As I have made aware many times I hate politicians and their “we know best” attitude, when in fact they know nothing and make decisions on political expediency rather than common sense.
The latest buzz word in political circles is “bi-mode” presumably they feel that it makes them sound as if they know what they are talking about. Electrifying Brunel's’ racetrack to .Bristol and beyond is a very good idea (although it will ruin it aesthetically) and is long overdue. Electric traction should really be able to stretch its legs on Brunel’s masterpiece and at last allow his thinking to reach its potential , while allowing the “western power houses” of Swansea and Cardiff and southern portion of the Welsh nation full high-speed link to London. Alas, it is not to be, it is over-budget and must be curtailed and presumably leaving the Welsh nation feeling that they are 2nd class citizens; again. Does any of this sound familiar? Any way, back to bi-mode.
Why bi-mode: the trains have 2 modes of power input either out-board through a pantograph or in-board via a diesel generator. Hitachi have taken a leaf from Swindon’s locomotive handbook, a train must always being able to get itself home under its own power, maybe slower, but there. Unlike the rest of the constructors in the scramble to dieselise the UK in the 1950s, Swindon insisted on 2 engines on mainline locomotives, if one broke the second would get them either there or somewhere that problems could be resolved without too much delay and not block lines with broken down and immobile locomotives.
Now here’s the rub; these trains are to replace the BR built HSTs, which require 4500hp to maintain schedules of 125mph, while under the wires the new units should be comparable with 5-9 coaches, but there must be grave doubts once out in the open as each unit has a diesel engine of 940hp. Hitachi states that this one engine will enable the units to maintain 125mph timings. Personally, I find this statement optimistic in the extreme. Mr Grayling and those “mouthpieces” of political propaganda that preceded him are to rely on those small engines to maintain 125mph schedules into the valleys and up and over the Devon banks into Cornwall and to Penzance. The best of luck! Bi-mode systems are for short journeys where normal 25kv overhead doesn’t go, but as main source of power over potentially difficult terrain?????
If one visits Hitachi’s website and digs hard enough it is possible to find that Hitachi provides bi-mode options for “emergency use” and nothing else, this hardly how Grayling and the DfT are selling the IEPs to the travelling public or voters. In fact concerns over the electrification schedule have intensified when the rail minister, told the House of Commons parts of the £2.8bn scheme were being postponed until after 2019 to save money. “We are working with the Department for Transport and Network Rail to help us deliver the capacity, frequency and journey time improvements to customers in early 2019,” GWR feels that “The pressing need is for the electric wires to make progress towards south Wales as quickly as possible, and we will be working with Network Rail to help achieve this”. We all comforted when Network Rail insisted the Great Western electrification remained “on schedule” and Hitachi said the new trains would be capable of 125mph in diesel mode. But it confirmed testing was under way to gauge journey times.
Mr Grayling and the DfT continue to confirm that the new IEPs will provide an improved 125mph service with faster timings and more seats. This of course does not seem to agree with the estimates of GWR who are somewhat more cautious (they will have to field the high expectations of travellers who believe government propaganda) which suggest things may not be quite what travellers expect.
Their expectations are:- Journeys between London and the west of England and south Wales risk becoming slower when new trains are introduced in 2019, unless Network Rail keeps to its timetable to electrify services,
They state electrification of the line was critical because the new trains, which can run on electric or diesel power, might be slower than existing ones when they run on diesel power. Electrification and the new Intercity Express trains aim to shorten journey times between London Paddington, south Wales and the west of England, bringing the fastest trip from London to Bristol down by 17 minutes to 79 minutes and the fastest London to Cardiff trip
down by 14 minutes to119 minutes. The new trains (built by Japan’s Hitachi) will replace the diesel-powered, 125mph Intercity 125 trains that have been used on the route since 1976. The new trains will be the first new British trains since the 1960s designed to be able to use electric power but switch to diesel engines when no power is available.
However, GWR managers believe the new trains, which are being bought in two variants, one designed to serve the far west of England, the other for shorter distance routes, may struggle to reach their maximum 125mph speed when they run on diesel. The DfT and Hitachi are currently testing the journey times of the new trains in diesel mode. GWR said. “that makes it critical that electric wires are ready for use on high-speed, straight sections of the route — including the line between Didcot Parkway and Swindon and Swindon and Bristol Parkway — in good time for the planned start of faster services”.
The inaugural run proved a little disappointing, so disappointing in fact that Hitachi officially apologised for the problems. There were “teething troubles”, which resulted in the train being 39 min late, and the train set taken out of service as a result of the technical problems. If we mark that down to bad luck (the second run proved better but still lost time), I find it rather worrying that one of the reasons cited by Hitachi for poor performance and time loss was overcrowding on the new train – which promised more capacity for passengers – was blamed on the presence of media, including a contingent from Hitachi’s home in Japan, and enthusiasts. Mr Grayling has stated the reason for the new IEP being purchased was that they could better deal with overcrowding. I am forced to consider if the diesel engines can cope with the timings required and the additional weight when full of passengers, which is not something unknown on the GWR mainline!
The newspapers have said that the seats are comfortable and have generally shown enthusiasm for the ride, noise levels and travelling experience. However, a seasoned traveller and train timer (like Mr. Allen) has rather a different tale to tell. He travelled from Bristol to London to gauge the train while in “diesel only” mode and was not impressed. I quote from his report on a subsequent run: “Train timers from the Railway Performance Society were out in numbers that day with the aim of assessing just how the new units would perform on diesel power compared to the HSTs they were to displace. In this era of false news, we were assured that they could keep HST schedules, despite having less power than an HST and weighing more.
From a 1min late start, we lost 11/2 min unchecked to Bath, passing Keynsham at 80mph when HSTs are doing a full 100mph. I do not often append opinions to my notes, but the word “pitiful” appears next to this entry.
Another minute was lost to Chippenham, entering Box tunnel at 90mph instead of an HSTs 99mph and leaving at 83mph instead of 95mph……… The Article covers 2 A4 sides (with pictures). Hitachi staff on board assured that all the engines were running well, not something that bodes well for the future, but the Hitachi technicians were discussing up-rating the engines to give more power”. I hope they send the bill to Mr. Grayling personally. The writer generally feels, as I do, that under the lines they will manage but if running as diesels it will be another matter. While a full or overcrowded train will actually severely strain the “mechanicals”.
Yet again poor government decisions and “face saving” by those in power have lumbered us with something which will not do the job required. Above all we require reliability and stressing diesel engines to perform bigger feats than they were design for is surely a way to trouble and a very unreliable fleet of units. Finally I have been watching “Paddington 24/7” and note that during a recent “blow” 3 items resulted in chaos to services, all to the overhead lines, one being a plastic bag draped over the power line!!! If this is the future, perhaps we should stuff electrification.