Session 2010-11
Publications on the internet

Written evidence from the rail industry’s National Task Force (AWC 13)

1. Introduction

This submission is provided by the rail industry’s National Task Force (NTF)1. It is based on information provided to the second Quarmby review in mid December 2010 as updated by further reviews and analysis carried out within each constituent part of the industry.

2. Context

2.1. When considering the performance of the rail industry, it is very important to recognise that, during the recent cold spells, the weather was colder and there was more snow than for many years2.

2.2. Between the middle of November and the first week of January the UK experienced two distinct, very cold spells with widespread snowfall. December 2010 was the coldest December on record since 1890 with average maximum temperatures 4.6 degrees below average across England and Wales and average minimum temperatures 5.7 degrees below average. Where snowfields formed there were exceptionally low temperatures of around -20 degrees.

2.3. In addition to low temperatures, there were severe disruptive snowfalls badly affecting large parts of the country. Many areas had snow depths of over 20cms, with some spots exceeding 30-40cms and parts of north east England and east Scotland experiencing local depths fo 50-80cms

2.4. While the cold spells of the winter of 2009 and 2010 were of a similar magnitude, 2010 was different in that the extreme overnight minimum temperatures were more widespread, the severe cold lasted slightly longer and snowfall was more geographically widespread.

2.5. The first spell of cold weather in 2010 came much earlier than normal – in recent years the industry would still have been dealing with the quite different effects of autumn until early December. There were also considerable variations – both across the network and day to day – with the changes sometimes being sudden and rapid.

2.6. Scotland and the north of England, particularly the North East, were affected by snow and extreme cold throughout and were therefore badly disrupted. Elsewhere many other operators continued to provide good services given the circumstances. In the South East the two cold spells were each shorter than last year but more severe. Details of variations in snow fall and temperature are at Appendix 1.

2.7. The NTF was already monitoring a number of workstreams and projects that the industry had developed to deal with more severe winter weather following the cold spell during the 2009/10 winter. The key ones were aimed at addressing the following issues and are covered in more detail in this submission:

· Improving the performance of the direct current (DC) network and rolling stock in the South East

· Developing contingency timetables when either infrastructure or rolling stock is unavailable

· Providing more accurate and timely information to passengers.

3. Managing the risks of seasonal and other unusual events

3.1. Over many years the industry has developed and refined standard processes for dealing with variations to normal planned services, whether they are network wide or local. The industry has also established seasonal planning arrangements that consider winter performance and preparation in particular. As the infrastructure controller, Network Rail plays a central, co-ordinating role for these issues within the industry with train operating companies (TOCs and FOCs) as active partners. Amendments to train plans / timetables are generally proposed by operators, coordinated by Network Rail and implemented through the industry’s joint Route Controls.

3.2. For mitigating the effect of winter weather these measures include:

· An annual seasonal weather conference held in September and attended by up to 180 key staff from within and outside the rail industry. This draws on a wide range of experience from the UK and abroad and is led by Network Rail.

· Preparing key route strategies for each Network Rail route and contingency timetables for specific train operators. These are based on a range of structured scenarios that anticipate short term reductions in infrastructure availability and/or the provision of rolling stock and staff. This is led jointly by Network Rail at a route level and each operator, for their own services.

· Providing updated detailed weather forecasts3 as a trigger to moving to a daily network wide weather conference call. This is led by Network Rail, takes place at 10:00 and 16:00 and includes all train operators and representatives from other relevant stakeholder organisations such as the Department for Transport, Transport Scotland, the Office of Rail Regulation, the British Transport Police and Transport for London.

· Network Rail coordinating the delivery of specialist plant to mitigate the impact of snow and/or ice on the infrastructure where this may affect train operation – resources include snow ploughs, multi purpose vehicles (MPVs) to try to prevent ice sticking to the conductor rail etc – and the operation of service trains to keep the network clear e.g. "ghost trains". In many cases, train operators will provide resources to operate ghost trains on Network Rail’s behalf.

· More detailed local planning, led jointly by Network Rail and train operators, at route and operator level after the national conference call to finalise the proposed next day train service (planning Day B on Day A) in the light of prevailing and emerging conditions.

· Providing timely and accurate information to passengers, freight operators and other parties. This aspect is described in more detail below, and is led by train operators with Network Rail providing the base timetable data for systems.

