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Time to consider changing Irish track gauge?

  • 15-05-2020 7:46pm
    #1
    Registered Users Posts: 7,852 ✭✭✭ SeanW


    Been watching a lot of youtube videos etc during the lockdown, and been thinking about some of Ireland's transport difficulties.

    Indeed, having the misfortune of being a daily public transport user on the heavy railway network in Dublin, I'd had reason to do so. Back in March before everything went to Hades, I wondered on here if Ireland could do what we had done in the past which was to go "dumpster diving" in the UK for trains to alleviate our train shortages and severe overcrowding, including their "Pacer" trains which, I don't care how bad they are, a less-than-rammed train of Pacers can't be any worse than a 29000 packed to sardine can levels.
    https://www.boards.ie/vbulletin/showthread.php?t=2058059045

    The overwhelming consensus from that thread was that the gauge issue was the killer, for the Pacers, D78 rebuilds etc., as it is with any idea to pool orders with the UK or anything like that.

    Having to stay home because of the pandemic I've watched a lot of railway videos on Youtube and a few themes popped up a lot.
    1. In Victoria, Australia, they have a lot of experience with gauge-mixing, our 1600mm broad gauge and 1435mm gauge for national services and freight. Indeed around Melbourne there was some gauge conversion and mixed gauge track added during the 21st century. In Melbourne they've kept "our" gauge for local and intra-state regional services
    2. The UK is buying, cascading and scrapping trains nearly all the time owing to its size and the diversity of its passenger rail market.
    3. The UK has a much better history of acquiring trains that are both nice to use and appropriate for their job, aside from the much-hated Pacers. They don't seem to have a lot of the equivalent of running 29000s from Dublin to Sligo for example. Nor do they do stupid s*** like running their equivalent of 22000 intercity cars on the London Underground like Irish Rail does/has to with crowded M3 Parkway to the city services often being 3 car 22k.

    The Irish gauge was not a big deal in Ireland in the past because locomotive builders never cared much about gauges, Electro Motive Division and Crossley/Metrovick before them for example would make as many locos as we needed, we were never short of locomotives AFAIK even going back to the steam era. And when carriages were needed in a hurry, Irish Rail can and did go "dumpster diving" in the UK acquiring MK2A/B trains in the 1990s.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coaching_stock_of_Ireland#Mark_2_(1972-2008)
    Seems gauge wasn't a serious issue with those.
    The same was true of the Mk3 "Cu Na Mara" set which was also a hand-me-down from BREL International Sales.

    But we can't do that anymore because most trains today are Multiple Units (EMU/DMU) and locomotive/carriage haulage is much less common. Indeed all the shortages are with EMUs (the DART) and DMUs (non-electrificed suburban service around Dublin).

    Is there something to be said for gradually laying mixed-gauge track on the Irish Rail network? This way Ireland would not be such a special market to get trains for and we would have a lot more flexibility in acquiring (pooling orders with UK operators for new trains or - in emergencies - dumpster diving? A common gauge would also give us options for selling on trains as and when they're no longer needed.

    Starting with the DART, proposed DART expansion and the suburban railway network around Cork, my suggestion would be:
    • If and when the suburban railways around Cork are electrified, the new trains should be 1435mm gauge. The line from Mallow into Kent would be mixed-gauge, the lines from beyond Kent to Cobh and Middleton would be relaid as standard gauge only.
    • In Dublin, assuming the DART expansion goes ahead, the line from Greystones to wherever the Northern DART ends, the Maynooth line, the Phoenix Park Tunnel and the Heuston area would have mixed-gauge track. The Howth branch, the M3 Parkway branch and the 2 inner tracks from Hazelhatch to Park West would be relaid as standard gauge only.
    Over time, decisions could be made about long distance services and services to/from Northern Ireland, but they could continue using broad gauge/mixed gauge in the medium term.

    Crazy idea?


Comments

  • Registered Users Posts: 13,649 ✭✭✭✭ whisky_galore


    Yes, crazy. You're about 180 years too late.


