Network Rail is considering whether to install extra expensive in-rail heating following a major incident that left passengers stuck on trains in “intolerable” conditions during the so-called Beast from the East cold spell earlier this year.
The track operator said it was investigating the addition of conductor rail heating at strategic locations following the “unacceptable” events near Lewisham station in London on 2 March.
A report commissioned by Network Rail says that that nine Southeastern trains were stranded in freezing rain for more than three hours between Lewisham and North Kent East Junction during the evening rush hour.
As the incident progressed, heating was lost, interior lighting began to dim, and people were forced ‘‘to relieve themselves in their clothes’’ in the packed carriages due to lack of toilets, the report said.
Eventually these conditions – and a lack of effective communication from train crews – led some passengers to take matters into their own hands, getting off the trains and walking along the tracks.
The report was written by independent bodies Arthur D Little and Southwood Rail Consulting. It strongly criticises Network Rail for failing to recognise the significance of the incident and react quickly to it.
The consultants urged Network Rail to consider additional infrastructure measures to prevent build-up of ice on the conductor rail.
One hundred and fifteen kilometres of conductor rail heating is installed across the South East region of the rail network but it is understood that this has been limited by the high cost of the technology. It has been estimated that installing it across the whole of the South East would cost £2bn.
As such, investment decisions have so far been based on the likelihood of a location experiencing freezing conditions, but that could now change to see a focus on protecting operationally strategic locations from severe cold.
Network Rail said it was “investigating expanding the installation of conductor rail heating to include key locations, like Lewisham, which, although not prone to freezing, could potentially benefit from heating in extreme weather events”.
In a joint statement, Southeastern managing director David Statham and Network Rail South East route managing director John Halsall said: “Winter weather conditions in 2018 were the most challenging we’ve seen in the South East for more than a decade. Unfortunately this led to a very serious incident in Lewisham, and we’re determined to learn from what happened.
“We sincerely apologise to passengers for what was an unpleasant and distressing experience. Our staff worked exceptionally hard in extremely difficult circumstances, but the number of trains involved in this incident made it difficult to co-ordinate a response.
“Both Southeastern and Network Rail are taking steps to minimise the possibility of this happening again.
“We would like to emphasise that the safest option for passengers is to remain on board and await help, even in the exceptionally unusual scenario of a train getting stuck between stations.”
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