Steam Trains Barred from UK Rail Network.


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Hi everybody.
I know there are many steam enthusiasts on this forum, so I felt I should post this edited BBC News report with regard to the suspension of steam charter services by one of the companies who operate heritage steam on the mainline national network. Rail holidays hauled by heritage steam units have become very popular in Britain in recent years, but could this be the beginning of the end for steam running on the national network.

BBC report starts here:-
Network Rail has halted West Coast Railways (WCR) services after the "most serious" case of a train failing to stop at a signal in recent years. The suspension notice means it cannot run chartered services until 15 May at the earliest.

Network Rail said the decision had not been taken lightly. According to sources within the rail authority, it is an "unprecedented suspension" as since privatisation, operators have been barred from certain routes but never hit with a total network ban.

A Network Rail spokesman said services were suspended from 00:00 on 3 April and would only resume if seven action points are addressed. The spokesman said: "We have set out a number of actions to address the safety concerns raised and will continue to work with WCR to ensure their services can run safely if allowed to do so in the future."

The action points include: Introducing an "effective, risk-based driver monitoring regime". Reviewing procedures to make sure drivers understand all safety and operational information. Establishing a plan with a deadline to implement actions from Network Rail's January review of the company's safety policies

Network Rail is concerned over a recent Spad (signal passed at danger) incident and the company's response to the problem. Network Rail's suspension notice said it "ranked as the most serious Spad that has taken place in recent years when the industry risk ranking methodology was applied". It said it happened near junction SN45 at Wotton Bassett in Wiltshire on 7 March when a WCR service between Bristol and Southend overshot a busy junction.

The Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) is investigating. Network Rail said the response from West Coast Railways was "inadequate", in a meeting held on Tuesday.

End of BBC report:-

The signal where the Spad occurred is at the junction where the mainline from Cardiff and South Wales joins with the Great Western Main Line running from London to the south-west of England. The junction must be one of the busiest in the country outside of London. Trains trrough the junction would probably be scheduled approximately every five minutes. HST services run through there every 15 minutes in both directions (eight per hour in total).

A very serious incident indeed, but even more serious I feel is the charter companies inadequate response to the incident with no reports of footplate crew member(s) being suspended or disciplined following the spad.

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Hi clam1952 and Everybody.

This is the final straw incident
Be interesting to see what the RAIB make of it.

Thanks for that posting clam. I did not know as OP that the RAIB had made any statement on the incident at the present time. However, each new report seems to make the incident look more serious. I just cannot believe how the footplate crew are reported to have reacted and then seemingly tried to cover it up.

I very often travel through that junction myself on my journeys to London, which makes you wonder what is going on around you as you travel (lol)

One must hope that a re-organised regime on safety issues is carried out as it not a routine negative as far as I am aware. If done then steam runs outside of preservation lines may be back.
I can't see how a suspension by the rail regulator for breaches of safety procedure can be extrapolated into a problem for all steam trains on all lines.
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I can't see how a suspension by the rail regulator for breaches of safety procedure can be extrapolated into a problem for all steam trains on all lines.

It doesn't, DBS and DCR can still run stream locos on the main line. However WCRC was by far the biggest steam operator, so very very few steam trains will operate until the problems are fixed, which will probably be sometime in May.
And of course heritage lines are 100% unaffected.

It should be remembered that the RAIB and Network Rail statements at no point say anything about steam trains, except that the train in question happened to be one (mainly they refers to "traction" or "locomotives" in the most general sense with the word steam only appearing once between the two documents). The fact that that the train in question was a steam charter trip was entirely incidental and it could equally as likely been a diesel stock move etc. The suspension is as a result of safety practice at one company, which can and should not be extended to all those who operate steam trains in the UK. This is very much a problem with a single organisation not an entire operating area.
Hi everybody.
I can't see how a suspension by the rail regulator for breaches of safety procedure can be extrapolated into a problem for all steam trains on all lines.

Amigacooke, the reason I feel that this incident may well affect all heritage operations on the national rail network lies in one of the clauses that network rail have informed WBS that they must fulfil before they are allowed to resume operations.

In the foregoing, Network rail have informed the operator that they must Introduce an "effective, risk-based driver monitoring regime". That would indicate that WBS have to fit all its heritage units with digital monitoring equipment similar to that fitted on normal modern mainline service trains and recently built commercial trucks/coaches.

I do not think that it takes much imagination to realise the problems fitting such equipment on steam heritage locomotives may involve, if it can be done in any practicality. Modern digital Tacagraphs on commercial vehicles give constant information while the vehicle is in motion in respect of breaking and accelerating velocities, engine revs and temperatures, vehicle roll, GPS positioning, total hours worked by driver, time to next break, time to drivers next 48 hour break.

