OnLine Traveller
News magazine for rail passengers


  • Confronting the elements
  • Once upon a timetable

  • Editorial

    Welcome to the autumn edition of OnLine Traveller. We bring you news of new developments in the winter timetable, which starts on 29 September. You may wish to check your journey times in Planning your Journey. Also, you can read in 'Once upon a timetable' how timetables are compiled.


    Start of winter timetable: more trains and new services

    The winter timetable starting on Sunday 29 September will see 18,701 trains on a weekday cover 837,355 miles and carry more than two million passengers, an increase over the winter 2001 figures (18,652 trains and 814,333 miles respectively. Highlights include:
    • Virgin Trains
      The number of CrossCountry services is increasing from 155 to 215. (This is almost double the number at the start of the franchise in 1997). Most services will be operated by new Voyager trains.

    • Anglia Railways
      There is a new, direct Norwich–Cambridge service, with 15 trains in each direction on weekdays and 10 on Sundays. Services will call at Norwich, Wymondham, Attleborough, Thetford, Ely and Cambridge.

    • Chiltern Railways
      There are new direct services between Kidderminster and London, convenient for business and leisure travel.

    • First Great Western
      The continued introduction of the £80m Adelante fleet means a number of extra services.

    • South Central Trains
      Passengers travelling to North-West London will benefit from new peak-hour stops on 11 trains at Wembley Central on the Watford – Clapham Junction – Gatwick Airport – Brighton service.

    • South West Trains
      Passengers from Southampton to London can benefit from an earlier arrival into Waterloo. There is also an improved the Rail-Link bus service from Liphook to Bordon, with the introduction of Sunday services and additional late-evening services Monday–Saturday.

    • Wessex Trains
      A regular Sunday service between Truro and Falmouth is being reintroduced after a gap of almost 40 years.

    • Silverlink
      There is a new Sunday service on the West London Line route between Clapham Junction and Willesden Junction.

    • Wales & Borders Trains
      In response to passenger demand, there is an additional return service for commuters, departing Swansea at 07.35 and arriving in Cardiff at 08.38. The return service leaves Cardiff Central at 17.39 and arrives in Swansea at 18.49.


    Awards for National Rail Enquiries

    • At the HSBC Rail Business Awards 2001 ceremony in February 2002, the Interfleet Technology Rail Business of the Year award was won by the National Rail Enquiry Service. The citation reads:
      The National Rail Enquiry Service, launched in 1996, enjoyed its best year in 2001 in terms of its levels of call answering, accuracy of information and customer satisfaction.

      The year started with great uncertainty following the traumas of autumn 2000, and the visibility of the service and the value of the information given out reached their peak as the rail industry struggled to return to normal. Determined to learn the lessons that emerged during the crisis, the service launched a number of initiatives, including the adoption of an information database to complement the core journey-planning systems, improved flexibility in the distribution of calls, and enhanced contingency arrangements.

      The service has also developed the National Rail Internet site, now receiving more than five million visitors per annum, a major development being the Real Time Train Running Information service launched for 350 major stations in December 2001.
    • Next, at the Railway Industry Innovation Awards ceremony in March, sponsored by the Railway Forum and Modern Railways, our real-time running information system [Live Departure Boards] was highly commended.

    • Finally, in April we received a Gold Award, from Web User magazine. Out of a possible five stars, we were awarded five for ease of use, four for accuracy of information, and five for overall rating:
      Of all the timetable sites we tested, National Rail was way ahead of the rest. This user-friendly one-stop shop from the Association of Train Operating Companies can help organise all the key elements of your train journey, stopping just short of buying you a sandwich for lunch.
    • The award is displayed on our home page.


    Confronting the elements

    Snow, flooding, leaves and even trees on the line are just a few of nature's weapons encountered by the rail industry in its annual battle with the elements.

    In Scotland, where they often get the worst of the winter weather, Railtrack has set up a special weather team to help ensure that the trains get through. The team has a link with the Met Office, providing real-time satellite pictures of the weather. This facilitates decisions on where to deploy resources. The team also makes sure that known trouble spots are checked regularly. If engineers discover something unforeseen, they have time to put things right before the bad weather arrives.

    Last autumn the team put a lot of effort last year into dealing with leaves on the line, which can cause train wheels to slip when they brake. Wheels crush leaves that fall into a slippery mush, eventually making it difficult for the wheels to grip the rail. This has been overcome by applying Sandite (a sand-glue compound) to the rails. Trains overshot stations on just 13 occasions, compared with 100 in the same period the previous year.

    Yes, there really is such a thing as the wrong type of snow. In Scotland snow is normally 'wet', which does not drift. However, last winter it was 'dry', which drifts and hence blocks lines. To prevent snow and ice from blocking points, there are point heaters at all main-line junctions, which can be remotely monitored from a control room and switched on as necessary. Snowploughs can also be called into action to deal with the drifts.

    If wind speeds exceed 70 mph, trains are slowed to ensure that damage is kept to a minimum should something foul the train's overhead power cables.

    We cannot change the weather, but modern technology and a number of tried and tested methods help us to minimise its disruptive effects.


    Once upon a timetable

    The task of squeezing many thousands of trains into 2,500 stations and 20,000 miles of track every day is a complex one. It involves passenger and freight train companies, the Association of Train Operating Companies and Railtrack. The end result is the National Rail timetable.

    A delicate balance has to be struck. Railtrack, which is responsible for the timetable, has to take into account what the train companies want, how many trains the rail network can physically take, and the work it undertakes to maintain the track. At the third annual timetable conference held in June this year, around 200 representatives from Railtrack and the train companies got down to the serious business of planning rail services for summer and winter 2002.

    Firstly, train operators submit their proposals at a series of meetings between the various parties. The conference is a very democratic process and very transparent. Rival operators talk openly about their possibly competitive bids.

    Most decisions on what trains can or cannot not run are made there and then, but any unresolved questions are taken away for further consideration. Final decisions are taken following negotiations between the train companies and Railtrack during the 'drafting period', when the finishing touches are made.

    Planning, negotiation and completion are huge tasks, and it is only through co-operation that a solution is found.