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AS SOMEONE WHO likes to get on with things, I constantly marvel about the way that such ingenuity is applied to stopping things from happening.
The lyricist W.S. Gilbert created an amusing scene in which policemen in Penzance, clearly terrified of being assigned the task of apprehending the local pirates, keep repeating the words ‘away we go!’ (to face the foe) whilst actually marching on the spot. During his time as Transport Minister, John Spellar MP was once heard to speak nostalgically of his earlier post in Defence, where once decisions are made the fellows in uniform move swiftly to action.
Not always though – some military experts proclaim that if war breaks out after a period of peace you must change all the generals. Different skills are called for in dynamic situations. Does the same apply in the field of public transport when the call for action sounds and the funds begin to flow?
For much of the late 1990s and the early post-Millennium period, the transport units of local authorities may be compared with an army during peace time: no money available for installing infrastructure projects such as tramways, but you keep everyone busy marching up and down, saluting and painting things.
When at last funding is available, the capability to get on with actually installing systems has been lost.
The officers just keep on singing ‘Away we go, to face the foe…’ but we must get five reports from the consultants first.
Here at Cradley Heath we have fellow feeling for a much cleverer and more significant innovating team than ourselves: the one led by Frank Whittle developing the jet engine in the 1930s. This very simple machine (compared with an internal combustion aircraft engine) enabled the Gloucester company to move swiftly during World War 2 from building ‘Gladiator’ bi-planes to ‘Meteor’ twin engine jet fighters. Amazingly, the jet engined Messerschmidt 252 was in full active service far sooner, even though it was in Britain that the engine was developed.
The parallel between the experiences of the Whittle team and ourselves is the foot-dragging by people in positions of influence which causes the engineers to spend more effort on trying to get an innovative product accepted than on the engineering itself.
At the end of the 1990s, after a frustrating session trying to deal with railway industry compliance, I wrote a short play with three characters: a regulator, his wife and the dog. On a Sunday morning, the regulator speaks:
‘It’s a lovely day, I must take the dog for a walk. But first I must go through the right procedure:
Having finally completed the procedure he realises that lunch is ready so he lets the dog out in the garden instead.
As we settle down to a culture where the ‘process’ is seen as more important than the achievement, I ask myself, ‘How long before we hear of this brilliant transport idea which the Germans or Japanese have thought up?’
Cradley Heath, March 2005
A STRONG RESPONSE from the Parry People Movers company’s backers has provided funding for design and development to proceed on the PPM 80 and other large railcar models. The loanstock was launched in January with the objective of raising £150,000. Although not completely subscribed, by the closing date applications received had taken the funding well past the halfway point. PPM‘s Board reviewed the situation during its meeting on 21st March and decided to extend the issue period. Details of the terms of the loanstock can be obtained from PPM’s Company Secretary.
AT ITS MEETING ON 1st March 2005, the Board of Holdfast Carpet Track Ltd, chaired by Peter Coates-Smith, resolved to focus the company's activities on the development of an alternative tramway infrastructure system for all light rail systems, including those that already exist in the UK. The principal challenge, the firm believes, is not the trams but the effect of road traffic on the new system.
The ‘Carpet Track’ concept is based on the award-winning modular HoldFast level crossings and the temporary tramways developed by JPA in the 1990s to allow PPM demonstrations, and it originated in efforts to provide tracks for lightweight, non-electrified systems like PPM. However, further benefits come from expanding the company's aims.
Any infrastructure system developed for conventional electric trams will be suitable for lighter systems. The cost of building conventional tramway infrastructure is extremely high (resulting in the British Government’s recent decision to withhold funding from several systems) and a more affordable alternative will be attractive for new construction.
Furthermore, some of the UK's most recent tramways are suffering from track problems so there is a market for replacement of infrastructure. The Carpet Track concept is based on kits for fast installation, causing less disruption to traffic and commercial activity. It will enable local authorities to build tramways without requiring complex Transport & Works Act approval.
HCT is now asking to be allowed to install a length of Carpet Track tramway in the surface of a busy road to obtain practical results for analysis.
JPM PARRY & ASSOCIATES Ltd and Holdfast Carpet Track Ltd were called to give evidence to the House of Commons Transport Committee on 14th March 2005. The companies were represented by John Parry, Caspar Lucas and Kit Holden. The Committee is enquiring into the future of tramways in Britain.
Barriers to innovation
Several issues were put before the Committee. The first was that the British government is seeking solutions to the problem of increasing unaffordability of urban tramway construction and the heavy losses incurred operating lightly used railway lines, but public sector agencies have failed to respond adequately to R&D investment in prospective solutions. Instead, they have allowed barriers to innovation to be put in place. This situation threatens the embryo manufacturing supply chains, which require tangible commercial progress in order to hold together.
The Committee is giving consideration to two objectives arising from the issues raised. The first objective is to secure an adequate public sector response to the initiative to develop shallow section tramway track by taking it through laboratory testing and on to a full scale prototype. The second is to develop the Stourbridge Town rail service into a Community Railway rolling stock ‘pilot’ using PPM vehicles.
