Friday, 20 March 2015

Part Five

Important: to understand the following article, please read Zing~The Incrdibly Light Railway, Part 1 and Part 2 first!

Case Study 4: Firsby - Alford - Louth

The railway from the junction at Firsby to Louth via Alford was opened in 1848 and closed in 1970. The first station north of Firsby is Burgh-le-Marsh, though it is about 3km west of the town, retains some of the original buildings and space to reinstate the line is still available, though the new road will require to be bridged of the railway.

Two kilometers to the north, Welton-le-Marsh never had its own station but a new one would be built for the ultra-light railway. Willoughby, however, was an important station at the junction of the line to Mablethorpe, which opened in 1886. It will be reinstated. A case might be made for a new station where the line crosses the B1196 road. It would serve the isolated houses around Mawthorpe and Well and be convenient for the Alford cricket ground.

The old line reaches Alford at the somewhat ironically named Beeching Way, the station site now being occupied by a number of light industrial units. It should be possible to thread the new track past the buildings with perhaps some rearrangement of access road layout and provide room for reopening Alford Station, the main building of which is still in good repair.

The old railway line north of Alford has few interruptions though stretches of the trackbed are now only visible as crop-marks from the air. Aby for Claythorpe Station closed in 1961 but the land is still clear for a new station to be built. The bridge over the Great Eau river is still in place. The next stop, Authorpe Station, also closed in 1961 but again the land has not been built over and there is room for a rebuild.

The next station was Legbourne, but a case might be argued for creating a new station some halfway between Authorpe and Legbourne, for the convenience of people in the outlying houses of Muckton, Muckton Bottom and North and South Reston.

Legbourne Road Station was, curiously, an early closure on this line in 1953. The station was away from the centre of the village and it might be advantageous to find a more central site. On the south side of Mill Lane a new bungalow encroaches on the old trackbed and threading the line between the new houses might be a struggle. If this bungalow did have to be demolished it would free up space to build a station here, a more convenient location for many Legbourne residents.

The line continues uninterrupted to Louth, but on approaching Louth we have to consider a real danger to the project. Just south of where the line crosses Stewton Road there is currently a planning application for a major housing development. That will not pose a problem so long as the development respects the old railway's course and leaves the necessary strip of land free. A new station would be appropriate serving this housing development. It might go some way go allaying the fears of people expecting more road traffic if Zing linked this expanded population on Louth's southern fringe with the town centre and the industrial estate on the north side of the town. Another new station would be created on the north side of Wood Lane, catering for the high population density in this area and the Meridian Sports Centre.

The problems arise when the railway reaches Monks Dyke Road. From here to the old Louth Station, although a distance of only about 500 metres several houses have been built over the track and there seems little alternative but demolish about nine or ten homes. The bridge over Eastgate would also need to be rebuilt. Our survey so far, from Spalding to Louth, with branches to Skegness and to Spilsby, has only identified two small industrial buildings near Spalding and one bungalow at Legborne that are obstructing our routes, so paying the householders sufficient compensation to release this land in Louth is not going to stop the plan.

North from Louth towards Grimsby the route poses no problems as far as the Low Farm Roundabout on the A16, the start of Peaks Parkway. The construction of this road has been widely regarded as being the final nail in the Grimsby - Louth railway' coffin. We must wait till a later part of this series to learn how this problem can be dealt with. Trains will indeed run into Grimsby again. But first we must investigate the Mablethorpe Loop.

Part Four

Important: to understand the following article, please read Zing~The Incrdibly Light Railway, Part 1 and Part 2 first!

Case Study 2: Boston to Skegness

The line from Boston to Skegness, part of the old East Lincolnshire Railway, is still open but the section from Firsby northwards to Louth, the branch line to Spilsby and the connection to Kirkstead were closed in 1970.

It would be a simple matter to convert the existing railway to ultra-light running, the significant changes being the reinstatement of Sibsey, Old Leake (which is actually nearer Leake Commonside than Old Leake), Eastville, Little Steeping stations and Firsby, whose passenger services were withdrawn in 1961.

Firsby, once a junction for the line to Skgeness, used to be one of the busiest stations on the East Coast Main Line.  But that was before cheap flights for holidays; perhaps in a post carbon world we may rediscover the pleasures of Skegness's bracing air. Now all that remains is one station building converted to a private residence.

