AS NORMALITY slowly returns to Britain’s railways in the wake of the unprecedented shambles of November and December, Railtrack and the Train Operating Companies are adding up the cost of the disruption. The problems are not over yet, and temporary timetables may last on some routes beyond the Easter deadline set by Railtrack for a return to pre-Hatfield schedules.

On January 15 Railtrack announced that it expects the ’total cost’ of its National Recovery Programme to be £580m, of which £400m is compensation that must be paid contractually to the TOCs and freight companies. The other £180m is to cover the cost of relaying 725 km of rail (not track, as Railtrack’s statement said), plus around 700 switches and crossings. Of these, 234 had been replaced by January 15, and around 440 km of rail on plain line had been relaid. The remaining £20m is the cost of the flooding which so unhappily coincided with the chaos brought about by the imposition of hundreds of speed restrictions across Railtrack’s 16666 route-km network. As of January 5, there were 402 km of speed restrictions at 421 locations, which compares with nearly 700 km on November 23.

Railtrack confirmed that its trading will be affected by ’the generally poor train performance levels, excluding the effects of gauge corner cracking’, with payments to operators to rise by around £50m against prior expectations.’ The combination of this with the post-Hatfield disruption ’will result in a significant loss for the year’.

Also in January, the Association of Train Operating Companies put the loss of passenger revenue at £163m, which equates to 19% of the revenue that they might have expected to earn had performance remained normal.

On January 17 a preliminary report was presented to Railtrack on the causes of gauge corner cracking (head checks), which led to the broken rail at Hatfield that derailed a GNER train on October 17 and the subsequent disruption. Commissioned by Railtrack from TTCI of Pueblo and Arup, the report says that ’no administration has reported a means to prevent the occurrence of head checking while operating a commercially viable railway’, but says that it is possible to manage the rail system so that there is no significant risk to rail safety.

Railtrack now acknowledges that the factors which ’exacerbate crack initiation’ include ’high traffic levels, cant deficiency, insufficient lubrication of the side of the rail, incompatible wheel/rail profiles, stiffer suspensions and increasing tractive power’. Factors ’exacerbating crack propagation rates’ include high traffic levels, out-of-round wheels and/or flat-spotted wheels, aggressive environmental conditions at the rail surface, and insufficient track geometry.

The report notes that head checking does not arise from a clear and single change in recent operating practices, but is seen to be a result of ’a multi-variable failure that has developed over a period of time’. Observations in the report cover the wheel/rail interface and the need to manage the interaction properly to achieve ’system stability’. In a comment on the division of infrastructure and operations, it says that ’where operational responsibilities are split across system interfaces, the commercial, regulatory and organisational drivers must deliver system stability. It is not clear that this is currently in place.’ It further suggests that current group standards will need to be reviewed. Among recommendations are the setting up of an Interface Management Organisation, while ’a rail grinding and lubrication campaign must to mounted as swiftly as possible’; further, TOCs must remove wheels giving high impact loads.

Reacting to the report, Railtrack’s Technical Director Richard Middleton said that ’plans are already in place for Railtrack to take delivery of three additional grinding trains.’

High speed lines make progress in Britain

On January 19 the first two major contracts were let for Section 2 of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link from Southfleet to London St Pancras. One, worth £130m, is for a 3·6 km section between Swanscombe in north Kent and Thurrock in Essex that includes 2·5 km of twin bored tunnels under the River Thames. Winner of the contract is a joint venture of Hochtief and J Murphy & Sons. The other contract is for construction of the 1 km long box that will accommodate the future Stratford International station in east London. This £105m contract was won by Skanska Construction (UK) Ltd. A second tranche of Section 2 contracts is to be let this month.

On the same day the Shadow Strategic Rail Authority announced that it was inviting consultants to work on a detailed feasibility study into a ’High Speed Line concept’ running from London to northern England. The aim is to determine ’the best concept’ by the end of March 2002, ’including destinations and corridor options’. The SSRA, which from February 1 dropped the Shadow in its title, was spurred into studying a north-south high speed line by proposals put forward by Virgin Trains in its bid last year for the InterCity East Coast franchise (RG 4.00 p217). The SSRA noted that, depending on the route, travel time from London to Leeds or Manchester could be cut to less than 1 1/2 hours, London to Newcastle to 2 hours, and London to Scotland to under 3 hours. Notional line speed is 320 to 360 km/h.

H Railtrack has decided not to contest the conclusions of the Rail Regulator’s Periodic Review of access charges for the five-year period from April 2001. More details in our newsletter Rail Business Intelligence. Call +44 1444 445447 to subscribe