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East Grinstead line on track to reopen Monday 30 March

The East Grinstead line is expected to reopen on Monday 30 March after it was closed following Storm Ciara on 12 February.

The embankment, near Cookspond Viaduct in Surrey, started to slide after being hit by the heavy rains and winds of storm Ciara. Built in Victoria times, it simply didn’t meet modern standards and needed extensive work to make it safe.

Since then, no fewer than five further sites have suffered landslips on the route and Network Rail has been working with BAM Nuttall to repair the line.

The repairs are almost complete and testing will continue over the weekend.

Network Rail Southern Region’s managing director, John Halsall, said: “We are on course to return this railway to use on Monday, at an absolutely crucial time, with key workers relying on us to get to their jobs.

“However, I can’t be as confident as I would like to be simply because we are seeing increasing numbers of our colleagues having to leave work to self-isolate and we don’t know what those numbers will be and who will be affected over the next two days.

“So, my message to passengers is, firstly, please only travel if you absolutely have to, and then secondly please check before you travel on Monday. It’s been an incredible effort by everyone who has worked on the project to get so far so fast and I am so proud of their work, but we have to be realistic and admit the challenge we face.”

Steve White, Chief Operating Officer at GTR, which runs Thameslink and Southern services, said: “Our important message to everyone during this national emergency remains not to travel unless absolutely essential but for those key workers and people who have no choice, the completion of this work will be good news reducing your travel time.

“We would like to thank customers for their patience during this essential work. Network Rail really has pulled out all the stops to repair the landslips in this area and I applaud them for their efforts on behalf of the community and the railway.”

Network Rail delivers urgent medical supplies – by road

Network Rail turned to road transport to deliver vital medical face masks to the NHS frontline on behalf of the British Army.

Railway workers drove hundreds of miles through the night to deliver two lorry loads of protective medical face masks after Network Rail lent its staff and vehicles for the special delivery from Merseyside to army barracks in Hampshire on Monday night, 23 March.

The railway vehicles carried 22 pallets of face masks from a storage warehouse in St Helen’s to 101 Logistic Brigade at St Omer Barracks Aldershot, ready to be distributed to medical staff treating patients with coronavirus. The 230-mile journey was part of an army logistics operation to provide protective equipment to hospitals during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Peter Mitchell, logistics co-ordinator at Network Rail, said: “We’re doing everything we can to help during the coronavirus pandemic, and the team dropped everything to help the Army and the NHS with this special delivery operation.

“Network Rail will continue to lend its support wherever and whenever it’s needed over the coming weeks in the fight against the spread of Covid-19.”

Martin Frobisher, Network Rail’s group director of safety, technical and engineering, added: “Network Rail is determined to keep key workers and goods moving safely around during these unprecedented times.

“Freight services are an integral part of our work to keep food and medicines in shops, but I am very grateful to the team going the extra mile, or 230 miles to be exact, to help the army support our frontline NHS staff in this way.”

France: TGV used to transport Coronavirus patients

Photo credit - SNCF

A double-deck TGV high-speed train has been used to transport patients sick with Coronavirus from the eastern side of the country to the quieter west.

Photo credit – SNCF

Twenty patients left Strasbourg on Thursday 27 March to travel to Nantes where the hospitals are less crowded.

They were accommodated on stretchers that had been fastened into the train and were looked after by doctors from Paris during their journey.  The train’s buffet acted as the medical centre where any patient who got into trouble could be treated by the on-board staff.

Photo credit – SNCF

Ten patients were taken from the train in Angers, while the remaining ten continued to Nantes.

In an interview with France 2 television, Dr. Lionel Lamhaut, who is leading the operation alongside French train operator SNCF, said: “The eastern region is now at its peak – every region will experience this over the next few weeks, but at different times. The idea is to take advantage of the lag between regions and to transfer patients from the hard-hit to less-busy areas.”

Infrarail postponed until 2021

Infrarail, the UK’s leading showcase of railway infrastructure technology and expertise, has been postponed following the escalation of COVID-19 in Europe. The exhibition will now be co-located and take place alongside Railtex 2021, the UK’s premier exhibition of railway equipment, systems and services, taking place at the NEC in Birmingham from 11 – 13 May 2021.

The 13th Infrarail exhibition had been planned to take place at London Olympia from 12 to 14 May 2020.

Speaking about the announcement, Nicola Hamann, managing director of Mack Brooks Exhibitions, said: “The health and safety of our exhibitors, visitors and staff is our number one priority. After many weeks closely monitoring the evolving situation around COVID-19 and the notices issued by the World Health Organisation as well as Public Health England, the UK Government, the local authorities in London and in close coordination with all partners involved, we have decided to postpone the exhibition.

“This is not a decision we have taken lightly; our customers, partners and the Infrarail Team worked incredibly hard on this event” she continued. “While it is disappointing to postpone, it is imperative that we prioritise the health and safety of everyone involved. Our goal remains to provide the best customer value for everyone attending Infrarail by delivering a high-quality exhibition in 2021. We believe the decision to co-locate Infrarail with next year’s Railtex exhibition with the help and support of our partners will allow us to maximize the potential of both events, uniting the whole rail industry.”

Rail Media has a long association with Infrarail.  The company is a media partner for the show, its Rail Engineer magazine hosts the technical seminar programme and its leading rail-industry job board RailwayPeople.com powers the Recruitment Wall.

“Naturally, we are sorry that Infrarail has been postponed,” said Rail Media director Tom O’Connor. “A lot of people have already worked hard to make the show a success at its new home in Olympia, after having moved from London ExCeL.

“However, with the Coronavirus pandemic having caused a near-lockdown of the UK, it is the sensible thing to do. The safety of exhibitors and visitors comes first and, although I hope the worst of the epidemic will be over by May, the situation is still unclear and, even if they are back at work, people will have lots of work to catch up on.

“Mack Brooks has done the right thing in postponing the show and we shall certainly be giving them every support for the combined Railtex and Infrarail next May.”

Neil Hannah to chair NCB


Network Certification Body (NCB), which provides a system-wide approach to railway assurance and certification on infrastructure, vehicle and freight projects, has announced the appointment of Neil Hannah as chairman, succeeding Tim Dugher.

Neil, a physicist by training, has been working in general management for over 30 years, latterly in the certification, test and inspection business. He is a non-executive director of the British Board of Agrément, which certifies construction products, and has held senior management positions at BSI and Applus, where he managed aspects of inspection and certification in the nuclear, aerospace and oil & gas sectors.

Neil Hannah.

Looking forward to his new role, Neil said: “May I start by expressing my thanks to Tim Dugher, who has led the board of NCB since its very early days, for the way he has helped it establish itself as a trusted partner in the rail certification sector.

“I join the board at a difficult moment, given the Covid-19 pandemic and all its implications for business and individuals. I am confident however that the NCB will continue to provide the excellent certification service that the industry needs and I look forward to working with colleagues across the whole of the rail industry as we seek to take it forward.”

Govia Thameslink Railway suspends Gatwick Express service

Govia Thameslink Railway has announced that from Monday, 30 March, the Gatwick Express service will be temporarily suspended until further notice, in response to a significant fall in passenger numbers at the airport and to help keep other trains running.

Further reductions will be made to Southern, Thameslink, and Great Northern services, also from Monday, 30 March, as part of the phased timetable changes agreed with Government to maintain train services for key workers.

Southern and Thameslink trains will continue to serve Gatwick, with more than adequate capacity to satisfy demand.

Govia Thameslink Railway chief operating officer Steve White said: “In this national emergency, we and the rest of the rail industry are doing everything we can to keep essential services running for key workers on whom we all depend.

“These changes will release our staff to concentrate their efforts on keeping these essential services running. Thameslink and Southern trains will continue to serve Gatwick.

“Let me repeat the core message from our Government and Public Health England: travel only if it is absolutely essential.

“Once again, I want to thank the key workers, the doctors, nurses, police and other emergency workers, for what they are doing for us all. I also want to thank railway colleagues who are working so hard to keep trains running.

