Why I Think HS2 Is A Good Thing

HS2 is perhaps the most controversial railway in the UK, despite it not yet existing. While there are some legitimate arguments against the project, overall I think that Europe’s newest high speed line will be a good thing, and I hope you, dear reader, will be satisfied with my explanation of this stance, following a run through of arguments against, starting with…

WE DON’T NEED IT

Yes, we do. Since 1997, passenger numbers have more than doubled on the National Rail network. The West Coast Main Line, between Rugby and London Euston, is the busiest mixed-use railway in Europe, and, without separating the faster trains from the mix, overcrowded misery for those using it will ensue. That is without considering the congestion and environmental problems of people switching to road transport.

You could perhaps argue that with the rise of video conferencing and other tools allowing for people to work from home, there is no need to expand transport capacity any further. I would counter that by pointing out that demand for rail travel continues to increase in the North, and that the poor rail service in the South is leading to people losing faith in the railways. We must improve things on the railways, or people will go elsewhere.

If we (and by we I mean the British) fail to invest in our railway, then not only is inconvenience caused but safety is reduced by people travelling on the roads. In the past 11 years, no-one has died as a result of a train accident on the railways of Great Britain. In that time, many more will have died on the roads, though I do not have the exact figures.

LET’S UPGRADE THE REST OF THE NETWORK

It may surprise some readers to learn that this is already happening. Readers from Derby will not be surprised in the slightest, but right across the country, capacity and speed upgrades are being undertaken, and unfortunately are failing to keep pace with demand. Electrification work has also taken place both on the Great Western Main Line and on the Midland Main Line, with varying degrees of success, but with a great deal of cost. Another innovation of recent times is digital signalling technology, that reduces the personnel required to signal trains and (at least in theory) increases the reliability of the network.

All this upgrading is entirely welcomed by me, but as I understand it, it does cause a number of problems. Overrunning engineering works have caused delays in the past, particularly a few Christmases ago, and look likely to continue to do so. One of the major causes of the present Northern timetable chaos is the late running of the Bolton line electrification, so many of the electric trains Northern have cannot be used, and the diesel trains used instead cannot be used where they are supposed to.

The point is that although spending money on the conventional network has its merits, it causes disruption to passengers, which never goes down well, and costs a great deal for what are often marginal gains.

IT WILL RUIN THE COUNTRYSIDE

This argument has rather more merit to it, considering that the new line will cut through the green and pleasant land which is England, of which I am a fan. One must, however, note the recent announcement by HS2 of a “green corridor” along Phase One of the route, with, among other things, 7 million new trees and shrubs. For particulars, I would use the link here. I would also point to the only High-Speed line currently in the UK, HS1, in Kent, which has managed to minimise its environmental impact through, among other things, moving the soil of ancient forests, to transplant new trees into.

One must also remember that motorways, road’s equivalent to a high-speed railway, are far wider and the emissions are also far more of an air quality problem than the railway would be.

PEOPLE WILL BE DISPLACED

This is true. Those that live on the actual route have been offered compensation, but those that live near it will have to endure the construction traffic for up to a decade. The construction work at Euston will be particularly disruptive, and go on for much longer than work on each phase of the route. I admit that this will not be a great thing for those affected, and that the railway will do little to help local communities, except perhaps providing work for local contractors.

However, this argument somewhat misses the point. During the construction of the major railways into London, whole streets were destroyed, whole suburbs displaced, and the character of the villages surrounding London completely changed. However, I suspect that no-one in our modern times would argue that connecting the country was therefore a bad idea and should never have happened.

IT WILL COST TOO MUCH

Yes, the cost of several tens of billions is very large, especially in an era when the emergency services are under pressure, as are schools, libraries and other public services are under threat.

However, building this high-speed railway will provide thousands of jobs for the next few decades, as well as the economic benefit of rapid travel between many of the UK’s major conurbations. Some may argue that business travellers won’t use a faster service, and will opt for the cheap-but-cheerful option of the conventional train. I urge these people to look at Birmingham New Street, and compare the passengers of the slow London North Western Railway service to those on Virgin’s Pendolinos – the suits opt for the quicker train.

IT WILL ONLY SERVE LONDON AND BIRMINGHAM

On the first count this is patently not true – Phase 2 of the line will serve Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield, Crewe, and a whole host of other places in the North. Furthermore, with connections to the conventional railway at Sheffield and Crewe, trains from HS2 will also serve destinations further North still, including those in Scotland, making the whole journey faster.

On the second count, even if it was just a line between London and Birmingham, this would still help people in the North. How, you ask? Well, with the fast trains from Birmingham removed from the busy section of line south of Rugby, there is now more room for trains from the North, which means more services for Manchester, Liverpool, and many other places on the West Coast Main Line.

In Conclusion

Dear reader, I believe it is in the national interest to build this railway line. Even if you do not accept my rebuttal of the various points listed above, one must admit that this is a chance to show the world the very best of British engineering. For too long, we have been seen as the sick man of Europe, with no major high-speed railway of our own. Here, an opportunity presents itself, not just to rectify this shortcoming, but also to build the best railway in the world.

Many of the problems of conventional railways will be eliminated. Modern in-cab signalling will mean far more regular trains, and the new trains will be at least 200 m long, so plenty of room for everyone. Many will also be doubled to 400 m long, by coupling the trains together. Each station is being designed with care and attention, to make them pleasant places to be, not just a place to get on a train.

Alas, this is probably getting a little long at this point, so with that I shall wish you an excellent day, and ask you to pass this on if you know anyone who might be interested.

Why I don’t have a smartphone

Some of you, who perhaps know me better, will know of my stubborn refusal to own or even to contemplate owning a smartphone. Why is this? Well, dear reader, let me explain my reasons, starting with:

  1. People lived for millennia without the use of them, and many seemed to get on just fine.

There seems to be an insistence that the smartphone is an essential of modern life, as if, at the drop of a hat, if one did not own one, that one would simply expire. This is quite obviously not true. To survive, you need water, food, and shelter, things which our modern civilisation provides in abundance.

Ah yes, you may say, but I need to get around. To this I would respond that while Google Maps and the like are extremely useful for navigation, it is still possible to get around without them. For now, public transport does not require the use of a smartphone, tickets still come in card form, and despite much innovation in car navigation, road signs remain a fixture.

True, smartphones may have made the dissemination of information much easier. News travels around the world far faster than ever. But is this a good thing? The pressure on journalists now is not to get the story as truthful as possible, but to get it out before everyone else, thus ensuring more clicks and more advertising revenue. I suggest you make up your own mind.

