Latest information on Greater Anglia rail disruption in Norfolk and Suffolk

Published on: Friday, 13 December 2019
Last updated: Friday, 13 December 2019

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We are extremely sorry for the continued disruption to branch line services in Norfolk and Suffolk.

We fully appreciate that this situation is extremely frustrating and it is an absolute priority for us to get these problems resolved as soon as possible.

In the meantime, we are making sure that customers can still complete their journeys.

Please see below, the latest information on the problems as we currently understand them:

What’s going on?

Last Friday (6 December), we were asked to significantly reduce our rural branch line services by Network Rail, who were investigating signalling problems on some of our routes – looking at the impact of extreme autumn weather and leaf fall on track conditions, the components of the signalling system and the interaction of passenger trains with the signalling system.

There is also a separate investigation into an incident at a level crossing on the Norwich-Sheringham line which has led to speed restrictions at crossings on that route. This incident is currently being investigated by the Rail Accident Investigation Branch.

This has led to delays and cancellations for our customers. We are very sorry about this and we’re working round the clock with Network Rail to return services to normal.

Why are you saying its signalling issues when it seems to be just affecting your trains?

Our whole railway relies on the signalling system, which tells trains when to stop and go and controls levels crossings. Put very simply, there are sensors called “track circuits” which detect where trains are. It is essential that these track circuits are functioning correctly – picking up trains’ locations – so that signals and level crossings operate correctly.

The investigation into signalling issues is looking at the operation of some particular track circuits and the different factors involved – including track conditions, the signalling system itself and the interaction of our trains with it.

We do not know the full picture yet and it is not appropriate to rely on rumours (which are being spread by people who are not directly involved in the investigation and in many cases not even in the rail industry).

Are the new trains to blame?

You may have seen some media headlines claiming that our new Stadler trains are the sole cause of all these problems. This is categorically not true.

While our new trains had some software problems initially, these were easily fixed with an upgrade and they are returned to service.

Software problems are not the cause of the disruption that you have been experiencing since 6 December 2019.

The issue is the result of a combination of factors: track conditions, track circuits and the interaction of trains with the track circuits.

We have been working with Network Rail round the clock to find out why, examining every factor including components of the signalling system, the impact of extreme weather conditions and leaf fall, and the interaction between the signalling system and passenger trains, old and new.

The Rail Accident Investigation Branch is also investigating.

What are you doing to sort out the problems?

We are very sorry that this is taking a long time, but safety is paramount and while the investigation continues we are being extremely careful to run services more slowly, and this is leading to delays and cancellations on some of our rural branch lines in Norfolk and Suffolk.

A raft of short-term measures has been already implemented, including running extra rail head treatment trains to blast away fallen leaves, amended signalling operation on some routes and a 20mph speed restriction over level-crossings.

A team of Stadler employees has been set up and is responsible for checking train wheels on the bi-modes when they are in stations and as required, cleaning them. This is done to reduce the build-up of leaves, as well as contamination on the rails. When necessary, they clean the wheels with a pressure washer at the depot,and give them a manual scrub.

The new trains’ flange lubricators have also been temporarily deactivated. However, they do not deposit lubricant directly onto the track and this is purely a precautionary measure to help the investigation.

As soon as we, Network Rail and Stadler know more about the cause of the track circuit failures, we will recommend further long-term solutions, enabling the signalling system on these routes to detect trains consistently and accurately so that trains can run safely and on time.

Are the new trains safe and were they tested enough?

Yes – the new trains are safe. The safety performance of our new trains is in line with our existing high standard of our other train types as we operate them to industry recognised standards. They have been in operation for some time now and over many routes.

The manufacturer, Stadler, has a strong track record in safety, which is at the heart of its business. To date there are 1,900 Stadler FLIRT trains in operation in 19 countries.

Before these new trains for Greater Anglia were introduced, Stadler and Greater Anglia technicians carried out rigorous performance and safety tests, including an electromagnetic compatibility test on every single route, to see how they interact with the signalling system on the route.

Network Rail will only allow Greater Anglia to run trains on specific routes if they are satisfied that they operate safely and correctly. Each type of train also has to be signed off by the ORR before they can be put it into passenger service.

Stadler engineers conduct regular routine exams of the Greater Anglia new trains to ensure that the required safety standards are maintained.

Are these new trains too sophisticated for old British infrastructure?

The new trains made by Stadler have been subject to industry standard safety checks and authorisation before they were permitted to enter passenger service. They are also inspected as part of planned routine exams to ensure the required safety standards are maintained

Why is it that other operators on the same lines, old trains and freight trains are still allowed to operate normally unaffected by the signalling problems?

Network Rail is responsible for prioritising which trains run on our network. Some of our services have been cancelled to allow extra rail head treatment trains to run on our routes. Others have been affected as the investigation is looking at how our passenger trains, both new and old are interacting with the tracks.

When is this going to end and the train service get back to normal?

But we are working closely with Network Rail to get the service back to normal as quickly as possible – we are planning for a full service on Monday on all routes except Norwich to Sheringham and Ipswich to Peterborough.

Can I get compensation?

Yes you may be eligible for delay repay compensation if your journey has been delayed by 15 minutes or more.

Why have you sent your old trains back before the new ones are ready?

We haven’t. We still have nine of our old diesel trains in service.

Replacing every single old train on our network with brand new trains is a very complex project, which has involved careful planning over several years and many different contingencies.

It is not possible to entirely predict the results of safety and performance tests, when we check how the trains interact with the infrastructure, such as signals and points - which is why we drew up these different contingencies, which included worst case scenarios.

We have more new trains in our fleet than the number we have returned.

As we continue to increase the number of new trains in service, we will have a wider pool of back-up trains should faults occur.

Ultimately, our fleet of new trains will be larger than our old fleet was.