“To check your journey next week please check online with National Rail Enquiries where the revised timetables will be in place from the weekend. Please note that Coronavirus is having a major impact on us all and there may be further changes so check before your travel.”

A grateful nation says Thank You

Movement of people in rush hour, london train stationMovement of people in rush hour, london train station: SONY A7

The current Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has put many strains on society. Large numbers of people are working from home or otherwise quarantining themselves, either as a precaution or because they actually have the virus.

However, life must go on. Health workers have had to work through the outbreak and have been doing a sterling job. Clinics have sprung up in unlikely places – including in a shop at Birmingham New Street station – to keep the healthy away from the sick in hospital. In Spain, the people applaud health workers every night to show their appreciation, a move that is now transferring to the UK.

Coronavirus screening.

But other groups have had to keep working too. The emergency services are doing excellent work at a difficult time, with police adding protecting the public from itself – by discouraging gatherings, such as 20 people attending an impromptu barbeque in Coventry – to try and prevent the spread of the disease. There are even reports of police and security workers being coughed on and spat at in deliberate acts.

Police have also been mobilised at stations to try to reduce the number of people travelling.  Many trains are practically empty as people stay at home, but London Underground is still crowded in the mornings as people claim their jobs are ‘crucial’ – some are, many aren’t.

Through it all, the trains have kept running. Passenger services have been cut, partly due to the fall in demand (down 70 per cent in some areas) and partly because crews are off sick, but a level of service remains to ensure that those who really do need to travel and get to work can do so. Freight trains have also kept running, delivering food and other supplies around the country.

To keep the service running, staff have been redeployed and priorities changed.  Maintenance is the priority on the infrastructure, keeping lines open, while government-backed appeals have gone out for recently retired signallers and drivers to return and assist.

Grateful politicians

It’s been a massive and largely successful effort, and national and industry leaders are grateful. The Prime Minister has thanked transport workers, police officers, teachers and school staff for “keeping this country going”.

The government announced measures to transfer the financial risk away for the passenger train operators and make sure the trains would keep running. “We’ve announced how we’re helping industry and passengers and supporting train operators through temporary contracts to provide stability,” said Minister of State for rail Chris Heaton-Harris. “This will keep the rail network open for key workers, as well as making sure passengers can get refunds for journeys they can’t take.

“These measures allow key workers in the rail industry to continue to help other key workers get to where they need to be to help us all.

“Thank you to everyone on our railways for working so hard to keep our country going.”

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, added his thanks: “I would like to convey my immense personal gratitude to every single member of railway staff, including those who are moving essential freight.

“You are doing our country a great service at this time of national emergency, by ensuring our NHS staff and other key workers are able to get to work and save lives. Thank you.”

Industry appreciation

The rail industry itself also praised its workers. Network Rail chief executive Andrew Haines had this message for both staff and contractors: “Wherever and however we work, now more than ever is a time where we must be driven by our values. This means working as a team. Making sure we are keeping each other safe and supported, and being empowered to take the most appropriate steps, locally, to deliver the very best we can to those who depend on us, at work and at home.

“Thank you for your continued commitment, teamwork and flexibility at this difficult time. It is you who will, through your commitment and common sense, keep the country moving. I’m so proud of my rail industry colleagues and we can make our nation proud of our railway by how we handle whatever comes our way.”

Paul Plummer, chief executive of the Rail Delivery Group (RDG), which represents all of the train operators as well as Network Rail, commented: “The rail industry is working together so that people and goods can keep making essential journeys during this unprecedented national challenge, getting key workers to hospitals, food to shops and fuel to power stations.

“We would like to thank our people, who continue to do an incredible job in difficult circumstances.”

Robert Nisbet, the RDG’s director of nations and regions, added: “We would like to thank all our colleagues in the rail industry for their hard work during this time of extraordinary national challenge. Like other key workers, they are to be commended for putting the needs of the country first, and their safety remains front of mind. Together, they are keeping the country connected for essential travel.”

The efforts of rail freight employees are appreciated too. John Smith, managing director of GB Railfreight, the third-largest rail fright operation in the country, spoke for his sector: “Our teams are committed to continuing to help the UK get through this period by ensuring that vital supplies are delivered.

“Rail freight has the advantage in being able to efficiently move very large volumes of goods in a safe and reliable way. With each train able to move between 40 to 70 equivalent lorry loads of goods, rail freight has an important role to play to ensure that supplies can be maintained if the number of available staff across the road freight sector is hit due to illness or the need to isolate.

“I would like to pay tribute to those working across the rail freight sector for the role that they are playing, and will continue to play, as the UK responds to the pandemic. We all have to work together to ensure we keep the goods we most need moving across the entire country.”

Coronavirus will be around for some time yet, affecting the lives of everyone in the nation, but it is good to see the rail industry working hard to keep things going, and being appreciated for doing so.

Morson develops app to check if contractors are ‘fit for work’

Responding to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) epidemic, rail recruitment specialist Morson Group is preparing to supply its 3,000 remote workers with early intervention technology that will help to identify whether contractors are experiencing common signs and symptoms of Coronavirus before they go to site and mux with other workers.

Developed to create a ‘safety first’ culture amongst its workforce, the ‘Fit For Work’ app – built in partnership with technology and Artificial Intelligence specialists facecheck.ai – prompts contractors to answer a series of ‘shift relevant’ questions via an app on their smartphone before work is started, to ensure they are attending site in line with company policy.

Though the technology was originally created to assess factors such as having access to the right PPE and whether an individual has received a sufficient health and safety brief for their role, in response to the spread of the Coronavirus the app has been updated to ensure workers displaying potential symptoms do not attend site and aren’t exposed to those who are vulnerable or classed as ‘high risk’.

Using facial recognition technology to validate a worker’s identity, the app takes a time, date and location stamp to ensure accuracy of timesheet data – a unique facility within technical industries such as rail, engineering, defence and more. If required, and in support of new guidance on self-isolating and social distancing, the app issues an immediate notification to Supervisors who can then safely advise a worker on whether to progress to site or take alternative action.

The data can also be used to track which workers have been present on specific sites, and who else has been in their vicinity. Anyone found to have worked with an individual who later displays symptoms of the Coronavirus will be immediately informed and advised on next steps.

With more than 60 locations across the UK, the Morson Group is currently running a pilot of the software on site with rail workers at its Canning Town branch, ahead of a national roll out to candidates and clients in other sectors. Once fully implemented, it will be fully accessible to its entire contractor workforce.

Ged Mason, CEO of the Morson Group, said: “The safety of all our workers is absolutely paramount to both our clients and the Morson Group. Those working in sectors such as rail and engineering are already at an inflated risk when it comes to health and safety, but to ensure we continue building, maintaining and repairing the essential national infrastructure and operations the UK relies upon, they must continue in their day to day duties until Government advice advises otherwise.

“Rolling out this technology puts the right health and safety mechanisms in place to protect them and their wider workforce – both in current circumstances and future conditions – and allows us to retain our position as an agile business which puts people at the centre. We are delighted to be partnering with facecheck.ai and utilising the latest technology to do so, and welcome the opportunity to lead in this field, both for ourselves and for our clients.”

Times of change?

The railway industry never stands still – there is always something happening, which is what makes reporting on it in these pages so fascinating.

Last month, I wrote about the difficulty of including real, up-to-the-minute news in a monthly magazine. That issue went off to print on 7 February. I received my copy on 11 February – the same day that the Prime Minister announced that HS2 would go ahead. So, when readers received their copies of the rail industry’s leading magazine a few days later, it of course made no mention of HS2. That’s the way of things with monthly magazines.

Still, it meant we could include a short piece on the Oakervee report, HS2 and the Prime Minister’s comments in this issue. Interestingly, he hinted that Phase 2b of the line – the connections between Crewe and Leeds/Manchester, may not be built by HS2 Limited and may not even be built at the same time! We shall have to see.

Northern has gone into public ownership, joining LNER. Other companies are reportedly either in trouble or on last warnings for poor performance. Naturally, the unions are pushing for the whole operation of the railway to be taken back into public hands. Others remember the days of British Rail, where the advantages of a unified railway were outweighed by one starved of cash.