Thorpe Culvert station still operates but only two trains in each direction stop here per day.  The next station, Wainfleet, gets a train about every hour.  The next station, Havenhouse, is served just twice a day and the next, Seacroft, had it's passenger services withdrawn as early as 1953, perhaps unsurprisingly as it was only 2km from Skegness Station.  It's reinstatement, even for the ultra-light railway, might not be justified, though there is a caravan site 1km to the north-east and a couple of dozen houses at the hamlet of Croft Bank that would benefit from a station.

The usefulness of the whole line from Boston to Skegness would be transformed if, instead of the hourly service stopping just at Wainfleet, there was a service with a frequency of 10 or 15 minutes, stopping at nine stations on the way but with an overall shorter journey time.  It is this frequency, speed and accessibility that would make public transport a competitive rival to private cars. 

Case Study 3: The Spilsby Branch

The six kilometre branch line from Firsby to Spilsby was opened in 1868 but closed to passengers in 1939 at the outbreak of the war and closed completely in 1958.

Although a little of the trackbed has been ploughed over for agriculture nothing has been built on the line and there is still room for a terminus station in Spilsby at Vale Road behind the industrial units of Vale Court.  Halton Holgate station would be reinstated and a new station serving Great Steeping built about halfway between Halton Holgate and Firsby.

The Spilsby Branch was never a very profitable railway but Spilsby's population has grown significantly and rail services to Skegness, Louth and Boston would transform the town's connectivity.

Part Three

Important: to understand the following article, please read Zing~The Incrdibly Light Railway, Part 1 and Part 2 first!

Case Study 1: Spalding to Boston.

This section of the Lincolnshire Loop Line was a 58-mile (93 km) double track railway built by the Great Northern Railway, which linked Peterborough to Lincoln via Spalding and Boston.  It was opened in 1848 and closed in 1970. Much of the track was built over for a new road so the new Zing line would have to run alongside this road.


Immediately to the north-east of Spalding station, partially occupied by a new road layout of the A151 (which could easily be altered) but mostly empty and unused land, is plenty of room for the southern terminus of the Spalding to Boston Zing.  The plot extends north-eastwards to an area of largely unused land, bounded by the Splading-Sleaford railway to the west, the A151 to the south and Sandtone Gardens to the east, large enough to serve as a depot for the new line.  Google Map.

At the crossing of the B1356 Pinchbeck Road, originally a level crossing, a new bridge taking the road over the railway is required.  The route remains clear to Vernatts Drain, crossed by Sharps Bridge, see photo, and for some distance beyond but after crossing Enterprise Way (new road bridge required) the route passes through a new industrial estate.  Two industrial units have been built across the route here: Google Map, and require removal.  Another road bridge is required at the B1180 Wardentree Lane and then there is, just, room to thread the railway between two industrial units.

A station, 2km from Spalding station, at the north side of the industrial estate would be useful to workers on the estate and the village of Pinchbeck, 1km to the west.

North of the industrial estate another bridge takes the railway over the Blue Gowt Drain and the way is clear until meeting the A16.  For 12 miles to Boston a new road was constructed in the mid 1990s, the longest rail to road conversion in the country.  One might think that was that as regards railwas but, fence to fence, the land taken for road building was 35 to 40 metres wide.  The carriageway occupies only the central 10 metres, leaving ample room for Zing alongside with few obstructions to Boston.  

The Bridge over the River Glenn will need widening and on the north side the old Surfleet Station reinstated. It closed in 1961 but the road to the west is still appropriately named Station Road.

A significant challenge is the Sutterton roundabout where the A16 is crossed by the A17.  The solution may require re-shaping the roundabout with the western exits rising over the railway.  Just to the north the site of Algarkirk and Sutterton Station, closed in 1961, is still vacant but with the former station building remaining intact, awaiting its reinstatement.

The Next station is Kirton; its history recounted here.  Here were once extensive sidings but they have been built over with new housing but space remains for a new station on the north side of the A16.  

On the old line there were no stations between Kirton and Boston, but with the growth in housing a new station is justified 3km north-east of Kirton at Wyberton.  Another station on the south side of the Forty Foot Drain on what is now the dead end of Wyberton West Road would serve the residential areas of Skirbeck Quarter that have developed since the Victorians planned their railway.

A new bridge across the South Forty Foot, running along the west side of the road bridge, would need to be constructed.  This is the most significant piece of engineering that is required to connect Spalding and Boston with an ultra-light railway.

