04 April 2010

At the sharp end (part 1)

We are both delighted, nay, excited to bring you details of an LEYTR Exclusive - a cab ride in a Class 395 'Javelin', operating along HS1 at speeds of up to 140mph. We were given unmetered access to the cab environment and undertook a journey between London and Ashford alongside the driver. For obvious reasons we can't divulge dates and times since cab rides are frowned upon nowadays, though don't expect this to detract from our Easter Spectacular two-part post that starts below and concludes tomorrow.

From December, train operating company Southeastern introduced a fleet of Hitachi's high-speed electric multiple units, running to a new, frequent timetable and attracting headline-grabbing top speeds of 140mph. These new dual-voltage, six-car trains - the product of Japanese precision engineering - are referred to as Javelins and have been categorised as Class 395 trains.

A total of 28 are used to operate the new London-Kent services, radiating from the impressive London St. Pancras International station. They all operate using the Channel Tunnel Rail Link - colloquially referred to as HS1, or High Speed 1, passing through Stratford International, Ebbsfleet International and Ashford International. It is here that the Javelins switch from 25kV overhead electricity supply to 750V DC third-rail operation, continuing their journeys using the classic lines within Kent.

Two Javelins stand at their elevated platforms, to the east of Eurostar departures at London St. Pancras International. They have the look of Japan's Bullet Train, though what you're actually looking at is nothing more than a pair of DVTs.

There are three routes, all commencing at St. Pancras. Two per hour operate opposite each other to create a thirty-minute headway to Ashford via Stratford and Ebbsfleet; one then operates to Dover Priory, while the other terminates at Margate via Canterbury West, Ramsgate and Broadstairs. The other route operates half-hourly at opposing times along HS1 to Ebbsfleet, thence Faversham via Gravesend, Gillingham and Sittingbourne. This gives an evenly-spaced 15-minute service from St. Pancras to Ebbsfleet.

At no other point on the National Rail network on mainland Britain is it possible to exceed a speed of 125mph. We'd both travelled along HS1 before, with Eurostar, and their Class 373s are permitted to travel at 300kph (186mph) - the maximum line speed, though in typically British fashion, our Javelins are limited to 140mph. We would witness this on numerous occasions (though displayed in kilometers per hour - boo! hiss!) as well as capture a very unique perspective of the UK's most talked-about railway line.

We met our driver (an avid blog reader, you might guess!) on Platform 12 around 20 minutes before departure. He walked us along his train, formed of six cars - two Driving Van Trailers (or more precisely, a Pantograph Driving Trailer Standard Open, since simply refering to them as DVTs could give the impression passenger seating is not available) and four standard motor cars. He explained that the motorised cars are the four central carriages and that those either end (where the driving is done) are the DVTs. Each train will seat 352 passengers, hold 2 wheelchairs and accommodate 508 standees. They look resplendent in their all-over dark-blue livery and Southeastern has gone all-out in advertising the train's main attribute: 'high speed' vinyls are prominently displayed on all carriages.

Southeastern has chosen to promote the route's credentials over its corporate identity

We entered the driver's cab through the front passenger door, and were met with a scene that truly emulated that from the Starship Enterprise. I defy anyone to liken driving a train with that of a bus after standing in the Javelin's cab. Rows upon rows of buttons, gauges, screens, monitors and cupboards ensconced the driver's seat. Wow. Becoming au fait with this traction type takes a little longer than a month in a classroom, primarily due to the unique signalling that can be found on HS1. Save departing St. Pancras, there are no other lineside signals until Ashford. Instead, permitted line speeds are shown on the driver's dashboard and flash when they are expected to reduce. Drivers identify each section using marker boards at regular intervals along the route. This is known as the European Train Control System (ETCS) and 7kph above the permitted line speed will see an emergency brake application. The specific cab signalling system used in the Javelins is called TVM 430.

Complex, very complex. You'll note that despite the futuristic design, a phone is still an essential component

Our train was bound for Dover Priory and we were 'given the road' (green signal) one minute before our departure time. The public address system can be heard in the driver's cab and following the automated announcement we then heard the train manager repeat it all (it's a requirement)! The driver had undertaken a brake test soon after entering the cab and had received a phone call from the Train Manager, informing him that he was on board and preparing for a punctual departure. Departure from St Pancras is controlled by platform staff using what is known as CD/RA (Close Door/Right Away) indicators. At departure time, CD is shown by means of an indicator near to the signal. This tells the driver to shut the doors. Once this has occurred and all yellow body side indicator lights are out, the RA - 'Right Away' is given and this gives permission to the driver to start the train.

