Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Growth in the highlands

The highlands of Scotland, particularly around Inverness, are seeing a great deal of growth in rail traffic, with several station reopenings and new freight flows. Beuly and Conon Bridge stations near Inverness reopened this year.
Direct Rail Services have opened a new terminal at Georgemas junction to serve the Dounreay nuclear facility as it is decommissioned.
There's a new freight flow of bulk Scotch whisky from Elgin to Grangemouth, complementing the existing "Tesco trains" that bring supermarket goods to Inverness from the south. Unfortunately, the disconnection of the Keith and Dufftown railway from the national network at Keith, means that the distilleries at Dufftown don't currently have a direct rail connection, meaning a short lorry journey is still required to get the spirit to Elgin.
While talk of widening the A9 may suggest investment (and traffic) is moving from the rails on to the road, the evidence for the moment is of growth on the rails. Which is good for the environment and good for the users of the A9, who will have less trucks to contend with.
There is still plenty that can be done to improve the highland main line, though. Signalling is still by Victorian semaphores. Resignalling and even electrification would bring the line into the 21st century and allow faster, more modern trains to compete more effectively with road transport.
In the heritage sector, the Strathspey Railway's proposed extension to Grantown-on-Spey will give tourists in the highlands a car-less route to Grantown and will make the Strathspey the longest preserved railway in Scotland. Good for the tourists and good for the local economy.

Meanwhile, on the Inverness to Aberdeen route, Transport Scotland is planning track and signalling improvements that will allow faster, more frequent trains. And there's also talk of opening a railway station to serve Inverness airport.


Glasgow railways getting ready for Commonwealth Games

Dalmarnock station in Glasgow is currently receiving the finishing touches to an £11 million redevelopment, times to be completed before the opening of the Commonwealth games, due to take place in the city next year. The station is located near to some of the event's main venues such as the Athlete's Village, Celtic Park, the National Indoor Sports Arena and Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome. The new station building features a modern, minimalist design, with diffuse glazing to let plenty of light in. A new lift and enclosed footbridge are designed to comply with the disability discrimination act.

The Glasgow Airport rail link was also intended to be completed in time for the games, but this has now sadly been cancelled. This will be a great setback, since there will be many participants and spectators travelling to Glasgow by air.

Railway technology article on the Dalmarnock redevelopment:
And on the Glasgow Airport Rail Link:

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Borders rail will improve access to mining museum.

The Scottish mining museum at Newtongrange will benefit from the reopening of the Waverley route. The museum, based at the former Lady Victoria colliery is adjacent to the trackbed of the Waverley route and is near to the site of the proposed Newtongrange railway station. Getting to Newtongrange at the moment is only possible by car or bus, but having a railway station nearby will enable visitors from other parts of the country to get to Newtongrange far more easily. This should hopefully bring up visitor numbers and increase revenue for the museum.
The Waverley route reopening is one of Scotland's most high profile railway projects and is considered vital to growing the economy in the Lothian and Borders region.
The Scottish mining museum can be found at http://www.scottishminingmuseum.com/

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Electrify the Sou'Western

The china clay train that  supplies the Caledonian paper mill in Irvine comes up from England every week hauled by a Class 92 electric locomotive. It comes up the West Coast main line to Mossed, where the 92 is swapped for a Class 66 diesel loco. It then goes down the Ayrshire coast to Barassie, reverses and heads into the exchange siding at the paper mill where the mill’s shunter takes over. That’s 3 different locos for one train travelling over an unnecessarily long route. What if the 92 could take the train all the way to the exchange sidings? Well this would require wires running along the Barassie line and into the siding. But wait! The line down from Glasgow via Kilwinning is wired, but this still takes the train the long way round. The shortest route from England is to come up the Glasgow & South Western main line via Dumfries and Kilmarnock, which at the moment is unelectrified. Now there’s no point electrifying that entire line for one weekly freight train, so now we have to look at passenger train use of the line.
There are essentially four passenger trains on this route  There’s the stopping commuter service from Barrhead to Glasgow, the fast service from Kilmarnock to Glasgow and it‘s opposite equivalent from Dumfries to Carlisle, the Kilmarnock-Girvan shuttle and the 2-hourly long-distance service from Glasgow to Carlisle that serves Auchinleck, New Cumnock, Kirkconnel and Sanquhar. Thus the railway could be electrified in stages: From the Glasgow end to Barrhead first, then to Kilmarnock and from the Carlisle direction to Dumfries, then the “middle” section between Dumfries and Kilmarnock. The section to Barassie might be tricky, because to supply the only passenger train on the branch would also require the Ayr-Girvan line to be electrified at the same time.

