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If we ignore the continuing exploits of HS2 and the fact that it has now been admitted that the spiralling debt WILL affect the way in which out normal lines are financed; it appears that from reading between the lines of the railway press, our future railways will have more in common with Col. Stephens than the big five.


We continue to try to turn old underground stock into battery powered surface stock despite the early example turning into funeral pyre. The saga of the introduction of class 800 units into front line service by GWR continues to be problematical. The latest reports indicate that they may operate only to Bristol with old HSTs bearing the hard work in the West country. The proposal to hive-off the Devon and Cornwall lines into a new franchise has been rejected by the relevant councils saying that they have a “very positive” relationship with the existing franchise. Hitachi have stated that the engines fitted to the Cl.800s were only provided for moving short distances e.g. getting trains to destinations during a major failure or moving about a non-electrified yard! Therefore, doing what is planned  is a major “No, No” and will subject the motors to considerable strain above and beyond their intended purpose. Engines driven beyond their design limits don’t last long and the repair bill may grow in the near future.


Frightliners are back in the news in August only six of the class were operable and these remaining six were side-lined (read stored) briefly due to a loco surplus. However, the Colas examples seem to be chugging along happily, strange!


Make of this what you will: The Rail Operations Group (ROG) is to order ten Class 93s. A 93 will be a tri-mode locomotive (overhead wires, diesel or battery power) imagine the complexity involved. I

suggest what all enginemen know, complexity = trouble. So I await developments and make no comments. I do however believe that the original class 93 designation anticipated by the Inter City 250 project sought a loco capable of 155mph for the WCML. It seems a bit of a comedown. Never mind HS2 will solve all our problems!!!! Also I refer to the above paragraph regarding the Cl.800 units, GWR is attempting to withdraw its comments regarding the “flexibility” of its new Cl.800 and Cl.802 units. The belief that the units could “ get themselves home” is no longer accepted. The units have distributed power systems and contrary to prior beliefs need to be rescued if they go wrong. GWR are

therefore looking for “Thunderbird” locos a la Virgin thinking.  I believe they have just gotten rid of most of the class 57s which would do the job! The recent disruption between Ealing and Hayes and Harlington which involved 802016 occurred due to the pantograph being raised and stripping the overhead wires for some distance, resulting in all four tracks being closed while engineers struggled. The pantograph was being raised to test the switching from one mode to the next. Seemingly, the speed at which this can be undertaken is 0-20mph with 20mph being the absolute maximum and it can only be done where the wires have been strengthened. The result was the complete closure of the GWR lines from Paddington until the following day.   


The search for Thunderbirds may have been occasioned by another problem with Cl.802s it is advised that a 2x5 car train failed between Exeter and Tiverton and nothing was available to rescue it. After a 5 hour wait  a Voyager collected the passengers (sorry, customers) and carried them back to Exeter. Another batch of happy campers I’ll bet. Finally,  the improvements made to the class 802s are making their operational ability better than that of the 800s, however neither class can yet equal or even challenge an ancient Intercity 125!!!

It looks very impressive, but is it up to the job? Like most of current railway policy it has fallen foul of stop-gap thinking; it was never designed for the job it is now being asked to do! The promised infrastructure for which it was designed has not been provided by the government/DfT and Railtrack; it is therefore largely a waste of money and will require more stop-gap thinking and project expenditure to make it work at all.                   MPT