The first meeting of the new Scottish Region season was held in Glasgow and the speaker was Richard Dugdale, Network Rail Senior Commercial Schemes Sponsor who spoke on the project that Network Rail is undertaking to improve the Gretna - Annan railway line. He also looked at improvements being made to the route between Ayrshire to Yorkshire, of which the Gretna - Annan line is part.
Richard Dugdale, Network Rail Senior Commercial Schemes Sponsor, at the Glasgow meeting when he spoke on the Gretna - Annan Double tracking.
© John G. Fender 2011
Richard began his presentation by outlining his extensive background in the rail industry. Since 1985 he has worked at Plymouth, Leeds and Birmingham in a variety of operational roles and now works on railway enhancement projects for Network Rail. Richard outlined the background to the current Anglo-Scottish coal movements, pointing out that rationalisation of the rail network in the 1960's and 1970's saw freight traffic dwindling and passenger traffic declining.
The Settle and Carlisle line faced closure and the future seemed bleak. The GSW was planned to be singled for most of its length. However, growth in passenger traffic has now led to the opening of new stations, such as that at Gretna Green and there has been a resurgence in freight traffic bringing both opportunities and headaches.
A major area in the growth of freight traffic has been coal and there are predictions of further growth on the Anglo-Scottish coal flows. The line between Annan and Gretna, part of the Glasgow & South Western route is the main route for the transportation of coal from the freight terminal at Hunterston in North Ayrshire and the opencast sites in South Ayrshire to power stations in England. Current performance on this route is not satisfactory, and a similar situation exists with the Settle & Carlisle line.
Richard took a look at the current energy supplies pointing out that the UK's electricity supply was based on coal until the late 1970's and early 1980's. Large "baseload" power stations were sited near coalfields and coal was moved by "merry go round" trains from pits to power stations. This was a very efficient method of moving the vast quantities of coal required. However, the demise of deep mined coal meant that alternative energy sources were required.
In the 1980's and 1990's came the "dash for gas" when cheap supplies of natural gas were seen as the fuel of the future. Large gas fired power stations were commissioned and north sea gas piped directly to them. These power stations are located near to the gas terminals. Nuclear energy was a reducing proportion of the total requirement and was seen as "risky" and generally "not a good thing" given the concerns over radiation leaks and the safe disposal of spent nuclear fuel.
A major change has taken place with concerns over the environment and CO2 emissions. We now have carbon taxes and investment in renewable energy sources, for example hydro schemes, wind farms and solar power, but at present these are limited and it will take time to increase the amount of electricity generated by these means. Nuclear energy is likely to increase but it will take 15 - 20 years or longer for this to replace lost nuclear capacity, let alone account for a larger future market share.
With a dwindling domestic gas resource and concerns over the security of supply of imported gas, there will be a gap between energy needs and fuel supplies and something will be needed to fill the gap. Coal is the ideal solution, with opencast mining in Ayrshire and Fife along with coal imports. Today, coal fired power stations are fitted with flue gas desulphurisation systems to reduce the amount of CO2 and other pollutants released to the atmosphere.
Around 50 million tonnes of coal are imported per annum, most arriving at ports such as Avonmouth, Immingham, or Hunterston. Some ports are close to coal fired power stations, but Hunterston is not. However, Hunterston is ideal as it can accommodate the largest ships, being the deepest water port in Europe. The terminal was built by the British Steel Corporation to serve Ravenscraig. Hunterston High level can accommodate two trains at a time and with another at the low level facility, its capacity is enormous. With the Ayrshire opencast mining operations, Hunterston is the terminal which gives global supply chain economies of moving of coal to the Yorkshire power stations.
To improve the flow of coal, it is necessary to upgrade the whole rail route and a number of improvements have been made. For example, signal boxes are now manned on a 24 hour basis and the line is now controlled from end to end as a single entity. More signalling is to be installed to reduce the length of some of the sections, allowing an increase in capacity. This includes re-siting signals, intermediate signals in long block sections and the installation of axle counter technology. On the Settle & Carlisle line, the gradients encountered are an issue, especially for heavy coal trains and even Class 66 locomotive are reduced to around 20 mph going up some hills. If a train is stopped at signal on these gradients, it can be slow to restart, so improving the signalling will minimise this.
The major bottleneck on the route is the 8 mile Gretna - Annan section as this is single track and Network Rail has been working on doubling this track. This part of the Glasgow & South Western line is an important passenger route from Carlisle via Dumfries to Ayrshire and on to Glasgow Central, as well as being the main route for the transportation of coal from the freight terminal at Hunterston in North Ayrshire and the opencast sites in South Ayrshire to power stations in England. It is also the main diversion route for the WCML. The line was singled in 1973 and this was intended at that time to be permanent.
This has presented Network Rail with a series of challenges in reinstating the line to double track. The drainage of the line in many parts was poor and needed to be completely renewed. The track had been re-sited to occupy the middle of the formation in some parts and in other parts it was on one side or other of the formation. There were many overbridges, underbridges and culverts in need of significant work.
This meant that the drainage had to be improved, and in some areas adverse weather caused some problems during the work. The track bed had to be lowered and the track slewed to a new alignment to allow for the second track to be laid. Bridges either had to be reconstructed or replaced. The opportunity is being taken to reguage the overbridges to cater for transit of 9'6" containers. At Gretna station, a new platform is being installed and the signalling is being upgraded. Another potential component of the project is the reinstatement of the avoiding lines at Carlisle that were closed in 1985.
It was clear from the presentation that Network Rail's project team is very enthusiastic about this project and during the presentation, Richard illustrated many of the features under discussion with photographs and also showed a video of the single track part of the line. He used "before and after" photographs to illustrate the many improvements already made to the line. After the presentation, there was a question and answer session that covered a wide range of subjects and Richard ably answered all the questions put to him.
The Scottish Region would like to thank Richard Dugdale for his presentation and Scotrail for hosting the event.
Report by John Fender.
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