3.3. In developing these plans both operators and Network Rail need to consider a wide range of issues such as:

· The availability of staff to keep the infrastructure open, to plan and operate services and to provide additional resources at stations and elsewhere. Their journey to work may also be affected by the conditions and perhaps in a location with different prevailing conditions.

· An assessment of how much of the infrastructure is likely to be available based on the forecast at the time. An earlier decision (on Day A) gives more time for detailed planning and communication but may be less accurate locally. Furthermore, the forecast may change during the course of the day. It has not been uncommon for the forecast for precise locations and the severity of snowfall to change in the 24 hours leading up to the event.

· The impact of snow and ice on rolling stock4. Operating a reduced or slower service significantly reduces damage in service and therefore also quickens the restoration of a normal service once the weather has improved - a trade off is made between service provision in the severe weather and shorter or longer recovery from the damage that occurs. However it has a major impact on performance and capacity.

· There is also a need to reconcile the more passenger-oriented key route strategies with the needs of freight operators to access branch lines and freight terminals. This is particularly important where rail freight is relied upon by other key parts of Britain’s infrastructure e.g. to supply coal to power stations and salt to local highway authorities5.

· Interaction between operators’ preferences. On the many route sections with a mix of traffic there is a requirement to reconcile differences between each operator’s contingency timetable.6

· Usually in these circumstances operators seek to provide the maximum capacity possible and consciously at the expense of reliability. When other modes are struggling, and it becomes vital to provide capacity to move as many passengers as possible, some operators will rightly opt for volume over performance7. But this must be a balance between prudence and ambition. On more intense commuter networks during difficult snow and ice conditions, it is generally better to focus on keeping the main routes open and potentially close the network slightly earlier in the evening where the weather forecast suggests that network operating conditions may deteriorate than risk passenger trains becoming stranded in remote locations8 - hence the key route strategies and the importance of early and accurate information.

4. Provision of Passenger Information

4.1. It has been acknowledged elsewhere that the industry takes very seriously the provision of timely and accurate information. It fully recognises that providing poor information to passengers and others, through whatever channel and at whatever point in their journey, including prior to deciding whether or not to travel, adds to annoyance and distress.

4.2. While there have been some welcome overall improvements, the industry recognises that there were still significant problems encountered locally, especially in the first cold spell. The intent remains to provide customers, at any point during their journeys or while planning them, sufficient accurate consistent real time information for them to make informed choices about their options. The main issues are set out below:

4.2.1. Implementing contingency timetables. This is a complex process as it covers a rapid and short term assessment of the likely availability of infrastructure, staff and rolling stock which must then be integrated into very detailed and integrated plans. Furthermore, while it may not be appropriate for every operator to move to a contingency timetable, there needs to be a significant degree of integration between each operator’s customer-driven preferences as the network is operated on the day. In addition the prevailing weather situation itself will change, sometimes very rapidly.

4.2.2. Uploading contingency timetables. The new timetabling system introduced by Network Rail, ITPS, enables contingency timetables to be loaded for the first time directly into downstream passenger information systems. Examples of the wide range of systems that depend on this data include National Rail Enquiries (NRE), train operator station information systems, online journey planner tools, live departure board information etc9. Previously contingency timetables could only be loaded directly in to the back office operational systems used by the industry and took two days to reach customer-facing systems. The industry has therefore shortened this to a next day availability since the severe weather in January 2010. The cut off time for upload is now 17.00 Day A for Day B with the relevant operator and route making a decision to implement the contingency timetable no later than 13:00 in order for operational planning staff to process the timetable changes.

4.2.3. Downstream provision of information. Early in 2010 NRE10 began a programme to enhance key systems to improve their performance after the previous winter. External consultants validated the improvements prior to the latest severe weather through a full load test based on the demand on 7 January 2010 and confirmed the enhancements had been successful.

4.2.4. NRE had additionally introduced new and updated services since January 2010 including:

· Social Media: proactive messages can now be sent to NRE’s followers on Twitter and Facebook as well as SMS subscribers11.

· National Service Indicator (NSI): giving an overview of the network by operator and route affected went live on 28 October 2010 and had over 1 million views during the bad weather;

· NRE Helpline: which gives passengers direct access to recorded information went live on 1/12/10.

5. Actual Service Delivery

5.1. As the cold weather developed the industry geared up towards its normal response mode with the first national conference on 1 December 201012. Generally it planned on Day A to operate 92% of a normal service on Day B (19,800 trains instead of 21,600). Six train operators chose to move to contingency timetables on most days and seven chose not to. Ten had not prepared them in detail.

