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PARRY NEWS - Issue 34

Editorial : PPM Car 12 Returns : Accra in a Jam : PPM Capital Base : Newcastle Opportunity
ULR Early History
: PPM Light Railcar : Flywheels and Horses

Stourbridge Trial - Special Report



By John Parry


Invent a better mousetrap and it is said the world will beat a path to your door.

Invent a new type of rail vehicle and there are people who will do their best to beat you into the ground.



After 4 years, a project to install Britain's simplest passenger vehicle on Britain's simplest length of public railway line is still apparently several months away from resolving all outstanding operational issues. There have been over 100 meetings and 2,500 items of correspondence, 5 different Railtrack Project Managers, 6 consultants needing to be employed, 5 different safety bodies involved, £150,000 of expenditure, not counting the vehicle and 2,000 miles run in trials, testing and driver familiarisation.

There are railways and there are railways. Official approval to carry the Public in PPM trams on four private railways, at Welshpool, Bristol, Caernarfon and Kidderminster, took on average a painless 6 weeks and about £5,000 to arrange. Within the organisations of Britain's rail network all matters are professionally conducted and few items of detail unreasonably raised, but taken as a whole, the amount of work and time involved must seem extravagant.

Removing Car 12 for a full engineering check may create a valuable breathing space.

Nevertheless, Parry and its associates are not ones to give up too easily and in November the inevitable letter was sent to the Strategic Rail Authority pointing out just how difficult, and arguably unnecessary so, the industry's procedures were. The response came back promptly describing just how helpful the industry had in fact been. My reply was as positive as possible: Recalling the words of the Damon Runyon character who found himself broke and in a sewer, anything that happens from now on can only cheer me up!

Meanwhile the threat of war and world recession has affected, but not strangled, Parry Associates' machinery export market. Orders and enquiries continue to arrive from all over the developing world. As expected, while construction there remains a priority, transport is now beginning to climb up the agenda. Out of the blue we hear from one of our most successful tile equipment customers in West Africa that a national Transport Ministry has realised that one answer to chaotic road traffic congestion is to use the old 'colonial' railway to create suburban passenger transport corridors, rather than cut swathes through the city, building 4 lane highways. To transport the same number of people by rail would use a quarter of the space. It was this realisation in the late 1980s which laid the foundations of the People Mover venture.

PPM is now actively responding to each such interest from overseas markets. But the export campaign must be founded on domestic 'showcase' projects, so the implementation at Stourbridge is still strategically important. Nevertheless, running there just one day a week on the quiet day of Sunday, will restrict the rate at which operational experience is gained. This is why in future months more will be heard about our previously-announced strategy of seeking operating revenue by co-operating with the preserved railway companies in putting PPM vehicles into service. Quite a few of these even prefer carrying passengers on their trains than briefcases to meetings.

The 'radar' has therefore to be more finely tuned to situations where those on the frontline are empowered to take key decisions. An endangered species in New Millennium Britain.

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Light Railcar brought back from Stourbridge for full engineering inspection



As the long winter break approaches, with no consent so far obtained from the Railway authorities for PMOL, the prospective operator of the Sunday railway services, to construct a light maintenance depot in its leased area at Stourbridge, serious concerns over the safety of the vehicle have provoked the decision to bring it back to Parry workshops at Cradley Heath.

Centro and the Network Rail Zone remain confident that even after the long delay since the vehicle was moved to the Stourbridge line on June 2nd, during which officials have toiled with the procedural processes involved in establishing the experimental service, all issues can be resolved by February 2003. The delay in itself has brought about an increasingly difficult situation for PPM.

The main risk is of being asked to put the vehicle into service after extensive running trials since March 2002 under Engineer's Possession but without any all-over engineering check. Such a check is only possible if the underframe of the vehicle can be inspected from below. Stood on an ordinary ballasted track without pit or hard floor for safe jacking, this is not possible. The railcar was brought back to Cradley Heath on November 21st and will be able to return to Stourbridge when all regulatory and technical preparations are complete for it to enter service.

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Authorities consider rail based solution to intolerable traffic congestion



We are indebted to Tim Gamor, proprietor of Piege Construction, a Ghanaian company which began building houses using Parry roofing tile technology 15 years ago. Tim has been researching a situation which is of considerable interest to Parry People Movers. Despite efforts at highway construction, including a dual carriageway ring road, the growth of car use in Accra has been overwhelming.

According to a ministry paper the extra cars have brought about :

heavy road traffic congestion in the Accra-Tema metropolis
- lateness to work resulting in reduction of working time
- increase in fuel consumption
- high road maintenance costs
- increase in environmental pollution
- increase in road accidents, in some cases resulting in loss of lives and properties.

During a visit to Ghana by John Parry in the 1990s Tim and he drove down to James Town where an unused spur of Ghana's national rail system extends to the seafront. Even with the much less congested traffic at the time the opportunity was noted to introduce the use of trams along this line.

This has now been noted by the Ghanaian government transport authorities which have produced a paper proposing conversion of three existing lines to suburban commuter rail services. These run from Accra centre to James Town and other lines radiating out to Tema, Achimota and Nsawam. The Ministry have been made aware of the possibility for the PPM mode to be used for this purpose. Discussions may take place in Accra in the New Year.

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EGM sanctions expansion of PPM capital base



In early November, PPM's board called an EGM to discuss the financing needs of the company in view of the pressing problems caused by the disastrous delays in the 'showcase' Stourbridge Project. It was recognised that a delay of over a year in licensing the Sunday service had begun to stretch the finances of the company beyond the extent that existing shareholders could be reasonably asked to cover.

