Flying Banana Train – £8m contract Awarded by Network Rail

Deborah Lillis

Known as the Flying Banana, the measuring train will now be maintained by Loram UK as part of a five-year contract worth £8m. The contract was awarded back in December after a number of competitors put themselves forward. However, Loram UK will maintain the distinctive yellow train at its Derby facility.

This depot has been used since 2010 where other infrastructure monitoring trains have been maintained. This New Measurement Train is designed to monitor and record the condition of the track at speeds of up to 125mph, making it the fastest train within the monitoring fleet of Network Rail. It will also identify faults on the track in order to prevent them from becoming a serious safety concern or even affect the performance of the network.

The train is packed with high-tech measurement systems and systems that scan the tracks along with high-resolution cameras. The train is a converted Intercity high-speed train that has already travelled across the railway network for 15 years.

As the train can travel at high speeds, it means that it has the ability to cover significant distances in a single shift and over the course of the year, it covers 115,000 miles. Every 440 miles, it also captures 10TB of image data. This data is then used by engineers, enabling them to make repairs and schedule in maintenance.

As part of the infrastructure monitoring fleet operating contract, Loram UK finishes a three-month project on the New Measurement Train coaches in December. This process of overhauling the coaches takes place every four years and requires engineers to dismantle the train in its entirety, carrying out tests on all parts before making all relevant fixes and improvements before putting the train back together.

The supply chain services director of Network Rail, Mike Black has said that the contract simplifies the maintenance of the New Measurement Train. As a result, Network Rail will benefit from large savings as well as the taxpayer. What’s more, it will also ensure that the train is always maintained to the highest possible standards, enabling it to monitor the network to ensure that passengers and other railway users can travel safely.



Crossrail Institutional Problems Caused by Volume of Contracts

Deborah Lillis

According to an Arup Director, institutional problems with the Crossrail projects was caused by the number of contracts in place at their sites. This was highlighted by the number of contractors at Liverpool Street alone which stood at five.

This was not the fault of the contractors but it left the projects facing disjointed working and risks were not controlled. This meant that problems were blamed on others and this caused a range of institutional problems that spiralled out of control. In fact, the problems were seen across the 36 main contracts.

The line, which was due to open in December 2018 has still not opened and Crossrail Chief Executive Mark Wild has said that the costs will increase and the line will not open until 2020.

Back in August, Crossrail gave an update on the programme and explained that contractor productivity was a risk and an uncertainty. A Jacobs report also gave warnings about the cost, as well as contractor buy-in, being the biggest risk to the delivery of the rail line.

As it currently stands, the support from parliament is slowly disappearing as a result of the increasing costs and the delays of other projects. This dwindling support has been placed on the fact that the first Crossrail project faced challenges and so, with those problems not sorted, it makes things very difficult politically. Along with this, Crossrail 2, which will run from Surrey to Hertfordshire, will need around four times more private funding when compared to the east-west line. The construction cost of the first Crossrail was funded privately, with 25% of the costs being covered by this. However, Crossrail 2 would come to 50% of private funding from a project that is going to cost £29bn.

The project is already struggling both in costings and timings and it seems as though things are going from bad to worse. As far as future funding goes, a Treasury spokesperson has said that the department cannot provide a comment on it. At a time where other projects such as HS2 are coming under fire, it seems as though the UK could do without these problems adding to the mix.

Hydrogen Trains – Are Things Beginning to Move?

Deborah Lillis

The RSSB, the rail industry body has appointed Arup, an engineering consultancy firm to create a route-map where hydrogen-powered trains can be deployed on the mainline in the UK.

This new project will give Arup the opportunity to identify a high-level operational concept while identifying any risks and regulatory obligations. The study will come to a conclusion in February 2020 and will also seek to identify the required standardisation throughout the railway system in the UK should hydrogen trains be deployed.

Along with this, Arup will also look to identify a clear route to market for hydrogen trains as well as the infrastructure, taking into consideration safety and compatibility.

The RSSB has plans to decarbonise the rail sector and the hydrogen trains could help to meet the target. In 2018, the then Transport Minister Jo Johnson set a target to remove all diesel-only trains from the network by 2040

As a result, Hydrogen-powered trains could work alongside electrified rail and battery-powered trains, offering a feasible low carbon alternative to diesel.

