scotland (4K)
The Friends of the Far North Line
Cairdean Na Loine Tuath
the campaign group for rail north of Inverness - lobbying for improved services for the local user, tourist and freight operator

Future Rolling Stock Policy In Scotland

As part of the Rail 2014 consultation process, rail users and stakeholders were asked their opinions on a number of different aspects on the future of Scotland's railways. One of those topics was rolling stock. We commented upon both the rural routes, of which the Far North Line is of course one, and on the inter-city routes. The rural route specification which we proposed included: one toilet per coach; good leg room; no more than four seats abreast, aligned with windows; good luggage, bike and disabled space; efficient heating and air conditioning; vestibule doors; sufficient exit doors. The Edinburgh Glasgow Improvement Programme (EGIP) will release a substantial number of class 158 and 170 Diesel Multiple Units (DMUs). Currently, the former are in use on the Far North and Kyle lines. Most Highland Main Line (HML) trains are formed of class 170s, although one each way - 10.45 Inverness to Edinburgh and 13.35 in the reverse direction - is booked for a pair of Inverness class 158s. Aberdeen - Inverness services are a mixture of the two classes. In 2010, Network Rail produced its "GRIP2" Engineering Study for Aberdeen Inverness Rail Improvement Project. (GRIP stands for Governance for Railway Investment Projects and stage 2 is Pre-feasibility.) It was taken forward to stage 3 - Option Selection - with an assumption that the level of service would be hourly, calling all stations, including new ones at Dalcross and Kintore, but with half-hourly services at either end. In order to achieve an end-to-end journey time under two hours, the line speed would be 100mph, which assumed the use of class 170s. (Class 158s have a maximum speed of 90mph.) We have yet to see any similar documentation for the HML but we would assume something similar. T his would leave the FNL's 158s isolated, so logic would suggest that we would also see class 170s working north of Inverness. In any case, by the end of Control Period 5 in 2019, the oldest class 158s will be thirty years old, so will be coming towards the end of their life. In addition, they may also have trouble conforming to the Rail Vehicle Access Regulations. Now, class 170s have doors at one-third and two-thirds, so are really a suburban unit, where rapid loading and unloading is needed. The doors open directly into the passenger saloons, so we believe that they are not suitable for longer distance services at all. At the Infrastructure and Capital Investment Committee Meeting to which FoFNL gave evidence, the Convener, Maureen Watt, MSP, described the class 170 as "horrible". To understand why we have this type of DMU we have to go back some twenty years or so to when John Major's government decided to fragment and privatise the railway industry. Immediately the announcement was made, investment in the industry stopped dead. For over a thousand days, not a single rolling stock vehicle was ordered. Then, in 1996, Chiltern Railways broke the drought by ordering the class 168 Clubman to work with its class 165 Networker Turbos. The flood gates were suddenly opened: there was an off-the-shelf DMU available quickly so several Train Operating Companies (TOCs) ordered the next development, the class 170; one of those was ScotRail. Since then, South West Trains has swapped its 170s for 158s and Chiltern is gradually converting its longer distance services to loco-hauled mark 3s.

Naturally following on from these comments is what to do about the Scottish inter-city routes. These are defined as Glasgow and Edinburgh to Aberdeen and Inverness. As mentioned above, Maureen Watt, MSP, is not a fan of the class 170, which is currently the mainstay of these services. She is not alone. At least one of the other witnesses at the Committee Meeting attended by FoFNL said she tried to gear her travel around the use of East Coast's High Speed Trains (HSTs) and this was repeated the following week by another witness giving evidence to the same Committee. So, what to do? Well, the mark 3 vehicle, that which is in the HST, has been described by many people as probably the best passenger vehicle ever built. Anywhere. When the InterCity Express Programme (IEP) train comes into service on East Coast and Great Western, there will be several hundred of these best vehicles ever built looking for new homes, which we would sincerely hope would not be breakers' yards. Although the oldest are now over 35 years old, we are told that they still have plenty of life in them. In addition, there will be a substantial fleet of class 43 power cars with relatively new diesel engines in them. When built, they were fitted with Paxman Valenta engines but these have all been replaced in the past few years by MTU 4000 engines, partly to conform to new emission control regulations. Just like the sleepers, maximum train lengths are critical. The present HSTs - 2 power cars plus 7 trailers on CrossCountry, 2 + 8 on Great Western and 2 + 9 on East Coast would not fit into Glasgow Queen Street, several of the west end bays at Edinburgh Waverley nor into platforms 3 and 4 at Inverness. However, a 2 + 5 would. But this rather wastes space. When the 2,250hp Valentas were replaced, the electrical circuitry was not altered and, as a result of this, the MTU 4000 is downrated to 2,280hp. According to the MTU website , it can produce up to 3,650hp. If it were possible to upgrade the electrical circuitry to suit, then a 1 + 6 HST would produce somewhat more power per tonne than any of the existing HST formations. The various power/weight ratios of each formation are:

Formation hp Total weight hp/tonne
2 + 7 2 x 2280 378 12
2 + 8 2 x 2280 412 11
2 + 9 2 x 2280 446 10
2 + 5 2 x 2280 310 15
1 + 5 1 x 3650 240 15
1 + 6 1 x 3650 274 13

The power car weight is assumed at 70 tonnes and each trailer 34 tonnes; all figures are rounded.

At the opposite end of the set to the single power car there would be a driving trailer which would include all of the stuff that every train needs only one of:

  • Driving cab
  • OTMR/TPWS equipment cabinet
  • Wi-fi receiver
  • First class seating
  • First class disabled area
  • Standard class disabled area
  • Guard's office
  • Accessible toilet
  • Cycle storage
  • Catering area
  • Luggage

The other five vehicles would be identical to each other thus giving maximum flexibility when it comes to swapping them over for maintenance, etc.. They would need to have adequate luggage and cycle space in them. The vehicles would need Controlled Emission Toilets and automatic external doors but, fortuitously, Chiltern is fitting both of these to its recently acquired mark 3s so the design work has already been done.

In the next Far North Express, it would be nice to see a critique of this article from a rolling stock engineer. Is it feasible? Or is it all a load of rubbish?