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Page first written 12 October 2003
Last updated 8 August 2011
Birmingham's "Railway Revolutions"
Digital Camera Report from Birmingham No. 11
Virgin Trains sent me a "photo album of a baby" - a baby girl that weighs 300 tonnes! This was an advertisement of the Voyager trains that were to be deployed to the Virgin's new CrossCountry services, due for launch on 30 September 2002. The local newspaper of Birmingham proudly reported this as "railway revolution". Voyager fleet is made up of Classes 220 and 221 Diesel multiple units, and is among the first of the group of multiple units that are allowed the operating speed of 125mph with passengers on the leading car in UK. Compared to the rated output power of 750hp of the Cummins engine, the weight of 60 tonnes per car seems very heavy (as an example, a Japanese Diesel multiple unit "Kiha 85" weighs only 40+ tonnes for 700hp engine on board), and still the Voyager can cruise at 125mph where the track is flat and straight - not near Birmingham, though, because it is located in the heart of England and some lines have steep slopes such as Lickey Incline with the gradient of 1 in 37.7. So the "babies" were launched - and one month later a poster appeared in the station stating that the punctuality figure became worse. Virgin Trains say in the statement that they are negotiating with the industrial partners to "fine tune" the schedule.
The second, and probably the real, "railway revolution" will be the West Coast Route Modernisation (WCRM) project, which does not seem to be in good progress. From September 2002, Chiltern Railways decided to increase the frequency of their weekend services to two trains an hour, because Virgin's services are frequently disrupted because of the upgrade works. The cost of WCRM skyrocketed, from the initial estimate of GBP 2.1bn to the recent (Autumn 2002) estimate of GBP 13bn. It is planned to reduce this to GBP 10bn, by completely shutting down part of the line north of Birmingham for 3 months instead of weekend-only closures, and abandon the original plan to increase speed to 140mph (225km/h). However, GBP 10bn is still a surprising amount; it is well worth the construction of the costly Shinkansen dedicated high speed line for 300km or so, which will easily reach Birmingham and probably reach as far as Manchester! The similar comments began to appear in the mass media here in the UK, but the one reported on the BBC web site was the re-use of the trackbed of the former Great Central Railway. It cannot serve Birmingham, and it will not serve Manchester in a shortest possible route. In the 21st century, we should consider construction of completely new railway - is UK still trapped in the trauma of the 19th century's Railway Mania?
The company responsible for all these improvements was now drawn out of administration. The new organisation, Network Rail, is a "not-for-profit" organisation, and therefore any surplus will be reinvested into railway and not paid as dividends to the shareholders. I believe, however, that no Briton is so optimistic to think that this fact alone will resolve the problem - the launch of Voyager, and the subsequent announcement of the "fine-tuning" of the schedule, show the lack of partnerships inside the rail industry, which are desperately necessary to run the fragmented railways. In addition to that, the morale of the personnel in charge of the railways are still in a low condition; the accident such as Potters Bar could never be avoided if the morale is kept high enough.
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TAKAGI, Ryo email@example.com (c) R. Takagi 2003. All rights reserved.