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Broken Rail

Broken Rail at Upton Park

In the 'Around the District Line' section here I show an example of such an event and go into some detail about what has occurred and the illustrations show the actions taken to resolve the problem.

The following story was my experience of such an event whilst carrying out a duty.

I'd booked on at Acton Town as the first late turn 'spare' and, on arrival, was given part of a duty to cover. The DMT said 'It doesn't come out of the yard (meaning Ealing Common depot) until about 15:00 so have your grub (meaning my mealbreak) at about 14:00; it'll be 'job and finish' (meaning that once I'd done what he'd given me I'd be finished for the day).

So, this was going to be a relatively light day. It also meant I had an opportunity to catch up on my e-mails and a few other bits I wanted to do around the depot.  It was also useful in that there's recently been some discussion about our local organisation and a meeting had been held that morning to discuss this and I had a chat with a few people to see what had been resolved.

The 'job and finish' also meant that I'd actually be on my way home about two hours before my 'official' time - all drivers enjoy a spare turn where they 'cut away' early!

The train I was to take was one of the 'inter peak stablers' - it goes out in the morning at the start of traffic and then stables after the morning 'peak' and then comes back into traffic for the afternoon 'peak'. 

I had my mealbreak as I'd been instructed and then headed off to the depot to prepare the train. This was all done and, apart from one minor item which was quickly attended to by the depot staff with plenty of time to spare,  I left the depot at my appointed time to enter service at Acton Town, made a quick coffee from the facilities on the platform and headed off towards Upminster as booked; this was all just after 15:00.

The duty was due to go to Upminster, back to Richmond and then to Earls Court where I'd be relieved at about 18:40.

However as I was heading towards Earls Court on my first trip at about 15:30 I heard the Controller call a westbound train which was in the Barking area - 'Reverse at East Ham and back to Upminster driver' was the message. This suggested that there was a problem of some sort though, at this stage, nothing further was said to give any more detail.

The next message I heard was to an eastbound train - 'Reverse at Plaistow and run early eastbound to Richmond. There's a track problem at Upton Park and we're shut down between Plaistow and Barking'. Message continued to be issued reversing trains west to east which were to the east of the problem and east to west, mainly using either Whitechapel or Plaistow, for those west of the problem.  A few trains where the drivers were due to finish their duties at either Barking or Upminster were allowed to run through.

More detail of the incident came through; there was a broken rail on the westbound road and this meant that of course trains east of the fault couldn't get through, but any trains that now went east past it wouldn't be able to get back. 

The timing of the event probably couldn't have been worse. It was approaching the evening 'peak' and the resulting cancelled trains and diversions would mean that, even if the required repair was quickly achieved, a great deal of disruption to the service was inevitable, and of course the knock on effect of drivers being late and out of position for mealbreaks and reliefs as I've described in other circumstances.

I continued my eastbound journey, still with the train described as an Upminster service.  Announcements were now being broadcast from the Public Address system at stations and, although I hadn't yet been told that I would be diverted, I started making PA's to warn passengers on the train that there would probably be a change of destination and that they'd probably be well advised to seek alternative routes.

Sure enough on arrival at Temple I received the call I'd been expecting; 'Reverse at Whitechapel and back to Richmond on the west' was the instruction. I confirmed to the passengers what I'd been told, repeating the announcement at each station, as the platform describers were still showing the train as Upminster.  The station staff were out in force at practically all stations and they too were doing their bit to let passengers know what was going on and of the changed destination for the trains.

I arrived at Whitechapel at about 16:00, changed ends and departed westbound at about 16:10. The westbound trip was uneventful, though the platforms were busy because of the reduced number of trains now operating.  During the trip the word came through that the problem had been fixed and that through running had been restored (this was at about 16:40, so the repair had been effected in only just over an hour after the initial problem arose - pretty good going in the circumstances).

Whilst I was at Stamford Brook a passenger enquired (very politely I hasten to add!) if I knew when the next Ealing Broadway train would be coming through as I was the third Richmond with no sign of an Ealing.  I promised to make some enquiries and called the Controller up with the question. Apparently the next booked train was then back at Gloucester Road but that he'd divert a train in between. This he did and I was able to let the passengers at Turnham Green know that there was an Ealing train expected shortly.  I arrived at Richmond just after 17:00 - about right for the trip I'd done.

I'd noticed whilst at Earls Court that I was there at about the time I should have been leaving Upminster so I was of course back at Richmond over an hour earlier than booked.  It was  now a matter of what the Controller wanted to do with the train. I phoned the Control Room and it was decided that I'd go to High Street Kensington and then back to Richmond.  This would put me back on time for the trains expected departure from Richmond and for my relief at Earls Court and also meant that it would help to reinforce the otherwise sparse service.

The trips that followed were pretty uneventful, though with evidence at Earls Court of the problems that were bound to continue for some time with drivers waiting to pick up trains which should have gone through some time earlier and with other trains waiting for their relief drivers; the DMT's were trying to juggle their resources in a variety of ways, including the reforming (renumbering) of trains to one's which drivers were available for - this is one of the options that's available at times like this.

I arrived at Earls Court on time and handed my train over and headed for home. On checking later in the evening on the London Underground web site I noticed that services were still subject to severe delays, and I'm sure this was pretty much the case for the rest of the day.

But, in all the circumstances, it was a pretty good example of good teamwork; the Controllers certainly did their best to keep the service as consistent as possible, the DMT's seemed to be coping and the drivers and station staff were co-operating well to respond to the problems.  Even the passengers seemed appreciative of the problems and the efforts being made to keep the service going; it was a pleasantly warm evening - perhaps had it have been pouring with rain they'd have been less understanding!

Update added 23 July 2004

Since writing the above, I've discovered that the problem wasn't in fact a broken rail, but rather that the fishplates (the devices which attach two lengths of rail together) had become detached, thus allowing a gap of about five inches to open up between two rails.

This is a rather worrying situation; track inspections are regularly undertaken when these devices should be checked for the security of the bolts which hold the track together. As the following photo shows (taken from one of Phil Wimbush's photos) this is quite a substantial piece of kit and I am sure that there will be many questions asked about how it could have occurred.

This example is actually of an Insulated Block Joint which are used to separate signalling sections, but the 'normal' joints are very similar. 

I read only in the last few days that these bolts are to have indicators, similar to those seen on lorry wheel nuts, added to give, I presume, a more obvious visual indication that they may have worked loose as inevitably they do with the passing of trains.

On a final point, the evening in question also saw considerable disruption on several other lines which led to a Press Release being issued by Mike Brown, LU's Chief Operating Officer, which can be read here.  This statement was also reproduced on posters on stations across the system the following day, with the added comment on the 'appalling' journey encountered by many passengers.


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