Meeting Reports

Tuesday 26th September 2017
First MTR - the New Southwestern Rail Franchise
A Senior Manager from South Western Railway

Phil has been a railwayman throughout his working career and has transferred over from the previous South West Trains (Stagecoach) franchise to the new South Western Railway (First/MTR – trading as South Western Trains Ltd) and is currently adjusting to the changes and the legacies left from the previous franchise including engineering, London Waterloo and other projects. He gave a brief outline of the new franchise holder highlighting the scope and size of the company and their current railway involvement in the UK as well as outlining the DfT objectives for the new franchise. It may not have been the easiest of starts especially as the handover was in the middle of major engineering works at London Waterloo, but plans are in place to bring improvements.

Phil went on to detail what the new franchise is about and what the plans are for the future including meeting customer needs, new markets, fares etc before moving on to rolling stock, station enhancements, London Waterloo – the busiest station in the country and in Europe when all the ancillaries such as the Underground are taken into account, and Clapham Junction which also ranks highly in terms of busiest stations in the UK.

Future challenges include capacity issues, planning for disruption, London Waterloo upgrades, new trains, rising passenger expectations and performance and he showed a short video at this point entitled “The Journey Starts Here” – the origin of the title for the presentation.

It was interesting to hear about the plans for the future and an outline of how the company expects to achieve these with a planned investment of £1.2 billion – a not inconsiderable sum. One of the first things is a public consultation on proposed changes to the timetable which should be accessible through the SWR website, and we were all encouraged to participate in this although there was a query as to when these changes would take effect. There will be a dedicated person to manage the consultation and the results are due to be collated during 2018 to take effect from December 2018. The proposed timetable changes will affect services and while some will have additional services others will have less convenient changes. Overall improvements for the new franchise should include better ticketing, and more integration with other parts of the transport system amongst other things. It was pleasing to hear about the investment programme in stations, working with other stakeholders and hearing that the company has the biggest rail operator apprenticeship scheme in the UK.

Phil spoke in more detail about the rolling stock – what is to be retained, refurbished, kept going in the short term until new units are ready and what is to be retired completely due to age. By 2019/20 when new units are introduced, the average age of the stock is expected to reduce by nearly 50% confirming that there really is some rather elderly stock out there. This part of the presentation included plans for current depots – all to be retained, plus a new site to be set up at Feltham. The new class 701s are due to come into service in 2019/2020 and will comprise 60 x 10 car and 30 x 5 car units to replace 455s, 456s, 458s and 707s. These will have a speed of 100mph, regenerative braking, wide doors, wifi, USB points, accessible wcs and all the other things that passengers expect from modern units. They should also be more energy efficient with improved technological innovations substantially reducing CO2 emissions in the process, as required by the DfT.

The next part of the presentation showed an entertaining speeded up short video of the re-vinyling of a 444 unit showing all the work involved in that process. Work on smartening up the interiors has already been started and over time all units will go through this process. This was followed by what Phil called ‘the teccy bits’ on energy metering, ethernet, media server, rolling out pro-active rather than reactive track monitoring on over 40% of the network, and other improvements that even include solar gain window film improving energy efficiency still further. There is much that has already been started and more to do and Phil ended this section of the presentation with a brief outline of the statistics from the London Waterloo upgrade and another time lapse short video of the work done. This was followed by details of the plans for improvements at the Northam Depot near Southampton particularly with regards to points and connections to the mainline, and plans to cope with the disruption that this will cause especially highlighting the effects on football match days while the works are carried out. Northam Depot is very close to the Southampton football ground at St Mary’s Stadium and the project will also affect shoppers in the area, cruise passengers sailing out of the port of Southampton as well as local residents and other passengers.

The presentation ended with a brief history of the Swanage Railway, the closure of the branch, the enthusiasts campaigning to restore, repair and reinstate services and the recent reinstatement of services between Swanage and Wareham. A lot of people have been involved in the project from the outset and Phil is immensely proud of his involvement in setting up the new service.

Questions and answers followed thick and fast after the break and were too many and varied to be detailed in this report with Phil noting every question that he could not answer immediately, promising to find out and report back when he has the answers. He mentioned that he too has a lot to learn about the new franchise and that his own role will be changing.

The vote of thanks was given by branch fixtures officer Tom Kolisch adding a little extra humour by suggesting that we will expect Phil to come back when he has risen to MD. Attendance was above average and the difficulty in prising Phil away from the questioners after the meeting had ended, to catch his train home, just shows the level of interest generated by this subject.

ILR 8-10-2017

Tuesday 23rd May 2017
LATE CHANGE to advertised meeting - Transport Focus - the Passengers' Champion
Mike Hewitson - Head of Policy & Keith Bailey - Senior Insight Manager both from Transport Focus (Professor Nick Tyler - presentation postponed until next season)

As happens sometimes a speaker is unable to attend as planned. This time we were lucky enough that Mike Hewitson and Keith Bailey were able to come and talk to us at short notice about Transport Focus (TF). The talk was divided into six sections giving an overview of what Transport Focus is and what they do; the National Rail Passenger Survey; Priorities for improvement; Trust; a specific case study; their research portfolio; to be followed by questions and answers.

