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East West rail, Bletchley to oxford line


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There have been lots of problems with the level crossings twixt Bedford and Bletchley over recent years.

I used to be a postman and for a while my delivery took me across Fenny Stratford level crossing every day.  Twice I saw 66's trundle across the crossing with the gates still up and no warning lights going.  The first one happened not long after dawn, when there was no road traffic about, but on the second occasion I could see a car coming and hear the train approaching together.  Fortunately the train arrived when the car still had just enough room to make an emergency stop.  The following day I mentioned it at work to someone who happened to live in one of the villages further down the line and was assured by him that it was a regular event along the line.  It was the era when Forders was still in use and apparently on one occasion a hopper train broke down half way across one of the crossings (Stewartby?)  It was there all day and the crossing gates were up the whole time.

Another Fenny Stratford problem was that for well over a year the train sensor on the Bletchley side of the crossing was incapable of picking up light engines or single-car units.  That meant whenever one went across in the Bletchley directions the level crossing gates stayed down either until whoever was monitoring the CCVT happened to notice (and they rarely did), another train big enough to be detected followed or a train of any size passed in the Bedford direction.  That was frequently the original train making its next trip, by which time the gates had been down for 20 minutes or more and traffic was tailing back an extremely long way!  That had been going on for a while when I spoke to a hi-viz crew (They might have been from Railtrack, that long ago) who were working on something at the far end of the station and was told that until the refurb of the WCML was complete (which also dates it) nothing that wasnt a safety issue would even be looked at.

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39 minutes ago, caradoc said:

From National Rail Enquiries

 

https://www.nationalrail.co.uk/service_disruptions/today.aspx

 

'A fault with a level crossing barrier at Stewartby means that trains are unable to run between Bedford and Stewartby. This is expected to continue until further notice.

 

Doesn't sound hopeful !

 

Surely it must be possible to work over one crossing manually?

 

Protecting signals keyed to danger, with a handsignal man who tells the driver he can pass the signal at danger and proceed at caution. Once it has been confirmed that road traffic has been stopped and the crossing barriers have been manually lowered.

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1 hour ago, caradoc said:

From National Rail Enquiries

 

https://www.nationalrail.co.uk/service_disruptions/today.aspx

 

'A fault with a level crossing barrier at Stewartby means that trains are unable to run between Bedford and Stewartby. This is expected to continue until further notice.

 

Doesn't sound hopeful !

 

It says " Incident Created 27/02/2020 13:14" 10 Days ago !

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4 hours ago, Trog said:

 

Surely it must be possible to work over one crossing manually?

 

 

You would have thought so, although there were occasions when I decided to block a route to traffic, rather than run trains under degraded working, in order to complete repairs and therefore restore normal working much more quickly. However I am talking here about hours, not days or weeks ! There must be factors at Stewartby of which we are not aware.

 

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22 hours ago, Trog said:

 

Surely it must be possible to work over one crossing manually?

 

Protecting signals keyed to danger, with a handsignal man who tells the driver he can pass the signal at danger and proceed at caution. Once it has been confirmed that road traffic has been stopped and the crossing barriers have been manually lowered.

It should be perfectly possible to operate the crossing in local control provided the crossing itself works (i.e. lights and barriers operate correctly) but that means staff are required on site to do that job and trains have to be talked past protecting signals depending on the nature of the fault.  I bet somebody has found it easier and cheaper to cancel trains rather than man the crossing.

 

Reading the post from mike morley above that suggests to me that the predictor controls were not working correctly.  Howebver in order to work properly it was my understanding that trains have to be travelling within a particular speed band (hence the reduction of the originally intended line speed over the route).  If a train is not within that speed band for whatever reason (and possibly that might as readily mean it is going too slowly as well as too fast mean?) the predictor controls might not work correctly?  I don't know the answer to that one but on this line NR is definitely looking at circuitry and controls which are not entirely 'usual' in NR signalling equipment terms.  I understand the axle counters were also a different (imported) design from those installed nowadays.

