Folks familiar with Malaysian railways will know about the great strides the country has taken to modernise the railway from Padang Besar by the Thai border all the way down to the peninsula’s Southern tip at Johor Baru, opposite Singapore. What was a slow, antiquated, colonial-era, single track railway mostly under the control of Victorian semaphore signalling has been upgraded (stage by stage) into a double-track electrified railway with modern bi-directional colour-light signalling capable of speeds of up to 160kph.
The final stage – the 197km section from Gemas (Junction with the East Coast railway to Kuala Lipis) to Johor Baru is well underway, albeit late. The US $2.26bn contact to rebuild the route was won by the China Railway Construction Corporation (CRCC) and work began in January 2018 with an original completion target of 2021, this has now been officially extended until this year, but the delay shouldn’t detract from what’s an impressive piece of civil engineering.
This isn’t just a case of slapping down an extra set of tracks next to the originals. In many cases the new line runs on a brand new alignment that not only takes the kinks out but also flattens gradients and crosses through towns on long viaducts. Then there’s the unseen work, the thousands of concrete piles driven into the ground to stablise the formation, the pinning and shotcreting of cuttings, plus the extensive drainage work. For those of you unfamiliar with the line, here’s a picture I took from the back of a train heading North from Johor Baru near Chemak in February 2017. A 160kph line? I think not…
There’s also 11 brand new and substantial stations. Kempas Baru, Kulai, Leyang – Leyang, Rengam, Menkibol, Kluang, Paloh, Bekok, Labis, Genuang and Segamat, plus 3 entirely new ones at Senai, Chamek and Tenang. Some of these are large four-platform stops with associated freight yards and/or depots.
The completion of this section of line will see the demise of loco-hauled passenger trains on most of the West coast line. Currently, locomotives work the trains between JB and Gemas where passengers transfer to/from electric trains for Kuala Lumpur, Butterworth or Padang Besar. The only one likely to remain is the sleeper train between Tumpat on the East Coast line and Johor Baru.
Here’s a look at progress, seen from a loco hauled train from Johor Baru to Gemas on the 15th January 2023. Johor Baru station was rebuilt back in the early 2010s, the new line work starts a short way North, before the freight lines from docks at Pasir Gudnag and Tanjung Pelapas join the route. I’ve loads of pictures and can’t add them all to this blog, but you can find the rest of them in this gallery on my Zenfolio website.
As you can see, it’s not going to be long before the rebuilding of the line’s finished and loco-hauled trains become rare beasts on Malaysian railways, so – if you want to sample them I’d do so this year. If you’re interested in other photographs of Malaysian railways I have a collection from 2011-2012 which you can find here. They certainly show how much things have changed!
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I’m currently kicking my heels in Preston having travelled down from Scotland on an Avanti Pendolino this afternoon. I’ve had another busy but fun day in Glasgow, firstly checking out progress in electrifying the lines out to Barrhead and East Kilbride in order to get a few libray shots, then hot-footing it back to Glasgow Central in time to join the Vivarail battery train which was due to carry another selection of invited guests on a run out to Barrhead and back. This time the guests were more international and included representatives from Japan, Mexico and several Latin-American countries.The train performed faultlessy and gave a spirited run on battery power out and back.
Once the fun was over and with the winter light being ideal for shots at some of the locations I’d checked out earlier I sallied forth to Crossmyloof and Pollokshaws West where the OLE masts were illuminated by the setting sun and managed to capture the transition between two forms of traction as the lines are still worked by diesel multiple units which will be displaced one the masta that are appearing in their midst carry overhead wires. Here’s a couple of illustrations…
Hi-res versions of all the pictures taken over the past few days will be available on my Zenfolio website by tomorrow. I’ve been using my time on the Pendolino from Glasgow to get them all edited. The 11 car was packed when it arrived in Glasgow, but I managed to bag a table in the unreserved coach on the return and set up my mobile office – although the sunset and scenery did provide frequent distractions! I’ve a busy programme over the next few days so any time I can find to be productive is useful.
