Wednesday, 28 April 2021

Northgate redevelopment and St Martin's Way roadworks

The redevelopment of Chester's Northgate quarter has been progressing at pace since my last visit back in August 2020, with several new structures already starting to taking shape.

A 250 tonne crane has been on site for a number of weeks helping to install pre-cast concrete panels and steelwork. A large concrete core has already been constructed using concrete panels, this will house the stairwell and lift shafts for the multi-story car park. The structure of car park itself like the other buildings is being built out of steel.

Concrete core being constructed for the multi-story car park

One of the larger buildings which is already taking shape is the new cinema. The image below shows the steel framework which forms what will become the cinema, it also shows a stepped concrete structure which is where cinema-goers will eventually sit.

Cinema structure taking shape

The multi-use space which is being constructed directly behind the old library is also starting to take shape. Its multiple roof spans appear to be an attempt to mirror the local architecture so that the building fits in with the surroundings. 

Structure being built behind library 

Whilst work continues on the Northgate redevelopment another large construction project is also underway. If you live or work in Chester then you have probably already felt the impact of this work, as it has forced the closure of 2 lanes of St Martin's Way and Nicholas St, resulting in Chester's ring road being turned in effect, into a giant roundabout. This is because St Martin's Way and Nicholas St are currently closed in the southbound direction from Fountains Roundabout to Grosvenor Roundabout. The local authority decided that this would be the best solution for dealing with traffic, rather than just having a single lane in each direction from Fountains Roundabout to Grosvenor Roundabout

The works themselves are part of the wider Northgate redevelopment and will help to future proof the Northgate quarter against flooding and "drain bursts". The works involve building a 1km long tunnel underneath St Martin's Way, Nicholas Street, Grosvenor Road and Castle Drive, then out to the River Dee. The new drain which will have sections up to 1.2m wide will help direct rainwater away from the Northgate Quarter and the sewer system so that it isn't overwhelmed during heavy rain.

Looking up Nicholas St / St Martin's Way from Grosvenor Roundabout

The main contractor VINCI Construction is using 2 TBMs (tunnel boring machines) to construct 85% of the tunnels via a "pipe jacking" method. The remaining 15% will be constructed using a more conventional surface excavation method.

The 2 TBMs, one which is 1.2m in diameter the other 1m in diameter will bore the tunnels
underneath St Martin's Way, Nicholas Street, Grosvenor Road and Castle Drive. As the TBMs progress forward sections of concrete pipe will be pushed in from behind using hydraulic rams to form the new drainage tunnel.

The TBMs have been launched from 12m deep access shafts which have been sunk into St Martin's Way and Nicholas St. 9 access shafts will be required in total to construct the tunnel.

One of the shafts which has been used to launch one of the TBMs

The TBMs are using a "closed slurry system" to remove waste material from the tunnel. Water is pumped to a TBM and is mixed with waste material to form a slurry which is then pumped back to the surface. Once at the surface the slurry is filtered on-site to seperate soil and rocks from the water, once seperated the water is sent back down to the TBM for re-use. 

The slurry filtering system which separates waste material from the water

The drainage works which started in November 2020 are estimated to be completed by November this year. I'm sure the completion of the work will come as a relief to many who live and work in Chester, undoubtedly as Covid restrictions begin to ease traffic levels will begin to increase in and around Chester, so it is vital are completed on schedule.

If you would like to know more about the Northgate redevelopment check out my earlier post from my first visit in August 2020.


Short video clip showing the extent of progress so far




Thursday, 22 April 2021

RIA calls for rolling programme of electrification

Today the Railway Industry Association along with 16 other rail bodies has written an open letter to the Secretary of State for Transport Grant Shapps urging the Government to begin a rolling programme of electrification.

The letter coincides with the release of a report produced by the RIA called "'Why Rail Electrification?". They say "The report urges the Government to begin a programme of rail electrification now, in order to meet Net Zero legal commitments. It complements Network Rail’s Traction Decarbonisation Network Strategy by explaining why electrification is both a future-proof technology and a good investment."

