The Entire World Is Waiting For The Power Of Steam – Steamboy

16 11 2016

Steamboy (Sunrise - 2004)

In 2013, animation Director and co-founder of Studio Ghibli; Hayao Miyazaki created a film which he announced was going to be the last before he retired. The film was called The Wind Rises, and it was a film that followed a young man who dreamt of designing the ultimate aircraft, and so the story took us on a history of his young life, career, romantic relation, and a retrospective history of his country, eventually leading the young man to his pivotal moment designing the aircraft of his dreams. There is one slight issue however with the company he works for, being the ones to foot the bills; the only option is to design it to the benefit of a company contract, and at that time in Japan’s history the only contract work for airplane manufacturers (or at least those shown in the film) is to build them for the sake of war. So while the young man does get to design his dream plane, he has to come to the eventual realization of what the plane’s purpose is to be. It is a very interesting idea for a story, looking at great inventors, the things they do; but also what they have to do in order for them to be allowed to build such things!

The Wind Rises (Studio Ghibli - 2013)

Released in 2004 by Toho, produced by Sunrise and Directed by Katsuhiro Otomo; Steamboy is a Steampunk animated action film set in the UK and follows the adventure of a young inventor who has to come to terms with the realities of the world of inventions and of course save the day from threats very close to home. Touted at the time of release as being the most expensive Japanese animated film of all time, Steamboy took 10 years to produce, and is only the second major animated release for Otomo following his milestone film Akira in 1988.

Akira (Toho 1988)

In 1863 in Russian Alaska, inventor Lloyd Steam (Patrick Stewart) and his son Eddie (Alfred Molina) have discovered a pure mineral water, which they believe they can turn into a powerful steam based energy source. During an experiment however, everything goes wrong with Eddie being engulfed in freezing gases, but leaves a strange spherical object being created. Three years later, in Manchester England, great-grandson of Lloyd: Ray Steam (Anna Paquin), a young inventing prodigy receives a strange parcel containing the spherical object plus some designs relating to it. Two men then show up called Alfred (Mark Bramhall) and Jason (David S. Lee) claiming to be from something called the Foundation and who want the ball. Ray refuses to give it to them, and is surprised to see the arrival of his grandfather. Ray makes a run for it, and is eventually chased by a strange steam automotive vehicle, making his escape on his own Monocycle. The chase leads them onto the railway tracks, with the automotive being pushed into a river, and Ray being rescued by Robert Stephenson (Oliver Cotton) and his assistant David (Robin Atkin Downes). Things don’t last long however, as while the train is en route to London, Ray is kidnapped by the Foundation thanks to their Zeppelin.

Ray finds himself in a dining hall, and being introduced to members of the O’Hara Foundation which includes Scarlett O’Hara (Kari Wahlgren), the spoiled granddaughter of the foundation’s chairman, and Archibald Simon (Rick Zieff), a company executive. Ray then meets his father Eddie whose head has been greatly altered by the accident, now with only a few strands of hair and a helmet covering one half of his head, as well as other metal components all along his body. Ray and Scarlett are taken on a tour of the facility dubbed The Steam Castle by Eddie who says he wants to use it to enlighten mankind’s vision of science. Ray is recruited by his father to help finish it off, but when asked to help in assisting to turn off a valve, Ray finds his Grandfather trying to sabotage the whole thing. He tells Ray that the purpose of the castle and the O’Hara’s foundation is to sell weapons to Britain’s enemies at the Great Exhibition the following day and shows Ray evidence of this. The two eventually reach the core of the castle, and pry away a steam ball, one of three used to power the castle, but they are then surrounded. Ray makes an escape but Lloyd is recaptured. Ray manages to run into Robert Stephenson telling him about his father and the steam castle, and hands him the Ball thinking Stephenson can be trusted, but discovers that Stephenson’s motives are near the same; to build an army for the purpose of keeping Britain Great.

