15 May 2012

Who wants the Irish....?

Who wants the Irish road transport traffic thundering down our roads, rattling our windows and belching out fumes that asphyxiate us? Nobody in their right minds would deny that any opportunity to get rid of such traffic, to Ireland or anywhere else, would be a boon.

Other countries, Switzerland and Austria are good examples, have to put up with large numbers of cars and lorries that transverse their countries on their ways southwards (or vice versa). The benefit accrued by such traffic is minimal if at all. At most they might stop for a meal and fill up the fuel tanks (if worthwhile). The lorries carve up the roads while paying no local taxes for the upkeep of those roads. So the authorities of those countries and other suchlike ones are rather peeved at the extra expense caused by the through traffic. Solutions have been mooted from special tolls for heavy goods traffic, to transporting the heavy traffic on through trains from one end of the country to the other. This is the solution that the Swiss, among others, have adopted.  

Great Britain, on the other hand has been largely immune to such problems because of its geographical position within the European Union. We are on the outskirts of Europe sharing this area bordering the Atlantic with Ireland. Both the northern counties (part of the United Kingdom) and the southern (the Republic of Ireland) import and export goods.A large number of these goods originate in/ are destined to Great Britain. However, an ever increasing proportion, and total volume, originate in/ are destined to other members of the European Union. Obviously, some goods are transported worldwide direct from/ into Irish ports, be they Belfast or Cork, by ships or aircraft. The vast majority, though, is transported by heavy lorry. 

To transport such loads of goods to France, The Low Countries, Germany and elsewhere, there are only two alternatives. The first is to transport them on ferries directly from Ireland to France. This is already done by "Celtic Link", "Brittany Ferries" and "Irish Ferries" operating from Cherbourg and Roscoff to Rosslare and Cork. The problems with these  connections is that they are long and arduous, especially in the winter gales in the Celtic Sea. The longest journey is from Cherbourg to Rosslare at 18hrs.30mins. while the shortest is at 13hrs.45mins. from Roscoff to Cork. These times mean that frequent trips are not possible being in total 8 sailings (in each direction) per week. The volume of traffic thus able to be carried is very limited.

The second, and only realistic, alternative to transport high volumes of goods traffic between Ireland and Great Britain is by using the direct ferries, be them to/ from Scotland, England or Wales. These lorries then progress to their destinations in Britain or cross the country to the east(or south) coast ports to continue their journey to mainland Europe; Newcastle for Scandanavia, Felixstowe for Holland, Dover for Belgium or France and so on. However, it is much more convenient, these days, to use the Channel Tunnel. 

Thus we come back to the original question. Do we want or need to accept that lorry and car traffic from/ or destined to Ireland should clog up British roads (and with all that entails)? 

 If we look at the realities of the situation then we can see that there are a lot of negatives apart from, noise, fumes, road wear, cluttering. How much is actually spent in GB on road tolls (nothing), petrol (only what is necessary), accommodation (only when part of a stop-off journey) food and drink(only when the time spent is excessive), other services(only when and where unavoidable)?

The authorities should then be thinking about putting the Irish traffic on rail from the west coast ports to the Channel Tunnel (and through it). This way it is taken off the roads and whisked through the country so that it does not affect us(negatively).Therefore, we have to look at the systems being used elsewhere.

The alternatives to driving along British roads are several proven systems. Obviously here we are talking about transferring the lorries on to rail wagons (cars are less of a problem since they are lower and not so wide).The greatest problems envisaged are the loading gauges (height and width) of the resulting wagon loads. Can the present (or future railways) accept the proposed loading gauge of the railways? Is there a viable system, tried and proven?

LORRY-RAIL is a company set up to carry unaccompanied semi trucks on the rail-road link from Bettembourg (Luxembourg) to Perpignan(France) (near the Spanish border)(1050 kms.)in one night only. This service opened for operation in September 2007. Here the trailers are put on the special swivelling wagons for transport. These have an extra low floor, only 22cms. above the rails, meaning they can easily carry standard 4 metre semi-trailers on UIC GB1 gauge rails. These are recognised as the minimum European gauge.

The advantages of this system are that less "dead wood" (the traction units) is carried and so more space is occupied by freight itself. The disadvantage is that any transport company would need traction units at both ends of the line - in itself a wasteful exercise and most likely not practical.
Another system is that used by  ├ľKOMBI - RAIL CARGO AUSTRIA.
This is the ROLA (rolling highway)system of roll on-roll off uniting road and rail transport on specially dedicated trains. The lorry is driven directly on to the special low-loading wagons and driven off at the destination of the train. All a relatively simple operation. During the ride, the truck drivers can relax in a "recreation wagon" staffed with service personnel. This company provides a network of seven routes from Germany and Austria to Italy, Slovenia and Hungary.

