Tuesday, 20 March 2018

Work (Index)

This is a list of the (very occasional) posts about Work. I started working for a Wolverhampton company, Contactor Switchgear (Electronics) Limited around 1961 but, with the encouragement of my mother, set up on my own as an electronics engineer in 1966. Ford Electronics Limited was incorporated in 1977. The last 50-odd years have been a roller-coaster ride which I wouldn't have missed for anything.

Posts are listed in reverse date-of-posting order but, just to confuse, each post describes events any time from the previous day to fifty years earlier. Alternately, selecting 'Work' in the list of 'Labels to select a blog topic' will find all the posts about Work (again, in reverse date-of-posting order). Finally, the Search Box in the page header (with the magnifying glass symbol) will find posts including any particular word or phrase.

Work (part 2) 7-Feb-2018.
Northern City Line 30-Jan-2018.
Rail Industry Information Day, 2018 17-Jan-2018.
Quinton Rail Technology Centre 2-Jan-2018.
Rail Research UK Association Annual Conference 2017 20-Nov-2017.
Class 373 Test Train to Paris 3-Apr-2017.
Class 373 Test Train to Grantham 8-Mar-2017.
Electrification Telephone Systems for British Rail 9-Nov-2015.
Starting my own business 4-Nov-2015.
Visiting Steelworks 22-Oct-2015.
London Underground and Jan 6-Oct-2015.
The World of Work 3-Apr-2014.
My First Trip to India (continued) 12-Jan-2013.
Crewe International Electric Maintenance Depot 17-Jan-2008.
Brewood Hall Small Barn 10-Jan-2008.
My first visit to Taiwan 3-Jan-2008.
Testing Class 395 Trainsets 18-Dec-2007.
Visit to Seoul, South Korea 14-Jun-2007.
Oil & Gas Industry 13-Jun-2007.
Working in Holland 19-Jan-2007.
Working for the Big Boys 17-Jan-2007.
If it were easy, everyone would do it 16-Jan-2007.
My first trip to India 5-Jan-2007.
Train Dispatcher Project - Thailand 5-Jan-2007.
Work 3-Jan-2007.

Some of the above posts have links to albums of photographs which can be viewed or downloaded in various sizes. Alternately, you can go to a list of my photograph albums about Work here and look for a particular picture.

Sunday, 18 March 2018

Myanma Railways (Index)

This is a list of posts about railways in Myanmar (Burma), covering the nationalised railway, Myanma Railways, Yangon trams and a couple of long-gone light railways. My first visit to Myanmar was in 2008 and I've returned (in connection with charitable work) at least once a year since. Most are fairly technical railway articles but I've included more general travel posts which have some technical railway content which may not appear elsewhere. Since the early posts, I've learnt more so you may find contradictions. Hopefully, the later posts are more accurate (but I offer no guarantees). There are lots more posts describing my various visits but, unless a post has technical railway content, they are not in this Index. I hope that isn't too confusing. Posts are listed in reverse date of posting order.

Features of Railway Signalling in Myanmar (pictures links)
Train movements at Yangon Central station
Last Full Day in Yangon
Myanmar, Railways and Jan
A Short History of Yangon's Electric Railway
Insein Railway Station
Thazi - Kalaw (part 2)
Da Nyn Gone Railway Station, Myanmar
Around the Circle Line in 2016
Kyee Myin Daing Railway Station
Railways in Burma
Last Day in Yangon
Thazi Railway Station and Diesel Locomotive Depot
Trams Return to Rangoon
The Arakan Light Railway
Ywa Taung Locomotive Workshop
Rangoon Tramways
New Railway from Katha to Bhamo
Permanent Way in Myanmar
The Madaya Light Railway
Thaton – Duyinzaik Railway
Insein Locomotive Works
Yangon (Part 2)
Yangon (Part 1)
Diesel Traction in Burma
Cab Ride around the Circle Line
Yangon Central Power Signal Box
Relaxing at the Strand Hotel
Exploring Yangon's railways
Railways in Myanmar
Freight Rolling Stock in Burma
Passenger Rolling Stock in Burma
Diesel Railcars in Burma
By Rail to Maymyo
Back to Yangon
Mandalay Area Railways
On to Yangon
Yangon Area Railways
Bago to Kyaikto by Train
The Circle Line Revisited
By Train to Naba
Yangon to Kyaikto by Train
Cab Ride back to Katha
Cab Ride from Katha
The Circle Line, Yangon

Some of the above posts have links to albums of my photographs which can be viewed or downloaded in various sizes. Alternately, you can go straight to a list of my collections of pictures of railways in Myanmar here and look for a particular album

There is also a series of posts in which I attempt to summarise my observations of railway signalling on Myanma Railways. This has a separate already-published index here, but the links are repeated below.

Railway Signalling in Burma - Part 1: Semaphore Signals.
Railway Signalling in Burma - Part 2: Colour Light Signals & Motor Points.
Railway Signalling in Burma - Part 3: Control of Trains.
Railway Signalling in Burma - Part 4: Manual Control of Points and Interlocking.
Railway Signalling in Burma - Part 5: Signal Boxes with Interlocking Frames.
Railway Signalling in Burma - Part 6: Signal Boxes with Electrical Interlocking.
Railway Signalling in Burma - Part 7: Telecommunications (in preparation).

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Approaching Liverpool from the Sea

My trips to Liverpool are normally by train but much of the city's fame arises from its importance as a sea port, situated on the River Mersey. Arriving at Liverpool by sea involves various problems for mariners - the River Mersey has the second highest tidal range in Britain, with spring tides exceeding 10 metres and entrance to the river from the sea is impeded by Coastal Bars.

Coastal Bars

Coastal bars (often referred to simply as 'Bars') are shallows or shoals in the sea bed formed by the movement of sand and sediments where the tide meets the flow of a discharging river. Navigating through these areas is called "Crossing the Bar". Apart from the risk to ships of grounding on a bar, in some weather conditions seas breaking over the bar create additional hazards, requiring good local knowledge for safe passage.

Liverpool Shipping in 1870

Commenting on the approach to Liverpool from the sea, the 'West Coast Pilot' for 1870 states "The numerous sands which encumber the entrance of the Mersey will be better understood by a reference to the chart than by reading the most elaborate description." At that time, there were various land-based lighthouses, three light vessels (North West, Formby and Crosby) and an elaborate system of buoys to identify the channels. Because of these hazards, it was compulsory for all ships to take a pilot with up-to-date local knowledge. There were 12 pilots who cruised in pilot sailing boats, ready to board ships and take charge of the navigation. The pilots were controlled by Mersey Docks and Harbour Board.

Continued dock expansion

The success of the port of Liverpool meant that expansion of the docks continued until the 1920s (see Notes on Liverpool and its Docks). During this period, steam propulsion replaced sail, iron and steel replaced wooden construction and vessel sizes increased, so that most shipping became concentrated in the dredged channel now known as Queen's Channel with the 'Bar' lightship serving as the pilot rendezvous location for inbound ships.

Liverpool 'Bar' Lightship

In 1947, the 'Bar' lightship duty was being carried out by the 'Alarm', shown in the aerial view below.

Mersey Bar Lightship 'Alarm' and SS 'Collegian', Liverpool Bay, 1947.

The firm of Philip and Son built the relacement lightship 'Planet' in 1969 which, with its crew of seven, became the Mersey 'Bar' lightship. There's a Wikipedia article on the lightship builder here. In 1972 an unmanned buoy replaced the lightship which was sold to Trinity House and continued to serve at various sites before being retired in 1989. Saved for preservation from the breakers, she eventually saw service as a cafe/bar and museum whilst moored in Canning Dock, Liverpool, where I took the photograph below.

The preserved Lightship 'Planet' in Canning Dock, Liverpool.