Off we went. Within seconds a myth was busted - that pedalled by the press in the run-up to the full timetable's implementation, which claimed drivers were asked to travel along HS1 at the more sedate 125mph, as opposed to the headline-grabbing 140mph. Our driver told us that he'd never been requested to do anything of the sort and cited the timings as so tight that if you weren't running at near the maximum speed you'd soon get very late indeed.

The last traditional signal before Ashford is seen here, as we enter Tunnel 1 immediately after St. Pancras

To get us going the driver applied full power straight away. Speed quickly rose to the permitted 40kph (25mph). The signalling system uses traditional colour light signals between St.Pancras and the entrance to Tunnel 1, however it is under the KVB system, where speed is control by beacons, so care must be taken to avoid speeding or an emergency brake application will result. After we round the curve towards HS1, power is applied again briefly and shut off. We enter Tunnel 1 doing around 55kph (34mph) with speed increasing on a downhill gradient. The TVM 430 signalling system arms and shows 80kph (50mph). We continue to coast downhill and shortly after it increases to 160kph (100mph). Full power is now applied and acceleration is rapid. The TVM updates further to 200kph. Unfortunately there is a neutral section and the driver is forced to shut off power for this while doing 120kph (75mph). Full power is re-applied and we easily reach 175kph (110 mph) when the TVM changes to a flashing 225kph for the approach to Stratford station. A flashing indication means a reduction of speed is expected and our driver slows the train as the system shows 200, 160, and finally 100kph for entry into Stratford International. The platform is not on the main line, allowing Javelins to be held here during busy periods to allow Eurostars to dash past at the 230kph (143mph) line speed.

Preparing to depart from St. Pancras, we see an inbound Javelin arriving from Faversham

No sooner had our eyes become accustom to the light, we'd arrived at Stratford - 7.5km (4.7miles) in 5 minutes. From London Victoria, National Express coaches take 45 minutes to reach Stratford. On the approach to the station, Eurostar's Temple Mills depot could be seen and accessible spurs noted; Westfield shopping centre was to our right and the Olympic Village to our left. This stretch of line will be instrumental in conveying spectators to the Olympic Games in just over two years' time. Southeastern has said that the frequency of trains along this section of route can be summarised in seconds rather than minutes.

Despatch from Stratford is Driver Only Operated (DOO) and 24 cameras allow the driver to do this safely. Once the blue door interlock light is lit, full power is applied and as we accelerate there is a hissing sound as the doors are shut tightly against their seals to avoid uncomfortable air pressure changes. Although the TVM system is showing a permitted 100kph (62mph), our driver applies full power straight away and shuts off the power at just 60kph (37mph). This is to avoid overspeeding and heading towards 100kph (62mph) as we enter Tunnel 2. We are still coasting with speed increasing on the downhill gradient at 85kph (53mph) when at last the TVM display updates to 160kph (100mph) and full power is applied. There the lever would stay until we attained our full speed of 225kph (140mph). Note the actual line speed is 230kph (143mph) for Eurostars. The gradients in the tunnels are not level and after our descent towards Redbridge the line climbs steadily at a gradient of around 1 in 240 towards the tunnel portal at Dagenham. However speed is still increasing we just attain 200kph before the steep 1 in 45 gradient robs us of a few kph as we emerge into Essex.

HS1, by this stage, runs parallel to c2c's Tilbury Line and passes Ford's Dagenham plant. Also at this stage I was getting very annoyed by a seemingly random alarm bell that sounded. Our driver told me this was his vigilance alarm, which would sound randomly, requiring him to either move his dead man's pedal, on which his foot was placed, or to move the Traction/Brake Controller. This prevented him from simply placing his bag on the dead man's pedal; he was required to make a physical movement.

Stratford International's Down line, as seen from the train driver's perspective

The cab smelt new still, and while this wouldn't ordinarily be worthy of note, is impressive since the Javelins have been in service for almost a year. They'd been ordered in 2004, with the first arriving in August 2007, with a drip-fed shipment thereafter for two years precisely. A preview timetable between London-Stratford-Ebbsfleet(-Ashford) commenced in June last year, with enhancements added in September when some classic line-operation took place. The trains are maintained at Hitachi's purpose-built £53 million depot adjacent to Ashford station, with a number of sets stabled overnight at both Faversham and Ramsgate stations.

Part 2 will be posted tomorrow and will further detail our high-speed experience - when we actually exceeded the 225kph limit (slightly); more unique shots of our experience; and other intriguing facts as relayed to us by our driver.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Very comprehensive write up - good work!