Railway News (w/e 31/05/2020)

Some news that has been noted from the UK railway industry this week (railway gazette articles will require a free subscription):

Govia Thameslink are using a 30-day ‘Coronavirus killer’ on trains and stations on their network. The viruscide sticks to surfaces and will be applied once every 21 days. An app had been introduced to track which areas and rolling stock have been sprayed, so that the visuside can be re-applied when necessary. Full story can be read here : Govia Thameslink Railway uses 30-day ‘coronavirus killer’

Business cases will be allowed on the following projects, reports ‘Rail Business UK’ . These are :

Reopening Meir station near Longton on the Stoke-on-Trent – Derby line;

Providing regular passenger services on the Barrow Hill line between Sheffield and Chesterfield via Beighton;

Reintroducing passenger services on the Leicester – Coalville – Burton upon Trent ‘Ivanhoe’ line;

Provision of a passing loop to enable a more frequent service to be provided on the St Albans Abbey – Watford Junction ‘Abbey’ line;

Reopening stations at Wellington in Somerset and Cullompton in Devon on the Taunton – Exeter main line;

Introducing passenger services on the Bury – Heywood – Rochdale line, most of which is operated as the heritage East Lancashire Railway. This route had also been identified by Transport for Greater Manchester in 2019 for a possible tram-train trial;

Extending the Blackburn – Clitheroe passenger service from Clitheroe to Hellifield to link with the Leeds – Carlisle route;

Building a new parkway station at Lydeway to serve Devizes;

Reinstating passenger services on the Totton – Fawley branch in Hampshire, branded the Waterside Line;

Extension of the Island Line south from Shanklin to Wroxall and Ventnor; and integration with the existing Isle of Wight Steam Railway to provide passenger services from Ryde to Newport.

Remember these are only Business cases. They are not a green light for the projects, and many will fall at the wayside.

The one which most interests me is the ‘possible’ extension of the Island line on the Isle of Wight. Would be great to see trains run back to Ventnor through the tunnel, an experience many have not seen. The information here was taken from this article in Rail Business UK : 10 rail schemes awarded business case development funding

Practices that have been implemented by West Midlands Trains due to the covid-19 epidemic, could be used by other operators. Factors such as social distancing in stations and loading indications on trains are being used, so that other stations down the line can monitor how full an oncoming train is. This colour coded system could be applied and enable dynamic station skips or closures. The full story can be read here : West Midlands Trains leads on social distancing approach as rail services ramp up

Another plan for a HS2 station was unveiled this week. The East Midlands could get a transport hub when (or if) the spur from Birmingham up to Leeds is built. The hub would be built at Toton, giving many communities the ability to use the new High Speed network. Full story on this exciting project can be read here : HS2: Plans for East Midlands transport hub link unveiled

That’s all for this week, thank you for reading and there will be another update next Sunday.

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London Termini – St Pancras International

A gateway to Europe, the finest of stations, but nearly demolished in the 1960’s. An amazing station, with plenty of history, a huge trainshed and a 5 star Hotel attached. The story of St Pancras is long and full of near disaster moments, but now it stands proud as the main Termini of Eurostar, and with it the first station many overseas travellers will see.

A Brief History

The Midland Railway was desperate to get away from sharing Kings Cross with the Great Northern Railway. So when a bill was passed in 1863 for a railway between London and Bedford, they jumped at the chance to construct a new station between Kings Cross and Euston. It would be known as St Pancras, after the local Parish.

William Barlow designed a radical trainshed for the station, 245ft wide, 689ft long and 100ft high, it was the biggest single span roof in the world for a time.

The void left by excavation works was used to store beer and other goods, and was known as ‘the vaults’. This is now a superb shopping arcade linking the station down its spine underneath the trainshed.

The hotel was built to rival the one next door at Kings Cross, and was a highly flamboyant affair, the architecture lending itself to Italian and Belgian influences. It is often seen as the face of St Pancras. However it never seemed to make a profit and was closed in 1935, only to later be used as crew sleeping quarters and offices for British Rail Catering Division.