The 80-page report sets out the case for a rolling programme of electrification and deals with potential sticking points such as cost, the report also looks at other forms of traction such as battery and hybrid technologies. The report does not dismiss battery or hybrid traction as an option but states that electrification is the "optimal choice for the majority of lines on the network"

Wires above the WCML

The case for electrification seems clear, I and many others would probably go as far as to say it's a no brainer, however it seems that the government has been dragging its heels since the GWML electrification debacle.

The fact that electrification of the GWML was delivered late and 3 times over budget wasn't so much the fault of the rail industry, but a failure of the Government to properly plan for the massive electrification project that it had promised to deliver. Put simply, during the CP5 (Control Period) HLOS (High Level Output Specification) covering the period from 2014 to 2019, the Government promised too much and failed to realise the enormity of the challenge and the fact that the industry lacked the skills to achieve such large amount of electrification in a relatively short space of time.

A graph shared on Twitter produced by rail electrification engineer Garry Keenor demonstrates clearly what went wrong with CP5. The industry went from no new electrification schemes leading up to 2012, then by the end of 2013 there were more than 20 schemes either in progress or in the pipeline.

20+ active schemes from 0 in the space of 5 years is not what the industry means when it says it wants to see a "rolling programme of electrification".

The sudden burst of activity meant that the industry had to rapidly tool up and find enough people with the necessary skills to carry out the work. Skills and equipment that at the time the industry simply did not have. And when new equipment such as Network Rail's High Output Plant System (HOPS) did arrive, it simply did not live up to expectations. 

CP5 HLOS map, showing projects that were completed, delayed or cancelled

The CP5 debacle lead to schedule and cost overruns which ultimately lead to the Government abandoning plans for the "electric spine". Since then electrification plans have either been delayed, put on hold or cancelled altogether.

It's not as if anyone didn't see this coming, the industry for years has been calling on the government to continue with electrification, all be it at a more manageable pace than the previous famine and feast.

Even I, a relative outsider have been writing about the lack of skills and the government's failure to properly plan for the electrification of Britain's rail network. Listed below are some of the blogs I've written about skills and electrification over the past 5 years.

CP5 HLOS: "Not all doom and gloom" 

The problem with Crossrail North 

Trans-Pennine electrification and Crossrail North 

Electrification - what went wrong? 

Northern - Powerhouse or Powercut?

Northern Rail Industry Leaders, Building the North's New Railway


Tuesday, 13 April 2021

East-West Rail progress so far

East-West Rail once completed promises to transform rail travel across Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire. This step-change in connectivity will be achieved by upgrading and re-building railway lines between Oxford and Cambridge, which were either downgraded or in the case of the section between Bedford and Cambridge, removed altogether.

The first tentative steps towards the delivery of the full East-West route were taken in 2016 when a major upgrade of the existing railway line from Oxford to Bicester was completed. The upgrade involved doubling the railway between Oxford and Bicester and the construction of a new section of track between Bicester and the Chiltern Mainline. The project also involved the construction of 2 new stations, one at Oxford Parkway and another at Bicester Village.

The upgrades and new infrastructure allowed Chiltern Railways to begin operating Oxford to London Marylebone services on the Chiltern Mainline. Services initially began operating from Oxford Parkway in October 2015 and then from Oxford in December 2016.

This first phase of what has since become East-West Rail was funded through a partnership between Network Rail and Chiltern Railways, with Network Rail providing the initial £250m funding, which was to be paid back via a “facility charge”. The charge was to be paid over a period of 30 years, initially paid by Chiltern Railways which is owned by Arriva UK. However this franchise is due to come to an end in 2022 and it is uncertain if the railway will be re-franchised, as the outbreak Covid19 has forced the government to look again at the franchise system as a whole.

Work on £760m second phase began in 2020 when Network Rail started to undertake preparatory works along the corridor from Bicester to Bletchley. Phase 2 involves building a new station at Winslow, partial re-building of Bletchley flyover, construction of new high-level platforms at Bletchley and installation of new tracks on part of the old Varsity Line between Bicester and Bletchley via Claydon Junction.

