Thursday, 18 April 2019

Crossrail delay

It may seem impertinent to blog about a peculiarly London problem (though, being the capital, London's troubles have an impact on the rest of England and Wales). However, there is a connection to the aborted GWR main line electrification. When the first intimations of a delay to Crossrail's start date included a mention of signalling, the suspicious mind of a former systems analyst immediately leapt to the conclusion that the designers had gone for a unique new system. So it turns out, as this extract from London Reconnections explains:

There was concern about ensuring trains successfully transitioned between one signalling system and another. Meanwhile, if we understand the situation correctly, there are significant problems just getting the signalling equipment on the trains to talk successfully to both the trackside-based communications equipment and the trains’ computer systems.
Transitioning eastbound is easier than transitioning westbound at Westbourne Park. The more difficult part of transitioning is to successfully communicate with the signalling system the trains is transitioning to. It is somewhat easier to terminate communication with the signalling system the train is leaving.

To aggravate the problem transitioning westbound at Westbourne Park, the signalling system being transitioned to is TPWS+. This is a system based on the standard TPWS (Train Protection and Warning System) used on most of Network Rail, but it includes additional safety protection to bring it on par with ETCS when it comes to safety. One feature of TPWS (and TPWS+) is the intermittent (rather than continuous) nature of the system. This relies on fixed signals protecting discrete sections of track rather than utilising a ‘moving block’ to provide protection between trains. Stepping up from ‘fixed block’ to moving block should be relatively easy to achieve. Think of it, metaphorically, as lava dropping from the top of a lava lamp. The ‘moving block’ starts in a fixed position before moving with the train (protecting it in the rear). Doing it the other way around is probably very hard.

In the central section the signalling system is a bespoke version of Siemens’ Trainguard system, which has been updated with Crossrail in mind. So it should have been upgraded with facilities for transitioning to and from TPWS+ as part of the update. In the other direction (westbound) you are moving into TPWS+ which is an industry standard that one has to adhere to. You can’t simply ‘tweak’ TPWS+ so it works with Trainguard. Even if you could, that would require a derogation that needs ORR (Office of Road and Rail) approval. Such approval is not given lightly.

Part of the reason that there is the problem described above is that this was never the plan. The signalling system west of Paddington all the way to Heathrow was supposed to be ETCS (European Train Control System). It changed to TPWS+ because of the problems of introducing ETCS on the GWR in the necessary time frame. Somewhat ominously but understandably, it took ORR [the Office of the Rail Regulator] two years to approve the change because they needed to be satisfied that TPWS+ was as safe as ETCS on the lines affected.

More ominous still, the time allocated to the system integration phase of Crossrail was decided long before TPWS+ was substituted for ETCS and, to the best of our knowledge, the time allocated was not revised upward to take into account the known (or at least suspected) extra complexity. This does seem a puzzling oversight and one wonders, with the benefit of hindsight, whether it would have been better to stick to the original plan and use ETCS throughout on the Paddington – Heathrow section and accept any delays this may produce, rather than exert so much effort getting TPWS+ installed and working with Trainguard.

To make matters even worse, the change of plan now means you also have another transitioning area that originally was not going to exist. This will need to occur north-east of the Heathrow tunnels on the Airport Branch. In hindsight it is clear how much Crossrail were relying on Network Rail being able to introduce ETCS on the Great Western Main Line (GWML) in good time prior to Crossrail opening – as was the plan. It also shows how apparently unrelated issues such as problems on Network Rail’s GWML modernisation project (some of which were in Wales) have affected Crossrail. As has often been pointed out – Crossrail is good for the rest of the country. Unfortunately sometimes the rest of the country can be bad for Crossrail.

(There is some further stuff about the train-builder not being on the same wave-length as the signalling engineers, but that is straying outside my parish.)

ERTMS/ETCS works, as demonstrated on the Cambrian Line. To drop it from the GWR upgrade was a short-term fix which could have long-term consequences. Whether the new physical signal equipment installed in south Wales is compatible with an upgrade to ERTMS is a question I shall leave to electrical engineers.

Wednesday, 17 April 2019

Alan Curtis to hang up his boots

I am glad to see that Alan Curtis, though announcing that he will no longer coach at the club, is not severing his ties with Swansea City. This is, though, a good opportunity to say thanks for the pleasure he gave at the old Vetch Field, particularly when he teamed up with John Toshack in the most effective strike partnership in the Football League at the time.

Welsh Lib Dems Euro slate announced

In ranking order, as voted on by the membership, the Welsh Liberal Democrat party list to fight the upcoming (barring an agreement between Jeremy Corbyn and Mrs May akin to the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact) European Parliament elections is:

1 Sam Bennett
2 Donna Lalek
3 Alistair Cameron
4 Andrew Parkhurst
5 Jason Edwards

Contrary to scare stories in some areas of the press implying that some parties, being unprepared, are  scraping the bottom of the barrel when it comes to selection, these are all candidates who have gone through the party's extensive parliamentary candidacy vetting process. I have not yet seen the potted biographies from party HQ, but I know the top two are local councillors and have been through the fire of general elections. I would guess that the same is true of the other three. I am glad to see that my fellow-members have put their trust in our younger members who, after all, have most reason to be grateful to the European Union. They are the future. If the "flextension" continues beyond October this year, they will make a positive contribution to the EU, and to Wales in the EU.