  1. I would really rather you just talked to me

Call me old fashioned, but to me, the easiest way to get something across is to actually speak to someone. Texts, calls and so on fall rather short, at least in my view. It strikes me as particularly odd that even within the same house, people will text each other rather than just walking over and talking. Maybe this is bad for society. Not being a sociologist, I have no idea.

  1. It’s something else to charge

One unfortunate accident of the smartphone revolution is the far shorter battery life, compared to what we had previously. Smartphones, at least those that actually get used, need to be plugged in at least every night, if not more often.

Leaving aside my laziness for the moment, this isn’t great for the environment, as the energy use is far greater, and it has to come from somewhere. True, much of our electricity now comes from renewable or low carbon sources, and it’s heartening to see coal power stations being decommissioned, but the fact remains that for most people more energy use = more carbon emissions.

  1. Cost

Perhaps I’m a cheapskate, but really, do I want to be paying for data, and all the rest of it? Not to mention the cost of the actual device, which, although coming down all the time (thanks capitalism!) are still not negligible. I’m cheap, at least when buying for myself, and if I don’t need to spend money, I generally don’t.

But there is another element to cost. The cost, not to me, or to the network, but to the environment as a whole. I’ve already gone over the energy costs for the use of the thing, but I’ve so far not mentioned the energy you need to construct these things, or the labour involved. I can assure you I am not about to launch into a plea for the workers of the third world, despite the problems there, because that problem is already well known and well documented.

No, instead I want to talk about materials. You see, in order to make a complicated electronic device like a smartphone, one needs a huge number of different materials, from almost all categories, including ceramics, polymers and metals. While polymers and ceramics (the plastic case and the glass screen) are fairly easy to come by, the difficulty comes in the metals department. Metals such as Cobalt, are considered critical materials, that is, they are only found in certain countries, and are difficult to come by. One of the countries that Cobalt is found in is the (not at all) Democratic Republic of the Congo, where miners face very demanding conditions.

But before this post turns into a sob story, let us instead focus on the transport aspects. All these materials, coming from many countries around the world, have to be transported, again incurring an energy cost, and more carbon emissions. They then have to be assembled, and the finished product shipped again to where it’s sold.

I suppose, however, this point is more of an argument against consumerism than smartphones in general, so I shall stop things there.

  1. I actually think the world is quite interesting

By looking down at their phones, I do fear smartphone people are missing out somewhat. We live in a beautiful world, full of curious things. Even in cities, where there are few natural wonders, one can notice the care with which things are designed, the thought and the effort of thousands to make the built environment happen. Cars driving past reveal the talents of mechanical engineers, aerodynamicists, and of countless skilled hands. Railways go on, with all the certainty and regularity that the permanent way demands.

Further out, there are great hills, valleys and rivers. The landscape of England, and of the UK at large, is beautiful. We are lucky to be in Blake’s green and pleasant land. Many would downplay this, pointing to extravagant spots in faraway places, but few these days take the time to appreciate what we already have.

That said, I’m sure Angry Birds has its charm.

  1. Fragility

I will admit, not owning one, I cannot say this with much conviction, but, judging by the number of cracked screens I have seen, smartphones seem rather fragile. One could counter this by pointing out that if handled with care, one will not have a problem. In turn, I would counter that by saying that anything you carry about your person regularly that needs to be treated with care all of the time is rather a drag. You don’t see people drop their keys and the key immediately shatter and become difficult to use, or their wallet; tickets do not suddenly cease to function when they fall out of your pocket.

I may also argue that the smartphone revolution is making people more fragile. Some, upon discovering that their beloved device has been left by accident at home, seem to be completely lost. The attitude of “there’s an app for that” has unfortunately created people who don’t seem to be able to cope on their own in the real world. Alas, I am probably getting ahead of myself here.

That brings me to the end of my reasoning, though I of course will remember something else I should have written instead at some point in the next week. If you, perchance, enjoyed this, you could share it with someone else, and, as if to rub in the irony, even do it on a smartphone. I use a laptop personally, but it is up to you.

The Coming Rail Revolution

Diesel trains are wonderful. No really, truly wonderful things. You can get enough power out of a diesel engine for most applications, the fuel is readily available and quite cheap, and, while they don’t quite have the captivating power of a steam engine, old diesel locomotives do still command attention among enthusiasts.

That is not to say, outside of the spheres of operational convenience and trainspotting, they don’t have their problems. No doubt you, dear reader, will have heard of the dieselgate scandal at Volkswagen, and you were probably also unsurprised to learn of the various Sulfur and Nitrogen based pollutants that stem from diesel engines. Perhaps, with some astonishment, or a sense of unsurprised resignation, you may have learned of the quality, or lack thereof, of the air in the cities of the UK. Yes, we learn that the air quality in the great cities of this nation is far worse than the limits set by both the UK and many other organisations, including the EU.

Of course, this is a difficult issue of modern times, and if we are being honest, the main culprit is most likely the proliferation of motor vehicles powered by fossil fuels. I confess that this is not my area of expertise, but for some more detailed commentary on the issue, I refer you to my article on cars, which can be found helpfully here.

But, my dear reader, we should not be complacent about the railways, and our aforementioned diesel trains. Though, due to the low-friction nature of the steel wheel on steel rail system on which railways work, the energy consumption of a train per passenger is lower than a car, we should perhaps give trains a lower priority, this is no excuse, as I shall now explain.

You may have noticed shiny new Tesla cars appearing on the roads, or perhaps on television. If you haven’t seen one of these fine new American machines, you may well have seen a different kind of electric automobile, a Nissan Leaf maybe, or a (fairly odd-looking, if I may say so) BMW i3, or some kind of Toyota hybrid car. What they show is that the electrification of the roads is coming, or rather, it is already happening, and it even extends to motorsport, with Formula E. This could, with time, reduce the harmful emissions, of the automobiles themselves that is, to nothing.

Not content with the electrification of private transport, the inventive Mr Musk has decided to extend this potentially life-saving innovation to the complex world of road freight. He has devised this electric truck, that he claims at least will do 300 miles on a single charge, and 500 for the top model. Now I am not going to try and argue that this is a bad thing, as in itself this is rather good news, particularly for those living near main roads, but I am slightly worried about this development. I am not concerned, dear reader, about the issues of building such large batteries, and the environmental problems thereof, though that is a valid concern.