A key element of phase 2 which is now well underway is the partial rebuilding of the Bletchley Flyover. Built in 1959 to carry the Varsity Line over the West Coast Main Line, it was later closed to passenger traffic in 1968 and then to goods traffic in 1993, since then the flyover has remained unused.

Now Network Rail is replacing 14 of the 37 spans which make up the flyover in order to bring the structure up to modern standards. Since April 2020 Network Rail has been working to remove sections of the flyover, some of which weighed 295 tonnes. 8 sections that crossed the WCML required the closure of the railway in May 2020, however, the remaining spans were dismantled without the need for any further closures. 

 Span lifted out of Bletchley flyover - East West Rail project 

Speaking in May 2020 Tim Shoveller, managing director for Network Rail’s North West and Central region, said: “This is a major milestone for East West Rail - a new railway which will transform connectivity and journey times across the heart of the country. It promises to provide a greener, low carbon transport system which will bring huge benefits to passengers and businesses - driving economic growth and creating opportunities for housing and new jobs.”

Work will continue through 2021 to rebuild sections of the flyover and build new high-level platforms at Bletchley, It is expected that this will be completed by 2022. Once the works at Bletchley have been complete Network Rail will focus on the installation of new tracks between Bicester and Claydon Junction. Then in 2023 new tracks will be laid between Claydon Junction and Bletchley.

East-West Rail: mothballed section of railway between Bicester and Bletchley
Network Rail

Work to install and upgrade signalling and communications systems will begin in 2023 and be completed by 2024. Once this is complete Network Rail will be able to move on to the testing and commissioning phase, when it is hoped that train testing will begin.

Phase 2 is estimated to be completed by 2025 allowing services to operate between Oxford and Bedford for the first time since sections of the Varsity Line were closed in the 1960s. It is proposed that there will be 2 trains per hour from Oxford to Milton Keynes, 1 train per hour between Oxford and Bedford and 1 train an hour between Milton Keynes and Aylesbury.

The next phase of East-West Rail will be the most costly and challenging to complete, as parts of the Varsity Line between Bedford and Cambridge which was closed in the 1960s have been built upon.

In January 2020 Secretary of State for Transport Grant Shapps announced that the preferred route between Bedford and Cambridge had been selected. The preferred option which was chosen will run from Bedford Station heading northeast to a new station at Tempsford, the route will then head east to another new station to be constructed at Cambourne, from there the route will head south of Cambridge where it will connect into the existing line into Cambridge railways station.

Preferred option, route E

The preferred option (route E) has now moved to the public consultation stage, those wishing to have their say can do so here. Once the final route has been decided detailed design work carried out and then funding will have to be sought. There's no firm date for the start of construction, but it is hoped that the line could be open by 2030, allowing passenger trains to operate directly from Oxford to Cambridge for the first time since 1960s.


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Friday, 19 March 2021

Will Transport for Wales deliver for North Wales and Borders?

In 2018 Transport for Wales Rail Services took over the franchise to operate Wales and Borders services, which were previously operated by Arriva Trains Wales. Transport for Wales Rail Services the company initially owned by a Keolis Amey joint venture managed day-to-day running of rail services, as well as overseeing the development of South Wales Metro and the introduction of new trains. Transport for Wales was established as the government body to oversee road and rail transport, whilst TfWRS would have been best described as a railway company owned and operated by KeolisAmey.

When TfWRS took over the franchise, several promises were made, including the introduction of new trains, investment in existing rolling stock, as well as service improvements and station upgrades. On the face of it, TfWRS has so far appeared to have started to come good on some of its promises. £700m has already been spent or earmarked for the South Wales Metro scheme and orders for new trains have been placed, although it looks as if the class 197s ordered from CAF will not start to arrive by 2021 as originally planned and the 769s Flex units, which were intended as a stop-gap measure to release Class 150s so that they could be refitted to comply with accessibility standards are 2 years late, although some are now finally beginning to enter service.