Following a long-running dispute between the owner of 'Planet' and the Canal and River Trust, the lightship was seized by bailiffs in 2016 and towed to Sharpness where it faces an uncertain future. There's more information about 'Planet' on the interesting Offshore Radio Museum Site.

The unmanned buoy which replaced 'Planet' in 1972 was known as a Large Automatic Navigation BuoY (LANBY buoy). The design, featuring a circular hull and central mast provided with a powerful light, originated in America and was adapted for use in Britain. According to research by the Mersey Lightvessel Preservation Society, the LANBY buoy was, in turn, replaced in 1993 by what I believe is still the current installation known as Light Float 'Bar Racon' and operated by Trinity House.

'Bar Racon'

The addition of 'Racon' to the name indicates that, in addition to the normal light signal, the installation provides an identifiable radar return (the name is a contraction of RAdar beaCON). The widespread introduction of Radar on ships represented a significant advance in safety and the addition of a radar transponder to a buoy means that, when the transponder receives a radar pulse from a ship, it transmits a return signal including a simple identity, which assists the correct identification of the radar return received by the ship.

Light float 'Bar Racon' in Liverpool Bay (Photo: Fuelcellworks).

An article in Fuelcellworks here discusses the installation of a methanol fuel cell to improve the endurance of the light float.

'Crossing the Bar'

The term is familiar to many people as the title of a short poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-1892), a celebrated poet from the Victorian era whose works remain popular. He uses leaving harbour and sailing out to sea as a metaphor for dying.
Sunset and evening star
And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
When I put out to sea,

But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
Turns again home.

Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
When I embark;

For though from out our bourne of Time and Place
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
When I have crossed the bar.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson with his wife Emily and sons Hallam and Lionel.

Wikipedia has an article on 'Crossing the Bar' here, suggesting that the verses were inspired by a crossing of the Solent to his home at Farringford House on the Isle of Wight. There's more about Farringford House and the famous people who settled in the area at the website Tennyson’s Celebrity Circle.

Liverpool Shipping today

Shipping in the Mersey today is very different from that in 1870 but sands remain a problem and continuous dredging operations are necessary to allow large, modern ships access and charts are still essential (although, increasingly, those charts are electronic). Although the structures of the former light houses survive, none are now active light houses but the "elaborate system of buoys" already established in 1870 has been modernised and complies with one (of two) internationally-recognised systems of navigation buoys. But, despite all the improvements brought about by the use of radio, radar, AIS and Electronic Chart Display and Information Systems (ECDIS) which I discussed in the post Watching The Ships Go By, the system of using a human pilot with hard-earned experience of the local conditions remains a vital part of bringing ships safely in and out of the Mersey.

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Work (part 2)

My first, short post on the subject of 'Work', back in 2007, is here. It's a theme I've returned to erratically since and you can find all these posts here (or click on 'Work' in the 'Labels to select a blog topic' list). This post gives a little more information on some of the projects I've worked on, mainly covering railway projects up to around 2000. In the future, I hope to write a little about early industrial projects and more recent activities.

The post The World of Work described my introduction to industrial electronics when I worked at Contactor Switchgear (Electronics) Limited in Wolverhampton.

This cast nameplate (in various sizes) was attached to panels made by Contactor Switchgear Limited (Photo: Wolverhampton History and Heritage Website).

In 1966, I decided to set-up on my own, and the post Starting my own business describes the initial slow progress, producing industrial control equipment for a few clients before my former employers asked if I could design and build a Ships Movement Indicator for Dover Harbour Board. With help from friends who had also moved on from Contactor Switchgear(Electronics) Limited, we produced the remarkable affair and commissioned it in the windswept Dover Harbour Port Control building on the Eastern Arm breakwater projecting into the English Channel. The specifiers of the equipment had not troubled to ask the users what they needed resulting in the equipment being unloved by the people it was intended to help and it was removed after a few years service. Later in my career, I learnt that the Ships Movement Indicator project was by no means unique in failing to determine the real needs of the intended users. I'd invested so much energy in doing the best job I could, when the redundant system was offered at scrap price, I bought the equipment back and it still moulders in storage.

The above post Starting my own business also describes the selective call equipment we produced for Gerry Gardner for use over private mobile radio. This work was more successful and I learnt a lot from our gruff, rather eccentric client. I also experienced my first flight, described My First Flight.

I managed a few more light aircraft trips in connection with the business. starting with a flight to a steelworks on Teesside, described here. This resulted in our producing Electronic Vibratory Feeder equipment for a number of steelworks on Teesside and elsewhere. There's an introductory article on my association with steelmaking here but I hope to recount more experiences in the future.

In those early days, we produced a few small railway telephone systems. Two were for the Kowloon-Canton Railway: one (for ML Engineering) which they installed at the Hung Hom terminus in Hong Kong and, later, one (for Westinghouse Brake and Signal) for Sha Tin. Westinghouse Brake and Signal also ordered small railway telephone systems for use at the modernised steelworks at Redcar and Ravenscraig.

In 1970, based on the success of our selective call equipment for Gerry Gardner, British Rail approached us about the possible supply of selective call telephone equipment for use over wire. This was in connection with the electrification between Crewe and Carlisle. The above post Starting my own business includes a brief account of this period. Up to around 1980, we periodically received further orders for this equipment, involving large numbers of waterproof trackside telephones and electronic equipment racks at the Power Signal Boxes at Warrington, Preston and Carlsle.

Carlisle Power Signal Box.

Westinghouse Brake and Signal gave us an order in 1972 for a new design of selective call telephone equipment for use on the Centralised Traffic Control (CTC) scheme between Dublin and Ballybrophy in the Republic of Ireland. Various staff from Ford Electronics, including the writer, made a number of trips to Eire during the installation and commissioning phases. It was an interesting time which I've not yet described and, at the moment, there are no pictures.

Around that time, we also produced electronic Signal Post Telephone (SPT) equipment which was installed in Northern Ireland, a few locations on British Rail and at one or two Power Stations.

The original selective call telephone systems for British Rail were fairly successful, leading to further development resulting in an enhanced version with multi-party conference capability for use as Electrification Telephones. This equipment is outlined in the post Electrification Telephone Systems for British Rail. Altogether, we supplied equipment for three installations of this type of system for London Midland, Scottish and Eastern Regions of British Rail. This, and sub-contract manufacture of other telecommunications equipment for British Rail kept us busy for a few years.

In 1976, we negotiated a large order from G.E.C. to supply a specially-designed selective call telephone system for use on the Trunk Line Electrification Project in Taiwan. I learned many valuable lessons working for G.E.C. which I talk about in the post Working for the Big Boys. The G.E.C. order included modular telephone concentrators and a large number of trackside Wayside Telephone boxes mounting a multi-circuit telephone and disconnection terminals for the lineside telephone cables. On this project, the consultants were German so, in the design stages during 1976, that gave me a couple of visits to Frankfurt. Commissioning and resolving problems which arose with the selective call system resulted in my making, I think, three visits to Taiwan during 1977 and 1978. There are no technical reports at present but my vivid impressions on my first visit to Taiwan are in the post My first visit to Taiwan. We received further orders for this equipment in 1981, 1988, 1990 and 1991.

Housing for trackside Wayside Telephone: The upper compartment mounts a multi-circuit telephone, the lower compartment is used for cable termination, equipment mounting and power supplies.

Canadian Aid funded an interesting railway traffic control system for Malawi in 1977. We produced what we thought was a neat electronic version of the venerable Western Electric electromechanical impulse selective telephone equipment. Standard Telephones and Cables produced electromechanical equipment similar to the Western Electric equipment for a time and adapted the signalling principles in their electromechanical Signal Post Telephone equipment widely used on British Rail. Despite the elegance of our system, we didn't have much commercial success.

By this time, I seemed to have gained some sort of reputation and I was flattered when the mighty Philips invited me to do some consultancy work on railway telecommunications in 1980. This interesting period is touched on in the post Working in Holland.