There are a number of organisations already working to develop hydrogen rail solutions in the UK. The University of Birmingham is working with Porterbrook and Transport for West Midlands to determine whether it is possible to implement hydrogen refuelling infrastructure at railway depots.

Along with this, the rail operator Abellio has made a commitment to trialling hydrogen-powered trained when it won the East Midlands franchise in April.

In January, Alstom and Evershot Rail released a design for a hydrogen train that could be used within the UK market and this would require the conversion of the current Class 321 passenger trains, giving them the ability to operate on hydrogen. They will only release water and vapour into the atmosphere, helping to reduce Co2 emissions and the harmful emissions that derive from diesel engines.

Germany is already using hydrogen trains, with the equipment being operated by Alstom, which is a French company that manufactures transport equipment.

While rail is already a mode of transport that releases low carbon emissions, there is still room for the industry to reduce it further.

As the UK economy aims to become carbon neutral by 2050, the rail industry can play a significant role in achieving this by utilising hydrogen technology alongside electrification and battery technology.


Virgin Trains Says Goodbye

Virgin Trains is saying goodbye after spending 22 years of moving people around the country. However, in typical Virgin Trains style, the company has released a spoof music video known as the “Final Whistle” and it is set to the Dirty Dancing Track, ‘I’ve Had the Time of my Life”.

What’s more, Richard Branson also adds to the humour as he features in the video which includes famous faces from 1997, when the franchise started, as well as famous faces from 2019.

The entire advert has been created in a tongue-in-cheek style with the advert opening up with Mr Blobby making his first journey on a Virgin Train in 1997. This is where Branson makes his appearance, announcing on the tannoy that the passengers are on a non-stop, final journey from 1997 to 2019.

This is where Branson thanks people for using Virgin Trains before carrying a boombox on his shoulder and transforming the entire train into a music video. This genius advert, takes viewers on a journey through the last 22 years, including 90s fashion, large mobile phones right through to the tech we see today. Some other famous faces include Shaun Williamson, Chris Kamare and Anna Phylactic.

The advert is a clever yet unique approach to saying goodbye following the announcement in April that Virgin Trains would no longer operate its franchise from London Euston to Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, North Wales and Edinburgh.

The bid from Virgin Trains was deemed as non-compliant by the Department for Transport because of pension provisions.

This final goodbye campaign as it is called comes at a sad time for the company. However, their aim is to leave in the same way as they came in which is by having fun and there is no doubt that this advert does that brilliantly.

With over two decades of operating, Virgin Trains is proud of how it has delivered its services and felt the need to leave its one final mark for all of those who travelled with the operator through the years.


Next Government To Commit to Rail

Deborah Lillis

A manifesto has been unveiled by the Railway Industry Association (RIA) as the next General Election moves ever-closer.

A number of main tasks have been set out that the industry will face over the next three decades, and so, the aim is to create a rail industry that is sustainable over the long-term.

The RIA has urged all political parties to play their part when it comes to these tasks by creating a long-term strategy that enhances private investment and creates an improved balance between new and used rolling stock. What’s more, it also wants assistance when it comes to decarbonising the railway through increased electrification as well as implementing better technology.

It has also called for further commitment to other large projects along with electrification including the Northern Powerhouse, East-West Rail and HS2.

The RIA believes that it is crucial that future governments work closely with the rail industry. This will allow them to set priorities and identify the role of the industry as a vital exporter, particularly when it comes to developing new agreements relating to trade.

As the General Election fast approaches on the 12 December, the Chief Executive Darren Caplan has said that transport and in particular, rail, is something that political parties should consider, particularly if they want the UK to become a leading economy with first-class connectivity

The manifesto, known as RAIL 2050, has been developed with input from rail supplier members and sets out the vision for the future. The aim is to create a rail network that works for customers, taxpayers and the economy. As a result, it is not about creating a short-term strategy but about planning for the future. Through innovation, collaboration and a proactive approach, funding in the rail industry has to change.

