English Electric Traction for Japan


Back in the early 1920s, railways in many countries around the world were beginning to invest more widely in electrification projects, and Preston based English Electric were what would be described today as world leaders in this field.

Today we have been accustomed to recognising Japan as home to very high speed trains since the early “Shinkansen” in the 1960s, and we now see electric units from Hitachi being delivered for use on railways in the UK.  Barely 40 years earlier, English Electric designed and built a new Bo-Bo electric locomotive design, and shipped them 12,000 miles to Tokyo, for the Imperial Government Railway.

In 1922, English Electric’s first orders consisted of two complete 1200hp Bo-Bo locomotives for the Tokyo Suburban lines. The locomotives were dual voltage types, for use on either 600V d.c, or 1200V d.c. systems. The order was placed by the Imperial Government Railways, as work began on electrification of a stretch of the Tokaido Railway, covering some 590 kilometres, between Tokyo and Kobe.

EE Co. Bo-Bo for JapanDuring their delivery in 1923, an earthquake occurred, and the ship carrying the locomotives from Preston to Tokyo was in Tokyo Harbour, with unloading in progress. Unfortunately the bogies (for the Bo-Bo locomotives) and the motors were on the wharf, with the superstructure and control gear on barges, which sank during the earthquake. The bogies and traction motors disappeared beneath the sea too, as the wharf on which they had been deposited also collapsed. Replacement locomotives were built, and subsequently shipped out successfully.

Despite the initial earthquake disaster, the locomotives were a success, and resulted in a further order being placed on English Electric for a further 26, box cab type locomotives, nine of which were for local passenger duties, with the remainder on freight work.

Japan had adopted electric traction as its national policy, and not just for the state railway, but also the numerous private railways operating across the country.  However, the dual voltage of 600V and 1200V d.c. was not typical, with other major electrification schemes for main line systems around the world adopted 1500V d.c.


On the suburban routes, in the UK, railways had adopted – mainly – the 3rd rail DC style – avoiding the use of overhead contact systems, despite that arrangement having been used around 1900.  The Midland Railway and Lancashire & Yorkshire companies had each adopted both styles, but the overhead contact system was largely used by urban tramway and inter-urban transport networks.

Japan Railway LocoExamples of both were adopted in Japan, and one of the world’s heaviest electric locomotives was built and supplied by English Electric for Japan in 1925 for the Tokyo to Kobe main line, generating some 1,836hp.  Eight express passenger locomotives to this design were built at Preston, generating 1,836hp, and weighing 100 tons in a 2-Co-Co-2 wheel arrangement, with leading and trailing bogies.


In contrast, the Nagoya Railway used multiple unit style coaches/cars, taking their power from an overhead line through a tramcar trolley pole arrangement.

Two-car EMU for Nagoya Railway

Today we are seeing the complete reverse of what happened in the 1920s, with Japanese companies, such as Hitachi supplying the very latest technology to main line and suburban railways in the UK.  The names of English Electric and even GEC Traction may no longer be commonplace in Britain, but the legacy has been important for rail traction around the world.

GWR Intercity Express Train edited


From “Settebello” to “Frecciabianca”


When I was about 9, my parents bought me a copy of the Ian Allan “Locospotters Annual” for Christmas, and inside were all manner of railway stories and photographs. Amongst these was a particular item about the Italian State Railways train which operated from Rome to Milan, as one of the new, post war luxury trains – this was the “Settebello”, “Beautiful Seven” or “Lucky Seven”. This, and a few other stories set me on course to visit and travel on a variety of European railways.

Settebello at Rome

Settebello at Rome – photo from 1962 ‘Locospotters Annual’

In Italy, this service started in 1953, using the ETR300 series of multiple unit trains. At the time it was the epitome of high-speed luxury, with the fastest section of its route between Rome and Bologna, where it would average 130 km/hr. This train was seven-carriages, electrically hauled throughout, reaching Milan in 6 hours initially, but accelerated until the journey time in 1978 was 5 hours 35 minutes. It became part of the TEE network from 1974, with international services operated jointly by Italy, West Germany, France, Switzerland and the Netherlands.