I must admit, I’ve really enjoyed spending all this time in Glasgow. It’s a great city that I’m very fond of. It has something for everyone. When I have some spare time I’ll flesh-out some of the blogs I’ve written with links, reviews and suggestions for places to visit. Places I’d never have found without the knowledge of a friend (Peter) who’s Glaswegian born and bred…
I had planned to be working from home today, then two things happened. The sun shone and (after many trials and tribulations) electric trains did finally start running to Bolton in normal service – so how could I resist?
I’ll do a separate blog on the story of Bolton electrification as I have many archive shots of the work underway. This rolling blog will simply describe today’s foray. Right now I’m on the slightly late-running 11:22 from Sowerby Bridge to Manchester Victoria which is being worked by a Class 153/156 combo. As it’s post Peak it’s actually quite a quiet train, for now anyway…
Today’s going to be a busy one. Right now there’s a major conference underway which is discussing the future of transport in the North, including Northern Powerhouse Rail and Hs2. There’s no doubt that the vast majority of Northern politicians. businesses and business groups are determined to push for expansion and investment in transport for the North, but at the same time a small bunch of Londoncentric Tory right-wingers are launching their latest attempt to influence Government policy by attempting another hatchet job on Hs2, a project they hate as it doesn’t fit in with their political world view. Tonight Channel 4 will screen a Dispatches programme fronted by one of the band of right-wingers. It has the entirely neutral title of “Hs2, the great train robbery?” I’ll be blogging about it in detail after it’s been aired and I’ve had a chance to see it, so watch this space…
A quick hop across platforms at Victoria has enabled me to catch the 12:08 to Blackburn which worked by ex-GWR units. I’m in another 153, which allows a direct comparison of interior. The first shot is Northern’s 153363, the second is ex-GWR 153380.
Whilst in Bolton I had time for a wander and noticed this statue to one of Bolton’s more famous residents.
With the sun sinking I’m making my way back from Horwich Parkway, which was my last port of call. Today’s been another cat and mouse contest with the sun but I’ve managed to get a few reasonable shots. Here’s 319361 working a Buckshaw Parkway – Manchester Victoria service at Bolton.
A number of different diesel diagrams went over to electric on this first day. 319s worked a Manchester Victoria – Buckshaw Parkway service and also Manchester Airport – Blackpool North and Airport-Preston. A pair of 156s shared the Buckshaw Parkway services, so the introduction of electric services is obviously phased. No doubt more will go over to 319s soon. Here’s another shot from Bolton.
If you want to see a few more shots I’ve added them to this gallery on my Zenfolio website.
I’m currently bouncing my way back to Yorkshire by Pacer (The 16:37 Victoria-Leeds. Today’s electric launch must be the beginning of the end for these units now. They were already living on borrowed time – half the fleet should have gone by May 2019 yet all remain in service at the moment. Soon, sights like this will be a thing of the past.
To add to the fun of the journey, this car has a wheelflat, so there’s ‘thud, thud, thud’ to complement the usual Pacer noises!
I’ve a favour to ask…
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I’m taking advantage of the glorious sunshine to get some rail pictures for a client today – I had planned to visit a line I’ve not been on for some time – the South Fylde line to Blackpool South. It’s a shadow of its former self compared to the glory days of the Edwardian era when tens of thousands would travel to the seaside town by train. Then mills across the North would shut down for the annual Wakes week with people travelling en-masse on excusion trains dispatched from stations across Lancashire and Yorkshire. Now it’s a glorified siding that branches off the main line to Blackpool North at Kirkham and Wesham, but it’s still a useful line used by a Pacer train shuttle service from Colne (another much truncated line). Sadly, due to problems with delayed electrification and a shortage of rolling stock, the service isn’t operated by trains today – only buses. So I’ve opted for plan B. I’m heading for the Windermere branch!