Across the bridge and Zing joins the very occasionally used single track line into Boston Docks and then the railway from Sleaford into Boston Station. That line only uses a single track so there is plenty of space for the new track into the station.  There would be some redesign of the track and platform layout to keep Zing separate from the standard size trains running from Sleaford to Skegness. Alternatively, the line from Sleaford to Skegness could be converted to ultra-light running too.  The advantages in speed, frequency, increased number of stations, energy consumption, track maintenance and other running costs, combine to make conversion of many branch lines on the still existing network, worthwhile.

The opportunity for passengers to travel from Boston station to Skirbeck, Wyberton and Kirton in a very few minutes and then on to Spalding would be so welcome that much of the traffic congestion that Boston has become notorious for would be relieved. Only two small recently built industrial building would need removal, with no residential homes requiring demolition and almost no private land acquisition needed.  

We need to envision the transport systems of a post-carbon world.  If we don't greatly increase the rail network then we need to convert all the cars and buses to electric.  That's imaginable, but the argument is that in a resource constrained economy the ultra-light railways are a cheaper alternative. As with petrol cars, so with electric cars, once you have one and paid the capital costs, it's often cheaper and easier to use it than use public transport.  The trick is to shift the balance in favour of public transport by creating a network of sufficient density, frequency, reliability and speed so that it's worthwhile foregoing the freedom and convenience of a private car.

Part Two

If you haven't, please read the first part of this series about our proposals for ultra light railways first.

Writing in The Observer, Ed Miliband said, "As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has said, if the world is to hold warming below 2°C, global emissions need to peak not long after 2020 and then decline rapidly to reach net zero in the second half of this century. The weaker the action now, the more rapid and costly the reductions will need to be later. I do not want to see Britain or any country having to adopt crisis measures to halt the slide into global catastrophe because we missed this critical opportunity now."

So let us accept that by 2050 there will be no fossil fuel used for transport, public of private.  Beyond a little biofuel, the options will be walking, cycling and motors using renewably generated electricity. That said, let's take a further look at Zing ~ The Incredibly Light Railway. People who have commented on the proposals frequently talk either of disability access or of cost. The first is easiest to deal with.

The proposed trains are made up of carriages that seat people in twos side by side, like motorcars, three or four pairs facing to one end and three or four pairs facing the other end, but in the middle there is a space without seats big enough for two wheel chairs or mobility scooters or some bicycles. There would be no step from platform to carriage so they could roll easily aboard. It’s interesting to note just how many people’s first thoughts are towards disability access, a positive reflection of our times perhaps. The provision of bicycle space, however, is also important as it is the last link in the journey that makes private cars so much more convenient than public transport. Passengers need to be confident of being able to take their bikes with them, as even with the relatively dense rail network proposed, many people’s destinations may not be an easy walk from the station.

The cost is trickier. First let’s set up a bench-mark. In June 2013 the government estimated that the 192 kilometres (119 miles) of HS2 Phase 1 from London to Birmingham would cost £22 billion. Many commentators believe the final figure will turn out to be considerably higher, but let’s use the government’s estimate for now.

In 1914 we had 37720 km (23440 miles) of railways, now there are just 16753km (9788 miles). If, instead of spending the £22 billion on HS2, it were spent on reinstating the lost 22000 km as Ultra-Light Railways then there would be £1 million available per kilometre. That’s more than enough to rebuild every last little branch line that ever there was.

Or it would be if that figure of a million pounds per kilometre is in the right ball-park. So this is where, dear reader, we need your help. Just how much will it cost?

A big saving is in the cost of land acquisition since Zing’s footprint is rather small, at least when compared with HS2, which runs on a 25 metre wide fence to fence vegetation free zone (how much herbicide is that going to take?) and then a further 25m either side of restricted vegetation, making a 75m wide footprint in all and so using 7.5 hectares per kilometre of track. Zing only requires about a five metre width, half a hectare per kilometre. If the price paid for acquiring agricultural land is, say £25000 per hectare, then the comparative costs of HS2 and Zing are £187500 and £12500, a 15-fold difference. Actually the difference is far greater. Instead of running on the routes of closed railways that are still by and large free from buildings, HS2 cuts virgin territory and since it can only have extremely large radius curves there is little opportunity for avoiding expensive real estate by deviating the line, whereas the Zing route can be adjusted to miss most buildings and costly infrastructure. Land purchase, at about £3 billion, is a significant part of HS2’s cost.