  • Registered Users Posts: 8,229 ✭✭✭ LeinsterDub


    We can't even buy new units for the dart in a timely fashion and you think we could regauge the entire network?


  • Registered Users Posts: 4,366 ✭✭✭ Charles Babbage


    We could just plan a bit better and order stuff in good time.


  • Moderators, Business & Finance Moderators, Motoring & Transport Moderators, Society & Culture Moderators Posts: 61,030 Mod ✭✭✭✭ L1011


    Newer entrants to the market for mulitple units are much, much more willing to look at awkward gauges than some of the older ones seemed to be. Remember while we're alone in Europe for 1600mm we're far from alone for having >1435mm. Still new stock being made for Iberian normal speed lines, and Finland.

    If we ever build a completely off-line high speed system; the only sensible option is standard gauge; but regauging the existing mainline is impractical.

    We attempted dumpster diving in the UK for Class 185s only last year btw. Its still possible.


  • Registered Users Posts: 1,235 ✭✭✭ D.L.R.


    Obvious benefits but how do you do it.

    A transition to dual gauge is incredibly complex and expensive, and dual gauge tech would have to be developed further in any case.

    Seems easier and more practical to convert directly to standard gauge line by line, and split the stock.

    Tricky around Dublin though and still a daunting task.


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  • Registered Users Posts: 7,852 ✭✭✭ SeanW


    Some good points raised.

    First, if you look at Australia, back in the colonial era each state developed their own railways with their own gauge, and they had lots of break-of-gauge points at all their state/territory borders. The way they fixed it in Victoria was to divide their railways into suburban and intra-state passenger services (which they kept at broad gauge) and on the other hand, interstate passenger and all freight tracks, which they converted to standard gauge. In places where both types of trains might have to use the same track, they use dual gauge track, in others, tracks of each gauge run side by side sharing the alignment only.

    My suggestion would be to follow what they did in Victoria, but to reverse the changes. Instead, we would gauge convert suburban services and leave most of the Intercity network as is, with mixed-gauge track in places to serve both suburban and long distance services. Not the whole thing. This being to get flexibility for suburban rail, which (at least up until the Coronavirus crisis) was getting more and more important as Ireland transitioned from a distributed agrarian society, to one with growing cities and a commuter culture that we didn't really have before the 1990s.

    As to planning things a bit better and ordering what we need in good time ... LOL ... we don't really have a history of doing that. It's not just the entire heavy rail network around Dublin that's a shambles, but both Luas lines are heavily overcrowded as well. Not to mention how plunging the Luas through one of the busiest junctions in Ireland (College Green) made a complete shambles of that, but hey, it was cheaper than the Metro, so that's what our wonderful visionary leadership :rolleyes: went with. Oh and the Metro will only be able to accommodate 3 car trains (if Eamon Ryan and the Greens don't kill it totally), so forgive me if I'm a little skeptical of the foresight of our political class. I really think we need more flexibility, which I think the application of some standard gauge could provide.


  • Registered Users Posts: 8,781 ✭✭✭ Carawaystick


    The UK uses Irish guage in the irish bits of it, and std gauge in the british bits of it. How would the cross border line work?


  • Registered Users Posts: 7,852 ✭✭✭ SeanW


    To start with there would be little or no changes to the Enterprise, and no changes required North of the border.

    Only the suburban network (currently to Malahide, maybe later Balbriggan or Drogheda) would run on standard gauge and mixed gauge would be used on any line that needed to accommodate both local and intercity trains.

    Later on, if Northern Ireland wanted to participate, we could have standard-gauge-capable track all the way from Dublin to Belfast, depending on how they did it, they could either convert line-by-line to standard gauge, convert only the Newry line to standard gauge, or have mixed gauge from Newry to Belfast.


  • Closed Accounts Posts: 876 ✭✭✭ Lord Glentoran


    The only part of the Irish railway system, north and south, that would need standard gauge would be from wherever Johnson’s insane bridge from Scotland would land to Belfast.

