Were tighter headways allowed in the 1980s compared to now?

Status
Not open for further replies.

nickw1

Established Member
Joined
9 Aug 2013
Messages
1,305
I've been looking at timetableworld.com and found something with IMO is a goldmine: the ABC timetable for Southern England for November 1981 (so presumably May 1981-May 1982).

This is a welcome addition as timetables from this era (late 1970s and 1980s) are hard to track down but very interesting to me personally.

This was one year before I started using the railways (late 1982); it reveals that the South Western Division (Waterloo lines) timetable was pretty much exactly as I remember it from 1982/3 and 1983/4. The timetables for the Central and South Eastern Division are very interesting to look at though.

One thing that strikes me about the 1981 timetable was the tightness of the headways out of Waterloo on the main line through Surbiton. They appeared to pack 26 trains an hour on the fast lines with two-minute headways for much of the hour, with only a few gaps. Between 1700-1815, the busiest part of the peak, we had the following. All these were fast to at least Surbiton so were presumably on the main line.

1700 Salisbury (possibly beyond)
1702 Guildford via Cobham
1704 Eastleigh semi-fast1
1706 Guildford via Woking stopper
1710 Portsmouth via Guildford semi-fast
1712 Basingstoke, fast to Woking then all stations
1714 Farnham via Woking stopper
1716 Alton (fast to Woking)
1720 Portsmouth via Guildford (82, Woking, Guildford then stopping)
1722 Guildford via Cobham
1724 Eastleigh semi fast
1726 Woking stopper
1730 Weymouth express (91)
1732 Portsmouth via Guildford semi-fast
1734 Basingstoke, fast to Woking then all stations
1736 Farnham via Woking stopper
1738 Alton (fast to Woking)
1740 Portsmouth via Guildford (as 1720)
1742 Guildford via Cobham
1744 Bournemouth semi-fast (92)
1746 Guildford via Woking stopper
1750 Portsmouth via Guildford semi-fast
1752 Guildford via Cobham
1754 Eastleigh, fast to Woking then all stations
1756 Farnham via Woking stopper
1758 Alton (fast to Woking)
1800 Portsmouth stopper (fast to Woking then all stations)
1802 Guildford via Cobham
1804 Bournemouth stopping (interestingly fast to West Byfleet, then express through Woking, semi fast to Basingstoke then all stations)
1806 Woking stopper
1810 Salisbury (possibly beyond)
1812 Basingstoke
1814 Guildford via Cobham

It thins out a little after that, but there was a pretty consistent two-minute headway with only a few gaps (generally in the xxx8 slots) and note how there was a continuous two minute headway between 1730-46 and again between 1750-1806.

Contrast that to the SWR 2018 timetable which is the most recent I've been able to find (it appears they are still running a reduced timetable out of Waterloo at the moment so the current timetable can be dismissed as atypical) and we have these on the main line:

1700 Portsmouth direct
1702 Woking (fast to Surbiton then all)
1705 Weymouth
1709 Portsmouth via Eastleigh
1711 Basingstoke (fast to Brookwood then all)
1715 Portsmouth direct
1718 Haslemere (fast to Woking). Not sure if that was present in 2018 but I do remember it being added recently
1720 Salisbury (possibly beyond)
1723 Basingstoke (fast to Woking then all)
1725 Alton

The pattern then repeats for the other half-hour, but the xx48 is a Southampton semi-fast rather than a Haslemere. This gives just 20 an hour and there are significantly less two minute headways.

One definite observation is that while the service to some of the longer-distance destinations has improved (notably the Salisbury line, Winchester and beyond, and the Fareham route thanks to electrification) the destinations closer to London seem to have had quite a dramatic drop in service frequency and speed since the early 80s. In particular West Byfleet to Esher inclusive used to have a regular 10-min service from London in the peaks, now it's basically half-hourly (there are four an hour, but two of those four get overtaken). Likewise the Portsmouth Direct out to Haslemere, the Alton line, and the Cobham line have also had frequency drops (Cobham is now only half hourly, down from about four an hour).

