It won’t have escaped many people’s attention that despite the recent good news re. the passing loop, the Abbey Line has lately been suffering from a double whammy of unreliable 319s and slippery rails which has made the service more unpredictable than at any time in recent memory.

On behalf of the hundreds, if not thousands of people inconvenienced by this in the last few months, ABFLY in conjunction with our highly supportive two local MPs are demanding that London Midland (LM) do everything in their power to overcome the present difficulties, in particular working closely with Network Rail (NR) to ensure that the Rail Head Treatment Train (RHTT) visits as often as possible. If it doesn’t, when it could and should have done, NR too should be held to account.

There is a perception out there, rightly or wrongly, that resorting to bus replacement, rather than doing everything possible to maintain a rail service, is sometimes very much the ‘preferred’ option for some Train Operating Companies (TOCs) and we hope that is not a caricature to which LM subscribe.

LM could also do with a bit of thinking outside the box. There may be a short-term solution…..

Companies such as Direct Rail ServicesRiviera Trains and West Coast Railways will ‘spot hire’, at short notice, two ex-BR diesel locomotives, a couple of coaches, crew and all the safety paperwork in order to operate a train in ‘top-and-tail’ mode (one loco at the front and one at the back – the so-called ‘push-pull’ arrangement).

This isn’t just an argument borne out of nostalgia (although it would please many spotters!) – there are good technical reasons; with locomotives being so much heavier than 319s and employing old-fashioned tread brakes, which have a natural tendency to ‘scrub’ the wheels unlike the disc brakes of modern stock, these locomotives are much better at accelerating and stopping in slippery conditions. Plus they would be largely unaffected by problems in the overhead wire, unless the wires come down completely of course.

Locomotives such as the Class 37 are already cleared for use on the line, indeed during the autumn they are very regular visitors because typically they haul the RHTT just about every other night.

This could give LM a lot more resilience in the short term, taking the pressure off the 319s and giving them more breathing space to fix them. Re-fuelled by road tanker and without the need for fixed pressurised equipment to fill their sand boxes, the spot hire set could be kept in the sidings at Watford Junction for a few weeks until 319 reliability picks up again. An additional benefit is that locomotives would be available to rescue the 319s if needed, without having to send in another unit to do it.

Old isn’t always bad!