Railtrack rules delay safer stock

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The Independent Online
NEW trains are sitting in sidings because Railtrack has failed to approve any designs since its creation two years ago, writes Christian Wolmar.

Designs for five new types of train and locomotive are stuck in Railtrack's bureaucracy because the procedures are so onerous and unwieldy that manufacturers have been unable to comply with the new rules. One manufacturer has had to produce a "primary" document of 1,800 pages, backed by filing cabinets of material just to get approval for being allowed to use an existing train, the 323 class, more widely on the network.

Yet the trains which passengers are having to use are potentially much more dangerous because they are older and have weaker braking systems. In many cases they have slam doors which are a notorious cause of accidents to passengers getting on and off.

In particular, people on West Anglia and Great Northern are awaiting new Class 365 Networker Express trains. In turn, the neighbouring commuters on the London, Tilbury and Southend line, privatised this morning, are waiting to receive West Anglia's 15-year-old 317 trains which would be an enormous improvement on their 30-year-old trundlers. Equally, passengers on Kent Coast trains are due to get 16 Network Expresses which would allow the operators to dispose of their old slam-door trains.

Many of the 41 new 365s, which are only slight variants on the widely used Networker, have been built, but they are not expected to get clearance for use until the summer at the earliest.

The problem arises because manufacturers and train operators have to demonstrate an extensive "safety case" before their trains are approved by Railtrack. While no one disputes that such procedures are necessary, the level of detail required is much higher than under BR.

Railtrack is very worried that the complicated modern electronic systems on the new trains will interfere with signalling equipment and has created a 20-strong committee to approve the technical details. However, the committee has become overwhelmed with work and according to industry insiders is being far too fastidious.

Roger Ford, technical editor of Modern Railways, who uncovered the problem, said: "The irony is that people are having to use much less safe old trains because the safety cases for the new types, which are unquestionably much safer, are being held up."