So the question is: why were they able to have two-minute headways in the early 80s, but not now? I am guessing that this pattern caused performance issues, with trains frequently late, so they decided to cut back to improve timekeeping. I do know that in the slightly-later 1983/4 timetable, while the basic pattern was the same, they combined the 1700 and 1704 into one train (splitting at Basingstoke) and similarly combined the 1734 and 1738 into one train (splitting at Woking), but at 24 trains an hour that's still an improvement on now. I do also remember the May 1985 timetable was a time of noticeable cuts across the Southern Region (the mid-late 1980s, for instance, was a thankfully temporary period when Amberley station received an off-peak service more akin to a rural branch in mid-Wales than somewhere in Sussex; in 1981 it had an hourly service which was restored, thankfully, in 1990 IIRC).
 
Last edited:
Sponsor Post - registered members do not see these adverts; click here to register, or click here to log in
R

RailUK Forums

30907

Veteran Member
Joined
30 Sep 2012
Messages
12,093
Location
Airedale
You are quite right about the headway, effectively every 2.5 minutes.
I don't know how well it worked, especially with the loco hauled 1700 as first out!

I can't comment on pre-Covid loadings, but ISTR from around 1980 a fair few of the medium distance trains (not just the Cobhams) were 8 cars only and not full and standing either.

Thoughts on the headway issue:
1. Trains run into Waterloo more slowly (TPWS and driving standards generally) affects platform reoccupation times (as indeed do longer trains).
2. In addition busy stations like Woking require longer stops because of sliding doors which further affects reoccupation.

PS Other totally unbiased forum members will concur with my view that the SR was simply exceptionally good at operating high intensity services :)
(Carefully ignoring the morning peak through London Br SE which was consistently 3-4 minutes late by 0900)
 
Last edited:

Ianno87

Veteran Member
Joined
3 May 2015
Messages
15,199
Another factor will be the replacement of slam door trains with power-doors. There is now effectively a longer lag between the signal clearing and the train moving, due to the time needed for closing doors, checking, local door closing etc (which can only start once a proceed aspect is received).

In slam door days, well-trained commuters would generally self-shut the doors themselves, so could probably be on the move much sooner after receiving a proceed aspect. With the guard closing the local door only after the train starts moving.
 

eastwestdivide

Established Member
Joined
17 Aug 2009
Messages
2,135
Location
S Yorks, usually
As 30907 says, with the -8s missing, could it in fact be a two-and-a-half minute headway, rounded to the nearest earlier minute for public timetable puposes. Tight but just about possible, and if Surbiton was the first stop for all, then the Cobhams would turn off there, relieving the pressure at least every 20 mins, as well as the Guldford stoppers going slow lines from Surbiton onwards.
My 1978-79 timetable shows a similar density of services, including a heroic sequence at 1800-02-06-08-10-14-18-20, seemingly a higher density than on the slow lines out of Waterloo.
 

Ianno87

Veteran Member
Joined
3 May 2015
Messages
15,199
1. Trains run into Waterloo more slowly (TPWS and driving standards generally) affects platform reoccupation times (as indeed do longer trains).

Which also affects departing headways; the 4+ minute gaps that appear in departures are required to permit conflicting arrivals into lower numbered platforms:

-Train departs
-3 minutes later conflicting train arrives (nowadays 4 is preferred due to defensive driving etc)
-1 minute later subsequent conflicting train departs
 

306024

Established Member
Joined
23 Jan 2013
Messages
3,242
Location
East Anglia
Which also affects departing headways; the 4+ minute gaps that appear in departures are required to permit conflicting arrivals into lower numbered platforms:

-Train departs
-3 minutes later conflicting train arrives (nowadays 4 is preferred due to defensive driving etc)
-1 minute later subsequent conflicting train departs

Liverpool St and Paddington are interesting comparisons. Platform reoccupation times are far greater at Paddington where there are higher line speeds. Liverpool St copes with 3 minute reoccupations, apart from an East side departure followed by a West side arrival on the main line where 4 minutes is used.

Maximising parallel moves across a station throat is the key to making best use of platform capacity and paths, but as Ianno87 says, you need a break to reset the pattern with a conflicting move.
 

