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PARRY NEWS - Issue 35

Editorial : Rural Railway Support : PMOL Licensed : Cheltenham Project : Kidderminster Shuttle
GCR Transfer
: Cutting cost of LST : New web sites : Shareholders plug the gap : Car 11 goes hydrostatic : Rapid engine change

Light Railcars and Railbuses - Feature Article


By John Parry




On a number of occasions in recent months individuals at various levels of the railway industry have mentioned the words, in the context of the Stourbridge project, ‘The Thin End of the Wedge’. It is indeed understandable that railwaymen may be concerned that switching part of the network to tramway rules might have implications for the future numbers and qualifications required.

The differences between suburban railway and tramway operation are very significant and were it not for the conspicuous attraction to the public of tramways, as shown at both Croydon and Manchester, one might indeed feel that in discontinuing heavy rail operations, something had been lost.

But a struggling marginal line at an extremity of the network, where the operator has quite reasonably reduced frequency of service, does have a knock-on effect on the main network. Fewer feeder services means fewer passengers joining mainline trains. Determined commuters can, of course, be relied on to drive further to the mainline station but that means dealing with the uncertainties of town congestion and getting early to the station car park. And even the new parkways are running out of space.

The conversion of some suburban railway lines to tramways has shown that many more passengers will use a system once the frequency of services increases. From the point of view of the railway worker, mainline operations become busier and more viable as the flow of passengers continues to grow, especially outside commuting hours.

If people arrive at the parkway after 9 o’clock and find nowhere to leave their cars (or think they will) they will not travel by train, which is one reason why local trains at this time of day have such light passenger loads. The new tramways, by contrast, which have more stops and therefore more parking and, yes, walking opportunities, are carrying good loads of passengers throughout the day.

So tramways can be a neat solution. At the extreme end of the network, why have all the complexity of railway operation when you can convert to tramway rules with shorter intervals between services and three times as many stops? There will be fewer jobs operating heavy rail equipment such as signals and level crossings but the small trams will each need crews and there will be many more of them. Moreover, the operation will thrive or at least require far less subsidy. And from the viewpoint of the main network, the tramway feeders will be the healthy green leaves providing nourishment to the tree as a whole.

Remember the Hollywood musical ‘Seven Brides for Seven Brothers’, which started with the words ‘The Farmer and the Cowhand should be Friends!’ but ended in a fight. Just as there is synergy between arable and livestock farming, there is equal cross benefit between the two modes of rail transport. There are also opportunities for technology transfer in both directions – a benefit which seems to have been disregarded over the last hundred years – resulting in equipment which is better designed and easier to operate. As now in Iraq, it is time to put down the guns and pick up the trowels, saws and shovels.

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Three different groups are now asking for extended demonstrations of PPM’s 50 passenger railcar with a view to establishing regular passenger services. The interested parties include government authorities as well as track owners and potential operators. On the Severn Valley Railway, where PPM’s Car 12 has been running trials in recent weeks, the West Midlands Regional Assembly is to fund an investigation into the feasibility of commuter services between Bewdley and Kidderminster via Foley Park. The potential service could spare mainline rail passengers the congestion delays of driving through Kidderminster.

On 10th April Car 12 moves to the Great Central Railway, where it will spend some weeks providing demonstration services. School traffic as well as shoppers and commuters will be the target markets.

And arrangements are being discussed for a demonstration on the Gloucestershire and Warwickshire Railway (‘GWR’) between Cheltenham and Toddington via Bishops Cleeve. The line has been rehabilitated southward as far as Cheltenham Racecourse and is to be extended to Cheltenham High Street. GWR run steam services but feel the PPM 50 has just the right capacity and cost profile for services between the racecourse complex and city centre.

These three projects indicate a possible need for as many as 6 PPM railcars. And then there is Stourbridge, now reported to be in ‘final final stage’ of negotiations with rail authorities, which will require two vehicles if initial trials are successful.

Meanwhile the concept of locally managed rural railways, with tailor-made rolling stock and service in local style, has been given a boost by central government with the decision to establish a pilot service on the Esk Valley line from Whitby to Middlesborough. A general move to ‘community partnership’ management of rural routes such as Esk Valley will provide important market opportunities for PPM railcars.

