Last autumn local rail services were severely disrupted, with many trains short-formed or cancelled. Northern said the fault lay with Network Rail for failing to prepare the lines for leaf fall leading to many carriages being damaged.
This issue was somewhat overshadowed by the string of failures by Northern that have disrupted services ever since, but its autumn time again so the leaves are falling and the trains aren’t coming.
I appreciate the frustration felt by local commuters so I put your questions to Network Rail yesterday to find out what is happening and why.
The problem with leaves is that when they cling to the tracks and form a kind of mulch along the line this gets into the wheels of the trains and damages them. The carriages then need to be taken out of service so that the wheels can be reshaped.
Older trains are more likely to break under these conditions, and Northern has no shortage of very old trains.
Network Rail try to prevent this from happening. They run special trains along the line that sandblast the rails to clear them, and they have been working to reduce the number of trees surrounding the lines.
They say that part of the problem this year was unexpectedly windy weather which brought down a large quantity of leaves all at once rather than over a period of weeks.
Ultimately I think Network Rail and Northern both share responsibility for the current issues. Autumn shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone and both organisations need to better prepare in future.
I have no place micro-managing Northern’s carriage maintenance but it seems that when they know these problems are likely to occur they need better systems in place to get carriages back in operation as quickly as possible.
We also come back to the same old problem of capacity. Northern don’t have enough carriages. When things are going “well” trains are overcrowded, but when something goes wrong there’s no slack in the system at all and it causes chaos for passengers. Improving the capacity of local services will continue to be my focus moving forwards.
While I was speaking to Network Rail I also raised concerns about the progress of the electrification project. When I met with them last month I was assured the project was on track to be completed by the end of the year and that 3rd November would be the last Saturday where the line was closed.
I had to question this because the line was closed on 17th November, with little notice for passengers.
Network Rail assure me that the construction elements of the project have been completed as scheduled and the current work is focused on securing the wiring and testing the infrastructure ready for use.
They would not say how many weekend closures this work may ultimately require, but they have announced closures for 24th November, 1st December and 8th December and say the project should be complete by 21st December with electric trains tested on the line in the New Year.
I hope this has been a useful update and answered some of your questions. If you have anything else you’d like answers on from Network Rail or Northern or if you’d me to make a complaint on your behalf you can always contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 01204 391909.