Mike began by explaining that TF can trace its origins back to the 1940s with extensions to its remit to cover bus, coach and tram passenger representation in 2010 and users of the strategic road network in England in 2015. It is an independent accountable statutory body, sponsored by the Department for Transport (DfT), with a total of 40 staff based in London and Manchester, and deals with Network Rail and railway franchises amongst other responsibilities. The organisational structure changed from a number of regional units to a national structure in 2005. The main function is to use evidence based research to influence the people who make decisions including politicians, people in the railway industry, stakeholders, passengers and other interested parties and Mike explained something of the research and the importance of communicating this in the right way to make a positive difference. The National Rail Passenger Survey (NRPS) is carried out twice a year covering between 26,000 and 30,000 people each time, and evidence from this is used to help set franchise targets taking into account what passengers think, what improvements they would like and how they would like to be treated. There were some very enlightening graphs showing the outcome of the surveys giving plenty of food for thought. Trust is important as it is a key relationship between passengers and service providers and Mike clearly demonstrated this highlighting honesty, fairness and good communications. Challenges arise with passenger growth, crowding, and the disruptions that can occur because of investment in improvements.

Keith continued with more detail about the research, lessons learned and the specific case study of how the Bath Spa disruption was managed. It was very clear that informing passengers of what was happening and why, using all available forms of media, was very important to the success of the project and managing people’s expectations, allowing for the difference in priorities for commuters, business and leisure users. Surveys were carried out in three waves partly to see how effective the publicity was and to find out how the passengers felt about the whole process. Graphs and charts showing the outcome of the surveys were really informative and easy to understand and it showed how people had reacted over time with the publicity and information that had been provided. There are always lessons to be learned and a key lesson was the right kind of information at the right time in the right way, and two way communication.

TF make recommendations to the industry based on evidence and are involved or have been involved in a number of major infrastructure projects and other examples were outlined. The research evidence helps with planning future projects and focusses on the best ways to inform the travelling public about what is going on and the reasons for any disruption. Of local interest to Surrey Branch is the planned part closure of London Waterloo in August 2017 and the audience could confirm that information about the closure is already being disseminated quite widely which helps passengers to understand what is happening and enables them to better plan their travel during the disruption. Discussion on the research portfolio, including the list of key publications, helped to show the extent of the work carried out, all of which is published and available.

The questions and answers were equally interesting and began with a query about delay and repay. The answer suggested that there are likely to be changes to the current method of calculation which should lead to improvements in passenger satisfaction. There was discussion about complaints as a source of information for improvement leading on to the possibility currently under consideration for the setting up of a Rail Ombudsman. Further questions included provision of wi-fi and catering on trains, removal of first class on commuter trains and on-going problems with through ticketing. There were answers showing that the Greater London area is not covered by TF but by London Travel Watch; TF also support railway staff - both onboard staff and ticket office personnel and how important they are in providing a human link for passengers especially at difficult times; the transfer of good practice between road and rail; as well additional surveys covering, at least in part, both buses and trams.

TF is one of the independent statutory bodies involved in the administration of the rail network, amongst other things, and the excellent presentation made for a very interesting and informative evening.

Tuesday 25th April 2017
Independently Powered Electric Multiple Unit:
Rory Dickerson, Senior Engineer - Electrical and Electronic Safety, Technical and Engineering, Traction and Rollling Stock, Network Rail

After introducing himself and briefly outlining his qualifications, Rory explained that he had come into the project at about the time the demonstrations were starting. He split the presentation into 6 main sections: concept and purpose; discontinuous electrification; technology benefits; project requirements; industry priorities; and alterations & engineering.

The concept is about modifying an existing EMU for independent electrically powered capability, a desire for more electric services as defined in the rail technical strategy and as included in the route utilisation strategy. Discontinuous electrification over short distances is less of an issue depending on the distance without a power supply, but other options are essential over longer distances, and it was at this point that Rory displayed a map showing diversionary routes explaining the pros and cons, and which lines are or are not electrified; and also relatively short lengths of track where for a number of reasons it is not possible to install alternative power supplies.

The benefits to industry of battery power when compared with electric or diesel were also clearly explained. A classic example is city centre locations where there is often an issue with poor air quality and where improvements are required. There has been plenty of publicity about diesel particulate pollution and nitrous oxide pollution recently and in these circumstances a battery powered EMU is an option as it does not pollute at the point of use. Any emissions would be produced where the power to charge the battery is generated. Battery power can potentially mean lower journey costs for passengers, increased ride comfort and quieter running. Another benefit to the industry would be increased route compatibility, particularly on diversion, and less infrastructure requirements.

Project requirements meant that an existing EMU had to be converted to independent power and that it would have to perform well and reliably as part of a regular service diagram. Converting an existing EMU requires more than an engineering solution because the owner and manufacturer of the EMU have to be satisfied that it would not be damaged, could be put back into original condition and that alterations would not invalidate any warranties. The converted unit would need to meet strict performance targets on range, speed, acceleration, duty cycles, independent power life time and not least, safety. Eventually EMU 379-001 was settled on as the unit for the project.

It was very interesting to learn about the technical details of various types of batteries and capacitors, the advantages and disadvantages of each, and how a choice was made for the project once the initial research on what was available had been completed. It is important to note the requirement for a reliable product from a company that was likely to be around for some time, rather than an experimental power source where reliability and/or longer-term availability was unknown. A lot of batteries from different suppliers were considered along with the pros and cons of the different chemistries each with their own properties – comparing battery lifetime, short bursts of power eg for acceleration, longer periods of steady power, charging time, weight, practicality of fitting into an EMU. It was also important that there would be a sufficient quantity available for immediate use in the project. Much lab-testing took place and there were comparisons with projects in other countries eg Japan where the lines using this technology are kept separate, and China - using super-capacitors on a line in Guangzhou. The Chinese example has a route of 7.7 km with 10 stops, charging of 10-30 seconds at every stop, 85% braking energy recovered, and 70kph top speed with sufficient capacity for emergencies. Although the set-up and requirements in the UK are somewhat different lessons can still be learned from these and other examples. Descriptions of the batteries eg batteries wired in series with each battery pod containing many individual cells, how these were fitted into the unit, and circuit diagrams showing the wiring whether the power comes from an external supply or from the batteries including where you place the rectifiers, driving motors etc compared with before the conversion, were all included in the presentation.

