Sunday, February 08, 2015

ZING ~ The Incredibly Light Railway.

News 8th February 2015: The President of the RMT Union is to stand for the Green Party at this year’s general election. Peter Pinkney, whose union represents more than 80,000 workers across Britain, will stand for the Green Party in Redcar, a constituency won by the Liberal Democrats at the last election. Read more



The context

By 2050, if current Government targets are met, we will be emitting 80% less CO2. We may go further. Avoiding climate catastrophe resulting from 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 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 the 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 at 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 Lincolnshire.

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 receives 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, even for wheelchairs.The light weight and simplicity of the carriages mean they are cheap to construct at 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 80mph or more 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 sports-car than a conventional train.
Journey times are shorter than the equivalent road travel. Low weight means that steeper gradients are coped with and the short carriages allow tight radius curve so there is great flexibility for routing new railways. 

With only two passengers abreast, ZING is much narrower than conventional trains. Minimal land is required. This allows two-way running on trackbeds that formally carried only a single track railway. Alternatively, new track can run alongside roads with a little widening, or substituting part of the carriageway. This could be particularly useful as road traffic is replaced by ultra-light rail. 


With no infrastructure legacy, driverless operation is envisaged with relatively simple control systems, minimising costs. 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. With more stations, 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.

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. 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 (but compare the cost of land acquisition for HS2). 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 at 80 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.

Further Reading

You might like to do further reading about light railways and there are many initiatives around the world, 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.

It can never happen!

Well, I expect that’s what they said in 1820. But a quarter of a century later and Britain had become utterly transformed by a dense network of railways serving the whole land. It can be done!

continued in Part 2

East Lincolnshire Green Party

Green Party transport policy.






7 Comments:

OpenID isyourjourneyreallynecessary said...

Fascinating article, Biff - I've been advocating a similar scheme for the South Wales Valleys for a few years now. Prof Kevin Morgan of Cardiff University has put forward an LRT programme based on Cardiff, but my argument is that we need to start in the Valleys and work towards Cardiff. It's very difficult to travel east-west in this area, but easy to get to Cardiff. If we concentrated on the areas outside the capital, the benefits would be immediate, both in terms of job creation and opening up the Valleys to flexible commuting.
The link on my profile isn't my main blog, it's just devoted to public transport. I think the title says it all, really... ;-)

11:36 am  
Blogger Biff Vernon said...

Excellent - I'll look into Kevin Morgan's work. Thanks.
And in a similar vein to your title:
The unanswerable question at the heart of transport is the one asked by the farm labourer standing bemused one day in the mid-eighteenth century at the side of the Liverpool-Manchester turnpike, crowded with urgently-speeding coaches: “Who would ever have thought that there were so many people in the wrong place?”
From Lean Logic ~ David Fleming 1940-2010

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