Archive for November, 2008

Warsaw Metro completed!

Tuesday, 11 November 2008


Warsaw’s deputy president, Jacek Wojciechowicz, opens the Metro extension to Mlociny. Photo Michael Dembinski.

(Click to read an informative article on the W-wa Jeziorki blog.)

They’ve been building the Warsaw Metro for more than 90 years. I remember being given a book as a birthday present in 1968 full of plans and drawings of the work that had been actually carried out on an East-West metro line in the 1950s. Unfortunately Jozef Stalin had other ideas and in 1952 the funds allocated to the Warsaw Metro were diverted to building the Palace of Culture and Science in the centre of Warsaw. As the latter project involved the demolition of 190 historic buildings and a loss of several tens of thousand of flats Warsovians have never been very fond of the building. This led to the oft repeated joke in communist times. Q. Who has got the best view in Warsaw? A. The doorkeeper of the Palace of Culture.

In fact the plan to build a metro system in Warsaw pre dates the communist era. See below for how the Warsaw metro system might have looked now if it hadn’t been for WW II.

The current north-south Metro line was commenced under General Jaruzelski in 1983. The first section between Kabaty and Polytechika was opened six years after communism had crumbled, in 1995. During the next 13 years the Metro slowly crept northwards. In 1998 it reached Centrum at the crossroadroads of Warsaw’s main thoroughfares ul. Marszalkowska and al. Jerozolemskie and then at the rate of one station every year the line grew until it reached its intended destination Mlociny on 25 October 2008.


Pre WWII metro plans would have given Warsaw a system to be proud of. The double lines indicate sections where the trains would have run above ground. Picture Wikipedia Commons.

(Click to see original and for details of licensing.)

Boris says ‘No’.

Saturday, 8 November 2008


Putting a positive spin.

(Click to download a pdf file from the Mayor of London’s website)

What do right wing politicians in the UK and USA have against rail transport? They will happily fund the state-owned road network and allow it to be pounded into smithereens by lorries with axle weights that are entirely unsuitable for tarmac technology. Sometimes they will allow the existing railway and tube/metro networks to be patched up and brought up to a condition that more enlightened countries achieved in the 1970s. But talk about new rail infrastructure investment and they go green in the gills.

Boris Johnson, the new Mayor of London, has launched his new vision for the future of transport in London in a glossy leaflet called Way to go!. It’s full of hype about public transport investments that have already been made. It’s almost as if, in some magical way, it was our Boris, not his predecessor, Ken Livingstone, that was responsible. Then comes a long list of the projects that will not be proceeded with. These include:

  • Cross River Tram (£1.3bn)
    A project to build a tram line running from Camden in the North to Brixton and Peckham in the South. The line would have connected Euston and Waterloo mainline railway termini and have had a peak capacity of 9,000 passengers per hour. (more…) (even more)
  • Croydon Tramlink Extension (£170m)
    The new value for money extension would have connected with the East London Line Extension and other National Rail services at Crystal Palace railway station, and bus services at Crystal Palace Parade. The tram service would have provided up to 6 trams an hour and a journey time of 18 minutes between Croydon and Crystal Palace. (more…) (even more)
  • Docklands Light Railway extension (£750m)
    This extension would have extended the Docklands Light Railway from Gallions Reach to Dagenham Dock railway station in the London Borough of Barking & Dagenham, on the London, Tilbury and Southend railway. It would have served 11,000 new homes being built in a development called Barking Riverside. (more…) (even more)
  • Oxford Street Tram (£500m)
    This scheme would have completely pedestrianised Oxford Street and replaced buses with trams.
    (more…) (even more)

There will be some investments in improving capacity on the Underground and Overground network. But let’s face it these will only be catching up on backlogs of investment that should have been made years ago. For a good summary of what’s in and what’s been cut out go to this article on the BBC News website.