Quite a lot of the research and experimental work was carried out in conjunction with Warwick University as practical engineering and science, and projects like this can also stimulate advances in railway technology. It is of benefit to the railway industry if there is a standard option to have battery as part of the power supply, and it helps the Train Operating Companies (TOCs) if the manufacturers have a product to offer. A battery power option can give greater flexibility in situations where other options are limited or unacceptable.

The outputs of the trial involved concept development, proof of concept, demonstration of an IPEMU (independently powered EMU), battery performance, franchise requirements, data models, best practice and a host of other considerations, not least the costs involved. One issue that came out of the project is the difficulty in measuring how much charge remains in a battery at various stages of use, and this is where the graphs that Rory presented showing voltage curves and energy outputs came in really useful as illustration. Sometimes the battery can still show adequate voltage but does not show how much charge remains. All the batteries were made up of smaller components and it was shown that different battery types with different chemistries may be easier to balance eg if some individual cells are less well charged, overall performance can still be maintained. It was also clear the issues that can arise as a battery cell ages eg changing voltage characteristics. Battery lifetime depends on use (or abuse), temperature, chemistry, number of recharging cycles possible, and variable charge times. A lot was learned and is still being learned about batteries and super-capacitors and improvements are ongoing.

Given a suitable route or application, batteries can form part of an integrated solution and what is appropriate depends on what is required. This can be with or without major infrastructure changes although charging points will be required. More charging built into the infrastructure means less is required on the EMU and quick charging while the unit is at rest would be helpful. Some of the lessons from electric cars were mentioned such as charging from an AC supply to DC batteries. Battery weight and location on the EMU are important considerations; issues with pantographs are being worked on where a unit can be powered in this way as well as using batteries; there are problems with limited receptivity on the 3rd rail system particularly in the southern area because of fluctuations in the 750volt DC supply. There will be different solutions for different situations and additional research is required.

Questions and answers covered a number of technical issues as well as practical considerations for IPEMUs in service and what technology can be translated from other spheres (eg the motor industry, mobiles phones) for railway use and vice-versa. There is clearly huge potential in the field and Network Rail are looking at the possibilities.

Although there were a lot of technical details these were presented clearly enough for the ‘layman’ to understand. The vote of thanks was given by Tom Kolisch who highlighted the good start made, the interesting conclusions and expressed the hope that the challenge will continue.

Tuesday 28th March 2017
Forty Years of Service
Terence Jenner, A Talk by the Last Chairman of the BR Board

Terence is a lawyer by profession and, as a railway enthusiast since childhood and working for BR, he described himself as a ‘hybrid’ combining both railways and the legal profession. In his career with BR one of the things he had to do was to persuade some people in the organisation that there are other ways to solve legal issues and it is not always necessary to resort to litigation. It was while in hospital recuperating from a heart attack in 1979 that his then boss (an RCTS member) brought him several bound volumes of the RO and he was hooked from then on and still reads them with interest. As a lawyer he likes structure and structured his presentation accordingly under the themes of: scale/scope – BR was a very large organisation; change – some good, some bad, some about keeping up to date; privilege – BR was a very privileged organisation with a statutory background giving it a great deal of freedom of operation. Terence then gave an outline of his career from May 1974 to September 2013 dividing it into 5 main periods and covering litigation, parliamentary and commercial, privatisation, SRA (another story), residual BR/channel tunnel matters.

Giving a fascinating insight into how the BR legal department operated, Terence described the work that he was responsible for and how this changed as he progressed through the organisation, as well as commenting on the railway scene more generally, briefly touching on his own personal circumstances where this was relevant. All the photographs are his own and were taken during his career, and with hindsight he has some regrets about the pictures that he did not take at the time.

During the 1970s there appeared to be managed decline on the railways but there was also the emergence of a ‘social’ railway and one bright spot was the introduction of the HSTs into service. It was during this period that Terence changed to the commercial side of operations moving office from Melbury House to Paddington, and had to manage the internal changes required to try and make the legal department a self-accounting unit charging other parts of the BR ‘business’ for their services. Highlights included a description of the fantastic BR legal reference library with a full set of law books that came complete with a librarian to keep it up to date and that was the envy of any railway in the world; the statutory framework providing a legal background for BR operations and the associated freedoms; and the successful use of the rulebook when working on claims against BR where the legal department appeared to be viewed very much as an ‘insurance policy’ dealing with and settling claims. Terence described his own journey into work – mostly by train of course, and the pros and cons of using alternative routes. Looking at photographs of some of the stations from then and now, a real difference can be seen some of which is attractive and some less so.

Terence outlined the five ‘Ps’ of parliamentary work - this included the annual BR parliamentary bill that could relate to any or all aspects of the railways whether land, harbours, operations etc and although now there are benefits to planning further ahead, operations can be a little more complicated; procurement eg of rolling stock was another interesting subject as were purchases, private sector involvement and privatisations. He then moved on to the three ‘Ss’ of the Serpell Report providing proposals for a much truncated railway network, sectorisation - the beginnings of the business railway with much clearer responsibility for profit and loss and with a view to improving the business focus, and last but not least safety.