Among the conditions mentioned are that the lorries must not exceed 40 tons in weight,  2.6m. in width and 4m. height, with a ground clearance of at least 17cms.(though exceptions are possible).

Of course, nearer home there is a service which exists already between Folkstone (England) and Calais/ Coquelles (France). This runs through the Channel Tunnel and is owned and operated by Eurotunnel.
Eurotunnel Le Shuttle is a shuttle service between Calais and Folkstone conveying road vehicles by rail. Passenger and freight vehicles are carried in separate shuttle trains.The carriages used for the shuttle have a larger loading gauge than either British or French railways thus they cannot travel outside the tunnel and the two terminals.

The main loading restrictions are mostly because of the different specially built rolling stock to provide a service through the Channel Tunnel which is not only fast and frequent but also efficient for lorries, coaches, cars,motorcycles and foot passengers.

On that page you can see the different vehicles used for lorry and passenger shuttles. The larger vehicles are double deck shuttles for cars and motorcycles, which obviously require much more room (height) in the tunnel. The respective drawings are small but do show the distribution of the different vehicles on the different shuttles. 

rEurotunnel Passenger Shuttle

Eurotunnel Truck Shuttle (Arbel Shuttle)

What does all this mean for our Irish traffic? 
Well we have to find a way to transport all those lorries (and cars, why not?) from the west coast ports connecting us to Ireland and the Channel Tunnel.

The only real alternatives for use on the west coast are at distances which are not too far from the Channel Tunnel while the crossing to Ireland is the shortest so as to speed up the transfer of the vehicles as much as possible. That understanding would eliminate the use of the Scotland-Ulster crossings and the long ones from Liverpool, Fleetwood or Heysham.

We are left with the alternatives of Holyhead in North Wales, while in South Wales there are Pembroke and Fishguard. The latter provides the shorter crossing to Rosslare.

Using Holyhead means running up the WCML (West Coast Main Line) or the new HS2(High Speed 2) (when and if built).From Crewe to Holyhead there is no problem with more traffic but south of Crewe there will be serious problems. The WCML is the busiest rail artery in the country (and probably Europe). It is calculated that it will get saturated in the next decade(if not before). Even if HS2 is built then it certainly will not be ready till 2025 at the very earliest. What, in any case,  has to be faced is the connection from the Channel Tunnel, along HS1 (to London) and then to HS2 or the WCML. At the moment the connection is seen as right through the centre of London from the area of St.Pancras to the area of Euston.This short stretch of line is known as part of the North London Line and is a narrow bottleneck. It is shared by local stopping trains and both regional and long distance freight trains. And that is without considering the envisaged use of this bottleneck to help run passenger trains from north of London to mainland Europe. This is trying to do things on the cheap (and never works out the way envisaged) and is sheer and utter madness. 

The shorter and easier route is to South Wales to connect with Fishguard. Then we have our destination, Rosslare by ferry, from our transit port, Fishguard by train from our entry point at Folkstone.

Let us consider some facts. The line from Fishguard to London Paddington is part of the Great Western Main Line (GWML) built by the Great Western Railway(GWR) from 1838 to 1886(with the opening of the Severn Tunnel) by Isambard Kingdom Brunel. This great Victorian engineer had the foresight to build the line(s) to high standards so that they were straighter than other competing ones, to offer potentially smoother and higher line speeds using a broader gauge than most at 7ft.(2.13m.). This was eventually changed to standard gauge (1.435m) in 1892. The result of that construction was that the lines supported a broader loading gauge that other lines constructed in the country.

This GWML is now to be electrified from Paddington to Bristol and Cardiff. The cost was estimated at GBP 1000 million in 2010. Thanks to Brunel´s foresight the costs will be lower than on other lines(and certainly the WCML). There might well be a need to raise bridges(expensive) or lower tracks (a less expensive option) but the need to modify platforms or widen the distance between  tracks to accommodate European compatible vehicles is less likely and only at some points.

What will need to be done? The GWML will need to electrified from Cardiff westwards to Swansea and Fishguard. The port of Fishguard will have to be extended to accept longer trains and make easier transfers from ship to train for lorries and cars (not forgetting that this will bring new employment opportunities to West Wales). There is a problem at the Severn crossing due to saturation of traffic but no technical ones. (In fact the GWR introduced a car shuttle service through the Severn Tunnel from 1924 to 1966 when the bridge was opened. The rest of the line to Reading and London line is already approved.

Which route to take?