Iraq were building a new railway linking Mosul, Kirkuk and Haditha (at that time, oil-rich Iraq was regarded as an attractive client although I had my doubts). Philips were bidding to the Korean firm Hyundai for the telecommunications package for the railway but they ultimately walked away, convinced they couldn't make a profit at the price Hyundai was prepared to pay. There's a report here. Despite some disappointment, the wisdom of their decision was not lost on me and when, some months later, G.E.C. offered me a large sub-contract for the same project although we were short of work I declined. As I watched G.E.C. lose significant sums of money on the scheme and their chosen sub-contractor fall into bankruptcy, I regarded my decision as one of the best I'd made.

We produced another large system of railway selective call telephone equipment for G.E.C. in 1985, when the Ferrovia do Aco in Brazil was electrified to bring iron ore from the mountains near Belo Horizonte down to the deep-water port at Sepetiba. It had been arranged that I would visit Brazil in connection with the commissioning but, to my disappointment, it didn't prove necessary and my first visit to Brazil was not until 2005 (forming part of the trip 'Round the World 2': e-mails sent to friends from that trip were subsequently converted to the blog post here). We received a further order for test equipment for use on the Brazil system in 1991.

Mainstation Controller type 1352 is part of the system supplied to the Ferrovia do Aco. The rugged aluminium module housing is common to the whole range. The lower view shows the printed circuits assembled onto the back panel with the case removed.

In 1987, we did an interesting project with STC Telecommunications who, by then, were part of Northern Telecomm in which we licensed one of our selective telephone system designs, allowing STC Telecommunications to procure and build the equipment at their manufacturing site in South Wales. The equipment was to re-equip the Suburban railway network around Mumbai (which, back then, was still called Bombay). I didn't get to visit India during that commissioning, either, so my first trip to India was in 1992, in connection with commissioning equipment for the Delhi Ring (described later in this report).

G.E.C. bid on a project in 1987 to replace ageing electromechanical Train Despatcher Telephone Systems throughout Thailand. The equipment being replaced was impulse-selective equipment built by Standard Telephones and Cables in England of the pattern mentioned in the paragraph on Malawi above. The project was being funded by Japan so the consultants were Japanese and the specification had been very tightly-drafted in a way that made it very difficult to offer a compliant bid. There were many ups and downs on this project, not least because G.E.C. had seriously underestimated the costs of installation and commissioning in Thailand. For many months, we had an engineer based in Thailand, providing technical assistance to G.E.C. and training Thai Railways staff. I also made five visits in 1988 and 1989 during which I travelled widely around the country. At the completion of the project, G.E.C. held an 'I & C Seminar' in Bangkok which has a report here, with links to my pictures (scanned from 35mm prints).

Train Despatcher Equipment for Thailand under test in Wolverhampton.

When G.E.C. provided telecommunications systems for the Delhi Ring resignalling project, they decided to contract another company for the selective call telephones. However, serious problems were experienced with speech quality when the system was installed in 1992 and we were asked to urgently look at the problem. We didn't see a major difficulties with the basic selective call telephone system but the problems in transmitting over a complex loaded cable network had not been fully understood. We re-designed the audio transmission, using a network of 2-wire adaptive audio repeaters with programmable build-out for use on loaded lines and associated battery-backed power supplies. I was in India almost seven weeks installing and commissioning our modifications. There's a short post here with a link to a more detailed report.

In 1993 G.E.C. asked us to quote for Tunnel Telephone Equipment for the new Jubilee Line Extension Project. None of our existing designs of telephone system seemed adaptable - the major function of the Tunnel Telephone system is to provide a highly-dependable emergency shutdown system for the traction current. I recommended that they try Westinghouse (who had, I'd found out, previously supplied tunnel telephone equipment for the Central Line). A few months later, G.E.C. repeated the request and this time we agreed to quote. We supplied the equipment for the Jubilee Line Extension and we're still occasionally supplying tunnel telephone equipment for use on London Underground. There's more in the post London Underground and Jan.

Tunnel Telephone Cubicles for Northern Line under test in Brewood.

More when I can.

Related posts on this website

For ease of reference, this list duplicates links in the above text.

The World of Work.
Starting my own business.
My First Flight.
Visiting Steelworks.
Electrification Telephone Systems for British Rail.
Working for the Big Boys.
My first visit to Taiwan.
Working in Holland.
Visit to Seoul, South Korea.
Round The World Two.
Train Dispatcher Project - Thailand.
My first trip to India.
London Underground and Jan.

Monday, 5 February 2018

Watching The Ships Go By

Liverpool, the River Mersey and Merseyside have interested me since my childhood visits. My first blog post was simply called Liverpool but there a quite a few now. You can find them all here (or click on 'Merseyside' in the 'Labels to select a blog topic' list). Although my home is some 80 miles from Liverpool, through the magic of the Internet I can "watch" shipping around Liverpool.


'www.wirralcam.org' operate a number of webcams giving still pictures, generally updated twice a minute, from various locations on the Wirral. This offers an intriguing view of ships coming and going but, of course, doesn't provide information on the identity of the vessels or their itineraries.

Webcam view of the Mersey from Birkenhead Priory, with the twin towers of the Liver Building on the left and Albert Dock in the centre (Picture: wirralcam.org).

Automatic Identification System (AIS)

As an aid to maritime safety, most modern ships are fitted with Automatic Identification System (AIS) equipment, mandated by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) under their Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) regulations. AIS installations on ships combine data regarding the ship's identity, destination, location as determined by GPS (Global Positioning System) equipment, together with heading and speed and transmit it periodically digitally by VHF (Very High Frequency) radio. The data is received and decoded by other ships in the vicinity and, where there is line-of-sight communication, also by various shore stations. Many ships also send and receive AIS data using Inmarsat communications satellites which (via satellite downlinks) makes the data available to ground stations lacking line-of-sight VHF communications with a ship. With digital communications and the internet, AIS data around the globe can be consolidated into vast databases of shipping movements. There's a Wikipedia article about AIS here. For a more detailed treatment, try the PDF of the recommendation covering AIS issued by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) M.1371-1 here. I think the standard is now at M.1371-4 but the PDF linked should give an idea of the complexity of the requirements. Atlantic Source is a Spanish supplier of AIS and other communications equipment whose website may be of interest.

Maritime Mobile Service Identity (MMSI)

AIS equipment makes use of a vessel's unique Maritime Mobile Service Identity (MMSI) which is described in another Wikipedia article here. Note that whilst MMSI, heading, speed and position are automatically derived from ship sensors, some data like destination and status ('underway', 'at anchor') is manually entered by the bridge crew and is sometimes inaccurate, so don't be surprised if a ship supposedly at anchor is making 15 knots! Because the AIS data can be transmitted by VHF radio, drop-outs or temporarily erroneous data are also possible.

IMO identification number

Most merchant ships are allocated an IMO identification number, displayed on the vessel, intended to enhance "maritime safety, and pollution prevention and to facilitate the prevention of maritime fraud". There's a Wikipedia article here.

Commercially-accessible data

Commercial sites like 'Marinetraffic.com' and 'Vesselfinder.com' collect and analyse data transmitted by ships fitted with AIS and make certain information freely available (with other information hidden behind a 'paywall'). These sites have vessel details and photographs in addition to information about present position and previous voyages. You can search for a particular vessel by name, MMSI or IMO.

The ShipAIS site

To display AIS data for shipping around Liverpool at home, I like enthusiast-run site ShipAIS with its sub-title "Watching the boats go by" which offers excellent coverage of Liverpool and other areas. I tend to default to the Liverpool Docks page here (which will update every 2 minutes), switching to the geographically-adjacent Bar Racon or Mersey River pages as necessary. They have a useful Frequently Asked Questions page here (which has thoughtful comments about security concerns which have been raised about the wisdom of making shipping movement data widely available). The site can also display each vessel's MMSI number (which is unique), name (which may not be unique) and IMO identification number (where allocated). There may also be other data and a photograph of the vessel.

