Friday, 20 March 2015

Part One

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!

East Lincolnshire Green Party

Green Party transport policy.

This blog-post is promoted by Biff Vernon and Romy Rayner on behalf of the Green party and of East Lincolnshire Green Party. Tithe Farm, Church End, North Somercotes, Louth, Lincolnshire. LN11 7PZ. e-mail:


  1. Zing carriages could be even more exciting if they have tyres allowing them to detour off onto roads opening up the possibility of a huge number of possible destination points and in fact the tracks could simply be smart roads that are reserved for automated smart vehicles completely merging rail and road transport into a single transport system. :)

  2. Thanks for that comment, Anon. Yes, it is something we've considered and the idea certainly merits further study. We've tried to limit the discussion so far to technology that has already been tried and tested, not invoking stuff yet to be invented, but a method that allows trains to leave their rails and drive right into town centres on regular roads would have great advantages.

  3. Several people tweeted comments about Zing. I've added my answers:

    @transitionlouth As a local link like various Tram initiatives to replace bus services it has it merits but its not an #hs2 alternative
    Zing is the alternative way to spend many billions of pounds. It’s not an alternative way to go from London to Birmingham. It is an improvement on trams and busses as it provides faster local transport at less energy cost.

    @transitionlouth Better. Faster. More pleasant. Cheaper. More flexible. Comfier.
    Yes, that sums it up nicely.

    @transitionlouth How much will Zing cost?
    The sixty-four dollar question. Zing, covering all the lines closed since 1914, will cost less than HS2. Add the cost of HS3 and we expand the network to places that have never been seen a railway.

    @transitionlouth 7. Just look at the disruption caused in Edinburgh and Nottingham building the Tram on the roads
    Indeed there was disruption, but those schemes were not built on former railway lines.

    @transitionlouth 6. With Carriages of 16 people these are going to be some very long trains
    Total capacity is train capacity multiplied by frequency. Long trains are not needed if they are frequent. Frequency is essential for convenience – passengers don’t want to wait long.

    @transitionlouth 5. With more Stations you are looking at increasing journey time and there for reduce capacity #ZingFail
    That misses a fundamental feature of an ultra light weight electric vehicle: high acceleration and deceleration.

    @transitionlouth Very interesting!
    Thank you.

    @transitionlouth 4. At 80mph you are looking at increasing journey time and there for reduce capacity
    I think you are missing the point. 80mph is much faster than any existing local transport. Zing is not for London to Birmingham – we already have suitable 125mph trains for that

    @transitionlouth 3. #HS2 is based on #proven Technology, look at #HS1, Zing on the other hand, no.
    Zing is entirely based on currently available technology, though some is fairly new and development over the next couple of decades can reasonably be expected to produce improvements: batteries, non-contact recharging, driverless operation, structural design with light-weight materials and renewable sources of electricity

    @transitionlouth 2. A lot of closed was closed for a reason, ie. not a bottleneck for the network
    Lines closed between 1914 and 1980 were unprofitable at those times. This is a different technology and we now have a different population distribution and density, different energy requirements and opportunities. There is very little comparison in circumstances.

    @transitionlouth 1. A lot of closed track has already been redeveloped
    That is a frequently cited objection – and it turns out to be not true. Study the maps and satellite pictures carefully.

    @transitionlouth it sounds more like a local rail system. Not one to be on for a long journey
    That’s true but we already have a long distance backbone. Localism will become dominant in a zero-carbon Britain and Zing is about providing low energy, fast, reliable passenger transport to meet the needs of a future society.

    @transitionlouth why mention zero carbon etc? Isnt it viable without 'green' requirements and green 'taxes'?
    Zero carbon has to be the future so we have to have a low energy transport system. Yes it's viable anyway, but other systems have higher energy costs so this is Zing’s unique selling point.