    Anything else would indeed be insanity. Specifying 1600mm/5’3” axles has never been a deal breaker for purchasing mainline rolling stock and standard gauge is on Luas to help with tighter turns as well as purchasing “off the shelf” trams.


  • Moderators, Computer Games Moderators, Recreation & Hobbies Moderators Posts: 9,202 Mod ✭✭✭✭ CatInABox


    The only part of the Irish railway system, north and south, that would need standard gauge would be from wherever Johnson’s insane bridge from Scotland would land to Belfast.

    Anything else would indeed be insanity. Specifying 1600mm/5’3” axles has never been a deal breaker for purchasing mainline rolling stock and standard gauge is on Luas to help with tighter turns as well as purchasing “off the shelf” trams.

    Yes, the problem with our gauge isn't sourcing trains to run on it, it's sourcing trains with enough of a lead time so that they arrive when they're actually needed.

    The way we've been operating, even if we had standard gauge, we'd still leave it until well past the last minute before looking to import carriages.


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  • Registered Users Posts: 8,781 ✭✭✭ Carawaystick


    The only part of the Irish railway system, north and south, that would need standard gauge would be from wherever Johnson’s insane bridge from Scotland would land to Belfast.

    Anything else would indeed be insanity. Specifying 1600mm/5’3” axles has never been a deal breaker for purchasing mainline rolling stock and standard gauge is on Luas to help with tighter turns as well as purchasing “off the shelf” trams.

    Any metro or trams would also need std gauge rails.


  • Registered Users Posts: 5,818 ✭✭✭ donvito99


    Any metro or trams would also need std gauge rails.

    There are lots of non-standard gauge trams throughout Europe so it's not compulsory.

    Had the Harcourt St Line been rebuilt to Irish gauge, running into a tunnel to Broadstone as was originally planned in the 70s, it would be a Metro by anyone's standards.


  • Moderators, Motoring & Transport Moderators, Technology & Internet Moderators Posts: 20,995 Mod ✭✭✭✭ bk


    donvito99 wrote: »
    Had the Harcourt St Line been rebuilt to Irish gauge, running into a tunnel to Broadstone as was originally planned in the 70s, it would be a Metro by anyone's standards.

    Well you could run standard Gauge to Broadstone too, after all Metrolink is almost that. It isn't rail gauge that stopped a tunnel to Braodstone in the 70's, it was the lack of money in the 70's for a project like that.


  • Closed Accounts Posts: 876 ✭✭✭ Lord Glentoran


    bk wrote: »
    Well you could run standard Gauge to Broadstone too, after all Metrolink is almost that. It isn't rail gauge that stopped a tunnel to Braodstone in the 70's, it was the lack of money in the 70's for a project like that.

    And the solid belief in Official Ireland that condensation ridden buses operating a multiplicity of A, B and C variant routes was perfectly good enough, thank you. Endless articles in the 1980s Sunday Independent ridiculing the Dublin Rail Rapid Transit proposals evidence that.


  • Registered Users Posts: 5,818 ✭✭✭ donvito99


    bk wrote: »
    Well you could run standard Gauge to Broadstone too, after all Metrolink is almost that. It isn't rail gauge that stopped a tunnel to Braodstone in the 70's, it was the lack of money in the 70's for a project like that.

    But my point is, in response to the suggestion that you have to build tramways or metros to standard gauge, is that you don't given that 'metro' is a broad church and the continent has lot's of historic narrow gauge systems for which new vehicles have been acquired.


  • Moderators, Motoring & Transport Moderators, Technology & Internet Moderators Posts: 20,995 Mod ✭✭✭✭ bk


    donvito99 wrote: »
    But my point is, in response to the suggestion that you have to build tramways or metros to standard gauge, is that you don't given that 'metro' is a broad church and the continent has lot's of historic narrow gauge systems for which new vehicles have been acquired.

