Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Blurred tramlines

Conventional wisdom is that trams are those bus-like things that run on rails in the street and trains are those long things that run on grade-separated tracks to big stations, and never the twain shall meet. However, the new Sheffield to Rotherham tram-train is rubbing away at that distinction. Based on an idea pioneered in Karlsruhe, Germany, the tram-train runs on conventional tramlines in the city centre, then transferring seamlessly to heavy rail lines to go further afield. It's not the first time trams and trains have shared tracks in the UK. Prior to 1967, freight destined for Fairfield's shipyard in Goven used the tracks of Glasgow corporation tramway to access the shipyard. However, there are technical barriers to allowing tramcars onto the railway. Vehicles need to meet crashworthiness standards and be compatible with signalling on the "main line". Another issue is power supply. A tram-train is proposed to connect to Glasgow Airport, but the main line between Glasgow and Paisley is electrified to 25kv AC, while street running trams are limited to 750v DC power, meaning tramcars would need dual-voltage electrical systems. Another potential tram-train route is in Edinburgh, where re-opening of the south suburban line is currently blocked by congestion at Edinburgh Waverley station, but a tram-train could bypass the station by transferring onto the Edinburgh tram lines.
In British railway history, there have been a few lines that have blurred the distinction between tramways and railways, such as the Swansea and Mumbles railway in Wales. Now a new generation of tram-trains is set to continue breaking boundaries.

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Oban passengers want trains, not buses.

Back in 2015, I was returning home from the Skerryvore Decade festival in Oban by train. Attempting to board the train at Oban, I was lucky that I had pre-booked tickets because the train was full, and rather than adding additional coaches to the train, Scotrail had provided a replacement bus service for walk-up passengers. This would seem rather unfair to people who, having paid for a train, were given a bus instead. Having witnessed this, I feel some sympathy for anyone taking the Caledonian Sleeper to Crianlarich with the intention of travelling to Oban. The first train to Oban in the morning leaves Crianlarich at 0718, to arrive in Oban at 0835. The Caledonian Sleeper from London to Fort William stops at Crianlarich at 0745, just missing the Scotrail train. the next train to Oban isn't until 1015, so to ensure that their passengers aren't left waiting in Crianlarich for two and a half hours, those nice people at Serco have laid on a bus to get their passengers to Oban. Now if I was a train passenger, I would be rather miffed at being shoved onto a bus when there is a perfectly good railway there. This sort of thing would probably be avoided if the sleeper was still part of the Scotrail franchise, or if the whole lot was nationalised, but now the two trains are operated by separate companies, who have no obligation to connect to each other's services. Hopefully, with the electrification of the Shotts line coming next year, more class 156s will be released to increase frequency on the rural routes, such as Oban, Stranraer and Dumfries. There are also suggestions that Caledonian Sleeper could start providing a direct portion to Oban themselves. A direct Oban sleeper was trialled in February last year when the route to Fort William was closed for engineering work. 

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Easy alternative to GARL

Discussing the Glasgow Airport Rail Link on Facebook recently, someone suggested that the route of the old Paisley and Renfrew Railway could be used. ( This would be far easier to build than the original design incorporating an expensive viaduct over the M8. A smaller bridge over the white cart water would be needed and possible relocation of the sewage farm and/or some of the buildings on the airport side of the river (depending on how the line was routed). The disadvantage of this route would be the lack of interchange at Paisley Gilmour Street (passengers from Ayrshire and the west would have to change at Hillington West).
Paisley and Renfrew Railway This line is closed. Some of its course is now a footpath and some is a roadway through the Babcocks works.

I was then informed that this route was put forward, only to be rejected by the council (was the lack of interchange at Gilmour Street the reason?)
How open are the council, government and airport to using this route for a heavy rail line? Could this be pushed as an alternative to the proposed "tram-trains"?