Frank Roach gave two research and strategy delivery reports important to the Far North Line to the HITRANS Partnership Meeting on 13 November:
To inform members of progress on Far North and Kyle rail lines infrastructure initially identified under the Points North agenda of 2016.
The creation of a signalling token exchange point (TEP) on the Radio Electronic Token Block (RETB) system at Stromeferry (which incidentally in August this year celebrated its 150th anniversary) is moving forward. A site visit was recently held to consider what is needed on the ground. The new TEP will:
HITRANS is contributing £230k to the project, of which 50% is from ERDF Smart Cities...
Development work has reached GRIP 3 level- option selection- on the project to create an additional loop between Clachnaharry and Clunes. In play are the length and type of loop- dynamic or static- and the way in which it is controlled.
Current loops have hydropneumatic points. They are pushed over by the train and spring back, so have a 15mph speed restriction, with their position confirmed to the driver by an indicator light, and a TPWS overspeed sensor on the track.
Radio tokens cannot be exchanged on the move so trains can only pass 'statically'. To pass dynamically (on the move) would require expensive resignalling to conventional colour lights. However, token control of points permitting loop entry/exit at 40mph and a long loop may mitigate the time penalty for token issue and authorisation to proceed.
In order to overcome the slow loop entry speed and the concomitant 15mph crawl to station stop within a loop, the control of the new motorised points rather than hydropneumatic ones is under development. Here the points are actuated by the issue of the electronic token itself. Muir of Ord south is the likely location for a trial.
The provision of a button to inform the train driver via the signalling system of an intending passenger at request stops is under development. The rational for this is to allow trains to pass through at linespeed when no stop is required, rather than slowing down on the off-chance that someone may be waiting at the station. This saves brakes, fuel, emissions and gives a performance buffer. HITRANS has drawn up a priority list based on linespeed, gradient and footfall, with Scotscalder being the likely trial site.
Kildonan and Rogart Open Crossings are due for conversion to automatic crossings in Control Period 6. All North of Inverness crossings with the exception of Nigg are locally monitored i.e. the train driver is given an indication that the crossing lights and associated barriers are working correctly. Train speed over the crossing is 55mph maximum. However, if the crossing status is monitored by the signaller through the RETB system train line speeds could increase offering a meaningful journey time reduction.
Customer Information Screens at RETB stations are updated by the Darwin system which is itself manually updated by the signaller. When a train is running late its arrival time at a station clears off the screen after its planned (but non-existent) departure. The passenger does not know if it is 1 or 100 minutes late. A proposed RETB modification should automate this process and predict arrival time based on the last confirmed location of the train.
The transaction time for a token exchange is timetabled at 1 minute, but crossing trains take longer with Train 1 giving up Token A, Train 2 giving up Token B, Train 2 receiving Token A, and Train 1 receiving Token B. An enhancement is under development that will dramatically reduce token exchange time.
To appraise members of the potential for future rolling stock options in the HITRANS area.
As reported to the Board in September Scottish Ministers propose to electrify the Highland Main Line with overhead wires by 2035. With a likely end date of the current HST fleet in 2030, we will be keen to ensure that there is no delay in the start of electrification planning, with the danger that a fleet of bi-mode trains will be introduced as a thirty year stop gap.
Tain-Inverness-Inverurie will be operated by alternative traction - transition solution (e.g. partial electrification and/or the use of alternative technology) by 2035 prior to electrification by 2045. The hydrogen transport cluster in Aberdeen is a key factor in this.
Glasgow-Oban-Mallaig and Dingwall-Kyle Tain-Wick will be operated by alternative traction - permanent solution - i.e. the use of battery or an alternative by 2035.
Battery trains were researched in our Wick Thurso Feasibility (WTF) study. The Vivarail 230 can cover 40-60 miles between charges which makes the route an ideal test bed. Power can be supplied during an 8 minute charge from a power bank of batteries that could be charged from constrained wind. The current train is limited to 60 mph making it unsuitable for the Far North but perhaps suitable for Dingwall-Kyle, and West Highland services.
There may be opportunities for a battery train to receive a 45 second zap while stopping at a station.
A number of rolling stock owners and train builders are developing new or refurbished hydrogen trains. A hydrogen fuel cell is used to create electricity to drive traction motors/charge batteries. To date hydrogen is stored within the rail vehicles taking up passenger capacity but underbody solutions are under development.
As more hydrogen is required per mile than polluting diesel, infrastructure may be required at termini for fuelling (currently fuelling for rural routes is carried out in city depots). This may lead to sharing of facilities with the hydrogen fuelled ferries of the future.
Hydrogen supply is key to this. Hydrogen created from natural gas reforming is not carbon free. Hydrogen created by electrolysation of off shore wind power offers a green possibility, and the renewable energy cluster around Caithness/Orkney may be well placed to assist.
Equally, Opportunity Cromarty Firth's proposals for floating off shore wind also offers a hydrogen supply, with distilleries, the gas grid, aquaculture and other industrial processes creating demand.
A further hydrogen source could come from the combustion of Refuse Derived Fuel created at the Longman waste facility in Inverness. There are examples from Germany of municipal bus and tram fleets being powered in this way.