Settebello leaving Rome

As the luxury, supplement-charging train, the “Settebello” ceased operating in 1984, but was renamed in that year, under the TEE brand as the “Colosseum”. Sadly, I never got the opportunity to ride on this service, but Italian railways have continued to expand its high-speed network, with “Direttissima” lines connecting the major cities, Rome, Florence, Turin, Milan, Venice, etc.

Like the UK, Italy developed and operated ‘tilting trains’ in fixed formations since the 1960s, to enable increased speeds on existing tracks, without the need to build new, more direct high-speed lines. The Italian developments back to the late 1960s when Fiat Ferroviaria carried out its first experiments with tilting technology. The first real steps forward were made in 1976, when the experimental ETR401 took to the rails. This four-coach train was the first in the world and the nickname “Pendolino” adopted on the famous tilting railcar experiments stuck.


Ironically perhaps, the technology used on the “Pendolino” trains in Britain uses technology developed by British Rail in Derby for the ill-fated “Advanced Passenger Train” (APT). This was later acquired and adapted by Fiat, for the ETR450 trains, which began operating between Rome and Milan in 1988, followed by another 9-car series – the ETR460 in 1992.

ETR460 Set at Verona PN

ETR460 at Verona Porta Nuova in 2016

However, not all high-speed trains in Italy are tilting trains, largely thanks to the construction of the new high-speed routes. Services like the Freccia Rossa, Freccia Argento, and Freccia Bianca provide the backbone of operations on long distance national and international services. More recently, as the expansion of ‘privatisation’, competition from the new ‘Italo’ train operators has seen ever more innovation, and the latest ETR600 series of tilting trains, first seen in 2006.


Italo at Rome

‘Italo’ Set 4 at Rome

Whilst not having had the pleasure of a trip on the “Settebello”, I have had a number of enjoyable trips on high-speed (non-tilting) trains on the Turin-Milan-Venice main line, notably behind the ETR500 series, such as the ‘Frecciabianca’ below:


ETR500 Frecciabianca at Verona PN

ETR500 on Frecciabianca service at Verona Porta Nuova in 2016

We have a lot in common with the Italian approach to the ‘little pendulum’ trains, although the UK has been much slower to invest in high-speed rail than other European countries, and the tilting trains operated by ‘Virgin Trains’ in Britain are now 16 years old. The tilting mechanism was applied to the all-electric units as shown below, and some of the diesel powered variants on cross-country services.

Virgin Pendolino at Oxenholme 2014

Virgin Pendolino service at Oxenholme in 2014

There are some new trains entering service in 2017/18 in the UK, built by Hitachi, in Pistoia, Italy, Japan, and in the UK. These new 9-car units will operate on the Great Western and East Coast main lines, and as Class 800 also have both all electric and diesel powered options, and are part of the UK’s IEP (InterCity Express Programme), announced back in 2009.

GWR Intercity Express Train edited

Whilst the old manufacturers such as GEC-Alstom (who built the original UK high-speed pendolino sets), may not be as common as they once were on the rails, perhaps the Hitachi designs will offer comparable results.


Crossrail 2 Hits the Buffers?


In a press release today, the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (CILT) expressed concern that Crossrail2 was not mentioned in this week’s Queen’s Speech, although commitment to HS2 was retained.

Crossrail 2 is targeted at relieving congestion on commuter routes into and across London, but it will be some years before this project is completed.  Crossrail 1, or “The Elizabeth Line” is not due to open for services until 2018/19.

“We are, however, concerned that there was no mention of Crossrail 2 in the Speech. This scheme is vital not only to keep London moving and to support its further economic and social development, but also as a key element of the national transport infrastructure which serves the entire national economy. As Britain looks to plan for a post-Brexit future, investment in mobility is of even greater importance. Therefore, CILT calls on the Government to make a clear commitment to the future of the Crossrail 2 project.”

The line itself – if it is ever built – follows the route illustrated below:

Crossrail 2

The core line from Tottenham Hale and Seven Sisters through St Pancras, Euston, Victoria and down to Clapham Junction.  I suspect that the ‘branches’ will never get built, and now, maybe even doubts about this ‘core’ section.

