Wednesday 18 June 2014

Railway Meltdown

It has not been a good 24 hours for the travelling public who choose to use our ever aging network. Some might say it hasn't been a good 20 or 30 years to be honest. In the last couple of days the following has happened:

1. One of the mainline class 90's (90013 for the interested) somehow managed to lose its pantograph between Chelmsford and Hatfield Peveral yesterday afternoon. That blocked the line in both directions for the evening peak and there were delays of up to 3 hours. A lot of people just didn't get home.......

2. ......Which they may now seem as a blessing in disguise as a signal meltdown between Bethnal Green and Liverpool St meant that nothing could get in or out of Liverpool St this morning and trains were being terminated and/or cancelled all over the place.

3. A person was hit by a train this afternoon at Weeley, causing the line between Colchester and Clacton to be closed. It has just come through that the 1500 Norwich to Liverpool St will run fast from Colchester to Liv St due to a fault on the train.So anyone wanting Chelmsford or Stratford will have to change at Colchester now. That will be good if you have taken the trouble to book tickets.

4. The last two nights the 1900 Norwich - Lowestoft and the 1955 return journey have been cancelled due to another fault - this time with the short set's new coaches and the central locking system.

Now this is not a go at Greater Anglian. Well not all of it. For those who don't know about the intricacies of the Railway it basically boils down to this - if it moves it belongs to the operating company - ie Greater Anglia, so that means rolling stock and staff. If it doesn't it belongs to Network Rail - the infrastructure including tracks, signals, stations etc. Greater Anglia pay Network Rail to use the tracks. If there is a delay down to train faults then Greater Anglia pay a fine to Network Rail. If the signals go pop then Network Rail compensate Greater Anglia. There are teams of people whose sole job is to analyse delays and apportion blame.

Of course there are grey areas, and yesterday's incidernt is one of them. If the pantograph on 90013 was damaged due to poor maintenance, a bolt coming loose or something that was the fault of the loco then the fine for GA will be eyewatering. If there was something wrong with the overhead power lines, be it debris placed by vandals or anything else then Network rail will foot the bill.

Liverpool St last night. Not a pretty picture.
But whose fault it is doesn't really matter. The travelling public don't give a damn whose fault it is - they just want a hassle free journey that is both reliable and value for money. The Railways on the Anglian region is neither. We have old trains running on old tracks operating on old signalling systems. Now I spent 5 years as a Conductor in the last days of the old slam door trains in Kent, and they were more reliable than the new stock. but those Class 90's on ther mainline seem to fail with monotonous regularity. It's not only GA's class 90's - the other week all but one of Freightliner's 90's were off the track too for various faults. The short set is using 40yo locos, but the last couple of nights it has been the new coaches - hired in I might add - that have been the problem, and the short set is not out today. In the last weeks we have seen bridges fail, and more signalling failures than I can remember for a very long time.

Excuse me but isn't there meant to have been massive investment in signalling, overhead power lines etc? Can anyone a generation older than me remember as many failures when all signals were controlled by individual signal boxes with signals operated by cables not computers? How many level crossings got stuck (as the one at Ingatestone does all too often) when they had gates operated by men on site not a button pressed 50 miles away? I never had a slam door train taken out of service because of door failure but many sliding door trains.

Just like my gripe with modern buses not being built to the same standard as the past the so-called modern railway isn't providing any noticeable signs of improvement either. As I type the 1810 Liv St - Norwich won't be an intercity set tonight, so reduced toilets and 1st class, and no catering or wifi. Will the regular passengers on that service be compensated? Not a chance. Until managers are forced to travel to work by train and have their pay docked if they are late nothing will change. The total apathy in top rail management is staggering, and it's the poor sods on the platforms, trains and call centres that take all the flack and abuse. It doesn't matter how many times the franchises change hands it's the same faceless people at the top. We have been promised change and improvements for decades. It's about time we saw it. When the rail network runs smoothly there is truly no better way to travel. Sadly it seems that even now, 14 years into the 21st century, there are far more days when it doesn't, than when it does.


  1. The 08.53 from Oulton Broad to Norwich was cancelled this morning, much to my annoyance as i was booked on the 10.30 Megabus departure from Norwich. Even more annoying was the fact that an empty stock train past through Oulton Broad to Norwich and surely could have been redesignated as the 08.53. But as I always say the railways are about running trains not people/passengers.

  2. "Excuse me but isn't there meant to have been massive investment in signalling, overhead power lines etc?" Yes - just not in East Anglia. Other than the Beccles rail loop of course, but that seems to have been the exception that proves the rule.

  3. Tonight it's a points failure at Witham. The misery goes on.

  4. Why no thunderbird at Ipswich or Chelmsford ? Or am I missing a point

  5. But surely hardly week goes by without GA trumpeting that they've won some award. For what? Isn't the set up even more messy with the trains being leased from shadowy "leasing companies" by the operators. What do they do? Alas I think we're addicted to complexity. Perhaps the old adage "if you can't convince them, confuse them". And it all keeps the lawyers and accountants who control these things, happy.

  6. I believe that the rolling stock usually belongs to a third company and the Train Operating Companies then lease it from them.

  7. Yep. Don't know who does the maintenance though? Never mind, wasn't one of the nineteenth century companies known as the "Muddle and Go-Nowhere", so GodAwful are just following in the steps of tradition, like we do in this country. And the bus industry has always been a mess too, with more chops and changes than I've had hot dinners.

    1. Porterbrook & AngelTrains are the main 2 companies who lease their stock to GreaterAnglia. They also invest their own money into returns as part of the regulations. I believe Porterbrook.
      GreaterAnglia class 170s are maintained by Bombardier (who built the class 170s). The rest of the units are maintained by GreaterAnglia themselves I believe. :-)

  8. I wonder what the Japanese think when they come over here!

  9. Dunno, but didn't we just have a visit from the Chinese Premier, who described us as an eccentric little country clinging to the past, or something like that. Bang on.