Remote Ship Watching

The ShipAIS page will show vessels in the area covered by the map and some of these may be visible on one or more Wirralcam.org cameras. Unrecognised ships or vessels of particular interest can be followed up using the free data on one of the commercial sites. I find the quickest is often to give Google the search string , for instance 'ship 235112573', which quickly finds various offerings for ACL's Ro-Ro/Container ship 'Atlantic Star' on sites like 'Marinetraffic.com' and 'Vesselfinder.com'. More technical information may be available on the shipping line site, for instance, ACL have more information on this '4th Generation CONRO vessel' here.

Improved ship safety

The ability to remotely watch ships I find impressive but, of course, the justification for all these systems is improved ship safety. The introduction of Radar and Radiotelephony were significant milestones but, on many modern ships, the integration of electronic charts, radar, GPS, AIS and information from various ship systems into what's called Electronic Chart Display and Information Systems (ECDIS) furnishes a whole new level of safety-related information which can automatically generate alerts to potential hazards. There's an introductory article about ECDIS on Wikipedia here. As mentioned in some of my travel posts, I've managed to visit the bridge of a few vessels equipped with ECDIS and been fascinated. I'll write a little more when I can.

Tuesday, 30 January 2018

Northern City Line

The Northern City Line is a short branch line in London with an interesting history.


The Great Northern and City Railway (GN&CR) was formed in 1892 to build an underground electric railway from Finsbury Park, on the Great Northern Line, to Moorgate Street in the City of London. Initially, the Great Northern Railway supported the scheme and, to allow through running of main-line stock, the double-track line was built mainly in twin 'tube' tunnels, each with a diameter of sixteen feet. However, problems financing the project combined with disagreements over joint operations meant that the line as built terminated in underground platforms at Finsbury Park underneath the Great Northern Railway station.

Great Northern and City Railway - driving 30 foot diameter tunnel section (Photo: Grace's Guide).

The line opened in February 1904 over a distance of three and a half miles from Finsbury Park to Moorgate in the city of London. Although powers had been obtained in 1902 to extend from the southern terminus around 500 yards to the Bank of England, this plan was abandoned after only part of the tunnel had been constructed. The isolated nature of the line prevented the railway from running at a profit but it was successful enough to be acquired by the Metropolitan Railway in 1913. In 1933, London Passenger Transport Board took control and the line became an isolated section of the Northern Line, called the 'Northern City Line'. It would have formed part of the proposed 'Northern Heights Extension' but this scheme was abandoned.

In 1964, Drayton Park became the northern terminus, allowing the original underground platforms at Finsbury Park to be used by the Victoria Line then being constructed. Highbury & Islington station was remodelled to allow interchange between the new Victoria Line and the Northern City Line. In 1970, the line was renamed 'Northern Line - Highbury Branch'. Around 1975, London Underground agreed to transfer the line to British Railways. However, before London Underground withdrew the service, Moorgate was the site of the worst London Underground train accident on 28-Feb-1975, killing 42 passengers and the driver. The excellent Railways Archive site has a summary of the report on this accident here, with a link to the full report which is well worth studying to understand the meticulous investigations carried out after major accidents.

British Railways Eastern Region converted the line from Drayton Park to Moorgate for their use, with 750 volt d.c. third-rail electrification and provided a connection from Drayton Park to the surface station at Finsbury Park, with 25 kV a.c. overhead electrification allowing the Moorgate Branch to form part of the Great Northern Suburban Electrification Scheme, finally realising the ambitions of the promoters of the Great Northern and City Railway in 1892! In 1976, services commenced to Welwyn garden City and Hertford north, extended to Royston in 1978. At that time, the Electrification Control Room (ECR) supervising the area was at Hornsey.

There's an interesting PDF by the London Underground Railway Society celebrating 110 years of the Northern City Line 110 YEARS OF THE GREAT NORTHERN & CITY published by here.

Rolling Stock

Electric Multiple Units were used from the opening in 1904, built by Brush (Loughborough) and The Electric Tramway & Carriage Works (Preston). By 1939, these units had been withdrawn and normal tube stock was in use.

Original rolling stock on Great Northern and City Railway.

Since 1976, the line has been operated by dual-voltage class 313 EMUs running on the third rail system with tripcocks over the tunnel section and the overhead line equipment north of Drayton Park station. The EMU are arranged as 3-car sets with two driving motor cars and a trailer car. In peak periods, two 3-car sets work in multiple. Each motor car is equipped with four GEC G310AZ 82.125kW motors. For more information, see the Wikipedia article here.

This rolling stock is about to be replaced by a variant of the Class 700 'Desiro City' dual-voltage Electric Multiple Units, the Class 717 which is fitted with end doors for use on the Northern City Line, allowing passengers to be evacuated via the Moorgate Tunnel (as is possible with the 40-year old Class 313). At a recent Rail Industry Information Day (described here), I was surprised to find a full-sized Class 717 cab.

Rail Industry Information Day, 2018: Class 717 cab.

Electricity supply

Originally, power for the Northern City Line was produced at a dedicated generating station on the surface at Poole Street, roughly halfway along the route, directly above the twin tunnels. As mains electricity became available, the generating station was closed, being replaced by two traction sub-stations located at Finsbury Circus (adjacent to Moorgate station) and Queensland Road (adjacent to Drayton Park station). Around 1920, the abandoned generating station at Poole Street was converted into film studios for Gainsborough Films. At the time of my own first visit during a survey in 2006, the site was being re-developed as apartments.

Former Gainsborough Studios, pictured during conversion into apartments (Photo: Thales).

Current was originally supplied at 575 volts d.c. using a fourth-rail system with each conductor rail placed outside the adjacent running rail (as on the Earl's Court experimental electrified train). By 1939, the conductor rail system had been converted to the standard London Underground fourth-rail system, as described in the posts London Underground - Traction Power Distribution and Fourth Rail Electrification. Transmission losses at 750 volts d.c. are relatively high and, to avoid excessive voltage drop, Traction Sub Stations (TSS) have to be located quite close together. When British Railways took over the Northern City Line, in addition to converting current collection to third rail, the power supply was upgraded. The conductor rail is divided into traction sections extending from one TSS to the next. Each section is double-end fed with d.c. from rectifiers at both Traction Sub Stations, to help to minimise voltage drop, particularly when more than one train is in a traction section.

Traction Sub-stations

The practical arrangement of a typical TSS with two rectifiers is illustrated in Figure 2.2 below. TSS for third rail conductor systems, are simpler than for the London Underground fourth-rail systems, since circuit breakers only need to switch the feed to the conductor rail.

The substation has two d.c. busbars linked or isolated by a coupling breaker. Each rectifier and each road supplied is associated with a circuit breaker. At most TSSs, the coupling breaker is normally closed so that both rectifiers and all four roads are connected together to minimise voltage drop. The TSS at Finsbury Circus and Queensland Road are simpler than the diagram, since each TSS only controls two traction sections.

Track Paralleling Huts

At some locations, Track Paralleling Huts (TPH) may be provided, rather than a full TSS. Each conductor rail is broken to form a section gap, but normally circuit breakerss are closed to connect together all conductor rails. Again, the aim is to reduce the voltage drop as a number of rectifiers can contribute current to each traction section. The arrangement is shown in Figure 2.3 below.

Jan's involvement

In 1974 my firm supplied an Electrification Telephone system for the 25 kV a.c. overhead electrified parts of the Great Northern Suburban Electrification Scheme, controlled from an Electrification Control Room (ECR) at Hornsey, as briefly mentioned in the post Electrification Telephone Systems for British Rail. This system extended as far south as Drayton Park but the tunnel section to Moorgate (being third rail d.c. electrified) was outside our scope and British Rail at York provided equipment for this section.