Boris is asking for comments. See below:

This document is a precursor to the Mayor’s Transport Strategy, and although it does not form part of the formal process of consulting on the strategy, your views and comments on these issues and ideas are invited.  Comments on this document will be considered by the Mayor prior to drafting the Transport Strategy. The consultation will last for 10 weeks and close on Friday 16 January 2009.  Comments should be sent either by post to:

Way to Go!
Post Point 22
City Hall
The Queen’s Walk
London SE1 2BR

Or by email to:

California says ‘Yes’ to high speed rail

Friday, 7 November 2008


Californian voters approved on Tuesday the Safe, Reliable High-Speed Passenger Train Bond Act, more commonly known as Proposition 1A, by 52 % to 47 %. The Act  authorizes the Legislature to issue $10 billion in bonds to fund the first phase of an 800-mile high speed railway linking the major cities of California.

Quentin Kopp, the chairman of the California High-Speed Rail Authority, announced that the agency will produce a revised business plan within a week and then begin a comprehensive engineering plan. “We’re going to need to do things like dig tunnels through mountains and navigate the Pacheco Pass. This is intricate engineering, and it’s a crucial part of the project.” He olso said that the state will also spend $3 to $4 billion this financial year buying right-of-way land for the project.

The Authority plans a network that will stretch from Sacramento to San Francisco and on to Los Angeles and San Diego via Fresno, Bakersfield, and other cities in the Central Valley. Trains will use classic wheel-on-rail  technology and run at speeds exceeding 200 mph (320 km/h).

In a glorious headline which will appeal to Jonathan Glancey, Britain’s leading Advanced Steam Locomotive Project, “WIRED” headlines its very informative post with the headline:

Full Steam Ahead for California’s High-Speed Rail

Mystery train

Thursday, 6 November 2008


Gone Dead Train. Photo

(Click to see original context.)

While half the world stayed up all night anxiously glued to their TV sets and the other half partied, I slept soundly, oblivious to all. Now don’t be alarmed, Behind The Water Tower is not going into wade into the murky waters of party politics. We are strictly non-partisan here. But on the other hand, much as I would have personally liked to have headed today’s post with a picture from a recently rediscovered cache of Polish narrow gauge railway photographs, it seems somewhat churlish to ignore recent events across the pond altogether. So as a compromise, I’ve decided to post an anthology of extracts from the latest posts by some fellow bloggers across the political spectrum. Just please don’t run away with the idea that I agree with everything that these people post in their blogs!

Caroline’s Blog

(The blog of Caroline Lucas, MEP, The leader of the Green Party.)

“changing the soul of man”…

An interesting title, but on closer inspection her post is about taking part in a BBC World Service debate about capitalism and the environment. Clearly Caroline thinks that whoever sits in the White House is totally irrelevant to the USA’s carbon footprint. The frightening thing is that she may just be right.


UK TOP SECRET Postman Patel

(The blog of Baron Patel, FMedSci, FRSE)

” Railway Property has been found very valuable since 1845.In many cases shares have doubled in their nominal value in a few days and often afterwards fallen as rapidly.”

A Million of Facts. Ward Lock. London 1850 by Sir Richard Phillips

I was delighted to see that my friend, Lord Patel, is returning to his family’s railway roots. The new strapline is much more tasteful than his earlier quote from The Unabomber Manifesto. But what’s this, his last post is about a programme on the BBC World Service! What is it about these guys? Is it something that’s been added to the tapwater or what?


And another thing…

(The blog of Tom Harris, Labour MP for Glasgow South, former Under Secretary of State, Department for Transport, responsible for Britain’s railways.)

Gosh, not one, but six posts praising Obama’s victory. I’ll just quote selectively from the first of of them.

I was wrong. Phew!

WELCOME to the Oval Office, President Obama.

So, I was wrong. You can hardly blame me for being pessimistic.

Amazing. Astonishing. Quite genuinely, tonight has restored my faith in the good sense and judgement of the American people.

Obama has rewritten the rules of American politics, and this is a very exciting time for the world.

Our Tom does get rather emotional. His lament on Ruth Kelly’s departure from the post of Secretary of State for Transport cost him his job.