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The Office of the Rail Regulator has now confirmed that Pre Metro Operations Ltd, PPM’s operating associate, has been granted the necessary licence to operate the Stourbridge Sunday service. The licence, which has taken 26 months to process, provides for tramway operations on the route and to operate the depot facilities. It now remains for Network Rail to confirm its permission to use the line.

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Looking south towards Market Street, railway bridge now unused

The old railway track bed above the High Street, Cheltenham


Prospective shuttle service between town and newly-opened racecourse station to be jointly promoted by the council, railway and local firms.

A royal opening of the new Cheltenham Racecourse Station on the private Gloucestershire & Warwickshire Railway, planned for April 7th 2003, is the culmination of a remarkable three year feat of railway construction by skilled volunteers.

The steam railway operating company, GWSR plc has been progressively restoring the track of the former Great Western Railway which once linked Stratford on Avon and Cheltenham, but was closed in the 1960’s.

Following discussions earlier in March at Toddington Station, the Chairman of the GWSR, Mr G P Owen, has confirmed his railway’s interest in promoting, jointly with other partners, a project to extend the railway beyond the racecourse station to Lower High Street in the centre of Cheltenham.


The formation which includes an embankment and several bridges over local roads is still in place and the Borough Council is keen to bring about economic regeneration of the locality where the line ends. While the above project constitutes a most interesting future aim, there are immediate prospects of co-operation including a decision by the GWSR to invite PPM to set up a demonstration on the existing railway showing the potential benefit of our light railcar system to local councils. According to Mr Owen ‘we could jointly provide a very useful transport benefit to the area‘. The railway currently runs from Toddington via Winchcombe to Cheltenham Racecourse – now more than just a horse racing venue but a significant commercial complex. With light railcars in service it will provide an incentive for the railway to consider providing new halts along the line, at Bishops Cleeve and elsewhere. After extension of the line to the town centre, the railway would become an ideal facility for many folk in this part of Gloucestershire and South Warwickshire to use to go to Cheltenham.

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Car 12 passengers about to depart from Kidderminster Station


Track circuit issues keep the public at bay during SVR time trials.


Discussions have been going on since the late 1990’s regarding the opportunity to create a light rail shuttle service on the Severn Valley Railway, to link the market town of Bewdley with the Kidderminster main line railway station. The service would bring passengers into SVR’s own Kidderminster Station which stands alongside. In November of 2002 the West Midlands Regional Assembly’s Transport Forum contacted Parry Associates to indicate its interest in exploring the feasibility of establishing a commuter rail service and requesting the preparation of a Project Brief. This has now been prepared and approved.

The policy regarding this proposal as set out by the SVR’s General Manager, Alun Rees, is that the railway agrees in principle to co-operate in a feasibility study into a proposed commuter railcar service but has made it clear that in the event of such a service coming into being, the leisure operations of the railway must at all times take priority. PPM Car 12 undertook running trials on this railway in the Spring of 2002, providing driver training for PPM’s Stourbridge Town Branch project. It returned to the SVR in March 2003 to carry out further trials in association with Phase 2 of the commuter railcar feasibility study. PPM’s original intention, again accepted in principle by the SVR and HMRI, was to operate a demonstration service for members of the public at this time.

Experience with the railway industry is that safety issues have a nasty habit of tripping up commercial intentions and after initial test runs on March 4th 2003, the railway indicated that it was not satisfied that Car 12 was fully operating the ‘track circuits’ ( electrical connections between rail and signal box indicating presence of a train on the line). So under instructions from the Railway Inspector, fare paying passengers must not be carried. Agreement was obtained subsequently to carry invited, named passengers with prior notification.

In spite of it being a busy period for the SVR, PPM has been able to achieve some useful exercises including :-

  1. A ‘rescue’ of a failed vehicle at the most difficult of locations, the middle of Foley Park tunnel.
  2. A full engine change with minimal workshop support in Kidderminster yard.
  3. Service timing exercises over sections of the line which establish the passenger carrying capacity of the prospective service.

The first report from the feasibility study is expected to be completed by June 2003.