Maybe the CILT aren’t far wrong as Daniel Parker-Klein, Head of Policy, CILT said:

“It is imperative that Government commits to support the development of Crossrail 2.  This scheme is essential for not only London’s future but for the whole of the UK.  There is little time for delay – a hybrid bill must be submitted by 2020.  Without it, the benefits of HS2 may not be realised, the movement of goods and people will be constrained and the UK’s economy will be less resilient to meet the demands of an uncertain future.”

What a good job we have a competent and wide ranging transport strategy in the UK as leave the EU.





8,000 km of Railway Closed


In the UK today, we constantly hear about the massively expanding number of passengers – all supported by the statistical evidence.  Whilst it would be true to say that the route mileage – well kilometres – was most drastically cut between 1965 and 1975, with just under 6,000 km disappearing, another 2,000km plus has gone since then.

From a total network of 24,012km in 1965, by 2015 this was cut to 15,799km – a 34% reduction – inevitably driven by the Beeching Plan.


Comparing these two 20-year periods, it is clear that little change in the network route mileage took place between 1985 and 2005, with the network reduced by only 942 miles. Also during the late 1980s and early 1990s, the last main line electrification on UK railways was completed – the East Coast Main Line.

At the same time, passenger stations have closed – yes I know there has been massive rebuilding for some – but the possibility of sending parcels and small goods by rail has almost disappeared. In the years between 1965 and 1985, 40% of all stations disappeared, and in the period between 1975 and 1985 67% of all freight stations ceased to exist.


At least, that’s what the ONS figures suggest.

Does this mean that more people are being crammed onto less distance, in shorter and less frequent services, with fewer stations, and fewer options?

The UK is still a major player in the rail technology arena, and electrification has, and is, a key part of the network’s success. In 1985, with 3,809 km of route electrified (23% of total route), the electrified routes grew by 1,500km by 2015 – it is now 34% of the total network. Within that 1,500km total, the completion of the ECML to Edinburgh in 1991 was a major highlight.

What about passenger and goods traffic?

Measured in terms of billions of tonne kilometres, goods travelled 25.2 billion tonne/km on British Rail in 1965. By 1985, this figure had fallen to 15.3 billion tonne/km – a reduction of 39% – whilst at the same time road freight had increased by 44%. Between 1965 and 1975, coastal shipping was still carrying a lot of freight, just slightly less than rail, but clearly the emphasis by successive governments over the decade and more to 1979 to give priority to road freight had taken its toll.


In 2012 there were 2,533 passenger stations listed by the DfT, and by 2016 this had risen to 2,557 as recorded by Steer, Davies & Gleave for the ORR.  Details here: http://www.orr.gov.uk/statistics/published-stats/station-usage-estimates

On the face of it, this seems to suggest that 172 new stations have been added to the network since 1985.  But maybe all is not what it seems.  A report, published by Steer, Davies & Gleave for the ORR titled “Station Usage and Demand Forecasts for Newly Opened Railway Lines and Stations” in August 2010 makes for interesting reading.  It states that since 1999, some 40 new stations were opened, during the ‘privatised’ era, and which on my count leaves 132 opened before 1999.

Clearly the ‘privatisation’ of the rail – at least the train operators – cannot be stated as responsible for these new stations, but there has been significant increase in demand for rail passenger services.

However, looking at some of the stations listed as ‘new’ depends on your definition.  For example, the station at Alloa was opened in 2008, but is in fact a replacement for the station closed in 1980.  The table lists those replaced, or reinstated as follows:

New Stations in ORR Report

There are some quite clearly new stations in the list such as Luton Airport, Rhoose (for Cardiff Airport), and Braintree Freeport, but the majority are just re-opened.

More recently the ORR claimed 14 new stations opened in 2015/16 with 7 of these being stations previously operating on the old Waverley Route between Carlisle and Edinburgh, and now on the “Borders Railway”.

ORR 2015-16 New station map

Image from ORR – “Estimates of Station Usage 2015-16”

Are We Getting Back to the Future?

It might be argued that despite the massive increases in passenger traffic, there has been much less in the way of freight transport increases, much less goods are carried by rail today than 40 years ago.  There is limited development of distribution points beyond the core trunk routes, and logistics companies still prefer to transport small – 40 tonne lorry loads – over journeys of more than 200 km in the UK. In no small way is this supported by the many thousands of courier loads of small parcels, for which there is now no alternative but low-powered trucks, or articulated lorries.