176,158 people voted Liberal Democrat in the 2007 Welsh general election. If those same people turn out in the May European Parliament elections then they will displace not only Plaid Cymru, but also the Conservatives, who mustered only 127,742 votes in 2014, and whose workers are said to have no stomach for the contest.

Tuesday, 16 April 2019

Where Hitler failed, diabolical mischance won

In August 1944, as the Third Reich was forced to retreat from Paris, Hitler, in a last fit of vindictiveness, ordered the capital to be set ablaze. Fortunately the general in charge of the German forces surrendered rather than carry out the instruction of the dictator who was by then clearly insane.

Nearly seventy-five years on, the (even for non-Catholics) iconic cathedral of Notre-Dame of Paris is a smoke-darkened shell after an appalling conflagration. Since no terrorist organisation has claimed responsibility, it is virtually certain that the origin of the blaze lay in the restoration work whose necessity was described in the New York Times here.

It is astonishing that such events still occur. One wonders how aware the French restorers were of accidents elsewhere in the world and whether there is an international protocol.  In 1989 a devastating fire broke out during the reconstruction of the roof at the English mansion, Uppark House. The National Trust describes the effects and - appropriate to the French situation - the decisions made as to what to preserve for the future and what to recreate. Granted, the Sussex stately home was of mainly British significance, but there is no doubting the international importance of Charles Rennie Mackintosh's Glasgow School Of Art. This has caught fire twice, the second time as a direct result of restoration work.

One hopes that the dithering over the long-overdue work on the Palace of Westminster has at least given the planners time to consider the increased susceptibility of historic buildings to fire as a result of modern equipment used during rebuilding and to draw up safety rules accordingly.

Monday, 15 April 2019

Will Philip Davies talk out government Bill?

So the Conservative government is about to introduce legislation to prevent arbitrary evictions. It might have been better if they had taken up Liberal Democrat Sarah Teather's Tenancies Reform Bill in the days of the coalition back in 2014 instead of allowing it to be talked out by the likes of Philip Davies and Christopher Chope.

Sunday, 14 April 2019

Petition to the European Parliament

It seems from Facebook chat that I am not the only one to believe that Nigel Farage's membership of the European Parliament brings Britain into disrepute. It is surprising that this sentiment took so long to surface.

It is a little-known benefit of the Maastricht Treaty that every EU citizen (which we will remain at least up until the 22nd May and probably for five months beyond) has the right to submit a petition to the Parliament. In Northampton, a petition to recall the felonious Labour MP is gathering signatures. It might be interesting to attempt a petition to recall Mr Farage and exclude his name from lists for future elections.

I accept that if it succeeded, it would, because of the party list system which operates in the UK, only bring up another Brexit candidate. However, he or she would surely have better manners than Mr Farage whose behaviour in Brussels I likened elsewhere to letting a mongrel with loose bowels into Cruft's. I disagree with UKIP, but I accept that the Welsh people have made a choice in electing one 'kipper to the EP and I have no quarrel with Nathan Gill's style. If only all his fellow-members were as courteous in their public utterances.

Saturday, 13 April 2019

A Friends' cottage, a pub and the biggest shopping mall in America

It was Kathy Jordan, the striking redhead who probably did not achieve her full potential on the tennis court, whose potted biography introduced me to the township of King Of Prussia in Pennsylvania. It was where she went to school. This bit of trivia stuck in the back of the mind (was she brought up in a boozer?) until a recent argument about the German connections of the state revived it.

The resultant research was quite timely, since sometime this year the 300th anniversary of the King will be celebrated. Remarkably, it began life as a cottage, built by Welsh Quakers. (Perhaps the national museum of Wales has information about the roots of the Rees family, but that is for another day.) They clearly did not disapprove of alcoholic refreshment because it was eventually converted to a tavern.  This is what wikipedia has to say:

The original inn was constructed as a cottage in 1719 by the Welsh Quakers William and Janet Rees, founders of nearby Reesville. The cottage was converted to an inn in 1769 and was important in colonial times as it was approximately a day's travel by horse from Philadelphia. A number of settlers heading from there for Ohio would sleep at the inn for their first night on the road. In 1774 the Rees family hired James Barry (or Jimmy Berry) to run the inn, which henceforth became known as "Berry's Tavern". General George Washington first visited the tavern on Thanksgiving Day in 1777 while the Continental Army was encamped at Whitemarsh; a few weeks later Washington and the army bivouacked at nearby Valley Forge.
A map created by William Parker, a Tory sympathizer of the Kingdom of Great Britain, listed the inn as "Berry's" in 1777,[but a local petition in 1786 identified it as the "King of Prussia". It was possibly renamed to entice German soldiers fighting in the American Revolution (including Prussians) to remain in this area; colonial generals such as Johann de Kalb and Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben had many Prussians as officers. At some point a wooden signboard of the inn depicted King Frederick the Great of Prussia. The inn was listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places on December 23, 1975.

Since then, the township which grew up around the tavern has gone on to host the largest shopping mall in the United States, and  the headquarters of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission Region I.

Footnote 1: there is a King Of Prussia hotel in Fowey, reputably so-called from the nickname of a local smuggler;

Footnote 2: Valley Forge is the name of the spacecraft in perennial Christmas favourite, Silent Running;

Footnote 3: Kathy Jordan will be sixty on 3rd December this year. I send her best wishes in advance.