As described in the post London Underground and Jan, it was some twenty years later that my firm became involved in Tunnel Telephones for London Underground. As a result of our work with London Underground, in 2006 Thales contacted us regarding replacement of the life-expired tunnel telephone equipment on the Northern City Line.

The Northern City Line operates with a Traction Sub Station (TSS) at either end of the tunnel, with a midway Track Paralleling Hut (TPH) underground at Poole Street. Whilst the tunnel telephone system on the Northern City Line serves a similar emergency traction discharge function to London Underground systems, it also provides Signal Post Telephone functionality. Trying to understand the detailed functionality required was not helped by the fact that the late, unlamented Railtrack had managed to destroy most of the technical records of the earlier British Railways Eastern Region system, which used 3000-type Post Office relays. This equipment was located in an underground equipment room at Poole Street, accessed by a 50-foot descent from the surface via a steel ladder with safety landings set in a vertical shaft! We produced new equipment developed from our designs for London Underground and a re-configured layout moving the equipment to an existing telecommunications equipment room on the surface at Finsbury Park, providing easier maintenance access. The notes on the re-configured system below are derived from training material prepared by Ford Electronics Limited, with permission.

Notes on the re-configured system

The third-rail conductor system on the Northern City Line consists of a conductor rail laid along the track route allowing power to be picked up continuously by the train through its shoegear equipment. The conductor rail is laid outside the running rails and supported on porcelain insulators at a maximum pitch of around 4.3 metres. At turnouts, crossings and section gaps the conductor rails are broken. Ramps at the start of the conductor rail section lift the train collector shoes onto the rail and similar ramps at the end lower the shoes from the rail. The length of the gap depends upon the track feature. One of the two running rails is used as a traction current return, unlike the standard London Underground arrangement which also has a return conductor rail arranged for shoegear. However, Northern City Line does have a ‘fourth rail’ in the tunnel, spiked to the sleepers in between the running rails and frequently cross-bonded to the traction return running rail. This ‘fourth rail’ is not a contact rail but an additional return conductor which reduces losses and helps to reduce unwanted earth currents.

Traction Power Distribution

Two independent 11kV incoming supplies are introduced at Poole Street TPH and an 11kV ring main located in the rail tunnel distributes the power to TSS at each end of the tunnel section, one at Queensland Road (adjacent to Drayton Park station) and one at Finsbury Circus (adjacent to Moorgate station) where the 11kV is transformed and rectified to feed 750 volts d.c. to the conductor rails. At each TSS two Hackbridge and Hewittic fan-cooled silicon rectifiers rated at 750/630V 1,780kW are provided. The traction sections on both the up and down lines are divided at Poole Street, where a TPH is provided to minimise voltage drop. The track feeds at the TSSs and TPH are via Whip and Bourne high-speed d.c. circuit breakers, similar to London Underground practice but without a negative contactor. These circuit breakers allow individual traction sections to be discharged. Both TSS and the TPH are remotely controlled from the Electrification Control Room, now located at York.

Traction Rectifiers in Queensland Road Sub-station, Northern City Line.

Control of circuit breakers

The four high speed circuit breakers in the TPH at Poole Street and the two high speed circuit breakers at Queensland Road and the two high speed circuit breakers at Finsbury Circus are controlled from local Slave Relay Units. In each case, the final interface to the high speed circuit breaker from the Slave Relay Unit is a BR930 relay contact which opens to discharge the traction section. This contact operates a D2600 interface relay (produced by Signature Industries, formerly Clifford and Snell) within the high speed circuit breaker from a nominal 50 volt d.c. supply provided by the d.c. switchboard. The Slave Relay Units are controlled over telecommunications cable from the Tunnel Telephone Cubicle at Finsbury Park.

Tunnel Telephone/Signal Post Telephone Tunnel Wires

In tunnel sections of the system, a Tunnel Telephone system provideds traction discharge and voice communication between the driver and Signaller at Kings Cross. Traction trip and speech is provided over two bare copper alloy wires carried, one above the other, on pairs of porcelain insulators supported on metal brackets fixed to the tunnel wall. The insulators are generally provided every 6 metres along the tunnel so as to keep the wires about 115mm apart. The wires are positioned so as to be accessible by leaning from the driving cab window of a train. The tunnel wires are divided into 20 sections so as to provide each colour light running signal with a dedicated speech circuit to the Signaller.

Trainborne equipment

Portable tunnel telephones are mounted in the cabs of all EMU which work over the line. They incorporate DTMF (Dual Tone Multiple Frequency) calling to the signaller and a means of shorting the circuit so as to discharge the traction supply. Pressing and holding either yellow button automatically sends a short burst of DTMF tone, after which speech is possible. The duplicated pushbutton makes the handset suitable for left-handed and right-handed users. Pressing the red ‘ISOLATE’ button places a low resistance across the tunnel wires, in order to discharge the traction supply. Alternately, Traction current may be discharged by simply 'pinching' together the two tunnel wires.

Tunnel Telephone used by Drivers to discharge traction or talk to the Signaller.

Tunnel Telephone/Signal Post Telephone Equipment Cubicle, Finsbury Park

A 2-metre high enclosed equipment cubicle is provided in the Telecommunications Equipment Room at Finsbury Park, together with a battery-backed power supply providing nominal 24 volt d.c. for the Tunnel Telephone equipment.

Northern City Line Tunnel Telephone system: Equipment Cubicle at Finsbury Park Telecommunications Equipment Room.

Northern City Line Tunnel Telephone system: Power supply at Finsbury Park Telecommunications Equipment Room.

The main telecommunications cables for the East Coast Main Line pass through a Distribution Frame in the Telecommunications Equipment Room, allowing simple cross-jumpering of the Northern City Line Tunnel Telephone circuits across to pairs leading to the controlling signal box at King's Cross.

Northern City Line Tunnel Telephone system: Main Distribution Frame at Finsbury Park Telecommunications Equipment Room.

King's Cross Power Signal Box

The control of the Northern City Line was provided from King's Cross Power Signal Box (now planned for closure with control transferred to York Railway Operating Centre). At King's Cross, the Supervisor’s desk had a reset control panel which allowed York ECR to recharge the conductor rails of the Northern City Line. This was controlled from special Reset and Indication cards in the Telecommunications Equipment Room. Signal Post Telephone calls were processed by special SPT cards in the Telecommunications Equipment Room which detected the DTMF call tone and presented to call to Signallers on the main signalling console.

Supervisor's Desk & general view (Photo: Thales).

Related posts on other websites

Although the links worked at the time this post was published, changes made by that website's owner may 'break' the link.
Northern City Line (Wikipedia).
British Rail Class 313 (Wikipedia).
Great Northern and City Railway (Grace's Guide).
110 YEARS OF THE GREAT NORTHERN & CITY (The London Underground Railway Society).

Related posts on this website

London Underground - Traction Power Distribution.
Fourth Rail Electrification.
Electrification Telephone Systems for British Rail.
London Underground and Jan.
Rail Industry Information Day, 2018.

Related photograph albums

Where necessary, clicking on an image above will display an 'uncropped' view or, alternately, pictures may be selected, viewed or downloaded, in various sizes, from the albums listed:-

Northern City Line: 2-Nov-2006.
Kings Cross Power Box.
TTSystem for NCL: Installed System: 21-Oct-2009.
TT System for NCL: Equipment.
TT System for NCL: Testgear: 11-Jun-2009.

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Rail Industry Information Day, 2018

On Friday 12th January 2018, I attended the annual RSSB Rail Industry Information Day which was held (outside London for the first time, I think) at the University of Birmingham.

Getting there

I took the first bus from Brewood to Wolverhampton and caught the busy 08:11 Arriva Trains Wales to Birmingham International, getting off at Birmingham New Street. Having some time in hand, I toured the Grand Central shopping area, amazed at the range of food outlets well-patronised by people taking breakfast - coffee shops, juice bars, pizza places, sushi bars, Mexican food, even Korean Street Food! I talked about my reaction to Birmingam's Grand Central in the earlier post here.