Original timeline for rolling stock replacement 

As far as North Wales and the Borders goes, very little has happened. In fact, one of the first things TfWRS attempted to do was cut the first AM off-peak service calling at Gobowen, Chirk and Ruabon. The decision was made in an attempt to ensure the Cardiff-Holyhead express service could achieve the journey in under 4 and a half hours. A BBC article written at the time stated "A TfW spokesman said: "We have made a commitment to introduce a new Cardiff-Holyhead service departing from Cardiff Central with a total journey time of under four hours 30 minutes, using better trains to provide an improved service."

Such a move would have breached the terms that Welsh ministers had agreed with the Department for Transport when they were given powers to control Wales and Borders services. The agreement states "they shall not act in a manner that directly or indirectly unfairly prejudices the interests of passengers using English services in favour of the interests of passengers using the Welsh component of a Welsh service or a Wales only service" [1]. In the end, TfWRS reversed the decision, but it was a worrying proposal, especially for passengers in England who rely on Wales and Borders services.

 Holyhead-Cardiff loco haued "WAG Express" service in ATW colours at Chester Station

The outbreak of Covid19 has, of course, had an impact on the rail network as a whole and the industry remains in a precarious position. The dramatic fall in passenger numbers combined with poor service performance prior to the pandemic forced the Welsh Government to change the nature of the agreement with KeolisAmey and decide to take control of the day-to-day running of rail services. KeolisAmey will still oversee the development of South Wales Metro, but the Welsh Government has taken ownership of TfWRS in order to manage the day-to-day operation of rail services.

Of course, the dramatic decline in passenger numbers means that the Welsh Government now has less money to play with and has already spent or earmarked £700m of the funding initially granted by the DfT to TfW to transform rail services.

But it does appear that TfW has started to quietly cancel or curtail plans instigated before the pandemic to improve services and stations. One such promise which was made in 2019, was to install ticket machines "to all stations that do not have one by 2022". Now in 2021 this has been curtailed to just a few key stations, with busier stations seeing upgraded machines, whilst older machines will be moved to a few select stations based on passenger estimates.


TfW Class 230 on test on the Wrexham-Bidston line

This may seem on the face of it to be a minor issue, but for rural lines which are perceived to serve relatively few passengers, the installation of ticket machines was seen as a way to boost revenue. For example, ticket sales on the Wrexham-Bidston line have for years been relatively low and as such, it is has been assumed that the line serves a small number of passengers. However the sale of tickets is also low because passengers cannot buy tickets at the majority of stations, and yet whilst it is true that conductors can sell tickets onboard (although they have not done so since the outbreak of Covid), it was never always the case that a conductor checked or issued tickets. Often during the morning and evening commute with stations stops spaced closely together, particularly towards Wrexham, conductors are not able to issues tickets to all passengers whilst remaining in charge of the safe operation of the doors. So many passengers get a free ride, TfW loses vital revenue and passenger numbers go under-reported.

On the left a tweet from TfW regarding ticket machines from 2019, on the right a tweet from 2021

Sticking with the Wrexham-Bidston line, TfW decided after the second lockdown that passenger services should be reduced to 2 hourly until further notice, and be served by a single Class 150. Hopefully, services will quickly revert to hourly as restrictions ease and, by December 2021 service frequency should increase to half-hourly, as this was another key promise made by TfW when they took over. It was also promised that class 230s constructed by Vivarail would begin to enter service by 2020.

Granted the late delivery of class 230s was for the most part out of TfW's control. Several factors including Covid19 resulted in it taking longer than originally hoped to manufacture the units. Covid has also meant that crew training is taking longer than expected. The delivery of Class 769s in South Wales has also run late for similar reasons.

