Monday, February 15, 2010
Getting Onto The Right Rails
The House of Commons Select Committee on Transport published a Report on Tuesday entitled "Priorities for Investment In The Railways" (HC 38).
The Report includes written evidence submitted to it by Ken Turton who is a regular attender at our Discussion Meetings. Ken's submission also fits well into the case we developed for an Integrated Transport System.
Ken's submission to the Select Committee is given below.
Memorandum from Mr K Turton (PIR 55)
The finest form of railway permanent-way maintenance known to date is the labour intensive system which was abandoned by British Railways (BR) in the 1960s and 1970s. An inferior form of machine-operated maintenance was substituted in its place.
I put this point first because I hope to establish that the current railway industry is in no position to improve its performance. The present structure needs scrapping and a new industry needs to be built in its place dedicated to building a rail network which can tackle the problems I will raise.
It is because Britain had the first railway system in the world which emerged in the mid 19th Century, that we have inherited a totally outdated system. Indeed it was out of date by the end of the 19th Century itself. This is illustrated by what happened over an attempt at innovation with the development of the Great Central Line which emerged in this latter period. It had a continental-style infrastructure.
The Great Central Line ran from Liverpool to Marylebone via Manchester Central, Sheffield Victoria, Nottingham Victoria, Leicester, Rugby and High Wycombe. It dived off at Leicester towards Banbury, Reading West and Dover by-passing the London conurbation on its way to the south coast.
Initially, the Great Central Line was opposed by other railway companies who did not employ its continental-style infrastructure. Later it was closed by Beeching.
What we were left with after the closer of the Great Central Line are mainly main lines radiating from London which can not carry continental style traffic. Instead the emphasis for both passenger and goods services in this country has moved onto congested road transport.
Today's main railway lines are unsuitable for modern trains. Having rejected labour intensive forms of permanent way maintenance, a system of "Advanced Passenger Trains" on 125 Inter-City Services was introduced, which led to what were called "Tilting Trains".
To facilitate these moves a changed permanent way policy was introduced. It became known as the "Deep Dig Policy". But it was only applied to those lines which BR identified as being likely to achieve profitable services. This meant that few lines were ever set up with these provisions.
"Deep Dig" involved a traxcavator being employed to dig up the permanent way to depths of two or three feet, thereby tearing up track that had been pounded into a solid mass and which was the bedrock to which measured shovel packing could be applied.
Measured shovel packing involved the track itself being scientifically measured. When sections were identified as requiring to be lifted, measured amounts of grit were placed beneath each sleeper to keep the track at its correct height.
This all went on throughout the ganger's section each and every day. Different parts of each section needing such treatment.
It is worthwhile at this stage to point out that in 1937 Mallard broke the steam locomotive speed record at 126 and a half mph on track just above Peterborough Station which had employed a similar method of track maintenance. It could not have been achieved otherwise. It gave a world wide recognition to this form of track maintenance.
When BR decided on Advanced Passenger Transport (APT) services, it was aware that its railway tracks were not suitable for the speeds envisaged because the tracks had too many bends.
For bends to be handled, they first need to be cambered. However, the maximum camber can only be seven inches high and this was not suitable for the very high speeds being reached on the continent. This is why the idea of tilting trains was put forward. This would have done the trick had it not been for the fact that BR decided that the necessary measured shovel packing was too expensive.
So a new method was adopted to alleviate the problem, with the Deep Dig team tearing up the track bed. It was then to be replaced by ballast along with eight cwt concrete sleepers, believed to be the best method of holding down the track at high speeds.
When this was tried with APT, the tilting took place as expected, but the movement took place from side to side and tended to cause sickness amongst the passengers. The tilting also caused the train to go out of gauge at certain points making it a totally unsuitable arrangement from a safety point of view.
The ballast bed which had been a solid mass before the Deep Dig was not so afterwards. Therefore, high speed running on these lines could not be achieved for the APT. Whilst all the miles of Deep Dig had made the lines concerned totally unacceptable for high speed running.
Hence we have two problems. Hundred of miles of railway are still carrying a 19th Century infrastructure, whilst those sections which now have their infrastructure in order have acquired a track bed which is totally unsuitable.
What BR had needed to do was to leave the track bed as it was and straighten out the many extensive bends on its lines. This would have been a considerable job as are the requirements today. The current task is still to put the track in order, but this now requires programmes of both (1) measured shovel packing as well as (2) the straightening of bends. If we want high speed trains and expanded rail usage in order to relieve road congestion, then these are the policies we must now start to pursue.