5.2. Typically a further 12% trains were cancelled on the day in the light of prevailing conditions and/or operational issues with a further 18% running late giving a punctuality level (as measured by the Public Performance Measure, or PPM) for the revised plans of around 70%. The total number of passenger trains measured as on time each day was therefore around 13,800 compared with normal punctuality levels of 19,900 - 92% of 21,600 trains.

5.3. There were however wide variations by day, geography and operator (see Appendices 2 and 3). On some days the capacity provided by First Capital Connect, SouthEastern and Southern was less than 70% of normal. However London Overground ran 95% on average and maintained PPM at around 87%.

5.4. The lower levels of performance have had a major effect on the industry’s overall targets during Network Rail’s current five-year Control Period to April 2014. Before the recent autumn and winter the majority of the industry’s performance measures were at least a year ahead of the five-year trajectory for improvement. These two spells of bad weather have meant that all that progress and more has been lost – some measures have gone back two years. Network Rail is likely to miss virtually all its regulatory targets in 2010/11 and delay minutes attributable to train operators have risen to levels not seen since 2008.

5.5. Whilst performance is now beginning to recover, the rolling stock fleet suffers the effects of damage from snow and ice for some time after the snow has melted. To run trains at their full length in order to maximise capacity for passengers, a proportion of rolling stock is in service with known defects and other deferred maintenance. This has the potential to continue to affect service resilience in the event of further train system failures. As a result of the extent of the problem and the choice to prioritise capacity, this situation will take several months to completely rectify.

5.6. The intense cold and now the more recent thaw have also affected aspects of the infrastructure. Like the rolling stock, some routine maintenance had to be delayed and, in addition, a number of large renewal jobs had to be cancelled.

5.7. This was the first major test of the rail industry’s new processes for providing better passenger information (i.e. contingency timetables, uploaded via ITPS, directly fed to train operator and NRE systems) and it led to some local errors causing the base timetable data file to be inaccurate. For example on a few occasions, some train operators were displaying incorrect or duplicate timetables – on websites and at stations. These input errors were corrected manually where possible - a labour intensive task. The reasons behind the base data provision problems were quickly identified and actions were taken which meant that the process worked much more reliably in the second bout of snow.

5.8. Although there were quality problems with the data feed to NRE, their new systems worked well from a performance perspective. During the severe weather their channels experienced unprecedented demand - the website recorded volumes 50% higher than the previous (7 January 2010) high, peaking at 162,000 visits in an hour and totalling 2 million visits on the busiest day. The website response times remained within specified service levels and pages were served with no variance to a normal day. This compares favourably to 12 months ago when many customers experienced slow responses. Demand to the contact centres was also high, with call volumes reaching four to five times the normal volume. Queues were long, but a high capacity speech recognition service offering all timetable and real time information was also available to callers.

5.9. Four train operator websites did shut down for short periods under the load of additional demand although where this happened some replaced their normal service with links to the National Rail Enquiries site. All other TOC sites coped with the high levels of demand they faced, following a programme of investment during 2010 in response to the experience during the 2009/10 winter.

6. Comparisons with winter 09/10 and Europe

6.1. In general, the majority of the train operator and Network Rail plans implemented after the January 2010 event were reasonably effective across most of the network. Point heaters generally worked, except for example where cable theft removed the power supply; fewer train doors froze in service despite the longer, lower temperatures; ghost trains ran to keep the infrastructure clear of forming ice and prevent points from freezing; and de-icing supplies were robust.

6.2. Train operators adversely affected by traction motor failures last year had taken preventative measures to limit the impact of ice and snow. Generally these were successful, but this year other train operators that had not experienced problems last year suffered as a result of the more extreme weather encountered. In addition, new failure modes were witnessed by train operators this year that had not been seen previously. One of the most high profile failures of this winter reported in the media was directly as a result of the rolling stock being insulated from the traction supply due to the of amount of ice on the conductor rail. Horn socks worked on some fleets, so there is a need to identify the reasons for any differences in effectiveness. Coupler bags were a mixed benefit, for some services they were necessary at one part of the journey only and hence could introduce operational delays because the bags actually froze and took time to remove.

