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PARRY NEWS - Issue 38

For the very latest news, click here

Editorial : Community Railways - The Way Forward : Car 11 to Oswestry : Community Rail for Cornish Branches : Chasewater :
Visit by London Trams
: Airport Link Progress : How Green is my Railway : PPM50 Performance
: The Wrong Kind of Consultants

By John Parry

Thousands of young minds will have been influenced by headmasters such as mine and that of CBI Director Digby Jones on the occasion of school visits to the local factory. In each of his and my cases the Head’s closing remarks could be summarised as: “That’s where you’ll finish up if you don’t stick at your studies”. An anti-manufacturing message which will have infected a whole generation.

How is this connected with the way people from these islands have engaged so comfortably with the hugely different cultures of the world? Is it because of our talents in academic life or as ‘ Yes Minister ’ civil servants? I don’t think so. Nor do I see the donation of cash or food aid as a way to sustain goodwill. See what happens when it stops.

Look at it this way. We ventured into distant parts of the world not as conquistadors or evangelists but as traders. As a result of the industrial revolution, we went selling knives from Sheffield, shoes from Northampton, steam engines from Glasgow, anchors from Netherton, chains from Cradley Heath, hoes from Wolverhampton, locks from Willenhall, trucks from Bedford, weighing scales from West Bromwich, saddles from Walsall and just about everything you can think of from Birmingham or Manchester.

PC critics now tell us that it was imperial dominance which enabled these manufacturers to force their products down the throats of the benighted citizens of tropical lands. But the ‘victims’ hardly complained about getting their hands on knives which stayed sharp, chains which didn’t break, go-anywhere vehicles and locomotives good for half a century or more.

‘International co-operation’ agencies tell us to forget producing trade goods while they send out economic consultants to track down where the aid money went and social engineers to sit under a tree with a circle of villagers discussing ‘empowerment’ and ‘gender issues’. I say we are losing relevance and writing ourselves out of the script.

Having spent significant time in more than 50 developing countries in my career, not only have I always felt welcome but the welcome so often includes a pleasurable appreciation of products coming from these islands, be it a sauce made in Aston, a particularly rugged vehicle or an aircraft engine with a manufacturer’s logo to inspire passengers with confidence in its reliability. Replace these ‘tangible ambassadors’ with football or show business celebs and the causal connection is lost, and in due course the affection. A ‘damn good machine’ which works for 20 years generates a lot more goodwill than fleeting images on a TV screen.

Our Prime Minister, correctly, connects many of the international troubles that now worry us with poverty, especially in Africa. But the aid industry, with all its consultants and social engineers, simply misses the practical problem. What poor people need above all is livelihood s.

And not jobs in massive in-and-out assembly warehouses, nor even in call centres masquerading as UK local advice lines, although these may help to a degree, but preferably competent manufacturing programmes, based on local resources and with linkages to other local activities (e.g. roof tiles to roof construction to house building and so on).

Often it is little machines from Cradley Heath which get these virtuous cycles moving. Indeed, Parry Associates has a target of 1 for 1000: that is, a thousand jobs created overseas for every employee in our own works. How’s that for ‘international co-operation’?

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On 26 th February, the Strategic Rail Authority (SRA) published a consultation paper on an important new strategy. This paper sets out proposals for designating up to 60 lines in England and Wales as "Community Railways": achieving increased passenger numbers, lower running costs and greater local involvement by making operation suited to the local situation, not governed by rules more appropriate to mainline operation and the equipment needed to achieve safe separation of fast moving trains.

Of the five lines already suggested by the SRA as suitable for Community Railway pilot projects, two in Cornwall have already begun to be examined by local bodies and the train operating company Wessex Trains (see story & picture on Page 4).

Meanwhile the suggestion is being put forward that although the development of a PPM light rail type service on the Stourbridge Town Branch is a project supported by the local passenger transport executive, Centro, this could provide valuable technical experience for the SRA Community Railways programme.

Community Railcars for community railways

No fewer than four of the five pilots are among around a dozen that could be operated separately from the rest of the rail network and with only one train operating at any one time. The dream combination has been attained: lines that don't need mainline trains could operate under standards that don't unnecessarily mandate them.

PPM is responding with the PPM 80 - the Community Railcar. This vehicle will have the capacity to replace existing rolling stock, the flexibility to run services that the local community needs and the ability to be maintained on the branch line. The days of having to send trains from Cornwall for repair in Cardiff could be numbered!

What about Stourbridge?

The SRA's new approach embraces the "secondary railways" concept pursued by PPM for many years. Indeed, our efforts to get PPM operational on the Stourbridge Town branch prefigured the proposals in the new consultation paper.

All those concerned with the Stourbridge project can feel very proud that their work has paved the way for this new initiative, but may also wonder why the branch - which is listed as a possible future community railway - is not itself one of the pilots.