(The blog of Iain Dale, one of Britain’s right wing political commentators. He was the host of Britain’s first political internet TV channel, 18 Doughty

Three pithy posts from Iain: the first, a brief invitation for comments when he retired to bed as soon as the result was known; the second, an analysis of the boundary of possibilities within which Obama will have to work; (See below for a sample.) the third, an analysis of BBC TV’s election night coverage.

A lot of Democrats will be expecting radical things from President Obama. I suspect they will be disappointed, at least initially. He may have campaigned on the slogan of ‘change’ but I suspect he will be far more conservative that many of his most enthusiastic supporters expect. He won’t want to rock the boat too much until he has proved his competence to the nation. There may be one or two headline announcements in the first 100 days, but from a military point of view I am not sure much will change initially.


Peston’s Picks

(The blog of Robert Peston, the BBC’s business editor)

In a post called “Obama shackled by debt” Peston reviews Obama’s campaign slogans:

a) a windfall tax on the “excess” profits of oil companies;

b) a redistributive tax cut for those on middle and low incomes, funded by a claw back of tax cuts received by the wealthiest 2% during President Bush’s two terms;

c) serious public spending on roads, bridges, transport and infrastructure;

d) subventions for renewable energy and for the development of green technologies, especially in the automotive industry…

And then there’s the cold wind of political reality:

Because Obama may turn out to be less red in the practice of his presidency than his words and aspirations would imply.

For example, on that windfall tax – which much of the Labour Party would love to see imitated here – there’s already been a strong hint from Obama’s advisers that it’s on hold, following the collapse in the oil price.


Christian Wolmar

(The blog of Christian Wolmar, Britain’s leading rail pundit)

At last a mention of both BTWT’s keywords ‘environment’ and ‘transport’.

But what will he mean for the environment and transport? I suspect he will send out the same mixed message that Brown has done. He will talk Green but at the same time support low gas prices and do nothing to try to wean Americans out of their cars. Already during the hustings, he began to falter, for example, over the issue of drilling in Alaska. He may well throw a bit more money at Amtrak and possibly help finance light rail schemes in urban areas, but I doubt that he will really take on the issue of climate change. He cannot, however, be worse than Bush and the most positive aspect is that he is an intelligent man not in hock to crazy fundamentalists. He will, at least, accept that climate change is happening and needs to be tackled. The real test is what will he do about it?


Behind The Water Tower

So what do I think? Well by complete coincidence I watched an episode of The Prisoner as America went to the polls. It was the one where ‘No. 6’ is persuaded to take part in the election for the post of ‘No. 2’. Very apt I thought.

Do you remember the heady days in the 1950s and 60s when rail travel was affordable and British Railways ran ‘Mystery Excursions’ to the seaside? You never quite knew where you would end up, and sometimes the locomotive hauling the train was a nice surprise, but the possibilities of where you were going to were somewhat constrained by the train’s starting point, its time of departure, its return time and the fact that you were promised six hours at the seaside.

In a similar manner, political leaders in much of the West (and this certainly includes Poland, the UK and the USA) are constrained by the people who fund their campaigns; by the treatment that they receive from the mass media and the financiers who control their economic policies. No wonder they always arrive at the same familiar destinations!

So now you know. Tomorrow we return to railways, and that’s a promise!


A most remarkable survivor!

Wednesday, 5 November 2008


The Wisbech and Upwell Tramway in its heyday.
G15 loco and two coaches. Photo BTWT archives

Although the Wisbech and Upwell Tramway closed in 1966, most English schoolchildren would immediately recognize the steam locomotive above, thanks to the Rev W Awdry immortalising one of the line’s steam engines as Toby the Tram Engine.