Providing some interesting details of the period Terence described working on some key early privatisations including hovercraft, ships & harbours (Sealink was sold in 1984), hotels – all 33 were sold at a fairly low price and were sold on later by their new owners for considerably more, and land sales such as the former Doncaster wagon works. He explained that to run a successful railway business requires investment so part of the idea was to divest BR of non-core parts of the organisation and concentrate on the core business of running the railways. There were some stupid ideas but some good ones too and Terence was unafraid of constructive criticism. Unfortunately, the substantial involvement of external solicitors over the privatisation of BR led to what could be described as a very expensive exercise. He explained the difficulties and complexities of privatisation and the sheer amount of work that had to be done given the way that it was to be split up. But, as he pointed out, even with privatisation the trains continued to run. Was it a success or a failure – yes and no, but the clock cannot be turned back and things are very different now.

In his concluding remarks Terence confirmed that railways should concentrate on what they do best not forgetting who is the master and controls the purse strings, and that they should allow the professionals to run the business. BR was not a deeply inefficient monolith but there has been a lot of change and some of it was for the better such as the higher importance of and greater responsibility for safety. Questions and Answers covered a number of topics including the change to the South West Trains franchise, the Passenger Transport Executive, the benefits of an integrated transport system, increased taxpayer funding of railways, who pays if there is a social need for railways etc.

From his early days as an articled clerk Terence rose to be the last Chairman of the BR Board. He not only showed clearly how much has changed in the United Kingdom but also how attitudes have changed with increased demand for rail travel, more investment and better long term planning. This was a fascinating, well-structured and informative presentation.

Thursday 9th March 2017
The Life and Times of the North Yorkshire Moors Railway - A Personal Persective
Philip Benham, former Managing Director, North Yorkshire Moors Railway

On Thursday 9 March we welcomed Philip Benham to give a presentation on the North York Moors Railway (NYMR) to the first ever Surrey Branch afternoon meeting. Philip joined British Railways(BR) in December 1968 just after the last scheduled steam service starting in the Midland division, moving to Eastern based at Kings Cross before going on to InterCity. He was involved in setting up the Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC) before joining the Strategic Rail Authority (SRA), finally moving to the NYMR before retiring. So he began with modern traction and ended with heritage. He divided the presentation under six headings: a brief history; the railway today; some achievements; Whitby and the Esk Valley; some other key projects; and personal reflections.

The railway opened in 1836 as the Whitby & Pickering Railway, designed by George Stephenson and was horse-powered for the first 9 years before being re-engineered for steam in 1845. Philip used some interesting old photographs to show the changes over time illustrating issues such as the Goathland diversion built to bypass Stephenson’s steep rope-hauled incline after a major accident in 1864 when the system failed and a train crashed right back down the hill. The railway was sold to George Hudson to link up with his other railway investments during the period of rapid railway expansion providing an important route into Whitby. This is why it is engineered to mainline standards proving very useful today as it means that the NYMR can accommodate larger locomotives than many other heritage railways. A lot of the old infrastructure has been lost but as much as possible is preserved and an interesting example is the original much smaller running tunnel at Grosmont that now provides pedestrian access and runs next to the current railway tunnel – an interesting contrast; and there are still the camping coaches at Goathland but with much better facilities than formerly! BR closed the line in 1965 and the preservation society formed in 1967 having persuaded BR not to dismantle everything in the meantime, reopening between Grosmont and Pickering in 1973 after they had demonstrated their ability to run it.

The rebirth of the railway saw the first locomotive running on the line again in February 1969 which required a ‘bucket line’ to water the small tank locomotive as the proper facilities for watering were simply not available then.

Currently the NYMR is owned by a charitable trust, while operations are carried out by NYMR Enterprises, and the railway celebrates its 50th anniversary this year having run public services for 44 years. They are the only heritage operator licensed on the national network currently although this could change as others may also achieve this status in the not too distant future. Some statistical information was provided to show the extent of operations, changes over time, and details on organisational structure, facilities, finances, and all the other facets of the operation. The railway runs on a mix of regular volunteers and paid staff – paid staff are required to ensure adequate staffing at all times as volunteers are very widely dispersed, but all are very important to the railway.

The NYMR was keen to tap into the tourist business at Whitby for a number of reasons - it was a big strategic opportunity and would take the railway to another level,. The track had to be upgraded in agreement with Network Rail (NR), and working with the SRA through their community rail development strategy. A lot was involved in the project including locomotive derogations, resignalling and taking over the ticket office at Whitby.

Other projects included the replacement of Bridge 30, an iron bridge built in the early 1900s and deteriorating to the point that it required complete replacement at a cost of £800,000! A substantial grant came from the local authority, another large amount simply from asking passengers to contribute to the project, and the rest from other fundraising. The work proved to be more difficult than expected but NR’s approval that a well-respected engineer who volunteers with the NYMR could project manage saved many thousands of pounds and without this cooperation it would have been a lot more difficult to succeed. This is just one of the examples of major projects either completed or in the ‘pipe line’.

Philip retired in October 2015 but still maintains links with the railway. The immediate outlook presents opportunities as well as challenges. Some keys costs are increasing which means that the overall income will be more modest; there are more bridges that will need attention; more volunteers are always needed; and renewals of infrastructure, locomotives and rolling stock are on-going. As demand increases, capacity must keep up but there are opportunities to link in with the large amounts of industrial heritage in the area particularly around Grosmont. It is also important to integrate both enthusiastic amateurs and professional volunteers, and paid staff, to the overall advantage of everyone and to the benefit of the NYMR, working side by side and remaining credible with other railway industry partners. Safety is important, as is good governance and well managed finances even if finance for investment and improvement is more difficult. It has been a fascinating and privileged position to manage what has been described as the world’s most popular heritage railway.

