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Dornoch Rail Link Action Group – Spring 2013 newsletter - Part One

26th April 2013

Photograph of Dornoch Rail Link Action Group – Spring 2013 newsletter - Part One

Hon. President Revd. Alistair Roy BD
Newsletter by Mark Norton

Bulletin for the Dornoch Rail Link Action Group – Spring 2013

1. General situation

1. Good news continues apace on the British railway network in general. The first electrification masts have started going up on the Great Western Main Line near Reading, and the station improvement works there have nearly finished. Massive investment has been made in this station, which is clear to me as I recently travelled through there over Easter. This is necessary as I, and many others, have been held up for some time on account of train congestion going through Reading for traffic between London, South Wales and the South West of England.

2. In this vein, it is important that the investment programme focusses on, amongst other things, increased capacity for burgeoning passenger and freight traffic on our railways. Many lines are now running at or near capacity, particularly near London. This was evident to me as I took trains between London, Farnham and Kingston in Surrey, as these trains ran fast on the outer reaches of the network, but ran slower owing to track capacity being near to full utilisation nearer Waterloo. Several hundred trains per hour use the tracks to and from rail terminuses in London and other major cities in the U.K. – if even only one of these were to “sit down” (i.e. fail such that they cannot move) on the tracks, the result causes major delays. It is important that sufficient backup measures and contingency plans exist to help resolve such delays, although it should be said that the railway is afflicted by delays outwith its control (e.g. suicides, vandalism and accidents involving road vehicles).

3. One aspect of this rail investment focusses on the rolling stock strategy, which in will discuss in this article. It is known that there will be substantial investment in electric rolling stock as part of the electrification of the Great Western Main Line, the Midland Main Line and the Welsh Valleys. This will enable a welcome cascade of diesel rolling stock onto other parts of the network, which are not affected by the electrification but which are experiencing current over-crowding problems. The cascade will offer limited extra capacity for some diesel services, and maybe even enable the retirement of the cheap, but not widely loved, 2-axle Pacers.

4. There is however another aspect of the rolling stock strategy which needs to be further elaborated on here. The April 2013 edition of the Modern Railways discusses this issue briefly, and that issue is the economic and technical difficulties of building new underfloor diesel engined passenger trains. Increasingly strict European Commission legislation regarding diesel engine emissions on all motor vehicles, rail and road, makes it more difficult and expensive to design a fully emissions - compliant engine for a modern rail DMU. This in turn makes it more expensive to build or lease new DMUs for UK use, and the current position by Rolling Stock Companies (ROSCOs) is that new diesel trains are currently unfundable given the emphasis on new electric rolling stock and subsequent cascades as explained above.

5. The good news is that a derogation to the emissions legislation in 2012 means that existing diesel passenger trains can continue to operate for as long as necessary. As there are some relatively new diesel passenger trains in use on the network just now (e.g. Class 220/1/2 DEMUs on Cross-Country/ Meridian services, Class 175s, Class

185s and Class 170 Turbostar services in Scotland), there is no immediate problem with regard to DMU availability.

6. These trains do not however have an infinite lifespan and will need to be replaced at some point, including the ones on our Line. 2020 may see some moves in that direction on the Far North Line as the Class 158s will already have been nearly 30 years old by that time. Existing diesel rolling stock currently in use elsewhere in Scotland is likely to be used to replace these trains (most likely Class 170 Turbostars). These will be in use for a further 20 years, I suspect, as these were introduced in 2000 thereabouts, before they in turn are replaced. By this time (2030-40s) technology will have evolved way beyond what we are used to now such that diesels may be either so advanced as to be unrecognisable or redundant as fuel cell technology may have evolved to make rail use practicable over long distances.

7. It is to be hoped that technology provides the answer for trains running on non-electrified lines, as it is unlikely, to be honest, that rural lines including our own will be electrified in the foreseeable future (see Dorlag newsletter Autumn 2012 for discussion on electrification). While this is likely, we should not be un-alive to the possibility that it may continue to prove too expensive to produce new DMUs if this is not the case, which may not help cascades to replace current rolling stock on the far North Line. This issue may be given further urgency if new environmental emissions legislation requires upgrade or withdrawal of existing older, dirtier diesel trains. If it is still considered uneconomic to build new DMUs elsewhere which then enables cascade of newer rolling stock to lines such as ours, then serious questions arise as to the future of such services.

8. Technology does apply to electrification as well. While the installation and use/ maintenance of overhead catenary is an expensive business, other forms of electrification are or will be available, such as third rail or inductive loop. These may cut the costs of electrification substantially, such that it becomes economic for the Far North Line in time. The economics of emissions regulations are however more favourable for locomotive diesel engines, as the bigger size of these engines makes them easier to design as compliant with emissions regulations. This of course helps with the use of loco-hauled trains on all lines, including rural ones, from an emissions compliance point of view. Locomotive hauled stock is however not economic for a number of other reasons on the Far North line by virtue of the weight, size, maintenance costs and relative slowness of locomotive hauled stock, although I understand why it would have its attractions if journey times and fare prices were not an issue.

9. My advice is try and design a lightweight hybrid diesel-electric multiple unit train for use on rural lines. This at least can cut fuel usage and track wear, and modern battery and motor technology can be used to create a hybrid train on the same basis as what is done for a hybrid car now. This can be the way forward for all rural and light use lines, and also pave the way to maintain the train’s carbon emission advantage over car, bus and air travel. One could suggest possibly a 3-carriage train with two 500 hp 6-cyl diesels at the end carriages and batteries and electric motors in the middle one, with additional motors on the inner bogies of the end carriages. The motors could be used as braking generators to recharge the batteries, which then give additional acceleration later, same as for hybrid cars.

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