The current Business Plan has described an 'identifiable' market base of over 800 vehicles which could go into service in the UK alone, but this market will not be opened up if the technology cannot be satisfactorily showcased. It is not unusual in the history of technical innovation for the point of market threshold to be the period of greatest stress. (The air is thinnest but the weather worst at the top of the mountain.) PPM's travails are well documented. The EGM on November 26th was sparsely attended but the general spirit of shareholders was registered in letters of support and proxy votes. As recommended by the board, it was agreed that up to 300,000 £1 ordinary shares could be made available to new shareholders, in effect extending the discretion provided at the previous AGM, in September 2002, which was limited to 5% of the issued stock.

Having the discretion to dispose of shares is not the same as identifying suitable buyers and bringing in the cash, and PPM's board is now engaged in the task of tracking down essential funds needed to see through the Stourbridge project and maintain its efforts to put PPM railcars into passenger service. At an earlier meeting in September members of the 'Car 11 Syndicate' met at Cradley Heath to review the market prospects for this vehicle and to decide its future. The group very much approved the result of the recent make-over which transformed the vehicle from narrow format railcar to heritage style District Tram.

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Newcastle stakeholders discuss Arena shuttle opportunity


Newcastle on Tyne Central Station has a problem. Despite the imposition of a healthy parking fee, such is the demand for spaces for the cars of people travelling on Virgin and GNER services to Scotland and the South, that by 8.00 am there are none available within convenient walking distance of the station.

Less than a mile to the West of the station there is ample daytime parking space behind the Telewest Arena but no easily implemented way of getting from one to the other - except possibly by rail. Similar in character to the Stourbridge shuttle service, the prospect has been noted by the Passenger Transport Authority, NEXUS, of establishing a rail based people mover service, in Newcastle's case employing partially used sidings. In very early stages of investigation the Director General of NEXUS, Michael J Parker, visited Stourbridge in August 2002.

Subsequently representatives of PPM and PMOL have visited Newcastle to look at the situation on the ground. A meeting of local stakeholders was called in early December to discuss whether the project should be fully evaluated and a plan of action initiated. Further news is awaited.

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During ongoing literature search on passenger rail vehicles the occasional examples emerge which establish just how lightweight and low tech the rail mode can be in suitable circumstances.

These photographs appeared in 'Atlas of the World's Railways' without captions. The left scene is thought to be in South America, and the right in Senegal. An interesting point: pulling a cart with road wheels, the small donkey would struggle to transport more than 2 people. With steel wheels on rails he can move 8 people and a driver. The Energy Saving Trust, please note - to use energy more efficiently first switch your mode from road to rail.

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Experience from PPM Car 12 'shadow' service operation on the Severn Valley Railway and at Stourbridge provides useful guide to the operating characteristics of the 50 passenger vehicle.



Excluding depreciation and other overheads, the operating costs of the PPM 50 light railcar calculated on an hourly basis are now estimated as:-

Crew (2 persons)
Fuel (lpg equivalent of 4l. petroleum)
Technical support £10,000/year / 2000 hrs operation
Spares and consumables £10,000/yr
Insurance etc £12,000/yr

The revenue which the vehicle will be able to earn is calculated out of the two factors of fare and loadings.

The situation which is most immediately applicable is the prospect of operating in service on a heritage railway. PPM has made an analysis of the revenue per passenger carried on an hourly basis on the 37 heritage lines on which significant operating distances are run. The average round trip journey length is 1 hour 15 minutes and average adult return fare £6.76. Allowing a factor for concessionary fares this indicates a potential income of about £4.00 per passenger-hour on the railcar.

The cash break-even point is 9 passengers are on board. Discussions are taking place with several heritage companies regarding introduction of railcar passenger services on their railways at times when patronage levels are too small to run trains. car vehicle such as a PPM 50.

The prospective arrangements between PPM and these railways for PPM 50 or PPM 50/2 railcars to be put into service are based on alternatives.

Under Option 1, the operating railway will meet the cost of providing crew and fuel, PPM all other costs and fares revenue split equally.

Option 2, the railway company meets all operating costs out of the fare box and the residual income is split.

As a guideline to a successful business case we have assumed when operating with light rail type frequency. The theoretical ideal operation is based on the lowest average passenger loadings of trams on 6 UK light rail systems, eg 24 passengers. This will, however, be seen as a high load factor for a single car vehicle such as the PPM 50.

Therefore in a 'mature' operation with regular routine services, the model of vehicle used is likely to be a PPM50/2, a twin car unit with a power car and driving trailer illustrated above. Purpose built for standard structure-gauge railways, this unit will seat 62 passengers.

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Experience running Parry railvehicles provides insights into flywheel design



If someone goes to a dealer to buy a horse, it is sensible to clarify whether what is needed is a horse to trek over the hills, to enter a race or pull a heavy cart. The first similarity between a flywheel and a horse is that you 'feed' it and it then gives you back some useful energy.

Like horses, energy storing flywheels can come in different sizes and speeds. The 'carthorse' application requires a heavy, wide-diameter unit suited to pick up energy at a stop from an external source such as a short section of electrified rail then moving at slow urban traffic speeds to the next stop and recharging point.

The 'racehorse' flywheel is a relatively lightweight unit which provides additional energy for acceleration, more than doubling the power available from a prime mover such as a small internal combustion engine. This version will be fitted to 'long range' PPM vehicles operating on railways which are level or comprise lengthy rising gradients.

A third category application is a railway or tramway on an undulating topography. In such circumstances a medium size and weight of flywheel will take in braking energy on downhill stretches and release that energy to supplement that from the engine to climb the subsequent up gradient.

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Page last updated: 27 April, 2004
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12 Parry People Movers Ltd

Company no: 2652429 Registered in England
Registered office: Overend Road, Cradley Heath, West Midlands B64 7DD