But the key promise of a half-hourly service by Dec 2021 will not, in the end, be entirely what was expected. Whilst there is no hint yet that TfW is going to reverse plans for a half-hourly service, the service itself will not be implemented in full. Instead one of the additional services per hour will not stop at every station and therefore some communities will miss out on the benefit of the new service. In an open letter to the Prime Minister calling for more investment, Minister for the Economy Ken Skates said a half-hourly service “will only be delivered by skipping stations along the route”. He explained that the full half-hourly service cannot be implemented because of “capacity and signalling constraints”. Certainly, the current service turnaround is tight, with trains taking an hour to get from Wrexham to Bidston and there are a limited number of freight movements per day which use the line between Deeside and Wrexham.

Those who have campaigned for improvements to be made to the Borderlands Line argue that the improved performance of the Class 230s compared to Class 150s, combined with speed improvements between Shotton and Bidston means that valuable minutes can be saved to provide a timetable buffer, without the need to miss stops. They are also willing to accept that a short break in the half-hourly service may have to operate when freight paths are needed, but there are currently usually only 2 freight movements each way during the daytime between Dee Marsh and Wrexham.

Ken Skates has gone on to say that full implementation of what is being called the "North Wales Metro" will require funding from the DfT. Initially, it was suggested that an additional block section would need to be installed by Network Rail in order to implement a full half-hourly service. But now Mr Skates along with Liverpool City Region Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram are asking for £100m worth of investment to introduce 4 trains per hour from Wrexham directly into Liverpool. Now, of course, calls for investment are welcome and I like many other passengers would like to see services operating directly into Liverpool. But what hope is there really of this happening if relatively modest improvements such as a half-hourly service and ticket machine installation cannot be delivered in full?

I realise I'm talking a lot about the Wrexham-Bidston line, it is the line that is local to me and it is one that I have actively been involved in calling for improvements for almost 7 years! Some people have been calling for improvements for over 30 years. And just as it seems that improvements are beginning to happen TfW could be about to backtrack on some of its promises.

I understand the initial funding provided to TfW to improve rail services did not stretch to improving Wales and Borders services. But as TfW now has full control of services that serve both England and Wales it only seems reasonable that passengers should expect that some of the money be invested in Borders services and not just South Wales Metro. Some English towns and cities will benefit from new Class 197 DMUs and the Wrexham-Bidston line will hopefully one day soon benefit from Class 230s. But with South Wales benefiting from £700m worth of investment and a raft of new bespoke trains, passengers could easily be forgiven for thinking that the "Borders" part of Wales and Borders has been forgotten about.

[1] page 6


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Friday, 12 March 2021

Mersey Gateway, 3 years on

The Mersey Gateway opened in October 2017 providing improved links from the M56 and Runcorn across the Mersey to Widnes and on to Liverpool. The £600m project which took 3 years to complete, comprised of a new 6 lane cable-stayed bridge spanning the river Mersey and substantial upgrades to the A553 which runs through Runcorn connecting the M56 to the new bridge.

The new crossing received a mixed reaction from locals and motorists when it first opened, as for the first since the Silver Jubilee Bridge opened, motorists would have to pay to cross the Mersey from Runcorn to Widnes. There were also teething problems with the barrier-less toll system. People complained that signage warning people that they must pay online to use the bridge was poor, this in part lead to almost £20m worth of fines being issued within the first 20 months of operation. 

Other problems occurred with people using rental vehicles, who thought they were paying for their crossing, but had in fact paid for crossings made by another person who had previous used the same vehicle.

Many people simply just forgot about the toll and missed the 11:59pm day after deadline, which if you miss generates a £20 fine + £2 toll charge in each direction. This fine increases steeply if you do not pay within 14 days.

Residents who live in Halton can apply for a residents pass, at a cost of £10 per year, which allows for unlimited crossings at no extra charge. And regular users can also create an account online which can be topped up and provides users with as much as a 10% discount for each crossing, depending on if they choose to use the sticker option or not. In December 2019 Emovis Operations which operates the toll system released an app which has made it easier for users to keep track of and pay for crossings.

