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Author Topic: Network Rail - Introducing Dave Ward  (Read 4756 times)
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« on: September 30, 2007, 10:02:13 am »

For the new reader ...

* First Great Western operate the trains (TOC (Train Operating Company) - train operating Company)
* Network Rail provide the track and signalling and timetable coordination
* The Department for Transport specify franchise arrangements to co-ordinate the arrangements
* Transport Authorities (Wiltshire [county] Council in my area)  provide requirement and direction
* ROSCOs» (Rolling Stock Owning Company - about) (Rolling Stock Companies) lease trains to the TOCs

Dave Ward, Network Rail's recently appointed Route Director, Western Region addressed Travel Watch South West in Taunton yesterday, and I was happy to be in the audience of around 100 public transport provider and user and special interest group representatives who were there.

Please bear in mind that the following has been reproduced from my notes and whilst I have tried to be accurate, I have to tell you that it's E&OE - Errors and Omissions Excepted. Anything major wrong - please follow up or email me!

1. Dave Ward is recently in post, and inherited major issues with regards to reliability, maintainince and renewal. These issues formed the basis of his talk and notably he spoke for the majority of the time on issues of the section from Paddington to Reading, though also relating more generally from them. 

2. There has been something of a blame culture in terms of Network Rail and the TOC looking to point at the other when things go wrong. "But when a train doesn't run, that's a failure of the industry and the customer doesn't really care which it is".  "With Andrew Haines at First Great Western we should be seen as one and both delivering services".

3. It is so easy to blame others.  But it rains every year, and leaves always fall on the line, and that easy rout hase bene too often taken.   Having said which, there have been exceptional weather conditions and flooding this year, and Dave showed us some dramatic pictures of washouts.  Dave praised the work of his staff, in some extraordinary conditions showing huge committment, to getting the show back on the road.  Staff who's homes were flooded being on continual duty for many days to work at Dawlish, for example.

4. Dave's Recover plan - back to basics. There are some 74 different types of point machines in use on Network Rail, 36 of them in the Thames Valley.  In one model, around 80% of cranks were wrongly installed and as a result they fail much more that they should. These cranks are being replaced (and not just turned over) now.

4a. Much more work is being done on voiding (tamping ballast under pointwork) to prevent machines being shaken into failure, and remote monitoring systems are being installed at critical locations to keep an eye on things.  In that way, junctions that are starting to go our of alignment can be dealt with before they fail, rather than waiting for point failure as has been the case in history.  One monitoring set is already in place; 8 more going in within weeks. To give you an idea of the scale of failures, Dave reported 42 failurs in a year at airport junction.

5. Impedence bonds at track circuit joints are to be replaced if they show sign of ware with new bonds, and not left until failure / replaced second hand.

6. Dave has targetted a drop in the number of temporary speed restrictions; there were 68 in his area when he took over and a significant number of those have been lifted.   Traget (but it will never be reached) is zero.   Example of a restriction lifted - Little Somerford, between Swindon and Chipenham,, was to be in place until June 2008 but has alraedy gone.

7. Engineering possessions should be much reduced with the high performance ballast cleaningand alignment systenm that's in use and where performance is getting better as it's being learned about. Additionally, prefabricated replacement junctions are being used so that possessions can be much reduced, and so that there are not weeks of slow running (and expensive fine tuning) to be done when a new piece of track has been put in.

8. Diagrams of new layouts at Reading and Airport Junction were duisplayed, with brief comments from Dave concerning how they would make throughput improvements.  Dave made comparisions with London Bridge, and stated that he found Reading to be a much queiter station; with a coupld of improvements he mentioned, he saw that there is scope to improve operations there even ahead of the major rebuild.

The audience gave Dave, who made an excellent speech, a good reception; the mood of the meeting was to be fully supportive of the goals he had outlines and appreciative of the rocognition of the issues he has to deal with.


a. Dave was asked about the time that would be taken to do the major work at Newport next year, bearing in mind severe overruns at Port Talbot and Portsmouth.  He already has a planning review in place for Newport and would pull the plug / postpone the work if he felt there was a significant danger of there being a repeat.  I understand that there were warning signs ahead of time at Pormsmouth / Port Talbot, but I am not clear as to whether they were recognisable as such at that point.

b. Dave was asked about the co-ordination of lineside operations such as tree felling on private land to take place during an engineering possession, where there have been communcation break downs in the past (St Germians was the case in point). He admitted that community relations have not been their stong point in the past, and took the specific issue away.

c. Although Dave had made no mention of timetabling at all during his presentation, I asked as follows [paraphrased]:

"Dave.  We really appreciate you talking to us today and I'm delighted to hear your committment to meeting the needs of the customers of the railway in providing infrastructure for services.  Can I describe a situation and ask who my contact in Network Rail should be.

For the December 2007 timetable, a great deal of work was done by First Great Western, Wiltshire County Council and the Department for Transport in providing a more appropriate service acroos Wiltshire from Salisbury to Swindon - 3 trains a day that were resourced and scheduled in the draft. However, at the last minute something fell through and I was told that in spite of the plans having been in the offing for quite a long time, Network Rail turned around and said "no" at the last minute.

I am not sure that this explanation is correct, but I would really appreciate having a contact at Network Rail with whom I can establish the true situation - firstly to learn what went wrong with this important proposal, and secondly to ensure that when it comes up again / when we look to recover it, we can all work together to avoid it failing to be implemented".

Long question. Short answer. "Me".

I'll be sending Dave an introduction to the TransWilts issue shortly, and I'm really hopeful that this provides us with an explanation and undrstanding of another hurdle. That way we can get past it to everyone's satisfaction.

Coffee Shop Admin, Vice Chair of Melksham Rail User Group, and on the board of TravelWatch SouthWest.
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