The challenges we face on our network are the same as those currently faced by all rail operators in the UK. Britain's railways are now seeing a large and ongoing increase in usage, and passengers numbers are at their highest since the late 1940s (when nearly everyone travelled by rail).
We are restricted by the scope of the existing track infrastructure, and can only carry a certain number of trains on it at any one time. Our network is the largest in the UK and it carries the most passengers.There are more than 230 million passenger journeys on the railway to and from London Waterloo every year – an increase of over 100 per cent in 20 years. London Waterloo is Britain’s busiest station, and a vital part of one of the most heavily used railways in the country. In the coming decades, Network Rail forecasts that demand will increase again by 40% (2014 – 2043).
During peak periods we have to operate to our maximum capacity in respect of train numbers, as passengers numbers during both morning and evening peak periods are at their highest. This means that the timing gap between trains is small, leaving limited time in which to recover from any significant delays created by incidents.
In the event an incident or incidents occur, difficult decisions need to be made. Our Train Service Management Team take great care with every decision they make. In such a situation, even one single stop to pick up a few passengers can sometimes cause an already delayed train to reach an excessive level in respect of overall delay, and cause serious knock on delays to other services, to a degree that will be difficult to recover from (as these services become delayed behind on the same line of route). In such a situation, and precisely because our primary focus is passenger need, we often have to make a decision to run that train fast to clear the line. This helps us to reduce knock on delays to other trains, get them back to right time running, and prevent the whole of the peak period from becoming disrupted due to escalating delays. The understandable priority for any rail company is to prevent every passenger in peak from becoming delayed.
The video above, kindly provided by Network Rail, explains more about 'knock on' delays and how they affect the UK rail network.
When we choose stations to miss out, to ensure the impact on any passengers not picked up by a train run fast is mitigated, we look at when the next service to call will be and select stations where there will only be a small delay before the next service calls.
To improve capacity and improve service flexibility in respect of disruption recovery, we are investing 1.2 billion into our network. This includes new and longer trains, and refurbished trains with more accommodation. We have also recently concluded a timetable consultation (for the latter, the results of which will be announced soon).
We fully appreciate that our customers want to see positive changes made as quickly as possible. We are still in the very early stages of our new franchise, and are still working on delivering the first parts of our plan. From December 2018 customers will start to feel the benefits of the initial investment outcomes, which will be fully deployed by December 2020, including a brand new fleet of trains for suburban services.
We are committed to the principle that our customers sit at the heart of everything that we do, and our plans for SWR will transform our customers’ experience for the better.
You can find more about our investment plan here.
The decision to run trains fast sits with the TOC (train operating company) and not with Network Rail. It has nothing to do with Network Rail charges, and everything to do with the TOC being able to get trains back to scheduled times as quickly as they can and prevent delays from spiralling out to impact the wider train service.
In respect of the date you refer to, several trains running via Brockenhurst had to be altered, including run fasts (not to calls), due to a track circuit failure in this area. As trains had to be held and then talked past signals, to maintain safety of the line and the trains travelling on it, delays quickly built up. We had to take a range of actions to manage these delays, and prevent them from having a wider impact to the rest of the network. As these were mainline trains, the delays had scope to affect services into and out of Waterloo, which would in turn seriously impact the rest of the network.
The Network Rail track circuit failure commenced at 15:00 Monday 19 March and lasted through until 04:35 of Wednesday 21 March. The delay in repair completion was due to the very complex nature of the work required.
Through the whole period of the failure, we had to continue the package of adjustments to ensure (with an emphasis on morning and afternoon peak travel periods) that the impact in delays from this situation could be contained.
The train management plan was therefore in full keeping with the principles of the approach explained in this article.
As the article explains, at certain times of the day, trains are very closely scheduled together, as we cannot meet capacity demands any other way. In short, we need to run as many trains as we can to be able to carry all the passengers travelling. The number of trains and frequency increases as all the lines merge coming into London. Even small incidents, such as an ill passenger or longer dwell time at a station due to slow boarding, can have a major impact on right time and cause us to run late across a wide area of our network in peak, leading to congestion.
The best means to contain delays, and to reduce them, is to create more time gaps between trains. This allows late trains to clear the line before trains follow up behind. As the trains behind then run right time, the trains behind them also run right time. The alternative is allow successive delays to occur, leaving more and more trains running increasingly late as the delays spiral out and increase.
Running some trains fast is a primary means of creating the time gaps needed to recover the service.
I hope that this helps to clarify.
The theory behind the video makes sense, but the misuse of Not To Call Orders has more to do with avoiding Network Rail charges than avoiding further train delays. The actual outcome has been to strand passengers on freezing platforms without an overall plan.
Taking the afternoon of Monday 19 March as an example, I was at Bournemouth station to see off a passenger on the short journey to New Milton, and these trains run at 05 and 22 minutes past each hour.
The 15.05 was given a Not To Call Order, yet increased its lateness from 22 to 38 minutes between Christchurch and Brockenhurst.
The 15.22 was given a Not To Call Order, yet increased its lateness from 15 to 36 minutes between Christchurch and Brockenhurst.
The 16.05 was given a Not To Call Order, yet increased its lateness from 22 to 31 minutes between Christchurch and Brockenhurst.
The 16.22 was given a Not To Call Order, yet increased its lateness from 13 to 30 minutes between Christchurch and Brockenhurst,
The 17.05 was given a Not To Call Order, yet increased its lateness from 16 to 19 minutes between Christchurch and Brockenhurst.
The 17.22 was given a Not To Call Order, yet increased its lateness from 57 to 69 minutes between Christchurch and Brockenhurst.
The 18.05 left for New Milton 38 minutes late, and gained a minute despite making its scheduled stops.
Where is the time saving, let alone an overall working plan for the restoration of the train service?