A concerted effort by many historians and railway enthusiasts (including Sir John Betjeman) stopped the bulldozers destroying the station in the late 1960’s. This however didn’t stop the station from falling into dis-repair.

Amazingly though, a major lifeline was given when in 1994 the government approved St Pancras as the Terminus for the new Eurostar service. A major renovation project started in 2001, and by 2007 after restoration and modernisation (including a modern extension to the trainshed, if not in keeping with the original), St Pancras re opened fully.


A quick view of the current station

As you enter via Pancras Road, through a huge glass façade, the concourse opens out in front of you. To the left, escalators take you down to the underground station, while a lift to your right either takes you down also, but will take you up to the SouthEastern High Speed platforms.

Moving forward slightly, turning right past a coffee shop, ahead is a new pub restaurant and also 3 sets of escalators. Two sets take you up to the HighSpeed platforms, the middle set taking you down to the Underground.

Turning past the pub, moving forward past a retail outlet on your right and food to your left, another retail unit is in front of you. Turning right here will take you to lost property, toilets and the station office. Turning left and carrying down the corridor you will come back to the main concourse, where a departure and arrival board sits above other retail outlets.

Now turn right and go down towards another exit, this is the Midland Road entrance. To your right as you walk down is a ticketing centre, and at the end on your right, access to the Thameslink platforms, seen below.

Thameslink underground platforms, labelled platform A and B

Back up from Thameslink, go straight on into the old Vaults, which is now a great arcade full of mainly high end retailers, with a few pianos in the centre aisles for the public to use! This area also gives you the first real glimpse of the original trainshed, a glance upwards reveals its vast nature. A quarter of the way down on the left is the entrance to the Eurostar terminal.

A view down into the arcade from the Grand Terrace

Going up a set of stairs brings you to the Grand Terrace, and a statue of Sir John Betjeman. He is looking up, almost encouraging you to do so. The massive trainshed extends out from here and is a superb sight. Looking towards the back, the Hotel can be seen, as well as a clock and an art installation by Tracey Emin. This is part of a series of artworks commissioned by The Royal Academy.

Moving toward the Hotel, another statue is very prominent. This is called “The Meeting Place” and stands at 30ft high. Along its base are castings of various railway events.

Turn 180 degrees and the Eurostar platforms and trainshed are before you.

If you go to the other end of the trainshed on this level, you will come to the platforms for East Midland Trains. Going back downstairs, head back to the back of the arcade and through into the Underground station. Here you will find information, ticketing and entrance to the Circle, Hammersmith and City and Metropolitan lines.

Carry on down this corridor and on your right, you will see a dedication to the Kings Cross fire in 1987.

Following this corridor to the left will take you down to the entrances for the Victoria, Northern and Piccadilly lines. There is also a piano here, if you feel so inclined!

Carry on down the corridor and you will have come full circle if you take the escalators up to the main concourse.

A great station, made better by design, yet old charm can be found if you look for it. Speaking of which, as a little challenge to those who don’t know, try to find this gem in the Underground Stations network of entrances and exits!


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395 “Javelin” High Speed Unit

The advent of High Speed 1 to link London with the Channel Tunnel would not only mean faster services for the Eurostar, but also could enable the population of Kent to enjoy a new faster way of travel.  As early as 2003, formal approval was given to allow domestic High Speed services on High Speed 1.  The award in 2006 of the 2012 Olympics to London further enhanced the need for such a service to exist.

Hitachi won the right to supply the new High Speed stock to SouthEastern Railway, their first rail contract in Britain.  In total 29 were built.  The service to be provided meant that the trains had to be “duel electric”, to accommodate both 750 DC third rail and 25 kV AC overhead lines.  The third rail extends from Ashford to Folkestone, then onwards through the Medway Towns and finally Ebbsfleet International, where the 3rd Rail shoe is retracted and the Pantograph raised (or visa-versa).