No, I am concerned because this makes us in the rail camp, frankly, look bad. At the moment, rail freight is much more environmentally friendly than the equivalent road freight. After all, one lorry can take only one shipping container, whereas one train can carry over 30. The low steel wheel on steel rail friction also reduces the energy consumption per container, so on the assumption that both modes (road and rail) are using diesel engines, rail is going to result in lower overall emissions. However, with the road freight electric, this is turned on its head, as the rail option is still producing emissions.

Now I shall grant myself, and the others in the rail camp, the small comfort that some of the main lines in the UK are electrified, generally using overhead live wires from which the trains can draw power. The unfortunate fact is that most of the ports and freight terminals are not electrified, leaving the freight operator with two options:

i) Change the locomotive from diesel to electric when the train reaches the main line

This is possible, and used to be reasonably routine. It is a solution, dear friends, not without its problems. On the contrary, you have complications with where to change locomotives, and store them when not in use. You also have the obstacle of how to fit in all the associated train movements on an increasingly crowded network. As such, that leaves us with…

ii) Run the train with a diesel locomotive all the way

Far too often, this is what actually happens, even when the distances “under the wires” are hundreds of miles. All the same, as I am sure you are aware, this does bring the problem of emissions.

So a solution that reduces, or preferably eliminates, the emissions of freight locomotives, is needed.

Earlier I mentioned the various electric automobiles that are beginning to furnish the driveways of fine, upstanding UK citizens. This brings me onto the subject of passenger transport, and here again, railways are in a spot of bother. You see, there are many routes on which there is no electrification, particularly in the North and in the Midlands, mainly due to economic reasons. Much of the reason is economic – one cannot make a good business case for electrifying a railway, with the associated cost of overhead wires and their structures, which only has perhaps 4 trains an hour. Regrettably, the automobile manufacturers can justify the expense for a car for about 4 people.

You also have similar problems with non-electrified lines joining electrified ones, but the problem is even worse with passenger trains. The majority of passenger trains are formed of multiple units – that is, trains with engines and traction equipment under the floor, and in fixed formations with a fixed number of carriages. This confers a number of advantages on the train operator, who does not have to spend the time and money of marshalling trains together, or allocate a locomotive of the correct power rating for the train. It makes it almost impossible to make diesel trains run on electricity from overhead wires, however, and bi-modes (trains with diesel engines and electrical equipment) are heavy and expensive.

So again, a solution is demanded to reduce, or preferably eliminate, the emissions of passenger trains, at least the lightly used ones. I am of course not talking of the excellent electric trains, of which you are no doubt aware, that operate in numerous parts of the country. These are already zero emission, at least at the point of use.

At this point, you have either decided that I am waffling far too much, or are curious to know how the railway industry gets itself out of this newly developing pickle. Well, if you are in the first camp, I’m afraid I can’t help you, but enjoy the rest of the internet. If, on the other hand, you find yourself in the second camp, allow me to enlighten you.

One potential solution is to use an alternative fuel – hydrogen. Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe, a fact which I’m sure you covered at school, and is also the simplest element, consisting merely of a single proton and an electron. This is all tremendously interesting, but what we are really interested in is that hydrogen can be combined with oxygen in a fuel cell to produce electricity. Electricity which, in sufficient quantities, can be used to power traction motors, and hence a train. Electricity produced with the only waste product being water. Ah, you might say, fascinating, but this all sounds rather sci-fi. The truth is that hydrogen fuel cells are nothing new, and have been used in the space industry for decades, most notably on the Apollo moon missions.

I must admit, readers, before I get carried away, that although hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe, it can be hard to come by here on Earth. It tends to be combined with other things such as natural gas or water, and the extraction process can be energy intense. The good news is that extracting hydrogen from water (a process called electrolysis) only requires electricity, which can come from renewable sources, or during the night when it is not currently being used.

Hydrogen is not terrifically energy dense, at least in terms of volume, presenting something of a problem to the potential train designer. To get around it, hydrogen is stored in pressurised tanks, fitting much more hydrogen in a smaller space, but even this doesn’t give the energy density of diesel. For a small regional train, this isn’t necessarily a problem. For a freight locomotive… well, we’ll come back to that.

In Germany, a hydrogen fuel cell powered regional train, one of Alstom’s Coradia range, the iLint, is already under test. It will do 140 km/h, which, in British, is 87 mph, plenty on most smaller regional railways around the country, especially considering the increased acceleration that electric motors provide over the conventional hydraulic transmission of a diesel train. Alstom already have their sights set on bringing a version of this train to the UK.

That said, it won’t be as simple as just shipping it over on the next appropriately sized ship. The loading gauge, that is, the width and height trains are allowed to be, is narrower in the UK than on the continent. As such, the train will have to be reworked (a result of the lack of energy density) before it will physically fit on the UK network, which will take time.

Anyhow, support for the idea of hydrogen trains in the UK continues, partly drummed up by a little project from the University of Birmingham. This actually came out of an Institute of Mechanical Engineers challenge, to build a 10 1/4 inch gauge locomotive that can, among other things, recover energy from braking. It was decided to build a locomotive that used a hydrogen fuel cell, mainly, I am told, as batteries would be a rather boring and predictable power source. This locomotive has undergone numerous iterations over the years, but until now was really rather obscure.

Over the past year or so, the locomotive has been worked on, and she has acquired a new set of clothes, a much more pleasing result than in previous years. Officially, she is the University of Birmingham’s IMechE Railway Challenge entry, but she is now better known as Hydrogen Hero. She has already appeared on the local BBC television news, with yours truly at the controls, at Rail Live 2018, even attracting the Secretary of State for Transport, Chris Grayling. On the 30th July this year, she was again demonstrated by yours truly (on the left, in the orange) to Grayling’s opposite number, Shadow Secretary of State for Transport, Andy McDonald:

EPS_0130

In doing demonstration runs, our relatively small team has been raising money for Help for Heroes, by taking donations from passengers. I am sure you’ll agree this is a worthy cause, and somewhat justifies the name, but, importantly, this makes our little locomotive the first revenue-earning hydrogen train in the UK.

Now, I may have mentioned earlier the freight side of things, and the trouble with energy density. This is not the only problem. Hydrogen fuel cells produce a fairly constant amount of power, which is fine usually, but during high-power moves, such as starting a heavy train or accelerating up a hill, this is not quite enough. A solution is to charge batteries using the fuel cell’s power when the train is stationary, or cruising using little power, and to use the power stored for the high-power situations. One can also use the motors as generators to charge the batteries when the train brakes, increasing energy efficiency. Needless to say, these batteries also take up space.