6.3. That said the sudden impact of the first cold spell took parts of the industry by surprise. Network Rail did not have all its equipment in proper working order and this affected performance on the DC (direct current)13 network in the South East as the conductor rail could not be kept free of ice for reliable train operation. This situation was exacerbated by the fact that not all trains were initially operating in ‘ice mode’ and there were some units that had yet to be modified with the latest software. With hindsight, some basic operating mistakes were also made in implementing the key route strategies.

6.4. While many of the normal mitigations worked the severe nature of the weather was beyond the design limits of some equipment currently used and parts of the network became overwhelmed by snow or suffered because of the extreme cold.

6.5. The subsequent response in the South East to the second cold spell was much better even though it was more extensive than both the first one and that of the previous year. Volume and punctuality were much improved, as was information provision to passengers once the initial difficulties with the ITPS process had been resolved

6.6. Throughout much of Scotland and the north of England, the network remained under snow and the delivery of a decent service remained a considerable challenge.

6.7. Much of Europe also suffered. The summary at Appendix 3 is provided by the European Rail Infrastructure Managers group of which Network Rail is a member.

7. Opportunities for further improvement

7.1. Immediately after the onset of the cold weather, the NTF began a further review of the rail industry’s performance, building on the work started following the January 2010 snow event. For the DC network this is covering:

· Refinement of the traction control systems on some rolling stock. This will improve the resilience of the train to a degree of conductor rail icing by ensuring trains are in ‘ice mode’ when they should be and also ensure that the train’s main systems remain active even if the train becomes stranded, provided that good electrical contact can be established. This work is a continuation of work started in 2009.

· Provision of in service de-icing of the conductor rail by train operators’ trains in addition to Network Rail’s fleet of multi-purpose vehicles. This should provide a more extensive and accurate capability and is being piloted by SouthEastern with 20 units set to be modified. This pilot is part of the action plans from the lessons learned in January 2010.

· The further development of equipment to heat around 400m of conductor rail at stations and key junctions. This was piloted at 42 key locations in Kent and was found to greatly assist traction. Subject to the provision of funding, Network Rail intends to roll out this technology to further sites across Kent, Sussex and Wessex at a cost of £16m subject to identifying the necessary funding. The pilot was again part of the action plans from January 2010 (see the picture below).

· The precise mix of actions will be agreed between the train operator and the route reflecting the businesses needs and, where they exist, differences in geography, operation and location.

· Static anti-icing track applicators operated by the passage of trains have been developed and are under test at Littlehampton and Oxted to assess their suitability in both depot and mainline conditions. This pilot is part of the action plan / lessons learnt from January 2010.

· Different chemicals to treat the conductor rail. The University of Birmingham has tested a variety of fluids for their anti-icing capability and their ability to stick to the conductor rail in rain or when a train passes.

· In addition 19 MPVs are to be modified to provide them with the capability to lay hot fluids. Initial tests of the heating and distribution equipment were successful and the first prototype will be entering service shortly.

· Longer term options to replace the DC system with overhead electrification are also being considered.

7.2. For operations across the rest of the network, the NTF is reviewing a range of issues including: provision, volume and function of snow clearing equipment, management of overhead wires in extreme cold and responding to large scale icing and thawing14. Temporary covers to keep snow from switches and crossings are being installed, protection for clamplock points being damaged by ice on train undersides has been designed and additional points heating equipment is being installed in some locations.

7.3. The NTF is driving ongoing work (begun early in 2010) in several areas in order to provide passengers with better information:

7.3.1. Embedding implementation of the industry information code of practice in Controls; this will be informed by an audit report undertaken at NTF’s request by the ORR to assess compliance during the December 2010 snow.

7.3.2. Improvements to timetabling: while the new processes work well and are much better than what was available, they are still rather inflexible. There is currently a ten to twelve hour window between the 17.00 cut off for uploading contingency timetables and publication by NRE and train operator websites which normally occurs by 03:00 but can take up to 05:00. A review of the effectiveness and flexibility of this process in relation to timely and accurate information provision to passengers is underway.

7.3.3. Improving the effective dissemination of real time information to staff and passengers, addressing the cultural points raised by David Quarmby in his most recent report.

7.3.4. Providing one common national feed of information to station departure board screens through a radical programme of changes to over 60 systems – Phase 1 is underway with Virgin Trains with further investment of £3m planned.

7.3.5. NRE is upgrading its journey planning systems to ensure that late changes to timetables (those only available after the contingency timetable upload) are available to passengers. Work is underway to assess how the latest timetable information may be made available through other journey planning, retailing and staff systems.