The government still seems to be committed to franchising in one form or another, albeit with an overall guiding mind, dubbed by some the ‘Fat Controller’. Should that be a ‘controlperson of indeterminate size’ in these PC days? We shall have to wait for the report of the Williams Review and the white paper that will come from it to find out. It will probably be published while we are at the printer…

Of course, not everything is rosy. Crossrail has gone back to the middle of next year, storms have played havoc with the railway (not mentioned here in RailStaff as, by the time we could report on it, it would be fixed!) and two major derailments tore up the railway. Still, that’s all bread and butter to track engineers – stops them from getting bored!

There are also grumbles from the supply chain. Network Rail’s Control Period 6 is slow to get started, leaving contractors waiting for contracts that either haven’t appeared yet or have been placed but without any significant work. The Railway Industry Association is on the case, calling for an end to ‘Boom or Bust’. Currently, we seem to be in Bust but, hopefully, Boom is just around the corner.

There are still safety problems, and this month’s issue of RailStaff looks not only at safety in general, with Colin Wheeler’s widely read column, but also at competencies, what they are and how to manage them using modern software such as 3Squared’s RailSmart.

There is also ‘news’ of a change at the Network Certification Body. We meet Network Rail’s oldest employee and consider how the railway can make a difference by supporting charities such as Railway Children and Women’s Aid.

It’s a full issue. I hope you get as much from reading it as we did from putting it together. Let us know what you think.


New London Overground trains enter service

London Overground has now introduced its new Class 710 trains onto routes from Cheshunt, Chingford and Enfield Town into London Liverpool Street, bringing passengers a welcome boost in capacity.

Manufactured by Bombardier in Derby, the electric trains will increase capacity by around 10 per cent. Their walk-through design gives them an open and airy feel, while other benefits include air-conditioning, free Wi-Fi, real-time information screens, USB charging points and more wheelchair spaces, making accessible travel easier.

The new trains will be introduced on a phased basis on these routes to ensure there is a smooth transition for customers and make sure they are operating reliably. It is expected all the new trains will be in service by the end of June.

Heidi Alexander, Deputy Mayor for Transport, said: “I’m delighted that London Overground services into London Liverpool Street are now being served by electric trains. These new state-of-the-art trains will improve reliability, boost capacity and deliver a range of additional benefits to passengers including free Wi-Fi and real-time information screens.”

Rail Minister opens East Midlands Gateway

Chris Heaton-Harris MP, Minister of State at the Department for Transport with particular responsibility for rail, has officially opened the new strategic rail freight interchange at SEGRO Logistics Park East Midlands Gateway. This followed the introduction of the first dedicated service to and from the Port of Felixstowe, operated by Maritime Intermodal, a subdivision of Maritime Transport.

The 17-acre open-access terminal, capable of handling up to sixteen 775-metre-long freight trains daily and providing storage capacity for over 5,000TEU, is the first to connect to the Castle Donington freight line, providing direct access to the UK’s network of rail freight interchanges and all major UK Ports.

Opening ceremony guests included representatives from global shipping lines, rail freight companies, UK Ports, retailers, freight forwarders and trusted suppliers. The Maritime Intermodal Two locomotive was also present on the day, joined by three other locomotives hauled by DB Cargo (UK), GB Railfreight and Freightliner.

Commenting on the new terminal, the Rail Minister said: “The rail freight sector is vital to the UK, not only supporting economic growth and international transport links, but driving down emissions by removing around seven million lorry journeys a year from Britain’s roads. This new Gateway provides direct access to the UK’s major ports, demonstrating that Britain is open for business and our commitment to boosting jobs and trade while cleaning up our air.”

Clayton Equipment to build two new locos for Sellafield

Clayton Equipment is to supply two innovative Hybrid+™ Diesel CBD80 locomotives to Sellafield Ltd, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority. These will enable Sellafield to realise significant commercial savings from reduced operation and maintenance costs as well as the greener benefits of reduced emissions from the cleanest diesel engines, a reduced carbon footprint, reduced noise levels, greater haulage capacity and increased reliability.

The CBD80 locomotive is a self-contained 80-tonne Hybrid+ Bo-Bo locomotive with on board battery charging. Battery charging is undertaken from a three-phase supply, providing emission-free solutions, or from the low emission, EU Stage V diesel engine.

Clive Hannaford, managing director of Clayton Equipment, said: “We are very privileged to supply Sellafield Ltd with sustainable, low emission, environmentally compliant equipment which meets their commitment to invest in technology and provide cost savings with long term durability”.

Founded in 1931 and now based in Burton upon Trent, Clayton Equipment is the only British independent locomotive manufacturer in the UK capable of designing and manufacturing locomotives up to 150 tonnes. It ‘leads the way’ in offering low emission rail locomotives with the additional benefit of UK-based customer support.

It’s HS2, but not as we know it

So, HS2 is going ahead, much to the relief of many in the railway construction industry.

The report of the Oakervee Review has been published, and it recommended that, “on balance”, Ministers should proceed with the HS2 project, subject to various qualifications.

Then, later that same day, Prime Minister Boris Johnson stood in the House of Commons and declared: “The Cabinet has given high-speed rail the green signal. We are going to get this done.”

However, thanks to Oakervee’s conclusions and to the government’s concern over delivery times and costs, the HS2 that goes ahead won’t be quite what was expected.

In his address to the House, the Prime Minister criticised the management of the project to date. “When it comes to advocating HS2, it must be said that the task is not made easier by HS2 Ltd – the company concerned,” he stated. “Speaking as an MP whose constituency is on the route, I cannot say that HS2 Ltd has distinguished itself in the handling of local communities. As everybody knows, the cost forecasts have exploded.

“I will be appointing a Minister whose full-time job will be to oversee the project. A new Ministerial oversight group will be tasked with taking strategic decisions about it. There will be changes to the way HS2 is managed.” That minister will be Andrew Stephenson MP.

Then he added: “So that the company can focus solely on getting phases 1 and 2a built on something approaching on time and on budget, I will be creating new delivery arrangements for both the grossly behind-schedule Euston terminus, and Phase 2b of the wider project.”

Did that mean that HS2 Ltd might not build Phase 2b – the route to Manchester and Leeds?

The Department for Transport (DfT) later announced that it is working on an integrated rail plan for the Midlands and the North. Working with HS2 Ltd and local leaders, and informed by an assessment from the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC), the DfT will draw up an integrated rail plan for the Midlands and the North, as recommended by Oakervee. It will also proceed with the legislation that is needed to allow for the development of Phase 2b’s Manchester leg, so long as it does not prejudge any recommendations or decisions that will be taken in this plan.

The announcement pointed out that legislation for Phase 2b can be put through Parliament in two or more hybrid bills, which may run concurrently.

The Infrastructure and Projects Authority (IPA) will now conduct a review of the lessons that can be learned from HS2 Phases 1 and 2a and that can be applied to Phase 2b as part of the integrated rail plan, which should be published by the end of the year.

Help for those with hidden disabilities

TransPennine Express (TPE) and Hull Trains have introduced Sunflower Lanyards and assistance cards to make journeys easier for customers who have non-visible disabilities.

The scheme, which was developed at Gatwick Airport in 2016 and is now used in other airports in the United Kingdom along with supermarkets chains, allows those with hidden disabilities, such as autism and visual impairment, to make themselves visible to railway staff, indicating that they may need some extra assistance while travelling.

Nicola Robinson, co-founder and trustee of Aim Higher, commented: “Just because you can’t see a disability, doesn’t mean it’s not there. Sunflower Lanyards are a great way of giving hidden disabilities a voice, as well as offering a safe, inclusive journey, give the ability to someone with a hidden disability.”

Charlie French, accessibility and integration manager at TransPennine Express, added: “One of our main aims at TransPennine Express is to make rail travel accessible and comfortable for as many people as we can. For those with non-visible disabilities, rail travel can be a daunting experience, which is why we are delighted to be launching Sunflower Lanyards and assistance cards for our customers to try and make their journeys as comfortable as possible.