A solution to this is to have 2 vehicles, instead of one. In one of these vehicles, you could incorporate hydrogen tanks and batteries, and in the other the power electronics necessary. All the axles of the train could be powered with traction motors, which would also increase the tractive effort of such a locomotive over a conventional one, given that you now have twice . This is the eventual plan with Hydrogen Hero. 

My point, if I may conclude, is that the technology to do this exists today, and that there is no shortage of ideas, particularly in Europe. I firmly believe that hydrogen is the way forward, and I would urge the policy-makers and railway companies to seriously consider making use of the technology.

With that, as usual, I shall wish you an excellent day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Last Voyage of Admiral Graf Spee

Graf Spee

30th June 1934. In the Reichsmarinewerft shipyard, Wilhelmshaven, a ships’ hull lies on the slipway. She is far larger than anything Germany has built since before the First World War, and, though not yet fitted out, her displacement will eventually be well over 10,000 long tons. Following a short ceremony, hydraulic rams slide the hull gracefully down the slipway, as she enters the water for the first time. Nazi salutes fill the air.

The new ship, Admiral Graf Spee, spends the next 2 years being fitted out with armaments, magazines and living quarters. By 6th January 1936, she is finally ready to set sail. Her main battery, six 283 mm calibre guns, fitted in 2 triple turrets, one fore, and one aft, is now ready to go to sea. In 1937, she participates in the Coronation Review at Spithead, in front of King George VI, representing Nazi Germany. She sits gracefully alongside HMS Hood and HMS Resolution.

By 21st August, 1939, she has a new captain. Kapitän zur See Hans Langsdorff had been inspired to join the Navy by the family of Maximilian von Spee, who went on to be a naval hero in the First World War. Hans Langsdorff would display the same bravery on this voyage.

On this day, the heavy cruiser sets sail from Wilhelmshaven, in company with her tender, the Altmark, for the South Atlantic. History records that on the 1st September, German troops crossed the border into Poland, which prompts the British to issue an ultimatum to Hitler, to withdraw them. By 11:00 on the morning of the 3rd, the ultimatum expires. Britain finds herself at war with Germany.

Graf Spee, in the South Atlantic, waits. Captain Langsdorff has not yet been given permission to attack British shipping. Hitler believes that, as Poland is rapidly overcome, the British will decide on peace. In the meantime, Langsdorff decides, wisely, to keep as far away from British ships as possible, a difficult task as he does not know where the British are.

Finally, on the 26th  September, Langsdorff receives the order he has waited for – permission to target British shipping. SS Clement becomes the first victim. Graf Spee‘s floatplane is sent over, and orders the Clement to stop, which they do, all the while sending out distress signals on their radio. Langsdorff orders the crew to take to the boats, while 2 officers from Clement are taken on board for questioning. Meanwhile, the rest of Clement‘s crew are given the correct course for the nearest port, and set free. After a short spell, the 2 officers are put on board a nearby neutral ship.

Graf Spee‘s crew, realising that the ship is too easily spotted, decide to perform some modifications. The mast is repainted, to look like a French one, and a fake funnel and turret are installed. The next victim, the Newton Beach, fails to notice the ship approaching her is not a French cruiser, until Langsdorff gets within a mile of his prey. By then, it is too late, and, after a brief SOS signal from Newton Beach, the ship is seized as a prize.

Crews of further sunken ships are either sent back to port, or interned on board the Graf Spee or her tender Altmark. Due to her limited fuel storage, the 2 ships rendezvous regularly to top up Graf Spee’s tanks, and to transfer provisions, either those of the Kriegsmarine (the German Navy) or those stolen from British merchant vessels.

The Royal Navy is getting suspicious. Following a few more sinkings and captures, between the island of Ascension and St. Helena, their forces in the South Atlantic begin to close in. Unfortunately for the British, Langsdorff had thought of that, sending out a fake signal from the Newton Beach, claiming to have been torpedoed by a U-Boat, and ordering Graf Spee to proceed somewhere else, namely southwards.

Langsdorff suspects that British ships are being re-routed via the Cape of Good Hope. He manages along the way to sink another ship, and evade not one, but two Allied task forces, including 2 battleships, a cruiser and an aircraft carrier. Despite a close call, Graf Spee slips, undetected, into the Indian Ocean. After a few sinkings and holding a neutral Dutch ship up, before deciding to leave her, the British cotton on to the raider in the Indian Ocean.

However, Langsdorff is more concerned with the state of his ship than the Royal or French navies. While he has enough provisions to last until the end of February, the ship’s diesel engines are not in the best condition. With the ship frequently travelling at high speed, they are experiencing a great deal of strain, having already been overhauled once at sea. Graf Spee is several thousand miles from the nearest friendly port, prompting Langsdorff to decide on a return to Germany in the near future.

Hearing reports that a convoy would be formed in the mouth of the River Plate in Uruguay, to head across the Atlantic. Langsdorff decides to head in that direction, on Graf Spee‘s way home, thinking it a chance to sink yet more shipping. By now, it is December. Summer in the Southern hemisphere. Graf Spee had, all this time, evaded the attentions of both the Royal Navy and French Navy.

Meanwhile, to the East of Uruguay, at the Falkland islands, Commodore Henry Harwood of the Royal Navy, in charge of Force ‘G’, makes a guess. He reasons that, given the amount of shipping in the area, eventually the Graf Spee will visit the River Plate Estuary. If he sends his ships to that area, there is a possibility that they may be able to track her. Force ‘G’ consists of the 2 heavy cruisers, HMS Cumberland and HMS Exeter, and the 2 light cruisers HMS Ajax and HMS Achilles. Cumberland is out of action at the Falklands, leaving 1 heavy and 2 light cruisers.

December 13th, 1939, dawns across the South Atlantic. Exeter, Ajax and Achilles are sailing North East. At 6:14 am, smoke is spotted on the horizon, and Exeter is dispatched to investigate, turning to port. 6:16 am – Exeter signals that she thinks it is a pocket battleship, the British designation for Graf Spee‘s type. Harwood realises that he is about to engage the enemy.

Harwood’s problem is that the Graf Spee has the small British force outgunned. Graf Spee has six 11 inch (283 mm) guns, whereas Exeter has six 8 inch guns. Ajax and Achilles each have eight 6 inch guns, which will struggle to penetrate Graf Spee‘s armour. However, they can still do damage to the exterior of the ship, and all the ships in the engagement have torpedoes, albeit with relatively short ranges. Harwood’s solution is to split his force.