Network Rail’s Route Specifications 2012 document suggests the electrification of the Glasgow to Kilmarnock and East Kilbride lines (the East Kilbride branch comes off the Sou’Western at Busby junction just south of Pollokshaws West) in control period 5. It also suggests the route could be an “electrified diversionary route from Ayr” (implying electrification of the line from Barassie, which would serve our china clay train) but does not make a firm commitment, merely listing such a route as a “future aspiration” No electrification south of Kilmarnock is currently proposed, possibly due to the low frequency of passenger trains. However, the route also sees occasional EMUs heading to Wabtec and Brodie’s in Kilmarnock, which could potentially be electrically hauled. There are also diverted trains from the West Coast Main Line, which currently have to be hauled by a diesel locomotive. An electrified Sou’Western line would therefore be strategically useful.

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Away all boats?

On the two occasions I have visited Belgium other than for work we have taken the ferry from Dover to Calais or Dunkirk and driven to Belgium. So it came as no surprise to hear that Trans Europa Ferries, which operated a direct service from Ramsgate to Ostend, had gone bankrupt.
Stiff competition from the Dover-Calais/Dunkirk boats, not to mention the channel tunnel and low-cost airlines proved too much for the Slovenian-owned firm. With easy access to Belgium through France, one has to ask if a direct England to Belgium ferry is really necessary.

Meanwhile, further up the east coast, politicians are hoping to re-establish a ferry link between the UK and Norway after the DFDS Newcastle-Bergen service was scrapped. Alison McInnes MSP has stated on her website that she is keen to see an Aberdeen-Bergen ferry established. Such a route would be a shorter sea crossing than the route from Newcastle and it would cut journey times for car drivers travelling from Scotland who would otherwise face a long journey via England and Denmark. The only problems facing potential operators are high fuel prices and those pesky low fares airlines. Aberdeen already has ferry services operating to the Orkney and Shetland islands, so there are already facilities to handle ferries, it would just require the acquisition of a vessel. Perhaps even Northlink themselves could take on the challenge of running across to Norway?

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

New ferry service links Ayrshire to Mull of Kintyre

For some time I have advocated a ferry service between Ayrshire and the Mull of Kintyre, and now it has become a reality with Caledonian MacBrayne's new service from Ardrossan to Campbeltown:
Initially running for thee year trial period, the new service uses the existing Ardrossan ferry that serves Brodick on the isle of Arran. Using Troon rather than Ardrossan might have provided a shorter sea crossing, but  Ardrossan does have the advantage of being rail connected, and using the Ardrossan-Brodick ferry for the trial period will save money over opening a new route with new tonnage. This link will cut the length of journey to Campbeltown for those travelling from points south of Glasgow, eliminating the tortuous road journey via the infamous A83.  Some have criticized the timetable due to the low number of daily crossings, but hopefully the new service will prove a success, and pave the way for a more frequent service.

Friday, 12 July 2013

Port rail links vital to eliminating road traffic

In the glory days of the railways, links to sea ports were vitally important to the railway. Indeed many railways owned steamers that carried passengers to the Scottish islands, Ireland and the continent. Then there were the big liner ports of Liverpool and Southampton as well as innumerable freight terminals and shipyards. Today many harbour railways are unused, the traffic going by lorries, cars and buses instead. Weymouth tramway lies derelict and is at risk of being ripped up. Greenock Princes pier is disconnected from the railway network. Dover marine station lies derelict. But seaborne traffic is increasing. Container traffic and cruise shipping have seen massive growth in the past decade. Shouldn't rail take the majority share in the traffic generated by these massive ships?
There’s a picture in Rail magazine issue 726 of a cruise ship docked at the old Dover marine terminal. It would be a simple task to run trains to take passengers to and from this ship. Southampton has had “Cruise Saver” boat trains taking passengers to it from Scotland and the north of England (although these sadly ceased at the end of last year). Greenock princes pier could easily be re-connected to the main line (most of the trackbed is intact save for one missing bridge). Hull is a major ferry port, but there are no trains connecting to the ferries. Stena line recently moved its North Channel terminal from rail-connected Stranraer, to Cairnryan, which does not have a railway station.

