PARRY NEWS - Issue 37
‘When modern railways began in the early 19th century, the authorities followed the example of roads and legislated so that the new railway companies should operate their lines on the “turnpike” or toll principle.
The resulting widespread private ownership of rolling stock initially meant that it was left to individual owners to decide how they should be powered (e.g. by horse or steam), how coupled, whether or not fitted with brakes and suspension. Many accidents and impossible situations happened, disrupting the rapid, cheap transit for which early railway investment had been promoted. Standardisation of gauge meanwhile become a bitter national issue demanding a combination of commercial common sense and legislation to resolve. Increasingly standardisation made railways a lot safer and more efficient by the turn of the 19th-20th century. The system nevertheless provided for a special category of Light Railway which meant that, despite general standardisation, not all trains could run on all railways.
Fifty years later came single, nationalised ownership and management of the national rail network, and, sadly light railways as a category disappeared at that time, coinciding with the removal of Britain’s tram systems.
Now, after a further 50 years, trams are returning to Britain and the latest, November 2003 reorganisation of management of the railways recognises the case for a degree of sensible non standardisation.
Reflecting the mood of 100 years earlier the railway authorities, under pressure to improve services on lightly used rural lines while bringing costs under control, have begun to countenance radical measures. These will provide those who put ticks in boxes with a new box, for light rail operations on physically separated parts of the national rural railways, see pages 4 and 5. Supporters of PPM will see this as significant.
Parry Associates are close to completing their part of a study of a project which could result in an innovative fast link from Hythe, on the southern bank of the River Test in Hampshire, to Town Quay, Southampton. The study, commissioned by South Hampshire Rapid Transit Network and led by W S Atkins, involves extending the half mile long pier railway into Hythe town as a street tramway. This will increase the accessibility of the ferry service to local residents and create a convenient park and ride facility for the surrounding districts. The existing pier railway and ferry provide an already-successful fast link across to Southampton, a 15 minute trip compared with 25 minutes by car.
Faced with the prospect of severe inconvenience for its regular passengers, White Horse Ferries set up an interim ferry service using a smaller craft running from the nearby Marina. Meanwhile, for the project proponents, the question to consider is whether the accident will stall the project or galvanise all concerned into action to restore services as before or convert to the new form of transport which can extend into the town. Experienced rail contracting firms are assisting the consultants to estimate the cost of installing the extended tramway facility.
Wolverhampton Airport, once associated with flying schools and the occasional arrival and departure of private business aircraft, has announced plans for extending its runways and handling facilities to provide convenient air services to domestic and shorthaul international destinations. Property owners in the locality fear aircraft noise and a big increase in road traffic through the narrow leafy lanes on the western edge of the Black Country.
In a surprise move City Hopper Airports, which operates Wolverhampton and other small regional airports, have identified one possible solution to the traffic problem at least. They propose construction of a 4 mile rural light rail link connecting to the trackbed of the old Oxford-Wolverhampton Railway which runs via Himley to Pensnett. From here a ‘mothballed’ Network Rail line provides a through connection to Stourbridge Junction.
Whether this will allay the fears of the local inhabitants is yet to be seen but one outcome is likely, a significant modal switch by commuters from the villages near the airport from using cars to a quicker and more convenient trip by public transport! Estate agents please note ...
This project had originally intended to establish performance and ‘public interface’ issues using a one day a week (Sunday) service while the Class 153 heavy rail service continued to operate on the six remaining days. PMOL’s and PPM’s objective was to have been to prove that the 50 passenger PPM vehicle could provide an acceptable quality of service reliably and economically, thereby make a case for the full conversion of the line to PPM technology.
Accepting the principle of this argument, Cllr Worrall said that he would now receive PMOL’s proposal to miss out the Sunday only phase and bid for full conversion of the line, which will involve seeking finance to begin the construction of two vehicles, and a maintenance depot and access road. The submission was put forward in late November 2003 and the Strategic Rail Authority, which provides franchise finance for the line, is also being kept informed of these discussions.
The Steering Committee, using the infrastructure of the Severn Valley Railway – one of Britain’s leading heritage lines – has appointed Jacobs consultants to undertake the £25 000 feasibility study of introducing a light rail shuttle service.
The Strategic Rail Authority is rethinking how rural railways are managed. Chris Austin, one of its executive directors explained the emerging proposals to Andrew Forster of Local Transport Today (16th October 2003).
More efficient and cost saving use of non-mainline railways (rural railways) has recently moved decisively up the agenda of the Strategic Rail Authority, which has now appointed Mr Austin as Executive Director of Community Rail Development. He was formerly a railway policy advisor including to the former British Railways Board.