“By wearing one of these lanyards, or using the cards, it helps our station and on-board colleagues know who may need a little extra assistance and ensure that their journey is a smooth and enjoyable one.”

New Heathrow Express trains revealed

Heathrow Express revealed the first glimpses of its new fleet of trains which is due to launch in the summer. Featuring at-seat USB power, new Business First seating and work tables and a striking external livery, the fully electric trains will be formed into 12 four-car units and thence into six eight-car trains, each 160 metres long with a total of 374 seats, including 44 Business First.

Originally built by Bombardier in Derby, and having previously served customers on the GWR network, the specially converted fleet of Class 387s will be stored and maintained by GWR at its Reading depot as part of a partnership announced in March 2018.

Heathrow Express Director Les Freer said: “Our new fleet of trains will offer the same fast, frequent and reliable Heathrow Express service for years to come. Complete with at seat USB power, fast Wi-Fi, ample luggage space and the option of Business First the new trains deliver a dedicated airport experience for both business and leisure travellers.”

The new Class 387 trains will replace the current Class 332 fleet, which have been in service for 22 years carrying more than 115 million passengers over 44 million miles.

Quattro signs TT legend

Quattro Plant chose the MCN London Motorcycle Show to unveil its new challenger for TT glory on the Isle of Man in June.

John Murphy of Quattro Plant introduced both the new bike and its new rider – 23-times TT winner John McGuiness who will chalk up his 100th TT start this year.

Unchanged will be the team behind the entry. Pete Extance’s Bournmouth Kawasaki outfit has been highly successful in road racing, a record of 56 finishes out of 60 starts showing how reliable his machinery is.

McGuiness will join team-mate Alastair Seeley at Northern Ireland’s North West 200 in May. Alastair has had 24 wins at the event in the past, so the new pairing, riding for the team that gave James Hillier a win last year, will be a force to be reckoned with.

Team Principal Pete Extance said: “It’s absolutely incredible news that we can welcome road racing legend John McGuinness onto our Quattro Plant Bournemouth Kawasaki machinery. To me, John is Mr TT with his road racing feats elsewhere, at the likes of the North West 200 and Macau Grand Prix, simply superb and what an honour it is to have our Bournemouth Kawasaki dealership associated with him.

“Hopefully, we can put John McGuinness back on the podium at the Isle of Man TT and North West 200 in 2020, the place where we know he belongs. Together with Alastair, we have a simply stunning line up of riders for the International road races and we can’t wait for it all to start.”

Quattro will also be the title sponsor for this year’s British GP2 Championship, which runs alongside the British Superbike series. And one of the GP2 riders this year? Alastair Seeley, riding for Quattro Team ABM!

Alstom to buy Bombardier Transportation?

Alstom has announced that it has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Bombardier Inc. and its shareholder Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec (CDPQ) with the view of acquiring Bombardier Transportation for around €6 billion.

Announcing the agreement, Henri Poupart-Lafarge, chairman and CEO of Alstom, spoke as though the takeover was already a done deal. “I’m very proud to announce the acquisition of Bombardier Transportation, which is a unique opportunity to strengthen our global position on the booming mobility market,” he said. “Bombardier Transportation will bring to Alstom complementary geographical presence and industrial footprint in growing markets, as well as additional technological platforms.”

However, an agreement to combine Alstom with Siemens Mobility in 2018 was later derailed by the European Commission due to competition concerns and the possibility that the merger would have resulted “in higher prices for the signalling systems that keep passengers safe and for the next generations of very-high-speed trains”. The new deal will have to go before those same competition policy commissioners, although, as it is a takeover by Alstom rather than a merger, the situation is slightly different.

The combined Alstom/Bombardier operation will have an orderbook of some €75 billion, which will give it a strong global position. The next step is now down to the market competition authorities.

Management buyout at Ford & Stanley

(L-R) Eion Grindley, Daniel Taylor, Sam Ford, Kate Schofield, Chris Jones, Peter Schofield.

Ford & Stanley Recruitment has been bought from its previous owners by its senior management. Specialising in rail, but working across a spectrum of sectors such as digital technology and infrastructure, the company now has its own training academy at its head office on Derby’s Pride Park, as well as offices in Birmingham and London.

Pete and Kate Schofield founded Ford & Stanley in Derby in 2008. 10 years later, Ford & Stanley Group specialises in performance improvement and has several business areas, including GENIUS Performance, which works on improving performance through coaching, leadership development, teamwork and occupational mental ‘healthiness’. It has 35 staff and a £13 million turnover.

Schofield will continue to drive the GENIUS Performance area of the business, while the recruitment side will now be run by senior managers Sam Ford, Daniel Taylor, Chris Jones and Eoin Grindley.

Director Daniel Taylor said: “Employers and candidates recognised right away we were bringing a different approach to recruitment and one that brought them the results they wanted. It’s been an incredible experience so far and genuinely rewarding that the Ford & Stanley team and our customers buy-in to what we set out to do.

“Speaking on behalf of the new owners, we are totally committed to continuing the growth trajectory whilst protecting the legacy Pete and Kate leave behind.”

Freight grant for Tarmac

The Scottish Government has allocated a Freight Facilities Grant worth £1.49 million to Tarmac. It will be used to expand rail operations at Tarmac’s Dunbar cement plant.

Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity Michael Matheson announced the funding at the Rail Freight Group’s Annual Scottish Conference 2020. He said: “This award is the first Freight Facilities Grant for rail for a number of years and will help ensure that rail remains the key mode of transport for much of Tarmac’s operations.

“The recently published National Transport Strategy sets out the Scottish Government’s vision for a sustainable, inclusive, safe and accessible transport system where our businesses make sustainable choices to support the reliable delivery of goods and services.

“That is why we are leading the way in support for rail freight with clear policy support, innovative regulatory targets to encourage growth and backing this with general investment and specific funding. Our dedicated £25 million Rail Freight Fund and our Mode Shift Grant support schemes, which include the Freight Facilities Grant, will help to unlock opportunities for rail freight across the country.”

The fund is open to companies looking to move freight by the more sustainable modes of rail or water instead of road.

Rail to refuge

GWR has launched a partnership with the Women’s Aid charity to help women fleeing an abusive relationship and travelling to safety at a refuge.

Quite often, one of the ways that women feel trapped is that they don’t have freely available cash and so can’t afford a ticket to travel away from home. Some may need to travel a considerable distance to be able to find safety, either due to limited places at women’s refuges or the need to move away from their abuser.

To help women in this situation, the new ‘Rail to Refuge’ collaboration between Women’s Aid and Great Western Railway will offer free rail travel for those fleeing domestic violence and who are travelling to a refuge.

Adina Claire, acting co-CEO of Women’s Aid, said: “Access to cash is a major barrier for women escaping an abusive partner, and free train travel will be one less thing for these women to worry about at a time of acute crisis.”

A special supportive pin badge is available, and GWR will make a financial donation to Women’s Aid in recognition of the work they do.

End of term report

Tim Dugher, who is standing down as chairman of the network certification body (NCB), looks back on his time with the company

Two years after joining Network Rail’s fledgling Network Certification Body as a non-executive director, Tim Dugher took over as chairman. On the eve of his retirement, he met with Malcolm Dobell to reflect on the organisation’s progress over that time.

In the April 2019 issue of RailStaff, Sam Brunker, managing director of the Network Certification Body (NCB), talked about the development of the company since 2012, when he became one of its first employees. Another early appointment was Tim Dugher, a 40-year veteran of the rail industry, who was recruited as a non-executive director with the remit of ensuring the company’s independence and impartiality.

After two years, Tim became chairman of the company. Six years later, and he is standing down from his role as chairman. Has he accomplished his mission?

Looking back

In the early days of NCB the Interoperability Regulations and the Common Safety Method were new and, although Network Rail had taken the courageous step of setting up its own in-house but independent subsidiary, it was challenging both to build the company culture and to persuade potential customers that they needed NCB’s (or some other certification body’s) services if they were to comply with the new regulations. If you are not familiar with certification bodies, their role is summarised on page 19.

