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Overpriced electrification

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At the recent PWI electrification seminar, one speaker made the tongue in cheek observation that Britain requires more paperwork per electrified kilometre than any other country. Whilst this claim can’t be substantiated, those present seemed to agree. The serious side to this flippant comment is that such paperwork costs serious money.

Both this PWI seminar and a recent Railway Industry Association event, as reported by Peter Stanton, highlight various technical opportunities to reduce the cost of electrification. These are also being progressed by National Electrification Efficiency Panel (NEEP) which is led by respected engineers Prof Andrew McNaughton and Peter Dearman who consider that UK electrification costs are probably twice that of other countries.

NEEP is now also starting to investigate the management of electrification including overhead costs. Its research has found that, in Europe, overheads are typically 50% of the cost of physical works compared with 150% in the UK. If true, this means that whatever the cost savings from worthwhile electrification innovations, they will only offer low percentage cost reductions unless overhead costs are significantly reduced.

Reasons for these high overheads mentioned at the PWI event were that the authorisation regime needs to accept that electrification schemes have no new fundamental risks, and that electrification should be a continuous process rather than individual projects. Although such a rolling programme offers significant savings, Government will not commit to this unless it has confidence in the industry’s ability to deliver at an affordable price. This vicious circle will only be broken by demonstrating cost effective delivery.

It is also important that the industry delivers a clear message to Government that large-scale electrification is the only way of delivering its decarbonisation targets, as well as offering a higher capacity railway with electric trains that are cheaper to operate and buy.

In this respect, RSSB’s Sustainable Rail Strategy (SRS) is particularly disappointing. This refers to the need for “a balanced combination of electrification, hydrogen and battery trains to decarbonise traction” and fails to mention that Network Rail’s TDNS study concluded electrification is 84% of the solution as it recommended an additional 13,000 single track kilometres of electrification and so undersells the need for large-scale electrification.

It needs to be understood that nothing comes close to the amount of energy stored by petroleum and so, if diesels are to be replaced, electrification is the only practical option for freight and intensive passenger services. Obscuring this basic science, as the RSSB SRS does, is not credible and is also a grave disservice to the industry and sustainability.

As we report this month, those on the IMechE railway technical tour saw how the devolved administrations of Wales, Liverpool, and Scotland are delivering integrated rolling stock and infrastructure programmes to transform and decarbonise their rail services. For example, Scotland’s rolling electrification programme should decarbonise its railway by 2035. It was good to see the delivery of such whole system solutions in advance of, and in tune, with the new Great British Railways (GBR) organisation. It would seem that the devolved administrations are showing how this can be done.

Getting ready for GBR was the theme of this year’s Railway Industry Association (RIA)’s Innovation Conference. As well as highlighting specific innovations, this event highlighted the importance of collaboration as well as the need to embrace diversity. As Peter Hendy pointed out, we all have a responsibility to make the industry more like its customers and cannot afford not to attract the best from diverse cultures. In another feature, we highlight inspirational YouTube videos on the importance of equality, diversity, and inclusivity in rail.

An innovation that may offer many large towns affordable Very Light Rail (VLR) systems is a trackform that avoids the need for utility diversions. As we report this is soon to be tested at the VLR innovation centre in Dudley. HS2 is using a pioneering off-site manufacturing technique for its ‘green tunnels’ which have their segments installed on site before being covered by earth, trees, and shrubs. The company also has a 700-tonne launching girder which is the only one of its type in the UK. We also describe how this will be used to construct HS2’s Colne Valley Viaduct.

As Matt Atkins reports, there was much to see at Railtex / Infrarail where many innovative products on display were complemented by two conference streams, The Future Focus Conference and Unlocking Innovation Zone, both of which were organised by RIA. Innovation in level crossings is the subject of Clive Kessell’s report which also considers risk management, competence, education, and enforcement.
Although many innovations benefit from digital technology, this also increases the risk of cybercrime. Paul Darlington has been speaking to the British Transport Police’s Cybercrime unit to consider the risks and the good practice advice available from the National Cyber Security Centre.

The cracking on the Class 80X Inter City Express trains is a particularly high-profile railway engineering problem which is likely to cost over £100 million. For anyone with an interest in this issue, Malcolm Dobell’s feature is essential reading. This also shows that the source of track data from which input loads were derived remains unclear. Another rolling stock feature examines Alstom’s acquisition of Bombardier last year and how the challenges of different cultures, and systems, terms, and conditions, for both suppliers and people were overcome.

We are delighted to report on two quite different rail openings this month. The Elizabeth line carried a million passengers in its first week and will transform journeys across the capital. In contrast, the new countryside station at Reston had advance bookings for 1,000 passengers when it opened and also provides transformational journey opportunities for those living nearby.

As we go to press, members of RMT are on strike having been offered a pay rise which is much less than inflation. Yet the industry faces huge financial pressures as pre-lockdown passenger numbers have yet to return and the RMT seem to be unwilling to consider more productive working methods to reduce costs. Unions, employers and Government have to find a compromise, otherwise further strikes will present a threat to the industry and those that work in it.

Image credit: istockphoto.com

David Shirres BSc CEng MIMechE DEM
David Shirres BSc CEng MIMechE DEMhttp://therailengineer.com

Rolling stock, depots, Scottish and Russian railways

David Shirres joined British Rail in 1968 as a scholarship student and graduated in Mechanical Engineering from Sussex University. He has also been awarded a Diploma in Engineering Management by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

His roles in British Rail included Maintenance Assistant at Slade Green, Depot Engineer at Haymarket, Scottish DM&EE Training Engineer and ScotRail Safety Systems Manager.

In 1975, he took a three-year break as a volunteer to manage an irrigation project in Bangladesh.

He retired from Network Rail in 2009 after a 37-year railway career. At that time, he was working on the Airdrie to Bathgate project in a role that included the management of utilities and consents. Prior to that, his roles in the privatised railway included various quality, safety and environmental management posts.

David was appointed Editor of Rail Engineer in January 2017 and, since 2010, has written many articles for the magazine on a wide variety of topics including events in Scotland, rail innovation and Russian Railways. In 2013, the latter gave him an award for being its international journalist of the year.

He is also an active member of the IMechE’s Railway Division, having been Chair and Secretary of its Scottish Centre.


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