Mr Austin set out his current ideas in an interview with Local Transport Today’s Andrew Forster, which we reproduce in full opposite (LTT 16/10/03). Whilst Austin foresees different solutions for different rural lines, he has told John Parry that he sees the PPM-type light rail system as suitable technology for a number of branch lines which could be placed under local management. The SRA, he said, is in the meantime keen to see the Stourbridge project in action as a pilot for innovative light rail developments of this kind.
The Strategic Rail Authority’s decision to appoint a director of community rail development signals its determination to find innovative ways of improving the economics of the country’s rural lines. All of the routes require considerable public subsidy to operate but Chris Austin, who took up the director’s post last month, points out that since there is no political will for a programme of closures “the only alternative is to make them work better”. “I don’t pretend for a minute that this post will solve the financial problem of the railway but what it will do is remove the uncertainty from the rural network and put it on a much more stable footing for the medium- to long-term” he explains.
A consultation paper on proposals to improve the management of rural lines will be published towards the end of this year and will help to inform a formal strategy to be published next year. Austin identifies three aspects to the work: building ridership; reducing costs including the use of innovative ‘light rail’ vehicle technology; and increasing the involvement of the local communities and local authorities in the lines’ management and operation.
Austin hasn’t yet compiled a list of lines that he will be responsible for developing but says he has in mind branch lines and lightly used cross-country routes. “Certainly the Devon and Cornwall branches, certainly a lot of the branches in East Anglia, certainly some of the lines in Lincolnshire, the Esk Valley line in Yorkshire and the Isle of Wight,” he explains. Routes such as the Settle and Carlisle line or the Felixstowe branch are unlikely to qualify because they carry significant volumes of freight traffic. Austin says lines in Scotland and Wales could also come within his remit but are unlikely to be chosen for the pilot phase, because services in both areas are in the process of being refranchised. “It would be right to let those franchises establish themselves first,” he explains, though he says the Scottish Executive has already expressed interest in the emerging ideas.
Austin doesn’t expect there to be a single template suitable for the lines, since the routes have different characteristics. “At one extreme you’ve got short self-contained lines like the liskeard-Looe and St Ives branches in Cornwall. At the other you’ve got the Esk Valley railway [between Middlesbrough and Whitby – 35 miles] and the Heart of Wales line [from Swansea to Shrewsbury 121 miles].” He points out that some lines also carry freight traffic.
He suggests that on self-contained lines it might be appropriate to run light rail vehicles whereas, on lines that have a mix of traffic, conventional rolling stock would be needed. Similarly, there may be more opportunity to devolve infrastructure responsibility on self-contained lines.
Austin says the SRA’s role in developing patronage is primarily about “facilitation and encouragement”. He sees the local community and local authorities playing a vital role in building patronage through actions such as marketing the lines, adopting stations and providing a staffed presence at stations. He points to the achievement of the 40 or so community rail partnerships that already exist – often with a partnership officer funded by the local authority and/or other bodies such as the Countryside Agency or the Regional Development Agency. Austin says many more lines could benefit from the approach.
He also wants to see the railway becoming the focus for planning all public transport in an area. “It seems to me there is some scope for making the railway the core of the integrated transport network locally,” he says. “There are still too many examples where the local bus operator is in competition with the railway, not complementing it. I think the railway could do a lot more if it were the focus of feeder bus services and other things like post bus, community transport, demand responsive transport,” he says.
Austin says that this could be achieved by devolving responsibility for the service specification to local authorities. Individual branch lines could eventually be franchised separately from the core franchise, he suggests. He emphasises that the transfer of a route’s management to a local authority would have to be done with adequate resources. “Any bit of the railway that was devolved – as with Merseyrail [recently devolved to Merseytravel] – would go with its subsidy.”
In the first instance, however, lines are likely to be treated as a sub-franchise of the bigger franchise, as in the Esk Valley line where it is part of the Northern Franchise.
“We want to make sure that would work before we went a stage further and said ‘Okay, the regional assembly or the county council could take over the specification responsibility’,” explains Austin. “That’s a bit down the track but that’s the direction we’re heading in,” he adds.
The first line on which the micro- franchising’ principles are to be tried will be the Esk Valley line between Middlesbrough and Whitby. Bidders for the Northern franchise have been told that they will be required to work with the community-based Esk Valley Railway Development Company which wants to take control of matters such as staffing, operations and track maintenance either directly or via a spin-off local company (LTT 20 Mar). Austin says the Devon and Cornwall branches could be next for treatment since they come up for re-franchising in 2006, followed by the Isle of Wight in 2007. Should these initial developments prove successful, Austin says that the ideas could be applied to longer franchises – such as the 15 year Wales and Borders franchise – during the franchise term, in discussion with the Welsh Assembly Government and the operator.