All of the political parties will have their own manifestos which the RIA is eager to see once published. However, everyone in the rail industry has to build a case for creating world-class rail in the UK, which means acting now and when a new government comes into power. The Williams and Oakervee Reviews are soon to be released and Brexit is still causing uncertainty, proving that now is the time to put a rail policy in place that can stand strong for the decades that lie ahead.


National Infrastructure Commissioner urges DFT to push-on

Deborah Lillis

Sadie Morgan, the National Infrastructure Commissioner has urged the Department for Transport to give HS2 the go-ahead once the Oakervee review has been completed.

The commission said that once HS2 is free to progress it would gather considerable pace. She believes that the project has to happen, claiming that it has been under the spotlight for far too long. Therefore, the Oakervee review should put an end to that.

She claimed that it is important that we learn from our mistakes and more care has to be taken with taxpayers’ money, eventually delivering on promises.

However, she also claimed that a lot of people have been working hard to make HS2 happen and that things do not happen overnight. So, the criticism has made it difficult to remain positive.

She knows a lot of the individuals who are part of the HS2 team, acknowledging that they are talented and committed. Therefore, she hopes that once the review has been completed, they can get on with the job in hand and start to make progress at a lightning pace.

The review started in August and was chaired by the former HS2 chair Douglas Oakervee, with the report being submitted to the DFT in December. As it stands, the budget has increased to £88bn and there have been delays while independent reviews will determine what parts of the project should be completed.

At the moment, HS2 is at a critical stage of its life and there is a possibility that it could be scrapped but there is hope that this will not happen. Morgan said that the infrastructure sector needs to improve the ways in which it captures and promotes the benefits of the schemes that they propose.

She did pick up on the London Bridge Station redevelopment, claiming that the regeneration has received a positive reaction. She claimed that developments such as this can uplift communities and perhaps that is what HS2 should be doing. After all, it will add a huge amount of value and she believes that the feel-good factor can add even more value.

Rail Signalling Project

The Williams Rail Review – The RIA Responds

The Transport Select Committee was given evidence from Keith Williams of the Williams Rail Review where it was confirmed that a recommendation for restructuring UK rail is in the report. As a result, the RIA has welcomed the decision.

However, the aim of the recommendation is to focus on customers instead of the day-to-day running by the Department of Transport.

The Chief Executive of the RIA, Darren Caplan has said that the evidence and the recommendations that have been made should help to see changes to the way in which the railways in the UK are run and structured in future years.

As a result, the RIA supports the commitment from Williams whereby a thirty-year vision for the rail network in the UK will help the industry to move forward, improve and plan accordingly.

The Railway Industry Association, as well as its members, believe that it is important to consider the best operating model for the railway. However, it is important that the voice of suppliers is also heard, particularly if everyone is to work together to create a world-class railway where passengers and freight customers receive the service they deserve. They also believe that there should be no breaks in continuity when it comes to maintaining, renewing and enhancing the railways while the recommendations are put in place.

The RIA also backs the structure whereby the Department for Transport as well as ministers and officials are both responsible and accountable for the strategies put in place for the railway. Instead, professionals located across the country will be in charge of implementation.

Therefore, under this structure, the RIA has urged Willams as well as the DT to make it their priority to deal with the workflows in order to reduce the cost of the railway by as much as 30%. They will also be expected to progress recently published upgrade projects through the Rail Network Enhancement Pipeline. They also want rail suppliers to receive the right support in order to work innovatively, efficiently and collaboratively to assist all of those who use the rail system. Something which suppliers will no doubt be welcoming.


MECX Group News

Rail Franchising Model to be Reformed by Boris Johnson

The government has announced that the rail franchising model in the UK is going to be changed and the railway reform proposals will be brought forward.

The government has announced that it wants to get rid of the rail franchising system that has been in place since the 1990s. This could take place as soon as 2020 with a new model coming into place that focuses on performance and reliability.

Currently, the railway industry is anticipating the results of the Williams Review with the results becoming apparent once it is published. The aim is to ensure that a prospering economy will reach every inch of the country, ensuring that everyone has access to railway services. As these proposals are brought forward, they will replace the current model whereby private operators have monopolies over rail networks.

These significant changes will enhance reliability and create a railways system that benefits from better connectivity. It will be based on the same model that was in place before privatisation came into effect. There will also be localised decision-making that has a positive effect on the day-to-day running of the rail network.

