Editor’s comments – issue 171, January/February 2019
Early last year, we stated that 2018 “will be a good year for many rail passengers as benefits are realised from projects started years ago”. We certainly got that wrong, as did many others who did not foresee the timetable meltdown which severely impacted a fifth of Britain’s rail passengers, many of whom incurred significant costs as a result.
May’s large-scale timetable changes were intended to deliver major passenger benefits from completed infrastructure projects and new trains. Instead, there was huge disruption as flawed timetables, produced in half the usual timescale, did not match train crew diagrams.
However impressive they may be, new trains and infrastructure enhancements are not an end in themselves. As last year’s debacle showed, they are part of a bigger project requiring successful timetable implementation, driver training and other operational issues before customer benefits can be delivered.
This raises the question of who is responsible for the effective co-ordination of everything needed to deliver passenger benefits. No doubt, this will be addressed by the Williams Rail Review, which could usefully consider how Transport Scotland fulfils this role.
As an example, Network Rail only gave four-months’ notice of the delay to completion of the Manchester to Preston electrification project. Hence, Northern had to produce its May timetable in 16 weeks, rather than the normal 40 weeks. The ORR’s timetable disruption inquiry found that there was “substantial pressure from within Network Rail to not defer works while there remained a chance of success, despite the risks”.
This illustrates why the ORR inquiry concluded that “everyone needs to be willing to give and receive bad news”. Hopefully, lessons from this inquiry, together with Network Rail’s new arrangements to manage the risk from timetable changes, will ensure that 2019 will not see a repeat of last year’s problems.
However, this year’s planned introduction of almost two thousand new coaches may be problematic. ScotRail’s refurbished HSTs, LNER’s Azumas and TfL’s Class 710s are examples of new fleets subject to late deliveries and problems with infrastructure compatibility and software. To an extent, such delays are to be expected and need not necessarily be problematic.
However, passengers will suffer if existing stock is cascaded elsewhere before new fleets can be introduced, as shown by the software issues that currently prevent new Class 710 electric trains operating between Barking and Gospel Oak. Here, passengers face a possible complete loss of service as their Class 172 diesel units are being transferred to West Midlands.
Moreover, from 1 January 2020, it will be illegal to operate the large numbers of coaches currently in service that do not comply with the Rail Vehicle Accessibility Regulations. It remains to be seen whether these vehicles will have been replaced by new trains before this deadline.
Although new trains may have teething problems with their software, the data it provides from numerous on-board sensors offers significant benefits. Malcolm Dobell explains how this supports condition-based maintenance with examples of cost-savings for bearing and door maintenance.
Getting the doors closed in a timely and safe manner to maintain the throughput of crowded underground trains is a complex issue. In his feature, Clive Kessell explains why the key factor is the door chime alert timing.
Modern trains have become ever more dependent on the radio link currently provided by GSM-R, which may not be supported after 2030. As we report, its replacement will probably be 5G. Migrating to this is a huge task, which requires urgent action now.
The huge amount of infrastructure work completed over Christmas and the New Year was valued at £148 million and involved 28,000 people. As Nigel Wordsworth describes in his comprehensive report, its 1,100 possessions were generally delivered on time, although there was a 23-hour possession overun at Westbury.
Mark Phillips explains how this delay was due to an interlocking issue revealed during signal testing which required a new design. He also describes the complexity of the 12-day Westbury blockade, which included the renewal of twelve point ends. Other complex track renewals were the 11-day Battersea Pier Junction blockade, as described by Bob Wright, and the nine-day Wellingborough blockade about which Chris Parker reports.
Christmas also saw the renewal of over 12 kilometres of OLE at Forest Gate in a 10-day blockade, as Peter Stanton describes, whilst Paul Darlington covers the eight-day blockade that saw the completion of the latest phase of the Weaver to Wavertree resignalling scheme.
We also feature the transformation of Glasgow’s Queen Street station and explain how this will provide more seats on trains between Edinburgh and Glasgow.
All this work is delivered by members of the Rail Supply Group, who now have a greater say in how they can work more effectively as a result of the Rail Sector Deal. As we explain, this is intended to avoid ‘boom and bust procurement’, introduce innovation and improve skills in order to deliver more for passengers and drive economic growth.
As 2018 demonstrated, implementing improvements on a complex and crowded railway involves significant risks, which now seem to be better understood. Much good work was done over Christmas. Let’s hope that 2019 will see this, and other enhancement projects, delivering significant passenger improvements.