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The haulage firm, Factory Plant Removals Ltd and the Parry Associates railcar loading team are booked to be at Kidderminster yard on April 10 with the plan to load up the PPM 50 Light Railcar, Car 12, and move directly to Quorn Station on the Loughborough – Leicester line of the Great Central Railway. It will then be driven under its own power to Rothley where it will be provided with depot facilities. After a short spell of proving and training runs initially on a single line section of the railway from the Southern terminal of Birstall and Rothley, Car 12 will undertake service timing trials over the full length of the line.

The GCR will then convene a public and media ‘launch’ of the demonstration service offering railcar rides along the full length of the railway from Birstall to Loughborough for a return fare of £4.00 per adult passenger. The GCR signalling arrangements are apparently more suited to PPM operations, than those at Severn Valley Railway at present, which uses track circuits between main stations. On the Great Central Railway, track circuits are employed in the station areas and these are said to pick up short wheel base vehicles clearly. Between stations a system of ‘block control’ is used on double line sections to lock the signals until the vehicle has cleared the section concerned.

Between Rothley and Birstall, a single line token protects the vehicle over this two mile section of line. There is intense local authority and media interest in the PPM light railcar concept which has particular relevance to the needs of commuters and students attending schools in Loughborough Town and to the increasing urgency for non–road based public transport provision to serve the northern approaches to the city of Leicester.

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Holdfast level crossing




When money for transport investment was flowing freely, people gave less attention to cost saving, so paradoxically, in the rush to spend the £180 billion of funding committed under the National Transport Plan. the PPM development was not given great significance Not any more.

The ability of legal and professional firms to consume budgets only masked by extraordinary prices charged by equipment builders and contractors, coupled with less buoyant public finances, has stimulated a search for more affordable ways of achieving the desired results. In fairly quick succession, the National Audit Office, the Parliamentary Sub Committee and the Prime Minister s policy advisers on transport have begun investigations into the cost of light rail schemes. Perhaps most significant of all the Department for Transport is reported as changing the guidelines to local authorities and transport executives engaged in evaluating transport proposals such as light rail projects. Rather than is just concentrating on their ‘preferred scheme’, they are to be obliged to consider the “next best option” not just in passing, but as a fully worked up scheme. Arguably if equivalent benefits can be achieved at a more affordable cost some next best solutions won’t carry the connotation of ‘second best’ but instead Best Value for Money, a more logical basis for choice.

The validity of PPM technology as a practicable means of delivery of light rail benefits at a more affordable price does not in fact depend on the lower cost of vehicles but on the savings which can be made in installing the tramway track on which they run. Research and development resources have up until now, been concentrated on refining the design of the vehicles. Now much needed attention is being given to the implications of the changes in track construction. This will be simplified as a result of user not having to use a 750v electrical infrastructure. As a result of an initiative of a Cornish engineer, Joe Tolland, who has been working on an idea for shared use of bridges for rail and road traffic, Parry Associates have joined forces with Holdfast Level Crossings Ltd to work out how to apply a similar approach to the construction of street tramway. The system involves the use of recycled motor tyres to produce durable rubber slabs which fit in between and around the rails to create a level, high friction surface which can be crossed safely by pedestrians and road vehicles.

This ‘instant’ tramway technology will be far quicker to install than conventional practice. Because it is already well established in level crossing construction it will be seen as technically proven both from the perspective of railway and highway engineers.

The principle of placing a tramway like a carpet on the surface of the road, has been proved during a series of successful working demonstration of the PPM system in 1993-1995 in Central Birmingham, Barking, Brighton and Swansea.

The promoters of a light tramway scheme in Llandudno North Wales, Mostyn Estates Ltd. have suggested a possible alignment for a demonstration section of tramway based on the Holdfast-Parry system. Discussions with the authorities and other interested partners are on going.

Holdfast’s website is:- www.railcrossings.co.uk
Mostyn Estates’ is:- www.mostyn-estates.co.uk

In this computer enhanced image, Holdfast "carpet track" is shown as the basis for a Parry People Mover service in Regent Street.

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Our website www.parrytech.com which has served us well over a number of years, has recently been replaced by two new websites :

www.parryassociates.com and

The new sites have been designed to allow for ease of use and there is much information to be found in the Press Room which includes an archive of photographs and newsletters. A selection on Frequently Asked Questions is included plus a Contact Us response page.

