Thanks to R W Brewerton (NCE 3 May) for likening railway wheel/rail interaction to roller bearings. Since the early 1980s many railways have paid full attention to rolling contact fatigue as a major factor in rail management.
Grinding is the principal tool to control it - just as it is for corrugations - which are equally awkward to explain and predict. When British Rail was fragmented the many benefits of grinding were sacrificed, apparently because obvious and quantifiable savings would not give a payback period short enough to underwrite the cost.
A dwindling band of experienced and conscientious permanent way engineers have long been putting in 60 hour weeks to cope with artificial complications in delivering the product to its users.
Consequently, a body of opinion which just might have been in time to avoid the Hatfield disaster proved too weak.
At least two of us in our infrastructure maintenance company shared our frustrations about the lack of grinding, whenever we could get an audience. Railtrack had started to give the subject attention again.
One may reasonably speculate that more emphasis and fewer constraints on engineering might have avoided the dramatic reversal in fortunes that has now overtaken Railtrack, with consequent knock-on effects.
Thorough engineering is good business.
Clive Crosse, 17 Lonsdale Drive, Shrewsbury, SY3 9QJ