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At the Great Exhibition, the O’Hara foundation shows off their weapons to generals from around the world, exhibiting their steam-powered soldiers, miniature aircraft and submersible men. At this moment, Stephenson launches an attack on the foundation using his steam battle tanks. With the exhibition now a war zone, Ray steals the ball back from David, and rigs it up to use it as a sort of jet pack. In the foundation’s control room, Eddie, straps himself into the machine and while under powered orders for the castle to launch. The building sheds its skin to show a great behemoth like structure, a big black floating castle, which then engulfs the city of London in a big freeze. The royal navy in vain try to shoot it down, while Stephenson attempts to pull it down with his trains. Ray manages to get on board the castle reuniting with his father and Scarlett, but is too late to stop Lloyd from shooting Eddie. With Eddie having disappeared into the machine, Ray and Scarlett assist Lloyd in getting the castle back over the Thames as the machine is too unstable and likely to explode. At the last-minute, Eddie having deflected the bullet with his metal body decides to lend a hand, revealing Lloyd’s original intention for the Steam Castle: to be used as a giant theme park. Ordered by his family to save Scarlett and leave, Ray makes his way back to the control room, straps on a jet pack and leaves the castle just as it explodes, sparing most of London in the process.

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Can a film justify its release if it does not have much of a plot? Steamboy is an interesting film; on the one side it’s very well researched, and is somewhat surprising to see a Japanese animated film set in 19th century England and feature locations such as Manchester and (‘of course’) London, as well as feature great moments of a country’s history such as the Great Exhibition and famous faces like Railway Engineer Robert Stephenson. I am not saying this can’t be done, I am just saying how well and detailed it all is but you would not exactly expect for a film from Japan to be set in this country during that period. Of course, this film does also have big outstanding and unbelievable moments, interesting characters and great themes; much like you would expect from the man who made Akira: or should you? That’s the point though of seeing it isn’t it, or at least most might think so, that because this man-made an iconic film from the 1980’s, one of cinema’s all-time great animated films, that is why we should see it; no other reason right? This film is of course heavily touted for being from Katsuhiro Otomo, the same director of Akira; but is that the reason why we should see this film, or should it be that it’s a happy coincidence, and that this film should really be its own thing. I think that is where this film sort of collapses. There are some good things about this film: It does feature big moments of disbelief, and it features themes and ideas as well as argues the differences between progress and greed as well as the blessings of science, but only a little bit really, as all that gets entrenched in delivering the Akira experience, with big moments, wonders of awe and nothing else really. It has it’s moments, moments of philosophy that intrigue that inspire, and the story develops this a little bit; but possibly under the belief that he had to deliver a 19th century version of Akira rather than explore these ideas and create something that was its own identity, Otomo just sort of skipped all that. Don’t get me wrong, I really like Akira, I would just rather watch Akira rather than something that is not a near carbon copy of it (Force Awakens).

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The film’s characters are a real odd bunch and (international released version) are played by some top-notch quality actors. Much like what was stated above, some characters are minor-ly developed and are actually going in the right direction but are lost in what is a rather convoluted and unused plot. The issue that this film has with its characters is that it’s hard at any one point to actually know who is good and who is bad. Ray Steam is obviously the hero of the story, but it’s just obvious if somewhat boring. The character is nicely set up and has reason to explore and discover as he is lost without his heritage and is in a world that he would rather be doing something else in, but other than that there is no real reason for him. He tries to be brave and do the right thing, he is just not a decent enough character to really get behind or enjoy. Someone like Scarlett is a lot more interesting. She actually develops over the film’s timeline, going from a toffee nosed brat to a proper hero and someone worth rooting for. Yes she starts off in a situation where she is horrid and someone you have no affection for, but as the film develops she becomes a good character, so why she couldn’t be the protagonist is beyond me. That is the thing though with this film, there are two solid female characters, Scarlett and Emma (Paula J. Newman), but Emma gets 3 minutes of fame and is never seen again, but she was interesting compared to Ray who is just useless. The issues with good guy bad guy just continue throughout. Yes, the henchmen are bad, but that is their point and Archibald Simon on the other hand is just a pleasant annoyance who can’t stop talking. Robert Stephenson is nicely done, but it’s sad that someone who should be a sort of helper, a guide or assistance in times of such peril turns out just to be as horrid and bad as the somewhat…..Supposed to be…..villains. His assistant David pretty much covers this role with ease, and it would have been more interesting if David per say was the villain out of the two and was something of a manipulator, and so Stephenson could then be the helper, with a villain by his side that needed defeating. Lloyd is of course a good guy but the story does the right thing of teasing his intentions and asking if he is bad or good, and then reveals his intentions correctly and stays that way, I just don’t think the mad professor look really does him any favours. Eddie meanwhile is of course the big bad villain and is voiced brilliantly, and much like Lloyd is teased into his role, but he just keeps changing his mind. His intentions and motives are there as to why he is who he is, but why would the villain suddenly change sides like that at the end. He should be a boss to fight, a hindrance to overcome, not someone who is like: “Oh well, let me give you a hand!”

