Rain is feeble excuse for rail chaos

Yesterday we saw another addition to the long litany of railway excuses. “We are sorry for the fire caused by water” was the explanation for no fewer than three fires in signalling cabinets that resulted in wrecked getaway plans for thousands of rail passengers.

Well, we all know that it’s not a good idea to pour water on electrical equipment, but it has rained on the railway ever since the Liverpool & Manchester Railway, opened in 1830. So the anger felt by passengers that yesterday’s chaos was the result of “water ingress” into lineside signalling cabinets was understandable.

You would have thought that over the past 182 years, the railways would have developed ways of sealing off electrical equipment from the vagaries of the weather It’s been a bad holiday period for Network Rail. Yesterday’s hold-ups were principally on the London–Brighton line and the Great Western, but earlier in the week services on the East Coast line out of King’s Cross were badly delayed on two successive days because of overhead line problems.

Overall, after several years of improving performance, delays this year have been increasing, mostly because of the wrong sort of weather. To someone who has just spent two weeks on the Trans-Siberian, which runs like clockwork in temperatures that would freeze most of the points on the British system, that excuse seems lame.

The delays in Cheshire, Derbyshire and several other places were more understandable as they were caused by flooding on the tracks. But here again, information was lacking. The Office of Rail Regulation has only this month berated the industry for failing to provide consistent advice at times of disruption. Sometimes passengers can get more information through their smartphones than by asking members of staff. It’s time for the railways to join the 21st century.

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