Thursday, 18 September 2014

Liverpool to Norwich via the 1980s

While considering Merseytravel's 30 year plan, considerations can be found here, I looked up the numbers for the Liverpool to Norwich service, as it was mentioned.
Here is what I said
"The Liverpool to Norwich route is mentioned in the document. While the route provides useful connections for places along its route, it is of little use to anyone travelling the whole length from Liverpool, anyone travelling beyond Nottingham will often find that the quickest service is not the direct one and beyond Grantham, they definitely will.
The fastest direct journey, all the way, is 5:20, going via London is 4:50 and the RAC route planner claims 4:45 for the 257 mile journey."
I then suggested an alternate route, which I shall explore later.

The problem

It can hardly be that the route is designed to link the economies of Liverpool and Norwich, which can be seen from the table below:

Direct Service Via London

Lvl->Nrw Nrw->Lvl Lvl->Nrw Nrw->Lvl
Depart 06:47:00 15:48:00 05:27:00 18:30:00
Arrive 12:15:00 21:36:00 10:50:00 23:33:00
Duration 05:28:00 05:48:00 05:23:00 05:03:00
Time in Norwich

The journeys via London includes include a relaxing hour crossing London from Euston to Liverpool Street.
In the mid-80s, I made the journey from Liverpool to near Norwich on several occasions. There were no direct trains even then, however, all I had to do was get the train to Birmingham and then the train to Norwich, on some occasion I had to change at Ely to get off at the right intermediate station. The trains to Birmingham were also faster than today's Midland Trains
To get back I'd get a train to Ely, then the to Peterborough and change at Nuneaton to get the Irish mail train, it was a bit slower than the way out but was the latest possible journey.

The Route

Railway lines between Liverpool and Norwich
There are enough trains to Birmingham so I decided to avoid it, it doesn't make anything simpler but it does shorten the distance. There are also enough Liverpool Stafford trains, that another isn't needed. However, there is a need for stops on the way, so I have offered several starting sections, they common up at Nuneaton. I did want to go via Stoke so that in addition to direct traffic to Leicester, Peterborough & Norwich a direct Liverpool Stoke route is created. While I think it might be nearly as efficient as going via Stafford there is less data available for me to work from.
After Nuneaton, the route is mostly only what are termed secondary lines.
I wouldn't stop at Nuneaton the next stop would be at Leicester, the actual path through Leicester is northbound on the MML and is for that section electrified. From Leicester, the route carries on to Peterborough, where the ECML is used this time southbound. This would be the last stop before Norwich.
Between Peterborough and Ely is the slowest track section with a maximum speed of 75mph. We don't actually go to Ely but use the avoiding loop to head straight for Norwich, on the Breckland Line, where we are back on lines with speeds between 75-100 mph. When we arrive at Norwich the last mile is on the Great Eastern Main Line(GEML) from London.


The best source of timings I could find was the Trainline. In order to get the timings for Liverpool to Nuneaton, the first thing to do was as anyone would normally do, enter start and finish. I then looked for the fastest journey. In this case, it had 1 change at Stafford. As the planned route is direct the time on the platform could be discounted.
I could then go on and break the rest of the journey up into smaller chunks.
The total number of separate journey was 5

Distance Max(mph) T(Max V) T(actual) efficiency Mph(avg) stops
LVL→STF 60.15 105 34.37 55 62.49% 65.62 2
STF→NUN 36.41 125 17.48 39 44.81% 56.02 4
NUN→PBO 71.23 100 42.74 82 52.12% 52.12 4
PBO→ELY 30.55 75 24.44 32 76.38% 57.28 0
ELY→NRW 53.74 90 35.83 54 66.35% 59.71 1

02:34:51 04:22:00 59.10%

The total time for the journey would be 4 hours 22 minutes. This is over an hour quicker than the current journey and even the very very best via London time is 40 minutes worse.
In terms of distance, the shortest route is 236 miles, this is the shortest possible route according to RailMiles Mileage Engine. The current direct route is slightly longer at 248 because of change of direction at Sheffield. The above route is 252 but a further 3 miles can be saved by avoiding Ely and using the Ely avoiding line.


However, there are some stops we could lose. Say we cut it down to just Runcorn, Crewe, Nuneaton,Leicester & Peterborough. In addition to the explicit 11 stops, we also have the 4 stops between the sub-routes giving a total of 15. With the shortened list we can save eliminate the time for 10 stops. This isn't just the time at the platform but the cumulative loss during deceleration and acceleration, as a minimum this is going to be at least 3 minutes. So we could be down to 3:52, which represents a clear improvement, giving over 2 hours extra time in Norwich on a day return.
While the first leg to Stafford is via Pendolino the rest of the journey is via various DMU. It is quite likely that in reality, the Stafford Nuneaton run is actually quicker, and according to some tables I found at Realtime Trains, it is. If there is no stop at Stafford it is about 21 minutes. So that's a further improvement of 6 minutes.

Base Time

Stops(-) 10 00:03:00 00:30:00



Train Improvements

The lack OHLE after Nuneaton makes the use of an electric train for the entire route impossible, but a Voyager or Super Voyager could do the job nearly as well. The super Voyager would be of most benefit if the lines could be clear for titling, whether this is a simple matter, I couldn't say, but like the WCML, which is cleared for tilting, all of the track is built to the W10 load gauge, or bigger.
In order to allow tilting a Tilt Authorisation and Speed Supervision(TASS) System needs to be installed, this can be quite expensive and involves the installation of track-side balises. I'm not sure whether the expense is in the balises or the addition survey and modification.
However, there is a weight penalty with tilting, which reduces acceleration, so a route with a few stops is better suited to tilting, while with many stops the higher acceleration of the non-tilting train is preferred. The next generation of tilting trains will use an electrical system rather than hydraulic, this should save some weight.

Route Improvements

To enable tilt may need some track improvements, but there are simpler improvements that can be made. The most obvious being electrification, which would allow better acceleration. This has been suggested several times. In the late 70s, British Rail produces plans to electrify the line between Birmingham and Peterborough. This indicates that electrification has some merit. With the proposed electrification of the MML, it would make even more sense to have this line electrified.
Between Nuneaton and Peterborough there are 3 passing points at Leicester, Melton Mowbray and Barley-Thorpe, after Peterborough there is March, the Ely avoiding line serves as a passing point. There no real passing point from Ely to Norwich but there is are places to construct two at Brandon and Wymondham. Whether this is enough, I don't know, but there are many places that one can be constructed.
There are some strange speed limits on the route, after leaving Leicester on the MML as soon as the line diverges the speed limit falls dramatically for no obvious reason. The Peterborough-Ely section is made up of two 15 mile straight sections, with a maximum speed of 75 mph.
There have been some improvements on the line between Ely and Norwich recently, but they don't seem to be reflected in train times yet. So quantifying any possible speed improvement is not going to be possible.


Without any changes, this route is at it worse 1:15 quicker than any other route. It represents a mean speed of 66 mph. To get down to a 3 hour journey a mean of 85 mph is needed, which would require every possible alteration to the track including the removal of many level crossings and installation of tilting with a line speed of 125 throughout.
This obviously is not going to happen anytime soon, but as it would be useful as a trans-midland line from Bristol to Norwich linking all the English mainline, improvements need to be seriously considered.
There are two starting points the most important is the electrification of the Birmingham to Peterborough section, the second is an increase in the line speeds between Peterborough and Ely.
Without HS2 there will simply not be enough slots to run the WCML part of this route, it services like this which will benefit most from HS2 taking traffic away from the WCML.

See also

If you would like the Google Earth Data for that produced the map in this blog they are here.

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