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The voice acting works in some of the film’s favour, and boasts acting talent like Patrick Stewart, Anna Paquin and Alfred Molina, but it’s not fully utilised I feel. Scarlett is voiced nicely and actually sounds and feels real, compared to Anna Paquin whom does a good job in a male voice role, but in the form of the voice that most people believe how British people speak. Speaking as a British person, I do not speak like that, I have actually yet to meet someone who does. Both Alfred Molina and Patrick Stewart are British; and they don’t speak like that; and they’re in this film! It becomes near offensive the more it gets touted. Maybe instead of hiring people to create a generic voice that does not actually exist, maybe they should hire British actors to do the job, because then it would be a lot more realistic (and less offensive). When it comes to the voice overs in this film the only ones that really do anything I feel are those of Patrick Stewart and Alfred Molina. Patrick Stewart’s character is not seen much of to truly enjoy, but it’s still good when he is on-screen, although possibly a bit loopy and mad. Alfred Molina though I feel really carries this film. It’s a voice of reason and passion, and although the character struggles to really find his place in this film, the voice over does the character tremendous and enjoyable levels of entertainment and justice. It’s just a shame about everyone else really.

The film does have its recovery sections, it’s not all collapsing. The animation is nicely done and works well to really capture the beauty and spectacle of 19th century England, especially London. The fleet of vessels on the Thames, the beauty of the city’s iconic buildings and structures, to the animated engineering of its own infrastructure. Add to this the machines and contraptions of the story’s fictional contents like the steam-powered soldiers, the monocycle, and of course the mighty Steam Castle in all its forms and you have this well-made world which has added benefits. I do think the animation style and colouring loses a bit in comparison to the film’s contemporise like the recent works of Studio Ghibli for example, but when close up the details are superb. The film’s soundtrack Composed by Steve Jablonsky) is an additional benefit too as it creates mostly sounds and ambiance rather than pieces of music. The music does have its moments of grandeur like the launch of the steam castle or the chase within, to moments of peace too like Ray’s theme, Scarlett’s theme, and of course the music behind the blessings of science monologue. Now while not insinuated within the soundtrack itself, there is one piece of music though that does come out in relation to the film: That of its theme from the trailer: Full Force; the adventure and steam-driven music that creates and encapsulates moments of awe and wonder, but creates a level of seriousness and tension to shine out loudly.  Although the film does tout some of that wonderful adventure but still steam punk driven piece of music here or there, it’s this piece of music which shines out for the film’s soundtrack, even though it is really non-existent, but it’s iconic and memorable enough for you to remember it in conjunction with this film.

Generally it feels like something of a shame altogether, because I was expecting more. Steamboy has its likable moments and bits to enjoy, but the story is so convoluted and makes more room for big moments rather than a properly developed plot. It’s one of those occasions where the trailer delivers more than the film. Steamboy is something of a quick storyteller; it just dashes from one thing to another, not developing nor explaining, creating interesting moments but not diving into them sacrificing its potential in the process for something else, but no reveal as to what. It comes with great voice talent but does not really use it effectively, it has interesting characters in the wrong roles and it has spectacular ideas that are just ignored. On the plus side the animation is delightfully detailed, and has music that has its occasions which are used well. Yes it has its big moments which are nicely done and very creative, but a film like this should be more than that. It should not be living in the shadow of its legendary predecessor and working hard to live up to be like its bigger brother. It should be blossoming like a flower, being independent and making its own path, then and only then can it have a chance to be on an equal footing and be appreciated the same way, rather than just being a clone in a different setting.

GENEPOOL

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The Lost Reviews – Mini Metro

17 10 2016

mini-metro (Dinosaur Polo Club - 2015)

One of the most recognized maps in the world (or at least the UK) has to be the London Tube Map. The London Tube Map is a nice simple looking map which makes travelling through the London Underground much easier than it would be if the map was anything like an OS (Ordinance Survey) Map. With it’s easy to follow curvature/straight lines, use of circles to show terminals and of course the use of easy to identify colours, the Tube map is so simple yet very effective and in turn assists millions of consumers every day; but have you ever wondered to yourself: ‘How do they do it?” Well, that question I cannot answer, but if you have ever considered having a go at doing your own map in a similar style but did not know how or even where to start; well now there is an easy way to give it a go.