Grand Central, Birmingham New Street: Atrium showing retail outlets at both Concourse Level and around the Gallery.

I exited to Stephenson Place to see the temporary terminus of the 'Midland Metro' now that the extension from the original terminus at Snow Hill along Corporation Street to New Street station is, belatedly, in use. A further extension, due to open in 2019, will pass the Town Hall and reach Centenary Square. The rolling stock comprises 21 units of the 'Urbos 3' five-section articulated design built by CAF in Spain. See the Wikipedia article here.

Returning to the station, I was just in time to catch the next Class 323 Electric Multiple Unit on the Cross-City service. The service was taken over by 'West Midlands Trains' on 10-Dec-2017 (as I mentioned in the earlier post A Trip to Merseyside) but, externally, the former 'London Midland' livery is still carried. The Class 323 were built by Hunslet between 1992 and 1995 and, under our crazy arrangements for privatising railways, the trainsets are now owned by Porterbrook which is a 'ROSCO' (rolling stock company). There's a Porterbrook data sheet on the Class 323 here.

The journey only took a few minutes and the University of Birmingham has its own station called, with admirable clarity, 'University' (although the station is equally handy for the huge Queen Elizabeth Hospital). Since I walk slowly these days, it took me 15 or 20 minutes to walk across the large university campus to the venue. The focal point of the university remains the original D-plan grouping of red brick buildings designed by Sir Aston Webb and Ingress Bell built between 1900 and 1909 with its campanile clock tower of tapering square section with a corbelled top stage and lantern, called the 'Joseph Chamberlain Memorial Clock Tower', the 'Chamberlain Clock' or simply 'Old Joe' in honour of the university's first chancellor. There's more on the clock tower in the Wikipedia article here.

Joseph Chamberlain Memorial Clock, University of Birmingham (Photo: Tomsega, Public Domain).

The initial, unified group of buildings is now surrounded by numerous more modern structures, each of a completely different design reflecting tastes at the time of building.

The venue

Rail Industry Information Day, 2018: Gisbert Kapp Building, University of Birmingham.

The venue was the School of Electronic, Electrical and Control Engineering located in the Gisbert Kapp Building. I had to look up Gisbert Kapp, an Austrian/English electrical engineer born 1852 who held the first Chair of Electrical Engineering at the University of Birmingham from 1904 until his death in 1922. There's a detailed profile in Grace's Guide here.

Gisbert Kapp in 1922 (Photo: Grace's Guide).

The Sponsor

The event was sponsored by the Rail Safety and Standards Board (RSSB), created in 2003 following Railtrack's demise as an independent not-for-profit company limited by guarantee, with a remit to encourage rail research and innovation and creating better links between universities and the rail industry. The University of Birmingham is home to the Birmingham Centre for Railway Research and Education (BCRRE), described here.

The railway industry is now littered with a bewildering array of initiatives and acronyms whose initials were freely used throughout the proceedings. Here are a few:-
RSG (Rail Supply Group)
RDG (Rail Delivery Group)
TLG (Technical Leadership Group)
UKRRIN (UK Rail Research and Innovation Network)
The event

Registration took place on the first floor where refreshments were available in 'The Link', a student Open Learning area closed to students for the day.

Rail Industry Information Day, 2018: Refreshments in 'The Link'.

At 10:15 we were invited to troop to a large, modern lecture theatre on the ground floor. There were almost 100 attendees, over half from the rail industry. Martin Brennan, Head of European Programmes at RSSB, said that the day would review the Horizon 2020 and Shift2Rail Work Programmes and Collaboration funding opportunities available within 80 billion Euros of funding being provided by the European Union (EU) between 2014 and 2020. More information is available here. Within Horizon 2020, Shift2Rail (S2R) is dedicated to railway research, with more information here.

Professor Clive Roberts [Professor of Railway Systems at the University of Birmingham and Director of the Birmingham Centre for Railway Research and Education (BCRRE)] then gave a "virtual tour" of the Railway Centre of BCRRE, one of three centres in the United Kingdom supporting new innovation in rail transport and part of UKRRIN.

Next, Carlo Borghini who is Executive Director of the Shift2Rail Joint Undertaking updated the meeting on the current programme status and future opportunities.

Carlo Borghini addressing Rail Industry Information Day (Photo: Professor Clive Roberts via Twitter).

Louise Mothersole (Horizon 2020 UK National Contact Point for Transport at Innovate UK) explained that the decision of the United Kingdom to leave the European Union did not affect the eligibility of United Kingdom firms seeking to participate in Horizon 2020.

After a coffee break held in The Link, James Hardy talked about RSSB's Rail Technical Strategy. This was followed by a series of 2-minute 'Elevator Pitches' from 12 speakers, after which a buffet lunch was served in 'The Link'.

At 13:45, Martin Brennan described the European Rail Research Advisory Council (ERRAC) which was set up in 2001 to "promote an holistic vision of the European Rail system with all stakeholders" before introducing Professor Simon Iwnicki (Professor of Railway Engineering and Director of the Institute of Railway Research - Huddersfield University) who spoke about participation in Shift2Rail 'Open Call' projects.

Next, Professor Clive Roberts spoke about the S-CODE Project which aims to investigate radically different technology concepts that can be integrated to achieve significantly improved performance for railway Switches and Crossings emphasising successful techniques used in planning this type of project.

A concise explanation of the various funding opportunities under Horizon 2020 and Shift2Rail was given by Louise Mothersole, with an invitation for applicants to contact the National Contact Point for support.

RSSB, in conjunction with Rail Research UK Association, has completed its Rail Technical Strategy Capability Development Plan (RTS CDP). The plan is divided into 12 'Work Packages' to which 'Work Package Owners' have been allocated.

A graphic representing the 12 Work Packages.

Finally, two of the Work Package Owners made short presentations:-
Janine Fountain spoke about Package 02 - Minimal disruption to train service
Karl Butler-Garnham spoke about Package 04 - More value from data
This concluded an interesting day which had given many useful suggestions to prospective applicants.

Railway Centre

As originally planned, the day was to have started with a physical tour of the Railway Centre laboratories but the large number of attendees precluded this, hence the "virtual tour" mentioned above. However, a small group of attendees stayed behind for a tour offered by Doctor Edd Stewart (Lecturer in digital logic and microprocessor systems who also leads on various research projects). An idea of the Research Capability offered by BCRRE can be gained from the website here. Some of the highlights of the tour are outlined below.

A room containing a 14-foot diameter horizontal wheel with a circle of rail on top can be rotated by a 30 kW electric motor to give the effect of a train travelling at 80 km/hour. Chillers can produce freezing conditions in the room, allowing research into railhead de-icing for railways.

Rail Industry Information Day, 2018: Railhead testing rig.

A well-equipped Railway Control and Operations Simulation room allows research into the next generation of railway traffic management systems.

Railway Control and Operations Simulation Room.

In another area, we saw various types of prototype condition monitoring equipment for rolling stock.

Rail Industry Information Day, 2018: Dr. Edd Stewart with prototype condition monitoring equipment.

We saw the laboratory-based test facility for evaluating and characterising pantograph dynamic loading performance.

Rail Industry Information Day, 2018: Pantograph test rig.

Nearby, there was a robotic inspection cell for use with railway vehicle wheelsets.

Robotic inspection cell for use with railway vehicle wheelsets.

Another climate chamber held the 'sharp end' of a set of points, allowing the evaluation of point machine performance under varying weather conditions. There was also a small 4-wheel inspection trolley in this chamber, fitted with a robotic arm which can examine the rail head.

Rail Industry Information Day, 2018: Rail switch test chamber.

A large Motor Generator Set with a programmable load is available for Power Systems and Energy Use research.

