INTRO: On rail breaks

Sir - I read with interest your item ’Alarming rise in rail breaks’ (RG 6.99 p346). As a commuter on the Midland Main Line between Wellingborough and London St Pancras for the past 10 years, I have noticed that wheel flats on the IC125 vehicles are becoming much more common. It is axiomatic that wheel flats increase the dynamic loading on rails and may thus reduce their fatigue life.

The implication is that the depots maintaining rolling stock for the train operating companies are not regularly turning or replacing wheelsets. This may benefit the TOC’s economics, but ignores the effect on the track. When rail breaks disrupt services, it is presumably deemed an infrastructure fault, where Railtrack is passed the bill for any compensation paid to passengers. If rail breaks can be attributed to poor vehicle maintenance, Railtrack should rightly be able to seek redress. In addition, a wheel flat creating a 15Hz hammer blow at 175 km/h is downright irritating to passengers.

A related development has been the replacement of former BR train staff with new multi-skilled recruits. This may be good for operator efficiency, but many staff appear to lack any appreciation of vehicle behaviour outside the norm.

On balance, I believe that BR privatisation offered more potential benefits than drawbacks. However, if safety appears to be taking a back seat to commercial interests, then the problem must be addressed quickly. Perhaps the track access charge should contain a significant variable based on how well TOCs maintain their trains in compliance with Group Standards.

Bernard Rochard


London, Great Britain

INTRO: Metro pioneers

Sir-If VAL and Skytrain were ’pioneers’ in the intermediate capacity metro field (Metro Report 99 p3), then Westinghouse Electric was the ’trail blazer’; its design was definitive as early as 1963!

On a separate point, I believe the idea that ’lighter specifications’ reduce civil works - thus tipping overall economics - is a misleading simplification. The most powerful cost factor in civil works is the avoidance of underground construction, which can be achieved with heavy rail.

More often than not, the deciding factors are related to the objective of building in the CBD with tight radii and short station footprints. Short headways are then needed to compensate for short trains, and speeds are less of a factor as station spacing is also short.

Ken Lawson

Rail Systems Research Associates

Bluemont, Virginia, USA