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Developed by Dinosaur Polo Club; Mini Metro is a strategy/puzzle/simulation game where you are given the task of connecting stations on a map. It’s very simple; to begin with you get given a choice of cities to choose from. All you do is simply choose one and as soon as the map loads you are given three stations taking the forms of shapes which in turn you need to connect. Connecting stations is also very simple as all you have to do is hold and drag on a station and a coloured line will appear which you then connect to another station. Once your line has been laid down, a small little train carriage will appear and will set to work ferrying customers to their nearest desired station. Customers take the form of little shapes, and where they want to go is defined by what shape they are. Triangle customers want to go to triangle stations, square customers to square stations and circle customers to circle stations. As the game continues more stations will randomly appear in which you will need to connect to, other shaped stations will appear meaning more defined customers to transport, and also the map will generally get bigger with lines getting busier. You can of course ease congestion by adding more trains, incorporating several carriages to trains, adding more lines as well as adding terminals and bridges/tunnels to spots that you think require them. So, much like the real world, it gets busy.

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Mini Metro is pretty easy to pick up and play, it features an easy control system where you simply use the mouse to drag lines to stations, connect them and then drag features like extra lines and trains to the stations. It’s also pretty easy to simply get going. It features an easy tutorial where it teaches all this to you, before then letting you just to get on with it. To begin with you get a few basic maps including London and Paris, and as you begin to progress through the game you get to unlock other cities too including Cairo, Osaka, Melbourne, Sao Paulo and New York City all of which feature their own tasks and challenges while also providing you with unique perspectives and features, such as in the Cairo map where the trains can only hold 4 shapes per carriage (not 6), or like the Osaka map where it gives you access to the high speed Shinkansen Bullet Train.

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There are three basic modes to choose from:

  • In Normal Mode, you are given a city and need to work hard to make sure that all customers are satisfied and can reach their destinations without getting the station overcrowded. If they do get overcrowded, circles will begin to appear around the station, if it gets completely filled, the customers have had enough and the game ends. You receive extra features after every Sunday.
  • In Endless Mode, you are given a map, but the game does not end if the station gets overcrowded. Instead it just continues until the city has grown as big as it can get. Extra features are provided not every Sunday or every week, instead they are given when you reach a proficiency milestone, the key to Endless mode being that it’s not about how many customers you can service before it gets overcrowded, but how efficient the service you provide is.
  • In Extreme Mode, you are given a city as usual and much like Normal, need to prevent the stations getting overcrowded, however; where as in the two above modes you can re-arrange already made lines to accommodate new stations with ease, or move trains from one line to another if the need arises; in Extreme Mode, once the line has been placed it cannot be moved, nor can the trains be relocated, you just have to live with your decisions and hope for the best.

All these modes provide you with a score at the end of the game, to which you can then see how well you have done compared with the rest of the world, as well as compare graphs to see how well you did overall. There is also the option of the Daily Challenge from the opening menu, where a random challenge is made and posted every day, where players can try their mettle at several different random maps (but only once a day) and then compare them once again with the rest of the world, you know; if…you really want to.

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Mini Metro is a nice and simple game to play, and one where you don’t need to worry about sound neither. The game does not come with a soundtrack per-say except for the sound of the camera feature when it takes a picture of the map, just in case you want a keepsake. Although the lack of sound is pretty peaceful, meaning you can listen or watch something else in the meantime and use the game as an over the top screen saver, some sound could be a nice little feature. I was not thinking of a soundtrack exactly, maybe more the sound of angry commuters waiting around for their train; with the noise getting louder the longer they wait.

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The game is nicely well designed and each difficulty level has been made with some precision providing different forms of gameplay as it goes on. It’s not like it gets really difficult or makes things harder, it’s more that it makes things more of a challenge but rewards you with a unique gaming experience each time. I just think though that there could be more spacing and randomness every time you receive an item; more spacing as to what you can choose from, or more randomness rather than expected. I also think that while the difficulty is not too bad, there could be more challenging points in the core gameplay. While there are rarer shapes for rarer customers, I just think that like a normal tube map, some shapes, every now and then could appear who want to go to a specific place on the map. There are so many common shapes; it could bring an additional level of challenge to the map if one circle customer wanted to go to a desired circle location, not just the nearest.