Exeter steams straight towards the Graf Spee, while Ajax and Achilles continue on their North-Easterly course, hoping to get around the other side of the German ship. This will in theory force her to divide her fire. Langsdorff doesn’t fall for it. At 6:18 am Graf Spee opens fire at Exeter. She is soon pouring fire exclusively at Exeter, who Langsdorff sees as more of a threat. By 6:23 am all 3 Royal Navy ships are returning fire at the Graf Spee. Hits are scored with both 6 and 8 inch shells.

A minute later, Graf Spee delivers the first solid punch. An 11 inch shell hits one of Exeter‘s forward turrets. It is completely destroyed, as are the internal communications. On the bridge, shrapnel from the turret kills all but 2 officers and the Captain. Captain Frederick Bell elects to keep fighting, with orders now being shouted from person to person down to the engine room. Exeter closes in, and fires torpedoes from her starboard side.

Langsdorff is forced to manoeuvre to avoid the torpedoes. He turns Graf Spee hard to port, and begins to lay smoke, to throw off the accurate British fire. Graf Spee is now steering North-West, parallel to the British light cruisers, who have also turned. Ajax and Achilles continue to fire.

Captain Bell turns Exeter around, to fire the torpedoes on the port side of the ship. Graf Spee lands 2 more 11 inch shells. One destroys the other front turret of Exeter, and the other sets a large fire. Langsdorff, seeing Exeter badly damaged, switches one of his 11 inch turrets to fire at Ajax and Achilles. They decide to back off.

Exeter, despite the lack of command, the blaze threatening to engulf her and having only one operational turret, continues to fight. Her single remaining turret, now operating independently, continues to fire 8 inch shells at the Graf Spee. 6:50 am sees Exeter in a bad way, as she takes yet another direct hit, this one causing flooding. The final remaining turret, with water gushing in, gives up the ghost. Listing badly, and now defenceless, Bell disengages Exeter. He heads, barely afloat, for the Falkland islands.

7:10 am – Harwood orders Ajax and Achilles to close in. Initially, Graf Spee appears to hesitate, turning away, before turning to shoot at both remaining British ships. The British land their first major punch – following 6 inch gunfire, a fire is started on board Langsdorff’s ship. The celebration is short lived.

7:24 am – an 11 inch shell hit disables both of Ajax‘s aft turrets. Half of her firepower, and a quarter of the total British firepower, has been disabled by this hit. Undeterred, Harwood orders Ajax even closer. At a range of just 4 nautical miles, Graf Spee and Ajax launch torpedoes. Both sides turn aggressively to avoid the metal fish. With British ammunition running low, Harwood pulls his ships back, to shadow Langsdorff, who makes for the nearby port of Montevideo, making smoke.

Aboard Graf Spee, Langsdorff assesses the damage. In the engagement, all of Graf Spee‘s galleys have been destroyed, save one. The desalination plant is out of action. Ditto the oil refinery. Water is now leaking into the ship’s flour store. Sailors lie dead. Montevideo, in neutral Uruguay, may just offer him the chance to repair. He requests two weeks to repair his ship.

The request is denied. Being a neutral port, the ship is only allowed 24 hours under international law. Initially, the British diplomats insist on this being observed. However, Harwood is in desperate need of reinforcement for his damaged force. The British then choose to exploit the Hague convention, specifically article 16, which demanded the ship not leave port until 24 hours after a hostile merchant ship had done. The Graf Spee stays put.

Langsdorff begins to hear reports that the British have brought in reinforcements. He also hears of large quantities of fuel oil being bought in Argentina by Britain, and puts 2 and 2 together. If he breaks out, he believes, Graf Spee will be sunk easily by British battleships and aircraft carriers. Equally, if he stays, the ship will be interned by Uruguay, and, given their British sympathies, British intelligence will be allowed to search his ship. December 14th, 15th and 16th pass, while British merchant ships leave.

On the morning of the 17th, he boards Graf Spee with a skeleton crew. The ship gracefully slips her moorings, and is piloted into the middle of the harbour by a tug. Petrol is poured over all parts of the ship, and a torpedo warhead suspended by a rope above each magazine. As they board the tug, the petrol is ignited. The tug steams rapidly back towards the port.

Fire engulfs the ship. An explosion then rocks Graf Spee, ironically putting out much of the fire. She will continue to burn for the next 4 days. The raider of the South Atlantic is now a smoking wreck, sinking into shallow water.

By the 20th, Langsdorff is in a hotel in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He carefully lays out the battle ensign of the Graf Spee on the hotel bed, and lies down. As he stated in a letter written the previous evening, to the German ambassador in Buenos Aires:

“Sooner than expose my ship to the danger that after a brave fight she would fall partly or completely into enemy hands. I decided not to fight but to destroy the equipment and then scuttle the ship. It was clear to me that this decision might be consciously or unwittingly misconstrued by persons ignorant of my motives, as being attributable entirely or partly to personal considerations. Therefore I decided from the beginning to bear the consequences involved in this decision. For a captain with a sense of honour, it goes without saying that his personal fate cannot be separated from that of his ship.”

Langsdorff is found later that day, having shot himself. Until the battle, not a single sailor, British or German, had died due to his actions.

He was not to know that the British reinforcements were over 2000 miles away. The reports in the media had been planted by British intelligence.

Have an excellent day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“The Missile With A Man In It”

1024px-Lockheed_F-104A-10-LO_(SN_56-0758)_060928-F-1234S-004

25th June 1950. North Korean forces charge across the 38th Parallel into South Korea, starting the Korean war. This war would be fought with the most advanced weapons of the time, and the demands it placed on aircraft and pilots would prove the genesis of the first Mach 2 fighter – the F-104 Starfighter.

The Starfighter’s performance is best summed up in a series of rather impressive numbers:

103,389 ft
Altitude record

1404.19 mph
Speed record

48,000 ft / min
Climb rate

1st
Aircraft to simultaneously
hold world speed and
altitude record

These numbers may not mean a great deal to you, so allow me to furnish your understanding with some context. This aircraft first flew in 1954, a full 14 years before British Railways stopped using steam engines. In fact, by 1958, when the first operational Starfighters were delivered, only the UK and USSR could also boast Mach 2 capable fighters, and neither of these broke the world speed or altitude record.

It was this performance, coupled with the slender fuselage and stubby wings, that earned the Starfighter the nickname “The Missile With A Man In It”. It was not, tragically, the only nickname the aircraft would accrue.