The costliest item on the government HS2 shopping list is “Tunnels, including ventilation and drainage, and Bridges including viaducts and other structure”, coming in at well over £6 billion. In this area Zing scores dramatically. Few or no tunnels will be needed and bridges can be simple and cheap affairs since ultra-light weight is the essence. The low headroom required by the carriages means that where roads go over the railway, bridges can be very low; no call for heavy engineering or even the old-style hump-backed bridge. Very many bridges built for the original railways are still in serviceable condition, especially for traffic that will be much lighter than the original structures were designed for.

The roughly £1 billion to be spent on diverting existing utility cables and pipes en route from London to Birmingham will not be required in the case of Zing. HS2 requires almost £5 billion in new stations and other buildings. Most Zing stations, and there will be a lot of them, are very simple affairs. The small wheels and low ride height of the trains mean that platforms worthy of their name are hardly necessary. Rather there will be a slightly raised pavement to allow wheel-chair access with no step up into the carriage. But let’s see what we can do with £5 billion to spend on stations. With 20000 km of new railway let’s put a station every 2km, so that’s 10000 stations. We have £0.5 million to spend per station. But since the vast majority of these stations will comprise little more than a couple of strips of paving, a sign board and a flower bed or two, there should be quite a lot of change available.

Another large expense for HS2 is the power supply infrastructure, the overhead cables.  They also don't look too pretty.  The ultra-light weight of Zing allows the use of modern battery power, a 21st century technology for a 21st century railway rather than using the 25kV AC overhead system introduced in Britain in 1956.  Train batteries will be charged overnight but boosted by induction charging whenever the train stops at a station.  This is a technology still in its infancy but several prototypes are being tested on buses in various countries. Examples: Milton KeynesUtrecht, NetherlandsMannheimGermanyGumi, South Korea

By mid-century with the zero net carbon emissions policy enacted, there will be plenty of competitive demand for renewably generated electricity so any opportunity to produce more should be investigated.  The space between the rails, over a metre wide, is unused and unproductive on all current railways.  Fill it with photo-voltaic panels.  There's 2000 square metres available per kilometre of twin track railway.  Using today's mass produced solar panels (and power density is set to continue increasing) one might expect to generate 100000 kWhr per year per kilometre.  That's perhaps not enough to run the railway, but it is a major contribution.  The Utrecht electric buses use about 1.2 kWh/km. Running one of those every 15 minutes for most of the day would only use 40000 kWhr/year/km.

The cost of rolling stock is a significant item, especially for HS2, currently estimated by government at £7.5 billion.  How much would Zing trains cost? For such a light-weight innovative vehicle, rather than looking at the cost of conventional trains, comparison with the Tesla electric sports car may be more valid. They cost about $100000 each.  They are smaller than Zing's carriages but more complex.  Let's assume, for the sake of discussion, that Zing carriages
cost £100000.  That should be generous enough to allow for the automated systems of driverless operation.  If we run trains of ten carriages they cost £1 million per train.  The £7.5 billion rolling stock bill for HS2 thus pays for 7500 trains, or more than enough to put a train on every three kilometres of the 20000 km of new railway.

Of course many of the figures used here are very rough guestimates, but they indicate that for the cost of building HS2 we could rebuild a dense network of ultra-light railways replicating the 20000 km of line lost since the British system was at it's maximum just before the First World War.  As Ed Miliband said, let us not miss this critical opportunity now.

Part One

The context

By 2050, if current Government targets are met, we will be emitting 80% less CO2. We may go further. Avoiding climate catastrophe resulting from global warming, should mean that by then net carbon emissions will be negative. We will sequester more carbon than we release in our attempt to drive atmospheric CO2 down to the safe 350ppmv. There will be few petrol and diesel driven vehicles.

Connecting the people with ZING, a 21st century concept railway system.

Carriages feel more like motorcars: you step through the door straight into your seat; no corridors; no walking about; too low to stand up. Think of each carriage as a stretched limo, maybe eight pairs of seats. Sixteen passengers per carriage.

Low axle weight means the trackbed does not have to be engineered to the normal railway standards. Bridges over rivers and such like need not be as strong as conventional railway bridges. Low carriage height at perhaps 1.5 metres - means that road bridges over the railway can be very low, keeping costs low enough to avoid having the many level crossings that typified the original railways of Lincolnshire.

