monumental construction project.

 

 

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Wednesday, 30 June 2021

Rail Live; plant and engineering innovation [part 2]

In the first part of my Rail Live special I looked at some of the rolling stock that was on display, but primarily the event is intended to bring together a wide variety of railway infrastructure and service providers from across the sector, from specially designed rail plant to railway specific services. 


FLOW bridge


One of the first stands I visited was that of FLOW Bridge, this innovative curved, modular bridge has been developed by Network Rail to provide a cost-effective and visually striking alternative to traditional foot crossings.


The bridge was developed in just 11 months and is made out of lightweight fibre-reinforced polymer (FRP), which at 20 tonnes is half the weight of an equivalent steel or concrete bridge. 

 

FLOW bridge at Rail Live 2021


FLOW stands for;

 

  • F – Fibre Reinforced Polymer, incorporating natural and sustainable materials.
  • L – Lower cost and lighter weight, in comparison to traditional steel bridges.
  • O – Optimised design to incorporate both architectural forms and functional needs to maximise operational use.
  • W – ‘Working’ bridge with monitoring built in to support asset management.

 

The bridge is very much still in the development phase with work continuing to develop a fully accessible version, but it is hoped that bridges based on this design could be used as a cost-effective way for Network Rail to eliminate level (foot) crossings. It is estimated that FLOW could be delivered for just half the cost of a steel or concrete bridge. 

 

Not only is the bridge visually striking but it also has some clever features which set it apart from other bridges. One feature is the concrete-less foundation, which could save on cost and Co2. The bridge instead uses a steel pad (the only steel used in the whole structure), to spread the load of the bridge. 

 


People have commented that this isn't the first polymer-based bridge, but I think what makes this different is how it looks. Steel and concrete bridges often look unattractive and out of place within their surroundings, whereas I think this bridge looks attractive and could be adapted to fit within rural or urban environments and would be an asset to a community rather than just a functional amenity. It will be interesting to see what the ramp version looks like, as current ramp designs often look oversized and out of place.


Coombes wood chipper


The day before the event Nigel Harris tweeted an image of a giant piece of equipment which piqued my interest. I had a vague idea of what could it be, but wanted to check it out for myself to see what it was. 


It turned out to be an enormous wood chipper, but not an ordinary wood chipper. This 500hp beast is powered by an engine from a Scania truck mounted on John Deere 1510 E foresty forwarder, the largest forwarder John Deere manufactures. 

 

Coombes wood chipper at Rail Live 2021


Whilst the mammoth machine wasn't designed specifically with rail in mind it is currently being used during the construction of HS2 and can be used to clear vegetation from railway sites. The chipper itself can chip trees up to 85cm in diameter, with the chips fed into a 28m³ bin. Once full the harvester can be driven to a nearby access road to discharge the chips into a waiting high-volume walking floor biomass trailer. To discharge the chips the entire bin is lifted to the height of the top of the trailer and then tips the entire 28m³ contents directly into the trailer.


Chipping trees or vegetation on-site or directly onto railway embankments is becoming less of a common practice nowadays for several reasons. For one, wood chips are an increasingly valuable commodity, the representative from Coombes was keen to say that the chips don't simply go to waste, they can be sent off to the energy industry, to power stations such as Drax, or to the wood processing industry. Another reason why it's no longer desirable to chip onto embankments in particular, is because wood chips can make embankments unstable and as they rot down can encourage further vegetation growth.


The representative from Coombes was also keen to stress that they're not just aimlessly cutting down trees and that a lot of planning has gone into deciding which trees to cut down. Coombes have their own team of ecologists to ensure that they're following all current guidelines and laws designed to protect wildlife. Unfortunately, it's simply a fact that to build any new infrastructure such as a new railway or road, that some trees will have to cut down. I know that felling to make way for HS2 has caused a lot of anger which is being targeted at HS2 contractors, I also know that misinformation is playing a big part in that anger. But it should be pointed out that HS2 Ltd and contractors working on HS2 are going to great lengths to ensure that they're removing trees and vegetation only where necessary.