30907

Veteran Member
Joined
30 Sep 2012
Messages
12,093
Location
Airedale
As 30907 says, with the -8s missing, could it in fact be a two-and-a-half minute headway
Effectively, with a bit of pathing allowance
.
My 1978-79 timetable shows a similar density of services, including a heroic sequence at 1800-02-06-08-10-14-18-20, seemingly a higher density than on the slow lines out of Waterloo.
Looking at a 1959 WTT (same stock effectively) the locals had 6 trains per 20 min cycle, one being fast to Motspur Pk, equal to 18tph. The all stations were effectively at 2 1/2 min intervals.
They left a 4min gap after the fast so might theoretically have squeezed another one in, but using only platforms 1-4 there might have been a capacity problem.
 

Bald Rick

Veteran Member
Joined
28 Sep 2010
Messages
20,217
To achieve the 2 minute headways, it was tacitly acknowledged that trains would be running at linespeed approaching double yellows that would clear just before the train hit there (and sometimes just after). Drivers really had to be switched on, and one imagines that in poor visibility performance went down the drain.
 

Spartacus

Established Member
Joined
25 Aug 2009
Messages
2,099
It didn't take much for those timetables to start falling to pieces, some might remember Reggie Perrin commuted from Norbiton into Waterloo and the delays were a running joke. http://www.leonardrossiter.com/reginaldperrin/Train.html I think I've heard of every excuse given in real life, including an escaped big cat causing delays, though the badger eating a junction box might be a bit of an exaggeration!

Somewhere that seems to be planned to use double yellow headways now is the Thameslink core, not a very good idea in the slightest in my opinion.
 

Spartacus

Established Member
Joined
25 Aug 2009
Messages
2,099
It very much isn't.

I've seen that 1.5 minute platform occupation at SPL compressed a bit before, and I'm not convinced it's totally practical in real life, with usually performance added before St Pancras so the train's at a stand at Canal Tunnel Jn, but that's getting onto another matter.
 

ChiefPlanner

Established Member
Joined
6 Sep 2011
Messages
6,873
Location
Herts
To achieve the 2 minute headways, it was tacitly acknowledged that trains would be running at linespeed approaching double yellows that would clear just before the train hit there (and sometimes just after). Drivers really had to be switched on, and one imagines that in poor visibility performance went down the drain.

That sums it up nicely I reckon , and remember a lot of the areas were still manually / locally signalled - (Wimbledon , Raynes Park and beyond Surbiton towards Woking etc)

So the drivers were very clearly on the ball , and so were the signalmen as they were called in those days. A worrying thing is that unless I am misled , the 4 SUB units that were not fitted with AWS and they lasted into the early 1980's)
 

Bald Rick

Veteran Member
Joined
28 Sep 2010
Messages
20,217
That sums it up nicely I reckon , and remember a lot of the areas were still manually / locally signalled - (Wimbledon , Raynes Park and beyond Surbiton towards Woking etc)

So the drivers were very clearly on the ball , and so were the signalmen as they were called in those days. A worrying thing is that unless I am misled , the 4 SUB units that were not fitted with AWS and they lasted into the early 1980's)

I vividly remember Alan Williams describing a (fictitious) scenario of drivers used to cancelling AWS on YY for 15-20 miles every evening, and then one day, they cancel it on a single yellow thinking it’s a YY, then see the red at full speed “with the tail lights of the preceding train just beyond it”
 

TSG

Member
Joined
10 Aug 2020
Messages
66
Location
Somewhere in the South of England
I vividly remember Alan Williams describing a (fictitious) scenario of drivers used to cancelling AWS on YY for 15-20 miles every evening, and then one day, they cancel it on a single yellow thinking it’s a YY, then see the red at full speed “with the tail lights of the preceding train just beyond it”
I have a vague recollection of a proposal for a SR-AWS system, that obviously didn't get off the ground, to give more differentiation of aspects for exactly that reason
 

ChiefPlanner

Established Member
Joined
6 Sep 2011
Messages
6,873
Location
Herts
I vividly remember Alan Williams describing a (fictitious) scenario of drivers used to cancelling AWS on YY for 15-20 miles every evening, and then one day, they cancel it on a single yellow thinking it’s a YY, then see the red at full speed “with the tail lights of the preceding train just beyond it”