The train is based on the 400 series “Mini Shinkansen”, and comprises of 6 carriages, which can be driven from either end. The front nose of the train can be retracted to allow automatic coupling to another 6 car unit. Power is through the middle four cars, powered by pantographs/shoes on the outer two cars. Each 6 car train has 340 seats and two toilets, one of which is disabled accessible.

Additional training had to be given to train crews, to enable them to understand the TVM 430 signalling display system which was in use on the High Speed portion of the line.  This is a lot different from the UK rail signalling, mostly as it is “In Cab”.

Services started fully in December 2009. During the 2012 Olympic Games, many services were run in 12 car formations, and a regular shuttle service was established from Ebbsfleet International to Stratford International, the home of the Olympic Park.  In 2015, a circular route from St Pancras to St Pancras was introduced.

The trains are designed to travel at 140 mph on the High Speed section, but are limited to 70-90 mph on the old mainline from Ashford through Margate, Medway then to Ebbsfleet.  They are exceptionally comfortable, and have benefitted from being fitted with dampers to reduce the effect of excessive wobble in the High Speed tunnel sections.

The train was given the designation of class 395, but due to the Olympics quickly gathered the nickname of Javelin, which was then established across the fleet.  Initially, 11 of the Javelins were named after British Olympic medalists by public vote.  This increased to 23 after the 2012 Olympics, with some named after Paralympians.  Other noted named Javelins were 395014 “The Victoria Cross” (later 015) and 395016 “Somme 100”.

In 2018 to commemorate the 100 anniversary of the end of World War One, 395018 had special vinyl’s applied.  These can be seen below on 11/11/18, a day after a special railtour had taken place through the south and east of the UK.

As of 2018, they continue to be the flagship of the SouthEastern railway network, and are very heavily used, even if they have a small premium applied to the ticket price.


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Railway Stations Near Me – 2 – Higham

In the second of this series, I look at Higham Railway Station on the North Kent Line.  The station was 28 miles Down from its previous terminus at Charing Cross, however the Thameslink service no longer goes to Charing Cross, instead stopping at London Bridge before going though the London Core on its way to the its new end at Luton.

The first thing of note here is Higham Tunnel, at 1531 yards in length.  It originally was constructed in 1801 to serve the Thames and Medway canal, which acted as a passage for military traffic from Woolwich through Gravesend and Higham to the dockside at Chatham.  When traffic on the canal didn’t reach expected levels, the newly formed Gravesend and Rochester railway company acquired the canal and tunnel, putting a single track rail line alongside the canal.  This lead to the opening of Higham Station in 1845.

There are actually 2 tunnels, separated by what is locally known as ” the bomb hole”.  This was an area for the barges to cross.  The second tunnel is the “Strood” tunnel and at 2329 yards in length is the longest of the two.  The tunnels received extensive refurbishment in 2004 due to rock falls, and are now strengthened by steel and concrete.

A year later, the Gravesend and Rochester railway company was itself absorbed into the South Eastern Railway.  It is at this point the canal was drained fully, and a second rail line put in.  At this time the railway did not divert to the Medway towns, instead carrying on to Maidstone via the Medway Valley.  It was not until 1939 that a spur from Strood would carry trains onto the Chatham Main Line to Gillingham.

Higham would have a couple of sidings, both on the Up and Down lines, although both had been removed by the mid 1960s.  The most unusual piece freight unloaded by the station was a Swiss chalet in 1864 as a gift for Charles Dickens, who lived at nearby Gad’s Hill.

Although initially accessed by a foot crossing, platforms are reached via a lattice footbridge, a common sight throughout the Southern Region in the 20th Century.  The station building still survives, and was still heated by the original fireplace as late at the 1980’s.

The ticket office is open for only part of the day, at other times a permit to travel ticket must be purchased from a PERTIS machine, located by the bridge on the Up side. The station was served by SouthEastern until May 2018, when the new Thameslink Class 700 service to Luton/Rainham commenced and took over the 2 tph (each way) Stopping service.  Class 395 SouthEastern “Javelin” trains pass though, as well as various freight though the day, some heading for the nearby “Hoo Junction” Yard, around 2 miles further on the Up line.