It certainly seems appropriate for this line, which has already pioneered so much, to play a lead role in the development of new operational methods. We are pressing for this line to be included on the list of pilot projects.

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PPM's plans are to move Car 11 to Shropshire by mid-April in order to go into public service with the Cambrian Railway Society on a mothballed section of the national rail network for which they have a Light Railway Order.

PPM's thirty-passenger, heritage outline "District Tram" will operate on a short length of track in the town of Oswestry as soon as the society has made the necessary preparations. Following their introduction to Car 12 at Chasewater (see Parry News 37), volunteer staff from of the Cambrian Railway Society have been visiting Cradley Heath in March for driver and maintenance training on Car 11.

Reactions to Car 11 by society members have been entirely positive. "It's absolutely ideal for our purposes of providing pleasure rides and for awareness-raising of the Society's future public transport aspirations," was a typical comment.

Originally constructed in 1998, Car 11 was approved by HM Railway Inspectorate for passenger service on the two-foot gauge Welsh Highland Railway. At the end of 2003 its mechanical continuously variable transmission was replaced with a hydrostatic system following the success of this system on Car 12. Early in 2004, out went the narrow gauge running gear and in came standard gauge wheel spacing.

Another minor but important modification has recently been carried out. Following the lead of Central Trains, PPM is ensuring that its website address is displayed on the exterior of its vehicles and Car 11 is the first to carry the distinctive markings!

The vehicle will see regular use for leisure running, operating in a busy part of the town where it will be seen by most people arriving from the north. The Cambrian Railway Society's eventual aim is to reinstate a rail link to Park Hall and Gobowen, giving the people of Oswestry a connection to the mainline rail network once again.

PPM is delighted to be working with the forward-thinking members of the Cambrian Railway Society. We hope to be there when permission to enter the Network Rail-owned section crossing the A5 to the north of the town is given.

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Following the publication of the SRA's paper on Community Railways, the local press in Cornwall has carried several stories about the St Erth - St Ives branch line, including an article about PPM possibilities. A new company Sterling Service Rail Link Ltd, has been set up by local businessmen, aimed at revitalising the branch.

The existing franchise train operator, Wessex Trains, is involved in a programme of improvement in line with the Community Railways programme. Stations will be redecorated, services reviewed and the route has already been given the new title of the St Ives Bay Line to reflect the new attention.

Sterling Service's aims, meanwhile, are to improve customer service, operate the line locally and run it as the heart of an integrated road and rail transport system for the area. This is by no means incompatible with the plans of Wessex Trains, who have been informing themselves about the new PPM 80 railcar for another branch line linking Liskeard and Looe on the south Cornish coast.

The St Ives branch - a four-and-a-half mile, twelve minute journey - provides an essential link to the tourist attractions of St Ives. Without the line's park and ride service, the town would be even more choked by summer visitors' cars than it is at present.

It is recognised how PPM could revolutionise the St Ives Bay Line. With most train services separated from the mainline, an efficient, environmentally-friendly rail system operated under light rail procedures would increase service frequencies, while removing some of the severe loss-making costs associated with supporting an essentially local service from a faraway base in Cardiff.

On 11 th March the West Briton, the principal local paper, printed an article about the PPM concept, accompanied by an illustration showing both the existing heavy rail train and an inset of the PPM 80.

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The districts of Coalpool, Pelsall and Burntwood, north of Walsall, all have ‘Station Roads’, but the stations are long gone. Old maps reveal rail formations actually connecting Walsall and Chasetown in Burntwood, the present terminus of the Chasewater Railway where PPM’s Car 12 is presently in intermittent public service.

Earlier proposals by Centro for a network of Metro tram lines included the area north of Walsall but soon gave way to cost pressures. However, councillors from the West Midlands Passenger Transport Authority, having seen PPM Car 12 in operation at Chasewater, have been discussing whether elements of the north of Walsall project might be revived on the basis of the more affordable non-electrified system proposed by PPM.

The economy of the area has begun to be influenced by the M6 Toll and pockets of land seem to suit development of light industry and housing. Rather than adding still further to the chronic traffic congestion on the roads north of Walsall, wise heads, including the Chairman and General Manager of the Chasewater Railway, feel that PPM technology could be used to make the connection between Burntwood and Walsall Town Centre. Indeed, planning consent for development could be made conditional on some contribution to the cost.

A provisional offer, meanwhile, has been made by the Chasewater Railway to provide facilities both for the pre-service testing of vehicles and also for laying some demonstration sections of the Carpet Track permanent way typical of that which may be used on parts of the southern line to Walsall where pedestrians and cyclists might share the alignment with PPM trams.

Still early days, but one to watch.

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A two-person delegation from Transport for London’s tram division visited the Chasewater Railway on February 12th 2004. In later correspondence it was learned that the visitors were impressed both with the PPM vehicle and the Carpet Track system for building tramways.