Questions and answers included investment in Whitby and plans for the future; the prospect of extending to Malton – unlikely as this could prove to be more a threat than an opportunity with big expense and small returns; expanding the Battersby service – more economic implications; where do the volunteers come from etc.

The vote of thanks was given by Gordon Pettitt who congratulated Philip on what has been achieved. He highlighted too that things have come full circle with little difference between then and now as, like the railway pioneers of the past, they are always seeking enough investment to develop the railway for the future. It is not just bridges or restoration, but keeping the railway running too - a big challenge, and Philip had shown the considerable work involved in management and maintaining good relations. He wished both Philip and the NYMR great success.

A well attended meeting with an excellent presentation enjoyed by all.

ILR, 23-3-2017

Tuesday 28th February 2017
The Role of the Rail Accident Investigation Branch
Neil Gove, Inspector of Rail Accidents, Rail Accident Investigation Branch

Currently based in Derby, Neil has been working as an Inspector of Rail Accidents for the Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) for nearly 10 years. He has a background in electrical engineering, although his interest in railways goes back much further.

He began with a brief history of Accident Investigation branches and, using a number of key examples and photographs as illustration, he showed how the RAIB fits in to the railways overall, looking at the causes of accidents and what safety lessons can be learned in the process.

Many hard lessons have been learned from accidents in the past and Neil detailed a number of well-known examples and some of the improvements that arose from the investigations such as Harrow (1952) AWS, Moorgate tube (1975) – train stops at dead ends, Clapham Junction (1988) – crashworthiness, Cannon Street (1991) – drug and alcohol testing. There have been issues with railway accidents since the early beginnings of the railway but the RAIB was set up largely as a result of the public enquiry into the 1999 Ladbroke Grove accident with findings including a recommendation to set up an independent organisation to investigate railway accidents. The setting up of such an organisation was enshrined in UK legislation in 2003 and 2005 and by EU legislation in 2004.

Neil described key facts about the RAIB, its guiding principles and its scope, explaining what is and is not investigated, and giving some insight into the techniques used to gather evidence and work out what went wrong, before a final report is published. It is very clear that this is not about apportioning blame but finding the causes of accidents, and making recommendations to prevent them from happening in the future. He went over what types of investigations are carried out, what safety lessons can be learned, and how to ensure that the potential for death and/or serious injury and damage that might occur under the same or similar circumstances can be prevented. He also described what is not investigated including accidents or incidents involving trespassers or suicides on the railway for example. The area covered is the whole of the UK and half way into the Channel Tunnel while their French counterparts cover the other half – necessarily working together, of course, with joint investigations as the Tunnel affects both the UK and France.

It was interesting to hear about the investigation techniques involved such as interviewing witnesses where the witness statements are kept entirely confidential and are not shared with other interested parties. Factual data can be shared but not the witness statements. As the RAIB is not about blame, this helps to ensure that witnesses feel confident and are more willing to provide accurate information without having to worry about being blamed for what has happened. Site surveys may be carried out and vehicles inspected; documents – eg industry standards and real time records may be considered; analysis of any available recorded data eg from trains, signalling systems and CCTV; historic records and statistics may be relevant; and then further testing and sometimes reconstruction if required. Once this has all been done and the evidence pieced together, the RAIB are then in a position to work out what went wrong before writing the final report providing details of the incident and recommendations to prevent it from recurring. If it becomes clear during the course of an investigation that immediate changes or improvements are required then an interim report may be issued before the full and final report is published.

There are a number of guiding principles that the RAIB works to not least independence and accuracy. Accuracy, consistency and traceability of evidence are very important. Other guiding principles include sharing evidence where appropriate and confidentiality where required as well as providing logically supported recommendations. It is also important to work with others in the industry to ensure that they ‘buy in’ to any findings and recommendations as they will be the ones to implement any recommendations.

Neil went on to talk about RAIB staffing structures, equipment and their work bases. There are currently two bases one at Derby and one at Farnborough although most of the administration is done from Derby. There are vehicles and workshops at both centres and an on-call roster at both locations at all times. He also provided details of how and when they are notified about an incident and the powers that they have to enter all railway property, seizing anything relating to an accident, access to records and asking questions – there is no right of silence in an RAIB investigation. After clearly outlining the processes he provided some statistics on investigations since the organisation was set up with some interesting photographs, charts and numbers as illustration. Some of the incidents that seem to cause regular problems are level crossings which involves understanding how the public use them and the surrounding environment. In the context of understanding he described how railway staff can be under real pressure in their work environment which might result in an accident, and how solutions can be found once the problem has been identified. Examples of other problems concern the safety of track workers, freight train derailments and passengers at station platforms and are there technical measures that can be taken to improve the situation?

A number of examples of current investigations were outlined with some details of what had been discovered and what positive changes could be made. He also mentioned some of the most recently published reports – they make very interesting reading, with a brief outline of the incidents and the outcomes; before moving on to some of the investigations that he has personally been involved with.

The evening finished with a lively and interesting question and answer session including what came before the RAIB; working together with the French on the Channel Tunnel; derailments; reports; qualifications for inspectors – and where to get an application form(!); level crossings; and do they always find out what has happened. If there is no clear answer then they will say that they do not know but the probability or possibility is….