Back 40 years ago, and more, we were less concerned about the environmental footprint of our key transport networks, and we sold off innovative technologies that we have now been forced to buy back, simply to meet passenger demand.  Will the same be true of freight I wonder.

Are we there yet ?? Plenty of passenger traffic, new stations and even new lines, but little or no freight – the future for integrated transport looks decidedly bleak.









Hitachi and IEP


The UK opted to buy trains from Hitachi as replacement multiple-unit sets for the highly successful Inter-City 125 diesel trains built in BR workshops in the 1970s.  The intervening years have not been kind to the UK rail industry, with the closure and in some cases demolition of engineering design and manufacturing workshops.  It was inevitable that the new generation of 21st Century trains would be designed and built outside the UK.

That said, of course, the Class 900, ‘Pendolino’ trains for the West Coast Main Line were designed and built by Alstom, using the remains of the Washwood Heath works of Metro-Cammell in Birmingham, with Fiat providing the tilting technology.  (The technology was sold to the Italian company following the demise of British Rail, and BREL in the early 1990s, but again, to be fair, Italian railways had already been testing tilt technology.)  The same combination of Alstom and Metro-Cammell resulted in the TMST trains for Channel Tunnel services too, so the capacity and capability were in existence in the UK.

The involvement of Hitachi in the UK, seems to date from more than a decade after the disastrous early years of ‘privatisation’, but includes other, highly successful regional and high-speed commuter trains, such as the Class 395 (‘Javelin’) series.

Within the whole IEP programme, there is some involvement by British companies, but equally some multi-nationals with British based sites.  Still some way to go before the UK can build its own again – perhaps an industrial or engineering strategy might help.

GWR Intercity Express Train edited

Hitachi Class 800 on the GWR main line – this is one of the 36, 5-car dual-fuel sets for use on the non-electrified as well as the electrified sections of the route.                                                              [Photo: GWR – Creative Commons Attribution]

The latest generation of Hitachi designed trains – known as Class 800 and Class 801 – will see 110 of 122 fixed length train sets built at the recently completed plant at Newton Aycliffe, in County Durham.  The first 12 trains were shipped shipped to the UK from  Hitachi’s Kasado Works in Japan, whilst another example of dual-fuel trains – the Class 802 is being built at the Italian works in Pistoia, which Hitachi bought from Ansaldo Breda in November 2015.  The reason the construction is being carried out there, is said to be because the new UK site is at full capacity.  The diesel engines fitted to these trains are being provided by MTU, and originally rated at 560kW, whilst the latest design for the GWR has engines rated at 700kW – is that a case of the “Devon Banks” demanding more power again, just as it did in the days of steam?

Of these 122 sets, 57 are destined for the newly electrified Great Western Railway main line, which has now been energised as far as Didcot.

This was an intriguing phrase used in the original press release when the order was placed back in 2009:

The design provides pre-defined interior flexibility that will allow Train Operating Companies to customise trains to meet their customers’ requirements.

Given the UK’s apparent inability to predict either the increase in passenger numbers, or the capacity of either long distance, or suburban routes, how does this help I wonder.  Can additional coaches (passenger cars) be added to fixed formation sets to increase train capacity, and how will that impact station and route characteristics?

Another oddity in the order for Hitachi – which included maintenance and support – was that the duration of the contract was stated as 27.5 years.  What’s the 1/2 a year for?  Why not 27, or 28?  Well the answer to that is of course pretty straightforward, financial advisors have recommended including a clause to enable train operators to pay the rolling stock owners, Agility Trains a fee, based on the trains’ availability.  Easy – the trains’ is measured on a daily basis, and the fee paid to Agility Trains is focussed on each train that is available each day.  Too simple – of course, on top of that, the DfT is guaranteeing their use for 27½-years.  That must have been some spreadsheet!

On the GWR, the Class 800s, both those built at Newton Aycliffe, and those from Pistoia in Italy will be serviced and marinated at Hitachi’s new Stoke Gifford site, near Britstol.