Due to accidents in West German service, some in the Luftwaffe nicknamed the F-104 the “Widowmaker”. A brief look at the statistics justifies this point of view:

292 / 900
No. of West German
F-104 losses

However, this gives the wrong impression of the F-104 for a number of reasons:

  • The new Luftwaffe (1956 onwards) was a young air force lacking experience of advanced aircraft like the F-104
  • The aircraft was primarily designed as a high-speed fighter, and proved unsuited to the ground attack and naval strike roles
  • Much of the pilot training was carried out in the USA with hot, dry conditions, the opposite of the cool, wet conditions in Germany
  • Due to delays in receiving aircraft, pilots were not able to train in Germany

This is, perhaps, borne out by the much better safety records of other air forces operating the Starfighter. The Regia Aeronautica, Italy’s Air Force, continued to operate the aircraft until 2004, a full 50 years after the first flight, a rather extreme example, but one which proves the point. In fact, Canada, Belgium, Denmark, Greece, Norway, Spain, Taiwan, Jordan, Pakistan and Turkey have all owned or built Starfighters at one point or another.

But this isn’t the end. Now, a company called CubeCab has a plan to launch tiny satellites called CubeSats using a small rocket launched from a Starfighter. The F-104 is one of the few high-performance types that a private company, in the USA at least, can own and operate, and so is a logical choice. Much of the expense of launching satellites can be reduced by using the Starfighter to lift a payload to 60,000 ft and Mach 1, far more efficient than using a rocket for that part of the flight.

So from a 1950s upgrade to a modern satellite launch system, that was the Missile With A Man In It. Should you wish to know more, I can recommend this excellent article on the BBC Future website.

With that, I shall wish you with an excellent day.

 

 

Perfect is the Enemy of Good Enough – Great Central vs. Midland

Great_Central_Railway_Coat_of_Arms(The Great Central Railway’s Coat of Arms)

In the early 20th century, 2 railway companies battled it out for passengers between London and the Midlands. The first, the erstwhile Midland Railway, was much more established, had created a lavish terminus in London, and made handsome profits running trains not just to the Midlands, but to Scotland and even as far south as Bristol.

The second, the newly renamed Great Central, was a rather different affair. Lead by the visionary Sir Edward Watkin, the company had grown out of the old Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway (MSLR). MSLR trains were famed neither for comfort nor speed. Neither were the financial results of the railway particularly impressive, though Watkin managed to keep their heads above water. The main traffic was coal from the South Yorkshire coal fields, unglamourous but money-making work.

Watkin, the son of a cotton merchant, had started work in his father’s business, but was far more interested in politics. When he sought to marry his first wife, Mary Mellor, who was richer than him, he had got involved in railways, as a way of making money, and soon rose up the ranks, being head-hunted by the MSLR in 1854. The cotton merchant’s son soon gained a reputation for rescuing the finances of struggling railways, along the way earning a knighthood.

Watkin, far from being the stuffy chairman of a second-rate railway, was a hugely ambitious man. He saw the possibility of running trains to continental Europe via a Channel tunnel, and even set up a company, the interestingly named Anglo-French Submarine Railway Company, to explore options for the route of such a venture. This was not as ridiculous as it sounded – Watkin was on the board of the MSLR, the Metropolitan Railway, the South Eastern Railway, and Chemin de Fer du Nord, a French railway company, and would have linked all of them beautifully.

Unfortunately, it was not the difficult engineering that killed off the idea – the government feared that a French army might use the tunnel to invade the UK, and so the work never really got going. This notion was even more ridiculous than the concept itself (where better to trap an army than a narrow tunnel?) but carried weight with a nationalistic public.

Undeterred, Watkin sought to expand the MSLR. To truly count itself among the best railways, it was going to need to go to London, and attract the great and the good of the day. Watkin, however, would not be satisfied with any old railway. The London Extension, as it was then called, was to be built wider, in the continental style, flatter, and straighter, to enable fast running. Structures were to be built, not of whatever was to hand, but from handsome blue engineer’s brick.

And indeed it was a very well engineered railway, though not a cheap one. Labour costs had risen dramatically since most other railways had been built, thanks to newer legislation written in the 19th century, pushing up the overall cost. It was no surprise that at the end of the line, the London terminus, Marylebone, was less spectacular than most. Budget cuts had meant that it had a mere 4 platforms, and was designed by a housebuilder, rather than an architect. Marylebone proved handsome, but unspectacular. In 1899, Watkin, now aged 80, attended the opening ceremony in a bath chair, 5 years after his retirement. He would be dead 2 years later.

While all this had been going on, the Midland Railway had been expanding its way across the country. Under the brilliant management of James Allport, the company had built its own London extension, culminating in the magnificent St. Pancras station, featuring what was at the time the largest single span in the world. This new line would cost Allport 10 years of hard work, but by 1867, the Midland could boast a new 4 track mainline, with plenty of space for slow freight and fast passenger trains.

Not content with this, the Midland sought to capitalise on Scottish traffic, following the fashion Queen Victoria had started for Scottish holidays. In order to do this, they would have to build a line to Carlisle, to connect with the Glasgow & South Western Railway. Unfortunately, this would be no mean feat, as it meant building a line across the freezing, isolated Blea Moor, and constructing several bridges and tunnels. This line, christened the Settle & Carlisle, is one of the world’s best scenic railways to this day, and opened in 1875.

Allport was also something of a publicity genius. Realising that the long, winding Midland route to Scotland would never be able to compete on journey times with its competitors, he instead decided to focus on passenger comfort. There was a substantial number of 3rd class passengers wanting to travel long distances, which other companies had largely ignored, even going so far as to remove 3rd class carriages from their trains. Allport decided instead to institute 3rd class on all trains, and bring 3rd class up to 2nd class standard. 2nd class would be upgraded to 1st class standards, and then abolished. To cater for the luxury market, Pullman coaches, famed for their comfort, would be brought in, and inserted into Anglo-Scottish trains.

The results were dramatic – the upstart Midland earned the ire of the North Eastern, and more importantly the London & North Western Railway (at that time the largest commercial enterprise in the British Empire). The Midland’s place in railway history had been sealed. Work finished, Allport retired from the post of General Manager in 1880. He died in 1892.

The work of these 2 great men – Watkin and Allport – had, at least in theory, set the scene of a showdown between the railways. In the red corner, the slow but luxurious Midland, with its great experience and capacity. In the green corner, the new kid on the block, the fast, new Great Central, with their enterprise and pluck.