Here we have to look at previously made comments. As was stated before, taking the route through Central London means using the bottleneck of the North London Line to St. Pancras and HS1. This is just as mad as the previous option of using the WCML.

But there is a second option which was mentioned in the previous blog. Ideas have been floated about a Reading- Heathrow link and another about a Heathrow-Gatwick link. This blogger suggested combining the two ideas into a Reading - Heathrow - Gatwick link. Also, and this is most important, there is no great problem of an extension from Gatwick to Ashford, and therefore, the Channel Tunnel. Thus a direct link from the Channel Tunnel can be offered to Fishguard, bypassing the bottleneck of London, providing a through route for (non GB) Irish traffic.

This idea was previously expounded by this blogger under the heading
on 24 February 2010.

We would thus have the desired connection from the Channel Tunnel to Fishguard, able to subtract the through Irish car and lorry traffic from our roads and at the same time offering a good, fast, safe,clean, environmentally friendly expressway across the country.

Moreover, it does not necessarily stop there. To take advantage of the new connection an opportunity for GB traffic to use the same tracks can be given. An interchange near Bristol, where the GWML, the M4 and M5 cross, at Almondsbury could prove a collecting point for British traffic (from South Wales, the West, the South West ) to offer a similar complementary service along the SHSL  to Calais (or Lille even). 

Our thinking should not stop there, however. The GWR was built as a broad gauge railway from Reading, through Oxford to Birmingham. The present modification scheme envisages the line from Reading to Oxford being electrified. It is no great problem to extend that to Birmingham (or even just Coventry which is already electrified). Thus a similar collection and dispatch centre could be established for car and freight traffic near Birmingham. This would preferably be to the east so that traffic from the north and east does not enter or cross the city. Little Packington offers a site, near the airport, on a GWML branch, between the A45, M6 and M42. This is an example of an excellent Central England collection point to subtract traffic from the M6, M40 and M1 and so distribute the European traffic so that it does clog up the South East, reducing pollution into the bargain. An alternative site could be between Ladysmith and Bloxwich (north of Birmingham) where the M6 and M45 converge.

Who should run the service?
This is not a priority point as yet. The present regulations permit the setting up of companies as open-access operators for the running of specific services. These are similar to the cases of the passenger services provided by Grand Central or First Hull Trains in (part) competition with East Coast . There are, however, legal connotations with regards to the services provided through the Channel Tunnel by Eurotunnel. In that case it might well be easier and quicker to set up such services by giving Eurotunnel the initial franchise. In later years the benefits of competing services can be looked at.

One last point about the destination. Might it not be better to make the destination somewhere in the area of Lille?. I know that this is for the French to decide but if you want to unclog the roads near Calais then we think it would be wiser to make any destination point somewhere south of the Tunnel where the distribution of traffic elsewhere the the motorway system is quicker and easier. We see that at (or near) Lille.

Investment in infrastructure is done for reasons. In this particular case we want to take cars and lorries off our roads. We want to reduce noise, road wear, pollution and congestion. We most certainly want to make an investment worthwhile, whether it be for economic, social or environmental reasons.  Also it is paramount that such projects are feasible. This idea of a fast rail route through South Wales to Reading, then via Heathrow and Gatwick airports and connected via Ashford to the Channel Tunnel certainly fits these criteria. This is much more so when we combine these criteria with the international, national and regional rail passenger services envisaged through the airports, as explained in the previous blog. What is now needed is political willingness and effort to see the projects through to completion. Let it be so. 

04 May 2012

Long-haul rail terminals under Heathrow and Gatwick.

This idea has been around for some time but as usual it means different things to different people.

A-The origins:

It firstly came from the engineering consulting firm  ARUP in September 2008. Basically the idea was to build a new interchange station directly north of Heathrow T5 on the GWML at Iver(Buckingham Advertiser 7th July 2010). This would connect with local, regional and long distance services on the GWML from where passengers would be fed to the various terminals by an unstated means. On the plan you can see that T4 was not connected while some fanciful T6 satellite terminals(right across the A4 Bath Rd.) were proposed for the third runway which would be connected too. All this was to satisfy present infrastructure demands but it went further than that. A high speed line (HS) was to be built into central London terminating at Euston. From there a connection was planned to the HS1 line to eventually merge somewhere near or before Stratford. From Iver the idea was to direct the HS line northwards to Birmingham and onwards, probably to merge with HS2 or even replace it. No details of the planned routes were given. That idea has not progressed but other less ambitious ones have appeared.