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Issues aside: I really like Mini Metro. Yes, there is some allowance for sounds, plus an addition of more challenging core gameplay could provide a little more taste, but even without, this game is still packed with an ideal level of flavour. It’s a game that does not take itself too seriously. It’s not like Rollercoaster Tycoon or Sid Meier’s Railroads, games that require you to negotiate obstacles and pay through the nose to fix them. Here you do not need to worry about money, or much in the way of obstacles except for the odd river, all you need to worry about is providing the best service possible. It’s nice, simple, easy to play, and aesthetically pleasing to the eye with its nice simple design. It’s sort of like a Miniature Railway; it adds a nice new eye level of fun to something that most of us take for granted every day, and is genuinely; just a nice fun thing to do.

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GENEPOOL





“Hey There Gorgeous”

19 11 2014

Pendolino

In the three plus years I have been commuting from Lancaster, to Preston and back to Lancaster on the days that I have been into University (as well as the days that I have not needed to be in at University) I have had some interesting moments on the train. One time in in foundation year, I accidently boarded a train which did not stop at Lancaster train station, having to wait until I got to Oxenholme Lake District to change trains to one that was going back to Lancaster. Other times have included staying on trains that were heavily delayed and not moving, trains that were without managers or more worryingly; without drivers, trains that were going north but to the wrong destination and changing trains due to delayed trains which then begin moving without the station announcing that the train was no longer delayed; one time last week, I was on a delayed train, thinking I would stay where I am while the train waited for the train manager to arrive but decided not to inform the other passengers that other trains were available. All these though somehow don’t compare to a few weeks ago when I was boarding the train from Preston to Lancaster and the door digital Display read, “Hey There Gorgeous” on the bottom line.

Alstom Pendolino

I was at Preston station waiting for the train home; I have now cottoned on to the train time system for trains heading in my direction. It is pretty much pointless going to Preston train station for anytime on the hour or just after as most trains heading in my direction (four, six or seven at best, but a rare occurrence) don’t really arrive into Preston train station until about 20 to the hour (or 40 minutes past the hour), but then the first one is a train that by chance stops at Preston, but then goes to Glasgow Central Only, so any wonder why it stops at Preston in the intermediate time. Anyway I was waiting for the train, and a Pendolino heading for Lancaster was arriving at the train station. I checked the station board to see if it was heading for Lancaster, I then double checked the door digital display. While I was doing that I spotted a slogan that I looked back at to re-read, and it said “Hey There Gorgeous”.

Pendolino Door Display

I have not once been greeted or complimented by an actual train, so this was definitely a first. Unfortunately at the time I didn’t have my camera, so I did not take a photo of the train door, however it did actually say that. The bottom of the door display is usually blank; it doesn’t really say anything at all. On this occasion however, it actually had a phrase on it, one that was like a greeting. I have no idea how this happened or why it actually said that but I thought I would share my experience, because, well, it is kind of weird.

British Rail Class 390 Pendolino

GENEPOOL





Sam’s Rant – Train Travel 03/05/2013

6 05 2013

Pendolino

This past friday was almost like any day for someone who attends University in Preston while living in Lancaster. I went to Lancaster train station to get my train to Preston and was once again hoping to get a seat for two reasons. Firstly it is nice to sit down, and secondly; I prefer to read sitting down, that way I can read some more of The Spook’s Curse. However it was a First TransPennine Express train which meant that there was only a vague chance of getting a seat. In the end I did not get one and had to stand up all the way, which brought up a very interesting question; if FirstGroup can afford to bid for the West Coast Main Line, why can’t they afford to put an extra carriage on their Manchester Airport trains? It’s a popular service and everyone has to stand so surely they could do the decent thing and add some more seats for the comfort of their passengers.

First Transpennine Express

Anyway later in the day, on my way home, things got a lot worse. After getting my lunch from McDonalds I went to Preston Train Station and arrived just after 4:10pm, and as usual, there are millions of trains going south but hardly any going North. I think there must be some kind of portal that links London and Glasgow/Edinburgh so that once a train has arrived at Euston Train Station, it goes straight forward into the portal and immediately arrives in Glasgow/Edinburgh. Anyway because of the lack of trains going North I had to wait about half an hour for a train. So I ate my McDonald’s and did something that I enjoy while waiting for a train at Preston Train Station, head to the end of the platform that points towards London and watch the trains come in, it’s both relaxing and fun.

