The train now standing

Dave Wilson couldn’t care less when the new Rail Traffic Management System comes into play in the UK. It won’t help train reliability at all.

<b>Well, show me the way, to the next whiskey bar, oh, don’t ask why – The Doors.</b>

This morning, I arrived at the local station three minutes before the departure of the high-speed train to London. After a frantic rush across several platforms, I made it onto the train with one minute to spare.

Oh, but what a waste of effort, dear reader. Because three miles out of the station, the train came to a crashing halt. I opened up my copy of The Times and waited for the inevitable excuse to be broadcast over the tannoy.

It came none too swiftly. But when it did, it became obvious that it was going to be a long haul into London today. You see, the lights on the front of the train had failed. And so, we were returning back from whence we had come so that the train could be turned around before continuing.

I sat and waited. And while I waited, I flicked through The Times only to discover that they had published a rather disparaging report on the very railway itself.

The news item in question concerned an announcement from the UK-based Strategic Rail Authority (ARA) who revealed today that a brand spanking new Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS) was to begin live testing in three year’s time on Britain’s Cambrian line railway.

The ERTMS itself is a standard train control system that reduces the need for costly trackside signalling, and provides Automatic Train Protection (ATP). When the system is finally deployed in the UK, train delays will be reduced by up to 20% and safety will be much improved. No more re-enactments of the Southall and Paddington train disasters, then.

But the newspaper piece said that the system won’t be rolled out onto Britain’s InterCity lines until 2015! And until then, for safety’s sake, we’ll just have to put up with a cheaper automatic braking system that was fitted at all dangerous junctions last year.

Back at the local station, I got off the train to wait while the driver turned it around. As I waited, rather unexpectedly, another high-speed train rolled into another platform. With a distinct feeling of deja vu, I ran across the platforms again to catch it.

Once moving, the new train manager came over the speaker system to explain that this particular ‘high-speed’ train was running 30 minutes late due to a door failure that had happened at some location back up the line. Hence its rather unexpected, and yet, at least for my part, fortuitous, arrival.

As we rolled along, I re-read the article once more. When I’d finished, it occurred to me that no matter how technically elegant this new fangled ERTMS might be, it certainly will never be able to solve the biggest reliability issues on the railways this morning – failed lights and broken doors.