Austin thinks there are good opportunities for reducing the costs of rural lines. One of his first tasks, however, will be to identify their costs since they are currently bundled up within the cost of each overall franchise. The one exception is the standalone Isle of Wight line which has a subsidy of 31 pence per passenger kilometre. Despite this high figure, Austin says the rural routes are not the heaviest consumers of subsidy. “The big cost base is not in the rural routes – the big cost areas tend to be the busy urban areas [outside London and the South East] where there’s a lot of trains but the average fare paid is quite low.”
Austin thinks that the greatest cost savings on rural lines could come from renewals rather than operations. “It would be good to think that you could actually reduce the overall operating costs,” he explains. “But I think the real value would be in containing renewal costs.”
He wants to examine with Network Rail whether the specifications of rural lines can be reduced. “Part of the proper specification for these lines would relate to speeds and axle weights,” he says. “ If we get that right we would specify the speed that was appropriate for the route concerned.” He says some lines are maintained to 75-85 mph when the trains themselves rarely go beyond 50-60 mph. Station lighting is another issue. “There are examples of rural halts which are floodlit like the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff because that’s what the [industry] Group Standard says,” he explains. “What’s needed is a local standard appropriate to the area and which reflects that once you walk off the station you’re in a pitch dark country lane anyway.”
SRA chairman Richard Bowker used the launch of the authority’s Everyone’s railway document last month to question the expenditure involved in installing a footbridge on a station to replace the barrow crossing (LTT 2 Oct). Austin says the station was Knighton on the Heart of Wales line. ‘There’s only four trains a day on the line in each direction and I don’t think any of them cross at Knighton,” he says. He contrasts this with Tramlink in Croydon “where you can walk out on the track because it runs straight through the street”. He wants to work with Network Rail and the Health and Safety Executive to find the appropriate standard in relation to the risk.
Austin thinks there could also be savings if vehicle maintenance were undertaken locally. He cites the possible role of emerging independent rail operators such as the Wensleydale railway in North Yorkshire and Dartmoor Railway in Devon, as well as “some of the more go-ahead bus operators” such as Truronian which operates in Cornwall.
Despite the recent marking down of the PPM Ltd Ordinary share price on the OFEX market to £1.85, the company has had significant success in its direct placement offer which has included attracting new shareholders involved in related businesses. 40 000 shares were taken up at £2.00 each. The simultaneous further offer of 6% Loan Stock brought in £14,000 of new capital which together with the Ordinary Shares sold brought in £94,000 in total. Events in the ever-turbulent transport scene have been ‘moving the goalposts’ again but, in the present instance, to a more favourable position than before.
The PPM business has depended, and still depends, on shareholder contributions to finance its operations while prospects of revenue draw closer, but not quite close enough. Accordingly, the Directors meeting on November 24th decided to extend the share placement offer which will now close on 31 December 2003 to coincide with the closing date of the 6% Loan Stock offer. Enquiries, please, to the Company Secretary.
A group of companies, each with a particular specialism, has reached a promising stage of a discussion which is intended to bring about a complete tramway construction package to take the ‘pain’ out of installation while achieving the ‘gain’ of high quality permanent way on street.
Clear signals from the Department for Transport, faced with pleas for ever more funding to meet demands for new projects and worrying cost overruns on schemes now under construction, confirm that ways of saving costs simply must be found.
A prominent firm of civil contractors, Dean & Dyball, have come forward to take on the role of cutting out a 6 inch deep channel in the top of the road and installing the rails. Corus Rail, formerly British Steel Track Products of Workington, have selected a rail product with combined features of stiffness and weight.
Prominent among ideas being discussed is a street tramway connecting the Yar riverside port area and the sea front. The purpose of the visit was to give a presentation of the carpet track concept of quick-to-install rail and infilling elements, the latter produced from recycled car tyres and already used very widely in the HoldFast system of level crossing construction. Having gone through the technical features of the system, Messrs Coates Smith and Parry were invited to view a number of prospective sites in the town centre. These included two lengths of public road due for resurfacing in the near future and a sea front car parking area at one end of a proposed cross-town public transport link.
The Department for Transport, Local Transport Plan Unit, have asked to receive preliminary advice concerning Great Yarmouth’s tramway proposals.
Parry Associates are in discussion with their landlords, Messrs Garratt & Co, regarding setting up a carpet track demonstration in the Estate Road in Cradley Heath.
One possible outcome may be the actual purchase of the road by the consortium involved so that the end result becomes the responsibility of the promoters.
To have the tramway in place will also ease the problem of having insufficient length of standard gauge track for testing vehicles and difficulties bringing large articulated lorries into the works for loading trams. This could in future take place in the Estate Road where there is sufficient room for passing traffic.
During the course of some of the consultancy work being undertaken by Parry Associates a need has been recognised for running gear for PPM vehicles which reduces the concentrated axle loads which occur with short wheel base, two axle vehicles.
Axle loads for vehicles with full complement of 60-80 passengers can be reduced to less than 3.5 tonnes with bogie centres 6.5m apart.