QTS group vegetation management 


QTS Group also had a range of specially designed vegetation management equipment on display. The QTS range is designed more with trackside vegetation clearance in mind and the company has a wide range of road-rail vehicles at its disposal. Equipment such as the 460hp "Mega Chipper" which can chip trees up to 60cm in diameter. The chipper can propel itself overground on caterpillar tracks or rail via hydrostatically driven rail wheels. 

 

QTS vegetation compactor (left) and "Mega chipper" (right)


If it's not possible to chip on the railway then QTS can use its one of a kind rail-mounted vegetation compactor to remove material for disposal off-site. The compactor is designed to work alongside one of their Liebherr road-rail excavators fitted with a tree shear. The trailer can hold up to 10 times the volume of a traditional trailer providing substantial efficiency savings. Also, the Liebherr RR-excavator and compactor only requires a 2 person crew which increases safety and productivity.  


JCB material handling


Working on the UK's rail network is becoming increasingly challenging, especially in urban areas where space may be at a premium or where noise and vehicle emissions may be an issue.


With this in mind, JCB has been leading the way in providing innovative solutions for the movement of materials on site. Pictured below is the JCB ROTO which is a telescopic handler with a difference. It can be used as a standard telehandler with forks to move materials around, working in this mode it has a 2.5-tonne capacity and a reach of 5.5m. But the ROTO is a rotating telehandler which means the body can rotate independently, making the placement of materials much easier in confined spaces. The ROTO can also be fitted with a winch and used as a 5.5-tonne crane with a 20m lift height. In addition, the ROTO can be fitted with a remote-controlled access platform, which means workers can take control of the ROTO from within the platform. 

 

JCB ROTO at Rail Live 2021


JCB also has solutions if noise or emissions are an issue and is leading the way when it comes to battery-powered equipment. Also on display at the VP plc stand was a JCB 525-60E, which is a compact electric telehandler. The 525-60E has a 2.5-tonne lifting capacity with a lift height of 6m. It's fitted with a 24kwh battery which can provide a full days operation on a single charge. Being electric makes it perfect for working indoors or in confined spaces. 

 

JCB 520 60 E


Working to maintain and upgrade the UK's railways may be increasingly challenging, but it's clear from the equipment and services on display at Rail Live 2021 that companies are always looking for innovative solutions meet those challenges.

 

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Thursday, 24 June 2021

Rail Live 2021; rolling stock highlights

Rail Live "The only exhibition to bring the entire rail industry together in a real railway environment" returned for 2021 after the pandemic forced organisers to cancel the event in 2020. It's no surprise then that Rail Live 2021 seemed bigger than ever, not only with the usual live demonstrations that visitors have come to expect, but this year the Honeybourne shuttle made a return courtesy of Vivarail, Transport for Wales and SLC Operations who operated the service on behalf of Vivarail. Another train that will also be serving on the Wirral was also on display, one of Merseyrail's Class 777 EMUs built by Stadler ran regular short trips carrying passengers during the two-day event. 

Class 230 010 at Rail Live 2021

As someone who will, as a passenger benefit from the introduction of both units, I was keen to step aboard and take a look. My first port of call was the Class 230 which I was especially keen to take a look at inside for the first time, as I have been involved in campaigning for their introduction on the Wrexham-Bidston line for since 2016. I have to say that on first impression I was genuinely impressed. A small number of detractors like to remind people that they are ex London underground stock dating from the late 70s, but honestly, sitting onboard the Class 230  you would never know their past. I think even those who were sceptical at first have been won over by the transformation. 

