Rail bosses act to prevent repeat delays

OVERHEAD line equipment that suffered a series of failures - causing misery for thousands of rail passengers - is to be inspected by independent experts, it has been announced.

By Roddy Ashworth

OVERHEAD line equipment that suffered a series of failures - causing misery for thousands of rail passengers - is to be inspected by independent experts, it has been announced.

But in a joint statement, rail operator one and Network Rail admitted they still did not know why one of the major incidents, which led to chaotic conditions on the Norwich to London line on September 1, happened in the first place.

Both firms yesterday apologised for the week of repeated delays - some as long as four hours in duration - that plagued passengers travelling to and from work in the Capital.

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The companies also pledged to improve the way in which they handled service disruption in the future.

In one week, between August 30 and September 5, there were three cases of serious delays on the route.

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The joint statement provided analysis of the problems, saying the cause of the disruption on August 30 was a fault with the component which allows the overhead lines to expand and contract in changing temperatures.

It said the cause of the disruption on September 5 was a potential fault leading to the imposition of precautionary speed restrictions.

But the cause of the disruption on September 1 was more complex and still the subject of investigation, one and Network Rail said.

The statement added: “We are very sorry that passengers recently experienced severe disruption due to overhead line problems and we understand the significant inconvenience these events caused.

“one and Network Rail have been working in partnership to prevent a repetition of the extreme delays suffered by many customers.”

The companies said that an independent review of the overhead line equipment by leading industry experts would include looking at factors that could result in train pantographs becoming damaged.

To try and prevent future incidents, the companies said they would use a special monitoring train to assess the condition of the overhead line equipment and check for any underlying faults.

They pledged to provide additional maintenance work and extensive examination of overhead line equipment at relevant locations.

Further checks and work to assess future maintenance requirements would also be conducted.

In terms of dealing with service disruption, the firms said they would revamp the contingency plan for the Shenfield to Colchester line and provide new guidelines covering the frequency and clarity of updates given to “front-line” employees.

They would improve station announcements during disruption and arrange for extra staff to be sent to the busiest stations in the event of major problems.

John Smock, chairman of Ontrack - a rail users group that represents passengers from many stations in the Tendring area - yesterday said: “We welcome the fact that they are seriously doing something about this and that there will be a thorough investigation.

“But there is concern they are perhaps not getting to the bottom of it. It may be down to the culture and standards of the maintenance. Something definitely did not go right.

“This route has some of the oldest overhead equipment on the system and we fear there may be some very expensive work to be done in upgrading it.”

Mark Leslie, secretary of the Essex Rail Users' Federation, said improving contingency plans meant the companies had to keep passengers moving towards their destination as a top priority.

“The plan must involve alternative methods of transport if the railways fail. It must include being able to source sufficient numbers of buses quickly and getting passengers moving quickly.

“Lots of staff and announcements just telling us we are all stuck where we are for an indefinite time is not what is wanted.”


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