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Railing against the track


Did Railtrack over react? The answer to Steve Turner's question (NCE 25 January) in my view is a resounding yes.

The whole sorry saga of neglect, muddle and uncontrolled panic on the part of Railtrack fills any experienced railway engineer with utter dismay and disgust.

We know too well the consequences of this over reaction for our travelling public during the past few months.

I have seen reports in the national press that the offending rail had broken into over three hundred pieces.

Elsewhere in the media it was said the rail concerned was of a low wear type of steel.

These two factors, if correct, suggest the rail was not made of normal rail steel. In over 15 years of direct responsibility for railway track I have never known a broken rail to shatter into so many pieces. Warning bells should have rung directly after this awful incident that the rails in question could not be considered the norm.

As a precautionary measure I agree it was wise to impose speed limits where similar conditions might apply.

However, neither I nor any of the former BR regional civil engineers would ever have suggested wholesale imposition of so many 30km/hr speed restrictions.

Generally speaking, axles on modern trains can inflict loads about 50% above the static axle load at full speed due to dynamic effects and even more at rail joints. As this dynamic effect is related to the square of speed, a reduction to say 100km/hr from 200km/hr would reduce the total axle effect by at least 20%.

This surely would have been more than adequate to improve the actual factor of safety while further investigation was carried out. Imposition of a considerably smaller number of 100km/hr speed restrictions rather than a swingeing 30km/hr would almost certainly have reduced the total delay on the whole system to about a third of that actually suffered.

Cliff Bonnett (F), former director of operations LUL and managing director DLR

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