Rail Industry Information Day, 2018: Motor Generator Set with a programmable load for Power Systems research.

On our way out, we passed a full-sized cab, which I decided was a Class 717 cab. The Class 700 'Desiro City' are already in use on British Rail. The Class 717 is a variant with end doors for use on the Northern City Line which allows passengers to be evacuated via the Moorgate Tunnel, as is possible with the existing 40-year old Class 313.

Rail Industry Information Day, 2018: Class 717 cab.

Getting back

It only remained to return home by walking back across the darkening Campus, catching a busy Cross-City service to Birmingham New Street, changing to a standing room only Arriva Trains Wales service as far as Wolverhampton and then getting a taxi home (our last bus from Wolverhampton is 17:10!)

Related posts on this website

Rail Research UK Association Annual Conference 2017.
Grand Central and Birmingham New Street Station.

My photograph albums

Where necessary, clicking on an image above will display an 'uncropped' view or, alternately, pictures may be selected, viewed or downloaded, in various sizes, from the albums listed:-

Rail Industry Information Day.

Saturday, 13 January 2018

Lion Tavern closes - then re-opens

Not exactly 'hot' news, but this report mentions a little hiccup in the history of Liverpool's historic 'Lion Tavern' back in 2016.

The 'Lion Tavern' has a commanding corner location opposite the former Exchange station.

Because of my involvement with the Old Locomotive Committee (OLCO), I knew of the 'Lion Tavern, located at the junction of Moorfields and Tithebarn Street but I'd never been there until OLCO provided assistance to the Museum of Liverpool in the making of a video about Lion's history. That visit is described in the short post here.

John Hawley does his 'piece to camera'. Sound Recordist Malcolm and Producer Fiona in the background.

Some years after, I came across the Liverpool Echo article from 15th June 2016 "Last orders called at two Liverpool city centre pubs - including the historic Lion Tavern" here.

Later, I found another Liverpool Echo report dated 16th November 2016 proclaiming "The historic Lion Tavern re-opens today" here. Although I've not been back to the Lion Tavern yet, it seems to be thriving: there's a website here. And the Ale? I'm sorry, during my visit I only took tea.

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

A Trip to Merseyside

Regular readers may be aware that the Liverpool area has fascinated me since my early visits as a child. Periodically, I make a day trip there.

In the post Liverpool (again) I updated matters to 2014 but there have been more trips and posts since.

On 29th December, 2015, I made a day trip to Liverpool which is described in the post Merseyside in December.

On 29th December, 2016, I made a day trip to Liverpool which spawned a three-part post:-
Return to Merseyside (Part 1)
Return to Merseyside (Part 2)
Return to Merseyside (Part 3)
With my surveys incomplete, I returned on 4th February 2017, resulting in the post Exploring Liverpool's former South Docks.

At the beginning of January, 2018 I travelled to Liverpool again and that trip is described in this post.

Our weather had been cold and often windy, frosty or wet. I consulted the forecasts but eventually plumped for the first Saturday in 2018 and left my home at eight o'clock to catch our first bus of the day which goes to Penkridge, where I hoped to catch a train. The main roads from Brewood to Penkridge aren't usually too bad but the bus takes a circuitous route through Bishop's Wood, Wheaton Aston, Lapley and Whiston, involving narrow lanes and sharp, unsighted bends. Despite offering a transport service to all these communities, I was the only passenger from Brewood and just one young man joined us at Wheaton Aston. To keep anywhere near time, the bus had to be driven quite hard so I found it quite an exciting journey. The young passenger and I got off at Penkridge Medical Centre and I showed him the footpath under the railway and through the churchyard to the station.

South Staffordshire: Penkridge, pedestrian tunnel under railway with churchyard in the background.

My new friend was travelling to Birmingham and, by dashing up the stairs to platform 1, he just caught a train which arrived as we approached. I had time to negotiate with the touch-screen ticket machine which was running new software, presumably because the Train Operating Company at Penkridge has recently changed.

The previous 'London Midland' franchise was taken over by West Midlands Trains on 10th December 2017. There's a useful Wikipedia article here. The new company is operating two 'brands'. Trains within the West Midlands form the 'West Midlands Trains' brand whilst 'long-distance' trains to London and Liverpool form the 'London Northwestern Railway' brand. Although I'd seen a picture of a West Midlands Trains trainset in their new livery, the trains I saw during the day all retained their old 'London Midland' livery.

Trip to Merseyside 6-Jan-2018: A gloomy Penkridge Station, looking towards Stafford.

The journey to Liverpool Lime Street was on-time. When I saw that our arrival was into one of the low-numbered platforms usually reserved for local trains, I remembered that Liverpool Lime Street is in the throes of an Upgrade Programme which will create one new platform and lengthen two others. There's a little more about this in the section 'Liverpool Lime Street Upgrade'. I purchased an 'All-Zones 1-day Saveaway' giving unlimited bus, train and ferry use in Merseyside and descended to Liverpool Lime Street Low Level to catch a Merseyrail service two stops to James Street.

A few minutes later, I was emerging into sunshine at James Street and, although it wasn't exactly warm, the walk to the Museum of Liverpool was pleasant enough. I'm secretary of the Old Locomotive Committee (there are lots of posts about the 'Old Locomotive' in question - 'Lion' here) so, when in Liverpool, I like to check-up on the Museum's 'star exhibit'. All was normal (although I'm never very happy to see a steam locomotive 'stuffed and mounted').

'Lion' Exhibit, Museum of Liverpool.

A display case in the foyer now covers the Liverpool tram system. I was impressed by the detailed model of a 1936 tram as that's the design of tram I remember seeing on my early trips to Liverpool.

Tramways Exhibit, Museum of Liverpool with model of 1936 'Green Goddess' tram.

This year, I was surprised to find the waterfront between the Museum and the Ferry Landing Stage hosting a Fun Fair, with a few hardy ride operators open for business - the wind was noticeably keener near the water.

Liverpool Waterfront with Fun Fair.

I was probably even more surprised by the appearance of the iconic Liver Building and its clock. The clock face facing the museum was missing both hands: that facing the river was working but 20 minutes fast!

Trip to Merseyside 6-Jan-2018: Liverpool Waterfront.

It's become a tradition for me to take the 'Ferry cross the Mersey', so I boarded 'Snowdrop' on the 11 o'clock sailing still, I'm afraid, in her 'Dazzle' livery. I've complained before about Sir Peter Blake's interpretation of 'Dazzle Painting' which bears only a slight relationship to the actual livery applied to many ships in World War I (see the post here).

Trip to Merseyside 6-Jan-2018: Mersey Ferry 'Snowdrop' approaching Pierhead in bright sunshine.

Of course, I positioned myself on the open promenade deck near the bow, despite the sharp wind. I never tire of the views of the the old docks and modern shipping. As we slipped away from Pierhead, we were preceded by 'Ro-Ro' (Roll-on, Roll-off) ferry 'Stena Mersey' heading for Belfast which joined a procession of departing ships.

Trip to Merseyside 6-Jan-2018: Three ships leaving Liverpool just after 11.00 a.m. (L-R) Unidentified, 'Seatruck' 'Ro-Ro' ferry to Dublin, 'Stena Mersey' 'Ro-Ro' ferry to Belfast.

Whereas the gangway at Pierhead is now hydraulically operated, at Seacombe (and Woodside) gangways remain counterbalanced and manually operated. The 'shore party' at each location is now one man to handle the bow mooring line, the gangway and the gate on the landing stage which allows passengers onto the ferry. On the ferry, two deckhands appear to handle all activities. In the tricky waters of the Mersey, safe ferry docking depends upon good co-ordination between the Captain, the deckhands and the shore man. According to the state of the tide, the ferry docks either facing upstream or facing downstream.

We docked at Seacombe Landing stage, landed a handful of passengers and boarded others.