With regard to drivers hours etc then crew member(s) in the road haulage industry have a digital swipe card which has to be pressed into the recording equipment before the vehicle will start. As stated trying to fit such equipment as the foregoing to steam locomotives made many years previous may well tax the minds of the very best engineers in the country and cost a fortune.

If network rail and RAIB insist that the recording and monitoring equipment such as the above has to be fitted to all of WBS heritage units, then under legal President they would have to insist that it is also fitted by all other companies operating heritage units. That would be the only way they would avoid legal action against them in the future.

Sadly it takes a few to ruin the good that was enjoyed by the majority.

Not in the UK, but our equivalent of the RAIB, the NTST would probably have ruled the same. A SPAD is a serious offence which could have resulted in a serious and deadly derailment. Everyone involved was lucky something like that didn't happen. As far as attaching monitoring equipment, you would think this would be taken on a case by case basis based on many factors rather than being a blanket thing that must be applied to all heritage equipment. Then again this is a government body who is making the rules.

In the foregoing, Network rail have informed the operator that they must Introduce an "effective, risk-based driver monitoring regime". That would indicate that WBS have to fit all its heritage units with digital monitoring equipment similar to that fitted on normal modern mainline service trains and recently built commercial trucks/coaches.

As I understand it all mainline steam (and heritage diesel/electric) locos already have OTMRS (On Train Monitoring and Recording System) installed alongside safety equipment such as AWS and TPWS. The fact that they know all the details of the SPAD that precipitated the ban suggests this equipment did its job.
I think what NR mean by an "effective, risk-based driver monitoring regime" is a system of continual training and assessment to ensure that their drivers meet the required levels of competency, which is a basic safety requirement, and appears to be what is missing in this case.
As previously stated if it was perceived that all steam locos on the network were a threat to safety then DBS and DCR would also have been banned from running steam services. Also if the threat was only from steam then WCRC would have been allowed to continue their non-steam operations.

The issues here are clearly with a single organisation and not with the concept of mainline steam in general.
Hi John,edh6 and Everybody.
Undoubtedly monitoring and safety equipment was fitted to the heritage locomotive involved in this it incident. However, as reported in the RAIB statement at #2 of this thread, the equipment which automatically applied the brakes to the locomotive in order to prevent spads was manually overridden by the footplate crew.

I therefore feel that network rail are concentrating on the fact that the driver and fireman where able to override the locomotive safety regime. It would seem highly likely that network rail are insisting that situation is changed in stating that the operating company must introduce “an effective risk-based driver monitoring system”. It may well come down to tachograph monitoring systems that were in place prior to 2010 and the latest on-board digital tachograph and safety equipment which has been available since then.

Working in industrial safety primarily in the road haulage industry we have seen this development firsthand with heavy goods vehicles. The old analogue Tacagraphs merely recorded speed, time and hours worked on a card disc which had to be removed by the driver at the end of his shift which was then analysed for drivers hours offences and over speeds etc. The system only gave very basic information and any safety infringements would only come to light after the event following analysis at the company offices.

The latest digital tachographs and safety monitoring systems on heavy goods vehicles are a very different animal. A range of comprehensive sensors continuously monitor the drivers performance and that information is passed back to the company traffic organizers as the journey proceeds. The equipment works simultaneously with the on-board GPS tracking which can take control of the vehicle independent of the drivers actions.

In the foregoing, should a driver proceed on to a roundabout at an unsafe speed, that is picked up by the sensors on-board and the brakes are applied overriding the drivers actions. Likewise should the driver approach a junction at excessive speed once again the brakes will be applied overriding any action the driver may take. The safety equipment cannot be disabled or overridden from inside the cab and works in conjunction with as many as six on-board cameras fitted to vehicles.

With reference to the above, I have read that the same equipment is now fitted to all the main train operators locomotives and consists throughout the UK. In the foregoing I am referring to operators such as First Great Western, cross-country, Thameslink and Eastern etc. Therefore, I would think it was highly probable following this very serious spad that network rail are now insisting that the above equipment is now fitted to all WRCR heritage locomotives irrespective of them being steam or diesel.

The problem for other heritage rail operators will be that when it comes to industrial safety the same standards must apply to all for obvious competitive reasons. So, if network rail and RAIB do insist on upgraded safety and monitoring systems being fitted to WRCR units then they would have to insist that all heritage operators do the same.