Edited by The Stationmaster
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Another of the many irritations for road and rail users about the LC controls on this route is that (when they work!) they impose quite ludicrously long wait times on road users.

 

My guess is that this is something to do with an evil combination of many LCs, few railway signals, and a fairly low railway operating speed, so that a train can only be given a clear route towards a LC from a signal that is 'miles' in rear, possibly further in rear than the next station/LC combo, and then trundles slowly through the section.

 

Even as a dedicated railway-o-phile, I find this annoying, and sometimes potentially dangerous, because it blocks road traffic back across adjacent junctions and roundabouts, causing road near-misses.

 

I think that what it might need is stop signals close in-rear of each LC, possibly with some sort of speed-control circuitry and speed-control boards acting as 'distants' to those, but it is a challenging situation because very light (presumably short braking distance) passenger trains aren't the only traffic - there are a few very heavy freight trains which may have longer braking distances, and can possibly dangle their tails over two LCs in the odd case.

 

If/when it become full-rich-and-creamy EWR, it surely must be sorted out, otherwise there will be near-permanent road-traffic grid-lock in a couple of locations.

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36 minutes ago, Nearholmer said:

Another of the many irritations for road and rail users about the LC controls on this route is that (when they work!) they impose quite ludicrously long wait times on road users.

 

My guess is that this is something to do with an evil combination of many LCs, few railway signals, and a fairly low railway operating speed, so that a train can only be given a clear route towards a LC from a signal that is 'miles' in rear, possibly further in rear than the next station/LC combo, and then trundles slowly through the section.

 

Even as a dedicated railway-o-phile, I find this annoying, and sometimes potentially dangerous, because it blocks road traffic back across adjacent junctions and roundabouts, causing road near-misses.

 

I think that what it might need is stop signals close in-rear of each LC, possibly with some sort of speed-control circuitry and speed-control boards acting as 'distants' to those, but it is a challenging situation because very light (presumably short braking distance) passenger trains aren't the only traffic - there are a few very heavy freight trains which may have longer braking distances, and can possibly dangle their tails over two LCs in the odd case.

 

If/when it become full-rich-and-creamy EWR, it surely must be sorted out, otherwise there will be near-permanent road-traffic grid-lock in a couple of locations.

Absolutely spot on Kevin.   I wasn't involved in the SPAD risk assessment process for the line but the meeting went on and on due to numerous problems gradually creeping out of the woodwork because of the combination of too many. crossings which I think led to signal positions having to be altered in order to try to maintain the originally planned line speed and required braking distances plus the position of stations didn't help (which might have been something to do with whatever controls were in mind or could/could not be provided).  Plus the whole job was supposed to be contained within a budget which was certainly inadequate when it came to risk assessment and having to contract out various tasks like the job I did on local control of level crossings.

 

 

Basically I suspect taht the system actually installed wasn't sophisticated enough and in any event the use of TPWS, let alone anything more sophisticated, would allow the signalling to be more suited to the total infrastructure.   Time will tell.

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I think one of the problems with this line beyond Bletchley is the fact that there are 12 level crossings between Bow Brickhill and Wooton. Bypassing them with bridges or tunnels looks to be difficult as the railway is almost at the same level as the various gravel pits/small lakes and rivers that occupy the land south of the railway. Whilst these LCs may not have mattered much in the past, when this was quite a slow route between Bletchley and Bedford, with fast and long freight trains it seems to me that the distances between these LCs are such that road users of these level crossings are going to eventually discover that the barriers are down more often than they are up - a marked change to the present situation. The watery terrain also mitigates against alternative routes for drivers wishing to travel N-S as opposed to E-W.

Local residents who drive will notice a difference though hopefully the new timetables will assist them getting to MK and Bedford - though as previously stated, getting around MK on foot is not much fun!

 

 

LC.JPG

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The level crossing issues are myriad, and even more complex than they were a few years back, simply because road traffic is steadily increasing as the whole are morphs from post-industrialisation and agriculture into houses and warehouses. Both rail and road demand on the LCs will increase simultaneously.
 