Two pictures follow.  The first by me, shows a Class 66 hauling stone wagons exiting the Higham Tunnel on the Up line.  A train can also be seen passing through “The Bomb Hole” on the Down line heading towards Gillingham.

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The second is a view towards the station building, taken from the Down platform.  This photo by Nigel Thompson (credit under photo)

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Higham railway station, Kent
cc-by-sa/2.0 – © Nigel Thompson – geograph.org.uk/p/3614705


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High Speed 1 – Phase 2 10th anniversary

The 2nd phase of the HS1 line was completed 10 years ago today (14th November), so here is a small history of this section, which I personally benefit from.

The 1st phase of HS1 was completed on 28th September 2003, and connected the Channel Tunnel to Fawkham Junction, located just past Gravesend.  This junction acted as a way to get Eurostar trains on and off the existing rail network, and these trains would then terminate at Waterloo.  However planning had always been in place for a further section of high speed rail which would terminate at St Pancras.  The award of the Olympic games to London hastened the need for the completion of this further section.

Connecting with the existing High Speed line, a new station, Ebbsfleet International was constructed.  This was in preference to a new station adjacent to the M2 between Chatham and Rochester, which was thrown out on environmental grounds.  Further up the line, via two tunnels, a new station at Stratford was built.  This would serve the Olympic park.  Also it would serve as a connection between the high speed line and an extensive national rail and underground service at the existing Stratford Station, which is a 10 minute walk away.

The line then goes through another tunnel, eventually terminating at one of 3 new platforms at St Pancras International – next to the platforms for Eurostar services.  Although these are adjacent, you are not able to gain access to Eurostar from these platforms.

This second section of line was opened on 14th November 2007, and marked the completion of HS1.  However only Eurostar services used the line to begin with, but plans were in place to enable the residents of Kent to benefit from the new line.  A fleet of high speed trains were built by Hitachi in Japan.

The design of these was based on Hitachi’s 400 series “Mini-Shinkansen” and “A-Train”, and were given the designation of a class 395 unit in the United Kingdom.  However the more common “Javelin” name is used for the units, which was given to them because of their affinity with the London Olympics.  The trains were built in japan and shipped to Southampton for final fitting.  In all there are currently 29, 6 car sets currently running on the Southeastern / CTRL HS1 network.

The trains are 6 car, with 340 seats per train.  A quick coupling system allows running of two sets at once, and this was used for almost all of the shuttle trains between Ebbsfleet International and Stratford International during the Olympics.  This configuration is also expected to be used more widely in the future, as all domestic stations on the route have been changed to accommodate 12 car trains.  This includes the new station at Rochester, and the new platforms at both Rainham and Strood.

The new “Javelin” began full service on December 13th 2009, and although initial take-up was slow, it is now a very busy service, both on the Ashford and Kent coast Via Medway routes.  A “Roundabout” service which officially runs as “St Pancras Intl to St Pancras Intl” runs from London, through Medway to Ramsgate and Folkestone, then up through Ashford and up to London.  To Avoid confusion, the route is however split up into sections on route boards at stations.

The Journey times between Kent at London have been cut by up to 45 minutes between Ashford and London, and the convenience of connections to the north of the country at Kings cross and St Pancras has made the line very popular.  Trains from the Kent coast via Faversham and Strood connect to the line at Springhead Junction, where the trains move from third rail to pantograph operation.

Stratford International station has been criticised for being something of a white elephant, as only the Southeastern services stop there.  Plans have been talked about for some while to bring the German ICE trains to use the route, which would stop at Stratford International.  There is however no agreement still on when, or even if, these services will start (although in March 2017, Deutsche Bahn announced they would like it to start in 2020).  The station is still well used however, and the regeneration of the Olympic Park and Westfield shopping centre enable it to still be a viable station on the network.

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