With a lot of interesting detail including examples of past and on-going investigations, this was a fascinating and informative presentation giving a clear picture of the important and safety critical work done by the RAIB. The vote of thanks was given by Tom Kolisch.


Tuesday 24th January 2017
Growing the DLR
Mark Davis, Head of Contracts and Business Performance, Docklands Light Railway Limited

After a brief introduction Mark explained that the presentation would start with how the DLR (Docklands Light Railway) has grown from the beginning – with an early ITN newsreel from 1986 showing some of the initial construction. He progressed on to the first extensions followed by looking at how to deal with the challenges and growth on the DLR for the next 20 years.

The early lines linked Tower Gateway, Stratford and Island Gardens via a junction close to West India Quay with a planned extension into Bank to serve the heart of the City and connect with the London Underground. The original lines were built to aid the regeneration of the Docklands area and, after some derogatory reactions, it must have been pleasing to note that 6m passengers were carried in the first year of operation. The first extension to Bank was opened in 1991 with 10 new vehicles being put into service at the same time, this was followed by Beckton in 1994 when the signalling was upgraded to a moving block system, a new depot built and 70 new vehicles supplied. The 21 old vehicles were sold to Essen in Germany. The third extension to Lewisham opened in 1999 and was one of the first transport PFI (private finance initiative) deals with the fourth extension to King George V opening in December 2005. This was another PFI arrangement and provided a connection for London City Airport. The fifth extension to Woolwich Arsenal opened in January 2009 and included twin bore tunnels under the River Thames – also funded by a PFI followed by the extension to Stratford International.

With the increase in capacity in the DLR system and the growth in passenger numbers, further upgrades were required such as extending platforms to accommodate 3 cars and Mike explained the difficulties where it was not possible to extend and how they solved them eg using selective door opening at some stations while other solutions included remodelling or moving stations and modifying junctions for grade separation.

The DLR extensions and upgrades have all been central to the growth and redevelopment of East London and the DLR system was an integral part of transport for the London 2012 Olympics where a record of 501,000 people were moved in one day and there was 100% performance for 4 days with a headline performance overall of 98.87% - a splendid record.

Mike gave a brief pause under the heading ‘where are we now?’ covering a number of statistics on track, trains, stations, average speed, customer satisfaction, average daily numbers of passengers and the phenomenal growth over the last 30 years.

What challenges are there for the future up to 2021 when the current franchise ends and beyond? Using a graph to show expected growth and the brief period when growth is likely to reduce once Crossrail opens, Mike explained what is expected and also that the brief drop in passenger numbers from Crossrail opening will allow a ‘breathing space’ while new trains are awaited. A map showed where there are proposals for planned population and employment growth based on planning applications that have already been granted or are part of a completed masterplan for the area. This is a mix of domestic and office and will put pressure on the existing DLR system which will involve detailed planning to manage the growth. There is also likely to be additional potential growth from development schemes that have not yet reached the formal planning stage. All proposals and plans for essential upgrades, eg at Bank Station, require the system to remain operational with no shut downs during the works.

DLR’s future will include a number of things eg growth in the Royal Docks area, expansion at Canary Wharf, better access to the City, growth on the Isle of Dogs, a growing Stratford, and stations of the future and Mike went on to describe some of these in more detail. He also highlighted the role of the DLR as part of the whole transport network in the area for example if there are issues on the Jubilee Line, and some detail on the planned improvements and upgrades to cope even with just the known developments. He also explained how forward planning includes fitting DLR services with the opening of Crossrail to improve services and the environment overall.

Where do we go from here? DLR is committed to help deliver the Mayor’s commitment to the TfL (Transport for London) business plan and ‘a City for all Londoners’ – recommended reading. DLR will play its part in improving London in conjunction with the developers, and plans are already being drawn up to make the case for further investment - and the Docklands area development has barely begun. Mike presented another video clip to help illustrate what TfL is all about – there is nowhere quite like London and the people are special both passengers and staff. The TfL remit includes ensuring a joined up travel network in and around the capital, investing in improvements and upgrades, and integration of all parts of the transport systems for now and in the future.

Questions and answers proved to be equally interesting and wide ranging including operating hours, the possibility of extending these and providing all night services as on parts of the Underground; plans for further extensions; the complexities of further developments in the area and how the DLR system is used; issues with fare evasion – DLR currently has a very good record; new trains and some details of what is likely; could DLR stock use parts of the Underground system allowing greater integration; modifications at Bank Station. Also raised were issues such as celebrations for the 30th anniversary including repatriation of one of the original units; hindsight – the original part of DLR was ‘done on the cheap’ so would it be done differently now – answer yes as the DLR is no longer a ‘light railway’; annual costs – DLR is one of only 2 parts of the TfL systems that covers its running costs plus a little; was the success of DLR expected; what about Brexit and the DLR, and more. This session could clearly have gone on for longer.

The vote of thanks was given by branch chairman Andy Davies who moved to Surrey in 1988 and has seen the massive growth since that time. He highlighted not only the interesting and informative presentation but the equally interesting questions and answers. An excellent evening and clearly progress on the DLR is to be followed with interest.


Tuesday 20th December 2016
Disconnected! Broken Links in Britain's Rail Policy
Chris Austin OBE, former BR Director of Policy and Parliamentary Affairs

The business of the Branch AGM was completed fairly swiftly with the reports and accounts proposed, seconded and accepted by those present. The only change was that Alan Norris stepped down from the committee but he confirmed that he will continue to support the branch. While not part of the AGM, an appeal for additional volunteers to help with various activities at branch meetings resulted in a number of people coming forward.

