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It was eyeball to eyeball over the 1999 Railway Safety Regulations – and the HSE blinked first
Replacement of Mk 1 stock should never have become an issue. Back in 1990, the Hidden Inquiry had no need to make recommendations on Mk 1 stock replacement because British Rail had confirmed that it would all be out of service by 1999. There were recommendations about structural strength and crashworthiness research which BR implemented.
Meanwhile, at Network SouthEast Chris Green's policy was ‘to build 400 Networkers a year forever'. I won't distress readers by going over the Networker build programme, except to say that Kent Coast was to get 400 Mk 1 replacement vehicles, plus a ‘growth build' of another 400. Read it and weep, Richard.
Anyway, the recession of the early 1990s followed by privatisation stopped all that old BR growth nonsense. And when franchising started, the then Franchising Director Roger Salmon did not include Mk 1 stock replacement in the seven year South West and South Central franchises. Nor was he in a hurry on the 15 year South Eastern franchise either. In Mr Salmon's view, the Mk1s were fit for purpose for another seven years.
Now given that Hidden had been predicated on all the Mk1s being out of service by the end of the Century, you might have thought that Her Majesty's Railway Inspectorate might have noticed, that the alphabet soup of CEPs and VEPs were now going to run up to 2003. But they didn't.
Why didn't they? Do you prefer conspiracy or cockup?
Conspiracy says that the Government realised that it might be hard to get the franchises away with mandatory Mk 1 stock replacement built it. A broad hint was thus dropped over a dry sherry that the Health & Safety Executive might help things along if it kept schtumm.
Perish the thought. The HSE version, and this column's default mode, is cock-up, is that somehow, the inspectors failed to notice what was happening at the Office of Passnger Rail Franchising, and that Chris Green was no longer running Network SouthEast until it was too late.
When they did, and since the BR trials had shown that welding collapsible ends onto Mk1 vehicles, in a form of appliqué crashworthiness, was hopelessly uneconomic, HMRI suggested that industry might like to look at ways of stopping two Mk 1 electric multiple units over-riding in a collision.
To the considerable chagrin of my old chum Vick Coleman, the Chief Inspector at the time, the train operating companies and the Rolling Stock Companies weren't interested. So he spent a sizeable chunk of the research funding he had available on commissioning the design of an anti-override system for Mk 1 stock.
Consultants WS Atkins came up with cup and cone. And on that basis the 1999 Railway Safety Regulations were written and came into law. Actually, they didn't come into law as soon as they might have, because the Transport Secretary at the time, John Prescott, lumped the mandatory installation of the Train Protection & Warning System in the same Reg's. and then ‘ummed' and ‘ahhed' for a few months before signing them into law.
But eventually it became mandatory for Mk 1 stock remaining in service after 31 December 2002 to be fitted with anti-override protection. And even then, it had to be withdrawn completely by December 31 2004
Meanwhile this column started the ‘Countdown to cup and cone' and the ROSCOs and TOCs started to develop a production version. And, to cut a long story sideways, cup and cone didn't work as advertised.
Worse, if anything, even to make it work anything like as advertised you had to get ride of end connections. And the risk to railway staff increased too.
So, as the days ticked by, the operators and owners developed an alternative strategy which would form the basis of a claim for exemption from the unworkable Regulations. By bringing forward the installation of TPWS on Southern Zone and fitting all the Mk 1 units, the risk of collision would be reduced, minimising the risk of overriding.
As recounted in this column, the exemption was submjitted in May this year. By now, of course time had run out for HSE – unless they were butch enough to shut down the south London commuter network from 2 January 2002 . And on 24 October an exemption from the 1999 Railway Safety Regulations was granted to the three TOCs
It was an embarrassing climb down. Even more embarrassing than expected because all the faffing about meant that TPWS fitment would not be completed until March 2003
Rob Andrews, Technical Director, HSE Railway Directorate tried to make the best of a botched job. ‘When the Regulations were made HSE had hoped that override protection would prove practical and beneficial', he said. But added ‘this has not been the case'.
However, ‘overall' the Regulations had been effective in ‘motivating the replacement of rolling stock and the accelerated fitment of TPWS to track and trains in London and the South East. Nice try, Rob.
And I must share this superb bit of news from the Ministry of Truth . While the exemption extends the Mk1 deadline in the Regulations to March 31 2003 . This, spins HSE, is ‘nine months ahead of the timetable set by the Regulations'.
After March 31, Mk1 stock can run in service only if it forms ‘part of a train fully fitted with a train protection system', TOCs are also required to notify HSE details of all unfitted units and the expected date on which train protection will be fitted. Alternatively the scrapping date must be notified.
In other words, you can run an unfitted four car sandwiched between two TPWS fitted units. But I don't think we will see much of that going on – at least until the Electrostars and Desiros flood the Network and the Mk1 units are restricted to the peaks. And no doubt Railway Inspectors will be out on the platform ends taking down unit numbers, just in case.
So that's that then? Far from it.
HSE insists that the December 31 2004 mandatory withdrawal date for Mk 1 stock in the Regulations remains in place. But Informed Sources look at the present state of play with Electrostars (30 in service on South Central by Christmas I am told) and the slippage in the Desiro programme (see the other Roger's column) and note the growing concern over the power supply upgrade timetable and reckon that EE507s could keep on motoring well into 2005.
Having revealed the scale of the Southern power crisis back in the January Informed Source, I hope to revisit it in detail in the new year. Meanwhile, here is an update.
Siemens has now introduced a mod' to derate SWT's Desiro's to a lower current rating. This Variation Order has cost the delivery programme around two months.
But even with the heavier new trains in girly mode there are fears that the current drain will still be too high at peak periods. And the new trains should be entering service in increasing quantities next year, well before line-side substations can be up-rated.
How long before? Well, t#other day, SRA Chairman Richard Bowker got me quite excited when he said that the first spade was going in on the power upgrade programme.
‘Where', I asked? ‘Well', he replied, ‘it's a metaphorical spade. We're placing orders'.
So unless Bombardier and Siemens turn out to have metaphorical delivery schedules, there could be problems ahead. One answer would be to beef up local ‘hot-spots. But Informed Sources are unclear as to whether the computer modelling of the traction power supply has got into such far.
Spot-uprating could also prove, less efficient, and thus more expensive, than a progressive route-by-route roll out. The latest figure for the power supply upgrade is £900million although the first and only indication of cost given by the Strategic Rail Authority, a few months back, is £500million. As remarked before, SRA's OJEC notice for the upgrade was so comprehensive that even £900million seems optimistic – and that's before the plague of boiling frogs descends.
Of course that's only the direct cost. If the new trains can't run, they can't earn money and the operators will have to be compensated. Similarly, Siemens sprauncy new depot at Southampton won't be earning a return either. Nor will the ROSCOs who have bought the trains.
Am I being alarmist? Well other people have seen this cloud on the horizon too. Stagecoach's new SWT-lite Service Delivery Unit deal, transfers much of the Mk 1 replacement risk to SRA. And, in common with the South Central SDU, the operator is indemnified for loss of revenue in the event of the traction power upgrade running late or the SRA running out of money to pay for it.