Liverpool, Glasgow, and many other smaller ports have rail sidings that are unused or underused. Getting containers, ferry passengers, cruise passengers and bulk commodities back onto the rails would take a minimum amount of effort and little cost. The only thing keeping traffic on the roads is the lack of rail-mindedness in the industry, particularly the ferry industry where roll-on roll-off ferries have made cars take precedence over foot passengers.

Thursday, 27 June 2013

What even is the point of Voyagers?

Travelling back from Somerset yesterday, we travelled on two trains that are deeply flawed, both in different ways, but both involving the Class 221 "Super Voyager".
Firstly, let me set the scene by mentioning the train itself. the "Super Voyager was designed to replace loco-hauled stock on cross-country routes. As a DEMU, it isn't particularly suited to the task. It is quiet by multiple unit standards, but still no match for loco-hauled coaches. Most of the seats are "airline" style, with only a handful of "seats round tables". HSTs are quieter, more comfortable and have better catering facilities.
So firstly the train from Taunton to Birmingham. This train is in fact the Penzance to Glasgow train. the only reason why we weren't staying on it for the whole journey to Glasgow is that the route sends it via Leeds, Newcastle and Edinburgh, before travelling west again to Glasgow via Carstairs. As a means of getting to Glasgow it is pointless. This train is not so much about the end-to-end route as the stations on the way. It connects the south west of England to the north east. Glasgow would be better served by East Coast trains. East Coast strangely enough have cut back the number of trains they send to Glasgow. To fill the gap, Scotrail have started running trains on the Edinburgh-Carstairs-Glasgow route. But still the XC service remains. If you are masochistic enough to endure the almost 10-hour journey from Penzance to Glasgow you   won't just be uncomfortable, you will also go hungry, because the only catering on bard is from a trolley that only serves sandwiches and snacks. For such a long trip this is totally inadequate.
Hot food from a proper buffet counter is on offer from the Virgin Class 221 on the Birmingham-Edinburgh run. What is strange about this train is that it is a diesel train running on a wholly electrified route. When questioned why they ran Voyagers "under the wires", Virgin, on Facebook, replied that they didn't have enough Pendolinos spare. Which means that someone in an office somewhere got their sums wrong. In the meantime Pendolinos. are occasionally dragged over the non-electrified line to Holyhead in Wales because Voyagers aren't big enough for the job. It is only a shame that the recent lengthening of the Pendolino fleet wasn't used as an opportunity to buy more Pendolinos for the Birmingham run.

Friday, 14 June 2013

What chance an Ayrshire timber freight network?

Several years ago, there was a proposal to create a timber loading point at Barrhill on the Ayr to Stranraer line. However, the promoters pulled out and the project never went ahead. But that got me thinking, there are a number of timber suppliers and customers in Ayrshire that are rail connected, but do not use rail transport. Timber from the Mull of Kintyre and Arran comes ashore in Ayr (which is rail connected) and Troon (which is not). Why can't the timber that is offloaded in Ayr be forwarded by rail? Then there is the Caledonian paper mill in Irvine, which receives china clay by rail, but not wood. And the Barony chipboard factory, which is located near a railway (it sits on top of the former branch to Barony colliery) but isn't connected to it.Another potential rail loading point is at Minnivey colliery, the former home of the Scottish Industrial Railway Centre, on the edge of the Galloway forest park. Put together, these locations could form the nodes of a transport network that could take potentially hundreds of lorries off Ayrshire's roads.
To illustrate, I have drawn the map below. Relevant locations are in black. Connections to the rest of the railway network are shown in blue.

Thursday, 13 June 2013

I have a blog now. Blogs are cool.

Well, actually this is just a continuation of my blog that used to be on myspace. But myspace has died and become worm food, so I thought I ought to have a proper standalone blog site. So here it is!
So what can I expect from this blog I hear you ask?
Transport is my main interest, but I will be posting a few political stories from time to time.
Things I will be posting about:

  • Sustainable Transport
  • Railways (I am a member of Railfuture and firmly support the development of the railways in the UK)
  • Shipping
  • Politics 
I'm off on a trip on the "Forth Circle" railtour this weekend, and I'm going to the Railfuture conference in Taunton next weekend, so there should be lots to talk about in the coming weeks.