B-The Present Situation

T5 was constructed with six rail platforms,two for the LUT Piccadilly line, two for the Heathrow Express(HE) services to Paddington, and two more for, at that time, new undefined services. Airtrack was a proposal by BAA to build on the success of HE by offering new services from those two platforms to Reading, Guildford and Waterloo plus an extension of HE services from T5 to Staines. These services did not come to fruition. They can be seen in ARUP´s pdf. file.
The Airtrack proposals proved to be non-starters and were dropped in autumn 2011.
There are no extra rail platforms either in the the Central area(T2 &T3) nor at T4.

C-Initial New Proposals

The idea of a connection to Reading remained and appeared in a proposal by  the UK Transport Secretary,  Philip Hammond, to build a connection from Reading along the GWML and into T5 - a shuttle service to be run 4 times per hour. This very limited idea was to replace the RailAir coaches to Reading station with approximately the same frequency.

Our thoughts on this proposal were expounded on this blog
on 6th October 2011

This was followed up two days later by a proposal to connect Heathrow with Gatwick  to try to make them operate as one airport named Heathwick (ughh!!)

We also looked at this proposal on 11th October 2011

We do not need to reproduce all the arguments we used to reject the proposals - many well-known business personalities have voiced their disapproval.The two proposals were floated and nothing of substance has been heard of them since then.That makes one think that the government was only sounding out opinion - and did not like the reaction.

The way they were presented and the little substance in their content made them totally rejectable. However, if these ideas were not taken separately but were part of a larger plan then they could be looked at differently. We would like to emphasise that we would like people to look at the complete picture.

D-The Real Reasons

The government wants to build a spur from HS2 into Heathrow. The idea is to offer an alternative to domestic air travel so as to reduce traffic through the airport. They ignore that an assessment commissioned by the previous Labour government, and repeated by the Coalition government came up with the same conclusion. The demand satisfied by a direct HS spur does not justify its construction because of the low numbers concerned - about 2000 pax. per day. Not all potential destinations are connected by rail or even would not benefit by an HS spur. There are many destinations where air links are essential (Northern Scotland, Ireland and the other British Isles) while rail links are impossible.

Even with HS2 completed up to Glasgow and Edinburgh there will still be a demand for substantial air travel to those cities, without mentioning Aberdeen and Inverness.(the HS trains have not killed the air traffic between Paris and Lyon, Madrid and Seville or Barcelona).Despite ignoring these realities the government wishes to imagine people travelling everywhere in Great Britain by train. The ministers should try it some time and not just for the photo call.

There are manifest practical difficulties to run direct HS trains from Heathrow to HS1 and on to mainland Europe.The proposals being mooted involve inordinate difficulty, disruption and cost into London and through to Euston. It will be like forcing more content through a bottleneck - the weak link is from Camden Town to St. Pancras - already designated a major freight route (plain madness). Has the government even thought out the practical difficulties of trying to offer direct rail connections from outside London to European cities? Not at all, even though many doubts and objections have been aired on forums, blogs and interested pressure group websites.

The real problem is that the government has painted itself into a corner and does not know how to get out. It has come to the conclusion that its initial prohibition of new runway building at 3 London airports is a non-starter. Whatever the long term solution, the problem of undercapacity is immediate and needs solving now. That is why the government´s long awaited policy document on aviation has been postponed from March to summer 2012.

E-Thinking outside the box;

Building the Reading-Heathrow and  Heathrow-Gatwick links separately is extreme stodgy thinking with only limited benefits and acceptance. Combining the two ideas into one link from Reading to Gatwick opens up all sorts of possibilities, not least providing a one-stop link from  South Wales, Bristol, and the South West to the two principal UK airports. Also from Reading connections to Birmingham and further north can be provided to link to the two airports.
Extending the line from Gatwick 73kms., over mostly open ground, to Ashford then we have a direct link to HS1 and through the Channel Tunnel to mainland Europe.
This achieves bypassing the bottleneck which is London. We avoid the prohibitively expensive and disruptive construction of a fast line through west London and relieve the clogged transport system of the capital.

The opening of such a line from Reading to Ashford gives us the chance to substitute the RailAir coaches plying between Reading and Heathrow, and the National Express coaches (up to 6 times per hour) between Heathrow and Gatwick. These would be with a greater frequency and greater reliability. However, they need not stop there. There is scope for trains to stop on route at such places as Feltham, Guildford, Woking while on to Ashford at Tonbridge. Thus the service becomes really regional offering connectivity to the airports and at other interconnecting points to other parts of Great Britain.

