Thursday, 2 August 2007

It's just one little stop

OK. This may seem like a negative note to start off on and, like some aspects of this blog will, it'll get a bit technical, so bear with me. This post is about ignorance. It's not deliberate ignorance and it's not an ignorance that can be easily corrected. It takes a long time to get to grips with the rail network.

It started with a question that was posed to me, in a roundabout way, by a passenger of First Great Western. In a nutshell, they wanted more Heathrow Connect services, both into and out of Paddington, to stop at Acton Mainline, a tiny station right next to Paddington. Their rationale for this was 'All you have to do is make the train stop, because there's enough time built into the timetable for it.'

At this point I sigh, because if only it were that simple. Here's the technical bit.

The UK rail network, especially the lines between Reading and Paddington is very finely balanced. You alter one thing, and it affects others. This what some people just don't seem to be able to grasp.

The problem lies in that the turnaround time for trains at Paddington is a maximum of 9 minutes. Extra stops in either direction erode turnaround times and make the consequences of delays a lot more costly. With me so far? Good.

Further away from Paddington, there is a crossing pint where trains can switch lines called Heathrow Tunnel Junction. It's a piece of single-line track, only one train at a time goes through. The pattern is set so that 'down' trains (those leaving Paddington) cross the junction and then 'up' trains cross 2 minutes later. The times for each train at this junction are fixed.

A stop at Acton Mainline for the 'down' train would mean that it would have to leave Paddington earlier so that it would still make its slot at the junction. No problem so far, right? Except that it can't do that because there is a service to Oxford that leaves Paddington 3 minutes earlier that would occupy that slot. The depature time of that service to Oxford is fixed as well because it is dictated by the time that the stock for that train arrives from Oxford.

The point being that if the Heathrow Service is changed, then the Oxford service has to be changed, which means that the service before that has to be changed and any services that connect to and from it have to be changed so that they still connect, and so on.

It's not as simple as you might think. In fact, it's bloody complicated. That was a slimmed and simplified version of what's going on. One day, I may post the full version just for comparison. And that is just one stop in one small area.

Forgive me if I sound rude, but there are several lesons to be learned from this.

1) Just because you travel by train, does not mean you know how to run a rail network.

2) Just because a change would make your life more convenient, does not mean it's a good idea, or even possible.

3) If a train company tells you that something is not possible, instead of arguing the toss for 8 letters like that guy did, every once in a while, no matter what you think of us, accept that sometimes we do know what we're talking about.

Rant over.

Peace





11 comments:

graham said...

I have learned just how complicated this business is over the past 2 years since I started getting involved in the attempts to retain (and now to regain) appropriate train services across Wiltshire.

Your explanation of Acton is informative - I wonder if you could provide another similar explanation as to why / what justifies the provision of a Northbound-only service on Sundays from Westbury to Swindon. To me, as a member of the public who doesn't understand all the complexities, it looks like a crazy and inexplicable service pattern; can you explain why the DfT / FGW have it set up in this way?

Insider said...

Glad it helped. I will certainly look into why that WSB-SWI services are set up the way they are. As I'm lucky enough not to have to go into work at weekends, it'll probably be early next week, but it is coming.

Lee Fletcher said...

I have to say that I have been waiting for a blog like this to come along for ages. Well done for setting it up.

Although I have never worked for the rail industry , I have been studying the art of train planning for over 20 years.

I have recently been attempting to come up with proposals of how a better FGW network of services could be set up. Among the many organisations I have researched are Jacobs Consultancy (who advised the SRA on the Greater Western Franchise specification)and Integrated Passenger Transport Solutions (who many credit with helping to devise the positive changes that were made to the original FGW Draft December 2006 Timetable.)

However , what I would be really grateful for is an overview of how the FGW Train Planners currently go about their day - to - day work. This would greatly aid me in my research.

I do have some specific questions on issues I am currently working on. I was promised that the FGW Head Of Train Planning would provide the answers , but , despite several reminders , no response has been forthcoming. If it wont get you into trouble , would you be able to assist? Bear in mind that what follows is as I e - mailed it to FGW :

MELKSHAM / TRANS WILTS

1) Although I understand that there will be no change to the Melksham service from December 2007 , I would very much appreciate it if you could let me have the timetable of the service that will be run from that date.

2) I was looking forward to seeing your proposals for extra trains. Could you possibly forward these via return e - mail , as I would be interested to see what might have been?

3) Which date did you need to bid for December 2007 train paths by?

SEVERN BEACH LINE

1) Have you managed to obtain the latest usage figures data yet , and has the Severn Beach Line Development Plan been updated as promised?

2) What assessment has been made of the pros and cons of implementing the two main possibilities listed in the "A more frequent service between Temple Meads and Clifton Down" section of the Severn Beach Line Development Plan Discussion Draft of 20 October 2006?

3) Has any progress been made on the proposal to go for one unit on a Severn Beach circuit and one on a Clifton circuit , and have the Halcrow suggestions been taken into account?

