DISGRUNTLED SIGNALLING staff were this week adding to rail chaos caused by seasonal problems and unexpectedly high passenger numbers, rail industry sources said this week.
Demoralised signallers are working to rule after seeing their employee shares in Railtrack plummet in value following the track operators' collapse in October (NCE 11 October). This is contributing to the Railtrack attributable delays that rose dramatically in the weeks after it went into administration.
In the six weeks after Railtrack was put under the control of administrator Ernst & Young, there was a 45% increase in train delays compared to the previous six weeks.
In winter, delays are expected to increase with wetter and colder weather and leaves on the line, but normally they only increase by around 25%.
One track expert put the extra increase down to staff disillusionment. Signallers, he said, are beset by conflicting regulations and must also deal with directions from management trying to keep an overloaded network running.
Some instructions are obviously incorrect and, in the past, signallers have ignored them to allow trains through, said the expert.
Now, experienced staff are following instructions and guidelines to the letter, making delays inevitable.
Previously, said the expert, if a passenger train was delayed slightly, a much slower freight train due to use the same line would be held up to let it through.
Now, signallers are allowing slower moving freight trains to go, meaning the passenger train has to sit behind it and get progressively more delayed.
Once a train is delayed, the knock-on effects spread across the network, and it is impossible to rectify until a fresh start is made the next day.
Record passenger figures have also increased pressure on the network. In the four weeks to 15 October - the period during which Railtrack was put in to administration - well over 8M passengers travelled on the network, the second highest monthly total since privatisation.
Defensive driving, where drivers brake a lot earlier to avoid sliding past signals on slippery track, always peaks at this time of year, and this year's extra caution is reflected in signals passed at danger (SPAD) figures.
Figures released last week by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) show there were 40 SPADS in October.
This was 13 less than October last year and 25 less than the October for the past six years, as train operators try to avoid action from the HSE and reduce SPADS.
INFOPLUS www. nceplus. co. uk/magazine