It is not often that I laugh out loud when reading NCE, however I did when I read 'Broken rail riddle baffles Railtrack' (News last week).
The broken rails referred to were about 20 years old and there is good evidence suggesting that even at yesteryear traffic levels this is about the life expectancy of track.
Furthermore, Railtrack is, after extensive research, alive to the link between levels of use and rate of wear (incredible) and finally, the clincher, Railtrack denied that its decision to spend less on track renewal was at all related to this mysterious phenomenon. Now that is funny, is it not?
However, I do have some sympathy with Railtrack.
Only a few Fridays ago I spent all evening in the pub and was absolutely baffled when, the following Saturday, I awoke feeling unwell. I immediately asked a local university to investigate and they identified the following possible causes:
material impurities (ie a bad pint)
I had had too much to drink and was suffering from a hangover
somebody in my group had spiked my drinks
the brewer had secretly increased the alcohol content of the beer I was drinking
the bar staff had over oxygenated the beer (or something else that meant it wasn't my fault)
I do not think you need to know me to put money on what was the cause of my illness. Now, what about those rails?
Jim Fraser (G),
Care is the key
Your news report on rail breakage is interesting. I assume from the general tenor of your description that the problem is plain line rail failure.
Although there are failures which can be traced to manufacture, faulty welding or wheelburn, in my experience there is a broad correspondence between rail failure and the quality of maintenance of top and line - especially top - over a section of route. Indeed it is a valuable indicator.
If tamping is insufficiently frequent for the type of track structure or if it is ineffective and there is a lot of vertical dynamic movement as a result, then small defects in the rail which might have developed slowly, if at all, will develop into failures. Failure to keep S&C timbers tightly supported will accelerate cracking, especially at boltholes.
For CWR, correctly welded, 20 years rail life seems a little short. The West Coast Main Line is a very busy railway indeed, and its fast lines are as heavily worked as any. Tamping was needed 2-4 times a year in places to give a good ride.
Peter J Coster (M), Pendoggett Farm, St Kew, Bodmin, North Cornwall PL30 3HH