The independent chair of the Rail Review, Keith Williams, has already received a number of proposals from rail bodies and operators.

Back in July, the ORR called for accessibility and compensation reforms while the Rail Delivery Groups also called for the current franchising model to come to an end. They are in favour of having multiple operators on mass commuter routes whilst also calling for an independent reviewing body.

Many train operators, passenger and industry bodies have claimed that major reform is required while Virgin have also put forward a new model that is based around an airline-style when it comes to fares and franchising.

Following the recommendations from the review, which are expected in the next few weeks, the government is then expected to release a white paper on the reforms.

RMT, the rail union did not respond to the proposal or the Queen’s Speech in a positive way. They have called the proposed changes nothing more than a re-packaging and re-branding of the current failed rail franchising model. They have said that if the railways are privatised then they will no longer be compatible with services that are reliable while lower fares and investment infrastructure will diminish because of the way in which train companies feed on the profits and dividends produced by the system.


New Report Suggests That HS2 is Out of Control

There is no denying that HS2 has been in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons. However, it still looks as though things are heading in the wrong direction according to a new report which suggests that the money should be spent upgrading existing routes and building new rail links.

The Adam Smith Institute is a Think Tank that is suggesting that timetables should be overhauled while tracks should be doubled. Along with this, it believes that closed rail lines should be re-opened ultimately suggesting that there are solutions available to increase capacity and improve journey times at a fraction of the cost of HS2.

Last week, claims were made that the HS2 route between Birmingham and Leeds could be scrapped as way of reducing the costs. However, this latest report suggests that HS2 could be seen to be a significant black hole for taxpayers.

Therefore, it is calling for new sections of conventional high-speed lines to be built between the mainlines as well as Manchester, Leeds and Birmingham while also upgrading train facilities.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has also launched a review of whether to scrap HS2 and that is due to be completed this autumn. The review is being led by Douglas Oakervee who was a former chairman of HS2 Ltd.

As it currently stands, figures that have been compiled by HS2 have highlighted that there could be a delay of as much as seven years on the delivery of the project while it could tun £26 billion over budget, bringing the total cost to £88 billion.

As it currently stands, HS2 has become one of the largest projects of our generation but it is one that has spiralled out of control. The UK is in desperate need of a better rail infrastructure but it is looking as though HS2 is not the solution that the UK is looking for.

It is a project that has been over-engineered, ideologically driven and will not deal with the problems that travellers are facing on a regular basis. Therefore, reports such as this suggest that HS2 is a doomed project and that now is the time to start focusing on cost-effective solutions that can help to create a railway network that is future proof.

Continue to Use HS1 and Pay £26m Each Year

An announcement has been made by the Office of Rail and Road stating that if operators want to continue to use HS1 then they will be required to pay £26m each year in order to preserve the assets.

There are 67 miles of high-speed track operated by HS1, connecting London to the Channel Tunnel. However, in order to maintain the railways and the fleet, it has been proposed that £26m will have to be paid each year to do so.

The ORR carried out analysis under its five-year review and it found that costs in the future would be higher due to the fact that assets will be older and will require frequent work.

Despite this, the figure of £26m is £9m less than HS1 had originally requested, with the ORR choosing to opt for the lower figure. This was to ensure that they could call the request as sufficient.

The public will have access to the Draft Determination proposal which will be available to them until November 11. The final determination of bill for the next year will then be announced in January.

There is an agreement in place whereby HS1 will operate HS1 trains until the end of 2040. However, it has made a number of proposals and the ORR are believed to have accepted many of them, making recommendations as to how their assets should be managed. This cover the likes of the efficiency of the supply chain as well as the way in which it approached research and development.

While the public consultation takes place, stakeholders will be asked for their opinions in relation to the considerations that have been recommended. The chief executive of the ORR, John Larkinson has said that the HS1 is a valuable public asset but their role is to deliver independent assurance that HS1 assets can be maintained to a high level of kept in good condition at a cost that is as low as possible.

This is vital as it ensures that operators and therefore passengers, as well as freight users, can benefit from a good deal now without the risk of penalising future generations.

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