Transition Town Louth

ZING ~ The Incredibly Light Railway.

By 2050, if current Government targets are met, we will be emitting 80% less CO2. We may go further. The reality of Peak Oil, and the awareness of global warming, should mean that by then net carbon emissions will be negative. We will sequester more carbon than we release in our attempt to drive atmospheric CO2 down to the safe 350ppmv. There will be few petrol and diesel driven vehicles.

Connecting the people of Lincolnshire with ZING, a 21st century concept railway system.

Carriages feel more like motorcars: you step through the door straight into your seat; no corridors; no walking about; too low to stand up. Think of each carriage as a stretched limo, maybe eight pairs of seats. Sixteen passengers per carriage.

Low axle weight means trackbed does not have to be engineered to the normal railway standards. Bridges over rivers and such like need not be as strong as conventional railway bridges. Low carriage height – perhaps 1.5 metres - means that road bridges over the railway can be very low, keeping costs low enough to avoid having the many level crossings that typified the original railways of the Lincolnshire Marsh.

ZING is powered by electric motors fed by on board batteries. Electric motors directly powering each wheel, without heavy and complex drive transmission systems, provide rapid acceleration. Braking is regenerative, prolonging battery life. Batteries are primarily charged whilst the train is not in use, such as at night, but charge boosts are given at each station using inductive power transfer (IPT), obviating the need for a cable to be attached. When the train stops it automatically recieve power from an induction plate set on the ground below the train, if only for the 30 seconds waiting at a station. There is no need for expensive and unsightly overhead cables and gantries.

The combination of low carriages, small wheels and low ride height means that platforms are not needed. Kerb height alighting makes station building simple and cheap.

The light weight and simplicity of the carriages mean they are cheap to construct – a small fraction of conventional rail rolling stock.

The advantages of railways: no steering, since train is rail guided, low rolling resistance of wheels on smooth rails, low gradients etc, combined with the ultra light weight, means that the electric motors can provide great performance at low energy use. Both acceleration and breaking rates will be very high, allowing high average speeds despite frequent stops. Maximum speeds of 100mph are attained even between stations less than a mile apart with sports car type acceleration. Electric motors provide maximum torque almost instantaneously. Stopping distances are very short, again more equivalent to a high performance motorcar than a conventional rain. The breaking power to weight ratio could actually be greater than in a modern car. Steel wheels on steel rails suffer from low adhesion but are used on conventional trains as rubber tyres cannot cope with the weight. This is lot the same problem for our ultra light weight carriages, making rubber an option. This gives quite running and steep gradients are coped with. Journey times are therefore shorter than the equivalent road travel.

With only two passengers abreast, ZING is much narrower than conventional trains. This allows two-way running on trackbeds that formally carried only a single track railway. Minimal land is required and signalling systems are simple, minimising costs.

Automatic, driverless operation is a possibility. The obvious advantage is cost saving on staffing but in a future economy labour cost might not be as high as currently. The advantage of greater safety where a human can override automated control systems, and the personal services of a conductor/driver to look after passengers might weigh more heavily.

Train frequency could be much higher than on a conventional railway system. The separation distances normally required for safety are much less with a train with a much shorter stopping distance. Combined with the low cost of the rolling stock, this allows a large number of trains running at a high frequency. Usage becomes higher when passengers can expect a train within a few minutes, like on the London Underground, without having to worry about timetables.

Station frequency can be higher than on conventional railways, facilitated by low construction cost resulting from platformless operation, and rapid train acceleration and braking. Stops at stations could be very short; there are as many doors as seats so no queuing to get off and on. Thirty second stops will normally be adequate. More passengers will live within a short walk of the station. The generally low construction costs of completely new lines could allow extending branches beyond the original 19th century network, to serve closely an even greater proportion of the rural population.

Jackie and Jean are pointing at a funny train.

Where will it go?

The starting point is the original rail network, built in the 19h century and closed, mostly in the 1960s and '70s. Louth is the hub, but, as with any efficient rail network, it links to other hubs, Grimsby, Market Rasen, Lincoln, Boston, Wainfleet, Skegness and Mablethorpe. The closed lines are just the start. Although through rural areas, most of the old trackbeds are clear of significant obstruction and could be reinstated quite easily, where the lines run into towns there has been much redevelopment which could be expensive to reverse. However, Zing track can be extended onto the road network like the trams of many cities. The difference between dedicated ZING track and road running would be speed. On roads a pedestrian and bike friendly 10 mph might be the norm, but released onto it's own track and train zings away a 100 mph.

Get involved?

If you feel in any way inspired by the notes above to help in this project, whether or not you live in this area of Lincolnshire, we'd love to hear from you. It's blue skies thinking time, envisioning a new transport system fit for the second half of the 21st century. Whether your interest is in battery technology, power or control engineering, automotive design, social impacts or you just fancy some creative doodling, please get in touch with your ideas, written or drawn.

To contact the Transition Town Louth ULR Project, Send Mail

Further Reading

But notice that approximately all the literature on light rail systems is wedded in the 20th (or 19th) century design concept of cars that are large enough to stand up and walk about in, with it's concomitant weight and air resistance penalties.

Prototypes for the sort of train we are discussing are better found in the arena of high performance electric cars such as the Tesla, which is now in production, (0-60mph in 3.7 seconds) and the even more advanced Nemesis, so far just a one off. Nemesis is particularly interesting as it is being developed by Dale Vince and Ecotricity, who own the windfarms at Mablethorpe and Connisholme. Nemesis is a demonstration of the reality of wind-powered transport.

Nemesis, on Dale Vince's front drive.