    Sure, anything is possible, but if building new lines, it makes more sense to use standard gauge, makes it much easier and cheaper to buy off the shelf trains and trams.

    Of course it is also possible to do special orders, but you tend to end up with far less choices and it is more costly. The standard gauge market in Europe is absolutely massive, lots of easy choices to go with their.

    Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't rip up and replace the existing tracks with standard gauge, the cost and disruption of that, likely is much higher then the extra cost in buying Irish gauge trains. But equally, it doesn't make sense to use Irish gauge for new tram and metro lines.


  • Closed Accounts Posts: 168 ✭✭ Sligo eye


    bk wrote: »
    Sure, anything is possible, but if building new lines, it makes more sense to use standard gauge, makes it much easier and cheaper to buy off the shelf trains and trams.

    Of course it is also possible to do special orders, but you tend to end up with far less choices and it is more costly. The standard gauge market in Europe is absolutely massive, lots of easy choices to go with their.

    Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't rip up and replace the existing tracks with standard gauge, the cost and disruption of that, likely is much higher then the extra cost in buying Irish gauge trains. But equally, it doesn't make sense to use Irish gauge for new tram and metro lines.

    We struggle to keep the railway going in a steady state, we need to electrify the whole network in the future and re-gauging stock is no big deal.

    Wasting huge sums of money on re-gauging an isolated railway network instead of upgrading what we have is about as crazy an idea as I’ve heard in a long time.


  • Closed Accounts Posts: 242 ✭✭ Flickerfusion


    We don't have massively long distances and if we could even get to 200-250km/h it would make an absolutely massive difference to the journey times here. We don't really need to go as far as full TGV-speed stuff.


  • Closed Accounts Posts: 168 ✭✭ Sligo eye


    We don't have massively long distances and if we could even get to 200-250km/h it would make an absolutely massive difference to the journey times here. We don't really need to go as far as full TGV-speed stuff.

    We are fortunate that Dargan built the Cork line to such a high standard in the first place. Quad track to Kildare, improved signalling and upgraded track would make a huge difference.

    On the Belfast line getting quad from Malahide to Connolly and linking Dublin Airport to heavy rail as per Ten-T standards would also make a huge difference.


  • Closed Accounts Posts: 242 ✭✭ Flickerfusion


    I think the track gauge issue is somewhat overstated though. Almost any train order anywhere in the world tends to have to deal with legacy standards. There are exceptions where systems were built from scratch to newer, internationally agreed standards or, are off the shelf systems like Citadis used for Luas.

    What we should move towards is using off the shelf designs where possible for all the aspects we don’t have to modify.

    It’s an isolated, island railway system that will probably never be interconnected directly with anything.

    If an Ireland - Britain rail link ever happens, we could adopt a fleet of gauge shifting trains for that purpose. They work fine in Spain.


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  • Registered Users Posts: 7,852 ✭✭✭ SeanW


    In theory all this is great, in practice we've come to depend on our ability to go dumpster diving in the UK. Which we can't do anymore, because of our gauge and its impact on the multiple unit trains of today. And we can't pool orders for new trains with UK operators, also because of our gauge. Which is a shame, because they seem to have an easier time getting much nicer trains.


  • Closed Accounts Posts: 168 ✭✭ Sligo eye


    SeanW wrote: »
    In theory all this is great, in practice we've come to depend on our ability to go dumpster diving in the UK. Which we can't do anymore, because of our gauge and its impact on the multiple unit trains of today. And we can't pool orders for new trains with UK operators, also because of our gauge. Which is a shame, because they seem to have an easier time getting much nicer trains.

    It’s not impossible to dumpster dive for DMUs. There was a proposal to do exactly that not too long ago.


  • Closed Accounts Posts: 242 ✭✭ Flickerfusion


    It’s not impossible but it’s also perhaps not best value for money.

    I would suspect demand will be way down for a good while though due to social distancing and work from home so, maybe IE’s new orders will arrive just as the economy and transit demands pick back up again.