London Trams managers have indicated interest in a low capital, low maintenance light rail vehicle of the PPM type but with a minimum capacity of 150 passengers. At the same time they intend to take an active interest in the progress of the Carpet Track development.

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Paul Whelan, Chief Executive of City Hopper Airports, contacted PPM on 18 th March to reconfirm the company's aim of using a PPM system to fulfil its goal of enhancing the expanded Wolverhampton Airport's public transport links. He said that despite considerable local opposition, difficulties over planning were gradually being overcome by easing the concern of local residents about aircraft noise.

A trial landing in the first week of March of a 31-seat Dornier 328 was entirely successful, being unnoticed by the aircraft noise protestors who had previously been unaware of the environmentally-sensitive enhancements possible with modern aircraft design.

The vision is for the renamed " Birmingham Wolverhampton Airport" to be the most convenient airport for the western area of the Midlands, offering business and leisure flights that would improve the environmental impact of air travel by reducing the number of people travelling to airports outside the Midlands. The PPM link is seen as a key to reducing road traffic to the airport from the Stourbridge/Dudley direction.

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A surprising finding was contained in to a commentary on the environmental performance of different forms of transport by Malcolm Fergusson, senior fellow at the Institute of European Environmental Policy in London. As reported in the Observer newspaper of 15-02-04 “Both cars and trucks are getting cleaner and the railway hasn’t made very much progress at all over the same period“.

Emissions of nitrogen oxides, particulates and sulphur from modern cars have halved in the last ten years. Trains - mainly diesel-powered in the UK, where electrification is less widespread than in the rest of Europe - haven't made much progress. However, rail may still have a trump card in carbon dioxide: as long as trains require less energy to do the same job, they cannot be beaten on greenhouse gases.

"On carbon dioxide, we're good," says David Waboso, Technical Director of the Strategic Rail Authority, "but on other issues we have got to look at the new generation of engines".

But what have the railways actually been doing recently? Trains have been made heavier and more powerful - often to do little more than the job previous types were doing for passengers or freight customers. Yet these changes increase the amount of energy needed!

Simple physics tells us that if, for example, crashworthiness requirements increase the weight of a railway carriage and decrease the space available for passengers, then it will be less efficient to run than its predecessor. As technology improves, rail vehicles should be getting lighter, with less powerful traction equipment. In fact, the opposite is happening.

However, the PPM 50 - a fifty passenger vehicle - regularly achieves 15 miles per gallon. That's environmentally-friendly transport that no 14 cars can beat carrying the same 50 people (see chart).

The PPM route to low emissions

The concept of a new form of light rail transport was developed from the basics. People need to move - cheaply, reliably and efficiently (of course, these are related). Work out how to move them, then assess what extras need to be added.

Taking this approach means that environmental performance is automatically optimised. A simple design is light; a lighter vehicle needs less energy. In designing for maximum efficiency, the requirement for minimum energy consumption is met. In making the vehicle attractive to users, low (or no) emissions are essential. And by choosing a rail-based mode, resistance to motion is low.

This approach has resulted in the amazing energy efficiency of PPM vehicles, and in their extremely low pollution characteristics. Whether powered by an LPG engine on board or a platform-mounted electrical supply, they are designed to minimise energy use.

But why are designers of heavy rail vehicles being left behind by road vehicles engineers despite the inherent inefficiencies of rubber tyres on roads?

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Car 12, the PPM 50 vehicle constructed at the Cradley Heath works of JPA in 2001, has completed over 6000 miles during commissioning, trial, demonstration and service operations. Car 12's performance can now be assessed.

Standard railway practice is to consider a service cancellation or a delay of five minutes or more as a "failure”. Since 2002 Car 12 has suffered three failures that meet the above definition, approximately one failure for every 350 round trips averaging 4 miles.

There is, however, no evidence to date of inherent weaknesses in the drive line or other aspects of the design. Technically, the PPM 50 is considerably simpler than other rail vehicles and there is every reason to expect that reliability in everyday service will exceed normal standards. PPM has developed a simple but effective fault reporting system to be used for feeding back data relating to its vehicles.

Compared to the trips made, the number of persons carried has been low (on average, fewer than three per journey): this reflects the use of the Chasewater line for running the vehicle in low season circumstances.

On one occasion, however, 49 passengers were carried without overcrowding, demonstrating that the design capacity of the PPM 50 is achievable.

Passengers have also been carried in service on the Great Central Railway, although running on the Severn Valley Railway and the Stourbridge Town branch did not include "in service" passenger transport.