4) How much time was allowed for members of the Severn Beach Line Working Group to decide whether they supported the new fare structure?

5) Has the cost estimate for the basic service enhancement provided by First Great Western decreased since 19 January 2007 , and has a profit margin been built into this?

6) What would be the the cost estimate for the basic service enhancement if the extra train was a 2 - coach Class 158 unit?

7) Can you confirm that the Clifton Down turnback signal proposal has been dropped?

ROLLING STOCK

1) Have First Great Western purchased outright any rolling stock recently?

2) Have First Great Western , at any time , struck a "2 for 1" leasing deal with Porterbrook?

Well done again for setting up this much - needed blog. For my part , I am not into "bashing" FGW for the sake of it. I merely want to build up a balanced picture of whats going on , with the views of everyone involved being fairly taken into account.

Lee Fletcher said...

I have to say that I have been waiting for a blog like this to come along for ages. Well done for setting it up.

Although I have never worked for the rail industry , I have been studying the art of train planning for over 20 years.

I have recently been attempting to come up with proposals of how a better FGW network of services could be set up. Among the many organisations I have researched are Jacobs Consultancy (who advised the SRA on the Greater Western Franchise specification)and Integrated Passenger Transport Solutions (who many credit with helping to devise the positive changes that were made to the original FGW Draft December 2006 Timetable.)

However , what I would be really grateful for is an overview of how the FGW Train Planners currently go about their day - to - day work. This would greatly aid me in my research.

I do have some specific questions on issues I am currently working on. I was promised that the FGW Head Of Train Planning would provide the answers , but , despite several reminders , no response has been forthcoming. If it wont get you into trouble , would you be able to assist? Bear in mind that what follows is as I e - mailed it to FGW :

MELKSHAM / TRANS WILTS

1) Although I understand that there will be no change to the Melksham service from December 2007 , I would very much appreciate it if you could let me have the timetable of the service that will be run from that date.

2) I was looking forward to seeing your proposals for extra trains. Could you possibly forward these via return e - mail , as I would be interested to see what might have been?

3) Which date did you need to bid for December 2007 train paths by?

SEVERN BEACH LINE

1) Have you managed to obtain the latest usage figures data yet , and has the Severn Beach Line Development Plan been updated as promised?

2) What assessment has been made of the pros and cons of implementing the two main possibilities listed in the "A more frequent service between Temple Meads and Clifton Down" section of the Severn Beach Line Development Plan Discussion Draft of 20 October 2006?

3) Has any progress been made on the proposal to go for one unit on a Severn Beach circuit and one on a Clifton circuit , and have the Halcrow suggestions been taken into account?

4) How much time was allowed for members of the Severn Beach Line Working Group to decide whether they supported the new fare structure?

5) Has the cost estimate for the basic service enhancement provided by First Great Western decreased since 19 January 2007 , and has a profit margin been built into this?

6) What would be the the cost estimate for the basic service enhancement if the extra train was a 2 - coach Class 158 unit?

7) Can you confirm that the Clifton Down turnback signal proposal has been dropped?

ROLLING STOCK

1) Have First Great Western purchased outright any rolling stock recently?

2) Have First Great Western , at any time , struck a "2 for 1" leasing deal with Porterbrook?

Well done again for setting up this much - needed blog. For my part , I am not into "bashing" FGW for the sake of it. I merely want to build up a balanced picture of whats going on , with the views of everyone involved being fairly taken into account.

Insider said...

Wow I can see that you have clearly put a great deal of thought into this Lee. Some of the stuff you have asked is considered commercially confidential and I would get into a ton of trouble for releasing it here, even if I could pursuade someone to release it to me. That would be stuff like the cost estimates for service enhancement of the SVB line.

Neil Sutton is also remaining tight lipped about any exact details of the Dec 2007 timetable but I may be able to find out a few snippets about that.

I will do a bit of digging and see what I can turn up. Hopefully I can have something for you at some point next week.

Lee Fletcher said...

Much appreciated.

eightf48544 said...

Re Acton stop on Heathrow Connect.

I fully realise the problems at Heathrow re Tunnel junction which as far as i can see will only get worse when T5 opens, when all trains into and out of T4 and T5 pass over a single double slip in both directions (madness). According to latest Quail track plans.

As an aside I've seen DB work the full train service East of Dresden EC, S Bahn and freight over a double slip whilst work on 4 tracking out of Dresden was in progress. But then they don't seem worry about trains stopping at signals to let another pass so can get away with tight headways.

Back to Acton, the Greenford's which currently stop at Acton and are run by 2 car 165s are allowed 11 minutes from Ealing to Paddington with a stop at Acton. Heathrow Connects are timed at 10 minutes non stop. Given that in NSE days my regular train 07:23 ex Taplow was allowed 7 minutes from Ealing to Padd non stop 07:49 to 07:56 with a 165 and regularly did it with a rather alarming high speed crossing at Ladbroke Grove from Up Relief to Line 4 with the Greenford coming down Line 3 to the Down Relief.