Exactly true (I guess) - and the really old may recall a development of "SRAWS" or similar which tried to introduce a form of in cab signalling to differentiate between a double and single yellow signal to guard against such eventualities - ironically this was trialed I think on the Styal line with class 304's. A good bit of thinking for the day that regrettably got know where. (we should be grateful for TPWS)

The "E" lines on the GE had consecutive double yellows as part of the signalling from the 1940's in similar scenarios , where the very dense service pattern required it , but presumably with AWS in later years from commissioning.

Always impressed by how these people kept trains running - the anticipation and concentration must have been total.
 

Dr Hoo

Established Member
Joined
10 Nov 2015
Messages
2,734
Location
Hope Valley
Some of the practices were quite scary, because the situation encouraged 'anticipation'. I vividly remember being on the Up Fast platform at Woking one morning peak. A train that had called was just pulling away and so the platform starter was still at Red. A '91' (head code for a fast Southampton service) came cruising into the platform, obviously not booked to call at Woking. Equally obviously, with unlocked slam-door stock you never stopped in a platform where you weren't booked to call as it was an awful pain to despatch. I stared at the signal as it tripped to Single Yellow and within a split second the re-assuring whine of the REP traction motors was heard as I spun round to see the driver nonchalantly step from 'series' to 'parallel'.

He had clearly done it loads of times before and had it down to fine art but it still gave me the creeps.

Meanwhile, over on the Great Eastern out of Liverpool Street some of the signals were so close together that the sequence behind a train was R-Y-YY-YY-YY-YY-G. I.e. there were six blocks for full braking distance at line speed. Not only were you often running on double-yellows but you needed to remember which double-yellow you were on. The Liverpool Street re-signalling with the IECC changed this to more normal block lengths and aspect sequences.

As Bald Rick noted up thread, poor visibility in those days could wreak havoc.

It is good that those days are well behind us now.
 

Bald Rick

Veteran Member
Joined
28 Sep 2010
Messages
20,217
Fairly sure there are still consecutive YY on the GEML E lines, and maybe even three on the trot. But not 4!
 

Snow1964

Established Member
Joined
7 Oct 2019
Messages
1,161
Location
West Wiltshire
From memory there had been a speeding up in either 1979 or 1980 timetable. It followed signalling work in New Malden - Hampton Court area (when the 1930s signalling had been changed. I think it was 65mph max to New Malden until then.

There had also been patches of semaphore signalling replaced on SW main line (it still existed around Byfleet, St Denys, Southampton, Brockenhurst, Christchurch etc in 1970)

But there was lot of skillful anticipation driving in those days, aiming to keep rolling entering a platform with a red, without slowing too much so no one opened a slam door. I think the drivers learnt where signal would clear based on tail lights ahead.

I once remember a temporary speed restriction in Raynes Park area in morning, delaying every train, but every signal we approached got about 3 coach lengths away without braking whilst showing red, and it cleared to single yellow. Balancing when to brake and when to hit power seemed to be an art that could only be done with EP tread braked stock (disc brakes are better at high speed, but not as sharp at low Speed)
 

Taunton

Established Member
Joined
1 Aug 2013
Messages
6,660
I vividly remember Alan Williams describing a (fictitious) scenario of drivers used to cancelling AWS on YY for 15-20 miles every evening, and then one day, they cancel it on a single yellow thinking it’s a YY, then see the red at full speed “with the tail lights of the preceding train just beyond it”
Perhaps we can point to any collision as a result - that's right. None.

I'm sure it will cause a few interesting comments if I say drivers were more competent (and expected to be) a generation ago. Just like those great old boys (particularly the Eastfield gang) who ran the Edinburgh-Glasgow 2x27 push-pulls up to 100mph with semaphore signalling ... :)

SRAWS was a great Southern Region idea. It was installed between Bournemouth and Brockenhurst on the Up line, and in the east end cabs of the 4-REPs. Not only a continual display of the last signal, but separate buttons to press to acknowledge the different warning aspects, and whether you were getting a more restrictive one. Cancelled by someone at BR HQ whose nose was put out of joint by such cleverness not coming from them.
 

