27 August 2010

Ticking the boxes

The latest edition of RAIL has to be one of my all-time favourite fortnightly reads. It has nothing to do with managing editor Nigel Harris being out the office, but because its content covers a number of very specific subject matters in which I'm interested.

Edition 651, on sale 25 August-7 September carries a mock-up of a Pendolino in East Coast livery as its lead, in a move to illustrate plans that are afoot at Directly Operated Railways. Philip Haigh's editorial is both succinct and cautionary, detailing two recent news stories where genuine near-death incidents have occurred. One incident took place in the LEYTR area, along the East Coast Main Line just north of Grantham a week last Tuesday, when a northbound Grand Central train struck a train enthusiast's ladder which had been placed on the track bed. The other was the slightly more publicised runaway engineering train on London Underground on Friday the thirteenth.

As to the fate of the ECML photographer, we can only deduce he was either not stood on his ladder at the time of collision or was not thrown into the path of the 125mph train. Tornado was timetabled to be passing at about the same time, hence why the ladder is likely to have been accompanying the photographer. While there will be very little inquiry into this incident, Londoners can be assured of a full and frank investigation into how an engineering train was able to break free of its towing vehicle and head downhill towards the centre of London on the Northern Line necessitating trains to be diverted onto different branches.

Keeping with London, Barry Doe's The Fare Dealer column is one I know thousands upon thousands turn to first. In this edition, Barry detailed the hit 'n' miss approach Transport for London is taking regarding the use of Oyster cards on both National Rail and Underground services, effectively guessing the route passengers are likely to have taken (even if this may be comprehensively inaccurate) and charging accordingly. If TfL fails to control situations like this, its fare structure will soon catch up with that of the national rail system, seen as a laughing stock by the media and a good number of users.

However, one piece RAIL readers could look to the bus industry for pointers concerns the Analysis four-pager (normally just two sides of A4), penned by Steve Broadbent (my favourite writer in RAIL), which looks at the stringent emissions standards that will apply to the whole railway industry over the next few years, imposed by the European Union.

The bus and coach industries have been required to reduce their harmful exhaust emissions for the past decade and beyond and accordingly manufacturers have been developing engines to tick the right boxes. The picture painted by Steve in his article was one of doom and gloom for train operating companies, with new engines being too large for existing bodies and with the next stage of greener engine not yet properly developed, how will the industry meet its ever-nearing deadlines?

The prospect of mounting tanks to contain this 'new' substance called AdBlue was touched on, with the inference here being that physical constraints played an equal part to cost. Ask any bus or coach operator, or haulier for that matter, who's purchased a Volvo post-2005 and they'll tell you all about AdBlue and its pros and cons.

The rail industry benefits from electrification more than the bus industry does and this is an avenue down which railways will be heading, with news last year that the Great Western route will be electrified. This will see hundreds and hundreds of track miles made operational for electric traction. The same economies of scale for converting either a solitary bus or a small fleet of buses, does not offer the same benefits. In fact, increased wear and tear on the road and the vehicle components themselves is often the trade-off.

While there's always talk of the bus and coach industries taking direct hit, time and time again from the EU, there are some things they've knuckled down and got on with. Reducing emissions is one of them. Sure, the EU had to give them a shove in the right direction, and initiatives such as the Low Emission Zone in London have ensured operators do not get complacent, but I believe this is an area in which the rail industry could genuinely learn a lot from its PCV sisters.

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