Below is a short video which shows the full interior of the Class 230


During the conversion from D78 stock to Class 230 the interiors were completely stripped back to the shell and the new high-quality fixtures and fittings installed. The two driving motor cars were very quiet, more akin to an electric train than a DMU, which isn't surprising as the Class 230s are diesel-electric hybrids. The middle trailer car under which the diesel gen-sets are housed was, if I'm being honest a little rattly whilst the engines were running, however nowhere near as noisy as the Class 150s which the 230s are set to replace. I was assured by Vivarail that they are working to address the rattle from the fixtures and fittings, but honestly, even with the engines on, the middle car is a lot quieter than a Class 150.

The interior of TfW's Class 230s


The Class 230s feature all the modern amenities that passengers now expect, such as charging points and an accessible toilet. In addition, the Class 230 also features air conditioning, something which even the fully refurbished Class 150s don't have.

For much more information about the Class 230 click here

There was so much to see and do at Rail Live I had to return for day 2 to step aboard Merseyrail's Class 777 built by Stadler. If I was impressed by the Class 230 then I think I was stunned by the Class 777. When you step onboard it truly is astounding, especially when, as a passenger you are more accustomed to Class 507/8s. The sense of space is something else, looking down all 4 carriages through the extra-wide gangways it feels almost like a TARDIS. Class 777s have 4 carriages but the units are only 4m longer than Class 507/8s, at 64.98mm, compared to 3 car 507/8s which are 60.7m long. The designers have cleverly used the space to increase the 333 maximum passenger capacity of the 507/8s, to 475 seated and standing for the 777s. There is also more legroom, passengers who travel on 507/8s will be familiar with the awkward angles at which you have to sit when there are passengers sat opposite, not with the 777, there is space to comfortably seat 2 adults opposite each other, without touching knees.

Below is a short video which shows the full interior of the Class 777


The Class 777 on display number 002 is a little bit different from the rest of the fleet, as it's fitted with a 67kwh hour battery, meaning that it can operate beyond the 3rd rail network. 002 is currently being tested on the Merseyrail network to see how well it can perform, to ensure that the added weight of the battery has no impact on its overall performance compared with the non-battery classmates, but also how well the battery itself can perform. So far 002 has been able to travel from Sandhills to Southport on battery power alone, a journey of approximately 20 miles. So far all indications are that 002 can perform just as well as units without batteries, so the added weight of the battery doesn't appear to cause any noticeable reduction in acceleration or braking performance.

The trial of 002 opens up the very real possibility of extending the Merseyrail network, or the reach of the 777s beyond the 3rd rail network and 777s fitted with batteries could potentially operate as far as Wrexham on the Wrexham-Bidston line, or from Ellesmere Port to Helsby. For the former to happen a number of 777s would likely have to be fitted with larger batteries with a short section of 3rd rail fitted at the Wrexham end for rapid charging. If you would like to know more about the possibilities that the battery variants offer click here.

Class 777 interior

Merseytravel is currently working on a business case that may see all 777s fitted with batteries, which would mean the planned extension of the network to a new station at Headbolt Lane would not require any further electrification. Fitting all 777s with batteries would also help balance the power from regenerative braking which would otherwise be sent directly back down the 3rd rail.

Class 777 002 at Rail Live 2021


One of the most anticipated features of the Class 777 is the step-free access that they will provide across the Merseyrail Network once in service. Merseytravel has had to make some modifications to platforms, which you can find more information about here, but the 777s themselves have been designed with step-free access in mind. The units have been designed so that the floor of the carriage is level with a UK platform set at 915mm, with an offset of 730mm. To ensure that there is a minimal gap the units are also fitted with a retractable step which has an infrared camera fitted inside. As the step extends the camera detects the platform edge and ensures that there is no more than a 35mm gap between the step and platform. The step, combined with the camera and the 4 slightly shorter carriages helps to ensure that the gaps are equally spaced even on curved stations.

Class 777 retractable step



Rail Live has become an event at which rolling stock manufactures want to show off their new units, but primarily the event provides infrastructure and services companies with an opportunity to display what they have to offer. In part 2 I will be taking a look at some of the plant and engineering that was also on display.


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