Right now I’m on a Northern service from Halifax to Preston. The Blackpool lines only recently reopened after being electrified. My train would normally run through to Blackpool but a combination of factors mean many services are replaced by buses from Preston, including this one.
Plan B meant changing to a Virgin Trains Pendolino to Lancaster. Then picking up a Trans-Pennine service to Oxenholme. Icould have caught the TPE srvice at Preston but those 4 car trains are always rammed, whilst the VT service was a 9 car Pendolino, giving me a bit more space. Here it is pulling in. A repainted 390047…
True enough, when I caught the TPE at Lancaster,I ended up sitting on the vestibule floor!
I’m retracing my steps towards Halifax after an enjoyable day exploring a railway I’ve rarely visited. It’s been a trip made even more fun by fab weather and old-fashioned loco-hauled trains.
My first surprise was when the TPE guard annouced “change at Oxenholme for the West Coast Railways service to Windermere”. I wadn’t expecting that, but good on them for recognising it was something unusual. As we were late I had to sprint across the platform to make the train, which was made up of 3 old Mk2 coaches in WCR livery topped and tailed by a pair of ex-Virgin Trains “Thunderbirds” (57314 and 57316 for the number crunchers). The train was packed so I ended up stood in a vestibule -right next to someone I knew from the rail industry who was having a ‘jolly’!
We had a real catch-up about mutual friends and what they were all up to nowadays as we made our way to Staveley where I decamped to look for a suitable lineside location to get pictures. Sadly, like many lines, vegetation has encroached to choke off many opportunities. This is the problem when you don’t know a line well and haven’t had time to do much research!
In the end I decided to spend more time exploring than photographing and headed back as far as Burneside where I found the remains of a freight branch that used to serve 3 local paper mills. Only a short section of track is intact but it’s a suprising survivor in this day and age. I never even knew it existed, but a few minutes on the internet threw up this Wikipedia page.
The track is still in situ at this point but it’s gradually disappearing beneath the gravel. The old BRB sign’s a bit of a giveaway! The old goods yard is in front of the camera. Behind me the line crosses a yard then ends in a stone wall.
Looking towards the old goods yard. The road here leads to Burnside railway station on the left.
After an amble around the area & noting locations for a future visit I had a run down to Windermere before heading back to Kendal to get a few more pictures like this one.
57316 (with 57314 on the rear) pulls away from Kendal station as it heads towards Windermere. I took this picture from a lattice footbridge which crosses the line at this point. The land to the right was once a large goods yard which is long gone.
After the madness of the last 7-10 days this week looks positively relaxed by comparison! Most of my time will be spent working from home, writing several articles and editing the enormous collection of pictures I’ve taken recently. My commute to work is a lot easier too – all I have to do is make my way from the front bedroom to the back office, with occasional forays to the kitchen!
First up in the editing list are pictures I took in the Manchester and Bolton areas when I went to have a look at progress on electrification of the line from Manchester to Preston. Here’s a sample.
Masts have appeared around Bolton West Junction and the line to Blackburn. The route isn’t being electrified but the station area is in order to allow operational flexibility during engineering work or emergencies when trains may need to be turned round.
The bay platforms (1 and 2) at Manchester Victoria also have masts in place now.
Once I’ve all the NW pictures done later the morning I’ll be sorting out the ‘3 peaks by Rail’ pictures, so expect a few links to galleries later. After that, I’ve pictures to add from the High Speed Rail Industry Leaders conference in Leeds, plus a large amount of pictures from the press trip to see Siemens in Germany. Expect lots of pictures of brand new trains (like this one)!
A pair of brand new Siemens Desiro HC 4-car EMUs, No’s 462004 and 462007 on the test track at Wildenrath, Germany on the 14th June.
Today Transport Minister Jo Johnson MP made a policy announcement on the future of the UKs diesel train fleets – sort of, ish…
Because the policy is more of an aspiration, not a firm commitment. Johnson told the BBC that “I would like to see us take all diesel-only trains off the track by 2040. If that seems like an ambitious goal, it should be and I make no apology for that. After all we’re committed to ending the sales of petrol and diesel cars by 2040. If we can achieve that, then why can’t the railway aspire to a similar objective?” Once doesn’t have to be a Professor of English to spot the caveats in that.
The inherent irony here is that his Government has recently scaled back electrification of routes like the Midland Mail Line (MML) and has ordered many more diesel-electric bi-mode trains like the Hitachi Class 802s for GWR. Bi-modes are the worst of all worlds as they’re hardly energy efficient, OK, they may run on electric power for most of the trip, but then they’re carting around a lot of dead-weight in diesel engines and fuel.
This also begs questions about the 55 new CAF built Civity DMUs which are on order for Northern. Can these be converted to EMUs and (even if they can be) what does this do for the economics of the Northern franchise? Elsewhere, Porterbrook leasing are converting all-electric Class 319 trains to bi-mode by fitting them with diesel engines. The rolling stock leasing companies must be scratching their heads right now. They’ve got 1000s of older EMU vehicles coming off-lease in the next few years but without an extension of electrification, there’s nowhere to run them! Instead, we’re going to the halfway-house of bi-mode.
GWR are currently taking delivery of these Hitachi Class 800 bi-modes to replace their HST fleet. Does the Government seriously expect the MTU diesel engines to be redundant in 22 yrs time, and if so – how?
Whilst the announcement (or should that be ‘thinking aloud’) will be welcome news for companies like Alstom who have developed a Hydrogen powered train, it leaves more questions than it answers.
There’s one very noticeable omission in the ‘plan’: Freight.
The majority of the UKs railfreight is moved by powerful ‘go anywhere’ diesel locomotives. How will they be replaced by 2040 without electrifying the main freight routes? As many depots and sidings aren’t electrified train builders have fitted ‘last mile’ diesel powerpacks to electric locos. Realistically, can these be replaced by hydrogen or battery power by 2040? And what about the miles of freight lines where diesel operation’s the only viable option? Freight operators exist on very small margins as it is. How would this proposal affect the economics of their operations?
Siemens Vectron locomotives under construction in Vienna in 2016. These modular locos are can be built as diesel or electric. The version in VR livery is an electric fitted with a ‘last mile’ diesel power-pack.
The current workhorse of UK freight operators is the Class 66. Without widespread electrification, what else could deliver the power at rail needed to move heavy freight trains hundreds of miles at up to 75mph? A Canadian plan for a hydrogen powered locomotive shows that it would be two units, with the second carrying the hydrogen. Doubling the size of the locomotive increases maintenance costs and potentially leads to shorter trains due to the capacity of sidings and loops (also increasing costs).
A DB Cargo Class 66 hauls empty china clay wagons away form the harbour at Fowey, Cornwall.
So, I remain sceptical about the ‘plan’ as I don’t see a firm policy or long-term strategy from DfT or Ministers that will allow this to happen, which is a shame as Johnson’s aim is laudable. Recently, I blogged about the change to air quality at Paddington station which was evident now the HSTs and DMU’s were being replaced by electric traction. Sadly, with diesel bi-modes and back-tracking on electrification we seem to be going in the wrong direction.
I popped down to London yesterday to take a spin out to Reading on the Great Western Main Line from Paddington which has just seen electric services extended as far as Didcot Parkway.
The change at Paddington is noticeable for two reasons. Not only are there a lot more shiny new GWR green Electrostars in evidence, there’s also many more Hitachi Class 800s knocking around too. These trains are like a breath of fresh air – literally – as electric is replacing diesel traction, improving the atmosphere in the station and on into our capital, which has once again become notorious for poor air quality.
Goodbye ‘Thames Turbos’, hello ‘Electrostars’ – the future of suburban trains at Paddington.