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This is informed speculation, but speculation none the less. Why haven't all the companies that operate steam traction been issued with suspension notices?
I may have missed it somewhere in the thread, but it should be noted that this isn't a specific ban on steam. All WCR services are suspended over the incident and will be until 15 May at least. WCR issued a statement stating the company is confident the suspension will be withdrawn if sufficient remedial action is taken by that date and Network Rail seems to indicate they will be working with WCR to resolve the safety issues which led to the SPAD.
Hi everybody.
Below is a report from rail magazine regarding the incident under discussion in this thread which I believe throws more light on the seriousness of the incident and why West Coast Railways are suspended from operating at present.

I believe the key to the company having its operators licence restored lies in the final paragraph of the report regarding the train protection isolator cocks. I have never been a rail steam enthusiasts myself (much more into diesel) therefore perhaps someone with knowledge of steam locomotive operation could enlighten me and perhaps others how these isolation cocks work and how they can be tampered with.

Rail magazine report starts here: -
Network Rail has served West Coast Railways with a suspension notice effective from midnight on April 3.

It follows the Signal Passed at Danger (SPAD) on March 7, when a 100mph collision between a First Great Western High Speed Train and a steam excursion operated by WCR was missed by barely a minute.

The Details of the incident are that n March 7, the 1635 West Coast Railways ‘Cathedrals Express’ (Bristol Temple Meads-Southend East) - formed of 34067 Tangmere, its Mk 2 support coach and 12 passenger vehicles (a mix of Mk 1/Mk 2 coaches) - passed signal SN45 at danger and overran by 700 yards. The signal is located at Wootton Bassett Junction on the Great Western Main Line. The incident occurred around one minute after a First Great Western service train cleared the junction
West Coast Railways has been given until May 15 to take the required steps to remedy the “Event of Default” which has occurred because of a breach in Safety Obligations. The suspension notice states: “Network Rail has had concerns about WCR’s performance of its Safety Obligations for some time, and recent events lead Network Rail to believe that the operations of WCR are a threat to the safe operation of the railway.”

If five of the seven required remedies are completed by May 15, with demonstrable progress towards completion of the other two, the suspension notice will be withdrawn. The required steps include introducing a risk-based driver monitoring regime, and demonstrating that there is an effective and secure system of tamper-evident seals for train protection isolator cocks on all relevant traction.

Rail magazine report ends here: -

This is informed speculation, but speculation none the less. Why haven't all the companies that operate steam traction been issued with suspension notices?

amigacooke, I do not think there can be too much “speculation” now regarding the fact that a major passenger rail disaster came within a minute of happening due to “safety irregularities” by those on the footplate of the heritage locomotive. The reason why other operators have not been issued with suspension orders would be that only the incident involving West Coast Railways is being investigated at present.

However, should upgrades have to be made to safety equipment on WCRC locomotives, doubtless other heritage operators who run with the same safety configuration will have to carry out the identical upgrades to maintain their operational licences.

I also feel that Network Rail have little or no enthusiasm for having these “heritage rail tours” operate on the national network. There is some evidence for that I believe, but that would be speculation by me. However, Many regular rail commuters have been stating on social media and in emails to the BBC their views that it is time that at least the steam locomotives should now be debarred from operating on the network. The opinions are due to their knowledge of the lack of performance by these locomotives and experience of delays caused to the timetables of other train operating companies and their passengers.

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Steam traction has not been banned from the UK rail network, nor has there been any proposal to do so by any responsible body as far as I am aware.

To me this looks like facts are being fitted to an already formed opinion rather than using the facts to form an opinion.
Hi everybody.
Steam traction has not been banned from the UK rail network, nor has there been any proposal to do so by any responsible body as far as I am aware.

To me this looks like facts are being fitted to an already formed opinion rather than using the facts to form an opinion.

Amigacooke, you are quite right in stating that no one has “proposed” a ban on the use of steam traction on the UK rail network. The reason for the foregoing is that a ban has already been imposed by way of an enforcement order by Network Rail against WCRC involving the steam traction and other units that the company owns until probably at least May 15. As I believe WCRC own a considerable percentage of the steam locomotives used regularly on the national network that constitutes a considerable ban.

I also did not state any opinion of my own in my posting at #14 of this thread, I only informed the forum of the opinions of others as being posted by in rail forums and in emails to the BBC. The train which was involved in the spad at the Wooten Bassett junction commenced its journey from Bristol Temple Meads and as would reasonably expected, far more comment has been forthcoming from regular rail commuters in this part Britain. The above comments have been given wide coverage on BBC regional news programmes and that is how it should be.