One of Tim’s early roles was to set up and chair a board committee to ensure impartiality by making certain that NCB staff worked ethically avoiding conflicts of interest (by not marking their own homework!) and that NCB did not exploit its position as a subsidiary of Network Rail. This committee, said Tim, populated by well-respected industry independents (your writer is one of them), has proved invaluable to the company, throughout its development, in challenging some of the processes and practices which are in daily use.

Tim recalled the first year, always challenging for a new company, during which staff had to be recruited, work sought, and systems and processes set up and accredited. He said that it wasn’t surprising that NCB made a loss that year, but he has been delighted to see the company grow rapidly to a turnover (2018/19) of almost £7 million with a workforce of 60 people and a healthy profit.

Possibly the biggest challenge, Tim recalled, was developing the culture required for an accredited certification company with a strong business ethic. Tim paid tribute to the board: “I have been very lucky to have a small but strong board of independent, shareholder and executive directors with a collective focus on driving the business culture needed to transform NCB from large parent department to independent subsidiary, operating in a competitive market place. I must mention James Collinson, the managing director for the majority of my tenure as chairman, for leading that challenge at executive level, and who was very ably succeeded by current MD Sam Brunker.”

What does a certification body do?

The European Union Interoperability Directive required member states to develop legislation to promote standardisation of key properties of Europe’s Railway. This legislation came into force in the UK in 2012. The key properties, or, in ‘Europe speak’, the essential requirements, are conditions relating to safety, reliability and availability, health, environmental protection, technical compatibility and accessibility. This applies to all elements of the UK’s main line railway (approximately, but not exclusively, Network Rail’s infrastructure and the trains that run on it). The legislation applies to significant new projects or significant alterations to existing projects. New stations, new trains and new signalling are clearly covered, whereas track renewal generally is not.

Significant projects must be authorised by the Office of Rail and Road (ORR), following the submission of a technical file demonstrating that the essential requirements have been complied with. This demonstration has to be certified, and this is the role of certification bodies.

There are three aspects:

• Notified Bodies (NoBo) that certify that essential technical requirements have been complied with. These are contained in the Technical Specifications for Interoperability.
• Designated Bodies (DeBo) that certify that Notified National Standards have been complied with. These are contained in Rail Group Standards issued and managed by RSSB.
• Assessment Bodies (AsBo) that certify that safety management has been appropriately carried out in compliance with the EU’s Common Safety Method and that hazards/risks have been appropriately identified, assessed, managed, closed and/or transferred.

Certification Bodies themselves have to be accredited by UKAS, the UK’s National Accreditation Service, and be notified by the Department for Transport.

NCB carries out all these functions and is also a Certifier of Entities in Charge of Maintenance – an activity currently required under EU legislation for freight vehicle maintenance that will soon be extended to locomotives and passenger vehicles if recent EU legislation is transposed into UK law.

Professional culture

Tim outlined a unique requirement. Staff involved with certification need to be experts in their field and must retain a professional distance from the projects they are assessing. This can become an issue for specialists, Tim said, as they need to “keep their hand in and avoid becoming professional markers of others’ homework”. He said that NCB has plans for this – more anon.

Moreover, the role of certification bodies is to assess compliance and, Tim added, this has the potential to cause conflict if the assessments uncover problems, especially if found late in a project lifecycle. Like audit, it is a necessary function that has to be paid for, but which sometimes has to deliver unwelcome news.

Tim said that he has been delighted to see how the company has developed this respectful, professional culture with complete integrity. It now has a strong business ethic that focusses on delivery for clients, together with making a profit and growing the company – quite different from being a department of Network Rail.

Tim added that a current focus is on encouraging project teams to engage certification services early, so that certification proceeds hand-in-hand with all forms of assurance, such as GRIP (Governance for Railway Investment Projects). To this end, he said, NCB is developing alternative products to add more holistic value to the compliance process around major projects.

Identifying an issue early in a project lifecycle, he stated, can lead to the problem being fixed quickly and with little cost. In this respect, he was delighted that NCB had won a contract with HS2 – in the face of strong competition – as this has resulted in being able to start working on this project from the pre-construction phase. “I’m particularly proud of the fact that the NCB team won the HS2 contract,” he said. “It’s such a tangible illustration of the maturity gained by NCB since start-up in 2012, and the fact that new customers value what NCB has to offer and its market reputation.”

Tim also noted that, where certification services are purchased as a “bolt on activity” towards the end of a job, “issues identified during assessment have sometimes led to assets not being brought into service on time, causing extra cost and much embarrassment”.

He then turned to some of the internal challenges and successes. He said that NCB is a ‘people business’ and it is a continuous challenge to recruit enough people with the right skills to meet market demand whilst maintaining a healthy order book and pipeline to keep them busy. He also highlighted the necessary but time-consuming work to achieve and maintain accreditation to the various requirements and standards that certification and assessment bodies must work to. There is also a day-to-day focus on competency, making sure everyone keeps up-to-date technically.

Peaks and troughs

As Network Rail is a major customer, NCB’s workload, just like many other suppliers, tended to mirror Network Rail’s work cycle. Thus, in the run up to bank holidays and the financial year end, workload tends to peak, with possibly more lean times in between. Keeping staff productive in these lean times is a challenge, but the sales and marketing department has developed robust plans to maintain a broad range of clients and projects, large and small.

Lean times are even more marked at the end of control periods – again, there is a peak on the run-up to the end with a lean time immediately after. With CP6 having an emphasis on maintenance and renewals rather than enhancements, Tim wondered aloud where the work to replace projects such as Thameslink and Crossrail might come from, hence the thoughts of diversification and an emphasis on doing a good job for HS2.

Tim Dugher discusses the future with NCB managing director Sam Brunker.

It was obvious that Tim has enjoyed working with NCB and, concluding the conversation, he said: “It’s been a great pleasure to have been part of the evolution of the NCB business from its inception to its current position, where it’s an established player in the certification market.

“I’d like to pay tribute to all the staff in the NCB team (past and present), who have played their part in making the business what it is today; they should all be very proud.

“I’d particularly like to thank the leadership team, with whom I’ve worked closely on the board over the last eight years, for embracing the challenges that have emerged along the journey. NCB is in good hands with Sam at the helm, and I wish him, and the whole team continued success as the company develops to meet market demands.”

Tim Dugher’s Career

Tim joined British Railways as an apprentice in 1977 and followed this with a three-year degree course at Aston University. Between 1984 and 1995, Tim carried out various roles within British Rail, managing rolling stock maintenance including being depot manager at Wembley and Oxley depots.

Privatisation saw Tim become head of projects at Angel Trains, later becoming its group engineering director and then chief operating officer. He retired from Angel Trains in 2011, having been involved in the purchase of a very significant number of new vehicles, including the large Desiro fleet leased to South West Trains (now South Western Railway) and Silverlink (now West Midlands Trains) and the Pendolino fleet leased to Virgin Trains (now Avanti West Midlands).

As well as his appointment as non-executive director and chairman of NCB, Tim has also been active in other non-executive roles including chairman of the Railway Division of the IMechE and chair of RISAS (the Rail Industry Supplier Approval Scheme). He is currently a non-executive director of Porterbrook Leasing.

Tim is a chartered engineer and is a fellow of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

Railways need people

Graham Coombs visits Coyle Rail – popularly known as ‘Coyles’ – to find out just what it takes to be one of the industry’s leading labour supply agencies

Back in the days of British Rail, temporary hire of staff through labour agencies was regarded as something of a last resort. But things have very much moved on and specialist companies arranging effective supply of skilled personnel to meet the constantly-changing demands of railway engineering are now a key part of the industry.

To succeed and thrive, they need to fulfil much more than an agency function, taking on training, management and career development of their workers and meeting all the safety and operational requirements of the railway.

In order to find out just what is involved, RailStaff went to meet one of the leading companies, Coyle Rail, part of Coyle Personnel but more familiarly known throughout the industry as ‘Coyles’.

