The Government has ordered an urgent review of the railway industry supply chain to avoid a possible shortage of railway carriages in five years’ time.
There is concern that train builders might not be able to cope with the sharp increase in demand for rolling stock needed to meet government commitments on rail safety.
Professor Roderick Smith, chairman of the Advanced Railway Research Centre at Sheffield University, questioned whether the industry would be able to cope with a rash of new orders. `Capacity fell around the time of privatisation, and I’m not sure whether we have the capability to make these things any more,’ he said.
The Government said it was bringing key players from the railway industry together to `ensure high quality and prompt delivery’.
A total of 1,300 `slam door’ Mark 1 carriages have to be phased out in 2002 – or be completely modified by the end of 2004 – because of safety concerns.
As well as the danger of passengers falling out because the doors can be opened while the trains are moving, the combination of rigid superstructure and flimsy substructure allows the carriages to ride up on to each other during collisions.
Train builder Adtranz has had no interest shown in a modified Mark 1 carriage, with a new aluminium body shell and modified ends, which was unveiled at 1997’s Railtex exhibition.
Adtranz is working on a replacement for the Mark 1 for two train operating companies, LTS and Connex.
Smith said: `The Health and Safety Executive has come up with a bolt-on system of cups and cones for the Mark 1, which would prevent any vertical movement. But these carriages are up to 50 years old. They are like cattle trucks, and shouldn’t really be used on a modern system.’
* Faulty couplings are to blame for 20 instances where Networker trains have come apart in the past year, train operator Connex has said.
The company is in talks with manufacturers Adtranz and Alstom to improve the reliability of the cab-end couplings, which tend to come apart if they have been put together on curved tracks, or at night. In the meantime, staff have been told to make extra checks when coupling trains.