Gloster

Established Member
Joined
4 Sep 2020
Messages
2,634
Location
Up the creek
Not only a continual display of the last signal, but separate buttons to press to acknowledge the different warning aspects, and whether you were getting a more restrictive one. Cancelled by someone at BR HQ whose nose was put out of joint by such cleverness not coming from them.
Wasn’t there also thought to be a problem caused by drivers having to switch their attention to selecting the correct acknowledgment?
Hampton court?
Wasn’t that caused by the driver’s attention straying as he looked at work taking place alongside the line?
 

Ianno87

Veteran Member
Joined
3 May 2015
Messages
15,199
Perhaps we can point to any collision as a result - that's right. None.
Hampton court?

Might be misremembering, but I seem to recall from reading the Clapham accident report that drivers of preceding trains had observed the signal going to red in front of them and then back to green, and thought nothing of it, as they were used to following preceding trains closely and having the signaller put the road back ahead of them for the route into Platform 7/8.
 

Bald Rick

Veteran Member
Joined
28 Sep 2010
Messages
20,217
Wasn’t that caused by the driver’s attention straying as he looked at work taking place alongside the line?

I don’t know, but whatever the underlying issues, a driver went past a red signal and into another train.
 

Gloster

Established Member
Joined
4 Sep 2020
Messages
2,634
Location
Up the creek
I don’t know, but whatever the underlying issues, a driver went past a red signal and into another train.
If I remember correctly, sometime in the late 1970s a train coming from Hampton Court had the signal leading off the branch at red. The driver was looking at some construction work down below the embankment to his left and went past the signal to collide with a train on the Up Slow.
 

181

Member
Joined
12 Feb 2013
Messages
524
If I remember correctly, sometime in the late 1970s a train coming from Hampton Court had the signal leading off the branch at red. The driver was looking at some construction work down below the embankment to his left and went past the signal to collide with a train on the Up Slow.

Indeed: 23rd February 1979.
 

Taunton

Established Member
Joined
1 Aug 2013
Messages
6,660
The Hampton Court collision, if I recall correctly, involved a branch train which was observing a 15mph restriction past lineside works, which distracted the driver, and then had a straightforward SPAD of the junction signal at danger. Not really what is being discussed here about headways at all - I don't think any of the branch signals were 4-aspect. A 4-SUB with no AWS, which was a bit poor given that Churchward was able to fit GWR ATC to Victorian-era steam locomotives.
 

nickw1

Established Member
Joined
9 Aug 2013
Messages
1,305
Interesting discussion, thanks for the replies.

Re: the Great Eastern, I think this still adopts the tight-headway practice even now*. I'm sure I recall looking at a Great Eastern timetable recently (last two years or so) and seeing departures at something like 00-02-04-06-10 (repeat every 10 minutes), similar to the early 1980s pattern out of Waterloo. The GE still seems to operate a truly intensive peak service on its normal timetable (every 10 minutes on the Southend Victoria line, similar to the West Byfleet to Esher frequency of the 1980s)

(*'now' = full normal contemporary timetable, ignoring any temporary cuts in the timetable)
 
Last edited:

Ianno87

Veteran Member
Joined
3 May 2015
Messages
15,199
Interesting discussion, thanks for the replies.

Re: the Great Eastern, I think this still adopts the tight-headway practice even now. I'm sure I recall looking at a Great Eastern timetable recently (last two years or so) and seeing departures at something like 00-02-04-06-10 (repeat every 10 minutes), similar to the early 1980s pattern out of Waterloo. The GE still seems to operate a truly intensive peak service (every 10 minutes on the Southend Victoria line, similar to the West Byfleet to Esher frequency of the 1980s).

Liverpool Street is certainly helped by a slightly quicker departure over the throat, the Automatic Route Setting (which is pretty on the ball) and less of the dispatch/whistles/flag-waving "ceremony" that Waterloo sees, with more DOO operation.
 
Status
Not open for further replies.

Top