From Terry Oliver, Head of West Coast Services, London Midland:

Latest update on the situation with the Abbey line. Today has been another disastrous day across the route and I can only apologise for that. We have had all sorts of issues today and sadly the Abbey line service yesterday and particularly today has been annihilated.

Latest fleet detail / reliability since my last update on the 11th November:

  • 12th – in service ok
  • 13th – in service – some adhesion issues with the service early evening. One late afternoon trip each way lost.
  • 14th – service lost AM into late afternoon – severe issues with adhesion and the unit is unable to maintain traction. The unit has sustained wheel flats on the wheels from slipping. The unit is required to be swapped out and back to depot for repairs to its wheelsets.
  • 15th – Service commenced from first thing albeit more adhesion issues from Watford to St. Albans Abbey. On the return journey from St. Albans Abbey the service is unable to gain traction and as a result, is taken back into the platform at St. Albans Abbey and terminated. Once the line had been treated for the adhesion issues the unit was found to have used all of its sand from the sanding equipment, given the earlier issues. The sand is used to allow the unit to gain traction as well as to allow the train to stop should slipping / sliding occur so you can understand its criticality from a safety perspective. The unit is required to be returned to the depot for the sanders to be filed (fixed pressured filling equipment required). Sadly the replacement unit has also had issues with its sanding equipment and this is delaying getting a replacement unit to the line – technicians are working on the issue as I write this update. We are pulling all the stops out to get a unit back into service later today / tomorrow morning.

As you well know the Abbey line suffers every year from adhesion and leaf fall issues, hence the reason we impose a leaf fall timetable that extends journey times. Leaf fall is a very serious issue to the rail industry. When the leaves fall onto the railhead they turn into a mulch that causes the issues we are seeing. It is effectively like a car driving on black ice! Subject to engineering possessions and the capability to move the unit off the line Network Rail treats the line with its Rail Head Treatment Trains (RHTT) overnight. The last few days, with the weather conditions (wind and light rain at times), has seen the adhesion situation deteriorate considerably (large amounts of leaves falling and sticking as they are wet) so much so that the unit is using its sanding equipment all the time and, as the sand runs low, wearing its wheelsets down as the train slips and slides on the railhead, and hence the wheel flats (like flat spotting a tyre when your car skids).

Again I apologise sincerely for the issues our customers continue to see on the Abbey line since the class 319’s were introduced. As you know we are working to improve the situation and I will keep you informed as we work to rectify the issues we continue to see.

 

For more details on why leaves and rain cause trouble for trains, visit:

http://www.networkrail.co.uk/timetables-and-travel/delays-explained/leaves/