Coyle Personnel was formed in 1988 to serve the construction sector, but it quickly moved into a wide range of specialist markets including rail, where privatisation and a radically-changed industry structure meant that additional labour resources were needed.

Company headquarters is just across the road from Harrow-on-the-Hill station, with another 11 regional bases strategically spread around the country. Each office has a dedicated management team focussed on rail, but able to call on assistance from other sectors, for example when there is construction work away from the operational railway. Where necessary, sectors work closely together, transferring skills to meet demands.

The company itself employs more than 300 people, with an almost even split between male and female, and about 50 work on rail specifically. The active workforce on their books is over 4,000.


We asked Coyle Rail director Roger Stewart and his senior management team how Coyle Rail has managed to succeed.

Roger told us that Coyles’ key strength is its people. “We have tremendous loyalty and staff retention is high,” he said. “Many of the Coyle Rail team have worked for the company for more than 10 years, while, in the workforce, around 450 of the 750 active rail specialists have been with us for a similar length of time.

“This has enabled us to build great relationships with both workers and clients and, in turn, provide a better service to both.”

“Having a proven track record is important, and we also have the benefit of being privately-owned, so we can respond quickly to changing needs.

We are also entirely self-funding, with no direct costs to clients,” he continued.

Coyles’ main client is, of course, Network Rail, and the company is a preferred specialist supplier of contingent labour. Much of their activity is supporting contractors and, over the years, they have worked with pretty well all of the Tier 1s and other key players, as well as working directly for HS2 and Crossrail. More than 1.45 million hours of workers’ time was supplied to the rail sector in the last 12 months.

Roger tells us that the main focus of activity at the moment is Control Period 6 (CP6), Network Rail’s five-year programme of work that started in April 2019. “We invested in gearing up for high levels of expenditure in CP6, which unfortunately have proved to be rather slow starting,” he explained. “As our activities are mainly at the delivery end, we have to wait through the planning processes until work actually starts on the ground, and we are looking forward to this getting under way in earnest.

“We have continuing work with the major projects, notably HS2 and Crossrail, while, in the longer term, the Department for Transport has published the Rail Network Enhancements Pipeline (RNEP), a welcome approach to developing a rolling programme of projects away from the rigid 5-year structure.”


A recent development within Coyles has been the appointment of additional specific sector heads to focus activities in the different disciplines. These include David Hares as telecoms manager and Andy Morris as highways manager. With responsibility for both rail and non-rail activity, they are well placed to transfer staff resources to meet emerging needs.

Within the rail sector, operations manager Billy McNeill is focused on developing track maintenance and renewals, in addition to tunnelling and major civils. A significant development is the Coyles Managed Service, which offers major clients and projects cost savings, planning expertise, efficiency improvements, fatigue management and continuous improvement.

The difference with traditional recruitment process outsourcing (RPO) is that the process is only a small part of the service, with management expertise, problem solving and developing client’s performance standards adding value and quality. Nick Markwell manages the business unit in the South East and takes the lead role in national overhead line electrification activities, an area that is particularly busy at present with a growing number of renewals and maintenance projects.

Workers supplied to the rail industry cover a wide range of engineering and operational jobs, from basic civils labouring work up to highly-qualified signalling and design engineers, and with operational roles including signallers, points operators and crossing attendants.

Not all assistance is in temporary supply of labour. Coyles’ professional and technical head Karen Meager assists clients with permanent placings, particularly where specific skills are required. The specialisms she has covered range as far as interoperability, rolling stock, assurance, thermodynamics, configuration management, design, public health, electrification and plant.


As with any activity on the railway, safety is paramount, and ensuring compliance with all the relevant requirements and regulations is essential. According to HSQE manager Simon Shaw, one of the key tools in the management of safety is Coyles’ shift booking system.

“This specially-created software is the gatekeeper for all compliances, ensuring that staff have the correct competencies and, where necessary, local knowledge, and that they are not working excessive hours,” he stated. “Any potential fatigue concerns are immediately flagged up.

“It works as a planning tool also, so managers using it are shown the availability of appropriate staff before they are selected. It will simply not allow persons not meeting all requirements to be allocated to a job and covers all the needs of fatigue management.”

But there is much more to effective management of the workforce, according to Nick Markwell: “To start with, it is getting the recruitment right. Where there is a specific demand for additional workers, Coyles will take on staff without rail experience and provide PTS training. A particular focus is staff with transferrable skills, for example telecoms workers, who can be introduced into the railway sector. All new recruits have a face-to-face meeting with a manager and are thoroughly briefed.”

An online resource platform is used to keep staff up-to-date, with an email alert to new content including industry updates and general H&S topics. This is tailored to individual staff members, so they receive information related to their own skills and areas of activity.

“Knowledge of the Industry and safe working culture is paramount when supplying safety critical staff:” said Phil Cambridge, rail manager North. He feels it is important to have strong working knowledge, so he keeps his safety critical competencies up to speed. This enables his staff and team to deal with any safety critical issues as they arise.

Coyles have a proven record of developing people on a career path, for example more than 50 people who started as track workers are now IRSE-licensed signalling installers.

“Staff come in on general civil work and then have the option to move into other areas, such as signalling, telecoms and safety critical duties,” Nick added. “In some cases, this will be as a result of requests from the individuals concerned, who see new work opportunities from others working alongside them. In other cases, candidates suitable for advancement are spotted by Coyle managers.”

The management team are tasked with undertaking regular site visits, supporting both workers and clients and ensuring that work is being delivered safely and efficiently. Training staff with new skills is a vital part of addressing skills shortages.


Keeping its workforce happy and effective is just as important as if they were permanent employees, and looking after the welfare of all staff is vital. For all people on its books, Coyles offers an employee assistance programme, known as Health-Assured. This provides free, confidential and non-judgemental support for a whole range of areas, such as health, financial issues, relationships, lifestyle addictions, bereavement housing and legal issues. Accessed through a 24-hour helpline or an online portal, this service is also available to the families of staff.

In February 2019, Coyles launched a new apprenticeship scheme, in collaboration with key clients including Balfour Beatty and Siemens. “The emphasis is in taking local people, not previously working on rail, and giving them the skills needed to join the sector,” commented Nick Markwell.
A 14-month programme includes day release to college, combined with practical work experience in the railway environment. This will lead to a level 2 groundwork qualification in addition to gaining railway skills.

“At the end of the programme, the client has the option of taking them on full time, but, in any event, they will be a valuable future resource to the industry,” Nick added. “And we are looking to expand the scheme in 2020, bringing in more major clients and moving into new areas.”


Roger Stewart sums up Coyles’ future plans. “We aim to grow steadily, continuing to improve our systems and processes to give greater efficiency, and ultimately providing a better service to our clients.

“An important step will be the continuing development of software systems to further simplify and automate operations, including a new digital timesheet system. From early next year, timesheets will become fully electronic, with workers easily able to sign on and off on any mobile device with full automation of the system, including GPS location, fast digital authorisation by the client and reminders of entries needing completion. This will radically transform payroll administration.

“We are also working to strengthen our presence in some areas of the country, notably the South West and Scotland, and we are considering possible expansion into Ireland.”

Roger and his team at Coyles make an excellent example of how the rail industry evolves to meet changing needs and show that a strong focus on people is still as important as ever.

The challenge of new train introduction

Thameslink Class 700.

New train fleets are being introduced into service, but they are almost all late. Malcolm Dobell considers why

With an unprecedented number of new vehicles ordered since 2010 – over 8,000 – and with more orders to come, getting them safely, reliably and efficiently into service is a priority. However, challenges with testing, acceptance, software, stabling, depot facilities and long fixed formation trains seem to result in almost all of them being delivered into service well after they should have been.

A recent conference organised by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers tackled the reasons behind this and the possible solutions. The speakers were in an unusually candid mood and the overall conclusion was “could, should and must do better”. No one actually used the word “crisis”, but “late”, “more costly”, “more risk” and “not performing as well as hoped” were all terms that featured in the presentations.

