Sunday, 6 April 2014

The Great Central Railway, the Diesel Gala, and an information session on electrification of the mainline!

The leaflet!

To be honest, I had no idea that I was at all interested in trains, and in reality, I don’t think I am, but I was intrigued by a leaflet telling me about a discussion that was planned by the East Midlands branch of Railfuture, the focus of which was the electrification of the Midland Mainline from Bedford to Sheffield, and I hoped to bump into some people I knew, as well as spend some time in a building I was last in when I was doing my tour guide training!

Lovatt House from the rear!

One of the diesel engines at the gala.

The railway landscape has changed over the last 20 years, when stations north of Bedford were in danger of being closed. Now, there has been much improvement and development of the train services in our area, and the latest plan is electrification of the line.  David Horne, Managing Director of East Midlands Trains, spent a couple of hours giving us information on the growth of the service, projects on the go, upgrading and electrification of the network, and other development opportunities, as well as answering numerous questions and concerns, and receiving high praise from a critical audience.

In 1993, at the time of the privatisation of the railways, annual passenger numbers amounted to about 5 million. East Midlands Trains were awarded the second franchise for the area in 2007, and in 2014 passenger numbers had risen to a healthy 14 million, that, despite the economic recession and all the hardships that this brings. Interestingly, the Public Performance Measures (PPM – which shows the percentage of trains that arrive at the destination on time and combines punctuality and reliability figures into one measure) for East Midlands Trains run into the early 90s, making them one of the more high-performing train operators (see also the sub-operator performance link about three-quarters of the way down the page).

Station approach, Loughborough

If you’ve ever travelled to or through Leicester station you will know that this received a very large, successful make-over in 2012 (see the review from the Leicester Victorian Society). And, if you’re reading this on a blog about Loughborough, then you probably know that Loughborough train station had a major programme of improvement works in 2012, with a new footbridge and lift, extensions to the length of the platforms, new car and cycle parks, new ticket machines and various refurbs.

Summer 2013 saw the turn of Nottingham station, although this work was more about signalling improvements, as well as improvements to the entrance and concourse. David explained in more detail about the signalling, and other improvements, but also stressed that the 750,000 rail travellers affected by the temporary closure of the station would not be interested in such technicalities, so EMT embarked on a serious customer care campaign, introducing a life-size mascot, a dance-off, and engaged staff from areas of railway work who would not normally be involved in face-to-face interaction with the public, to guide people to waiting buses. Staggeringly, customer satisfaction was running at about 86% before the works, and 92% during! Other improvements at Nottingham (some still to be completed) included a new multi-storey car park restoration of the glass canopy, repairs to the terracotta frontage, a new cycle hub, the linking of a tram bridge and a new southern concourse. 
Other projects in the area that David drew our attention to were the increase in speed from 100 to 125 miles per hour, although some areas, like around Wellingborough, are still running more slowly due to things like the curvature of the line.  Plans in the pipeline include improvements to the Leicester area, particularly around Wigston (maybe a flyover), some re-signalling work at Derby, and, plans for improvements at Market Harborough are in their infancy, although it was recognised that the platforms are too short and not in line with the height of the trains, no shelter and poor access for the disabled.

David’s description of the electrification of the line was comprehensive, discussing details like work that would be needed on 100 bridges, the use of diversionary lines (used by freight and during times of maintenance), the older electrification systems in use south of Bedford, and what rolling stock would be appropriate to use on the new system. More information on the electrification can be found in East Midlands Route: Summary Route Plan from Network Rail.

As the second speaker was not available, David fielded a wide range of questions from an audience with a wide interest, ranging from someone who was concerned at the possible use of continental-style, heavy locomotives that would most certainly cause unwanted vibrations thereby threatening older buildings, to the question of extra capacity at Nottingham, the need for the national grid to up its game in relation to the increasing need for energy, to a concern that St Pancras station was too cold and the new seats (made out of the Olympic rings that adorned the station entrance in 2012) too exposed, to a suggestion for re-routing of a few lines to include Loughborough, to a consideration of possible HS3 and HS4 routes.

I for one, was glued to my seat for the duration of the presentation and ensuing discussions, and am now looking forward to journeying to Nottingham, Derby, Leicester and Market Harborough just so I can witness the improvements and some of the problems at first hand! Maybe I should invest in one of those new Two Together railcards! And was it just me who thought there was a degree of irony in the fact that we were meeting in a building belonging to the Great Central Railway, who that day were having a diesel gala - and there we were talking about electrification!
The Great Central Railway, Loughborough station.

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