I would suggest that a Desiro with its superior acceleration and braking would easily be able to stop at Acton and still do Ealing Padd in 10 minutes. Given the Relief line speed is 90 mph.

The trouble is it would require the driver to accelerate harder and brake later, not the standard FGW roll down the platform at 15 mph. Most FGW trains I travel on could stop 100 yards in front of the station they approach so slowly.

Would that FGW had the problems Chris Green had when the Pendelinos were first introduced of having to restrain the drivers from hitting Watford Junction platforms at 60 mph and stopping, 99 times out of hundred they would be OK. So 55 would be Ok.

Don't Desiros have rengen brakes like Pendelinos? If not why not?

When I worked at Reading I use to miss a couple of trains home to watch the station at work. I remember the HSTs approaching platform 5 at about 50 mph and stopping, train after train, having come in on flashing yellows from Tilehurst.

Of course I'm an ex Southern man whose drivers loved the EP brake.

I also remember the introduction of the 309s out of Liverpool street when they were timed over the sprints between Chelmsford and Witham and Witham and Colchester at around 66 mph start stop. If you stood in an intermediate cab you could watch the speedo climb so that you would be doing 60 at the platform end.

Insider said...

I agree that the desiro with a superior acceleration profile could probabably do the journey with the stop at Acton. But again, it's hamstrung by running on a busy section of line with other trains that can't do that.

Taking the down train, it's conceivable that the HC train could run behind the Oxford stopper, make it's stop at Acton and then use the Desiro's power to catch up and take its place behind the Oxford stopper to run as normal but that would be a risky piece of business, assuming of course tat the period of fast running would not bring it into conflict with another train using the stretch of line.

I think that the safety-concious aspect of First Great Western would balk at the fast running and certainyl aproaching platfroms at 50mph and I'm not sure Network Rail would be too keen on it either.

If everthing was sped up, then I agree that more could be done, but that goes with an incread risk of an accident, especially given the fragility of the track itself.

eightf48544 said...

I don't quite get the point that the Down HC could follow the Oxford stop at Acton and then catch it up. In the current timetable it's only 3 minutes behind the Oxford in anycase and has stops at West Ealing and Hanwell and Southall before the Hayes. So I don't see where the problem is. I would suggest Slough IECC would be stupid to put a freight out between the Oxford and the HC so that would be the only train in the way.

The logical freight path is after the Reading stopper at XX22 or Xx52 minutes.

I also wonder where the evidence is that speeding up the service will lead to more accidents.

As a pasenger it worries me that netwrok rails infrastructure is not up to trains acelarating harder or braking heavier.

One thing you didn't mention that could stop the Desiros stopping at Acton is the appaling response time of the ARS (Automatic Route Setting) from the IECC. Compared to Route Relay interlocking which is almost instantaneous once the conflicting movement clears the relevant track curcuits the IECC sems to be ages thinkig about what to do.

Coming into Padd on Line 6 you can stop at Royal Oak to await an outgoing train to leave. it will pass you well and be well clear before your train restarts.

Anonymous said...

The trains into Paddington approach painfully slowly. It can take a good couple of minutes from getting onder Bishop's Bridge Road to getting the doors unlocked. It is my understanding that this was caused by the installation of TPWS at the Paddington buffer stops. If a train appoaches too fast the breaks would be automatically applied at full strength, all the standing passengers would fall over and the TPWS application would be subject to a full safety enquirey and show up on FGW statistics and be siezed on by ill-informed people in the media and in "survivors groups". It is therefore not supprising that the drivers creep into Paddington.

Comparisons with DB are interesting but not very helpful, contrary to what some of teh survivors groups would have you believe, automatic train protection is not universal in other countries. It is often only installed at high risk signals. NR installed TPWS at every signal including those for which it would not improve safety (for example on very low spped frieght lines and on lines operated by ETB) for purely political reasons (because they didn't have a balls to stand up to the idiot Prescott). I hear that NR are now very quitely removing some of the useless TPWS equipment.

Tim

Insider said...

eightf48544

I take your point that there is unlikely to be a service einterfering with the HC train. However, if the stop at Scton was made, the train would have to accelerate to catch up to the stopper and take it's normal path behind it so that it would still make its slot at Heathrow Tunnel Jn.

Tim has also pre-empted my answer about accidents. Not only are there a lot of TPWS signals to prevent a lot of high speed travel, but with faster acceleration and harder breaking, there is more chnace of standing passenhers being throw about or falling over and injuring themselves.

The current infrastructure is not up to fast speeds in many places, hence the multitude of current spped restrictions, especially in the Thames Valley. It is worrying that things have to be like this but at current operating speeds, things are quite safe.

There is more to consider about the stops at Acton so, because it seems to be of interest, when I get trhe time later today, I will print the full explanation of the problems that exist.