The AGM business completed, Chris Austin was quickly introduced and gave a very brief outline of his railway career which began in September 1967 as a management trainee at Woking. This was at the start of a new era on the railways although he was unaware at the time of the amount of change still to come. The Beeching Report was raised but the main subject of the presentation was the gaps that were left following the closures; and the haste and shortsightedness of some of those closures was highlighted, particularly the later ones that came after Dr Beeching. Chris has co-written two books based on joint research with Richard Faulkner as well as his own experience, the first highlighting the social and political history of rail closures, while the second is about lines that have either reopened already or should be considered for reopening. While researching the books much truly astonishing information came to light not least on the number of lines and stations added to the closure list after the Beeching report. In many cases there was a lack of foresight, no coherent policy and sometimes simply an asset stripping exercise applied. It was not all Dr Beeching’s fault and he had been given an almost impossible task with insufficient information and an impossibly short timescale to do the job requested. This does not mean that some lines should not have been closed – they probably should never have been built in the first place as they were never economically viable. These tended to be closures that occurred before the Report. Unfortunately many of the later closures are of lines that are now being reinstated because those routes are needed today. For some of these lines the case for closure was never that strong and little or no attention had been paid to the longer term social and economic benefits of retaining them. It was clear, too, that the ‘road lobby’ was keen to promote road against rail although, luckily, proposals to turn Marylebone Station into a bus terminus and convert the first ten miles of track into a road did not succeed.

The railways were proving to be very costly to run but Chris described the value of the railways in supporting regional development, providing connectivity, sustainability, safe and reliable public transport – so valuable both economically and socially. The situation could have been considerably worse today if it had not been for the leaking in 1972 of a Blue Paper entitle ‘Rail Policy Review’ published in the Sunday Times together with a map showing proposals to cut the network from 11,600 miles down to 6,700 miles. It was some years after their research that Chris and Richard discovered the source of the leak and the courage it had taken to leak the information to the press. He provided details of a number of line closures that would have been of great benefit today had they remained open - providing shorter connecting routes and better freight pathways with lesser gradients or ways for freight traffic to avoid busy passenger lines for example.

Chris ended on a very optimistic note presenting a number of the incredible success stories on reinstating and reopening formerly close rail routes such as the Borders Railway that carried over 1 million passengers in the first year – much higher than the estimated 600,000. There are good business cases for a number of other lines to be reintroduced due to the growth in demand and the economic and social benefits that would result and he mentioned some of the schemes currently in the pipeline. He highlighted the change in attitudes, the new franchise specifications, campaigning local authorities, the Association of Community Rail Partnerships and others who have all worked hard to bridge some of the gaps where the greatest benefits would be achieved. Some credit too must go to ministers who are taking more of an interest and making better decisions. Given the current and forecast rise in passenger numbers alone, there is a bright future ahead for the rail network.

An equally interesting question and answer session followed the refreshment break starting with Tom Kolisch reading out a short biography of Chris’s career to date – although retired he continues to be actively involved in a number of railway groups at all levels. Questions included the way that information was obtained for some of the statistics used for the Beeching Report; specific line closures; budgeting and why the costs for railways in the UK appear to be so high; opinions of Dr Beeching – some good, some not so; and budgeting and improved forward planning amongst others. Questions could clearly have gone on for some time but the evening ended on a very positive note.

An excellent and very interesting evening with good slides to illustrate followed by an equally interesting question and answer session. As well as the subject matter, perhaps the publicity and reminding guests that they are welcome to come although they cannot vote at the AGM had something to do with this being the best attended Surrey Branch AGM yet.


Tuesday 22nd November 2016
The Railway Worker in Popular Song
Colin Bargery

After briefly outlining his background and long term interest in folk music, Colin explained how he has been collecting songs and poetry about the railways or with a railway background for some years now. His current collection includes around 500 items and continues to grow. The items are all from popular culture either produced by or for the enjoyment of ordinary people and come from a variety of sources.

The arrival of the railway was dramatic and grew rapidly as shown by the maps comparing the network in 1840 and 1900. It was of both economic and social importance, and had a substantial physical presence with large numbers of people either working for the railways or linked to them in some way. To help give a structure to the collection Colin split the material broadly into six groupings using a chart as illustration starting from the broadside ballads of the early period, through folk songs, folk poetry, music hall songs and monologues, parlour ballads of the of the later Victorian to early Edwardian period, right up to the folk revival of the 1950/60s and onwards. The name broadside comes from the printing – several copies of the words of the song or poem printed on each large sheet and then the sheet would be cut accordingly. Printing and paper were quite expensive in the early days so only the words tended to get printed and distributed, and a major difficulty can be finding the music to go with the song as the name of a tune is frequently referenced but there is no printed music to go with it or the music is what can only be described as flexible – ie the tune needs to be adapted a little to fit the words.

