Driver reveals `train fault clear from start'

Ex-BR man tells of brake fears, writes Christian Wolmar
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The problems with Turbo trains slipping on leaf mould caused enormous problems as soon as they were introduced in 1993, according to a former British Rail driver.

The driver, who worked for 25 years on the Chiltern line, one of two BR lines which has Turbo trains, came forward yesterday after reading articles in the Independent about the problems being caused by new trains sliding during what BR calls the "leaf fall season".

He was unwilling to give his name as he still works in the industry in the North but said: "There were never any problems with the old slam door trains that had cast iron brake blocks rubbing on the rims. You might have got a little bit of slippage, but never enough to cause concern."

However, once the new trains which had disc brakes began to be used, there were reports of drivers sliding through stations or red lights virtually every day during the autumn, he said. "There was one day when six trains had slides because the conditions were so bad," he said.

He feels the problem was caused by the lightness of the trains and the fact that they gave a very smooth ride, which means that every train uses exactly the same part of the rail "barely the width of the thickness of a pencil" and that gets contaminated causing slippages. "It's like walking on eggs," he said.

The management were alerted to the problem from the beginning but were unable to do anything about it. He said: "We were told to drive more slowly and carefully. Coming into Gerrards Cross from the North used to be particularly bad and once, when there was a drizzle, which is much worse than heavy rain, I had to start slowing down a mile and a half before the station to make sure I could stop in time."

On one occasion, there happened to be a member of the BR board in the cab alongside a driver when he slid through a red light: "There was nothing the poor bloke driving it could do and the board member knew that, so there were no disciplinary measures taken." He added that in normal circumstances the brakes were excellent, much better than on older trains: "In an emergency, you could stop the train from 60mph in less than 200 yards."

Despite a series of incidents and a crash at Slough station, where a train slid for 1,200 yards, BR has attempted to deny there is a special problem with Turbos, but the driver said: "There is no doubt that there is a fundamental design problem. These Turbos are much worse than other trains."