The line opened to Outwell Basin in 1883 and was completed to Upwell opened a year later. The trains were operated by three distinctive looking 0-4-0T tram engines, which looked like brake vans with cow catchers! These were the Great Eastern Railway G15 class (LNER Y6) designed by Thomas Worsdell. There were six passenger trains a day in each direction, and with an initial speed limit of 8 mph (13 km/h), the journey took one hour. The tram competed with a canal that ran between Wisbech and Upwell. At first the tramway benefited the canal. Coal would be carried to Outwell Village where it was loaded into barges for transport deeper into the fens. But the canal was in a poor financial condition and was abandoned shortly after the start of WW I. Freight traffic boomed and in 1903 the GER started to replace the G15s with the more powerful 0-6-0T C53s (LNER J70).

The Wisbech & Upwell Tramway entered the ownership of the LNER in 1923. The speed had been raised to 14 mph (24 km/h) and the journey time reduced to only 39 minutes, but this was insufficient to compete with the motor buses that had started to operate. Passenger services were withdrawn in 1927. Freight traffic, however,  continued to flourish. By 1949, eight trips were scheduled to leave Upwell on weekdays, and three on Saturdays during the fruit season.

In 1952, two Drewry Shunters (BR Class 04) were introduced to replace the J70s, and gave the Wisbech & Upwell the distinction of being Britain’s first all-diesel line! Lorries started to steal the freight traffic during the 1950s, and only one daily service each way was operated in the 1960s. Beeching listed the Wisbech & Upwell as one of the lines to be closed, but it won a reprieve and survived until 1966.

After passenger services on the Wisbech and Upwell Tramway had ceased, two bogie tram coaches Nos. 7 and 8 were transferred to the Kelvedon & Tollesbury Light Railway. Here they worked until that line closed in 1951. By this time passenger coaches which had seen continuous service since 1884 were pretty rare in Britain. (In fact, only the Talyllyn Railway operated older passenger rolling stock. Its passenger coaches dated back to the line’s opening in 1866.) Nos. 7 and 8 were then stored at Stratford Depot together with the sole surviving G15 tram engine. No 8 was used as the buffet coach during the filming of Titfield Thunderbolt and was returned to Stratford when filming ended, but sadly plans for the preservation of the W&U rolling stock came to naught and the G15 and coach No. 8 were broken up in 1953 or 54.

No 7’s story was more fortunate. It was sold for scrap in 1957 and the body ended up being used as an onion store. In 1973 the coach (by now without its chassis) was rescued and moved to the Cambridge Museum of Technology. In 1983 it was acquired by the Rutland Railway Museum at Cottesmore. In 2002, the coach was purchased by the Midland & Great Northern Railway Society to be rebuilt on the North Norfolk Railway. A new steel frame has been constructed and mounted on new bogies. The restored coach had its inaugural run in September this year. Our congratulations to everyone involved.

Wisbech and Upwell Tramway coach No 8 starring in The Titfield Thunderbolt

Putting people first

Tuesday, 4 November 2008


Birmingham’s 60s-designed roads gave cars priority over people

(Click to see picture in original context.)

Britain’s top rail pundit, Christian Wolmar, has published a philosophical article questioning urban planning priorities on his blog.

Walking through Holloway, north London today, I was struck at how the road and pavement engineers deliberately make life difficult for pedestrians. To walk half a mile and cross a couple of major roads, I was shunted by so called pedestrian barriers in a way that ensured I had to cover an extra two hundred yards. In fact, as it was early morning, I dodged around them on the road as there were no cars, but I am fit and able to do that.Think how much longer people with poor mobility have to go just to accommodate cars that they are unable to use.

This shows a priority of user which is no longer acceptable. Why should pedestrians, who are using the most environmentally friendly method of travel and who are contributing most to the community – we do not, fortunately, have drive-in shops in Holloway – go the long way round to allow cars to whizz through our patch faster?

Click the link for the rest of the article.

Fortunately attitudes are beginning to change. The next extract is from the urban design compendium website.

The Birmingham Inner Ring Road was completed in 1971.The aim was to remove trunk road traffic from the citycore by building a 3.5 mile road around the centre, punctuated by roundabouts at seven junctions. Although seen as a classic improvement of its time, the ‘Concrete Collar’ is now seen as an impenetrable barrier between the city cantre and the surrounding neighbourhoods. In particular for pedestrians who are required to use the hostile and intimidating psubways at the roundabouts.