British Rail Class 390 Pendolino

Eventually I saw the Pendolino arrive and boarded the train (through the first class section). Usually the Glasgow Central trains usually wait some time before leaving, but this one waited a while. After about 10 minutes or so, an intercom came on stating that the train was going to be delayed for about 15 minutes. So I get off and wait on the opposite platform for another train, which came while being about 1 minute delayed. I boarded the train (this time a Virgin Super Voyager) and got a seat, hurray. I had a little sleep before waking up and realised that the train was still in the station, Preston Train Station. There was an announcement stating that there was a train heading North towards Lancaster on another platform; but I was comfortable and so I stayed where I was. Then the announcement came the train was going to be 20 minutes delayed. So I got off and went to the other train, the one from earlier, which was still in the station and decided to wait for further information because the trains did not show a departure time, instead they just showed the word “DELAYED”.

Virgin Super Voyager

Eventually I ran into my University friend Daniel who was having similar train problems as he too was wanting to go to Lancaster. Eventually, without word from the station, the first delayed train left Preston, without neither Me or Daniel on it. Now that is just unfair, several people were needing to go home and the station did not tell us when the train was leaving. So in response to this, we both boarded the second delayed train and waited, standing up for about 20 minutes plus, the reason behind the delay was apparently the train had no driver, which raises the question, how did it get to Preston in the first place?

Preston Train Station Night

So after 20 minutes or so and after the corridor had become packed with several people, another train going in the direction of Lancaster arrived and we did consider going on it, but in the end we stayed on the train that we were currently on which was now 1 hour and 10 minutes delayed. And then at about 6:00pm, the train moved and left Preston; HURRAY. After about 15 minutes of travel we finally arrived in Lancaster at about 6:15pm; 2 Hours and 5 Minutes after arriving at Preston Train Station in the first place. So home at last after a long (ANNOYING) journey. Then I walked home and on the way some bloke walked up to me and asked if I had any weed, to which my answer was “NO”.

GENEPOOL





Virgin VS FirstGroup: The Real Issue

11 09 2012

There have been many recent reports in the news recently about the controversy behind the Government’s decision to hand the West Coast Mainline franchise over to FirstGroup instead of extending Virgin’s current rights for another 15 years. Out of all the big news recently regarding the country, this is probably the biggest and possibly the most controversial. But what people are forgetting is that a train operator is not a train operator without trains. So I thought I would share my opinion on what First West Coast (or possibly Horizon Trains) trains might be like if they do get the WCML.

Currently the only First service on the line at present is First TransPennine Express. So if we were to use that as a bench mark of this it is pretty clear what the service could be like. Transpennine’s dominant model is the British Rail Class 185 (Pennine Desiro). The train is more of a commuter vehicle to a HST (High Speed Train) set and as such is shorter than a Pendolino carriage by about 2 meters. Due to its purpose it can get away with its size but quite a lot of the time the trains are crowded. The trains carry fewer seats than the Pendolino but this could be due to the doors being around the center of the carriage. The Desiro train set as a whole is 3 carriages long and has a top speed of 100 mph.

While the Desiro is better than several other Commuter Diesel Trains it is not a good choice for the WCML. The WCML is an electrified line and because of this HST sets do very well on the circuit because the constant flow of electricity means that they are always connected to the mains and as long as both the engines and power allow it, they can travel at great speeds. Diesel trains can go really fast but because of the amount of fuel needed for them, in a way it is not ideal. But anyway let’s take the Desiro, now First has promised 11 new Six Car trains. Desiro’s already operate like that with some services but quite a lot of the time they split and go to different locations. Six car Desiro’s are feasible but due to their size (inside) the First Class compartment will have to be ripped out in order for normal customers to have a seat. However the space is still not enough because people will still have to stand in an overcrowded train (and it is more than probable that people will not want to stand on a train from Glasgow to London), so it is more than likely that within a year the 6 car trains will have to be extended to 10 car trains. Also there will be a loss in money from no First Class which takes up four Pendolino carriages and so to make this back the trains will have to have an extra 4 carriages added to allow this (14 carriages in total – minimum). This in turn causes 2 further problems:

  1. The train will be so long it will probably not fit on the station platform so people will have to get on the train and walk to their seat on a carriage that cannot be accessed, it will be much the same for getting off.
  2. The train’s power source of diesel will cost so much it may not be economical enough to make a decent return on investment.