View of the bridge from below the viaduct carrying traffic from the A533 to the bridge

Despite the teething troubles and an ongoing campaign to remove the toll, the bridge had up until the outbreak of Covid19, been a success, carrying 67,000 vehicles each day between October and November 2019. It had also reduced congestion, particularly on A557 Weston Point Expressway, which regularly saw queues of 10 minutes or more.

Mersey Gateway in numbers

  • Bridge length 2.1km
  • Tallest supporting pylon 125m
  • 146 stay cables
  • Longest single span 318m
  • Carrying as many as 67,000 vehicles a day (pre-Covid)
  • Cost £600m

Even if you do not consider the number of vehicles using the bridge to be a measure of success, the new bridge is a local landmark comparable to the existing and iconic Silver Jubilee Bridge. Its 3 tall concrete pylons support a relatively slender deck via 146 stay cables, and yet, whilst the tallest of the 3 concrete pylons reaches 125m high, the bridge itself manages to compliment rather than overshadow the existing road and rail bridges.

Speaking of the existing bridge, it had reached its design capacity some decades ago and was in need of urgent repairs, this despite recent extensive works to repair the road and deck and repaint the distinctive steel arch structure. The fact is, the bridge simply wasn't designed to carry the volume of traffic which crossed the bridge each day. The original plan was to close the bridge for up to a year once the new crossing had opened to carry out repairs and convert 1 lane in each direction to cycling and pedestrian provision. 

The iconic Silver Jubilee Bridge has been part of Runcorn's skyline for over 50 years

In the end, the Silver Jubilee bridge didn't fully reopen until February 2021. This was, in part due to changes to the proposals made by Halton Borough council. They wanted the bridge to integrate better with the town centre in order to tie in with the redevelopment plans they have. Under the original plans, the bridge would have been accessible by cyclists and pedestrians, but would have been less well connected to the town centre. Road access would have been maintained to the A557 via the existing junction arrangement. Instead, the grade separated junction that connected the A557 to the bridge has been replaced by a single at-grade roundabout. 

The new roundabout connecting the A557 to the SJ Bridge

The Silver Jubilee Bridge is once again open to vehicle traffic and is now tolled, costing £2 to cross. This arrangement wasn't without its critics, but it does seem to be the only logical approach. Keeping the existing bridge free to motorists would of course encourage people to use the bridge instead of the new crossing, despite the journey time over the existing bridge being much longer, which would have been compounded by increased congestion as people attempted to avoid the tolls. 

Video trip across the Mersey Gateway bridge from Widnes along the A533 through Runcorn to the M56.

Speaking as someone who infrequently uses the bridge, it would have been nice if the bridge were free to cross, as it is now nigh on impossible to get from West Cheshire or the Wirral to Liverpool without paying a toll. If you really wanted to avoid paying the toll to use the Mersey Gateway bridge, the only option would be a 10-mile detour via the congested roads of Warrington town centre. To avoid paying £1.80 to use either of the Mersey tunnels would entail a detour of 30 miles.

Having said that, I do appreciate that the £600m project had to be funded somehow, and the government seemed unwilling at the time to fund the construction of a new crossing. This despite tolls being removed from the Severn crossings in 2018 and around the same time the Scottish Government funding a new £1bn bridge across the Firth of Forth, which is also toll-free.

But in the end, a new and in my opinion attractive bridge has been constructed which people in the region will continue to feel the benefits of for years to come.

Want to know more? You can find out about how the bridge was constructed in the series of blogs I wrote as I was following the project. Click here to find out more.


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Friday, 5 March 2021

Parc Adfer - Turning trash into energy

Parc Adfer is the name given to a £800m waste to energy facility located on the Deeside Industrial Park in Flintshire, North Wales. The plant which became fully operational in December 2019 can process up to 200,000 tonnes of non-recyclable waste per year and generate up to 17MW of electricity which is fed to the national grid, enough electricity to power up to 30,000 homes.