Train at Stoke Gifford (2) copy

Intercity Express Train at Stoke Gifford depot [Photo: GWR – Creative Commons Attribution]

So what do the original Class 800 and 801 formations look like:-


No. of Trains



Great Western Electric


9 cars


Diesel & electric


5 cars






The trains intended for use on the Great Western are planned to come into service later in 2017, whilst those for the East Coast Main Line arrive from 2018, but with the option to buy a further 30 electric only trains.

Ironically perhaps, in a response to an FOI request in 2011, this is what the DfT said:

“1) The first IEP trains will enter revenue earning service in 2016.”


No. of Trains



East Coast Electric


5 cars


Diesel & electric


5 cars


Diesel & electric


9 cars






Electric (optional)


9 cars


Back in 2013, when Hitachi opened their new manufacturing facility, the then Transport Secretary, Patrick McLoughlin made this statement:

“The Intercity Express Programme is part of the government’s commitment to investing in our nation’s infrastructure. Once they are on the network they will slash journey times, boost capacity to many of our cities in the south west and up the east coast to Scotland.

Building these new trains is supporting jobs and manufacturing across the UK. Like our plans for a national high speed rail network, these new faster trains will help stimulate economic growth by improving connections between our major cities.”

Having said all of that, these trains seem to be meeting all the design and technical criteria well – though the operational criteria is not yet available.

Given the original reason for the whole IEP programme, perhaps the HST, or InterCity 125 fleet could be freed up and recycled for use on other main lines across the country.  Paired with the Mark III coaching stock, and now running broadly similar MTU diesel engines, they would make far more comfortable cross-country trains than the cramped ‘Voyager’ units.


£15 billion Crossrail – Value for Money?


Having spent this eye watering sum of money how do we know we have value for money?

Do we count the number of fare paying passengers, and the revenue they provide over and above the cost of providing services?

Do we count the impact on the UK’s GDP?  If so, how do we measure that – the number of new jobs created, the increased productivity in London and the South East, or do we divide that added value by the number of employees, new startup businesses, etc., etc.??

Alternatively, do we measure the increased numbers of permanent jobs and the GDP of London and the South East against the lack of business growth in other regions, or a variation in the level of business failures, growth patterns in markets.

What are the practical benefits to people and businesses in Leeds, Cardiff, Manchester, Aberdeen or Kendal?

Today – this is what Crossrail’s banner on their website says:

“From improving journey times across London, to easing congestion and offering better connections, the Elizabeth line will provide easier, quicker and more direct travel opportunities across the capital.”

How will we know if this has been money well spent?


Train Performance – No Data Available


Trying to find data on train performance on the punctuality of train services in this country is a nightmare!  If the figures exist they are not easily found, and some of the reports simply focus on the dumbest measures imaginable – was your journey a happy one?  Were the services you expected provided, etc., etc.

What about how many express trains arrived within 5 minutes of their booked time.

What % of trains were cancelled this year – by area, by line, by region.

This is an example of what we used to see:

BR Punctuality 1979-81

Back in the 1970s and 1980s, these figures were published by the various transport consultative committees – the ORR website, ATOC and Network Rail do not make the data readily available.

If we take the 3 columns for the Eastern Region – this now includes 2 or 3 train operating companies, and the punctuality ‘targets’ are not the same as they were – with limited emphasis on quantitative measures such as 90%+ of trains arriving less than 5 minutes late – as measured in 1980 and 1981.

This chart from the ORR/Transport Focus refers ONLY to the ‘Greater Anglia’ train operating company:

Train punctuality 2012-14

They didn’t even reach the performance level set 30 years earlier – and they operate newer trains and technology.

Does this represent a failure of privatisation – of course it does.  One PRIVATE train operator in that region – between 2012 and 2014 received £198.4 million in subsidy to support the network infrastructure and enable trains to be run.

I did a search on the ONS website, with the following criteria: “train punctuality data”, it went on to list CPI (Consumer Price Index) related data, and some stats about NEETs (Not in Education, Employment or Training) – how is that relevant to the enquiry I posted?  I got the impression the data being gathered, or the algorithm used to capture and execute the search criteria are manipulated to deliver the most irrelevant data!

And then you discover they have moved them to the “National Archives” website – so you run the same query, and you get this response:

“Sorry, the page you were looking for can’t be found.”