ZING is powered by electric motors fed by on board batteries. Electric motors directly powering each wheel, without heavy and complex drive transmission systems, provide rapid acceleration. Braking is regenerative, prolonging battery life. Batteries are primarily charged whilst the train is not in use, such as at night, but charge boosts are given at each station using inductive power transfer (IPT), obviating the need for a cable to be attached. When the train stops it automatically receives power from an induction plate set on the ground below the train, if only for the 30 seconds waiting at a station. There is no need for expensive and unsightly overhead cables and gantries.

The combination of low carriages, small wheels and low ride height means that platforms are not needed. Kerb height alighting makes station building simple and cheap, even for wheelchairs.The light weight and simplicity of the carriages mean they are cheap to construct at a small fraction of conventional rail rolling stock.

The advantages of railways: no steering, since train is rail guided, low rolling resistance of wheels on smooth rails, low gradients etc, combined with the ultra light weight, means that the electric motors can provide great performance at low energy use. Both acceleration and breaking rates will be very high, allowing high average speeds despite frequent stops. Maximum speeds of 80mph or more are attained even between stations less than a mile apart with sports-car type acceleration. Electric motors provide maximum torque almost instantaneously. Stopping distances are very short, again more equivalent to a high performance sports-car than a conventional train. 
Journey times are shorter than the equivalent road travel. Low weight means that steeper gradients are coped with and the short carriages allow tight radius curve so there is great flexibility for routing new railways. 

With only two passengers abreast, ZING is much narrower than conventional trains. Minimal land is required. This allows two-way running on trackbeds that formally carried only a single track railway. Alternatively, new track can run alongside roads with a little widening, or substituting part of the carriageway. This could be particularly useful as road traffic is replaced by ultra-light rail. 

With no infrastructure legacy, driverless operation is envisaged with relatively simple control systems, minimising costs. The obvious advantage is cost saving on staffing but in a future economy labour cost might not be as high as currently. The advantage of greater safety where a human can override automated control systems, and the personal services of a conductor/driver to look after passengers might weigh more heavily.

Train frequency could be much higher than on a conventional railway system. The separation distances normally required for safety are much less with a train with a much shorter stopping distance. Combined with the low cost of the rolling stock, this allows a large number of trains running at a high frequency. Usage becomes higher when passengers can expect a train within a few minutes, like on the London Underground, without having to worry about timetables.

Station frequency can be higher than on conventional railways, facilitated by low construction cost resulting from platformless operation, and rapid train acceleration and braking. Stops at stations could be very short; there are as many doors as seats so no queuing to get off and on. Thirty second stops will normally be adequate. With more stations, more passengers will live within a short walk of the station. The generally low construction costs of completely new lines could allow extending branches beyond the original 19th century network, to serve closely an even greater proportion of the rural population.

Where will it go?

The starting point is the original rail network, built in the 19h century and closed, mostly in the 1960s and '70s. The closed lines are just the start. Although through rural areas, most of the old trackbeds are clear of significant obstruction and could be reinstated quite easily, where the lines run into towns there has been much redevelopment which could be expensive to reverse (but compare the cost of land acquisition for HS2). However, Zing track can be extended onto the road network like the trams of many cities. The difference between dedicated ZING track and road running would be speed. On roads a pedestrian and bike friendly 10 mph might be the norm, but released onto it's own track and train zings away at 80 mph.

Get involved?

If you feel in any way inspired by the notes above to help in this project, whether or not you live in this area of Lincolnshire, we'd love to hear from you. It's blue skies thinking time, envisioning a new transport system fit for the second half of the 21st century. Whether your interest is in battery technology, power or control engineering, automotive design, social impacts or you just fancy some creative doodling, please get in touch with your ideas, written or drawn.

Further Reading

You might like to do further reading about light railways and there are many initiatives around the world, but notice that approximately all the literature on light rail systems is wedded in the 20th (or 19th) century design concept of cars that are large enough to stand up and walk about in, with it's concomitant weight and air resistance penalties.

It can never happen!

Well, I expect that’s what they said in 1820. But a quarter of a century later and Britain had become utterly transformed by a dense network of railways serving the whole land. It can be done!

East Lincolnshire Green Party

Green Party transport policy.

This blog-post is promoted by Biff Vernon and Romy Rayner on behalf of the Green party and of East Lincolnshire Green Party. Tithe Farm, Church End, North Somercotes, Louth, Lincolnshire. LN11 7PZ. e-mail: