Meeting Reports

Thursday 5th March 2020

ROG – Revolutionising Train Operations

Karl Watts

We were delighted to welcome Karl Watts, Chief Executive Officer of ROG UK Ltd, to our first meeting of 2020. For a relatively new company – just five years old – Rail Operations Group has come a long way and has exciting ambitions for the future. Karl was able to share with us the story of the company to date and the plans for future operations.

Karl who has been in the railway industry for 42 years, founded ROG, after identifying what would soon become a major need for moving rolling stock around the network, whether it be redundant stock being taken to store or new units for delivery to the TOCs. The company received its train operating licence from the ORR in March 2015 and immediately set about changing the way rolling stock was moved about the network. ROG’s business model and method of operation was very different to what was then offered by the freight operating companies. The most notable difference was the use of locos with specially adapted Dellner couplers to couple directly to the stock being moved rather than having to use barrier wagons. This had operational benefits in reducing the length of the train being operated and allowing higher speeds.

37884 was the first locomotive in the ROG fleet, with operations starting in November 2015; the fleet currently has six 37s, which Karl noted are reliable locomotives. As well as haulage by locomotives, the company also operates units under their own power; this now represents 65-70% of the rolling stock movements that ROG undertakes. More recently ROG has been engaged in high speed testing of the new OLE on the Midland Main Line between Bedford and Corby for which it has been using Class 91 locomotives.

In addition to the rolling stock haulage business, ROG has two other business units – Traxion and Orion.  Traxion was established 18 months ago as rolling stock maintenance company. With a significant number of coaches and multiple units being removed from traffic, there is a requirement for ‘warm’ storage until a further use can be identified by the rolling stock companies. Traxion manages a number of these storage locations including Gascoigne Wood near Selby where 9 sets of ex-LNER HSTs are currently stored.

The most recent part of the business is Orion, which specialises in high speed logistics by rail. Karl noted that the movement of freight by rail has not changed much since the launch of intermodal services in 1964. Container traffic is still conveyed at a maximum of 75mph between ports and inland hubs. Orion hopes to exploit the growing LGV (light goods vehicles) market which has expanded massively in response to the increase in online shopping. Business are increasingly keen to be seen to be environmentally friendly and the use of rail is seen as an essential part of improving their green credentials. The Orion operation will use Class 769 Flex multiple units, specially converted from passenger use. Their first deployment will be later this year on a 3-times per day service between Thames Gateway and Liverpool Street.

Finally, Karl shared with us details of ROG’s order for 12 Class 93 hybrid locomotives to be built by Stadler. Externally they look similar to Class 68/88 but they are a mix of electric, diesel and battery operation. The battery is designed to provide an extra boost to the diesel engine allowing the locomotives to operate on the mainline in diesel mode where required. The first examples are likely to arrive later this year.

This was an interesting evening and pleasing to hear of a company that is innovating; challenging the status quo within the industry and delivering new services. A highly recommended speaker.

Monday 2nd December 2019

‘Freight Then and Now’

Brian Ringer

The joint Branch meeting on the 2nd December with Northampton Branch was conducted by one of MK’s own members, Brian Ringer, who was a former railwayman n the freight sector.

His talk was entitled Freight Now and Then which explained the vast differences between freight in the post war years and the inter- modal trains operated today. Brian gave a fascinating insight into how computerisation has changed the whole dynamics of railway freight especially in the import/export field.

Thursday 5th September 2019

Development of Class 345 for the Elizabeth Line – Ron Bailes

Ron Bailes, ETCS Project Manager for MTR Crossrail was our speaker at the September meeting. This was in fact Ron’s second talk to the branch this year having stepped in at very short notice in March to present about his earlier BR career in replacement of our planned speaker who was unavoidably delayed in London. The theme for this second presentation was on the current developments with the Elizabeth Line, also know as Crossrail, specifically with regard to introduction of the Class 345 fleet.

Ron has been working with the Crossrail project since 2016 and began by giving us an overview of this enormous construction project – the largest in Europe. When fully operational, Crossrail will offer a 10% increase in rail capacity in London and will link Abbey Wood and Shenfield in the east with Reading and Heathrow Airport in the west. There are 40 new Crossrail stations including 10 brand new stations. It will bring an extra 1½ million people within 45 minutes distance of central London. The Central Operating Section (COS) through London will be built entirely in tunnels with above ground sections extending via Paddington to Heathrow and Reading in the west and from Liverpool Street to Shenfield and Abbey Wood.

The MTR Corporation, which was founded in Hong Kong in 1975, has a 10-year concession to operate Crossrail. The whole project is planned to operate in five stages with the first stage – Stage 0 – completed in 2015 with the takeover of existing services between Liverpool Street and Shenfield operated by Class 315. Stage 5 – the final part – will see services operating to the western terminus at Reading and to Abbey Wood and Shenfield in the east.

The Class 345 ‘Aventra’ is a Bombardier product which has to interface with three different signalling systems on the Crossrail network. To accept a 345 into service takes a considerable amount of testing and checking which Ron expertly guided us through. There are many considerations such as a gauging and stepping distances, signal sighting, car stop marks being checked and door operation at platforms. The testing is normally done overnight to avoid disrupting the planned timetable and can involve many hours performing the same repetitive tasks to ensure that all aspects of the train behave as expected.

Although the full Crossrail timetable should have started this December, Ron was candid about the challenges that have been faced which has led to that deadline being missed. As significant issue with the Class 345 fleet has been to get the onboard software to a reliable standard. There have been other well publicised issues in the media with completion of stations on the route.

This was a very interesting evening, the audience ably guided through the technical and complex processes of accepting new trains into traffic. A highly recommended speaker and talk.


Thursday 4th July 2019

The Art of Timetable Planning – Stephen Newman

We welcomed Stephen Newman, manager of the LNE & East Midlands train planning team at Network Rail in Milton Keynes to our July meeting for a thoroughly engaging and interesting evening explaining the complexities of putting together a timetable twice a year. Stephen’s enthusiasm for the subject helped the audience navigate the terminology and timescales from starting to prepare a timetable over a year before its commencement date to publication and the trains running.

Stephen explained that there are 450 staff in the train planning department, which is based at Milton Keynes and responsible for delivering not only the bi-annual timetable changes in May and December but all the changes required each week due to engineering work, special events, charters and freight. The timetable process is broadly divided into the Long Term Planning (LTP) and Short Term Planning (STP) processes and it was the former that Stephen guided us through.

The train planning department is structured into seven routes and support functions that help those routes deliver the timetable. Stephen’s route is LNE & East Midlands and he took us through the structure and roles within the team. Stephen’s background was in railway consultancy before joining Network Rail as a train planner in Leeds in 2006. He made the move to Milton Keynes when the train planning function was centralised and has been a line manager for the past eleven years.

The process of developing the timetable together Stephen explained was built on collaboration, not only with operators but across functions within Network Rail and other stakeholders such as the Department for Transport. The process is highly contractualised which is set out in part D of the Network Code, the ‘rule book’ for putting together the timetable. This details specific obligations on the part of Network Rail and TOCs/FOCs and the different stages in the development from initial notification of process dates 73 weeks before the timetable starts to the day the timetable commences.

A key part of the development process is publication of the Timetable Planning Rules (TPR), which form the building blocks of the timetable. This includes the timing points to build a schedule, the point to point running times, the margins to be applied at junctions between conflicting movements and planning rules for stations such as dwell times and platform reoccupation margins. Stephen took us through a detailed process of how the TPR can be amended and why.

Whilst the TPRs are being developed and published, further preparation work for the timetable is underway such as ensuring slots for international freight paths are included, updating the infrastructure in the train planning system and understanding from the operators their aspirations for the forthcoming timetable change. Once all the bids (requested train paths) from operators have been received and loaded into the new timetable database, they have to be checked against planned possession periods set out in the Engineering Access Statement to ensure that there are no conflicts.

Stephen took us through the process of then validating train paths. This is done using graphs and involves checking that the train is valid against the published rules i.e. has the correct margins and headways with other services. This is a very detailed and sometimes complex process as was exemplified by the junction margins at Doncaster which run to more than a page of different conflicting movements where a margin needs to be applied! On occasion two train paths requested by different operators may conflict and Stephen explained to us how a decision is reached on how to adjust the paths to accommodate both in the timetable or where this is not possible the criteria that is explored when considering which path to reject.

With 26 weeks to the date the timetable runs, the validation work by Network Rail is completed and the TOCs/FOCs will have been advised which services are included and others that have either been adjusted or rejected. They then have a 20-day period in which to appeal decisions made by Network Rail. From 22 weeks to the date the timetable runs, few alterations can be made. Operators will be preparing train crew and rolling stock diagrams and the process of weekly amendments of that timetable under the short term planning process will start 18 weeks before the timetable start date. Network Rail meanwhile will already be preparing to go through the whole process again for the next timetable change!

This was a fascinating evening that I am sure many found an informative insight into how the timetable is put together. Stephen spoke solidly for two hours keeping the audience engaged and enthused with this detailed presentation.

Thursday 6th June 2019

East Anglia Transitions – John Day

John Day from Ipswich was our guest speaker for the June meeting. John is a very long standing and well known Society member and leading light in the Ipswich branch. His talk for the evening, which concentrated mainly on the decades from the 1980s onwards, revealed an ever changing railway scene in the eastern counties and one which is about to see a revolution in terms of rolling stock provision.

John revealed that he had worked for the railways briefly for a six year period in the 1960s before a long term career working with British Gas, from where he retired in 1996. Throughout his working life he had many opportunities to travel around East Anglia, always with a camera near at hand and as a result he had many fine views to show us, reflecting just how much railways in this part of the country have evolved.

The evening started on the Harwich branch before moving to Frinton-on-Sea with a Class 309 EMU framed by the long since gone semaphore signal. The pace and diversity of views for the evening was thus set, criss-crossing Suffolk, Norfolk, Essex and Cambridgeshire and a few other places between. There were many fine views of not only the everyday scene that has long since changed but also of special workings and last ever events including the last Class 37 on the Liverpool Street to King’s Lynn service.

Naturally, a good part of the evening was spent in and around Ipswich with the various docks branches well documented. Only Griffin Wharf of this extensive system remains in operation. Just to the north of Ipswich the new freight only chord, otherwise known as the Bacon Factory Curve, has provided new photographic opportunities.

A good number of steam specials had been documented over the years with Britannia, Flying Scotsman, Tornado and Bulleid’s Taw Valley and Tangmere all featured. Most dramatic of all though for your reviewer was 4464 Bittern working a Cathedral’s Express to Norwich, passing Brandon, through recent heavy snowfall with the sun beautifully illuminating a timeless scene.

All the principle class of diesel locomotive were seen throughout the evening. The Class 37s are of course well associated with these parts, as were in their day Class 31s on CrossCountry workings and Class 33s working Snailwell to Sheerness steel trains.

Some of the remarkable liveries to be seen were remembered from the bright exciting colours of NSE to the entirely risible ‘one’ interlude, a period best forgotten!

Finally, not to be forgotten, are the electric workhorses of the mainline intercity services formed of Class 90 and previously Class 86 locomotives. They too are now entering the twilight of their careers in Anglia as the new order of Stadler and Bombardier units wait to enter service and take over from the current fleets.

The evening certainly proved that the railways of Anglia are in a state of flux and John did an able job expanding on the many changes over the last 30 years. This was a fine record of the railway in a sometimes overlooked region and underlined how much there is still to appreciate and enjoy. The coming decades are likely to be just as interesting.


Thursday 2nd May 2019

Railways in a Cornish Landscape Part 2 – Stephen Gay

It was a welcome return for Stephen Gay, RCTS Sheffield branch member, with the second and concluding part of his illustrated journey along the railways of Cornwall. Stephen had last been with us in September 2017 when our journey had paused at Truro. We were soon on our way again in Stephen’s affable company with some stunning views of the railway and the landscapes and coastline of Cornwall, taking us to the end of the line at Penzance.

Our first diversion was down the Falmouth branch, to its terminus at Falmouth Docks, much diminished from its heyday. As with Stephen’s earlier talk there were some accomplished compositions, making even a humble Class 150 an interesting subject in the bucolic setting of Cornish countryside. The audience was surely impressed by Stephen’s patience – waiting three hours to get one shot – and his tenacity in others, disturbing a wasps nest and having to climb onto a rather perilous looking parapet to achieve a photo he wanted of a disused viaduct. One that is very much still in use is the Carnon Viaduct, that carries the Falmouth branch over the valley floor. The masonry piers of the original Brunel viaduct make a striking juxtaposition to the 1930s built structure that replaced it.

A diversion to the long abandoned Redruth & Chacewater Railway unearthed quite a surprise for our speaker, who researching a fatal accident on the line, discovered the grave of the deceased in the church yard at St Keyne. To his surprise the name of the unfortunate railway worker was Stephen Gay! Returning to the railways, Stephen took us to the former port of Devoranand then onto the ferry that links Truro with Falmouth.

Rejoining the branch we were taken back to the main line at Scorrier to see a Class 66 with fuel tanks for Long Rock depot. This traffic, it was noted has since disappeared to road, that apparently being a more efficient means of getting fuel to the depot than by rail. We next briefly stopped at Redruth, where apparently Jenny Agutter once stopped for refreshment, before onwards to Cambourne and its statue to Richard Trevithick, the father of the railways.

The St. Ives branch, the last to be built in Cornwall, was depicted in its spectacular glory with views of the town and the sweeping Carbis Bay before we rejoined the mainline at St. Erth for the final part of the journey to Penzance. Here, Stephen had noted milepost 326½, the highest railway mileage post anywhere in the UK. After a brief look at the Scillonian 3 – the ferry that links the British mainland with the Scilly Isles, a visit to Penlee lifeboat station and the Cornish village of Sheffield, Stephen concluded the evening with a sunset over the South Crofty tin mine. A perfect summation of an enchanting journey along the railways, coastline and countryside of Cornwall.

Thursday 4th April 2019

East West Rail Update – Stephen Barker

We were pleased to welcome Stephen Barker from East West Rail to our April meeting, after the difficulties he had in getting to us in March. This was Stephen’s third presentation to the branch and as were the previous occasions, an excellent evening. His current role is Engineering Director for East West Rail, which is the company leading the construction and reinstatement of the railway line between Bicester and Bletchley, which will link to the existing Bletchley to Bedford line, with a proposed extension eastwards to Cambridge.

Stephen started the evening by explaining who the key players are in the East West rail project. The East West Rail Company whom he works for, based in London, is a non-departmental public arm’s length body that reports to the Department for Transport. The East West Rail Consortium is an association of local authorities on the proposed route or directly affected by it, that are working together with the Department for Transport and Network Rail, in developing the railway. The final major party in the project is the East West Rail Alliance, comprised of Network Rail, Laing O’Rourke and VolkerRail, which are charged with delivering the Western Section of East West Rail, from development to construction.

Next, Stephen outlined the reasons for building East West Rail. It will deliver enhanced transport communications across a part of England that is poorly served by east to west connectivity. It will bring economic prosperity to the Oxford, Milton Keynes, Cambridge arc and will contribute to solving the problem of housing affordability by allowing potential employees to travel into the main employment centres from areas with cheaper housing. The project is innovative in the way it is being delivered with the focus firmly on what passengers want and how those needs can be best delivered. The project will also be separate from Network Rail which will allow bench-marking of costs and delivery to be made.

The original East West railway linking Oxford to Cambridge was opened in full in 1862 and survived the Beeching cuts of 1963 only be authorised for closure by Barbara Castle in 1967, ironically the same year Milton Keynes was designated a new city for north Buckinghamshire. The section east of Bedford and west of Bletchley closed to passengers although freight continued on the Western section until the early 1990s. The East West rail project envisages reinstatement of the route in three stages. The Western Section comprises Oxford – Bicester – Marylebone, Bicester – Bedford, Milton Keynes and Aylesbury. The Central Section will link Bedford with Cambridge whilst the Eastern Section comprises connectivity from Cambridge to Norwich and other East Anglia destinations.

The current focus of works is on the Western Section and reinstatement between Bicester Gavray Junction and Bletchley. An application for a Transport Works Act Order (TWAO) was made in July 2018. The public inquiry into the TWAO is nearly completed and it is hoped that the inquiry inspector will recommend granting the powers needed to begin construction. Stephen explained that the current Secretary of State, is enthusiastic about East West Rail and the funding is in place, so there is a high level of confidence of delivery of the project.

Stephen outlined some of the engineering challenges of the construction phase of the project. Not least is the need to rebuild the cutting at Winslow and reinstating the failed drainage. The Bletchley flyover also requires attention and will need to be lifted up from its current supports for a full inspection. It has already been discovered that each span of the flyover was completed in differing styles and forms of construction so it is unclear what might be found from closer inspection. Eventually the two platforms for Bletchley High Level will be cantilevered out from this structure. All being well the main construction phase should start by the end of 2019 with an envisaged opening to passengers in late 2023.

Finally, Stephen outlined some of the challenges of reinstating the railway east of Bedford towards Cambridge, as much of the original railway formation has been lost. There are currently five alternative routes being considered. It is intended that a single preferred route will be adopted by the end of 2019 with construction starting after 2023 and the line open in 2027.

The second half of the meeting was a lively question and answer session which covered the rolling stock to be operated – likely to be 3-car trains initially – to the signalling and possibly future discontinuous electrification.

This was a fascinating evening and it was pleasing to hear that good progress is being made with this important project. We thank Stephen Barker for his excellent talk and for taking so ably all the many questions that were asked.

Last updated: 17th March