That said, it was still one of the venerable HSTs that took me out to Reading as there’s plenty of them still in service. Bowling along towards Reading I saw how much of the route has changed in the past year. The new tracks for Crossrail were very obvious around Westborne Park and Old Oak Common, along with the dive-under the yard entrance at Acton Main Line which has been commissioned. Platform extensions were another clear sign of change at several stations, not just on the Relief lines at places like West Ealing and Slough but also on some of the the Main lines.
Of course, Reading is the biggest change of all. Only the 1860 station building with its prominent clock tower survives, almost everything else is new. If it wasn’t for the fact I’ve got shots of the station going back to the 1980s I’d find it very difficult to picture how it used to be as the transformation’s so great. However, one thing that hasn’t changed is the biting wind, in fact the new design feels like its channelled it! I always remember how chilly it could be in winter and yesterday was no exception – even when the sun did break through! But that’s the price you pay for being stuck out on the end of platforms taking pictures rather then hiding in a warm waiting room like any sane passenger.
A GWR Class 387 weaves its way Westwards towards Didcot through an avenue of OHL masts and wires.
Photography’s a lot more challenging than in past years. Not only because of the plethora of masts wires and signal gantries casting shadows in the low sunlight but also because of the assortment of new office buildings which have risen up on the South side of the station over the past couple of decades. The length of the trains presents new challenges too – a 10 car Class 800 takes up most of the platform and the days of running down the ramp onto the ballast to find the space for a nose shot are long gone. Even the 4 car 387’s pull right up to the platform ends rather then stop on the middle of the station so you have to get used to how the new station & services operate to get the pictures you want. One thing I did notice is how quickly the Class 800s accelerate away from the station. After being used to HSTs they certainly seem quicker off the mark.
Two 5 car Class 800s with 800023 trailing call at Reading en-route to Paddington.
As the weather was closing in I opted to return to London and sample one of the Electrostar stopping services which are a step-change in quality from the old ‘Thames Turbo’ DMUs. They’re light, bright, clean and with plenty of space. They’re quiet and warm too as they’ve a modern HVAC system as opposed to hopper windows. Add in the fact they’ve tables and plug sockets and GWR are really onto a winner with them. They’re just about everything you could wish for in a modern train.
The Thames Turbo DMUs have been the staple of Thames Valley services since 1992 but the world’s moved on. Here’s the interior of a GWR Class 387 EMU.
I broke the return trip at Twyford so that I could get a few more pictures before the sun disappeared for the day. Installing overhead wires has altered the feel of the place, but not as much as some other stations which have lost their old GWR footbridges in order to provide the necessary clearance. Platform extensions were very much evident in Twyford, but on this occasion they were on the Main line, not the relief.
387159 arrives at Twyford to carry me back to London.
On the final leg to Paddington I cast a critical eye over the new electrification masts which have been supplied by Furrer & Frey. They won’t win any awards for aesthetics, but they look like they’ll stand up to anything – including a nuclear attack!
Furrer & Frey electrification masts on the GWML. The word ‘butch’ springs to mind, but after suffering so many delayed journeys on the ECML due to the fragility of head-spans, I’m beginning to like them…
Back at Paddington I grabbed a few more pictures before heading to Kings Cross for the journey back to Yorkshire. The curse of the East Coast Main Line struck again as my return train was delayed near Huntingdon because we were requested to run at low speed to inspect the line ahead. As it was an OLE issue I couldn’t help wishing that the East Coast head-spans had been as bomb-proof as the equipment I’d seen on the GWML earlier!
In with the new, out with the old. GWR Class 800 No 800018 at Paddington next to one of the venerable HSTs it will replace.
I’m currently working for Network Rail around Bath, Bathampton & Box tunnel on the Great Western Mainline electrification scheme. It’s a fascinating job that vividly illustrates the problems of modernising a Victorian rail network – especially one that contains so many iconic and listed structures.I’ll blog about this in more detail, but for now I’ll share with you part of the site induction, which gives a historical & technical perspective on the famous Box Tunnel.
I cracked a wry smile when I read the section on detractors & objectors & their doom-laden prophesies as this reminds me so much of the modern day opposition to Hs2. Plus ça change!
What was more sobering was reading about the death toll. 100. We may chafe at modern ‘elf & safety’ but on the railways it’s a vital component of everyday work.
Right, time to go and put that PPE on…
For once, I’ve actually managed to get myself on the other side of the camera in Box tunnel. Thanks goes to my COSS, Joe Kensley for stepping up to the plate to get a decent pic in very difficult circumstances!
Beam me up Scottie! looking up one of the air shafts in the Box tunnel.
Yesterday was a good day for railways in the North. As well as the start of the Northern electric service a report from the Northern Electrification Task Force, set up by the Transport Secretary to advise the government on which areas it should focus its investment was published.
Schemes were prioritised into three tiers. Tier 1 (the highest priority) are as follows:
Calder Valley (Leeds to Manchester and Preston via Bradford and Brighouse)
Liverpool to Manchester via Warrington Central
Southport/Kirkby to Salford Crescent
Chester to Stockport
Northallerton to Middlesbrough
Leeds to York via Harrogate
Selby to Hull
Sheffield (Meadowhall) to Leeds via Barnsley / Castleford & connections
Bolton to Clitheroe
Sheffield to Doncaster/Wakefield Westgate (Dearne Valley)
Hazel Grove to Buxton
Warrington to Chester
This is great news for the Calder Valley as the importance of the line as a mixed traffic, Trans Pennine route has been recognised. The line is also a crucial diversionary route for Trans-Pennine Express trains when the Colne Valley is closed for engineering route. As the Colne Valley will be electrified in the near future, the Calder would have been useless to TPE’s future electric services.
The report goes on to say “the routes detailed in Tier One should now be taken forward through the production of more detailed business cases with a view to including them in the work programme for the next rail industry ‘Control Period’ (2019 to 2024). Rail North and Network Rail should jointly progress this work and we therefore ask Government to prioritise resources, identified specifically for this purpose, so that work can progress with the required degree of urgency”.
Another good feature of the report is it recommends a rolling programme of electrification beginning with tier 1 but carrying on until all 3 tiers are complete. The other tiers are these. Tier 2 contains eight routes;
Manchester to Sheffield and south-east Manchester local services
York to Scarborough
Bishop Auckland/Darlington to Saltburn and Sunderland
Barnsley to Huddersfield
Sheffield to Lincoln via Retford
Chester to Crewe
Burnley to Colne & Kirkham to Blackpool South
Knottingley to Goole
Whilst tier 3 contains a further 12 routes;
Barrow to Carnforth
Pontefract to Church Fenton
Hull to Scarborough
Ormskirk to Preston
Carlisle to Newcastle
Skipton to Carlisle
Barton on Humber
Doncaster to Gilberdyke
Cleethorpes to Thorne (Doncaster)
Middlesbrough to Whitby
Skipton to Heysham
I would love to think we’ll see such a rolling programme and that (one day) branch lines such as Whitby & Barton on Humber, but I won’t hold my breath! In the meantime, I’ll be happy to see the tier 1 routes included in CP6.
There’s a feeling amongst quite a few people, both within the rail industry, local government and the political arena – that the present Calder Valley service is suppressing demand. Reliability isn’t what it could be, nor is there an express service between Leeds, Bradford & Manchester that could tempt people out of their cars. Electrification could allow this to happen by increasing capacity, speeds & reliability – as well as improving the passenger environment. Now the ball is in the Minister’s court, but this close to an election, don’t expect any announcements until the dust has settled…
Needless to say, there’s a lot in the document and – as always – the devil is in the detail. I’d urge you to read through at your leisure to see the full depth of what’s been considered.