But, at least initially, the showdown did not happen. This was because the Great Central was simply not pulling in the punters. Even by 1910, the GC was pulling in 2s 2d per mile on their express services, against expenses of 3s 6d. Meanwhile, on the Midland, it was business as usual. Round 1 to the Midland Railway, it might seem.

Clearly, the Great Central needed another great man. In 1902, they brought in a man from the London & South Western Railway (LSWR), Sam Fay, as the new General Manager. Fay had extensive experience of railway management, having joined the LSWR aged just 15, and having saved the Midland & South Western Junction Railway from insolvency by 1897.  He had in fact left an up-market education to join the LSWR because he was simply fascinated by railways. Clearly then, the man for the job.

Fay immediately set to work fixing the finances of the with Great Central, by focusing on alternative markets. He realised that, while fast express services were the flagships of the line, they would never be money makers, so, while he kept them, he also brought in a raft of other trains.

Firstly, the Great Central struck a deal with the neighbouring Metropolitan Railway, on running suburban trains via Rickmansworth and Aylesbury, with services being run by both companies. Far better rolling stock was also introduced, to attract wealthier passengers commuting into London from the new suburbs. A deal was also struck with the Great Western, with trains running via High Wycombe and Princes Risborough.

At the other end of the line, in Manchester, timings were improved on Cheshire Lines Committee trains connecting with Great Central expresses. Connections with other lines were exploited, with cross country services being introduced on what seem today bizarre routes, such as Liverpool – Cromer, all with excellent catering that became a Great Central trademark. Freight, too, would get an upgrade, with express services operating from most points of the Central system. The central position of the line was easy to exploit, as it gave a faster route for cross country freight.

Backing up all of this was a flair for publicity unmatched at the time. Huge numbers of posters were produced, promoting GC services both large and small, all designed to grab the public’s attention. One poster, advertising excursion trains, even correctly predicted the outcome of the 1904 FA Cup final. Fay did not stop there though – the Great Central acquired the travel agents Dean & Dawson, to promote the GC’s services.

In 1912, after many years of work, Fay opened the GC owned dock complex at Immingham, which handled coal, fish, and a variety of other traffics. The complex covered 1000 acres of land, contained 150 miles of sidings for goods wagons, and could berth the largest vessels at any state of the tide. This new facility was so impressive that, at the grand opening, King George V knighted Fay on the spot.

So who would win round 2 of this epic contest, with the Great Central no longer a financial disaster? In truth, round 2 would also go to the Midland. You see, while there had been no great change in the Midland’s main business, people are nothing if not creatures of habit. Most long distance passengers had already picked their favourite line before the Great Central had arrived and saw no need to change. Indeed, there were few populous places on the Great Central’s London extension that were not already served by the Midland or London & North Western.

Tragically, there would not be a round 3. In 1914, following the assassination of the Austro-Hungarian archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo, Europe, and ultimately the world, was plunged into the most terrible war yet seen. Britain, answering the plight of Belgium, went to war against Germany, sending the British Expeditionary Force, with high hopes of repulsing the German advance.

Following the Battle of the Marne, the war, in the West at least, soon descended into stalemate. Battles now lasted days or even weeks, not hours. Barbed wire, shells, guns, bombs, aircraft and a huge number of machines were required for the new age of industrial warfare. All would be required in substantial quantities for even the smallest of gains, along with countless millions of troops, who would fight, and die, for the next 4 years.

Such an environment placed crushing strain on the railway network, which, for the first time, would be controlled centrally by the new Railway Executive Committee. Lines would be pushed to carry as many trains of munitions and war supplies as they possibly could. Some light railways had their trackwork pushed beyond its limits with heavy trains, requiring a complete rebuild following the war.

This was made worse by many of the railway workers volunteering for military service. Manpower shortages were something almost all railways of the time would have to struggle with, and led to a radical social change – for the first time, women would work in large numbers on the railway. Unfortunately, after the war, many of the women were let go, as the surviving men returned.

Suffice to say, the Midland and Great Central emerged from the war in absolutely no position to compete with one another. The maintenance backlog would simply prove too great. Besides, the Railway Executive Committee would not cede power back to the old companies until August 1921, by which time the government was quietly slipping out of promises to reimburse the railway firms. It is doubtful if any of them were ever paid back in full.

The end of the war had brought with it a new political climate too. Heady, Edwardian optimism was now replaced with austerity and caution. On the railway question, some favoured nationalisation, particularly the newly emboldened socialists, but instead, it was decided to amalgamate more than 120 railway companies into 4 regional ones, with some exceptions. The Railways Act came into force on the 19th August 1921, and companies had until June 1923 to amalgamate.

The Great Central became part of the London North Eastern Railway (LNER, a name which has reappeared recently), a company with far too much on its plate as it was. The LNER, always a financial basket case, would go on to create some of the most iconic trains, including many streamliners, culminating in the record breaking “Mallard”. Regrettable, management would concentrate on the East Coast Mainline. Secondary lines, as the GC was considered, were not prioritised.

The Midland Railway became part of the London, Midland & Scottish Railway (LMS), which became immediately embroiled in power struggles as the powerful constituents struggled to get along. It would not be until the arrival of a certain William Stanier much later that the LMS really got its act together. The LMS would compete with the LNER, but it would be a competition based on the West and East Coast Mainlines, and the Midland Mainline would prove something of a Cinderella – never being invited to the ball.

By 1948, following yet another terrible world war, the railways were again reorganised. The big four, as they had been known, and the other small railway companies, were absorbed into British Railways (BR), the new nationalised system. Again, the GC and the Midland would find themselves at the bottom of the pile, while BR’s new regions concentrated on lines elsewhere.

Worse was to come. In an attempt to stem catastrophic financial losses on BR, Dr Richard Beeching had been brought in from chemical firm ICI. Dr Beeching immediately set to work, trying to find the source of the money wastage. He pointed out what seems obvious to us now – having 2 routes that served much of the same area was inefficient, and that, to save money, one would have to go.

Here Beeching faced a difficult choice. If he chose the Great Central, he would sacrifice the faster line, and reduce the connections between, say, Rugby and Nottingham. If he chose the Midland, he would sacrifice the line with more capacity, and potentially cut off important marshalling yards and parts of the Nottinghamshire coal fields. Calculations were made, figures watched. Eventually a decision was reached, and it appeared in his report.

The Midland, that well-established favourite of the Victorian public, the scenic route, the 4 track mainline, was to be spared the axe. The Great Central was to be killed off. Though many people protested, some very vocally, there was little choice – Beeching had to go with the line that most people were using, and, over 60 years after its creation, it still wasn’t the Great Central. The Midland Mainline, as it was now called, was far from perfect, and still was yet to receive modern signalling. Even so, with some investments, it survives as a main line.