Literacy standards must have been at a reasonable level given the quantity of songs and poetry that was written and printed – mostly written by the workers themselves. They were about all types of railway worker, frequently pictured as heroic, and the first Colin sang was about the navvies building the railways in the early days …..”I am a navvy bold….”. As well as the song, Colin also explained the origins of the navvies and where they came from, their colourful nicknames and that they were comparatively well paid in the early days. There were more songs describing real events from the perspective of the workers, as well as the more dramatic showing the heroic railway worker triumphing at the end of a sometimes daft plot. While navvies might have been former farm labourers, guards tended to come from a military background as the railway companies felt they were more suited to that type of work and it came with a smart uniform. This led to them being considered a fairly good ‘catch’ in the marriage market and, of course, there were songs to illustrate. Then the roles of the fireman and driver were highlighted for example “Johnny the Engine Driver” published in 1867. The railway porter was also a popular subject as they were probably the most visible to the travelling public. The companies liked to recruit countrymen as they were considered less likely to be demanding of higher pay. Given their low wages, tips were vital and there was much difficulty with the companies when they tried to ban tips. Colin sang about “Railway Porter Dan” published in 1884 that highlighted the low pay and the need for tips to enable ‘Dan’ to earn enough to cover his basic living costs. At this point Colin highlighted how the railway companies moved workers around to different areas with little or no thought for the problems that the workers would have to cope with in constantly moving to another place – expenses, accommodation etc. Colin also used popular poetry of the time detailing some of the dangerous practices, low wages, long hours and has found a rich source of material in some of the early union publications. The railway owners were often disliked in the last quarter of the 19th century and it showed in much of the material of the period.

The railways had a voracious appetite for labour and started to employ women initially behind the scenes but becoming more visible eg serving behind the bar as shown in the song “Jessie the Belle at the Railway Bar” from 1884. Unfortunately, Colin has been unable to find the tune for this song so recited some of the words instead. There was a real fear about women working publicly but this did not stop Mr Pond of Spears and Pond setting up railway buffets and employing women to work in them. There was more about the carters and footplatemen and the hardships of their work before Colin moved on to the Beeching era of the early 1960s when there were plenty of anti-Beeching songs but he has been unable to find anything pro-Beeching.

Research can be difficult and it is very difficult trying to find out what happened to the writers or to trace their full histories but one thing is clear - the railway and railway worker is still a popular subject for writers of poetry and lyrics.

As he went through the different periods and types of material, Colin sang a selection of the songs and recited some of the poetry to illustrate the social history and it really brought both the people and the times very much to life, highlighting the often difficult conditions and appalling way that many workers were treated. Publishing a song or verse anonymously also gave the opportunity for railway workers to ‘blow the whistle’ without getting sacked for complaining.

This was a very entertaining evening finishing with an equally interesting and informative question and answer session covering subjects as diverse as where to find the songs and poems, was there any influence from hymn tunes, levels of education and literacy, traditional songs, and regional patterns and influences amongst others. The answer to that last question is yes but there is a gap in Welsh folk songs written in English as only songs in the Welsh language were collected so sadly much was lost from that region.

There were excellent slides, good commentary, and our speaker singing some of the songs and reciting the poetry, brought the people very much to life, adding colour and an alternative perspective and insight to the more formal histories of the railways. The vote of thanks was given by Tom Kolisch.

ILR 1/12/2016

Tuesday 25th October 2016
Preparing the Swanage Railway for Mainline Passenger Services
Frank Roberts, Senior Project Manager, Project Wareham, Swanage Railway

As with many heritage railways, the Swanage Railway is no exception in looking to the future with ambitious plans to link up with the national railway system. Frank Roberts of the Swanage Railway came to Woking to talk about joining up the Swanage Railway to the national network and providing a regular service between Swanage and Wareham - serving Corfe Castle en route, using diesel multiple units.

The original branch line was closed in 1972 and ever since there has been an ambition for reinstatement through to Wareham. His talk was split into 3 parts covering the infrastructure, the diesel multiple units to be used for the project and the ‘paperwork’ – which includes a lot more than filling out forms for Network Rail and South West Trains who run passenger services in the area. The Swanage Railway currently runs from Swanage through to Norden and the project has involved several years of work to reinstate the railway to connect with the national railway network at Worgret Junction and running into a separate platform at Wareham.

One major issue that Frank spoke about in detail was the level crossing just west of Norden Station which was a special challenge as the ORR is trying to reduce the requirement for level crossings rather than increase them. A case had to be made for a level crossing before any further progress could be made. Fortunately, this was successful although there were specific requirements such as barriers with “skirts” and extra signage on the road. Interestingly the control mechanism for the crossing was manufactured and installed by a Swiss company and there were photographs showing the installation process. Other requirements for the whole project included additional signalling equipment, replacing hundreds of old wooden sleepers and relaying track as well as clearing undergrowth and drainage ditches.

The new service is expected to start in Summer 2017 with a four carriage diesel hauled train, while the Swanage Railway’s two 1960s heritage diesel trains are being refurbished and upgraded to mainline standards not least those of modern health and safety standards. This is a complete refurbishment and they were lucky enough to tag an order for new parts onto a Chiltern Railways order – working with a larger commercial railway operator helps with finance when there are economies of scale.

Financing the project has been an issue as with all major projects and this has come from a number of sources including Purbeck District Council and Dorset County Council – partly from a transport development fund that comes from housing developers in the area, as well as a legacy donation from BP, Network Rail, and the Government’s Coastal Communities Fund amongst others, to a total of approximately £5.5million.

There will initially be four return trains a day between Wareham and Swanage over the Summer until the beginning of September. It is planned to increase services over time as further rolling stock becomes available, and not forgetting the requirement for sufficient fully trained volunteer staff to run the service. Pricing, usage and profitability are issues that have had to be considered and will be taken in to account as the service expands. For the moment though the future looks excellent that the project will be ready in time for Summer 2017.

A well illustrated and excellent presentation, this was a very interesting insight into the enormous amount of work that goes into such a major project and the amount of technical knowhow, the skills of liaising and working with all the stakeholders at all times, and the efforts required to raise the necessary finance for it all to go ahead, and everyone involved deserves congratulations for their dedication and determination. We wish them every success for the future.

last updated: 10/10/17