Bill Reeve, director of rail at Transport Scotland, said he was embarrassed by the record of new train introduction over the last few years and it was an inconvenient truth that the last three rolling stock projects sponsored by his department, and those for Northern and TPE, where he is independent chair of the Rail North Partnership, had all been late and had suffered teething troubles. This had led to customer and other benefits being delayed.

As an engineer himself, Bill said that he understood that things can go wrong, but he emphasised that government ministers do not understand why rolling stock suppliers appear to promise what they cannot deliver. Moreover, they remember these problems when they determine the next round of investment, and the rail industry often fails to recognise that it is in competition with other transport modes.

He did admit, however, that government is at the heart of the challenge, as incentives between the infrastructure manager and the train operators have often been misaligned. He speculated that the output of current reviews might well recommend simplified processes, aligned incentives and joined up railway undertakings. Such a move would lead to problems and issues falling away as people tackle problems in teams.


Dave Hickson from GTR and Hans Benker from Siemens reviewed lessons from the Class 700 fleet introduction onto the Thameslink routes. This was the second biggest individual order in UK history, a total of 1,140 vehicles made up into 115 trains, in a programme from start of procurement to final delivery lasting over ten years.

The sheer length of the programme brought its own problems. For example, it was only six years after procurement started, and one year after contract placement, that GTR was appointed, and the opportunity to influence important aspects of the train design had passed. Details, such as aspects of the cab design, led to issues with signal sighting that caused additional infrastructure cost.

With such a large fleet, two new depots, many new stabling points and dependency on the Thameslink infrastructure programme, there were a huge number of risks to manage. Offsite testing at Siemens’ test track was highlighted as a key benefit, something noted by others, but it was emphasised that offsite testing was not a substitute for the rigours of passenger operation.

As was seen during the aftermath of the May 2018 timetable introduction, driver training was a major challenge, both for stock and route learning. Stabling was also a major challenge during the transition process, when there were more trains on the network than usual.

The Class 700 is a software-driven train. This means that Siemens can monitor service trains from the depot and improve predictive maintenance by collecting additional data. However, the focus shifting from hardware to software does mean that adjustments are needed by both operator and maintainer since every train has a collection of sub-systems, each with its own operating system, application and communications interface. Keeping software up to date is significantly affecting how change control is managed.

DRS Classes 68 and 88

Andy Martlew from Direct Rail Services talked about the procurement and authorisation of Class 68 and 88 locomotives. His approach was refreshing. He believed firmly in engagement and relationship building, with the supplier, with the operating staff and with Network Rail, that assurance is something that needs to be planned as part of the design, development and testing process, and that the customer – the railway undertaking (RU) – should be helping the manufacturer to succeed, especially where the manufacturer has limited UK experience.

Direct Rail Services Class 68.

Andy talked particularly about the network compatibility process, emphasising that the RU must deal with this and, whilst elements might need to be done by others, the overall responsibility cannot be sub-contracted.

Using the example of gauging, Andy outlined how he worked with Network Rail to resolve an initial list of nearly 5,500 “tight spots” by prioritising assessment and, if absolutely necessary, by modifying the locomotive gauge or by fixing the tight spot.

Andy stressed the importance and value of off-network testing. This allows a much shorter testing programme on UK’s crowded railway – a recurring theme of the seminar.

Things can and do go wrong, leading to what Andy euphemistically described as “in-field product development”, especially with brand new designs. Which is when the relationship built with the supplier pays off!

A view from over the water

Peter Smyth, Irish Rail’s chief mechanical engineer, presented his experience of buying new trains. Irish Rail is state owned but organised into two accounting groups – Railway Undertaking and Infrastructure Manager. Irish Rail is roughly a “medium size TOC”, carrying nearly 50 million passengers per annum with a fleet of 900 vehicles.

It has purchased over one billion Euros-worth of rolling stock since 2000 from Europe, Asia and the USA. Two tenders are currently in progress – for electric/battery electric vehicles for an expansion of the Dublin Area Rapid Transit network and for additional vehicles for diesel units bought from Hyundai/Rotem.

Peter outlined the process used in Ireland which will be familiar to anyone who works in an organisation that owns and operates its own vehicles: specify, procure, design, develop manufacture, take delivery and get into service, all over a period of approximately five years. He emphasised the importance of the specification: “If it’s important to you, include it in the specification.”

Irish Rail has purchased trains from Europe, Asia and the USA.

He highlighted particular issues he faces in a country with no local rolling stock builder, often having to work with suppliers building for Ireland for the first time, and the difficulty of getting any significant off-site testing due to Ireland’s unique 1,600mm gauge.

Driver training

Steve Mitchell from Abellio Greater Anglia discussed the complications surrounding driver training. The company is introducing three classes of new train and its original plans would have delivered 10 to 16 trained drivers per week, enough for the May 2019 timetable while keeping driver training off the critical path and avoiding the “three-month refresh”.

In reality, there was a delay in having a train ready for driver training, leading to a large number of drivers who had been Part A trained, but who could not do Part B, causing “re-training due to three months”. Even when trains were available for part B, the automatic selective door-opening system was still not available and a catch-up plan was needed. Finally, training was sometimes cancelled due to no units being available.

As a result, driver training became near critical path, emphasising the need for very close liaison between the project and operations teams on train status for driver training.

Since then, many of the routes operated by the new bi-mode trains have suffered delays caused apparently by wrong-side track circuit issues and a serious near miss at a level crossing, currently under investigation by the RAIB. Beware of emergent properties!


Mark Molyneux from the Rail Delivery Group (RDG) explored the reliability impact of so many new trains. He presented this against a background of a) generally improving fleet reliability, b) about 15 per cent of delays being down to fleet issues and c) new trains taking a while to grow their reliability, although they are, generally, more reliable than the trains they replace in the long term.

New trains take a while to become reliable.

With about half the national train fleet being replaced, the industry is rightly concerned that overall fleet performance will take a hit before recovering. Typical issues highlighted include software function and validation (it is apparent that software developers and train engineers do not understand each other!), the need for clear pass/fail criteria for the demonstration of compatibility, and improvements to specifications and contracts so that trains are specified in terms of reliability, against realistic timescales and using industry guidance such as Key Train Requirements and Key Interface Requirements. All this is necessary as it is unacceptable to subject the railway’s customers to debugging in public!

Several further speakers followed this theme. Some comments seemed so blindingly obvious that it was almost a surprise that they had to be mentioned – for example, when buying faster and more powerful electric trains, it is important to calculate whether the power supply has enough juice to run them!

A number of speakers questioned whether standards were out of date, appropriate or flexible enough, and whether designers could react quickly to discovered problems. These ranged from train surfers discovering they could use the inter-car connecting cables as a ladder to climb onto the train’s roof, curved windscreens showing ghost reflections of signalling and trains with automatic doors having to be risk-assessed at every platform they could visit.

This very frank and open conference illustrated the scale of the challenge that the UK rail industry has over the next two to three years. It is one that will have to be solved.

Are railway engineering responsibilities adequately delegated?

Colin Wheeler asks whether infrastructure inspection, maintenance and renewal need to be improved and should individual railway engineers be held accountable

With two recent derailments having caused extensive damage to the railway infrastructure, RailStaff’s safety expert Colin Wheeler looks back to how track inspections used to be managed and considers whether further changes need to be made in the future.

As I write, we are still waiting for the delayed publication of the Williams report that is to shape the future development of our railways. One of the issues needing review is the balance of spending between the railway infrastructure and rolling stock.

Being a retired rail infrastructure engineer, I may be prejudiced, but I question whether more should be done to inspect, repair and renew trackwork at the expense of commercially driven train-set replacement. Looking at the details of reported accidents, it becomes clear that the working life of passenger-carrying trains on major routes is being significantly reduced, although I cannot recall seeing any publicity heralding the purchasing of new freight wagons.

How do they decide when to replace train sets anyway?

I remember working on the design and construction of new train maintenance facilities at Neville Hill Leeds, Heaton Newcastle and Bounds Green as servicing requirements were released prior to the delivery of the new High-Speed Train (HST) sets in the early 1970s. Those trains have only recently been replaced on the East Coast main line.

