Saturday, 24 February 2018

Technology - Triumph or Trouble?

When fbb worked for a small but go-ahead bus group that became Go-Ahead, he was dispatched by his boss to Llandrindod Wells. It was not a punishment for poor performance, but a mistaken belief by said boss that the speakers at a conference would supply big bags of free money for some of "sir's" pet (but hitherto commercially unviable) seedcorn projects.

The conference was a waste of time; the funding schemes were aimed at local authorities not businesses but the weekend involved a pleasant hotel and a lovely outward train journey, change at Newport South Wales.

fbb's schedule was fine, but "main line" trains through Newport were in a pickle.
Of course, the station has been poshed-up since fbb's visit including a spectacular "futuristic" snail-like overbridge, equipped with a technologically advanced and very expensive leaking roof.
In the hour (approx) that fbb had to wait for his connection, he drew some amusement (and irritation) from the consequences of a reliance on technology.

Departure screens would show one platform and the train would arrive at another. Passengers would be harried from one to another by staff who had hitherto relied on the screens as their source of information. It was a shambles. Announcements were, of course, in English and Welsh, so by the time the tediously long announcement was over, the train would be signalled into a different platform and it all started  again.

It was jolly fun to watch, but far from jolly for passengers encumbered with luggage, children or arthritis.

So, this weekend, a few tales of amusing (?) technology at its best.

Vorsprung Durch Technik (Oder Nicht!)
Deutsche Bahn has recently (10th December 2017) opened a new chunk of high speed line on the route via N├╝nberg reducing the journey time from Berlin to just four hours. That is the equivalent of a trip from London to Perth (approx 6½ hours).

The spectacular engineering was described in an Article in the February edition of Modern Railways (go buy!).
Despite the universally held belief that, in Germany, anything on two rails always works "wie ein uhrwerk", Keith Fender ...
... the magazine's Europe correspondent reported a few "snags" when he took a trip soon after the opening. Trains were overfull, not running to time and generally "in  pickle". In a leader in the March edition (go buy!), Keith explains why. fbb has interpreted (possibly unsuccessfully) some articles in the German press!

It is a bit technical but it goes like this. Trains were apparently just stopping in the middle of nowhere for no obvious reason and with no obvious mechanical failure.

It turns out that the people who program the on-board confuser had typed in some wrong numbers; notably the diameter or circumference of the trains' wheels. This figure allows the trains to work out how many times the wheel has turned and therefore to know how far it has gone.

A bit like a very sophisticate electronic "speedo" on a car.
But, because of the wrong input, the poor trains thought they were going faster than they should and had got to where they were too quickly (dangerously so - safety margins rule OK), so shut the trains down and stopped them.

Red faces and annoyed passengers by the bundle!

Snow In The Wrong Place
Level crossings can be controversial. Of course, they are perfectly safe if motorists follow the rules, obey the lights or refrain from slalom-ing the falling barriers. Increasingly, automatic barrier crossings are being equipped with "object detection".
These clever devices spot if any "object", inanimate or living, is sitting on the rails and send a "stop" signal to the barriers which will not drop, and thus signals will not clear and trains cannot proceed.

Several news items have appeared in the press about one "object" which triggers the system,

Either the deep snow on the track is "seen" as a blockage, or snow builds up on the detector with the same result.

The solution seems to be to send a lad out with a shovel to remove the snow. One report, concerning significantly delayed trains between Shrewsbury and Machynlleth, was accompanied by an "official" statement.

"The detectors are working perfectly and we will not be changing the settings. Unfortunately the snow was so heavy we could not get staff out to undertake "remedial action".


Preseumably man-in-van with shovel got as stuck as the barriers?

New Station Opened - Bristol Area
Bristol correspondent Paul was wandering through the concourse at Bristol Parkway Station on Sunday last (as you do!) when he espied a screen for a train to this new, and previously unannounced station development.
The 1055 was running just three minutes late and would go forward to the brand new station at Train Splits Here. The front coaches would call at Filton Abbey Wood before reaching their newly opened "station stop". The rest of the train would continue to the second "headline" terminus, viz Taunton.
The bit for Taunton would consist of the "Rear 6 Coaches". Seems perfectly clear, except ...
... that the train only has six coaches! Paul waited and photographed page 3 of 3.
This completed the list of stops between Bristol Parkway and Taunton.

So, to summarise; the front coaches (unspecifed number of a six coach train) run to Filton Abbey Wood and Train Splits Here whilst the rear six coaches of a six coach train also call at Filton Abbey Wood, omit Train Splits Here and continue to Bristol Temple Meads and Taunton.

And here is the train as shown in the public timetable.
As far as can be gleaned it starts at Bristol Parkway and presumably splits into two, one invisible bit wafting enigmatically to a strange Harry Potter type destination, whilst the solid six coaches remaining behave quite normally and run to Taunton.
Paul listened attentively to the (automated!) announcement which offered it as the:-

1055 to Taunton, calling at Filton Abbey Wood and Bristol Temple Meads where the train divides, with the rear 6 coaches continuing to Bedminster, etc...

Almost correct, as the train only had 6 coaches to start with...!

Paul delved a little deeper and writes:-
Looking at "Real Time Trains", it looks as though the train did indeed split at Train Splits Here, (a temporary renaming of Bristol Temple Meads???) with the front 3 carriages leaving for Taunton at 1116, and the rear 3 heading off to the siding at 1119. 

But the screens and "announcer" at Bristol Parkway opted for a significantly different interpretation!

Brummy Buses Befuddle Keith
A correspondent in Birmingham was very bemused indeed by these displays at Sutton Coldfield bus stops. Effectively "Lower Parade" is Sutton Coldfield bus station ...
... and the single display for services in all directions is towards the far end of the "outbound" line of shelters on the right in the picture above.
Here is Page 1 of 2:-
Keith looks at the operator codes.

AMN - Arriva Midlands North ...
... service 110.

CLA is Claribel's route 167.

So who operates the rest; surely it is National Express West Midlands.


Page 2 is just the same.
Keith, although he lives in Fakenham (of which more on monday!), knows Birmingham well and thus was able to decode the odd collection of letters.

PB, WA, WB actually refer to the National Express West Midlands garage that runs the bus (Perry Barr, WAlsall, West Bromwich); information that is utterly meanlingless to the readers of the sign!


 A Birthday Indulgence blog : Sunday 25th February 


  1. My Cardiff to Portsmouth train was announced at Bristol TM as a six car, of which only the rear three would continue to Portsmouth (as it reverses at Temple Meads). Alas, only a three car appeared - perhaps there is a new signalling system with a faulty train describer.

  2. For consistency (and to compound the confusion!) maybe the Sutton Coldfield display should show the operator code TH for the 110 to Birmingham instead of AMN? This is the Tamworth to Birmingham service which has operated as the 110 for around 90 years, from the Tamworth garage which opened in 1928 and is also still in use today. TH was the garage code used by Midland Red (then the Birmingham & Midland Motor Omnibus Company and from 1974 the Midland Red Omnibus Company). Midland Red (North) took over from 1981 and passed through Drawlane, British Bus and Cowie Group ownership to become Arriva Midlands North, yet the 110 has survived all this change.