PPM shareholder Roger Sansom, who has created the new websites, welcomes comments and suggestions for improvement. Please let him know what you think by clicking on “Webmaster” on the home page.


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As we entered the new year 2003 with the PPM business continuing to give out lots of sizzle but as yet no steak, the Board went back to shareholders with a heavy heart to report that the crucial Stourbridge project was still requiring ‘one more heave’. With everything pointing to eventual take-up of the PPM system for rural railways and also the tram version in towns, the company was still had no proper ‘showcase’, without which prospective customers will inevitably reserve commitment.

Shareholders were consulted over a possible fall back on the commercial front if the Stourbridge operation were further delayed. This was the proposal to send flagship (or ‘flagtram’) Car 12 on a tour of some of the preserved railways which seem to provide promising situations for public railcar services. The general consensus was that this should most certainly be done especially if some revenue could be earned out of the demonstration services.

Shareholders were invited to subscribe to a further ‘Entitlement Issue’ of shares at a price at which they currently stood on the OFEX market or to take up some of the 6% loan stock which was on offer.

The outcome of the share and loan stock issue, which has now been extended, was most encouraging with a total of nearly £64,000 new investment including £15,000 loan stock and just under £49,000 in shares. The decision to extend the issue arises from the fact that it coincided with the almost unprecedented level of uncertainty which was preoccupying everyone including the start of the war in Iraq.

Considering the size of the task the PPM company has been tackling it sometimes calls to mind an aircraft trying to take off with barely enough fuel in the tank. Chairman John Parry comments however that for people to have been so supportive over such a long period is truly remarkable. It goes without saying that the board must ensure that no effort be spared in achieving success and this has at present to include the attracting of investment funds in order to provide working capital until the business becomes ‘bankable’ as a full going concern.

A Business Plan with financial data is now available for those who wish to see it. Its outlook is extremely positive provided that the key ‘showcase‘ situation is achieved with the liquidity available in the meantime to get on with the job.

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Commercial discussions rumble on with regard to the potential role for the PPM 30 ‘District Tram’. Of five potential applications, two require a gauge of 1435mm, one 930mm and two others 600mm. The last of these is the present gauge of Car 11 which now operates as a visitor demonstrator at Cradley Heath Works.

The new hydrostatic transmission used in the subsequent Car 12 built for Stourbridge provides a secondary braking system and allows the vehicle to accelerate away from a start without using a clutch. Reversing involves moving the speed control lever in the opposite direction from the ‘neutral’ point. Prospective users of Car 11 are aware of the subsequent transmission improvements which went into Car 12 and would prefer this transmission, which is engineered by Linde of Abingdon, to be used in the District Tram as well. The decision has therefore been taken to convert Car 11 to hydrostatic transmission but to retain the facility for regauging so that it can more easily go on demonstration/promotion runs on prospective customer railways. The work is now in progress.

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Following an incident involving loss of coolant which occurred shortly after Car 12 arrived at the Severn Valley Railway, PPM’s supply chain associates, Power Torque Engineering of Coventry were asked to examine the gas powered Ford Focus unit. They determined that the overheating which had occurred would have caused damage to the engine which was sufficiently serious to warrant complete engine replacement.

The time had come to put theory into practice and demonstrate that, even out of reach of a railway engineering workshop, and at the end of a siding, it was possible to change an engine quickly and safely using a 2 man team with technical support from the supplier. The first step was to remove the driver’s seat and floor panels in the ‘A’ (engine end) driver’s compartment. The next step involved installing a specially designed lightweight gantry which clamps to the main frame of the vehicle and which incorporates a pulley chain hoist. After unbolting from its gearbox and disconnecting all gas feeds and electrical wiring, the engine, which weighs about 120kg, was lifted up to just above floor level and swung out onto a skate equipped with castors to move it along the floor. The engine was then rolled down a short gangplank into a van backed up to the door of the railcar. Fitting the new engine (which was supplied within 24 hours) involved the same procedure in reverse. This task was performed by the Parry technical support team. The new engine was then commissioned by Power Torque and the cab re-trimmed the same day. Based on this exercise, with all parts available, to replace a complex engine should routinely take about two days, an electric motor about five hours.

Chain hoist used to lift PPM gas engine within the vehicle


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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