    The reality is that there isn’t really a pool of suitable trains hanging around anywhere for those kinds of needs. All railway operators tend not to keep large numbers of trains in storage for very long. Typical fleets are managed fairly tightly.

    Ireland’s issues are about a recession and then a surge in the economy that’s squeezed all sorts of infrastructure.

    We are going to have to spend a lot more on all sorts of infrastructure from transit, roads, health, water, to housing.

    The Coronavirus impact may have temporarily changed that trajectory but it’s an ideal moment to use spending on those kinds of projects to drive recovery and have ready to roll infrastructure when the economy gathers pace again, which realistically, is unlikely to be more than a 2 year or so lull.


  • Registered Users Posts: 2,900 ✭✭✭ Vic_08


    SeanW wrote: »
    In theory all this is great, in practice we've come to depend on our ability to go dumpster diving in the UK.

    Hardly any ex-UK stock has ever run here, a handful of early Mk2s IE swapped with a scrapyard for some withdrawn locos in the 1990s is the only "dumpster diving" that ever happened everything else was ordered and built new for CIE/IE.

    NIR had a mix of new and secondhand Mk2s for the enterprise prior to the DeDeitrichs and the ex-Gatwick stock which barely turned a wheel in passenger service. Oh and the railbus prototype they bought off Leyland (which was gauge changed without any bother)

    SeanW wrote: »
    Which we can't do anymore, because of our gauge and its impact on the multiple unit trains of today. And we can't pool orders for new trains with UK operators, also because of our gauge. Which is a shame, because they seem to have an easier time getting much nicer trains.

    You obviously haven't been on any modern UK stock because it is nothing to get excited about; poor riding, awful seats, ridiculously expensive in the case of the bimodes, years late and plagued with reliability issues.

    IE and NIR stock procurement has been a breeze in comparison to most of the recent GB fleets, the only problem we have had is the lack of action by governments in actually ordering enough stock as well as the ridiculous nonsense over the 2700 fleet and the premature scrapping of the Mk3s.

    Quite apart from that the only diesel stock being disposed of in the foreseeable future in Britain are Loco hauled Mk3s, HSTs and beyond life-expired pacers.

    The fact is that every railway fleet order is bespoke to a certain extent, even UIC countries are not fully standardised with each other, signalling, power, safety, despatch etc all have to be tailored to the needs of the individual operator's requirements, an extra 16.5 cm on axles and bogies is a relatively trivial change in engineering terms in comparison with the complex safety systems that need to be designed to run on each network.

    You have come up with a preposterously stupid suggestion about changing the gauge and are failing to convince anyone that has any railway knowledge that it would be a viable proposition. It would take years, require lengthy closures, cost billions AND give precisely 0 benefits.


  • Registered Users Posts: 5,818 ✭✭✭ donvito99


    Vic_08 wrote: »
    IE and NIR stock procurement has been a breeze in comparison to most of the recent GB fleets, the only problem we have had is the lack of action by governments in actually ordering enough stock as well as the ridiculous nonsense over the 2700 fleet and the premature scrapping of the Mk3s.

    Add 8200 class to that list.


  • Moderators, Business & Finance Moderators, Motoring & Transport Moderators, Society & Culture Moderators Posts: 61,030 Mod ✭✭✭✭ L1011


    And the Mk3 International set and the Waterford catering car to the dumpster diving


  • Registered Users Posts: 7,852 ✭✭✭ SeanW


    L1011 wrote: »
    And the Mk3 International set and the Waterford catering car to the dumpster diving
    I knew about the Cu Na Mara / BREL International set, but what was the Waterford catering car?


  • Closed Accounts Posts: 242 ✭✭ Flickerfusion


    SeanW wrote: »
    I knew about the Cu Na Mara / BREL International set, but what was the Waterford catering car?

    It was refurbished scrapped ex British Rail stock. They did a very heavy refurb though.


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