The facility was built through a public-private partnership (PPP), with Wheelabrator Technologies chosen to deliver and manage the project, Wheelabrator which operates other waste-to-energy facilities in the UK and US will operate the plant for 25 years. The company processes over 8 million tonnes of waste per year across its 25 sites, generating 732 MW of electricity, enough to power 671,000 homes.


The building itself seems relatively modest for a plant capable of proccessing 200,000 tonnes of waste a year

Five Welsh authorities worked in collaboration with assistance from the Welsh Government to develop the proposal, which is known as the North Wales Residual Waste Treatment Project (NWRWTP). The 5 local authorities are Flintshire, Isle of Anglesey, Gwynedd, Conwy, and Denbighshire. It is from these 5 local areas where the majority of waste is collected.

Local waste from Flintshire is generally brought in directly by refuse vehicles, whilst waste from further afield is brought in by articulated vehicles with high volume capacity trailers. Waste transfer sites receive waste from refuse vehicles, which is then transferred to the trailers which can each carry up to 27 tonnes. In this way, local authorities can reduce the number of vehicles that are needed to deliver waste to the facility.

The construction of the plant generated some local opposition, with people raising concerns about air pollution, however, Wheelabrator say “Our facilities use the most advanced environmental control systems to meet and exceed some of the most stringent environmental standards in the world” adding “Waste-to-energy facilities are required to comply with strict air quality limits established by the European Waste Incineration Directive”. [1]  

Indeed, modern waster-to-energy facilities are nothing like the incinerators of old. High burning temperatures up to 1110°C and filtration systems can burn off and then filter out much of the particulate matter. The facilities themselves can reduce the volume of the original waste material by 95-96%. Whilst Metals which remain within the waste can be removed and sent on to be recycled, the remaining ash can also be recycled and is used within the construction industry as secondary aggregate. 

Further to this, Wheelebrator refer to a study that was undertaken on behalf of the German Federal Environmental Agency [2]. The report demonstrates that waste-to-energy facilities can have a positive net impact on greenhouse gas emissions through the reduction of methane emissions, which would normally be generated by waste which has been sent to landfill. Whilst methane only accounts for 10% of greenhouse gases globally it can trap 84 times more heat per mass unit than carbon dioxide

View from Weighbridge Rd

Of course, there remain pros and cons, as such facilities do still emit Co2 into the atmosphere and very small amounts of other particulates, even if the amounts are so small, as not to pose a risk to the environment or people living close by. In general though, energy recovery from waste can play a crucial role in managing the waste that we the public produce. 

Flintshire Country Council recycles 58,000 tonnes of waste per year, but this still only accounts for about 69% of the total amount of waste that is recycled. This is significantly above the national average for Wales, which stands at 60% of waste recycled. However, this still leaves a huge volume of waste that either can't be recycled or isn't yet being recycled by the public 

So, whilst as much as 40% of the waste generated by households in Wales and across the UK remains un-recycled or un-recyclable, we must find solutions to disposing of the waste which we produce, a solution which doesn't involve burying it in the ground for future generations to deal with.







Friday, 26 February 2021

Reblog: D Train (Class 230), from passionate supporter to future passenger [2021 update]

First published in Rail magazine in 2019

In 2014 I become aware of an idea to fit diesel engines to redundant London Underground stock, an idea which if proposed by anyone else would have seemed, well a bit out-there. However this idea was proposed by Adrian Shooter, the highly respected ex chairman of Chiltern Railways, who decided to try to help solve the looming shortage of DMUs.

By November 2014 Vivarail chaired by Mr Shooter had begun purchasing ex LU D78 stock intended for conversion to DEMUs. In total 156 driving motor and 70 trailer vehicles were purchased and taken to Long Marston. Reaction from the industry was mixed and the mainstream media's response was harsh. I can remember it being said that "we don't want cast offs from the London" when it was suggested they could be used by Northern.

However, negative press reaction wasn't enough to deter Vivarail from pressing ahead with the project and by 2019 the fruits of their labour began to pay off. 3 class 230s entered passenger service on the Martson Vale line and 5 units were ordered by Transport for Wales Rail for use on the Wrexham-Bidston Line.