Since 1988 Birmingham City Council has adopted a policy of remodelling of the ring road. This has been undertaken to recreate links between the city centre and the neighbouring areas; enable city centre activity to spread into those areas; improve the pedestrian environment across the city, with an emphasis on shifting vehicular movements out to the middle ring road.

Click to read more. Polish urban planners please take note.

MPs’ plot to stop Heathrow runway

Monday, 3 November 2008

The proposed third runway at London’s Heathrow Airport,
map Daily Telegraph

(Click map to read the original Daily Telegraph March 2008 article in which it originally appeared.)

The Daily Mail published an article last Tuesday which claimed that Ministers were helping to stir up a rebellion among Labour MPs in a bid to sink the plan to build a third runway at London’s Heathrow Airport.

John Grogan, MP for Selby in North Yorkshire, said that some senior Government figures, including Cabinet members, have privately urged him to launch a parliamentary revolt against the controversial airport expansion. Mr Grogan has sponsored an early day motion (a parliamentary device to signal MPs’ concern) urging the Government to rethink its Heathrow plans. According to Mr Grogan, there was ‘mounting nervousness’ among ministers that the runway plan could cost Labour a string of marginal seats around the West London airport at a General Election. ‘Given that airline traffic is now falling significantly, the Government surely cannot continue to base its policy on a White Paper on airports dating back to 2003.’

The motion urged the Government to rethink its plans for a third runway at Heathrow Airport and to give full consideration to alternative solutions; regrets the Government’s heavy reliance on data supplied by the BAA in assessing the case for expansion and notes the likely forthcoming break up of BAA’s ownership of three of London’s airports following the investigation by the Competition Committee; believes that the consultation paper Adding Capacity at Heathrow Airport was deeply flawed, as it paid insufficient regard to the costs of air and noise pollution in the surrounding areas and the commitment to curb carbon dioxide emissions to tackle climate change; regrets the fact that provisions to improve high speed rail lines from Heathrow to major cities have not been fully explored, along with the potential of other UK airports to handle more long haul flights; and urges the Government to initiate a consultation on a new national planning policy statement on the theme of airports and high speed rail.

The criticism of BAA supplied data is a shot across the bows to the tripartite alliance between the Government, civil servants and BAA which a year ago looked unstoppable. In March this year, The Times revealed how data on the impact of a third runway were repeatedly altered, giving the impression that its effect on noise and pollution would be negligible. Figures for carbon emissions were massaged down by the crude device of excluding incoming international flights from the calculations. BAA was effectively given a veto on the contents of the consultation document, being allowed to rewrite it. On Wednesday the new Transport Secretary Geoff Hoon told MPs on Wednesday he would make a decision after studying a summary of the 70,000 responses to the consultation. By Thursday the BBC had picked up the story as opposition leaders urged the government to to think again. By today 105 MPs had already signed Mr Grogan’s motion. Importantly, this includes some 40 Labour MPs, including former ministers Michael Meacher and Frank Dobson.

The pollution shadow from Heathrow, is generated not only by 2,612 plane movements daily (combined landings and take offs), but also by two incinerators which disperse radioactive particles and dioxins all over London and the South East. So if you live in Britain and feel that enough is enough, why not write to your local MP and urge him to sign John Grogan’s motion.

Vivarais Railway faces uncertain future

Saturday, 1 November 2008

Breach in the railway embankment in the parish of
St Jean de Muzois on 6 September, Photo V. Piotti

Robert Hall, a regular contributor to our Comments reports a news item in the October “Today’s Railways: Europe”, The Chemin de Fer du Vivarais officially went into receivership on 22 July and a receiver is now in charge of sorting out assets. The Ardeche ‘departement’ is apparently ready to buy some of the rolling stock while buildings will be taken over by the local villages and towns. A major task will now be to find an operator for the line. The good news is that national rail infrastructure manager RFF has agreed to extend the agreement on narrow gauge trains running over the section with three rails between Tournon and St. Jean-de-Muzols until 2020.