(“Eeh, when I were a lad this was all derelict brickworks as far as the eye could see!”)

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15 minutes ago, Nearholmer said:

(“Eeh, when I were a lad this was all derelict brickworks as far as the eye could see!”)

I thought you would have seen the brickworks working to capacity!

 

Hat, coat and exit at high speed!

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The number of LCs on the route does perhaps partly explain why BR tried to close it in the 1970s ! It looks like some serious money will have to be spent to make the line fit for the increase in traffic and speeds East/West Rail will bring.

 

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I learnt the Bletchley - Bedford branch back in semaphore days and although the maximum line speed for our freight trips was lower back then we tended to get from one end of the line to the other quicker than we do under the newer colour light signals. Despite the upgrades around 2004 to allow us to do 60mph the gradient is against us in both directions just east of Ridgemont, which is made worse when following a stopper, once we catch him up it's a proper old slog up the bank, and coming down the other side we catch him up again anyway.

 

It's much better at night after the units are out of the way, once we're off the single line sections at each end we can actually fly a bit, if we get a run up either side of Ridgemont it's a doddle. It's rare to see any more than two or three cars at any of the barriers during the night. Daytime is a different matter though, several times in recent years I've been right up the chuff of the unit in front, crawling from one signal to the next with tail backs at most of the LCs. I've seen traffic backed up at Bow Brickhill all the way back to the main roundabout off the A5. The Brickworks LC at Stewartby is royal pain in the Aris' at times, I've been stopped there numerous times despite there being no traffic wanting to use it.

 

I do miss the days of 'Meatloaf' the Bobby at Forders grunting from the window of the 'box whilst shunting in and out of Shanks's Sidings and the endless forward / reverse move over Wooton Broadmead LC because the loop is too short…!

Edited by Rugd1022
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26 minutes ago, Rugd1022 said:

I learnt the Bletchley - Bedford branch back in semaphore days and although the maximum line speed for our freight trips was lower back then we tended to get from one end of the line to the other quicker than we do under the newer colour light signals. Despite the upgrades around 2004 to allow us to do 60mph the gradient is against us in both directions just east of Ridgemont, which is made worse when following a stopper, once we catch him up it's a proper old slog up the bank, and coming down the other side we catch him up again anyway.

 

I suppose they let the Passenger out in front because you had to Shunt at Forders Siding? Hopefully it would have been a bit different if you were a through Freight such as the Peak Forest CEMEX?

 

I recall  my late father telling me some of the Brick Trains having a Banker engine. This was in the days of LNWR Super 'D's"with loose coupled Freights.

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13 hours ago, caradoc said:

The number of LCs on the route does perhaps partly explain why BR tried to close it in the 1970s ! It looks like some serious money will have to be spent to make the line fit for the increase in traffic and speeds East/West Rail will bring.

 

 

I've read in a couple of articles about EWR (Modern Railways and elsewhere) that it's intended to retain the present 60mph limit on the Bedford-Bletchley section, although speeds on the 'new' sections either side will be higher.  I must admit I thought that was rather retrograde and indicative of 'penny pinching', but hadn't thought that it might be to do with the numerous level crossings.

 

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33 minutes ago, 31A said:

 

I've read in a couple of articles about EWR (Modern Railways and elsewhere) that it's intended to retain the present 60mph limit on the Bedford-Bletchley section, although speeds on the 'new' sections either side will be higher.  I must admit I thought that was rather retrograde and indicative of 'penny pinching', but hadn't thought that it might be to do with the numerous level crossings.

 

The signaling isn't life-expired and presumably has been assessed to provide enough capacity for the expected service, and with even the faster trains planned to stop at least once the time saving from upgrading to 90-100mph would only be a handful of minutes.  The balance might shift if the route was to be electrified, or when the signaling is due for replacement.  

Edited by Edwin_m
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