GOING SO FAST…! Sheldon Cooper likes trains!

Sheldon Cooper likes trains! He doesn’t like airplanes! He’s OK with cars…as long as someone capable is driving (he can’t seem to grasp driving himself) and he hates scooters and mopeds. He has issues with buses (hygiene and wishing to use bungee cords to strap himself in). Why start with this? Well, partially it was to get your attention…Sheldon Cooper is the much loved fictional character from the TV Series The Big Bang Theory initially made popular by Jim Parsons. Part of it was to introduce a subject and situation I came across a few months ago.

I take the early train into work from the heart of the County of Essex, to the East of London. It’s a very popular commuter station and one of the busiest in the UK. One day in August I arrived at the station and had a chance to chat with some of the station staff as the train was delayed, the third consecutive time that week, due to ‘…points failure…’. I found it a little hard to believe as they’d been replacing the points for ages (…years…but I’m biased). I mentioned this to some of the station staff. He knew me and was sympathetic…but couldn’t do anything about it. I then looked across the rails to the ‘Country Side’… the one heading away from London and pointing said something like ‘…it couldn’t be related to THAT?’. He looked at me, said nothing…yet his silence spoke volumes.

On the other side, at the platform, was a stationary bulk carrying, diesel/electric powered freight train. To my mind, the size of the whole train for the UK rail network was huge! I can’t remember how many wagons…but many…and they were all heavily loaded with aggregate. This seemed to originate from the

West of England or somewhere similar and looked to be heading East. I see such a freight train every day and it was then that I put the two situations together. Partially I think it was because I’d recently read a story about ‘…the heaviest ‘jumbo’ train currently running in the UK1

.’ A trial run of a huge train weighing 4,624mt

for the same train company as the one sitting in my station. All these made me think of the competing needs of freight and passengers to run at speed, over points, on the same two skinny pieces of steel rail.

Now I’m not against freight on rail, far from it. If the locomotion units are from overhead electric lines, the electricity is green in origin and there’s hardly a more environmentally friendly way to move people or freight around. The problem as I see it, is not just that freight is moved by diesel/electric units… many passenger services are also powered in such a way. Rather it’s the weight of the trains at speed and the conflict/competition between freight and passengers.

For example, a typical UK commuter train weight in around 45 - 48mt. It is a hollow tube that realistically carries very little weight in passengers. A freight train wagon weighs on its own at least 23mt and has a carrying capacity of another 77mt. A heavy total of around 100+mt when laden with aggregate. The locomotives pulling them can also be up to 127mt…though I appreciate the larger number of axles. Meanwhile, my commuter trains are rated up to 100mph though I suggest most of the time they travel up to about 75mph. I’ve found out freight wagons unladen can travel up to 75mph and still up to 60mph when laden. Maybe I am just doing simple maths wrong…but wouldthese freight wagons not, at speed, have a greater impact on points, rails, etc…?

1 Dry Bulk magazine

12 | ADMISI - The Ghost In The Machine | November/December 2019

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