Around the time that I learned about the D-train project I became involved with the Wrexham-Bidston Rail Users' Association (WBRUA). The Association had been battling for improvements on the line for 3 decades with little success; but not through lack of trying. Throughout the 90s it seemed as if the line was being wound down and if it wasn't for the freight services that used the line it could of closed all together. 

In 2016/17 the WBRUA begin to actively support the introduction of class 230 on the line, with the proviso that the units were used in order to facilitate the introduction of a half hourly service. This would require 5 units and was at the time a big ask, however the WBRUA believed that a reliable half hourly service would unlock the potential of the line. 

The WBRUA was, and remains confident that 230s which have been delivered to TfW will outperform class 150s and provide a superior customer experience. In terms of performance, 4 diesel engines will provide 600kw of power to 4 rafts of batteries and with double the number of powered axles, will ensure the class 230s will be able to out-perform the class 150s. 

The WBRUA estimated that despite having 3 cars instead of 2, the class 230s with their all aluminium bodies will have a 30% better power to weight ratio than a 2 car class 150. 

 Class 230 vs Class 150 side by side comparison


 Now in 2021,

The class 230s were supposed to enter service on the line in early 2020, with 2 units intended for use on the Wrexham-Bidston line to maintain the hourly service, the other units were to be put to work on the Conwy Valley line, it was also suggested 1 unit could be used on the Chester-Crewe shuttle. However, it was soon established that a class 230 with a top speed of 60mph, despite its superior acceleration (when compared to class 150) would not be able to maintain the current Chester to Crewe journey time. It was intended that by December 2021 all 5 units would transfer to the Wrexham-Bidston line so that the half hourly services could commence.

In the end the first class 230 did not arrive in Wales until July 2020 owing to problems with the supply of crucial components and the added features stipulated by TfW such as wide gangways, for which parts had to be specially fabricated.


 230 006 at Wrexham General, having arrived from Long Martston that day.

230 006 was the first unit to arrive, it was driven from Long Marston to Wrexham General under its own power, with a Vivarail crew onboard. Soon after its arrival, 006 began testing on the line and completed between 2 and 3 runs each day from Wrexham General to Birkenhead North EMU Depot. Transport for Wales Rail had struck a deal with Merseytravel to use 1 of the roads at Birkenhead North EMUD to stable class 230s overnight. In August 2020 006 was joined by 007 and that same month 002, 006, 007 and 008 were authorised for passenger use by the ORR. 008 and 009 have now also arrived with 010 expected in the coming months.

There is currently no secure stabling provision for the class 230s at Wrexham, so all class 230s are being stabled at the Merseyrail EMUD overnight. Refuelling currently takes place at Chester TMD, which is used to maintain TfW's fleet of class 175s. On a handful of occasions 6 car class 230s have been seen making the journey from Birkenhead to Chester for refuelling. 

  230 008 approaching Neston station during testing

TfW have now taken ownership of a number of units and it appears as if they are gearing up to begin driver training. TfW staff members have been seen aboard class 230s making runs on the Wrexham-Bidston line and a class 153 has also been making a number of runs each day from Chester to Birkenhead North via Wrexham for route familiarise.  

A sufficient number of crews must be trained to operate the class 230s by December 2021 in order for the half hourly service to commence. Despite the outbreak of Covid19 and subsequent reduction to the services on the Wrexham-Bidston line, there has been no hint that the half hourly will be shelved. The half hourly service to be introduced from December 2021 was contractual agreement agreed by Transport for Wales and its private partner KeolisAmey when it took over operation of Wales and Borders services from Arriva Trains Wales in 2018. The Welsh Government through TfW has now taken over day to day running of the railway from KeolisAmey. However KeolisAmey still has a role to play in delivering the upgrade of the Valley Lines.  

There is no date yet for when the class 230s will enter service, however with the crews finally beginning familiarisation and training it is hoped that the first units could enter service by May this year (2021).