The Committee gave sympathetic consideration to the points raised. The members acknowledged that the Stourbridge project is being held back in spite of the importance it holds as a trial. The companies pointed out that, as a result, national transport objectives were being poorly-served and supply chains put at risk.
It has since emerged that the latest objection from the rail industry relates to the crashworthiness of the vehicle. So again the facts have to be restated: there will be no other vehicle present on the line, which is separate from the rest of the network, and the effects of any possible collision with the end of line buffers had already been dealt with using the services of a skilled railway consultant whose recommendations had been accepted by both the Railway Inspectorate and Railtrack/Network Rail.
PPM TECHNOLOGY will be shown to the public on Saturday 2nd April at a free open day on the Chasewater Railway near Lichfield, Staffordshire.
Between 1pm and 4pm, PPM 50 light railcar ‘Car 12’ will run a service between Brownhills West and Chasewater Heaths stations, demonstrating the Community Light Rail concept for improving passenger services and operating economics on local and rural railway lines.
The open day will be particularly relevant locally, as moves are afoot to restore rail services between Brownhills and Walsall. Although early ideas have focused on 'heavy rail', a far more affordable solution would be to operate the reopened route along light rail principles.
PPM is once again very grateful to the Chasewater Railway for their assistance with this event.
For people travelling by train, a minibus shuttle will operate from Lichfield Trent Valley station (for West Coast main line services and suburban trains from Birmingham).See www.parrypeoplemovers.com for further details
ADRIAN LYONS CBE, Director-General of the UK's Railway Forum, gave a ringing endorsement of the development of hybrid power for rail vehicles in the Sir Robert Reid Lecture of 24th February 2005.
‘I am convinced that we will see a fundamental change in power technologies on the railway,’ he said, identifying the traditional electrified railway as not always the most efficient. ‘Flywheel power storage could play a part in the hybrid mix. Hybrids also provide a very versatile solution ... travelling anywhere on the network using the most effective power source.’
In the two weeks prior to his lecture, Mr Lyons had visited the Chasewater Railway and PPM's Cradley Heath base, and had seen at first hand how hybridisation and energy storage for rail vehicles has been put into practice in both LPG-fuelled and electrically-powered passenger vehicles.
PRE METRO OPERATIONS Ltd has commenced training of the operating crews who will run the PPM 50 vehicle on the Stourbridge Town branch. This follows an earlier programme on the Severn Valley Railway in 2002, which proved to be abortive when the rail processes made it impossible to go into service. It is to be hoped that these hurdles can be overcome this time around.
PPM CAR 6, the lightweight ‘people mover’ vehicle originally built in 1993, has been overhauled at the Cradley Heath workshops and put back into action as a demonstration of the intermittent electric principle for powering light rail systems. This system enables electric tramways to be built without overhead electrification wires, while the energy can either be taken from the national grid or generated locally from hydrogen, solar or other sources (see Parry News 40).
THE PROCESS OF approving PPM Car 12 (see Parry News 40) to operate a trial on the Stourbridge Town branch has now reached the stage of ‘engineering acceptance’. This should mean that the technical risks of the operation are assessed and suitable safety measures put in place.
However, Railway Group Standards are a suite of documents that essentially describe how the 'heavy railway' runs, not how best to operate a rail service in particular circumstances.
As a result, the greatest effort by PPM and PMO is being expended not in demonstrating safety, but in measuring Car 12 against requirements based on a completely different form of vehicle and providing a 'mitigating argument' against every case of non-compliance. The PPM concept provides a more efficient, more affordable alternative where lighter equipment can clearly be used.
The issues were so complex that PPM had to commission an expert rail services firm to provide a list of the requirements: a grand total of 1481 clauses in 56 documents!
Yet the trial is about as simple as railway services get. It will last a year, running on Sundays only: about 50 days. It will involve a single vehicle operating separately from the rest of the network on three-quarters of a mile of track. No other trains can get on to the branch while the PPM railcar is there. There are no crossings, no intermediate stations, no signals and a maximum speed of 20mph.
The vehicle has already run several thousand miles – and carried several thousand passengers – perfectly safely and totally legally on a variety of different railway lines.
Her Majesty's Railway Inspectorate has already approved the operation as safe, so – other than satisfying ‘the process’ - there should be no need to assess it any further.
Senior rail industry figures express the view that this approvals process is over-elaborate, but none are able to suggest an alternative.
On 14th March JPA gave evidence to the House of Commons Transport Committee on barriers to innovation in light rail, so now they know!
IN THE FIRST VOLUME of ‘The GWR at Stourbridge and the Black Country’, just published by the Oakwood Press, local railway historian Clive Butcher explores the history of the Stourbridge Town branch, including the efforts of PMO and PPM at attaining public service on the shortest railway line in Britain.
The book contains a number of illustrations of the PPM 50 light railcar on the Stourbridge branch in 2002, when it ran a series of trials in real conditions, but was not permitted to carry passengers and was eventually moved off the line in response to the obstacles placed in the way of progress.
This is not the only foray for PPM into the world of literature in recent times. In his novel ‘The Gravimetal Paradox’, published last year, American author and inventor Leon G Wilde used the Parry flywheel energy storage system as inspiration for his main inventor character.
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