7.4. The industry guidance for stations and other areas was revised and re-issued in summer 2010. Train operators reported relatively low levels of slipping, tripping and falling accidents given the conditions.

8. Summary

8.1. The cold weather experienced in the UK in late November and December 2010, in terms of its specific geographical impacts, often fast changing nature and two extreme spells within an exceptionally cold December, posed major challenges not just to the rail network but to the country’s transport system in general.

8.2. In responding to such weather, the rail industry was able to draw on processes which have been developed and refined over many years. The industry had also previously identified plans to deal better with extreme winter weather following the January 2010 cold spell. Some were in place by late November, and in most cases their implementation was reasonably effective across most of the network. Others, given their nature, were still in the process of being prepared. After the first extreme spell in the most recent bout of winter weather, the industry learned lessons which enabled it to cope better during the second extreme spell.

8.3. The combined result of the particular features of the late November/December 2010 weather, and the measures taken by the industry to manage its impacts, was that some aspects of service delivery and provision of passenger information worked well under the circumstances, but others did not. The ability of the industry to respond as it did owes much to the hard work and dedication of thousands of railway staff, many of whom worked in very testing conditions. But there are still areas of weakness that need addressing.

8.4. The effectiveness of the industry’s response to the first of the more recent cold spells was covered in the second Quarmby review, and the industry’s input was reflected in the recommendations contained in the subsequent report, which we welcome. We are continuing to take forward initiatives identified following the January 2010 cold weather, but many of the issues raised by Quarmby are complex and solutions are not immediate. These will continue to be considered in greater depth and will be tracked by the National Task Force. Where more immediate solutions are not available options will be incorporated into the Initial Industry Plan for Control Period 5 (2014-19) which will set out in September 2010 the industry’s thinking on how it can meet the needs of rail users and funders in the longer term.


1. Trends in temperature and snow fall, 14 November 2010 to 7 January 2011

2. Service delivery for franchised passenger operators

3. Comparisons with other European Railways

Appendix 1

Trends in temperature and snow fall

14 November 2010 to 7 January 2011

Appendix 2

Service delivery for franchised passenger operators

Appendix 3

% plan and PPM by train operator

February 2011

[1] The National T ask Force (NTF) is a cross industry body with senior representatives from passenger and freight train operators ( TOC s and FOCs) , Network Rail (NR), the Association of Train Operators ( ATOC ) , the D epartment of Transport (DfT) and the Office of Rail R egulation (OR R ) . It was formed more than 10 years ago and meets four weekly with the primary focus on train service delivery. National PPM for franchised passenger trains which has risen from less than 75% to more than 90%

[2] These are considered to be 28 /11 /10 to 8 /12 /10 and 17 /12 /10 to 24/ 12 /10 .

[3] The rail industry is one of the larger commercial users of detailed weather forecasting and recently switched to the Meteo Group.

[4] One long distance train operator had to replace a normal year’s worth of bodyside windows in two weeks.

[5] In the North East, the lines to Ferrybridge Power Station were prioritised, as were the lines to Boulby Salt Mine which were kept open throughout the cold periods to enable Freightliner to deliver vital supplies of salt to local highway authorities for road gritting.

[6] On the Brighton Main Line for example Southern may wish to operate a contingency timetable that best suits their operations across Network Rail’s Sussex Route whereas First Capital Connect may wish to operate a normal service to suit the needs of customers both on the Sussex route and across London towards Bedford.

[7] This was the case with long distance operators such as Virgin who had extra demand from transferring domestic air passengers in addition to a very large number of reservations. Running the full service enabled them to handle many more passengers. Operating at a reduced line speed of 100mph minimised rolling stock damage but punctuality dropped by around 15 percentage points.

[8] In retrospect the wrong decision was made in Wessex for 2 December where the full South West Trains service was proposed but late changes in the weather patterns meant delivery on the day was very poor. It is a fine balance to avoid both under-reaction and over-reaction when judging the impact of uncertain weather forecasts 24hrs in advance.

[9] In total ITPS interfaces with around 170 other industry systems.

[10] A part of ATOC.

[11] Around 1 million messages were sent on 1 December 2010.

[12] There were 22 such conference calls during the cold weather.

[13] The DC network uses an exposed conductor rail next to the rails to provide tractive power which can become covered in ice. This system is used by South West Trains, Southern, SouthEastern, First Capital Connect and London Overground.

[14] More than 1000 platforms are currently suffering from some form of damage as a result of the cold.