What make the rail ideas attractive are the possibilities of offering mainline European services  which do not transit London. The present Eurostar train services go to Paris and Brussels from London St.Pancras. The German railway company DB plans to run services also from London but onwards from Brussels to (i)Amsterdam, and to (ii)Cologne and Frankfurt. Imagine if such services were offered from Heathrow and Gatwick. Part of what the government wants - a lowering of demand at those airports - with the reduction of flights to Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam, Cologne, and Frankfurt, would be achieved. The effect would most probably be more than any desired effect on domestic flights. This would certainly be a way of damping down demand on air, runway and terminal space.

In these cases passenger services tend to be the only ones mentioned, however,  freight is of extreme importance. The possibilities are tremendous and so need a separate blog, which will be the next when we deal with what we call the SHSL (Southern High Speed Line).

F-The Heathrow Interchanges Stations;

To get back to the idea of interchange stations at Heathrow (and at Gatwick) then we have to imagine one  built specially for purpose, most certainly connected to the present rail/tube stations. When we think of local or regional services then we think of convenience. This would mean one station at each terminal - T5, T2/3 &T4. With a long distance station we tend to think of one for a whole complex - so probably situated at Heathrow Central.

However, we have to separate the ideas of domestic and European services because of the question of immigration controls.

For the trains to originate at Heathrow there is a whole complicated problem of turnback and parking facilities, all underground or well away from the airport. It is much better to start these services at an existing rail hub which can absorb such space demanded, and the ancillary services needed even on the surface.

Thus, if the trains do not originate at Heathrow but at Reading then the platforms, at the airports, would be through platforms not terminating ones.The trains could stop at each terminal providing the convenience for the passenger. Unfortunately, I believe, that the present track layouts mean that such a through line with its corresponding platforms would have to be completely new (undergound obviously).

To make the use of the rail station(s) popular accessibility is the word. The stations will be underground at the airports with three platforms provided for the regional and national services - one "up", one "down"and one for overflow/accidents etc. The same would be needed, but separate, for services to Europe. This means a total of six platforms.

The rail tunnels would be like the present Channel tunnel with two main separate tunnels with a service tunnel between. This would allow the flexibility and security demanded of an enclosed environment. Trains running on the surface might find two tracks to be sufficient.

The point of having six platforms in the terminals is to separate the international from the domestic passengers. To do this by limiting access to all the platforms according to the type of train which is leaving(or arriving) is complicated and time consuming. It is simpler and much more efficient to have separate platforms. That way domestic passengers can gain access to the 3 domestic platforms in a constant, unimpeded way facilitating their onward transportation.

International passengers, on the other hand, can gain access to their 3 platforms in a more relaxed manner having passed through Border Controls. If there is just one Central Area international set of platforms then passengers would have to go through Border Controls to land-side and then again through the controls to air-side to their flights. This is unnecessary duplication of Border Controls for what are transit passengers( the queues and time wasted would be horrendous) This would be done having changed to the relevant terminal, which might well be an inconvenient connection away. However, if there were international platforms at each terminal (T4, T2/3 &T5) then the transfer to flights could be directly on to the flights, or from the flights (with controls at the destination). Why should there be a difference in treatment between air and rail passengers? The train would be considered just a connecting "flight" with luggage collected at the destination. (The Swiss do this really well.)  Heathrow has already passed the 70 million pax.per annum mark and is well on the way to 100 million pax.per annum.(Like it or not this is a realistic figure to be looking at in the next ten years - before any other capacity is brought online) Is it not necessary to look at constructive ways to facilitate movements?

The trains would then have stops both for domestic services(long-distance and regional) and international ones at each of the three terminals, T5, T2/3 and T4.   Gatwick, on the other hand would only need one underground station. That way it could fit under the present surface one and be able to cross it west-eastwards without interference (including the differing electrical traction systems).


Long-haul rail services from Reading through Heathrow and Gatwick to mainland Europe.
This way they start at Reading and provide connections - north, west and south west - to other services which means that London does not need to be clogged with transit passengers. Border controls are carried out at Reading and the airport terminals direct to the European destinations.
The result would be a marked decrease in short haul air traffic to mainland Europe while increasing the airport accessibility for towns and cities in northern France, the Benelux countries and north west Germany (including all the Ruhr). This would provide a greater demand for medium and long-haul routes from Heathrow and Gatwick, and also on domestic/Irish routes.

The new rail infrastructure provides capacity for domestic regional routes between Reading and Ashford for any stopping places on route. Access is improved for passengers and workers to the airports leading to less road traffic. These connections would reduce the need to travel through the bottleneck of London.

Long-haul domestic rail routes could eventually be offered from Gatwick (or even Ashford) to many places south-west, west and north, and maybe even to Scotland, all without the need to pass through Central London reducing the demands on the capital´s overstretched transport infrastructure.

Does it offer any other possibilities? Yes it does, particularly with freight but that will be dealt with in the next blog.