My previous post about ‘adding’ carriages has fuelled some debate so I would like to discuss flexible rolling stock.
Train companies lease far more rolling stock than is required trying to satisfy demand for peak commuting. Indeed during peak periods some Train Operating Companies (TOC) plan to operate around 90% of their fleet. TOC’s can’t plan using 100% of their fleet because some vehicles have to be out of service for maintenance purposes. I should emphasise engineers maintain the vast majority of vehicles outside of the peak periods including weekends. However some maintenance activities require vehicles to be out of service for longer periods.
Many years ago, a senior British Rail manager told me that outside of the peak periods, 80% of his fleet was in sidings or at maintenance depots for 80% of the time. This was flexible rolling stock purely there to meet peak loadings. Today there is massive demand in rail travel outside of the peak periods, particularly since privatisation. This has given rise to considerable improvement in excessive under-utilisation of trains.
Using flexible rolling stock to satisfy passenger demand outside of the peaks needs to be explored. Consider third rail commuter stock on the former British Rail Southern Region. At weekends, a sizeable amount of stock is not required either for service or maintenance. Rolling stock cannot be operated outside of the third rail area as currently there is nothing to haul them or power the onboard systems such as lights and air conditioning.
New Locomotive Design
I’m sure the return of the locomotive is not far away. In the mean time I believe flexibility should be a key factor in the design of new locomotives. They should have onboard facilities enabling them to haul stock such as electric multiple units away from the third rail system. New locomotives could operate in push-pull mode in a similar vein to the way British Rail used to operate Class 33 locomotives with 4TC units.
TOC’s with such stock could easily provide special trains for additional capacity for events such as the Glastonbury Music Festival.
The rail industry needs to think somewhat more out of the box regarding stock flexibility and utilisation outside of peaks. Stock can then be used elsewhere to meet passenger demand . There may be timetabling hurdles, or diagramming hurdles, but hurdles are meant to jumped or gone round and a fresh approach should be made.