However, judging by recent reports from the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) and the Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB), investment in the renewal and upgrading of the rail infrastructure has fallen behind. Worse still are the rising number of incidents where inadequate rail infrastructure inspection and maintenance is leading to derailments. I suggest this may also be a factor in near misses occurring as rail staff under pressure do their utmost to keep our railway running!

Eastleigh derailment.

Near miss at Foxton, Anglia route on 14 February

Network Rail’s Safety Central website posted a Safety Alert on 20 February following a near miss at Foxton at 11:01 on 14 February. The track worker involved was from Network Rail’s Tottenham Delivery Unit and they were working on a track defect on the Down line. A train, travelling from Cambridge to Brighton, approached on the Up line at between 70 and 80mph. The driver saw the worker in the four-foot of the Up line and realised that the worker was not moving to a place of safety. At the same time, a second train was approaching on the Down line and the other gang members had moved to a place of safety in the Down cess. The lone trackworker in the Up line reacted when the approaching train was just six seconds away and reached a place of safety with a mere three seconds to spare.

Rail engineers spoke to the BBC!

In the middle of February, the derailment at Eastleigh, now under investigation by the RAIB, was described on the BBC South news as being “due to inept maintenance”. Network Rail was quoted as saying that “the fault was not visible during inspections”. Its regional managing director said that “fastenings had given way leading to gauge spread”.

Four Network Rail engineers spoke with the BBC. One of them said in a radio interview: “The official line is that this is a component failure, which is true. But it is shockingly inept maintenance.”

Network Rail’s reported response was: “We know some staff are concerned about the general upkeep of the railway in and around Eastleigh and so we have brought in some extra staff.”

Maybe Eastleigh will, in future years, be seen as a turning point. I am content to await the RAIB report, but there is something very wrong managerially when local engineers feel the need to resort to speaking anonymously to the media!

Previous problems with fastenings

The Eastleigh accident happened at 11:31 on 28 January, when a freight train derailed on a set of points just south of Eastleigh station whilst moving at just 12mph. It was travelling from the Down slow to the Down fast using a crossover. The locomotive partially derailed but then re-railed itself. Some wheels on four of the five following wagons also derailed and the track was substantially damaged. The driver was able to stop the train before the other 25 wagons reached the damaged track. There were no injuries, but both track and signalling were severely damaged.

RAIB’s investigation will focus on “design and installation of fastenings, the industry’s response to previous problems identified with the fastenings during their service life and underlying factors”.

Freight train derailed on waybeamed (longitudinally timbered) bridge

Only five days earlier, on 23 January at 06:00, another freight train derailed near Wanstead Park. It was travelling from Barking to Calvert with a Class 66 locomotive hauling 22 wagons of what is described as “material excavated from a construction site”. The train carried on for a further two and a half miles after derailing before the effect on the braking system caused the driver to stop. It came to rest between Leyton Midland Road and Walthamstow Queens Road stations.

Damaged bridge waybeam.

One wheelset of the 16th wagon had derailed, resulting in extensive damage to the track, other infrastructure and the wagon. RAIB’s investigation will focus on the condition, inspection, maintenance and loading of the track including the longitudinal timbers supporting the rails, wagon condition, inspection, maintenance and loading and “any underlying factors.”

MEWPs collide at Rochford in Essex

At 10:57 on the morning of Saturday 25 January, there was a collision between two Skyrailer Mobile Elevated Work Platforms (MEWPs) between Rochford and Southend Airport stations. One of the MEWPs was stationary, the other had travelled over 150 metres at nine or ten miles per hour before the collision. The RAIB reported simply that the railway was “closed to traffic” while the MEWPs were being used to renew overhead electrification power lines.

Two people in the stationary MEWP were working on the overheads at the time of the impact. Both received severe bruising and back injuries due to being thrown against the handrails of the machine. The single worker in the moving MEWP was unhurt and the machines were only slightly damaged.

The RAIB investigation will focus on the arrangements for managing movement of the MEWPs and the organisation of the works, management of the MEWPs, management of machine operator and controller competences, braking performance of the MEWPs and underlying factors.

“Very high-risk safety incidents”

On its Safety Central website, Network Rail’s safety bulletin number 20-03 issued on 2 February describes an incident that occurred at Adswood junction on 19 January. “Whilst an engineering train was being worked on, an RRV (rail/road vehicle) was propelled on the adjacent road which could have injured an employee.

“Reviewing previous similar occurrences, there have been several very high-risk safety incidents that have occurred in recent years. This is due to incorrect movement of engineering trains, on-track machines, and on-track plant when entering, working within or exiting worksites and possessions.”

Whilst the grammar in this bulletin may not be perfect, the message is clear! Nonetheless, I suggest the author would be more effective if he or she asked the workers involved face-to-face (not by email), or via a bulletin, why they failed to follow the rules. Were they not personally involved in the detailed planning? How far into the, presumably, voluminous safe system of work plan had one to delve to find relevant “how and when” details?

Between tunnels, place-of-safety prohibition notice

Network Rail’s safety bulletin 20-01, issued on 30 January, followed a site visit with ORR inspectors to Dover Priory on 9 January. The objective was to observe TOWS (Train Operated Warning Systems) in Priory and Charlton tunnels. The inspectors were satisfied with the TOWS operations, the safety refuges, method of operation and staff training/briefing.

However, at the tunnel mouths and between the tunnels, the positions of safety were found to be limited by cess narrowness and vegetation growth! Consequently, a further site visit was arranged to take place during week commencing 27 January at which Network Rail demonstrated its compliance with the requirements of the Prohibition Notice with which it had been issued. Why had local staff members, managers, supervisors and local safety representatives not ensured that places of safety were adequately maintained?

The MEWPs that collided at Rochford.

Face to face management, workforce involvement

Following graduation, my railway life began with a few months working on the shovel with a variety of track gangs. I believe it gave me a first-hand insight into the real world.

Recent visits to Network Rail’s Safety Central website leave me concerned that today’s methods of communicating are, in many ways, less effective than face-to-face open discussion, including listening! I believe that the rail industry needs technically and professionally qualified individuals to whom engineering responsibility and accountability is delegated.

I vividly remember the day when a regional deputy chief engineer joined the local track gang, of which I was a member, at lunchtime in a lineside cabin and listened to their concerns. During that time, I still remember the day when the chief permanent way inspector told me that getting injured by being hit by a train was very difficult, but being killed by one was easy!

Delegation and accountability

My experience of the inspection, maintenance and renewal of both track and structures included checking the skills and performance of track patrollers and bridge/structural examiners. I recall the use of a system for the selection of track patrollers which included inspecting and reporting on a section of line in an area remote from their usual places of work. Their reports were then checked against a report from an inspection the previous day carried out by the local engineer.

They need to have delegated authority to restrict or even stop rail traffic when justified. They must be personally responsible for their actions which will normally include identifying problems and recommending action – sometimes immediate, but usually early enough for remedial work to be fully planned after a qualified supervisor and/or engineer has agreed the details.

Safety of the line

I recall funding problems that resulted in the imposition of both speed and axle-weight restrictions. Such restrictions may produce reactions both from train operators and senior engineers.

Furthermore, I had personal experience of commercial and political pressure being applied when speed restrictions or closures became necessary due to restricted funding. I recall being challenged on my professional engineering judgement by commercially minded train operators who, when asked to sign a declaration relieving me of my personal responsibility for “the safety of the line”, refused and backed down!

I also recall the support we gave to our patrollers, examiners and local engineers, as well as the backing we received from senior engineers based at head office. On one occasion, when a patroller was required to attend a court case after a serious accident, I was pleased that the judge agreed that my evidence on the suitability and quality of the trackwork was sufficient. This resulted in the patroller not being called to the witness box.

He was not disappointed.

East Grinstead line on track to reopen Monday 30 March

The East Grinstead line is expected to reopen on Monday 30 March after it was closed following Storm Ciara on 12 February.

Neil Hannah to chair NCB