Saturday, January 12, 2013

Expect the Unexpected

Sometimes things go wrong on the railway. Signals fail, trains develop faults, passengers do silly things (or become ill) or weather may mean that the infrastructure becomes unusable.

I note that the weather forecast currently suggests that there may be a cold snap on the way. This could mean snow and ice, either of which in quantity can cause operational difficulties.

All Train Operating Companies have contingency plans in place for adverse weather conditions. My local TOC, Chiltern Railways, has generally coped fairly well with snow and ice in the five years that I have been using them. Let's see what next week holds.

Surprisingly, one of the biggest challenges when dealing with snow is not infrastructure or rolling stock related, but is in getting train drivers to their trains. It's a bit like schools closing because teachers cannot get in, many train drivers travel quite some distance to get to work.

Anyhow, imagine it's early on a Saturday evening. A busy time at London Marylebone. Several hundred people are on the 1736 train to Birmingham. The train is seven carriages long so the railway company clearly expected the train to be busy. No Chiltern Railway train ever has more than seven carriages.

The train develops a fault and all the remaining passengers are turfed off at Banbury, when the service is cancelled. It's about a quarter to seven and a couple of hundred people are affected, the train had already called at four stations, so the train wasn't rammed full.

The train is blocking Platform 2 at Banbury, which is a busy interchange station.

Fortunately, there is another Chiltern train to Birmingham just 20 minutes behind. It's one of the flagship Silver Trains. There is just about room for everyone waiting to get on board. A few people have to stand.

The Silver Train arrives and leaves from Platform 1. It has an old style semaphore signal.

The cancelled train is still in Platform 2. I notice that some of the doors are open.

Eventually the failed train gets a green signal, indicating it is going some distance. The signal would display something else if the train was to be shunted into the siding.

The train moves off, the signal turns red. Suddenly the train grinds to a halt. It has passed the signal and is half in and out of the platform.

Great. That means that Platform 1 us now blocked as well, as the starting signal from that platform will now be locked out.

A train to York is due in it may have a problem if it cannot get a green signal to travel North.

The driver of the failed train then emerges onto the platform, at the far end. He's talking to colleagues and doesn't look happy. I wonder if the train is now totally kaput and about to cause travel carnage for many...

No, the driver gets into the back cab and reverses the train without problem back into the platform. Actually, there was a problem. The driver released the doors and an elderly couple got off the train.

The train clearly hadn't been checked properly for passengers, before leaving as Empty Coaching Stock to who knows where.

Anyhow, the York train was now free to leave from Platform 1 and the failed train had a change of heart and was shunted into the siding.

All's well that ends well - But remember to always Expect the Unexpected.

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