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.
Brian Racher says
I was given to understand by an ex Railtrack Manager that Nertwork Rail charge TOCs by the number of vehicles in a consist for track occupation time. (This would explain the provision of axle counters at strategic locations, besides the signalling aspect of these devices). If this is the case, TOCs will try to limit the number of vehicles in a consist to avoid higher charges, which in turn leads to overcrowding. Catch 22.
As far as extra vehicles in D/EMUs is concerned, each vehicle in the current high-tech units has a specific role to play – to add an extra vehicle is not simple – it would have to be integrated into the unit as far as control and systems are concerned, There is also the question of whether the traction motors can deal with extra weight, which presumably has a limit. Some EMUs of the Southern Railway period had 2 car “trailer sets” added between two units, a simple method as only brakes had to be incorporated into the control system, which in any case were straight forward Westinghouse air brakes – power cables were simply passed through the trailer cars to connect the two power units together, with outlets for lighting and heating supply in the trailers. This is not possible with current “modern” stock. Obviously loco hauled trains can be allocated a specific number of vehicles according to demand, but the number of ex BR diesel locos capable of fulfilling this type of service is rapidly dwindling, and the number of class 66s is insufficient. The current method of rail provision and operation is not suitable for anything that is beyond that already provided – there are too many barriers and “stake holders” that would prevent any major investment required to give an improved level of capacity.
Chris Neale says
Would be good to know the £’s figures charged per vehicle (or Coach!) by Network Rail, if that is how it’s done. If so the fare paying passenger is on a hiding to nothing. Whilst it is easy to understand that there is an equation between no. of wheels and track wear it would nonetheless seem a particularly invidious way of doing things….