Feedback from passengers has been resoundingly positive. Comments have shown that PPM users see the vehicle as equivalent to an electrically powered tram, and in numerous cases it was assumed to be one. The passenger accommodation, which had been designed originally for shuttle services on the shorter Stourbridge Town branch, was regarded as acceptable, although some passengers would have preferred railway type trim, and temperature control was highlighted as a concern during very hot weather. A fault common to all two axle vehicles including the PPM 50 is that traversing track with “dipped” rail joints causes them to pitch. This aspect of ride quality was noticed by some passengers.

The service at Chasewater is used by some members of the public as a means of transport rather than purely as a leisure attraction. People are prepared to pay the fare in order to access parts of the Country Park which they could not otherwise reach.

The usage of LPG gas by Car 12 has varied depending on the location of the running. The best figures were obtained on the Great Central Railway (17 miles per gallon). Since Car 12 was moved to the Chasewater Railway, fuel consumption has been steady at 15 miles per gallon.

The flywheel storage system has shown two distinct advantages. The exemplary fuel economy is achieved by a combination of factors including the regenerative capability, almost all braking energy being fed through the hydrostatic system into the flywheel. In addition, the remarkable ability to power a fifty-passenger vehicle with a two-litre engine is because acceleration requirements are met from the energy stored in the flywheel: in effect, a hybrid power supply.

In summary, the operation of Car 12 has been successful and gives expectations that performance can be sustained and further improved. The low number of failures and complete absence of repeat failures can be taken to indicate that reliability will match good industry practice.

Passenger feedback has shown that the vehicle is appropriate for short-distance journeys on good track and is seen by the public to be equivalent to an electric tram.

The fuel economy compares well with automotive best practice.

Caspar Lucas MEng CEng MIMechE

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Provision of ‘professional services’ is a business just like any other and there has been painful experience of good projects being kicked into the long grass or hijacked into a never-ending sequence of further study and interesting but irrelevant excursions. What has been most damaging is inconclusive advice or the wrong conclusions derived from poor research.

Three recent consultancy assignments have been centred on projects where PPM technology is well in the frame and the mode preferred by the client. The approaches taken differed considerably. In the first, the consultants were given the task of how best to connect a seafront attraction with an inland regeneration area, serving both visitors and the local residents. Although British public opinion consistently opts for trams, the consultants recommended use of a ‘land train’ tractor and trailer unit, such as was introduced in Cheltenham in 1998 but was mainly used as a ‘ride’, not for routine public transport. They made no reference to the great success of the new Croydon Trams and Manchester Metro, but referred only to the relatively less well patronised Midland Metro, which mainly operates along the old Great Western line, terminating at its major destination, Birmingham, in a railway station. The principal success feature which makes the tram mode so accessible and much better as distributor than suburban rail services, is the facility for street running, which is not yet possible in Birmingham. The wrong example was, therefore, used.

The biggest error was to envisage introduction of a land train as a transport technology which would be a tool for regeneration. As with Cheltenham, the commuters and local residents generally avoid using a mode associated with leisure riding and so for 5-6 months of the year it is likely to be running nearly empty. Trams, by contrast, are used by residents and visitors alike, irrespective of the season of the year.


The next study concerned introducing a railcar service connecting a town and a mainline rail station using the facilities of a heritage railway. Here, the conclusions of the consultants were that few people would use the service, signalling staff costs would exceed the cost of crewing the vehicles and revenue would be small. But these were calculated on fares assumed to be half that of fares for train and tram services on equivalent routes.

No explanation given. Moreover, park and ride stations on the western approaches to the local city are consistently overwhelmed by 8.00am. Released from the chore of finding a space to park the car, and having a quicker journey to boot, would be a sure attractor of passengers in commercially useful numbers, and they will certainly pay more than a bus fare for the privilege. But this evidence of ‘suppressed demand’ was ignored. A less pessimistic view on patronage and fares, multiplied up, should have altered the negative conclusion into a decision to proceed.

In the course of both of these assignments it would have been sensible for the consultants to seek help, or even at least a meeting, to bring themselves up to speed with the latest PPM developments. They didn’t, and as a result their descriptions were out of date and contained serious misunderstandings which they conveyed to the clients.

The silver lining to the cloud was the third consultancy assignment. Here the professionals concerned, with the encouragement of the local authority client, worked alongside a Parry team and were able to provide detailed, up to date information and a proper understanding of how the PPM system worked. In this case, the project, to extend an existing public transport system to circle the main attractions of a small town, was properly presented and seems likely to proceed to the next stage.

The question is: if the consultants engaged to provide solutions have a problem comprehending innovation and can only recommend what is already blindingly obvious with little extra benefit, what was the point? In the cases where the consultants got it wrong, there is fortunately enough concern by the clients to have asked PPM/JPA to comment so that the findings can be reviewed.

This process has now begun.

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Page last updated: 18 October, 2004
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12 Parry People Movers Ltd

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Registered office: Overend Road, Cradley Heath, West Midlands B64 7DD