I did state that there is some evidence that Network Rail have “little or no enthusiasm” for having the heritage rail tours operate on the national network. That evidence was forthcoming when the office of the Rail Regulator approximately 18 months ago criticised First Great Western and some other train operators regarding the number of late running incidents which had occurred within its timetables.

However, Network Rail immediately sprung to the defence of First Great Western by advising the rail regulator that a number of the delays referred to in its document where in fact caused by Heritage rail operations delaying First Great Western services due to the “lack of performance” by these locomotives when running amongst normal mainline operations.

I am often made it clear on this forum that I am no enthusiast of steam locomotives but I would concede that the heritage rail tours do bring great pleasure to many people. That stated, Britain’s railways have in recent years once again become an integral and central part of the UK transport infrastructure. In two thousand and fourteen over one and a half billion passenger rail journeys were made on the national network, and for a nation of 60 million people that is an incredible figure.

People have ditched their cars and returned to the railways, which is making for less pollution, congestion and an all-round better environment in our towns and cities. If the foregoing is to be maintained and further expanded then the UK railways must continue to prove themselves as a fast, reliable and punctual alternative to the car.

There is no doubt that the pressures and capacity problems on Network Rail and the mainline train operators are increasing every year. Therefore, it should be no wonder that Britain’s now huge army of regular rail commuters sometimes question whether these very worthy but none the less rumbling heritage locomotives have any place on a modern rail network, especially when their trains are delayed by them or we have incidents such as the one at the Wootton Bassett junction.

The foregoing is an argument and debate which has been coming for some considerable time I believe. Perhaps this incident will now bring it further into the open.

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As I believe WCRC own a considerable percentage of the steam locomotives used regularly on the national network

Actually WCRC only own diesel locomotives. Almost all steam locomotives in this country (mainline or not) belong to private individuals (e.g. Jeremy Hosking, John Cameron) or locomotive owning societies (e.g. NELPG, A1 Steam Trust, RSLGT). It is the respnsibility of these owners and their Vehicle Acceptance Body (Basically an insurer) to ensure the locomotive is fit to run in the network. They then rent their locomotive to whoever wants to operate it, which is usually WCRC or DBS and occasionally DCR (The NYMR is also technically a mainline steam operator, but only in the section from Battersby to Whitby).

As regards delays, you may be correct to a small extent, but looking at lists of railtours online they are primarily at weekends (and thus not affecting commuters), with maybe two or three on weekdays every week at the height of summer. Compared to the volume of other traffic on the network any effect will be pretty negligible compared to delays caused by everything else.

Clearly there is a future in mainline steam, otherwise the Science Museum would not be spending millions on Flying Scotsman or the A1 Steam Trust trying to build a new P2 (etc. etc.)...
I really like how those so-called ''spotters'' are going to ruin everything for the ones that do actually follow the rules. I'll admit i do wear jeans and a t-shirt when railfanning, but i at least make sure they're clean. Wonder how long it'll take till someone screws up really bad and then railfans will be done for and not allowed to photograph trains in the UK.
Hi everybody.
Railfans to be banned from British stations
Railfans been banned from stations yet?

Very much off topic with your posting their amigacooke.

However, the short answer to your question is YES.
All unmanned stations operated by First Great Western now have ticket machines which will not issue platform tickets. The unmanned stations are also in the process of having ticket barriers installed (with installation almost complete at all sites I believe), therefore anyone without a valid ticket to travel cannot gain access to the platforms.

At large and terminus stations such as Bristol Temple Meads which still have manned ticket booths, platform tickets can be obtained but you have to state the arrival time and platform of the train you are meeting someone from. Upon that information a platform ticket is issued for the stated platform valid for 20 minutes before the trains arrival and 20 minutes after. Access to that platform or any other prior to or after the stated times renders the person liable to penalty charges when they pass through the ticket barriers.

If the above is not a ban or debar on train spotters then I do not know what is.

However, at Bristol Temple Meads they have recently introduced two hour guided tours of the Isambard Kingdom Brunel designed station which also includes an observation platform view of the HST consist servicing and maintenance area. As all 15 platforms of the grand old station are built on a massive bridge over a river I am sure it is a very interesting couple of hours.

I would have thought that at the bargain price of eight pounds per person per tour, the above would be “right up your street” amigacooke. For unless they had moved in the last 48 hours, at present two of West Coast Railways “grand old kettles” appear to be stranded there while the network rail suspension of the companies operating licence remains in force.

As the opening poster of this thread can I respectfully request that forum members post with regard to the central topic of the thread. Should someone wish to open a topic on “train spotters” or “railfans” then I would be only too happy to contribute as that is a subject I have very strong feelings on with regard to UK railways.

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