Trip to Merseyside 6-Jan-2018: Docking at Seacombe Landing Stage.

'Snowdrop' then headed upstream, passing 'Ro-Ro' ferry 'Stena Precision' moored at Twelve Quays Ferry Terminal and made a loop to starboard so as to dock with the ferry facing downstream.

Trip to Merseyside 6-Jan-2018: Birkenhead Woodside Landing Stage.

A section of gunwhale on either side of the ship, fore and aft has a sliding section which, when pushed open, allows the gangway to drop onto the main deck. A sign warns passengers 'In the interest of safety please stand behind the brass line until gangway is lowered' and a (rather tarnished) brass strip is set in the decking. I found this a delightful survivor from more innocent, less Health and Safety obsessed times.

Trip to Merseyside 6-Jan-2018: Passengers obediently stand behind the brass line, waiting to disembark.

I made my way ashore and walked to Hamilton Square station, with its impressive tower, listed Grade II. Pevsner comments:-
Station. c1886. By G.E.Grayson. Brick and terracotta. Italianate style. Hamilton Street elevation has hydraulic tower on angle, and pedimented central block of booking hall, with triple round-arched windows in apex and inserted lower openings. Deep cornice band of terracotta panels. Glazed roof to booking hall. Glazed canopy projects from this block and from the tower. 3-bay range to left with louvred windows to right and doorway to left, possibly generator house. 3 paired round-headed windows above, and a row of oculi over. Terracotta cornice and mouldings to openings. Prominent 4-stage tower with round arched windows in lower stage with clusterd shafts. Triple round-arched windows above, then single round-arched windows and ribbed panelled band with paired segmentally arched windows, some now blocked. Cornice above, then giant segmentally-arched recesses housing 2 tiers of mullioned and transomed windows with enriched terracotta detail. Machicolated embattled parapet then high round arched recesses with paired windows and oculi. Clustered shafts at angles form pinnacles. Balustraded parapet and small lead fleche. 3 bay 3-storeyed return elevation to Bridge Street with continuous arcading at each level. Interior of booking hall has glazed tiled walls and queen post and collar roof with wrought iron ties. The station was built as part of the Mersey railway and Mersey rail tunnel, which opened in 1886. The engineers were James Brunlees and Charles Douglas Fox.
(The Buildings of England: Pevsner N and Hubbard E: Cheshire: Harmondsworth: 1971-).
The underground platforms have always been accessed by lifts which were originally hydraulically-operated (the tower housed the hydraulic accumulator) but are now electric. The station was refurbished in 2014-2015.

Trip to Merseyside 6-Jan-2018: Hamilton Square Station.

I took a New Brighton Train from Platform 3. The current trains are Class 507 and 508/1 3-car units built between 1978 and 1980. Although these trainsets are elderly, an Alstom refurbishment programme between 2002 and 2005 has improved the "passenger experience". However, in 2016, Merseytravel placed an order with Swiss train builder Stadler which will replace the entire fleet with Class 777 METRO 4-car sets by 2021.

Passing through Birkenhead, I noticed the top of the superstructure of a navy ship in the Cammell Laird Yard (which is discussed in the section Bidston Graving Dock of my post here). On my return home, I identified the ship as 'RFA Ford Austin' using the Ship AIS page here.

I was soon at New Brighton Station. Merseyrail make up for the fairly spartan trains by having stations which are staffed, warm, well-lit, provided with clean, working toilets and, usually, a shop or refreshment facilities.

Trip to Merseyside 6-Jan-2018: Booking Hall at New Brighton Station.

I set off on foot down Victoria Road towards the estuary, pausing at Victoria Road Fish and Chips for a take-away portion of excellent chips which lasted me to the Promenade. The massive, red-painted container cranes at the new deep-water port at Seaforth called 'Liverpool 2' dominate the view across the river. I briefly discussed the building of this facility, to handle post-Panamax vessels, in the post Notes on Liverpool and its Docks and I think I first saw these cranes in December 2016, as reported here.

Trip to Merseyside 6-Jan-2018, view from New Brighton Promenade across river: (L:) Panamanian-registered bulk carrier 'Lord Nelson' (28,653 DWT) heads out to sea, (R:) Liberian-registered container ship 'Songa Antofagasta' (35,534 DWT) moored at 'Liverpool 2'.

Although the new quay is open, there have been problems with the unexpected appearance of a sink-hole in the North Quay and locals have grumbled that they haven't seen many super-sized container ships yet. Needless to say, a Peel Ports spokesman remained confident for the future of this facility. The modern Floral Pavilion lies on the landward side of the promenade.

Trip to Merseyside 6-Jan-2018: Floral Pavilion Theatre, Promenade, New Brighton.

Before I made my way back to the railway station, I watched 'Oramalia' heading out to sea, following 'Lord Nelson'.

Trip to Merseyside 6-Jan-2018: Viewed from New Brighton Promenade, Gibraltar-registered oil/chemical tanker 'Oramalia' (6,863 DWT) heads out to sea.

Trip to Merseyside 6-Jan-2018: Panamanian-registered bulk carrier 'Lord Nelson' 28,653 DWT heads out to sea with the former New Brighton Lighthouse on the right.

I arrived at the station in time to see a train just leaving. I spent the short time waiting for the next service taking pictures around the station.

Trip to Merseyside 6-Jan-2018: Class 508 'Merseyrail' service leaving New Brighton station.

The train returned me quickly to the City and I alighted at Liverpool Lime Street station where escalators took me to the main line concourse. I'd originally intended to explore a little more but I was tired from the walking and the temptation of a Wolverhampton-bound train standing in the new platform 8 proved too great so, after a quick photograph at the platform end, I boarded the train home.

Liverpool Lime Street station Upgrade

When complete, the Upgrade with give Lime Street one extra platform and two lengthened platforms. Originally, the wide island platform 7/8 carried a carriage road allowing taxis and other vehicles direct access to trains. This was a common feature at important stations when I was growing up but appears to have fallen out of favour (although on my 2009 visit to Howrah station in Kolkata I was delighted to find the carriage road still in use). For some years, the carriage road at Lime Street had been used for various buildings, including the Virgin Trains First Class Lounge since the Virgin services to London used platform 7. All these buildings have been demolished (the Virgin First Class Lounge has been relocated on the concourse). Eliminating the space used by the carriage road has allowed the island platform to be narrowed, leaving room for an additional track and platform which will be the new platform 7, increasing subsequent platform numbers by one.

Trip to Merseyside 6-Jan-2018: Liverpool Lime Street Station. L: New platform 7 under construction, R: New platform 8 in use.

My train departed from the new platform 8 but work on the new platform 7 was still under way. There's a colourful (but inaccurate) computer-generated publicity image showing the final arrangement reproduced below.

Computer image of Liverpool Lime Street after Upgrade.


Although I returned home from Liverpool Lime Street without incident, the following day Network Rail closed the station to all trains for an estimated two days because of the discovery of dangerous corrosion in an Overhead Line structure affecting all lines.

Corroded OLE gantry on approach to Lime Street pictured by RMT Union.

This is not the only case of Network Rail's shortcomings affecting Lime Street. Less than a year earlier, in February 2017, the station was closed for a week following partial collapse of the stone-built retaining wall in Edge Hill Cutting. In November 2017 the Rail Accident Inspection Branch published its report on the incident which you can find 17/2017.

Related posts on other websites

Although the links worked at the time this post was published, changes made by that website's owner may 'break' the link.
West Midlands Trains.
RAIB Report 17/2017.

Related posts on this website

As I comment above, 'Merseyside' is a recurring theme in this blog. Your can find all my posts about Merseyside here.
Posts on the Old Locomotive Committe are here.

My photograph albums

Where necessary, clicking on an image above will display an 'uncropped' view or, alternately, pictures may be selected, viewed or downloaded, in various sizes, from the album covering this trip:-
Trip to Merseyside.