By 1969, the last service train had run on the Great Central, and it was a rather disappointing stopping train, and only over a short section. It would not even run to the main Nottingham Victoria station of the Great Central, this being almost completely demolished.

Fortunately, a group of enthusiasts clubbed together to try to save some of the Great Central. They found most of the stations were demolished quickly, but some remained, albeit in very poor condition, which they set about restoring. Eventually, through their hard work, a short section was opened from Loughborough Central, to Leicester North, which is on the site of the former Belgrave & Birstall station. Another section was also opened, though not as fully restored, from Ruddington to Loughborough, though not connected.

You can visit these railways today, and both run heritage trains. I would particularly recommend the section from Loughborough Central to Leicester North, called simply the Great Central Railway. While Leicester North is not prototypical, the other stations on the line have been beautifully restored, as they would have been in various eras. Rothley, a fairly minor station in the lines’ heyday, has been restored to its original condition, and gives something of a feel for the era.

But there we are, I have been waffling on for far too long at this point, and shall wish you an excellent day.

How the wrong windscreen in Edinburgh cancels trains in Manchester

Northern Map

It may not have escaped your notice, dear reader, that the recent timetable changes at Northern were not the most successful endeavour. Alas, hundreds of trains have been cancelled, many more delayed, and much inconvenience has been called. From an outsiders’ perspective, it would seem that Arriva, the company who run Northern, has made an enormous mistake, and should be sanctioned. But is this really the case? Well, we shall get to that, but for now, let me take you on a tangent.

Edinburgh and Glasgow are the largest and by far the richest cities in Scotland, and the land in and around them is Scotland’s Central Belt, where most of the economic activity happens. It is therefore unsurprising that much of the rail travel in Scotland happens in this area. In Glasgow, the sleek, tilting Pendolinos of Virgin Trains arrive in the busy Central station,on the West Coast Main Line, following the journey from London Euston. In Edinburgh, the ageing but elegant InterCity 225 electric and InterCity 125 diesel trains, now under LNER control, emerge from a tunnel into the beautiful Waverley station, on the East Coast Main LIne, following the journey from London King’s Cross.

Suffice to say, both cities are well served to the South. However, between the cities, the principal service runs from Waverley in Edinburgh to Glasgow’s Queen Street, and is provided mainly by small diesel trains, a maximum of 6 coaches long, though often much shorter. To do something about this, the Edinburgh-Glasgow Improvement Programme (EGIP) has been undertaken, to electrify the railway, bring in new, longer trains, and improve the stations. Work began in 2013, and the railway has indeed been electrified, though slightly late.

One cannot, however, run a service without trains, so, after contracting the work out, Japanese manufacturer Hitachi (of bullet train fame) was chosen to produce a design. Their design, the class 385, looks very promising, with 3 or 4 coaches (with 2 normally being coupled together, to form 6, 7 or 8 coach trains), air conditioning, a 100 mph top-speed, and many other modern attributes. These trains are being built in Newton Aycliffe, County Durham, England, in a new factory built by Hitachi, in so doing protecting UK jobs.

If you’re thinking this is all going too smoothly, you are definitely on the right lines. The delivery of the class 385s was behind schedule in January 2018, with only one complete train having been delivered, against a promise of services starting in December 2017. In itself, this invoked the ire of many Scottish politicians and the railway press, but worse was to come. You see, when introducing a train, it is not simply a case of showing the driver around the cab and letting him go. One must give the crew appropriate “traction knowledge” and training, and the trades unions must be consulted.

Here the wheels began to come off. The new design, perhaps in an attempt to improve the aerodynamics or styling, has a curved windscreen. Unfortunately, without proper design and manufacture, a curved windscreen will distort the view ahead, making the driver’s job difficult. Worse still, at night, with no other points of reference, the driver will see signals for the wrong line, a rather unsafe state of affairs. The unions pointed this out to the operator, ScotRail, who were obliged to pull the trains from testing, and ask Hitachi for a fix to the problem.

A new windscreen would have to be designed and tested, taking months. It was not until April 2018 that a new windscreen would be ready for fitting, and it has only recently (and by recently I mean July) been approved. Now, although this is annoying for the Scots, it is not the end of the world, as some older electric trains can be drawn in, and the older diesel trains kept a little longer than expected. Passengers will still be able to get where they want to be, a little later than they wanted to be there.

Have you ever thought, though, about what happens to the older diesels? Scrapped? Yes, some old trains are scrapped, but this is something of a waste when they are perfectly serviceable. Fine, cannibalised? Not a bad suggestion, but why strip down a working train when you could just use a working train? What actually tends to happen is that they are sent elsewhere to replace even older trains, or bolster the fleet of another operator. In turn, this causes other trains to be moved and replace even older ones, and so on. This whole process is known as cascading.

Which brings us back to Northern. After a rather ill-informed no-growth franchise, government awarded Arriva the privilege or running the new, improved Northern franchise, beginning on the 1st April 2016 (the April fool may well have been delayed). They proposed ridding the North of the horrid Pacers (deserving of their own article), by a combination of new trains and cascaded diesels from other areas, one of which was Scotland. This would also allow improvements to services.

The first phase of the improvement was to come with the May 2018 timetable change, taking advantage of newly electrified and upgraded lines between Preston and Blackpool, among many others. Elsewhere, cascaded diesel trains would upgrade services, particularly between York, Leeds and Harrogate, and reduce the need for older Pacers. Overall, hundreds of new services would be created.

Unfortunately, given the events in Scotland, Northern has been left with far fewer diesel trains than are really required, leaving no option but to cancel trains. This was realised early, and although they requested a later start to the new timetable, this proved impossible, as Northern’s stopping trains must be fitted in around TransPennine Express’ (TPE) faster ones. Since TPE were ready for their timetable change, they were unwilling to delay.

It is very true that this is not the only reason why Northern trains are experiencing problems. An entire book could be written on the various failings by the various parties involved (Network Rail, the DfT, various Train Operators etc.), and indeed a Commons’ Transport Select Committee has been hearing from many industry figures, particularly Northern’s Managing Director David Brown.

Why do I write this then? Well, dear reader, I hope that in your discussions of railway matters, that you begin to appreciate that it is far more complicated than just the Train Operator. I also hope that you have some sympathy for staff who are trying their best in the face of problems which they may know little of, and certainly cannot change.

But there we are. With that, I shall wish you an excellent day.