The SGVA, the Vivarais Railways supporters association clearly feel that the dispersal of the line’s assets to different bodies will be to the detriment of the long-term prospects of the line. The SGVA’s Vincent Potti published the following open letter on the Society’s web site on 12 September. Here is the full text. (Translation by BTWT)

No one can now deny the necessity of reopening the Chemin de Fer du Vivarais. It is clear that the railway is the premier tourist attraction not only in the Ardèche, but also the wider Rhone-Alps region. The financial consequences of the closure have already been felt in the local communities of Tournon and Lamastre, while the full impact of the closure of the line, especially on tourism, has yet to be seen. This new awareness is welcomed by railway enthusiasts, who have been involved in defending this line for forty years, with only symbolic support from the local authorities. The interest of the local authorities at all levels, should logically lead to the preservation of this heritage for posterity. Accordingly we feel that some points should be bought to your attention.

Far from being a crude funfair attraction, the railway has features which make it unique in Europe. These include the quality of the landscape traversed (e.g. the Gorges du Doux, typical of the Ardèche countryside) and the historic nature of the line’s rolling stock, locomotives, railcars civil engineering structures and stations. Many of these are listed as historic monuments and are especially valuable seen in their original setting and used for their original purpose.

These then are the many attractions that have drawn tourists from many different social backgrounds and far distant countries to visit and travel on the railway. The line is a living museum. The railway’s consistent character had enabled it to transport nearly two million passengers during the period that it was operated by volunteers. One must ask oneself, would these people have been interested in spending two times two hours in open cars simply to view the gorges?

Today, no one would dispute that the railway’s last operator did not adequately manage the specialised technical tasks involved in running a railway. Maintaining ancient equipment in good condition, requires skills and techniques which are themselves in danger of dying out. The retention of three paid employees is in this sense a positive development, but there is concern that the departure of those laid off will be very detrimental to the transmission of skills acquired through oral learning and practical experience.

Energy and safety considerations mean that it is ridiculous not to consider the restoration of the railway as a transportation undertaking, in addition to the tourism role it recently fulfilled. There are possibilities of carrying students travelling to educational institutions as well as transporting people living in areas close to the line to their place of work. The discipline involved in operating a railway, particularly with respect to the safety aspects, is itself an example of great educational value, which could benefit young people still at school.

Members of the Sauvegarde et Gestion de Véhicules Anciens (Preservation and Operation of Historic Vehicles Association) have demonstrated their ability to contribute their skills and manpower, as well as the loan of equipment to assist the proper operation of the Chemin de Fer du Vivarais. They are more than ever willing to help in order to save this living museum. They also wish to emphasize again that in order to appreciate the historic value of the individual heritage items on the railway it is essential that they been seen together – and not separately – in the context the entire railway and that the whole line should be classified as a historic monument.

The importance this railway, with its heritage, tourism and educational potential, as well as the potential for regular traffic, should lead to the involvement of all the local, departmental and regional authorities. However, it is feared that a dispersal of assets, especially land, would cause difficulties in managing the railway in the future because of the distribution of responsibilities and tasks. It could even be a major stumbling block to its long-term survival because of particular short0term interests.

A better solution than the partial sale of the line (particularly its stations) to different bodies, would be the creation of a Syndicat Intercommunal – a formula often adopted –
a single body to operate the line or the acquisition of all the assets by the department or the region, safeguarding the possibility of a future resumption of regular traffic.

If you share the SGVA’s concerns about the dispersal of the line’s assets you could drop a line to the Chief Executive of the local council:

Monsieur le Président du Conseil Général
Hôtel du département
Quartier la Chaumette – BP 737
07007 PRIVAS cedex

You can search through our earlier articles about the Vivarais railway by typing “Vivarais” into the search box. (See the right hand side of the top of this page.)