Rail Engineer’s editor, David Shirres, gives his thoughts on some of the topics addressed in issue 158 – Keep Calm and Think Blue?

The right decisions on future infrastructure and rolling stock policy require full consideration of all factors, which include the laws of physics.

Last month’s magazine showed that the power-to-weight ratio of a bi-mode train in diesel mode is essentially the same as the current diesel trains and much less than an electric-powered bi-mode. Yet the Government makes the misleading claim that bi-mode trains are the best available technology, which “means that we no longer need to electrify every line to achieve the same significant improvements to journeys”.

In reality, diesel-powered bi-mode trains will not reduce journey times. This requires other measures such as the DfT proposal to remove calling points south of Kettering on the Midland main line.

Bi-mode trains are a good way of getting to Inverness or Penzance, but they are no substitute for the electrification of core routes. Notwithstanding their increasingly unacceptable environmental impact, such diesel trains have much greater maintenance and fuel costs than electric traction. When asked, the DfT was unable to advise whether these additional bi-mode train costs were considered when the decision to cancel planned electrification schemes was taken.

As we report this month, I had a discussion with Chris Grayling at the Railway Industry Association (RIA)’s Parliamentary reception during which it was clear that he considers Britain’s railways to be a success story and wishes to see significant sums of money invested, as shown by the £48 billion settlement for CP6. When our conversation turned to electrification, he made the point that the £500 million cost of electrifying to Swansea could be better spent elsewhere. Faced with increasing costs, his decision to reverse electrification plans is understandable, even if the DfT’s case for bi-mode trains is not.

The project to electrify the East Coast main line (ECML) got it right. In this issue, Don Heath explains how, in the late 1980s, British Rail delivered this programme, and provided the rolling stock for it, for £344 million at 1983 prices, which was just three per cent over budget.

Adjusted for today’s prices, the ECML was electrified at 14 per cent of the per-mile cost of the Great Western electrification. Although, Don’s article acknowledges that his team didn’t face some of the problems that concern today’s electrification engineers, this doesn’t entirely explain a sevenfold cost increase. One factor must be the cost of the GW electrification’s heavy metalwork, which contrasts with the slender structures on the newly opened Sud Europe Atlantique high- speed line that carries 300km/h trains with twin pantographs.

Further electrification is likely to require the Government to be convinced that it can be delivered at a lower cost. In this respect, RIA’s electrification cost challenge is to be welcomed. The case for electrification also requires more clarity of its substantial long-term fuel and maintenance savings.

A good example of electrification work being delivered in a cost- effective manner is the ECML power supply upgrade. Peter Stanton describes how millions of pounds were saved by value engineering.

We also feature innovative ideas in China and Cambridge on how mass transit systems don’t need rails, illustrating the point that the industry must innovate to compete. From Moscow, we report on its new ring railway, which has significantly increased the city’s metro capacity and is a showcase for Russia’s digital railway.

Capacity is also being increased on the single line between Inverness and Aberdeen. We describe how this first phase of this programme included a new station on a new alignment, signalling improvements and a level crossing closure. Stuart Marsh reports on another Scottish crossing closure and its replacement by a footbridge lit by 278 blue LED lights.

Lighting is featured in various articles this month. We describe how measures to reduce London Underground’s lighting costs include an ongoing changeover to LED lighting and taking the lead in the European PRO-LITE initiative. We also report on how 3,500 lights have also been replaced by LED lighting at Liverpool Street station and have a comprehensive article by Keith Miller in which he explains the complexities of lighting design.

The idea of using a novel heavy-duty miller during the brickwork ring replacement at Springs Tunnel was a good idea. However, as Graeme Bickerdike reports, this didn’t go to plan for unforeseeable reasons, yet the ingenuity of all concerned ensured the tunnel was repaired and handed back on time.

The ingenuity, professionalism and technical ability of railway engineers was rewarded and celebrated at the Railstaff awards, as Nigel Wordsworth tells us in an article about the winners and their achievements. Looking to the future, Malcolm Dobell explains how the skills and knowledge required by the next generation of rail engineers was considered at a seminar organised by the younger engineers in the IMechE’s Railway Division.

As the festive season approaches, all of us at Rail Engineer wish our readers a splendid time over the Christmas period. Our thoughts are particularly with those who must defer their festivities until after their engineering work.

Do have a great, and safe, time.