So if First West Coast wants to use the line, the Desiro Class is (or should be) out of the question. To make the best use of the line the company needs to have a HST set to run on it. That should be a clause in the contract in my opinion which makes the use of HST sets compulsory for the WCML and ECML. When it comes to HST sets there are several options but when it comes down to it, electrified HST should be used because it’s the obvious answer. Now it is still possible to use Fast Diesel trains on the WCML. If it was to be a diesel choice there are 4 main options and these trains should prevent overcrowding due to their design:

  1. British Rail Class 220 Voyager – Used by Virgin and Cross Country – Top Speed: 125 mph – Seat Capacity: 174 (20 more than the Desiro) – 4 cars per trainset.
  2. British Rail Class 221 Super Voyager – Used by Virgin and Cross Country – Top Speed: 125 mph – Seat Capacity: 162 to 224 – 4 to 5 cars per trainset.
  3. British Rail Class 222 Meridian – Used by East Midlands Trains – Top Speed: 125 mph – Seat Capacity: 192 – 236 – 4 to 7 cars per trainset.
  4. British Rail Class 180 Adelante – Used by First Great Western, First Hull Trains and Grand Central – Top Speed: 125 mph – Seat Capacity: 287 Seats – 5 cars per trainset.

There is of course the possibility of using British Rail Class 43 HST  Engine which is used for the Legendary Intercity 125 (Top Speed: 148 mph). The Class 43 is used by many companies today including East Midlands Trains and Grand Central and is used mainly as a High Speed Train rather than a commuter train. In the case of First if they were to use diesel instead of electricity, it would be an ideal choice (but the Intercity 125 is starting to age and has been for a while). However the 43 cannot reach its top speed due to the speed limit of the WCML being 125 mph. However it is more likely to reach this speed quicker than the above mentioned due to that being the top speed of those trains.

If Virgin is to keep the line it is more than likely that they will continue to use the Pendolinos. Virgin spent at least 1 billion pounds on the Pendolinos and so it would seem likely that they will keep using them for a while. The Pendolino while being slower than the Class 43 has the added advantage of being able to tilt which means that it does not have to cut its speed when going round a corner so when it reaches its top speed it can stay at that speed until it has to slow down for stations. Without Virgin and the entrepreneurial mind of Richard Branson the Pendolinos would probably not be in the country, thankfully they are. There is no real current challenge to the Pendolino. The only one announced so far is the Polaris Train which Grand Central hope to acquire (which also has Tilting capability) but there has still be no news of whether these trains will be coming to the uk or not (it really depends on whether Grand Central’s “track-access contract is extended beyond the initial five years” – Wikipedia).

It is interesting to point out that First have not said anything about taking over the Pendolinos from Virgin. This could be one of the big controversies. It is a good point to think about because First bid at least 5 billion for the line (1 billion more than Virgin) then surely they have enough money to simply have them transferred over to them. The Pendolino makes the more sense seeing as that is the current system and it would be easier to change hands. Also it means that the 2 Hours 30 Minutes it takes from Lancaster to London Euston can stay at that time rather than revert (which with any other train is a possible certainty) to the previous 3 hours. In order to keep that time the line would have to have an increase in speed. Also to make the money that First are suggesting the speed will have to stay that way for more journeys and more money. Also the Pendolinos have 9 cars per trainset making them longer than most rail services in the UK.

In terms of Electrified trains that could run on the WCML instead of Pendolino’s, there is the option of using Intercity 225’s which are hauled by Class 91 Trains. Compared to the diesel-powered Class 43, the 225’s run at 140 mph which is still slower than the Class 43 but with the electrified line and top speed of 125 mph, the 225 Class 91 could be a cheaper alternative to the Pendolino if First decide to go for an electrified train. However the 225 does not have a tilting mechanism meaning it could be slower than the Pendolino overall.

With the possibility of FirstGroup taking over the WCML, it is a worrying time. With no current announcement on rolling stock from FirstGroup it is worrying to think about how the service may change (if at all) and also how fast and comfortable it will be to go from place to place. But we should remember that First Trains are a reliable service and so whatever the decision is regarding the franchise rights and what rolling stock they may use, I am sure (in some way but not entirely) that they will make the right decision or at least a Good Proper one. There is always the hope that they will take over the Pendolinos from Virgin but there are some other options for them to take in case they decide not to. So while we all hope that Virgin keeps the line there should not be too much distress caused if FirstGroup do take the line.

GENEPOOL








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